The Changeless Role of Women
I don't know if you've noticed this, but the fact that we in the churches of Christ don't use instruments of music in our public worship is the most common thing that people know and remember about us. When people ask me what church I minister at and I tell them that I preach for a church of Christ they invariably answer, "Oh, you're the people that don't use instruments." I don't think that they say this because they are for or against such a thing, they just happened to notice that we are unusual in this regard. There is no organ, piano, or bandstand in the auditorium, we just sing. This is a unique feature of our public worship.
Another feature, less noticeable but certainly becoming more unique as time moves on, is the fact that none of our female members lead in public worship. This is another thing that repeat visitors note. Of course, if you have grown up in the church you are used to this idea. But, for those who are new to our worship service, seeing only men lead in prayer and song, serve the communion, and do the preaching usually makes one wonder, "In this day of equality between the sexes, where are the women who serve in these tasks? Certainly there must be spiritually minded, intelligent, and capable women in this church. Why are they not leading in public worship?"
These types of questions address one of the most controversial issues in the religious world, the role of women in ministry. Some say that this is the key debate of our generation and, in response to this, many denominational churches have allowed women to serve in areas of ministry that were traditionally occupied by men. Today, we have women who preach, serve as deacons, pastors, and in the denominational role of bishops for certain groups.
This issue is not new. The Bible, as well as church history books, shows that from the very beginning and throughout the ages the role of women in ministry has always been a subject of debate. For example, in the late 1890s and early 1900s there were many articles in periodicals that circulated primarily among the churches of Christ that condemned the practice in some congregations that permitted women to lead in prayer, teach mixed (male & female) bible classes and, on occasion, actually preach from the pulpit. In order to find the answers to this and other questions dealing with church matters it is always wise to first consult the Bible, since it was given to the church by God for this very purpose (2 Timothy 3:15-16).
The problem, when having this discussion (the role of women in ministry), is that people want to debate the issue based on how they feel. They say things like, "Well, I feel that denying a woman the right to preach is not fair." or, "I feel that the church needs to keep up with the changes taking place in today's modern society." I am convinced that these arguments come from sincere motives; however, how we feel or appeals to changing social trends are not the way that religious, and especially issues within Christianity, are decided. As disciples of Jesus Christ we use God's Word (Matthew 28:20) to guide us in settling these matters.
With this in mind, let us consult God's Word and see what it says about this question concerning the role of women in ministry. After all, the service that both men and women offer in the church is to the Lord. Would He not be the best one to educate us about how that service should be rendered? If women are prohibited from leading in public worship, is there a reason for this? Is this simply a tradition or a form of religious sexism? Is this restriction something that needs to be changed in order to reflect progressive trends where women now serve in areas that were once strictly inhabited by men (e.g. police, politics, military, etc.)? Are we, in the churches of Christ, legalists, chauvinists, or simply old fashioned?
First of all, we need to understand that God ordained the roles of men and women in the family and in the church but not in politics, business, or other worldly pursuits. It is important to separate these different areas of activity. The progress of fair and equal treatment for women in the workplace is a just, necessary, and worthy thing to support and praise. If a woman is an accountant, she ought to be making the same money as the male accountant in that department. If a woman is a physician, she should be compensated based on her qualifications and her work, not her gender. In the same way, we should elect the very best person to lead in government whether it is local government or the Presidency. This type of choice should be based on things like integrity, courage, wisdom, creativity, compassion, knowledge, and experience. These are the ways that we decide who our leaders should be, not wealth and certainly not the color of their skin or sex. Our society is enriched when both women and men have equal opportunity to use their God given talents and acquired skills to succeed in business, politics, the arts, science, education, and the military.
However, in the context of family and church, God has communicated His will on the specific roles that men and women are to play (something He has not done in other areas of life and work). Many things change with time: customs, traditions, technology, and attitudes. Some of these have changed for the better. For example, fairness for women in the workplace, the right for women to vote, and access for them to participate in politics, these things have changed and have been just and good for all of society. Other things, however, are timeless and must remain regardless of the age we live in or the country that we inhabit. The Bible teaches us that the roles that God has given to men and women in marriage and in the church are such things.
And He answered and said, "Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female,"
- Matthew 19:4
A takeaway from what Jesus teaches here is that the One (God) who created them (man and woman) at the beginning of the world has the right to establish what the role of each will be, since who best to know their ideal function than the One who designed and brought both man and woman into existence.
"For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate."
- Matthew 19:5-6
In this passage, Jesus plainly says that God created male and female, established marriage, and defined the roles that each play in marriage. He also confirmed that the institution of marriage was permanent despite human laws and customs that have changed concerning marriage.
God is the one who decides these things, not man. This is so because God is the One who made them male and female, and united the man and the woman into one unit through marriage. Marriage, therefore, is for one man and one woman, not two men, not two women, not a man who thinks he is a woman, not a woman who thinks she is a man. These combinations have been created and promoted by human beings in response to their flesh, then codified by human laws, influenced by public opinion, and driven by sinful men and women in positions of power. However, as Jesus said to the Jewish teachers who themselves were perverting God's instructions concerning marriage some two thousand years ago, "but from the beginning it has not been this way." (Matthew 19:8).
Women's Role in Ministry
The Bible teaches specific things about the woman's role in the home and in the church. This study, however, will focus on the role she plays in the church, especially with regards to teaching, authority, and leadership. With this in mind, let us examine what the New Testament says about this topic since we go to this same source to define every position in the church whether it is for a man or a woman.
The gospels do not deal with this issue with clear-cut commands, but we do see that in every instance where teaching is done in Jesus' name it is always done by the men. For example, when Jesus sent out the first contingent of disciples to preach, He selected seventy men (Luke 10:1-23). Luke does not say that He sent a mixed group of men and women, he specifically says that seventy men were sent. Jesus could have added two women to the group in order to set a precedent. He had many women disciples to choose from (Mary Magdalene, Martha and her sister Mary, etc.), but Luke records that He did not do this.
Another opportunity to appoint a woman to a role of leadership occurred when Jesus chose his closest Apostles. The New Testament records that He chose twelve men (Luke 6:12-16). If there was ever an opportunity to set a precedent by someone who had the authority to do so it was Jesus and yet, what did He do? He chose twelve men. Even after they lost Judas and needed to select a new Apostle to take his place, what did the Apostles do? They picked another man, despite the fact that present with them in the upper room were godly women who had followed and supported Jesus in His ministry and had even seen Him after His resurrection. Despite all of these things, the commission to establish the church was given to the men who served as His Apostles, not to women, and there was a reason for that.
"For it is written in the book of Psalms,
'Let his homestead be made desolate,
And let no one dwell in it';
'Let another man take his office.'
Therefore it is necessary that of the men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us — beginning with the baptism of John until the day that He was taken up from us — one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection." So they put forward two men, Joseph called Barsabbas (who was also called Justus), and Matthias. And they prayed and said, "You, Lord, who know the hearts of all men, show which one of these two You have chosen to occupy this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place." And they drew lots for them, and the lot fell to Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.
- Acts 1:20-26
Luke describes the scene where the Apostles, along with both men and women who followed Jesus, are gathered after His resurrection and ascension. Peter explains what they needed to do in order to replace Judas, who betrayed Jesus and later committed suicide. Note that Peter said that a "man" (the term here was for a male, not a generic human being) had to be chosen to replace Judas. Many women were there who had also witnessed the resurrection but Peter specified that it needed to be a man. Again, this could have been a perfect opportunity to establish a precedent, but Peter chose not to. Many wonder why he didn't. The answer is simple. As an inspired Apostle (John 14:16) Peter was led by the Spirit to choose a man because this was God's will!
Now a Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by birth, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus; and he was mighty in the Scriptures. This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he was speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus, being acquainted only with the baptism of John; and he began to speak out boldly in the synagogue. But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. And when he wanted to go across to Achaia, the brethren encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him; and when he had arrived, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, demonstrating by the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.
- Acts 18:24-28
Some use this passage as justification for a woman to serve as a teacher in public worship or mixed Bible classes. In it, Luke is speaking about a very educated teacher named Apollos. Luke says that Apollos was speaking the Word boldly but his preaching was lacking certain information concerning Jesus and His baptism. Here is an instance in the Bible where a woman, in the company of her husband, is teaching a man. However, the issue here is not that a woman is actually teaching a male but that a very learned man, Apollos, is humbling himself to learn the gospel more perfectly from a common tent maker and his wife.
This was not an issue of gender (i.e. a woman teaching a man). This was an issue of class. Apollos was a highly educated, dynamic male speaker and teacher, and the two people who were teaching him were lowly tent makers. The lesson was not about roles in the church, it was about the humility shown by Apollos in receiving instruction from people he would otherwise see as inferior, and the courage of these two simple Christian workers approaching this well educated man in order to teach him more fully concerning the gospel message.
On the next day we left and came to Caesarea, and entering the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, we stayed with him. Now this man had four virgin daughters who were prophetesses.
- Acts 21:8-9
As with the other Scripture passages that I've chosen to examine, this one in Acts 21 is another that deals with women and teaching in the work of the early church. I chose this particular passage to show that women did receive spiritual gifts. In this case, Luke describes four women who had the gift of prophecy. Note, however, that we never see these or other gifted women using their gifts in the public assembly. As a matter of fact, the next verse shows that Agabus, who was also a prophet, came and prophesied to Paul about his future imprisonment.
Other passages that deal with this issue are found in 1st Corinthians. Paul's first letter to this church has many references that address the role that women play in ministry since there were problems of this nature in that first century congregation.
Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.
Now I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you. But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ. Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying disgraces his head. But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head, for she is one and the same as the woman whose head is shaved. For if a woman does not cover her head, let her also have her hair cut off; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover her head. For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; for indeed man was not created for the woman's sake, but woman for the man's sake. Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. However, in the Lord, neither is woman independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as the woman originates from the man, so also the man has his birth through the woman; and all things originate from God. Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her? For her hair is given to her for a covering. But if one is inclined to be contentious, we have no other practice, nor have the churches of God.
- I Corinthians 11:1-16
The issue in this rather long passage was that women in this congregation needed to maintain the visible symbol of their submission to their husbands, which in that day was the covering of the head with a veil. This is the main point being made here. In that culture (1st century Greece), for a woman to remove her veil in public was an open rejection of her role of submission to her husband.
The confusion stemmed from the faulty notion that the freedom from sin that a woman enjoyed as a Christian also meant that she could do away with all convention or social norms. The attitude was, "If I am free in Christ, am I not also free from all social restrictions and traditions as well?" An example of this in our own society occurred when it became fashionable for women to wear pants publicly, especially to church services. There was nothing morally wrong with this but the social convention or norms of that time saw this as being scandalous. This meant that a Christian woman who knew that wearing pants publicly was not wrong, would nevertheless refrain from doing so because she would not want her actions to create a scandal, even if they were innocent. Modesty would dictate that she would not be ahead of convention but rather follow the norms when they were socially acceptable. This is why what Christian women would not have done in 1916 (wear pants to church even if this was not morally wrong), they now do in 2016 without a second thought.
Paul explains that freedom in Christ did not permit men to be free from family responsibility, nor did it free women from being in submission to their husbands. These were roles fixed by God and not subject to change or social norms like fashion or changes in other areas of society. This is what was happening at the Corinthian church. The symbol of a woman's role within her family and marriage needed to be in place when exercising her spiritual gifts, gifts that her husband may not have had. The net result was that even if she was praying and prophesying, she continued to demonstrate her submissive attitude to her husband which was both pleasing to him and to the Lord. In this way, she served the Lord with the special gifts He had bestowed upon her without losing the respect of her husband. This is the meaning of the instructions given by Paul to people of that time.
The lesson for today's Christian woman is similar. Having a spiritual gift from God (e.g. teaching ability, a beautiful voice to praise, capacity to give liberally, training to care for the sick or poor, etc.) does not change her role as a wife or position in the church. The key is to find ways to exercise her gifts within the context of God's will for ministry in the church.
This passage, therefore, does not talk about the public assembly, it teaches us about a woman's attitude in balancing her freedom in Christ and her role as a woman. To remove the veil in that era would be a disgrace, Paul says. Why? Because in that era, prostitutes were the ones that didn't wear veils. These types of women find ways to be noticed in every generation but at that time they simply eschewed the veil. Christian women, even if they were free to remove the veil because God looked at the heart and not the head covering, did not do that because it would be seen as a disgrace by those who did not have spiritual insight. It was a question of them being too far ahead of the curve and offending people, so Paul encourages them to slow down, as it were, in order to let society and its opinion catch up. Today, in most "Christian" nations, the veil is no longer an issue but women continue to be in submission to their husbands and carefully use their spiritual gifts within the framework of male spiritual leadership in the church, a topic which Paul will develop in 1st Corinthians 14:33-40.
For God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.
- I Corinthians 14:33
He begins by qualifying that what he is about to teach applies to all the churches, not only the Corinthian congregation to whom the letter was originally sent.
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.
- I Corinthians 14:34
He begins by saying that the women are to keep silent in the churches (in the public assembly). The Greek word used here means absolute silence. He clearly states that they are not permitted to speak. Again, the Greek verb used means to talk or to speak, this is the same verb used as "speaking in tongues."
Someone, after reading this might ask, "Can they not pray?" Paul is not prohibiting women from prayer, but his instruction rules out what we refer to as "leading in prayer" where an individual prays out loud as the congregation silently listens and prays along with him. In this context, when the church prayed women could also pray and say the "amen" at the end along with the entire congregation. Women could also sing because Paul says, in Ephesians chapter 4, that all should sing. However, women were not permitted to "speak" (speak God's Word) which means that those who had the gift of prophecy (the ability to know and teach God's Word without the benefit of prior training, or the ability to speak directly from God concerning a matter in the present or future) had to exercise this gift in situations other than the public assembly.
A modern example of this was seen at a recent women's retreat organized by the women of our congregation. At this event were women who had the gift of prophecy. I use this term in the Biblical sense, which means that there were certain Christian women there who had the ability to teach, encourage, and edify the many women who attended. During the retreat it was the women led in prayer, the women who served as facilitators in the group discussions, the women who led the singing, and the women who exhorted the attendees. Women with gifts were able to demonstrate their God-given gifts and other women were edified. These same women, however, respected God's Word that prohibited them from exercising these same gifts in the mixed assembly when the entire church met for public worship, choosing to respect God's instructions on this matter provided by Paul in his epistle to the Corinthians. In this way, the church was edified and God's Word was obeyed.
Getting back to the passage at hand (1 Corinthians 11:1-16) we see that Paul begins by claiming that man was the head of woman (11:3), and that woman was created for the man who was created first (11:8-9). In another epistle (I Timothy 2:14) Paul teaches that a woman's submission to her husband is based on the fact that in the beginning she (Eve) was the one deceived by the devil (not Adam), and her submission to her husband was ordained by God because of this. This arrangement in marriage was set at the beginning and has never been changed by God. It is one of the things in the Bible that will never change until the end of time when this world will be replaced with a "new heaven and earth" where the institution of marriage will no longer exist and the saints will be, in many ways, like the angels who neither marry nor are given in marriage (Matthew 22:30).
That women were to be silent in the church was based on a principle established in the Old Testament and reaffirmed in the New Testament by Jesus, Peter, and Paul.
This is not a custom. It is not a question of culture. It is a matter of how things work in the Kingdom of God without reference to how things work in the world. Christians are in the Kingdom of God (the church) and things in the Kingdom of God work differently than things in the kingdom of darkness or the kingdom of the world. The problem is that many think the church should follow societal changes in order to stay relevant and effective. In some ways this is true. For example, the church needs to use modern technology to do its work of evangelism, and take advantage of medical breakthroughs to serve the sick and needy. However, when the Bible establishes a timeless decree (e.g. Jesus is the divine Lord; children need to obey their parents; loving your neighbor is more pleasing to God than empty religious ritual) there is no social change or modern trend that has the power to change or eliminate these truths or commands. The role that women and men are given by God in marriage and ministry are part of these timeless commands and truths that remain, regardless of the various changes that we constantly witness in our fast moving world.
In verse 35, he says,
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.
- I Corinthians 14:35
A proper understanding and appreciation of this passage requires one to answer the question, "Who is speaking here?" Many who think that Paul was a chauvinist claim that these are simply the words of a man caught up in the thinking of his time concerning women and their role in marriage and the church; a Jewish man who was influenced by the thinking of his culture in the 1st century. Others, however, believe that like the rest of the New Testament this passage spoken by Paul, the Pharisee converted to Christianity, was inspired by the Holy Spirit. Peter clearly states that the teachings of the Apostles were fully inspired by the Spirit of God (2 Peter 1:21). We believe, therefore, that this passage along with all of Paul's teachings recorded in the New Testament come from God. In other words, this is the Spirit of God speaking through Paul.
Paul is providing a practical answer to a possible question that might arise based on this teaching concerning Christian women and their need to be instructed in the faith. "If women are not to speak, how can they learn if they have questions about the teaching being given in the public assembly?" Paul's answer is not a "put down" of women. He explains that in such cases they are to ask the "men" (this word can also mean "husbands") when they are at home away from the general assembly. Unlike those times, today we have Bible classes or Sunday school that serve to provide a place where women can receive instruction from men without violating this principal. Paul repeats his injunction by saying that it is shameful and improper when women speak in the assembly, a reference to a possible situation where a woman would have an open debate with the teacher or attempt to teach the mixed group herself.
If the instruction for this matter (women teaching mixed groups in the public assembly) is not clear enough, Paul adds yet another point in order to confirm what his position is and the authority by which he teaches.
Was it from you that the word of God first went forth? Or has it come to you only? 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.
- I Corinthians 14:36-37
Notice that Paul does not say that what he has taught was the Lord's suggestion, it was the Lord's commandment! This is the passage that responds to those who question Paul's authority or the propriety of his teachings concerning the role of women in ministry. When people say, "Paul is speaking from a 1st century perspective on this issue" I show them this passage to demonstrate that even people of the 1st century were questioning this teaching and for the very same reasons. Paul responded to them as I respond to those who question this teaching today, "This was the commandment of the Lord, not the commandment of Paul, and thus not subject to change then, now, or in the future".
In a larger context, Paul was saying that it wasn't the Corinthians' responsibility to establish Scripture or apostolic example in regards to conduct or doctrine. He says to them that if they see themselves as spiritual people then let them recognize that what has been given here is directly from the Lord and not some plot to guarantee that only men would lead in the public assembly. If this were strictly an idea of men it would not have survived the apostolic era.
For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
- Galatians 3:26-28
This is another passage used to defend an expanded role for women in ministry. The argument that comes from it says, "Since we are all the same (one) in Christ, then everyone should have the same power and authority when it comes to service in the church." A reading that is more in line with Paul's other comments about this subject shows that Paul says that we are all united into one common body (the church), one salvation (all are saved in exactly the same way), for only one purpose (eternal life) by Jesus Christ. In other words, we are equally precious, saved and inhabited by the Spirit. Whether it is a man or woman, a free person or a slave, a Jew or Greek (which included all cultures), all are saved in exactly the same way, receive exactly the same reward, and are inhabited by the same Spirit of God. What does not change, however, is the role and responsibility that a man or woman has in marriage and in the church, and using this passage to argue otherwise is a misunderstanding today as it was when Paul dealt with this matter two thousand years ago.
Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.
- Ephesians 5:15-21
Paul encourages Christians in general to submit to one another in love, humility, and service. This passage reaffirms that we do not change our roles and responsibilities as men and women. Mutual submission in the church does not mean an elimination of specific leadership roles, as some argue. The idea being that since we all submit to one another, no one has authority in the church. This point of view has a limited understanding of what submission actually means.
Submission doesn't only mean that one obeys or is under the authority of another. This term has a much wider use when describing a relationship between people. For example, I am a minister and have an appointed position of leadership as a preacher and teacher in the church, however, I submit to a young Christian woman who is also a member of our congregation, not by allowing her to teach me or lead me in spiritual matters. I submit to her by respecting her in pure thought and conduct as a precious younger sister. In the same way I submit to the older women by treating them as mothers and beloved older saints, the younger and older men I submit to by treating them as brothers and appealing to them in meekness and humility. This is how I submit to them and they to me. I treat our spiritual leaders (elders, pastors, or bishops) in the same way but with an added measure of obedience because they occupy, according to the teachings of the New Testament (1 Timothy 3:1-7) a true leadership role in the congregation.
For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying) as a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.
- I Timothy 2:7
Paul teaches them concerning their conduct and roles in the church as an Apostle who has the authority to do so.
Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension.
- I Timothy 2:8
The men, again the word used is generic for "males" to pray. Worthy men are to pray in every place and it certainly means in the public assembly.
Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness.
- I Timothy 2:9-10
Godly women are to concentrate on good works, not good looks. Some have used this passage to prohibit women from having their hair done, wearing makeup or jewelry but this is incorrect. Paul is encouraging Christian women to focus their attention on the interior person not the exterior of the person. He does not forbid anything, he simply reminds them where to keep their focus as women of God.
A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness.
- I Timothy 2:11
The idea of guaranteeing that the women in the church received proper instruction in the faith was revolutionary at the time. The women needed to be taught the same as the men. Their freedom and value in Christ gave them access to learning which they did not have in the Jewish system (where the men and women were actually separated), and was completely absent in the pagan Greek society where women were considered not much more valuable than furniture. This learning, however, was to be done in quietness without agitation and without herself taking part in the teaching.
This learning and quietness needed to be done with an attitude of submissiveness. The word "submit" means to willingly place oneself under the authority of someone else. Submission, in this context, was not considered slavery or abuse. For example, in a marriage situation the wife offered herself to her husband in submission, as a gift. When done in this way her submission became the most precious thing that she offered to her husband. In return, the husband freely gave to his wife the assurance that he was ready to give up his life in order to protect and provide for her. This, then became the precious gift that he offered to her in return (Ephesians 5:22-30).
But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.
- I Timothy 2:12
Paul adds that women were not to teach men in the public assembly of the church, not that women were forbidden to teach at all. Women were encouraged to teach unbelievers (Priscilla and Aquila - Acts 18:24-26), to teach each other (Titus 2) and to teach their children (I Timothy 3:15). They were not permitted, however, to teach men in the assembly. This was the role of pastors, evangelists, and teachers who were men. Paul also adds that a woman was not to be in a position of authority but this situation was only, as has been discussed previously, in the church, not in general society.
For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. But women will be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint.
- I Timothy 2:13-15
Here Paul answers another hypothetical question that might arise on account of his teaching, "Why is the role of women in ministry like this?" The Apostle answers by saying that the position of the sexes was originally established by God at creation. The woman (Eve) was quite deceived, he says, not the man (Adam). He goes on to explain that a woman's primary role (not necessarily her only role) is to be a homemaker and she will be preserved in this role through faith, purity, and love. This teaching does not mean that women cannot work outside of the home, it simply clarifies that her important and primary role is inside the home.
Deacons must be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households.
- I Timothy 3:12
Another question that comes up as far as women's role in ministry is, "Why can't women serve as deacons, this role does not require her to teach, does it?" In the passage cited above, Paul not only provides the qualifications necessary for someone to become a deacon but also places restrictions on who should be considered. By the language that he uses it is plain to see that only men could be considered for this role and then, depending on their qualifications, only certain men were eventually chosen.
I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea;
- Romans 16:1
This passage in Romans 16 is often used to support the selection of women to serve as deacons in the church. Many say that the word "deacon" should be the English word used to translate the original Greek word diaconos, not the word "servant". The problem with this idea is that the actual language does not support translating the passage in this way. The Greek word in the original manuscript is "diaconos" and in the New Testament it has been translated three different ways:
- Minister (27 times)
- Servant (7 times)
- Deacon (3 times)
It is only translated as "deacon", however, when a man actually holds the office as a selected deacon, the official helper to the elders.
In Romans 16:1 the proper translation based on the meaning in Paul's letter is "servant". This translation is in line with all the other information we have about deacons in the New Testament. Surely Paul, who argued and taught that only men could serve as elders or deacons, would not contradict his own teaching by referring to this woman as a "deacon"? Phoebe was a servant in the Lord. How was she a servant? She travelled to Rome in order to deliver a message to Paul. This was an important responsibility and her great reward was that her name and faithful service has been recorded for all to see, and for all time.
In closing out this section let us review the responsibilities and limits for women in ministry. Christian women are responsible for:
- Making disciples (Matthew 28:18-20).
- Teaching others the words of Christ (2 Timothy 1:5).
- Maintaining the fellowship of the saints (Acts 2:42; Ephesians 4:3).
- Serving the church and the world in the name of Christ (Romans 16:1).
- Offering the Lord their sincere and enthusiastic worship (Ephesians 5:19).
They are limited in only two specific areas:
- They do not pray, lead, or teach in a mixed worship assembly (1 Corinthians 14:34-35).
- They do not hold positions of authority over men in the church (1 Timothy 2:12).
In closing, I'd like to thank the women who serve in the BibleTalk.tv ministry. The majority of those who type, transcribe, edit, translate, format, manage advertising, and maintain our finances and accounting services are faithful Christian women. This Internet ministry that has thousands of visitors that view our materials each month and download books from our website (40,000 of them in the last quarter) could not function without the support of these highly gifted and hard working servants of the Lord. Thank you and God bless you my dear sisters in Christ.