The Role of Women in the Church

This article is not going to make me any friends. I know that.  But since it seems that mainstream Christianity is, again, attempting to wrestle with this issue, I thought I should address it. Please understand, I am in no way attempting to belittle, undermine, or attack anyone if they have a different set of beliefs on this issue than I do. This issue, like that of creation, is not a salvation issue. However, just because it is not a salvation issue does not mean it is meaningless or unimportant. While I do not mean this as a hit piece,  I will take a stand unashamedly for the whole Bible, regardless of whether that stand is popular or not. You have been warned. With that in mind, let’s begin.

I want to emphasize here that I will not appeal to church tradition to make my arguments here. Traditions are wonderful things and I am very much a traditionalist. However, traditions are created by man and, as such, are very fallible.  If the argument is to be won, it must be won based on the sacred authority of Scripture and Scripture alone.

With that in mind, let us examine what the Bible teaches about the roles of women in the church. The most obvious passage comes from 1 Timothy 2:11-14. “Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve.  And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.”  Let’s break that passage down.

1 Timothy is a pastoral epistle. This means it was written by Paul, to a pastor, in this case, Timothy,  to help him guide the church.  Chapter two of this epistle is written discussing how the church should relate to the government, and how women within the church ought to behave.  Lest anyone assume the Bible discriminates, the very next chapter discusses how pastors and church leaders ought to behave, and uses exclusively masculine pronouns. I’ll pass over the descriptions of modesty since that is largely irrelevant to the current conversation.

Verse eleven of chapter 2 says that a woman is to learn in silence.  In the Greek the word for learn is the word “manthano” which means to learn or understand. The word for silence is “hesuchia” which means “stillness” or “ceasing from language”.  However, the key word of the verse is “subjection”, translated from the Greek “hupotage”.  In Greek, this word means “subordination”. It implies a set order of things in which one person leads and the other follows.  Thus verse eleven can be read as telling women to be subordinate by being silent in learning.

Verse twelve says that the woman is not to teach in church because that is usurping authority God gave to the man. The word teach is the word “didasko” which literally means “teach”.  The word silence is the same as in verse eleven. The key word is in this verse is “authenteo” which is translated “usurp authority over” but can also be translated “dominate”. In other words, for a woman to teach in a church service is literally for her to flip from the role prescribed in verse eleven, ie subjection, to domination.  Considering that women are prescribed in Colossians 3:18 to submit to their husbands, this would seem to rule out any married women teaching in the church.

1 Corinthians 14 also comments on women speaking in church with Paul writing in verses 34-35 ” 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.  And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.” These verses reinforce what is said in 1 Timothy about the role of women in the church.

With all the Bible background covered, what does it mean in practice? I think Paul makes it very clear that women are not meant to teach in church, at least in respect to teaching men.   This is not because women are somehow less than men, or unworthy. Many women are much more knowledgeable about the Bible than many men. However, the Bible gives us the reason why women are not to teach in church in the passage in 1 Timothy.  It is based on the relationship between Adam and Eve.  Adam was created first and, as mentioned in Colossians 3, the husband is the head of the wife.  Therefore because of Genesis, because of the order God built into creation, men are meant to be leaders in the church.

The reasoning behind this Genesis order comes from the picture of Christ and the church. Christ is portrayed as the groom, and the church as His bride.  This example is supposed to be lived out in the lives of married couples, one of the major reasons gay marriage is unbiblical. A similar line of reasoning explains the roles of men and women in the church. The pastor is meant to be male as he is meant to treat the church in the same way Christ did.  The symbolism is similar to the marriage relationship

Based on this, we can draw some conclusions about the role women are meant to have in the church. Based on the roles described in 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy, we can conclude that women are not meant to be pastors or teachers over men in a church. This is further confirmed by the description of both pastors and deacons as “husband of one wife” in 1 Timothy.  This, however, does not mean that women are not permitted to be involved in church. There is no prohibition on a woman playing a musical instrument or teaching a children’s or women’s class for example.  The only prohibitions are on teaching men.

I’m sure there will be people who are unhappy with this article.  I have attempted to address this issue from a strictly Biblical perspective. I know this is somewhat outside what I usually do, but because this is rapidly becoming a major issue in some of the more conservative Christian denominations in the US. Biblically there is no argument that can be made in support of women preaching.  The arguments that are made are largely utilitarian and emotional rather than Biblical.



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