"meddle not with them that are given to change"
“My son, fear thou Yahweh and the king: and meddle not with them that are given to change”
In March 2005, a booklet entitled “The Role of Women in the Church” was circulated amongst UK ecclesias, and subsequently published on-line,, in which the writer advocates a change in the commonly received practice regarding Sisters in the Body of Christ. In his introductory letter the Author, Bill Davison, writes:
“I do not think, with due respect, that Bible truth ends with The Birmingham Amended Statement of Faith since the very word “Amendment” indicates that one’s understanding of scripture can undergo change and be amended.” (Note that this is factually incorrect; as we have shown in a previous issue, the Amendment of the BASF was not because of a change of understanding, but because an issue had arisen which required a written clarification of a particular matter which hitherto had not been addressed in the BASF—namely, Resurrectional Responsibility)
Again, the conclusion of the booklet itself is:
“Bible truth is dynamic, not static, and the ecclesia of Christ must move from the 19th to the 21st century …” (page 12).
So, the contents of the booklet are designed to exhort the ecclesia to “move” forward with the times; to progress away from “Victorian tradition”, because Bible Truth itself is “not static.”
Various claims contained in the booklet are:
“The subordination of women was similar in this country in Victorian times when the Christadelphian faith was established. Father’s word was law. A wife did what she was told. The view that women were inferior in status to men had long infiltrated into Christian sects and denominations, and was adopted by Christadelphia” (page 6).
“We, in our beloved Christadelphia, have a huge source of untapped talent, namely our sisters in Christ. It is high time they played a more prominent part in our worship and fellowship, as did women in the 1st Century church. For example, reading in public from Holy Scripture and praying in meetings; and serving the emblems on a Sunday morning …” (Page 12).
“In the modern world, where women participate in all walks of life, it is a hindrance to the gospel to use out-of-context passages to restrict women’s service to God” (Page 3).
“taking 1 Corinthians 11:4,5 at face value, it is obvious that women participated in public worship in the Christian church at Corinth. They prayed and prophesied in the same way as the men did” (page 5).
The inside front cover reads:
“This short study has been written in the hope that its readers will be able to acknowledge that some Christadelphian traditions regarding our sisters owe their existence more to Victorian tradition than to clear Bible teaching.
I find it difficult to grasp how a Bible-led community can oppose godly sisters in Christ participating in public prayer and praise to our Heavenly Father and our Saviour Jesus Christ, when we assemble together for worship.
Bible Truth is dynamic not static. May we be guided by the Holy Spirit into the paths of truth and righteousness, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Whilst Bill Davison prays for Holy Spirit guidance of a sort which is not available in our day (see our booklet: Prayer and the Holy Spirit), we prefer the real guidance which comes from the Word. We prefer to study the Scriptures to show ourselves to be approved of God, rightly dividing the Word of Truth (2 Tim. 2:15) – for any “correction” of our understanding can only come from the Authority of that Word—as it is written: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). What was true in the day it was written is equally true now, for the oracles of Yahweh are the only source of absolute Truth available to us today (Jno. 17:17). We must then compare Bill Davison’s claims against the revealed Word—and when we do so, it is a sad fact that we find them wanting.
Before we examine his claims regarding Scripture, we ought to firstly refute the characterisation of our early community which the author presents us with. He speaks as if our early brethren were steeped in Victorian Tradition—certainly with respect to the role of sisters in the ecclesia. So, he claims that “The view that women were inferior in status to men had long infiltrated into Christian sects and denominations, and was adopted by Christadelphia”. Whilst it might suit the writer’s cause to characterise the 19th Century brotherhood in that way, it is factually incorrect. As we shall see, the brotherhood’s position on the role of sisters had nothing to do with a perceived “inferiority” of women, but is because Scripture itself teaches different roles for male and female believers to adopt. In fact, writing in 1879, Bro Robert Roberts soundly refutes such a notion:
“I have heard some speak contemptuously of the sisters as “mere women, only fit to nurse babies, and look after the pudding.” Against such a doctrine every true brother will earnestly protest. It is not only degrading to her whom God has given us for “an helpmeet”, but it is inconsistent with the Gospel which teaches that there is neither male or female in Christ: that we are all one in Christ Jesus.
… Sisters are never likely to develop into noble servants of Christ if the door is shut in their face, by a theory which would consign them to cradles, pots and pans. I do not mean to suggest that cradles and pans are incompatible with the higher duties any more than the hammers, whoe lasts, or baking troughs of their rougher brethren, but a doctrine which would tie them all the time to these, is an offence and a mischief … but to insist on confining sisters to these, would be to ignore that fact that they have brains as well as bodies; and that men have other needs of help-meetship besides those of knife and fork. Such a boorish doctrine would destroy companionship, where brethren need it most, and unfit their wives the highest function of motherhood, which is to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. In fact, it is a doctrine to be opposed and detested as much as any hurtful doctrine may be. The man who holds it, and much more the man who preaches it, deserves to be deprived of every social advantage, and to be shut up in a cave. This, in fact, is his destiny at last.”
(Robert Roberts, Seasons of Comfort).
These are strong words indeed! Rather than to sanction the notion that sisters were somehow “inferior”, Bro Roberts states that “the man who holds” the idea, “and much more the man who preaches it, deserves to be deprived of every social advantage, and to be shut up in a cave”!
But returning to Scripture, what does the Bible teach concerning the role of sisters in the ecclesia? The following passage appears relevant:
“ … let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.” (1 Tim. 2:11-15).
From this passage then, it is quite plain that whatever roles sisters may have within the ecclesia, they must involve “learning in silence”. In other words, they ought not have a role which involves teaching, but rather learning.
The author of the booklet in question attempts to dismiss both of these passages as follows:
“Note, ‘quietness’ and ‘silent’ are the same Greek word hesuchia. This does not mean ‘keep your mouth shut’ but something like ‘do not chatter’ or ‘do not gossip’. In 2 Thessalonians 3:12 it is translated ‘settle down’. This instruction by Paul does not forbid a woman to pray or preach (prophesy) in church, but is a reminder of good behaviour and manners” (page 5).
We agree that these words have no bearing on what women do “in church,” as the apostle is not concerned with “them which are without”, or churches of the heathen. His concern is with ecclesias, not churches – but it is interesting to note that much of Bill Davison’s argument rests on citations of various authorities of the churches, such as William Barclay, and Bishop Lightfoot, and others. He finds it necessary to turn to leaders of the apostasy for his expostulations – whereas we remain content with the Oracles of God themselves.
Here is the claim then: that when the Apostle was ‘moved’ by the Holy Spirit to write that women must “be in silence” in the ecclesia, he actually meant that women ought to speak, in the form of prayers and preaching. For the Greek word does not mean “silence” at all, but merely “something like … do not gossip,” and is merely a reminder to show “good behaviour and manners”.
How accurate is this definition, when compared to the Spirit’s usage of the word elsewhere? The same word is used in Acts 22:
“ … Paul stood on the stairs, and beckoned with the hand unto the people. And when there was made a great silence, he spake unto them in the Hebrew tongue, saying, Men, brethren and fathers, hear ye my defence which I make now unto you. (And when they heard that he spake in the Hebrew tongue to them, they kept the more silence: and he saith,) …” (Acts 21:40-22:2).
Notice here, there was a “great silence” made first. This would be something like not chattering, or gossiping, for everyone quietened down to listen to what the Apostle had to say. Yet the word used here is not the word that the Spirit through Paul used in 1 Tim 2. Then, when they all heard that Paul was speaking in Hebrew, “they kept the more silence” – and this is the same word as in 1 Tim 2. This shows the meaning of the word – not merely to quieten down, but to be “the more silent”, that is, absolutely quiet. The Apostle is quite plain then; sisters ought to be absolutely silent in the ecclesia – which is not at all in harmony with them speaking in terms of offering prayers, and preaching.
Another passage which appears relevant is 1 Corinthians 14:
“let your women keep silence in the ecclesias: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the Law. And if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the ecclesia” (1 Cor. 14:34).
Here, Bill Davison concedes that the word used means “keep quiet”, “refrain from speaking,” but attempts to dismiss the passage by stating that it was merely following local custom!
“The reference to ‘the law’ here can hardly mean the Law of Moses, but more likely means local custom”
And that is all he has to say about it!
But when the Apostle writes as also saith the “law,” he is referring to a “law”, not a mere custom. He cites “the law” as his authority for his teaching. What “law” is he referring to?
2 Timothy 2 furnishes us with the answer, for here, we read of the reason why sisters are to remain silent in the ecclesia: “for Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.” So then, sisters are enacting particular principles to do with the beginning of the human race. At the beginning, Adam had a teaching role; he was to teach his wife to obey the Law of Elohim in Eden. Yet as events turned out, Eve taught him instead, as she taught him to disobey the commandment. So, rather than being a help meet for Adam, the woman became a stumbling block to him, causing him to fall from grace. Even so, by submitting themselves to the man, the woman is memorialising what took place, and reflecting what ought to have been the correct arrangement. This arrangement is, in fact, according to the Law – not the law of Moses, but Edenic Law:
“Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband and he shall rule over thee” (Gen. 3:16).
Here is the matter established from the beginning; the man was to “rule” over the woman. This was Edenic Law issued after the fall, and which both the man and the woman were expected to observe. Whatever roles women may have outside in the world, within the ecclesia that is the order to be observed; men and women working together, yet with different roles, for the good of the whole ecclesia.
This is a vital point to recognise; the issue is not one of whether or not women are inferior to men as Bill Davison claims; rather it is one of fulfilling Divinely-appointed roles. It is of the Father’s choosing that sisters do not have a teaching role within the ecclesia – but they can take full part in all other ecclesial roles, supplementing and supporting the work of the brethren.
Bill Davison is very good at making characterisations in his work. For instance, again he states that:
“I find it difficult to grasp how a Bible-led community can oppose godly sisters in Christ participating in public prayer and praise to our Heavenly Father ..” (inside front cover).
However, nobody is suggesting that sisters cannot participate in public prayer and praise – we have never heard that proposal presented. The writer is here deliberately mis-stating the case – as he does all the way through his work – and it is significant that he has to do this in order to oppose it. Scripturally, Sisters can participate in prayer and praise – nobody doubts that – that is just not the issue! However, they cannot engage in a role of leading prayers, or otherwise speaking/teaching role in the ecclesial environment.
The only evidence that Bill Davison gives to support his version of ‘Women’s Lib.’ is that in 1 Corinthians chapter 11, women are spoken of as praying and prophesying:
“every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head …” (1 Cor. 11:5).
However, there are a number of points to be observed here:
- The reference to “prophesieth” indicates the fulfilment of the prophecy of Joel, as cited in Acts chapter 2:
“And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: and on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour our in those days of my spirit; and they shall prophesy …” (Acts 2:17-18; see also 21:9).
Here, the “daughters” and “handmaidens” are prophesying specifically as a consequence of receiving Holy Spirit power. Therefore, the most that can be drawn out of 1 Cor. 11:5, is that sisters who are inspired by the Holy Spirit, and who are therefore not speaking their own words, but Yahweh’s can speak in the ecclesia. Clearly, this does not describe the current situation in ecclesias today.
- The passage does not state whether or not brethren were present at the time. Thus, it might be supposed in the light of the other passages we have considered, that these sisters did not lead prayers or prophesy in the ecclesia in the presence of the brethren, but rather after the example of Miriam, Moses’ sister, to the sisters only.
In conclusion, rather than to follow the way of the churches as Bill Davison advocates, Christ’s brethren—and sisters—ought to humbly accept the different roles appointed for them, and work together for the good of the Body.