The Ministry of Women

The word of God says much about the ministry of women. In the New Testament they are often seen serving the church, laboring in the work of the gospel. We see this in Romans 16:1-2: "I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea, that you may receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and assist her in whatever business she has need of you; for indeed she has been a helper of many and of myself also." A few verses later, in Romans 16:6, we read: "Greet Mary, who labored much for us." Acts 9:36 tells us that "At Joppa there was a certain disciple named Tabitha, which is translated Dorcas. This woman was full of good works and charitable deeds which she did." Acts 16:14 tells of "a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshiped God." In verse 15 she gave the apostles lodging. Finally, Philippians 4:3 says: "And I urge you also, true companion, help these women who labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the Book of Life."

Women also figure prominently in the rest of Divine history. "By faith Sarah herself also received strength to conceive seed, and she bore a child when she was past the age, because she judged Him faithful who had promised." (Hebrews 11:11) Rebekah, in obedience to God, crossed the desert to marry a man she had never met. (Genesis 24:33-58) Rachael and Leah obeyed the command of the Lord, leaving their childhood home with their husband Jacob. (Genesis 31:3-18) Hebrews 11:23 tells us that it was by faith that Jochebed hid her son Moses three months, not fearing the king's command. (Exodus 2:1-10, 6:20) Rahab hid the spies of Israel and pled for the lives of her family because she believed that "the LORD your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath." (Joshua 2:11) The angel who announced Samson's birth came first to his mother, not his father. And she obeyed the Lord's command, raising Samson a Nazirite from the womb. (Judges 13:1-25, 16:17) Abigail's wisdom saved David from committing murder. (1 Samuel 25:23-34) The wisdom of an unnamed woman saved the city of Abel from destruction. (2 Samuel 20:15-22) Entire books were devoted to the faith of Ruth and Esther, and to the love of Solomon's wife.

In the New Testament, Martha and Mary, the sisters of Lazarus, served Jesus and His followers in their home. (Luke 10:38-42; John 12:1-3) Luke 8:3 tells us of "certain women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities; Mary called Magdalene, out of whom had come seven demons, and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod's steward, and Susanna, and many others who provided for Him from their substance." This Mary Magdalene is mentioned ten times in the gospels. Other women who took part in her godly service were "the mother of Zebedee's sons." (Matthew 27:56) "Mary the mother of James the Less and of Joses, and Salome," (Mark 15:40) Mary the mother of Jesus, "and His mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas." (John 19:25)

The Holy Spirit has often spoken through women. "Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron," led the women of Israel in a song and dance of triumph. (Exodus 15:20) "Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth" (Judges 4:4) led an army that delivered Israel. "Huldah the prophetess, the wife of Shallum the son of Tikvah, the son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe" prophesied of the judgement of Israel. (2 Kings 22:14-20) Isaiah's wife was also called a prophetess. (Isaiah 8:3)

In the New Testament, aside from the words of angels, the first two recorded prophecies were given through women. These were the prophecy of Elizabeth in Luke 1:42-45 and Mary's answer in Luke 1:46-55. After that we read of "Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher... who did not depart from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day." (Luke 2:36-37) When our Lord "rose early on the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene." (Mark 16:9) She, and "the other Mary" (Matthew 28:1) were specifically commanded to "go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him." (Matthew 28:7) Finally, the second epistle of John was addressed to a woman. (2 John 1:1)

1 Timothy 3:11 gives us qualifications for the wife of a deacon. This would seem to indicate that the wives of deacons participate in their work. It would appear that Aquila and Priscilla are an example of this. Acts 18:2 introduces Aquila "with his wife Priscilla." In Acts 18:26 we read that "Aquila and Priscilla" took Apollos aside "and explained to him the way of God more accurately." In Romans 16:3-5 we read: "Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their own necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. Likewise greet the church that is in their house."

But while there are many things women may do in and for the church, they are forbidden to speak in its meetings or to take part in its leadership. This is a very unpopular idea in modern America, but the word of God could not be more clear on the subject. It is plainly stated in two places:

"Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence." (1 Timothy 2:11-12)

"Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church. Or did the word of God come originally from you? Or was it you only that it reached? If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord." (1 Corinthians 14:34-37)

Could this language be stronger or more clear? Some pretend that these passages are not correctly translated. This is simply not true. It would be useless to examine the individual Greek words in these passages. Each Greek word in each of them is correctly rendered in our translation. Almost all widely recognized translations give the same basic meaning in each of these passages. Our translation is essentially unchanged in the King James, American Standard, Revised Standard, New Revised Standard, and New International versions of the Bible; the translation called God's Word to the Nations; and the translations by Helen B. Montgomery, James Moffatt, William Kelly, J. N. Darby, Robert Young, Jay P. Green, and Heinz W. Cassirer, the New Greek English Interlinear New Testament, and the interlinear translations by Alfred Marshall and Thomas Newberry. There are minor differences in other translations charted (1 Timothy 2:11-12) in the back of this book, (1 Corinthians 14:34-37) but the only really significant one is that instead of women, A. S. Worrell and Daniel H. Stern give wives and Richard Francis Weymouth gives "their women." As explained in footnote 7 in the chapter on deacons, this is purely a matter of interpretation.

Some think this instruction was just the correction of a local problem in ancient Corinth. But it is specifically addressed to churches other than the one in Corinth, for it says that women are to "keep silent in the churches," not the church. The Holy Spirit adds that "it is shameful for women to speak in church." This is clearly a statement of a general principle, not just an instruction for a particular church. Indeed, the subject at hand was "all the churches of the saints." We see this in the verse immediately before this passage: "For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints." (1 Corinthians 14:33) Seven chapters earlier, the Apostle, though he was speaking of a different subject, said "And so I ordain in all the churches." (1 Corinthians 7:17) We have already noticed that this book was not only addressed "To the church of God which is at Corinth." It was also addressed to "all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord." (1 Corinthians 1:2) There can therefore be no question that the command to "Let your women keep silent in the churches" was addressed to "all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord."

Some attempt to minimize this rule by calling it Paul's. Many of those who reject it think they are unusually spiritual Christians. Some of them even claim to be prophets, and so they may be, but if they are, let them carefully notice the Apostle's words: "If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord." (1 Corinthians 14:37)

Paul further wrote:

"For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ. But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ." (Galatians 1:10-12)

We need to clearly understand that this rule comes from God, not from Paul.

People have invented many excuses for disobeying this rule, but that is all they are. They are only excuses. Some go so far as to claim that the Holy Spirit has shown them that these Scriptures do not apply to us today. They forget the words "I am the LORD, I do not change." (Malachi 3:6) Their claim cannot possibly be true, for Paul's epistles are part of Scripture, (see 2 Peter 3:15-16) and our Lord Jesus Himself said that "the Scripture cannot be broken." (John 10:35)

One group teaches that the reason for this rule was that the early church included many former prostitutes. These women, they say, had no idea how to behave themselves in the church, so they were commanded to be silent. They cannot even pretend to demonstrate this idea from the Bible. It is not there. Further, I personally know former prostitutes who have surrendered their hearts and lives to the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ. They have been washed in the blood of the Lamb, and are no longer unclean. They are no longer loud and uncouth, but have become beautiful and godly members of the body of Christ. They are now holy women, faultless before God and the Lamb. To say such things is not only an insult to these beautiful sisters, it is a gross insult to that Holy Blood that has washed them from their former sins and made them pure. In Acts 10:15 Peter was told, "What God has cleansed you must not call common."

Another group claims that in the early church men sat in one place and women in another. They say that the women had begun to shout across the church, asking their husbands to ask questions. There is nothing in the entire New Testament to support such an idea. Nowhere does it mention even one church where men sat in one place and women in another, nor does it even hint at the idea that anyone was shouting in the church. Some claim that although the Scriptures say nothing of this, it is mentioned by other ancient writers.*13 Even if this were correct, it would change nothing. If our God intended for us to consider such an idea, He would have included it in the Scriptures. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says that "all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work." This passage makes three distinct points. The first two are that "all Scripture" "is given by inspiration of God" and "is profitable." But the third point is that "all Scripture" makes the man of God "complete," that it makes him "thoroughly equipped for every good work." If we needed to know historical facts from other sources in order to understand Scripture, then the Scriptures alone would not make us "complete," and they would not make us "thoroughly equipped for every good work." No doctrine is reliable if it is based on anything outside of the Bible.

Yet another group sets this rule aside because Galatians 3:27-28 says; "as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus." While this sounds good, it involves a very basic error. They are using their interpretation of the meaning of one Scripture to set aside the express statement of another Scripture. This is unacceptable in a Christian leader. The authority of Scripture is absolute and final. Anyone who rejects any portion of it is disqualified for leadership in the church. (Titus 1:9)

But in recent years a more subtle excuse has begun to be circulated. Certain well known and widely respected Christian leaders have begun to teach that these Scriptures were only deference to cultural norms in the ancient world. This statement has a comfortable and pleasant ring to it. Oh! It's all right. God will go along with the norms of our culture. Don't worry about it. But such an idea should offend a Christian. The very idea is evil. When did God ever bend His will to fit our culture? Indeed, His instruction to us is "do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God." (Romans 12:2) But in addition to being evil, this idea is simply incorrect. Many, if not all, of the heathen religions of the Biblical world had priestesses, that is, women who led the worship of their false god. This well known historical fact proves that the contention is completely unfounded. The cultural norm of the age was that women partook in religious services. In fact, they not only partook, but even lead them. The rule that they must be silent was radical. It was a strange, new idea, as offensive in that day as it is today.

Would to God this exercise were only setting up straw horses, so they could be knocked down. But such is not the case. Every one of these excuses is presently being widely circulated. But it is not enough to explode objections to the commandments of the Lord. We need to examine the reasons God gave for this rule.

As we have noticed, 1 Corinthians 14:34 says "Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says.*14 The words, "as the law also says", do not refer to the commandment that women were to "keep silent in the churches," but rather to the commandment that "they are to be submissive." This is from God's judgement of mankind's first sin. At that time He told the woman:

"I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; In pain you shall bring forth children; Your desire shall be for your husband, And he shall rule over you." (Genesis 3:16)

This is pointed out in our passage in 1 Timothy 2:

"Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression." (1 Timothy 2:11-14)

The woman was put into subjection because she was deceived by the serpent. Although this decree is six thousand years old, God has never revoked it. But He has not only never revoked it. In this passage He expressly says it is still in effect.

This passage also shows that this was God's original intent in the design of creation. This is treated in further detail in 1 Corinthians 11:3-10:

"But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonors his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved. For if a woman is not covered, let her also be shorn. But if it is shameful for a woman to be shorn or shaved, let her be covered. For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. For man is not from woman, but woman from man. Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man. For this reason the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels."

These two reasons, that is, God's judgement of mankind's first sin and His original intent in the design of creation, clearly have nothing to do with any ancient custom or local problem of any kind. They are based entirely in the authority and wisdom of God.

Some basically admit that this is what God says, but say that women have to take the lead in churches because men fail to do so. While we sympathize with any woman who finds herself in such a situation, we must remember what happened to king Saul when the Philistines invaded Israel in 1 Samuel 13:

"Then he waited seven days, according to the time set by Samuel. But Samuel did not come to Gilgal; and the people were scattered from him. So Saul said, Bring a burnt offering and peace offerings here to me.' And he offered the burnt offering. Now it happened, as soon as he had finished presenting the burnt offering, that Samuel came; and Saul went out to meet him, that he might greet him. And Samuel said, What have you done?' And Saul said, When I saw that the people were scattered from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines gathered together at Michmash, then I said, The Philistines will now come down on me at Gilgal, and I have not made supplication to the LORD.' Therefore I felt compelled, and offered a burnt offering.' And Samuel said to Saul, You have done foolishly. You have not kept the commandment of the LORD your God, which He commanded you. For now the LORD would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue. The LORD has sought for Himself a man after His own heart, and the LORD has commanded him to be commander over His people, because you have not kept what the LORD commanded you.'" (1 Samuel 13:8-14)

This act, which appeared to be seeking after God, was actually rebellion. Why? Saul was not authorized to offer sacrifices. He was a king, not a priest. This act of rebellion cost Saul his throne. If this seems far out, and not at all like our God, remember what happened to Moses at the rock of Horeb:

"Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, Take the rod; you and your brother Aaron gather the congregation together. Speak to the rock before their eyes, and it will yield its water; thus you shall bring water for them out of the rock, and give drink to the congregation and their animals.' So Moses took the rod from before the LORD as He commanded him. And Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock; and he said to them, Hear now, you rebels! Must we bring water for you out of this rock?' Then Moses lifted his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came out abundantly, and the congregation and their animals drank. Then the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, Because you did not believe Me, to hallow Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.'" (Numbers 20:7-12)

In this case Moses was God's duly authorized representative. He was acting in the capacity that God had given him. But he did not follow God's instructions. For this one act of disobedience he was not allowed to enter the promised land. Many years later, when it came time for him to die, Moses said:

"Then I pleaded with the LORD at that time, saying: O Lord GOD, You have begun to show Your servant Your greatness and Your mighty hand, for what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do anything like Your works and Your mighty deeds? I pray, let me cross over and see the good land beyond the Jordan, those pleasant mountains, and Lebanon.' But the LORD was angry with me on your account, and would not listen to me. So the LORD said to me: Enough of that! Speak no more to Me of this matter.'" (Deuteronomy 3:23-26)

Why were the details of God's instruction so important? 1 Corinthians 10:1-4 says:

"I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ."

The rock was a picture of our Lord Jesus Himself. The first time the people needed water, God told Moses:

"Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock in Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink." (Exodus 17:6)

This was a beautiful picture of our Lord Jesus being smitten for our sins. On the second occasion Moses was not told to strike the rock, but to speak to it. When he struck it a second time, he spoiled the picture.

The relationship between husbands and their wives is another picture of our Lord Jesus. The husband represents the Lord and the wife represents the church. We find this in Ephesians 5:22-32:

"Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.' This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church."

If a woman teaches a man, she makes God's picture show the church teaching Christ. If she assumes authority over a man, she distorts the picture to show the church assuming authority over its Lord. In addition to subverting God's order in creation, either of these actions spoils His picture of Christ and the church. This is shameful. "It is shameful for women to speak in church." (1 Corinthians 14:35) Some deny this; "but indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God?" (Romans 9:20)

In spite of all this, there are many women who claim that God has called them to the ministry. I personally know some of them. They truly love the Lord Jesus Christ and exert much energy in serving Him; but they are disobeying His rules. The Lord sees their love and appreciates every heart that serves Him. But 2 Timothy 2:5 says that:

"If anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules."

How sad it would be to devote a life of hard work to service for the Lord, only to be disqualified at the judgment because the work had not been performed according to the rules. The word of God warns us of this in 1 Corinthians 3:13-15:

"Each one's work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one's work, of what sort it is. If anyone's work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire."

Such a person will still be in heaven, for "he himself will be saved." But this does not change the fact that "he will suffer loss." How serious will this loss be?

In Matthew 5:19 our Lord said that:

"Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven."

When Moses spoiled the picture, God still gave the people their needed blessing. The "water came out abundantly." In like manner, when women preach God's word, He may still bless it, for it is His word. But this does not change His rules concerning such ministry. Although these may seem to be among the least of God's commandments; anyone who breaks them, and teaches men so, shall be among those who are "called least in the kingdom of heaven." Can anything be worth such a monstrous loss?

All this does not mean that women can not have ministries. In Titus 2:3-5, the Holy Spirit instructed "the older women" to be "teachers of good things" and to "admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed." Thus we see that Scripture not only allows women to teach other women, it specifically tells them to do this. In addition to teaching each other, Scripture does not forbid them to teach children. Experience shows that most women are more suited to this task than most men. Further, in Acts 16:13 we read of a prayer meeting that was "customarily" held on a riverside in the city of Philippi. The Apostle Paul and his companions attended this meeting and "sat down and spoke to the women who met there." From this we learn that this was a women's prayer meeting. The Apostle Paul is accused of being a "woman hater." But he attended this meeting. This appears to be a Scriptural sanction for women's prayer meetings. Finally, the Holy Spirit speaks through prophetesses; for "Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven... had four virgin daughters who prophesied." (Acts 21:8-9) As women are forbidden to speak "in the Churches," they cannot prophesy there, but this plainly shows that they can do so in other places.

Thus we see that women are specifically authorized to teach each other and to prophesy outside of the church, and they are not forbidden to teach children. Women's prayer meetings appear to be sanctioned; but even if they are not, such meetings are not forbidden. In addition to this, women can have almost limitless ministries of love and caring. The only things forbidden are for women to speak in church and to teach or assume authority over men.

*13 This appears to be an assumption based upon ancient Jewish tradition. Matthew 15:1-11 and Mark 7:1-15 clearly show that this is not a safe assumption, for in these places our Lord strongly condemned the tradition that the Jews had added to the law of Moses. Return

*14 Some complain that quoting this Scripture is an attempt to put us back under the law. They think this because of the words, "as the law also says." But the word "also" does not indicate a return to the law, but rather that this rule remains the same today as it was under the law. Return

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