Gender & Worship (II)

Male and Female Roles

Within liberal institutional churches of Christ, there is a movement that openly advocates and practices what it calls “gender justice.” A current web site located at https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=gal328.org%20CofC is representative of this movement. Their definition of what they mean by “gender justice” is found on the front page of their site, and reads:

In general, gender justice means recognizing that men and women are created by God, redeemed by Christ, and gifted by the Spirit truly without distinction or partiality. In Christian community, gender justice means encouraging both men and women to exercise their Spirit-given gifts in the church´s work, worship, and leadership, and celebrating the truth that the Spirit grants such gifts without respect to gender. Concretely, gender justice in the Church of Christ includes opening traditionally masculine leadership roles and activities (deacon, elder, minister, worship leader, preacher, teacher, etc.) to women, and encouraging men to discover and cultivate their gifts for activities traditionally performed by women.

Having spent some time reading the material on this web site, it is clear that those affiliated with this movement believe 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-12 are no longer authoritative, having been superseded by Galatians 3:28, which they interpret not just to be speaking of salvation, but the entire gamut of congregational life — a life they believe to be gender neutral. Their egalitarianism is further represented by the following:

The two passages of Scripture most often referred to on this topic are found in lst Corinthians 14 and lst Timothy 2. We have concluded that these passages, and those of a similar nature elsewhere, are to be understood in the context of their communities. The writers of the New Testament had specific concerns when they wrote the epistles to those building the church and where the circumstances are not replicated the admonitions do not hold. Paul´s word to the Galatians, we are all one in Christ, remains as the final word. It is with this spirit in mind that we have sought to use the gifts of all in our community in our worship to God (http://www.brooklinechurch.org/public-worship/).

Back in January of 1991, The Spiritual Sword, a publication that represents our more conservative institutional brethren, quoted the following document of the Bering Drive church of Christ in Houston, Texas:

On July 31, 1988, the elders presented a statement to the Bering family concerning the use of spiritual gifts by both men and women expressing our conviction that it is scriptural and appropriate for sisters, as well as brothers, to serve in Sunday morning worship roles of ushering, greeting visitors, receiving the offering, reading scriptures, leading prayers, leading singing, and serving communion (Report on Women´s Participation in Public Worship, March 5, 1989).

So, it cannot be denied that some of our liberal institutional brethren have been boldly marching down the path of egalitarianism for some time now. I suspect they will eventually complete their journey in some liberal denominational church. However, the journey they have contemplated and have now undertaken reflects the cultural flood of changes that are not just crashing against churches of Christ today, but will eventually inundate, and sweep away forever, many who have taken their eyes off the objective standard of God´s word and, as a result, have lost their biblical world view. But we must also be aware that it is not just our more liberal brethren who are on this journey.

Based on what I´ve heard from the “horse´s mouth,” along with what I´ve been told by others, I believe it safe to say that some “conservative” brethren are beginning to tinker with the scriptural limitations placed on women in the church. I´ve even talked with some who believe the scope of women´s participation in worship ought to be significantly broadened. These argue there are absolutely no restrictions placed on a woman in our assemblies except that she cannot teach or exercise authority over a man, and therefore ushering, distributing the Lord´s supper, passing the collection plate, et cetera, are perfectly acceptable. These, they claim, do not place women in a position of teaching or exercising authority over men. Instead, they argue, these jobs only place women in positions of service, and service is consistent with women´s God-ordained roles.

Such, Of Course, Is A “Non Sequitur”

Non sequitur is a Latin term that literally means “it does not follow,” and this is usually used to refer to something that does not follow from that which was expressed immediately before. So, I agree with these folks that there are no restrictions on women in our assemblies except that they cannot  teach or exercise authority over men. However, it does not follow that women can do the tasks mentioned and, on doing so, not violate the restrictions placed upon them by the Scriptures.

In truth, all work done in the church, whether by evangelists, elders, or whoever, is “service.” For example, when elders exercise the oversight of a local congregation, they do so as servants. In fact, if elders were to exercise themselves as “lords over those entrusted to them, and not as servants who will give an account to the Lord,” they would be conducting themselves in direct disobedience to the truths taught in 1 Peter 5:3.

By the same token, evangelists, who have an obligation “to set in order the things that are lacking,” even appointing elders in every church when there are men who are qualified (Titus 1:5), they do so as servants, not lords. Therefore, the concept of “evangelistic oversight” is a man-made doctrine designed to permit the evangelist to exercise unauthorized control over the church. I have seen my liberal brethren practice this over and over again in foreign evangelism. It may even appear that this man-made method provides a more efficient way to get things done before elders can be appointed. In fact, in a church without elders, too many “conservative” brethren try to force a preacher into this role. Nevertheless, it is totally inconsistent with what is taught in God´s word.

An evangelist serves not by exercising any kind of “evangelist oversight,” but by preaching and teaching the word and setting a proper example. Yes, and it bears repeating, there certainly are brethren who want the evangelist to exercise evangelistic oversight, and there are even preachers who like to operate this way, but again, there is absolutely no authority for it in God´s word.

Thus, for someone to argue that a woman is not out of her God-ordained place when she is doing these things because she is exercising herself as a servant, would, in effect, be an argument for a woman to serve as an elder or evangelist. And if not, why not?

This, of course, is not what these more conservative brethren actually want. Giving them the benefit of every doubt, it appears that what they really want to do is to not bind on their sisters in Christ those things God hasn´t bound. I am sympathetic to this disposition, but I do not believe this can be done by making arguments that, scripturally speaking, will not “hold water” — arguments that, in fact, wind up loosening where God hasn´t loosed.

The Issue Of Male Leadership

It is my belief that the “silence” and “submission” required of women “in the church” prohibits them from exercising leadership in the general assemblies of the saints. When we see 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-12 as parallel passages, then one understands that women are not required to remain absolutely silent in our assemblies, but are, instead, not to speak or act beyond the point of being in subjection to male leadership. When women do “teach or have authority over a man” (1 Tim. 2:12), they have sinned. Notice, if you will, that the coordinating conjunction “or” connects “teach” and “have authority.” What this is saying is that a woman cannot, when it comes to the teaching of doctrine, either teach “over” or exercise authority “over” a man. Consequently, this passage does not prohibit a woman from teaching or exercising authority in the local church — what it restricts is her doing so “over a man.”

Women are fully authorized to teach doctrine to children and other women, and when they do so, they do so with authority. Their students, whether they be children or other women, are required to be “in silence,” just as they are when men are teaching, preaching and leading the church. So once again, the restriction placed on women in the church is not that they can´t teach or exercise authority, for they both can and do. The restrictions are that they cannot teach or exercise authority “over a man.” Thus, when women take the lead in assemblies of the saints where men are present, no matter in what capacity they do so, they have sinned. This I believe to be the clear, consistent and unequivocal teaching of 1 Corinthains 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-12. When speaking to this same point, Paul had earlier told the Corinthians that “the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God” (1 Corinthians 11:3). When male leadership in the church is challenged and circumvented by women, sin has occurred.

The Bishop And The Female Preacher

Years ago, I received an invitation to visit and preach for a Pentecostal group meeting in a store front in Ybor City, which at the time was a rather run-down, crime-infested area of Tampa, Florida. The church´s “Bishop” and his entourage had made a rather dramatic and unexpected entry at the very end of a week-long gospel meeting we were having at the church of which I was a member. To make a rather long story short, Charles Goodall, who was the preacher for the congregation, and I were eventually invited to attend the “Bishop´s church” and preach.

Upon arrival, we were warmly received and invited to sit up on the dais with the “Bishop,” who was presiding over, and clearly in charge of, the service. In fact, the entire worship service was directed to the “Bishop” who nodded and smiled his approval of all that transpired up to the Goodall and Turner soliloquies, for that´s when things got a little more testy. Afterward, they admitted that what we preached was what the Bible said, alright, but the problem, according to them, was that we had not received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and because we hadn´t, we were not able to properly teach the “spirit of the letter,” which meant that the scriptures Charles and I used in our sermons, if you took them at face value, clearly condemned their practices. If we had been “Holy Spirit baptized men,” they claimed, then we would have been able to properly interpret the Scriptures. In other words, they didn´t need to change; we simply needed to get the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

But here´s my point. During the service, a woman preacher stood up and read, and then attempted to expound, the Scriptures. When it was pointed out to the “Bishop” and his congregation that she did so in violation of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-12, he just smiled and said to the pleasure of all those assembled that night that we were very much mistaken, because acting within his capacity as the “Bishop,” which was to oversee everything that went on in that church, he had given her permission to preach, therefore, she had not gotten out of her place, but was, in fact, “in submission.” When it was pointed out to him that, contrary to the Scriptures, she had taught and exercised authority over every man present, he countered that it appeared we were woefully ignorant of a “Bishop´s authority,” and if, of course, we had actually been baptized with the Holy Spirit, and evidenced it by speaking in tongues, then we would surely know about these kind of things.

Therefore, I find it sad that some of my brethren are now acting a bit like that denominational “bishop,” believing they can authorize a woman to do those things God´s word clearly says she can´t. Even if scripturally qualified and ordained elders granted women the permission to teach or exercise authority over men in the assemblies of the saints, this would not make it right, any more than elders could grant permission for these same women to cheat, lie, or commit adultery, and I am surprised that those who claim to cherish the “old paths” have so readily left the objective standard of God´s word in favor of their subjective and collective think-sos.

But Where Does It Say They Can´t?

But someone says, “But where does it say a woman can´t usher, pass the emblems, take up the collection, et cetera, without exercising authority over a man?” However, and this will no doubt sound too harsh to some, if we´re going to start giving credence to unlearned and immature questions, then we might as well be prepared to be defeated by those who ask: “Where is the passage that says a woman “can´t be” an elder, preacher, et cetera?” You see, there isn´t any one passage that says so literally, just like there isn´t a passage that specifically says, “He that believes and is not baptized shall be lost.” Even so, we know the Bible teaches a person needs to be baptized in order to be saved (cf. Acts 2:38; 22:16). Likewise, we know 1 Corinthians 11:3, 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, and 1 Timothy 2:11-12 are very much a part of the New Testament and, because they are, women are prohibited from exercising authority over men. This means women are not permitted to take leadership roles especially when the whole church is assembled for worship, as well as other assemblies where men are present. (I realize this is what some are referring to when they use “the assembly” nomenclature, but I continue to think such a distinction is inaccurate and actually serves to perpetuate some of the misunderstandings and misapplications previously mentioned, for a woman is not free from the restrictions of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-12 just because she is not in a Lord´s Day assembly.)

When the “How can a woman serving the church be exercising authority over men” argument is scripturally demolished, then one should have no problem understanding that the prohibition against women in the assemblies of the saints is not just that they cannot teach over men, but they cannot exercise authority over them as well. The woman´s role does not entail leading an assembly where men are present, and for her to do so, no matter what the capacity, would clearly seem to be a violation of her God-given role. To argue, as some do, that a woman could serve as an usher, take up the collection, or serve the Lord´s supper, fails to appreciate that these tasks are to be done by males in the congregation as they exercise their God-given leadership roles. No one, not even a scripturally-ordained eldership, has the authority to abrogate what God has said about this in His word.

Women, Christ, And The Church

It is most unfortunate that so much effort over the years has needed to be devoted to “keeping women in their place.” This reality, for all those egalitarians out there, is equally the fault of both men and women who have so easily fallen into sin and degradation, which has, in turn, both caused and perpetuated the perversion and distortion of God´s created order. The “Battle of the Sexes” that has ensued has, perhaps more than any other thing, manifested the sinfulness of all mankind, both male and female. This sinfulness has run the gamut from women as inferior chattel who must be kept in their place as second-class human beings, second-class citizens of the community at large, and second-class initiates of the kingdom of God, to women as superior, as taught by the goddess worshipers, practitioners of Wicca, and the high priestesses and acolytes of radical feminism. In between all these is the egalitarianism that has ushered us into the twenty-first century. It is undeniable that egalitarianism is pervasive in our culture, and so is the fact that it is now having an untoward effect on churches of Christ.

In the midst of all this, the Lord left His church here to function as salt and light to a lost and dying world (Matthew 5:13-16). But in order to do this, it must function as “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). This is facilitated by both men and women, who are all fully-vested participants in the household of God, the church of the living God, the “My church” of Matthew 16:18.

The fact that male leadership is not to be usurped by women in no way impinges upon their much needed participation in the church, any more than the church, which is subject to its head, Jesus Christ, is impaired by His headship. Indeed, the whole church, far from being limited by the Lord´s headship, actually understands itself to be empowered by it.

This, too, ought to be the way women view their service under male leadership in the church, realizing that “service under” correctly reflects the idea that the Greek word hupotage, which is translated “subjection” in 1 Timothy 2:11, conveys. A form of this word (hupotasso) is translated “to be submissive” in 1 Corinthians 14:34 and means literally “to be under obedience, or to be put under another.” So, far from being diminished or impaired by male leadership, godly women are actually exalted and empowered by it.

Some Things My Wife Taught Me About The Church

Back in high school, my wife, Anita, was a member of the National Honor Society. But to say, “I wasn´t!,” is a bit of an understatement. In fact, I was so busy with other things (like playing sports, talking to the girls and eating my lunch), that I barely graduated at all, winding up taking a course in summer school to do so. Nevertheless, several years later, and even though she had two years of college on me, she married me anyway. Think about it. Here was this girl who had been just about “Miss Everything” in high school, willingly submitting herself, including her independence, her name, her destiny, and even her will, to me, her husband. In doing so, my lovely wife and faithful companion became a partaker of that submissive and quiet spirit which she has so graciously hid in her heart all these many years, the spirit which Peter said was “very precious in the sight of God” (1 Peter 3:3-4). This is the true femininity that was epitomized not in mother Eve, who rebelled against God and sinfully exercised authority over her husband, but by the virgin Mary, who became the mother of Jesus, when she said so unselfishly, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

I am not betraying any confidence I have in Anita by telling you that her subjection to me has not always been easy for her. This is so not just because of her own sinfulness, although this has sometimes been the case. More often than not, though, it has been because of my own ignorance and sin, which has in turn made her already difficult job of submitting an even more Herculean task.

I am most ashamed of those times when I, through my own selfishness, ignorance and sin, have made her already challenging task an even heavier burden. Blinded by my own sinfulness, I couldn´t always see this at the time, but the stronger and more mature I became, the more I recognized the errors of my ways. It grieves me deeply that I have sometimes blamed her for the failures associated with my own imperfect headship. Even so, and in spite of all this, she has demonstrated herself to be a virtuous wife whose worth to me has been “far above rubies” (Proverbs 31:10).

Christ´s Headship Is Faultless

Now, I said all that to say this: A wife´s faithful submission to her husband does not make her just a “worthy woman” in her husband´s eyes, but it serves as a fitting example of what the Lord expects from those who make up His church. This is made clear in Ephesians 5:22-24, which says:

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let wives be to their own husbands in everything.

Yes, it is unfortunate that wives´ submission to their husbands is all too frequently made more difficult, or even impaired, by the faulty and imperfect headship exercised by their husbands. This, however, is not true of Christ´s headship, for Jesus simply does not make any mistakes. Therefore, when we who comprise His earthly body fail to faithfully submit to Him as our head, we have no one to blame but ourselves. The faithful wife who responds willingly and lovingly to her feminine duties and responsibilities, honors not just God, her husband, her family, her church, and herself, but she functions as a beautiful example to a lost and dying world what it really means to be a Christian — namely, the faithful submission of our wills to our spiritual head, Jesus Christ, “in all things.” In an egalitarian culture such as ours, this powerful example is sorely missing. Therefore, just think how tragic it is that even some Christians, and I´m talking of both men and women here, fail to recognize and practice the God-ordained headship-submission pattern taught in the Bible.

Christ, The Example Par Excellence

It will seem ironic to many that the Sovereign of the universe and the absolute Head of the church has Himself always been in subjection. Let me demonstrate: Prior to coming into this world, Jesus is identified in John 1:1 as the Divine Logos, or Word of God, who was not only Deity Himself, but was also, and at the same time, in an intimate relationship with Deity. I don´t have the time nor space here to have a more detailed discussion of the nature of Deity. But for those of you who may be interested in such a study, please see my article entitled “God With A Capital ‘G,’” which is located here.

Suffice it to say that in that one state of being God (Deuteronomy 6:4; Romans 3:30; 1 Corinthians 8:4), there are three distinctly different personalities: the Father, the Son or Word, and the Holy Spirit. Each one of these personalities shares fully the one essence, nature, or state of being God. Everything involved in being Deity is possessed by each of these personalities. In other words, the Bible teaches there is one, and only one, God; but it just as plainly teaches that the Father is God (John 6:27; Galatians 1:1; Philippians 2:11), the Son is God (John 10:30; 20:28), and the Holy Spirit is God (Acts 5:3,4).

Even so, it must be understood that although the Bible says that God is three persons in one essence (cf. Matthew 28:19; 2 Corinthians 13:14), it does not teach “Tritheism” (i.e., three Gods). As Roy Lanier, Sr. wrote in his book, The Timeless Trinity: “We do not affirm that one God is three Gods; we affirm that there is but one infinite Spirit Being, but within that one Spirit essence there are three personal distinctions, each of which may be, and is, called God; each capable of loving and being loved by the others; each having a distinct, but not separate, part to play in the creation and salvation of man” (p. 46).

And what was the Divine Logos´ role? It was, quite simply, to leave heaven and the relationship He had enjoyed with His Father and the Holy Spirit throughout eternity and to enter into this world by taking upon Himself flesh, living and ultimately dying as a perfectly sinless man so that all mankind could have the opportunity to be redeemed, and all this at His Father´s behest. You see, the Bible depicts the scheme of redemption as the Father´s idea. The Father, of His own free will, decided to send His Son into this world for the redemption of mankind. The Son, of His own free will, responded positively to His Father’s decision when He came to this earth and experienced death for fallen humanity. Finally, the Holy Spirit, of His own volition, came to this earth to do the bidding of both the Father and the Son. And although it must be understood that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were, and are, all involved in man’s redemption, nevertheless, each person in the Godhead had work to do that was unique only to Him (cf. 1 Peter 1:1,2). When one reads the Bible, these truths are clear. (By clear, I do not mean that I think it is easy for finite creatures to understand how this “threeness” is rooted in the divine essence. On the contrary, by clear, I simply mean that the doctrine of the triune nature of God is clearly taught in the Bible.)

The “division of labor” that exists between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, concerns itself principally with the different works done by the three persons of the Godhead in relation to the scheme of redemption. For example, the Bible depicts God the Father as foreknowing and choosing the plan whereby man could be redeemed (cf. Romans 8:29). In His role or work, the Father is never portrayed as being the One sent. On the contrary, the Father sends the Son and the Spirit (John 5:37; 14:26; 20:21). In turn, the Holy Spirit is involved in the work of sanctification (I Peter 1:1,2), and He is also the agent of inspiration (John 16:13; II Peter 1:21).

Of course, it is the works of Jesus, the Son of God, which receive most of the attention in the New Testament. This is because it is He who “became flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). Consequently, it was only the Son who experienced death for us. It was only the Son who was resurrected from the dead, taken bodily into heaven, and seated at the Father´s right hand. It is only the Son who is the High Priest and Mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 4:14). And last, but certainly not least, it is the Son of God enfleshed who is the example par excellence of what humble submission is all about.

Jesus was the righteous suffering servant of Isaiah 53 who by His sacrificial death would “justify many” (v. 11). Therefore, speaking to followers of Christ who were being called upon to “submit” (v. 13) and be “submissive” (v. 18), it doesn´t surprise us to hear the apostle Peter reminding Christians that Christ also suffered on their behalf, leaving them an example they should thankfully and faithfully follow (cf. 1 Peter 2:21).

The Humble Servant Exalted

In the context of this study, it is important to note that the Lord´s submission to God, the Father, did not rob Him of His Divine essence. While submitting to His Father´s will, He was, is, and always will be, Deity. While here on earth, He still knew He was “equal with God” (Philippians 2:7), even though “He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (v. 8). Even though He submissively obeyed His Father in all things, He never — not one single time — quit being God, “For in Him [dwelt] all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Colossians 2:9).

If the Lord´s submission to His Father´s will did not denigrate His status as Deity, then why do feminists argue that the submission required of women in the home and church is somehow demeaning to their status as human beings? What, pray tell, is demeaning about faithful submission? When one is thinking biblically, nothing! But radical feminists and others of their ilk are simply not thinking biblically. In fact, they think of the Bible and the God who claimed to have caused it to be written as the enemy. I’ll have more to say about this, Lord willing, in part III of this study.

Gender & Worship

There are serious differences over the role of women in public worship, along with the part they are to play in church leadership. The egalitarian (or feminist) position, and I have known several Christian women who take it, argues that God’s original intent was for gender to be irrelevant with reference to leadership roles in both the home and the church. One effect of Adam´s sin, they argue, was to replace this original equality with the male domination and female submission structure in play today. Consequently, it is claimed that one of the counter-effects of the Lord’s work on the cross was to abolish this sinful system, at least in His church, and restore the egalitarianism God originally intended. Using Galatians 3:28 as their proof-text, they claim that women may serve the church as elders, deacons, and preachers.

Although the Christians I have known who take the egalitarian position would not go quite this far, nevertheless, they have sought what they consider to be a more active role for women in worship. At the moment, this position does not appear to be much of a threat to the Lord’s church, although there are pockets of it here and there. Even so, it is true that big things often start as something small and seemingly insignificant. It is, therefore, imperative that we consider this issue before it becomes a major problem.

The other position, the one I believe the Bible teaches, is called complementarianism (or hierarchicalism), and teaches that God’s original intention for the human race, established at creation, is clearly stated in 1 Cor. 11:3, which says, “the head of woman is man.” In other words, the male-female/headship-submission structure did not originate with the Fall, but was, in fact, only distorted by it. Consequently, Jesus’ work on the cross did not abolish male headship and establish egalitarianism. Instead, Gal. 3:28, which is the sugar-stick of the feminists, speaks to the equality of males and females concerning salvation (viz., all have equal access to it), and not to every situation of life. Contrary to what the egalitarians believe and think, this verse was never meant to apply to the issue of role distinctions. The headship and submission roles are still assigned to husbands and wives respectively (cf. Eph. 5:22-24), and women are prohibited from serving in roles which would require them to teach or have authority over a man (cf. 1 Tim. 2:12).

For many today, including the egalitarians mentioned above, such a position is not only much too restrictive and inconsistent with the egalitarian spirit of the age, but it actually demeans womanhood. To tell you the truth, short of conversion, I really don´t think it will be possible to convince these folks otherwise. However, and this is the point of this article, I do think the restrictions many churches of Christ place on women add to the perception that women are being thought of as second-class citizens of the kingdom of God. Therefore, it is this kind of thinking to which we now turn our attention.

Women’s Silence

1 Cor. 14:34-35 says: “Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church” (NKJV). Some argue that Paul is dealing with a cultural issue at Corinth that is not an issue for us today. Others, believing that tongue speaking and prophesying have ceased, argue that the particular conditions that restricted women from speaking in the assemblies of the saints are not in force today. Yet others think that because Paul said “let them ask their own husbands at home” (v. 35), it is only the wives of the prophets who are prohibited from speaking in the church. Still others, like myself, believe that although the exact circumstances mentioned in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 are not in play today, nevertheless, the principle—namely, a woman is not to teach or exercise authority over a man in the assemblies of the saints (cf. 1 Tim. 2:11-12)—is still in force today. In other words, the principle of a woman’s silence in the assemblies of the saints is the same in 1 Cor. 14:34-35 as it is in 1 Tim. 2:11-12, and this principle has in no way been superseded by Gal. 3:28, as feminists, egalitarians, liberals, and other deconstructionists claim. What Paul said in all three of these passages is totally consistent, and certainly not contradictory as some contend, and is therefore the objective standard for all New Testament Christians, whether in the first century or the twenty-first.

Unfortunately, too many Christians over the years have believed that the silence Paul enjoins upon women in 1 Cor. 14:34-35 is absolute. A cursory reading of what Paul said seems to support such a view. Consequently, some brethren have no problem prohibiting women from teaching classes that the church provides for women and children (there are still those around who believe these must be taught by men). These same folks have prohibited women from speaking in Bible  classes, even when it is to ask a question or seek clarification. Thankfully, this is not a majority opinion, but it is held by some brethren, and I mention it here because I believe it to be related to the next interpretation of 1 Cor. 14:34-35 and 1 Tim. 2:11-12, which does, in fact, appear to be the majority position of those who make up conservative, non-institutional churches of Christ.

“The Assembly” Argument

Many brethren argue that the silence required of women in 1 Cor. 14:34-35 has to do with “the assembly” (with the definite emphasis on the “the”), and not when the church is disassembled for age- or subject-related Bible classes. Consequently, the argument goes, when the whole church is assembled for worship, and this is what they are calling  “the assembly,” women must be silent and not speak. On the other hand, when the church is divided into classes, which is not “the assembly,” women may ask questions and make comments consistent with learning, but only so long as they do not teach or exercise authority over the men in the class (cf. 1 Tim. 2:11-12). This is what I will be calling “the assembly” argument — an argument I believe is not altogether sound.

I contend that the silence of 1 Cor. 14:34-35 does not refer to only “the assembly” (viz., the whole church called together for worship), but to any and all assemblies of the church, whether it be a Lord’s day assembly called to partake of the Lord´s supper and other such acts of worship and devotion, or an assembly called to study the word, or even an assembly of the whole church called together to consider some matter of “business” (cf. Acts 6:3). This means that I believe the principle of women’s silence taught in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Tim. 2:11-12 are, as far as the principle they articulate, actually parallel passages. Consider, if you will, the following illustration, as I believe it will aid you in seeing this for yourself.

Parallel Passages

1 Corinthians 14 1 Timothy 2
“for they are not permitted to speak” (34) “I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man” (12)
“but they are to be submissive” (35) “but to be in silence” (12)
“if they want to learn something” (35) “Let a woman learn” (11)
“let them ask their own husbands at home” (35) “in silence with all submission” (11)
“as the law also says” (34) Adam and Eve in creation and sin (13-14)

Consequently, the restriction placed on women that prevented them from teaching or having authority over men prohibited them from exercising whatever teaching gifts the Holy Spirit may have given them when the exercise of such gifts would put them in competition with men. This is what I understand Paul to be teaching in 1 Cor. 14:34-35. The teaching of God’s word, and this from the very beginning, was that women, at least in the home and church, were to be in subjection to, and not in competition with, men. Paul makes this clear when he says that “Adam was formed first, then Eve” (1 Tim. 2:13). Therefore, and according to the law of God, women are to “keep silent in the churches” when their failure to do so would cause them to interfere with men´s God-given roles.

Contrary to what the egalitarians argue, the issue here is not one of competence or ability (i.e., Paul is not demeaning nor denigrating women), as I’m sure that many of the women prophets were quite capable. Maybe some of them were even more capable, when it came to their God-given abilities, than some men, but again, this is not the issue. The issue was one of roles, and as God has not granted women the right to teach or exercise authority over men, they were to “keep silent in the churches.” This silence was just as silent as the male prophets had to be when God revealed something “to another who sits by” (1 Cor. 14:29). It was just as silent as a male tongue-speaker had to be if there was no male interpreter who could interpret what he was saying (cf. vv.27-28).

Could any of these continue to speak where and when they were authorized? Certainly. Their being “silent” only related to the God-ordained tasks being regulated. Women could sing (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16), make confession of sin (1 Jn. 1:9), as well as make the good confession of faith in the presence of “many witnesses” (1 Tim. 6:12). Thankfully, and I believe correctly, many churches of Christ permit women to do all these things. However, this is not the proof that this is what 1 Cor. 14:34-35 is actually teaching. But it does serve to demonstrate that most brethren today recognize that the limitations placed on women in 1 Cor. 14:34-35 is qualified by the passages mentioned above. (Understanding this is key to understanding the argument I am making, so I´ll have more to say about this in a moment.)

Discounting the exercise of the miraculous gifts that were in play when Paul wrote to the Corinthians, gifts that are no longer being exercised today, the consistent principle being invoked for all times in these verses is that the Lord does not permit women to teach or exercise authority over men “in the church.” And although it may be true — based on what Paul said about the order of creation — that this principle may actually be broader than the church, I don´t think anyone can be dogmatic about this, as it is clear from the context that Paul said what he said so that Timothy would “know how [he] ought to conduct [himself] in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15).

So, then, does the “be silent” principle mean that a woman must be absolutely silent in the assemblies of the saints, as some have taught? Or, instead, does it mean that women are prevented from engaging in certain actions — namely, teaching or exercising authority over a man? These questions serve as the crux of the matter, as I see it. If women are to be absolutely silent in our assemblies, then it is not permissible for them to participate in congregational singing, for to do so, according to Eph. 5:19, involves “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.” Therefore, if every form of speaking in the church is “shameful” for a woman (cf. 1 Cor. 14:35), then it would clearly be wrong for women to engage in congregational singing, would it not? But if it is not wrong for women to engage in congregational singing, which Paul makes clear is a form of  “speaking,” and I don´t know of any brethren who would argue that it is wrong, then the passage does not prohibit women from speaking in the church in every case.

The Principle Of Qualification

To properly interpret Scripture, it is important for the Bible student to be familiar with the principle of qualification. And what, you say, is the principle of qualification? Let me begin with an illustration. If we can imagine the Bible as a great symphony orchestra, and the Holy Spirit as its Arturo Toscanini, then just as the orchestra plays the notes the great conductor desires, so the Bible, with its great assortment of instruments, produces the message the Holy Spirit wants. When orchestrated or arranged, we have the entire symphony or word of God, as the case may be. Just as each instrumentalist’s part becomes fully clear when played in relation to all the other parts, so any one passage of the Bible becomes clear in its relationship to all other passages. This means that if we hold an interpretation of one passage that contradicts another, at least one of these passages is being interpreted incorrectly. The Holy Spirit does not — indeed cannot — disagree with Himself. For example, one passage cannot be saying we are saved by faith alone (cf. Rom. 3:28), if there is another clear passage that says we are not saved by faith only (cf. Jas. 2:24). Therefore, passages where the obvious meaning is clear help us to understand passages that are sometimes less clear. Because the Bible makes it clear that it is the sum total of God´s word that is the truth on any one subject (cf. Psa. 119:160, NAS), we know that comparing scripture with scripture helps us to understand that one passage can actually qualify another.

So, what exactly do I mean by “qualify”? Simply this: one passage can, in fact, limit or restrict another. Although a qualification may, at first, appear to be a contradiction or denial of a passage, it is not. A qualification merely sets the particular passage in perspective by applying additional information about the topic under discussion.  Thus, Eph. 5:19 and Col. 3:16, which we have traditionally understood to authorize congregational singing, do not contradict 1 Cor. 14:34-35 and 1 Tim. 2:11-12; they simply qualify them. In other words, Paul´s prohibition against women speaking in church did not exclude them from “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,” as Ephesians 5:19 authorizes, or “teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,” as Col. 3:16 commands.

Therefore, and specifically because scripture does not contradict scripture, the shameful speaking that Paul, in 1 Cor. 14:34-35, associated with women “in church” is not absolute, but qualified. If so, and I simply do not see how it can be denied, then citing 1 Cor. 14:34-35 as if it is an absolute blanket over women speaking in “the assembly” just does not hold water; that is, it is not a sound biblical argument (please excuse my mixed metaphors here).

Women are authorized not only to speak in our assemblies, but to teach and admonish as well. Are there limitations? Yes. Have brethren always correctly discerned these limitations? No. Some, misinterpreting 1 Cor. 14:34-35 have bound where God hasn’t bound; others, in their misunderstanding of this and other passages, have loosed where God hasn’t loosed. Both are wrong, and are extremes to be avoided.

Binding Where God Hasn’t Bound

I know of New Testament Christians who believe that when a woman is permitted to publicly confess her faith in an assembly of the saints, she has violated 1 Cor. 14:34-35. This is either because they are blindly following tradition (i.e., “This is the way we’ve always done it.”), or because they have failed to appreciate the principle of qualification, or perhaps both. Ironically, these same folks regularly preach and teach that in order to be saved one must confess the resurrected Jesus as Lord (cf. Rom. 10:9). But Paul goes on to say in the very next verse that this confession is to be made “with the mouth.” Thus, when women are prohibited from making a verbal confession in an assembly, then not only do these who bind this violate Rom. 10:10, they also violate the truth taught in Gal 3:28, which is that salvation is an equal opportunity endeavor, open to Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female.

Those who so teach ought to seriously consider the admonition the apostle Paul made in the very context of 1 Cor. 14:34-35, for in verses 36 thru 38, he said: “Or did the word of God come originally from you? Or was it you only that it reached? If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord. But if anyone is  ignorant, let him be ignorant.” This is, of course, a sharp rebuke, but one that was much needed. No one has the right to supersede or abridge the divinely revealed word, and the Corinthians were acting like they had permission to do so. Such arrogance and ignorance, if it can´t be effectively admonished and rebuked, needs to be exposed for what it is. In other words, if one, after being taught on this, is determined to be ignorant, “let him be ignorant,” Paul says. It is unfortunate, but true, that some brethren, even those who we would call “sound” on the institutional question, are determined to prevent the preaching and teaching of the truth on this subject and are, therefore, content to be ignorant on this issue. Therefore, they should be identified as arrogant and ignorant people who are in rebellion against God. Because such plainness of speech isn’t considered by many to be very “nice,” it is hard to find a group of Christians who are willing to do what Paul said. Why, then, are we dismayed that the arrogant and ignorant all too frequently “rule” or control a local church?

Loosening Where God Hasn’t Loosed

On the other hand, and in some cases in reaction to the ignorance mentioned above, some brethren have begun to thrust women into positions that cause them to violate the principles of 1 Cor. 14:34-35 and 1 Tim. 2:11-12. In other words, they are loosening where God has not loosed. It is the opposite extreme from those who bind where God hasn’t bound, but it is equally as wrong.

Ironically, and not just incidentally, I have known those who argue that binding where God hasn’t bound is better than loosening where God hasn’t loosed. Their defense, if you can believe it, is that binding  is more “conservative” than loosening. Such is, of course, exactly the position of the Pharisees who confronted Jesus in Matthew 12:1-2. In the Lord’s response to their charge that He was permitting His disciples to violate the law of Moses by plucking the heads of grain as they walked through the grain-field on the Sabbath, Jesus made it clear that His disciples were not violating the law of Moses, but only the man-made restrictions placed on the Jews by their Rabbinic traditions. Clearly then, binding where God hasn’t bound is just as wrong as loosening where He hasn’t loosed, and it is to this loosening that we will turn our attention in part II of this study.

Love, Like The Heart, Can Be Terribly Deceptive

Like that ol’ Johnny Lee song, “Looking For Love,” I’m afraid some of us (myself included) have been “lookin’ for love in all the wrong places.” In Romans 12:9, we are commanded to “love without hypocrisy,” which is immediately followed by the command to be “kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love” (12:10a). Thus, three words that can be translated “love” or “affection” are put into play in these two verses:

  • agape, which refers to the love Christians must have for all people, including their enemies,
  • philia, the love one has for friends, and
  • storge, the love one has for family members.

In fact, “kindly affectionate”(philostorge) is a combination of philia and storge. This is the only place this expression is found in the New Testament. It denotes the kindred love of family or humankind, and defines more specifically the character of the “brotherly love” (philidelphia) which it amplifies, so that the exhortation is for us to love our brethren in Christ as if they were members of our own family, clan, or race. For the Jews and Gentiles of Paul’s time, this was no small thing.

Over the years, we have all heard sermons and lessons on the “uniqueness” of agape; namely, how it is a “different” kind of love than philia or storge. It is, we are told, the highest form of love, having more to do with the intellect than those emotions and feelings we frequently associate with love. But is this true? Is this really what the Scriptures teach? I, for one, no longer believe it is. In saying this, it is important to understand that I’m not denying that the three words mentioned are different, or that they may be nuanced toward one aspect of love rather than another. Instead, all that I’m denying is that agape is an entirely different kind for love than are these others. But if we continue to insist on thinking of agape as vastly different from philia and storge, this difference is to be seen in that it alone truly encompasses all aspects of these other two terms, which, when taken together, teach us what it really means to love one another as God truly loved us.

What’s the rub, then? Well, perhaps it’s this: instead of accurately defining the true meanings and nuances of agape, philia, and storge, we’ve actually been engaged in an elaborate exercise of semantical gymnastics designed to make us feel better about ourselves when we claim to “love” our enemies, even when we know we’ve never quite “cared for” them very much at all, or at least not like we care for those in our family, our village, our tribe, our clan, our “race.” So then, is agape really more intellectual than heartfelt? We certainly like to think so. After all, such an interpretation allows us to think we can agapao even our enemies, even though we don’t really have to be very fond of them. Oh really? Let’s take a look at what Thayer’s says about the verb agapao: “1) of persons, 1a) to welcome, to entertain, to be fond of, to love dearly.” And of the noun agape, Thayer’s says: “1) brotherly love, affection, good will, love, benevolence.” So make no mistake about it, when Romans 12:9a says, “Let love [agape] be without hypocrisy,” and follows it up in 12:10a with “Be kindly affectionate to one another in brotherly love,” we have a divine commentary on what agape is all about, and it isn’t just some sort of intellectual “I’ve got your best interest at heart, but don’t you think for a moment, you dirty rotten scoundrel, that this has anything to do with the tender affection I’ve reserved for others.” No, no, no, this is not, and never has been, what loving God and each other is all about.

You may be thinking, “What’s he trying to say and what does this have to do with me?” Well, everything! I say it this way, because it truly does have everything to do with you, me, and every other person who claims to be a Christian. For unless, and until, we love everyone, as God does, we are not yet what we were created in Christ Jesus to be. In this regard, it is helpful to note that the “without natural affection” of Romans 1:31 in the KJV is translated “unloving” in the NKJV. The Greek word is astorgos. This informs us that those whom God gives over to a reprobate mind are not able, in such a condition, to render the kind of love of neighbor (and this includes enemies of every sort) God requires of His children. The decision, then, is ours. We can be, with the Lord’s help, what God, the Father, created us in His Son Christ Jesus to be, or we can continued to think and act the way we used to before being redeemed by the precious blood of Jesus Christ and born again of His Spirit.

I have not written what I’ve have here to personally shame anyone. Instead, I want to make others aware of something that took me a long time to even begin getting straight. I had, of course, been reading over, around, and through this truth for years before I first heard it articulated in August, 2001, shortly before Anita and I moved back to Kenya, East Africa, and just before 9/11. I couldn’t believe it then, nor for many years afterward. After all, I had bought, “lock, stock, and barrel,” into agape as a uniquely different kind of love than philia or storge. I had preached on it, and had even written various articles on it. I could exegete (sic) John 21:15-18 right up there with the rest of ‘em. But eventually the work of learning could no longer be postponed or delayed, and a crisis of conscience forced me to finally understand that I had bought into an interpretation that had relieved me of my duty to love my neighbor with the concern and tender affection I reserved for my closest loved ones and friends, and this even when he was my enemy. Yes, it is certainly easier (i.e., more “natural”) to love those closest to me with fond, tender affection, always having their best interests foremost in my heart. But just here is the point: THE LORD CALLS ME AND EVERY OTHER CHRISTIAN TO A HIGHER STANDARD. He wants me to love everyone like I love those closest to me. He wants me to love my neighbor, my brother, my enemy, like I love those who are near and dear to me. He wants me to love everyone like He loves me, and this is tenderly and with kindly affection. Is this easy? It is not! Is this now something I’m striving to do? It is, and I can tell you this, I’ve finally begun to understand and experience things I had never before quite understood or experienced.

Wisdom From Above Versus The Wisdom From Below

“Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” (Jas. 3:13-18)

The Politics Of Death: Forty-Three Years And Counting

On January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court handed down a decision that radically altered America’s thinking on the abortion question. The decision, which actually involved two cases (Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton), made abortion a “constitutional right.” It was a day that will live in infamy.

Ever since that black day, those who favor abortion have screamed from the housetops about their “constitutional right” to abortion. But, in truth, there is no constitutional right for such an act. In Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, the Supreme Court, instead of interpreting the Constitution, was actually engaged in judicial activism and the creation of law by judicial fiat. This has been affirmed by those on both sides of the issue. John Hart Ely, a Yale professor, and, himself, a proponent of abortion, has described the Court’s decision as “frightening.” According to Ely,

The problem with Roe is not so much that it bungles the question it sets for itself, but rather that it sets a question the Constitution has not made the Court’s business…It is bad because it is bad constitutional law, or rather because it is not constitutional law and gives almost no sense of an obligation to try to be (Yale Law Journal, 82: 943,947).

Professor John T. Noonan, Jr., who was then professor of law at the University of California (Berkeley), has said,

…none of the existing legislation on abortion conformed to the Court’s criteria. By this basic fact alone [the decision] may stand as the most radical decision ever issued by the Supreme Court (Human Life Review, 1:28, 1975).

Archibald Cox of Watergate-prosecution fame said what should be obvious to all fair-minded men and women:

The decisions plainly… sweep away established law supported by the moral themes dominant in American life for more than a century in favor of what the Court takes to be a wiser view of a question under active debate…My criticism of [the decision] is that the Court failed to establish the legitimacy of the decision… [and] to lift the ruling above the level of political judgment (The Role of the Supreme Court in America, 1976).

Professor Felix Frankfurter, who himself became a Supreme Court Justice, wrote to Franklin Roosevelt in 1937:

People have been taught to believe that when the Supreme Court speaks it is not they who speak but the Constitution, whereas, of course, in so many vital cases, it is they who speak and not the Constitution. And I verily believe that that is what the country needs most to understand (Roosevelt and Frankfurter: Their Correspondence, 1928-1945, p. 383).

It is hard for many people to believe that the highest court in the land is steeped in political activism, exalting their own “think-sos” above the Constitution, but this is exactly the case. That this is unquestionably true was pointed out by Justice W.O. Douglas who recounted that when he came to the Court, Chief Justice Hughes

made a statement to me which at the time was shattering but which over the years turned out to be true: ‘Justice Douglas, you must remember one thing. At the constitutional level…ninety percent of any decision is emotional. The rational part of us supplies the reasons for supporting our predilections’…I knew that judges had predilections…But I had never been willing to admit to myself that the ‘gut’ reaction of a judge at the level of constitutional adjudications dealing with the vagaries of due process…was the main ingredient of his decision. The admission of it destroyed in my mind some of the reverence for immutable principles” (Zorach v. Clauson, 343, U.S. 306, 314).

When one adds to this the words of former Chief Justice Frederick Moore Vinson, who said, “Nothing is more certain in modern society than the principle that there are no absolutes,” and the evidence is conclusive that the Supreme Court, instead of interpreting the Constitution, has actually been engaging in its own ongoing “Constitutional Convention.”

It is this humanistic, arbitrary, and sociological outlook concerning the law that has brought us to the current constitutional crises: How is it possible for written or abstract law (viz., the U.S. Constitution), which is based upon certain moral absolutes (i.e., the inalienable rights endowed by our Creator), to be interpreted fairly by those who actually believe there is no adequate base for law except human sentiment? Incidentally, the Congressional rejection of former President Reagan’s nomination of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court must be seen in light of this very important issue. Bork was a strict constructionist who had been quite vocal in his rejection of the judicial activism that produced the Roe v. Wade decision. The syndicated columnist James Kilpatrick has written: “We pride ourselves on saying that ‘ours is a government of law, not men,’ but the boast is empty. It is a myth, a shibboleth, a sham. At the level of the Supreme Court, ours is emphatically not a government of abstract law but a government of eight very mortal men and one woman” (Courier-Journal, Louisville, KY, July 15, 1982, p. A15). Those who were instrumental in the rejection of Bork knew that this is true and, consequently, they did not want him to be in a position to overturn Roe v. Wade. Actually, the infamous Roe v. Wade decision was only the implementation of an idea long expressed by those prominent in the law profession; namely, “When it comes to the development of a [body of law] the ultimate question is what do the dominant forces of the community want and do they want it hard enough to disregard whatever inhibitions may stand in the way” (found in a letter from Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. to John C.H. Wu, August 26, 1926, published in Harry C. Shriver, ed., Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes: His Book Notices and Uncollected Letters and Papers, page 187). How badly did the humanists want the selfish, degrading, and utterly inhumane “right” to abortion? Badly enough to have made it their number one priority in the late sixties and early seventies.

As terrible as abortion is, it was only the opening of “Pandora’s Box.” When it was decided that babies in their mothers’ wombs do not have the right-to-life, the demons of infanticide and euthanasia were also let loose. These are but a few of the moral dilemmas facing modern man. Test-tube babies, embryo transplants, genetic manipulation, eugenics, cryobiology, etc., are more examples of the plethora of technologies that are inundating and sweeping away forever the ethical and moral principles that have made us who we are. Many of the hard, tough decisions we talked about in the early eighties have been made and we are reading about them in our newspapers and seeing and hearing about them on our televisions. Unfortunately, too many of these decisions are being made incorrectly. The Biblically rooted ethical base that has served us so well in the past must be resurrected or our culture, as we have come to know it, will cease to be. The lid to Pandora’s Box cannot be easily put back in place. And even if we are able to do so, I am afraid the phantoms that have been released will continue to haunt and seduce us in the coming years.

The Second Coming And The Resurrection

waiting for the resurrection

There’s a great day coming in which the Lord will return to judge the living and the dead (Matt. 25:31-46; Acts 10:42, 17:30; 2 Tim. 4:1; 2 Thess. 1:7-10). The nature of this second coming will be

  1. visible (Acts 1:11),
  2. audible (1 Thess. 4:16),
  3. sudden (Mk. 13:32-37),
  4. final, in that there is no mention of a third coming, and
  5. glorious (2 Thess. 1:7-8).

When this finally occurs, there will be one general resurrection of both the righteous and unrighteous (cf. Daniel 12:2; John 5:28,29; Acts 24:15). At this point, the discarnate spirits of the dead will once again be housed in their bodies, albeit immortal spiritual bodies (1 Cor. 15:44, 53, 54), and will appear at the judgment bar of Christ (Rom. 2:5-6) to give an account of their lives (Rom. 14:10-12), “whether it is good or whether it is evil” (Eccl. 12:14). Those “in Christ” will be vindicated and all others will be condemned. In other words, all true believers will be rewarded with their heavenly home, but all the non-believers and unfaithful, along with Death and Hades, will be cast into Hell, which is the second death (Rev. 20:14). Those who experience this second death will be eternally separated from the presence of the Lord (2 Thess. 1:9). Oh, what a terrible place Hell will be. But on the other hand, oh, what a wonderful place the new heavens and new earth will be (2 Pet. 3:13)!

Finally, it must be understood that when the Bible speaks of death in connection with human beings, whether it be physical, spiritual, or eternal, it is always speaking of separation; namely,

  • physical death takes place when the spirit of man separates from his body (Jas. 2:26);
  • spiritual death occurs when man’s sins separate him from God (Isa. 5:9-12; Eph. 2:1,5; Col. 2:13);
  • and eternal death takes place when one is separated eternally from God in Hell (Matt. 10:28; 2 Thess. 1:7-10).

Therefore, in developing a biblical worldview, we must never think of any of the deaths that can be experienced by humans as a “ceasing to exist. Death, for man, is not a ceasing to exist, for Jehovah is the God of the living, not the dead (cf. Mk 12:18-27). In John 11:25, Jesus told Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die [physically], he shall live [i.e., be resurrected physically].” But in verse 25, going beyond physical death and resurrection, the Lord said: “And whoever lives [i.e., is spiritually alive] and believes in [i.e., trusts in, relies on, and is of the disposition to obey] Me shall never die [i.e., he will have eternal life].” He ended by asking the question, “Do you believe this?” By faith, we, along with Martha, say, “Yes, Lord, I believe…”

Knowing that God will one day transform our bodies of humiliation into glorified bodies (Php. 3:20-21) so that we will be like Him (1 Jn. 3:2), we are not able to make friends with the enemy — Death (1 Cor.15:26, 53-57). But we are able to face our mortality with the firm confidence that there is abundant and glorious life beyond the grave.

12 Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: 14 And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. 15 Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. 16 For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: 17 And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. 18 Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. 19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable (1 Cor. 15:12-19, KJV).

What Happens After Death?

When one considers the Biblical teaching of Luke 16:19-31 and factors into this the words of Jesus to the thief on the cross (Luke 23:42,43), then he knows there is an intermediate, ethereal place of the dead. By “intermediate” is meant a place of existence between physical life and the resurrection. By “ethereal place” is meant a location other than this plane. By “dead” I mean discarnate or disembodied spirits. The Bible calls this place “Sheol” in the Old Testament and “Hades” in the New Testament. Although the details and circumstances of the NT Testament Hades are much more developed than the OT Sheol, it can be safely said that these are, in essence, one and the same. Although it is true that both of these terms are sometimes used to denote just the grave, they both generally had the broader meaning of the intermediate dwelling place of discarnate spirits.

The Hebrews did not use the term “spirit” to refer to the entities dwelling in Sheol. Instead, they used the term rephaim or “shades.” To conclude, as some do, that the Hebrews did not believe that man’s personality survived beyond the grave because they did not use the term “spirit” is to commit the “fallacy of non sequitur” (i.e., the conclusion does not follow). Instead, the Hebrews usually just used different terms to refer to disembodied spirits. For example, when the witch of Endor spoke of Samuel, who had clearly been dead for some time, she said, “I saw a spirit [elohim] ascending out of the earth” (1 Sam. 28:13). That Samuel was quite comfortable in Sheol or Hades is demonstrated by his question in verse 15, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” Furthermore, the historical narrative is clear in pointing out (see v. 19) that Saul and his sons, who were going to die the following day, and therefore go to Sheol/Hades, would join Samuel where he was.

This demonstrates that the Hebrews recognized a continuity of existence between the living and the dead. In other words, even though Samuel is dead, he is still Samuel, not someone or something else. It also demonstrates that the Hebrews did not believe that death was just some sort of suspended animation. Although the occurrence mentioned above is especially unique, Samuel had already experienced death, but nevertheless was able to engage in a number of acts of conscious communication, and all this while his body, which included his brain (but not his mind), remained buried at Ramah (cf. 1 Sam. 28:3). (In further consideration of the Hebrews’ belief in life after death, consider Psalms 16:10, 49:15, and 139:8, and also the teaching found in Acts 23:8 concerning the resurrection.)

Therefore, Sheol/Hades is not, as some suppose, the Gehenna/Hell to which the wicked are condemned, and from which the Lord’s faithful are spared (cf. Matt. 10:28). It is unfortunate that the King James translators decided to render Hades, Gehenna, and Tartarus as “Hell.” Sheol/Hades is the dwelling place of the disembodied spirits of the dead, whether good or evil. Those who died in covenant relationship with God are in a comfortable place called “Abraham’s bosom” (Lk. 16:22) and “Paradise” (Lk. 23:43). On the other hand, those who died outside covenant relationship with God exist in a place of “torments” (Lk. 16:23) called “Tartarus” (2 Pet. 2:4), if angels, who are spirits, go to the same place that discarnate spirits go. Within the confines of Sheol/Hades is a “great gulf” (megas chasma = “very large void”) that prevents those who occupy either compartment from going to the other side (Lk. 16:26).

What Happens After Death?
A Depiction Of What Happens After Death

When one passes from the state of being alive to the state of being dead, he has arrived in Hades, and although he has yet to experience the judgment, nevertheless, his fate is now sealed. Whether one will eventually spend an eternity in “Heaven” or “Hell” is now a foregone conclusion. In their disembodied state, these discarnate or incorporeal spirits are experiencing either comfort or torment. Someone is tempted to ask, “Are these not already in Heaven or Hell?” Absolutely not! “Well,” he continues, “What’s the difference?” The difference is that Hades is neither Heaven nor Hell. Instead, it is an intermediate place between this world and the next. Man, who is both body and soul, is not complete or whole in Hades. Remember, sin affects the whole man, both body and soul. Spiritual and physical death are both a result of sin. Without the washing away of one’s sins through the blood of Christ, one will spend an eternity, body and soul, in a devil’s Hell (cf. Matt. 10:28, 25:46; 2 Thess. 1:7-10; Rev 21:8). On the other hand, redemption also affects the whole man and those who have been redeemed by the precious blood of Jesus Christ will spend an eternity, both body and soul, in Heaven (cf. Matt. 25:46; Rom. 8:23).

This brings us, quite naturally, to the subject of the resurrection, which will occur at the second coming of Jesus Christ. We’ll be discussing this in the next post.