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Does God use women in ministry?

HomeChristianity and the BibleDoes God use women in ministry?

Does God use women in ministry?

Anonymous GodWords Reader

This is a topic that generates a LOT of heat. With strong opinions on all sides, my goal is to avoid replying with the traditions of men (and women), and to stick to Scripture. I’m proud of GodWords readers, because – when you disagree – you generally disagree with class. Please continue doing so.

American Christians are often taught that women should not teach men in church. Those who teach this often try to support their view with Scripture, suggesting that men should always be in charge, and that women should always be subordinate. Regardless of how COMMON such an idea is, we must look to Scripture to make sure it’s accurate. In my opinion, it is not. The idea that women should not teach comes, my studies tell me, from a simple misunderstanding of Scripture. This misunderstanding is made worse by those who look for verses to support their idea. The truth is that ALL of Scripture should help us understand this, and not just the verses we like.

The Problem

Passages like 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-12 are commonly cited. These passages (like all others) can be taken prescriptively or proscriptively. Proscriptively means “this applies to everyone”. Prescriptively means “this applies to you”, as with a medical prescription. An easy example of a prescriptive passage is 1 Timothy 5:23, where Paul instructs Timothy to drink wine to help his stomach. Nobody believes that Paul is giving instructions for ALL Christians there, of course. The question you’re asking has to do with whether to take 1 Cor 14 and 1 Tim 2 prescriptively, with regard to women. When we look at the whole of Scripture, it becomes abundantly clear that God has always used women in whatever roles He wished to, without limitation.

Women

Obviously, Huldah‘s story in 2 Kings 22 contradicts the idea that God doesn’t want women to teach men. Dorcas, also called Tabitha, was a disciple (Acts 9 ). The word translated “disciple” is exactly the same as the one used for men. Phoebe was a deaconess (Romans 16 ). Junias was an apostle (Romans 16 ). Euodia and Syntyche were evangelists (Philippians 4 ). Deborah was a prophetess and a Judge of Israel (Judges 4 )…a pretty big deal. Miriam is listed as a leader, sent by God, alongside Moses and Aaron in Micah 6 . Anna was a prophetess (Luke 2) who taught everyone about Jesus in the Temple. I could go on. A final example is Balaam’s donkey. If God used a donkey to teach Balaam, why would he not use a woman?

Equality

Galatians 3:28 says this: There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. The cultural separation of men and women, Jews and Greeks, servants and masters, as practiced in the first century, was not to be normative behavior for the New Testament church.

The Signs of the Covenants

The sign of God’s covenant with Abraham was circumcision… a specifically male sign. This continued to be considered the sign of the Mosaic covenant as well. The early church, primarily made up of Jews at the beginning, struggled with the idea of not circumcising converts. Again and again, we read about circumcision of the heart, rather than of the body. This would apply to anyone, male or female.

The sign of the new covenant is baptism and, in the New Testament, baptism applied to all in exactly the same way.

Conclusion

There’s no question that women have filled ALL of the “spiritual roles” in the church that men have filled. We are all to use the gifts, talents, and abilities that God gives us to further His Kingdom…there is no difference. God would not contradict Himself. If God didn’t want women teaching men, He would not have put so many women in positions of leadership, where they taught men. The passages in 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy must be prescriptive…meant for those women, in those places, for specific reasons. They are the exception, not the rule.

Objections

In the Old Testament, only men were priests.

This is true, but irrelevant to Christianity. Only certain men could be priests, not all men. There are two “priesthoods” in the New Testament: the priesthood of all believers and the high priesthood of Jesus. The priesthood of all believers is found in 1 Peter 2:5 and would obviously include women. The high priesthood of Jesus is found all over Hebrews and doesn’t apply to anyone but Him. The New Testament has no parallel for the Old Testament priesthood.

Doesn’t the Bible say that women should submit to men?

Yes, it does. It also says that men should submit to women. This mutual submission is unqualified beyond those involved being believers. The question at hand has to do with the proper role of spiritual leaders in the church, and those roles are filled by people with specific spiritual gifts, not by their sex. In Paul’s letters we find examples of women who were teachers, evangelists, prophets, deacons, and apostles. There are no examples of these women teaching only women… they served the whole church.

It’s okay for women to teach at home, but not at church.

News flash: in the beginning, there were no church buildings. Most of the time, Christians met in homes.

It’s okay for women to teach when a man isn’t available, like on the mission field.

There’s nothing like this in Scripture.

What about the commands for women to be silent?

Paul’s instructions for worship to be orderly must be taken in context. This command appears in his letter to the Christians in Corinth. At the beginning of this passage we find these words:

What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation.

Take note: sisters, according to Paul in this passage, may have a word of instruction. This is in the same passage where Paul writes about women speaking during prophecies, which may come from either men or women. This is a problem-solving passage, where Paul addresses a specific issue. The Oracle of Delphi, for example, was nearby and well-known. It was common to ask questions of the oracle, but that’s not how Paul taught that prophecy should work in worship. Instead, questions should be asked elsewhere. Apparently some of the women were disrupting worship, which was the problem Paul addressed. This text says nothing about women submitting to the spiritual leadership of men, or avoiding teaching them.

Paul wrote that women shouldn’t speak, as the law says.

Yes, that’s what he wrote. The question is what law Paul referred to. There’s nothing in the Old Testament to suggest that this was a law given by God.

Paul did not permit women to speak.

This was written in Greek. The Greek verb epitrepo he used does not indicate a permanent state, but a present state: Paul did not presently permit women to speak. Why? As with the situation in Corinth, Paul was correcting a problem. In this passage, Paul also corrects the grumbling, disputing men of Ephesus by telling them to pray… and he corrects the apparently immodest women who were – again – disrupting worship. Women played important roles in the pagan worship of Ephesus, and this seems to be part of the issue. The implication appears to be that these particular women insisted on being heard in church, as authoritative speakers, when they should have been listening and learning and maturing first.

There’s a second Greek word at play in the 1 Timothy 2 passage: hesychia. It suggests ‘stillness’ rather than silence. The Greek sigao is commonly used in the New Testament for actual silence. Paul did not write that they should be silent, but that they should be still and calm so as to not disrupt worship.

A third distinction must be made, about the English “authority.” The word Paul used is the Greek word authenteo. This is a very strong word, applied to exercising power over oneself or others. An example is suicide or murder, where one takes absolute authority over life. It has to do with domination, not with spiritual leadership. Paul wrote that he would not allow women to dominate men, which matches all that we see in the New Testament. Mutual submission is the norm for Christians.

What about Adam and Eve?

As always, we must take the context into account. In Genesis, Adam received the instructions about not eating the fruit. He was responsible for telling Eve what God had said. Clearly, Adam had not done a good job, as Eve didn’t quite get the full message. In context, the women in Ephesus – accustomed to having dominating authority in spiritual matters – had not yet learned enough to teach. Paul points to the disastrous effect of Eve’s ignorance as an example of what could happen if the loud, immodest kind of women in Ephesus were given free rein. Both contexts – Genesis and Ephesus – point not to a subordinate role for all women, but to a submissive role for less mature believers.


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Comments

11 responses to “Does God use women in ministry?”

  1. David Song says:

    Who is Junia? I mean I’m very confident that Junia is a woman not a man. But some versions of the bible states that she is just “well known” or “well-respected” among the apostles. What do you think, teacher?

  2. Anders says:

    hi Tony
    This topic certainly does generate a lot of heat. Or I should say “has generated” a lot of heat here in Sweden. The issue is moot now that half the priests in the Lutheran church are female, and no one who holds the complementarian view is permitted to study to be a priest. I won’t comment on the above article except to say that the truths that guide my thinking as a complementarian are 1) “that God is no respecter of persons” and 2) “God made woman to be a helper suitable for man”. James Brown sang the truth, It’s a man’s world! The home and the church function best when a man is the head. But before God and in Christ there is absolutely no difference between men and women.
    OK, I can’t resist just one comment concerning the list of biblical women above (and the list could, of course, be much longer). Miriam was indeed a leader, but she was a leader of… women. (Ex. 15.20)

    • Tony says:

      Anders:

      I’m confused. Here’s Exodus 15:20:

      Then Miriam the prophet, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women followed her, with timbrels and dancing.

      Are you suggesting, because this one event occurred, that Miriam wasn’t also a leader of men? I think you must be making a joke. If you look at the references to Moses and Aaron and Miriam, there’s no difference in how they’re mentioned in Scripture.

      My wife agrees with you. She’s more of a complementarian than I am. =)

  3. Anders says:

    Ha, ha! Remember God’s command in Gen. 21.12: “Abraham, listen to your wife.” Regarding Miriam, she had undeniable leadership qualities as demonstrated even as a young girl in the way she handled Pharaoh’s daughter by the river Nile. Paul bases his teaching on woman’s place in the church on Genesis 2; “the woman was created for the man”. Now that does not sit well with many women. Somehow being created to help a man makes them feel inferior. However, the chapter also teaches that man without a woman is useless. He is to “cleave to his wife”. There seems to me to be a balance there.
    I admit that there are unclear issues: for example, what does the Bible teach about female prophets? Didn’t they “lead” men? They certainly spoke the word of the Lord and they certainly counseled individual men. The instances are relatively few in the Bible, Deborah being the most outstanding example. Personally, I am of the persuasion that she judged Israel because men (Barak) shirked their responsibilities. Just as men are shirking their responsibilities in the church today and are being replaced by women. That is not a positive development according to Isaiah 3.12.
    Paul writes that a prophet “speaks to men to edification and exhortation and comfort.” (1 Cor. 14.3) There is no reason why a woman can not do that. But the bottom line is that woman was created to minister, not to rule.

    • Tony says:

      Anders:

      I’m sorry for the delay. I’ve been (thankfully) very busy! You see the trouble, obviously. There ARE unclear issues.

      I don’t think the idea that women led because men did not is a sound conclusion. If God really doesn’t want any woman to lead any man, it’s based on principles and not on circumstance. If God doesn’t want women to lead men but will make exceptions, where can we read about those exceptions?

      I haven’t drawn any final conclusions on the matter because the Scriptures seem, to me, to be unclear.

      • Anders says:

        I agree 100%. It’s not helpful to be dogmatic on this issue.
        When it comes to God making exceptions, it seems that a human monarch for Israel was an exception that God allowed. So maybe a female judge was, too. Just a thought.
        Anyway, one chapter that I have been looking att lately as I’ve studied this question of women in leadership is John 4. Jesus was drawn to Samaria evidently because “the fields there were white unto harvest”. And his chosen human instrument was not his 12 disciples — who were mainly preoccupied with finding their next meal. He chose a woman. And a most unlikely one. One preacher has called her “The Bad Samaritan”. She doesn’t even merit a name in the NT, but she was greatly use by God.
        So, I think the role of women in the church is an interesting and many-sided question. But like a friend of mine said to me the other day, “Will resolving that issue make you a better Christian?” Hard to say.

        • Tony says:

          Anders:

          It seems we mostly agree. It IS interesting to note that Jesus’ relationships with women were not conventional for His time. The Samaritan woman is a great example. Jesus came first for the Jews, yet the first person He revealed Himself to was a woman, and a Samaritan at that. She was the first evangelist, if you will. Jesus did a lot of things that, without proper context, aren’t understood very well. For example, when He healed the demoniac (possessed by Legion), He was in pagan territory. As with the Samaritan woman, Jesus told him to go home and tell how much God had done for him. He came first for the Jews, but gentiles were spreading the word about Jesus long before even His disciples understood who He is.

          I agree with your friend, and with you. It’s sometimes hard to say which things are really, really important. If women are never supposed to teach men, that actually seems important… at least for those women who don’t know it. If it’s okay for women to teach men in most cases, then the argument seems silly and irrelevant. Here’s something I strongly believe:

          If more Christians committed their own lives to following Jesus closely, there would be little need for websites like mine. The only reason I write here, and the only reason for the thousands of comments, and the only reason that millions of people have come here, is that most preachers and teachers have not done their jobs very well. That sounds highly critical, but – as a former pastor – I feel qualified to criticize. Imagine how life would be different if Christians in America and Italy lived as the disciples lived after Pentecost! Yes, it would be messy… but it would be better than it is right now.

          Should women teach men? I really don’t know for sure… but I’m not going to stand in the way of any human being who 1) commits to following Jesus, 2) preaches the gospel that was originally handed down, and 3) practices what they preach.

          I do appreciate our conversation, my friend.

  4. Anders says:

    Yes, it’s been a helpful exchange of views. I woke up this morning with 1 Cor. 11.7 in my inner ear. Some women might take offense, but my wife smiled when I quoted it for her as she was leaving for work. “The woman is the glory of the man.”

  5. Eric Davis says:

    I would like to challenge this. Galatians 3:28 is used out of context a lot for this topic. The context of Galatians passage is justification by faith; not being limited: Jew or Gentile, male or female, etc. This has nothing to do with church roles.

    Yes, women have helped in orchestrating God’s plan but there are no female priests in the OT. Prophets and priests are in fact different. A prophet is a messenger from God to warn the nation of coming judgment or to call a person or nation to repentance. A priest is a minister of sacred things who represents God to people and people to God. There are female prophetesses but there are no female priests in the Bible. Jesus’ disciples were all men, as there are not to be any women spiritually over a man (1 Tim. 2:12). For Christ is the head of every man, and man the head of a woman (1 Cor. 11:3). Adam was created first, then Eve (1 Tim. 2:13).

    Women can be deacons, yes, because deacons minister to the needs of others. But again, a deacon is not an elder or pastor, having spiritual authority over a man.

    Many consider this topic offensive because I believe they don’t understand headship. Headship is not lording it over women. I know many women who are asking in this day and age, “Where are the men?” because they want us to fight for them. My wife says that being submissive is easy because I lead her spiritually and love her deeply. Women respond to that love. In my mind, if it is in Scripture and it gets twisted to not offend, then it is coming from sin and not a willingness to submit to Scripture as the authority. I am not saying you are doing this, but many people who do this twist other parts of Scripture as well to not offend their flesh. This is no different than someone who lives in blatant sin to call themselves ‘pastor’ and lead a church spiritually. Ravi Zacharias would not qualify to be an elder despite his knowledge because he was not self-controlled.

    I personally believe that if God permitted women the spiritual leader role, that it would be unambiguous in Scripture. There would be examples of female priests and female disciples, and more. God did make us differently and it is not condescending to say that God gave men and women different responsibilities in the Kingdom; feminine women and masculine men are attractive, not the opposites. To be offended by that usually involves pride that radiates from the female pastor, especially. They do not have a gentle quiet spirit that is pleasing to God (1 Peter 3:4) like the Godly women do that agree with this teaching in Scripture.

    I am pretty blunt by default, but don’t mistake that to be hateful. I am not desiring a hateful debate, just stating what I see Scripture teaching.
    I am curious of your response.

    • Tony says:

      Eric:

      I appreciate you being blunt but not hateful. We should all welcome correction, as long as it’s biblical and and done in love. Thanks!

      You’re correct about Galatians 3 being (primarily) about justification. Some Jewish Christians thought that being Jewish put them in a different category than Gentile Christians, and Paul set them straight. Being male didn’t put you in a different spiritual category, either. This has nothing to do with church roles, but it does have to do with kingdom roles. The context is the same for each pairing. If Jews and Gentiles are in the same spiritual category, then men and women are as well… not only with regard to salvation, but in other ways. It’s about justification, but it’s also about reordering our tendencies. It’s correction. Yes, the disciples were all men. Women weren’t even allowed to be in the same room with men while someone was teaching. Jesus set a different example by including women in ways that Judaism did not.

      You point to the fact that there were no female priests. I see that as making my point for me. You see, Paul needed to correct the idea that Gentiles and women and slaves would play a lesser role in God’s Kingdom. The arguments against judaizers appear throughout the New Testament, from Acts to Titus and Timothy and in-between. There were female prophets, as you point out. Do you really believe that a woman who prophesied was NOT put in a position of authority over men? That seems illogical.

      In spite of the article above, I actually don’t take a firm position on the question of local church leadership. I simply try to point to the Scriptures – all of them – and work to make sense of them. There ARE passages that talk about headship. There ARE passages that not only suggest, but show clearly, women in positions of spiritual authority over men, and passages that talk about the equality of believers. We may prefer one argument over the other, but we shouldn’t pretend that both aren’t supported in Scripture. I would like to think that the ideas you present are simply cultural artifacts of a male-dominated society, but I’m not allowed that luxury. It’s not that simple. You might (or might not) prefer to think that the facts about women involved in ministry are simply misunderstood, but I’m not sure you’re allowed that luxury either. That’s the reason for the in-house debate. It’s not theological liberals vs theological conservatives, or angry lesbians vs calm, spiritually mature men. It’s a question of how best to understand God’s Word, and I’m not sure any of us have a lock on this specific topic. Many teach as if it’s settled, but I’m okay with a little tension where Scripture isn’t abundantly clear.

      My own experiences are not Scripture, and I don’t take them that way… but I can’t ignore them, either. As a boy, I spent a LOT of time around retired missionaries. Some of those women had been pastors, evangelists, preachers, and more. In my many decades of life, I have yet to meet anyone – anyone at all, including myself – who exceeds them in their love for God, love for His Word, and commitment to lifelong obedience. No, that’s not a Scriptural argument… but I find it difficult to discount. They could have been wrong for their entire lives, of course. Many are sincerely wrong. When I think of their devotion, and of their example of living by the prompting of the Holy Spirit, it’s very hard for me to believe that they were so right about following Jesus but wrong about what He called them to do. If they were being disobedient, one would think that God would correct them. That they felt no correction, but joyously sacrificed and suffered while doing this work for their entire adult lives, suggests to me that God did not want to correct them.

      In that way, I’m admittedly biased. When I combine my experiences with the accounts of women in the Bible, I’m not convinced that women should not teach men. I would give much to be able to sit with those ladies again, 45 years later, and have them teach me. I still have much to learn.

      I really appreciate your comment, Eric. Have a great day!

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