Women's Responsibility in the Church?
Study No. 3
What responsibilities can women perform in the church? Are women to be ministers and preachers? Can women be allowed to teach in church? These questions can only be answered by a careful study of the scriptures and by looking at the examples given in God's Word.
Salvation ? Equal For Both Sexes
Let it be said at the onset, as far as salvation is concerned, there is no difference between Greek, Jew, black, white ? men or women. There is ONE Lord for all. Men and women must be saved exactly the same way. ALL have sinned ? ALL need redemption ? ALL need Christ's blood to justify and His life in us (through the Holy Spirit) to save us. Both men and women are called the sons of God. Both will be glorified, made immortal and inherit all things. Women are to pray, study, fast and grow in grace and knowledge as MUCH as men are to do these things. Both will be rewarded according to their works. If a woman has been faithful in what God has given her to do, she will be rewarded accordingly. God is no respecter of persons.
But God did make men and women for different roles in life and in the church. Let's find out what God wants WOMEN to do in the church.
To Teach Good Things
One of the greatest blessings a woman can give to the church is to be the kind of feminine woman God intended all women to be. Read I Peter 3:1-6; I Timothy 2:9-15; Ephesians 5:21-24; I Corinthians 11:3. Man was created to need the help of a woman. He is not all-encompassing ? woman was made to be a helpful, inspiring, helpful companion to man, Genesis 2:18, 21-25. She was not only to be the bearer of all children, but it was through a woman that Christ was born ? the Saviour of MAN as well as WOMAN, Matthew 1:18-25; Luke 1:26-35; I Timothy 2:15 (Amplified Bible).
She is not only to be an example of Godly character and femininity, but also to teach it to others. Paul, writing to Titus, told him to "teach the older women to be quiet and respectful in everything they do. They must not go around speaking evil of others and must not be heavy drinkers, but they should be TEACHERS OF GOODNESS. These OLDER WOMEN MUST TRAIN THE YOUNGER women to live quietly, to love their husbands and their children, and to be sensible and clean minded, spending their time in their own homes, being kind and obedient to their husbands, so that the Christian faith won't be spoken against by those who know them," Titus 2:3-6 (Living Bible).
Service And Good Works
During Christ's ministry there were evidently certain women who were "rendering Him service," Matthew 27:55 (Modern Language Bible) in one way or another. Christ did not only have His immediate twelve disciples but others also who followed Him, Matthew 10:1-5; Luke 10:1-2. With all those men following Him, there would be ample work for the service of women to do the domestic things that were needed.
In Acts 9:36 we read about a woman of God called Dorcas who was known for "good works and acts of charity" (RSV).
Acts 16:13-15 tells us about Lydia and how she was converted, baptized and was hostess to Paul and others for a short time. She, no doubt, not only gave them a place to sleep, but food and drink, and other acts of service and kindness.
Timothy and other ministers at one time were in the need of women to help them as they preached the gospel. Paul wrote and told Timothy that "a widow who wants to become one of the special church workers should be at least sixty years old . . . well thought of by everyone because of the good she has done. Has she brought up her children well? Has she been kind to strangers as well as to other Christians? Has she helped those who are sick and hurt? Is she always ready to show kindness?" I Timothy 5:9-10 (Living Bible). The women chosen for this special group probably did the same kind of service that the women who followed Christ during His earthly ministry did.
Women as ? "Spiritual Elders?"
Was Paul speaking about "spiritual elders" in I Timothy 5:1-2? Was he instructing Timothy how to deal with women who were church elders or ministers?
The Modern Language Bible renders these verses, "Do not rebuke an older man but plead with him as a father, and younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and the younger women as sisters with absolute purity." Paul was speaking of AGE ? not ministerial office.
Just before the day of Pentecost, Christ's disciples were together "with the women" in the upper room. "These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication," Acts 1:13-14. But there is NOTHING in these verses to prove or disprove what the women did or said ? if indeed they did or said anything.
Some say I Corinthians 11:1-16 is talking about church services and both men and women praying and preaching ? one wearing a hat (women) and the other (men) not.
First, the "covering" Paul is speaking about is not hats but hair, verses 14-16. Women are to have hair of decent length, while men are have shorter hair.
Second, the words "church service" or "synagogue" or "meetings" can not be found in this passage. Praying or foretelling future events (as the Greek word 'prophes-ying/ieth' means) can be done any time or any place. Paul is NOT here talking about church services.
Women As Messengers?
Certainly, it is possible for God to send an angel to a woman with a message to the church about some future event, or something He wants His ministers to do. But NEVER WILL such a dream or revelation be contrary to God's inspired Word as given in the Bible, Isaiah 8:20. If it is, then we can know it is not from God ? but Satan. For Satan can also appear as an angel of light, II Corinthians 11:13-15.
Christ appeared to the two Mary's shortly after His resurrection, and He gave them a message to His ministers-to-be, for the men to go into Galilee and there Jesus would meet them, Matthew 28:5-9.
This amounted to a prophecy ? the two Mary's were at this time as prophetesses. God has used women as prophets ? to foretell future happenings: Exodus 15:20; Judges 4:4; II Kings 22:14; II Chronicles 34:22; Nehemiah 6:14; Isaiah 8:3.
The only example in the entire Bible of a prophetess doing anything like what we call "preaching" is that of Deborah in Judges 4. The Israelites had left off obeying God ? obviously, there was no man around whom God could use until Gideon was old enough, Judges 6:11-16 to do God's work. So God used a woman under this ONCE in 6,000 years situation. God only used Deborah for a short time to lead and teach the Israelites ? ONLY UNTIL a man came along to assume leadership [Barak]. This is not "putting down" women. It is just looking at what God has said and how He has decided to do things. [Editor's Comments: Israelite men at the time failed to qualify for God's service. God is not limited. He has used other women for His purposes down through the ages.]
Let us be willing to be honest. Nowhere in the Bible do we have ANY prophetess becoming a priest, apostle, church minister, or elder. Nowhere in the Bible can we find a prophetess preaching or teaching from the temple or in church meetings. Never to date has God once used a prophetess to write ANY book of the Bible. No other so-called "inspired" books by women or men have been handed down to us except those in the Bible. Prophetesses were/are used by God, but to date God has never used a prophetess to WRITE "inspired books" ? any church CLAIMING it has a prophetess as its founder or has "inspired books" written by a claimed prophetess does so without one word of scriptural background authority.
Prophetesses were used as MESSENGERS to the church. They were used VERBALLY by God ? never being used to write books on Biblical understanding.
New Testament Prophetesses!
There are only TWO passages in the New Testament where the word "prophetess" is used. The first is in Luke 2:36-37. Anna, a prophetess, served God in the temple with prayers and fastings. It does not say she PREACHED or was a TEACHER in the temple. She did on one occasion talk to others about Jesus (verse 38). This was on the day that Joseph and Mary had brought Jesus to the temple to dedicate and buy Him back (redeem) ? as was required by the law, Exodus 13:2, 13, 15; Leviticus 12 ? and being blessed by Simeon (verse 34). It was certainly fitting that Anna " . . . began thanking God and telling everyone in Jerusalem who had been awaiting the coming of the Saviour that the Messiah had finally arrived." (verse 38, Living Bible).
Notice, she only told those who were also looking for the arrival of the Messiah ? she did not "preach" or "teach" or hold a street-corner revival. All women can talk of Jesus to all who look for salvation, on ANY day of the week. They can talk of Christ before church and after church. There is nothing in this example to prove that women should be MINISTERS, ELDERS, or TEACHERS in church.
The only other place in the New Testament where the word "prophetess" is used is in Revelation 2:20 ? where God tells the church era of Thyatira, " . . . I have a few things against you, because you suffer that woman Jezebel, which calls herself a prophetess, to TEACH and to seduce My servants to commit fornication . . . ." God goes on to say He will cast her and the ones following her into tribulation if they do not repent (verse 22). Not a good commentary at all. God said the CHURCH of Thyatira was PERMITTING this woman Jezebel to teach and lead people astray.
To Teach Or Not To Teach?
After being willing to look at all the verses in the Bible pertaining to women, woman, wife, prophetess, we come to TWO plain passages on the question of women as preachers, ministers or church teachers. These two passages of scripture are I Corinthians 14:34-35 and I Timothy 2:11-12.
Paul says in I Corinthians 14:34, "Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak . . . ." Now, is Paul saying that a woman cannot say "Hello" to anyone? Is she not permitted to have a conversation with anyone while she is in church? Is she not to speak if someone talks to her? Hardly. This was not the problem at Corinth. Paul was answering questions about women being teachers, elders, ministers over men, in and during church services, as well as a woman who had a "spiritual gift" ? when or when not to use it.
I Timothy 2:12 says, "But I suffer not a woman to teach . . . ." Is Paul saying that a woman cannot teach her children, cannot teach in a secular school, college, or at the YWCA? No! This verse must be put with the passage in I Corinthians 14:34. Then the truth is clear. Paul is talking about the DUTY of a woman DURING church MEETINGS.
The Living Bible renders I Timothy 2:12 as, "I never let a woman teach men or lord it over them. Let them be silent in your church meetings . . . ." I Corinthians 14:34 is translated as, "Women should be silent during the church meetings. They are not to take part in the discussion, for they are subordinate to men as the Scriptures also declare."
Some would have us believe that Paul is only talking to Jewish churches about a Jewish custom. This can hardly be the case, when the church at Corinth was predominantly GENTILE, and Paul uses the plural ? "churches" ? not just one church, but all the Churches of God. Paul was desirous that all the churches be run "decently and in order," verse 40. "For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints," verse 33.
The letters to Timothy are known as "pastoral letters" by the Bible commentaries. They contain instruction to the pastors on church administration ? how things should be run in the churches at large. Paul's instruction was inspired of God, and is applicable as much today as in Paul's lifetime.
Matthew Henry's Bible Commentary says this on I Corinthians 14:34-35. Here the apostle
"1. Enjoins silence on their women in PUBLIC ASSEMBLIES, and to such a degree that THEY MUST NOT ASK QUESTIONS for their own information in the church, but ASK THEIR HUSBANDS AT HOME. They are to LEARN IN SILENCE with all subjection; but, says the apostle, "I SUFFER THEM NOT TO TEACH" (I Timothy 2:11-12) . . . . They are not permitted to speak (verse 34) in the church, neither in praying nor PROPHESYING. The connection seems PLAINLY to INCLUDE THE LAST ? in the limited sense in which it is taken in this chapter; that is, for preaching or interpreting scripture by inspiration. And indeed, for a woman to PROPHESY, in this sense, were to teach, does not so well befit her state of subjection. A teacher of others has in that respect superiority over them, which is not allowed the woman over the man, nor must she therefore be allowed to teach in a congregation . . . but PRAYING and uttering inspired HYMNS were not teaching . . . . There were women who had spiritual gifts of this sort in that age of the church . . . . Why should they have this gift, if it must never be publicly exercised? . . . They were not ordinarily to teach, not so much as to DEBATE AND ASK QUESTIONS IN THE CHURCH, but learn in silence there; and, if difficulties occurred, ASK THEIR HUSBANDS AT HOME. Note ? as it is the woman's duty to learn in subjection, it is the man's duty to keep up his ability to instruct her. If it be her duty to ask her husband at home, it is his concern and duty to endeavor at least to be able to answer her inquiries. If it be a shame for her to speak in the church, where she should be silent, it is a shame for him to be silent when he should speak, not being able to give an answer when she asks him at home.
"2. We have here the reason of this injunction ? it is God's law and commandment that they should be under obedience (verse 34); they are placed in subordination to the man; and it is a shame for them to do anything that looks like an affectation of changing ranks (which speaking in public seemed to imply) . . . as would public teaching much more: so that the apostle concludes it was a shame for women to speak in the church, in the assembly. Note ? our spirit and conduct should be suitable to our rank. The natural distinctions God has made, we should observe . . . . The woman was made subject to the man, and she should keep station, and be content with it. For this reason they must be silent in the church, not set up for teachers; for this is trying to take superiority over the man.
"We may also note here the spiritual gifts of TONGUES, INTERPRETATION OF TONGUES, PROPHECY, REVELATION ? all of which may be given to women as well as men. But such gifts are not to be exercised by the women DURING the church meetings or assemblies. Any woman who would claim she is compelled to use such gifts, Paul would answer, THE SPIRITS OF THE PROPHETS ARE SUBJECT TO THE PROPHETS (verse 32). God does not give a gift to His child which cannot be controlled by His child and controlled as to when it may be used.
"The other question not raised here is if women are to learn in silence in church and ask questions to their husbands at home ? what about the WIDOWS and UNMARRIED WOMEN who have no husband to ask? Paul's instruction on keeping silent in church meetings is to ALL women ? married, widows, single. The women who have no physical husbands certainly do have SPIRITUAL husbands ? the elders of the church. They are the ones to whom women should direct their questions on Biblical understanding."
Matthew Henry's comments on I Timothy 2:11-15 are also very pertinent:
" . . . Women must LEARN ? learn the principles of their religion, learn CHRIST, learn the scriptures; they must not think that their femininity excuses them from that teaching which is necessary for salvation.
"Women must be silent and submissive, and subject, and NOT USURP AUTHORITY. The reason given is, because ADAM was FIRST FORMED, then EVE ? out of him ? to denote her subordination to him, to be a HELP, MEET for him. And as she was last in the creation, which the one reason for her subjection, so she was first in the transgression; and that is another reason. Adam was not deceived (that is ? not first). The serpent did not immediately set upon him, but the woman was first in the transgression (II Corinthians 11:3); and it was part of the sentence ? THY DESIRE SHALL BE TO THY HUSBAND, AND HE SHALL RULE OVER THEE. (Genesis 3:16).
"But it is a word of comfort (verse 15 of I Timothy 2) that they who continue in sobriety shall be SAVED IN CHILDBEARING, or WITH childbearing. The Messiah, who was born of a woman, should break the serpent's head (Genesis 3:15) ? or ? the sentence which women are under for sin shall be no bar to their acceptance with Christ, IF they CONTINUE in faith, and charity, and holiness, with sobriety.
"Here we observe . . . according to St. Paul, women must be learners, and are not allowed to be public teachers in the church; for teaching is an office of authority; whereas she must not usurp authority over the man, but is to be in silence. But, notwithstanding this prohibition, good women may and ought to teach their children at home the principles of God's teaching. Timothy from a child had known the holy scriptures; and who should teach him but his mother and grandmother? (II Timothy 1:5, 3:15).
"Aquilla and his WIFE PRISCILLA expounded unto Apollos the way of God more perfectly; but then they did it PRIVATELY, for THEY TOOK HIM UNTO THEM (Acts 18:26). Here are two very good reasons given for man's authority over the woman, and her subjection to the man (verses 13-14 of I Timothy 2). Adam was FIRST formed, then EVE; she was created for the man, and not the man for the woman (I Corinthians 11:9). Then she was deceived, and brought man into the transgression . . . .
"In Romans 16:3 we see that PRISCILLA was a HELPER in Christ. A woman can and should be a worker for the gospel WITHIN the bounds God has decreed. As we can see from Acts 18:26, a WOMAN can on a personal basis be an instrument for the spread of the gospel and teaching of God's Word as much as any man."
The teaching of God on the ROLE that women are to take in the church may not be popular with the "WOMEN'S LIBERATION" movement; but it is the truth of God ? and God is LOVE and WISDOM. He knows what is best for us and why in this life we were created MALE and FEMALE. God is the DESIGNER and LAWGIVER ? when we are willing to obey His laws governing every facet of our lives, then we shall have happiness, peace and joy.
God has given us instruction on how the family relationship ? husband, wife, children ? should be run: Ephesians 5:21-33; I Corinthians 11:3; Colossians 3:18-21; Genesis 3:16. He has revealed to us the role that WOMEN are to take in the function of the church.
Let us willingly obey, so Christ may present the Church to Himself " . . . a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish" Ephesians 5:27.
? written by Keith Hunt W
Editor's Note: It is essential to understand that God-ordained husband-wife relationships must have their basis in love (outgoing concern). The man who misinterprets the Biblical instructions, and "lords it over" his wife is dishonoring the Creator of marriage. Likewise, the woman who usurps authority over a man is a rebel at heart. "Head knowledge" of the respective roles of husband and wife is one thing. Putting these statutes into practice is what counts. May our Heavenly Father help each married believer to love his or her mate with Godly love.
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