John Piper’s article Is There a Place for Female Professors at Seminary has raised quite a lot of debate in recent weeks.
I have read a lot of responses to it, both in favor of his view and in opposition to it; and I would like to now add my own voice on this subject and offer why I believe the way I do about women in the ministry and whether or not a woman can biblically teach or preach.
In his article, or rather transcript of his podcast, John Piper clearly illustrates that if Scripture clearly states that a woman is not to hold a senior pastoral position in a church, how then is it biblical for her to mentor and train senior pastors?
He has a point!
And I don’t believe that most of those in opposition to his view have an issue with his point. It is logical. If the one is forbidden, how can the second not be forbidden also.
Those who disagree with John Piper don’t disagree with the point, they disagree with the premise of his point: That Scripture forbids a woman to hold the office of senior pastor.
And that is where I want to focus my article today.
Can a woman biblically teach or preach in the church?
While those who state that Paul’s admonitions were cultural or meant only for that particular congregation, we must take his words within the context of the whole of Scripture.
Scripture must always be judged against Scripture.
There is great danger when you judge Scripture, or attempt to interpret it, culturally because Scripture does not submit to culture. It is timeless and its truths are meant for all time.
The only portions of Scripture that we are not obligated to are the portions that Jesus fulfilled by His sacrifice.
Jesus Himself said, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.” Matthew 5:17-18
It is very clear: Jesus didn’t come to do away with the Law. He came to fulfill the portions of the Law that enabled a Holy God to look down on sinful mankind. His death, burial, and resurrection did what the Law was incapable of doing – removing their sin.
But that is all that Jesus’ sacrifice did.
It didn’t do away with the Law entirely. Jesus says here that not even one punctuation mark will disappear from the Law until all is fulfilled.
And when all is fulfilled, earth will cease to exist and we will be with Him in the New Jerusalem.
And since that clearly hasn’t happened yet, we still bow the knee to Scripture in everything!
With that foundation laid, let us look at what the entirety of Scripture says about women.
I have two fears while delving into this topic:
- That a spirit of feminism has infiltrated the church to nearly the same degree as it rules in the world, and therefore many women do not have ears to hear what the Spirit says to the church regarding a woman’s biblical role.
- That many people approach Scripture knowing that the culture in that day demeaned women as a species, and through that prism want to interpret Scripture with a measure of cynicism.
This latter point only proves how today’s church truly does not believe that all Scripture is literally God-breathed. If we truly believed that the Holy Spirit spoke into the ears of chosen men who penned down every word He said, then we would know that the Holy Spirit is not given to cultural sins and vices, and therefore the subject of submission is not meant to demean women, but protect them.
We must set aside our filters when reading God’s Word and accept all of it as the final authority for our lives.
Therefore, when we look at a woman’s role within the context of all of Scripture, we see a clear delegation of roles, a clear chain of command.
Man was created first, then woman. Sin entered through Adam, not Eve. Women are to be submitted to their own husbands, not men to their wives.
Also, in the Old Testament, fathers and husbands could release their daughters/wives from a foolish vow upon hearing of it. But women did not have that same authority over their fathers/husbands.
Scripture very clearly lays out this role of authority, and within that context we look at the words of Paul.
“Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church.” 1 Corinthians 14:34
“And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.” 1 Timothy 2:12
Scripture is clear, a woman is not to teach a man because it is outside the role of authority that God established from the beginning of time.
When Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14 “And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home…” he points back to his instruction to the wives in Ephesians 5:22, “Wives, submit to your own husband as to the Lord.”
Again, Paul is confirming God’s established role as husband being the head of his home, the leader of his home, and the woman being submitted to him and learning from him.
But does this mean that a woman has no area of ministry in the church?
Sadly, when it comes to this topic, a lot of cynicism starts to come out among Christians, particularly among women.
The victim card gets played, and they bemoan the fact that their only role is in the nursery looking after children, as if God is a chauvinistic deity that only wants them barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen.
No where in Scripture do we see that.
In fact, Scripture clearly illustrates that women do have a role and function in ministry that is not limited to the nursery.
“And it shall come to pass afterward That I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your old men shall dream dreams, Your young men shall see visions. And also on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days.” Joel 2:28-29
Notice that daughters will prophesy. This passage was quoted by Peter in Acts 2.
All throughout the New Testament we see instructions for believers to encourage and edify one another in the gifts, and none of these instructions are gender-specific, meaning that both women and men are encouraged to operate in the gifts of the Spirit and thereby edifying the body.
Paul also says in 1 Corinthians 11:5, “But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved.” 1 Corinthians 11:5
Meaning that women can pray and prophesey in the church, but they must do so under authority. I would say that first they must be under the authority of their husband, and then the pastor and elders.
In Titus we read, “…the older women likewise, that they be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things—that they admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed.” Titus 2:3-5 emphasis mine
The older women are to teach the younger women to have good character in their homes.
We also see examples in the New Testament of women having roles of ministry in the church:
“So he began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Aquila and Priscilla heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.” Acts 18:26
Apollos was taught by Aquila and his wife Priscilla “in the way of God more accurately”; so Priscilla must have a good understanding of the Scriptures, but didn’t teach Apollos alone, but together with her husband. She was under authority, but still used mightily by God.
In Acts 21:9 we see that Philip had 4 virgin daughters who prophesied.
But what about other women in the Bible who were leaders?
This is an argument that is often brought up by those who would want to defend women in ministry.
- Jesus’ female disciples
- Women that Paul named in the New Testament
- Galatians 3:28
When we look at these women in the context of Scripture, and not try to make them fit our own philosophies, we understand that these examples don’t contradict Paul’s instructions or defend women in church leadership roles, they compliment Paul’s instructions and the Scripture role of authority that we see all throughout the Bible.
The story of Deborah in the Bible wasn’t mean to defend women in roles of leadership, but to illustrate what happens when men refuse to rise up and take their God-given roles in faith and trust in the Lord.
The children of Israel were in bondage once again to Canaan, and cried out to the Lord to deliver them. Barak was the commander of the army of Israel.
Deborah called for him and reminded him of the Lord’s words and promise to deliver the Cannanite army into their hands, but Barak was hesitant to go without Deborah.
As a consequence of his lack of obedience to God and trust in the Lord, the honor went to Deborah and not to Barak.
The story doesn’t elevate women, but is a warning to men to rise up and seize their role given to them by Almighty God.
Esther was mightily used by God to deliver her people from annihilation by King Ahasuerus who had been hoodwinked by his right-hand man, Haman.
But it’s worthy to note here that she didn’t march down Main Street and lead her people in a rebellion against the king, she operated in submission to the king by approaching him in humility, honoring his role as king, and through the proper channels of authority was able rescue her people from destruction.
Jesus’ female disciples and women that Paul named in the New Testament
Jesus always honored women.
It was one of the many things that made him stand out in the culture in which He lived. In a time when women were demeaned, Jesus honored women. We see that in the story of the woman at the well. Everything about this story screams that she was a woman dishonored by those around her: a woman, a Samaritan, an immoral woman.
She was the woman everyone went out of their way to avoid. Except Jesus.
Jesus had many disciples….just as He does today. However, this is in no way a weak link in chain of command set forth in Scripture. One may be a disciple of Jesus Christ all their life and still remain under authority.
And then we get to the argument that Paul named a handful of women in his letters who were in ministry.
If you carefully read those who make this argument, you see much speculation. These arguments are filled with words as “could be”, “may have been”, and “it seems”.
In fact, no one is certain if some of the names mentioned in Paul’s letters were male or female.
And whenever we encounter this lack of clarity we must remember two things:
- If the Bible isn’t clear about a matter, we must not create theology around it.
- If the Bible isn’t clear about a matter, we must measure it against the whole of Scripture and leave it in that context.
Because the Bible isn’t clear if some of these names mentioned by Paul were male or female, we must avoid the temptation to make theological statements or create theological beliefs that contradict the rest of Scripture.
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28
The use of this verse to support the idea that women can hold pastoral offices in the church is a classic example of “proof-texting”.
Proof texting means that you take a verse or passage out of the context in which is was written and attribute meaning to it that was not originally given.
When you look at Galatians 3 in its entirety, you see that in the verses preceding verse 28, Paul is talking about the law and faith in Jesus Christ:
“Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.
Then we get to verse 29
“And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
Paul says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”, referring to the fact that God saves all mankind equally, Jew, Greek, slave, free, male and female. And in saving us, we are all equally heirs to the promise: the Holy Spirit.
This has nothing to do with our roles in church ministry, but everything to do with our inheritance in Christ!
The discussion of women in ministry is a reminder for us to look at Scripture as one body, as a whole, and not pull out individual passages to support a philosophy we want it to support.
Do women have a role in church ministry?
Yes they do. A very important role in church ministry!
That role, however, does not include senior pastoral ministry, authoritative roles over men, and the regular and ongoing teaching and instructing of men in the church.
I believe that part of the inward beauty of a woman who reflects Christ is the ability to be content in the role God has designed for her.