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Gender Roles and Speaking Ministries in the Church


Woman Speaking @ Amanda Rohde (iStock)

My life is devoted to knowing God and being a disciple of Jesus.  And my life is invested in learning and understanding the Scriptures.  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.  It bothers me, however, 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 worthy of 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 or to a room full of men is objectionable and offensive to some.[1]  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 2:11-15.  But 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, and 1 Corinthians 14:33b-35 and 1 Timothy 2:12 have been highlighted.[2]  In fact I would say that some people are fixated on 1 Timothy 2:12.  For many, this single verse has become the sticking point on the issue of women in ministry.[3]

After centuries of silencing women, some Christians are now trying to determine what the scriptural parameters truly are concerning women speaking in church, or whether, in fact, God does not want any limitations on speaking ministries based solely on 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.[4]  This exclusion of women from these very basic ministries is unjust and it sends a hurtful message to women about their worth and status.  The message is that there is something about being a woman that makes them unfit to speak about God to a mixed audience.

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, but not men.  This is a common, widely-held assumption among Christians, but this view is not based on Scripture.  The Bible never actually states that a woman may teach Christian theology, etc, to women or children.  (Paul’s instructions to Titus about older women teaching the younger has nothing to do with teaching theology or Christian spirituality.  It seems that the young women in Crete were bad wives and lousy mothers and needed to be taught the basics.  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 teach, advise and lead men – even powerful men such as kings, an army general and a preacher on his way to becoming one of the “super-apostles” – 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 other women in the Bible. But in some churches women cannot comment on even these passages.

I believe that 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 that the Bible, God’s Word to humanity, is effectively interpreted and taught by men only.  Having only men as leaders, teachers and speakers in the church goes beyond any valid understanding of what the Scripture says about women speaking in the New Covenant community of the Body of Christ.


[1] 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.)

[2] 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.  I think 1 Cor 14:34-35 may be about silencing nuisance, ignorant questions from women who wanted to learn something.

[3] 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 judged against their church’s doctrines.)  These complementarians base this belief on (what I think is) 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 in a book review of Kathy Keller’s book on “gender roles” here.]
Other complementarians, however, see things differently.  I was talking to a very kind young man on Thursday, who also happens to be a complementarian and a Sydney Anglican.  My new friend said that he always asks his wife for her opinion on the content of the preaching of every sermon that he gives, and of every sermon that he and his wife hears.  He values his wife’s opinion and respects her ability to discern between good and bad theology.  I’m unsure where he draws the line on what a woman can or cannot do in the church.

[4] 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 the message I get from the exclusion of women in the reading of Scripture is that he thinks only men 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 (Eph 5:18-19). Women functioned in authoritative ministries (e.g. Lydia was most likely the person, or one of the people, who maintained the doctrinal standard of Paul’s teaching in the critical, early days of the Philippian church when Paul and Silas had moved on.  Lydia is the only member of the Philippian church who is named in the narrative in Acts 16:12-40.)

© 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, , , ,

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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