Remember the old musical lyrics, “I can do anything you can do, better! I can do anything better than you”? These words fairly well sum up the attitude popular today toward women’s involvement in any and every Christian ministry. It is commonly held that women can, and should, do anything men do (and even better!). Indeed, research has shown the female mind to be just as intelligent as the male mind. Spiritually, some of the holiest and godliest people recorded in the Bible are women. In every field (medicine, science, the arts, business, etc.), women have proven themselves to be just a capable as their male counterparts.
The Scriptures clearly grant great freedom, liberty, and opportunity for women in ministry. Yet some in the church are still resistant to the idea of women serving our Lord in certain ministry capacities, or as those who “wear the pants” in the family. Perhaps raw male chauvinism accounts for this to some degree. But is it possible that such opposition could also stem from purer motives? What biblical reasons would lead a person to oppose a woman’s freedom to take on these few roles?
The issue is thus not at all women in ministry per se, but rather women in those very few ministries that seem to be reserved for men. Evangelical feminists point to an alleged tidal wave of Scriptural examples of women in so-called manly ministry (myriads of them, it is alleged). They claim that this tidal wave, surging upon the shoreline of biblical restriction, washes away any tiny sea wall of verses that might seem to limit women’s ministry avenues. Thus, an examination of both that tidal wave and the sea wall is in order.
THE OLD TESTAMENT TIDAL WAVE
Eve. It is critical to begin with the observation that Adam and Eve were both created “in the image of God” (Ge 1:27). They were given the same divine commission (Ge 1:28) as co-regents. And, whereas all other living creatures were made from the dust of the earth, the woman was uniquely made out of the man’s side, as his equal. She thus was created to be his suitable helper (Ge 2:18). The camaraderie of other men would not have been sufficient, nor even fellowship with God Himself. Only a woman could meet Adam’s need not to be alone (Ge 2:19). It is also quite important to note that Eve was not inferior to Adam. Indeed, the Hebrew for “helper” is often used other places with reference to Jehovah! Thus, in the church, any divinely revealed, gender specific role differences would not be a matter of equality, but of purpose and function. There is, for instance, perfect equality within the Trinity, and yet our Lord Jesus was in submission to the Father’s will (Jn 1:1, Php 2:5-11).
And yet, flagging which one of the couple had the lead role, the New Testament states, “man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, for woman for man” (1Co 11:8-9). Further, though the sovereign Lord of creation could easily have made Adam and Eve simultaneously, significantly, He did not. Instead, God made the man first, giving him the commission prior to Eve’s creation (see Ge 2:15-17, 18-22). This creation order may imply that Adam was to be the leader in the relationship. As regards church matters, the New Covenant writings make note of this purposeful order in creation (Adam first, then Eve), using it as the basis for women to be in “full submission” and to not “usurp authority over the man” (KJV) in church matters (1Ti 2:11-13, “for Adam was formed first, then Eve”).
This same order is to exist in the family. Theologically, the entire blame for the fall is pinned squarely on Adam alone in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15. No mention is made of Eve in this respect, even though she ate first. Why is this? Could it be because Adam was the person in charge, and as such was ultimately responsible for what went wrong? Thus, 1 Corinthians 11 declares that “the head of the woman is man” (11:3), and reminds us that “man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man” (1Co 11:8-9; Paul also took pains to balance out this proclamation; see comments on 1Co 11, below). Further, Ephesians 5:23 clearly proclaims that “the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church.” Parallel with this, Colossians 3:18 instructs wives to “submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.” In nature, anything with no head is dead, and anything with two heads is a freak. In the family, the husband is to be the servant head, the loving leader, just as Jesus is the head of the church.
The husband’s headship is not the result of the curse, but clearly existed prior to the fall. One result of the fall, according to Genesis 3:16, involves domineering, unloving, harsh rule by unregenerate men over their wives (picture a brute-like cave man with a club over his shoulder, dragging a woman by her hair), coupled with a corresponding ungodly desire by worldly women to “master” their husbands (see Genesis 4:7 re sin’s “desire” to master Cain). The battle of the sexes is the result of the fall. However, order in the family, with the husband as the loving, servant-leader and the wife his submissive helper, was established by God at creation, before the fall.
Chaucer evidently picked up on this tragic result of the fall. In The Wife of Bath, a knight, asked by the queen to discover what thing women most desire, after much inquiry was finally ready to answer: “Everyone was commanded to keep silence, and the knight was commanded to tell in open assembly what thing it is that secular women love best. This knight did not stand in beast-like silence, but answered to his question at once with manly voice, so that all the court heard it: ‘My liege lady,” he said, ‘generally women desire to have dominion over their husbands as well as their lovers, and to be above in mastery; this is your greatest desire, though you may kill me; do as you please, I am at your will here.’ In all the court there was neither wife nor maiden nor widow who contradicted what he said . . .” (Canterbury Tales, p. 229).
The particulars of the fall also serve as the basis for gender distinctions in church ministry. Whereas Eve was deceived by Satan, Adam transgressed knowingly (Ge 3:12-13). These differing responses to the same situation suggest a fundamental difference between men and women in temperament, perspective and approach to life. They also serve as the reason for the biblical restriction on women taking on the role of teacher in the church. Part of the reason given for this is because “Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner” (1Ti 2:14).
Cain’s Wife. Skeptics question where Cain got his wife. That Cain had a wife is certain, but what was her name? Or the name of Enoch’s wife? Or Lamech’s? Or Jubal’s? Why is it that the Spirit led Moses to record the names of these men, but not their wives? And for that matter, why do the genealogies throughout the Scriptures primarily focus on the lineage of the men, and not the women? The answer is not because women are unimportant, but rather because the emphasis in Scripture is on the men as heads of their families/clans, on men as leaders in Hebrew society, and on men as elders among God’s people. Though we are now under the New Covenant and not the Old, it remains that all Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness (2Ti 3:16). While the covenants have changed, God Himself does not change, and there is reason for this inspired emphasis on males as leaders in family, society and religion.
Some may object that the Jewish men who recorded such genealogies held to a horrid view of women, which accounts for their omission in the genealogies. Yet was it not the Holy Spirit who inspired and oversaw the writing of these records? Any prejudices by the human authors could easily have been prevented from reflection in God’s word. Strikingly significant is the inclusion of women’s names in the New Testament record of Jesus’ ancestry, and most of them Gentile women at that! (Their names are given in addition to, not in replacement of, the men’s). Of course women are important in God’s kingdom, yet God’s primarily focus remained on men for the more public aspects of his work in earth.
Noah’s Wife. Why is it that God spoke directly to Noah regarding the flood, rather than to Noah’s wife? Like Cain, Noah too had a wife, and like Cain’s wife, her name went unrecorded. (Yet the names of her three sons are given: Shem, Ham, and Japheth). Her value to God was undoubtedly equal to Noah’s, yet as in Noah’s example, it was always men in the Bible who were the mediators of or parties to God’s covenants (Abraham, Moses, David, Jesus). In this case, had God made a covenant directly through Noah’s wife, rather than Noah, it might have undermined Noah as head of his family and worked at cross purposes with God’s intent to encourage men to be the leaders in both family and faith.
In other instances, especially when it involved childbirth, God often spoke directly to women first, sometimes bi-passing the husbands entirely. Examples include the mother of Jesus, Samson’s mother and Samuel’s mother. (It bears pointing out that without women to complete the procreative cycle, there would be no history of redemption out of which Christ could arise!). Again, the issue is not equality nor worthiness, but God’s differing purposes for the genders.
Sarah. God’s call for Abraham to move to the Promised Land, the divine promises made to Abraham, and the Abrahamic Covenant are foundational to the rest of God’s redemptive plan for the human race. Sarah, as bearer of the son of promise (Isaac), was pivotal to that plan. She is honored in Isa 51:2, along with Abraham, as the source of the Hebrew people. Yet, it was primarily to her husband, Abraham, that God spoke and made the covenantal promises. Father Abraham also gets the primary attention throughout the rest of the Sacred Writings as the father of the faithful, and rightly so (Ro 4, Heb 11). Yet the question must be asked: Why didn’t God call Sarah directly, rather than indirectly through Abraham, when the childless couple resided in Ur? And why did God make the actual covenant with Abraham instead of Sarah, since she was to be the bearer of the promised seed? It should come then as no surprise that the New Testament exhorts wives to be submissive to their husbands, citing Sarah as an example and concluding, “You are her (Sarah’s) daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear” (1Pe 3:6).
The sign of this foundational covenant was circumcision (Ge 17:11). Such a sign obviously belonged uniquely to males. One function of the sign was to help preserve ethnic purity. But could it have also been to reinforce an emphasis on males as those who are created by divine design to be the leaders both in the home and the church? Two thousand years later, the New Covenant declared literal circumcision to be of no value now that Christ has come. What does still matter is the spiritual circumcision of the hearts of both men and women.. Baptism, the initiation rite into the New Covenant community, is also for both men and women, as is the sign of the New Covenant, the Lord’s supper. In Christ there is complete equality between men and women, yet with differing appropriate ministry roles in some areas of home and church.
Angelic Visitors. In Genesis 18, three angels came to talk with Abraham. Here, and throughout Holy Writ, the angels manifest themselves to people on earth exclusively in masculine form. In no case is an angel on earth ever presented in feminine form. Why is this? To charge God with male chauvinism would be blasphemous. Could it be that God desired to model and reinforce men in leadership by manifesting angels in male form? (Later European art departed from the Biblical pattern by inaccurately portraying angels as attractive women.)
The Matriarchs. That God intended men to be the leaders, and women their helpers, is also borne out in Hebrew society, which was clearly Patriarchal. The New Testament states that Christ became a servant of the Jews to on behalf of God’s truth, “to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs” (Ro 15:8). Note that the text says “patriarchs,” not “matriarchs.” The names of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph echo down to us through the halls of time. These men were the heads of their households. Peter noted that “the holy women of the past . . . were submissive to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master” (1Pe 3:5-6). The Twelve tribes of Israel are named after Jacob’s sons, not his daughters. Indeed, the very nation of Israel derives its name from a Jacob, not his Rachel. Who designed all this to be this way if not Jehovah God Himself?
Miriam. Miriam took a tambourine and publicly led all the “women” in song (Ex 15:22). She was a revered national figure. So respected was she by all the people (men included) that, during her time of leprosy, the nation did not move on until she was healed (Nu 12:15). In Micah 6:4, honor is given to Miriam, along with Moses and Aaron, as a high profile person in Israeli history. (The Hebrew text says that God placed them “before” Israel.). However, nothing is ever said of her leading men per se. She was also a bona fide Old Testament prophetess, but there is no historical record of her exercising her gift publicly before men. Some have argued that it is only natural to assume that Miriam prophesied in a public manner identical to her male counterparts. Perhaps so, but there is no question but that her younger brother Moses’ prophesies were quite public, and it was clearly he who was God’s chosen leader of the nation. Was it by accident that God used the man, Moses, to lead His people out of Egypt and to mediate the Sinai covenant, rather than his capable older sister, Miriam?
The Sinai (Old) Covenant. Under the terms of the Sinai Covenant, which were supernaturally written by Jehovah Himself upon the tablets of stone and also dictated directly to Moses, it was codified into law that men were to be the heads of their homes and also the leaders in religious life. For instance, by God’s own direction, only men could serve as priests, a husband could cancel a contract his wife had made, inheritance rights belonged to the first born son, etc. What is suggested by the law that tolerated men with more than one wife, while a woman could only have one husband? There are clearly essential differences in men and women, both in their sinful tendencies and in their suitability for various ministries. To ignore these differences is folly. In Exodus 23:17, “all the men” were commanded to go worship God three times a year. All the singers associated with the temple were male (1Ch 15:16-22, 1Ch 25). 2 Chronicles 29:25 makes it clear that this was by the LORD’s own command. These statutes did not evolve by accident, but by divine decree. Was God mistaken? Or is there a principle to be observed here about male leadership? The famous New Testament declaration about the inspiration of Scripture and its profitability for teaching, correction and training in righteousness (2Ti 3:16), was specifically with the Hebrew writings in view.
It is a fact that the Old Covenant was abrogated by the New Covenant. With that change of covenant also came a change of law (Hebrews 7 & 8), which is now written not on stone but on hearts. All believers, both male and female, are now priests. God’s physical temple has been replaced by the gathered church, made up of living stones of both genders. The dividing wall between Jew and Gentile is gone. All food is now clean. Christ has become our once-for-all time sacrifice. Under the New Covenant, it is stated that the husband’s body belongs not to him alone, but also to his wife (1Co 7:4). There is to be mutuality and respect. Much changed with the covenants. However, God Himself has not changed, but is “the same, yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb 13:8). God’s basic order for men and women in home and religion has not changed, either. These distinctions are based on God’s divine design in creation, a distinction later reflected in Mosaic law and still incorporated into the New Covenant as well (though in different ways than under the Sinai covenant).
Rahab. A converted prostitute, Rahab demonstrated her new faith by protecting the two Hebrew spies (Jos 2). She received commendation in Hebrews 11:31 & Ja 2:25 for her obedience. God honored Rahab by making her, like Sarah, part of the lifeline of women God used to deliver the Messiah (Mt 1:5). Yet, she was not a leader of men, nor a teacher of men, nor a national statesman.
Deborah. Deborah, like Miriam, was a prophetess. However, observe that she delivered her prophecy privately to Barak. Clearly not private was her public ministry as a judge in Israel. If Exodus 18 is any indication, she was a high profile figure rendering a serious judicial service, sort of like an ancient Sandra Day O’Connor! What are we to make of this woman judge? If Deborah can be a judge in Israel, why can’t women be elders in the church?
The inspired text notes pointedly that the LORD raised up as judges such men as Othniel, Ehud, Gideon, Jephthah, and Samson. In Deborah’s case, however, the writer merely observed that Deborah had indeed become a judge, but stopped short of stating that it was God who had raised her up. Judges 2:16 makes a blanket statement that God raised up judges to save the Israelis out of the hands of their oppressors, and perhaps Deborah should be included under this blanket statement. However, that she was not really God’s intended judge becomes more clear when, as a true prophetess, God directed Deborah to go find Barak and enlist him to be the judge that God would use to throw off the tyranny of the Canaanites. Why didn’t God use Deborah as judge since she was already judging Israel? Because Barak was evidently God’s appointed judge, not Deborah. Significantly, Hebrews 11:32 recognizes Barak as the hero of the narrative, omitting Deborah.
The period of the judges was a time of terrible decline in Israel’s history, a time when “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Jdg 21:25). Perhaps Deborah rose to power, a true “mother in Israel” (Jdg 5:7), in large part because the men were spiritually weak and society was in a state of decay? If there is any fault it would lie not with Deborah, but with the weak men of her generation who “neither knew the Lord nor what He had done for Israel” (Jdg 2:10). It is possible to drive a nail with a wrench, but it is much better to use a hammer.
Centuries later, Isaiah the prophet predicted dire days ahead for the people of his own day. Speaking judgment on Jerusalem and Judah, Isaiah described a coming time when water and food supplies would be cut off, when all heroes, warriors, captains and counselors would be taken away, when boys would be their officials and mere children would govern them, and when neighbors would oppress each other. Woe and disaster would come upon them. Then, in 3:12, Isaiah lamented, “Youths oppress my people, women rule over them.” This statement clearly shows God’s assessment of a society that is weakened to the point that women are ruling over men. But in a more positive light, note that Barak learned God’s will for his life from a woman. There was nothing inappropriate about this. So high was his respect for her that he declared, “If you go with me, I will go; but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go” (Jdg 4:8). This evidently stuck Deborah as somewhat of a undesirable situation, for she declared, “I will go with you. But, because of the way you are going about this, the honor will not be yours, for the LORD will hand Sisera over to a woman” (Jdg 4:9; that woman was not Deborah, but Jael).
Ruth. A godly woman, Ruth converted from paganism to the worship of our living Lord. Neither political leader, nor elder at the city gates, nor prophetess, she was honored by the LORD and enabled to give birth to Obed, father of Jesse, father of David, in the lineage of Christ (Mt 1:5). Her faith was worked out in the context of being a wife and mother.
Hannah. Hannah was a barren women of faith who, because of her prayer for a son, was able to conceive and give birth to the prophet Samuel (1Sa 1:20). Her Scriptural claim to fame? She wanted to be a mom.
Abigail. This intelligent and beautiful woman was in the sad circumstance of being married to a fool named Nabal. Her quick thinking and good judgment saved him from certain destruction (1Sa 25). Writing to wives in his own day who were in a similar marital situation, Peter counseled, “be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives” (1Pe 3:1-2).
Huldah. A prophetess, Huldah delivered a prophecy to the King’s men in the privacy of her own home (2Ki 22). This was in contrast to other, male, prophets living during that time (Jeremiah, Zephaniah) who delivered their messages in public. Under King Josiah’s orders, Hilkiah the priest sought out Huldah at her home in the Second District of Jerusalem. That they sought her over her male counterparts shows the tremendous respect they had for her ministry. She accurately gave them the word of the LORD. Her example, along with Miriam and Deborah, shows that it was consistent with God’s plan and His creation order for women to serve Him as prophetesses. Even though her prophecy was delivered in private, it had very public consequences. There is nothing unscriptural about women determining the course of history. Perhaps Huldah had a more public prophetic ministry as well, but if so the Scriptures do not give any example of it.
Did the king learn information from Huldah that he did not previously know? Of course he did. She was a respected oracle of the LORD. Her words carried weight. Did that make her their teacher? No, no more than a news reporter teaches current events. The difference is both intent and gifting (teaching and prophecy are two distinct spiritual gifts, 1Co 12:29).
The Virtuous Woman. Proverbs 31b describes the ideal “wife of noble character.” Her attributes? She is a capable, trustworthy, hard working, benevolent, wise woman who fears the Lord. She was also active outside the home, inspecting, buying and developing real estate (31:16). The central verse of the section (and of her activities) revolves around the man in her life: “Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land” (Pr 31:23). It is he, and not she, who is among the elders at the gate. Yet but for her, he may well not have been an elder. As a wise counselor once said, the man may be the head, but the woman is the neck that turns the head in whatever direction she wishes!
Wisdom. In Solomon’s proverbs to his son, “wisdom” is personified as a woman who calls aloud in the street, rasing her voice in public squares, making a speech, beseeching the simple to learn from her (Pr 1-9). Based on this, some believe themselves justified in the promotion of women preachers. Why would God, they ask, use a metaphor that was inconsistent with His plan for women?
“Simple” young men are well advised to learn as much as they can from a wise mother. The picture of wisdom as a woman, calling out from the streets, impossible to overlook, only increases the judgment of those who ignore the ways of wisdom. Wisdom is thus presented as a desirable thing, readily available, drawing the simple in even as the mythological sirens did the Greek mariners (though with much better results). Wisdom as a woman is also contrasted with a harlot who is loud and defiant, whose feet never stay at home, who lurks in every corner (Pr 7). Any use of this as justification of women as preachers is circumstantial at best.
Queen Athaliah. Of all the monarchs who ever ruled over Israel or Judah (there were thirty nine), only one was a woman (the evil Athaliah, 2Ki 11:3). What does this percentage suggest about the normal social order of Hebrew society? Clearly, it has suited God’s sovereign purpose to publicly work through more men than women, perhaps in part due to divine differences in design between the genders. Are women unfit for such roles? Historical examples of capable women rulers of history would include Queen Elizabeth, Katherine the Great, or Margaret Thatcher. A biblical example of a good and godly queen would be Esther, whose bravery saved the entire Jewish race from holocaust. (But note that Esther was not a ruling monarch, as was Athaliah). However, in light of such passages as Isaiah 3:12, it seems not to be God’s best for His women to take on such ministries.
Noadiah. It is amazing to see some egalitarians actually cite Noadiah’s example. She was one of those that Nehemiah prayed against for opposing God’s work (Neh. 6:14)! One has a weak case indeed when an ungodly prophetess has to be called upon to testify on behalf of one’s cause. There are so few women in public prominence in the Old Testament that they resort to using her example, which only serves to reinforce the observation that God overwhelmingly prefers to use men in such capacities.
THE NEW TESTAMENT TIDAL WAVE
Mary. Gabriel first appeared to Mary with news of the coming birth of the Savior (Lk 1); only later did Joseph get the word (Mt 1). (If ever there was an appropriate time to send a female angel this was it, yet the angel sent was male.) This announcement first to Mary illustrates that women are clearly as valuable and honored in God’s value system as are men. She did not, however, go on to become an elder in the church, nor an apostle, nor a teacher. Instead, she was honored and valued as a mother. A woman’s calling to be a wives and mother is just as high as any man’s calling to his vocation or any other Christian ministry. Which is more influential, the pulpit or parenthood? Motherhood or the ministry? Indeed, the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world!
Anna. A true servant of the Lord, Anna, the aged prophetess, delivered a prophecy to the parents of Jesus, (Lk 2). Luke informs us that Anna also “spoke of about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” (2:38). As is consistently the case with historical examples of women who prophesy, it appears that she did so in private. Did this elderly lady, who was at least eighty-four years old, stand up on a proverbial soap box and shout, or did she gently prophecy person to person in the temple? You be the judge!
Mary Magdalene. God gave Mary the honor of being the first person to see the resurrected Lord Jesus (Jn 20). Jesus then sent her back to tell the brothers the good news. Our sisters play a vital and important role in the spread of the gospel. For instance, it is reported that without the labor or the women evangelists in China, must of the revival there would grind to a halt. In the case of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, it was the women who were still faithful to Jesus — the men had run away!
Pentecost. Joel 2:28-29 predicted New Covenant times, when God’s Spirit would be poured out on all His covenant people, one result of which was that both “sons and daughters will prophesy.” God’s gifting of women to prophesy was not new (Miriam, Deborah and Huldah show this), and is absolutely consistent with God’s established order for men to be the leaders in the home, society, and religion. Yet in all recorded historical examples, those Old Testament women who did prophesy did so in more of a private manner that was quite different from their male counterparts. The wonder of Joel’s prophecy was that this previously limited prophetic gift would explode on a more widespread basis. Peter recognized the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy in the events of Pentecost (Ac 2).
Did Joel also mean that men were no longer to be the heads of their homes? That women could now serve as church elders? That women could now begin to instruct doctrine to men? No. Joel simply meant that, under the New Covenant, the gift of prophecy would be more widespread in both genders.
Just how public was the women’s prophecy on Pentecost? Note that what first occurred was the tongues of fire phenomenon. Luke records that “all” were together in one place when the Spirit came to rest on “each” of them and that “all” of them were filled with the Holy Ghost and began to speak in foreign languages that they had not previously learned. The prophecy consisted of the message conveyed by these tongues.
A crowd was then attracted, either by the “sound like the blowing of a violent wind” or the volume of the tongues. The crowd asked, “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans?” (Ac 2:7). It was Jesus’ male disciples in particular, not the women, who where known for being from Galilee. Further, it was clearly the men who then spoke out to the crowd. This suggests that it was specifically the men who were doing the loud speaking. Finally, it was Peter, not one of the women, who stood up with along side the Eleven and addressed the crowd with “raised voice” (Ac 2:14).
Some have tried to justify women as teachers by pointing to the legitimate practice of women prophesying. This is mixing metaphors, confusing the issue, clouding the waters. They base this in part on the fact that one result of prophecy can be that the recipients are “instructed” (NIV, 1Co 14:31). In response, it must first be pointed out that the differing types of prophecy must be considered. The best known type is the foretelling of future events, as when Agabus predicted a famine (Ac 11:28). One other type is divine insight into the secrets of another person’s heart (1Co 14:24-25) or the knowledge of someone’s past. For instance, when Jesus revealed to the woman at the well that he knew about her previous marriages, she said, “I can see that you are a prophet” (Jn 4:19). Still another aspect of the prophetic gift is seen in the cruel jesting that occurred as the officials struck the blindfolded Jesus, taunting, “Prophesy to us, Christ. Who hit you?” (Mt 26:68). Their question to Jesus reveals a popular understanding of prophecy as involving a supernatural knowledge of surrounding events. A popular Old Testament function of a prophet was to deliver a command from the Lord, as when Deborah informed Barak of the LORD’s desire to Barak to lead the army. This is last sense a prophet is closer akin to a Western Union agent. Beyond all this, there is an aspect of some prophecy what can border on teaching. The Old Testament prophets were covenant enforcement mediators and at times authoritatively delivered longs sermons of judgment or rebuke, yet there is no historical example of women engaging in this type of prophesying.
All scriptural examples of legitimate, godly, women prophetesses are of them relaying God’s specific will to an individual or predicting the future of that person. There are no historical examples of a woman prophetesses standing before a congregation and delivering a lengthy message wherein God’s people were instructed. If a woman prophesies to a man in private, that man obviously will receive a revelation (new information) that he did not previously have. But this does not mean that she is his teacher as such. Similarly, we can learn from the words of a song, but that does not fundamentally make a singer a teacher! Thus, as women function in the general body ministry of prophesying, all the church (men and women) will be built up, exhorted and comforted.. There is nothing wrong with men and women “learning” from each other’s prophecies (or testimonies, or songs, or experiences, etc.).
Women Arrested. According to Acts 8:3, Saul arrested both men and women in an effort to destroy the church. It has been speculated that in most efforts to eradicate a movement, the leaders are singled out for arrest, thus suggesting that women played important leadership roles in the church. This may well be so, especially leadership among other women. On the other hand, it may just illustrate the extreme degree of the persecution that Saul’s inflicted on the church, even arresting women.
Priscilla. Did Priscilla actually teach Apollos (Ac 18)? Luke tells us that both Aquilla and his wife Priscilla took Apollos aside and privately “explained” (18:26) some things to him. This explaining was not inconsistent with God’s order for men and women in the church. First, it was done in private. Second, there is a difference between explain and teach, though learning occurs in each case. For instance, this same Greek word was used when Peter, criticized by the Jewish church for the Cornelius incident, “explained” (as on a witness stand) to them everything exactly as it happened, with the result that they had no further objections (Ac 11:2, 4, 18). Does an accused person explain or teach his story to the jury? Do you teach your boss why you were late for work, or do you explain why you were late? Doubtless Apollos learned from his time with Aquilla and Priscilla, but that did not make Priscilla a public teacher of men in the church. It does, however, suggest that high profile male teachers in today’s church should be as open to learning from women as was Apollos.
Much egalitarian noise is made of the fact that Priscilla’s name is listed in Luke’s text before her husband Aquilla. As with Luke’s name order shift from “Barnabas and Paul” to “Paul and Barnabas,” they feel this name order suggests who was the real leader of the two. While it is true that many women are more gifted than their husbands, if mere word order is all that the egalitarians have to work with, theirs is a slim case. If this name order is indeed significant, then it should also be noted that Aquilla is later listed first by Luke, in Acts 18:2.
One explanation of the order of names that is based on the cultural context is given by Wayne Meeks in The First Urban Christians. Meeks explains that it was common for a woman’s name to come first if she were from a higher social level than her husband prior to their marriage (p. 21). An example would be if a freeborn woman married a freedman (once a slave but now free). This explanation is no less tenable than the usual egalitarian explanation.
Phoebe. Phoebe was described as a “servant” (diakonos, literally “waiter”) of the church, Romans 16:1. Of the thirty times diakonos is found in the New Testament, it is only transliterated “deacon” (an official church term) three times. The rest of the times it is translated by something like “servant.” Thus, most probably Phoebe was not a deaconess in the official sense of the word. But, even if Phoebe were an official church deaconess, the role of deacon in the New Testament was different from the role of elder. One difference is that elders must be able to teach, a requirement not found in the qualifications for deacons. Phoebe was a dear sister who had been a “great help to many people” (Ro 16:2), including Paul. One could honestly say that she was a minister in the truest sense of the word. Phoebe was worthy of the church’s support. The advancement of the kingdom could come to a virtual halt without the support services of such women. Phoebe had a prominent, important, and wide-ranging ministry in her travels, and was so recognized by the church in Cenchrea. She was, however, neither church elder nor teacher.
Junias. Egalitarians offer “Junias” as an example of a woman who was a post-Jesus apostle (like Timothy or Titus or Barnabas). They base this on Paul’s comment in Romans 16:7 that Andronicus and Junias “are outstanding among the apostles.” What are we to make of this? First, “Junias” (NIV, actual Greek: iounian) is a name found only three times outside the Bible, twice with reference to men and once to a woman (Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Piper and Grudem, pgs 79-81). The lexicon of Bauer, Ardnt, and Gingrich states that “Junias” is probably a shortened form of the common male name “Junianus.” Thus, it is not at all clear that Junias was necessarily a woman. It is also not certain that Junias was even an apostle. The Greek here may simply that the apostles spoke highly of Junias, not that he/she actually was an apostle.
So what if Junias really was a woman? It could imply that Andronicus and Junias were a husband and wife apostolic team who worked together to forward the gospel. The most conservative of churches support missionary couples. As Paul asked, “Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas?” (1Co 9:5). There are many ministries avenues that a women missionary could go down that would be inappropriate for her husband, and visa versa, especially when ministering to women and their unique needs.
Neither male nor female. The apostle Paul wrote that in Christ “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Ga 3:26). The contextual application of this is that the ground is level at the foot of the cross. Both ethnic groups, Jew and Gentile, are equally saved by faith in Jesus. The other categories (slaves, gender) are also true examples that further make this point. Incorrect applications are that slaves need no longer submit to their masters (Col 3:22), that two Christian men could marry (Ro 1:26-27), that wives no longer see their husbands as head of the household (Ep 5:22-23), or that there are no longer any gender specific ministry roles. Women may prophecy, evangelize, pray, speak in tongues, sing, testify, minister, explain, and do a host of other things. Their freedoms in Christ are very positive. They may not, however, serve as elders nor teach the gathered church.
Euodia & Syntyche. It has been pointed out by others that Paul used the Greek word synergos (“co-worker”) to describe the women who labored with him in the gospel (Ro 16:13-16, Phlp 4:3-4). That he would use such a word for both Timothy (a man) and Euodia (a woman) is all the more significant. One person observed that it must mean that these women did a whole lot more than just bake bagels!
The above insight illustrates the truly important role women can play in the advance of the gospel. There are many ways that anyone, man or woman, could co-labor with an apostolic worker without actually being an apostle. For instance, when writing to the Philippian church, Paul thanked them for their monetary gift, saying that they had, in effect, shared “in his troubles” when he was in need (Php 4:14-16). John wrote that when we show hospitality to itinerant church workers, we “work together for the truth” (3Jn 5-8). This concept is similar to the statue King David made that “the share of the man who stayed with the supplies is to be the same as that of him who went down to the battle” (1Sa 30:24).
In a very real sense, women made Jesus’ public ministry possible by financially supporting him. Traveling with Jesus were the Twelve plus “some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases . . . these women were helping to support them out of their own means” (Lk 8:2-3). These were not exactly stay at home women; they traveled and learned right alongside the men. Yet there is no New Testament record of any of them going on to become teachers over men, or elders, or apostles. If anyone was qualified to do so it would have been those women who traveled with Jesus, but in keeping with God’s design for differing ministry roles for men and women, they evidently served in other ways. Even if these women had become apostles, in the sense that Junias may have been, it would have been in areas of ministry that were in keeping with the scriptural requirement that men be the heads of their own households and serve as the elders and teachers in the churches.
Jezebel. This false prophetess of Thyatira (Re 2:20-25) is cited by some to prove that women ought to be able to teach men. Their conclusion is based on the insight that while Jesus condemned her immoral teaching, He did not condemn the mere fact that a woman was functioning as a teacher. Further, it is pointed out that had the church not permitted women teachers, she never could have promoted her heresy in the first place.
In response, it must first be pointed out that Jezebel was described fundamentally as a prophetess, not a teacher. There is nothing wrong with women functioning as prophetesses. Though the text never states that she was a teacher, her false prophecy amounted to “teaching” (Re 2:20). Next, it must be asked what type of church would tolerate anyone, man or woman, who promoted “sexual immorality” (Re 2:20)? Is it any wonder that a church undaunted by the advocacy of licentiousness would have no qualms at all about running rough-shod over proper roles for men and women in ministry anyhow? And as regards Jesus’ condemnation, the content of her prophecy was obviously far worse than the mere fact that a woman was the one promoting it. These negative consequences were so great that the gender of the prophet was unimportant by comparison. Yet as has been pointed out, she was not fundamentally a teacher, but a prophetess.
THE NEW TESTAMENT SEAWALL
Luke 6:12-13. Why is it that Jesus only chose men to be his apostles (the Twelve) when so many godly women traveled with Him also? Was Jesus really cowed by some public prejudice of His day against women? Perhaps in choosing twelve men He merely wanted to parallel the twelve tribes of Israel, but again one must wonder, why were the tribes all named after the sons of Jacob rather than any of his daughters? Suppose Jesus and the New Testament church were sued for sexual discrimination under our current laws, would they win or lose? They obviously would lose, which shows that they did, indeed, discriminate on the basis of gender when it came to leadership roles.
John 1:1. Why did God incarnate come to earth in the form of a man, rather than a woman (the Daughter of God)? What message does this send? Jesus came as the last Adam (1Co 15:45), not the second Eve. In His incarnation, God continued to reinforce His creation order for men to be in positions of leadership in religious matters.
Acts 6. Why were the seven so-called deacons, chosen by the church to oversee the feeding of the widows, all male (Ac 6:5)?
1 Corinthians 11. Much controversy swirls around the intended head covering required while praying and prophesying. Yet the foundational reason for the covering is clear: “the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God” (1Co 11:3). Paul went on to also write, “the woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man” (1Co 11:7-9). Clearly, a leader/helper relationship is stated here.
Paul balanced out the seeming harshness of the above by reminding his readers that despite male headship, man is not independent of woman, and that every man is born of woman (11:11-12). Male leadership does not mean male superiority, and constant care must be taken to ensure Christian men do not fall into the sin of ruling over their wives in a selfish, ungodly manner. One lesson to learn from 1 Corinthians 11 i that a woman’s prayer and prophecy, done properly, is not a threat to a her husband’s headship.
1 Corinthians 14. The “Lord’s command” (1Co 14:37) regarding weekly interactive church meetings is that women “be in submission” (14:34). How is this submission to be expressed? Historically, this has been interpreted to mean with silence in regard to addressing the assembled church. It would be rather difficult for a women to function as an elder or teacher if she is to be silent with respect to addressing the congregation. Clearly, something is here declared inappropriate for women that is appropriate for the men. (For more on this passage, see NTRF’s several web articles on the correct interpretation of 1 Corinthians 14:33-35 at www.ntrf.org.)
Ephesians 5. Christian wives are to submit to their husbands “as to the Lord” (5:22). The husband is said to be the head of the wife even as Jesus is head of the Church (5:23). Women are to submit to their husbands “in everything” (5:24). No one doubts that Christ is the Head of the church. Why is there legitimate doubt over the same wording that declares a husband to be the head of his wife?
Colossians 3. A parallel passage to Ephesians 5, believing wives are instructed to “submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord” (3:18).
1 Timothy 2. Given the tenor of the rest of the Scriptures, the injunctions that women should “learn in quietness and full submission” or that they are “not permitted to teach or to have the authority over a man” (1Ti 2:11-12) should come as no surprise. They are consistent with everything in the Hebrew Scriptures and other New Testament passages as well.
Some have floated the idea that the reason for the prohibition against women teacher was motived by their lack of formal education. How educated were the ignorant fishermen that Jesus picked to teach the nations to observe all that Jesus had commanded? Even if some local pagan situation did prompt Paul to remind Timothy of God’s design (and such is sheer speculation), the fact that he explains his reasoning by appealing to the creation account reveals that these prohibitions cut across all time and every culture. As long a men and women are descended from Adam and Eve, men are to be the leaders in the home
What is meant by “authority over man”? No man is to have authority over any other man in the church anyway, based on Luke 22:24-27. There is no actual Greek preposition underneath the word “over.” It is implied in the ending of the word authority. It can also be translated that a woman should not have the “authority of a man.” The “authority of a man” thus may be the “authority” to teach God’s Word to God’s people, the authority to speak in church, the authority to grapple with the other men in achieving consensus, the authority to be the head of his own family, and the authority to serve as an elder.
1 Timothy 3. One of the requirements for any potential elder is that he be “a one woman man” (1Ti 3:2). This is quite an impossible requirement for a woman. After listing the qualifications for an elder, Paul went on to inform Timothy that he was “writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God” (1Ti 3:15). This shows that these practices were to be for churches everywhere. Christ never intended for women to serve as elders in the church.
Titus 1. Similar to what was written to Timothy in Ephesus, instructions were given to Titus to appoint elders in Crete who were “the husband of but one wife” (1:6). No mention was made of having “elderettes” who were the “wives of but one husband.”
Titus 2. Older women are to train younger women “to be subject to their husbands” (2:5). Disregarding God’s order for men and women in the home and church is a recipe for disaster. Women are to be obedient to their own husbands “that the word of God may not be blasphemed” (2:5). Titus 2:5 thus shows that the Great Commission will be profoundly hindered by the rejection of God’s order in the family. We cannot reject the doctrine of servant headship and its counterpart of joyful feminine submission without paying a great price.
1 Peter 3. Peter also weighed in on this issue by asking wives to be “submissive to your husbands” (3:1). Peter doubtless would have been as vexed as was artist Francis Millet when, in 1912, he posted a letter at Cherbourg that made note of American women aboard the Titanic, “Queer lot of people on this ship. There are a number of obnoxious, ostentatious American women. Many of them carry tiny dogs and lead husbands around like pet lambs”!
Those who would have no role distinctions between the sexes most often champion Miriam, Deborah and Huldah as examples of godly women who held the authority of (or over) men in the Old Testament. It is suggested that there are myriads of such women, but such is simply not the case. To list the above three Old Testament women is to pretty well mention them all (just three over a 1,500 year period)! At the very least one might observe that the exception proves the rule. As it turns out, any supposed God-given authority to minister just as men do was nonexistent anyhow. Thus, as the tidal wave of Old Testament women in public ministry over men approaches the shores of the New Testament, rather than a mighty wall of water towering hundreds of feet high, it turns out to be a tiny to almost nonexistent ripple. The New Testament tidal wave proved to be no different. The sea wall of Christ-honoring differences between men and women stands firm.
There is no excuse for ignoring God given gender distinctions. Those who explain away the plain teachings of the Word of God in these fundamental matters of divinely created roles for men and women are doing great damage to our Lord’s body and leading His sheep astray. The incorrect applications of the egalitarians distract Christians from their distinctive callings as men and women, as expressed in our Lord’s commands for all the churches of the saints. Dan Trotter has well said, “Evangelical feminism is not only oxymoronic, it is, as Harold O.J. Brown put it, a ‘Gnostic heresy.’ And evangelical feminism, like the original Gnostic heresy, will go buzzing off into the footnotes of theological history. It is a lie that subverts the most intimate and precious thing that God has given us: the family.”
The service of our sisters in the Faith is of immeasurable value. Their worth is equal to that of any man. Their contribution to the advancement of the Kingdom is essential. Many wives and mothers will have reward in heaven that far exceeds many men who are in full time Christian ministry. Church planter Ken Cluck has astutely observed that “opponents feel we are saying women are incapable of leading men or of teaching spiritual truth. This is not the case. The only reason we do not allow such, is that it is obvious the Author of the church’s operating manual (the Bible) forbade it. He knows better than we do, and his orders to submit has nothing to do with ability, or status but with proper function according to his plan. The author I speak of is the incarnation of that Word, Jesus Christ. The church belongs to Him and if He says women will not have authority over, or teach a man, then all I can say to him is: ‘it is your church.’ ”