“Without women preachers, we would have no knowledge of the resurrection.” ~ Jürgen Moltmann
It’s true; women were the first ones to bring the good news of the empty tomb. Then we have the sermon at Pentecost preached by the Apostle Peter (referencing the prophet Joel): “It shall come to pass in the last days, says the Lord, that I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy…” (Acts2:17).
From the beginning, the Church of the Nazarene has ordained women. With other churches following suit, there are more women in ministry than ever before. However, there is still opposition to women in ministry by some within the larger evangelical community. Rooted in the age-old complimentarian versus egalitarian debate, this originates with people who believe that scripture opposes women in ministry. So, let’s examine what scripture says.
“Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says.” (1 Cor. 14:34)
“A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.” (1 Tim. 2:11-12)
In these verses Paul cannot be, I repeat cannot be, addressing women who were in ministry, but rather those in the congregation who were out of order: women who were disrupting the service of the local church. How do we know this? Simple, there are several women mentioned by Paul who were influential leaders in the early church, and who were also commended by the apostle.
Priscilla (Acts 18:26): Priscilla and her husband Aquila were pastors of a church in Ephesus. They were responsible for teaching the full gospel to Apollos. Priscilla is almost always listed ahead of Aquila when their names are mentioned. This likely indicates that she was the primary teacher and leader in the local church (Acts 18:2, 18; Rom. 16:3, and I Cor. 16:19).
Euodia and Syntyche (Phil. 4:2-3): Paul indicates that these women are “true yokefellows” who labored with him in the advancement of the gospel. When he describes their ministry, Paul uses the same terms he had previously used to describe Timothy and Epaphroditus. For instance, Paul writes that Euodia and Syntyche had contended together with him “in the Gospel.” Earlier in the letter, Paul had described Timothy as someone who had served with him “in the Gospel” (Phil. 2:22). Paul also refers to them as his “co-workers.” Earlier, Paul had referred to Epaphroditus as his “co-worker” (Phil. 2:25). So, according to Paul, the ministries of these women were comparable to the ministries of men like Timothy and Epaphroditus.
There are many other instances of women in leadership throughout the scripture. They served in positions such as prophetess, evangelist, judge, pastor, deacon, etc. However, the above mentioned is enough to establish that women were a normal part of church leadership. Not only did women have a place in ministry in the early church, but also Paul expected them to speak. Why else would he have given the directive: “But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head…” (1 Cor. 11:5). A prophesying woman is a speaking woman.
Throughout his letters, Paul not only allowed women to teach in the church, he also praised them for their leadership. With this in mind, how do we interpret the verses that command women to be silent? First of all, we must read those verses in light of what we have just established – that there were women in leadership positions in the early church. In context, we understand that the Corinthian Church was extremely troubled. Much of Paul’s letter was spent correcting various kinds of immoral behavior. Some of these pertained to women.
Also, in the early church, men were often seated on one side, while the women and children were seated on the opposite side. To add to an already difficult situation, the women were commonly uneducated. Therefore, when the church gathered some of the women were tempted to speak across the aisle, asking their husbands the meaning of whatever was being taught. It would be safe to say, even today, if someone was constantly being disruptive in a service, whether male or female, that the leader of the church would need to address the problem.
In writing to Timothy, it’s also imperative to comprehend the context in which the letter was written. In this case false teaching had become problematic. It’s pretty clear that the proponents of much of the false teachings were women. In Ephesus goddess worship was a serious issue; women were often the victims of those who propagated false deities. Regardless of the particulars, in both cases we can identify that Paul is dealing with particular incidents, in specific churches, for very precise reasons.
A more thorough exegetical reading of these passages would lead to an entirely different hermeneutic than that of our complimentarian brothers. That is, “women in ministry” is not the subject of the texts, rather immoral and disruptive behavior is. With that conclusion, it’s wise to understand that many of Paul’s epistles dealt with local problems and his instructions are not meant to be taken as “commandments” across the board for all situations. Rather, his instructions are given as more of a guideline for navigating various scenarios in the local church.
It’s bizarre to me that some groups will allow a woman to go to a foreign mission field and teach men, but will not allow the men at home to be taught by the same woman. It’s even more unusual that these groups will allow women to teach children, and then create an arbitrary age at which the male children can no longer be instructed by a female.
The Lord admonishes us not to examine one another with regard to sex, race, class or culture, but instead to see one another through spiritual eyes (2 Cor. 5:17-20; Gal. 3:28). God wants to use any person who will surrender to the Holy Spirit to minister the Gospel to the fullest extent of their ability. Face it guys, women are amazing leaders… So take your hands off their mouth and your chains off their minds!
(Sources: Jürgen Moltmann)