Bible Answer

May a woman question a male teacher?

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14 that a woman may not ask questions in the church gathering. Is this a rule for women today as well? Can a woman ask a question of a male teacher in a mixed group gathering?

Generally, in mixed groups the Bible expects men to lead teaching and to ask and answer the questions, as Paul says:

1Tim. 2:11 A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. 
1Tim. 2:12 But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. 
1Tim. 2:13 For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. 
1Tim. 2:14 And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. 
1Tim. 2:15 But women will be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint. 

This principle may include some minor variations in practice, which our ministry considered in another article.

Regarding your specific concern, Paul gave a very specific command to the church in Corinth concerning women asking questions of men during a public teaching:

1Cor. 14:34  The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. 
1Cor. 14:35 If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church. 

Notice in v.34 that Paul juxtaposes women speaking up in the service with women subjecting themselves to male headship (authority). Paul is implying that when the women in Corinth were asking questions, they were doing it for improper motives. The women were trying to undermine the authority of the male teachers by questioning their teaching. Their questions were not (apparently) asked in a sincere desire to understand the truth. Instead, the questioning was part of an effort to show themselves smarter than the men who taught them. It was a sinful motive.

In fact, earlier in the letter Paul described how women in the church in Corinth were taking dramatic steps (including shaving their heads) to claim equality with men, which violated God’s prescription for the church. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that Paul’s point in chapter 14 concerning women speaking in the assembly was limited to those women who spoke up expressly for the purpose of challenging and undermining male teachers. 

Consequently, we hold that it is permissible for a woman to ask questions of a male teacher in a mixed group so long as she does so with a genuine interest in obtaining clarification or to understand scripture better. She may ask her question publicly so long as her intentions are pure. If her questioning transitions into a confrontation, challenge or dispute, then the woman should silence herself and expect her husband to answer her questions or else carry the questioning forward on her behalf (assuming he shares her concerns).

By following this practice, a woman will guard against creating a perception that she is not submitted to the authority of men in the church or to her husband's spiritual authority as her teacher. Obviously, many wives are better students of scripture than their husbands, which is why scripture expects wives to look to their husbands for instruction and leadership. Husbands need to be spiritual leaders in their homes, including in their ability to know and teach scripture.

If a husband is falling behind in this way, his wife should seek ways to encourage her husband's growth and maturity, rather than seeking to usurp his role.