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The Ministry of Women

Joseph R. Flower

The General Council of the Assemblies of God has recognized from the beginning that "the Scriptures plainly teach that divinely called and qualified women may also serve the church in the Word (Joel 2:29; Acts 21:9; 1 Corinthians 11:5)," and "are entitled to whatever grade of credentials their qualifications warrant. . . ." (General Council Bylaws Article VII, Section 2,k.)

Those who deny a public ministry to women base their position on Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 14:34, 35 for women to "keep silence in the churches," and his instruction to Timothy forbidding a woman to teach or usurp authority over the man, "but to be in silence" (1 Timothy 2:12).

Background

The obvious physical and emotional differences between men and women have undoubtedly contributed to the inferior position accorded women in many cultures. The woman being the weaker vessel (1 Peter 3:7) has tended to give man the more dominant role as provider and protector. There have even been unfounded intimations of woman’s inferiority in intelligence and morality.

The Scriptures do teach the headship of man and the submissive role of the woman in the marriage relationship, "as it is fit in the Lord" (Genesis 3:16; Ephesians 5:22-24; Colossians 3:18; 1 Peter 3:6; Titus 2:3-5). These passages and also the disputed passages in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16; 14: 34, 35; and 1 Timothy 2:11-15, refer primarily to the wife’s submission to her husband.

The scriptural injunction to submit does not imply domination or the relationship of an inferior to a superior, but it establishes an order of responsible authority. It is given a rather broad application in the Scriptures, including submission to those over us in the Lord (Hebrews 13:17). We are all admonished to submit to one another (1Corinthians 16:16; Ephesians 5:21; 1 Peter 5:5).

Second-class status has often been the lot of wives and women in general in both Judaism and Christianity. This has been due mainly to the influence of other cultures, religious and social, which have given women a position of social inferiority to men. While certain restrictions were placed upon the female sex by the Old Testament order, there were also conferred on them certain honors, rights, and privileges not known in the contemporary world. It was mainly the traditional teachings of the rabbis outside the Scriptures that tended to degrade them.

Christ’s coming was like a breath of fresh air to the liberation of womanhood and the restoration of her dignity. He treated women with the respect due them. They accompanied Him on His preaching tours and ministered unto Him (Luke 8:2). A woman was the first to bear witness of His resurrection (Luke 24:1-12). They were numbered with the 120 disciples in the Upper Room who received the Holy Spirit’s power for witnessing (Acts 1:12-26; 2:1-4, 16-18).

Woman’s Place in the Church

The curse lifted. The judgment pronounced upon Eve that her husband would rule over her (Genesis 3:14-19) was a consequence of the Fall, not the original order and design in creation. Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the Law upon sin (Galatians 3:10-14), and thus He restores the mutual and complementary relationship which Adam and Eve shared before the Fall (Genesis 2:23,24; Ephesians 5:28-31; 1 Corinthians 11:11, 12).

The Mosaic Law abrogated. The Law was added because of transgression (Galatians 3:19). It made nothing perfect (Hebrews 7:19) and was a temporary provision until the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham in Christ (Galatians 3:14-25). The restrictions and injustices imposed by the law of Moses upon the female sex, such as the bill of divorcement (Matthew 19:3-9) were abolished in the Old Covenant, being superseded by the New Covenant.

Women prophetesses in Old Testament times. Several women in Old Testament times were looked upon as prophetesses, including Miriam (Exodus 15:20), Deborah (Judges 4:4), Huldah (2 Kings 22:14), and Isaiah’s wife (Isaiah 8:3). Anna is called a prophetess (Luke 1:36-38) and spoke publicly of Christ to all who looked for redemption in Jerusalem. Should not women be accorded even greater privileges and opportunities for ministry under the New Covenant of grace?

Joel’s prediction that women would prophesy fulfilled.Peter made it plain that what took place on the Day of Pentecost was in fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy, that daughters as well as sons would prophesy and the outpouring would be upon handmaids as well as servants (Joel 2:28). Women were numbered with those who were filled with the Spirit and spoke in tongues (Acts 1:14, 15; 2:1, 4). Peter indicated this provision was for all whom God calls (Acts 2:23, 38, 39).

Philip’s four daughters prophesied. The promise that daughters would prophesy found fulfillment again some years after the initial outpouring of the Spirit at Jerusalem, in that Philip’s daughters at Caesarea were recognized as prophetesses (Acts 21:8, 9).

Women at Corinth prayed and prophesied publicly. The issue at Corinth which Paul raised was not the right of women to pray and prophesy in public, but only the proper manner in which it should be done (1 Corinthians 11:4, 5, 16-18) in the light of prevailing customs. His counsel, "Judge in yourselves (v. 13), and his statement that neither he nor the churches of God had any such custom (v. 16) if any were contentious or disputatious, indicate he did not look upon the head covering as a binding moral obligation. This is in harmony with Paul’s motivation to be all things to all men for God’s glory and the salvation of lost humanity (1 Corinthians 9:19-23; 10-27-33; Romans 14:1-23), and at the same not flaunting his liberty in external matters (1 Corinthians 8:9; 10:23).

Paul’s prohibition of women speaking does not relate to a ministry. The key to Paul’s meaning in 1 Corinthians 14:34 in enjoining silence upon women in the churches is found in the immediate context. It refers to women benefiting or learning from what is taking place in the church and not to a public ministry for women, which the Scriptures elsewhere affirm. Paul says, "If they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home." This is directly related to the statement, "for it is a shame (literally, indecorous) for women to speak in the church" (1 Corinthians 14:35). This is in the context of Paul’s correction of disorder and confusion in the church (v. 33), which undoubtedly resulted from the women being segregated from the men and their undisciplined manner of speaking out publicly and causing a disturbance. It is also clear from the text that the subjection of the women is primarily to their own husbands, since they were to ask their husbands at home if they wanted to learn anything.

Paul recognized women in ministry roles. In Romans 16:1, 2, Phoebe, the bearer of the letter Paul wrote to the Roman Christians from Corinth, is called "a servant (literally, ’minister’ or ’deacon’ from the Greek, diakonos) of the church which is at Cenchrea." She is also called "a succorer (Greek, prostates, ’a protectress’) of many, and of myself also." The meaning is "one who stands before, a front rank person, chief, leader."

Another one whom Paul greets is Priscilla and her husband Aquila (Romans 16:3-5). Paul calls them his "helpers (Greek, sunergos,–"fellow workers’) in Christ Jesus," a term applied to Timothy (Romans 16:21) and others of Paul’s companions in the ministry (Philemon 24). Priscilla was probably the most prominent and capable n ministry, since in four of the six times they are mentioned her name stands first. They taught Apollos (Acts 18:26) and opened their home as a meeting place for the church (Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 16:19).

Among others to whom Paul sends greetings are Junia and Andronicus, "who are of note among (the Greek preposition is en, which denotes ’fixed position’) the apostles" (Romans 16:7). Chrysotom and many prominent commentators were of the opinion Paul considered Junia as an apostle.Tryphaena, Tryphosa, and the beloved Persis are commended for their "labor in the Lord" (Romans 16:12). Paul elsewhere refers to Apphia, in whose house there was a church (Philemon 2), and to Euodias, Syntyche, and other women who were fellow-workers with Paul and struggled with him in the gospel (Philippians 4:2, 3). Lydia was prominent in the church at Philippi (Acts 16:12-16, 40).

Paul’s instruction to Timothy does not impose absolute silence on women. The opening expression in 1 Timothy 1:9-15, "in like manner also," indicates a link with men praying "everywhere" (v. 8) and emphasizes the proper attire and decorum of women who engage in public prayer. This is in harmony with what Paul stated about proper decorum for Corinthian women who prayed and prophesied in public (1 Corinthians 11:2-16).

That the husband-wife relationship is primarily in focus is evident in the transition in verse 11 from the plural to the singular, "man" and "woman," which terms can properly be translated "husband" and "wife." This is further evident in the reference to Adam and Eve, the first married couple, and also the reference in verse 15 to childbearing. The woman’s subjection is primarily to her husband, which corresponds with the parallel passage in 1 Corinthians 14:35, 35.

In both instances the reference does not pertain to women with a God-given maturity. It refers to bold women who are unqualified and who wrongfully attempt to teach and domineer over their husbands and others. Instead they need to submit and learn with respectful and modest decorum. Since Paul forbids the woman of whom he speaks to"usurp authority over" (Greek, authenteo, meaning "to act of oneself, to domineer over") the man, she is arrogating to herself a position in authority to which she is not entitled and a function in teaching for which she is not qualified or properly recognized.

The silence enjoined upon the woman cannot mean muteness. It comes from the Greek word hesuchia, which means "quietness, tranquility, absence of disturbance." The same word is translated "quiet" in 1 Timothy 2:2 where it refers to the manner or spirit in which prayer is to be offered. Its occurrence in 2 Thessalonians 3:11, 12 and 1 Peter 3:4 confirms this meaning.

In Christ there is neither male nor female. Paul indicates in Galatians 3:28 that in Christ sex discrimination and racial and social distinctions are abolished. Manifestations of the Spirit and ministry gifts are bestowed upon all members of Christ’s body (Romans 12:1-8, 1 Corinthians 12:1-31; Ephesians 4:1-16) with no distinction as to sex. Likewise all believers, both men and women, are made priests unto God (1 peter 2:4-10; Revelation 1:6; 5:10; 20:4, 6) and as such have a ministry in service and the offering up of spiritual sacrifices to the entire household of faith (1 Peter 2:5; Hebrews 3:6).

Conclusion

In the light of clear scriptural evidence that God does bestow spiritual manifestations and ministry gifts upon women, and with a proper understanding of the prohibitions against women speaking in the church and usurping authority over the man within their context, this gives assurance that it is an error to deny women a God-given right of ministry to the church.

Joseph R. Flower was formerly the general secretary of The General Council of the Assemblies of God.