Does “the whole church” refer only to the men?


I am so appreciative of all the information from your studies of God’s word that you make available on your web site. I have recently been studying, teaching and preaching on the subject of the Christian woman’s role and her silence or quietness. The information on your web site has been so helpful!

I have a question which I don’t see covered on the web site (that doesn’t mean it’s not there, just that I don’t see it). In Acts 15 the apostles and elders are said to be considering this matter of circumcision and law-keeping for salvation. However, the whole church is assembled and it is hard for me to follow the progression of apostle-elder talks vs. whole congregation assembly. It is apparent that in v. 12 they are all assembled for the speeches of Barnabas and Paul and v. 13 indicates the whole congregation is assembled for James’ speech.

My question is about v. 22:

Then it pleased the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas,namely, Judas who was also named Barsabas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren.

This decision to send men to Antioch is said to have the approval of the whole church.

  1. Does this term ever apply to only the men of the congregation?
  2. If not, do we not infer from this that the women of the congregation had some means of expressing their approval?
  3. How would they do this and not violate the command to “keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak” (I Corinthians 14:34)?
  4. Could this indicate that their “silence” is not absolute but means something else (cf. the prophet who has something revealed to a neighboring prophet in I Corinthians 14:30. Does this mean that he cannot utter a sound or is his “silence” just not prophesying?)
  5. Might these women of the Jerusalem congregation have whispered their approval of this idea to their husbands without violating the command to be silent and to be in subjection?
  6. Does “silent” mean absolute silence (i.e., no sound whatsoever)?

I know you have probably already had this question posed to you and you may have even covered it in the material on the web site and I just missed it. I would appreciate any thoughts you have from the Bible.


When the last indexing said there are over 5,200 pages of information on the site, I'm not surprised you (or I for that matter) have trouble finding just the item of information you're looking for. I addressed the topic of Acts 15 a few times, but probably the one you will find most useful is the one titled "Business Meetings."

The phrase "whole church" is used several times in the New Testament

  • In the selection of deacons in Acts 6:1-6
  • In the sending out of Paul and Barnabas in Acts 13:1-3
  • In hearing and taking the recommended action against Judaizing teachers in Acts 15:4, 22, 30
  • In withdrawing from the man who was sinning in I Corinthians 5:4-5
  • In partaking of the Lord's Supper in I Corinthians 11:17-20, 34
  • In worship in I Corinthians 14:23, 26
  • In selecting men to carry monetary gifts to brethren in Judea in I Corinthians 16:3 and II Corinthians 8:18-19

"Silence" (or "quietness") in I Timothy 2:11-12 does not mean complete and absolute silence. It refers to acting is a quiet or submissive manner. "Silence" in I Corinthians 14:34 does mean not to speak, but it does not mean "no sound" about everything, else women could not fulfill the command to sing (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16). The use of the same word in regards to the prophets (I Corinthians 14:30) tells us that it does not imply silence at all times.

When we read, "In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus" (I Corinthians 5:4-5), it is not necessary to conclude that only the men withdrew from this sinner. Actually, the implication is the opposite -- the whole church, men and women, withdrew from the sinner.

But I Corinthians 14:23 is probably the clearest since the setting is the gathering of the whole church and Paul has to give regulations when women are not permitted to speak.

I can't see how these passages can be read and not conclude that the women of the congregation were present and that they somehow indicated their agreement with decisions reached. We do not find them addressing the congregation or presenting arguments for consideration. But when a proposal is made we do find the whole church acting as one to carry out the decisions which were agreeable to everyone. To argue that "whole church" referred only to the men would be arguing that the church is only composed of men, which contradicts, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28).

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