Tag Archives: apostle Paul

The Role of Women in the Church (Part Three)

Introduction

Easily one of the most confusing passages in the New Testament regarding the role of women in worship is found in 1 Corinthians 11.  Some people avoid it like the plague.  Others, however, flock to it to try to make it prove their side of the argument.  The funny part about it is that those who go to one extreme (women preachers) will hold this passage up as evidence; while those who are on the other side (women can’t speak, and they also have to have their heads covered) also hold this passage up as evidence.  What are we to make of this?

Turn to 1 Corinthians 11, and we will look to see what this passage has to say for us today, as well as how it fits into the question about the role of women in worship.

I Praise You…But (1 Corinthians 11:2-3)

Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things, and (that you) keep the ordinances as I delivered them to you.  But, I desire you to know that the head of ever male is Christ; and the head of the female is the male; and the head of Christ is God.

Ordinances

The word “ordinances” is usually translated “traditions,” and while it usually refers to the traditions of men, Paul uses the word to refer to the things taught by the apostles.  But in every case, it describes an act that was done for a religious purpose.

Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which you have been taught, either by word or by epistle (2 Thessalonians 2:15).

We command you, brethren, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw yourselves from every brother that walks disorderly, and not after the traditions which he received from us (2 Thessalonians 3:6).

Though it probably didn’t need to be said, we’ll say it anyway: Paul is speaking to Christians in 1 Corinthians 11, describing the things which he taught them to observe in religious service to God.  So, the context that we are looking at has to do with obeying that which is taught by God through the apostles in religious service to God.  This is why it is pretty much universally agreed that the context here has something to do with worship assemblies.

But…

Even though the Christians in Corinth (for the most part) were keeping the ordinances, there were some things that they didn’t understand.  The biggest problem with the Corinthian Christians was not lack of knowledge about the actions they were supposed to engage in, but the attitude behind it (see their treatment of the Lord’s Supper, and their desire to brag because of certain spiritual gifts).

The head of every man is Christ

Paul here immediately puts all the men (literally, males) in their place by saying that it is not up to them on how things are to be done in worship to God.  All Christian males are under the authority of Jesus Christ, and must answer to Him.  Just because a man may lead in an aspect of worship does not mean that he has the authority to change God’s divine pattern.

Paul is appealing to a higher authority than man—He is appealing to Jesus Christ.

The head of the woman is the man

One person told me that this is a universal law to be applied everywhere.  The conclusion to that doctrine is that, men, the most depraved man in the penitentiary is the head of your wife and daughters.  Not only does that violate the context, it also violates common sense.

It has been argued that this phrase should be translated “the head of the wife is the husband.”  And while that expresses a truth, it doesn’t fit the context.  And in addition to that, the same word “man” (Greek aner) is used twice in this verse.  If we are supposed to translate it as “husband” in one part, by what logic does the exact same word get translated differently in the exact same verse?  Look at the verse.  If we insert “husband,” then we would have to make the verse say, “The head of every husband is Christ…” which means that Christ isn’t the head of unmarried Christian men.  This cannot be the right interpretation, either.  And if we make this say “wife,” then we are forced into the conclusion that nothing in verses 3-16 applies to an unmarried woman or a widow—and by extension, that there is nothing in this passage that speaks to an unmarried man or a widower.

Remember the context in which this is spoken: in keeping the “ordinances” (religious directions) that had been delivered to them.  Thus, this is in the context of the church, when the religious directions were being observed.  In other words, this is during the worship assembly.  The Christian woman, in the worship assembly of the church, is to be in submission to the Christian males who are leading (1 Corinthians 14:34, 1 Timothy 2:11-12).

The head of Christ is God

Just in case there were those in Corinth who wanted to question Jesus’ authority to make commands regarding the worship of His people, Paul informs them that the authority which comes from Christ originates with the Father.  In other words, these points are not up for debate or discussion—they come from the ultimate Judge and Lawgiver, God.

Praying and Prophesying (1 Corinthians 11:4-5)

Most sermons and studies on this passage focus on the head “covering,” and often the writers and speakers gloss over (or completely ignore, in some cases) the idea of “praying and prophesying.”  But it must be addressed, for this is one of the passages that those who wish to promote women preachers cling to.  Are they right in saying this passage authorizes women to lead in public worship?

Every man praying or prophesying with his head covered dishonors his head.

Literally, Paul says “having down (from) head,” but it is not specified whether it is his hair or if it is a veil.  The purpose, though, for Paul mentioning this is that if he has his head covered (in whichever way it may be) in worship, it is a sign that he has a different spiritual head (authority) than Christ.

I believe there is enough evidence to conclude that the head covering was something cultural for the Christians in Corinth, and since the focus of this lesson is not on the head-covering, but on the “praying and prophesying” aspect, we aren’t going to dwell a lot on the covering in this lesson.

The word “praying” is the general word for such, and is the same word found in 1 Timothy 2:8—”I desire that males pray everywhere…”

The word “prophesying” is the same one used in chapter 14, and is a reference to miraculous speaking for God, or speaking words from God.

But every woman that prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaved.

Before we get into this, it needs to be said up-front that the exact same words are used for “prays” and “prophesies” in this verse as in the last verse.  In fact, this verse should be translated, “But every woman, praying or prophesying…”  So there’s nothing in these words themselves that make a distinction between the male and female.

But note that Paul tells the Christian women in Corinth that they are required to have their head covered so that they do not dishonor her head (the man/men leading in the worship).  This is a symbol of submission, of being under the authority of someone else.  I used to think this was talking about husbands and wives, and that a wedding ring was the same kind of thing, but I do not believe the context supports that conclusion.

So, how exactly is the Christian woman to engage in “praying and prophesying” while yet being in submission to the one leading in worship?  Let’s make some specific points very clear:

  1. The Bible does not contradict itself, for it is inspired by God.
  2. If an interpretation of a difficult passage of Scripture clearly violates the teaching found in an easy-to-understand passage of Scripture (in the same covenant), then that interpretation is false.
  3. This is even more clearly true when it is the same writer dealing with the same issue—and even more abundantly true when it is written to the same people…in the same letter.

There are those who point to this passage and say “women have the right to pray and preach in the public worship assembly, based on Paul’s words here.”

How does that match up with those three points we mentioned just a second ago?

  1. The Bible does not contradict itself—so if this passage teaches that women can lead in prayer and preaching in the worship assembly of the church, then we shouldn’t find anywhere in the New Testament that says otherwise.
  2. The Bible teaches plainly that it is only male Christians who are to lead in prayer in the church (1 Timothy 2:8); and that Christian women are not permitted to teach (this would include preaching) or to exercise authority over a Christian men in the church (1 Timothy 2:11-12, 3:15). Therefore, the interpretation that “women have the right to pray and preach in the public worship assembly” is false, because both points are contradicted in easy-to-understand passages of the same covenant.
  3. That passage (1 Timothy 2:8-12) is written by the same author, making it even clearer. But let’s make it abundantly clear by looking at not only the same author, but the same letter!  1 Corinthians 14:34, in the context of speaking miraculously (prayer and prophesying are both mentioned in this chapter), says: “Let your women keep silence in the churches, for it is not permitted to them to speak; but to be under obedience, as also says the law.”

Therefore, if our passage (1 Corinthians 11:5) permits women to pray and prophesy in the worship assembly, then the Bible contains contradictions and cannot be trusted.

But suppose you don’t want to go that far; then how about this: If this passage permits women to pray and prophesy in the worship assembly, then Paul was wrong (thus, uninspired) when he wrote 1 Timothy, as well as just a few chapters later in 1 Corinthians 14; thereby throwing everything Paul wrote into question and leaving us with the impossible task of determining which letters are inspired and which parts are not.

But suppose you aren’t willing to even go that far (though those are the required conclusions to this doctrine).  If this passage permits women to pray and prophesy in the worship assembly, then you can’t even know which parts of even this one letter are inspired—especially when Paul himself said that the command for women to keep silent was “the commandment of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 14:37).

To take that interpretation of the passage destroys the entire credibility of the Bible.  But let’s, for a moment, pretend that such an interpretation is accurate.  Pretend for a moment that it isn’t a contradiction of other Bible passages.  Look at the verse again and see what would be required for the women to lead in prayer or to prophesy (preach) in the worship assembly.

Every woman, praying and prophesying with her head uncovered, dishonors her (spiritual) head: for that is even all one as if she were shaved.

If we pretended that their interpretation is correct, then the text requires that the woman only does it when her head is covered, showing her submission to the Christian men who are leading in the “ordinances” … or else she is supposed to be shaved bald (a symbol of shame).  No one who argues for women to be able to preach and lead prayer in the assembly would ever suggest that she is supposed to show a sign of submission to the Christian men leading in the worship—How dare you even suggest such a thing!  You note the hypocrisy there, I hope, that they want to take half of the verse and shove the other half as far away as possible.

I would love to see someone try to explain how one can be in submission to someone during the teaching, yet still be the authoritative teacher over that person.  It cannot be done!

So what does this verse mean/permit?

There are some different interpretations regarding these two verses that attempt to reconcile Paul’s wording (praying and prophesying) with the specific commands regarding Christian women keeping silence in the church (in regards to leading in worship).

The first interpretation is that Paul is speaking about women praying and prophesying, but not in a mixed assembly, that is, in a women’s-only gathering (ladies’ day, ladies’ class).  Some might claim there is no historical precedent for these kind of assemblies, but turn your attention to Exodus 15:20-21:

And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and dances.  And Miriam answered them, “Sing out to the LORD, for He has triumphed gloriously!  The horse and his rider has He thrown into the sea!”

There, the prophetess went with the women only and spoke with them, leading them in worship to God.  That was around 1500 years prior to Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, so there is indeed historical precedent for a women-only assembly worshiping God.

The problem with this interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11 is that the context shows the men and women together (“the head of the woman is the man,” verse 3).  And what is the purpose of describing submission to the male Christians leading in worship if Paul’s describing a setting where no male Christians are present?

The second interpretation is that Paul is using the phrase “praying and prophesying” as a way to describe the worship service.  In other words, that all Paul is saying is, “But a woman, participating in the worship service…”  Most authors agree that “praying and prophesying” isn’t an exhaustive list, but includes everything that is done in the worship assembly—otherwise, you’d have the strange requirement that women in Corinth cover their heads only during certain parts of the worship (praying and proclaiming), but not others (like singing and the Lord’s Supper).

The idea, then, would be that Paul isn’t saying that the women lead in prayer or in prophesying (which would violate other passages), but that they participate in the worship by listening and assenting to the prayer and actively paying attention to the proclamation of God’s message.

David Lipscomb made a good point, which goes along with this idea (this is my paraphrase): Man cannot come to God without submitting to the authority of Jesus Christ (John 14:15).  In the same way, The Christian woman during the assembly cannot offer acceptable worship without submitting to the authority of the male Christians leading the worship.

Obviously, if there are no men present, then that no longer applies.

There may be other interpretations of which I am not aware, but this second one, I believe, is rational, logical, and in perfect agreement with what is said on the topic elsewhere in Scriptures.

Conclusion

This is somewhat reminiscent of the issue of “baptism for the dead,” in that once we know what it can’t be (by process of elimination, Bible-style), we are left with what it must be.

God’s word does not contradict itself.  God does not permit something in one part of the New Testament, only to forbid it in another.  That would make God a liar—something which is impossible.  Instead, we must take the totality of what Scripture says, and interpret in a way that harmonizes all of the passages dealing with any given subject.

There is nothing more important to which this applies than in salvation.  We have all messed up in our lives.  We’ve ignored the commands of God, we’ve sinned, and as a result, we’ve aligned ourselves against Him and joined with His enemy, Satan.  Satan, however, isn’t as powerful as he lets on.  In fact, he’s already lost the war, even though he’s still trying to take down as many people as possible in the process—like a kamikaze.  My job, and the job of Christians everywhere, is to invite people to join the winning side, to avoid the destruction that will come as a result of being God’s enemy.  We are to tell them about Jesus Christ and Him crucified, so that they might have faith (Romans 10:17).  But though there are verses that talk about believing as a prerequisite to salvation, there are other passages as well—passages that do not in any way contradict the ones about belief—that show belief is just the first step in a proper response to the gospel.

One must also make the decision to change sides, to join Jesus Christ.  The person who makes that decision must state his belief in the Lord, and be immersed, baptized, by the authority of Jesus.  When that is done, the person has become a Christian.  Then comes the command to grow, to “study to show thyself approved to God,” to “walk in the light.”  We want to help you be right with Jesus Christ.  If we can help you, please let us know as we stand and sing.

-Bradley S. Cobb

The Role of Women in the Church (Part Two)

Introduction

A Christian woman is a blessing to her family, to her friends, to her brethren, and to her Lord.  In the Bible, we can read of Christian women like Lydia, who showed hospitality to fellow-Christians (Acts 16); like Phoebe, who is called an “assistant” (Romans 16:2, MLV) or a “patroness” (Thayer) of the brethren; like Priscilla, who is called a “fellow-laborer” who had risked her own life for another Christian (Romans 16:3-4); like Lois and Eunice, who passed on their faith to a young man who became a missionary named Timothy (2 Timothy 1:5); and countless others whose names are not recorded in the Bible, but whose work helped to encourage and strengthen the saints, while also helping to convert sinners to Jesus Christ.

If not for the influence of Christian women, many of us in this room would not be here, meeting together, serving the Lord.

There are some, however, that would say, “That’s not good enough!”  Like Aaron and Miriam of old, there are those who try to argue that the ones leading have taken it all on themselves, and that they are just as qualified to lead.  These people run to Galatians 3:28 and say that “In Christ, there are no more male and female distinctions!”  Let’s take a look at that passage, and we’ll also look at some others as we consider the role of women in the church of Jesus Christ.

“Neither Male Nor Female…”

As is often the case, verses (or even phrases from inside a verse) are pulled from their context and applied to things that they were never meant to apply to.  We could mention several examples, but for the sake of staying on-topic, we’ll just stick with the point at hand.  Look with me at Galatians 3:26-29.

For you are all children (literally “sons”) of God by the faith in Christ Jesus, because as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  And if you be Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Again, note verse 26, which literally says “sons” instead of “children.”  Under the Old Testament, it was the son—not the daughter—who received the inheritance.  Slaves did not receive inheritance.  Gentiles definitely did not receive the inheritance.  Yet, in Christ, all these groups have access to the inheritance through Jesus Christ.

Those who try to rip “there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus” in order to “prove” that both genders are authorized to perform any and every role/function in the church miss the point.  Male and female absolutely still existed, literally, in the church.  Jew and Gentile absolutely still literally existed in the church.  Free men and slaves absolutely still existed literally in the church.  Therefore, Paul isn’t speaking about the literal distinctions being done away with.

What he’s saying is that in Christ, EVERYONE can be an heir of the promise made to Abraham.  He’s not talking about roles in the worship—otherwise he completely contradicted himself 10 or so years later when he told Timothy that God placed the leadership in worship upon the shoulders of male Christians (1 Timothy 2).  He’s not talking about roles in the family—otherwise he contradicted himself 10 or so years later when he told wives to “submit” to their husbands (Ephesians 5:22-24).  Just like becoming a Christian didn’t make a slave no longer a slave—see the book of Philemon—he still had a specific role to fulfill, being in submission to his owner (who might or might not have been a Christian).

When we consider the context in which Paul says “there is neither male nor female,” we are required to come to the conclusion that it means there are no class, gender, or race distinctions of any kind that would keep someone who has truly put on Christ in baptism from receiving the inheritance from God through Jesus Christ.

There is nothing at all in the context about worship roles in the church.

Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted for them to speak;

Turn to First Corinthians 14.  I realize that it’s 40 verses long, but read along with me through the whole chapter.

(Read entire chapter)

Now I want you to take notice of three main points throughout this text.  First, I want you to look at the context—what is it that Paul writes about here?  He writes about spiritual gifts (miraculous gifts) including prophecy (v 1 and others), speaking in tongues (v 2 and others), interpreting tongues (v 5, 13), revelation (v 6), miraculous knowledge (v 6), inspired teaching (v 6), praying in tongues (v 14), and leading a song (v 14, 26).  These are all roles of speaking in the worship assembly.  They are what is generally referred to as leadership positions in the worship.  This is the context.

Second, take special notice that it is specifically in reference to the assembly of the church, when it comes together for prayer, singing, teaching, and encouragement.  Verse 4 shows that the purpose of prophesying was to “edify the church.”  Verse 5 says that speaking in tongues, when there is an interpreter to relay the message, is so that “the church may receive the edifying.”  Verse 6, Paul says “brethren (Christians), if I come to you,” that is, to them all gathered together.  Verse 19 says “In the church…”  Verse 23, “if the whole church comes together in one place…”  Verse 26, “Brethren, when you come together…”  Verse 28, “if there is no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church…”  Verse 33, “For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.”  Verse 34, “Let your women keep silence in the churches.”  Verse 35, “It is a shame for a women to speak in the church.”  The context is when Christians are gathered together for worship to God and receiving instruction from His word.

Third, I want you to, even more so than the others, pay super-special attention to this next point.  Paul says that the women are not permitted to “speak” in the church.  That word translated “speak” appears a whopping twenty-four times in this chapter.  Let’s look at them:

  • (verse 2) He that speaks in an unknown tongue does not speak to men, but unto God: for no man understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks
  • (verse 3) He that prophesies speaks
  • (verse 4) He that speaks in an unknown tongue…
  • (verse 5) I wish that you all spoke with tongues, but rather that you prophesied: for the one who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with tongues…
  • (verse 6) brethren, if I come to you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you, unless I shall speak to you either by revelation, or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine?
  • (verse 9) unless you utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? For you shall speak into the air.
  • (verse 11) If I don’t know the meaning of the voice, I shall be to him that speaks a barbarian, and he that speaks a barbarian to me.
  • (verse 13) Let him that speaks in an unknown tongue…
  • (verse 18) I thank my God that I speak with tongues…
  • (verse 19) In the church, I would rather speak five words with my understanding…
  • (verse 21) In the Law it is written, “With other tongues and other lips will I speak to this people…saith the Lord.”
  • (verse 23) …and all speak in tongues…
  • (verses 27-28) if any man speak in an unknown tongue…if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church, and let him speak to himself and to God.
  • (verse 29) Let the prophets speak
  • (verses 34-35) Let your women keep silence in the churches, for it is not permitted for them to speak, as also says the Law…it is a shame for women to speak in the church.
  • (verse 39) covet to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak with tongues.

Do you notice the trend there?  The same word is used over and over in this chapter, and it is a reference to speaking in front of the congregation by inspiration (tongues, prophecies, songs, revelations, etc.).

Now, it is quite possible God had given some of the female Christians in Corinth the ability to prophesy (perhaps referenced in 1 Corinthians 11:5, which we will deal with in another lesson), and Philip had four daughters who prophesied as well (Acts 21:8-9).  But even though they had the miraculous ability to do those things, God stated plainly that they were not permitted to use those gifts when the church was gathered together.  And if God was that strict on women speaking in the assembly when they had miraculous capabilities to do so, how can anyone possibly think that He’s lifted that restriction now that they don’t have the miraculous gifts?

Though the context is miraculous, the principle still remains (and fits perfectly with what Paul said in 1 Timothy 2, that we looked at last week), women are not permitted to speak (that is, to lead in any aspect of the worship) in the church.

Now, look again with me at verses 27-28 of this chapter.

If any man speaks in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course (or, one at a time); and let one interpret.  But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself and to God.

Other than the him/her, this is the exact same wording as for the woman in the original.  Whatever it means for the man here, it means for the woman in verse 34.  This man is commanded to keep quiet from speaking in tongues if there is no interpreter.  It doesn’t mean he’s not permitted to lead a prayer in the normal language of the people at the close of the service; it’s talking about the speaking in tongues.  In short, THERE IS A CONTEXT!

So, when Paul says, “Let your women keep silence in the churches,” he’s got reference to leading in worship.  The chapter gives all the different “speakings” that are under consideration—praying, preaching, teaching, interpreting, speaking in tongues, leading a song.  “Speaking” in the assembly is a role that God has placed upon the shoulders of male Christians.

But it’s almost as though Paul expected that statement about women exercising their gifts in the assembly to be taken badly by his readers, because right after saying it, he says:

What?  Did the word of God come out of you?  Or did it only come to you?  If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I am writing to you are the commandments of the Lord. 

Then he says, (KJV) “If any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant.”  A more literal translation might be, “If any man is actively ignorant (in this matter), do not recognize him.”

My brethren, those are some incredibly strong words from God.  Those who reject God’s commands regarding who is permitted to lead in the worship aren’t really spiritual; they are actively ignorant, rejecting the commands of the Lord; and they are not to be recognized as being right with God.

Invitation

Being right with God isn’t just something nice to be, it is absolutely essential to our holiness and happiness and hope.  You can’t be wrong with God here and expect to be right with God at judgment!  My friends, a home with God Himself is there for you if you will submit to His authority and do your best to follow His commands.  That might sound domineering, but it’s like saying “just obey the law, and you’ll be fine.”  The law of God says that those who believe in Jesus have the power to become children of God (John 1:12).  These believers have to put their belief into action by repenting of their sins, confessing that Jesus is the Christ, and being baptized in submission to His will.  Only those who have done these things are made citizens of that heavenly kingdom!  And after you become a citizen, “just obey the law, and you’ll be fine.”  When you mess up, when you sin, when you fall away, God is merciful and will forgive you when you go to Him in prayer, confessing your sin and repenting of it.

God loves you and wants you to be saved. He’s giving you an opportunity right now to do it.  Won’t you do it now?

-Bradley S. Cobb

The Role of Women in the Church (Part One)

Introduction:

The Bible is, and will always be, the rule of faith and practice for God’s people.  We know from its pages, from the words of Jesus Christ, from the examples of the Christians in Act, from the letters God inspired to be written to Christians, how we are to live our lives, and what God desires from us in our worship.

His Divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him that has called us to glory and virtue (2 Peter 1:3).

All Scripture is inspired by God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness, so that the person of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

The question that we must ask ourselves is: “Do we believe that?”  Some people don’t.  Some people in the church don’t believe it!  Oh, don’t get me wrong, they’ll say they believe it, but then they will do things, promote things, preach about things in such a way that they’re only paying lip-service to God’s word.

Let’s consider those two passages again.  Peter says that the Divine power has given (past tense) us all things that pertain to life (spiritual life) and godliness (literally, the word is “good-worship”).  If we have been given everything that has to do with spiritual life and true reverence and worship to God, then that means if we can’t find it in the Bible, it doesn’t pertain to spiritual life or to godliness/good-worship.  In other words, if it’s not found in the Word of God, then it is a commandment of men, an unauthorized addition which results in worthless worship (“In vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrine the commandments of men” – Matthew 15:9)

Paul told Timothy that the Scriptures were sufficient to make someone perfect or complete, and to equip that person for every good work.  If it isn’t from the Bible (whether by precept or principle), then it isn’t a good work.

Lately, I’ve heard of several Christians who are trying to push the idea that there are no gender roles in the church: that whatever a man is authorized to do in worship, the woman is as well.  Since God has given us everything necessary for godliness (and remember that word in Greek literally means “worship”), we ought to be able to find either (1) examples, (2) commands, or (3) principles that permit such a thing—if such a thing is truly permitted.

I was requested to do a series of lessons on this topic, and my prayer is that they will be clear, understandable, and in keeping with God’s word.  Please, turn in your Bibles to 1 Timothy 2.

“Let the woman learn in silence”

First Timothy, chapter 2, describes worship in the church.  There are some of our brethren who disagree with that, and so let’s just prove it real quick.  In the next chapter, Paul tells Timothy what the whole purpose of this letter is:

I am writing these things to you, hoping to come to you shortly, but if I delay long, that you might know how you ought to behave yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Timothy 3:14).

The instructions given in First Timothy are about matters in the church.  But let’s go a little further in proving the point.  Look, now, at chapter 2.  Verse eight helps prove the point:

I desire that men [males] pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting (1 Timothy 2:8).

The command of God from Paul is that males are to pray everywhere.  If, as some brethren contend, this chapter isn’t about the church, then that means women are forbidden to pray anywhere—ever—because only men are allowed to pray.  This is speaking about when the church is gathered together.  Paul used the phrase “everywhere” in 1 Corinthians 4:17, and clarified that by “everywhere,” he meant “in every church.”  Coupling this with what we read from elsewhere in the same letter to Timothy, we have conclusive proof that Paul is giving instructions relating to things “in the church,” or to say it another way, “when the church is gathered together.”

We might also add to this list of evidence the fact that Paul say women aren’t allowed to teach a man, yet we have an approved example of a woman assisting her husband in teaching a man—outside of the assembly (Acts 18, Aquila, Priscilla, and Apollos).  Thus, this command obviously doesn’t apply to teaching outside the assembly—only inside the assembly.

So, in 1 Timothy 2:8, we have divine instruction that only males are to lead in prayer when the church is gathered together.  Obviously, God is not authorizing just any male to lead prayer, but only a Christian male—since this is speaking about things “in the church.”  This is important to remember as we get further in the chapter.

Having thus shown that the context is about the assembly of the church, let’s look at verses 11-12:

Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection.  But I do not permit a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.

First, consider that in verses 9-10, Paul instructs women to dress and behave in such a way as to not draw attention to themselves (modest apparel, not expensive flashy jewelry, but instead clothing themselves with good works).  Likewise, then, women are not to draw attention to themselves in the assembly by seeking to be in a position of authority.

Second, look at the word “silence.”  The word here is not a prohibition of all sound, but a quiet, humble attitude that recognizes that she is not in authority in the worship of God.  The word only appears four times in the New Testament: twice here (1 Timothy 2:11-12), once in Acts 22:2 and in 2 Thessalonians 3:12.  In Acts 22:2, Paul began speaking to the crowd of Jews in Hebrew, which surprised them, and they became quiet so they could hear him.  But in 1 Thessalonians 3:11-12, Paul chastises the busybodies, telling them to work with “quietness.”  It’s not that they aren’t allowed to ever utter a word, but they are to cease from gossiping, being meddlers in other men’s matters.  They are to be quiet in regards to those things.  In the same way, the women are commanded to be silent in regards to (1) praying, (2) teaching over a man, and (3) taking authority over a man in the assembly.  In other words, they are not to take any kind of leadership role in the worship of the church.

Women don’t have to be completely without sound in the assembly—all saints are commanded to sing, “speaking to yourselves in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19).  “Teaching and admonishing one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” (Colossians 3:16).

The phrase “with all subjection” teaches us that in the worship assembly, the woman is to be in submission, or under the authority, of the men who are leading in the worship.  The woman doesn’t preach the lesson, lead the singing, lead the prayers.  She sits and accepts that these are roles which have been given to male Christians by God.

“I do not permit a woman to teach…”

Some people have taken this phrase and ignored the context, trying to make it say something that it was never meant to say.  I’ve had discussions with men who believe that having a Bible class is sinful, and as evidence, they say “women aren’t permitted to teach.”  But look at the verse.  Paul says that a woman is not to teach…a man.  This doesn’t say she’s not allowed to teach at all (Titus 2:3-5 actually commands the older women to teach the younger women), it says she’s not allowed to teach a man.  And it’s not just any man.  Go back to verse 8.  Who is that “man,” that “male,” that is under consideration?  It’s a Christian male.  That is the only male in the context.

What God, through Paul, is forbidding here is not a woman teaching children, nor is it a woman teaching male children, nor is it a woman teaching adult males outside of the assembly.  What God has strictly forbidden is Christian women teaching Christian men in the assembly.

But we also need to couple this with the next phrase Paul uses:

“I do not permit a woman…to usurp authority over the man.”

I’ve heard the argument more times than I care to remember: “She’s not usurping the authority if the elders give it to her to teach/pray/preach/etc…”  The word translated “usurp authority” means “exercise authority” or “have authority” over someone.  Some translations render it “have dominion” over a man.  Basically, then, what this means is that the Christian woman is not permitted to have, to use, or to exert any authority over Christian males in the assembly.

Oh, it is said, but if she doesn’t usurp the authority, it’s okay.  The elders don’t have the right to give a woman authority in the assembly.  It’s not up to them!  This is something that GOD HIMSELF has set in place—He is the one who determined who has authority, who leads in the worship assembly when the church gathers together.  Even if a group of elders decides they’ll let a woman preach, teach, lead prayer, lead singing, or anything else that is a position of leadership in the assembly, GOD has said that women are to “learn in silence, with all subjection.”  Note that clearly!  God says “ALL subjection.”  He doesn’t say, “with SOME subjection,” but “with ALL subjection”!  That means that Christian women, in the assembly, are not permitted by God to have any authoritative role that would make a Christian male to have to show some kind of submission to her.

Teaching (which would include preaching) is explicitly forbidden (1 Timothy 2:12).  Leading in prayer is explicitly forbidden (1 Timothy 2:8).  Anything that would make the woman the leader is explicitly forbidden (1 Timothy 2:12)—that includes serving at the Lord’s Table, even if she isn’t saying the prayer, because the woman would be in front of everyone, and would be exercising authority in passing around the Lord’s Supper and collecting the funds contributed.  Leading in singing is also forbidden explicitly in 1 Corinthians 14 (but we’ll look at that later).

Paul concludes that thought by repeating that the Christian woman, during the assembly, is “to be in silence.”  Again, the “silence” is limited by the context to (1) praying, (2) teaching, and (3) anything that would put her in a position of authority over a Christian man.

What About Speaking in a Bible Class?

It has been argued that women are not permitted to speak up in a Bible class, because when they speak in class, they are teaching, and that they are commanded to be in silence.

Jesus Himself led His disciples around, and was their teacher.  They spoke to Him quite frequently during these teaching sessions, asking questions, making observations, showing their agreement or disagreement.  But did they ever become the teacher?  Was there ever a time during these teachings that Jesus ceased to be the teacher, and ceased to have authority?  Of course not.  To ask questions during a Bible class is not the same thing as teaching or having authority.  To make observations during Bible class is not the same thing as teaching or having authority.  If a non-Christian male came into the Bible class and asked questions or made an observation, we wouldn’t for a moment accuse him of “teaching” and “usurping authority” over the teacher of the class.  Why, then, would we make that same accusation when a woman does it?

Can there come a time when a Christian woman might talk so much, in effect filibustering the class, that she’s taking it over?  Yes, of course, and such is wrong and condemned by 1 Timothy 2:12.  But simply speaking up in class is not “teaching” or otherwise “exercising authority” over Christian males.

Some will appeal to 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, saying “Let your women keep silence in the churches…if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home, for it is a shame for a woman to speak in the church.”  We will deal with that passage more in-depth in another lesson, but the answer to their objection is the context!  The context of the entire chapter is public leadership roles when the church is gathered together.  Prophesying, speaking in tongues, interpreting, leading singing, praying—these are the items under consideration.  And it is in this context that women are told to be silent.

What About Teaching a Bible Class?

God gave some women in the first century miraculous abilities (and we’ll deal with that in a later lesson), which included being able to prophesy (Philip had four daughters who did just that).  Yet they were not permitted to use that ability when the church gathered together to worship (1 Corinthians 14:34-35).  God wouldn’t give them that ability and then not permit them to ever use it.  Thus, they would have been able to use it in teaching non-Christians (primarily women, but in private they could also teach non-Christian men), or other Christian women, or even children.

The ones who are so opposed to Bible classes say “You let women teach Bible classes, so you’re in sin!”  But remember what we said earlier: the prohibition on women teaching was “over a man”—that is, over a Christian man.  When God gives a specific command, we have no right to expand that command to include things that God didn’t.  So it is wrong to say this verse prohibits women from teaching a Bible class with babies, or children, or Christian young women.  The only prohibition was against a Christian women teaching Christian men.

One Final Example: Jezebel

Lord willing, we will be able to continue this study and deal with several passages that help us understand the role of women in the church.  But for tonight, we will just look at one last passage briefly: Revelation 2:18-23.

To the messenger of the church in Thyatira, write: “These things says the Son of God, who has His eyes like to a flame of fire, and His feet are like fine brass: I know your works, and charity, and service, and faith, and your patience, and your works; and the last more than the first.  Notwithstanding, I have a few things against you because you permit that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed to idols.  And I gave her space to repent of her fornication, and she did not repent.  Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds.  And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the reins and hearts: and I will give to every one of you according to your works.

Jesus condemns this loving church, this working church, this serving church because of two things: (1) they permit that woman to teach, and (2) they permit that woman to seduce servants of God to sin.  The second one is bad, but so is the first one.  They were condemned because they were allowing a woman to teach in the church.  The fact that she was seducing Christians to sin makes it even worse, but in the Greek, they are two separate things: (1) teaching and (2) seducing Christians to do evil.

My brethren, if Jesus Christ would condemn a loving, working, serving church because they allowed a woman to teach in the church, that means He would do the same to us as well if we permit such things to happen here!

Invitation

Here’s the deal: we have been given everything we need for spiritual life and for proper worship.  We don’t go by feelings or by I think; we go by God said.  This principle, when followed, guarantees us a home eternal with the Lord Jesus Christ.  This principle applies not just to the role of women in the church, but also to salvation.

We were listening to “Adventures in Odyssey” yesterday (which is produced by Baptists, if I’m not mistaken), and one of the characters was questioning her salvation, saying “Did I not say the prayer right?”  She’d been taught that salvation comes from uttering a “Lord, come into my heart” prayer that isn’t found in the Bible—nowhere is a non-Christian told to pray in order to be saved.  There are those who use what they call the “mourner’s bench,” where you go up front to this bench, agonize over your sins, while everyone else tries to pray until you are “prayed through,” and have this feeling of relief, which they take as a sign that you’ve been saved.  This is trying to rely on feelings instead of God’s word!

God only gave one gospel, and it is spelled out for us in the Bible.  There is no salvation apart from obedience to His commands regarding how to get into Christ.

-Bradley S. Cobb

From Murderer to Missionary – The Life of the Apostle Paul (Part Eleven)

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Paul’s Second Missionary Journey (part one)

The Conflict over John Mark

Paul, always concerned about the spiritual welfare of his brethren in Christ, approaches Barnabas one day with a great idea—Let’s go back and check on all the brethren in the cities we stopped at during our mission trip!  Barnabas was ready to go, and decided they should take John Mark.  Paul was incredulous.  Are you serious?  I’m not going to ask the church to help support someone untrustworthy like him. I know he’s your cousin, but we’re not taking him along!1 Paul was so adamant about not taking Mark along that he and Barnabas—who had been partners in the work for perhaps five years or more—stopped working together at all.2

After Barnabas left with Mark to Cyprus to strengthen the churches he and Paul had planted there, Paul chose Silas, a brother from Jerusalem who had accompanied him to Antioch with the letter from the apostles and elders in Jerusalem.  Together, with the aid and blessing of the church in Antioch, they went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the congregations.3

Circumcision

Traveling over land, Paul returned to Derbe and Lystra—the latter being the place where an angry mob stoned him nearly to death.  In Lystra, Paul found a young disciple named Timothy who was already well-known and well-respected in both Lystra and Iconium (both places where Paul was heavily persecuted).4  This young man would end up being one of Paul’s closest companions and friends for the rest of his life.

In a completely PR5 move, Paul took Timothy (a half-Jew) and circumcised him.  He did this so that Timothy could have more influence with the Jews, access to speaking in their synagogues, and to show Timothy’s respect for the Law of Moses.  But at the same time, Paul shared the letter from the apostles and elders in Jerusalem, saying that Gentiles had no obligation to submit to any part of the Law of Moses.  Because of the clear instructions and expectations for the Gentiles, and the show of respect to the Law for the Jews, Paul became all things to all men, and the church grew daily.6

The Macedonian Call

Paul, along with Silas, Timothy, and perhaps some others, traveled and preached through Phrygia7 and Galatia.8  He really wanted to go to the province of Asia (which included the massive city of Ephesus), but the Holy Spirit had other plans for him and told him not to go at that time.9 So instead, Paul heads north through the area of Mysia,10 and planned to enter the province of Bithynia, but again the Holy Spirit had other plans, and told him not to go there.11  So, instead, Paul and company went down toward the seaport city of Troas, where he met a doctor named Luke.12

While in Troas, Paul received a vision from the Lord: he saw a man from Macedonia begging him to “Come over into Macedonia and help us.”  Immediately, he described the vision to Silas, Timothy, and Luke, and they all agreed that this was what God wanted, so they made plans to sail to Macedonia to preach the gospel.13

Bradley S. Cobb

1 Colossians 4:10, NKJV.  The KJV says that Mark is “sister’s son,” or nephew to Barnabas, but the Greek work means “cousin,” and is so translated in every major translation of the past 150 years (ASV, NKJV, RSV, ESV, NASB, MLV, etc.).  The word eventually took on the sense of “nephew,” but not until many years after the New Testament was completed, according to Robertson, Vincent, B.W. Johnson, and others.

2 Acts 15:36-39.  They worked together for a year in Antioch before making the trip to Jerusalem with aid for the churches in Judea; upon returning (no length of time is given for this mission), they worked again in Antioch until they were sent on their missionary journey, which took at least a year (most estimate it as 1½ to 2 years); they came back to Antioch and remained there a “long time” before the circumcision controversy raised its ugly head; they went to Jerusalem, preaching along the way; they returned from Jerusalem, and “continued in Antioch”; and it was “some days” later that Paul made the suggestion of leaving.

3 On the first missionary journey, Paul had sailed to Cyprus, and then after crossing the island, sailed to Asia Minor.  On the second journey, since Barnabas had gone to Cyprus, Paul took the land route to Asia Minor, visiting congregations that he apparently planted, but which are not mentioned by Luke in the book of Acts.  Luke’s purpose in writing did not include giving Paul’s every movement, but to give the history of the establishment of the church and the spread of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire, and perhaps also as an aid for Paul’s legal defense before Caesar, showing his innocence in the matters of which he was accused.  So it shouldn’t be a concern that no mention was made of Paul and Barnabas visiting cities in Cilicia and Syria and planting the church there.

4 Acts 16:1-2.  This indicates that Timothy had been working with the churches in both cities, probably preaching.

5 Public relations.

6 Acts 16:3-5.

7 Acts 16:6.  Phrygia is in Central Asia Minor.

8 Acts 16:6.  “Galatia” was used two ways in the first century.  One referred to the Roman province, and the other to a larger area describing the people who lived in that area, including the cities of Antioch of Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe.  Luke is using “Galatia” to describe the Roman province, which was to the north.  This is certain because it was after leaving Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe (ethnic Galatia) that Luke records them visiting Galatia.

9 Acts 16:6.  It is important to note that Paul wasn’t forbidden to ever enter Asia—he did go there later on during this very missionary journey, and stayed there for three years.  For a more detailed discussion of this forbidding, see this author’s book, The Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts, comments on this passage.

10 Acts 16:7.  Mysia is a Roman colony, never becoming an official province, that was at the north end of the province of Asia, along the Mediterranean Sea, and bordered the province of Bithynia.  Troas was the chief city in this region.  See Robertson’s Word Pictures on Acts 16:8.

11 Acts 16:7.  Bithynia was a Roman province in the northwestern corner of Asia Minor.  The Holy Spirit (some Greek manuscripts have “the Spirit of Jesus”) forbade Paul to go evangelize there, but it wasn’t because God didn’t want the gospel spread there.  1 Peter 1:1-2 shows that someone had gone to Bithynia and evangelized, and that many were converted.  In AD 110-115, Pliny became governor of Bithynia, and in a letter to the emperor Trajan, wrote that there were many Christians in the area, to the point where most of the heathen temples had been abandoned.  See International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, “Bithynia.”

12 The pronouns “they” and “them” are used until Paul arrives at Troas.  Once Paul is in Troas, Luke starts using the pronouns “we” and “us” (see Acts 16:10), showing that he is now part of their company.  The details of their first meeting and Luke’s conversion (most likely by Paul), we are not permitted to know, for this historian kept himself out of his writings as much as possible.  Luke is called “the beloved physician” in Colossians 4:14.  See the section in chapter one on the “Companions of Titus” for a fuller discussion of Luke.

13 Acts 16:10.  The phrase “assuredly gathering” (KJV) means they all came to the same conclusion.  Luke uses the pronoun “we,” showing that it was the group that came to the conclusion, and the group that made plans to leave for Macedonia.  Obviously, it was at Paul’s urging, but they were all in agreement.

From Murderer to Missionary – The Life of the Apostle Paul (Part Ten)

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Paul’s Defense of His Gentile Ministry

While Paul was in Antioch, working with a congregation made up of both Jew and Gentile Christians, some men came from Judea, and began to teach the brethren than unless they were circumcised, in accordance with the Law of Moses, they couldn’t be saved.1  This threatened to destroy not only the congregation in Antioch—which had a great number of Gentile Christians—but also all the work Paul had accomplished in his first missionary journey.  The teaching those men were bringing undermined (1) the Holy Spirit, who sent Paul and Barnabas on the mission; (2) the validity of the prophets—including Paul and Barnabas—in Antioch, who received and delivered the message from the Holy Spirit; (3) the confidence of the congregation in Antioch with Paul and Barnabas, since they had sent these men and most likely financed a good part of their journey; (4) the good name of the congregation in Antioch, who had sent Paul and Barnabas as “apostles,” representatives of the church at Antioch; (5) God Himself, who had confirmed the apostolic message by miracles; (6) the salvation of a vast number of people, both in Antioch and across Asia Minor.

With so much at stake, it is no wonder that Paul and Barnabas’ argument and debate with these Jews was “not small.”  Paul no doubt showed from the Old Testament Scriptures that salvation was open to the Gentiles as Gentiles—not as proselytes to Judaism, but still these Judean teachers would not back down.  The disturbance was so great that the church sent Paul and Barnabas, as well as some of the other brethren, to Jerusalem to meet with the apostles and elders to get an authoritative answer to the question2—even though Paul knew what the answer would be before they ever left.

As they made their way from Antioch to Jerusalem, financed in their journey by the church at Antioch, they passed through Phoenicia and Samaria, and Paul declared to the Christians they met about the conversion of the Gentiles—in other words, he was sharing the good news about the salvation of Gentiles in Christ while he was on his way to a big event whose purpose was to determine if these Gentile converts were really saved.  Paul knew what the decision would be, and shared the joy with others before the apostles and elders gave their decision on the matter.  This news which he proudly spread to the churches in Samaria brought great joy—the Samaritan Christians wouldn’t have had the same prejudices against Gentiles as the Jews.3

Arriving in Jerusalem, Paul and Barnabas were welcomed warmly by the church, the apostles, and the elders.  They shared the good news of how God used them as missionaries, but instead of bringing joy to all the people like it did in Samaria, it got some people upset.  Some of the Christians who were also Pharisees stood up and basically denied that the Gentile converts had ever really be saved, because they hadn’t been circumcised, nor did they follow the Law of Moses.4  This caused the apostles and elders to convene a public hearing on the matter.5

After much discussion (or questioning, ASV) on the matter, in which the Pharisees would have been able to present their case, Paul watched as Peter stood and affirmed that the Gentiles had no obligation to follow the Law of Moses to be saved.  Then Barnabas and Paul6 stood, “declaring the miracles and wonders that God had worked by them among the Gentiles,” re-affirming what Peter had said: that God showed His approval of Gentiles coming into the kingdom without the Law of Moses.7  After James gave the verdict, and a letter was written to send to the Gentile Christians, Paul and Barnabas (along with Judas and Silas) went back to Antioch to share the good news—their salvation was secure, and sealed with apostolic approval.

Bradley S. Cobb

1 Acts 15:1.  Several questions arise when considering this event—first and foremost among them How/why did these teachers from Judea get access to the church?  We cannot doubt that they were sincere in their belief, and it is not likely that they attempted to be stealthy about it.  However, this shows the wisdom of not letting someone teach without first knowing them.  This responsibility falls on the elders.  Secondly, these men were teaching that unless one was circumcised after the manner of Moses, they couldn’t be saved.  Yet the covenant involving circumcision pre-dates the Law of Moses, going back to Abraham (Genesis 17:13).  Additionally, Moses wasn’t too good at remembering to circumcise (Exodus 4:24-26).

2 Acts 15:2.  Paul was inspired, as was Barnabas and the other prophets in Antioch.  As such, their answer should have been sufficient to put the matter to rest.  However, Paul’s status as an apostle was not as well-established among the Judean Christians at this point, so it was decided to appeal to a universally-recognized authority among the Christians—the apostles.  It’s interesting that the apostles and elders were mentioned as authoritative in the matter.  It is quite likely that the elders there included many of the 70 men that Jesus sent forth during His earthly ministry.  These were leaders among the first church of Christ (in Jerusalem since Pentecost), and were given great respect by those in Antioch.

3 Acts 15:3.  This final point was brought out by J.W. McGarvey in his original commentary on Acts.

4 Acts 15:4-5.  Some have questioned why it is that this argument was even brought up in the first place.  After all, didn’t they know that the Law of Moses was nailed to the cross and fulfilled in Jesus Christ?  Did they not know that God’s New Covenant was in force?  What were the apostles teaching them anyway, if they didn’t know this extremely basic concept?  Part—perhaps even most—of the answer can be found in understanding that the Law of Moses was not just a religious law, but also a civil or national one.  At the death of Jesus, as the perfect sacrifice, the Law of Moses ceased to have any religious power.  But at the same time, it was the law of the land, and so faithful Jewish Christians would be obliged to follow the Law of Moses as the national law, except in instances where it could have violated the law of God.  This is why the Jewish Christians would celebrate the Passover, observe the Sabbath, keep the Jewish dietary laws—because it was the law of the land, which is to be obeyed unless it causes one to violate the law of God.  So Jewish Christians, especially in Jerusalem, would have never stopped observing the Law of Moses, even after becoming a Christian.  So, since they never stopped observing the Law of Moses, it was very difficult for them to comprehend being right with God without the Law of Moses.

5 Public as far as the church is concerned, at least.  Verse 12 says that there was a “multitude” in attendance, which would have been more than just the apostles and elders.

6 This reverses the order used throughout their missionary journeys, probably showing that Barnabas took the lead in speaking.

7 Acts 15:6-12.

From Murderer to Missionary – The Life of the Apostle Paul (Part Nine)

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Returning to Antioch

Paul must have been quite the sight as he entered into Derbe.  But people listened to what he and Barnabas taught, and many obeyed the divine commands.  After an apparently persecution-free visit there,1 they returned to the scene of the stoning, Lystra, and met again with the souls who had obeyed the blessed gospel, encouraging them, grounding them in the truth, and warning them that they will have difficult times ahead of them—but that the eternal reward is worth the tribulation here on earth.  How powerful this message must have been when coming from the one who had been viciously attacked and left for dead by an angry mob!  He tells them that even though he was nearly killed, it was worth it for heaven!  Then, from among the gathered disciples, Paul and Barnabas selected and ordained men to serve as elders.2

Departing from Lystra, he returned to Iconium—the same city that he had to flee from in order to avoid being stoned earlier; the same city that was home to some of the very Jews who had chased him to Lystra and actually caused the stoning that left him looking dead.  This shows incredible boldness on the part of Jesus’ own chosen apostle.3  There, he and Barnabas did as they did in Lystra: encouraging the saints to persevere under pressure, and selecting and ordaining godly men to serve as elders.

Doing the same thing in Antioch of Pisidia, they then returned to Perga (where John Mark had left them) and preached the gospel there before going to Attalia and sailing back to Antioch of Syria, from which they had been called by the Holy Spirit in the first place.

Once they returned to Antioch, they gathered the church together and reported all the things that had happened to them.  You can imagine the smiles when Paul shared the joyful news of the obedient believers; the looks of surprise and horror when they described the priest of Zeus and the crowds in Lystra trying to worship mere men; the shock and compassion when Paul’s near-death experience was mentioned.  They were certainly pleased and encouraged by the response to the gospel by the Gentiles, and welcomed these two men back as beloved brothers in Christ.  Paul and Barnabas stayed in Antioch “a long time” after returning.4

-Bradley S. Cobb

1 It seems most likely that, after believing Paul to be dead, the Jewish persecutors thought the matter over, and went back home.  Paul probably didn’t make his entrance into the city a public event or spectacle, and his departure was probably the same way, giving the persecutors no reason to stay.  Thus, they wouldn’t have heard about Paul’s work in Derbe until much later.

2 Acts 14:21-23.  See 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 for the characteristics that the chosen men had.  There are those who claim that these are simply guidelines, suggestions for those who want to serve as elders; but the Scripture says that an elder must be those things, possess those character traits.  If a man doesn’t meet those qualifications, then he can call himself an elder all he wants—but according to God, he isn’t an elder.  Instead, he is a usurper of the divinely-given office, and will have to give an account to God for his usurpation of authority that doesn’t belong to him.

3 It is possible that the return visits to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch of Pisidia did not involve public preaching, but were instead private, inconspicuous visits.  Paul would not have wanted to push his persecutors into repeating their murderous attempt at Lystra.

4 All of these events can be found described in Acts 14:21-28.

From Murderer to Missionary – The Life of the Apostle Paul (Part Eight)

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The Conflicts in Iconium and Lystra

In Iconium, Paul preached in the synagogue, and a “great multitude” of Jews and Greeks obeyed the gospel.1  The Jews who refused to believe riled up the Gentiles against Paul and Barnabas, but these two men continued for a long time to speak boldly, and silenced some of the opposition by their bold preaching and accompanying miracles.  However, the Jews wouldn’t stop, and eventually convinced some of the Gentiles to join with them in a mob for the purpose of assaulting and stoning God’s missionaries.  Paul and Barnabas discovered their intent and fled to the cities of Lystra and Derbe, where they commenced preaching again.2

While preaching in Lystra, Paul stared intently at a man who was listening to the sermon.  This man was sitting (most likely on the ground), because he was physically incapable of standing.  In fact, he was crippled from birth, and had never walked.  This man, listening, believed what Paul was preaching, and Paul could see that the man had faith to be saved.3  So Paul spoke very loudly, assuring that all the people could hear what he said, “Stand up on your feet!”  And not only did the man stand, but he also amazed the crowd by jumping and walking.4

This brought out a reaction that even Paul and Barnabas couldn’t have foreseen—the people started shouting that “The gods have come down to us in the form of men!”5  Barnabas, apparently the stronger figure, they called Zeus;6 while Paul, the main speaker, they called Hermes.7  The priest of the temple of Zeus was so excited (and perhaps quite concerned about offending the gods) that he brought oxen to sacrifice, and garlands to decorate them with.8  The people all joined in with the desire and cry to sacrifice to these mighty gods who had come to bless them with their presence.

Upset and anxious to stop them—for only the God of heaven is worthy of worship—Paul and Barnabas tore their clothing, running through the chanting crowd, shouting:

“Why are you doing these things?  We are humans, the same as you, and we are telling you to turn from these empty things, and to the living God, who made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and everything that is in them; who in times past permitted all nations to walk in their own ways.  However, He did not leave Himself without testimony, in that He did Good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.”9

Even with these earnest pleadings, these denials of godhood, they just barely were able to keep the people from sacrificing to them.  The crowd must have been confused by their actions, but some were willing to listen, and several obeyed the gospel.10

While Paul and Barnabas were in Lystra,11 the Jews who had tried to kill Paul in Iconium and Antioch arrived and stirred up the people—quite possibly on the heels of the two missionaries finally calming them down from their fervor to sacrifice.  These Jews persuaded the people—almost certainly accusing God’s messengers of rejecting Zeus and Hermes—and stirred them into such a frenzy that they began to pelt Paul with rocks and stones, knocking him to the ground and continuing the assault until he lay motionless.  Believing he was dead, they dragged his bruised and bloodied body outside the city and left him there.  But while the believers stood sadly around his beaten form, their hearts leapt with joy when they saw movement—Paul moved!  He was alive!  He got up from the ground, and walked back into the city.  But the next day, he and Barnabas left and traveled to Derbe.12

-Bradley S. Cobb

1 Acts 14:1.  As noted earlier in this chapter, the biblical writers often use the word “believe” to describe the entire process of salvation.  The reason for this is that true faith (the noun form of the word “believe”) is always accompanied with obedience, as proven abundantly by Hebrews 11.

2 Acts 14:1-7.  Paul was only stoned once, according to his own account, and that didn’t happen until he was in Lystra (Acts 14:19-20; 2 Corinthians 11:25).

3 Acts 14:8-9.  The word translated “healed” (or some synonym) in almost every translation is the Greek word sozo, which is usually translated “saved”—93 of the 120 times it appears, in fact.  It seems incredible that when Paul is preaching the gospel, the man’s reaction and faith has nothing to do with being cleansed from sins, but only on being healed of his physical infirmity.  If the faith that came from hearing Paul’s sermon was faith in miraculous healing ability, then Paul preached quite a different gospel here than in other places.  If this word were translated “saved,” like it is so many other times in the New Testament, then there would be no confusion.  H.T. Anderson, in his 1865 translation of the New Testament, and his 1918 translation of the Sinaitic Manuscript, did just that.

4 Acts 14:10.

5 Acts 14:11.  This was a common theme in ancient literature.  See the works of Homer, for example.  Much of the legends surrounding the pantheon of gods include one of the gods coming to earth as a human and consorting with a human, bringing about demigods.  Given that these legends and myths were heavily promoted, especially by the priests of the pagan temples where worship to these “gods” was conducted, it shouldn’t really that surprising that the people would have this reaction.  Since they believed in a plethora of gods, and their literature had said that gods frequently came to earth and walked around as humans, it was logical for them to conclude that the miracle-working men must be gods.

6 Acts 14:12.  The KJV says “Jupiter,” but the Greek is Zeus.  The Romans basically assimilated the legends of the gods into their culture and gave them new names.  What in Greek was Zeus, the Romans called “Jupiter.”

7 Acts 14:12.  KJV says “Mercury,” but the Greek is Hermes.  Hermes was the messenger god, the god of speech and eloquence.  See Robertson’s Word Pictures and Vincent’s Word Studies on this passage for more details.

8 Acts 14:13.  It was common for oxen to be sacrificed to Zeus during this time, and the garlands were used to decorate them during the sacrifices.  See Matthew Henry’s commentary on this verse.

9 Acts 14:14-17.

10 Acts 14:18.  The text doesn’t describe anyone being converted, though the healed man (14:8-10) certainly would have obeyed the gospel, and there were others, because when Paul is stoned and left for dead, “the disciples” stood around him (14:20).  Whether these people obeyed the gospel prior to the healing and the sacrificial attempts, or between that event and the arrival of the Jews, is not made clear.

11 The inspired text does not tell us how long there is between the sacrificial fiasco and the arrival of Jewish perpetrators.  It could have taken place the same day, or it could have been several weeks later.  The way the text reads, it is quite possible that these Jews arrived while the sacrificial attempts were taking place, and stirred up the people, accusing Paul and Barnabas of denying the power of the great Zeus and Hermes.

12 Acts 14:19-20.

From Murderer to Missionary – The Life of the Apostle Paul (Part Seven)

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The Conflict in Antioch of Pisidia

Upon their arrival in Antioch of Pisidia, a free Roman city, they entered the Jewish synagogue on the Sabbath, and they sat down for the reading of the Law and the Prophets.  The rulers of the synagogue (that is, the ones in charge of the Sabbath gatherings)1 sent [literally, apostled] someone to go to Paul and Barnabas and tell them, “Men, brethren, if you have any word of encouragement for the people, speak.”

Paul rose from his seat, motioned with his hand for their attention, and said to them: “Men of Israel, and you who fear God, listen.”  He then proceeded to give them a brief recap of their history as a nation, going back to the Exodus, the conquest of Canaan, the period of the judges, the monarchy under Saul, and then he stopped for a moment to deal with David.

“He [God] raised up David for them, to be their king; about whom He bore witness and said, ‘I have found David, the son of Jesse, to be a man after my own heart, who shall do all my desire.’  Of this man’s seed, God has, according to His promise, raised for Israel a Savior, Jesus.”2

After reminding them that John the Baptist preached baptism of repentance, and foretold of one greater than he, Paul described the perversion of justice that resulted in the murder of Jesus.  Then he adds the words, “But God raised Him from the dead,”3 and then showed how it was prophesied in the Old Testament.  He concludes this stirring sermon to the Jews with the words:

Therefore, [let] it be known to you, men, brethren, that through this man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins.  And through Him, all that believe are justified from all the things from which you couldn’t be justified under the Law of Moses.  Therefore, beware, lest that which is spoken of in the prophets come upon you: “Behold, you despisers, and wonder, and perish!  For I do a work in your days, a work that you shall not ever believe, even though a man declares it to you.”4

Leaving the synagogue, several people (Jew and Gentile both) followed Paul and Barnabas, wanting to hear more.5  Paul took the opportunity to persuade them, and it is likely that some obeyed the gospel soon thereafter.6

The next Sabbath day, most of the city turned out to hear this message from God.  However, the Jews saw that the people were listening to these visitors, and their jealousy stopped their minds from listening to the truth presented.7  Instead, they began to contradict Paul’s message, and speaking evil of him—and by doing so, they were blaspheming God.8

Paul’s bold response to their action was to express a truth that would have made them hate him even more:

It was necessary that the word of God was spoken to you first.  But seeing that you have cast it away from you, and condemned yourselves as unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles.  Because this is what the Lord commanded us: “I have set you to be a light to the Gentiles, that you should be for salvation to the ends of the earth.”9

The Gentiles were ecstatic about this message, and many of them obeyed the gospel, and the result was that God’s message was preached throughout the whole area.  However, the Jews were incredibly upset, and caused a persecution against Paul and Barnabas by influencing the prominent men and women in the city.  As a result, the two missionaries were thrown out of the city.  Outside the city limits, Paul and Barnabas shook the dust of their feet at them, and traveled to Iconium.10  But they could be glad that there were now Christians living in the city of Antioch.

-Bradley S. Cobb

1 Thayer gives the definition of archisunagogos as “Ruler of the synagogue. It was his duty to select the readers or teachers in the synagogue, to examine the discourses of the public speakers, and to see that all things were done with decency and in accordance with ancestral usage.”

2 Acts 13:22-23.

3 Acts 13:30.

4 Acts 13:38-41.

5 Acts 13:42-43.  There are some textual variants in verse 42 which clouds the exact chronology of events.  The KJV says the Jews left the synagogue, leaving the missionaries and the Gentiles in the building.  The ASV says the missionaries left the synagogue first and talked with others outside after the synagogue meeting ended.  Either way, they still talked to Jews and Gentiles.

6 The text does not describe the reaction of the ones who were being “persuaded” by Paul, but he would have been in the city, studying with people throughout the next week.  It would be strange indeed if not a single one of the “many” who followed them obeyed the gospel.

7 The Jews were apparently quite influential in this city.  When the city was established under the Seleucid kings, its settlers were comprised of Phrygians, Greeks, and Jews (see International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, “Antioch of Pisidia”).  Thus, they had a long history in this Antioch.  The existence of many “religious proselytes” (Gentiles who converted to Judaism) in Acts 13:43, and the possible mention of Gentiles in the synagogue (verse 42, KJV), shows that they held a place of prominence in the city, religiously speaking.  So it is no surprise that when someone comes in, convincing the people that the Law of Moses was fulfilled/removed, and draws huge crowds, the Jews would be upset.  Robertson, commenting on verse 45, says “Nothing is specifically stated here about the rabbis, but they were beyond doubt the instigators of, and the ringleaders in, the opposition as in Thessalonica (Acts 17:5). No such crowds … came to the synagogue when they were the speakers.”

8 Acts 13:45.  Luke says they were “blaspheming,” though it is incredibly unlikely that they were intentionally blaspheming (speaking evil against) God.  Thus, the blaspheming must be against Paul—but the effect was that they were also (unknowingly) blaspheming against God.

9 Acts 13:46-47.

10 Acts 13:48-52.  The word “expelled” (verse 50, KJV) is ekballo, which means to throw out.  Whether this means the mob of people literally tossed them outside the city, or just forced them to leave, the result is the same: they were removed from the city.

From Murderer to Missionary – The Life of the Apostle Paul (Part Six)

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Paul’s First Missionary Journey

The Conflict with Elymas

Leaving Antioch, they went to Seleucia, a seaport town just southwest of Antioch, where they boarded a ship heading to Cyprus.  They landed on the eastern edge of the island of Cyprus, and worked their way westward across the island, preaching in the synagogues along the way.1

Once they got to Paphos, a city on the western coast of the island, their preaching attracted the attention of the proconsul of the island,2 whose name was Sergio Paul.3  He called Saul and Barnabas to meet him, because he wanted to hear the word of God.  However, there was another man who was with Sergio Paul, and who apparently held some measure of influence with him (or at least thought he did).  This man, Elymas, called himself Bar-Jesus (which means “son of Jesus”), but was a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet.4  When they began to preach the word to Sergio Paul, Elymas spoke against them—attempting to negate their message and imply that they were the false prophets, because he did not want the proconsul to obey the gospel.5

Saul (who from this point onward is known as “Paul”) stared him down,6 and by inspiration, called down a curse on him:

O [you are] full of all subtlety and mischief.  You son of the devil!  You enemy of all righteousness!  Will you never cease perverting the straight ways of the Lord?  And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is on you, and you shall be blind, not seeing the sun for a time.7

The first recorded miracle of Paul, a former opponent of Christianity who was blinded by God, was blinding another opponent of Christianity.  Immediately after Paul spoke those words, Elymas became blind, and walked around searching for someone to guide him.  This miracle had the desired effect: showing who the true spokesperson for God actually was.  After seeing the miracle, Sergio Paul believed, and was struck with amazement at the teaching about Jesus.  There can be no doubt that the proconsul obeyed the gospel.8

When they left Cyprus, they sailed northwest to Perga, a seaport city in Pamphylia.  It was while there that John Mark left them and returned to Jerusalem (most likely by sea).  We aren’t told why Mark left them, but it left Paul with a not-too-high regard for his trustworthiness.  Most likely, Paul preached in the city of Perga9 before they traveled to Antioch of Pisidia10 (not to be confused with Antioch of Syria, where Paul and Barnabas had worked together as prophets).

-Bradley S. Cobb

1 Acts 13:4-5.  It is possible that there were multiple synagogues in Salamis, the first city that they came to, but it is also certain that they would have preached as often as possible as they traveled through the island.

2 Luke was the target of many skeptics and atheists for this statement, because Cyprus didn’t have a proconsul; at least, that’s what they thought.  Archaeological discoveries have since shown that Augustus Caesar changed their governmental setup, and inscriptions from AD 51-52 have been unearthed which mention the proconsul of Cyprus named Paulus.  See Vincent’s Word Studies on Acts 13:7 for more information.

3 Acts 13:7.  The Greek in this verse is Σεργίῳ Παύλῳ, that is, Sergio Paulo.  Without exception, every translation renders it “Sergius Paulus,” even though the second word is translated “Paul” the other 154 times it appears in the Bible.

4 Acts 13:6-8.  Elymas fought against the truth of Jesus Christ as taught by Barnabas and Saul, yet called himself “son of Jesus,” which he may have done in an attempt to gather followers after himself, as though he was the heir to Jesus’ mantle.  He was a Jew, and his rejection of the truth leads us to conclude that he would have embraced the Law of Moses—which also condemns him because of his involvement in sorcery (Deuteronomy 18:10), and his being a false prophet (Deuteronomy 18:20).  See also Malachi 3:10.

5 Acts 13:8.

6 Acts 13:9.  The phrase “set his eyes” (KJV) on him is atenisas, from which we get the word “attention.”

7 Acts 13:9-11.  Paul calls him the “son of the devil” as a contrast to the name Elymas wore, “son of Jesus.”

8 Acts 13:12.  Often, the New Testament writers use the word “believe” to encompass the entire process of obedience to the gospel (Romans 1:16, for example).  Luke would not have recorded the incident in this way if the proconsul had refused to be baptized.  It is possible that the book of Acts was written as part of Paul’s defense before Caesar.  If this is the case, then maybe Luke didn’t specifically mention the baptism in order to not put any unnecessary persecution on Sergio Paul for joining the Christians.

9 The Scriptures do not give us every detail of Paul’s missionary journeys.  It seems very unlikely that he would be in a city for any length of time and not attempt to spread the gospel there.

10 This description by Luke has been the cause of some confusion, as this city was the capitol of southern Galatia, and in the region of Phrygia.  Souter, in James Hastings’ Dictionary of the Bible (“Antioch”), says that the official title of the city was “Antioch near Pisidia,” and attempts to explain the difficulty.

From Murderer to Missionary – The Life of the Apostle Paul (Part Five)

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Saul in Antioch

After a period of time had passed,1 the word had spread in many of the churches that Peter had baptized some Gentiles into Christ.  Then the first recorded integrated congregation, Antioch, began to grow with an influx of Gentiles obeying the gospel.2  When word of this reached Jerusalem, the church sent Barnabas to Antioch to see what was happening.  When he arrived and saw the great work that was being done, he was glad and encouraged the brethren there.  But he also saw this as an opportunity to bring Saul in.  Barnabas must have remembered that Jesus had foretold Saul would “carry my name before the Gentiles.”3  So he left Antioch and went to Tarsus to find him.

What Saul did while in Tarsus, we are not told.  It is almost certain that Paul taught or preached while he was there.  Possibly he tried to convert his family to Jesus Christ.  Regardless of what happened, Saul was certainly glad to see his friend Barnabas and hear the news about the Gentiles being brought into the kingdom of Christ.  That meant that he was going to be put to use in the service of the Lord.

Saul accompanied Barnabas back to Antioch, and they remained there for a full year, working with the congregation, teaching many people, and also fulfilling prophecy.  The Old Testament Scriptures say:

The Gentiles shall see your righteousness, and all kings your glory, and you shall be called by a new name, which the mouth of Jehovah shall name.4

The Lord Jehovah shall…call His servants by another name.5

So when Barnabas and Saul came to Antioch, after the Gentiles had seen the righteousness of Christ, they called the disciples this new name (by inspiration): Christians.6

During that year in Antioch, some prophets (including Agabus, who will figure into Paul’s life years later) came from Jerusalem, foretelling that there would be a horrible famine throughout all of Palestine.7  The Christians in Antioch, being good-hearted towards their brethren, gathered up what they could, and sent it to Judea in the care of Barnabas and Saul—two men who had proven themselves to be trustworthy and reliable to the church there.8

Arriving in Jerusalem, Saul and Barnabas delivered the gift to the church there (most likely to James and the elders), and having fulfilled their mission, they went back to Antioch, taking Barnabas’ nephew, John Mark, with them.9  That choice, to bring John Mark with them, would end up causing some very hard feelings years later.

Some time after returning to Antioch, Saul and Barnabas, along with some other prophets, were ministering to the Lord,10 and fasting, when the Holy Spirit spoke to them: “Separate for me Barnabas and Saul now, for the work to which I have called them.”11  The other prophets laid their hands on them, showing that they were commissioning them as emissaries of the church at Antioch.12

-Bradley S. Cobb

1 Estimates vary from a few months to a few years.

2 Acts 9:19-21.

3 Acts 9:15.

4 Isaiah 62:2.

5 Isaiah 65:15b.

6 Acts 11:26.  Most translations say “the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.”  However, the word “called” is not in the passive voice, as it is rendered in most translations, but in the active voice.  That is, “they” (Barnabas and Saul) are the ones who actively gave the name.  The Greek word used is always something delivered by God.  It is translated “admonished by God” (Hebrews 8:5); “warned by God” (Matthew 2:12, Acts 10:22, Hebrews 11:7).  The MLV translates it here in Acts 11:26, “divinely-called.”

7 The KJV translates it as “the whole world,” but Josephus, a first-century Jewish historian, uses the word to refer exclusively to the Promised Land.  This makes much more sense than “the whole world,” since the Christians in Antioch decided to send relief specifically and exclusively to the Christians in Judea.  Had it been “the whole world,” they would have needed to take care of themselves as well.

8 Acts 11:27-30.

9 Acts 12:25.

10 Acts 13:2.  The word translated “ministering” is from leitourgeo, which is where the word “liturgy” originated.  Some have taken this to mean that these prophets were officiating over a liturgical worship service in Antioch (where everything is structured, done the same way, said in the same way, etc.).  However, the word’s main meaning is serving at one’s own cost, such as someone who took it upon himself to pay expenses to run or improve the city.  The secondary meaning is simply religious service.  The second meaning is certainly in view.  See notes on this passage in this author’s The Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts.

11 Acts 13:1-2.  Most translations leave out the word “now,” which comes from the Greek de.  It means “now,” or “at once.”  The Holy Spirit told them it was time to get to work without delay.  The word “called” is the same one used in Acts 2:39, and means called for a specific purpose, work, or ministry.

12 Acts 13:3.  Later, they return to Antioch, “from whence they had been recommended to the grace of God for the work which they fulfilled” (Acts 14:26, KJV).  Robertson argues, based on Philippians 4:15, that the church in Antioch did not support the missionary effort monetarily, but the grammar of that verse doesn’t fit.