The Role of Women in Church

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, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 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. 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.

2 comments

  1. Hello Steven!

    Thank you for an interesting post.

    Students and scholars of the Holy Bible will have to grapple with contradictions between texts of the Holy Bible if they presume that it (a compilation created by men) is entirely and exclusively the perfect word of God who is uncreated! We Christians have the added problem of making sense of Hebrew texts from the OT, or Torah, knowing that Hebrew was written without use of vowels, which makes it ambiguous when taken out of context of the period when it was written. Also, there appears to many different ways of presenting translations into our native languages, each causing a different feel for its meaning, and there are different versions within our native language too – compare the Good News bible texts with the NIV.

    If we presume that the scriptures are the perfect word of God then it appears from Genesis that we have two accounts of the creation. The first comes from Genesis chapter 1, and some Bible scholars refer to it as the priestly version. I have used extracts below and expressed my understanding of its significance:

    ch.1,v.26 – Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to our likeness,………”

    My understanding is that the Holy Trinity made man. God is speaking to the Son and to the Holy Spirit and uses the personal pronouns Us and Our in the plural, but ‘image’ is used in the singular, indicating that the Holy Trinity is one undivided nature in three Persons.

    v.27 – So God made man; in the image of God He made him; male and female He made them.
    v.28 – Then God blessed them……..

    Human beings are not one in nature with the Holy Trinity, but made in the likeness of the Holy Trinity, and were made male and female. Therefore, the dignity of each man and each woman is this image and likeness, and I subscribe to the essence of this version, although it is unlikely that we were created about 6,000 years ago, as suggested by the genealogy of the Bible. It is clear from this version that men and women should be considered of equal goodness and status!

    The second version of creation is rather strange indeed and comes from the second chapter of Genesis:

    ch.2, v.18 – And the Lord God said, “It is not good for man to be alone. I will make him a helper comparable to him.”

    It seems that Adam was created first, and later it occurred to God that he was alone and in need of a helper – an unequal partnership! God then put Adam to sleep in order to create Eve:

    v.21 – Thus God brought a trance upon Adam, and he slept, and He took one of his ribs, and filled up the flesh in its place. v.22 – Then the Lord God built the rib He took from Adam into a woman, and brought her to him. v.23 – So Adam said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. She shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.

    I have some problems with this. Has God run out of genetic material to create Eve, and why is it necessary to remove a rib from Adam without his consent and then bring her to him as a present? God could have done it painlessly in Adam’s full view and wonderment. Eve would have no doubt about her place as his helper.

    A different reason is given in the next verse:

    v.24 – For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”

    God may have created man and woman from the same material, like a ball of clay, and then separated them and fashioned the organs to distinguish the two genders, and the reason given in v.24 would still apply!

    There is no need to rationalize when we read texts that don’t make sense. God has endowed us with sufficient intelligence to think logically. When God inspired people to write the scriptures, it meant more to the person who was inspired than to others who read it. Also, the authors, being human, could easily have added some text that was not inspired by God in an effort to make the passages clearer. This is very much a human quality and evident when people who have witnessed an event give different accounts of how it unfolded, adding what they felt was necessary, so that their individual accounts made sense, and would seem to be more convincing.

    The passages you have quoted from Timothy and Corinthians should not be taken seriously, in my view. They lack the timeless quality that we really need and expect from God:

    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)

    Conversely, the passage you quoted from Galatians has the timeless quality we need and have come to expect from God who loves us:

    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)

    These views were humbly and honestly expressed through God’s grace.

    Dinos Constantinou

    06/02/2016

    1. Dear Dinos,

      Many thanks for your comment. I was praying for you recently and it’s lovely to hear from you and to get your thoughts on this issue.

      I think that your reflections on the creation narratives in Genesis add something really valuable to this discussion and I hope other visitors to this blog will read your comment and join the discussion.

      I have read elsewhere that many who support the idea of ‘Biblical inerrancy’ believe the Bible is only perfect in the original Hebrew and Greek languages, in the original manuscripts. It does make me eager to learn more about these languages!

      With love and best wishes,

      Steven

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