The Biblical Model for Women in the Church

“As for my people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them.  O my people, they which lead thee cause thee to err, and destroy the way of thy paths” (Isa 3:12).

Christian feminists have had to resort to desperate, even bizarre, measures to prove their point because neither the bible nor history support it.  The tragedy is that so many Christians today have received their false teaching, with the result that “Christian” Feminism is rampant in the Church, with whole denominations, theological colleges, text and reference books, and bible versions conforming to this unbiblical practice. 

Are Female Apostles Mentioned in Scripture?

Qualifications

The qualifications for an apostle were that they be men; that they had been with the other apostles for the whole time of Jesus ministry from John the Baptist until he was taken into heaven; and a witness of his resurrection (Acts 1:21-22).  In Luke 6:13 Jesus chose from among the disciples twelve men to be his apostles; he could have chosen some women to give balance to the “team” – he didn’t.  He could have chosen one woman as a representative of the female gender – he didn’t.  So these apostles were to be with him for his entire ministry on earth and were to be the foundation of the Church (Rev 21:14; Eph 2:20).  Did Jesus have a problem with women?  No, he accepted them totally; but accepting them does not equate to making them leaders in the Church.  Jesus accepts everyone who comes to him but he doesn’t make them all leaders and teachers.

So why didn’t he make some women apostles?  He even had a second opportunity as we see in Acts chapter 1, just prior to his being taken into heaven when the apostles were looking to replace Judas.  And you could be excused for thinking that some of Jesus’ female followers were far more qualified than even some of the apostles themselves, in terms of faith and courage – it was the women who remained at the foot of the cross as Jesus hung there dying, while all the apostles except John had forsaken him; it was the women who stayed at the cross while Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus prepared his body for burial and laid him in the tomb (Matt 27:61); it was the women who received the news from the angel that Jesus had risen and told the apostles (Luke 23:55-24:1-10); it was Mary Magdalene who was the first person to have seen Jesus after he had risen from the dead and who told the apostles (Mark 16:9-10).  And women had followed him everywhere he went in his ministry, along with the other disciples and the apostles.  If so many women were so highly qualified, why couldn’t there be at least one female apostle?

The answer can only be that from the beginning the order of creation was that the man is the head and the woman is subject to him.  This is verified to be true in 1 Corinthians chapter 11, 1 Timothy chapter 2 and 1 Peter chapter 3.  It is why St Paul wrote, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that women are not allowed to teach or to have authority over men (1 Tim 2:11-15; 1 Cor 14:34-35).

Are Women Elders Mentioned in Scripture?

One only need look at the context of 1 Tim 5:1-2 to see that it’s talking about older men, older women; younger men, younger women; and widows.  It doesn’t make sense to call the older men and women “elders” (rulers) and to leave the younger men and women and widows as lay members.  Either these are all classes of people or they are classes of office bearers; it can’t be some of each.  The elders that rule the church are mentioned in 5:17; in 5:1 they are simply the older men, older women, young men, young women, in the congregation, as in the KJV, ESV, NRSV etc.  So the context shows us that it makes sense when we realise that Paul is describing how we are to regard the various members of the church community, and how to treat them.  It shows the closeness, respect and love that Christians are to demonstrate to one another.  Likewise, in Titus chapter 2 the groups are older men, older women, younger men, and slaves.

The weight of evidence against the interpretation of 1 Tim 5:1-2 and Titus 2:3 referring to women elders is too strong, as all the lexicons, bible versions, and commentaries I’ve looked at agree that these verses refer to aged/elderly women, not women elders as rulers or office bearers in the church – even the NRSV, known for its gender neutrality, has “older women” in these verses.  If there were any chance at all that they could mean “women elders” I’m confident that the NRSV translators would have at least put it in the margin. 

Qualifications for Elders

The qualifications for elders are found in 1 Timothy 3:1-7.   One point of significance is that an elder is a man (the husband of one wife: verse 2).  The modern bible versions have, in their efforts to be gender neutral, ignored the Greek translated as “husband of one wife” and introduced into the text “married only once”this is not even in the Greek of either the Critical Text or the Received Text.  This mistranslation leaves the door of the church ajar for women to step in and take a leadership role.  But the Greek doesn’t open the door by even a crack because it says “husband of one wife”.  A woman could have all the other qualifications but, according to this passage, she lacks the right gender so is disqualified for the office of elder.  This is likewise the case with Titus 1:6 in the list of qualifications for elders in the church – the Greek has “husband of one wife” but the modern versions have “married only once”.

From the Unbiblical to the Bizarre

The Feminists’ most recent explanations (that I’ve seen) of Paul forbidding women to speak in church are bizarre, and show what desperate lengths the feminists will go to in order to explain away the plain meaning of scripture.  Presbyterian feminist Christine Kroeger (and her husband Richard) would have us believe that the churches of Asia Minor were being swamped by a host of gentiles whose religion was “wildly frenzied, obscene, unchaste, immodest, drunken, debauched, incredibly noisy.  Sometimes the men, caught up in frenzied ecstasy, would castrate themselves, and the women would rend apart live animals, whose flesh they would devour raw, warm and quivering.  There were even traditions of human sacrifice” (Kroeger page 11).   On page 12 they go on to say “For women there were other implications…”  These implications were that while their religion called for “indecent exposure”, Christianity insisted on modesty.  “While men usually maintained ‘silence’, women uttered sacred cries of joy or mourning.  In a sanctuary heavily frequented by women at Corinth, there has been uncovered a plaque dedicated to the sacred cries of women” (Kroeger page 11).  Thus, Paul had to resort to “noise control” (Kroeger page 11) in order to bring peace and order to the congregation.

Rachel Held Evans, another feminist Christian, says: “Of particular concern to Paul was a group of young widows who had infiltrated the church and developed a reputation for dressing promiscuously, sleeping around, gossiping, spreading unorthodox ideas, interrupting church services with questions, mooching off the church’s widow fund, and generally making common floozies of themselves (1 Timothy 5)….Worship involved deviant sex, shirking off marriage and childbearing, possible abortions and infanticide, and immodest dress that made adherents indistinguishable from prostitutes” (Rachel Held Evans blog article “For the sake of the gospel, let women speak”).  She adds that all this gave the Church a bad reputation and gave the Roman authorities cause to be suspicious of the Church.

1 Corinthians 14:33-40

What a lurid and false picture the Christian feminists have given us!  All that needs to be said about it is that Paul insists that women keep silence in the church because the Law requires it: “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, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church…..If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord (1 Cor 14:34-37).

Paul isn’t making suggestions here; he isn’t giving some helpful principles for a temporary situation; he is laying down the law for all churches for all time!  And even as he writes he says that all the churches require this.  So his command is not unique to Corinth – all the churches followed this practice of requiring women to be silent in the church and to be subordinate.  It was not because of a local problem in Asia with highly sexualised worship; it was not an issue of noise control; it was not a local problem in Corinth due to their culture; it was the practice of all the churches – because that’s how God ordained it from the beginning!!

But……just supposing, for the sake of argument, that the feminists’ claims are true and that there was a real problem with sexual worship, sacred cries and all that stuff.  Paul, then, would have had a lot more to say about it.  If he was outraged at the Corinthian church because there was a man who had been having sex with his father’s wife, and that the church hadn’t done anything about it…..a situation which Paul found totally unacceptable and that required the sinner to be handed over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh (1 Cor 5:1-9) and excommunication (1 Cor 5:13)…..then how much more would he have castigated them for what these newly “converted” young  gentile women and young widows were supposedly doing, and expelled them from the church, handing them over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh?!

1 Timothy 5:3-16

So what is Paul saying about these young Gentile women and young widows?  He is laying out the qualifications for those women who were to be regarded as widows needing to be supported by the church.  This is not an office of authority, such as elders; it is more an order of widows with prescribed duties and responsibilities.  “Now she that is a widow indeed, and desolate, trusteth in God, and continueth in supplications and prayers night and day.  But she that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth” (1 Tim 5:5-6).  Genuine widows in need of support were given opportunities to serve even while they received support.  The relatives of the widow were commanded to support them (5:7-8, 16), but those widows who had nobody and nothing to support them came under the care of the church (verses 9-10).  The widow to be taken into the number of widows cared for by the church was to have had a demonstrable life of service to God, family, and the needy because, as such, she was required to serve the saints in the same way she had always done. 

In verse 6, “…she that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth”, refers to widows living for their own pleasure and comfort, consequently cutting themselves off from fellowship with the believers.  These women were to be refused admission to the list of legitimate widows because they still had sensual desires which would alienate them from Christ because of their lawful desire to marry again; and would incur damnation “because they have cast off their first faith” (1 Tim 5:11-12).  By remarrying they would be breaking their commitment to serve God in fasting and prayer for the rest of their lives.  And because of their younger age would become tired of living by the rule and, in their idleness, become busybodies and gossips.  Their desire to remarry may cause them to be willing to marry even an unbeliever; such a marriage is against God’s revealed will (1 Cor 7:39).

Paul’s alternative solution to younger widows in need therefore was for them to marry, rather than taking the vows required by the legitimate widows.  This would remove any cause for the world to speak evil of the church.  By remarrying, their time will be occupied with caring for their families and thus be productive and holy.  Also, Paul didn’t want to put young women under the burden of a vow of celibacy and of being unable to fulfil the lawful desire for a husband at such a young age.

1 Timothy 2:11-12

“Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection.  But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.  For Adam was formed first, then Eve.  And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.  Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety”.

This passage and 1 Corinthians 14:33-40 discussed above, are the key texts in understanding the role of women in the church; therefore, they’re the main targets of the feminists.  Therefore, they either try to negate them by explaining them away e.g. put them in a “historical” context so that they don’t apply today (Kroeger and Evans); or cast doubt on them as not being written by Paul (Evans); or simply call them an anomaly (Evans) and therefore we don’t need to take any notice of them.

But what does God say about this?  By watering down the commands of God – and they are commands – the feminists are ensuring trouble for themselves, and bringing trouble on the Church, the body of Christ.  God graciously explained to us why he wants things done this way.  His reasons are specified in the text and they’re straightforward and simple to understand:

  • Adam was formed before Eve, therefore he had authority over her and she was subject to him.  This idea is enlarged upon in 1 Cor 11:2-16 – see next heading.
  • Adam was not deceived, Eve was, and she became a transgressor.  Her punishment was to be subject to Adam in a way which she would find irksome, and not in the way it was before the Fall.  Adam was deceived just as his wife was, but Eve was the cause and source of it.

If God has expressed his mind so clearly and unequivocally, who are we to resist him? 

As for the woman being saved through childbearing, Paul is not referring simply to the act of bringing a child into the world as an act that merits salvation, but in their submitting themselves to God as they raise and care for their children.  This is woman’s role in life; she was created with a womb to form the child, breasts to feed it, and with powerful motherly instincts to nurture and protect it.  Only women can do this; men can’t – it is by God’s design.  In this sense, women are unique and immensely privileged.  When women submit to this role they obtain blessing from God and they please him more than if they disobey it and take up a more prominent teaching or leadership role in the church.  Feminism is making godly women feel inferior by denigrating the role of women, and ambitious in wanting to leave their God-given role to usurp that of the man – a role for which they were not designed.

1 Corinthians 11:3-16

In this passage, God tells us how he has ordained the order of authority in Creation: “I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God……For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man.  For man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man.  Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.  For this cause ought the woman to have power [a symbol of her being under authority] on her head because of the angels” (11:3, 7-10).  The order is – God the Father; Christ (who is of the same essence as the Father, is here said to be subject to the Father because it speaks of him in the flesh as the Son of Man and therefore our mediator); man, who reflects God; woman, who reflects man.  God through Paul hasn’t introduced some new thing here; he’s reiterating the order of creation, and confirming the Old Testament law for the New Testament church.  The only difference is that Christ is now revealed to be part of that order.

Feminist Christians say that this contradicts Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus”; and they ask “How can Paul say that woman is subject to man in one place and say in another place they are equal and there is no difference?”  The answer is that in Gal 3:28 Paul describes all who have been born again as being one in Christ, and we see this being worked out as we read through the New Testament; it is a spiritual relationship.  There is absolute equality in Christ because he died to save us from our sins and adopt us into his family; but while we live here on earth, there is an order to be followed, and he has assigned different roles to men and to women.  In the Church there has to be structure and order, and God’s established order is that men have authority over women and women are subject to men. It is not a matter of one being better or worse than the other; not a matter of superiority or inferiority; it is simply what God has ordained as the order to be observed in church polity and Old Testament law.

So these passages are not difficult, despite what the feminists say.  They’re very straightforward and anyone with half a brain can understand them.  They’re only hard if you reject them, because then you need to explain them away and invent another meaning.

Ephesians 5:21-33

In speaking on this passage Kroeger says in part “It is important to realise that that ‘submission’ can signify mutuality and commitment rather than a servant-master relationship.  Note that Eph 5:21 speaks of submitting to one another……”.  That is wrong!  The emphasis is very much on the relationship of husband and wife and their roles, with Christ as the example: “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord” (Eph 5:22, 28).  The implication can be drawn from Catherine Kroeger’s assertion that Christ and women are to mutually submit to one another. 

She continues, “Fundamentally the extended passage (18-33) deals not so much with the submission of the wife as with Christ’s self-sacrificing love and care, which are to be emulated by the husband” (page 17).  But however much Christ loves us, ultimately our relationship is still a servant-master relationship: “For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church….” (5:23). If, as Kroeger says, the husband isn’t the head of the wife and of the family, then Christ isn’t the head of the Church: “Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands” (Eph 5:24).  In obeying her husband, the wife is obeying the Lord Jesus.

The parallel passage in Colossians chapter 3 says that the husband is to never treat his wife harshly.  He is to love her as his own body (Eph 5:28).  Such tenderness and care is required of the husband for his wife.  There is absolutely no room for abuse here; Christ never condones or commands that. 

Conclusion

I have presented an alternative and orthodox view of the role of women in the Church to that which Christian feminists present.  I have shown that my view is biblical and historical, whereas the view that the feminist Christians present is a distortion of scripture and history, a bizarre and tortured reconstruction of the plain and simple bible teaching on the role of women in the Church.  The feminists 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 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.

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.