The Role Of Women In The Church

Essay, Research Paper 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

Essay, Research Paper

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.

In this essay, we will use the Bible to understand the role of women in the

church of the first century and apply that understanding to the church of the

twentieth century.

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.

Before we discuss specific issues concerning women in worship, we should

consider principles derived from the relationship of Adam and Eve as described

in Genesis chapter one. The Apostle Paul frequently uses this passage 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

mens and woman’s ministry in the church, it is important to keep in mind this

role distinction.

Lets examine the public ministry of women in the Church. 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 church.

But, 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, their 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 Gods 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


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.

In conclusion, we can say that 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

wives 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 Gods 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 church.