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Article 2021-03 Women in Ministry

Chapter 65: Women in Ministry


First we must understand what the Scriptures meant for their own times, then we can learn their meaning for our times. Paul placed 1st century Christianity in its cultural context and we need to place 21st century Christianity in cultural contexts. To do so properly, we need to understand the difference between moral and cultural values in the Bible. Causing no offense seems to be the most important rule.

Scripture reference

There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:28)

Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all (Col. 3:11)

The story

Paul wrote about how women should behave and minister in the church. Throughout church history there have been misunderstandings about his sayings. The first thing we must understand is that Paul regarded all people equal in God’s sight, because Jesus Christ broke down the barriers between Jews and Gentiles, educated and un-educated, poor and rich as well as between men and women.

The story, continued

Men and women are equal in Christ, but creation order shows God as head of Christ, Christ of the man, and the man of his wife. About how women dress, no absolutes can be given. Their apparel should be modest, decent and honorable. If Greeks see red dresses as not respectable, Christian women in Greece should not wear red. If Italians regard short hair for women as totally acceptable, then Christian women in Italy can have short hair. What counts is whether their apparel honors God in the eyes of their fellow-citizens or not. Times and places change habits and they differ from our own.

Scripture reference

women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak … it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church (1 Cor. 14:34,35)

And every woman who prays or prophesies … (1 Cor. 11:5)

For God is not a God of disorder but of peace (1 Cor. 14:33)

The story, continued

Does Paul contradict himself? No. Then what does he mean? He does not disapprove of women speaking in church when they pray or prophesy, if done in an appropriate way, with respect toward other members, and not disrupting the normal cause of events by interrupting others. That would create the chaos he opposes.

Paul prefers that the older teach the younger, but makes no law of it, because should he do so, he would hinder younger colleagues to teach older people in church. He asks that younger ministers treat older people with due respect.

Similarly, he prefers that men teach men and women teach women, but makes no law out of that either. There is a place for men to teach women in all purity, as there are occasions where, with modesty and respect, women teach men, albeit under male authority. Christ’s humility should be seen in every teacher, male of female. A good example of female ministry, in leadership even, is seen in the story of Old Testament Judge Deborah.

Scripture reference

When Priscilla and Aquila heard him [Apollos], they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately (Acts 18:26)

Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow-workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me … Greet Andronicus and Junia … who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles (Rom. 16:3,7)

The story, continued

Paul worked with God-fearing, capable ladies for the extension of God’s Kingdom. Think of Priscilla, who taught Apollos, with her husband Aquila. Think of Junia, the wife of Andronicus, who could hardly have been among Paul’s fellow-apostles without teaching God’s Word. It is unlikely that she was jailed for keeping her mouth shut! Then there were Apphia, Euodia, Syntyche, Mary, Persis, Phoebe, Tryphena, Tryphosa, and the mother of Rufus and Alexander. Several of them must have been very knowledgeable of God’s Word, and able to teach it. The devil loves to silence this important, God-given part of our task force!

Scripture reference

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8) 

They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women … When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place … all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:14,15; 2:1,4)


Jesus gave the Holy Spirit to His disciples to be His witnesses far and near, at home and on the mission field. With the disciples were female disciples who received the Holy Spirit for that purpose too. Men and women were equally equippedto share an equal part in the worldwide preaching of God’s Kingdom. Men and women were part of God’s plan from the beginning. That women should submit to men does not mean that they are not allowed to play their uniquely designed, God-given roles in Kingdom ministries.

Paul wrote in the context of 1st century Mediterranean culture. Habits change with regard to clothing, whether hats are worn or not, whether women wear pants or not, whether they have short or long hair, etc. Generally, women are better educated now than in Paul’s time and having gained more expertise, they earned the right to be heard. This should be done with mutual respect, in an attitude of submission toward one another.

Paul’s remarks regarding hair, dress and covering should be read in the context of First Corinthians, which had as purpose to restore unity in a divided church. They are not to be interpreted as cultural absolutes that apply to all times and places. The major lesson is, to stay within the generally accepted cultural norms of decency and to adjust in modesty to biblical family values and creation order. Paul brought these issues up to unite the church. In our time, copying 1st century Greek culture can only hurt and divide the church. Some church leaders suffer from a legalistic, sectarian desire to create uniformity amongst church members, according to cultural habits and practices of times and places, other than ours. Therefore, cross-cultural missionaries must be careful and knowledgeable of their host-people before addressing cultural issues that differ significantly from their own.

The question of women being silent in church has been blown out of proportion. The context suggests that women should not ask disruptive questions during the services, but ask their husbands at home. Had Paul insisted on silence from women, he would neither have allowed them to pray or prophecy nor worked with them as his co-laborers.

Scripture reference

I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God. A woman should learnin quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man (1 Tim. 2:9-12)

Comment, continued

The verse ‘I do not allow women to teach’ in First Timothy is often debated. Today it is generally accepted that women teach, e.g. in primary schools. In Christian schools they also teach God’s word. Is that wrong? They are allowed to study at Bible schools and obtain degrees. That is accepted too. Then they are asked to teach at Bible schools. Wrong? Or they go to the mission field where they teach God’s word. This is also normal. More than half of the worldwide missionary task force is female. So, we allow them to teach on the mission fields, but deny them our pulpits at home? Is that what Paul meant? Not likely. We must understand his words from a situation where women were often less educated and unjustly placed on a lower social level than men.

His guidelines can best be divided into moral and cultural values. The moral ones are: ‘dressing modestly, with decency and propriety’; ‘with good deeds, appropriate for women’; ‘learning in quietness and submission’ and ‘not … to have authority over a man’. The cultural values are: ‘braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes’ and ‘I do not permit a woman to teach … she must be silent’.
Moral values are eternal, belong to God’s creation order and are therefore not negotiable, whereas the cultural ones are decided by time frame and social context. The question is again, what can be done without causing offense to others.

Discussion & dialogue

  • Discuss matters of culture that tend to divide the church, planted at your mission field, as happened in Corinth, and what biblical answers can be found to address these
  • Discuss how women can perform all ministerial functions on the mission field, without causing offence, whether from a cultural or a legalistic perspective

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