WOMEN PRAYING AND PROPHESYING
T. PIERCE BROWN
In view of the many today who are falsely charging that the church of the Lord has been at the forefront of male chauvinism, and even, as most denominations have for years, charging that Paul was a misogynist, it seems appropriate to address the question of what is involved in 1 Corinthians 11:4-6, “Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoreth his head. But every woman praying or prophesying with her head uncovered dishonoreth her head; for it is one and the same thing as if she were shaven.”
An intensive study of this passage and the context would include an examination of whether this passage teaches that a woman must wear a hat in a “worship service.” That is not our purpose today, but we must say in passing that the passage says nothing about either a hat or a worship service. We must remember: The point of the chapter is not head coverings, but the order of the headship of God, Christ, man and woman, as verses 3, 8-12 clearly show. A study of the words, “covered” and “uncovered” in the original text shows that the woman in that case was to be completely covered (wearing a veil) to show her submission to the authority of her husband (v. 10). Here we must distinguish between a basic eternal principle and a custom or cultural situation that upholds that eternal principle. The eternal principle is that woman was created as a help, suitable for man, and was to always respect his headship. That has never changed from the beginning. The method of showing a respect for that principle was not set in stone, and changes from culture to culture and from time to time. If one lived in a country where women showed their respect for a man by walking three paces behind him, they should do that. If it was by bowing to him, or standing when he came into the room, they should do that. If it was by wearing a veil when they were in the presence of others, they should do that. As far as we have been able to ascertain, in no culture, at any time, was the wearing of a little piece of material (called a hat) on the top of the head a mark of respect to a husband. Wearing a veil was, so in that culture, she should be “completely covered” as the text says.
The main point of our study at this time regards how and when the women were to pray and prophesy. The following points seem evident without serious controversy. Everywhere the subject is touched in the Bible, the principle of woman being in subjection to the man is upheld. Some passages that suggest such, deserving of extended study, are 1 Cor. 11:3, 14:34, Eph. 5:22, 1 Tim. 2:12. They in no way suggest inferiority or even a secondary role. When women are given a role of being keepers at home and raising children, who would be so blind as to suggest that this role is of secondary importance? Every social order must have someone who “is in charge,” but in no case does it imply an inequality of personhood, value, opportunity or freedom. Of course men do not have the honor, opportunity or freedom to bear children, but that does not mean they are inferior to women. It only means they have a different function.
Since women are to be subordinate to men, are not permitted to teach over a man, we must necessarily conclude that whenever women pray or prophesy it must be at a time, place and manner that does not violate that principle. So we raise the following questions.
Is there anything in the context of 1 Corinthians 11:7 that shows that the praying or prophesying was in the public assembly of the church? The answer is an unequivocal “No!” Women have been praying thousands of times and in circumstances that did not involve the leading of prayers in the public assembly. The same answer is given when we ask the question about prophesying. When it is recorded in Acts 21:9 that Philip had four virgin daughters that prophesied, they were in their own house, and there is no place in the New Testament of an example of any woman prophesying in the public assembly of the church.
A person who concludes that 1 Cor. 11 gives any authority for women taking a public role in the assembly of the church must logically do at least the following things: 1. Show how such can be done without violating the principles we mentioned before of women not teaching over a man, etc. 2. Give a command, example or necessary inference which shows that women were ever authorized to do so. It would also shed some light on the discussion to set forth exactly what is the purpose of pushing for such activity for women. Is it affirmed that there is something inherently honorable, elevating and spiritually strengthening in being asked to lead in prayer? Does one do greater service for God or man by having the “honor” of doing something that calls attention to them in public? Can a woman glorify God in a greater way by humbly doing what God ordained for her to do, or by pushing for public recognition for some service performed? Is the necessity for women to take positions of prominence so pressing that we should push for that in spite of the prohibitions against such in God’s word, and the considered judgment of the most devout and scholarly persons? Even if by some stretch of imagination one can assume that it was permitted, is it worth causing the division and confusion that would follow, when time would be better spent in dealing with the salvation of souls instead of wrangling about a question that even its proponents do not claim has any relationship to being saved?