Roles of Men and Women in the Church: Objections Overruled

As I rather expected, the feminists, and their (unwitting?) allies in the church came out in force to attack us for our recent article correcting the understanding of the roles of men and women in the church. Numerous objections were raised to basically everything I wrote. I’m going to deal with each one in turn. None of them have any basis in either Scripture, or reality.

The first objection given to me was that there was a female apostle listed in Romans 16:7 by the name of Junia. Junia is a female Roman name, and the individual, along with another person, a man, is referred to as an apostle so this is a plausible objection. This, however, assumes that “apostle” in this verse refers to a teaching position. It is not an apostle of Christ as Paul was (those were chosen by God and exclusively male). It can only be described as an apostle of the church in a most general sense. The Greek word is “ἀποστόλοις”(apostolos) which simply means an ambassador or delegate of the Gospel. That role is literally extended to every single Christian (2 Cor 5:20). Note that the verse specifically says that these individuals were of note among the apostles and apostles is plural. Why are they of note? Because they were Christians before Paul reached them. Junia was not mentioned in the context of church leadership and thus, even if female, should not be regarded as an example of female leadership in the church. Over two dozen people are mentioned at the end of Romans 16, including several whole households. Were all of them leaders in the small church in Rome, including household children?

The second objection I got has to do with the aforementioned Priscilla and Aquila. It was noted that Priscilla’s name is always mentioned first and that they took Apollos into their house to teach him more perfectly what the word of the Lord was. Both of those statements are true. To which my response is: so what? We have clear statements in Scripture that women are not to lead worship, or even to not usurp authority over men, and every listed church office is expressly limited to me. We cannot let the vague interpret the clear. The clear should be used to interpret the vague. Trying to argue that because Priscilla’s name was listed first means she was taking authority in the church is pure desperation. That is never stated. Perhaps her name is listed first because Paul/Luke met her first or knew her better? Or perhaps she was more outgoing than her husband (not uncommon). There is no indication here that Priscilla was doing any leading in the church, or that she was usurping the authority that belonged to her husband.

While Priscilla was not fulfilling church leadership roles, this did not preclude her from being involved in ministry. She clearly was and Paul mentions numerous other women who were. Some of the backlash I got stemmed from women misunderstanding this point. I never said women should not be involved in ministry. They absolutely should be. However, leadership positions in the church, teaching positions over men, and leading of worship are reserved for men.

Another misunderstanding came from my statement that women should not lead corporate worship. Consider for a moment what a church service is. Music is not commanded for a service, but preaching is. When we come together to worship, the primary way we do so is through the preaching and teaching of the word. Therefore, the leadership of corporate worship is done by the pastors, elders and deacons…all of whom are to be men. It makes sense then that any form of corporate worship, which would include any music in which the congregation participates, or in which any mixed group participates, be also led by men, as all other forms of corporate worship are restricted to male leadership.

The third objection was the least surprising, that being Deborah. Of course the story of Deborah is an inspiring one, with God using her and Barak to wipe out the enemies of Israel. However,, there are a couple of reasons why Deborah (and other old testament female prophets, of which there is at least one), should not be considered justification for women usurping men’s roles in the church. First, the church did not exist yet. The roles of men and women in the church had not been established yet because there was no church. Therefore attempting to import Deborah as justification for breaking God’s commandments in the church is both spurious and ridiculous.

Further, note what Deborah says to Barak when Barak objects to going without her. “And she said, I will surely go with thee: notwithstanding the journey that thou takest shall not be for thine honour; for the LORD shall sell Sisera into the hand of a woman. And Deborah arose, and went with Barak to Kedesh.” Note that Barak lost all the honor that should be due to a conquering soldier because he refused to lead the way God intended. A woman named Jael ended up slaying Sisera with a tent peg through his temple. Barak lost out because he refused to do his manly duty and lead.

Female leadership in the Bible only seems to happen when Israel has lost its way completely. Note what Isaiah 3:12 says “As for my people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O my people, they which lead thee cause thee to err, and destroy the way of thy paths.” Note who is leading Israel and causing them to err: women and children. Men are not taking leadership, so women are leading and Israel is sinning. Note that Deborah rose up in a time when Israel had been wicked, and no men would stand. It was, in a sense, a reflection on how wicked Israel was that God had to use a woman, rather than a man. Female leadership does occur in the Old Testament, but it is the exception, not the rule. Further, if we want to use exceptions, perhaps we should point to Athaliah, the woman who murdered all but one of her grandchildren to maintain power in Judah?

There are a couple women mentioned in the new testament who are referred to as prophets. However there is no office of prophet in the new testament church. Further, since prophecy has ceased in the church (see below), female prophets are completely irrelevant to how the church conducts itself.

Another objection comes from Phebe being identified as a “servant” of the church of Cenchrea in Romans 16:1. The word for servant is the same word used for “deacon” when Paul discusses those. However, like the word for apostle, the word has multiple meanings. Jesus uses it multiple times where it can only mean “servant”, Paul uses it to mean “minister” in the sense of serving, and even uses it in association with a civil magistrate. Further, when Paul discusses deacons, he specifies that they must be “husband of one wife”. In other words, male. We need to interpret the unclear with the clear. Since Paul explicitly says deacons need to be male, Phebe couldn’t be a deacon. However, she could have been a worker in the church and undoubtedly was.

A further objection was that the verses Paul wrote in both 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy regarding the roles of women in the church are only relevant to the culture at the time, which, according to the objector, was matriarchal (1 Timothy) and the church culture which was permitting confusion (1 Corinthians). Both of these objections fundamentally misunderstand Scripture. Scripture is not limited to the cultural context in which it was written. It is relevant everywhere, to everyone, for all time. Does the objector believe God is unable to write a book in which every verse is relevant to all cultures at all times? It can be helpful to understand the background yes, but that does not mean that the verses do not inform our understanding of how to live or of how to conduct church services. I will take this a step further. 2 Tim: 3:16 “All scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” Sounds an awful lot like we’re supposed to read, understand, and apply the entire Bible doesn’t it?

Just for the sake of the objector, let’s look at those verses again. 1 Timothy 2:9-14 teaches women should be modest (another thing feminists hate), and that they should be silent in the church in terms of teaching. Note that verses 12-14 say “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.” If we took that exactly at face value, with no context, women shouldn’t teach in churches at all, even other women! Why? Because Adam was formed first and given headship (see the passages on the roles of men and women in marriage, which feminists also hate), and the women was deceived by the serpent in the Garden and thus has the tendency to be more easily deceived by the serpent in churches. Of course we know from context in Titus that older women are supposed to teach younger women so this statement is tempered a little. But nowhere does the Bible permit women to teach men.

Going a step further, let’s look at 1 Corinthians 14. Most of the chapter, as an objector rightly pointed out, is regarding prophecies, with a few verses on the behavior of women inserted in the middle. Correctly, the objector pointed out that this is likely pointing to women not being involved in interpreting or presenting prophecy. Interestingly, the same objector attempted to use Deborah to justify her position that women should teach. That seems mighty contradictory. However, what is meant by prophecy?

The word used for prophecy in 1 Corinthians 14 is “propheteuo” and has several meanings, most of which refer to the telling of the future. However, one meaning is to “speak under inspiration”. I suspect, since prophecy is not active in the current church (nevermind the bizarre claims of the wacky Charismatic crowd), that this is the meaning intended. What would that mean in the context of the church? Obviously it does not mean that the people speaking are divinely inspired to produce new Scripture. The Bible is complete and no new revelation is being added. Instead, it would mean that the people speaking are rightly dividing the Word of truth with the divine assistance of the Holy Spirit. So this objection falls flat as well, because the passage is teaching that women are not to teach the Scripture in a church setting! Further, it backs up my use of it to say women should not teach in church!

I recognize it is emotionally unpleasant to some women (and men) to be told the Bible says they cannot do certain things. It cuts across the vein of the feminist culture that teaches women can do anything a man can do, usually better. This lie is often even subtly hinted at in our churches. Never-the-less, Scripture is clear. Women are forbidden from the pastorate, eldership, deaconship, or worship leading/teaching roles above men in the church. I’m sorry of that offends some of you ladies out there, but that’s not coming from me, that’s Bible. If you don’t like it, take it up with the Lord. He wrote it, I’m just telling you what He said.

Do you know what’s going to happen when you die? Are you completely sure? If you aren’t, please read this or listen to this. You can know where you will spend eternity. If you have questions, please feel free to contact us, we’d love to talk to you.

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