Putting Church Women in Their Place (Part One)

church, theology

The heart of Christ is not only the heart of a man but has in it also the tenderness and gentleness of a woman. Jesus was not a man in the rigid sense of manhood as distinct from womanhood, but, as the Son of Man, the complete Head of Humanity.

– A.B. Simpson

There has been a long standing oppression against the idea of women in ministry, or leadership in general. While this issue translates over into other spheres, I want to focus on the church realm in this post. There are many who believe that women can be gifted by God, just as long as no men are “under” her and/or she isn’t operating in a governmental role in the church. This has caused many gifts and callings to be oppressed within the church, thus cutting of the essence of many individuals by stripping them of their purpose.

Much of the confusion on this topic exists because of poor hermeneutics and a spirit of control. In addition, poor translation of the original text also creates much confusion. This thought process has caused quite a bit of practices in various church streams. These include everything women not walking in the pulpit to women bashing other women for proclaiming to have callings that have been declared only for men by men. While this post won’t be an exhaustive study on this topic, it will confront and dismantle two lies regarding the place of women in ministry and reveal that God is not for gender inequality.

1. Women can be in authoritative positions over a man.

I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent (1 Timothy 2:12).

This is a popular verse that is used to limit the types of leadership positions woman can operate in within the church. As is with many scriptures, the translation into the English language doesn’t accurately communicate the the original intent.

Two of the main tools for interpreting scripture are to examine what the message that is being spoken means to the speaker as well as the original audience in relation to that time period. This is one of those instances were simply saying, “I know what the Lord said,” with no scriptural foundation is insufficient. The most used word in the New Testament for authority is exousia. This passages uses a different word. The Greek word used for authority in this verse is authentein. This is the only time this particular word for authority is used in the New Testament. Prior to diving into the meaning of this word let’s take a look at what was happening historically at that time.

During this time there was an uprise of aggressive and violent behavior being demonstrated by women. There was a body of women who were spreading Gnostic heresies in that particular region. These teachings had the potential to cause a lot of confusion for the newly established churches of that time. This was a group of uneducated women who were causing an uproar amongst the other women in the Ephesian church through the heresies that they were spreading. These women became very aggressive and demanded audiences to listen to them. Some of these women’s doctrines were so twisted that they began to proclaim that Eve was created prior to Adam. To top it off, they even proclaimed that freedom came to the world through Eve’s agreement with Satan. This is why you see Paul’s tone change in these passages, to address the demonic doctrines that were being delivered to the church.

During that time many were getting saved from out of the occult, in which the fertility goddess Diana was the head. To learn more about Diana you can read Acts 19. Those who were being saved still held on to some of the occult teachings and created much confusion. Paul, as an apostolic father, was imparting wisdom to his son on how to properly lead in this time in history.

Another reason that this particular verse is used to bind women is because of the connotation that the majority has regarding authority figures. For many the word authority is translated as control instead of servant. Jesus, the Supreme Authoritative figure, defined authority as washing feet (John 13:8). Every promotion that is attained in church leadership is an invitation to wash more feet. The unhealthy need for control that exists amongst leaders within the church create a culture of slavery and bondage instead of freedom and empowerment.

The word authentein that is used in this verse means to forcefully dominate. The connotation of this particular word in the ancient Greek is violence and often murder. Paul was instructing Timothy not to allow women to violently take authority, not that women couldn’t operate in a office of authority. He was speaking to a specific issue, not women as a whole for all time.

Paul addresses this same issue and instructs for them to be silenced in Titus 1:10-11. Only this time it is the men who are being silenced. We wouldn’t dare use this verse to say that men couldn’t preach or have positions in authority now would we?

2. Women Can Teach kids, but be Apostles and Prophets… no way!

And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues (1 Corinthians 12:28).

According to Ephesians 2:20, apostles and prophets are the foundation upon with God builds His church. This would indicate that these are two of the highest ranking roles within the body.

In the present day church, there is a trend that exists where it is okay for women to teach children, youth, lead worship and even be over hospitality, but don’t mention a position that puts them in an authoritative position over an adult man. Apostles and Prophets are high governmental roles within the church of which history shows us is full of leading ladies.

Let’s check out the female prophets:

Miriam (Ex. 15:20) sister of Aaron and Moses who helped to deliver the Jews out of Egypt.

Deborah (Judges 4:4) was a leader of God’s beloved Israel.

Huldah (2 Kings 22:14) was one of the seven major female prophets of Israel.

Anna (Luke 2:36) was a woman who prophesied about the coming of Jesus in the temple.

If God is okay with a woman being a prophet surely He supports female pastors right (ranking lower in office)?

Now to the female apostle:

Greet Andronicus and Junias, my relatives who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was (Romans 16:7).

Junias was a first century female name. There is no rebuttal against this fact. In this passage both Junias and her husband are listed as being “outstanding” amongst the apostles. There is a lot of controversy regarding whether or not this reference is saying that they were great as apostles or great to the apostles of that time.

One of the great early church fathers, and one who known as one of the greatest preachers of the early church even acknowledge Junias’ effectiveness as a female apostle in one of his early writing. This is same father fought against the abuse of authority by both ecclesiastical and political leaders. St. John Chrysostom (c. 345-407) wrote,

“And indeed to be at all is a great thing. But to be even amongst these of note, just consider what a great encomium this is! But they were of note owing to their works, to their achievements. Oh! How great is the devotion of this woman, that she should be even counted worthy of the appreciation of apostle!” (Homily 31, Homilies of St. John Chrysostom Archbishop of Constantinople on the Epistle of St. Paul the Apostle to the Romans, Translated by Philip Schaff).

To further prove what Paul was alluding to in this passage, it is important to look at the context of the rest of this chapter. Prior to verse 7, Paul commends Phoebe, Prisca, Aquila, and Mary for both their leadership and ministry roles. The first half of this chapter is Paul addressing women for their specific roles in ministry, which further alludes to the idea that Paul was indeed celebrating this couple on their leadership and achievements in the apostolic.

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