The role of women in the church is one of the most controversial issues in both historical and modern Christianity. This is true because of the challenges involved in precisely determining the Bible’s perspective.
Many would have you believe that it is simple, clear and requires nothing more than the ability to read and comprehend the meaning of the words in scriptures such as…
1 Corinthians 14:34-35 “Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. 35If 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 Timothy 2:11-12 “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.”
The “simple and clear” meaning in these verses:
- Women should not speak in church and should pose their spiritual questions to their husbands only in the privacy of their home.
- Women should never be allowed to teach men or hold leadership positions in the church with men serving “beneath” them.
The problem is that if we are to accept these “simple and clear” truths, we must also accept the “simple and clear” teachings of passages such as…
1 Corinthians 11:4-16 “Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head–it is just as though her head were shaved. If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off, she should cover her head. A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head. 1In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God. Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering. If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice–nor do the churches of God.”
1 Timothy 2:9-10 “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.”
Again, the “simple and clear” meaning:
- A woman should never participate in a church service without a covering for her head.
- If a woman has short or close-cropped hair, it is considered a sinful disgrace.
- If a man has long hair, it is considered a sinful disgrace.
- Women must dress modestly in church.
- Women cannot wear braided hair, jewelry made of gold or pearls, or expensive clothes when attending church.
So to sum up, the simple and clear truth about the role of women in church:
Women should dress modestly and inexpensively with a simple long hairstyle. They should wear no jewelry and should remain silent in church. They are not to ask spiritual questions of anyone except their husbands and should never hold a leadership role over men.
Very few religious groups attempt to practice “all” of these teachings concerning women, but a number choose to interpret and enforce the concepts of silence and authority. The most common position is that women cannot serve as “Senior Pastors.” They are permitted to wear short hair, jewelry and the clothing of their choice. They can also hold positions of leadership, including being teachers of men, as long as they serve under the authority of a male church leader.
So if the scriptures concerning women are not as clear and simple as some would have us believe, what is the truth about women and their role in church?
What We Know
There is no question that women played a vital role in the life and ministry of Christ…
- Mary of Nazareth was chosen by God to bear and rear and teach God’s very own Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, while He was on earth (Luke 1:26-38).
- Anna, a prophetess, was chosen by God to predict the future of the baby Jesus (Luke 2:36-38).
- It was four women who demonstrated raw courage by standing at the foot of Jesus’ cross when all the disciples had fled for their lives (Mark 15:40).
- Joanna and Susanna supported the work of Christ (Luke 8:3).
- Martha and Mary opened their home to Jesus time and again (Luke 10:38-39; John 11:5).
- Mary Magdalene, because of her great love and devotion for Christ, was chosen by God to be the first to witness the Lord’s resurrection (Matthew 16:9; John 20:11-18).
There is also no question that women were instrumental in the establishment and ministry of the first century church…
- Tabitha (Dorcas) helped the poor of her city by clothing them (Acts 9:36-43).
- Mary, the mother of John Mark, allowed the early believers to meet in her home (Acts 20:12).
- Lydia courageously stepped forth and became the very first convert to Christ in Europe (Acts 16:13).
- Priscilla, along with her husband Aquila, taught the truth of Christ to the young preacher, Apollos (Acts 18:26).
- Philip the evangelist had four daughters who were prophetesses (Acts 21:9).
- Phoebe served the church at Cenchrea as a deaconess (Romans 16:1-2).
- Mary of Rome ministered to Paul and his companions (Romans 16:6).
- Tryphena and Tryphosa were two ladies who labored in the Lord (Roman 16:12).
- The mother of Rufus became a mother to Paul (Roman 16:13).
- Euodia and Syntyche were two women who labored in the gospel (Philippians 4:2-3).
- The mother and grandmother of Timothy, Lois and Eunice, taught the Scriptures to Timothy from his earliest childhood ((2 Timothy 1:5).
- The aged women were to teach the young women (Titus 2:3).
To Sum Up What We Know…
1. Women were clearly allowed to pray and prophecy (Speak a message from God) in the New Testament Church.
Acts 2:17-18 In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.
Acts 21:8-9 Leaving the next day, we reached Caesarea and stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven. He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied.
1 Corinthians 11:4-5 Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head–it is just as though her head were shaved.
2. Women hosted churches in their homes.
Colossians 4:15 Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house.
3. Women served as deaconesses.
Romans 16:1-2 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church in Cenchrea. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been a great help to many people, including me.
4. Women taught women.
Titus 2:3-5 Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.
5. Women taught children.
2 Timothy 1:5 I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.
6. Women taught men.
Acts 18:24-26 Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.
7. Women performed practical ministries.
Acts 9:36 In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (which, when translated, is Dorcas), who was always doing good and helping the poor.
What We Need To Know
If all these things are true of women’s role in the early church, how do we interpret Paul’s teachings that seem to contradict them?
1. It is possible that Paul’s teachings restricting how women appear and how they function in the church were historically or culturally specific. This would mean that they applied during that specific time in church history, based on the Greek and Roman culture but that they are no longer applicable.
2. It is possible that the context must be taken into consideration for 1 Corinthians 14. Paul was talking about the specific issue of speaking in tongues in I Corinthians 14 and if so, his command that women remain silent only applied to their speaking in tongues in a way that was creating an atmosphere of confusion and disorganization.
3. It is possible that Paul’s teaching in I Timothy 2:11-12 is based on the context of a woman serving as a senior pastor. After verse 12 in Chapter 2 begins Chapter 3 which outlines the qualifications for a pastor. This would leave open the possibility that she could teach or perform other functions as long as she wasn’t the “senior” leader.
4. It is possible that Paul was expressing his personal opinion in Timothy 2:11-12. Explaining his personal practice rather than commanding the churches to do as he did (other examples I Corinthians 7:10-12).
For biblical interpretation, we must be careful to not take things out of context. Also when multiple views seem to appear, it is important to allow scripture to interpret scripture. What do the scriptures seem to indicate in other areas? With women in the church we can see, they were “not silent” as Paul indicated they should be in 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2. They did speak, teach and serve in very visible ways in other places in the New Testament. In these instances when churches, denominations or even individuals differ in views that are not essential to salvation, then we must not be divisive. What is important in such matters is that each believer lives according to his or her scriptural convictions. It is equally important that he or she not condemn the practice of other Christians who have adopted a different position.
Romans 14:1-6 “Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.
At The Ridge Fellowship, we believe, based on the scriptures already noted, that women can pray, teach, serve, lead, and speak in church.
For more about The Ridge Fellowship go to www.ridgefellowship.com
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