Women in Ministry: A Brief Summary



In this brief summary, let me begin a few declarative statements:


  1. I believe in the authority of Holy Scripture – The Bible is the Word of God, divinely inspired and it is authoritative in the life of every believer.
  2. The Bible has to be properly interpreted – God’s Word is an ancient library that contains 66 books. The Old Testament was written in Hebrew (some Aramaic) and the New Testament was written in Greek (some Aramaic). These texts have been translated into numerous languages. Both the challenges of translation and the contexts of the texts necessitate the need for proper interpretation.
  3. Conversations surrounding Biblical interpretation should be characterized by a Christ-like spirit that honors our Lord – While Christians may disagree about the meaning of certain texts, we are all held to the standard of Christ-like behavior.
  4. I believe there is Biblical support for women to serve as leaders in a New Testament church – I will explain the rationale for this conclusion briefly in the material that follows.


Generally speaking, there are two schools of thought represented by Bible believing scholars with regards to women in ministry. One view is that the Bible limits the role of women in leadership positions in the church. The second view espouses that women and men are gifted to serve in leadership positions in the church. Perhaps a bit over-simplified, but I think it accurate.


In this brief paper I will not attempt to provide an exhaustive treatment of this topic. And I will be presenting from the perspective stated above.



Often when folks are discussing women in ministry, they point to several key passages in the New Testament: 1 Corinthians 14:34-36 and 1 Timothy 2:8-15. I will get to those in a moment.


First, allow me to point out some texts that might be overlooked in this conversation:


  • Genesis 1:27-31: God created men and women in His image and charged them with exercising dominion over creation
  • Exodus 15:20: Miriam is referred to as a prophet
  • Judges 4:4: Deborah is called a prophet
  • 2 Kings 22:14: Huldah is mentioned as a prophet
  • Numbers 6:1-21: The Nazirite vow was available to men and women
  • 1 Samuel 2:22: Women served at the Tent of Meeting in Shiloh
  • Psalm 68:25: Women served as musicians in the Temple processionals
  • Joel 2:28-29: God led Joel to prophesy of a new day when God would pour out His Spirit on sons and daughters and they would all prophesy
  • Acts 2:1-21: The prophecy of Joel was fulfilled at Pentecost – both sons and daughters will prophesy
  • Acts 9:36: Dorcas served the church in Lydda
  • Acts 16:14-15: Lydia was a businesswoman convert to Christ
  • Acts 18:24-28: Both Priscilla and Aquila corrected the theology of Apollos
  • Acts 21:9: Philip had 4 daughters who were prophets
  • Romans 16:3: Paul mentions both Priscilla and Aquila as his co-workers
  • Romans 16:7: Paul mentions Junia as “outstanding” among the apostles
  • Romans 16:12: Paul mentions 3 women, Tryphena, Tryphosa, and Persis as women who worked hard in the Lord
  • Philippians 4:2-3: Paul refers to Euodia and Syntyche who have contended at his side
  • Colossians 4:15: Paul greets Nympha and the church that met in her house
  • Romans 16:1: Paul commends Phoebe, a deacon in the church in Cenchreae
  • Galatians 3:28: Paul treats males and females equally in this text
  • 1 Corinthians 11:2-16: Paul addresses the practice of women praying and prophesying in the church at Corinth
  • Luke 8:1-3: Women traveled with Jesus and supported His ministry financially
  • John 4; Matthew 15:21-28; John 11:21-27: Jesus broke with the rabbinic tradition and had significant conversations with women.



I mention all of these texts just to highlight the various women who are mentioned throughout the Scripture in various leadership roles.


Further – I would point us all to 1 Timothy 3:1-12. In this text, Paul outlines the requirements for the officers of the church: overseers, deacons, and women (3:11). Notice the framework: Overseers, “in the same way, deacons”, “in the same way, women.” Which women? The context seems to demand this is a passage outlining the characteristics of women in leadership positions in the church.



1 Corinthians 14:34-36

Remember Paul has already offered instructions for women praying and prophesying in church (1 Corinthians 11:2-16). And there was much confusion in this church with regards to worship. There was confusion and division. Paul was trying to bring order out of the chaos of this troubled church (remember it received 4 letters from Paul – 2 have been lost in antiquity and 2 are in our New Testament).


So, how do we reconcile this text which seems to indicate that all women are to be silent in the church when Paul has already explained the decorum of them praying and prophesying? That is a great question. It requires some interpretive homework.


In 1 Corinthians 14:34, Paul uses a specific word translated “silent” – it is the Greek word, sigao. This word is not the word for “hush up” (phimoo). The word in 1 Corinthians is used in Luke 9:36 – when the disciples chose to keep the Transfiguration to themselves. It is a word for “voluntary silence.” The same word is found in Acts 15:12 when the assembly became quiet for the report from Barnabas and Paul.


It has the idea of a corporate reverence or silence so as to not disrupt the service. If you could imagine women in Corinth who were not accustomed to an educational environment (they did not attend school as a rule), seated together and being disruptive in the worship service. That seems to fit the context here in Corinth.


Paul tells these women not to speak (laleo in Greek) – not the word for preaching, teaching, or prophesying. This is talking when one should be listening. Paul seems to be referring to disruptive behavior in a worship context. Paul seems to be arguing for more order and peace in the worship services (14:40).


Consequently, I would view this text to be specific to a situation in Corinth — rather than a blanket command for all time. In fact, Paul refrains from imperative language in this text.


1 Timothy 2:8-15

This text is challenging as it may be hard to translate into English. Regardless, we get the gist of what Paul is teaching here.


First of all, he says something radical in verse 11 – a woman should “learn”! That was a radical concept in the patriarchal society of the first century. Women were not typically placed in educational settings. However, Paul challenged the women in Ephesus to learn quietly. The word “quietly” is the Greek word hesuchia – it means quietness and stillness. It implies an attentive demeanor. It is associated with meditation as well. This word is used in Acts 22:2 – when Paul addressed the crowd in Jerusalem in Aramaic, they fell “silent” —- or attentive.


Now, in first-century Judaism all religious teachers were men. In Ephesus, there was a huge temple dedicated to Diana. The Diana cult was famous for its women priests and prostitutes. These women were known for their elaborate make-up and their focus on physical attributes.


Paul challenged young Timothy to lead the women in the church at Ephesus to be characterized by spiritual adornment. So, women who were won to Christ from the cultic practices in Ephesus had to learn a new way to live. This was true of pagans in general in the ancient world.


Now – look at 1 Timothy 2:12 — Notice Paul does not issue a command with imperative Greek verbs, “Now, do not . . . “ “You cannot . . .” “You must never . . . “


Paul says, “I am not permitting . . .” Interesting. Why does he shy away from a specific command that would be binding on every church? Also, Paul goes on to say in verse 15 that women will be “saved through childbearing.” That is problematic — what if a woman is barren? Can she not be saved?


Again – this is a challenging text that must have some specific context in Ephesus that led Paul to conclude that he would not let a woman (a specific woman? Any woman?) teach a man. Remember he allowed Priscilla to correct Apollos’ theology in Acts.


So, back to 1 Timothy 2:12. It contains no command. There is no universal prohibition. Paul seems to make a situation specific declaration. And there is evidence in the whole of the New Testament that women were entrusted with speaking and leadership roles.



Again, this brief summary is not a full and exhaustive treatment of women in ministry. It does reflect a cursory overview of the full teaching of the New Testament. I see a trajectory in the New Testament that is redemptive and restorative for women in particular. Jesus and Paul both gave women more “standing” than was customary in the first century.


The prohibitive language in the New Testament seems to be specific to the situations in Corinth and Ephesus. Again, the absence of direct imperatives in Paul’s use of the language is striking to me. On the one hand, Paul was able to maintain some sense of the order of the patriarchy of the first century, while challenging it all the while!


Consequently, after hours of study, prayer, and consultation, I have arrived at a position that allows the freedom for women and men to serve the church according to their giftedness. I do not think the text prohibits women from serving in ministry leadership roles in the church. In fact, I think the text admonishes all of us to learn, grow, and serve.

Dennis Wiles

Dennis Wiles

Dr. Dennis Wiles is the Senior Pastor at First Baptist Church Arlington. He and his wife, Cindy, love the church, mission work and their grandchildren.

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