Tuesday, July 29, 2008


Earlier today I responded to an excellent post by my new blog-friend, Lionel over at his blog.

Lionel started an excellent discussion regarding the role of women in today's Church by asking readers to answer a question about someone who devotes their life to building up the Body, yet happens to be female. Would we call that person a pastor?

This is a question, and a subject, worthy of great discussion and debate within Christian circles today.

My short answer is that I have no problem with this at all, however the subject is multi-faceted and any discussion of this must take the time to examine the various angles equally.

As I see it, there are three issues at the core of this discussion:

1- What would Biblical leadership look like in the Church?
2- Can women take a leadership role in the Church?
3- What does Paul intend to communicate in his various teachings on the subject?

First, let's tackle the first issue regarding the nature of leadership within the Church according to the New Testament.

1- What would Biblical leadership look like in the Church?

One problem we face is that we equate leadership within the Christian Church as being the CEO/Pastor who acts as a Boss and through whom all teaching, edification, instruction, encouragement, (and many of the other 28 spiritual gifts described throughout the NT) must flow.

This is not a Biblical position. So, whenever we examine the New Testament regarding this issue, and others like it, we have to take off our 21st Century filters and attempt to read things at face value. The early church did not resemble what we experience today. The weekly gathering was in a home, meals were shared, everyone contributed and there was no visible leader in the group who did all the talking or teaching while the rest of them listened.

According to 1 Corinthians, Chapter 12, God has designed His Church to act relationally. He has given everything the Body needs to function and grow to the Body itself, "for the common good". The Body is able to thrive through the power and indwelling of the Holy Spirit, which lives within each member of this Body.

If you read 1 Corinthians, Chapter 12 and elsewhere in the New Testament, you will NOT see any teaching or practice within the Body of Christ where all of the gifts flow from one elect leader to everyone else so that they can grow, mature, receive mercy, etc.

What God DID do was to give all of the gifts to various people distributed throughout the Body. In God's relational design for His Church, the encouragement you need is available from someone else in the Body. This means you need the rest of us. It means we need you. We need each other to grow and mature.

Couldn't God have given each person the spiritual gift they needed, when they needed it? Yes, of course He could have. But then we wouldn't need to relate to one another. Instead, God's plan was to place the gift you need most in the hands of someone else so that you and I are required to communicate our needs with one another. It is necessary for the life and health of the Body that we share our weakness and that we share the gifts we have been given.

With this in mind, let's look at the rest of our issues.

2- Can women take a leadership role in the Church?

Some are convinced that there are New Testament scriptures which prohibit a woman to act as a leader within the Body. We'll look at those verses more closely in our next discussion point, but in general I would remind everyone that women played a very important role in the ministry of Jesus. His most powerful interactions, healings and teachings involve women (the woman at the well, the woman caught in adultery, the woman with the issue of blood, the woman whose son had died, the woman who annointed his feet with her tears and dried them with her hair, the woman who broke the gnard of perfume over his feet, etc.) and women supported his ministry, watched him die, attended his grave and gave witness to his resurrection from the dead.

Jesus honored women in a culture where women were undervalued and equal to children and unbelievers.

Now, let's see what Paul really had to say about this subject and, beyond that, what he meant to teach us about the role that women play in the Body.

3- What does Paul intend to communicate in his various teachings on the subject?

Lionel's article references 1 Timothy chapters 2 and 3. In those chapters the main thing we take away is found in verse 12 of chapter 2 where Paul says: "I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent."

Paul says, rather clearly and somewhat chauvinistically I might add, that he does not permit a woman to teach, or to have authority over a man. He also says she must be silent.

As with all difficult teachings and doctrine, we have to take the consensus of other scriptures on the subject in order to get a clear picture of what is being said and taught.

While Paul appears to teach that women shouldn't have any authority over a man within the Body in this passge, we have to remember that elsewhere Paul also teaches that a woman should cover her head when she Prophesies. (see 1 Cor 11:4-5)

What's going on here? In one verse Paul says that he doesn't allow a woman to speak and he doesn't allow a woman to teach, yet in this passage he's providing guidelines for how a woman should prophesy in the gathering of believers.

Let me remind you that, to Paul, the gift of Prophecy is one of the greatest "leadership" gifts in the entire Body (see 1 Cor 14: 1-5). Doesn't one who prophesies speak to the entire Body and provide a message from God for their edification and strengthening?

How do we reconcile these seemingly contradictory ideas regarding Paul's vision of Church? Women are allowed to prophesy as long as their heads are covered, and yet they are called to keep silent. What's going on?

In my opinion, there are a few things going on here.

First, Paul says one thing to the Church in Corinth because he is addressing some very specific issues they are facing in their fellowship together. This means that when he writes to Timothy and he gives a different set of guidelines he is attempting to correct a different set of behaviors within a different Body.

Simply put, Timothy's church didn't face the same problems as the church in Corinth, therefore Paul's advice to one was not the same as what was given to the other.

Also, Paul often says certain controversial things and he attaches a qualifier like, "I am saying this, and not the LORD..." as he does in 1 Cor 7:12, "But to the rest I, not the Lord, say, If any brother has a wife who does not believe, and she is willing to be with him, let him not divorce her."

In passages like this Paul seems to be aware of certain opinions that he might hold that may, or may not, be necessarily a hard line teaching from God.

With this in mind, I think it's interesting that in our original passage (1 Tim 2-3), Paul says, "I do not allow a woman to teach or to have authority over a man..." and in my mind this leaves room for us to wonder out loud about whether or not Paul intended this teaching to be taken as "from the Lord" or from Paul's personal bag of wisdom. At any rate, I believe Paul leaves room for us to disagree with him in these matters of cultural preference regarding the role of women within the gathering. I want to stress, however, that we do not have that same privelege when Paul leaves off that qualifier, "I, not the Lord".


Paul writes in Timothy and in Titus to provide criteria for an Elder, and an Overseer within the Body. In those passages he centers on the male gender, calling for them to be "Husbands of one wife", etc.

However, the New Testament also includes great evidence that the early church had many women deacons. Paul speaks of a deaconess named Phoebe in Romans 16:1 and also mentions Priscilla and Aquila in verse 2 calling them "my fellow workers in Christ Jesus". These two are also prominent in Paul's ministry, even travelling with him on Missionary journey's in Acts 18:18, and we know that the two of them hosted a church in their home according to 1 Cor 16:19. (Paul also mentions Euodia and Syntyche in Philipians 4, as well as Tabitha or Dorcas in Acts 9.)

DISCUSS: There also seems to be a difference between the roles of elders and overseers as it pertains to the Worship service or share time versus the life of the Church outside the meeting. Women are welcome to share among the rest of the people who gather to share and worship in the 1 Cor 12 model, however the authority required to rebuke or confront a believer caught in sin, etc. seems to rest on those male elders and overseers who were recognized as having a Fatherly position within the Body.

Your thoughts?


Like a Mustard Seed said...

Wow, great topic, great questions. Seems like so many people just try and scoot by this issue as quickly as possible, not wanting to deal with the all the angles, as you put it. One thing you said towards the end really stuck out to me, when you mentioned the role of a leader in a body having to do something like rebuke someone. It just made me think of what God has been teaching us about the roles and differences between men and women in the family... Even though a mother and father are equally intelligent, equally vital and both equally love their children, God has somehow created us with different natural roles that we're meant to fill. I mean, everybody recognizes that something is out of wack if you enter a home and the mom is doing all the disciplining of the kids and the dad is totally uninvolved and checked out. Even non-Christians are able to recognize this as unhealthy. I wonder if it's similar when we look at the family of God. Just because God has created men to lead by example, it doesn't mean He inteded for the church to be the patriarchal machine that it has become. You listed so many examples of God using women in central roles in revealing and building his kingdom, I wonder how people can really convince themselves that women play a less crucial role than men in reaching a lost world....

Mark Main said...

Great points. I think you have done a fine job poking holes in the old boys school philosophy of church.

crazy train said...

don't we also have to consider whether or not the super apostle was the true author of the pastoral letters?

Anonymous said...

More liberal feminist tripe entering the church by trying to reinterpret the bible to the 21st century cultural viewpoint to be more politically correct.

God created men and women spiritually equal, as stated in the first chapter of Genesis, but not equally in positions of authority that’s why he set the man to be head of the household not the woman.

Also, in the garden of Eden it was Eve that was deceived not Adam. Adam was just plain disobedient.

Keith Giles said...

This is liberal, feminist propoganda? Except that neither Jon Zens nor I are liberals, and his conclusions aren't based on opinions or liberal theologians and he's not arguing for women to be "put in charge" or elevated over a man.

Did you actually READ the article or did you skim over it and dismiss it based on your personal bias?

I'm guessing the latter.

Dr. Zens is going back to the Greek and examining the context of Paul's writings to help us overcome the meanings we've attached to the text which were not intended in the first place.

If anything, the Church is guilty of attaching meaning to these texts in order meet an agenda which isn't Biblical. Dr. Zens relies on the scholarship of balanced, honest people to help us see how these difficult passages square with the rest of the entire Bible.

Other than these two difficult texts, the Bible (both OT and NT) affirms the role of women in God's Kingdom.

As he points out, why would the freedom we have in Christ give women LESS freedom than they had under the Old Covenant? Would that make any sense? Of course not.

And why would Paul, in the same letter, give instructions for how women SHOULD prophesy in the meeting and then, later, say that women should be "silent"? Would that make any sense? No, it doesn't. So, obviously, either Paul is a nutjob, or we're missing some important insight into the letter and the meaning he's trying to communicate.

Anonymous said...

There are no instances in the Bible of women priests. Titus 1:6, 1 Timothy 2, 1 Corinthians 14:34all say leadership in the church structure is to be a male. In the entire Bible it is very clear that there is an order that God Himself has set up. Yet sometimes we let our own desires or agendas get in the way. Whether we like it or not, the proper leadership is to be male.

Keith Giles said...

Dear Anonymous (if that is your real name...) - I think you are making a false assumption in your response: Mainly, that the "priests" in the NT church are the same as "Pastors" as you understand that word.

Who is the Head of the Church? Is it your pastor? Or is it Jesus?

Also, what about the passages in the NT where we are told that every believer is a "priest of God"? Doesn't that include women? (Of course it does).

What about the many women deacons, and even our female Apostle Junia? And what about Priscilla and Aquila whom Paul said were both "co-laborers" with him - meaning they were doing the same work he was doing, namely preaching the gospel, evangelizing the lost and planting churches.

Do not ignore these passages. Deal with them. Work out their meaning before you dismiss them.

What about the verses where Paul says that in the Body of Christ there is no longer any Jew or Gentile, Slave or Free, Male or Female? What does he mean by this? (Again, don't assume, but work it out and see how the NT backs up your answers).

I agree that the leadership in the Body is to be male, but only because our only leader is male - Jesus!

The rest of us are all brothers and sisters in the family and we are to submit to one another - NOT to a single male (or female) leader but to Christ alone.

pyalie said...

Dear Sir,

It might be of interest to you to look at the verse following what you dealt with.

“What?! Came the word of God out from you?! Or came it unto you only?! (v. 36)

Paul didn't make the statement often attributed to him, rather he was reading back from the letter he was responding to. He was appalled as we are when we read this statement.

Sadly, for hundreds of years this passage has been misunderstood. This largely due to the patriarchal societies that dominate the Western world. It is from these that we get our translations, and the translators of the Bible saw to be sure certain verses fit their ideology.


Anonymous said...

I commend Keith G for his spiritual courage. I am amazed at how the secular work has grown so much more in supporting women than the institutional church has. I am amazed at how the 'old boy's club' choose to interpret the Bible literally when it comes to women yet to treat other verses figuratively - e.g how Jesus steered his disciples to pastor without the pomp and wealth that our current male dominated churces do! :)