“…But what Does the Bible say about that?”—Leadership and Gender in the Church

Many in the religious world around us now include women in leadership of their churches—in both worship and day to day leadership. The world, of course, applauds this taking this path as an enlightened evolution of religion; but the world has a horrible record on enlightenment, “being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart” (Ephesians 4:18). So, faithful disciples must always ask, “What does the Bible, what does God, say?”

I’ve read over 100 arguments favoring women in Christian leadership: they range from a total denial that the Bible is telling the truth, to willfully neglecting the context of a verse (proof texting), to the old “everybody’s doing it” argument, to fancy-but-false interpretations of Bible verses engineered to wring a feminist teaching out of them, to an emotional “I want my daughter to be able to lead a prayer in the assembly”. But no human argument can ever trump the God-given truth in Scriptures on the subject, and none of them even come close to giving a sound alternate interpretation.

So, what does the Bible say? There are a number of texts we could study; but because I need to keep it short, let me stick with two important and clear Scriptures…

The first one is 1 Corinthians 14:34, 35. The context (1 Cor. 11:1—14:40) is Paul setting in order the worship assembly of the church in Corinth from a state of sin and confusion. In this context he says, “The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church.”

There are five things that I’ll point out here for your fair consideration:

  1. women are forbidden to speak in the mixed assembly of the church (teach or ask questions)
  2. women are to submit themselves (allowing men to exercise the authority and leadership that God expects them to exercise in the church)
  3. there are other appropriate situations for women to ask questions and speak
  4. this arrangement of roles applies across both Old Testament and New Testament covenants (”just as the Law also says”)
  5. it is improper (or disgraceful) for a woman to speak in the assembly, in church.

The second Scripture is 1 Timothy 2:11-14, where Paul again says, “A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.” The context, again, is proper conduct in the gathering of the church for worship. The teaching is very similar to 1 Cor. 14; but Paul makes “silent” a little clearer, when he says, “…I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet…”. It is not merely teaching (or asking questions, see 1 Cor. 14) but exercising authority over the men of the church.

“But what about Galatians 3:28?” some would ask. This is a favorite verse of feminists. It says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” “Doesn’t this tell us that the differences between men and women has been erased in Christ?”

Like all biblical passages, a correct interpretation will fit the context, and the context of Galatians 3:28 doesn’t support a women-in-leadership interpretation. When we read the very next verse, Galatians 3:29 we see Paul’s point: “And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.” It is a promise—to women, who didn’t normally receive an inheritance; to Gentiles, who were told they had no inheritance with God’s people; and to slaves, who also had no inheritance in this world—that they are heirs of Abraham according to promise. Nothing less, nothing more. No teaching to support a doctrine of equal roles for men and women, just a teaching of equal inheritance for the faithful.

Rather, the teaching of the Bible, the word of God, is …

  1. men and women were alike created “very good” (Gen. 1:31)
  2. woman was taken directly from the man (Gen. 2:21,22)
  3. there are different roles for the genders that have their roots in both the creation order (Gen. 2:7 and 1 Tim. 2:13) and the Fall (Gen. 3:16 and 1 Tim. 2:14).

Conclusions? Male and female are equally valued, but they have separate roles that they have been given in this world. And there is nothing unequal about different roles; clearly, the Father and the Son have different roles, and the Son voluntarily submits to the Father, yet, they are equal (Philippians 2:6ff). And both women and men must respect and fulfill their respective roles, if we wish to be pleasing to God, who gives beauty and order to everything that obeys His command.

On the other hand, perhaps we should take warning from the mistakes of the angels “…who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day,” (Jude 1:6).

We must not change the message, we must simply let the message change us.

Park Linscomb

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About parklinscomb

I'm a minister for the church of Christ in Manchester NH where I've worked since the 1970's. I'm a big fan of my family, archaeology, the Bible, the Lord's church, and Gander Brook Christian Camp.
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5 Responses to “…But what Does the Bible say about that?”—Leadership and Gender in the Church

  1. David says:

    Really good article Park. Teaching this has brought a lot of heavy resistance everywhere we’ve been, but, seeking approval of men was what caused some of the Pharisee’s who did believe in Jesus to deny Him (John 12:43)- we must always seek God’s approval, not men’s.

    Perhaps you’ll have some insight into answering this, but, one of the things that frustrates me about this teaching is that there is a tremendous (almost overwhelming) ministry laid out for women in Titus 2, yet, so many women seem discontent with that ministry and still want to be teachers and have authority over men in the Church, while the Titus 2 ministries often lay neglected.

    Any thoughts on how to help set these things into order?

    • parklinscomb says:

      I don’t believe that there is a one-size-fits-all sort of answer for why there is some discontent with the roles women have been given in Scripture. Some that come to mind are 1) the human tendency equate leadership with superiority and humility with inferiority, 2) the human tendency to look at leadership and think “I could do a better job than that” (which is why leaders are always the target of criticism), and 3) the human tendency under-value low-visibility roles. It is an ancient temptation My thoughts on how to help set these things into order would be a continual reminder to the whole church (men and women) of the importance of 1) service, 2) humility, 3) the ability to follow faithfully, 4) low-profile roles, and 5) the false equation of “humility is inferiority” (see Philippians 2:5-11). And I emphasize that it is something that needs regular emphasis, because the world around us pounds us with the opposite message everyday in every way.

      • David says:

        Thank you Park! I think that is very sound counsel. It is something that sort of confirms what I have been thinking on and working on.

        Humility is something I have been studying lately after Ephesians 4:1-3 really hit home to me as it is the conduct which God considers to be worthy of His gospel calling to us. And Paul’s laying bare of the inadequacy of “the foolishness of boasting in confidence” and “self commendation” in in 2 Cor 11 really reinforces that.

        Again, thank you for the reply.

  2. quiltpaw says:

    Love your love for the Word and God’s people. It would be interesting to see how your studies have dealt with the “prophetesses” issue…not sure, but it would seem they would have been speaking in the gatherings…”worship” definition becomes critical I think at that point. I too have heard a lot of justifications, but there does seem to be something else in the picture when you think about the prophetesses. Carried out to the logic of “be silent” would seem to be violated by the singing in worship…so I am aware of my own lack of what all is being dealt with there. Obviously we do a number of things these days that were not done in those days…women wearing hats, men being uncovered, etc., so that is what makes the whole thing complex. Thankful for God’s mercy and patience with us all!

    • parklinscomb says:

      Your question is a good one. In order to answer it completely, I’ve decided to give a whole posting to it. In the meantime, however, the short answer would be that the prophetesses of 1 Cor. 11 (I assume that this is what your referring to) were prophesying among other women. Why? I’ll be posting in a day or so about it. Thanks for asking.

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