Mag. Claudia R. Wintoch
World Revival School of Ministry
2. Present-Day Views
3. Difficult Bible Passages
3.1. 1.Corinthians 11:3-15
3.2. 1.Corinthians 14:34-35
3.3. 1.Timothy 2:9-14
4.2. New Testament
4.3. Church History
“It’s opening night at the … pastors conference in Orlando, Florida. The sanctuary … is filled with church leaders from around the world waiting expectantly for the 12th and final speaker of the day and the only woman on this evening’s program – Anne Graham Lotz. … They sit in rapt attention as Lotz, daughter of world-famous evangelist Billy Graham, begins her message. Poised and impeccably dressed, Lotz delivers in her characteristically warm but emphatic style what they all have waited so patiently to hear from this self-taught Bible scholar – a hard-hitting exposition of the Word.” (Eha 2002:37)
Anne Graham Lotz’s ministry within the Southern Baptist denomination is not only quite exceptional; it is still very controversial in most denominations today to allow women to teach men or have authoritative positions in a church that would place them above men. Women like Lotz constantly have to answer to men questioning the validity of their ministry based on their understanding of difficult Scripture passages and church traditions that have shaped their beliefs.
The purpose of this paper is to examine the three most discussed passages of the New Testament relating to women in the church, contrasting different views and perspectives, taking into account cultural and historical factors, considering church history and – in spite of the vastness of this subject – trying to reach a biblically sound doctrine of women’s role in ministry.
2. Present-Day Views
In the past few decades the discussion on the role of women in the church has increased considerably, leading to a wide range of academic research, theological publications, and differences of opinion. Three main views are predominant:
in the body of Christ in her home
Women are equal equal to men.
equal under her husband’s headship.
under under men’s/her husband’s headship.
While the first one is becoming more and more popular, and the last one being the traditional conservative view, the one in the middle seems to become most widespread. However, serious Bible-believing scholars are found in all camps, arriving at different conclusions, due to their hermeneutical approaches, their presuppositions and their denominational traditions.
The two main positions can be called complementarian (or hierarchicalist) and egalitarian (or biblical feminists). Beck & Blomberg (2001:16) define complementarians as those who “favor certain timeless restrictions on women’s roles in the church”, believing that Paul barred “numerous roles to women in the domestic and religious arenas and intended those restrictions to be normative for all Christians throughout time” (Blomberg 2001:330). Egalitarians stress the “equality of men and women, not merely for salvation or in essential personhood, but in opportunities to hold every office and play every role that exists in church life” (Beck & Blomberg 2001:16), believing that Paul “did not promote any timeless role differentiation among men and women” (Blomberg 2001:330). Both these positions can be taken to the extreme, and proponents of each one often accuse each other of either allowing today’s world in and succumbing to the feminist movement, or suppressing women in order to keep the power and authority to themselves.
While the last few decades have brought more evidence, better understanding and insight into the background – culturally and linguistically – of biblical passages, it will take much time and renewing of the mind to break through mental patterns and beliefs. The following statement made by a woman in 2001(!) shows how far we yet have to go: “The Bible makes it abundantly clear that while created equal, God has ordained different roles for men and women in the church … It is a great injustice to Scripture to allow the full participation of women in all forms of ministry” (Houdmann 2001:3) (emphasis mine).
This quote shows that this subject has been treated far too emotionally in the past which has led to wounds and bitterness on both sides. Ariarajah (1996:1), taking the role of Paul and writing in his name as if he was here today, captures this tragedy well: “It grieves me beyond measure to know that what I wrote to settle quarrels within specific churches and to guide them in seeking peaceable solutions has itself become the basis of division and enmity among you.”
3. Difficult Bible Passages
Scholars from all camps claim to strictly believe only what the Bible teaches, and yet reach different conclusions. Egalitarians use Galatians 3:28 as a starting point for their argumentation: There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Complementarians deny that this passage is relevant to the discussion and discard it altogether, pointing to the passage’s immediate context, which is baptism. They claim that the evidence from other Bible passages is abundantly clear to deny women a place in church leadership.
Another frequently quoted passage is Genesis 1. Complementarians point to Adam being created first, Eve being created as his helper. However, the term ‘helper’ does not mean being less than the man or becoming his slave. On the contrary – God commanded both man and woman to “exercise joint dominion over the rest of creation” (Beck & Blomberg 2001:311).
The difficulty lies in knowing when the statement made is a principle for all eternity, and when it speaks directly into the culture, when to take it literally, and when background knowledge about a specific situation is necessary.
I have chosen to discuss three of the most controversial New Testament passages regarding women’s roles – a fact which has led to an abundance of publications on those alone.
3.1. 1.Corinthians 11:3-15
3Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. 4Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. 5And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head--it is just as though her head were shaved. 6If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off, she should cover her head. 7A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. 8For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; 9neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head. 11In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God. 13Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, 15but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering.
In this passage Paul addresses the believers in Corinth. The Corinthian church, while very gifted, had a lot of problems it had to come to terms with. One problem was that false apostles brought heretical teachings, which would later become known as gnosticism. Besides separating the spiritual from the natural, they also taught that “gender distinctions should be ignored” and that “the gnostic female was no different from the gnostic male” (Richards in Vyhmeister 1998:316). For that reason women uncovered their hair or cut it short to remove this distinction between them and the men, tossing aside traditions.
Ariarajah (1996:8) also notes that “in Corinth it was only the prostitutes of the temple of Aphrodite who shaved their heads as a mark of devotion to the goddess of fertility. And it was the women of the spirit cults who let their unbound hair fall all around them as they sang and danced around the altar.” Additionally, Berryhill (1999:32) states that “the custom of requiring women to veil themselves becomes more understandable when one learns that in the ancient era a woman’s hair and face were once commonly thought to stir a man’s sexual desires.”
There has been a lot of discussion on the Greek word kephalē, translated head in verses 3 through 7, trying to either justify women being under men (verse 3), or the other extreme, trying to find alternate translations, which are rarely used, to rationalize away the obvious meaning. In my opinion, the translation of gunē and anēr as wife and husband, instead of woman and man, is more accurate and in line with scriptural teaching. Richards (Beck & Blomberg 2001:319) states: “Paul never, here or elsewhere, widens the wife’s subordination to her husband within the family circle to a general subordination of women to men’s authority, in the church or in society.”
Verses 11 and 12 clearly show the equality and mutual dependency of men and women before God, from whom we ultimately have our life. Blomberg (2001:347) comes to the conclusion that Paul “does not require the presence or absence of head coverings as a timeless mandate, but he does see male headship, at least within marriage and perhaps more broadly, as defining a timeless authority structure that the Corinthians’ current practices in their culture called into question.”
3.2. 1.Corinthians 14:34-35
As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.
This passage has been used as a basis for silencing and oppressing women in churches, therefore hurting the body of Christ considerably. Only three chapters previously, Paul had laid out guidelines for women to prophesy and pray, therefore he cannot mean complete silence here. The other two instances of the Greek word translated remain silent refer to men – but no one has ever made a case saying men were not allowed to speak in church.
We must therefore look at the circumstances that led to Paul’s statement. In synagogues, men and women used to sit separate on the opposite side of the room. So, “any verbal exchanges between husbands on one side of the room and wives on the other obviously would have been disrupting” (Richards in Beck & Blomberg 2001:323). In addition, gnostic women were acting out of line with the traditional roles of women in public, all of which added to the Corinthians’ confusion of the use of the gift of tongues. Therefore, “they, along with the men, are to keep silence in those instances when order is best preserved by the silence” (ibidem 324).
The other widely discussed part of this passage is that women must be in submission. Hierarchialists immediately conclude that the women must submit to the men, however, no object is given here. All Christians must submit to God and to each other, and submit themselves to self-discipline.
However, hierarchialists point to the context of the passage, which is weighing prophecies, and conclude that “women should be silent when it comes to the authoritative weighing of prophecy” (Houdmann 2001:35), since women cannot fill in such a role.
Unfortunately, some egalitarians go to the extreme of throwing out those verses altogether, claiming they were added later.
Richards comes to the conclusion that “Paul taught both social subordination and religious equality” (Beck & Blomberg 2001:327).
3.3. 1.Timothy 2:9-14
9I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, 10but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God. 11A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. 13For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.
Paul left Timothy in Ephesus because of heretical teachers that were threatening the church, which is also the issue he addresses in his letter to Timothy. Hierarchalists claiming that women must be silent in church at all times, reject the idea of false teachers, saying that Paul would have had to silence men also if that was true. However, the women were being seduced by the false teachers, who worm their way into homes and gain control over weak-willed women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth (2.Tim 3:6-7).
Ephesus was a center for pagan worship, especially of Artemis, who “vests women with power equal to that of men” (Vhymeister 1998:339), that made Ephesus “the bastion and bulwark of women’s rights” (ibidem 338). Judaism, on the contrary, had a very low view of women, as can be seen in many Jewish writings. In addition to those extremes, gnosticism was arising in Ephesus also, which elevated Eve on one hand, and saw femaleness as a defect on the other hand.
Vhymeister (ibidem 340) comes to the conclusion that “those from pagan backgrounds would need to learn that the excesses of Artemis worship, along with its ascetic or sensual practices, were inappropriate for Christian women. On the other hand, those from a Jewish background would need encouragement ‘to study, learn, and serve in the Christian community’.”
Verse 11 of this passage has been discussed widely and reminds us of our previous discussion from 1.Corinthians on silence and submission. The Greek word hēsychia translated silence means peace, harmony and quietness. The word hypotagē translated submission has been discussed widely; as before, there’s no object to submit to in this sentence. Vhymeister (ibidem 342) states that “a natural understanding of the verse would be that the women are to submit to the gospel, to the teaching of Jesus”. She quotes J. Keir Howard calling it “submission to Christ in a quiet and gentle demeanor, … rather than the domineering attitude which some were showing, … calling into question the authoritative teaching of the church leaders.” (ibidem).
Maybe one of the most difficult verses to understand, and the one quoted most against women in ministry, has been verse 12. A close study of the Greek syntax and semantics is necessary to correctly understand its meaning. It is beyond the scope of this paper to go into this discussion. Egalitarians have made a case of saying that domineering teaching was meant, since the women promoted heresies, while hierarchialists claim he was laying down an eternal principle. The Greek word authentein translated have authority over has been discussed numerous times because of its ambiguity; a discussion on neither-nor constructions has arisen recently, and further studies will probably be necessary to hopefully illumine this verse correctly.
Unfortunately, some presumptuously believe to plainly see the truth: “Paul’s teaching is clear: women are not to teach or have authority over men in the church because of the fact that role distinctions were established at Creation and intensified because of the Fall.” (Houdmann 2001:38) (emphasis mine). Houdmann seems to forget the redemptive work of the cross that restored us back into relationship with God. Blaming women for Eve’s fall and therefore justifying suppressing women, has been common in church history. However, Paul uses strong language in verses 13 and 14 to address the heresy that Eve was created before Adam and breathed life into him, affirming the truth of Scripture. Vhymeister (1998:347) states that “only when one presupposes a ‘subordinate, helping role envisaged for them in creation,’ … is it possible to read into these verses a lasting injunction of subordination”.
She (ibidem 350) quotes van der Jagt in her closing statement: “They [women] can reach the same spiritual heights as men without renouncing their womanhood. What sounds so negative in the ears of many now would have sounded positive in the ears of those who heard the message in a different world from ours.”
Church history, from Jesus’s time to this day, is a history of women fighting to take their place in the church, to fulfill the purposes God has given them, with all the gifts he had bestowed on them. Evangelicals claim:
“The Charismatic movement is especially noted for allowing the full participation of women in the ministries and offices of the church. Charismatics tend to have a greater focus on the sometimes unpredictable moving of the Holy Spirit (John 3:8). Placing restrictions on what gifts or what offices to which the Spirit calls a person are rejected in favor of giving him the freedom to move however he wills.” (Houdmann 2001:2)
A fact is that church history shows that the more God is moving in power, the more women are taking their place in the kingdom of God. And the more institutionalized the early church became, and denominations become, the more men take over leadership and the question of women in leadership arises.
“While on earth, Jesus did challenge the practices built on religious dogma which restricted Jewish women from full participation in the public domain. The extent to which Jesus broke the traditional Jewish barriers between men and women cannot be appreciated except by looking in depth at how the Jewish laws worked in first century society” (Besançon 46)
The society of Jesus’s time expected a rabbi to “have no dealings with women who were not members of his own family” (Ariarajah 1996:25). Therefore, he broke all conventions by allowing women disciples to follow him, traveling with him and supporting him, even allowing Mary of Bethany to learn in the manner male disciples would study with their rabbis, by sitting at His feet. “He affirmed the personhood of women and their equal value before God with their male peers” (Blomberg 2001:335). Jesus’s way of treating women was revolutionary and opened the door for women to come into their rightful place. Anne Graham Lotz shares what God showed her when asking Him if she was right or wrong in what she was doing:
“God reminded her she is accountable to Him, not to her audience, and gave her several confirmations from Scripture that she was in His will. … “The very first person to be commissioned was a woman,” Lotz says. “And she was commissioned to go to men to share her testimony…and then also to give His word … He gave Mary Magdalene both commissions, to share her testimony and to give out His word.” (Eha 2002:42)
4.2. New Testament
Luke makes a point of mentioning that the women were also gathered in prayer with the disciples after Jesus’s ascension. The book of Acts and the epistles frequently mention female laborers of the gospel, like Priscilla and her husband Aquila, a team ministry, who taught Apollos (Acts 18, Rom 16), Junia, a female apostle, and possibly her husband Andronicus (Rom 16), Phoebe, a deaconess in the church at Cenchrea (Rom 16), Mary in Rome, Tryphena and Tryphosa, Persis, Julia, Jesus’s mother Mary, Chloe, Claudia, Damaris, John’s mother Elisabeth, Timothy’s mother Eunice, Timothy’s grandmother Lois, Joanna, Lydia, Salome and many others.
4.3. Church History
Church history continues recording God’s women laborers in the gospel, from Pliny the Younger’s encounter with female ministers, to Joan of Arc, Theresa of Aquila, Susanna Wesley, Amy Carmichael, Catherine Booth, Kathryn Kuhlmann, Mother Theresa, Fuchsia Pickett and many others who have advanced the kingdom of God. Historically, women have often been forced to go to the mission field to take their place, a role they were allowed to fulfill for lack of men. Even evangelicals recognize that double standard, saying: “A woman missionary serving in teaching and authoritative roles should be clearly seen as a temporary solution to an unfortunate dilemma.” (Houdmann 2001:68).
The debate on the validity of women in ministry has been going on for a long time and it will probably not be resolved soon, even though considerable advances have been made in the last few decades that have shed new light on difficult Bible passages as well as on their cultural and situational background. Developments in the church today encourage the hope that women will find their full freedom in Christ, being able to answer to the call of God on their lives, without being held back by men. It is time for the women to rise up to fulfill the great commission and take the gospel to the nations, so that His bride will be made perfect and ready for His return.
It is my hope that the truth will set people – men and women – free, if we could only humble ourselves and not hate our brothers and sisters who have opposing views. Ariarajah (1996:37) sums it up well with his fictitious words of today’s Paul:
“Do not allow this controversy over the ordination of women to the sacramental ministry to destroy the life of the church. But with patience help the contending parties to understand one another so that they might grow into a fuller measure of faith and into a community of women and men in the church, witnessing to the power of the gospel to break down every wall that has been built among us.”
Ariarajah, S. Wesley, Did I Betray the Gospel? The letters of Paul and the Place of Women, Risk Book Series, WCC Publications: Geneva 1996
Beard, Helen, Women in Ministry Today, Logos International: Plainfield, NJ 1980
Beck, James R. & Craig L. Blomberg (eds.), Two Views on Women in Ministry, Zondervan Publishing House: Grand Rapids, MI 2001
Berryhill, Jimmilea Gail, Women Restored, Essence Publishing: Canada 1999
Besançon Spencer, Aída, Beyond The Curse. Women Called to Ministry, Thomas Nelson Publishers: Nashville, TN 1985
Daniélou, Jean, The Ministry of Women in the Early Church, The Faith Press: London 1961
Eha, Maureen D., She Will Not Remain Silent, in: Charisma Magazine, June 2002, 37-47
France, R. T., Women in the Church’s Ministry. A Test-Case for Biblical Interpretation, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company: Grand Rapids, MI 1995
Grenz, Stanley J. & Denise Muir Kjesbo, Women in the Church. A Biblical Theology of Women in Ministry, InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove, IL 1995
Houdmann, Shea Michael, Women in Ministry: An Examination of Charismatic Positions, Calvary Theological Seminary Thesis 2001
Jacobs, Cindy, Women of Destiny, Regal Books: Ventura, CA 1998
Keener, Craig S., Paul, Women & Wives. Marriage and Women’s Ministry in the Letters of Paul, Hendrickson Publishers: Peabody, MA 1992
Maxwell, L. E., Women in Ministry, Victor Books: Wheaton, IL 1987
Raven, Charles E., Women and the Ministry, Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc.: Garden City, NY 1929
Steib, Bridget, Women in the Ministry, Christian Living Books: Lanham, MD 2001
Thrall, M. E., The Ordination of Women to the Priesthood. A Study of the Biblical Evidence, SCM Press Ltd.: London 1958
Torjesen, Karen Jo, When Women Were Priests, Harper Collins Publishers: New York, NY 1993
Vyhmeister, Nancy (ed.), Women in Ministry. Biblical & Historical Perspectives, Andrews University Press: Berrien Springs, MI 1998
 Certainly inspired by the increasing number of women going into full-time ministry.
 Some scholars distinguish between up to 7 different views on women (see footnote 3 in Beck 2001:330).
 Ariarajah (1996:5) speaking for Paul: “If any man uses what I have written to argue that the scriptures require men to dominate women, he is using scripture to satisfy and justify his own selfish wishes and desires.”
 James 4:7: Submit yourselves, then, to God.
 Ephesians 5:21: Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
 1.Corinthians 14:32: The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets.
 They base their claim on the fact, that there have been manuscripts found without those verses.
 The letters to Timothy alone are full of references to the false teachers – 1.Tim 1:4-7, 4:1-7, 6:3-5, 6:20-21, 2.Tim 2:16-17, 2:23, 3:6-7, 4:3-4.
 See for example Blomberg’s informative discussion (Beck & Blomberg 201:361ff).
 He wrote in a letter: “I thought it the more necessary, therefore, to find out what truth there was in this by applying torture to two maidservants, who were called ministrae.” (Johnston in Vhymeister 1998:51).