Are women pastors shameful? A response to John MacArthur

Are women pastors shameful? A response to John MacArthur

John MacArthur's sermon on shameful women pastors

Culture of Shame

Why is there a culture of shame on the head of women who preach the gospel? Faulty teaching is currently harming women and dividing many churches, and that is so sad. The divisive views on women must be answered in a sound and respectful way and I hope that this post will help. One source of the faulty teaching is a brother in Christ who labels women preaching the gospel as shameful women pastors. Several years ago I received permission from Pastor John MacArthur’s ministry Grace to You to use his audio quotes to refute his teaching on women in ministry. His shocking quotes are documented in our DVD production “Women in Ministry Silenced or Set Free?” The videos are now free on Youtube as well. The playlist of the full videos is here.

I also mailed several copies of the completed 4 DVD set for John MacArthur and Phil Johnson’s use at Johnson’s request.  Phil Johnson is John MacArthur’s executive director of the Grace to You broadcast ministry. I have not heard back from Phil Johnson since that time.

I am amazed, but not really surprised, that John MacArthur stepped into the fray again on the subject of women and the gospel. MacArthur is now 80 years old and celebrating 50 years pastoring his church. He has a long history of expounding the Bible verse by verse in a way that can help people understand the Word of God. Yet on the issue of women, he links together verses from other contexts while he ignores verses in the same chapter that show problems with his interpretation.

Clear context?

The context appears “clear” to MacArthur, while other scholarly authors of commentaries find puzzling contradictions in the same passage. We know that the Bible does not contradict itself, so astute students of the Word should expect more from MacArthur since he states that the passages are “clear”. He must explain and not ignore the apparent contradictions.

current controversy surrounding John MacArthur exploded during his 2019 Truth Matters Conference when MacArthur spoke against a popular woman preacher.

During a Q & A session, Todd Friel asked MacArthur to give a pithy statement about Beth Moore. MacArthur’s response was dismissive, “Go home,” he said. Many Christians responded in shock, sending the internet into a tizzy from what seemed like an unChristlike attitude from a respected Pastor. MacArthur countered with an even stronger sermon. He doubled down on the subject of silencing women and sending them home as shameful sinners. In his sermon titled, Does the Bible Permit a Woman to Preach? MacArthur identified an inherited stigma of shame on all women. He also delivered a scathing rebuke for shameful women who preach the gospel. He calls them women in rebellion to God and he attaches their act of public speaking to the same category of sins as coarse language, sexual jesting, and filthiness.

Preaching the gospel will destroy the church?

MacArthur is sure that women preachers will ultimately destroy the church if they are not stopped from preaching. John MacArthur is wrong on this issue and his culture of shame hurts women who want to be Christlike servants. Their desire to be faithful to Christ through using their gifts for the common good, is spoken of as evil. In this post, I unravel MacArthur’s problems with 1 Corinthians 14:34-36. I hope to do future articles on MacArthur’s other proof texts from his sermon as I have time.

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Complexity and Presuppositions

John MacArthur says that 1 Corinthians 14:34-36 is clear. But many of those who have written commentaries on this passage do not claim that these are “clear” passages. In fact, even the apostle Peter wrote that some of Paul’s writings are hard to understand.

2 Peter 3:14–16 (NASB) 14Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, 15and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, 16as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.

The Baker New Testament Commentary concurs that 1 Corinthians 14:34-36 is difficult. In Volume 18 page 512, they write:

To resolve the difficulties with this text, we need to do as we have done with other passages: consider the structure, the larger context, and preeminently the themes or principles Paul was explicated.

The First International Greek Testament Commentary by Anthony C. Thiselton agrees. He writes about immense complexity on page 1146:

The translation and exegesis is immensely complex. Contextual facts are vital including presuppositions about what the addressees were assumed to understand by language of which we know only Paul’s part of the dialogue.

Bob Utley in his commentary, Paul’s Letters to a Trouble church: I and II Corinthians Vol. 6 page 166, writes that Paul’s words are difficult and paradoxical:

It is difficult to know how to handle this issue biblically because of the seemingly paradoxical statements of Paul, such as 1 Cor. 11:4-5 compared with 14:34.

Our presupositions

We presuppose that Paul’s writings are inspired. Even though Paul’s words can be very complex and require effort to understand, his words appear to be written in such a way that any misunderstanding of Paul’s meaning will cause a glaring contradiction in the text. When Paul is understood properly, his writings will flow without contradiction as with all Scripture. Paul was the apostle who greatly valued women and he worked alongside women and commended them to the church. Paul needs to be understood alongside his actions and his prior teaching.

The Elusive Law

John MacArthur claims that there is a biblical LAW that keeps women silent in the assembly. 

1 Corinthians 14:34–35 (NASB) 34The 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 says35If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church.

We need to find this Law. Where are women told to keep silent in the assembly? Once we find this law, we can start to appreciate Paul’s wisdom.

John MacArthur identifies the referenced “Law” as the entire Old Testament. However, the Old Testament has no command that requires the silence of women in the assembly. Without a clear command, how can women know what God identifies as sin? “For if the bugle produces an indistinct sound, who will prepare himself for battle?” Paul wrote these words about the importance of clarity in 1 Corinthians 14:8. He argues for clear and understandable messages.

An indistinct sound

An unclear and ambiguous command is like an indistinct bugle sound. It has no meaning! Why would Paul contradict himself from his words at the beginning of the chapter and then point us to a biblical law that cannot be located? God gave specific commands because He wants to keep us from sin. We know that Paul did not make up a new law. Where is the specific reference to the silencing Law? This Elusive Law must be found and Paul will help us with that!

I have an entire section on the Elusive Law from 1 Corinthians 14 on my video. Rather than list all the important points in writing, I have included a free online link to my 4th DVD which I believe will be very helpful to understand Paul’s context and his reference to the Silencing Law. This is the best way to explain 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 that I have found. I want those who cannot afford to purchase the DVD set to have access to this teaching, so I have included the link below. Click on the video link below or find the link on Youtube here. The introduction to the video is found here and that explains all of our presuppositions. There are also huge problems with John MacArthur’s interpretation of Paul which he does not address in his sermon and I have refuted them in the video.


Did Paul stop the Preaching of the Gospel by ANYONE?

John MacArthur is determined to shut the mouths of women pastors who preach the gospel. Why? Because he accuses these women of having a selfish ambition to overpower and control men. If such a thing were true, Paul already handled this issue with Christlike wisdom. Paul’s attitude toward those who preach Christ out of selfish ambition is gospel-based.  

Philippians 1:15–18 (NASB) 15Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; 16the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; 17the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment. 18What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice,

Paul reminds the Philippians of the priority of the gospel. If you find a person who is proclaiming the gospel out of selfish ambition, then rejoice because the gospel of Jesus Christ is being proclaimed! The truth of the gospel is vastly more important than the motive of the heart.

Paul never stopped the preaching of the gospel at any time. The NASB translates Paul’s response in verse 18 as, “What then?” Other translations render it this way:

“What does it matter?” NRSV, CSB, HCSB; “But so what?” CJB; “But that doesn’t matter” CEV; “It does not matter” TEV

What does it matter?

This is a problem for John MacArthur. The apostle Paul affirms that motive doesn’t matter but the preaching of the gospel does matter. How could Paul contradict his “What does it matter?” position to stop the preaching of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 14? When your understanding of Paul contradicts Paul’s clear teaching in his writings, you can be certain that you don’t understand Paul right. John MacArthur needs to explain why Paul celebrated the preaching of the gospel even though he acknowledges a selfish ambition existed. Paul accepts that the gospel is not chained. (2 Timothy 2:9 NKJV). Satan is the one who silences the gospel. Satan wants all Christians to shut up and go home. I am certain that Paul would be appalled if he knew that pastors were using 1 Corinthians 14 to stop the preaching of the gospel.

No learning?

John MacArthur does not address the contradictions in 1 Corinthians 14. All may learn in the assembly but women have to go home to learn from their husbands? Note these problems:

  1. 1 Corinthians 14:23 shows the context as the entire church assembled. Verse 26 mentions “when you assemble” and “each one” participating. If each one is participating as the entire church is assembled, why would Paul contradict this by saying that the women can’t participate in speaking or learning (verses 34-35?)
  2. In verse 14:31, Paul permits all to speak one by one so that all may learn and all may be exhorted. If all may learn, why would Paul contradict himself within just a few verses to write that if a woman desires to learn she has to go home?
  3. If Paul’s concern is that all are edified and none left out (1 Corinthians 14:17, 24, 26), why would he change his view within just a few verses to promote a contrary view that women are to be left out? Why would Paul contradict himself by restricting women from edify others and stop them from learning in the assembly?
  4. Paul identifies that the edification must be done in an orderly manner (verse 40).  Was Paul not contradicting himself by withdrawing the “all my learn” to assert that the learning is for men alone in a public setting? Is there to be no public learning by women?

Paul did not contradict himself and I have provided the answer to these question in my video clip here. I also have a post on not letting a woman learn here.

Women voices are filthy?

In John MacArthur’s sermon on women pastors who preach the gospel, he states that a woman who speaks publicly in the church is shameful. He explains that the Greek word used in 1 Corinthians 14:35 references filthy, silly talk or coarse or sexual jesting which is shameful, disgraceful and improper. However, he does not explain how the voice of a woman used for the public proclamation of the gospel is filthy! That is quite a claim.

MacArthur brings no insight from the 1 Corinthians 14 context where all are encouraged to speak in the assembly and all are encouraged to learn. He also does not explain why Paul states that we should rejoice whenever the gospel is preached. How can Paul take back his rejoicing and contradict himself by identifying gospel preaching as filthiness when coming from the mouth of a woman? MacArthur is certainly not rejoicing whenever the gospel is going forth. Instead, he believes that women who preach the gospel will destroy the church. His interpretation makes Paul contradict himself again and again.

I present my interpretation in the video clip on 1 Corinthians 14. This explains the inspired grammar, Paul’s purpose for writing, and Paul’s context of what he had already said.  Paul can be understood without contradiction!

Paul’s concludes his original command

At the end of 1 Corinthians 14, Paul sums up how the church body should edify one another. Look at verse 39 in the Amplified Bible:

1 Corinthians 14:39 (AMP) So [to conclude], my brethren, earnestly desire and set your hearts on prophesying (on being inspired to preach and teach and to interpret God’s will and purpose), and do not forbid or hinder speaking in [unknown] tongues.

Paul commands two things in verse 39:

  1. Earnestly desire to speak out (prophesy). This is a repeat of 1 Corinthians 14:1, 3.

    1 Corinthians 14:1, 3 (NASB) 1Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy3But one who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation.

  2. The church is commanded to not forbid the one who speaks a message in tongues (as long as there is an interpreter and the tongues are limited to 3). This references 1 Corinthians 14:27-28. Paul’s purpose is not to silence anyone, but that all can understand the message. Unknown, indistinct words cannot edify anyone.

Paul repeats the command to earnestly desire spiritual gifts. This command contradicts John MacArthur’s teaching that women must not desire to speak publicly.

Context is Key

Paul concludes that speaking must be done properly and in an orderly manner. Notice that Paul is advocating for the edification of all. 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is out of step with Paul’s clear counsel for all to be edified. The two difficult verses are included for a purpose even though they are confusing to many people. These verses are not “clear” but contradictory to Paul’s command. The text needs hard work by us to understand Paul without Paul opposing himself! Context is key.

Paul is answering a letter

Many people miss the fact that Paul has been answering a letter sent to him from the Corinthians (see 1 Corinthians 7:1). Paul has been quoting and then refuting the Corinthian allegations from their letter to Paul.

Throughout 1 Corinthians Paul quotes from the disputable matters from their letter and he provides corrective answers back to the brethren. The Corinthians were not confused by what Paul meant when he answered back, because he was answering their letter. But without the ability to read their original letter, it is easy for us to be confused. However, if we diligently look through Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, we can identify what appears to be opposing views found side by side. For example in 1 Corinthians 6:12 there is a statement “All things are lawful” and right after that is a logical contrastive, “but not all things are profitable” which contradicts the statement that all things are lawful. Paul has several references to the Corinthian’s letter.

In 1 Corinthians 1:10-17 Paul references divisions and quarrels in the Corinthian church.

People sent from Chloe

Paul said that people sent from Chloe informed him of the contentious divisions and it is likely these people also delivered the Corinthian letter to Paul. Chloe appears to pinpoint the problem to bring to Paul.

1 Corinthians 1:11 (NASB) For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you.

Paul responds to “you, my brethren” and he writes to them as brethren, and as ones promoting the quarrels. He tells them that Christ is not to be divided and that the gospel must be maintained as the key uniting factor. So with Paul responding to the brethren who have been quarrelling and dividing the congregation, we should expect to see references to divisive doctrines and disputes in Paul’s letter. We must make sure that we do not take a divisive reference to be Paul’s view. Contradictory views aren’t Paul opposing himself! 

Paul quotes the Corinthians and then he writes a corrective response to their errors. Which of the two contradictory views is Paul’s view? We need to test the words by the context, and by what Paul has previously taught. The statement that is an error will not be repeated in the Scripture, but the truth is repeated over and over again. Truth has a second witness. Errors stand alone and are refuted, not repeated.

God’s truth has a second witness

As Paul is responding to the Corinthian’s letter he lists the error and he immediately corrects it. The error does not have a second witness. Is it taught elsewhere?  Every sin that is exposed in the Scripture has a second or third witness. If it is a sin for a woman to speak in the assembly, there would be a second witness because God wants us to know His will and He wants to keep us from sin. God repeats Himself for our benefit and Paul did too. Paul wrote about this in 2 Corinthians 13:1.

2 Corinthians 13:1 (NASB) This is the third time I am coming to you. Every fact is to be confirmed by the testimony of two or three witnesses.

Common sense tells us that releasing women to earnestly desire to prophesy for the edification of the assembly, then silencing them saying their voices are improper, disgraceful, or filthy, is a contradiction that is untenable. Which command is from Paul? His consistent encouragement to allow ALL of them to prophesy one by one so that ALL may learn and ALL may be exhorted trumps the out-of-place and not repeated argument for women’s filthy voices to be silenced and women to be sent home to learn from their husbands. 

1 Corinthians 14:31 (NASB) For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted;

Can you see the problem?

Go through 1 Corinthians and see where you can find Paul saying one thing and then immediately refuting that view. Then look back at 1 Corinthians 14. Are there two different views listed in this chapter?

All are commanded to earnestly seek for spiritual gifts (especially to prophesy) to edify the church. Paul’s command is clear at the beginning of chapter 14 and he concludes the chapter in the same way. In-between these encouraging words are very harsh, and divisive views about women. The quarrel view says women’s voices are filthy (improper, disgraceful) and they are not allowed to speak, and must go home to learn. Which one of these views is Paul’s view? And which view is not in lockstep with what Paul has already said? Remember Paul is answering back to the quarrels and the divisive brethren.

Which is Paul’s view?

Which view of women is the divisive view and needs to be corrected, and which view is Paul’s view? Remember Paul cannot contradict himself! Paul is not discussing shameful women pastors.

1 Corinthians 14:34-35 verses are part of the dispute brought to Paul for Paul to bring correction. The silencing of women is part of the quarrels and divisions found among the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 1:11). The two difficult verses are included for a purpose even though they are confusing to many people. These verses are not “clear” but contradictory to Paul’s command and the text needs hard work for us to understand Paul without Paul opposing himself!

Paul’s disgust at those who silence women

Right after the two out-of-place commands silencing women and disallowing them to learn in the assembly (they have to go home to learn), Paul uses a logical disjunctive to start verse 36. The English words “Was it” is a logical disjunctive conjunction.

Women pastors 1 Corinthians 14:36 disjunctive rebuts the opposing view

The disjunctive links together opposites and rebuts an idea.  

Women pastors Logical disjunctive

What is Paul refuting?

In 1 Corinthians 14:36 Paul refutes the bad tradition of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35.  Paul writes:

1 Corinthians 14:36 (NASB) 36Was it from you that the word of God first went forth? Or has it come to you only?

Paul is saying (*Refutation*) Did the word of God first come forth from you (only men) And has it come only to you (only men can receive the gospel and learn in the assembly)? 

Was the gospel FIRST given to you?

Why is Paul asking if they are the ones from whom the gospel was FIRST given? Because it wasn’t men who were first sent out with the gospel of the resurrection. It was women who preached the gospel of the resurrection of Jesus first. The gospel was given to women at the tomb and they were told to go and tell His disciples.

Matthew 28:5–7 (NASB) 5The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified. 6“He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying. 7Go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead; and behold, He is going ahead of you into Galilee, there you will see Him; behold, I have told you.”

If the gospel was meant to be given only from men, then why did God choose women to be the first ones to receive the gospel and why did He chose women to be the first ones to go and tell that gospel to the disciples?

Paul answered back to the men who were restricting women — Did the word of God FIRST come forth from you men? And has the gospel ONLY COME to you men? Those who stop women from preaching the gospel and learning in the assembly are speaking the same words as the Corinthians did to Paul. And Paul is telling them that women handled the gospel FIRST. God’s choice and His way is clear. Women are included in the preaching of the gospel.

Paul refutes the “men only” argument

It appears that these men thought they are more spiritual than Paul and they could correct Paul. Paul writes:

1 Corinthians 14:37 (NASB) If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord’s commandment.

Paul is saying that If anyone thinks he is a prophet (one who speaks for God) or spiritual (one who corrects error), let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord’s commandment (Paul had written that all should seek to prophesy SO THAT all may learn and all may be exhorted.) Paul will not let these opposers stop women from learning and he will not let them stop women from proclaiming the good news. Instead, he affirms that the command for the entire assembly to seek earnestly to prophesy so that all may learn, is a command from the Lord Jesus Himself.

Shameful Women pastors or ignorant people who stop them?

Paul challenges those who place their spiritual wisdom ahead of the command of Jesus. Paul writes:

1 Corinthians 14:38 (NASB) But if anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.

When Paul says that if anyone “does not recognize this” the literal meaning is “to refuse to acknowledge”.

Women pastors 1 Corinthians 14:38 those who refuse to acknowledge

Those who refuse to acknowledge the things (plural) that Paul has written are actually refusing Paul’s source because Paul said it is the Lord’s commandment. Women were the first ones given the gospel after the resurrection, and women were chosen by God to preach that gospel to the apostles. For men now to disregard women and say that women cannot learn in the assembly and they cannot speak forth to edify the assembly, this restriction is against the commandment from God Himself.

What should be done regarding those who refuse to allow women to learn and refuse to allow women pastors to speak? Paul writes disregard and ignore them. Why? Because they are showing their ignorance.

Women pastors 1 Corinthians 14:38 they are to be ignored

Reversing the Shame

The culture of Paul’s day limited women. Jewish tradition also limited women. Women were not allowed to touch God’s Word and girls were not taught the Law as this was considered shameful. Women were regularly disregarded and ignored and their testimony was considered untrustworthy in court. However, the shame that the culture placed on women was permanently removed by Jesus. Amazingly, Jesus chose women to be the first ones to bring the gospel of the resurrection. The men had to listen to them because they were that the ones sent by Jesus.

The gospel was first preached to men by women. From the time of that first command, women worked alongside men bringing the gospel to the world. When the ignorant and selfish ones in Corinth were demanding that women in the churches be silent and women must go home to learn anything, Paul corrected their error by reminding the divisive ones that the command was from the Lord Jesus.

I love Paul

I want to publicly say that I LOVE Paul, and I so appreciate him boldly encouraging women to earnestly desire to prophesy. That command still resonates today. We are to earnestly desire to speak the Word of God to benefit and to encourage and exhort others. And if men tell you that Jesus cannot use a woman like you, then listen to the words of Paul and ignore them! 

Women in Ministry Silenced or Set Free? 4 DVD set

5 thoughts on “Are women pastors shameful? A response to John MacArthur

  1. I was so thrilled to see a post from you Cheryl!

    Yes, McCarthur’s response did indeed blow up the internet. I was involved in quite a lengthy FB debate on this topic, refuting “proof texts” like this one, 1 Cor 11, and 1Tim 2 as we went. This is well travelled ground for us and I have nothing to add to your, as always, clear and thorough analysis. I just will add this.

    When pastors say “the text CLEARLY says…” my ears perk up and I remember my favorite line from Tom Sawyer: “Your sayin’ so don’t make it so!”

  2. I appreciate your excellent view in regard to women in the church. I believe women are extremely valuable in delivering the gospel to a dying world. I pray that they don’t become silence.
    CH Evans

  3. Thank you for the kind words! It is difficult to know in some places that half the church has been silenced from preaching the gospel. This is what Satan wants. We agree rather with Paul who silenced no one who preached the truth of the gospel. May many more women be freed to preach the gospel boldly. The truth of the gospel should not be chained.

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