Women in Ministry

Over the past 20 years or so, there has been an increasing number of women entering ministry fields, while at the same time there has been increasing commentary, speculation, and acrimony among congregations, denominations, and even between churches in the same neighborhoods and towns over this issue. It is the expressed intent of this article to take a look at the issue of women in ministry, with a view towards determining, as best as possible, what Scripture says about it. Since every denomination and church claims to use scripture as their "backing" or foundation for their decisions concerning the issue, it then becomes incumbent upon us to observe the simple fact that there is room for interpretation and understanding. It is also important to note that no matter what the decision, it is not expedient, nor Christian, to "break fellowship" with another because of their differing view. There are, arguably, two things to consider here. First is the overall issue of women in ministry, and the second is women in ministry positions of authority (ie: pastors, bishops, elders).

The first question we will deal with is the general issue of women in ministry. Can they be ministers with Gods blessings upon their ministry? Exactly what does scripture say about women in positions of ministry?

Let's begin by looking at noted women of the bible, and what they did.


Exodus 15:20 "And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances."


Judges 4:4 "Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, she judged Israel at that time."

Deborah is a unique character in the Bible. She is the only woman to be a Judge of Israel. Her story takes place between the years 1209 and 1169 B.C. She was a prophetess and Judge of Israel. How she came to be chosen for this position is not recorded but it is evident in her story that her leadership was honored. As Judge, she was also leader of the army of Israel. During the time of Deborah's rule, the nation of Israel had been under domination by the Canaanites for twenty years. They had suffered terrible atrocities and finally began to cry out to God for deliverance from this enemy. (Judges 4:3) Jabin ruled the Canaanites and the captain of their army was Sisera. The Canaanite army had 900 iron chariots and many more warriors to boot. Poor Israel had only 10,000 warriors; they were badly outnumbered. Outnumbered or not, God tells Deborah to instruct Barak, her general, to take their 10,000 soldiers up to the River Kishon on Mount Tabor. There, God would send Sisera and his 900 iron chariots and the Canaanite soldiers. God tells Deborah that the Israelites will win the battle. (Judges 4:6-7)

Barak says he'll obey this command only if Deborah accompanies him. She agrees. Remarkable. This general is given a prophecy that his army will win but won't go to battle without Deborah. We can discern two things from this: that Barak had incredible faith in Deborah, if not in God, and that Deborah was a courageous and faithful woman.


2 Kings 22:14 "So Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam, and Achbor, and Shaphan, and Asaiah, 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 second quarter); and they communed with her."


Nehemiah 6:14 "Remember, O my God, Tobiah and Sanballat according to these their works, and also the prophetess Noadiah, and the rest of the prophets, that would have put me in fear." Although referred to as a prophetess, Noadiah was seen as a false prophet(ess).

Isaiah's wife

Isaiah 8:3 "And I went unto the prophetess; and she conceived, and bare a son. Then said Jehovah unto me, Call his name Maher-shalal-hash-baz." It is worthy of note here that the word translated prophetess in each of the instances above is n@biyah, or neb-ee-yaw',
1) prophetess
a) ancient type endowed with gift of song (Miriam)
b) later type consulted for a word (Huldah)
c) false prophetess (Noadiah)
d) wife of Isaiah the prophet

Neb-ee-yaw' is the feminine rendering of Nabiy' (naw-ba), which means:
1) spokesman, speaker, prophet,
this being the designation given to Jeremiah, Isaiah, and other prophets. It is also relatively significant that in the case of Isaiah's wife, she was referred to as prophetess, although there is no record of her ever giving any prophecy, or functioning as a prophet. Could this be simply because of her marriage to Isaiah? Remember, in Gen. 2:24; "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh." In the specific case of Deborah, please note that her position as Judge of Israel was significantly a civil position. During her time, spiritual matters were still handled by the Levites.

We will now turn to the New Testament, to see what women are noted there. In Romans 16, we have people from at least three races - Latins, Jews, and Greeks, who are "all one in Christ Jesus." They are from lower and upper classes, including slaves and freed slaves . Of the 29 people, ten are women. Apart from Priscilla, none is mentioned elsewhere in the NT. Paul apparently honored these women and held them in high regard. In spite of the lack of information on these women, it is reasonably certain that they must have had some importance in the Church to be included in this list of greetings.

In the ancient world (as today) when someone is applying for a position or job they seek testimonials or references from others who know them well. Many churches today still use letters of commendation or reference from one assembly to another if someone is traveling or moving. These sustatikai epistolai, letters of introduction, were common in business transactions in the ancient world as well.

Paul begins by commending Phoebe (16:1) to the church in Rome. She is the bearer of this letter, and Paul asks them to welcome her. Paul uses two very specific terms to describe her - diakonos - deacon, servant, minister, and prostatis ( (1) a woman set over others (2) a female guardian, protectress, patroness, caring for the affairs of others and aiding them with her resources) - a great help to many people. The term "diakonos", or deacon, is the same as used generically in 1 Thess. 3:2, 2 Cor. 3:6, 11:23; of a specific group or function in Phil 1:1, 1 Timothy 3:8,12. And it is used of Christ (Romans 15:8), Apollos (1 Corinthians 3:5), Timothy (1 Timothy 4:6) and of Paul himself (1 Corinthians 3:5, Ephesians 3:7; Colossians 1:23,25). NT scholar E. Earl Ellis concluded that diakonos as used by Paul referred to a special class of co-workers who were active in preaching and teaching. She is also a prostatis - the only time in the NT this word as a noun appears. In secular Greek at that time this was a relatively strong term of leadership. The verb is used by Paul in three out of five occurrences to refer to leadership in the Church. Thus the word suggests Phoebe had a prominent role, leading several Bible translators to render the word as "overseer" or "leader".

Prisca and Aquila (16:3) were a fascinating couple. Prisca is sometimes called Priscilla (Acts 18:2,18,26) - an affectionate version of the same name. When they first appear on the pages of the NT (Acts 18:1-2) they're in Rome. Claudius banished Jews from Rome in AD 52 and this couple settled in Corinth. They were tent-makers - the same trade as Paul's - so in Corinth he stayed with them. They and Paul left Corinth together and went to Ephesus where Prisca and Aquila settled (Acts 18:18). When Apollos stayed with Prisca and Aquila, it is noted that Prisca and Aquila taught him "more perfectly" (Acts 18:24-26). Later, when Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians from Ephesus, he sent greetings from Prisca and Aquila and from the church in their house (1 Corinthians 16:19). Next we hear of them back in Rome, where they have a church in their home. The last time they appear is in 2 Timothy 4:19, and they're back in Ephesus.

So wherever these nomadic people are - Rome, Corinth, Ephesus, back in Rome, or finally again in Ephesus - they are at the center of Christian ministry, worship and hospitality (1 Cor. 16:19, Philemon 2).

But there's something odd about the way they're mentioned in the epistles: they are always mentioned together, and on four of the six occasions Prisca is named before her husband. Normally - then as now - the husband's name is mentioned first - 'Mr. and Mrs.'. The possibility exists that Prisca may have been of Roman aristocracy, thus resulting in a "first mention". Maybe. Considering the fact that Paul did not seem to be a respecter of persons, it is more likely that her leadership gifts or her role in the church was the reason she's mentioned first. Paul calls them fellow-workers: the same term is used of men such as Timothy and Titus, as well as of women such as Euodia and Syntyche. Paul also considered Apollos and himself God's "fellow- workers" (1 Corinthians 3:9). It is in this group of people who take leadership in the ministry of the gospel that Priscilla, without any distinction related to her sex, is included as well as her husband Aquila. We don't know what roles all these people had as 'fellow-workers' - perhaps their roles were as diverse as their gifts.

Mary (16:6). There are at least six Marys in the NT story - and they are all special people. We don't know anything more about this Mary than that 'she has worked very hard' among them, a similar expression to that used of Tryphena and Tryphosa and Persis (16:12). What kind of hard work? Did she grow flowers for Sunday services? Clean out the room before house-church? Serve eats after the worship? Perhaps - these so-called menial tasks are honoured when the Lord Christ is served. But the Greek verb 'work very hard' is used regularly by Paul to refer to the special work of the gospel ministry. Only twice does Paul use it in a common or secular sense - both within a proverbial expression (Ephesians 4:8, 2 Timothy 2:6). Paul frequently describes his apostolic ministry with this word, and also the ministry of other leaders and persons of authority: the context of some of these stresses the need for respect for and submission to such workers.

Euodia and Syntyche (Philippians 4:2,3) two women Paul describes as having '...contended at my side in the cause of the gospel' (NIV)].

Andronicus and Junia (16:7) were Christians before Paul was - their conversion goes right back to the time of Stephen, so they must have had a direct link back to the earliest church in Jerusalem. There is some debate about the sex of Junia or Junias. Paul's word junian may be either masculine or feminine. So we have to be a bit tentative here. Andronicus was certainly a common male name, but there's no evidence Junias was used as a male name. Chrysostom (d. AD 407), one of the first Greek fathers to write extensive commentaries on Paul, and known for his 'negative' view of women, understood that Junia was a woman. He marveled that this woman should be called an apostle! It was not until the 13th century that any writer represented Junia as a male (Aegidius of Rome). He/she is outstanding among (en) the apostles: does this mean Junia was well known by the apostles or well known as an apostle? The natural meaning in Greek is that these two were outstanding as apostles. Keep in mind that the term 'apostle' was used in the early church not just for the Twelve but for any authorised Christian missionaries.

Were Tryphaena and Tryphosa (16:12) twin sisters? Their names mean 'dainty and delicate' but they worked (Gr.-kopian) to the point of exhaustion! Again, the word "worked" is the same as used by Paul to describe the special work of ministry.

Three final comments. Romans 16:1-16, then, in an incidental way, allows us to see that Paul had several women coworkers in the church's ministry. Mary, Tryphena, Tryphosa and Persis (as well as Euodia and Syntyche mentioned in Philippians 4:2-3) all shared in the hard labors of a gospel ministry. Priscilla also was a fellow worker with Paul in the ministry. Phoebe was a minister of the Cenchrean church and a leader in the Church. Junia was, along with Andronicus (her husband?) an outstanding apostle.

It is in the context of what we see here that we must begin to view and assess the references found in 1 Cor. 14:34-35 and 1 Tim. 2:8-15 to Pauls view of women in ministry. When viewed properly, the persistent notion that Paul was a woman-hater, or had a low view of them and considered them unfit for teaching, or speaking in the church, begins to fade quickly away...indeed, such a view is untenable and ill-supported. Unfortunately, there are many still today who will not let go of that idea.

While 1 Timothy 2:11-15 at first glance seems easy to read and understand, it is a passage that is constructed awkwardly, and makes reference to the OT (Gen. 2 and 3). We need to understand several things, first. One is that the New Testament Epistles are called "occasional documents" because they were occasioned by a special circumstance on the part of either the author or, more commonly, the recipient. The circumstance might be a doctrine or a practice in need of correction, or it might be a misunderstanding in need of clarification.

Theological issues and the extent to which they were discussed was determined by the circumstances that occasioned a particular epistle. While an epistle may answer a problem, the exact nature of the problem may not be fully reported or evident to us. This lack of a thorough discussion of a theological issue may limit the modern-day interpreter's understanding of a passage or doctrine. These results are well illustrated in Paul's first letter to Timothy and particularly in his instructions concerning women in the worship assembly.

First, the historical situation in the Ephesian church that evoked Paul's instructions in 1 Timothy 2:11-15 is not entirely clear. Historical reconstructions generally fall into three categories. Some commentators suggest that the basic problem was one of women seeking improperly to assert authority over men in the worship assembly, while other commentators suggest that some women in the church were teaching heresy and that Paul sought to prevent them from using the worship assembly for that purpose. Still other interpreters suggest that Paul's prohibitions were given because women were doctrinally untaught and were thus more susceptible to false teaching. What is apparent, though, is that there was some kind of difficulty in that assembly, and involved women at the core of the difficulty.

Second, in this passage Paul does not give a complete discussion of the role of women in the worship assembly. In fact nowhere does he comprehensively discuss the teaching role of women either in the worship assembly or in the larger ministry of the church. Other passages do touch briefly on their participation in the worship assembly (e.g., 1 Cor. 11:5; 14:26).

But even if these and other passages are carefully integrated, the picture of how women served in the assembly and elsewhere is far from complete. While Paul was answering a question concerning the conduct of women in the worship assembly as it was known in the first century, there are certain facets of his discourse that we should pay heed to in terms of application to today. It would not be wise to exclude any principles that may be learned, as long as they are in line with the entirety of Gods Word

False teachers had arisen in Ephesus since Paul's last visit there (1 Tim. 1:3-11; 4:1-5; cf. Acts 20:17-38). Quite possibly they were from within the church and may have included recognized elders (Acts 20:29-30). Paul was eager to refute them (1 Tim. 1:3-11; 6:3-10) and to defend against further attacks through the teaching of correct doctrine (4:6, 13-16; 6:2, 17-18), through promoting godly living of both leaders (3:1-13; 5:17-25; 6:11-16) and laity (5:1-16; 6:1-2, 17-19), and through ensuring correct church practice (2:1-15; 3:1-13). Pauls instructions to Timothy were to refute false teachers, to teach the truth of the gospel, to ensure proper conduct in the worship assembly, to select qualified church leaders, and to promote godly behavior and motives on the part of both leaders and laity.

Certain problems had arisen in the worship assembly, and Paul addressed four of them in chapter 2. We´┐Żll only briefly speak of two, that being that leaders of the church were to not be contentious, and that they were to come before God in prayer with a clean conscience.

The third area, deserving of slightly more comment, is that women were also to be concerned with the attitude of their hearts rather than outward adornment. In this respect, the admonition was much as he directed to the men concerning clean hearts. Paul then turned to a fourth area that concerned him as the Ephesians met together for worship, and it deals directly with the issue of concern.

The group of individuals under discussion here is women generally; that is, this directive is not limited to wives. Three factors make this clear. First, in the preceding verses (2:8-10) Paul directed men (andras) to pray and women (gunaikas) to adorn themselves properly. Since it is unlikely that these instructions are limited to husbands and wives, it is unlikely that verses 11-15 are limited to wives. Second, in this context Paul was viewing men and women as part of a worshiping community, not as family members (as he did, e.g., in Eph. 5:22-33). Third, had Paul been speaking of the husband-wife relationship, a definite article or possessive pronoun before andros in verse 12 might have been expected (as in Eph. 5:22-25, 28-29, 31, 33).

Paul directed the women in the worship assembly to learn (manthano). This verb is used seven times in the Pastorals; in this verse it carries the connotation of learning through instruction (cf. 2 Tim. 3:7, 14; John 7:15; 1 Cor. 14:31). Paul assumed that women both could and would learn. Since Paul later noted that the Ephesian false teachers had gained influence over some of the women (e.g., 2 Tim. 3:6-7), it seems he knew it was important that they be well grounded in the Scriptures.

The manner in which women were to learn is twofold. First, they should learn "in quietness" (en hsuchia). The word hsuchia and its related forms occur only 11 times in the New Testament. The meaning of hsuchia ranges from "silence" (Acts 22:2) to "rest, quietness" (1 Tim. 2:2; 2 Thess. 3:12). The translation "quietness" is best here, since it would have been normal for women to speak in the worship assembly (1 Cor. 11:5; 14:26). The next phrase, "in all submissiveness," seems to underscore the idea that Paul's emphasis in this passage is on the attitude of heart that is to accompany learning, and includes respectfulness and receptiveness to direction. The question then arises concerning to what or to whom a woman is to be submissive.

There are at least three possibilities. First, it may mean that a woman is to be submissive to her husband. While this truth is taught elsewhere (Eph. 5:22; Col. 3:18; Titus 2:5), such a meaning is unlikely here, where the focus is on men and women as worshipers. Second, Paul may have meant that a woman is to be submissive to the church elders. Since false teachers were leading believers astray, submission to church elders may have been part of Paul's solution to that problem.

A third possibility, closely related to the second, is that women are to submit themselves to sound doctrine. Either of the last two views provides an adequate explanation. A combination of these two views is also possible: women were to submit themselves only to those elders who taught sound doctrine. Women in the worship assembly are to receive instruction with an attitude of quiet receptivity and submissiveness. The emphasis here seems to be not so much on literal silence as on an inner attitude in which the spirit is at rest in submitting to the teaching (and the teachers) in the assembly.

Paul continued his instruction by stating, "I do not permit" (ouk epitrepo). Some writers suggest that Paul used this term to express a personal preference. Other interpreters argue that the statement is to be considered binding on the church. The latter view is preferable for two reasons. The first reason concerns the use of epitrepo in 1 Corinthians 14:34. There Paul stated that, in the situation envisioned in that verse. women were not permitted to speak; and in verse 37 he underscored the importance of this injunction by saying, "The things which I write to you are the Lord's commandment" (a reference to 1 Cor. 14:26-36, which includes his directive in v. 34). Second, Paul was most probably using his own personal authority to back up the prohibition of 1 Timothy 2:12 in the same way he did elsewhere. In 1 Corinthians 11:16, for example, he used his personal authority as the basis for reaffirming an approved practice that was common throughout first-century churches.

Paul wrote that women should not be involved in two aspects of the public worship assembly: They are neither "to teach or exercise authority over a man." In this much-disputed statement several points need to be clarified.

In verse 12, Paul explained that women are permitted neither to teach men nor to exercise authority over men in the worship assembly. Instead, as he had already directed in verse 11, they are to receive instruction with an inner attitude of quietness and submission to the truth of God's Word (and His chosen teachers). The real question now, is why? In light of his references to other women who taught, why does he seem to change?

Paul continued his discussion by giving two reasons why he is instructing women in the worship assembly to learn in a quiet and submissive manner rather than to hold a position of teaching and exercising authority over a man and he does that by making pointed reference to something that is very important to God.

In verses 13 and 14 Paul refers to the Genesis accounts of the creation and Fall of mankind. Paul uses a common rabbinic method of referring to the Old Testament, a method known as summary citation. He uses the summary statement in 1 Timothy 2:13 to point the reader to the entire passage describing the creation of man and woman (Gen. 2:4-24), and in 1 Timothy 2:14 he referred back to the account detailing the Fall (Gen. 3:1-25). Paul was not limiting his focus to two specific, isolated thoughts; rather, he was drawing on two complete narratives. In typical rabbinic fashion, Paul was making an analogical application based on the Genesis text. He was stating that according to the Genesis 2 account, Adam was first created; and the implication is that Adam's chronological primacy in creation carried with it some degree of authority.

Paul was not saying that the Genesis account teaches the ontological superiority of the male over the female. Nor was he stating that his prohibition on women teaching is found in the Genesis account. He is, however, showing how his instruction harmonizes with the design of the Creator in this world, and how the Creator looked to Adam to give response, and be responsible for what had gone wrong. The unstated application of his argument, then, is that just as in creation the final authority rested with the man, so in the church this order should be maintained.

In Genesis 3, the serpent tempted the woman to disobey God by eating of the fruit that had been forbidden to her. The serpent deceived her and she ate. Immediately after her own fall into sin she offered the forbidden fruit to her husband. He willingly ate and also fell into sin. In this scene a reversal of roles has occurred. The ultimate responsibility before God rested with Adam, who allowed himself to be knowingly led astray by his wife.

That God considered Adam ultimately responsible, rather than Eve, is clear not only from Romans 5:12, which states that "through one man sin entered into the world," but also by the fact that the all-knowing God first asked not Eve but Adam to explain his actions. Further, in Genesis 3:17, God told Adam that the curse would come on the earth "because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, 'You shall not eat from it.'" The term "listened to" means "obeyed" in this case, as it often does in the Hebrew Old Testament.

Paul's point is that this role reversal that caused such devastation at the beginning must not be repeated in the church. The woman must not be the one who leads the man in obedience to her. Thus when the teaching of the Word of God in the assembly occurs, a qualified male elder should fill the role of teacher.

In the 14th chapter of First Corinthians, we see a similar utterance from Paul, where he says: "let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law". Apparently the situation here in Corinth was similar in nature to that at Ephesus, but far more clearly defined. Pauls dissertation on gifts, and especially on the speaking in tongues fairly well defines the existence of a major problem within the assembly. Because of this, it may be fairly extrapolated that the dictums of "keeping silent" were more cultural in nature. Some even go so far as to say it applies only to that particular church. The problem with this that does arise is Paul's further statement in 1 Cor. 14:37, where he says:"if any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord." This in itself tends to take these commands out of the realm of applying only to one church (a cultural interpretation/application), and establishes that they are reasonably expected to be applied in all. But we still have a major problem to consider. How could Paul acknowledge certain women as teachers, prophetesses, servants (deaconesses) and leaders of the church, and commend them for their roles, while commanding that women keep silent?

Go back to the passage in Timothy, where Paul goes out of his way to draw the parallels between the creation/fall account, and his descriptions of how women (and men) were to act in the assembly.

Paul first establishes the order of creation, which is further carried out in the ancient Jewish laws of primogeniture. These laws established several things. The firstborn was privy to certain additional rights and privileges, but was also constrained by certain responsibilities. The eldest was responsible to the patriarch for the actions and well-being of younger siblings, as well as carrying out certain duties that the others were exempted from. Responsibility is the key word here, and is clearly spelled out in the account of the fall of Adam. While Eve was deceived (contrast with Paul's talk about women being led astray), Adam willingly disobeyed. And when God called them to account, He did NOT ask Eve to explain her deception....He required the answer from Adam.

Also, Paul speaks about the heart attitude of both men and women, and that attitude was to be one of subservience, humility, and meekness (teachability).

It would then appear that while women can, and should, minister in the Church of Christ, there are certain "rules of order" that should be apparent to all, and in place before that ministry can be blessed of God.

First, no person, man or woman, should be a novice, or newcomer to the faith (1 Tim. 3:6). Second, they should hold the faith (and its doctrines) in a pure manner (1 Tim. 3:9). Third, they should be held in high esteem by those who are not in the faith (1 Tim. 3:7). Fourth, they should be married (1 Tim. 3:2), have a family that is also in the faith (1 Tim. 3:4), and have been proven in ministry PRIOR to being given any office (1 Tim. 3:10).

If a woman should desire the office of deacon, elder, pastor or teacher, she should be subject to all of these just as much as any man, and further, should assume such a role ONLY as being subject to, and in subjection to, her husband as the spiritual head of the family. This, and this alone, fits the apparent pattern decreed by God, and referenced by Paul.

Women who minister apart from, or in contravention to these "rules" run the very real risk of being found to fight against God.

I'll make further note here for those in churches who will not heed these words, either for or against. Many churches today who make a firm stance against women in ministry should look to their own laundry first. When they are full of deacons and elders who are twice, thrice, or even four times married and divorced, have unsaved family members, or are actively involved in illicit and illegal affairs (business and personal), then they have no right or place to command obedience to scripture. This also applies to those who push the envelope FOR women.