15 reasons why I support women in church leadership

Fractio Pania

This article is available in Spanish here.

There is only one verse in the entire Bible which appears to prohibit women from teaching men and exercising authority.

One verse.

On the other hand there are many Bible verses which show that godly women did teach men and exercise authority.  In this post I briefly mention 15 such women.  These women are 15 reasons why I support women in church leadership.[1]

(1) Deborah

Deborah was an excellent and versatile leader.  She was a prophetess, a judge and a military leader (Judges 4-5).  Deborah’s prophetic insight was accurate and she showed decisive leadership in military matters.  Her words have been preserved in Scripture and thus have the authority of Scripture.  More about Deborah here and here.

(2) Sheerah

Sheerah built, or founded, three towns (1 Chron 7:24).  This meant that she was a powerful and influential woman who must have exercised leadership and authority.  One of the towns she built even bears her name: Uzzen Sheerah.  More about Sheerah and two other lesser known Bible women here.

(3) Huldah

When Josiah, King of Judah, wanted to learn more about how to worship God, he sent a delegation to a woman – to the prophetess Huldah (2 Kings 22:8-20; 23:1-25; 2 Chron 34:19-33).  “Not only did she deliver an authoritative message to King Josiah concerning all Judah, but she also validated the authority of the newly rediscovered “Book of the Law of the LORD”.” John Dickson, Hearing Her Voice, 2012-12-25, Kindle Edition (Kindle Locations 145-149)

(4) The Wise Woman of Abel Beth Maacah

Wise women were living repositories of oral lore and tradition.  The Wise Woman of Abel Beth Maacah was clearly a person of influence.  Through her wise use of authority and peaceful persuasion she rescued her town from being destroyed by the commander of King David’s army. (See 2 Samuel 20:14ff esp v22).

(5) King Lemuel’s Mother

King Lemuel’s mother taught her son, a grown man and a king.  Her words were considered inspired and are preserved in Scripture.  Her words continue to teach grown men and kings (Prov 31:1ff).  More about this woman here.

(6) Anna

Anna’s life was devoted to God.  She spent all her time in the Temple at Jerusalem, praying and fasting.  And she spoke to everyone who was interested in the redemption of Jerusalem about the infant Jesus (Luke 2:36-38).  More about Anna, and other Bible women who taught, here.

(7) Mary Magdalene

Each of the gospel writers records that Mary Magdalene was the first person to see Jesus alive, and that she was the first person entrusted with the amazing message of the resurrection.  Jesus himself charged Mary to tell the male disciples that he was alive (John 20:17-18).    

(8) Lydia

Lydia is the only Philippian Christian named in Acts 16 and she seems to have been especially involved in the birthing of the Philippian church.  Lydia was most likely one of the leaders of the church and she must have been one of the people who preserved Paul’s apostolic teaching in the critical early days once Paul and Silas had moved on (Acts 16:13-15, 40).  More on Lydia here.

(9-10) Euodia and Syntyche

These two women were ministers in the Church at Philippi (Php 4:2-3).  Paul speaks well of them and describes their ministry by using some of the same terms he had previously applied to Timothy and Epaphroditus in the same letter.  More on Euodia and Syntyche here.   

(11) Priscilla

Priscilla, along with her husband Aquila, led a church that met in their home (1 Cor 16:19 cf Acts 18:1-3, 18-19; Rom 16:3-4; 2 Tim 4:19a).  On one occasion Priscilla and Aquila taught Apollos, an educated, up and coming preacher; they taught him about the doctrine of Christian baptism (Acts 18:24-26).  More on Priscilla here.

(12) Phoebe 

Phoebe is described by Paul as a sister, a minister and a patron or leader.  Phoebe was probably the person entrusted with taking Paul’s letter to the Romans (Romans 16:1-2).  Paul obviously held Phoebe, and many other women ministers, in high regard.  More about Phoebe, and other New Testament women, here.

(13) Junia

Junia and her partner Andronicus were active in ministry.  In Romans 16:7, Paul states a few of their credentials: They were fellow Jews, they had suffered for their faith and been in prison with Paul, they had been Christians longer than him, and they were outstanding among the apostles. More on Junia here.

(14) Nympha

Nympha hosted a church in Laodicea that met in her home (Col 4:15 NIV).  No one else in her church are sent greetings in the closing verses of Colossians.  This indicates that she was the church’s leader as well as its host.  More on Nympha, and the translation of her name (and other names), here.

(15) The Chosen Lady

This woman was a Christian leader.  John wrote a letter to her which is included in the canon of the New Testament (2 John 1ff).  More about this real woman here.

Other New Testament women who could be included in this list are Mary of Nazareth, Mary of Jerusalem, Martha and Mary of Bethany, Philip’s daughters, Chloe of Corinth, Claudia of Rome, Apphia, Persis, Mary of Rome, Tryphena and Tryphosa, Julia, etc.

These women show us that any verses which might be interpreted as restricting women from some ministries do not represent the whole counsel of the Bible on the issue of women in ministry and leadership.  Women leaders and ministers were not regarded as aberrations in Bible times and they should not be regarded as aberrations now.


Endnotes

Image: “Fractio Panis” (Breaking Bread), a fresco in the Greek Chapel in the Catacomb of Priscilla in Rome. The fresco depicts seven people at a table, sharing the Eucharist.  Dorothy Irvin suggests that all the figures are women (The Ministry of Women in the Early Church: The Archaeological Evidence, Duke Divinity School Review. 45.2. (1980) pp76-86.)  The fresco dates from the 2nd or 3rd century.

[1] This post is based on, and adapted from, an idea of Rachel Held Evans.


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Posted July 28th, 2013 . Categories/Tags: Equality and Gender Issues, Equality in Ministry, Women in Ministry, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

21 comments on “15 reasons why I support women in church leadership

  1. Nadia says:

    There is also one verse which says “thou shalt not murder”. So don’t do that either!

    Deborah was a reluctant leader who agreed to lead but only because the weak man wouldn’t.

    Anna was a prophetess but quite a long bow to suggest she did “teach men and exercise authority” – she was inspired by the Holy Spirit!

    The Chosen Lady was a code word for the church, not a specific person, as it was too dangerous for John to name names at that time.

    Euodia and Syntyche also gained the nicknames Odious and Soon-touchy – I wouldn’t hold them up too high in support of your argument!

    Why can’t you accept that leadership is in accordance with the plans of God, that is, “man is the a image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man.”

  2. Marg says:

    Hi Nadia. There are numerous verses in the Bible which state “Thou shalt not murder”. For example: Exodus 20:13, Deuteronomy 5:17, pretty much all of Numbers chapter 35, Matthew 5:21-22, 19:18, Mark 10:19 and James 2:11. Plus there are many more verses that speak of murder as being evil, etc.

    But there is only one verse in the entire Bible which seems to say that women can’t teach or lead men. I haven’t written about this verse in the article above as I already have several articles on 1 Timothy 2:12 elsewhere on this website. But briefly: the Greek word usually translated as “authority” in 1 Timothy 2:12 is very unclear in meaning. More on this verse here. I maintain that it is unsound to base any doctrine on just a single verse of Scripture. The overall message of the Bible is that women can teach men and exercise spiritual authority.

    Deborah: I’m not sure why you think Deborah was a reluctant leader. But even if she was, there were plenty of reluctant leaders in the Scriptures: Moses, Saul, Gideon, Jonah, etc. The fact remains that Deborah was a leader.

    Anna: I agree that Anna was inspired by the Holy Spirit. In fact I believe that genuine authority in ministry can only come from the Holy Spirit.

    Anna spoke “to all who were waiting for the redemption (or deliverance) of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38). Surely this “all” included men as well as women. She was giving these people insight and information, she was teaching them, she was teaching theology.

    As a respected and pious prophetess who had seen the Messiah with her own eyes, Anna and her words would have been influential and significant, otherwise Luke would not have bothered mentioning Anna and her speaking in his gospel.

    The Chosen Lady: If “the chosen lady” is a code word for a church, then who are her children (2 John 1:1, 4)? If the chosen lady is a congregation, and her children are a congregation, then John is greeting the same group of people twice in a very peculiar way. And why does John sometimes address a single person in his letter, and at other times writes about “plural” people? The Greek grammar does not support the code word theory. I maintain that the chosen lady was a real woman and a church leader. More on this here.

    Euodia and Syntyche: I have never heard of these nicknames of Euodia and Syntyche. They sound incredibly disrespectful to me, even rude. Are you willing to call these women these names to their faces one day? Paul only said good things about Euodia and Syntyche, and I intend following Paul’s lead. More here.

    Image of God: I am very saddened that you believe that only men are made in the image and glory of God – very sad. Both men and women were originally created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-28) and all of us, both men and women, who are contemplating the Lord’s glory are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory (2 Cor. 3:18). Woman may be the glory of man, but we also bear God’s image and glory just like our brothers. I have more on the verse you quoted, 1 Corinthians 11:7, and Paul’s response to it, here.

    1 Corinthians 11:7 has nothing to do with leadership in the church. Furthermore, godly leadership in the church and the authority to minister have nothing to do with gender.

    Nadia, I truly hope you will find a church where they teach and demonstrate that men and women equally bear God’s image.

  3. J says:

    Hi Marg,

    I found the title of this article quite confronting, and it caused me to think, and I thank you for that.

    With respect, in my opinion your 15 reasons are actually only one reason with 15 examples (+ more!). The exaggeration of the reasoning in the title for your case is uncanny – the intellectual rigour of your position should not warrant it.

    I feel that the use of Women in the bible by God, for his purposes, in positions of leadership or teaching, does not logically give them the authority to teach or have authority over a man.

    Does the use of men in the same way give them authority to teach and minister? No. That is not where their authority comes from.

    If you disagree (as you must) you run into some problems – which lead to unhelpful, and also pointless reasoning/justifications: one of which is;

    There are MANY more accounts of men who served God in positions of leadership and authority – and as teachers.

    – If we accept your 15 examples as giving weight to your argument, we must allow the many more accounts of men doing the same things to give substantial weight to the idea that God wanted a male dominated heirachy in churches.

    This inherently implies men are generally more suited to leadership and teaching roles in churches -> and this implies a DIFFERENCE in the general capacity of men and women to lead -> this in turn conflicts with the claim that God wants positions that could be filled by men who are capable (and have a natural bias towards this capacity – perhaps, intended role?) to be filled with exceptional women; why? there’s no general inherent reason to want the women involved in leadership at all – in the ideal world there should be enough men.

    I understand that you are not directly arguing for an equal gender distribution in church leadership, rather, that you want the women who can lead to be at least allowed to go for the job! But the former argument is just a natural progression of the latter. If women are allowed into positions of leadership and teaching – and this is supported biblically – why should there be a male dominated heirachy? Ah, but, there are more examples of male leadership in bible…and so on it goes.

    – You could argue that because the bible was written in male dominated societies, God wasn’t able to show clearly in the bible – an inspired collection of writings – enough stories of women teaching and leading to balance out the equation like it should be – effectively saying God can’t write his own bible – which neither of us agree with.

    – Perhaps a possible conclusion would be to follow the exact percentage of authority gifted by these stories to either men or women in their pursuit of teaching/leadership.

    This is wasted intellectual effort – what is more important to God? Our salvation? Or the exact percentage of genders in church leadership?

    I feel it unlikely that God really wants to show in the bible that equal gender distribution in church leadership is an important issue – and so it seems non-sensical to make it one, especially under the cover of promoting God’s kingdom.

    This post is not promoting the above, but rather, subtlely, a flagrant violation of the natural order that the bible does speak of, and imply;

    For instance, there can only be one leader in a relationship – and that is the man. Would God truly say to a woman, be submissive in a relationship, but take the reins at church?

    ‘The husband is the head of the wife…’ implies leadership, NOT in-equality (This is a another whole post, essentially I see that our roles, and what we do or achieve in life, do NOT make us any less or more equal; our equality lies in our identity – male and female both being human and made in the image of God. If you don’t disagree with this, the use of the word equality doesn’t make sense as a justification for women in leadership/teaching.)

    The brokenness of this world, and the imperfection of men (which is huge!) is not a good enough reason for women to try and take hold of positions of authority or teaching in the church. The moment that you strive for less than the ideal model God wants, you admit that you are striving for something less than God’s plan for humanity – is that not sin?

    I hold Women in the highest regard. I just wish they’d stop themselves getting in the way of men loving them as they (men) are called to do by God.

    ‘Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave his life for [Her]‘.

    This is something that all men should strive for; perhaps if we did a better job, that infamous verse ‘Wives submit yourselves to your husbands’ wouldn’t be so hard to take.

    I’m keen to read your response, but I have to get up for work! Much love in Christ,

    God Bless you :)

    Kind Regards, J

  4. Wisdomchaser says:

    Thank you for this article. It is always good to be reminded how God’s word tells us that He used both men and women to accomplish His purposes. Also, I appreciate your kind but firm response to Nadia. I too hope that she finds a church that recognizes that God uses both men and women and that we all are indeed image bearers of the Most High.

    Odious and Soon-touchy seem to be very modern sounding. I googled but was unable to find the origins of these two names. Name calling is never acceptable and it is especially not acceptable for Christians to call Paul’s fellow workers whose real names are written in the book of life such rude names.

  5. Marg says:

    Hi J,

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I can see that you hold women in the highest regard, unlike poor Nadia.

    As you are aware, I am certainly not saying that men can’t minister. All I am saying is that women can be ministers. So the fact that there are more examples of men than women, teaching and exercising authority (which is hardly surprising considering the patriarchal culture of the time) doesn’t affect the point of my article. The 15 women in the article show that women leading /teaching God’s people was not an anomaly. The whole counsel of the Bible, particularly the New Testament, does not prohibit women from church leadership.

    I agree with your point that: “the use of women in the Bible by God, for his purposes, in positions of leadership or teaching, does not logically give them … authority over a man.” I would add that it also doesn’t give them authority over a woman. Moreover, the use of men in the Bible by God, for his purposes, in positions of leadership or teaching, does not logically give them authority over a man or a woman.

    Ministers in the church – the body of Christ – do not have authority over another capable adult person. The word “over” is absent in every New Testament verse that speaks about godly leadership. More on this here.http://newlife.id.au/equality-and-gender-issues/authority-in-the-church/
    The authorisation and gifting to minister, in whatever capacity, comes from the Holy Spirit.

    Even if, as you say, men are generally more suited to leadership in the church, this does not rule out the possibility, and the reality, that God also wants women to lead his people. Leadership is not a defining masculine trait. Not all men and women are gifted to lead. But some men and women are clearly gifted in that area. Another point to consider is that God wanted (and wants) his people to be led in a motherly way, and not just a fatherly way. More on this here. http://newlife.id.au/equality-and-gender-issues/masculine-and-feminine-leadership/

    My post is not trying to promote a flagrant violation of the natural order of gender roles, subtle or otherwise. Rather, most of the posts on my website hopefully show that a gender hierarchy and neatly prescribed gender roles have nothing to do with new creation, New Covenant relationships in the body of Christ. There is no natural order of gender in the new creation. Rather, this concept of gender comes straight from Greek philosophy and has unfortunately been borrowed by the church. http://newlife.id.au/equality-and-gender-issues/plutarch-and-paul-on-men-and-women-and-marriage/

    I disagree that in a relationship there can only be one leader. I have several friendships where no one is the leader. Moreover my friends and relatives would be concerned and horrified if I suddenly acted as if I was the leader and vice versa. A larger organisation needs a leader but a relationship of only a two or a few people does not.

    A marriage of two competent people does not need one person to always be the leader. “Head” implies leadership in English. But it didn’t to the Ephesians and Corinthians. More on this here. http://newlife.id.au/equality-and-gender-issues/kephale-and-male-headship-in-pauls-letters/

    Submission is necessary in healthy relationships. Peter and Paul told wives to be submissive to their husbands, but they also told husbands to be submissive to their wives. They just used different words. A husband who loves his wife as he loves himself, and gives himself up for his wife, is being submissive to her, and more. Mutual submission is the New Covenant ideal (Eph 5:21). More here. http://newlife.id.au/equality-and-gender-issues/submission-in-marriage/

  6. Marg says:

    Wisdomchaser: Thanks for your comments. Yes, I’ve never heard of those nicknames. They seem childish and rude.

  7. Sharon says:

    Nadia,

    In Judges 4:4, when Deborah is introduced to us, there is no indication that she was a ‘reluctant leader’. In any case, there are plenty of OT prophets who were reluctant – God did not excuse them.

    The context in which she may have been ‘reluctant’ is that of battle, not leadership. This does not indicate that women cannot or should not lead in battle, either – just that God had called Barak to do that job in this particular instance (we can speculate as to why – but speculation is all it is). Barak was called under Deborah’s leadership, she was the one given the instructions from God himself.

    Furthermore, if God really intended for women not to lead he would have raised up a man to do so, and not chosen ‘second best’ in the absence of one. There are plenty of OT prophets who were reluctant. A God who breaks His own rules – I don’t think so!

    You also said: “Anna was a prophetess but it’s quite a long bow to suggest she did “teach men and exercise authority” – she was inspired by the Holy Spirit!” I counter that that argument plays both ways – it is also a ‘long bow’ to suggest that Anna did not teach men/exercise authority. We simply don’t know, but her status as a prophet certainly suggests that she may have.

    J – Marg has been very gracious with you. Your entire comment is based on nothing but assumption through your cultural lense.

  8. Don Johnson says:

    I think J gets is exactly backwards. The oppressors wonder if the oppressed want to be oppressors. This puts the oppressed in a supposedly Catch 22 type situation. If they speak up for injustice, the oppressors can claim they are just power seeking. What a bunch of hooey.

    A believer is to work for justice. Those that do not, are not acting like believers should act.

  9. Don Johnson says:

    The church is being crippled by those that want only men in leadership. Jesus said the workers are few and some men want to divide that by two. Do not let them do it.

    In case others are not aware, the SBC is losing members and I think this is partially because of their arrogant stance on women.

  10. Marg says:

    J, we have very different views of authority in the church. Godly authority is not something that can be wielded; it is not a right or power over another person. I am most definitely not speaking about the type of authority you mention in your comment. J. You’re very welcome to leave more comments if you wish, but please read this article before you do. http://newlife.id.au/equality-and-gender-issues/authority-in-the-church/

    A person who has been truly authorised by God to minister (i.e. serve) is someone who has simply been called, gifted and blessed by God to function as a minister (i.e. servant). I do not limit myself, or anyone else to “minister-ship” (or to any function, title or position) because I do not limit God. God can choose to use anyone for his purposes, in whatever way he chooses.

    I am not fighting. I am providing information. I do not fight people (Eph 6:12). The only one who can change hearts and minds, one way or the other, is the Holy Spirit.

    If I was a man trying to open doors for women, would you mistrust my motives? Or if I was a woman trying to open doors for a man would you mistrust my motives?

    I find it very strange that you say that “This article’s position has imbibed a core societal value of today”. All I have done is provide snippets of information from the Bible about women who lived, and who led in some way, thousands of years ago – we’re talking millennia here.

    There is no doubt in my mind that God wants men and women to be ministering together, sharing their unique gifts, abilities, temperaments and perspectives. We need both men and women in ministry, we need both in leadership. Just as a family benefits when it is led by a father and a mother (God’s intention), congregations benefit when they are led by men and women working together.
    http://newlife.id.au/equality-and-gender-issues/leading-together-in-the-home/

  11. J says:

    I’m thinking :)

  12. ANDREWS BABU says:

    Well, i have one concern about the leaders (woman) why they are not covering their heads in western countries. bible clearly shows us.

  13. Marg says:

    Thanks for your comment Andrews.

    The only verse (in the entire Bible) that some think mentions this is 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, but it is unclear whether Paul is speaking about hair styles or head coverings. Moreover, Paul ends this passage by saying that “we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.” (1 Cor. 11:16 KJV)

    I’ve written more about 1 Cor. 11:2-6 here: http://newlife.id.au/equality-and-gender-issues/the-chiasm-in-1-corinthians-11_2-16/

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  17. Bev Murrill says:

    Marg, thanks so much for this great list. As usual, you’ve pinpointed so much and so succinctly.

    Interesting to note that if King Lemuel is Solomon, then his mother is… Bathsheba. Seemed she had increasing wisdom as she grew older.

  18. Caitlyn says:

    Didn’t God create us all equal? Take a close look at the way Jesus treated the women he interacted with, I’m sure you’ll agree that he treated them as he treated the men.
    Also, it’s all well and good looking at what the Apostles have to say about roles of women and authority, but please remember that these men grew up in a society where women were lower class, that would be there opinions. At no point is it recorded that Jesus himself, who sat and are with women, forbade them to teach.

  19. Marg says:

    Caitlyn, I agree. I think the way the Jesus treated and interacted with women is so important. It was truly revolutionary. As is his teaching on leadership and community: http://newlife.id.au/christian-living/jesus-teaching-on-leadership-and-community-in-matthews-gospel/

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