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Q165 : Women’s Participation in Adult Sunday School

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Q165 : Women’s Participation in Adult Sunday School

Since the scripture states that women are to keep silent in the church ... let her learn from her husband (1Cor. 14:34), how does that apply to an adult Sunday School class setting? Is it acceptable for both women and men to participate together in discussion? Or are the women to remain quiet and only let the men speak? Are the women to only ask questions at home?

A165 : by Tony Garland

When we examine the context of Paul’s comment regarding women being silent in church (1Cor. 14) we find him addressing a larger problem: a general lack-of-control which was causing confusion during the church meeting. The thrust of what Paul is addressing is found in his statement, “For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints” (1Cor. 14:33). In other words, the church service had become so out-of-control, containing a spontaneous mix of tongues, interpretation, prophecies, and the like that confusion was the result. The congregation was so enamoured with their individual display of gifts that edification of the believers — one of the main purposes of any church meeting (1Cor. 14:26 cf. Eph. 4:11-12) — had fallen by the wayside.

Paul’s comment concerning women being silent follows immediately upon His mention of God not authoring confusion. It seems that one aspect of the confusion occurring in the Corinthian church was that women were spontaneously leading forth with vocalizations in such a way as to contribute to the general confusion, perhaps even challenging the God-ordained role of male leadership of the service (1Ti. 3:1; Tit. 1:6; 1Ti. 2:12).

The situation which you refer to is altogether different. If your question concerns an elder-endorsed adult Bible study setting where discussion by both men and women is encouraged and expected, then I see no reason to interpret Paul’s remarks concerning the out-of-control general church service at Corinth as applying.

This also underscores, as we seek to understand the Scriptures, why we need to take special care to always keep the original context in view. Otherwise, we run the risk of taking a remark made to address a specific situation and misinterpreting it as a general rule applying to situations which the original writer did not have in mind.

Key questions to consider:

  • are the actions of the women (or men) at odds with the desire for the class according to the elders in authority over the fellowship?
  • are the actions of the women (or men) disruptive or generally causing confusion?
  • are the actions of the women placing them in an authoritative teaching role over adult men?
If the answer to all the above is, "no," then I see no cause for concern.

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