I’m currently attending a weekly prayer and Bible study group. The group is led by two women, Sarah and Heather. The session lasts for about an hour, and we sing traditional hymns, pray, and listen to Sarah and Heather speaking about Jesus and the Bible.
At the end of one session, a couple of weeks ago, I got chatting to a man who was sitting next to me. He strongly believes that women should not be leaders in the church, and is confident that this is what the Bible teaches.
I know that in the Anglican church there is an ongoing debate about the role of women and I was wondering whether the situation is as black and white as the man from the Bible study group was implying. So I did a little research, and I think the following points are key:
- None of the apostles were women. However, we read in Luke that there were some women who supported Jesus and the apostles in their work:
Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, 2 and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3 and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means. (Luke 8:1-3)
- When Jesus was crucified, the apostles left but we are told that some of Jesus’ female disciples stayed by the cross to mourn:
55 And many women who followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to Him, were there looking on from afar, 56 among whom were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons. (Matthew 27:55-56)
- On the day of Pentecost, which was the day the church was birthed, we read that both men and women joined:
14 And believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women (Acts 5:14)
All of the above scriptures show that women were certainly accepted into the early church, but what does the Bible teach about the specific point of women being church leaders?
- In defence of women being church leaders, the main argument comes from the following scripture:
28 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. (Galatians 3:28)
- The contrary stance, however, is that men and women are to hold different roles in church. We find various scriptures supporting this view in the New Testament. The following scriptures reveal that deacons and bishops are to be male:
12 Let deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well. (1 Timothy 3:12)
This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work. 2 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; (1 Timothy 3:1-2)
- Perhaps the most controversial scriptures concerning the role of women are those which talk about female submission:
12 And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. (1 Timothy 2:12)
34 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. (1 Corinthians 14:34)
An important point which feeds into this discussion is that of the ‘inerrancy’ of scripture. If we believe that the 66 books of the Bible are the perfect Word of God, then we must take the above scriptures very seriously. If, on the other hand, we believe that scripture is inspired but imperfect, then we can consider factors such as historical context when trying to understand the Bible, and perhaps take a more liberal view.
What are your views on the role of women in church? Please feel free to add to this discussion by leaving a comment. I’m sure there are many relevant factors that I have not touched upon in this post.