The Role of Women In The Church


With the advent of the feminist movement, the role of women
in all parts of society has come under increasing scrutiny.
One area of recent controversy is the role of women in the
Christian Church. Some churches whose traditions and
practices are less rigidly tied to Biblical doctrines have
begun placing women in leadership positions such as pastor
or teacher. Other churches which interpret the Bible more
literally have been slow to adopt such changes. Much of the
confusion is based on attempts to interpret scriptures
pertaining to women. 

Many people would dispute the Bible's relevance to
contemporary thought in general, and in particular to the
role of women in worship. If the Bible were not written
under divine inspiration, a person or practice is not bound
by its teachings. He or she can therefor pick and choose
whatever corresponds to his/her point of view. However, if
the Bible is of divine inspiration, then a cautious
consideration of passages relevant to a particular issue
must be undertaken. Traditions and customs that have arisen
after the Bible was written may thus be carefully
scrutinized. Such practices may or may not prove sound
after comparison with scripture. The Apostle Paul
frequently uses the relationship of Adam and Eve as
described in Genesis chapter one as a guideline when
discussing women and women's issues. Genesis 1 verse 27
states: "So God created man in his own image, in the image
of God he created him; male and female he created them." 

Most Commentators agree that man and woman are both equally
a reflection of God's image; the word "man" here is used as
a synonym for humanity. Adam and Eve were also given joint
dominion over creation. But the fact that Adam was created
before Eve has significance to Paul and other Old Testament
scholars; it signifies role distinction between the two
sexes. The role of the man is leadership, while the role of
woman is as a source of strength and support. In the letter
to the Ephesians, Paul states: "For the husband is the head
of the wife as Christ is the head of the church. . ." (Eph.
5:23) This is an important analogy. If a person wants to
understand the Christian authority of a man over his wife,
he must consider how Christ demonstrated his leadership as
head over the Church. Primarily, he gave his life for his
church, not using force or coercion for her submission.
When considering man's and woman's ministry in the church,
it is important to keep in mind this role distinction. 

Two major passages give specific instructions regarding
women during worship in the letters of the Apostle Paul.
These two passages are used frequently when denying women a
public role in church life. The first is in I Corinthians
chapter 14 verses 33 - 35. This passage commands women to
be silent during worship service. Similarly but with more
details, I Timothy 2 verses 8 - 15 not only contains a
command to be silent but also instruction on authority
along with a reference to the fall of Adam and Eve for
further explanation. Here is the passage in its entirety
using the NIV (New International Version) Bible
translation:" I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands
in prayer, without anger or disputing. I also want women to
dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with
braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but
with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to
worship God. A women should learn in quietness and full
submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have
authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was
formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived;
it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But
women will be kept safe through childbirth, if they
continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety."
A woman raised in the U.S. in this day and age, reading the
letter for the first time, may be quite taken aback by its
apparent chauvinism. However, there are some specific
historical and cultural references that must be taken into
account when considering the meaning and intent of this
passage. First of all, this was a letter written by Paul to
a young preacher named Timothy. Timothy was presumably
preaching at the church in the city of Ephesus. Paul starts
out the letter by telling him to stay in Ephesus and
correct false teachers who were creating a disruption in
the church. Various commentators have tried to re-create
some of the heresies of these false teachers. This can be a
difficult task since there is not a record of exactly what
was being said, so only remarks made in the text itself can
give a clue. One probable heresy was the idea of asceticism
as a way to achieve spirituality. The ascetic practices
being recommended consisted of; abstinence from certain
foods, from marriage, and sex. Add to all of this physical
training as an additional means of spirituality. It was
thought that through these practices, one could achieve
something akin to heaven on earth. In other words, there
was possibly a denial of a future physical resurrection
being taught in favor of a spiritual one that could be
achieved in their present lifetimes. It seems also from
Paul's remarks that many women in the church had been
converted to this message and they were being persuaded to
renounce their traditional roles in favor of a more
egalitarian way of life in line with their new-found
spirituality. This would explain the strong words Paul
makes in reference to Eve, reminding the women that she was
indeed led into sin, and that bearing children and raising
them was a good thing, not unspiritual as they were being
taught. Yet, the other parts of this passage that admonish
women not to teach and not to have authority over a man
have been agreed upon by many, if not most, commentators to
have timeless application; the words and grammar in Greek
do not lend themselves to any cultural reference. The
teaching that Paul is concerned about here is specifically
the truths of the faith while the authority in question
refers to women in governing or leadership positions of the

Before making conclusions on a Biblical truth it is
important to see if the truth holds fast throughout the
whole of scripture. Let's consider some other passages. In
Galations 3 verse 28, Paul states: "There is neither Jew
nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all
one in Christ Jesus." Some commentators have suggested that
this teaching could have had some influence in the false
teachings that were encountered in Ephesus and Corinth in
regard to women. Christ himself taught that in the
afterlife, men and women would not be given in marriage and
they would be like the angels. Thus, the women were being
encouraged, by some misguided teachers, to renounce their
traditional roles. 

Without taking this radical extreme, the modern reader is
at least inclined to ask what it means that men and women
are one in Christ Jesus? It must certainly mean that there
is not one sex inferior to the other. Beyond this, there
are clear examples in the book of Acts that may shed some
light by way of documented practice, on the command not to
have authority over men. First of all, there were
prophetesses. In Acts 21: 8 - 9, Philip, one of the seven
deacons, is said to have four daughters who prophesied.
Prophesying was not primarily divination of the future but
also the conveying of God's Word to his people, i. e.
teaching. Furthermore, in 1 Corinthians 11: 4 - 5 Paul
states, "Every woman who prays or prophesies. . ." Clearly
women in Corinth were praying and prophesying during the
worship service. There is also the case of Precilla and
Aquila described in Acts Chapter 18. Many Commentators feel
it is significant that whenever this couple are mentioned
in the Bible, Precilla, the women, is mentioned first
because of her great knowledge. It appears that they worked
together as a teaching team and their effectiveness is
demonstrated when they taught Apollos "the ways of the Lord
more adequately" (Acts 18: 26). Apollos is described as a
learned man who came to Ephesus and began teaching from the
scriptures in a knowledgeable way although lacking in one
of the fundamental teachings. 

Another case in point is a business woman named Lydia who
lived in Philippi. She accepted the Gospel message from
Paul and Silas while at a place of prayer. After this
incident is recorded, a strong church is mentioned in
Philippi later in the Bible. We can only surmise that she
played a significant part in the growth of this church,
since no men were initially converted. 

These passages all call into question the real nature of
the moratorium on teaching and the meaning of no authority
mentioned in 1st Timothy. That women were teaching men is
obvious, although at times they may have been co-teaching
with male teachers. The case of the prophetesses is also
compelling because although most churches do not recognize
prophecy as being a modern gift, teaching certainly is and
this was one of the important functions of a prophet. Some
Commentators in discussing women's ministry in the New Testament have brought to light the customs of the day
regarding women. Paul's main concern was the spread of the
Gospel and that the message could be made attractive in
every way. For this reason Paul encourages women in other
passages to continue observing social customs such as the
wearing of a veil; otherwise people might criticize them as
loose or immoral and belittle the Gospel message. This is,
I believe, a valid thought not only in 1st century times
but in our culture today. Consider, for example, what non
believing women in the US think upon entering a Christian
assembly for the first time and seeing a service that
appears to be run completely by men? They may conclude that
women are being suppressed and that the gospel message
makes women inferior to men. 

Although there is no sanction in scripture for women to
take roles of leadership, public ministry and teaching are
not as clearly forbidden and a degree of latitude in
interpretation is warranted. More importantly, if women are
not allowed to have a voice or some kind of input, the
church could be loosing a valuable resource. If a husband
does not consider his wive's thoughts and ideas as being
important or valid, his family is surely incomplete,
dysfunctional and doomed to failure. Therefore, as the
church strives to realize God's purpose for women, we must
remember the truths of the scripture and apply them to our
present day culture. This will allow men and women to
present the Christian message to our world in the most
powerful way. That is exactly what the Apostle Paul desired
along with all of the New Testament leaders and it is what
we should desire as we consider the path of the modern


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