The Bible’s View
Woman’s Role in the First-Century Congregation
IN THE first century, women did not serve as appointed teachers in the Christian congregation. Why was this? How, then did they contribute toward the advancement of spiritual interests?
The apostle Paul wrote the following in connection with congregational teaching: “Let a woman learn in silence with full submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach, or to exercise authority over a man, but to be in silence. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. Also, Adam was not deceived, but the woman was thoroughly deceived and came to be in transgression.” (1 Tim. 2:11-14) “Let the women keep silent in the congregations, for it is not permitted for them to speak, but let them be in subjection, even as the Law says. If, then, they want to learn something, let them question their own husbands at home, for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in a congregation.”—1 Cor. 14:34, 35.
These inspired words encouraged women to listen attentively to the teaching provided by the appointed men. The women were to remain silent, not attempting to share in giving public instruction.a
By their attitude and actions, Christian women were to show that they fully submitted to the congregational arrangement for teaching. It would have been inappropriate for a woman to raise a question publicly, thereby putting herself forward as disagreeing with the men or implying that their teaching lacked clarity. Such public questioning would reveal a lack of humility and modesty on a woman’s part and would disrupt the order and seriousness that should exist at a congregational meeting. At home, on the other hand, questions might be raised and the believing husband could help his wife to see things in the right perspective. Such questioning at home would not reflect unfavorably upon the wife and result in her being viewed as unduly forward and lacking modesty.
In pointing out that it was wrong for a woman to place herself in the position of a teacher, the apostle Paul was not relying on his own judgment. He was appealing to Scriptural authority. The first book of the Bible, Genesis, was included under the designation of the Law or the Torah. That section of the Torah made it clear that man, not woman, was to serve as a teacher. Adam was formed first, and so his wife had much to learn from him, including such things as the names of the various animals. (Gen. 2:18-23) It was when Eve failed to take her husbandly head into consideration that she got herself into difficulty. She was completely deceived by the Devil’s lie conveyed by means of a serpent.—Gen. 3:1-6.
Rightly, then, Christian women were to act in harmony with the truth set forth in the Genesis account. They were also to acknowledge their subordinate role by wearing a head covering when praying or prophesying.—1 Cor. 11:3-6.
Since Christian women were to maintain respectful silence during public gatherings of the congregation, except, perhaps, when called on to make some expression, what else could they do to contribute toward an upbuilding meeting? The apostle Paul answered this question when he wrote: “I desire the women to adorn themselves in well-arranged dress, with modesty and soundness of mind, not with styles of hair braiding and gold or pearls or very expensive garb, but in the way that befits women professing to reverence God, namely, through good works.” (1 Tim. 2:9, 10) The modest but neat attire of the women would harmonize with the dignity of Christian meetings. Being well arranged and not unduly showy, the clothing and ornamentation worn would demonstrate to observers that Christian women were using good judgment. Unbelievers, by noting the submissiveness of Christian women, their correspondingly appropriate attire and their good works, would receive an excellent witness.
While not teaching publicly at meetings, women, especially the older ones, did teach on a private level. In his letter to Titus, the apostle Paul stated: “Let the aged women be . . . teachers of what is good; that they may recall the young women to their senses to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sound in mind, chaste, workers at home, good, subjecting themselves to their own husbands, so that the word of God may not be spoken of abusively.” (Titus 2:3-5) By helping younger women to appreciate their responsibilities as Christian wives and mothers, aged women performed a valuable service for the congregation. Through such teaching, younger women came to appreciate how wrong it was to gad about to the homes of others, to gossip and to meddle in other people’s affairs. Their heeding this sound teaching played an important part in preventing the congregation from getting a bad name.
In the privacy of the home, women also taught their children, whether boys or girls. This is evident from what Paul could write to Timothy: “I recollect the faith which is in you without any hypocrisy, and which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, but which I am confident is also in you.” (2 Tim. 1:5) “From infancy you have known the holy writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through the faith in connection with Christ Jesus.”—2 Tim. 3:15.
Moreover, as disciples of Jesus Christ, women participated in teaching God’s truth to others. (Matt. 28:19, 20) For example, we read about Priscilla sharing with her husband in giving spiritual help to Apollos. The Scriptures report: “They took him into their company and expounded the way of God more correctly to him.”—Acts 18:26.
Other valuable services rendered by Christian women included their hospitably receiving strangers and their providing material aid to needy persons, including making clothes for them. Great value was attached to this. For example, to be put on a special list of those qualifying for regular material aid from the congregation, an aged widow needed to be known for such a record of fine works. (Acts 9:36, 39; 1 Tim. 5:9, 10) Though poor materially, an aged widow certainly could do much to aid younger women spiritually. Her being honored by the congregation’s providing her with regular material assistance was most appropriate.
Truly, Christian women in the first century contributed much toward the advancement of spiritual interests. They enjoyed a dignified standing as needed members of a large spiritual family and were treated in an honorable way. Timothy, for example, was admonished to entreat “older women as mothers, younger women as sisters with all chasteness.” (1 Tim. 5:1, 2) To be in harmony with God’s will today, the first-century pattern should continue to be observed. Any change would be man-made and not God-ordained.
a Regarding commenting done by women at meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses today, see The Watchtower of April 15, 1973, p. 255.