What Does The Bible Say About Women In Ministry?
Do women have a place in ministry? If so, to what extent? Is there scriptural basis for a woman to be in any position of authority in the church? What does the Bible really say about this issue? To understand God's intentions, we must go back to the very beginning of creation to see His original purpose for both man and woman.
"So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them" (Genesis 1:27).
"Male and female created he them; and blessed them, and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created" (Genesis 5:2).
It is interesting to note that God called both male and female, "Adam" in the day they were created. Adam means "man." Adam and Eve were created with God-ordained differences from each other, but together they made a full "man," or a complete picture of God Himself. There was perfection in their union. Their differences were not a source of discord or inequality, but a beautiful compliment to each other. Together, God gave them the task of overseeing and ruling His creation
"And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth" (Genesis 1:28).
Notice that God gave the above commission to them both. There is no hint that there was anything but equal authority between man and woman as they existed in a sinless state. What changed things? In the next few chapters of Genesis, we find that sin entered the heart of Adam and Eve. The result was a temporary curse placed upon both man and woman, which would affect the whole earth.
Genesis 3:14-19: "And the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life: And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel. 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. And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return."
This curse has affected all aspects of creation, from the ground itself (infested with weeds and thorns) to human relationships. (I say temporary, because in Christ this curse is removed, as we shall see later on).
When Eve ate the forbidden fruit and enticed Adam to sin with her, one of the consequences for women was the loss of equality with men, as men were to rule over women, instead of men and women ruling together. She would now be "ruled by her husband." However, when Jesus came as sinless Man and died as the Messiah on the cross for us, all things were restored positionally. In actuality, the restoration of man (men and women) began to take place at that very moment.
Though the complete cleansing of the curse has not yet been manifested on the earth, the day is coming when it will be so. Or to put it another way, all those who receive Jesus as Savior receive restoration as Sons of God, but not all of us walk in that restoration--yet. Through Jesus, the curse upon women has been lifted. Women no longer have to receive pain in childbirth nor are they inferior to man with him ruling over them. Women can now be restored to their original place and plan that God had for all His "sons." Although we do not see all things restored at this time, "legally" in the spiritual realm, they already have been.
Adam was the head of the first race of mankind; and Jesus is the head of the last race, the adopted children of God. God only sees two races--the Adamic race (all natural-born mankind) and His children through Jesus (all those born of the spirit).
"For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive" (I Corinthians 15:21-22).
Once we are born into the kingdom of God, we become new creatures in Christ. In the Spirit, we find there is "neither male nor female," just as there are no race distinctions nor class separations. The Lord looks on the hearts of His new creatures and therefore does not discriminate when He offers His love and privileges. Women are not excluded from any of God's promises nor callings merely because of their sex.
Galatians 3:28: "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."
God's Masculine and Feminine Traits
As we stated above, the command to have dominion over and subdue the earth was given to both Adam and Eve. They were both to rule and reign over the Lord's creation. The very act of subduing something requires authority, aggressiveness and leadership, as well as humility, tenderness, patience, and the ability to respect the intrinsic value of what we are ruling. Most of all, it requires love.
Within God's own nature we find these same qualities. Both men and women are to become like Him as we are conformed to His image. Since this is true, there are times that under the unction of the Holy Spirit a woman should assert herself boldly. (This assertion, however, should not necessarily be toward others, but rather toward the enemy, Satan!) For men and women to become overcomers they must have this boldness and authority over the devil. God still desires that His people rule and reign with Him. His intention is to qualify us for that position, whether we be male or female.
"And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen" (Revelation 1:6).
Even though "kings" is a masculine term, this is the ultimate destination He desires for all of His people. The Lord often uses both male and female terms to refer to both sexes. Women are to live in the "hidden man of the heart" (1 Peter 3:4). Both men and women in the church are referred to as "the bride of Christ." God has both a masculine and feminine nature. The mother heart of Jesus was evident as he prayed over Jerusalem.
[/i]"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!" (Matthew 23:37). [/i]
Submission is considered to be a feminine trait. However, Jesus submitted to the cross under the direction of the Father. If we walk in the Spirit, we too will possess both the masculine aggressiveness and feminine submissiveness of God.
Both submissiveness and aggressiveness are God-given strengths. Yet, both can be perverted, so that we become submissive and aggressive in the wrong ways, with the wrong attitudes. Because these qualities are so misused and misunderstood by the world, they have become distasteful and despised. If aggression is frowned upon, submission is viewed in an even more negative light in western culture. We equate submission with weakness and lack of spirit. Nothing could be further from the truth. There was never a human being more submitted to God than Jesus Christ-- yet never was there one as completely resistant to the system of the world! It took extraordinary submissiveness and aggression for Jesus to overcome the world. For the Christian, whether we are male or female, He is our model. We are to possess His qualities and use them according to the needs around us.
Women as Ministers
How does all of this lead up to women ministers? Perhaps you are thinking that although we have laid a biblical foundation for "neither male nor female" in Christ, certain verses in the New Testament still seem to ban women from ministry positions in the church. Let's examine these verses for the true interpretation.
"Let your 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" (1 Corinthians 14:34).
"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" (1 Timothy 2:11-12).
In these verses, Paul cannot be addressing women who were in the ministry, but rather those in the congregation who were out of order. How do we know this? We have many such proofs, many from Paul himself. Here is a partial list of women who were all in influential positions of leadership in the early church.
Pheobe (Romans 16:1-2): This woman was a deaconess of the church in Cenchrea, who was beloved of Paul and many other Christians for the help she gave to them. She filled an important position of leadership. It would be a difficult stretch of the imagination to say that this woman fulfilled her duties without ever speaking in the church!
Priscilla (Acts 18:26): Priscilla and her husband Aquila are often mentioned with great respect by Paul. Together they were pastors of a church in Ephesus, and were responsible for teaching the full gospel to Apollos. We are informed that they both taught Apollos, and pastored the church together. In fact, Priscilla is sometimes listed ahead of Aquila when their names come up. This has led some to speculate that of the two, she was the primary teacher and her husband oversaw the ministry. At any rate, we see here a woman in a very prominent position of teaching and pastoring. (Other references to Priscilla and Aquila are Acts 18:2, 18; Romans 16:3, and I Corinthians 16:19).
Euodia and Syntyche (Philippians 4:2-3): Here we see reference to two women who were "true yokefellow" and who labored with Paul in the advancement of the gospel.
Junia (Romans 16:7): In this verse we see Paul sending greetings to Andronicus and Junia, his "fellow-prisoners" who are of note among the apostles. Junia is a woman's name. In some modern translations, an "s" has been added (Junias) because the translators were so sure a woman could not be an apostle, that they assumed a copyist has accidentally dropped the "s." However the proper male ending would have been "ius," not "ias." No church commentator earlier than the Middle Ages questioned that Junia was both a woman and an apostle.
Though there were other women throughout the Bible in positions of leadership, such as prophetesses, evangelists, judges, leaders, etc., the above references should be enough to establish that women were indeed a vital and normal part of church leadership. Paul expected women to speak in the church, or else why would he have given the following directive? It would have been useless to give directions for women who were speaking in the church, if they were never allowed to do so.
1 Corinthians 11:5, "But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven."
Furthermore, if Paul believed that all women should never teach or speak in church, why does he commend many women who did just that?
With all this in mind, what then do we make of the troubling verses that command women to be silent in the churches? First of all, we must interpret those verses in light of what we have just established--that there were women in leadership positions of the church. Obviously, Paul is not writing to them. He is must be addressing another issue entirely--the women who were loud and unruly during the service, causing disorder and confusion..
When he wrote the Corinthians, he was dealing with a church that was very disorderly in their services. Much of the letter was spent correcting excesses and abuses. Some of these pertained to women in particular and some were to the entire church. Paul is not being prejudiced against women when he instructs the Corinthian women to keep silence. In the early church the seating arrangement was quite different from our modern day churches. Men were seated on one side of the church while the women and children were seated on the opposite side. This is still practiced in many cultures today.
The women of Christ's day were generally uneducated and usually only the men were privileged with an education. Due to this situation, when the church met the women were tempted to shout across the room and ask their husbands the meaning of whatever was being taught. This disturbed the service. Paul was simply saying during the service, "Women, keep your children quiet and you be quiet, and if you have anything to ask your husbands, wait until you get home." Because of the new equality that Christianity brought to women, it could be that some of them were taking their freedom too far, to the point of being obnoxious.
When Paul wrote to Timothy, he gave him a similar directive. Again, it is important to understand the context in which the letter was written. In I Timothy, a careful reader becomes aware that many severe heresies and false teachings that were being dealt with. We can draw a conclusion here that many of the proponents and victims of the false teachings were women. Timothy pastored in Ephesus, and it has been suggested that goddess worship might have played a large part in Paul dealing so severely with the women. Ephesus was a primary center of the worship of Diana or Artemis. The heresies being taught might have suggested that women were authoritative over men and had higher access to spiritual knowledge than men did.
Regardless of the particulars, in both cases we can see that Paul is dealing with specific incidents in specific churches for very particular reasons.
We must understand that many of Paul's epistles dealt with local problems and his commandments are not meant to be taken as "commandments" across the board for all situations. Rather, we are to seek the Lord for the basic principal that needs to be incorporated in our churches. Because of Old Testament precedents that had already been set, apparently it never occurred to Paul re-establish the case for women in ministry. Why would he need to? The early church took it as a matter of course that Jesus would call and ordain anyone He chose--and that settled it! As a matter of fact, the Bible mentions a prophetess who was in the Temple when Jesus was brought there as a baby. Her name was Anna (Luke 2:25-35), and she was one of two people who recognized Jesus as the Messiah because of her sensitivity to the Holy Spirit.
Paul's writings are sometimes misunderstood today because we do not know all the details that led him to write as he did. We must rely on the Holy Spirit, and the rest of the testimony of Scripture to interpret how we are to apply these things to our everyday lives. Scripture should always be compared with other Scripture and the context taken into consideration. Even in Paul's day, there were those who tried to twist the meaning his words.
"...His (Paul's) letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do other Scriptures, to their own destruction" ( 2 Peter 3:16).
It is a fair conclusion that the testimony of the bulk of Scripture, church history and God's anointing upon them, all speak plainly for women being able to fulfill all positions of the five-fold offices of apostle, prophet, pastor, evangelist and teacher.
It has always been a strange doctrine that will allow women to go to foreign mission fields and teach heathen men, but will not allow the "heathen" men at home to be taught by the same women! It makes absolutely no sense to think that a female who is learned in the Scriptures cannot teach a male who is unlearned. Additionally, it is acceptable for many women to teach Sunday School to children, and for mothers to teach their sons. Where do we draw the line and say to the women that can no longer teach a male once they reach a certain age? This may seem like a ridiculous scenario, yet there are those in the church who teach along these lines.
Those that are dogmatic in excluding women from the ministries of God usually are not walking in the Spirit, as they see women after the flesh (viewing her sex), not after the Spirit (seeing her heart and calling). The Lord admonishes us in His Word that we are not to look at one another with regard to our sex, race, class or culture, but rather we are to see one another through spiritual eyes.
"Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more. Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation: To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God" (2 Corinthians 5:16-20).
God wants to use any person who will yield to His Spirit, regardless of that person's sex or capabilities. Those who are a new creature in Christ have His capabilities.
Our problem is that we must see there are rules for the fleshly, or earthly man, and there are rules for the spiritual man. Then, we must discern when to apply the appropriate Scripture. We are admonished in 2 Timothy 2:15 to "Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth."
The Five-Fold Ministry
The Lord gave the church gifts of His choosing in the form of men and women who would lead the church into perfection (Ephesians 4:8-12).
It is the Lord who calls men and women to His ministry. He does not call special people, but the call goes out to "whosoever will." First, we are called to salvation; then as we walk in obedience to Him, He calls for us to be baptized in His Holy Spirit. As we continue to obey and follow Him, He then may choose us to serve Him in a full-time ministry. He chooses people for the ministry out of those who have walked in obedience to His other calls. He desires that all follow, but can only choose those who are obedient. These men and women who have answered the call are set in the ministry by Jesus Himself. Man's ordination does not qualify them, but the ordination of God does. Men will recognize those who are truly called by Him. They will even recognize women who are called of God as God empowers them with His anointing and power which cannot be denied.
God has used many modern day women in His service as well as women spoken of in the Bible. Madame Guyon, Catherine Booth, Jessie Penn-Lewis, Aimee Semple McPherson, Corrie Ten Boom and Kathryn Kuhlman are only a few of the women on the list of great five-fold ministry gifts to the church. What are those gifts and that ministry? "And His gifts were (varied; He Himself appointed and gave men to us,) some to be apostles (special messengers), some prophets (inspired preachers and expounders), some evangelists (preachers of the Gospel, traveling missionaries), some pastors (shepherds of His flock) and teachers'' (Ephesians 4:11, Amplified Bible.).
When this Scripture says, "appointed and gave men to us," it does not mean just the male sex. The same man whom God created in the beginning which included male and female is the one referred to here. These "men" are both male and female and they have a responsibility to bring others into the maturity that they possess.
Ephesians 4 continues, "His intention was the perfecting and the full equipping of the saints (His consecrated people), [that they should do] the work of ministering toward building up Christ's body (the church), [That it might develop] until we all attain oneness in the faith and in the comprehension of the full and accurate knowledge of the Son of God; that [we might arrive] at really mature manhood....the completeness of personality which is nothing less than the standard height of Christ's own perfection -- the measure of the stature of the fullness of the Christ, and the completeness found in Him'' (Ephesians 4:12-13, Amplified Bible.).
The Lord has lofty intentions for His men and women and desires that they come into perfection and maturity even as Christ walked in that perfection. The Lord sends those whom He chooses to bring about this maturing and perfecting. If we have been raised in a traditional church, the idea of coming into perfection may sound impossible--even heretical! However, it is clearly a Biblical precedent and until we understand it we will not be able to understand God's full intention for His body. The separation of laity and clergy is not God's plan for His people. All that are called to salvation are called to a full-time ministry in the Lord. This does not mean that all should leave their secular occupations, but all should devote their lives to the Lord and be as committed and active in witnessing, learning and growing in God as the leadership.
The leadership that God raises up is those men and women whom He trains for His work in the kingdom. Women have been limited in traditional churches to certain positions that men would give them, but the Lord is restoring His full five-fold ministry in these last days to prepare the body of Christ for His return.
If Jesus wanted women to minister, how come all His disciples were men? This question is actually raised from a misunderstanding of the word "disciple." Jesus had many women disciples. These include, Mary and Martha (John 11:1-4, and may other references as well. Mary and Martha, along with their brother Lazarus were among Jesus' closest friends). In addition, Jesus had many other women followers as well.
Luke 8:1-3, "And it came to pass afterward, that he went throughout every city and village, preaching and showing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God: and the twelve were with him And certain women, which had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils, And Joanna the wife of Chuza Herod's steward, and Susanna, and many others, which ministered unto him of their substance."
For the sake of brevity, I will not include other lists of names of women who followed Him. However the Scripture makes it clear there were many of them.
In another incident, Jesus motions to the crowds that followed him and said, "Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother" (Matthew 12:49-50).
In John 1:1-42, we see that it is a Samaritan woman who leads a large population of her community to Jesus.
Why didn't Jesus choose any women to be among His twelve original apostles? Jesus could not choose women to be among the twelve because it would not be wisdom for men and women to be travelling about together when many of them were single. Also, the twelve apostles fulfilled the "type and shadow" of the twelve patriarchs, so they had to be equal to men (Revelation 21:12, 14). However, this doesn't mean that he does not anoint women to fill an apostolic role today, as we already established in the case of Junia.
Jesus showed a great deal of respect for women--and children as well. In the culture of Jesus' day, these were often deemed "lower class" so to speak, and not worth paying serious attention to. However, Jesus repeatedly broke this unspoken rule. Because His actions were so unusual, those closest to Him were often surprised and annoyed.
Woman, Thou Art Loosed!
We pray that this teaching will encourage many women, who might otherwise relegate themselves to the "back burner" to instead step forward into the full calling of God upon their lives. Likewise, we pray that men who have been taught against letting women minister will see the truth of the fullness of God's plan. No matter who we are in the Lord, we will be held responsible for how we treated others and how we either hindered or helped the cause of Christ on Earth. Those in leadership especially need to heed this warning with reverent fear. Just because we have believed something our whole life, or because our denomination or culture teaches us so, doesn't mean it is correct. If you have a problem with seeing women in the pulpit, or in any position of leadership, we pray that you will prayerfully seek the Lord with an open heart on this issue.
In conclusion, let us read the following promise from the prophet Joel. This prophesy was initially fulfilled at Pentecost, and as we draw closer to the End, we can expect to see it fulfilled in even greater measures.
Acts 2:17-21, "And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy: And I will show wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke: The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come: And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved."