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Women Preachers, Pastors, Elders, and Bishops

May a Woman Preach or Have Authority in Church?

What role should women have as church leaders? May they be preachers, elders, pastors, bishops, deacons? Must they submit to authority of men, or may the preach and teach with equality?May women be Bible teachers and preachers? Are women equally as important as men, or do the Scriptures demean women? Should men hold the roles of leadership in the church, such as preachers, pastors, bishops, elders, and deacons? 

Does the Bible teach women to be subject in submission to the authority of men? Did Paul hate women or teach they should be mistreated? Is the Bible teaching about women's role outdated and antiquated?

Note: This is a brief, summary study. Click here for a detailed in-depth study of this subject.

I. The Value of Women and Their Work.

A. Women's Work Is Equally as Important as Man's.

Women are just as important or valued as men. They are honored and rewarded for their work as highly as men are for their work.

Gal. 3:28; I Pet. 3:7; Prov. 31:10-31

B. God Values People for Their Service, not Their Authority.

Matt. 20:25-28

Note that this does not deny the existence of valid authority. Jesus used Himself as the example, and He possessed authority (Matt. 28:18; 7:29). The point is that possession of authority does not inherently make one great. People without authority can be just as great as those who have it. Cf. citizens to rulers, men to elders, etc.

However, the fact men and women are equally valued does not mean God expects them to do the same work.

C. In Particular, the Woman's Role as Homemaker Is of Great Value

God honors woman in this role, and she ought to be honored by men.

1 Timothy 5:14; Titus 2:5; Psalm 113:9; Proverbs 31:10-31; 7:11,12

D. Women Have a Definite Responsibility in teaching.

They may teach women or children.

Titus 2:3,4; Proverbs 31:1; 1:8; 2 Timothy 1:5

They may even impart truth to men in a limited capacity.

Acts 18:26; 2:17; 21:9; John 4:28-30,39,42

However, note that none of these passages place women as preaching God's word in the public worship assemblies of the whole church or in any capacity which puts them in authority over men.

II. Restrictions on Women in Authority and Teaching

A. Women Are Subject to Men

Many passages teach the subjection of women to men in general.

Genesis 2:18; 3:16; Ephesians 5:22-33; Colossians 3:18; I Corinthians 11:3; 14:34; I Timothy 2:12-14; 3:4,12; Titus 2:4,5; I Peter 3:1-7

B. Positions of Authority & Leadership in the Church Are Reserved for Men.

Jesus, the Head of the church, was a man - Ephesians 1:22,23

Apostles were all men -- Acts 1:13.

Elders, who oversee the local church (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:1-3), must be men -- 1 Timothy 3:1,2; Titus 1:5,6. 

Men did the speaking in all New Testament examples of preaching to church assemblies or leading group studies including men - Acts 2:14-40; 11:25,26; 13:14-41; 20:7; etc.

There is no example anywhere in the New Testament in which a woman preached in any church assembly or led a study in which men were present.

C. Women Are Subject to Men in Spiritual Teaching and Leadership.

Women are expressly forbidden to take a leading role over men in the church or in any circumstance of teaching God's word.

1 Timothy 2:11-14 - Women are subject to men in spiritual teaching situations.

V13,14 give two reasons for women's subjection to man.

V13 - First, man was formed before woman. This refers to the creation account of Gen. 2:18ff. See also 1 Cor. 11:3,8,9.

Woman was created from the beginning to be a helper or companion to man, not a leader or authority figure over him. Man was created with the position of leader and his nature suits that position.

V14 - Man has the leadership role because, though both Adam and Eve sinned, the woman was deceived where man was not. Both man and woman were punished, but God made the punishment fit the sin.

Eve tried to take the leadership role and made a decision to disobey God without consulting her husband. She allowed herself to be deceived and made a colossal blunder, so God required that she would always be subject to her husband (Gen. 3:16). Her punishment reminds her that she left her role of subjection. Man was punished just as severely, but in a different way.

1 Corinthians 14:34,35 - Women are to be silent in the assemblies of the church.

V34 says women must keep silence "in the churches." V35 says it is shameful for them to speak "in the church." The context defines "silence" to mean not speaking, not even to ask a question.

The context shows that "in the church" refers to the public worship assembly in which the church is called together to sing and pray (v15) and be edified (v26). The church is gathered together in congregation as a body. See v23,26 (cf. v4,5,12,19,28,33,34,35). Compare the similar usage in 1 Cor. 11:17-34 regarding the assemblies in which the Lord's supper was offered (cf. v17,18,20,33).

III. Answers To Objections

A. Was Phoebe a Preacher?

Romans 16:2 says Phoebe was a "minister" or "servant." How she served is not defined. There are many different ways people may serve or minister to others.

Cf. John 2:5.

No passage anywhere indicates that any women were appointed to any specific office of work in the church like elders and deacons. Appointment to office requires specific qualifications (Titus 1; 1 Tim. 3). None are ever given for women.

If Phoebe had preached in public church meetings, she would have violated express New Testament commands.

B. Was This Just Paul's Opinion or a Requirement of God?

Some people claim this was just Paul's personal opinion, not Divine regulation

1) It is based on the principle of subjection of women to men. This was a principle established by God and revealed through various inspired teachers, not just Paul. Gen. 2:18; 3:16; Eph. 5:22-33; Col. 3:18; I Cor. 11:3; Tit. 2:4,5; I Pet. 3:1-7; I Cor. 14:34.

2) 1 Cor. 14:34,35 says the same was also taught in the law (Gen. 2:18; 3:16). Hence, it was not just Paul's opinion nor a temporary or local custom but had been the rule even under the Old Testament.

3) 1 Cor. 14:37 expressly states that these teachings were "the commandment of the Lord." Paul was an inspired apostle (2 Cor. 11:5: 12:11,12; 1 Cor. 9:1-5; 15:4-8; Acts 9:15; 26:16). To reject this teaching is to reject the commands of God. See also 1 Thess. 2:13; 4:8; Eph. 3:3-5; Gal. 1:6-12; 1 Cor. 2:1-5,10-16; 2 Peter 3:15,16; Luke 10:16; John 16:13,14; Matt. 18:18;

4) Paul was not prejudiced against women. Much of the teaching about the value of women was done by Paul. See also Eph. 5:25-29,33; Galatians 3:28; Col. 3:19; Acts 16:14,15,40; Rom. 16:1-4,6.

C. Was This a Binding, Permanent Command or Just a Custom of That Day?

Some claim that the teaching about women's subjection was not intended to be permanent but was a local, temporary custom of that day.

1) It is based on the principle of subjection of women to men. This is a universal principle binding on all Christians in the gospel age, taught in other passages including Gen. 2:18; 3:16; Eph. 5:22-33; Col. 3:18; I Cor. 11:3; Tit. 2:4,5; I Pet. 3:1-7; I Cor. 14:34. Note that some of these are taught by inspired men other than Paul.

2) 1 Cor. 14:34,35 says the same was also taught in the law (Gen. 2:18; 3:16). Hence, it was not just a temporary or local custom but had been the rule even under the Old Testament.\

3) V33 says that the things Paul was teaching apply "in all the churches of the saints."

4) Again, 1 Cor. 14:37 expressly states that these teachings were "the commandment of the Lord." Hence, they were not just local, temporary customs. Paul was an inspired apostle. To reject this teaching is to reject the commands of God, not just temporary customs. See passages above.

We must not lightly set aside the teachings of God's word as non-binding customs. Unless there is clear evidence to the contrary, we must accept that which God's word teaches to be Divine command.

(C) Copyright 1999, David E. Pratte;
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Topics for further Bible study

Bible Inspiration: Infallible, Inerrant, Verbal
The Preservation and Accuracy of the Bible
Is Obedience Essential to Salvation? - Return to the Gospel Way home page.

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