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Gender Roles and Speaking Ministries in the Church


Gender Roles and Speaking Ministries in the Church

My life is devoted to knowing God and being a disciple of Jesus. And my life is invested in learning and understanding the scriptures.[1] I do not think that my knowledge and experience of God is generally inferior to that of many of my brothers in Christ just because I am a woman. So it bothers me that many Christians have an understanding of “gender roles” which sends the message that, simply because I am a woman, my views on God and the Bible are not worth hearing. Or worse, that my views are suspect because of my gender.

The church has largely taught that women are to be silent in meetings. And the thought of a woman expositing scripture from the pulpit to a room full of men is objectionable and offensive to some.[2] Why is that?

The idea that women should be silent and not speak in church is based primarily on two passages of scripture: 1 Corinthians 14:33b-35 and 1 Timothy 2:12-14. Yet we know from several other verses that some women were influential and were not silent in New Testament churches. These other verses have been overlooked and even ignored in the past, while 1 Corinthians 14:33b-35 and 1 Timothy 2:12 have been highlighted and given prominence.[3] Some Christians even seem fixated on 1 Timothy 2:12, and this single verse has become the sticking point on the issue of women in ministry.[4]

After centuries of silencing women, some Christians are now trying to determine the true scriptural parameters concerning women in church, and whether God actually wants his people to institute permissions or limitations on speaking ministries on the basis of gender.

In some churches women are now permitted the privilege of some speaking ministries. But in other churches, even evangelical churches, women are not even allowed to read from the Bible aloud or pray aloud.[5] This exclusion of women from these ministries is unjust, and sends a hurtful and harmful message to women about their worth. The message is that there is something about the very nature of being a woman that makes them unfit to speak about God or read from his Word to a mixed audience. This message, and the attitude behind, is wrong.

As a Christian woman, God is just as much my God as he is the God of my brothers. The Bible is just as much God’s Word to me as it is God’s Word to my brothers. God hears my prayers just as much as he hears the prayers of many of my brothers. Why then is the ministry of women seen in a different, lesser light, and appreciated differently to the ministry of men?

Some will say that I may only share my theological knowledge and experience with women and children. This is a widely-held assumption among Christians, but this view is not based on scripture. The Bible never actually states that a woman may teach theology to women or children. (Note that Paul’s instructions to Titus about older women teaching the younger have nothing to do with teaching theology or Christian spirituality. More on Titus 2:3-5 here.)

I am not saying that a woman cannot teach women and children. However it is much easier to show from the Bible that godly women can, and did, teach, advise, and lead men (even powerful men such as kings, an army general, and a teacher with an apostolic ministry) than it is to show that women can teach other women and children.

Women’s voices are not silenced in the Bible. We can read the theological thoughts and insights of Deborah (Judges 5:1ff), Hannah (1 Sam 2:1ff), Mary (Luke 1:46ff) and several other women. But in some churches women cannot comment on even these passages.

The culture of male primacy and privilege in ministry, a culture that has been pervasive for centuries, is wrong. It is wrong for the church to be effectively “owned and operated” by men only. It is wrong for the Bible, God’s Word to humanity, to be interpreted and taught by men only. Having only men as leaders, teachers, and speakers in the church goes beyond any valid understanding of what scripture says about men and women speaking and ministering in the New Covenant community of the Body of Christ.


[1] I earned a BTh in 2012. Update: I recently completed an MA, specialising in early Christian and Jewish studies, with Macquarie University. The purpose of these and other courses of study is to help me understand the Bible, especially the New Testament, better.

[2] Many evangelicals believe that only an ordained, priest-like man can “preach a sermon” (i.e. speak) from the “hallowed pulpit”. This sacramental view, and the traditions and jargon that goes with it, hinders many people from seeing the possibility that women can speak, teach and preach in congregational settings.  (There were no “pulpits” in New Testament house churches.) More on this here.

[3] Let me add that 1 Timothy 2:12 does not represent a scriptural consensus on what the Bible says about women speaking and teaching in the church. Moreover, this verse is open to a wide variety of interpretations and applications. And 1 Corinthians 14:33b-35 is believed by most scholars today to be censuring a particular form of speech. 1 Corinthians  14:34-35 may be about silencing nuisance, ignorant questions from women who wanted to learn something. (More on 1 Cor. 14:34-35 and its applications here.)

[4] Some Christians who hold to complementarian views believe that women may speak but that they cannot be the ones who determine the church’s position on doctrinal issues. Moreover, they think only men should judge prophecy and preaching (which is evaluated in respect to their church’s doctrines.) These complementarians base this belief on a faulty interpretation of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and a misunderstanding of how the word “authentein” is used in 1 Timothy 2:12. (I discuss authentein here.)

[5] Tim Challies has said that “The Bible is the very Word of the living God, breathed out by God and given to us to train us in all that is necessary for life and godliness . . . Because of the importance of the Word of God, [reading the Bible aloud] . . . is a ministry reserved for men.” (Source)  I agree with Tim about the inspiration and importance of the Bible, but he seems to think that only men, and not women, are important enough to read the Bible aloud in church. Similarly, John Piper does not allow women to read the Bible or pray aloud from the pulpit of his church. (Source) The stance of Tim Challies, John Piper, and many others, limits (and discourages) Christian women in ways that cannot be supported by scripture. Women did pray aloud in church meetings in New Testament times (1 Cor 11:5 cf 1 Cor 14:26 NIV). Women could recite scripture, including the Psalms, in church meetings (Eph 5:18-19). Moreover, women functioned as house church leaders in New Testament times. (More on this here.)

© 12th of January, 2012, Margaret Mowczko

Photo credit: “Great Info!” © Amanda Rohde (iStock)

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Posted January 12th, 2013 . Categories/Tags: Equality and Gender Issues, Equality in Ministry, , , , ,

Unkind, judgemental, bizarre, and off-topic comments will be deleted.

13 comments on “Gender Roles and Speaking Ministries in the Church

  1. Don Johnson says:

    Challies thoughts are obviously bogus, as there are times when women speak in Scripture, and he thinks that only a man can speak those lines? How perverse!

    Yes, this whole idea of limiting a portion of the body of Christ is one that needs to be thoroughly rejected.

  2. It really burns me that Challies would give as his reason why women can’t read Scripture is that Scripture is much too important to be read by women. Unbelievable.

  3. Don Johnson says:

    My take is that Challies is thoroughly deceived, like the woman in the garden. Unless and until he submits to correct instruction in this matter, he should remain silent.

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  6. Thank you for speaking up and speaking out about this topic. Amen!

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