The Biblical Role of Women in the Church

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. 

Female Apostles?


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).

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).


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 strict 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. 

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.  They 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 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).  Many scholars believe these women were likely influenced by the popular Roman fertility cults of Artemis that encouraged women to flaunt their sexuality and freedom to a degree that scandalized even the Roman establishment, hardly known for its prudish morals.  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 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 commanding “…put away from among yourselves that wicked person” (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: “Let not a widow be taken into the number under threescore years old, having been the wife of one man, well reported of for good works: if she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saints’ feet, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good work” (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.

Feminists 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 the Kroegers say 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 the Kroegers say, 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. 

Female Leaders in the New Testament


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.


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

The Kroegers say that “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”.

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 not even in the Greek of either the Critical Text or the Received Text.  This interpretation, or mistranslation, if true, 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”.


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 feminists 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.


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.