PART 4: " Let Your Women Keep Silence."


If Brother Bunner had hoped to conclude the discussion with his brief and somewhat flippant reply, he probably was surprised by the detailed answer he received from Sister Selina in the GOSPEL ADVOCATE's first August issue of 1888. Two points stand out to this reader: one, the refusal to accept the underlying argument in Bunner's irony, that the self-proclaimed woman's standpoint was anything but the scriptural one. It echoes the sister's determination to stand on her own feet and be taken seriously as a person. For similar reasons she probably also asked T.B. Larimore, the friend, to conduct her funeral, "for I want no man to apologize for my work, and I know he will never do that." The other point is that she recognizes and addresses squarely the hermeneutical problem: the difficulties in discerning the meaning of Paul's dictum about women's silence in light of the many passages that assert their vocal presence and activity in the church. For Silena Holman it is a topic for doubt, discussion, and differences of opinion that should not be silenced by a simplistic paternal fiat and arbitrary harmonization of Scripture. To demonstrate the complexity of the issue, she ends her article with a veritable barrage of questions directed at Bunner. They reveal how seriously our sister had wrestled with these issues and also that she was determined to look at the scriptural evidence from "every possible standpoint" before forming a final judgment. EDITOR

"Let Your Women Keep Silence."


(GOSPEL ADVOCATE, 1 August 1888, 8)

A few weeks since I wrote an article headed "A Peculiar People," for the ADVOCATE to show that according to the Bible, women might be allowed to teach in the Sunday school. I hadn't the remotest idea of trying to prove any thing else at that time, but it seems that I did, or else some one thought I did, for forthwith some big brother jumps on my poor little article with all his weight and utterly crushes me by challenging me to prove that women were public proclaimers of the gospel of Christ, or have the right to act in the capacity of public teachers, or do any sort of public work in the Church; though he agreed with me as to the propriety of women teaching in Sunday schools, the only thing I was trying to prove the right to do.

Bro. Bunner rather criticizes my assertion that I looked at the matter from a woman's standpoint, as if a woman's standpoint and a scriptural standpoint were quite two different things. Though I think the numerous scriptural quotations in my article ought to have been enough to convince him that while looking at the matter from a woman's standpoint I was also trying to look at it from a scriptural standpoint.

He speaks of my yoking together Acts xxi: 9 about Philip's four daughters prophesying and 1 Cor. xiv:3, which tells us what prophesying is, and likens it to the man trying to prove that it was right to commit suicide because the Bible says in one place "Judas went and hanged himself," and in another reference to an entirely different thing, "Go thou and do likewise." Now I appeal to the brethren throughout the state to know if the comparison is a fair one.

A brother in the pulpit quotes a passage commanding all men to have faith or to repent, and then quotes another to show what faith and repentance is, and he does not misquote or misapply scripture. Neither do I consider that I have misapplied scripture when in referring to women (or men) prophesying, I quote Paul, who, explaining to the brethren the difference between speaking in an unknown tongue and prophesying, says, "he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification to exhortation, and comfort." In the same chapter he farther says that, "he that prophesieth edifieth the church." I had not the remotest idea of trying to invalidate Paul's injunction that "women keep silence in the Churches" in my article. I only desired to group around the passage other teachings of the Bible on the same subject.

I do not know what Paul meant by his injunction. I have been trying for a long time to find exactly what he means. One of the best preachers in the Christian church, an old man a life long student of the Bible, once told me that he did not know exactly what Paul meant to teach there. I may have my opinions on the subject, and others may have different opinions. But after all, what do they amount to? About as much as a "Paedo-Baptists" opinion that Lydia must have had little children when she and her husband were baptized when trying to prove that infant baptism is right. Bro. Jesse Swell, one of the grandest preachers in the Christian church, once in a sermon I heard him preach, illustrated the absurdity of that infant baptism argument thus: "Now Lydia had no children. She had two sons. One was named James and one was named John. James was 18 years old, John was twenty. James followed so-and-so for a living, and John did such-and-such a thing for a living." Now I did not know quite as much about the Bible and things in general then, as I do now, and asked myself in big capitals where did he get his information? But he left us not long in doubt. "Now," said he, "you all want to know where I got my information, and I will tell you. I guessed it. You guess she had little children and I guess she had grown children, and my authority is just as good as yours."

There would not be the slightest doubt as to Paul's meaning, if that was the only passage in the Bible on the work of women in the Church, for the language seems plain enough. But there are other passages showing that women were prominent workers in the early Church, and others still, seeming to teach differently from 1 Cor. xiv: 34, and it is these other passages taken in connection with the one under discussion that give rise to doubt as to the apostle's meaning.

Those who love the Bible seek to harmonize its teachings. Some would do it by stretching and trimming every passage in the Bible on the subject to fit Paul's injunction to the women to keep silence. Others try to so construe the apostle's meaning in this passage as to make it harmonize with his teachings in other places. And both I earnestly believe are only trying to get the truth.

But Bro. Bunner says I said "Philip's four daughters did publicly expound the Scriptures" and asks me to give the book, chapter and verse from which I obtained my information. Now Philip's four daughters did prophesy. Paul says that "he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, to exhortation and comfort." 1 Cor. xiv: 3. Also in 1 Cor. xiv:4 he says "he that prophesieth edifieth the Church." And perhaps I drew a too hasty conclusion in deciding that in "edifying the Church" they expound the Scriptures to them. But if Bro. Bunner will open his Bible and find the verse which says "Philip's four daughters did prophesy privately," he will find in the verse following it, this passage: "Philip's four daughters did prophesy publicly also." There are other than Biblical reasons why many women should not be public proclaimers of the gospel of Christ. As for myself, I have neither the talent nor inclination to be a public speaker. My one poor little talent lies in another direction, and is, I think, fully consecrated to the service of the Lord. And I earnestly pray that he may so guide my pen that every word it writes may be to the glory of God. There are seven other reasons in a group, why I might not become a public preacher, and they are my seven children, the oldest just twelve. But if God in his infinite wisdom and goodness, should so guide the course of human events that the entire seven should become either public or private preachers of the gospel with heart, and soul, and purse, and life consecrated to his work, I could ask no greater blessing.

But the census shows us that there are many thousands of women, widows or unmarried women of mature ages, who never can have the blessings of home and husband and children. Should these have a talent for public or private speaking, and are earnest devoted Christians, who desire to go out in the high-ways and by- ways of the gospel of Christ to the lost and ruined of mankind and bring them into the fold, are they sinning against God in doing this work? Many think they are, others think they are not. Now Bro. Bunner, will you not answer a few questions for me? Will you tell me exactly what you think Paul meant by his injunction to the women to keep silence in the Church? Is it not a violation of this injunction for women to sing in the Church? If not, why not? They cannot sing and keep silence or without speaking the words they sing. Is it not a violation of the injunction when men and women together sing the words written by women? For thus it is women speaking through the voices of others; for a large portion of the songs sung in our churches are written by women? Should women pray in public? In 1 Cor. xi: 5 Paul says "every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoreth her head." Does Paul mean that when a woman prays by her bedside at home she must first cover her head? "Let your women keep silence in the Church." What is meant by the word church? Does it mean the house, or the church members as an organized body of Christian people. The latter use of the word is quite common in the Bible, as "they added to the Church daily." "Feed the Church," etc., etc. If that is what he means, how would it violate the Scripture to speak to a mixed congregation of disciples and sinners who could in no wise be called "a church?" Would that injunction keep women from speaking in public on any other subject as on the subject of literature or science or temperance? You admit that women have the right in a quiet way to teach men the way of life and salvation. Suppose a dozen men and women were in my parlor and I talked to them of the gospel and exhorted them to obey it? Exactly how many would have to be added to the number to make my talk and exhortation a public instead of a private one? What does Paul mean in Gal. iii: 28, when he says "there is neither male nor female; for ye are all one in Christ." How do you explain the prophecy in Psalms lxviii: 11 (revision) which says "The Lord gave the word. The women that publish the tidings are a great host." Do you think it right for women to go to heathen countries as missionaries? I refer especially to those countries where it is impossible to reach women through men preachers on account of their secluded lives? Do you think it would be proper for women to hold a prayer meeting if no men were present? Might a woman talk of the gospel to a crowd of women only without violating Paul's injunction? In a neighborhood where there were few men and none belonging to the Church might a number, say a dozen or so of devoted women meet together, organize a church and worship God, without the assistance of a man, without violating Paul's injunction? I have recently read of such a church. Do they sin in so trying to worship God though they have no male member in their congregation? Do you think it was a mere accident with no meaning attached, that Christ appeared first to a woman after he had arisen, and that a woman received the first commission to tell the tidings of the resurrection? Now Bro. Bunner, please answer every one of these questions, for I assure you they are asked in no flippant manner. I am at present making a study of the "woman question," and I want to look at it from every possible standpoint. Indeed, it is my custom to study every side of any question that may come before me, in order that I may not mentally grow one-sided. When you are through with these, I may have a few more to propound.

Fayetteville, Tenn., June 25, 1888.

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