The Role of Women

The role of women in the Lord's church is a topic that seems to be resurfacing more and more in our society that pushes for equality on all fronts. For many years women have fought for equal rights in voting, the work place, and the community as a whole. Overall, these aspects are not wrong in and of themselves. It is a problem when we as the Lord's body allow our culture to influence the way we view God's Word and the application thereof. Some think men suppress or trample the talents of women when they are not allowed to preach in the assembly. This mindset is appealing to equality among the sexes and forgets what God has revealed in His Word. Is this subject an equality issue? The Word of God is clear that all humans are equal in God's sight (Genesis 1:26-28). Those who obey God are one in Christ no matter their background, their skin color, or their gender (Galatians 3:28). However, being equal before God as His created beings does not mean that men and women have the same function in His body. All Christians have a role in the kingdom. These functional roles are different and one is not more important than another. The roles of men, women, and children are all important and necessary for edifying and building up the church. All of us have the responsibility to work in our designated niche, if you will, and to make sure we are following God's will therein. For the purpose of this writing, we will study what God's Word says about a woman's role in His kingdom.

One area to study in connection with this issue is our Lord Himself. Christ, who came in human flesh, is our example in all things. The Scriptures teach Jesus is equal with God (John 1:1, 14; John 5:18), but He, coming in human form, humbled Himself before the Father (Philippians 2:5-11). Truly, the life of our Savior shows us His constant submission and desire to do the Father's will. Do we see Jesus complaining that God suppresses him, or He feels of lesser importance because He must submit to the Father? Certainly not! Christ knew He had a role to fulfill and it is not any less important than the Father's or the Holy Spirit's role. How thankful we should be for His role! Let us, as women, look at our Savior's example. Furthermore, Christ reached out to women during a time when they were considered by most as second-class citizens. He spoke to women during His ministry while His apostles wondered why, and many women were counted among the disciples (Luke 7:36-50; Luke 8:3; John 4:5-42; Matthew 27:55; Acts 1:13, 14). Indeed, it was women who first saw the risen Savior and told the apostles (Matthew 28:1-10; Luke 24:1-12). Anyone who claims that Christianity teaches women are of lesser importance than men have not looked at the life of Christ. By our Lord's example we see that Christianity liberated women to their true state in His kingdom. This is a particular point that Islam and other religions cannot claim.

Secondly, let us examine some New Testament scriptures concerning worship since we are under that the New Law (the first having been fulfilled by Christ at His death – Matthew 5:17, 18; Colossians 2:14). God did not fail to give instructions about how He desires His people to worship Him. If you are familiar with the Bible at all, you know God has provided commandments and examples for us to come together on the first day of the week to partake of the Lord's Supper (Acts 20:7), sing praises to Him (Ephesians 5:19), pray to the Father (Ephesians 6:18), give cheerfully as we have been blessed (1 Corinthians 16:1, 2), and teach/study the Word (2 Timothy 4:2). Not only this, He has stated who He desires to lead during these avenues. In 1 Timothy 2:8 the Holy Spirit through Paul writes, "I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere…" and then goes on to give women instructions, including, "Let a woman learn in silence with all submission" (1 Timothy 2:11, 12). A Greek word meaning, "teach" is used in verse twelve alongside the commandment, not "to have authority over a man" ("didaskw," A Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament, n.p.). Paul clearly states that men (Greek word "aner" meaning "male") are to pray everywhere (in assemblies and out) and that a woman is not to authoritatively teach a man. This is in direct harmony with 1 Corinthians 14:26-37 where Paul's main point is for the assembly to be a place of edification and not confusion (1 Corinthians 14:26, 33). In that context, he says to, "let your women keep silent in the churches for they are not permitted to speak" (1 Corinthians 14:34). The English rendering of this has lead some to the opposite extreme of believing that women cannot say anything in worship or Bible class. This is not the case; otherwise, women could not participate in the singing during worship! (Ephesians 5:19) A look at the Greek word translated "speak" in 1 Corinthians 14:34 shows us that it can mean, "speak, talk, say; preach, proclaim; tell; be able to speak; address, converse" ("lalew," A Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament, n.p.). Paul, in writing the "commandments of the Lord" (1 Corinthians 14:37), states that women are not to be the speaker or address the assembly. In mixed assemblies (as most are around the world), women are not to lead the assembly. Clearly, from just these two passages, we can conclude that God desires men to be the teachers, to address the assembly, in essence, to lead the assembly of women and men.

Before studying in detail the passages some cite to promote the false practice of women leaders in mixed assemblies (such as Luke 2:36-38; Romans 16:1; 1 Corinthians 11:5), we should first ask some questions:

  1. Do the passages imply that a woman is in a mixed assembly?
  2. Have I studied the meaning of the words in question (such as "prophetess", "deacon")?
  3. Am I reading the text with 1st century Jewish culture "glasses"?

When we study the scriptures with these in mind we will not come to any conclusion that God did not intend.

What can women do in the church? If we were to answer this in full, this article would be too long to read in one comfortable sitting. Let us look at the answer in in reference to speaking in the church. In Titus 2:3, Paul admonishes the older women to be "teachers of good things". Using common sense, we can conclude that a woman may teach children or women during Bible classes and in everyday personal situations. A woman may address a group of women in ladies' days or other study settings in which only women are present. A woman may accompany her husband in teaching others outside the assembly as Priscilla did in Acts 18:26. Consider Acts 8:3-4, men and women were being persecuted and "went everywhere preaching the word". Indeed, there is a great need in the Lord's church for women to teach and exhort the younger women to remain faithful (Titus 2:1-6). This can occur in ladies' Bible classes and outside the assembly. May we have more women willing and able to teach God's Word!

In conclusion, we have learned that God's Word instructs the men to lead the assembly. The reason for this goes all the way back to the beginning, and male leadership has been expected by God since He created the first man (1 Timothy 2:13, 14; 1 Corinthians 11:8-10). When a woman (or man) tries to overstep the boundaries outlined in God's Word she will be judged for her actions as the angels (who are greater) certainly were for their rebellion (2 Peter 2:4-11; Jude 1:6). All Christians are commanded to be diligent workers in the kingdom (Titus 3:1, 8). Our different functions should work together to edify the church and bring more souls into the kingdom, not cause confusion and disorder. May we each use our God-given talents in our God-given roles to bring glory and honor to His Name!

Study Questions:

  1. Has God always given His people different roles or responsibilities? What are some examples?
  2. Study Luke 2:36-38 and 1 Corinthians 11:5. What does prophesying mean in the New Testament?
  3. Was it possible that women in the 1st century had miraculous ability to prophesy? If so, does this ability mean she had authority over men or was she only prophesying to other women?
  4. Anna is described as one "who did not depart from the temple" speaking of Him "to all those who looked for redemption" (Luke 2:37, 38). How was the temple complex arranged? Were men and women worshipping in the same area or did they have separate compartments? To whom was Anna prophesying?
  5. Does Paul say women are praying and prophesying in a mixed assembly? Look closely at 1 Corinthians 11. In the text, does Paul indicate a mixed assembly (compare 1 Corinthians 11:17, 18)? If Paul is saying women can pray and prophesy in a mixed worship assembly, then how do we harmonize that with what he says in 1 Corinthians 14:33-35?
  6. Why is it the case that God commands women to be in submission to men? Read 1 Timothy 2:13, 14.

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