Truth That Matters

"What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?" - Jesus Christ

The roles of men and women in the local church

When we study the roles of men and women, it is important to realize that positionally, all are equal in Christ:-

"There is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus." - Galatians 3:28

Both men and women were created in God's image, and both men and women are redeemed by Christ. There is no question about one being superior to another. It's a little like this: the eye is not superior to the ear. But the functions of the eye and the ear are different. Beauty lies in variety. Positionally, men and women are the same in Christ, but when it comes to the functions, there is a variety that God has ordained - adherence to it results in beauty. Notice that even in the creation, although the man and women were equal, there was an order: the man was created first. The woman was created afterwards, for the man. The man was not created for the woman. That these facts are relevant in the New Testament is made clear by Paul's reference to them in 1 Corinthians 11:8-9.

What the men should be doing

The men should lead in prayer (1 Timothy 2:8) and carry out the offices of the church.

What the women should be doing

  • Adorning themselves with modesty (1 Timothy 2:9)
  • Adorning themselves with good works (1 Timothy 2:10).
  • Learning in silence and subjection (1 Timothy 2:11).
  • Instructing younger women (Titus 2:4)
  • Being servants (deacons) of their local churches (Romans 16:1)
  • Being missionaries. There were women who helped Paul in his missionary work (Philippians 4:3)
  • Personally instructing men. Priscilla instructed Apollos (Acts 18:26)
  • Showing hospitality (1 Timothy 5:10)
  • Caring for the poor or underprivileged (1 Timothy 5:10)

What the women should not be doing

Women should not be:-
  • Teaching the church as a whole (1 Timothy 2:11-12)
  • Speaking in church(leading the gatherings). The silence has to do with the teaching - there's nothing wrong in saying amen or singing (1 Corinthians 14:34-35).

The reasons for these prohibitions are:-

  • Creation order: Adam was made before Eve - 1 Timothy 2:13
  • Moral order: Eve was deceived, not Adam - 1 Timothy 2:14.
  • Scriptural order: The law says so (in the OT law, about which Jesus said that he has not come to destroy it, women did not lead public worship. Only Levite males were priests) - 1 Corinthians 14:34

Note two things about these reasons:-

  1. None of these reasons have been annulled by the redemption that the Lord Jesus has provided for us. Why would Paul even mention these things in the New Testament if Christ's death on the cross annulled these things?
  2. None of these reasons have anything to do with the culture in Paul's time and place - they are based on universal principles such as the law, creation, and the fall. Greek culture was very liberal about women's roles.


What about judges that God used in the Old Testament, such as Deborah? Don't they prove that it's okay for women to be preachers, pastors/elders, and so on?

In the New Testament, the Bible has specific instructions about men and women's roles, as I've indicated above. In the face of this, to use OT examples of what went on during a time of spiritual bankruptcy in Israel to figure out how church (an exclusively New Testament entity) is to be done today is the height of misapplying scripture. We have to take things in their proper context, rightly dividing (distinguishing) the word of truth (2 Tim 2:15).

What about Junia the female apostle (Romans 16:7)?
The word "apostle" means "sent one" or "messenger". This title was used for Paul and the eleven disciples of Christ in a special sense, and also for others such as Barnabas (Acts 14:14). What's the difference between the "special sense" and the "general sense"? The signs of an apostle in the special sense that Paul and the eleven disciples were apostles included seeing Jesus Christ physically (1 Cor 9:1) and working signs and wonders (2 Corinthians 12:12). There is no scriptural evidence that these things happened with Junia, and so we have to conclude that like Barnabas, Junia was an apostle in the general sense, a messenger. Like the other apostles who were messengers of the good news, she may also have been one. The Bible does not forbid a woman from being a missionary.

When God created men and women, he gave them equal authority (Genesis 1:28). Why the difference in the local church then?
In Gen 1:28, God gives man and woman the same authority over the earth. He does not give woman authority over man (the issue in the local church). I repeat: the question of men and women's ministry is not about who is superior or inferior, but about what roles God wants different people carrying out. It is strange that whereas Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, quotes Genesis to say that women should not lead in the church, others quote Genesis in an attempt to show that they can!!

In heaven, there will be no sexuality (Matthew 22:30). If we are heavenly minded (as we should be, Col 3:1), we should not focus on a person's gender but only on his/her spirituality.
In heaven, no one works to earn their living. Does that mean we should quit our jobs if we're heavenly minded?! See the fallacy in misapplying things in one context to another! When God has given us instructions specifically for the church on earth, it is foolish to look to heaven to figure out how church is to be conducted. Yes, we should be heavenly minded. So sex/romance should not be the main thing in our life even if we're married. Nor should career, or any other earth-specific thing. This does not mean we deny our sexuality that God has created, and fail to obey the distinctions He has specified in His word. When I say that a woman should not be teaching in church, it does not mean that I'm looking at her as a sex object. It means that I'm acknowledging scriptural guidelines. These guidelines exist irrespective of my attitude towards women (good or bad!).

Paul was just telling uneducated Corinthian women to behave themselves. He did not mean that all women should be silent in the church.
Note the following:-

  1. 1 Timothy 2:11-12 makes it clear that women cannot teach in the church. It is not directed to the Corinthians but to Timothy, who was not in Corinth but at Ephesus.
  2. In my country (India), most women are uneducated. This does not make them call out to their husbands across the church hall in the middle of the service. You don't have to be educated to know that it's not polite to interrupt someone speaking in public. So the notion that Corinthian women were calling out to their husbands and abusing their freedom is pure conjecture. In any case, if that was the real problem, Paul could have said, "Women, don't interrupt the preacher!". Why should he give a general commandment?
  3. People from Ephesus and Corinth may have been influenced by the prevalent goddess-centric culture that may have considered women as superior to men. This may have necessitated Paul's directions to them about men and women. But notice that Paul does not merely say that the goddess-Diana cultists are wrong. (He makes no reference to them!!). He gives a general commandment about what women should be doing without specifying whether they are influenced by anyone. So it's wrong to conclude that Paul was "severe" on the Corinthians or Ephesians because they were influenced by Diana worship.

Isn't there a reference to women praying and prophesying in 1 Corinthians 11:5?
Scripture does not contradict itself. On the one hand, we are told about women praying. On the other hand, we're told women should be silent! How do we reconcile these two? By noting two things:-

  1. The "silence" directive is about teaching or exercising authority.
  2. This "silence" directive pertains to a meeting in which the entire church (that is, men also) is present.

Even unbelievers know that it's possible to pray silently. The Bible does not forbid women speaking/praying audibly in a meeting in which only women are present, or a family prayer meeting (which is not church!). Besides if a church were having a meeting in which individuals were pouring out their personal needs to God in prayer, there is nothing wrong in a woman praying audibly in such a meeting.

What about many existing women preachers who seem to have an anointed and fruitful ministry?
The test to determine if something is right or wrong is to find what scripture says about it, not to see how successful those who practice it are. What looks great to us may not be pleasing to God. According to Matthew 7:22-23 and 1 Corinthians 3:13-15 there will be lots of unpleasant surprises when Christ judges people.

What about woman missionaries?
I can't think of any place where the Bible forbids women from preaching the gospel to men. The women mentioned in Php 4:3 may have supplemented Paul's sermons to non-Christians. However, Paul's directives in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:10-11 are about women in church, not a "missionary and heathen" setting. It would be most dishonoring to God to confuse directives about how Christians should evangelize non-Christians and how Christians should worship corporately/instruct each other.

Many who are against women preachers read books written by women. What about that?
That depends on the kind of book:-

  • If a woman writes a book to instruct men and women, she is sinning, since she is doing the equivalent of preaching in church to men and women. Men should not be reading such books.
  • If she writes a book addressed to women, such as, say, "How to be a good wife and mother", she's just obeying Titus 2:4. There's nothing wrong in women reading such books.
  • A woman may write a book narrating her experiences, perhaps how she got saved, or what happened when she was a missionary, and so on; nowhere does the Bible imply that men cannot read such a book, or listen to a woman narrate her experiences.