Women In Ministry: A Synopsis Of The Biblical View

In our developing religious culture, few issues have surpassed the controversy than that of a woman’s role in the church. Often, discussions concerning this issue end up being ad hominous brawls. Some, from a variety of theological interpretations, believe that Scripture denies any teaching or position of authority, held by a female, to be exercised over a male; this view is called complementarianism. Others believe, from the biblical text, that a position of liberty and equality regarding women is apropos in church leadership; this is called the egalitarian view. This paper will clearly take the view of the latter—egalitarianism with some modifications.

It is not the purpose of this paper to explore all the nuances of both views, nor exhaustively plumb the depths of each passage that could be brought into discussion in dialectic discourse. Due to space limitations, we shall explore one or two texts for biblical justification of the complementarian view. Typically, 1 Timothy 2:11-12 is the proof text employed for this view. The Apostle Paul states:

“Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.” (1 Timothy 2:11-12 KJV)

First, many complementarians expect something of history that is almost impossible. In Paul’s day only Jewish males were required to study and learn the Torah. There was no such mandate placed upon Jewish females however. So, as it relates to 1 Timothy 2, we can see Paul modifying the Old Testament Law to, indeed, grant liberties to women because Paul did not want Christian women to be ignorant of the Scriptures and encouraged them to learn, e.g. 1 Timothy. 2:11. Paul says that while they learned it was to be done “in silence” and with “full submission” (HCSB) or “subjection” (KJV). Essentially, women are admonished, by Paul, to respect and learn from those God had placed in leadership positions of church polity. Therefore, we should understand, historically, women’s roles were and are very underdeveloped. The woman’s right to vote enjoys only a few years of existence in the USA. Consequently, it is difficult to look for evidence of women, in any form of leadership, in a culture where women were nothing but slaves and tools for reproduction. Paul, seemingly, was changing this historical feature.

Ironically, however, “women played a decisive role in the ministry of Christ and have continued to influence Christianity throughout history.”[1] Acts 18:26 actually demonstrates Aquilla and Priscilla teaching Apollos, yet Luke, the author, (probably the physician of Paul) gives no rebuke. Luke records, “He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him and explained to him the way of God more accurately.” (Acts 18:26 ESV)

Apollos was not a meager man destitute of biblical knowledge, in fact, Apollos, in verse 24 is called an “eloquent man” (KJV) and one “mighty in the scriptures” (KJV). Being such a learned man would seemingly necessitate a learned teacher or at least a leader among the believers.

Some have argued that this teaching of the scriptures, to Apollos, occurred outside of a public worship service or at home (Goodspeed, Moffatt, NIV, HCSB), yet the issue is not so much location, as it is whether or not females can exercise a leadership role over a male. Others (NKJV, NASB, NET, ESV), however, suggest that they “took him aside” or “took him to themselves” (Godbey) neither of which necessarily means they actually left the synagogue entirely. In this setting, the role of “bible study teacher” is certainly one of leadership and the human role in revealing scriptural truths.

An interesting note is that Priscilla was an important enough figure to be mentioned by name and was mentioned first, before her husband. The KJV has Aquilla mentioned first, a Majority Text tradition, yet this is not the case in all manuscripts especially the older ones. As seen above, the ESV corrects this with Priscilla being mentioned first. Bruce Metzger speaks of certain manuscripts wherein the scribes may have purposely rearranged the names to either exclude Priscilla or place Aquilla first. Metzger concludes that, “The unusual order, the wife before the husband, must be accepted as original, for there was always a tendency among scribes to change the unusual to the usual. In the case of Priscilla and Aquila, however, it was customary in the early church to refer to her before her husband (cf. Ro 16.3; 2 Tm 4.19).[2] Therefore, Acts 18:26 should remain as a potent text that reveals women in ministry.

Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 2:12 do not mean that women should never teach. Paul uses the seemingly unyielding "I suffer not" a woman to teach, yet our knowledge of historical female role development should inform us as to the proper meaning of these words. The way some interpret this Pauline passage has scripture contradicting itself for women are, in fact, encouraged to teach in certain contexts (Titus 2:3). Timothy is to let a woman learn (be discipled) in peace (Greek êsuchia, “silence, restfulness”), without her being disturbed. The sense is not “in silence,” as in most translations, implying she should keep her mouth shut, but “at rest”; compare Acts 22:2 and 2 Thessalonians 3:12, where the word is translated, “settle down” (CJB). On the other hand, 1 Corinthians 14:34–35 does teach against disturbing chatter by females at congregational meetings. As we can tell Paul is making allowance, although careful ones, for the development of women’s role in the church. Paul is telling us that women are able to learn equally with men, this in itself is revolutionary concept in Paul’s day. [3]

Paul also uses the terms "usurp" and the phrase "have authority” (NAB). The BAGD defines “usurp” to mean, “domineer over someone.”[4] Friberg says, “strictly, of one who acts on his own authority; hence have control over, domineer, lord it over.”[5] Essentially, this refers to taking power that has NOT been given.

“To have authority translates a Greek verb that means "to control," "to dominate," "to control in a domineering manner." It is suggested that the Greek word for have authority can mean "interrupt," in which case what verse 12 is saying is that the women should remain completely quiet during the meetings and should not interrupt the men teachers in any way.”[6] “’To control in a domineering manner' is often expressed idiomatically, for example, 'to shout orders at,' 'to act like a chief toward,' or 'to bark at.'”[7] Thus this type of teaching is contextualized to refer to those who try to take carte blanche and run the show. I think we've all seen those around.The Greek word for “quietness” 1 Timothy 2:11 and “silent” in verse 12, does not mean complete silence or no talking. It is used elsewhere (Acts 22:2; 2 Thes. 3:12) to mean “settled down, undisturbed, not unruly.” A different word (sigaō Strong’s Greek # 4623) means “to keep quiet” (Luke 18:39; 1 Corinthians 14:34 HCSB).

The IVP Bible Background Commentary makes a very apropos statement, "Given women’s lack of training in the Scriptures, the heresy spreading in the Ephesian churches through ignorant teachers (1:4–7), and the false teachers’ exploitation of these women’s lack of knowledge to spread their errors (5:13; 2 Tim 3:6), Paul’s prohibition here makes good sense. His short-range solution is that these women should not teach; his long-range solution is “let them learn” (2:11). The situation might be different after the women had been instructed (2:11; cf. Rom 16:1–4, 7; Phil 4:2–3).”

Galatians 3:28 is viewed by many as the “Magna Carta for women in the church,” through its abolishment of the distinction between male and female in Christ.[8] While this proclamation neither institutes nor advocates a new unisex era, it supports the New Testament principle that God is no ‘respecter of persons.’[9] This verse actually serves as a restatement of Joel’s prophecy, fulfilled at Pentecost, that the Holy Spirit would be poured out on all flesh, ignoring gender, age, and class distinctions.[10] Certainly this passage must be considered when establishing guidelines for female participation in ministry. Also, one cannot ignore Paul’s own continual references to females serving in leadership capacities throughout his writings. The mention of women as leaders of the early church is especially prominent in Romans 16, which refers to numerous women whom Paul considered fellow workers in spreading the gospel, as well as naming Phoebe as a deacon (diakonos), and Junia as an apostle. Furthermore, it is noted that there is no instance in Romans 16 in which a man is mentioned by name for a church office that does not also include a female serving in the same capacity.[11]

The core issue related to the interpretive application of this passage deals with its universal or limited application. Given the volatility and debate over women in ministry their positions can and are limited today. I do feel that the office of the pastor is off-limits on the basis that information is shared, to a pastor, which would be highly offensive to the female. Also, Paul says “usurp authority” or that a female is not to take authority not given. This position requires someone to be in authority over the female and that her authority must be given or allowed her contextually. Teaching, is definitely condoned in the New Testament (Acts 18:26, Titus 2:3) as a female office. Thus this office should certainly be allowed, with discretion, of course, according to the pastors position on “women in ministry.”

The bible contains several passages which provide lucid guidelines for those who desire to be involved in church polity, none of which place gender limitations on ministry involvement. Questions of authority and offices are far more complex today than they were in the first century A.D., due to the detailed structure of modern churches, as opposed to the bottom-up, charismatic organization of the early church. The most basic answer to this dilemma must acknowledge that all believers are called to exercise their roles as priests, both male and female.


[1]Hammack, M., L. A Dictionary of Women in Church History. electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1997, c1984.
[2]Metzger, B. M., & United Bible Societies. (1994). A textual commentary on the Greek New Testament, second edition; a companion volume to the United Bible Societies' Greek New Testament (4th rev. ed.) (Page 413). London; New York: United Bible Societies.
[3]Stern, D. H. Jewish New Testament Commentary : A Companion Volume to the Jewish New Testament. 1st ed. Clarksville, Md.: Jewish New Testament Publications, 1992. 1 Ti 2:11.
[4]Arndt, W., F. W. Gingrich, F. W. Danker, & W. Bauer. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature : A Translation and Adaption of the Fourth Revised and Augmented Edition of Walter Bauer's Griechisch-Deutsches Worterbuch Zu Den Schrift En Des Neuen Testaments Und Der Ubrigen Urchristlichen Literatur. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996, c1979. Page 121.
[5]Friberg, T., B. Friberg, & N. F. Miller. Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament. Baker's Greek New Testament library. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2000. Page 81.
[6] UBS Handbook Series. Copyright (c) 1961-1997, by United Bible Societies
[7] Greek-English Lexicon Based on Semantic Domain. Copyright © 1988 United Bible Societies, New York. Used by permission.)
[8]L. Belleville, Women Leaders and the Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 2000), 15.
[9] See Acts 10:34.
[10]Mickelson, "An Egalitarian View: There is Neither Male nor Female in Christ," 180. See Acts 2:17-18.
[11] Peter Richardson, "From Apostles to Virgins: Romans 16 and the Roles of Women in the Early Church," delivered at the Evangelical Colloquium on Women and the Bible (October 9-11, 1984).


Brian said...

"The bible contains several passages which provide lucid guidelines for those who desire to be involved in church polity, none of which place gender limitations on ministry involvement.

What say you on some of these verses...and the gender used therein? Are we allowed to change the scripture for modern times?

Emphasis added (bold):

1 Timothy 3:2-3 ISV
(2) Therefore, an elder must be blameless, the husband of one wife, stable, sensible, respectable, a lover of strangers, and teachable.
(3) He must not drink excessively or be a violent person, but instead be gentle. He must not be argumentative or a lover of money.

Titus 1:6-7 ISV
(6) An elder must be blameless. He must be the husband of one wife and have children who are believers and who are not accused of having wild lifestyles or of being rebellious.
(7) Because an overseer is God's administrator, he must be blameless. He must not be arrogant or irritable. He must not drink too much, be a violent person, or use shameful ways to make money.


James Anderson said...


Welcome to the forum, and thanks for the comments. Concerning the passages cited and the bolded texts I see no problem. Paul seems to be advocating that and elder must be a "husband of one wife".

If you are thinking I am promoting the TNIV or genderless bibles, please know--I am not. When the pronouns are masculine, neuter, or feminine the translators should, with some exceptions, render them with proper gender.

No, we are not "allowed to change the scripture for modern times", instead we are to allow the timeless texts to change us.

Brian said...

Thanks for the response James.

The reason I ask is because I consider myself in a constant state of learning in relation to the scripture.

I was discussing this whole thing with a friend (a reformed lady) who just didn't buy it. She said that regardless of the culture...what Paul was teaching still stands today. We should not conform the scripture to our culture just because it changes or it is different.

I will say that she was only speaking in a corporate worship setting. She has no problems with a woman teaching a Sunday school class etc etc...

Are you defining a complementarian as someone who denies teaching anywhere? If so, such a person is making a pretty big stretch IMO.


James Anderson said...


Your lady friend is correct, I do not believe we disallow portions of scripture based merely upon culture. However, my paper does not propose that we should either. It simply states that Paul, being inspired of God, is embarking on a revolution for women in ministry.

My view is egalitarian, i.e. equality. My egalitarian view, as I mention in the paper, is modified. In that a woman pastor is probably beyond the scope of Paul's intent, although any other form would not be, IMO.

Brian said...


I am of the same opinion at current. :)


Anonymous said...

Just wondering why on a oneness pentecostal forum the profile lists an aquarian sign, etc.? We do not condone these things.

James Anderson said...

Unless I omit placing my DOB on this blog the Aquarius sign appears by default.

Adversus Trinitas

"...unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins." (John 8:24 ESV)