Women in Ministry

The issue of women in ministry has long been a controversial issue.  Because of the differences in interpretation, it is important that those who consider Viewpoint their church understand our position on the matter. Many churches over the centuries have affirmed women in ministry long before the role of women became a secular or liberal agenda. In fact, in the missionary expansion of the church throughout the 19th century, over two thirds of missionaries were women.  The movement that fought for equal voting rights for women came from the revival movement led by Charles Finney and others who advocated the abolition of slavery.  We are not alone in our view of women having equal opportunities to minister according to their gifts. Some of the churches who hold to our position are the Assemblies of God, Methodist, Nazarene Churches, Church of God, Vineyard, Wesleyan, Evangelical Covenant Church of America, Foursquare, Christian Reformed Church in North America, United Church of Christ, American Baptist Churches USA, and the  Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

It is Viewpoint’s belief that we are to affirm God’s call on both men and women in ministry, and each should be given the opportunity to exercise the gifts given to them by God.  We believe that Paul’s warning to the churches in Corinth and Ephesus were in the context of women who were disrupting the church services and teaching false doctrines, therefor the admonition for women not to speak in the church wasn’t for all times but for a specific situation, just as the admonition for women to wear head coverings was for a specific time not for all times.  

One of the clearest explanations of our view has been written by Craig S. Keener.  Craig is professor of New Testament at Eastern Seminary. He is the author of 10 books, including, Paul Women & Wives, the IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament and a Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew. 

The following is taken from his The Journal from the General Council of Assemblies of God Copyright 2012, used with permission: 
Although Paul often advocated the mutuality of gender roles, he also worked within the boundaries of his culture where necessary for the sake of the gospel. We begin with his teaching on head coverings because, although it is not directly related to women’s ministry, it will help us understand his passages concerning women in ministry. Most Christians today agree that women do not need to cover their heads in church, but many do not recognize that Paul used the same kind of argument for women covering their heads as for women refraining from congregational speech. In both cases, Paul used some general principles but addressed a specific cultural situation. 

When Paul urged women in the Corinthian churches to cover their heads (the only place where the Bible teaches this), he followed a custom prominent in many Eastern cultures of his day.13 Although women and men alike covered their heads for various reasons,14 married women specifically covered their heads to prevent men other than their husbands from lusting after their hair.15 A married woman who went out with her head uncovered was considered promiscuous and was to be divorced as an adulteress.16 Because of what head coverings symbolized in that culture, Paul asked the more liberated women to cover their heads so they would not scandalize the others. Among his arguments for head coverings is the fact God created Adam first; in the particular culture he addressed, this argument would make sense as an argument for women wearing head coverings. 

Because Paul, in some cases, advocated women’s ministry, we cannot read his restrictions on women in ministry as universal prohibitions. Rather, as in the case of head coverings in Corinth, Paul addressed a specific cultural situation. This is not to say that Paul here or anywhere else wrote Scripture that was not for all time. It is merely to say that he did not write it for all circumstances and that we must take into account the circumstances he addressed to understand how he would have applied his principles in very different situations. In practice, no one today applies all texts for all circumstances, no matter how loudly they may defend some texts as applying to all circumstances. For instance, most of us did not send offerings for the church in Jerusalem this Sunday (1 Corinthians 16:1—3). If our churches do not support widows, we can protest that most widows today have not washed the saints’ feet (1 Timothy 5:10). Likewise, few readers today would advocate our going to Troas to pick up Paul’s cloak; we recognize that Paul addressed these words specifically to Timothy (2 Timothy 4:13). 

Two passages in Paul’s writings at first seem to contradict the progressive ones. Keep in mind that these are the only two passages in the Bible that could remotely be construed as contradicting Paul’s endorsement of women in ministry.First, Paul instructed women to be silent and save their questions about the service for their husbands at home (1 Corinthians 14:34-36). Yet, Paul could not mean silence under all circumstances, because earlier in the same letter he acknowledged that women could pray and prophesy in church (1 Corinthians 11:5); and prophecy ranked even higher than teaching.
Knowing ancient Greek culture helps us understand the passage better.  Paul elsewhere affirmed women’s role in prayer and prophecy (11:5), so he cannot be prohibiting all kinds of speech here. (In fact, no church that allows women to sing actually takes this verse to mean complete silence anyway.) Since Paul only addressed a specific kind of speech, we should note that the only kind of speech he directly addressed in 14:34—36 was wives asking questions.  In ancient Greek and Jewish lecture settings, advanced students or educated people frequently interrupted public speakers with reasonable questions. Yet the culture had deprived most women of education. Jewish women could listen in synagogues, but unlike boys, were not taught to recite the Law while growing up. Ancient culture also considered it rude for uneducated persons to slow down lectures with questions that betrayed their lack of training.  So Paul provided a long-range solution: The husbands should take a personal interest in their wives’ learning and catch them up privately. Most ancient husbands doubted their wives’ intellectual potential, but Paul was among the most progressive of ancient writers on the subject.  Far from repressing these women, by ancient standards Paul was liberating them. 
This text cannot prohibit women’s announcing the word of the Lord (1 Corinthians 11:4,5), and nothing in the context here suggests that Paul specifically prohibited women from Bible teaching. The only passage in the entire Bible that one could directly cite against women teaching the Bible is 1 Timothy 2:11—15. 

In 1 Timothy 2:11—15, Paul forbade women to teach or exercise authority over men. Most supporters of women in ministry think that the latter expression means "usurp authority,"  something Paul would not want men to do any more than women, but the matter is disputed.  In any case, here Paul also forbade women to "teach," something he apparently allowed elsewhere (Romans 16; Philippians 4:2,3). Thus he presumably addressed the specific situation in this community. Because both Paul and his readers knew their situation and could take it for granted, the situation which elicited Paul’s response was thus assumed in his intended meaning.
It is probably no coincidence that the one passage in the Bible prohibiting women teaching Scripture appears in the one set of letters where we explicitly know that false teachers were targeting and working through women. Paul’s letters to Timothy in Ephesus provide a glimpse of the situation: false teachers (1 Timothy 1:6,7,19,20; 6:3—5; 2 Timothy 2:17) were misleading the women (2 Timothy 3:6,7). These women were probably (and especially) some widows who owned houses the false teachers could use for their meetings. (See  1 Timothy 5:13. One of the Greek terms here indicates spreading nonsense.)  Women were the most susceptible to false teaching only because they had been granted the least education. This behavior was bound to bring reproach on the church from a hostile society that was already convinced Christians subverted the traditional roles of women and slaves.  So Paul provided a short-range solution: "Do not teach" (under the present circumstances); and a long-range solution: "Let them learn" (1 Timothy 2:11).

Today we read, "learn in silence," and think the emphasis lies on "silence." That these women were to learn "quietly and submissively" may reflect their witness within society (these were characteristics normally expected of women). But ancient culture expected all beginning students (unlike advanced students) to learn silently; that was why women were not supposed to ask questions (as noted above). The same word for "silence" here is applied to all Christians in the context (2:2). Paul specifically addressed this matter to women for the same reason he addressed the admonition to stop disputing to the men (2:8): They were the groups involved in the Ephesian churches. Again, it appears that Paul’s long-range plan was to liberate, not subordinate, women’s ministry. The issue is not gender but learning God’s Word.   What particularly causes many scholars to question this otherwise logical case is Paul’s following argument, where he based his case on the roles of Adam and Eve (1 Timothy 2:13,14). Paul’s argument from the creation order, however, was one of the very arguments he earlier used to contend that women should wear head coverings (1 Corinthians 11:7—9). In other words, Paul sometimes cited Scripture to make an ad hoc case for particular circumstances that he would not apply to all circumstances. Although Paul often makes universal arguments from the Old Testament, he sometimes (as with head coverings) makes a local argument by analogy. His argument from Eve’s deception is even more likely to fit this category. If Eve’s deception prohibits all women from teaching, Paul would be claiming that all women, like Eve, are more easily deceived than all men. (One wonders, then, why he would allow women to teach other women, since they would deceive them all the more.) If, however, the deception does not apply to all women, neither does his prohibition of their teaching. Paul probably used Eve to illustrate the situation of the unlearned women he addressed in Ephesus; but he elsewhere used Eve for anyone who is deceived, not just women (2 Corinthians 11:3).  
Because we do not believe Paul would have contradicted himself, his approval of women’s ministry in God’s Word elsewhere confirms that 1 Timothy 2:9—15 cannot prohibit women’s ministry in all situations; rather, he addressed a particular situation. Some have protested that women should not hold authority over men because men are the head of women, Paul spoke only of the husband as head of his wife, not of the male gender as head of the female gender. Further, we Pentecostals and charismatics affirm that the minister’s authority is inherent in the minister’s calling and ministry of the Word, not the minister’s person. In this case, gender should be irrelevant as a consideration for ministry–for us as it was for Paul. 

*Craig S. Keener, Ph.D professor of New Testament at Eastern Seminary. For full journal entry:

A Fair Question:  
If I struggle attending a church where a woman is allowed to preach, how can I at the same time, attend a church where women don’t cover their heads? How do I theologically accept one and not the other? The context of the issue Paul was addressing was disruption in the church service, women were misusing the gifts of tongues and speaking in disorderly ways. We do not believe the silencing of women was a lasting ordinance nor command. There are moral commandments that will not change from culture to culture, but this is not a moral issue.  Head coverings, slavery and women’s roles in the church are not moral issues but cultural.  Because of this, we believe women should be able to exercise their spiritual gifts with freedom.  

2000 years ago, when Paul wrote these letters the culture was based on slavery.  We bring this up because while many churches in the world would not teach that we should have slaves today, many still hold to the teaching that women should not be allowed to preach. Paul was addressing significant cultural and contextual matters not applicable today.  Just as head coverings were cultural and contextual matters not applicable today.  Paul also taught that women needed to cover their heads during worship services (1 Cor. 11:5,10).  If we are going to keep women from full participation in ministry, then we must hold the same standard to head coverings.  We must also teach that women are saved “through childbearing” (1 Tim. 2:15).  

We must ask ourselves if we honestly approaching all of the scripture equally, or are we being selective in what we take issue with?  For example, are we saying, “The Bible says a woman should not be able to preach nor have authority over a man.”  But then not tell someone to gouge their eye out if they look at something sinful that the Bible “says” ( “If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell” Matthew 5:29 NIV).    We haven’t seen many people with gouged out eyes, even though we know many have looked at pornography or lusted after other things.  

We must seriously ask ourselves if we accept the church that allows women to attend without covering their heads, how can we not accept the church that allows them to speak or pastor.  Some people fear that opening the door to this issue allows all other controversial issues to be open to relativity as well.   But this issue is not an issue of morality; some issues differ considerably, for example, murder, adultery, and sexual sins are moral issues not rules pertaining to a specific culture.  Head coverings and pastoring our not moral issues.  We believe there is compelling theological argument that allows women to preach, teach and carry on any other responsibilities in the church.  

Verses that are relevant to the issue: 
1 Timothy 2:12-15 NIV 1 Timothy 2:12-15;1 Cor. 14:34-35 NIV; 1 Corinthians 11: 5- 6 NIV  

Other resources:  
Man and Women, One in Christ by Philip B. Payne  
Discovering Biblical Equality by Pierce, Groothuis, and Fee
Paul, Women, and Wives by Craig S. Keener
Women’s Service in the Church: The Biblical Basis by N.T. Wright