What Does the Bible Say About Women in Ministry?
Women have contributed much to the ministry of the Church throughout its history. However, the role of women in ministry has never been a subject free from controversy. We tend to confuse some church traditions about ordination with the biblical concept of New Testament ministry. In the Old Testament, only priests could minister and only males could be priests. But in the New Testament, God reveals something quite different. God has made every Christian a priest in the New Testament (1 Peter 2:5; Revelation 1:5-6; Revelation 5:10).
Ephesians 4:11-12 (NKJV) He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.
The New Testament reveals it is the job of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers to equip every Christian for God’s ordained ministry. All of God’s people are “gifted” by the Holy Spirit for the purpose of building up one another (Romans 12:3–8; 1 Corinthians 12:4–31; 14:1–19; Ephesians 4:7–16; 1 Peter 4:8–11). So, under the New Testament, every Christian is a minister, which is simply someone who makes a difference in the life of another person. In other words, God has a plan and Kingdom assignment for all people, man or woman.
Galatians 3:28 (NIV) There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
What About Women Pastors?
Here at Strong Faith Family Church, we take both the callings of God and the Word of God very seriously. After much prayer and study (which we are sharing in this article), the following is our leadership structure: Pastor David Longenecker is our senior pastor. He is the visionary leader of our church and works one on one with the men of the church. Submitted under him is his wife, Pastor Charity, who leads alongside her husband and works one on one with the women of the church. This leadership structure is both Biblically sound and provides protection and accountability to our pastoral staff.
Let’s take a close look at the two verses people use to oppose the idea of women in ministry.
1 Corinthians 14:33-35 (ERV) God is not a God of confusion but a God of peace. This is the rule for all the meetings of God’s people. The women should keep quiet in these church meetings. They are not allowed to speak out but should be under authority, as the Law of Moses says. If there is something they want to know, they should ask their own husbands at home. It is shameful for a woman to speak up like that in the church meeting.
1 Timothy 2:11-12 (ERV) A woman should learn while listening quietly and being completely willing to obey. I don’t allow a woman to teach a man or tell him what to do. She must listen quietly.
As with much of the Bible, some background in Jewish laws and customs is helpful for interpreting these passages. It is important to note the law Paul mentions here is not found anywhere in the Old Testament Cannon. Scholars believe Paul is referencing a Jewish oral law, which is distinctly different from the written law of God. This oral law is not substantiated as God’s law in the Old Testament. In other words, it was a rule of law based on current society. Still to this day, in the Middle East, the custom is for women to be silent.
Paul himself said, I myself am not ruled by the law, but to those who are ruled by the law I became like someone who is ruled by the law. I did this to help save those who are ruled by the law (1 Corinthians 9:20).
The meeting practices of the early Church were similar to those of the Jewish synagogue, where men and women did not sit together (a Jewish practice maintained to this day). In Biblical times, men sat at one side of the church and women sat on the other. This separation created great distractions. If a wife had a question for her husband, she would shout it across the hall or from the balcony. Paul wanted to eliminate those embarrassing distractions.
In 1 Corinthians 11:5, Paul clearly allowed women to pray and prophesy in church services. He also instructed the older women to teach the younger women at church in Titus 2:3-4. So women were able to speak and teach in church. But Paul did not want them to interrupt the pastor while he was preaching, or encroach upon the authority of their husbands, which is understandable.
Women in the Bible
We know God’s actions cannot violate His Word. So to correctly interpret Scripture, we must see what God shows us through His actions. Does God call women to the ministry? If so, how much authority are they given? This is answered and substantiated by both the Old and New Testaments. Let’s look:
- Deborah was called by God as a prophet, judge, and leader. As a prophet, she was part of the five-fold ministry (Ephesians 4:11-13). In addition, Deborah was the chief ruler of Israel for 40 years. God gave her authority, even over the mighty (Judges 5:13).
Judges 4:4 (NIV) Now Deborah, a prophet, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time.
The word translated “leading” is the Hebrew word shaphat, which means to judge or govern. According to the Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, this authority was in both civil and religious matters. Judges 5:13 makes it clear that it was God who called and placed Deborah in this high leadership position. So how far did her authority extend? Over all of Israel—meaning both men and women.
- Sister Huldah was called by God to be a prophetess in the reign of King Josiah. She could be found sitting in the central part of the city ready to receive and counsel any who wished to inquire of Jehovah. God sent her to preach to a congregation of five men, one of them being a priest, concerning the book of the Law. Her message was taken to the entire nation and produced a revival! Thank God these five men listened to the wisdom God gave Huldah!
2 Kings 22:14-17 (KJV) So Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam, and Achbor, and Shaphan, and Asahiah, went unto Huldah the prophetess, the wife of Shallum the son of Tikvah, the son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe; (now she dwelt in Jerusalem in the college;) and they communed with her. And she said unto them, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Tell the man that sent you to me, Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will bring evil upon this place, and upon the inhabitants thereof, even all the words of the book which the king of Judah hath read: Because they have forsaken me, and have burned incense unto other gods.
- Phoebe was a New Testament leader, minister, and deacon in the church at Cenchreae. The Apostle Paul says this about her:
Romans 16:1 (CEV) I have good things to say about Phoebe, who is a leader in the church at Cenchreae.
. . . I commend to you Phoebe, our sister, who is minister of the assembly which is in Cenchrea. – DARBY
. . . I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. – NIV
Leader, minister, and deacon all come from the Greek word diakonos, the root of the English term “deacon.” HELPS Word-studies states that in the New Testament, diakonos usually refers to the Lord inspiring His servants to carry out His plan for His people – i.e., as His “ministers.” It is clear that Phoebe was a deacon, one of God’s ministers, called to the church of Cenchreae. 1 Timothy 3:8-13 defines the leaders of the church as bishops and deacons. As a deacon, Phoebe was part of church leadership. 1 Timothy 3:8-13 confirms that women can be deacons in the church.
1 Timothy 3:10-11 (Expanded Bible) Test them first. Then let them serve as deacons if you find ·nothing wrong in them [them blameless]. In the same way, ·women [or women who are deacons; or deacon’s wives] must be ·respected by others [dignified]. They must not ·speak evil of others [be slanderers/gossips]. They must be ·self-controlled [sober] and ·trustworthy [honest; faithful] in everything.
. . . Again the same applies to women in key positions; they should also be dignified, not backstabbing gossips but self-controlled and faithful to the core. – VOICE
“Women” in the Greek is guné. Thayer’s Greek Lexicon defines guné as “a woman of any age, whether a virgin, or married, or a widow.” “In the same way” comes from the Greek word hósautós meaning “likewise, after the same (in like) manner.” In other words, in the same manner as the men, women must also . . . . This passage of Scripture does not exclude women from leadership; it includes them. Yet, it has been used to do the opposite of what God intended.
- Anna was a New Testament prophet. She was called of God and spoke in the temple about Jesus, night and day, to anyone who came.
Luke 2:36-38 (NIRV) There was also a prophet named Anna. She was the daughter of Penuel from the tribe of Asher. Anna was very old. After getting married, she lived with her husband seven years. Then she was a widow until she was 84. She never left the temple [church]. She worshiped night and day, praying and going without food. Anna came up to Jesus’ family at that moment. She gave thanks to God. And she spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the time when Jerusalem would be set free.
These are two Old Testament and two New Testament examples. God has clearly called women into the ministry in both the Old and New Testament. God gave them the authority to speak and minister in the church or temple.
There are many other examples: Priscilla assisted Paul in revival meetings and helped teach Apollos (Acts 18:1-3; 24-26). Miriam was a prophetess and a song leader in Israel (Exodus 15:20). God likened Miriam (a woman) to Moses and Aaron (Micah 6:4). God called Esther to deliver the Jewish people. In Esther 7-9, God used Esther to minister His instruction to a king (a woman humbly instructing a man). It is important for men to see the value in both male and female leaders. God clearly uses both and both should be honored and respected.
We have yet to mention Lemuel’s mother, who wrote Proverbs 31. Or the woman at the well in John chapter 4. She preached to both men and women and had one of the most efficient evangelistic records ever! The men of Samaria believed first because of her words, then because of the words of the Lord. In fact, the first message of the Resurrection of Jesus was spoken by women (Mark 16:1-10). In other words, women were God’s first evangelists! We could go on to teach about Phillip’s four daughters who prophesied, Sara, Mary, Elizabeth, Rehab, Timothy’s mother and grandmother, and the woman pastor in 2 John.
2 John 1:1 (AMP) . . . to the elect (chosen) lady (Cyria) and her children . . . .
. . . I, the elder, am writing this letter. I am sending it to the lady chosen by God . . . . – NIRV
The word “elect” in the Greek means “those chosen out by God for the rendering of special service to Him.” “Lady” in the Greek has no reference to the overall Church. This Greek word points to a specific lady: Cyria, a Christian woman to whom the Second Epistle of John is addressed. The Greek word “children” points to the church—her spiritual children, which literally means “people who are living in full dependence on the heavenly Father.” John commends Cyria for pastoring the people she led to Jesus.
So, does God call women to the ministry? An astounding “Yes!”
What About the Teachings of Paul?
What does 1 Corinthians 14:33-35 and 1 Timothy 2:12 mean? These Scriptures have to do with women publicly usurping the authority of their husbands at church. Paul’s example, found in verse 13, is Adam and Eve—a married couple. Let’s look at a few translations:
1 Timothy 2:12 (CEB) I don’t allow a wife to teach or to control her husband. Instead, she should be a quiet listener.
. . . I suffer not a woman to teach, neither to have lordship on the husband. – WYC
. . . to rule a husband . . . – YLT
. . . Now, Timothy, it’s not my habit to allow women to teach in a way that wrenches authority from a man. – VOICE
1 Corinthians 14:34-35 backs this thought up even further. Here Paul clearly makes the distinction that he is referring to married women who are usurping their husband’s authority.
1 Corinthians 14:34-35 (AMP) But if there is anything they want to learn, they should ask their own husbands at home, for it is disgraceful for a woman to talk in church [for her to usurp and exercise authority over men in the church].
Paul did not have a problem with women in ministry. He commended them in several of his letters (Romans 16:1-7; Philippians 4:3; 2 John 1:1-4). The problem Paul mentioned was women usurping authority; when they refused to submit to their husbands or other authority figures God placed in their lives.
Sadly, the way the Church has treated women in ministry has often been less than honorable. Regardless of your stance on this subject, I think we can all agree the Bible clearly teaches us how we ought to treat each other.
Romans 12:17-18 (NLT) Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.
The Bible is very clear—God is not against women in ministry. Women can lead, serve the people of the church, and even preach! Women can be elders, deacons, and pastors—as long as they know how to submit to the authority figures God has given them. This allows men to minister to men, and women to minister to women. It is Biblically sound and provides the protection and accountability needed to best serve the families of our congregation. We ask those who attend Strong Faith Family Church to honor and respect everyone on our pastoral staff. Treat our pastors, both men and women, with equal dignity and worth. After all, it is the Lord Jesus who has called them into the ministries in which they serve. Thank you.