Does The Bible Forbid Women Preachers?
By Jack Kinsella
We have been collecting reader’s questions on various topics of general interest for several years now. One question deals with whether or not women should keep silent in churches.
This is not exactly the kind of question I want to deal with verbally — that’s too much like juggling with nitro glycerin — one stumble on a topic like that and BOOM!
The question is a good one, but the answer is fraught with minefields that are much harder to navigate extemporaneously than they would be in a column where I have the luxury of making sure I say it right. You can’t un-ring the bell, as the saying goes.
“I would very much like to know if you have a response to the biblical commands according to our Father for the role of a woman in and out of a church setting? I desire to serve the Lord but I am being told so many different responses to what I AM OR AM NOT allowed to do my head is spinning! I am at a standstill because I do not want to dishonor God…
…For example, my husband and I recently visited a church where an elderly woman was teaching Sunday school. My husband would not stay because it was not being taught by a man. I respected my husband’s action, but felt very uncomfortable. Thank you for your attention to my email…”
This is one of the most divisive subjects I can think of. More church schisms have occurred over the role of a woman in the church than probably any other single issue.
First, let us define the question at hand. It is not whether women are of equal value to men. Neither is it because they could not minister effectively. The question is essentially if it is permissible for a woman to teach in church, according to the Bible?
Let us first dismiss the first two objections for clarity’s sake before addressing the actual question in detail. The Bible teaching regarding church order is rooted in the Bible’s teaching about the order of the family.
Ephesians 5:22-24 are some of those really, really difficult verses, mainly because they are almost NEVER argued in context.
“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and He is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.”
That makes it sound like the husband is The Boss, doesn’t it? That’s the product of selective interpretation. Back up one more verse and get the actual context:
“Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.” (Ephesians 5:21)
Do you see it? The command is to submit one to another — NOT to subordinate the wife or elevate the husband. These are task-oriented designations. Ephesians 5:21 tells us what — 5:22 and forward tells us how. Marriage and ministry are so inter-related as to be almost indistinguishable in organizational structure.
“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it.”
That’s a tall order. The Lord’s ministry was devoted to nurturing the Church and then willingly gave His life. Galatians 3:28 spells out the equality between men and women in no uncertain terms:
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”
The Creator created male and female as equals, but He designed them to complement, rather than compete with each other. They are designed by the Creator for different jobs. That is a truth that was self-evident until relatively recently.
The Greek term used for submission (hypotasso) suggests a voluntary submission based on a commitment to proper order.
It does not imply an organization based on inability or inferiority. Indeed, this term seems to have been chosen by Paul to honor the unique value of the wife. Paul thereby affirms both value and order, both equality and subordination.
Men and women have equal responsibility to communicate intimately in marriage relationships. This is seen in God’s plan that marriage is to be a companionship of equals (Genesis 2:24). Equality between the sexes, however, has NEVER meant “the same.”
That used to be self-evident.
The models for family and church interrelate for two reasons. First, these are the two God-ordained institutions in which we find the spiritual resources for full Christian maturity. Second, these two institutions have unique ability to reveal God to a world blinded by sin.
And so family and church share the central place in God’s economy.
The Scriptures frequently interrelate the family and the church. Paul clearly tied the two together in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16.
What Paul is saying is essentially that if a woman is unwilling to wear the symbol of her right relationship to her husband as the family “head,” she forfeits her privileges of praying and prophesying in church fellowships. Paul links a woman’s ministry in the church directly to her submission to her husband.
Paul makes the same point when outlining the credentials for that of a bishop or pastor. A man who doesn’t rule his family well is unfit to pastor a church. Proper family order is a prerequisite to pastoral leadership. The Bible intentionally interrelates church and family for both husbands and wives.
It isn’t that the Bible forbids women to preach or teach. Women in the New Testament engaged in significant ministry, performing valuable service in sometimes-difficult situations.
Both Priscilla and Aquila spoke privately to Apollos at Ephesus (Acts 18:24-26), correcting his incomplete and flawed theology. Nobody said they were forbidden to teach.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul identified sixteen significant helpers in ministry (16:1-16), and at least ten of them were women. Lydia financed and help strenthen the Church at Phillipi as well as churches at Euodia and Syntchye. (Acts 16:13-15; Philippians 4:2-3)
Women played a major role in the Lord’s ministry. Luke recalled with appreciation their financial support and company with Him (Luke 8:1-3).
When it comes to the role of women in the church, here’s what we can learn from the New Testament. First, there is no mention of women serving as pastors. Second, there are no instructions for women pastors.
And third, (and this is where I gulp and draw a deep, deep breath) the Bible expressly forbids women pastors.
“But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.” (1 Timothy 2:12)
In context, this doesn’t permit women to teach in a pastoral role, thereby usurping the role of a man and undermining the family order. The family order is the basic model for both church and civil government.
It isn’t about a woman’s ability, or temperament, or equality, but it is about the family and the role God has assigned each partner. (Titus 2:3-5; 2 Tim. 1:5; 3:14,15) The family order is itself based on the heirarchy within the Trinity.
Within the Godhead, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all fully and completely God, one God in three Persons, each with a specific ministry. The Bible says that Jesus is co-equal with the Father, yet the Bible reveals there is an hierarchy among them.
Jesus declared in John 20: 21 “As the Father hath sent Me, so send I you.” The Bible there are two primary tasks: creation and redemption.
Regarding creation, God the Father planned it. Jesus spoke creation into existence and He maintains it. The Holy Spirit “hovered upon the waters” (Gen. 1:2) to complete creation’s process.
In redemption the pattern continues. God the Father planned it and He elected to salvation. Jesus accomplished redemption by His death. The Holy Spirit applies the work of Jesus. Thus in the activities of God there is a division of labor and focus, yet total equality.
That is the model for both marriage and the church. Equality is based on which design model one happens to be and subordination is an issue of task orientation. This is the way God designed it to work.
There is no reason why a woman cannot teach in a Sunday School or even serve as an associate pastor. But the Scriptures mandate that the senior pastor MUST be a man.
However, in most churches, the God-given order has been replaced with a new, enlightened social order that makes the ridiculous claim the equality among the sexes means “the same”.
Men and women are obviously different and things that are different are NOT the same.
But once one has accepted that premise that things that are different CAN be the same, it isn’t that much further a stretch to accept that alternative families are the same as traditional families and alternative marriages are the same as traditional marriages.
And now we see what the Left means when it calls itself “progressive.” Follow the progression they advocate and where it leads.
First the family, then the church and then…well, like I said, these are things that used to be self-evident.
Originally published: August 15, 2012.