Church Education Resource Ministries



The Role of Women in Ministry

Throughout the ages, much debate has arisen regarding a woman's role in the church. Many conservatives have taken Paul's instructions literally on a woman's role in the church from 1 Timothy and 1 Corinthians in regards to this issue. However, others do not simply take a literal exegesis from these passages, but take a different exegesis from Paul's instructions. They argue that one cannot overlook the many obstacles in interpreting the Bible for today. I agree that obstacles such as time, language, place, and culture should not be overlooked in any hermeneutics. However, there is no reason for a reader to add their own eisegesis rather than taking Paul's instructions on a woman's role in the church literally. I personally believe that women should not be allowed to teach or preach with men present or have any type of authority over a man in the church. This is my understanding from carefully reading scripture, and books by my favorite bible teacher John MacArthur and other established theologians. Therefore, to my understanding, scripture clearly teaches that women were made by God for roles & purposes different from men's; Paul forbids women to teach or have authority over men in a church setting; and Jesus did not allow culture to control his decisions, so we should not allow culture to control the church. Man was chosen in the creation account to lead over women. In Genesis, we learn that both man and woman were created in the image of God. Then we get to chapter 2, which informs the reader that God commanded man to be the leader over woman as God commanded man to work the garden, and name the animals and he made the woman a helper to Adam.

After God's establishment of man as the leader in chapter 2, we learn about the fall in Genesis 3, and God's curses. Because of the fall, the image of God created in mankind was marred. In verse 16, God tells the woman that her desire will be for her husband. But God is clearly talking about a marriage relationship, and in it, the woman will have trouble and anguish instead of joy and blessing (MacArthur 1994, 22). Some interpret this verse as the beginning of man's leadership over women, but they overlook that verse 16 is referring to problems in the marriage relationship, not the beginning of man's authority over women. Gen. 2 spells out that the man was designed to be the leader over the woman. However, biblical scholar Gilbert Bilezikian does not think men are to lead women. He says, "There is no hint, not even a whisper about anything like a hierarchical order existing between man and woman in the creation account of Genesis chapters 1 and 2" (Bilezikian, n.d.). What Bilezikian seems to miss are the times when God referred to the man as the leader. For example, even before God curses them, He calls to Adam first before Eve (3:9), signifying Adam to be the leader. Nowhere in the creation account did God ever indicate there is a hierarchy of value between men and women. It is not a negative judgment nor prejudice to acknowledge that women were created for different tasks, which include submitting to man's leadership. However, biblical Feminist Jay Grady thinks that women are not to submit to the leadership of men: "Gender prejudice has been at the core of fallen human nature since the Garden of Eden, and we see its effects everywhere. It is the way of the world. It has been encoded in all the world's religions"(Grady 2000,180). In his book, Grady argues that not allowing women to teach or have authority over men is purely a cultural issue that was being addressed by Paul in his letters. Grady has ignored 1 Corinthians 14:33, in which Paul addresses God's instructions on a woman's role in the church to all the congregations of the saints. The clear role distinctions of men and women from the creation account are obvious from reading Dr. MacArthur's teachings.

Dr. John MacArthur says that women were by design the followers, and so Satan cleverly attacked the weaker target. "Bypassing the leadership of the man, the serpent went after the woman, who was by design the follower. He promised Eve that if she ate the forbidden fruit she would not die as God had warned, but that, in fact, she would be a god herself" (MacArthur 1994, 21). Some argue that the fall was the start of the curse of women's submission to men. But Dr. MacArthur clears this misunderstanding, saying: "With the fall and its curse, came the distortion of woman's proper submissiveness and of man's proper authority. That is where the battle of the sexes began, where women's liberation movements and male chauvinism was born" (MacArthur 1994, 23). Some men have a sinful lifestyle of treating women like they are less valuable, and some women have a sinful habit of not obeying man's authority. Therefore, some women have undermined man's authority in the church. In my opinion, this authority conflict has resulted in a malodorous gospel message, polluted by Feminists who avoid the instructions by the apostle Paul in the New Testament.

Paul commanded that women not teach or have any type of authority over men in his letters. Some in the Church claim that the writings of Paul regarding women clergy are cultural issues. But these individuals have not considered the importance of 2 Tim. 3:16, 1 Cor. 14:33, or 1 Cor. 14:37. By looking at these scriptures, we can see their relevance today. In 2 Tim 3:16, Paul says that all scripture is God breathed, and to be used for correction. This means that it's not possible to throw out Paul's instructions on a woman's role in the church. In 1 Cor. 14:33, Paul addresses God's instructions on a woman's role in the church to all the congregations of the saints. In 1 Cor. 14:37, after Paul instructs those in the Corinth church how women should act in the church, he tells them that what he instructs is the Lord's command. Also in the opening of Paul's letter to the Corinthian church in 1 Cor.1:2, he says that his letter is to all those who call on the name of Jesus for salvation. In Paul's first letter to Timothy he gives instructions on a woman's behaviors in the church; in 2:9-15, and near the end of the letter Paul commands that his instructions be kept until the coming of Jesus Christ. Grady thinks that 1 Tim. 2:12 is not to be taken literally, saying that people who do so take pride in being biblical literalists (Grady 2000, 53). Grady does make something of a point, as we cannot take the entire Bible literally. Jesus' parables and other biblical passages such as Revelation are meant to be interpreted using allegorical exegesis and not taken literally. Theologian Gordon Hugenberger thinks that Paul's commands in his letters on a woman's role in the church need to be looked at with a different exegesis as he thinks that wives need to submit to their husbands only in the family context, and not anywhere else. "The point is, rather, that a wife's responsibility to be submissive is precisely limited to familial concerns…" (Hugenberger 1992, 73). I think Hugenberger makes some good points in his essay, as Paul gave instructions on women being submissive to men in family scenarios. But Hugenberger limits submissiveness of women only to a family context and does not include the church. This is not what Paul was commanding, and I feel Hugenberger is teaching a fallacy.

While Hugenberger & many others can say all they wish about the commands of the Lord, it is still a difficult topic to discuss. Tim Bayly of the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood says:

It's difficult to create a safe space for the discussion of these spiritual commands, since the church of our time seems intent upon eradicating any vestige of female deference. Yet, efforts to evade this responsibility by claiming that these commands pertain only to ancient patriarchal cultures are double-edged swords. The same argument can be made concerning endless other texts" (Bayly, n.d.).

Other theologians such as Robert Saucy agree that a woman is not to teach or have leadership over a man: "Scripture teaches the ultimate leadership of the church by men and therefore prohibits women from exercising teaching that has authority over men" (Saucy 1994, 97). However, Stephen Lowe thinks that women are to fully participate in every type of ministry, including teaching men. He says, "full participation of women in all ministry functions is the new creation ideal, which is constrained only by the realities of a hostile target culture that may as yet be unwilling to permit women such freedom" (Lowe 1991, 73). In my opinion, Saucy is correct, and women cannot teach men. The Adam of the New Testament set the ultimate example. Just as Jesus did not allow the culture to control his decisions, so we are not to allow culture to control the church. Typology can be used to understand Jesus' life. Adam is the type, and Jesus is the antitype. Both came into this world as male leaders without sin, but Jesus did not sin. Jesus did not come to earth to please the world, though some pastors today wish to please their audience to avoid offending people. Craig Gay says, "North American character has since become primarily 'other-directed,' in the sense that we now rely mostly upon the crowd and upon the mass media to tell us who we are and what is worth pursuing at any given moment" (Gay 1998, 214). Is culture controlling the church, by allowing the Woman's rights movement's teachings to transform the church? If so, it's no surprise that many Christians want women in the pulpits! Jesus in no way wished to please the heresies of his culture, but rather opposed the teachers of them, as he called the religious leaders "Hypocrites, and blind guides" in Matt. 15:14, and Matt. 15:7. Kim Pennington of The Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood says, "Jesus was only committed to obeying the will of God (John 6:38). Had the will of God included female apostles, Jesus certainly would have selected some, but He did not; nor should we" (Pennington).

There is no place for a woman over a man in the church neither as a teacher nor as an elder. As Paul instructs there is no excuse for a woman to become a teacher or elder over a man. There is nothing wrong with a woman giving a testimony to a group of believers, but its plainly wrong to have them lead or teach men in a church setting. For example, in my own experiences I have noted that many women do not think its necessary to preach a message like "repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is near." Rather many women approach sinners only in love, and this undermines God's other attributes. Therefore, a balanced message is lacking. This is one of the many factors of a weak contemporary church, which has undermined the teachings of Paul. As pointed out in Genesis women were made by God for different roles than men but this in no way means they are inferior to men. Jesus and many other biblical heroes set the regulations for women being submissive to men by their words and nonverbal behaviors. The evidence is in the Bible, people just need to allow the Holy Spirit to illuminate the truth to them.


Bayly, Tim. 1999. Service and Silence [on-line]. Louisville, KY: available from; Internet; accessed 1 October 2002.

Bilezekian, Gilbert. [-] A Challenge for Proponents of Female Subordination To Prove Their Case from the Bible. [on-line]. Minneapolis, MN: available from; Internet; accessed 30 September 2002.

Gay, Craig. 1998. The Way of the Modern World. Colorado: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing.

Grady, Lee. 2000. 10 Lies the Church Tells Women. Florida: Charisma House.

Hugenberger, Gordon P. 1992. Women in Church Office: Hermeneutics or Exegesis? A survey of Approaches to 1 Tim 2:8-16. Journal of The Evangelical Theological Society 35 no.3 (September): 341-360.

Lowe, Stephen D. 1991. Rethinking the Female Status/Function Question: The Jew/Gentile relationship as Paradign. Journal Of The Evangelical Theological Society 34 no.1 (March): 59-75.

MacArthur, John. 1994. Different By Design. Colorado Springs: Chariot Victor Publishing.

Pennington, Kim. [-] Able to Teach and Complementarian? [on-line]. Louisville, KY: available from; Internet; accessed 1 October 2002.

Saucy, Robert L. 1994. Women's Prohibition to Teach Men: An Investigation into Its Meaning and Contemporary Application. Journal of The Evangelical Theological Society 37 no.1 (March): 79-97.


The role of women in the Ministry--By Hank Hanegraaf
Feminism/Women in the Ministry--By John Wolf

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