In his message, MacArthur keeps coming back to the idea that the scripture is unambiguous in the area. On first blush, we can see why he says this. And in one sense, he is correct. The Bible uses clear terms when it is addressing women "in the church."
For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silence in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as even the law says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. -1 Cor 14:33-35
Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.-1 Tim 2:11-14
Let me start with an area of agreement. I do believe that women have been encouraged by the culture (and by the enemy) to resist their husbands and to seek to control them. I think this is abundantly clear throughout Christendom. Husbands have abandoned the role of protector and provider as the culture has appealed the pride of women, driving them out of the home, and encouraging them to degrade their husbands.
We have also seen women looking for the "bad boy." Modern culture has created the idea of the exciting, rebellious man who is to be won by a "strong woman." We loo around us and we see men sleeping with multiple women and instead of those women abandoning him, they become even more aggressive in trying to win him, placing the blame for his infidelity on the other women. Of course, this is all solved if people would wait until marriage before engaging in sex, but that's for another study.
God has order and Satan has, from the creation, been working to destroy that order. Our passage above begins with the truth that God is not a God of confusion. We also see in Paul's explanation in 1 Timothy how Satan deceived the woman in order to get to the man. Part of the resulting curse would be pain in child-bearing and a desire to rule her husband (Gen 3:16).
MacArthur presents this last teaching as a central part of his argument. I do not disagree on the general truth. But we must be careful when applying it. Despite MacArthur repeating again and again how plain and clear the scripture is on the matter of women being "silent," I think he may be misapplying these plain and clear statements.
A truth can be plain, but if it is misapplied, it loses its plainness.
My concern can be found in the word "preach" in his message. He seems to limit the "plain" scriptures to the "service." The Sunday morning "service" is a tradition leftover from the Roman Catholic mass. MacArthur's church building is a Catholic leftover as is the idea of a "sermon." I'm not saying you can't have a building or give a sermon, but we cannot filter scripture through tradition.
I agree with his application to leadership. But there the scripture is also clear. "Bishops" are to be men (1 Tim 3:2). The leadership is to be made up of men. In this sense, women are to be silent. They are not to try to usurp authority over their husbands or over the leadership.
The problem both sides have on this issue is the failure to rightly divide the word of truth (2 Tim 2:15). The woman who says, "Paul didn't call me, Jesus did," does not understand that if Jesus calls you, it is to follow the apostle to whom he has revealed the teachings for this age. In addition, the Lord himself only called men to be in his "ekklesia" (Matt 16:18). The kingdom in Israel will have twelve thrones, and it will be his chosen men who sit upon those thrones.
MacArthur also fails in a similar way. The references to the Law and the "churches" in 1 Corinthians belong in the Acts Age. He never addresses the application of the Law nor questions why it is referenced. We also must address how "silent in the churches" and "shameful for a woman to speak in the church" are to applied to talking or singing. That is, we must define what the church is before we can apply these plain truths.
It seems as though MacArthur limits this to standing in a pulpit (a creation of man) and giving a sermon (a creation of man) in a building we call a church (a creation of man). I know John understands that the building is not the church. He would say that the people make up the church. But that only complicates his "plain" truth. If a woman is to "keep silent," how or when does this apply?
I would like to remind us how a word in our passage should be rendered.
But I suffer not a woman to teach, neither to have lordship on the husband [neither for to have lordship on the man], but to be in silence.
We noted that 1 Cor 14 also refers to "husbands."
In the Acts, we read that Philip's daughters prophesied ("And the same man had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy"). This was true either around the time or the Corinthian letter or later. The Greek word is plain, prophēteúō. These were women who spoke as God inspired them. We have answer for this (and for all prophets) in our understanding of right division. MacArthur has to address this.
MacArthur states that women are allowed to teach, but only other women or children. We again note the ministry of Priscilla. She is not only noted in Acts 18 as a teacher of Apollos, she is mentioned by Paul in his Corinthian letter (1 Cor 16:3; 19).
Now a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures, came to Ephesus. This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things of the Lord, though he knew only the baptism of John. So he began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Aquila and [his wife] Priscilla heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. -Acts 18
We'll stop there for this short study and try to understand these "plain" scriptures, in context.
We've covered in our study on women "teaching" how we should understand Paul's words in Corinthians and 1 Timothy. But what of "preaching?" The problem, as I laid it out previously, is that biblical "preaching" is not standing in a pulpit giving a sermon. It is the heralding forth the word of God. In the Acts Age, this ministry was limited to only those who were called to do so (Rom 10:14-15). In this age, we are all responsible for handling the word.
I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; preach (Greek: kērýssō) the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine. -2 Tim 4:1-2
You could hardly limit this to a pulpit ministry. You might have some cause to limit this to men (as men only can be bishops or overseers). Timothy is charged with passing on Paul's doctrines to "faithful men" (2 Tim 2:2). The Greek word used here is "ánthrōpos." This word is used over 500 times in the Greek texts. It is used of all humanity repeatedly and is not as exact as the words used for "husband" which we saw earlier.
The Lord uses it generically often. As just one example (of many):
But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. -Matt 4:4
Would we dare limit this to husbands or even to simply males? Obviously not.
We do want order among believers. To maintain that order, husbands must love and care for their wives. Wives must be taught to love their husbands and to submit to their authority. In this relationship, she should not have authority over him, nor should she usurp his leadership role in the Body (if he has one). I would contend that these verses say nothing about standing in a pulpit or being in a "church building."
If a woman approached John MacArthur after a message and asked him a question (or even said thank you for the message), would he demand she be silent? Does "in the church" mean only "during a service?" Since the Bible knows nothing of the "service." we can hardly use that as a basis for application. And even if that is our framework, can she sing? "Keep silent" (Greek: sigáō) is a very specific and a very plain command.
The plain sense of 1 Tim 2:12 is that a woman is not to be the one instructing her husband. And, as creatures more susceptible to deception, a public ministry over men can be dangerous.
What would help us the most is a return to all scriptural models. The biblical roles of husband and wife and the unity of the Body. Most of the confusion can be found in the introduction of the traditions of men. The human tradition of Replacement Theology (failing to distinguish Israel and the Lord's earthly ministry from the Body and Paul's post-Acts ministry) and the human tradition of church buildings, pulpits, and "church services."