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What Does the Bible Say About… Women in the Church

As we continue through our series of “What does the Bible say…”, we came to an item that we had a significant amount of questions on; what does the Bible say about women’s roles in the church. We looked at 1 Timothy 2 to direct our understanding on the matter.

1. The Call to Learn: v.11

This verse emphasizes the notion that women are to learn, and then gives attitude or demeanor that should accompany that learning. It should be noted, that the first part of verse 11 would have been the most surprising and shocking portion of this text to the initial readers. Women, who were viewed more as property than as an Image bearer have a value placed upon them. They are expected to learn, because they play a significant and meaningful role in the church. The attitude is described in two words, quietly and submissiveness (To be fair, this should characterize all of our learning with respect to the Word). Quietly does not mean audible silence, but instead references a humble demeanor. Submissiveness captures the attitude that places the authority with God and His Word, and not within ourselves. We often bristle and stiffen at submission, yet all of us are under God’s authority. The proper posture toward that is to submit. We have to ask if we will allow God’s Word to have a place of authority over us, or if we will attempt to impose ourselves on the Word?

2. The Prohibition Against Women Teaching: v.12

The text then moves into the prohibition for women. Specifically, that women are not to teach or have authority over a man. These functions are descriptive of the role and function that is facilitated by Elders (or some Bible translations use the terms bishop or overseer. They are synonymous). It’s not that this issue is complex or difficult to understand, it’s that we may not like it. But it is consistent with what we see in the Scriptures. One helpful delineation that may bring clarity is this: We find male and female prophets in both the Old and New Testament. But we never find a female priest in the Old Testament or a female Elder in the New Testament. The role and function of priest and elder are most closely aligned. So the question that begs to be asked is where do we draw the line? In an effort to give us principled wisdom, instead of do’s and don’ts, we offered this, “where a women’s participation in an activity would foster or communicate a pastor or elder like role or authority, we would abstain.”

3. The Reasoning for the Prohibition: v.13-14

The question of “why” almost inevitably comes up. Paul gives two reasons for the prohibition.  The first, in verse 13 is God’s order in creation. God created Adam first and then Eve. This says nothing of superiority or inferiority, it’s simply the order. But this is crucial, because this is prior to the fall and prior to sin’s corrupting effects. This is part of God’s good design. Sin did not create the roles, sin distorted and complicated them. We can have confidence in God’s good design. The second reason is given in verse 14, and it’s tied to the rebellion against God’s order. To be clear, verse 14 is not suggesting that Eve was naïve, or lacked the intellectual capacity. Her issue was open rebellion to God’s design. She wanted her eyes to be open and to be like God. Adam’s sin was that he was passive toward his wife. These distortions are often what we see today: Men will abdicate or abuse. Women will subvert. It should be noted that it was the vacuum of Adam’s leadership that Eve stepped into. It doesn’t excuse her actions, but it should put men on notice of their role to lead well, and when they fail, how it compromises our sisters in Christ. 

4. Practical Considerations:

As we closed, we put forward some practical considerations to help us as we think through this issue.

1. We Affirm the Equality and Dignity of Men and Women: Genesis 1 and Galatians 3 are both clear about this. Simply put: the devaluing, diminishing or suggestion of lack of equality for women is sinful. Inversely, the portrayal of men as intellectually or functionally inept (think Homer Simpson) is sinful.

2. We Must Not Prohibit Service for Women Where the Bible Doesn’t Prohibit It: Where we’re given freedom or liberty, we don’t want to unnecessarily prohibit service/ministry for women where the Bible doesn’t. There’s a clear prohibition given – not teach/exercise authority over a man. Again, the principled wisdom: Where participation in an activity would foster or communicate a Pastor/Elder like role or authority, we would abstain. Where that isn’t the case, liberty & opportunity.

3. We Encourage Theological Growth and Teaching Where Appropriate: Verse 11 expects that learning is happening. It’s heartbreaking when we treat this as all or nothing entity. We want to foster and encourage growth wherever appropriate because it is desperately needed!

4. We Encourage Women to use their Spiritual and Physical Resources: For all, God put gifts, resources, passions, platforms and opportunities for you to edify the body and to share the gospel. So as a worthy example, work diligently to disciple, evangelize and share in the work and the ministry.

5. We Embrace Our Gender and our Roles for what they are; a Gift from God: God has given us our gender and assigned our roles. They are beautiful, wonderful and a gracious gift that God gives to us. Let us live with that in view.

6. We Must Evaluate Our Perspective Through the Word Not Society: God’s voice must be the voice that is loudest and clearest for us. He is the one that we are to take our cues from. We must be evaluating our perspective through the word and not through society.