The issue of women in pastoral ministry has always been a controversial topic within the church. On the one side, churches and denominations holding to an inerrant and literal view of the Bible adamantly teach that women are not allowed by scripture to assume leadership roles in the church, such as pastor or elder. Taking the opposing view are those churches that generally hold to a lesser or liberal view of the Scriptures (i.e., “the Bible contains the Word of God”). These denominations have bowed to the dominant culture of our day and have allowed and even promoted women into denominational and pastoral leadership.

Personal Background

To understand my perspective upon this topic it is necessary to acquaint you with my personal history, especially as it relates to the development of my thoughts.

I was raised in a liberal denomination that prides itself in its “forward” thinking, including the ordination of women. (They still can’t decide whether homosexuals should be ordained.) They justify their actions on the belief that the apostles were influenced by the culture of their day, where women were valued only slightly above slaves.

When I became a Christian, I discovered that the Bible is indeed the infallible word of God. It is a supernatural book and can be trusted to be accurate. However, I remained with this denomination for several more years, seeking to bring about its renewal from within.

Yet, I found that my belief in the Scripture’s inerrancy caused me to question the rationalizations my church used to permit women in leadership ministry. Their reasons were not biblically based. Instead, it seemed they were influenced by the women’s liberation movement. My reading of the plain text of the Bible taught me that a woman was not to teach or exercise authority over a man; they were to be silent in the churches (1 Timothy 2:11-12, 1 Corinthians 14:34). Anyone who tried to refute these obvious commands was, in my opinion, undermining the authority of the Word of God. One of my professors tried to explain that Paul’s arguments about women in leadership were based upon cultural prohibitions. Therefore, they really did not apply to our time. I responded, “Then why did Paul base his teaching (in 1 Timothy 2:13-15) upon a theological argument? Obviously he was conveying a timeless spiritual truth, not a cultural practice!”

Therefore, I believed that any teaching allowing women in ordained pastoral or teaching ministry was rooted in unbelief in the infallibility of scripture.

However, while studying the history of the early church, I learned that the early churches met “from house to house,” and that they were designated as “the church in ‘so and so’s’ house,” meaning the church pastored by that person named. It was the discovery of this information that caused me to re-think my understanding of women’s roles in ministry.

Biblical Basis for Women in Ministry

Therefore, I do not approach this subject from either a denial of Biblical inerrancy or authority, or a surrender to today’s cultural norms. There are no contradictions in Scripture. If there seems to be one, it is usually based upon our own ignorance or misunderstanding of the complete subject. Unprejudiced study of the Bible shows that God gave women significant leadership roles in the ministry of the Kingdom of God, as the following passages support:

What ministries were women involved with in the New Testament?

Prophecy

o “Your sons and your daughters will prophesy” (Acts 2:17).
o Phillip’s four daughters were prophets (Acts 21:9).
o A woman could pray or prophesy in church (1 Cor. 11:5).

Deacons

o A preliminary position to entry into greater ministry (Acts 6)
o Qualifications given for deaconesses (1 Tim. 3:11)
o Phoebe was commended for her service as a minister (deacon) (Romans 16:1).

Teachers

o Priscilla, along with her husband, Aquilla, taught Apollos the word of God more accurately (Acts 18:26).
o The church at Thyatira was condemned not for allowing a woman to teach and prophesy, but for allowing her to continue to teach false doctrine (Revelation 2:20).

Leaders of House Churches:

o Both Priscilla and Aquilla were listed as pastoring a church in their house (Romans 16:3-5).
o Nympha (a woman) had a church in her house (Col. 4:15).
o John the beloved wrote a letter to “the chosen lady and her [spiritual] children” in 2 John and gave her guidelines over who she should allow to teach in her church (verse 10). John was not being metaphorical here, symbolizing the church as “the chosen lady.” Why not? Because he finished the letter by giving the greetings of another “sister and her children” who were sending their greetings through his letter to her.

Apostle

o Yes, a woman was listed as being among the “outstanding apostles” by the Apostle Paul. He wrote, “Greet Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was” (Romans 16:7). Junias was a common femine name in the Latin world. The masculine variant, Junianus, would be spelled differently in Greek. Andronicus and Junias were probably a husband/wife team who had apostolic authority in the early church. At least one of the early church fathers (Chrysostom) understood this to be the case, writing about her: “Oh! how great is the devotion of this woman, that she should be even counted worthy of the appellation of apostle.”

It is clear, then, that Paul and John allowed and even commended women to hold leadership positions within the churches under their authority. If this is the case, what did Paul mean when he wrote the two major passages used to deny women a place in pastoral ministry? Certainly, the Bible does not contradict itself; nor were Paul and John hypocrites! Perhaps our understanding of these passages has been colored by centuries of ecclesiastical tradition rather than enlightened by the light of the Word! To help us, we need to see what God’s order for husbands and wives is, and how that order is supported in the New Testament teaching concerning the role of women in the church.

The Biblical Role of Men and Women

Everything in God’s order for mankind was initiated at the creation. Man was made in God’s image; no other creature was given this privilege (“God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them”). Much has been written to explain all that the image of God means, which we cannot go into here. However, one of the first results of this high calling was mankind’s (both men and women) responsibility to rule over the creation.

It is impossible to adequately imagine or to project the status of the man/woman relationship prior to the Fall. At the creation, described in Genesis 5:2, man and woman were not only described as “one,” but they were called – that is, named – one name. “When God created man, He made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female and blessed them. And when they were created, he called them “man.” So total and complete was their partnership and mutuality that the matter of “position” was never in question. Their authority was mutual rather than equal. “Co-equal” may serve as a term, but the closest similarity to the original relationship would be that relationship apparent in the eternal Godhead. Even their relationship was in “the image of God.”

When “the woman” was created, she was created to be “a helper suitable for him” (Genesis 2:18). It is only the constant misquoting and misunderstanding of the King James Version of this verse that causes many to misconstrue “help meet” as a subordinate. The “help” was a completing partner; and the “meet” was a creature that is “appropriate” in design and potential as a completing partner.

It was only after the Fall that this partnership was changed into the roles Scripture gives us to follow today. It was after the Fall that Eve was named, and thereby the woman comes to have a separate identity from the man (Genesis 3:20). In a very real way, the naming of Eve is a reflection of the tragic division sin placed between the two. So complete was their union prior to this, one name served to identify them. Now the curse would be manifest in their different standing in terms of authority toward one another. And woman, inherently knowing she was originally created to share a mutual place of authority with man, would from generation to generation labor against her appointed place under man’s authority.

In Genesis 3:16, this struggle over authority between man and woman is described. The woman was told, “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” The Hebrew word teshuqah translated “desire” is essentially descriptive of a fallen human nature. In essence, “You shall desire to have your husband’s place of authority. You shall want his place of leadership over you, but it shall not be. He shall be your authority.” God is not even commenting on whether or not a woman is as good as or as potentially capable as a man. He is simply declaring that under the present conditions to which mankind has fallen, she shall be under his authority. This will not be easy for any woman: “Your desire will be for your husband… to take away his rule over you… but he will rule over you.”

Neither the Old nor the New Testaments alter this basic alignment in the husband/wife relationship. A husband is responsible to “love his wife as Christ loved the Church, and gave Himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). Wives are to respond in the same way that the Church responds to Christ’s sacrificial love: “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord” (Eph. 5:22).

Because of the Fall, husbands and wives have had difficulty in lovingly maintaining the proper alignment of God’s order. Much chaos and confusion have been the result. In some societies, men have asserted too much dominion, squashing their wives’ personhood. While, in a few cultures, women have become the dominant forces in most families, relieving men of their responsibilities to be role models and providers for the family. However, simply because fallen mankind has seldom practiced God’s plan to perfection doesn’t make it wrong or impossible to follow.

In Christ, a new life is promised to mankind, both male and female. “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, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3: 26-27). We are all equal in God’s sight. No longer are some people better than others. The Jews do not have any more right to God’s blessing than do the Gentiles; slaves are not inferior to the free; women are as equal in their relationship with God as men. We are all God’s children and each of us has the full rights and privileges thereof!

However, until Christ returns in power and glory, the kingdom of this world still operates. Sinful man still separates himself from others by ethnicity and culture. (And to be honest, some cultures are more sinful than others. Some people are more blessed with peace, prosperity and righteousness as a result.) Sinful men still look down upon their fellow men. (And some societies are still practicing slavery!) Likewise, the husband/wife roles have not been, and will not be, altered until Christ returns. All nations, classes, and people have the full potential for being God’s children, but the effects of the Fall will not be totally relieved until sin and death have been fully vanquished. Therefore, we still have to learn how to fulfill God’s plans within our God-given roles.

The New Testament does give women increased possibilities of ministry within the framework of God’s order for marriage. We have already demonstrated from the Bible that women were placed into positions of church service and leadership. They were both commended and encouraged in these ministries by the same apostles who wrote most of the New Testament.

What then, of those passages which seem to limit women to silence in church? There are two passages that are used to attempt a case against women holding significant ministry roles in the Church. Let’s examine them, since they are quoted with both frequency and ferocity. They are as follows:

“A woman 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” (1 Timothy 2:11,12).

“As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church” (1 Corinthians 14:34-35).

To begin, an examination of the verbs employed do argue for a submissive woman and for one with a quiet and restful spirit. But the word hesuchia which occurs twice in 1 Timothy 2:11,12 simply does not mean “silent,” in the sense of being mute. The same word occurs in another form in verse two of the same passage: believers are urged to intercede for civil authorities, to the end “that we might lead a quiet and peaceable life.” The idea is clearly one of contented stillness of spirit, undisturbed by strife and discord. In this spirit, the woman is not to “usurp authority” (KJV), i.e., not to be domineering (authentew). This verb occurs only this one time in the entire New Testament. The intent of the instruction here is to warn a wife about having an overbearing, demeaning control of her spouse.

It is unfortunate that translators have contributed to the confusion over this passage by translating the Greek words, gune and andros as “woman” and “man.” The Greek has only one word for “wife.” It is the same word that is also used for “woman.” However, the Greeks had two words that they used for “man.” One was aner (of which andros was a derivative), and the other was anthropos. The word, aner also meant “husband.” Whenever gune and aner are used in conjunction, they are usually translated “wife” and “husband,” not “woman” and “man.”

Unprejudiced exegesis must confess that the usual usage of the noun aner in this text should require the translation “husband” rather than “man.” In fact, the Pauline epistles use this word a total of 59 times, 34 of which the Authorized Version translates “husband.” Of the remaining 25 occurrences, 18 are cases where the text clearly is speaking of a husband.

An open minded appraisal of the original text of 1 Timothy 2:11,12 would allow for this paraphrase:

“Women need to learn to be teachable – and to receive in a quiet and submissive spirit those things being taught. Further, I refuse to give place to a woman who practices a bossy or domineering way toward her husband. She is to be quiet.” (This interpretation is supported by Paul’s subsequent reference to the Book of Genesis and its explanation of the theological basis for the husband/wife relationship, as found in 1 Timothy 2:13-15.)

In the Corinthian passage (1 Corinthian 12:34,35), the same concept is being conveyed. A different verb (sigao) is used for “be silent.” But again, the idea of sigao, like hesuchia, is one of quietness, of tongue control. Had Paul used the verb phimao (to silence, to muzzle; in effect, to produce muteness), a case for speechlessness among women in the church could be proven. The same term, sigao, occurs in verses 28 and 30 of 1 Corinthians 14, and in this context the word’s usage clearly means not to speak at an inappropriate time.

There is no question that the intent of these passages is to curb women who are too ready to talk. The force of the Scripture here is unquestionably geared to create an atmosphere in which men will rise to manhood (which is their inherent weakness, brought on by Sin), and in which women will learn to trust God to develop that spiritual manliness. These passages teach wives to control themselves, even when they may have something good to add. Let her make room first for one of the men in the group to speak; and then should her turn come, let her exercise the grace to see that her answer or contribution – perhaps even better than his – is offered in a spirit that makes it a lovely addition and not an embarrassing correction.

The overall context of 1 Corinthians argues for proper and decent order in every ministry, including that of women. Otherwise, what should we do with the corrective teaching of 1 Corinthians 11:1-12 when it has been applied to women who prophesy or pray? Having set them in Biblical order shall we then tell them it was only a technicality anyway, since they aren’t allowed to speak in church? In fact, 1 Corinthians was written because a woman pastor (Chloe – 1 Corinthians 1:11) sent some of her people to inform Paul of the problems the entire city church was experiencing because people were out of order!

What is the Outcome, then, Brethren?

The answer is firmly established in the recorded life of the early Church. All ministry is ordained and/or appointed by apostles. The ultimate oversight of the church’s life is their domain and responsibility. Further, meeting the requirements of maturity for ministry leadership are as necessary for a woman as for a man. We can summarize these requirements as follows:

1. The New Testament makes room for the possibility for pastoral ministry by a woman.

2. She shall be expected to fulfill the requirements of New Testament ministry leadership, as well as be in perfect order with reference to her husband (in those cases where she is married); and

3. She shall be submitted to the oversight of a male leader in the Body of Christ.

In conclusion, “Neither male nor female… in Christ,” does not deny gender.

Nor does it deny the danger of either sex falling short of what spiritual fruitfulness they might be called to attain.

It does not reverse God’s roles for husbands and wives.

It does not urge the substitution of female for male leadership, nor does it promote a crusade for women to launch forward with a carnal zeal for Church offices.

It does indicate that God is dealing with redeemed human spirits, and that He isn’t disqualifying any of them for ministry roles on the basis of what shape their body is.*

* Parts of this article were adapted from a previous unpublished work by Pastor Jack Hayford.