The Proper Role of Women

 

First of all we must “speak as the oracles of God” that is we are to teach, live, and do what God’s word tells us to teach, live and do.  Otherwise we are teaching a false religion and do not have God’s blessings.

 

I Peter 4:11 “IF ANY MAN SPEAK let him speak AS THE ORACLES OF GOD; IF ANY MAN MINISTER, let him do it AS OF THE ABILITY WHICH GOD GIVETH: THAT GOD IN ALL THINGS MAY BE GLORIFIED THROUGH JESUS CHRIST, TO WHOM BE PRAISE AND DOMINION FOR EVER AND EVER. AMEN.”

 

God’s word is simple and understandable on just about any significant subject that we find in the Bible.

Paul makes the proper roles of women very clear in his first letter to the Corinthians:

 

I Corinthians 11:3-5 “BUT I WOULD HAVE YOU KNOW THAT THE HEAD OF EVERY MAN IS CHRIST; AND THE HEAD OF THE WOMAN is MAN: AND THE HEAD OF CHRIST is GOD. EVERY MAN PRAYING OR PROPHESYING, HAVING his HEAD COVERED, DISHONOURETH HIS HEAD.  BUT EVERY WOMAN THAT PRAYETH OR PROPHESIETH WITH her HEAD UNCOVERED DISHONOURETH HER HEAD: FOR THAT IS EVEN ALL ONE AS IF SHE WERE SHAVEN.”

 

“HEAD” in this context clearly refers to authority.  Therefore God intends for women to be subordinate to men in worship.  What was apparently happening was that the women were removing their veils and stepping forward in the assembly to lead with the gifts of the Spirit with which they had been blessed.  They were not only removing the cultural symbol of submission in the worship (their veil) but apparently taking a leading role in the worship assembly as well.  Paul makes it clear that his instruction applies not only to the Corinthian brethren but to all the other churches or congregations as well.

 

I Corinthians 14:34 “LET YOUR WOMEN KEEP SILENCE IN THE CHURCHES: FOR IT IS NOT PERMITTED UNTO THEM TO SPEAK; BUT they are commanded TO BE UNDER OBEDIENCE, AS ALSO SAITH THE LAW.”

 

We will grant without reservation that First Corinthians chapters eleven and fourteen address a unique situation.  Today spiritual gifts are no longer available to the church (I Corinthians 13:8-11) and veils are no longer a cultural symbol of female submission.  Nevertheless, these passages demonstrate clearly the application of the principle that transcends the differences in cultures even when applied to a specific cultural situation.

 

The primary passage in the New Testament which treats the role of women in worship is:

 

I Timothy 2:8-15 I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.  In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works. Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection.  But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.  For Adam was first formed, then Eve.  And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.  Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.”

 

The general context of this book is behavior in the life of the church.

 

I Timothy 3:15 “BUT IF I TARRY LONG, THAT THOU MAYEST KNOW HOW THOU OUGHTEST (how men ought) TO CONDUCT THYSELF IN THE HOUSE OF GOD, WHICH IS THE CHURCH OF THE LIVING GOD, THE PILLAR AND GROUND OF THE TRUTH.”

 

The immediate context of chapter two is worship, specifically prayer.

 

I Timothy 2:1 “I EXHORT THEREFORE, THAT, FIRST OF ALL, SUPPLICATIONS, PRAYERS, INTERCESSIONS, and GIVING OF THANKS, BE MADE FOR ALL MEN;”

 

The context of these verses in particular is not limited to the church assembly but includes the life of the church in general. This is why women are not included in business meetings and the making of decisions regarding the church’s business.  They are perfectly welcome to attend a general informational meeting and even ask questions to help better understand something, so long as they do not have authority over any man.

The Holy Spirit through Paul uses the Greek word for males (andras) as being those who are to lead prayer anywhere people meet for worship.  “LIFTING UP HOLY HANDS” is a figure of speech, a metonymy, in which the posture of prayer is used to indicate prayer itself.  Men need to be holy, spiritual leaders in worship while women need to be modest and unassuming.  “SILENCE” and “SUBJECTION” in this passage relate specifically to the exercise of spiritual authority over adult males in the church.  The word “USURP” (KJV) is not in the original text.  The word translated is “Authentein” and should be translated “TO HAVE AUTHORITY.”  Thus women are not to teach nor in any other way to have authority over men in worship.

            The proper role for women in the Lord’s church is to teach children and other women, serve in many capacities, visit and care for the sick, do benevolence, and many other things that a woman can do.  In many cases this work is more appropriate for a woman to do than it is for a man, especially were they are ministering to other women.  They may also assist in private teaching as did Priscilla and Aquila.  (Acts 18:24-26.)

Now why would Paul place such a restriction on the churches of the first century?  Well, first of all, we must remember that this isn’t the direction or commandment of Paul.  Paul was writing as directed by and using words provided by the Holy Spirit.  If not; then we can throw the Bible away; if these are just the words of Paul, he has no more authority than I do.  But that is not the case.  All scripture was given by the inspiration of God, it is “God breathed.” (II Timothy 3:16-17)  Paul said that women are not to have spiritual authority over men because Adam was created first before Eve.  Here we are given the heart and core of God’s will concerning how men and women are to function and relate to one another.

Paul is reminding us that God’s original design for the human race entailed the creation of the male first as an indication of his responsibility to be the spiritual leader of the home.  He was created to function as the head or leader of the home and in the church.  That is his functional purpose.  Woman, on the other hand, was specifically designed and created for the purpose of being a subordinate assistant.  Now don’t get me wrong; many people would take this and misapply it to keep women downtrodden, considered second-rate citizens, etc. and that is just simply not so.  God doesn’t leave us in the dark regarding the kind of relationship that man and woman should have, both between husbands and wives and men in general with other women.

 

In Genesis 2:15-17 we find that God gave spiritual teaching to Adam before Eve was created, implying that had the responsibility to teach his wife

 

“AND THE LORD GOD TOOK THE MAN, AND PUT HIM INTO THE GARDEN OF EDEN TO DRESS IT AND TO KEEP IT.  AND THE LORD GOD COMMANDED THE MAN, SAYING, OF EVERY TREE OF THE GARDEN THOU MAYEST FREELY EAT: BUT OF THE TREE OF THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOOD AND EVIL, THOU SHALT NOT EAT OF IT: FOR IN THE DAY THAT THOU EATEST THEREOF THOU SHALT SURELY DIE.”

 

In two places we find that God tells us that woman was created to be a help meet, appropriate, or suitable for man.

 

Genesis 2:18 AND THE LORD GOD SAID, it is NOT GOOD THAT MAN SHOULD BE ALONE; I WILL MAKE HIM AN HELP MEET FOR HIM.”

 

Genesis 2:20 “AND ADAM GAVE NAMES TO ALL CATTLE, AND TO THE FOWL OF THE AIR, AND TO EVERY BEAST OF THE FIELD; BUT FOR ADAM THERE WAS NOT FOUND AN HELP MEET FOR HIM.”

 

This context explains clearly why that, in a unique sense, that the woman was created for the man — not vice versa.  And again, not to be used, abused, or treated any other way but to be respected and honored and as a wife, the most cherished companion of life; loved, protected and treated the same as we would treat ourselves.

Some would argue that this text applies to husbands and wives rather than to men and women in general.  However, the context of I Timothy is not the home, but the church (I Timothy 3:15).  Likewise, the use of the plural with the absence of the specific article in 2:9 and 2:11 indicates women in general.

 

Deaconesses

 

One area in which people are attempting to expand the role of women beyond what God has authorized in the church is with regard to the alleged existence of deaconesses in the New Testament church.  There are only two passages that even hint of such an office:

 

Romans 16:1-2 “I COMMEND UNTO YOU PHEBE OUR SISTER, WHICH IS A SERVANT OF THE CHURCH WHICH IS AT CENCHREA: THAT YE RECEIVE HER IN THE LORD, AS BECOMETH SAINTS, AND THAT YE ASSIST HER IN WHATSOEVER BUSINESS SHE HATH NEED OF YOU: FOR SHE HATH BEEN A SUCCOURER OF MANY, AND OF MYSELF ALSO.”

 

The term translated “servant” in the KJV is the Greek word diakonos, a term meaning “one who serves or ministers.”  It is gender neutral, that is it can be used to refer to either men or women.  It occurs in, at least, twenty-eight places in the New Testament including Matthew 20:26; 22:13; 23:11; Mark 9:35, etc.

This word is used in the New Testament in two senses.  It is used as a technical term for a formal office in the church to which one may be appointed by meeting certain qualifications.  This is the usage that we find in:

 

I Timothy 3:8 “LIKEWISE must THE DEACONS be GRAVE, NOT DOUBLETONGUED, NOT GIVEN TO MUCH WINE, NOT GREEDY OF FILTHY LUCRE;”

 

I Timothy 3:12 “LET THE DEACONS BE THE HUSBANDS OF ONE WIFE, RULING THEIR CHILDREN AND THEIR OWN HOUSES WELL.”

 

The second usage that we find in the New Testament is as a non-technical term for the informal act of serving, ministering or attending to.  This usage is found in:

 

I Timothy 4:6  IF THOU PUT THE BRETHREN IN REMEMBRANCE OF THESE THINGS, THOU SHALT BE A GOOD MINISTER OF JESUS CHRIST, NOURISHED UP IN THE WORDS OF FAITH AND OF GOOD DOCTRINE, WHEREUNTO THOU HAST ATTAINED.”

 

Here Timothy is instructed to “BE A GOOD diakonos OF JESUS CHRIST” and it is translated minister.  In Romans 15:8 Paul records that Jesus Christ was a diakonos of the circumcision (the Jews) and it is translated minister.  In Romans 13:3-4 we are told that civil “RULERS” are the diakonos of God and it is translated minister.  And there are more but time and space does not permit.

The second passage that some of our brethren have appealed to in order to find support for their women deacons is I Timothy 3:11.  Here, in the midst of a listing of the qualifications of deacons, Paul refers to women.  But what women?

 

I Timothy 3:11 “EVEN so must their WIVES be GRAVE, NOT SLANDERERS, SOBER, FAITHFUL IN ALL THINGS.”

 

If you’re reading from the KJV, you say how do they get deaconesses out of this passage; Paul is talking about deacon’s wives.  The problem is in the original Greek; the word translated wives in the KJV is gunaikas and can mean a “wife”, or simply a “female” or “woman.”  Again, we must look at the context and determine who Paul is talking about.  God through the Holy Spirit is laying out the qualifications of those who would serve in the office of deacon.  And so we can, from the context, understand who God wants to serve the church as its deacons:

 

1.  a woman cannot be “THE HUSBAND OF ONE WIFE’  I Timothy 3:12

2.  to switch from men deacons to women deacons in mid-sentence without any explanation doesn’t make sense; as teachers we understand the proper structure of language.

3.  referring to the wives of these officers of the church is appropriate for the conduct of their family is part of their qualifications.

4.  the word “LIKEWISE” or “EVEN SO” (KJV) simply means that the deacon’s wife must have the same virtues as the husband who serves as the deacon.

 

So where in church history do we get women deacons? In the third century we find in Syrian records, references to women deacons.  Their work consisted of assisting at the baptism of women, going into homes of heathens where believing women lived, and visiting the sick, that is ministering to them and bathing them; all work appropriate only (by the way) to a woman.  A full blown order of deaconesses does not appear in history until the fourth/fifth century (probably Greek Orthodox, which is eastern Catholic) and they had the same responsibilities as those in the third century.

The evidence is simply lacking.  The existence of a female diaconate within the New Testament cannot be demonstrated.  Those who insist upon establishing such an office do so without the authority of the Scriptures.

A final word needs to be said concerning the fact that both men and women must remember that Bible teachings on differences in roles between men and women does not in any way imply differences in worth, value or ability.  Women are not inferior to men anymore than Christ is inferior to God, citizens are inferior to the President, or church members are inferior to their elders.  The differentiation is purely a matter of function, assigned tasks and responsibility.  The real question becomes “How willing are we to fit ourselves in to God’s

pattern?”

 

            Answers to specific questions from one of my students:

 

1.)     Now if these women preach the word to people and they repent and give their lives to Jesus are they not fulfilling the mission of Christ?  Matthew 10:6

 

Matthew 10:6 has nothing to do with the proper role of women in the church.  Matthew 10:6 was part of the instructions that Jesus gave to his 12 chosen disciples, eleven of whom later became apostles and was specifically directed to them.  All of these persons were men.  However, the women do have a role and work to do in teaching God’s word.

 

Can women teach and preach the word of God?  Yes, so long as they do not have authority over men.  We have many women that teach in our Bible schools, we have many women that teach the Bible through our correspondence courses (two of my best teachers are women.)  We have many women that speak at lectureships and teaching forums BUT NEVER WHEN IN A SITUATION WHERE THEY WOULD BE EXERCISING AUTHORITY OVER MEN.

 

2.)     Doesn’t the Bible say we are equal in the sight of God?

 

  Absolutely – both men and women have the same value, the same worth, the same soul and all have work to do in the kingdom of Christ.  But we serve different roles, and God by design from the time of Adam and Eve has placed woman in certain roles and man in certain roles.  In the church, Christ and the Holy Spirit through the writing of the apostles did the same.

 

3,)  Why don’t women preach the word of God?  Since John 1:12 says all those who have received him and believed in his name are given the right to become his children?

 

      You are quite correct we all have the right, the privilege to become God’s children.  But just as my children were required to obey their father, we as his children are to obey our Father as well.  Our Father through his son Jesus and the Holy Spirit through the word given to the apostles and writers of scripture has given us each instructions regarding our purpose, role and function.  That purpose, role and function is different for men than it is for women.  Preaching the word of God in a situation or setting where they would be “taking authority” over a man and is not a role given to women by God.

 

4.)   What is the difference between a man and a woman….?  I think in the discussion above this question

has already been answered.  God gave us different purposes, different roles, different works, different functions.