Women’s Role in the Congregation

  1. What does the Scripture teach regarding the role of women in the congregation?

    Answer: The Scripture presents women as full participants with men in the religious and social life of the congregation. In the Old Testament, in the fifth year of Jeremiah's prophetic ministry, the priests went to Huldah the prophetess for counsel (2 Kings 22:13-14). Deborah was a judge and a prophetess (Judges 4:4). Joel predicted that in the New Testament "the sons and daughters should prophesy" (Joel 2:28), and Peter declared that this was fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost (Ac 2:4). Women served as musicians and attendants at the tabernacle and temple (1 Samuel 2:22, 1 Chronicles 25:5-6, Psalm 68:24-25).

    In the New Testament, Anna, a prophetess, served God in the temple and spake God's Truth to all those who came to her (Luke 2:36-38). Philip the evangelist, had four daughters which did prophesy (Acts 21:8-9). Women prayed aloud and prophesied in the congregation (1 Corinthians 11:5). They labored side by side with Paul and other workers in the gospel (Philippians 4:3). In the closing chapter of Romans, Paul begins his greetings and commendations with women, and he includes several other women subsequently in the chapter (Romans 16:1-5, 6, 12, 13, 15). Widows (Acts 9:39) may have been an organized body for service in the congregation. But women did not serve as priests in the Old Testament (Exodus 28:1, Numbers 3:1-13) nor did they serve in the leadership/teaching role of elder or pastor in the New Testament (1 Timothy 2:11-14; 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9; 1 Corinthians 14:33-36).

  2. Why then were women included in prophetic, religious and social ministries in Old Testament times, but excluded from serving as priests?

    Answer: One reason appears to be that the role of the priest was seen in the Scripture as representing the head of the household. During patriarchal times, the male head of the household or tribe functioned as the priest, representing his household to God (Genesis 8:20; 22:13; Job 1:5). Later, God appointed the tribe of Levi as priests instead of the first-born son or head of each family (Numbers 3:6-13). "The Levites shall be mine, for all the first-born are mine" (Numbers 3:12-13).

    A woman could minister as a prophet, communicating God's will, but a male was appointed to the priestly role because the male was viewed by Scripture writers as the "first-born" of the human family (Genesis 2:7,21-23) to whom God assigned the headship role in the home and in the congregation.

    The New Testament continued this concept, appointing representative males as elders or pastors. The New Testament practice ran contrary to the culture of the time, since most pagan religions had priestesses as well as priests. The New Testament practice was based on the divine revelation in the Old Testament (1 Timothy 2:12-13), pointing to a headship role established at creation for man to fulfill at home and in the household of faith.

    It was God's plan, of course, that every individual should be a "priest" in Old Testament times (Exodus 19:6) as in our own times (1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 1:6), but this was as individuals in our individual relationship to God, not as ordained priests representing the community.

  3. Is the creation account of Genesis 1:1-2:4, where man and woman are presented as equals, more trustworthy than the account in Genesis 2:4b-25, where woman is subordinate to man?

    Answer: Such a view pits the Scripture against itself. There is no reason to assume that a contradiction exists between Genesis 1 and 2. The author of Genesis obviously saw the two accounts as complementary, not contradictory, or he would not have put them together.

    When one recognizes the different purposes of chapters one and two, the apparent tension resolves. Chapter one portrays man and woman in relation to God. Here both are equal, for both are created in the image of God and both are subordinate to God. Chapter two portrays man and woman in relation to one another, and reveals a functional subordination of woman to man.

    Genesis 1 and 2 are not contradictory but complementary. The principle of equality in being and subordination in function not only resolves the apparent tension between Genesis 1 and 2, but also explains why women are presented in the Scripture as equal to men in personhood and yet subordinate to men in certain roles. The apostle Paul wrote:

    1 Corinthians 11:3, "But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God."

    The concept of headship does not denote qualitative or essential difference. It denotes responsibility and accountability, not superiority. Paul is not a male chauvinist. On the contrary, he argues here for the equality of the sexes in personal worth, but distinction in function and responsibility.

  4. What evidence is there for a "structure" in the relationship of the man and woman before the fall?

    Answer: These are some indications of God's design for man's leadership role in their relationship: 1) Genesis two tells us that God made the woman of the man, to be a helper fit for the man, and that God brought her to the man. This implies no inferiority, but it does establish the structure of their relationship. 2) The warnings about the tree of knowledge are given to the man before the creation of the woman (Genesis 2:15-17). Evidently he was responsible to convey to her the knowledge of God's will in this matter. 3) Adam names the woman (Genesis 2:23), an act indicating an authority over her.

  5. Did Adam "rule over" Eve before the fall?

    Answer: Not in the same way as after. God appointed him head, but before sin there was no disharmony that would have caused conflict. Though Adam was king in Eden, Eve was not his slave but his queen. He held her in the highest regard, and it was spontaneous and natural for her to be in harmony with him and with the will of God as revealed through him. She never conceived of this structure as involving subjection or self-denial, for there was no rebellious "self" to deny. Nor did she think of Adam as "ruling over" her, but as one through whom God had revealed to her her greatest privilege and pleasure, to glorify God through and with her husband, to whom she had been given as a helper. Law and authority remain virtually unrecognized when there is perfect and natural harmony of wills.

    But with the entry of sin, lawlessness and a spirit of rebellion became a part of man's nature, and all of this changed. Before the fall, the authority structure had been natural and even unrecognized. The woman's will was in harmony with the man's and both were fully under the lordship of the Creator.

    Sin in the heart makes the law of God evident to us, because it is no longer natural for us to obey that law. Submission to God-ordained authority was a non-issue to woman prior to the fall and the consequent rebellion it created in her heart. But after the fall she became conscious of the law and its necessary new application to her in a sinful condition.

  6. Does Paul's commendation of certain women as "fellow workers" (Romans. 16:3) and as those who have "worked hard" (Romans. 16:12; Philippians 4:3 ) in gospel service imply that certain women served as congregational leaders in the apostolic congregation?

    Answer: No. The same Paul who praised women for their outstanding contribution to the mission of the congregation also instructed women not "to teach" (1 Timothy 2:12) or "to speak" (1 Corinthians 14:34) as representative leaders of the congregation. Thus, his insistence on different roles for men and women at home and in the congregation must be seen as an indication not of Paul's chauvinism but rather of his respect for the role distinctions established by God at creation.

    His practice accorded with the rest of the apostolic congregation. In the New Testament congregation there were no women apostles, no women public evangelists, elders or pastors. No women engaged in public "teaching." No woman served as head or leader of a congregation. The reason is not that the culture was chauvinistic, but rather that the congregation faithfully respected the role distinctions assigned by God to men and women at creation.

  7. What kind of speaking does Paul prohibit to women in 1 Corinthians 14:34 when he writes, "Let your women keep silence in the congregations: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law."?

    Answer: Paul is not here prohibiting all kinds of speaking by women in the congregation, since a few chapters earlier he speaks kindly of "any woman who prays or prophesies," provided only that she dresses modestly (1 Corinthians 11:5). The key phrase that qualifies the kind of women's speaking Paul had in mind is, "but should be subordinate" (1 Corinthians 14:34).

    This phrase suggests that the speech denied to women was speech that was seen as inappropriate to them as women or wives. Such speech may have included speaking up in the congregation as authoritative teachers of the congregation, or as critics of the prophets, elders or even their own husbands. It may also have included any form of questioning viewed as challenging congregation leadership. In other words, it probably included all forms of women's speech that reflected a lack of subordination to their husbands and/or to the congregation leaders.

  8. Does 1 Timothy 2:12 really forbid all kinds of teaching and speaking by women in the congregation?

    Answer: The Scripture is clear that, in Paul's ministry, women were not expected to be totally silent. They prayed, prophesied and exercised an appropriate teaching ministry (1 Corinthians 11:5; Acts 18:26; Philippians 4:3; Romans. 16:12; Titus 2:3-4) which Paul encouraged. The nature of the teaching forbidden to women in 1 Timothy 2:12 is the authoritative teaching restricted to the pastor, the elder-overseer of the congregation. This conclusion is supported by the meaning of the parallelism ("or to have authority over men," - verse 12) and by the use of the verb "to teach" and of the noun "teaching" in Paul's writings, especially in his letters to Timothy.

    If 1 Timothy 2:12 prohibited "all" teaching, then this would contradict Titus 2:4, in which the aged women were commaned to teach the young women. So obviously, this does not prohinit all teaching.

    Paul's letters to Timothy present the teaching ministry as a governing function performed by Paul himself, by Timothy, or by other appointed elder-overseers of the congregation (1 Timothy 2:7; 3:2; 5:17; 2 Timothy 1:11; 2:2). Paul charges Timothy to "command and teach" (1 Timothy 4:11), "take heed to yourself and to your teaching" (1 Timothy 4:16), "teach and urge these duties" (6:2), "preach the word. . . in teaching" (2 Timothy 4:2).

    In light of the restrictive use of the words "to teach" and "teaching" in these letters, it is reasonable to conclude that the teaching forbidden to women is the authoritative teaching done by elder-overseers.

  9. Why does Paul forbid women to teach as leaders of the congregation?

    Answer: Because the women were not to occupy the headship role of authority over men. This role is inappropriate for women, not because they are any less intelligent or dedicated than men, but because of the order for men and women established by God at creation (1 Timothy 2:13; 1 Corinthians 11:8).

  10. If Galatians 3:28 does not abolish all role distinctions among the followers of Christ, then what does this passage say?

    Answer: The text asserts the basic truth that in Christ every person, Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, enjoys the status of being a son or daughter of God. This truth is made clear in the following verse which says, "If you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise" (verse 29). This means that to be "one in Christ" is to share equally in the inheritance of eternal life.

    The real issue in Galatians 3:28 is religious. The great concern of Jews and the followers of Christ of the first century was religious status, that is, the status of men and women before God.

    By contrast, the primary concern of many people today, including many Christians, is social status, often focusing on the social equality of men and women. The prevailing perception among such people today is that we can only bring about true equality by abolishing all role distinctions between men and women, thus realizing what sociologists call "role interchangeability." Though popular, this view is a distortion, a perversion, of God's creation order. In the Scripture equality does not mean role interchangeability. Christianity does not abolish the headship of the husband or the subordination of the wife; rather, it redefines these roles in terms of sacrificial love, servanthood and mutual respect.

  11. Does the Scripture clearly teach that a congregation elder should be a man and not a woman?

    Answer: Yes. In the lists of qualifications for an elder (1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9), specific reference is made, among other things, to the fact that an elder must be a husband (Greek ‘aner’, man or husband) of one wife. The elder, then, is to be a married man loyal to his wife. Whether we like it or not, the specifications require males.

    The very structure of the passage in 1 Timothy supports this conclusion. The qualifications for the office of elder (1 Timothy 3:1-7) include being "an apt teacher." They follow immediately after the prohibition of women as teacher-elders (1 Timothy 2:11-15). This placement of the qualifications for eldership (including fitness for teaching) immediately after the prohibition respecting women reveals explicitly that women should not be elders. Making them elders would cast them in a type of teaching role that Scripture specifically prohibits to them.

  12. Is the ordination of women to the Gospel ministry biblical?

    Answer: While all things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all, the biblical prohibition against the ordination of women to the offices of elder or pastor is certainly not one of them. Rather, it is one of the clearest and easiest understood teachings to glean from the Scriptures. God was very clear in His commands regarding this matter (1 Corinthians 14:34-35, 1 Timothy 2:11-14).

    This clear prohibition has been dismissed in many modern congregations which have opted to disregard God's Word and ordain their women to the Gospel ministry. And yet, such women cannot even meet the most basic of qualifications for this office which God has set forth in His Word (1 Timothy 3:1-2,12 Titus 1:5-6).

    We see, in both passages in which the qualifications of a bishop or deacon are listed, that the candidate must be "the husband of one wife." These offices are clearly open to men only since a woman obviously cannot fulfill this most basic qualification.

    Many claim that these verses are cultural and are, therefore, not applicable to our society. However, to say such a thing is treading on dangerous doctrinal ground indeed. Although there are indeed passages of Scripture that are bound to the culture of the ancient biblical people, and thus have ceased to be directly applicable to our own day, this is not to say that the underlying principles have also passed away.

    However, the words of brother Paul regarding the qualifications for congregation office cannot be approached in this same manner. First of all, he was not writing under the Old Covenant, but was writing to the followers of Christ under the New Covenant. Therefore, the commandments which he gave cannot be relegated to the category of Old Testament shadows, but must be read and obeyed as the commandments of our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, speaking by His Spirit through one of His Apostles.

    Secondly, the outer commandment cannot, in this case, be separated from its underlying principle, as was the case with the ceremonial laws. Paul's declaration that he would not "suffer a woman to teach or to usurp authority over a man" is directly tied in with 1 Timothy 2:13-14 to both the creation order and the historic Fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The subjection of women to male authority is well established throughout Scripture (Genesis 3:16; Ephesians 5:22-24) and the serpent's beguiling of Eve obviously still effects us to this day. Therefore, we must conclude that the prohibition against women elders also remains applicable today.

    Before attempting to apply the "cultural relevance" argument to any biblical teaching, we must be very careful to honestly evaluate what the Scripture as a whole is saying on the subject. We must also carefully examine our own hearts to see if we have an attitude of rebellion against the revealed will of God in Scripture and are sinfully looking for a way to ignore its commands. Again, let us heed the words of the Apostle:

    2 Timothy 3:16, "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:"

    It is important to note that the Apostle declared that ALL Scripture "is profitable," not merely those isolated texts which may be employed to support our personal belief system. We cannot pick and choose when it comes to obedience to God's Word; it is an "all or nothing" affair.

    It is so tragic how a generation of professing followers of Christ can be so blind to the clear teaching of Scripture, and would rather hearken to the liberal agenda of the modern feminist movement than adhere to God's clear commandments. The Scripture is clear in its denunciation of such people:

    Titus 1:16, "They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate."

  13. Should women wear a veil over their head when they pray or prophesy?

    Answer: Yes. Let's examine Paul's writings in 1 Corinthians 11. In verse 3, it states Christ is the Head and Lord of every man, and the man is the lord or head of the woman; and the Head or Lord of Christ, as Mediator between God and man, is the Father.

    Therefore, "Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head" (verse 4). And who is that head? Christ (verse 3). So if a man prays with his head covered he is dishonoring Christ, who is his head. "But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head" (verse 5). If the woman is not covered or veiled, she is dishonoring her head, who is man (or her husband), and she is also dishonoring the man's head who is Christ.

    After Paul continues to expand on this truth from verses 6 through 12, he challenges the believers to reflect deeply upon these truths and their application which he had conveyed to them. "Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered?" (verse 13). Based upon the important principles he had established, could it possibly be fitting for a woman to pray or prophesy with an unveiled head? He knew what answer they could only but give, according to his teaching, which had full authority and was inspired by the Holy Spirit.

    Much unnecessary confusion has originated from verse 15, in that some conclude that this must mean the long hair is given instead of a veiling "But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering." However, the confusion ends when one goes to the original text. The Greek word here for 'covering' is peribolaion, which literally means "something cast or thrown around." The only other place this word is used is in Hebrews 1:12, where is says, "And as a vesture shalt thou fold them up..." The verb form of the word pariballo, found about 23 times, almost always refers to being covered with a robe cast around oneself. This is a completely different word than katakalupto, which is the veiling mentioned in verses 5,6,7 & 13, and which means "something completely and hanging down."

    In other words, Paul is saying that the glory of woman, her long hair, is given to her to serve as a natural covering and be cast or wrapped around to represent the covering of her self life so the Christ can be manifested in her life. As baptism is a sign of our dying to Self and rising with Christ, so is the veil the outward sign of the woman's heart and her submission to God's divine order of government.

    Final Thoughts

    The issue of male leadership in the Body of Christ is just that, male leadership, not equality. It is not "superiority vs. inferiority" or "greater vs. lesser". This issue is God ordained roles that have been in place since the beginning; yes, even before the fall. If God created man and woman to be able to serve in the same roles/capacity, then why did God not make Adam & Eve at the same time and give them both the "sermon" concerning the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil? Why didn't He give them the same authority in naming the animals? Why did He not create woman first and then take man out of woman? Why didn't Jesus come as woman? Why didn't Jesus choose, among the Twelve, any women?

    It is because God ordained men to be in positions of leadership in the Body of Christ.

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