I have been blessed tremendously by the ministry of some well-known women of God in Ghana and abroad. I wouldn’t like to name them all but in recent times I have taken a keen interest in the ministry of Patricia King. Her ministry is one of a kind. It centers on the gifts of the spirit and how they are relevant to the church today. God is using her powerfully and I believe there are many other women of God around the world who are being used by God.
However, ‘women in ministry’ has always been a controversial subject that has divided the body of Christ to an extent. There are denominations that believe women are not allowed to stand in the pulpit to instruct men publicly. Others see no problem with that. I don’t seek to merely take sides (although my opening paragraph gives my position away). What I seek to do with this write-up is to point out what God’s word says on the matter and I hope I do just that and not let my personal opinions and preferences cloud my judgment.
First of all, this problem arose from the misinterpretation of some portions of the New Testament – specifically the writings of Paul. In two separate passages found in two of his epistles, Paul admonishes the recipients of his letter to make sure the women in the church keep quiet and learn in submission. These two passages can be found in 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Corinthians 14. Due to the instructions, Paul gave in these two passages, some believe that it isn’t scripturally correct for a woman to pastor a church. Before I proceed, I’d like to clarify a few things. The controversy is not necessarily about the prohibition of women from sharing the gospel with people – as that would have been an outright contradiction of the great commission Jesus gave to believers. I believe what is in contention here is whether women should be allowed to pastor a church thereby instructing men in scripture and exercising authority over them.
I will start with the easier of the two texts, 1st Corinthians 14:33-36. In this passage, Paul states emphatically that women are not permitted to speak in church and that if they would want to learn anything they should ask their husbands at home. The second part of this instruction gives us a hint of the context of the events Paul was addressing. However, this isn’t clear to all so we would still have to delve deeper into the issue. So Paul prohibits women from speaking in church. How can we convince people that the gospel of grace is one built on the foundation of love if there is a verse that seeks to suggest that women as a sexually-defined group of people are not allowed to speak in the church simply because they are women? It is hard to reconcile this notion with the ethos of the New Testament. We don’t need to go far, let’s stay in the book of 1st Corinthians. In the 11th chapter of the same book, Paul admonishes women to pray and prophesy with their heads covered. Throughout the book of 1st Corinthians, we see the apostle speak elaborately on the gifts of the spirit and how they should be administered in the church. The gift of prophecy being one of the most prominent of all the gifts was duly addressed by Paul. He stated that when one person is prophesying, there should be total silence in the church. Since it is already an established fact that women can prophesy in church just like their male counterparts, doesn’t this tell us that they are at liberty to speak in church?
Indeed women are permitted to speak in the church to the hearing of everyone. This doesn’t in any way render Paul’s instructions for women to keep quiet in the church void. What we should be asking ourselves is, what kind of ‘quiet’ was the apostle referring to? Analyzing the text soundly would reveal that the apostle gave the instructions amongst several other instructions that would promote orderliness in church. Hence it is safe to say that he instructed women to be quiet in the instance when their talking was distracting the flow of the church service. It is believed that during service some of the women were fond of asking their husbands questions, seeking further clarifications of what was being taught. Hence the apostle’s instruction that they should ask their husbands at home if they didn’t understand what was being taught. The same Paul who said women should prophesy with their heads covered couldn’t have said in the same book that they are not permitted to prophesy (or speak publicly) in the church. In his essay on ‘Women in Ministry’, Adoniram Judson states that ‘So it seems, at least, for this word “prophesy” in the New Testament “signifies not merely to foretell future events, but to communicate religious truth in general under a Divine inspiration” (vide Hackett on “Acts”, p.49)’. This tells us that women are very much allowed to instruct men in scripture – I will delve into this a little more later on.
The second passage that causes confusion about women in ministry is in 1st Timothy 2. This is a far more difficult text because it introduces some historical events as the basis of the instructions given by the apostle. Here again, Paul instructs that women should not be allowed to teach nor usurp authority over men. Let’s look at the context in which he makes this statement. So Timothy was head of the church in Ephesus that is why this letter was being addressed to him. If you know anything about the ancient city of Ephesus, you would know that it was a city that was wholly given to idolatry. Specifically the worship of the goddess Artemis. The temple of Artemis was one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world. It is an edifice that took 120 years to build. The temple was supported by 127 columns, each being 65 feet high (roughly 7 stories). Inside the building stood the huge multiple-breasted statue of the goddess. The servants (temple functionaries) of Artemis were mostly women. The men who were allowed to serve in the temple had to be castrated first – basically stripped of their manhood. This gives a bit of a background to the text under consideration. Some of these women had been converted and brought into the church. They were exposed to a system of worship where women exercised undue authority over men. It is believed that it was this particular problem that the apostle sought to address when he said I do not permit a woman to exercise authority over a man. It is worthy of note however that the apostle began this particular passage by stating that ‘let the women LEARN in silence and with all subjection’ (v11). This indicates that he wasn’t against female education and that is very important to this topic. It may appear trivial to us today but we need to understand that in those days women were not allowed to study the word of God. Kenneth Bailey mentions that:
Judith Hauptmann, in her essay on “Images of Women in the Talmud,” notes Rabbi Eliezer’s view that it is better to burn the words of the Torah than to give them to women.
With the passage in 1Timothy 2, the main problem is the fact that Paul makes reference to historical data as the basis for his instructions. He states that the reason he prohibits women from teaching and exercising authority over men is that in the garden, it was the woman that was deceived and not the man. This is interesting. So our quest is to find out why the woman was first deceived and not the man in the garden. Now it was Eve who was deceived first. That is to say that Adam was deceived as well so let’s not get ahead of ourselves and assume that there is a device preinstalled in men that prevents them from falling prey to deception. As a matter of fact in the book of 2Timothy Paul states categorically that there were some men teaching false doctrines, entering into homes of women who were burdened by the guilt of their own sins hence these women fell for their lies (2 Timothy 3:6). We can see that all the Apostle is advocating for is the teaching of sound doctrine. This cannot happen when the one being taught is exhibiting a haughty attitude towards the teacher. That is why he admonishes women to learn in quietness and not usurp authority over their teachers – who were men. This looks very much like the event in the garden where a woman was instructed by her husband and it was her who FIRST sinned. Was Paul admonishing all women to submit to the authority of all men? I doubt that is an instruction meant for married people. Paul was admonishing the women in the church to submit to sound teaching by being silent while they learn and not fall prey to deception like Eve did. 2Timothy 3 actually proves that they had already started falling for the lies of heretic male teachers in the city.
The last verse of this chapter talks about women being saved in childbearing. This is a tough one too. If you are familiar with the writings of Paul, you would know that he was vehemently opposed to any teaching that suggested that anybody could be saved in another way other than confessing Jesus. So definitely, he wasn’t saying here that women will obtain salvation in the Lord through childbirth. The word translated as ‘saved’ is ‘sozo’ – which can also mean ‘prosper’, ‘to be in good health’, ‘blessed’ etc. Therefore, we can understand that portion of scripture as Paul saying women shall prosper in childbearing. Why would he say that? Because it is believed there was a false doctrine going around intending to prohibit women from having children or even getting married. Again, we see the apostle address doctrinal issues here.
This is the end of part one of this short series. Do look out for the continuation in the next blog post. Remember to make your contributions and ask your questions in the comment section below.
Ken Bailey – “Women in Ministry – Woodstock Q and A”
Adoniram Judson – “Women in Ministry”
Hugenberger – “Women in ministry”
Kaiser – “Women in Ministry, commentary on text”