The Role of Women in the Church
One of the controversies that reigns in some of the churches today has to do with the woman's role in the church. More and more we see women in the pulpits of the churches. Unfortunately this is happening not only because women want to have equal authority with men in the church, but the fact that men have been abdicating their roles. Fewer and fewer men are interested, much less feel the call, to go into the ministry leaving pulpits empty. As a result, the vacuum is being filled by not only the only people left to fill it, but the only ones interested in filling it, women. I could not find any statistics, but I am guessing that the larger majority of missionaries are also women. What makes this such a difficult topic to address are these last facts. As I will show, it is not God's plan or will that women be the leaders of the church. That said, as men have walked away from the Lord and those roles, God is left with nobody to work for Him but women. He has to use the people who are willing, to bring the gospel to the world. Thus we have ended up in a situation that is not God's will, but one that exists due to circumstances.
Before getting into the verses about this subject, I think it is important to understand whether or not the verses are relevant to our day, or were only something that Paul wrote to those churches due to their customs of the day. Is the Word of God applicable only as we decide it is based on our culture of the day, or is God's Word timeless and applicable through all generations regardless of custom, tradition, education, and fashions?
What does God's Word say to this? God has told us that “Jesus is the same yesterday, and today and forever.” Hebrews. 13:8. In Psalm 102:27 we read, “But thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end.” Malachi 3:6a tells us, ”For I am the LORD, I change not ...” James 1:17 says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” These verses have to do with Yeshua (Jesus) and God the Father not changing in character or in regards to their standards. In Matthew 5:18 and Luke 16:17 we are told that not one jot or tittle of the law of God will pass away until heaven and earth pass away. So it appears that neither God nor what His Word says will change or be irrelevant. At least until the heavens and earth have passed away, and to date I do not believe that has happened. :-) God's Word is applicable yesterday, today, and tomorrow. That answers the question of whether the passage pertains to us today, or only was applicable to the churches of Paul's day. Further, this issue was as much a problem during Paul's day as it is today, and when he chastises and corrects them, (as seen below) he lets them know that they do not have the right to create their own practices. The rules are the same for all the churches, because the rules are God's, not Paul's, not the culture's, and certainly not the right of an individual church to create. God's rules do not change just because man does, but in this case, man has not. Women still want to usurp man's authority over her, just as they did back then.
1 Corinthians 14:36-38 "What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only? If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord. But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant. To understand what this passage is all about, one has to understand what was going on at Corinth. This church was not the first church created out of Christianity. There were others that were older. This particular church had started developing their own traditions, ideas, and behaviors that were not common to the other churches. That is why Paul wrote correcting them about so many things, from speaking in tongues, to wearing head-coverings, to letting their women be leaders in the church, etc. They were creating their own practices that were not condoned by God. One has to believe that they were not studying their Scriptures, and therefore were being easily led into error as many, if not most, churches are today. Thus Paul asks them, "Did the Word of God originate with you?" No it did not. "Did it come only to you alone?" No, it did not. So why were they thinking that they could adopt any practices that they felt like adopting? They should be following the same rules as the other churches. Paul then said to them that if they thought themselves so spiritually superior to the other churches, or if any thought themselves a prophet, then the real test of that fact being true, would be that those people would acknowledge that what Paul was preaching was the truth. That these were God's commandments, laws, and rules and that they still apply, and they should teach these things to the people themselves. But, if people choose to ignore what the Scriptures clearly say, out of rebellion, let them go ahead and do as they want. If they want to choose to be ignorant, let them be ignorant. He is not saying that it is acceptable to be ignorant and ignore these rules, he is saying that if they are rebellious and contentious, then just leave them alone. God will deal with their rebellion Himself. It is not our problem. However, he does want them to know that just because they ignore the rules, it does not mean the rules do not exist. I can speed on the highway if I so choose, but that does not change the speed limit. Paul's letters to the Corinthians are chastisements of their errors. Errors that need correcting. And the rules still apply today. God did not say we can pick and choose what we like out of the Scriptures. They all apply. But we have to also study to know how they must be applied, so that we do not apply things incorrectly. So that establishes that what Paul wrote was not an opinion, nor was it something he was merely addressing to the culture of the day. What he is teaching are the commandments of God. Rules that are not changeable at man's whim.
As there are a couple of verses that are used extensively in this debate, it will probably be easiest to begin there and then continue from that point.
1 Corinthians 14:34-35 “Let you women keep silence in the churches: 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 any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.”
1 Timothy 2:11-14 “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.”
Before addressing these verses, we must revisit the “women in submission to the man” article on this blog. If the reader has not read it, it is essential that you go over to the archives and first read that, so that you will understand the whole reason why a woman must be submissive to a man. It is again brought up in this verse in 1 Timothy. “I suffer not a woman to teach nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.” Again, just as woman submitting to the man and head-coverings are all about authority, (not fashions) this too is all about authority. It has absolutely nothing to do with education (as some would like it to be) nor is it just a traditional cultural thing (again as some would like it to be). It is all about God's order of authority. As we read in 1 Corinthians 11:3, “But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.” For whatever reason, people are not getting the point that all of these passages having to do with women in the church, whether head-coverings, or teaching, or submission, has to do with God's rule of authority. This is something that God established when Eve sinned, as mentioned in 1 Timothy above. “For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.” In Genesis 3:16 God told Eve, “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.” This is the curse put upon Eve and her female descendants. This has not changed no matter how much time has passed. It is a curse from God. It is His command that woman be in submission to men. Now as I wrote in the submission post, that does not mean slavery. However it does mean that women are not to usurp man's authority over her. Men are not to be in submission to women, and if a woman is a leader on her own recognizance, that is exactly what happens.
We will revisit the authority issue later. For the moment the issue of silence will be addressed. Both of the above verses say that women are to be in silence in church. In 1 Corinthians the word for silence is “sigao”, which means “to keep silence” or “hold your peace”. In 1 Timothy the word for silence is “hesuchia” and means “to desist from bustling or language” If we were to look at these two verses and only these two verses, it would seem that a woman should not open her mouth from the time she walks in the church until she walks out. But that is not what this means. In 1 Corinthians 11 in the article about head-coverings, it was shown that the whole purpose of wearing them was that women were to have their heads covered when they prayed or prophesied in church. How can you pray or prophesy if you cannot open your mouth? You can't.
Acts 21:8-9 “And the next day we that were of Paul's company departed, and came unto Caesarea: and we entered into the house of Philip the evangelist, which was one of the seven; and abode with him. And the same man had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy.”
Philip had four daughters who prophesied. They were allowed to do this, so obviously when Paul told women to keep their silence, he did not mean that they should not open their mouths at all, but that there is a time when they should be silent. What is the key verb that is in both verses? “Learn.” They are to learn in silence. This indicates that portion of the service when preaching and teaching was going on. I believe I know what may have been happening, because I have experienced what I think was happening in the church at Corinth and Ephesus.
A few years ago I was attending a very, very small country church. It had about twelve people on a good day. The pastor was, as is the usual case with these tiny churches, a lay preacher with little formal training in giving sermons. He was a very quiet, withdrawn type of man who lacked self-confidence and was easily lost as to where he was in the order of the service. His wife on the other hand (while being very loving) was a rather loud, take charge kind of person who liked to direct her husband. Now this may have worked in their home, but the trouble was that she was directing him from the pew while he was in the pulpit trying to lead the service. It was made worse by the fact that he would turn to her and ask her what to do next or defer to her instructions. It was disruptive and extremely embarrassing to the congregants to see the pastor so befuddled, and it was annoying to have her constantly disrupting him when she thought he had forgotten something or should do something else. She would interrupt his sermon if she felt he needed correcting on something, or if she had a question about what he said, and she was constantly jumping up and down to deal with the grandchildren, who had not been taught by their parents to sit still and behave. Now while this was a very informal church, (obviously) this was going beyond informal to simple chaos. That is how most of the people in the congregation felt, and they were commenting as to how distressed it made them feel, and how they were not learning a thing, and could not concentrate at all on what he was trying to teach.
I believe, given the definition of “silence”in the above verses, the bustling and the lack of holding their peace that may have been going on, could have been similar to the problem in my own church. Since learning seems to be the constant in both verses, it would seem that the women were disrupting the service either by asking questions or trying to teach when they thought they knew an answer to something being discussed. They may also have been dealing with children, or not sitting still because they did not understand. People tend to do that out of boredom once they are tuned out to what is being said, whether by choice, or because they do not comprehend what is being discussed. Regardless of the cause, it was creating a hubbub in the church when there should have been order. Just having several women asking their husbands next to them questions about what was being said by the leader would have created a disruption due to the whispering, or worse, talking out loud. Remember they did not have speaker systems and microphones. People had to be quiet so that the leader could be heard, and constant whispering or talking would be completely unacceptable. Having to shush children would also be a distraction.
So the gist of these verses in the respect of silence is not that they could not open their mouths at all, but that when the learning part of the service was going on, they were to keep their questions to themselves, ask their husbands when they got home, and maintain a quiet attitude in behavior, so that they would not be disrupting the service and keeping others from learning. They could however pray, prophesy (head covered naturally), sing, and if they had a tongue that could be interpreted, they could do that as well when those activities were ongoing. Again, it was a matter of order. God likes order, not chaos.
So these verses establish that a woman should not be interrupting the service to inquire about things that are taught that she does not understand, and she should not be bustling about distracting others. But does the first part of that only have to do with education? What if she not only understood, but understood better than the man? Would that not qualify her to contribute? That may not have been a problem in Bible times, as women were not educated the same way a man was, but that is no longer true. Women are not only equally as educated, but sometimes have more education and understanding than many men. Does that not change the circumstances? Look at this author. I am a woman who has studied the Bible for decades in depth and now writes a blog that anyone on the planet with a computer can access. Does that not make me disobedient to the very Scriptures I am trying to defend, if I say a woman should not teach? Well, let us investigate that problem.
1 Timothy 2:12 “But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.”
The point in this verse is that a woman should not usurp authority over the man and that part of that is that she should not teach. But does it mean she should not teach at all, or does it mean she should not teach when the venue of her teaching is one that is usurping the authority of a man? To understand it correctly, as always, we need to look to other Scriptures to get an accurate picture.
Titus 2:3-5 “The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.”
This passage tells us that women are to be teachers. Teachers of good things, and teachers of younger women. So clearly it is not meant in the passage in Timothy that women not teach at all. The older women would teach the younger, and both the older and younger would also teach their children.
Deuteronomy 6:4-7 “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.”
This instruction was not for the men alone, it was for all of Israel. The men would not be raising the small children and spending all their time with them. The women would be the ones teaching the little children. Paul mentions Timothy's mother and grandmother as being great women of faith who obviously taught Timothy.
I Timothy 1:5 “When I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice; and I am persuaded that in thee also.”
So teaching itself is not what Paul meant. It is teaching in the incorrect venue that seems to be the problem. Teaching is not allowable for women, if the teaching is in a position of authority over men. Again, as with a lot of other issues, it has to do with God's hierarchy of authority. Does that mean that a women can never under any circumstances teach a man? Again, let us see if there is any precedent set by Scripture that would disavow that premise.
Acts 18:24-26 “And a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man, and mighty in the scriptures, came to Ephesus. This man was instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in the spirit, he spake and taught diligently the things of the Lord, knowing only the baptism of John. And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue: whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly.”
This verse shows us that a woman, Priscilla, was teaching a man, but not just any man. This was a man who was already mighty in the Scriptures, in other words, a real Bible scholar. And yet, Priscilla was teaching him. But under what circumstances? She was teaching him with and under the authority of her husband Aquila. She was teaching by permission and under the directive of a man whose authority she was under. So, teaching a man, even one who is a great scholar himself, if a woman has more knowledge of the Scriptures, is not a problem as long as she is doing so with the permission and under the authority of a man.
God does not want women to not use their brains, or the gifts He has given them, but He does want them to exercise them under the rules He has set forth. The rule is that she be under the authority of a man. I personally do not believe just any man will do, but one who is either her husband, father, or her own spiritual leader, if she is single or her father is not living. He needs to have a right to that authority through blood, marriage, law, or church leadership.
As for my own writing, I have the permission of my husband, who feels that I have a gift of understanding God's Word. He understands my calling from God to teach and supports it. So I am following the rules of authority. I am not usurping the authority of any man in teaching God's Word. I do not know the people who read this, nor am I looking to have authority over anyone who does. I am merely relating God's truth with my husband's approval.
Does this allow for a woman to be in the pulpit? Not as the pastor of a church, no. The assistant pastor? No. The youth director? Maybe. To get up and present information at the pastor's request, possibly. But to be the shepherd of the flock, even as the assistant pastor? Never. To do so is to rebel against God's command, as that would be having authority over all the men in the church. Paul is very clear that this is unacceptable. So how far can a woman take this and run with it? I think that must be a matter of prayer between her, the man in authority over her, and God. If her leadership is in any way giving her real authority over a men, it should not be allowed. The question becomes one of – where is the line drawn? I guess each and every individual act would have to be evaluated on its own to determine that. I do not know that there is any hard and fast rule that could be applied, as circumstances would never be exactly the same from situation to situation. It would require discernment and prayer. I would say, though, that presenting information without actually having authority over the people (men) to whom the information is being given is permissible. Having the authority to dictate any instructions, restrictions, or give orders would cross that line, even if the woman is under another man's authority.
What about other roles of leadership in the church, such as deacons and elders? The passage that people love to quote to allow women deacons is found in Romans 16:1-3 “I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea: That ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you: for she hath been a succourer of many, and of myself also. Greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus.” Some versions of the Bible use the word “deacon” instead of servant. Why is that? The Greek word is “diakonos”. It means to run errands, an attendant, a waiter, a servant, or one who does menial duties. It is translated “deacon” in English in the modern versions. So why does the KJV use servant instead of deacon? Because for one thing, it is more accurate, and also possibly to avoid the problem that arose from using the word “deacon”. Those who feel a women can hold the office of deacon point to the modern translations which use this word as a defense for letting a women hold the office of deacon. But let us look at the passage in Timothy that speaks about the office of deacon.
1 Tim 3:1-13 “This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. Likewise must the deacons be grave, not doubletongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre; Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience. And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless. Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things. Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well. For they that have used the office of a deacon well purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.”
In this passage, the work “diakonos” is used first. “Likewise, must the “diakonos” be grave, not doubletongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre; Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience. And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon 'diakoneo'.....” First notice the use of two different words. Diakonos means a servant. After the man (he has a wife) who is a servant (diakonos) has been proven, then he is allowed to hold the office of a deacon (diakoneo). There is a difference between simply carrying out the menial duties of a servant and holding the office of a deacon, who acts as a servant to the church in an official capacity. Phebe is a servant, but she does not hold the office of deacon. She is not in a position of leadership over men. Also the descriptions of those who hold office (whether deacon, bishop, or elder), clearly indicate that a man is to hold the office. He is a man, a husband and father, not a wife and mother, as can be clearly seen in the passage above and the one below.
Titus 1:5-9 “For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee: If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly. For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; But a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate; Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.”
Hopefully taking all of the Scriptures together has brought a clearer picture of what a woman's role in the church can be. She is not to have authority over men, therefore she may under no circumstances be the pastor (or any other title that fits) of a church. She is not to be disruptive in church asking questions which causes others to be distracted. She may pray and prophesy and sing during those times of the church service where these things occur. She may also teach other women, children, and may even teach other men under and with the permission of a man's authority. She may not hold an office of authority in the church, therefore she may not be a deacon, bishop, or elder.
Having said that, in this day and age, it is necessary for pastors to protect themselves from accusations of sexual harassment, therefore it is good for a pastor to have a woman who can counsel other women. In most circumstances this would probably be his wife, but if he is not married, there should be a woman who can act in this capacity. She may even be given a title such as deacon, but it would be understood that this is not a role that puts her in leadership over men, but rather over other women.
So, getting back to the first paragraph of this article, we are finding that women are climbing into the pulpits more and more these days. Some are there out of rebellion against God's mandate, but even so, they are there due to lack of men to fill those roles. How should the church handle the lack of male leadership? I do not think this is as difficult as it sounds. Usually those who have women in the roles of authority are those churches who have long ago left behind the mandates of God, and are religious in name only, not in the power of God. Their disobedience in this area is irrelevant in light of the fact that they have already walked away from God. Those who seek to follow God's path and truth need only pray for God to supply their need of male leadership, and I believe He will be faithful to do so. It may not come in the package that some would like (seminary degrees, etc.), but I find that seminary degrees often lead away from God's truth rather than to it. Seminarians spend their time in seminary looking at Scripture as literature and dissecting it as such. They spend very little time actually looking at what the Word teaches in the way of spiritual truths. Commentaries are the books that are read, not the books of the Bible. If the man God brings does not feel he is qualified to lead in many areas, then let him look to the females in his congregation (and usually the women outnumber the men by a huge percent) to fill the needs of the church under his leadership. As long as that authority is maintained correctly, the women with knowledge and gifts can be allowed to exercise them for the benefit of the congregation. God has given us women ways to stay within the rules, but still exercise our gifts and be of use.