Female Leaders in the New Testament

“Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law.  And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church” (1 Cor 14:34-35).

Christian feminists, in their rebellion against God and biblical authority, have reinterpreted what Scripture says about women in the New Testament and have tried to remove the restrictions which God has placed upon them.  They would have us believe that women are being oppressed by being shut out of leadership and teaching roles in the Church, and they claim to be leading women into freedom.  This is a lie.  Feminism brings women into bondage, and into rebellion against God and the order he has established for their good.  As Christians, our freedom and joy comes from obedience to the word of God.

In this article I look at the favourite examples of the feminists and show how the feminist view goes against the word and the will of God.

Female Prophets in the New Testament

There are six prophetesses mentioned in the New Testament – Anna (Luke 2:36), and the four virgin daughters of Philip (Acts 21:9); and a false prophetess named “Jezebel” (Rev 2:20).  The prophecy of Joel 2:28-32, part of which is that women shall prophesy following the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, was fulfilled in Acts 2:16-17; the apostle Paul gives instruction to women who would prophesy in the church that they cover their head as a sign of submission to their husband (1 Cor 11:5-6, 10).  

Anna

All that we know of this godly woman is that she was of the tribe of Asher, that she was a prophetess, a widow who was very old by the time Luke mentions her, and that she never left the temple but served God with fasting and prayers night and day (Luke 2:36-37).

While Anna had the prophetic gift and had the privilege of being one of those who announced the birth of the Lord, she was not a teacher in the normal sense of the word; she simply spoke what God had communicated to her directly by his Spirit.  She didn’t teach as someone who has to explain the bible.  When Paul listed spiritual gifts to the Church he wrote: “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers” (Eph 4:11).  Here he identifies prophecy and teaching as separate gifts; he does likewise in Romans 12:6-7).  So it does not necessarily follow that because Anna spoke the words of God to Israel she was a teacher or a leader in the nation or Church.

Philip’s Four Virgin Daughters

We’re told nothing about these young women except that they were virgins and they prophesied.  It is reasonable for us to conclude that they were unlikely to be teachers or leaders as they still lived with their father and were therefore under his authority, according to the Law of Moses.

“…your sons and your daughters shall prophesy”

In Acts chapter 2 we read of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the assembled Church on the day of Pentecost.  Peter explained that this was the fulfilment of the prophecy given in Joel 2:28-29, part of which is that young women shall prophesy.  The text as Peter gives it is: “…your sons and your daughters shall prophesy…..on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy” (Acts 2:17-18). 

However, as in every other instance in scripture where God used women in various ways, they were not free to be leaders or teachers in the Church.  To make sure that everyone understood this, women were to cover their heads as a sign of submission to their husbands or fathers (1 Cor 11:5-9).  And, I reiterate, prophecy and teaching were separate gifts. 

Phoebe

Phoebe is the star of the Christian feminists and they’ve put a lot of weight on her shoulders; but in reality she is more a supporting actress in the drama than the star.  The first thing to say about her is that she is referred to as a servant in Rom 16:1 in the KJV/ESV, but a deacon in the NIV/NRSV.  Which is right?  Does it matter?

Of the Greek word for servant or deacon, Alexander Souter, in his “A Pocket Lexicon to the Greek New Testament”, defines “diakonos” as, (minister), a waiter, servant: then of any one who performs a service, an administrator”.

And of the verb form, “diakoneo”, Souter has, (ministro), waiting at table; in a wider sense, service, ministration”.

So, was Phoebe a servant or a deacon?  The definitions show that a deacon was a servant, not a leader.  A servant is not a leader; a leader does serve, as Jesus demonstrated, but he still rules and leads – he must balance leadership and service; but a servant serves and ministers to the physical needs of those he/she serves.

But 1 Tim 3:12 precludes her from holding the office of deacon in the church, simply because she was a woman; as it says, “Let deacons be the husbands of one wife”.  This is not to take away from Phoebe or any other woman (or man) who serves; serving others is pleasing to our Lord, whom we all serve; and Paul also commends her highly.  But commendation, service, faithfulness etc. do not equate to leadership.  And being a fellow labourer with Paul is different to being co-leader.  If I accompany my pastor to an evangelistic event or a pastoral visit to a hospital or whatever, I’m not a leader, I’m just accompanying the pastor, and in that context, I’m a fellow labourer with him.  So to present Phoebe as an example of leadership in the early Church is misleading, and we cannot open the door to women elders and teachers on this basis.

In his commentary on Romans (16:1-2) John Calvin says of Phoebe “she performed a most honourable and a most holy function in the Church…as she had always been full of kindness to all, so he bids that help should now be given to her in all her concerns”.  He suggests that Phoebe was of the order of widows in the Church (1 Tim 5:9), an office filled by widows who “wished to consecrate themselves wholly to God by religious duties, they were therefore received into this office as those who had wholly given up themselves, and became bound to their charge in a manner like him (Paul), who having hired out his own labours, ceased to be free and to be his own master…..This most sacred function, and very useful to the Church, when the state of things had become worse, degenerated into the order of Nuns”.

Priscilla (Prisca)

Feminists love to use Priscilla, wife of Aquila, as an example of a woman leader and teacher in the Church, but their evidence is more wishful thinking than convincing.  The first “proof” is that Priscilla’s name is mentioned first more frequently than Aquila’s name.  It depends on what version of the bible you use as to how many times her name comes first.  The modern versions have her mentioned first 4 out of 6 times while the KJV has her 3 out of 6.  But even if you prefer a modern English version, it doesn’t prove anything.  Of the nineteen times Barnabas and Saul/Paul are mentioned together, Barnabas is mentioned first 11 times – that is more than half the occasions.  But who was it that was the more significant of the two?

The other “proof” that Priscilla’s “leadership” was more significant than her husband’s is taken from the account in Acts 18:24-28, where a Jew named Apollos came to town.  In verse 25-26 we’re told “…he was instructed in the way of the Lord….And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue: whom when Aquila and Priscilla heard, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly”.  The claim by the feminists is that it was Priscilla who taught him; but in no bible version that I’ve seen does it say only Priscilla taught Apollos; the sacred text says it was both her and her husband.  But in view of the fact that they were both Jews, and that they associated closely with Paul, Priscilla was in submission to her husband and would not have taken the lead as a rule.  But even if she did, I can’t see that it’s a big deal; and the Old Testament reveals that there were women who prophesied, but that they were exceptions to the rule and not the norm.  So even if we allow that Priscilla was more instrumental than her husband in teaching Apollos, which is possible, this doesn’t open the door to women leading and teaching in the Church.

Junia

All that we know of this person is found in Romans 16:7: “Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellowprisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me” (KJV).  In the RSV, “Junias” is given as the reading but NRSV has “Junia”, with the footnote “Or Junias; other ancient authorities read Julia”

There is much uncertainty about the identity of this person.  As can be seen there are three possibilities to choose from.  The feminist claim for this person is that it is a woman, and they deduce this from the name.  But this is very unclear as we have three choices; so it is impossible to say with any certainty.  John Chrysostom thought Junia was a woman and John Calvin, though he doesn’t say so expressly, assumes it was a man, as do many other commentators.    However, one of the commentaries has this to say: Andronicus and Junia – or, as it might be, ‘Junias’, a contracted form of ‘Junianus’; in this case, it is a man’s name.  But if, as is more probable, the word be, as in our version (KJV), ‘Junia’, the person meant was no doubt either the wife or the sister of Andronicus…which are of note among the apostles – those who think the word ‘apostle’ is used in a lax sense, in the Acts and Epistles, take this to mean ‘noted apostles’…..others, who are not clear that the word ‘apostle’ is applied to any without the circle of the Twelve, save where the connection or some qualifying words show that the literal meaning of ‘one sent’ is the thing intended, understand by the expression used here, ‘persons esteemed by the apostles’…..and of course, if ‘Junia’ is to be taken for a woman, this latter must be the meaning” (“Commentary Practical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible” by Jamieson, Fausset and Brown – Romans 16:7).

The Elect Lady

Presbyterian feminist Christine Kroeger (and her husband Richard) writes: “Churches in the New Testament are identified as meeting in the homes of women more often than in the homes of men.  II John is addressed to ‘the elect lady’ who seems to be such a house-church leader……The writer concludes with a greeting from ‘the children of your elect sister’, perhaps the leader of another house church (v. 13)” (page 8).  The authors need to do better than this – seems” and “perhaps” aren’t very good words on which to build a theology or prove a point. An alternative view is that “the elect lady” and her “elect sister” are churches, not female leaders of churches.  And just because the church meets in the home of a woman doesn’t make that woman the leader of the church; she was the host, and exercised hospitality by allowing the church to meet in her home; but that does not make her the church leader or even one of the leaders.  Likewise, if the church met in the home of a man, that man didn’t automatically become the church leader.

In the Introduction to the Second Epistle of John, the “King James Study Bible: Second Edition” says “Some believe that the ‘elect lady’ (v.1) was an individual acquaintance of John.  John would then be penning these words to her and to her family.  Others hold that the ‘elect lady’ refers metaphorically to some particular local church.  In this case John would be representing one local fellowship (v.13) as he writes to another.  The letter lends itself to being interpreted according to both understandings, and evidence is lacking to settle the question with certainty”.

Conclusion

I have presented an alternative and orthodox view of the role of women in the Church to that which Christian feminists present, and provided examples from the bible which support the conservative and orthodox view of women and how they fitted into the life of the Church.  To resist the word of God is courting danger and disaster and no good comes from it.

“For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand.  I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness” (Ps 84:10).

References

Kroeger, Richard, and Kroeger, Catherine, 2004, Internet article “Women Elders: Called by God?” no longer on net

Unless otherwise stated, Scripture references in this article are from the King James Bible.