Men, Women & Teaching in The 21st Century Ecclesia

Re-examining the roles of brother and sisters


Attitudes towards the roles of men and women today differ considerably from the 1st century – or even the 19th century in which the Christadelphian movement began.  The view that baptised brothers and sisters have differing roles within the ecclesia should be re-examined.


When done with an honest and open heart, it is always a positive thing to re-examine what we believe and preach in order to ensure we are ‘rightly dividing the word of truth’.  

The two key NT passages that address this subject are:

Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety

1 Timothy 2:11-15

Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.”

1 Corinthians 14:34-35

Whatever they might mean, the first thing to note is the directness and clarity of the instruction given.  So, however we approach this subject, we must begin by accepting what these passages say.  If our approach to re-examining this subject sets out by explaining these passages away we begin on a very unstable foundation.

The second thing to note is both refer to events in Eden, from the formation of Adam and then Eve, to the very act of transgression and its immediate consequences.  1 Timothy 2 does so explicitly, whilst 1 Corinthians 14 makes a more subtle reference to the consequence of Genesis 3:16:

Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.  

Genesis 3:16

So why is our attention drawn to the order of formation of Adam and Eve and the fact Eve was deceived then tempted and ultimately transgressed? Because what happened in Eden is the basis of the roles of brothers and sisters in the ecclesia. Notice what God doesn’t say in Genesis 3:16.  He doesn’t say to Eve “because thou hast” – but when speaking to the serpent and Adam those are the first words he utters!  It is clear that between Adam and Eve, God’s focus is on Adam.  This omission, and the comments in 1 Timothy 2 “Adam was first formed, then Eve” and “Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression” help us to understand that God held Adam responsible for the events of Eden.

But what action is Adam judged for?  Genesis 3:17 says:

And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life.

Genesis 3:17

God’s first words to Adam are not “because thou hast eaten of the tree”.  He leads with “because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife” – because Adam’s first failure was hearkening unto the voice of his wife rather than God.  

In Hebrew, the word translated “hearkened” isn’t a passive thing. It’s not simply hearing, nor is it hearing and understanding.  It conveys the idea of “hearing and obeying.”   God commanded Adam not to do it and told him clearly what would happen if he did – yet still he listens to Eve rather than God.  

Eve was deceived by the words of the serpent, but Adam was not.  Adam knew it was wrong and he knew the consequences, but he chose to do it anyway – rejecting God’s voice and hearkening to Eve. But Adam’s failure goes deeper still.  Read Genesis 3:6 – and read it carefully.  Notice Adam was with Eve when she ate the fruit.  He hearkens to her, lets her eat the fruit, then proceeds to eat it himself – in complete contradiction to the word of God.  He does not question Eve’s reasoning or her actions.  At a crucial point, when Adam could have prevented sin and its terrible consequences simply by speaking up, he chose to remain silent.  Genesis 3:17 focuses on the fact that Adam hearkened, and Eve spoke – and it would appear that’s why both 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Corinthians 14 point us to the Garden of Eden.  

The instruction for women to be silent in the ecclesia is a constant reminder of what should have happened in Genesis 3!  Scripture does not direct us to the culture of the day, the ability or education of men versus women, or specific problems within specific ecclesias.  It directs us to the time Adam hearkened to the voice of his wife rather than the voice of God, a time when he  could have acted to change the entire course of human history, but said and did nothing.  Ironically, the instruction for men to speak in the ecclesia, not women, does not elevate men at all.  At one level, it’s a memorial to Adam’s failure.  In Genesis 3, had Adam spoken rather than listened, had he led rather than followed, had he upheld God’s word rather than disregarding it, events would have taken a very different turn! 

The New Testament reveals the significance of differing roles within the ecclesia and also looks forwards, revealing the wonder of the ecclesia’s relationship with the last Adam.  The one who laid down his life, giving all so that he might lead us from the failure and separation of Eden, to the wonder and unity of the kingdom.  In Ephesians 5 (from v22), in order for that two to become one, wives are exhorted to submit and husbands are exhorted to sacrifice.  But verse 32 concludes with the words: “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (ESV) – at which point we realise that beyond the practical lesson of marriage, this section was really talking about the relationship between Christ and the ecclesia.  The roles of women and men foreshadow the relationship of the ecclesia with the Lord Jesus Christ.  In order for many to become one with him, he has sacrificed for us, and we submit to him.  Christ takes the lead – and the ecclesia submits, hearkening only to his voice.  

The lesson of man and woman, the lesson of Adam and Eve, the lesson of Christ and his ecclesia are all one and the same.  When we examine the scriptures it soon becomes clear that whether we look back to Eden, or forwards to the kingdom, the difference in the role of brothers and sisters is full of meaning.  Meaning that must be considered, understood and practiced.

All one in Christ Jesus


Differences in roles are based upon outdated assumptions that brothers are more educated, wiser, less gullible or more righteous than sisters.  Galatians 3:28 states “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” so any distinction apparent in the Jewish world is now void.  Both brothers and sisters are equal and therefore free to fulfil the same roles within the ecclesia.


Whilst both scripture and even the modern world acknowledge there ARE differences between men and women, nowhere does scripture say men are more educated, wiser, less gullible or more righteous than women.  That view is nonsensical, unhelpful and above all, unbiblical (eg – Prov 18:22, 19:14, 31:10).  Adam and Eve are together described in Genesis 1 as being made in God’s image.  Peter, in his first letter reminds us brothers and sisters are BOTH “heirs together of the grace of life” (1 Pet 3:7).  Brothers will not inherit more than sisters – or vice versa.  We are heirs together. After all, Eve was not created out of Adam’s head, or his feet.  Eve was created out of his side.  Brothers and sisters are all one in Christ Jesus.  Heirs together.  Children of God.  

Whenever we seek to understand or describe scriptural principles, we must take care to use scriptural terms.  Scripture says brothers and sisters are “heirs together”, “all one in Christ Jesus” and teaches that Eve was created out of Adam’s side.  But scripture does not use the term ‘equal’ to describe the relationship of men and women in the ecclesia today.  Instead it teaches Adam was formed first, Eve was created to help Adam fulfil his responsibilities and “the head of the woman is the man” (1 Corinthians 11:3).

1 Corinthians 7:18-24 teaches that whether a new believer was previously circumcised, uncircumcised, slave or free, their baptism did not change them from one to the other – all that mattered was “keeping the commandments of God”.  If someone was called as a slave they should not be concerned about their freedom.  If freedom was a possibility then they could take it, but the act of baptism itself did not mean they were no longer slaves.  Yes, they were now in Christ and therefore “neither bond nor free”, but it did not mean they were freed from slavery.  Being in Christ does not automatically make any distinction – be it race, gender or service – null and void.  What matters is “keeping the commandments of God”

Finally, whilst there are differences between the roles of brothers and sisters now, it seems likely this will not be the case in the kingdom.  When Jesus said “For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven” (Matthew 22:30) he revealed the immortalised saints will be like angels – of whom no gender distinctions are made.  

Justifying un-Christlike behaviour


This understanding can be used by men as an excuse to dominate and abuse women.


No believer of any gender should dominate, bully or practice disrespectful behaviour towards another.  Any man who attempts to twist Bible principles to justify dominating women or demanding their obedience as his right – is wrong!  Period.  That is not what the Bible teaches.  Jesus showed us what leadership is all about – whether in the compassion he showed to those he met, in the humility with which he washed the disciples’ feet – and ultimately in the selfless laying down of his own life in order to save the ecclesia.  Jesus showed us leadership is not dominion; it is service.  Leadership is not demanding; it is sacrifice.  Leadership is not about self; it is about others.

Correct translation of Αδελφοι (Adelphoi)


Whilst the AV usually translates the Greek Αδελφοι (Adelphoi) as ‘brethren’, it should instead translate it consistently as ‘brothers and sisters’.  This means that Paul accepts and encourages both brothers and sisters to speak in 1 Corinthians 14.  For example verse 26 the NIV, translates ‘adelphos’ as ‘brothers and sisters’ saying: “What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up”


It is important to avoid making assumptions about the text.  Whilst Verse 26 states that they each have something to say, it does not state that everyone is, or will be, speaking.  If anything, this section of 1 Corinthians is focused upon who should refrain from speaking.

In its most literal sense the term ‘adelphos’ means ‘of the womb’.  It has both a masculine and feminine form, ‘adelphos’ being the masculine form and ‘adelphe’ being the feminine form.  The AV almost always translates ‘adelphos’ as ‘brother’ or ‘brethren’ and always translates ‘adelphe’ as ‘sister’ or ‘sisters’.  Adelphoi is the plural form.

By checking a wide range of Biblical translations it becomes clear that the gender-neutral approach to translation to Αδελφος (Adelphos) and Αδελφοι (Adelphoi) employed by the NIV is in no way a common one.

The word has both masculine and feminine form, ‘adelphos’ being the masculine and ‘adelphē’ the feminine.  But translations which render ‘adelphos’ and it’s plural ‘adelphoi’ as gender neutral cannot do so consistently, as many contexts obviously require a masculine meaning. For example in Matt 22:25 “Now there were with us seven brethren (adelphoi): and the first, when he had married a wife, deceased, and, having no issue, left his wife unto his brother”.  In this context the NIV does not render ‘adelphoi’ as ‘brothers or sisters’ but simply ‘brothers’.

In Greek, a female individual is never referred to as an ‘adelphos’; she is referred to as an ‘adelphē’.  In the following references the Greek  ‘adelphos kai adelphē’ are used to express ‘brother and sister’ or ‘adelphos ē adelphē’ to express ‘brother or sister’: Matt 12:50, Mk 3:35, 1 Cor 7:15, Jas 2:15.  Whilst in Matt 19:29, Jesus uses ‘adelphous ē adelphas’ (brothers or sisters), not just ‘adelphous’ when he says “And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.”  We see similar patterns in Matt 13:55-56, Mk 10:29 and 30 and Lk 14:26. 

If ‘adelphoi’ or its variants should consistently be translated as ‘brother and/or sister’ the above passages make no sense.  It is not possible to make a blanket ruling – the correct translation has to be about context.  English speakers are already familiar with this idea, for in English the term ‘actor’ can be used to describe both male and female actors, whilst the term ‘actress’ is exclusive to female actors.  Selecting the correct usage depends on the context – rigidly translating ‘adelphoi’ as ‘brothers and sisters’ for every usage clearly makes no sense.  There will be times when ‘adelphoi’ means brothers & sisters, and there will be times it means brothers – the correct rendering will depend on the context.  

Different cultures


These principles were formed within the culture of the 1st Century – and should be understood entirely within that context.  Paul said he was “all things to all men” so surely our approach should alter depending on the culture in which we live?


However we approach this subject, we must begin by accepting what 1 Tim 2 and 1 Cor 14  say.  If our approach to re-examining this subject is based on explaining these passages away we set out to build upon a very unstable foundation. If we uphold the teaching we want, and ignore the teaching we dislike then is there any point in seeking to follow Christ at all?

Scripture directs our attention to Eden.  Not the culture of the day, not the ability or education of men versus women, not specific problems within a specific ecclesia – but the time that Adam hearkened to the voice of his wife instead of hearkening to God.

God does not change – he has been the same, and will be the same, for all eternity.  For example “Of old hast thou laid the foundation of the earth…They shall perish, but thou shalt endure: yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed: But thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end” (Psalm 102:25-27).  “For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed” (Malachi 3:6). “The Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows”  (James 1:17 NIV). The same principle applies to Christ “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.” (Heb 13:8) and the faith, which was “once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3, ESV)

Bible geography and history can be incredibly useful – but when it comes to the principles we teach and the way in which we behave, we must take great care to ensure the information we can glean from other sources does not take precedence over the word of God.  2 Tim 3:14-17 states we have been given the scriptures “that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (ESV) We have been given the word of God to make us complete, equipped for every good work.  Yes, the Bible says nothing about penicillin, computers, or how to drive a car – that is not its purpose.  It contains everything we need to become complete in God’s service, equipping us for EVERYTHING he needs us to do.  If we can only explain the scriptures by stepping outside the scripture, then it is our understanding which is lacking, not the word of God.

Unique situations


The problems addressed in 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Corinthians 14 are unique to situations in the ecclesias involved (ie – Ephesus and Corinth).  This also explains why each letter uses a very different word for silence – in 1 Timothy 2 the word conveys ‘quietness and stillness’ whilst in 1 Corinthians 14 it literally means ‘silence.’


Scripture directs our attention to Eden.  Not the culture of the day, not the ability or education of men versus women, not specific problems within a specific ecclesia – but the time that Adam hearkened to the voice of his wife instead of hearkening to God.

The use of different words is all in the context.  1 Timothy was written so that the believers would know how to behave themselves in the house of God, the church or ecclesia of the living God (1 Timothy 3:15).  Of course, the ecclesia doesn’t only come into being when we meet together – it is the ecclesia at all times.  Therefore Paul’s instruction to Timothy applies in all contexts of ecclesial life.  Sisters are not to teach or usurp authority over the brothers in ecclesial life as a whole.  In this context the word is quietness, because although sisters are not to speak to the ecclesia, that does not mean they should never speak to a brother at all!  Spiritual sisters possess an incredible amount of wisdom to which wise brothers will listen.  However, their influence in the ecclesia should not be loud or dominant, but quiet and supportive.

By way of contrast, 1 Corinthians 14 instructs us on the right behaviour when the ecclesia has “come together” as a whole (eg: verses 23 & 26) and someone is speaking to them as an ecclesia.  In this context the word is silence.  With or without the spirit gifts, sisters are not permitted to speak to the ecclesia when it has come together.

Wives and husbands


1 Corinthians 14:35 states that if women are to learn, they should ask their husbands at home.  The principles stated in this passage therefore apply only to husbands and wives, not baptised brothers and sisters.


The words translated as women and husbands in verse 35 are the Greek words gune and aner, which can mean either woman and man on one hand, or wife and husband on the other.  The correct usage therefore depends on the context.  Due to the presence of the phrase at home, translators have assumed that the marriage relationship is being referred to, hence the use of husbands.  However, they have compromised and used women rather than wives because to use the latter in verse 35 would mean that the precept of verse 34 did not apply to unmarried women which is illogical.  There are several reasons why the translation should instead read women and men:  

The context supports this latter alternative since Paul is dealing with confusion in the ecclesia and not marital relationships.

To state that this passage’s principles apply to wives only would mean that older experienced married sisters would have to remain silent, whilst young or newly baptised sisters who are not married can say what they like.  This contradicts the principle of Titus 2:3-5 which encourages the older sisters to teach the younger ones.  

It is overly simplistic and illogical to assume that at home refers only to the marriage relationship.  Many sisters in Christ reside with brethren who are not their husbands, but may be their fathers, sons, sons-in-law, or siblings.  Widows and sisters who live alone may also ask a question of those who are guests in their home, even more reason to show hospitality to those in need.

Only the breaking of bread


If the 1st century ecclesia only met to break bread, these practices must only apply at the breaking of bread


In 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 the ecclesia has come together to break bread. In 14:23 both the unlearned AND unbelievers are listening.  In 14:31 & 35 believers are learning.  In 16:2 believers are taking up weekly collections for the Jerusalem fund.  That’s a wide range of activities from the breaking of bread, through to preaching, Bible class and ecclesial welfare.  To say the 1st century ecclesia only broke bread when they met together is to ignore the text.

Ecclesial preference


This is simply a matter of personal preference.  Each ecclesia should decide what to do based upon personal preference.


When Paul writes to the ecclesia at Corinth, an ecclesia struggling with controversy and division, he specifically addresses them as “The church (or ecclesia) of God” (1 Cor 1:1-2 / 2 Cor 1:1).  Why? Because they needed reminding that it wasn’t their ecclesia – and if we are truly honest with ourselves – that’s a reminder we need to hear regularly too!

The 1st letter of Timothy was written “that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.” (3:14-15) Again we are reminded that the ecclesia is God’s house. Whilst we form part of the ecclesia, it’s not our ecclesia, it’s HIS!  Whilst we form part of the body, Christ is the head.  Ecclesial life is not about personal preference, but understanding and obeying what God wants.  It’s worth noting the phrase “The church of God” crops up 8 times in the NT – 6 of these are found in Paul’s letters to the Corinthians and Timothy – the letters which contain the two most prominent passages on this topic.  That’s not a coincidence.

With only one exception, Paul’s authority is emphasised at the beginning of every one of his letters.  But 1 Timothy, and his letter to Titus, who was also sent to address problems of ecclesial behaviour, emphasise Paul’s apostleship is “by the commandment of God our saviour”.  Why?  Because we are to remember, the words are not Paul’s words – they are God’s.  That’s what inspiration means!  However we understand this letter, let us remember it’s not about what Paul wanted, nor is it about what the ecclesia at Ephesus wanted – just as it’s not about what we want.  It’s about what God wants.  We cannot simply decide for ourselves when he has already given an instruction.

When God brought Israel out of Egypt he didn’t take them by the most obvious route.  As they set off someone could have said “But we’re going the wrong way – Canaan is this way!” They could even have developed a following to take that route as a logical choice.  But Exodus 13:17 reveals this view, whilst right geographically – would have been wrong spiritually: “God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt”.  There is purpose to everything God does, even if we don’t understand it at the time.  Some would argue it is so much better and more wholesome to have an ecclesia in which both brothers and sisters are speaking to and teaching the ecclesia.  We may like it, we may think it’s a better way to work – but if it’s not the way God has instructed us to go, we should listen to his instructions.  There is purpose to everything God does, even if we don’t understand it at the time.



Some parts of the Christadelphian community are riddled with inconsistencies on what should and shouldn’t take place in an ecclesial setting – for example, in some ecclesias a sister cannot read scripture from the front of the hall, but can read scripture when reading around in a circle, she cannot exhort on a Sunday, but can write an exhortation to be read out by a brother, she cannot lead communal prayer but she can lead communal singing by playing the organ.


Almost all the challenges listed above are entirely valid.  Every ecclesia should examine their practices to see if they fulfil the principles that scripture teaches on this topic – a number of these practices do not.  Over the years some parts of our community have developed a tendency to lean upon tradition, opinion – or both – rather than the word of God. In some cases, we have become too willing to accept established practice without understanding the scriptural reasons behind it – or whether there are any at all.  It is not enough to simply understand “the general Christadelphian position”.  We need to understand what scripture says – and if there isn’t a scriptural basis for what we do then we should absolutely be prepared to challenge it – and expect others to do so.

Whatever conclusion we reach, it is essential to understand there is purpose to everything in God’s word.  Discipleship is about seeking to understand that purpose and apply it in our lives, allowing the Lord’s example to shape us, so we might be prepared for a role in the ecclesia – and in the kingdom.  

Whoever plays a musical instrument when the ecclesia is singing praise to God is accompanying the singing, not leading it.  To insist an organist is leading the singing is like saying the accompanist in a concert is leading the soloist.  

Singing hymns


If a sister is instructed to be in silence then they should not be permitted to sing hymns


We have a clear example that it is not wrong for women to sing when the ecclesia has come together.  In the midst of ‘the ecclesia in the wilderness’ (Acts 7:38) Miriam joins the song of Moses, responding to words that had already been sung: “Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances. And Miriam answered them, Sing ye to the LORD, for he hath triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea.” (Ex 15:20-21)

In 1 Corinthians 14, The word translated as sing (ψάλλω psallō) which means ‘to sing or make melody’ in verse 15 is a totally different word to the word translated as speak (λαλέω laleō) in verse 34 which means to talk or utter words. The context in 1 Corinthians 14 is clearly about being heard to speak alone and above the rest of the congregation, this is clear from reading verse 24 onwards.  

The instruction given in 1 Timothy 2 is “I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man” and 1 Corinthians 14 “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law.”  The foundation principle is that sisters should not teach or have authority over the brothers.  Singing praise to God involves neither.



A number of women in both the Old and New Testaments were prophetesses.  The fact these women were moved by the spirit to speak on God’s behalf establishes a principle that sisters should speak in the ecclesia today


It is important to note that God never once chose a queen to rule, a priestess to serve or a prophetess to write any book of the Bible.  The 12 disciples and apostles were men, the 7 selected in Acts 6 were men.  Paul did not appoint any female elders.  This contrast strongly suggests there is a clear distinction between the roles of men and women when it comes to leadership or teaching within Israel or the ecclesia.

However, there is no doubt whatsoever that prophetesses existed in the Old and New Testament – and they will again:

  • On one occasion each these women are described as prophetesses: Miriam the sister of Moses, Deborah the judge, Isaiah’s wife and Anna who prophesied when Jesus was brought to the temple precinct as a child.  
  • Huldah, the wife of Shallum, keeper of the wardrobe, is twice referred to as a prophetess in Josiah’s day
  • The prophecy of Joel says “I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy” (2:28)
  • Philip the evangelist had four daughters with the spirit gift of prophecy 
  • We have the amazing prayers of Hannah, Elizabeth and Mary recorded for us in scripture
  • Sarah’s words in Genesis 21:10 “The son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac” are quoted as scripture in Galatians 4:30
  • And finally, the husband and wife team, referred to three times as Acquila and Priscilla and twice as Priscilla and Aquila both supported Paul and expounded unto Apollos the way of God more perfectly because his understanding only went as far as the baptism of John. (Acts 18:2, 18-26, Rom 16:3, 1 Cor 16:19, 2 Tim 4:19)

But this lists pretty much all the examples scripture provides.  When to record how God used men in this way would require a list many, many, many times longer.  The contrast in volume is a powerful message in itself.

Although Miriam plays a leading role in the worship of Israel during the song of Moses, she led the women in singing, not the men.  Hannah, Elizabeth and Mary did not speak before the ecclesia – and Hannah didn’t even speak her prayer aloud!  Not one of these examples state they were either speaking or teaching the men in an ecclesial setting.  

1 Corinthians 11


1 Cor 11: 5 refers to sisters prophesying – if we assume this means they were leading ecclesial worship, this is a direct contradiction to the instruction in chapter 14 for sisters to be silent and not to speak when the ecclesia has come together


Women prophesied in the New Testament – there is absolutely no question about it.  However, not one of the examples we have been given involve prophesying or teaching when the ecclesia has come together.

Bible students understand that the scriptures are inspired by God, so when scripture appears to contradict itself, the problem is invariably one of our understanding.  In this instance the supposed contradiction is within a few chapters of the same letter, so to assume such a contradiction makes even less sense.  It is key to look deeper to understand what is really going on.

The passage in 1 Cor 11 could be read in a number of ways:

  1. Sisters taught & prayed publicly in the Corinthian ecclesia and Paul accepts it, as inferred by the apparent problem outlined above
  2. Sisters taught & prayed publicly in the Corinthian ecclesia.  Paul, who is in the process of challenging the ecclesia on an extensive number of issues both in general and with regard to ecclesial worship, chooses to deal with the issue of head covering in chapter 11 before dealing with the issue of sisters praying and prophesying when the ecclesia had come together in chapter 14
  3. Paul is speaking of praying and prophesying as key activities of the meetings he has in view and regards all members of the ecclesia as involved, even though the words were articulated by the brothers on behalf of the ecclesia
  4. Sisters were praying and prophesying, but not when the ecclesia had come together.  (At the end of 1 Corinthians 10 the context is effectively being invited out for a meal with an unbeliever. From 1 Corinthians 14:17 onwards the context is clearly an ecclesia that has come together.  1 Corinthians 11:1-16 comes between the two.  It is possible the principle of head covering is established in a more general context, and is not restricted to an ecclesia that has come together)

This section is not an easy one to understand.  However, those who suggest that chapter 11 proves that Paul accepts the practice of sisters praying and prophesying when the ecclesia has come together cannot align chapter 11 and chapter 14.  Their interpretation leaves them with no option other than to isolate 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 from the rest of scripture by suggesting it is an uninspired addition to the text.  Options  b,c or d are all consistent with chapter 14.

Notable Women


Scripture states that sister Junia was an apostle and sister Phoebe a deacon.  These two examples alone clearly demonstrate God’s perspective has changed.


There is absolutely no doubt that these were notable women who performed an important, meaningful role in ecclesial life

Romans 16:7 says:

  • AV – “Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellowprisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me” 
  • NIV –  “Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles” (marginal alternative: ‘are esteemed by’)
  • ESV – “Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles”

This verse does not state Junia was an apostle. Taking this meaning as a statement of fact is stretching the text beyond breaking point.  Junia was clearly of note, esteemed by, well known to the apostles.  

Romans 16:1 describes “Phebe our sister” as:

  • AV – “servant of the ecclesia which is at Cenchrea”
  • NIV – “deacon of the church in Cenchreae”
  • ESV – “servant of the church at Cenchreae”

1 Timothy 3 describes the character and behaviour of bishops (or overseers) and deacons, positions of leadership in the ecclesia framed with brethren in view for they are both described as having wives in verses 2 and 11.  

The word translated as servant or deacon in Romans 16:1 is used 31 times in the NT. Yes, on three occasions the same word is translated as deacon.  But that doesn’t prove it should be translated as deacon in Romans 16:1.  As a messenger on behalf of the ecclesia who was commended by Paul, Phebe clearly had an important role to play – but this verse does not prove she was a deacon. 

God does not change – he has been the same, and will be the same, for all eternity.  For example “Of old hast thou laid the foundation of the earth…They shall perish, but thou shalt endure: yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed: But thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end” (Psalm 102:25-27).  “For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed” (Malachi 3:6). “The Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows”  (James 1:17 NIV). The same principle applies to Christ “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.” (Heb 13:8) and the faith, which was “once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3, ESV)



Whilst it could perhaps be argued these prophetesses were not in a position of leadership, that does not apply to Deborah, who was described as both a prophet and a judge in Israel. If Deborah could lead Israel, that sets a clear precedent for sisters to take up leadership and speaking roles within the ecclesia.


The easiest way to clear up any confusion about leadership is to look at Deborah’s interactions with Barak in Judges 4:1-14.  There is a misconception that she gives him the order to march to Mount Tabor with ten thousand men.  Actually, she merely reminds him of God’s instruction which he is already aware of but has so far failed to carry out.  Initially displaying weakness of faith, this military leader of Israel insisted Deborah go with him or he would not go.  If Deborah had indeed been the leader of Israel, then at this point she could (justifiably) have dismissed Barak and either replaced him or exercised direct control over the military herself.  She does neither.  She agrees to support him, strengthening his faith, but makes it clear the journey will not be for thine honour.  Nevertheless, the ten thousand Israelite soldiers are described as being at his feet, not Deborah’s, who is described as being with him.  When it comes to battle, she tells him, “Up; for this is the day in which the Lord hath delivered Sisera into thine hand”, but he leads the soldiers, not her. 

Most versions describe Deborah as judging Israel, not leading.  She “dwelt under the palm tree in the mountains of Ephraim and Israelites would come to her for judiciary rulings.  Although there is no stated hierarchy of Judges in scripture, it should be noted that unlike Samuel she did not travel the country to pronounce judgements.  Also, unlike Samuel, Jephthah, Gideon, Samson and indeed Barak, she is not mentioned in Hebrews 11 although two other women are.  Whilst Deborah is not recorded by name, she is the one who gave Barak the encouragement he needed to become the faithful leader he needed to be.

None of this is to diminish Deborah.  She was a prophetess who showed great faith, and that faith was of great support to the leader of Israel, but she did not lead Israel herself.  Her actions are a great example to sisters today.

Meaningful roles


If sisters cannot speak or teach the brothers within the ecclesia that leaves them both dominated and diminished without any meaningful role – especially if they are good Bible students


The fact sisters are not to teach or exert authority over the brothers does not mean that they cannot give good counsel.  They are not to speak in the ecclesia, but that does not mean they should never speak to a brother at all!  There is an incredible amount of wisdom on offer which prudent brothers will seek out and hear, whilst arrogant ones will not.  Wisdom in Proverbs is personified as a woman – that’s not a mistake!

The scriptural principle of leadership does not involve dominating another – but leading by example and caring for the ecclesia as a shepherd cares for their flock.  Jesus said “they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:42-45).  If the brothers adopt a ‘Victorian’ attitude and seek to dominate the women they are falling far short of the mark.  Jesus’ approach to leadership was one of example and service.  His is the example that brothers must follow.

The idea that a sister’s role is diminished comes largely from the misunderstanding that our ecclesial life – and our ecclesial roles – are focused upon and restricted to ecclesial meetings. What takes place during the meeting itself is only a fraction of ecclesial life, and therefore only a fraction of our service.  As an ecclesia we are described in the NT as the house or temple of the living God, the body of Christ, the faithful bride, the shepherd’s flock and the shining lampstand.  Each role, whilst having a significant impact on the things we do when we meet together, extends far, far beyond the meetings themselves.  Any ecclesia which treats ecclesial meetings and ecclesial life as one and the same will consistently fall short of what God desires. The meeting is not all about meetings!

Women followed and cared for Jesus (Mk 15:40-41, Lk 23:49, Lk 8:1-3).  He gladly taught both men and women (Lk 10:39, Jn 4:28-42).  In Romans 16, Paul sends greetings to numerous women, including “Tryphena and Tryphosa, who labour in the Lord.” (v 12) and says Rufus’ mother was like a mother to him (v 13).  Women performed a vital role in the ministry of Christ and establishment of the early ecclesia and this can and should continue.  The key exhortation here is to encourage sisters to search the scriptures to better understand the role God desires them to fulfil.  In 1st Timothy 2:10 sisters are exhorted to adorn themselves “with good works.”  There is so much valuable, meaningful work to do within the ecclesia we are in danger of missing completely by focusing primarily on what happens in the meetings themselves.

Scripture does not say sisters cannot teach anyone.  Firstly, there is a wonderful heritage in teaching and encouraging children within the ecclesia.  In the world in which we live this is perhaps one of the most crucial roles within the ecclesia.  Secondly, older sisters are instructed to “teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.” (Titus 2:3-5).  Are we truly fulfilling this as a community?  What would be the impact on our marriages, our homes and our ecclesias if we stopped focusing on what sisters are instructed not to do, and instead moved our attention to what they are instructed to do?

Appendix A: 1 Corinthians 14

1st Corinthians 14 is a chapter all about different members of the ecclesia speaking, or being silent, when the ecclesia has “come together” – as can be seen in verses 23 and 26.  We can try to create special criteria for “coming together” if we wish by inventing our own terms like ‘formal meetings’ or ‘informal meetings’ – or try to reason that it only refers to the breaking of bread.  Or we can simply accept what scripture says.  The context of chapter 14 is quite simply this – the ecclesia have come together, and someone is speaking to them as an ecclesia.  

Paul declares he is writing to clear up childish things, and offers the exhortation of verse 20-21: 

1 Cor 14:20-21.  Do not be children – be of full age.  It’s time to grow up and listen.

In chapter 13:11 the same principle is emphasised: Now we have the full revelation of God – it’s time to grow up and listen.  

Of course this section begins with the principle that without the right attitude everything is meaningless.

1 Cor 13:1-3 

Whatever we do, if it is with the wrong attitude, it’s meaningless.  Whatever we do must be in love, in ‘agape’ – true, sacrificial love that denies self and submits to God. 

So back in chapter 14, in verses 1-28, Paul challenges them for the way they were using the spirit gifts.  He says speaking in different tongues was a sign for those who did not believe, but the gift of prophecy is better, because it builds the whole ecclesia. He emphasises that without translation, speaking in different tongues builds nobody.  In fact, if an unbeliever entered whilst prophesying was taking place they would indeed recognise the hand of God.  But if they came in whilst untranslated tongues were being spoken they would think everyone was mad!  So he limits them to just two or three unknown tongues per meeting, adding a specific requirement in verse 28:

1 Cor 14:28

In Timothy the word ‘silence’ means ‘in quietness’ – here it means hold your peace, don’t utter a word!  Speak to yourself, or to God, but not to the ecclesia, because without interpretation your speaking will not build up the ecclesia.  

This principle is totally up to date.  In ecclesias with brothers and sisters who, despite learning, cannot yet understand English, we need to find a way to ensure the whole ecclesia is built up.   Next, Paul turns his attention to prophets:

1 Cor 14:29

Again, two or three can speak – but another should judge.  Now the word ‘judge’ is sometimes translated as ‘discern, doubt or contend’.  The Greek literally conveys the idea ‘to separate thoroughly’.  Someone had to confirm whether what was spoken was true.  Just like tongues had to be translated, with prophecy a judgement had to be given on what had been said, to confirm if it was indeed the word of God, or question it if not.  

As Paul wrote in chapter 13:9, in the first century they prophesied ‘in part’ – and whenever a prophet spoke, others had to discern if their words were true, or false.  In the 21st century we have the complete revelation of God, so whatever anyone teaches, we must examine the word to discern if their message is true, or not.  Does it confirm or contradict the inspired word of God? We must not simply voice our opinions or preferences – or those of others.  We have to focus on what scripture says – and patiently compare what is said to scripture to discern if it is true, or false.

1 Cor 14:30-31 

They could only prophesy one at a time – so everyone could learn and be comforted, or exhorted.  If the spirit revealed anything to someone else, the first must hold their peace, or be silent.  That’s exactly the same Greek word as ‘silence’ in verse 28.

1 Cor 14:32-33

Because God is not the author of ‘confusion’ – he is the God of peace!  God leaves no room for multiple, conflicting messages.  God wants a joined up, consistent message that reveals his will. Which is where the Greek word for ‘peace’ comes from – to join or ‘set at one again’ 

So far, we have two reasons for keeping silent:

  • those speaking in tongues could only speak if someone could interpret, otherwise they should be silent.  When the ecclesia has come together, speaking without interpretation meant the ecclesia would not be edified
  • those prophesying could only speak one at a time and their words had to be judged, otherwise they too should be silent.  When the ecclesia has come together, multiple prophets speaking at the same time meant the ecclesia would be confused

We come to the third reason for silence when the ecclesia has come together in v 34 where it says “Let your women keep silence in the ecclesias: for it is not permitted unto them to speak”

Silence was necessary concerning speaking in tongues in v28.  Silence was necessary concerning speaking the word of prophecy in v30.  And now in v34 we see that silence was necessary concerning the women.  These verses all use the same Greek word for ‘silence’, and they all apply when addressing an ecclesia who have come together.  In v34, however, it’s not about how many should speak, whose turn it is, or whether there is an interpreter.  The qualifying criteria for silence in verse 34 is because they are a woman.  

So when addressing the ecclesia three reasons are given for keeping silence:

  1. If you speak in different tongues but no interpreter is present
  2. If you are already prophesying when something has been revealed to another prophet 
  3. If you are a woman

When saying “it is not permitted unto them to speak” the word ‘permitted’ is exactly the same word as ‘suffer’ in Timothy when Paul writes “suffer not a woman to teach.” WHY? v34 goes on to say “but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law” 

They are not permitted to speak before the ecclesia because they are “to be subject, as also the law saith”.  Where do we read that? The only place we find an explicit mention in the law is Gen 3:16 “Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee” Because everything goes back to Genesis!  

This phrase ‘under obedience’ or ‘to be subject’ is the same word translated as ‘subject to’ in v32.  The spirit makes it clear, that since Eden, the sister’s role has not been to lead, but to submit.  Sisters are subject to brothers as Eve was subject to Adam.  If they wish to speak when the ecclesia has come together, verse 35 says:

1 Cor 14:35

That’s a powerful statement.  If a woman speaks in the ecclesia it is a shameful thing.  If she wishes to speak, she needs to do so in private, not before the ecclesia.

So, here are our, three different reasons are given for keeping silent, each with an accompanying explanation:

  • those speaking in tongues could only speak if someone could interpret, otherwise they should be silent.  When the ecclesia has come together, speaking without interpretation meant the ecclesia would not be edified, or built up
  • those prophesying could only speak one at a time and their words had to be judged, otherwise they too should be silent.  When the ecclesia has come together, multiple prophets speaking at the same time meant the ecclesia would be confused
  • sisters were not permitted to speak in the ecclesia, because they are called upon to submit and be silent whilst the brothers are called upon to lead and to speak. For a sister to speak to the ecclesia in this way meant the ecclesia would be shamed

Three reasons for silence, and three consequences.  The ecclesia would not be edified. The ecclesia would be confused.  The ecclesia would be shamed.  Nowhere does God point us to culture, education or ability.  It’s all about understanding how God wants us to behave when we come together.

We have looked at the obvious links to the garden of Eden.  There are more.  Whilst we are not going to be dogmatic about the following suggestions, the connections are interesting!

  • Eve tells the serpent they would die if they so much as touched the fruit.  That’s not what God said. We can’t be sure – but at one level, her failure to fully understand raises the question whether Adam, who had been given the instruction by God before Eve was formed took his role to teach seriously.  Perhaps we could conclude that Eve had not been built up?
  • 1 Tim 2 tells us she was deceived.  The similarity between the ecclesia becoming confused and the deception of Eve doesn’t seem like a coincidence.  Perhaps we could conclude Eve was confused?
  • Finally we know that after Eve spoke and took the lead – she became full of fear and all too conscious of her nakedness before God.  Perhaps we could conclude Eve was shamed?

However we look at it, the lessons of Adam and Eve present powerful lessons for the ecclesia – both in Paul’s day, and today. The lessons are not outdated, or inaccurate.  They reveal important principles we must remember whenever we come together.

Whether a sister was able to speak in tongues, prophesy – or had no gift at all, when the ecclesia has come together, she is instructed to remain silent.  Even if she could interpret an unknown tongue or had the gift of discernment to confirm or challenge what had just been spoken by a prophet, she is instructed to remain silent.  Even if words that have just been spoken before the ecclesia need to be challenged, they must wait for the brothers to do so.

This is an incredibly hard thing to do – and yet God considers it is so important for the sister to remain silent that if she fails to keep silence, it would shame the ecclesia.  Of course, just as the sisters cannot speak at that point, the brothers must speak up.  Unlike Adam, the brothers cannot avoid their responsibility to uphold God’s word. Both of these principles are God-given.  Because when we each submit in obedience to his word, not only does it glorify God, it shapes us into what he wants us to become.  It’s all too easy to make this subject all about sisters and what they should and should not do.  In reality this subject is really about what the brothers should do!  The brothers must not be like Adam who remained silent and did nothing to save Eve – they are to be like Christ, who spoke up and did everything he possibly could to save the bride! 

Verse 35 says “and if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home”.  Now v31 tells us God wants everyone to learn, so this isn’t there to stop sisters learning.  But what does it mean?  Well, the word translated ‘under obedience’ in verse 34 is translated ‘subject to’ in verse 32: “the spirit of the prophets are subject to the prophets.”  The sisters are subject to the brothers, just as the ecclesia is subject to Christ.  Now, whilst the word translated as ‘ask’ generally means to ‘enquire’ – it is also used in a much stronger fashion.  For example, it’s used 8 times in the gospel of Matthew.  6 times it is used to describe the interrogations of the Pharisees and the Sadducees as they tried to catch Jesus out and once to describe Pilate’s interrogation.

  • Matt 12:10  – the Pharisees “asked him, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath days? that they might accuse him”
  • Matt 16:1 “The Pharisees also with the Sadducees came, and tempting desired him that he would shew them a sign from heaven.”

Only once is the term used by his disciples simply wanting him to explain something they didn’t understand (Matt 17:10)

Here is Strong’s definition: g1905. ἐπερωτάω eperōtaō; from 1909 and 2065; to ask for, i.e. inquire, seek: — ask (after, questions), demand, desire, question.

AV (59) – ask 53, demand 2, desire 1, ask question 1, question 1, ask after 1;

To accost one with an enquiry, put a question to, enquiry of, ask, interrogate

A sister must not speak to the ecclesia when it has come together, even if false teaching is spoken during an ecclesial meeting.  The brothers have to address it. Why?  Not because the sisters don’t understand, it has nothing to do with ability, or education.  The answer is in verse 34 – where the sisters are instructed to be under obedience “as says the law” – once again taking us back to Genesis chapter 3.  She can discuss it at home – but not before the whole ecclesia.  And of course, if she has no husband or father in the truth, it is a simple case of asking anyone in the ecclesia – just not before the whole ecclesia. 

Of course, it’s no coincidence the spirit says it is a shame for sisters to speak in the ecclesia – for we see the first occurrence of shame in Genesis chapter 3.  

As this discourse in chapter 14 draws to a close Paul effectively says “look, I am prophesying – acknowledge what I am saying is true” – just as the words of those who prophesied was to be discerned and confirmed or challenged in the ecclesia: 

1 Cor 14:36-37

It’s no coincidence Paul wants them to accept his words are the commandments of the Lord – for the first time the commandments of the Lord are ignored is in Genesis chapter 3.  

1 Cor 14:38-40

Finally, in verse 38 we have a man who is ignorant – or to take the Greek literally, a man who ‘does not exercise the mind’.  If any prefer to be this way then let them continue with their ignorance – and its ultimate consequences.  This too is no coincidence – for the first time we come across a man who does not exercise his mind is in Genesis Chapter 3.  

Remember, Adam was there with Eve whilst the sad events of Genesis 3 unfolded, and yet he said and did nothing.  If he had only exercised his mind – he could have spoken.  He could have saved her.  But he remained silent.  He passively followed her lead, and as a result, sin, death and suffering entered into the world.  Eve was deceived, but Adam was not – he knew what he was doing.  Had Adam spoken he would have changed the entire course of human history, and his words would have been recorded for us all to read!

That’s why we have been given the roles we have.  Adam should have spoken and saved Eve, leading her to salvation – but chose to remain silent, and follow to their destruction.

That’s why, when explaining the roles of men and women in the ecclesia our attention is constantly directed to the garden of Eden.  Not the culture of the day.  Not the relative ability or education of the men and women, not specific problems within a specific ecclesia – but the occasion when Adam hearkened to the voice of his wife instead of hearkening to God.  The occasion when Eve was deceived, but he said and did nothing to prevent the catastrophe that followed.  The brothers have not been given the role to speak and lead within the ecclesia for reasons of education, ability or cultural norms.  These ‘reasons’ are irrelevant and misleading.

But the world we live in today is very different to the world of the first century. Here in the UK men and women are equally educated.  The United Kingdom is ruled by a queen – and there are many other women in positions of power.  So if scripture did focus the differences in roles on the culture of the day, we could have cause to question whether these verses really do apply to us today.  But scripture doesn’t point us to the culture of the day – it points us to Genesis.  We must go where it takes us, and listen to what it says.  Because every time a brother gets up to speak there are powerful types at play.  The first of which is a constant reminder that man hearkened to the voice of his wife instead of hearkening to God, remaining silent when he should have spoken.

Because whilst we recognise Eve was not created out of Adam’s head, or his feet, but out of his side.  We must also recognise she was specifically shaped for Adam.  The AV says she was a ‘help meet’ for him.  The NKJ says a ‘helper comparable to him’.  The ESV says ‘a helper fit for (or corresponding to) him’.  She was the missing piece. She completed him – in fact the linguistic root of the word translated as Bride in the OT is exactly that – ‘to complete!’  She was formed to fit Adam – because Adam was formed first.

Let us remember we are being shaped to fit Christ, who is already the perfect image of his father.  We are the ones who need to change, not him!  It’s not about what we want to do, it’s about what God asks of us.  It’s about letting him shape us so we can complete his son.  

So let us always remember where this all began, and remember the lesson – hearkening above all to the voice of God.  And may we give thanks and praise, that whilst Adam followed Eve to destruction, Christ led us to salvation.  All we need to do is follow. Because the lessons of Adam and Eve, the lessons of man and woman, the lessons of brothers and sisters are the lessons of Christ and his ecclesia.  These roles mean something. They are not for us to change.  They are for us to remember.  

So may we continue to prepare for the time soon to come, when, by the grace of God, if we allow ourselves to be formed, built, shaped – we will complete the Lord Jesus Christ, the last Adam.

When we will be united with him, who loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood.  

When both men and women will become royal priests unto God (Rev 1:5-6) – for we are heirs together.

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