Do women have a place in ministry? If so, to what extent? Is there scriptural basis for a woman to be in any position of authority in the church? What does the Bible really say about this issue? To understand God’s intentions, we must go back to the very beginning of creation to see His original purpose for both man and woman.
“Male and Female Created He Them”
Genesis 1:27 (NKJV)
27 So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.
Genesis 5:2 (NKJV)
2 He created them male and female, and blessed them and called them Mankind in the day they were created.
It is interesting to note that God called both male and female, “Adam” in the day they were created. Adam means “man.” Adam and Eve were created with God-ordained differences from each other, but together they made a full “man,” or a complete picture of God Himself. There was perfection in their union. Their differences were not a source of discord or inequality, but a beautiful compliment to each other. Together, God gave them the task of overseeing and ruling His creation:
Genesis 1:28 (NKJV)
28 Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
Notice that God gave the above commission to them both. There is no hint that there was anything but equal authority between man and woman as they existed in a sinless state. What changed things? In the next few chapters of Genesis, we find that sin entered the heart of Adam and Eve. The result was a temporary curse placed upon both man and woman, which would affect the whole earth.
Genesis 3:14-19 (NKJV)
14 So the Lord God said to the serpent:
“Because you have done this,
You are cursed more than all cattle,
And more than every beast of the field;
On your belly you shall go,
And you shall eat dust
All the days of your life.
15 And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her Seed;
He shall bruise your head,
And you shall bruise His heel.”
16 To the woman He said:
“I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception;
In pain you shall bring forth children;
Your desire shall be for your husband,
And he shall rule over you.”
17 Then to Adam He said, “Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat of it’:
“Cursed is the ground for your sake;
In toil you shall eat of it
All the days of your life.
18 Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you,
And you shall eat the herb of the field.
19 In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread
Till you return to the ground,
For out of it you were taken;
For dust you are,
And to dust you shall return.”
This curse has affected all aspects of creation, from the ground itself (infested with weeds and thorns) to human relationships. (I say temporary, because in Christ this curse is removed).
When Eve ate the forbidden fruit and enticed Adam to sin with her, one of the consequences for women was the loss of equality with men, as men were to rule over women, instead of men and women ruling together. She would now be “ruled by her husband.” However, when Jesus came as sinless Man and died as the Messiah on the cross for us, all things were restored positionally. In actuality, the restoration of man (men and women) began to take place at that very moment.
Though the complete cleansing of the curse has not yet been manifested on the earth, the day is coming when it will be so. Or to put it another way, all those who receive Jesus as Savior receive restoration as Sons of God, but not all of us walk in that restoration – yet. Through Jesus, the curse upon women has been lifted. Women no longer have to receive pain in childbirth nor are they inferior to man with him ruling over them. Women can now be restored to their original place and plan that God had for all His “sons.” Although we do not see all things restored at this time, “legally” in the spiritual realm, they already have been.
Adam was the head of the first race of mankind; and Jesus is the head of the last race, the adopted children of God. God only sees two races – the Adamic race (all natural-born mankind) and His children through Jesus (all those born of the spirit).
1 Corinthians 15:21-22 (NKJV)
21 For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.
Once we are born into the kingdom of God, we become new creatures in Christ. In the Spirit, we find there is “neither male nor female,” just as there are no race distinctions nor class separations. The Lord looks on the hearts of His new creatures and therefore does not discriminate when He offers His love and privileges. Women are not excluded from any of God’s promises nor callings merely because of their sex.
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.
God’s Masculine and Feminine Traits
As stated above, the command to have dominion over and subdue the earth was given to both Adam and Eve. They were both to rule and reign over the Lord’s creation. The very act of subduing something requires authority, aggressiveness and leadership, as well as humility, tenderness, patience, and the ability to respect the intrinsic value of what we are ruling. Most of all, it requires love.
Within God’s own nature we find these same qualities. Both men and women are to become like Him as we are conformed to His image. Since this is true, there are times that under the unction of the Holy Spirit a woman should assert herself boldly. (This assertion, however, should not necessarily be toward others, but rather toward the enemy, Satan!) For men and women to become overcomers they must have this boldness and authority over the devil. God still desires that His people rule and reign with Him. His intention is to qualify us for that position, whether we be male or female.
Revelation 1:6 (NKJV)
6 and has made us kings[a] and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
a. Revelation 1:6 NU-Text and M-Text read a kingdom.
Even though “kings” is a masculine term, this is the ultimate destination He desires for all of His people. The Lord often uses both male and female terms to refer to both sexes. Women are to live in the “hidden man of the heart” (1 Peter 3:4). Both men and women in the church are referred to as “the bride of Christ.” God has both a masculine and feminine nature. The mother heart of Jesus was evident as he prayed over Jerusalem.
1 Peter 3: (NKJV)
4 rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.
Matthew 23:37 (NKJV)
Jesus Laments over Jerusalem
37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!
Submission is considered to be a feminine trait. However, Jesus submitted to the cross under the direction of the Father. If we walk in the Spirit, we too will possess both the masculine aggressiveness and feminine submissiveness of God.
Both submissiveness and aggressiveness are God-given strengths. Yet, both can be perverted, so that we become submissive and aggressive in the wrong ways, with the wrong attitudes. Because these qualities are so misused and misunderstood by the world, they have become distasteful and despised. If aggression is frowned upon, submission is viewed in an even more negative light in western culture. We equate submission with weakness and lack of spirit. Nothing could be further from the truth. There was never a human being more submitted to God than Jesus Christ– yet never was there one as completely resistant to the system of the world! It took extraordinary submissiveness and aggression for Jesus to overcome the world. For the Christian, whether we are male or female, He is our model. We are to possess His qualities and use them according to the needs around us.
Women in Ministries
How does all of this lead up to women in ministries? Perhaps you are thinking that although we have laid a biblical foundation for “neither male nor female” in Christ, certain verses in the New Testament still seem to ban women from ministry positions in the church. Let’s examine these verses for the true interpretation:
1 Corinthians 14:34 (NKJV)
34 Let your[a] women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says.
a. 1 Corinthians 14:34 NU-Text omits
1 Timothy 2:11-12 (NKJV)
11 Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. 12 And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.
In these verses, Paul cannot be addressing women who were in the ministry, but rather those in the congregation who were out of order. How do we know this? We have many such proofs, many from Paul himself. Here is a partial list of women who were all in influential positions of leadership in the early church.
Pheobe (Romans 16:1-2): This woman was a deaconess of the church in Cenchrea, who was beloved of Paul and many other Christians for the help she gave to them. She filled an important position of leadership. It would be a difficult stretch of the imagination to say that this woman fulfilled her duties without ever speaking in the church!
Romans 16:1-2 (NKJV)
Sister Phoebe Commended
16 I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea, 2 that you may receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and assist her in whatever business she has need of you; for indeed she has been a helper of many and of myself also.
Priscilla (Acts 18:26): Priscilla and her husband Aquila are often mentioned with great respect by Paul. Together they were pastors of a church in Ephesus, and were responsible for teaching the full gospel to Apollos. We are informed that they both taught Apollos, and pastored the church together. In fact, Priscilla is sometimes listed ahead of Aquila when their names come up. This has led some to speculate that of the two, she was the primary teacher and her husband oversaw the ministry. At any rate, we see here a woman in a very prominent position of teaching and pastoring. (Other references to Priscilla and Aquila are Acts 18:2, 18; Romans 16:3, and 1 Corinthians 16:19).
Acts 18:26 (NKJV)
26 So he began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Aquila and Priscilla heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.
Acts 18:2 (NKJV)
2 And he found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla (because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to depart from Rome); and he came to them.
Acts 18:18 (NKJV)
Paul Returns to Antioch
18 So Paul still remained a good while. Then he took leave of the brethren and sailed for Syria, and Priscilla and Aquila were with him. He had his hair cut off at Cenchrea, for he had taken a vow.
Romans 16:3 (NKJV)
Greeting Roman Saints
3 Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus,
1 Corinthians 16:19 (NKJV)
Greetings and a Solemn Farewell
19 The churches of Asia greet you. Aquila and Priscilla greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church that is in their house.
Euodia and Syntyche (Philippians 4:2-3): Here we see reference to two women who were “true yokefellow” and who labored with Paul in the advancement of the gospel.
Philippians 4:2-3 (NKJV)
Be United, Joyful, and in Prayer
2 I implore Euodia and I implore Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3 And[a] I urge you also, true companion, help these women who labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the Book of Life.
a. Philippians 4:3 NU-Text and M-Text read
Romans 16:7 (NKJV)
7 Greet Andronicus and Junia, my countrymen and my fellow prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.
Junia (Romans 16:7): In this verse we see Paul sending greetings to Andronicus and Junia, his “fellow-prisoners” who are of note among the apostles. Junia is a woman’s name. In some modern translations, an “s” has been added (Junias) because the translators were so sure a woman could not be an apostle, that they assumed a copyist has accidentally dropped the “s.” However the proper male ending would have been “ius,” not “ias.” No church commentator earlier than the Middle Ages questioned that Junia was both a woman and an apostle.
Though there were other women throughout the Bible in positions of leadership, such as prophetesses, evangelists, judges, leaders, etc., the above references should be enough to establish that women were indeed a vital and normal part of church leadership. Paul expected women to speak in the church, or else why would he have given the following directive? It would have been useless to give directions for women who were speaking in the church, if they were never allowed to do so.
1 Corinthians 11:5 (NKJV)
5 But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved.
Furthermore, if Paul believed that all women should never teach or speak in church, why does he commend many women who did just that?
With all this in mind, what then do we make of the troubling verses that command women to be silent in the churches? First of all, we must interpret those verses in light of what we have just established–that there were women in leadership positions of the church. Obviously, Paul is not writing to them. He must be addressing another issue entirely – the women who were loud and unruly during the service, causing disorder and confusion.
When he wrote the Corinthians, he was dealing with a church that was very disorderly in their services. Much of the letter was spent correcting excesses and abuses. Some of these pertained to women in particular and some were to the entire church. Paul is not being prejudiced against women when he instructs the Corinthian women to keep silence. In the early church the seating arrangement was quite different from our modern day churches. Men were seated on one side of the church while the women and children were seated on the opposite side. This is still practiced in many cultures today.
The women of Christ’s day were generally uneducated and usually only the men were privileged with an education. Due to this situation, when the church met the women were tempted to shout across the room and ask their husbands the meaning of whatever was being taught. This disturbed the service. Paul was simply saying during the service, “Women, keep your children quiet and you be quiet, and if you have anything to ask your husbands, wait until you get home.” Because of the new equality that Christianity brought to women, it could be that some of them were taking their freedom too far, to the point of being obnoxious.
When Paul wrote to Timothy, he gave him a similar directive. Again, it is important to understand the context in which the letter was written. In 1 Timothy, a careful reader becomes aware that there were many severe heresies and false teachings that were being dealt with. We can draw a conclusion here that many of the proponents and victims of the false teachings were women. Timothy pastored in Ephesus, and it has been suggested that goddess worship might have played a large part in Paul dealing so severely with the women. Ephesus was a primary center of the worship of Diana or Artemis. The heresies being taught might have suggested that women were authoritative over men and had higher access to spiritual knowledge than men did.
Regardless of the particulars, in both cases we can see that Paul is dealing with specific incidents in specific churches for very particular reasons.
We must understand that many of Paul’s epistles dealt with local problems and his commandments are not meant to be taken as “commandments” across the board for all situations. Rather, we are to seek the Lord for the basic principal that needs to be incorporated in our churches. Because of Old Testament precedents that had already been set, apparently it never occurred to Paul to re-establish the case for women in ministry. Why would he need to? The early church took it as a matter of course that Jesus would call and ordain anyone He chose–and that settled it! As a matter of fact, the Bible mentions a prophetess who was in the Temple when Jesus was brought there as a baby. Her name was Anna (Luke 2:25-35), and she was one of two people who recognized Jesus as the Messiah because of her sensitivity to the Holy Spirit.
Paul’s writings are sometimes misunderstood today because we do not know all the details that led him to write as he did. We must rely on the Holy Spirit, and the rest of the testimony of Scripture to interpret how we are to apply these things to our everyday lives. Scripture should always be compared with other Scripture and the context taken into consideration. Even in Paul’s day, there were those who tried to twist the meaning of his words.
2 Peter 3:16 (NKJV)
16 as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.
It is a fair conclusion that the testimony of the bulk of Scripture, church history and God’s anointing upon them, all speak plainly for women being able to fulfill all positions of the five-fold offices of apostle, prophet, pastor, evangelist and teacher.
It has always been a strange doctrine that will allow women to go to foreign mission fields and teach heathen men, but will not allow the “heathen” men at home to be taught by the same women! It makes absolutely no sense to think that a female who is learned in the Scriptures cannot teach a male who is unlearned. Additionally, it is acceptable for many women to teach Sunday School to children, and for mothers to teach their sons. Where do we draw the line and say to the women that they can no longer teach a male once they reach a certain age? This may seem like a ridiculous scenario, yet there are those in the church who teach along these lines.
Those that are dogmatic in excluding women from the ministries of God usually are not walking in the Spirit, as they see women after the flesh (viewing her sex), not after the Spirit (seeing her heart and calling). The Lord admonishes us in His Word that we are not to look at one another with regard to our sex, race, class or culture, but rather we are to see one another through spiritual eyes.
2 Corinthians 5:16-20 (NKJV)
16 Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. 18 Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.
20 Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.
God wants to use any person who will yield to His Spirit, regardless of that person’s sex or capabilities. Those who are a new creature in Christ have His capabilities.
Our problem is that we must see there are rules for the fleshly, or earthly man, and there are rules for the spiritual man. Then, we must discern when to apply the appropriate Scripture. We are admonished in 2 Timothy 2:15 (NKJV) to 15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
The Five-Fold Ministry
Ephesians 4:8-12 (NKJV)
8 Therefore He says:
“When He ascended on high,
He led captivity captive,
And gave gifts to men.” [a]
9 (Now this, “He ascended”—what does it mean but that He also first[b] descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.)
11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ,
b. Ephesians 4:9 NU-Text omits
Psalm 68:18 (NKJV)
18 You have ascended on high,
You have led captivity captive;
You have received gifts among men,
Even from the rebellious,
That the Lord God might dwell there.
It is the Lord who calls men and women to His ministry. He does not call special people, but the call goes out to “whosoever will.” First, we are called to salvation; then as we walk in obedience to Him, He calls for us to be baptized in His Holy Spirit. As we continue to obey and follow Him, He then may choose us to serve Him in a full-time ministry. He chooses people for the ministry out of those who have walked in obedience to His other calls. He desires that all follow, but can only choose those who are obedient. These men and women who have answered the call are set in the ministry by Jesus Himself. Man’s ordination does not qualify them, but the ordination of God does. Men will recognize those who are truly called by Him. They will even recognize women who are called of God as God empowers them with His anointing and power which cannot be denied.
God has used many modern day women in His service as well as women spoken of in the Bible. Madame Guyon, Catherine Booth, Jessie Penn-Lewis, Aimee Semple McPherson, Corrie Ten Boom and Kathryn Kuhlman are only a few of the women on the list of great five-fold ministry gifts to the church. What are those gifts and that ministry?
Ephesians 4:11 Amplified Bible (AMP)
11 And [His gifts to the church were varied and] He Himself appointed some as apostles [special messengers, representatives], some as prophets [who speak a new message from God to the people], some as evangelists [who spread the good news of salvation], and some as pastors and teachers [to shepherd and guide and instruct],
When this Scripture says, “appointed and gave men to us,” it does not mean just the male sex. The same man whom God created in the beginning which included male and female is the one referred to here. These “men” are both male and female and they have a responsibility to bring others into the maturity that they possess.
Ephesians 4 continues, Ephesians 4:12-13 Amplified Bible (AMP)
12 [and He did this] to fully equip and perfect the saints (God’s people) for works of service, to build up the body of Christ [the church]; 13 until we all reach oneness in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God, [growing spiritually] to become a mature believer, reaching to the measure of the fullness of Christ [manifesting His spiritual completeness and exercising our spiritual gifts in unity].
The Lord has lofty intentions for His men and women and desires that they come into perfection and maturity even as Christ walked in that perfection. The Lord sends those whom He chooses to bring about this maturing and perfecting. If we have been raised in a traditional church, the idea of coming into perfection may sound impossible–even heretical! However, it is clearly a Biblical precedent and until we understand it we will not be able to understand God’s full intention for His body. The separation of laity and clergy is not God’s plan for His people. All that are called to salvation are called to a full-time ministry in the Lord. This does not mean that all should leave their secular occupations, but all should devote their lives to the Lord and be as committed and active in witnessing, learning and growing in God as the leadership.
The leadership that God raises up is those men and women whom He trains for His work in the kingdom. Women have been limited in traditional churches to certain positions that men would give them, but the Lord is restoring His full five-fold ministry in these last days to prepare the body of Christ for His return.
If Jesus wanted women to minister, how come all His disciples were men? This question is actually raised from a misunderstanding of the word “disciple.” Jesus had many women disciples. These include, Mary and Martha (John 11:1-4), and many other references as well. Mary and Martha, along with their brother Lazarus were among Jesus’ closest friends. In addition, Jesus had many other women followers as well.
Luke 8:1-3 (NKJV)
Many Women Minister to Jesus
8 Now it came to pass, afterward, that He went through every city and village, preaching and bringing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with Him, 2 and certain women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities—Mary called Magdalene, out of whom had come seven demons, 3 and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others who provided for Him[a] from their substance.
a. Luke 8:3 NU-Text and M-Text read
For the sake of brevity, I will not include other lists of names of women who followed Him. However, the Scripture makes it clear there were many of them.
In another incident, Jesus motions to the crowds that followed him and said,
Matthew 12:49-50 (NKJV)
49 And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! 50 For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.”
In John 4:1-42, we see that it is a Samaritan woman who leads a large population of her community to Jesus.
Why didn’t Jesus choose any women to be among His twelve original apostles? Jesus could not choose women to be among the twelve because it would not be wise for men and women to be travelling about together when many of them were single. Also, the twelve apostles fulfilled the “type and shadow” of the twelve patriarchs, so they had to be equal to men (Revelation 21:12, 14). However, this doesn’t mean that he does not anoint women to fill an apostolic role today, as we already established in the case of Junia.
Revelation 21:12-14 (NKJV)
12 Also she had a great and high wall with twelve gates, and twelve angels at the gates, and names written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel: 13 three gates on the east, three gates on the north, three gates on the south, and three gates on the west.
14 Now the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names[a] of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
a. Revelation 21:14 NU-Text and M-Text read twelve names.
Jesus showed a great deal of respect for women–and children as well. In the culture of Jesus’ day, these were often deemed “lower class” so to speak, and not worth paying serious attention to. However, Jesus repeatedly broke this unspoken rule. Because His actions were so unusual, those closest to Him were often surprised and annoyed.
Woman, Thou Art Loosed!
My wife and I pray that this teaching will encourage many women, who might otherwise relegate themselves to the “back burner” to instead step forward into the full calling of God upon their lives. Likewise, we pray that men who have been taught against letting women minister will see the truth of the fullness of God’s plan. No matter who we are in the Lord, we will be held responsible for how we treated others and how we either hindered or helped the cause of Christ on Earth. Those in leadership especially need to heed this warning with reverent fear. Just because we have believed something our whole life, or because our denomination or culture teaches us so, doesn’t mean it is correct. If you have a problem with seeing women in the pulpit, or in any position of leadership, we pray that you will prayerfully seek the Lord with an open heart on this issue.
In conclusion, let us read the following promise from the prophet Joel. This prophesy was initially fulfilled at Pentecost, and as we draw closer to the End, we can expect to see it fulfilled in even greater measures.
Acts 2:17-21 (NKJV)
17 ‘And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God,
That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh;
Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
Your young men shall see visions,
Your old men shall dream dreams.
18 And on My menservants and on My maidservants
I will pour out My Spirit in those days;
And they shall prophesy.
19 I will show wonders in heaven above
And signs in the earth beneath:
Blood and fire and vapor of smoke.
20 The sun shall be turned into darkness,
And the moon into blood,
Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord.
21 And it shall come to pass
That whoever calls on the name of the Lord
Shall be saved.’[a]
Joel 2:28-32 (NKJV)
God’s Spirit Poured Out
28 “And it shall come to pass afterward
That I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh;
Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
Your old men shall dream dreams,
Your young men shall see visions.
29 And also on My menservants and on My maidservants
I will pour out My Spirit in those days.
30 “And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth:
Blood and fire and pillars of smoke.
31 The sun shall be turned into darkness,
And the moon into blood,
Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord.
32 And it shall come to pass
That whoever calls on the name of the Lord
Shall be saved.
For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be deliverance,
As the Lord has said,
Among the remnant whom the Lord calls.