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Women and Church Leadership
What does the Bible really say?
1 Timothy 2:9-15
9 And I want women to be modest in their appearance. They should wear decent and appropriate clothing and not draw attention to themselves by the way they fix their hair or by wearing gold or pearls or expensive clothes.
10 For women who claim to be devoted to God should make themselves attractive by the good things they do.
11 Women should learn quietly and submissively.
12 I do not let women teach men or have authority over them. Let them listen quietly.
13 For God made Adam first, and afterward he made Eve.
14 And it was not Adam who was deceived by Satan. The woman was deceived, and sin was the result.
15 But women will be saved through childbearing, assuming they continue to live in faith, love, holiness, and modesty.
First, Interpretations are not Scripture.
Arminian, Calvinist, Charismatic, Reformed. Everyone has their interpretations and their logic behind their interpretations.
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Everyone (including you) has an interpretation and that’s ok.
Immature people tend to elevate their interpretation of Scripture to the level of Scripture. This is the same issue we see with people who make a case for God approving homosexuality, more than two genders, abortion, or some other stance they want to take.
People interpret scripture to say worship shouldn’t have instruments, men shouldn’t shave their face, and we should handle snakes in the church. Some people twist scripture to justify racism, hatred, misoginy, and all kinds of bigotry.
The truth is, there are some things that are absolutely clear in Scripture, and there are some things that are open to interpretation. However, some people tend to think everything is subject to interpretation. And that’s just not true. Things like the deity of Christ and his resurrection, the Gospel, monotheism and the trinity and salvation by Grace are places where Scripture is absolutely clear. Things like this are considered essentials to Christian faith.
Augustine was famous for saying “in essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.”
Things that are non-essential are places where we often give our interpretation. People’s interpretations often change over time, or are based in cultural norms. That might make a person misguided, but that doesn’t make them evil. Because we should practice charity in all things towards people.
I really like what Marcus Aurelius says in his Meditations: “You always own the option of having no opinion. There is never any need to get worked up or to trouble your soul about things you can't control. These things are not asking to be judged by you. Leave them alone.”
It’s simple and powerful to realize I don’t have to have an opinion or interpretation on every permutation of everything in the world. People will always have their opinions, judgements and interpretations. And really, unless they ask me, they don’t have those things for the purpose of my approval.
I say all of this because the role of women in ministry is ultimately an interpretation. I’m taking time to share mine and @elevate.life’s. It’s an interpretation, and it’s also non essential for salvation, but it’s also not a debate. If a person is in our tribe and church, this is how we think about these things.
We must always understand that disagreeing with a person’s perspective doesn’t make us “more right” than them. Different ≠ better.
So, with that said, what’s our position on the above verses and women’s role in church leadership?
Does the Bible allow women to be pastors?
Many Christians think that the Bible does not allow women to be pastors. They tend to hang out on 1 Timothy 2 + 1 Corinthians 14, let’s start with 1 Timothy 2:12: “I do not let women teach men or have authority over them. Let them listen quietly.”
If we only take this one verse, we have to remember Paul isn’t just talking about church leadership. We tend to read “church leadership” into the verse through the context of 1 Timothy, but, let’s just look at the verse.
“A woman cannot teach a man.” This means that women cannot be doctors, professors, or high-school teachers. Again, this verse does not say that it is restricted to the church.
“A woman cannot have authority over a man.” This potentially means that a woman cannot be elected to political office, or to be a manager in a store that has male employees, or to be a principal of a school that has male teachers. The verse makes no exceptions.
“Women are to listen quietly.” Women cannot be in entertainment, have social media, or play any kind of role in public life. If I haven’t said this before, this verse isn’t just talking about the church.
Almost no one except the most marginal people interpret this verse in this way. Even the most conservative Bible scholars, theologians and church leaders all say that the verse should not be understood in such a literal way. Why would they say that?
Because of how we’re supposed to read (and apply) the Bible.
There are two things that make it clear that this verse does not prohibit women from all forms of teaching, authority, or speaking.
In the Bible. God used women to speak, teach and have authority over men (also context).
What is the context of this verse? Let’s look at the book of 1 Timothy.
1 Timothy is an open letter from the apostle Paul to Timothy, giving him instructions about what Timothy should do when leading the church in Ephesus and confronting bad teaching (1 Tim. 1:3-4). A lot of 1 Timothy can be applied to the greater church today, but, there is also a lot of specificity for a specific church, at a specific time, in a specific place. For example, Paul gives instructions about how the men should pray: “In every place of worship, I want men to pray with holy hands lifted up to God, free from anger and controversy.” (2:8). What does Paul mean by “in every place?” Taken literally, it would mean that all Christian men should travel throughout their city, to every building and open area, to pray with hands raised. But we do not take those words literally.
What Paul was saying was appropriate in the culture of the church in Ephesus, but that doesn’t make it necessary in ours.
Specific verses on women
In verse 9, Paul says that “And I want women to be modest in their appearance. They should wear decent and appropriate clothing and not draw attention to themselves by the way they fix their hair or by wearing gold or pearls or expensive clothes.”
Taken literally, the verse says that women should not fix their hair, and should not wear gold. But few churches today think that women have to follow these rules. No one gets upset when these details are ignored. It’s exceedingly rare to find people - men or women - who want a woman to not fix her hair, or think that this is applicable today. Regarding “expensive clothes,” expensive in America is different than most of the world, where 1 billion people live on less than $1 a day. To those people, expensive would be anything you or I would wear in the yard. It’s obvious that most of the clothing worn to churches today would violate what Paul writes.
The vast majority of churches today do not always take what Paul wrote literally in this chapter. Therefore, when we come to verse 12, there’s a choice we have to make, do we take it literally, or do we understand what Paul is saying specifically for the church in Ephesus. How can we decide?
Some people say that we should continue Paul’s policy because he supports his policy by referring to the biblical story of sin in the Garden of Eden (1 Timothy 2:13-14: “For God made Adam first, and afterward he made Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived by Satan. The woman was deceived, and sin was the result.” If Adam was not deceived, then he sinned deliberately, then Adam is worse than Eve. He sinned - not because he didn’t know better - but because he was evil and rebellious. This makes it difficult to argue that men should be in charge because the first man was deliberately wicked, and the first woman wasn’t. Using this verse in the way Paul says it would actually mean that women are intrinsically more qualified for leadership than men. Therefore qualifying women to lead. Disproving the point that people say that Paul is making.
Since we’re on verses 13-14, let’s look at verse 15. It says that women can “be saved through childbearing,” which also contradicts the clear Biblical truth that salvation comes only through Christ.
Confused? Me too.
These verses - right after the “women aren’t allowed to be leaders” verse - tell us that we don’t understand the passage as well as we’d like to. As you read 1 and 2 Timothy (and Ephesians) it is clear that there were issues in Ephesus with leadership, lifestyle and theology. What Paul said would have been clear to them in that time. But we are missing part of the picture. Especially the childbirth thing. I’m sure a deeper scholar than me can interpret what that is supposed to mean, but the truth is, none of us really know exactly what Paul was saying there. Or what he is referencing.
Many people make a connection to Acts 19, where there was a riot in Ephesus over Paul trying to convert people from their pagan worship of Artemis. In Acts 19, Ephesus is wild. That may have related to 1 Timothy, but we don’t know for sure. The context surrounding 1 Timothy 2 is unclear. What is clear is that Paul didn’t allow women to teach or lead in the church in Ephesus. We don’t really know why. And it’s also not clear how that policy reflects on the modern church when considering the context of 1 Timothy. Unless a church is willing to practice everything Paul writes in 1 Timothy 2, it would be difficult Biblically for them to enforce a selective part. So, context of the specific verses is at best, unclear.
2) In the Bible. God used women to speak, teach and have authority over men (also, context)
Throughout Scripture, one thing is abundantly clear that goes against 1 Timothy 2 God has never required women to be silent. Even in a religious setting. And God himself allowed - and appointed - women to have authority over men.
In Judges 4, we find the story of Deborah
4 Deborah, the wife of Lappidoth, was a prophet who was judging Israel at that time.
5 She would sit under the Palm of Deborah, between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites would go to her for judgment.
6 One day she sent for Barak son of Abinoam, who lived in Kedesh in the land of Naphtali. She said to him, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, commands you: Call out 10,000 warriors from the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun at Mount Tabor.
7 And I will call out Sisera, commander of Jabin’s army, along with his chariots and warriors, to the Kishon River. There I will give you victory over him.”
8 Barak told her, “I will go, but only if you go with me.”
9 “Very well,” she replied, “I will go with you. But you will receive no honor in this venture, for the Lord’s victory over Sisera will be at the hands of a woman.” So Deborah went with Barak to Kedesh.
10 At Kedesh, Barak called together the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali, and 10,000 warriors went up with him. Deborah also went with him.
Deborah had political authority over the nation of Israel before there was a king. She also had religious authority. She gave Barak, a male Israelite general a message directly from God. Through her, Israel experienced peace for 40 years. God also didn’t use her husband. Her husband is referenced, but God used her. Many leaders have suggested that God used Deborah because there was not a willing or competent man. That may be true, but the Bible doesn’t say that. What the Bible does say is that Deborah was used by God as a worship leader, a spokesperson for God and a civil leader for the nation. Including the men.
When Paul says that a woman cannot have authority over a man, was he giving a timeless and permanent Biblical truth from God? If someone like Deborah exists in scripture, that can’t be true. God himself does not seem to have that policy. Paul’s perspective may have been relevant to the Ephesian church in the 1st century, which is one thing. But there is clear evidence in Scripture that God uses women in positions of leadership in every capacity outside of the church in Ephesus in the 1st century.
It is true that most of the leaders of the nation of Israel were men. However, it takes only one contrary example to show us that solely male leadership is not a universal Biblical principle. The Bible also doesn’t say that Deborah is an exception to some kind of rule. It just says that God used her.
In 2 Kings 22, the high priest Hilkiah found the Book of the Law in the Temple. They read it, took the scroll to the king, and he said:
13 “Go to the Temple and speak to the Lord for me and for the people and for all Judah. Inquire about the words written in this scroll that has been found. For the Lord’s great anger is burning against us because our ancestors have not obeyed the words in this scroll. We have not been doing everything it says we must do.”
14 So Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam, Acbor, Shaphan, and Asaiah went to the New Quarter of Jerusalem to consult with the prophet Huldah. She was the wife of Shallum son of Tikvah, son of Harhas, the keeper of the Temple wardrobe.
15 She said to them, “The Lord, the God of Israel, has spoken! Go back and tell the man who sent you,
16 ‘This is what the Lord says: I am going to bring disaster on this city and its people. All the words written in the scroll that the king of Judah has read will come true.”
Hilkiah the high priest - the man in the highest religious office in Israel, God’s representative on the earth - went to consult with a female prophet, Huldah. Again, the Bible doesn’t say that this was some kind of exception. God then used Huldah to give him a word for the nation of Israel. God could have used whoever he wanted to give a message to his people, but again in this passage he chooses a prophetess. This story illustrates further that God does not have a permanent policy against women in leadership.
New Testament Women
Some people may say “well, that’s Old Testament.” Which proves nothing except that those people don’t realize that the Old Testament isn’t cancelled out by the New one. It’s fulfilled, not nullified. They are supposed to work together. Not contradict each other. But there are examples in the New Testament too. And throughout Scripture, God does not contradict himself, nor does he change his mind. Including using women in positions of leadership.
In the NT, we see again that most of the leaders were men, but God used women to teach and to lead men. These also show us that God does not require all women to be silent. This doesn’t mean Paul was wrong, or that the Bible is inaccurate. It just means there’s a difference between a rule for a specific time and place, and a permanent rule for all churches in all places.
In Luke 2, an 84 year old prophetess named Anna sees Jesus at the temple and is one of the first people to recognize Jesus as God.
When Jesus was raised from the dead, he appeared to women first in Matthew 28:8-10.
8 The women ran quickly from the tomb. They were very frightened but also filled with great joy, and they rushed to give the disciples the angel’s message.
9 And as they went, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they ran to him, grasped his feet, and worshiped him.
10 Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t be afraid! Go tell my brothers to leave for Galilee, and they will see me there.”
One of these women was Mary Magdalene. She is mentioned in all four Gospels, was close to Jesus, and was present at his crucifixion. These women were not sent as simple messengers. Jesus told them to enforce a command to give to his “brothers.” Jesus obviously expected his brothers to obey the message these women delivered. Jesus gave women authority to relay instructions to men.
Priscilla and her husband Aquila are mentioned in Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians and 2 Timothy. She was a tentmaker and ran a business with her husband to fund the Kingdom. She is known as the first female preacher of the New Testament. Many modern scholars believe there is significant evidence that she was the writer of the book of Hebrews. Priscilla, Aquila and Paul all worked together to lead the early church. In Romans 16, he calls her a “co-laborer” alongside him in leadership. Would Paul do this if he didn’t himself believe in women in leadership?
Paul mentions Tryphaena and Tryphosa in Romans 12 as “workers in the Lord.” In Philippians, he says that two other women, Euodia and Syntyche “worked hard with me in telling others the Good News. They worked along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are written in the Book of Life. “(Philippians 4:3). In both passages, Paul says that women were working in some kind of official leadership capacity in the early church. There are also other notable women like Lydia in Acts 16, a successful businesswoman and the first European convert, who hosted Paul and his companions. Chloe is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 1 as the head of a household in Corinth, from whom Paul received important church information. Apphia shows up in Philemon, likely involved in the Colossian church. And Nympha hosted a church in her house in Colossians 4.
Now, these verses do not specifically say that the women were teaching both men and women. That leads some people to say that it is permissible for women to be teachers for women, or women’s ministries, but not teach the whole church. However, this is an unclear distinction with an awkward application.
So, these people admit that women can be effective teachers, and that they can be spokespersons for God, but they say that it would be wrong for these women to deliver the message in an assembled church including men? Even though there are clear Biblical examples that show that God sometimes gives his message to a woman and wants men to learn from what she says. Using this logic, if men want to hear the message that God has given women, men would have to hear certain messages from God outside of a church. This would mean that the church is not allowed - by God - to hear the totality of what He wants to teach us.
Let’s continue this thought pattern. Nothing in the Bible says that women can’t write books. So women are allowed by God to write books. Men can, and will learn from what women write. And men can quote from the books written by women (including parts of the Bible). However, women are not allowed to give this message themselves directly to the men.
In order for a woman to give a message to a man from God, it must delivered to a man as an intermediary first, and then a man can hear it. Is that how God designed the church to function? I don’t think so.
When the Holy Spirit filled the people in the upper room on the day of Pentecost, The Bible said that both “sons and daughters will prophesy.” (Acts 2:17). In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul allows both men and women to prophesy in the church. So, in Corinth, women participated in church leadership. In Ephesus, the rules were different. There is no way for us to know the circumstances surrounding these differences reliably. Paul wrote this rule for the Ephesian church as his own policy, and he stated so. He said “I do not permit” not “God does not permit.”
Should women be silent in church?
Talking about 1 Corinthians leads to another rule that we should talk about.
34 Women should be silent during the church meetings. It is not proper for them to speak. They should be submissive, just as the law says. 35 If they have any questions, they should ask their husbands at home, for it is improper for women to speak in church meetings.
(1 Corinthians 14:34-35)
What about widows? What about single women? What about women who have non-christian husbands? Paul’s instructions seem to be only good for married women. Again, we don’t have the complete picture. If you read the entirety of 1 Corinthians 14, the church is in some kind of chaos. And it’s not just women that are told to be silent in church. In verses 26-33, Paul gives instructions on how many people should speak during a service. Paul is illustrating a church of complete disorder. People are interrupting each other and more than one person was trying to talk at a time. Men and women. Paul gives all this instruction and then says “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace, as in all the meetings of God’s holy people.” (1 Cor 14:33).
We don’t know the specifics of why women in the Corinthian church are asked to withhold their questions until they get home. But just like Ephesus, there’s probably some specific examples within the specific church that necessitates Paul’s instruction.
What is interesting as well, is that when Paul is telling people to not all speak at once, he doesn’t use the word speak, he uses the word prophesy (προφητεύω) in 1 Corinthians 14. But when he refers to the women talking, he doesn’t use the same word. He uses a word that means “to talk at random” (λαλέω). So I think there is clarity that Paul is just asking women not to have conversations during a church service. He could have used the same word he uses a few sentences earlier, but he doesn’t.
Factor these two things together:
Paul talking about toning down chaos.
Paul using a word that means “conversation.”
And it is clear that this, just like 1 Timothy 2, is for a specific church, a specific reason, and a specific time.
Both 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Corinthians 14 have traditionally been used to say that God forbids women from speaking or leading in a church. Therefore, women cannot be pastors, or in any kind of authority except over women or children.
This interpretation clearly contradicts a good portion of the Bible that shows God placing women in positions of authority over men, and using them as religious and secular authorities.
Elevate Life Church’s Position
As a church, Elevate Life believes that these verses restricting women were written for specific times, places, and churches. The words of Paul here are not mandatory for all churches, at all times, and at all places.
Without women, the church is not the church. God intends to build something that includes all types of gifting that he creates and he does not limit authority based upon gender. If God gives a woman the ability to lead and speak, then those gifts must be used to benefit the whole church. Women are spiritually gifted by God to preach, teach, prophesy, evangelize and be apostles. God ordains and establishes women in positions of authority throughout the world (and the church) to accomplish his purposes.
P.S. I didn’t even factor in how God has used women since the first century church. You can look up people like Harriet Beecher Stowe, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Catherine Booth, Catherine of Alexandria, Florence Crawford, Aimee Semple McPherson, Corrie ten Boom, Mother Teresa and almost inumerable others.
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