The church is grappling with what exactly is the role of Christian women in the church and women are trying as best they can to live and serve and grow within the parameters they are allowed. They crave depth in Christ and places to lead and serve, true community, and a way to impact the world for Christ, but sometimes are only offered teas, crafts, and classes on being a good wife and mother by the church.
Now, none of those things are without value and do bring some community but if that is all that is offered, then we do the daughters of the Lord a disservice and we essentially hamstring half the body of Christ.
So, let’s go to Scripture and see what roles women had in the time of Christ and the new church. Then we will look at the role of a Christian woman today. Perhaps this will give us a bit more information on what women are to do to serve Christ.
Don’t jump to any conclusions as you read this study. I encourage you to read the whole article. It will all be summarized at the end.
What did women do in the gospels?
Let’s take a look at how Christ treated women and what roles they played.
Starting in the book of Luke 2:36-
She praises and thanks God and then continues to tell all (men and women) who are looking for the Savior that He has come. That makes her the first evangelist.
In John 4:25-
It is to this woman, to a woman, that He first reveals that He is the Messiah. He was around His disciples continually but chooses to reveal that He is God in the flesh to a woman. What a huge statement by our Lord. She then goes on to tell (evangelism) others that the Christ is here.
In Luke 10:38-
Back to John in 11:27 –
Moving forward to John 19:25 we see that except for John all the men had abandoned Jesus. Women stayed with Him as He died for us all. Beneath His cross was Jesus’ mother, Mary’s sister, another Mary, the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. These few were with Him in love, devotion, a great risk to their own life, loyalty, and faith.
At the resurrection in John 20:17, Christ chooses to reveal Himself first to a woman. He had revealed Himself as Messiah first to the woman at the well and now to a woman first as the resurrected Savior. He had waited until the disciples left to show Himself to her. She is the first witness. And now He tells her to go and tell others that He has risen. Again, He is showing that a woman’s testimony was valid against the cultural traditions.
We saw that Christ treated women in a way that was absolutely contrary to the culture of the day. He invited them into the knowledge of Himself as Messiah and entrusted them as witnesses, evangelists, prophetess, and friends. Being God, His treatment of women is a statement of how women are to be valued and treated.
What did Christian women do in the new church?
In the time of the church, we see how Christian women are serving alongside men. In Romans 16:1-
We see Prisca and her husband, Aquila, listed. Just the fact that her name is listed before her husband’s (and it is the majority of the time in Scripture) is a huge statement about women in the church. Paul says that she and her husband are fellow workers in Christ Jesus. Prisca has been involved in teaching correct doctrine, leading the church in her home, and risking her life for the church through evangelism.
We see Mary who Paul says has worked hard for the church. There is Junia (her name was changed to a male name in later centuries because beliefs about women would now allow this person to be a woman, even though Scripture proclaims her) who is called a kinsman, meaning she was right in there moving the gospel with Paul, and fellow prisoner, meaning she is also facing persecution for her work of spreading the gospel, and an apostle, which means that she was out there spreading the gospel along with Paul. Paul also notes that she was “in Christ before me.”
Paul goes on to mention other Christian women in this passage who have worked hard for the Lord.
Summing up the roles Christian women played
Christian women served the Lord as deacons, prophets, teachers, evangelists, guardians, financeers, leading churches in their own homes, had spiritual gifts, and were persecuted and died for the cause of Christ just like the men.
Our Lord came to restore all things and part of that restoration, from His own behavior and interaction with women, shows that He was restoring Christian women to serve Him and His church.
Okay, what about the hard passages of Scripture?
All these passages deal with propriety in worship, not restrictions on Christian women in the church, as we shall see.
1 Corinthians 11
In verses 4 and 5 it says that both men and women pray and prophesy in the church so this is not about Christian women having no part in the worship service. What it talks about is whether or not a woman should wear a head garment during worship. Apparently in that culture for a man to cover his head or have long hair was a dishonor and for a woman not to cover her’s was disgraceful as well. It is a matter of respect and has nothing to do with whether or not a woman can speak because it clearly says that women prophesy in church.
This is also about propriety in worship. In the previous passage, we saw that men and women were both speaking in church but now it seems that Christian women are told to keep silent. What gives? Let’s look at the whole passage.
Three times it is said, “must keep silent.” The first time is in v3 to anyone who wishes to speak in a tongue when there is no one that understands that language, then no one should speak in that tongue. The second time is to prophets that might speak. If one is speaking and another gets a revelation, he must keep silent. It is the third occurrence that is difficult. Women are to be silent.
The word gune in Greek can be translated as either “wife” or “woman” depending on the context and the interpreter preference. We have seen that Christian women can prophesy in the church so it can’t mean women in general here. Let’s see if “wife” fits.
A bit more of the Greek: gune here in this verse is singular, meaning one particular woman or wife, not all Christian women, and the verb is 3rd person singular (tense refresher –
So, the passage can be read, “The wives (of the prophets) are to keep silent in the churches.” The very next verse says, “if they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home,” so this interpretation seems correct.
Propriety in worship shows respect for our God and is a non-
Want to do one more?
The first principle of Bible study is that we never base our theological understanding on a single passage and most definitely not when that passage is difficult to interpret. This is why we saved this one for last. Too many people go to this passage and then base their full belief about Christian women in the church on this passage. That’s a no-
In this passage, Paul has just finished saying that propriety in worship for men should be holy and without wrath or dissension. Now, he will address propriety for Christian women. He starts out by saying that Christian women should dress appropriately, no bling, no sexy outfits, but with good deeds, as what is fitting before God.
Then he moves on to a command (Greek tense) “Let a woman learn.” This is a big change because women were not allowed to learn in the same way a man was prior to Christ coming. No one is to prevent women from learning any more. She is to learn quietly and submissively, which is the same requirement that is for a man under instruction. All good so far.
Here it gets difficult: “I don’t allow a woman” (could be wife, remember?) “to teach or exercise authority over a man” (anthropos can be “man” or “husband” in the Greek too). Paul then goes on to use Adam and Eve –
We need to look at the word authentein which is interpreted as “exercise authority.” This is the only place in all of Scripture where this particular word is used. Paul picked this unique word, why? He had used several different words that we interpret as “authority” throughout all the rest of his writings, and did so just ten verses before, but chose not to use any of them here. When a word is only used once we need to take that as significant and really look at the word.
When we look at other writings of the time outside of Scripture, we see that authentein is rarely used there as well. In the few instances that it is, it has the connotation of seduction and even violence for domination. Wow. That doesn’t quite mean “exercise authority” does it? Paul is talking about something quite out of the ordinary here.
We’ll put all this together in a minute, but, first, let’s look further into the passage.
Paul reminds us that Adam (the husband) was made first and then Eve (the wife). Remember that God had instructed him before bringing Eve into the picture. Then God told them both to rule and fill the earth. When satan showed up he went to Eve and was able to confuse and deceive her. Adam wasn’t able to be deceived because he didn’t receive the instruction from God secondhand as Eve did. Eve should have asked Adam for help but didn’t.
Then the passage in Timothy goes on to say that she will be saved through childbirth if they continue in faith, love, sanctity, and self-
Again, this passage is tremendously difficult to understand and, so, we cannot base our entire theology of women on it, but we can learn from it.
This passage, as best as we can understand it, says that in worship, Christian women are to be holy in the way they dress and act. The command is given that all women be instructed in Scripture and knowledge of God humbly and quietly just as men were. Wives were not allowed to use their intimacy with their husbands in order to be in charge and dominate this process.
The example is given of how a wife, Eve, did not go to her husband, Adam, as she should have for instruction when challenged by the serpent. That failure caused her to sin. She was told by God that now she would have pain in childbirth (see Genesis 3) but even in that she can be preserved from harm since she continues in faith, love, sanctification, and sober mind.
Now, for the big question
Can women be THE leader in a church? An Elder? A lead Pastor?
Although our Lord thoroughly changed how women were viewed, were treated, and how they served, He still held a distinct place of authority for men.
He could have asked 6 men and 6 women to make up the twelve disciples, but He did not. He chose 12 men to disciple, and then to lead the new church. The Lord chose men only to hold positions of a head leader.
In the early church, this authority was continued. When Judas was to be replaced, only men were considered for this position even though many women were part of this new church.
In 1 Timothy 3, Paul lists the qualifications for an Elder, who is one who will “oversee” and direct the theology and functioning of the body of Christ in a local area. One of those qualifications is that an elder is to be “the husband of one wife.” Again, the words are “man” and “woman” and in the context is understood to be “husband” and “wife.” The point here is that it is definitely a man that Paul is speaking about as potential leaders.
Putting it all together
Jesus revolutionized everything including how Christian women are to be treated and their role in His kingdom. Colossians tells us that He came to “reconcile all things to Himself.” Galatians that there is “neither male nor female but all are equal for you all are one in Jesus Christ.”
He showed us that through His treatment of women. He restored their place, He revealed Himself as the Savior first, He taught and spoke with them, He waited for the men to leave to show Himself resurrected first to a woman. He allowed a woman to be His disciple, sitting at His feet and learning. He showed them to be equal in His love for them and as their Savior.
Christ gave women have an essential part in the beginnings of the kingdom. They played substantial roles in the new church just as men did. He does not seem to have removed the role of Christian women with their husbands though. They are still to treat them with respect, especially in public and that is a good thing.
It appears from our study that women are to be an integral part of His church, serving in many different ways as He leads, but are not to be the ultimate leader or elder in a church body. That position alone is reserved for men. But, just as in Genesis, women are still “helpers” that are essential to the full life and growth of the body.
Christian Women Today
If the Lord did not keep Christian women from serving and Paul allowed them to teach, evangelize, lead house churches and die for Christ, then the church today should not prohibit this.
We did not have space here to talk about all the aspects of women in the church, and perhaps there will be another article on this later. For now, know that as a woman, the Lord loves you, values you, does not consider you a second class citizen, goes out of His way to confirm your restoration, and provides many ways to serve Him.
If you like teas and crafts then do them but insist that there also be studies with depth, that challenge you to grow in Christ. Do not settle for a mediocre place in the church. Do what the Lord is calling you to do. Always with a humble, servant’s heart and never use being a woman as a means to authority or position.
Do not accept anything less than “let a woman learn,” and always serve as He calls and humbly under the head of your particular body of Christ.