What is the Role of Women in the Church? (Part 2)

What is the Role of Women in the Church? (Part 2)

In part one of this article on the role of women in the church, it was made quite clear that God’s original design for mankind, both male and female, when he created them was to “co-rule” the earth and have dominion over everything in it.

We also examined the role of women in both the Old and New Testaments and how God equally used them in significant ways. I do believe that the most important means of God’s validation on the role of women was when He used them, instead of Jesus’ male disciples, to proclaim Christ’s resurrection.

As we conclude this topic, I would like us to look into the passages that most Christians today use to defend the view that women should never take leadership roles in the church; that women should not be allowed to teach and preach in churches.

Rather, women should “keep silent” in obedience to what the word of God clearly instructs.

Problematic Passages 

As mentioned earlier, Jesus gave His Spirit and gifts to men and women equally on the Day of Pentecost – in fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy. Yet there are some scriptures in the New Testament about women in the Church that can seem confusing.

Paul says this in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, “Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church.”

Should Women Teach in the Church

How could Paul write such a thing? Does he seem to contradict himself at other places in Scripture, when he instructs women how to speak, pray, and prophecy in the church?

In one verse Paul seems to be saying women are to be silent in the churches. Then in another verse (1 Corinthians 11:5), he instructs how they are to pray and prophesy in the churches. In one verse, he commands women to keep silent. In the other, he tells them how to pray and prophesy.

Are women never to speak in church, or are they to pray and prophesy? Which did Paul mean? Let us examine this more closely.

Paul’s Intent in Writing

First, we must consider why Paul was writing to the Corinthian church.

On his second missionary journey in about A.D. 50-51, Paul had established a church there and he kept in touch with them after he left (Acts 18:1-8; 1 Corinthians 5:9; 2 Corinthians 12:14).

After some time, he received some disturbing reports about moral and spiritual problems among the believers in Corinth. They were struggling with such things as divisions, spiritual immaturity, the role of men and women, immorality, and the improper use of spiritual gifts.

1 Corinthians 14:40 tells us why Paul wrote this letter: “Let all things be done decently and in order.”

There were confusion and disorder in the church in Corinth. So, Paul wrote to encourage the believers as to what was appropriate behavior for Christians. He wrote to teach them about order in the church. Again, Paul’s number-one concern in writing to the Corinthians was order in the church.

Order in the Church

In chapter 11, Paul is addressing the problem of Corinthian social customs. A woman who appeared in public with her head uncovered was considered to be immoral, even a temple prostitute (1 Corinthians 11:5).

In that culture, a woman with her head properly covered meant she was either married and in proper submission to her “head” (her husband), or single, and in proper submission to her family. A man’s head uncovered showed that his covering was the Lord.

Both represented a proper spirit of submission in places of public worship. So, Paul has no problem with women praying or prophesying, as he is telling them how it is to be done appropriately in 1 Corinthians 11. The issue is that it be done in order, with a heartfelt submission to those in authority.

The Role of Women in the Church

It is important to realize that in Jewish tradition women had not been allowed to take part in a religious ceremony. They were forbidden to speak in the synagogues. Women were not even allowed in the court of worship in the Jewish temple.

When these women come to Christ, they are thrilled and excited about their forgiveness and about being restored as “co-heirs.” It may take time for them to adjust to their new freedom. It also may take time for them to learn appropriate behavior in public worship services.

Women’s New Found Liberty

In contrast to the old Jewish system where women had always been kept in the outer court, Christian women during Paul’s day were allowed to come inside the churches. For the first time, women could see and hear everything that went on.

The women might not have understood everything that was happening, yet they were overjoyed to be part of the ceremony and worship. They might have been tempted to ask questions or even discussed what was taking place among themselves right during the meeting.

The women may not have yet learned the proper order for church involvement. As a result, they may have been blurting out whatever they thought or felt. Perhaps they were arguing with the men over what they were hearing from the pulpit, and in so doing they were challenging their husband’s authority and shaming them in public.

Perhaps the women wanted to teach the men ideas which they felt had been revealed to them, without an appropriate time of learning and testing.

Are Women to be Silent?

Before we examine 1 Corinthians 14:35-36, we must look at the entire passages surrounding them.

In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul writes to the church in Corinth to address the order of ministry in the meetings. Notice that all were speaking in tongue in the church (1 Corinthians 14:23) and Paul says that all may prophesy (1 Corinthians 14:24). Again, “every one of you” means “all.”

Then Paul says for the fourth time, “For you can all prophesy…” (1 Corinthians 14:31).

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Nothing could be clearer than Paul saying all (men and women) are to participate in the ministry gifts during church service. Paul discourages the confusion of everyone trying to speak or prophesy at once. But he still encourages every person to participate.

But while writing that all should participate in the ministry, Paul suddenly says, “Let your women keep silent in churches … for it is shameful for women to speak in church (1 Corinthians 14:34-35).

Word Study on the Passage

Three words in the passage need to be studied to understand what Paul was teaching the Corinthians. These three words are: women, speak and says.

The word women in 1 Corinthians 4:34-35 is the Greek word gune, which can mean a wife (not just any female). Given the context, Paul’s instruction is probably directed to wives.

The Greek word used for speak is laleo, which means to talk. This word can imply an extended conversation. Says comes from the Greek word lego, which means to lay forth (an idea or doctrine) in words usually of systematic or set discourse (“ … as the law also says”).

“Lego” (says) involved the teaching or preaching of something the speaker had prepared and carefully thought about. This type of “speaking” was encouraged.

On the other hand, “laleo” (speak) was a talking that interrupted the speaker or was not spoken at the right time; this was discouraged. It could be calling out questions or discussing the weather. The point was that it was not an appropriate type of speaking out in a church meeting.

So, if the passage was expanded to include the true meanings of the words in the original Greek language in which the Scriptures were first written, it might read something like this:

“Let the wives not interrupt (laleo) the meetings of the church with extended talking: for it is not permitted for them to interrupt or to call out to others with their questions; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also it is taught in the doctrine.

And if they desire to learn about anything, let them wait and ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for them to have conversations during the church service.”

Should Women be Pastors

Interpreting the Passage

Paul was not telling women they could never pray, prophesy, or otherwise minister in the church. He had just been teaching them all (men and women) how to minister in orderliness just a few verses before. Paul was teaching the women, and the men, that there needed to be order in the church.

You will notice he also told the men to be silent at times as well (1 Corinthians 14:28, 30). He instructed them all when it was appropriate to speak in tongues, prophesy, and otherwise minister in the church.

He also told them to listen with silence when the Word of God was being taught. Paul was concerned for the witness and testimony of the Corinthian church in their community. He desired that they learn to walk in the Spirit and properly exercise the gifts God had given them.

The Corinthians could be loud and unruly. They even got drunk in their observance of the Lord’s supper (1 Corinthians 11:20-26). This behavior certainly did not bring glory to God, or speak well of their newfound Christian faith.

These problems of lack of manners, civility, common courtesy, and appropriate behavior were the issues in Paul’s writings. He was not trying to keep women from participating in an orderly fashion in the church. Paul’s concern was for ORDER in the church, that all things be done decently and non-offensively (1 Corinthians 14:33).

Should Women Teach in the Church?

Another portion of Scripture that is often used by some to not allow women to teach in the church is 1 Timothy 2:11-12.

It is important to note that Paul wrote this section of Scripture as a letter to young Timothy, who was in charge of the church in Ephesus. He was helping Timothy deal with problems of doctrinal error, qualifications for leadership, and improper behavior by those in the church.

Timothy faced challenges in Ephesus much like those Paul addressed in Corinth. There were thousands of religious prostitutes at the shrine of Diana in Ephesus. They were taught that fornication linked people with the gods, and immorality was encouraged.

Most women were not educated or trained in those days and knew nothing about God. It was considered virtuous for a woman to be ignorant (which is exactly the opposite of what the Bible teaches in Proverbs 31).

So Paul is writing to Timothy to help him correctly lead and provide order for the new Christians, both men, and women, at the church in Ephesus.


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Recommended Resource: Women in the Church, A Biblical Theology of Women in Ministry by Stanley Grenz and Denise Muir Kjesbo.

Women in the Church by Stanley Grenz and Denise Muir KjesboStudies of key biblical passages on women’s roles in the church fill entire bookshelves, if not libraries. But in Women in the Church, Stanley Grenz and Denise Muir Kjesbo offer the first in-depth theological study of this issue–one of the most bitterly contested issues of our day.

Carefully considering the biblical, historical and practical concerns surrounding women and the ordained ministry, this book will enlighten people on all sides of the issue. But Grenz and Kjesbo make no secret of their bold conclusion: “Historical, biblical and theological considerations converge not only in allowing but also in insisting, that women serve as full partners with men.”

Thorough and irenic, Women in the Church bids to take an intense discussion to a new plane.

Giving Instruction to Women

Notice the kind of issues Paul addresses first in 1 Timothy 2:9-10.

Paul finds it necessary to give instructions about very simple matters, such as how a godly woman should dress, act and wear her hair. He emphasizes modesty, no worldly display, and that her true attractiveness is her character. He reminds her to not be loud and out of order. (See 1 Peter 3:1-6.)

The women of Ephesus had very little understanding of even the most basic godly priorities and values. They needed much instruction on proper behavior in the church and their personal lives. The clothes, jewelry, and behavior of a temple prostitute were not acceptable in the church.

Paul then goes on to tell Timothy, “Let a woman learn in silence with all submission” (1 Timothy 2:11).

Let Women Learn in Silence

It is important to look carefully at the first part of the verse again. “Let a woman learn…” Paul is telling Timothy that it is important to let, or allow, a woman to learn! Remember, in this culture, it was not normally acceptable for women to learn or be taught anything. They were incorrectly told that ignorance was virtuous for a woman.

But Paul writes to say that the women “need to learn,” especially about the things of the Lord. But how is it best to learn? In silence (quietly) and with all submission.

When you want to learn something, you must be willing to sit quietly. You must accept and learn from the person teaching; you must not argue, but submit and listen. So, it is important to “let the women learn.” But we must encourage the women, just like the men, to sit quietly and listen to the teacher while they are learning.

The women of Ephesus had much to learn about God, about living a godly life, and about functioning as part of the church body. How better to learn than quietly receiving what the teacher or pastor is saying.

God’s Order in Leadership

We have seen in his letter to Timothy that Paul was reminding women they may be tempted to step out of their place in God’s order. They may even desire to take over the man’s place of God-ordained rulership.

But what did Paul mean when he said, “I do not permit a woman to teach…” (1 Timothy 2:12)? Didn’t Paul, in Titus 2:3-4 (KJV)), tell older women to “teach” the younger women? Yes, he did.

And didn’t Priscilla – with Aquila – teach Apollos, the “eloquent man” who was “mighty in the Scriptures” (Acts 18:24, 26)? Yes, she did. But in 2 Timothy 2:2 we read: “And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”

Does Paul mean only men should learn and teach others?

Should Women Allowed to be Church Leaders

Word Study on 2 Timothy 2:2

The Greek word for men in 2 Timothy 2:2 is anthropos, which means mankind – both men and women. So Paul is instructing Timothy to teach the men and women, and then encourage them to teach others also.

So when Paul says, “I do not permit a woman to teach…” what is it he was telling Timothy? The word teach is the key to understanding this problem verse. The original Greek word used for “teach” is didaskaleo, which means “to instruct or teach doctrine.”

Women were not authorized to establish the doctrinal standards, as apostolic teachers. That was a function handled by the apostolic councils (see Acts 15). “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42).

The apostolic councils set the doctrinal standards, and the women who ministered were to respect those standards and not teach to the contrary. This rule was not just for women, but for men as well. We read this in 2 Timothy 2:17-18, “… Hymenaeus and Philetus … who have strayed concerning the truth, saying that the resurrection is already past; and they overthrow the faith of some.”

These two men departed from the apostles’ doctrine and were condemned.

Interpreting the Passage

Given all of the above understanding, an expanded translation of 1Timothy 2:11-12 using the original Greek meanings would read something like this:

“But I suffer not a woman to teach doctrine contrary to that established by the apostles, or to try and take the authoritative office of apostolic teacher, or to try and rule over a man; but to remain undisturbed, and learn in stillness.”

Paul’s exhortation, then, is consistent with his other words regarding ministry and order in the church. It is also consistent with the rest of Scripture, which does remind women (and men) that they are to be yielded and submitted to God’s order for relationships and the Church.

The ideas and opinions formed in human reason, and the deceptions of false religions, are not what ministry in the Church is based upon. Ministry in the Church is based solely upon the whole counsel of God through His Word.

Pure ministry flows out of a willingness of both men and women to submit and yield themselves and their ideas to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, His Word, and His ways.

Should Women be Church Leaders?

Whatever conclusions one reaches about the role of women in the church, consider these final points of review:

First, the Old Testament contains many accounts of anointed women leading, ministering, prophesying, and praying in the Name of the Lord. Second, the New Testament also gives us many examples of women taking the testimony of the Lord Jesus Christ to those around them. It tells us of women who ministered through teaching, prophecy, prayer, and evangelism.

Women of the New Testament were considered Christians of equal standing to men: believers, followers of Christ, witnesses for Him, messengers of the resurrection, and soul-winners for Jesus’ sake.

Third, Jesus our Lord fully accepted and showed loving kindness to both men and women. They were both associated with His life and ministry. He spoke to them, forgave them, healed them, and encouraged them in doing works even greater than His own (John 14:12-14).

Concluding Words

Women were certainly allowed and encouraged) to educate, proclaim truth, and exhort (prophesy). (For biblical review, see Acts 2:17; 18:26; 21:9; 1 Corinthians 11:5; Philippians 4:3; 2 Timothy 1:5; 3:14,15; and Titus 2:3-5.)

It is clear that the idea of women just sitting in church services and not participating or serving the Lord is NOT found anywhere in Scripture. Women should share in the ministry of soul-winning, prayer, prophecy, worship, and miracles. They should fully function in all the gifts and callings the Lord freely gives to those who are His.

Christ lives in any person who receives His gift of salvation through His cross and resurrection. He fills them with His Holy Spirit; He serves through them; He speaks through them; He loves and ministers through them.


Read part 1 of this article here >>> The Role of Women in the Church 

Note: This is an excerpt taken from the book “Women in Ministry” by Shepherd Staff.

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