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"Women In Ministry" - by Don Hill

Those who oppose women leading worship or preaching the gospel are often Christians with a strong loyalty to the Holy scriptures. I would like to share what I believe are a few valid insights on this subject. I offer these not as the last word on the subject, but as tentative answers worthy of your consideration.

What anybody claims is a work of the Holy Spirit should be judged by the Word of God. However, it is equally true that our INTERPRETATION of a scripture should be judged by what we KNOW is the work of the Holy Spirit.

On one hand, I had been taught that the Bible forbids women to lead a worship service or publically preach the gospel. On the other hand, I saw souls being saved through the preaching of women and witnessed people being delivered from terrible lives of sin through the ministry of godly lady evangelists. As I studied the lives of women God had used, it became apparent to me that many of them had experienced a call to His service just as genuine as my own. When I looked closely, I saw the grace of God. His provision for their needs and His guidance in their ministries was obvious. I realized my interpretation of several passages of scripture that seemed to forbid the ministry of women might be flawed. Perhaps it was a misunderstanding that had been handed down to us - a tradition - based on the bias of the times. Like many of my generation, I began to study the scriptures which were being used to keep Christian women out of public ministry taking into consideration all the facts necessary to give us a correct understanding of the verses.

It was argued that Christ chose only men to be His twelve apostles, therefore only men should be ordained to the Christian ministry. But we could take it a step further. Christ chose only Jewish men. Does this mean only Jewish men should be ordained to the Christian ministry? However, the reasons for an all Jewish all male apostleship become obvious when we study the culture of the day. The apostles had to be people who knew the Old Testament scriptures. Few Gentiles had this advantage and Jewish women did not study the scriptures. Another factor must be considered. The Jews to whom the gospel was first preached might not accept it from a Gentile and certain Gentile peoples would not give it a fair hearing if it came from a woman.

There are those who quote Paul's words in 1 Tim. 3:1 "If any man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work" to prove that a woman cannot be a bishop (pastor). However, the Greek word for man in this verse is "tis" which means person regardless of the gender. This is significant. There was another word Paul could have used which meant a male. He chose the word that meant person. Then some quote 1 Tim. 3:2 "A bishop then must be the husband of one wife..." to prove a bishop cannot be a woman. But wait! Paul also says in vs. 12 "Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife,..." However, in Rom. 16:1, Paul says "I commend unto you Phoebe our sister, which is a deacon of the church at Cenchrea: "It is obvious in vs. 2 and vs. 12, Paul is setting forth a general principle that would apply to any church leader regardless of gender. The person (man or woman) must have only one living partner.

We are reminded that Paul said in 1 Cor. 14:34 "Let your women keep silence in the churches; for it is not permitted unto them to speak..." But is this absolute silence, or relative silence? If it is absolute silence, the women would not be permitted to sing. In the Bible, singing is a form of speech. It says "Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing, and making melody in your hearts to the Lord." (Eph 5 vs. 19) Also, earlier in the same letter, Paul implies that women may pray or prophesy if they are dressed properly, which in the culture of that day included a head covering. "But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head..." (1 Cor. 11 vs 5) A careful reading of Acts 1 vs 12-14 shows that both men and women were present in the upper room prayer meeting on the day of Pentecost. We are told that "...they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance." Then to explain what was happening to the curious crowd that gathered, Peter quoted from the prophet Joel in the Old Testament saying in vs. 17 "...And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy..." Later we read in Acts 21:8-9 that Paul visited Philip the evangelist in Caesarea and it says Philip "had four daughters, virgins which did prophecy." It seems then, that the speaking Paul forbids in 1 Cor. 14 vs 34 is a particular kind of speaking. Obviously it is speaking at the wrong time. "And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home..." (1 Cor. 14 vs 35) The women in Corinth were Gentiles, and new Christians, totally unaccustomed to church life. Some of them would interrupt the service to ask questions, either of the speaker, or of their husbands. It was the custom for the men and women to sit on opposite sides of the room at the services, so it is easy to understand how disrupting it would be for the women to be asking their husbands questions, especially during the preaching!

Again we are reminded that Paul said in 1 Tim. 2:12 "...I suffer not a woman to teach." The same question must be asked. Is he forbidding women to teach in the absolute sense or in the relative sense? If it is in the absolute sense, a woman would not be permitted to sing, because in the Bible, singing is a form of teaching. It says, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord." (Col. 3 vs 16) Then Paul said the older women were to teach the younger women. "The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness... That they may teach the younger women..." (Titus 2 vs 3-4) Earlier in the New Testament we read about a woman named Priscilla, along with her husband, Aquila. In the synagogue they met an evangelist by the name of Apollos, who had only a limited understanding of God's plan for the new dispensation. It says Priscilla and Aquila invited Apollos to their home, and "...expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly." (Acts 18 vs 26) Priscilla's name is mentioned first. Perhaps she took the lead. What is clear is that both Priscilla and her husband taught this preacher, and brought him to a fuller understanding of the present truth. It is obvious then, that what Paul was prohibiting was a specific type of teaching. The preceeding verse says "Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection." (1 Tim. 2 vs 11) Paul is saying while she is being taught, she is to keep quiet! She is not to speak out, or to challenge her teacher by argument or debate. Then he says "But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man..." After "teach" comes the word "nor" which in the Greek language is "oude". In the Pauline literature, "oude" is used not to add another thought which is different. It is used between two phrases when the second phrase is intended to clarify or strengthen the first phrase. Examples of this are Rom. 3:10 where "oude" is translated "no" and Gal. 1:1 where it is translated "neither". In 1 Tim. 2:12, it says "...nor (oude) usurp authority over the man..." It shows the kind of teaching Paul was forbidding. The woman is not to teach in a way that "usurps (exercises) authority over the man." However, the Greek word translated "authority" in this verse is "authenteo". This is the only place in the entire New Testament we find the word "authenteo". This word is not the kind of authority God gives His servants to speak on His behalf as we find in Titus 2:15 where Paul told Titus "These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee." Authenteo is not delegated authority. It means to exercise one's own authority. It means to dominate even to the point of using physical violence.

Since much of what we have in Paul's epistles is corrective in nature, it is reasonable to believe that Timothy (who was the Senior Pastor of the church in Ephesus) was having a problem with certain women who were exerting this kind of aggressive behaviour. They may have been new Christians or even visitors from the nearby Temple of the goddess Diana.

In the past, in our search for a Biblical understanding of God's will regarding women in ministry, our attention has been drawn to a few verses here and there, which on first reading seem to prohibit women from a place in public service for Christ. It is my conviction, that as we study the meaning of words in the original language, examine each verse in its context, and take into consideration the culture of the times, the problems disappear. Let us now focus on the scriptures we have neglected which form a scriptural basis for women in ministry! Men and women are heirs together of the grace of life. (1 Peter 3 vs 7) Both men and women are made members of the Body of Christ. (1 Cor. 12 vs 13) Both men and women receive the anointing of the Holy Spirit, which is an endument of power for service. (Acts 2 vs 17-18) Men and women together constitute the priesthood of the New Testament. (1 Peter 2 vs 5&9)

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