It is often said that women cannot be teachers nor are they permitted to teach. In this article, we will explore this issue and show that women can be leaders in congregations and the body of Messiah. Recently, John MacArthur once again made comments concerning women leadership and how it is not Biblical. This is apparently an issue that MacArthur has not studied closely or he is unwilling to approach the issue with a sound mind. Many people give a lot of weight to whatever John MacArthur says, but it is time for people to put down their systematic theology books and to get acquainted with what the Bible actually teaches.
The Theological Foundation
In Genesis 3, after the Fall of Adam and Eve, the Lord said to them, “To the woman He said, “I will greatly increase your pain from conception to labor. In pain will you give birth to children. Your desire will be toward your husband, yet he must rule over you (Genesis 3:16).” Thus, the husband is the head of the household.
Ideally, men should be leaders because men should be the head of their families. The family is a representation of the body of believers. We can see a lot of parallels between the family and the body of believers. One example of this is Ephesians 5:25, “Husbands, love your wives just as Messiah also loved His community and gave Himself up for her.” The community is the bride of Messiah.
Just because it is ideal that men be leaders does not mean that women cannot be leaders also. This is where the gap between egalitarianism and complementarianism begins. Egalitarians believe that women can serve any role that a man can serve in the body of Messiah, whereas complementarians believe that women cannot serve in leadership roles (generally, except in leadership over women). Both of these views may be held by different individuals to varying degrees.
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female—for you are all one in Messiah Yeshua (Galatians 3:28).” God is not a respector of persons (Acts 10:34). God’s plan of salvation does not discriminate based on race, gender, or any other natural attribute. Rather, God’s plan for salvation and the power thereof is applicable to all men and women. All of us who believe in the Messiah are the seed of Abraham.
In Acts 10, the Apostle Peter says,
Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him. The word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ: (he is Lord of all:) That word, I say, ye know, which was published throughout all Judaea, and began from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached; How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him. And we are witnesses of all things which he did both in the land of the Jews, and in Jerusalem; whom they slew and hanged on a tree:Him God raised up the third day, and shewed him openly;Not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before God, even to us, who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is he which was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead. To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.Acts 10:34-43
Just as the Apostle Paul said there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, the Apostle Peter makes a remark with a rather similar meaning. God is no respector of persons, and God’s gift of salvation is available to all people. The power that comes with the Gospel is available to all people. The ability to preach sound, efficacious doctrine with power, the ability to lay hands on the sick so that the sick will be healed, and the ability to operate under the authority delegated to us by Yeshua Himself who has overcome the world, all of these gifts are available to every believer regardless of their natural attributes, and the power of these gifts are based on Yeshua’s performance rather than our own performance. God operates through all people, and no gift of God is withheld from any believer who seeks God’s kingdom first. Yeshua said,
“Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen. And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover. So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God. And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.”Mark 16:14-18
Yeshua’s words and His promises are available to all who believe and not just a certain sect of people. Women are meant to minister just as men are, and there is no scriptural basis to say that the women’s ministry role is somehow inferior to what has been made available to man from the Kingdom of God.
There is an example in scripture of women, specifically Priscilla, along with her husband, Aquila (who were co. laborers with the Apostle Paul), correcting a man:
“Now a Jewish man named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, well versed in the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. With a fervent spirit, he was speaking and teaching accurately the facts about Yeshua—while only being acquainted with the immersion of John. This man began speaking out boldly in the synagogue. But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained the way of God more accurately.
When Apollos wanted to cross over to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. Upon arrival, he greatly helped those who by grace had believed. For he powerfully refuted the Jewish people in public, demonstrating through the Scriptures that the Messiah was Yeshua.”
Some, but not all, of those who teach that women shouldn’t be rabbis or pastors do not believe women should teach at all, yet, we have an example here of a woman correcting a man. It is important to note that in the beginning of Acts 18, Aquila is listed prior to Priscilla, but in Acts 18:26, Priscilla is listed first. In the Greek, this means when Priscilla and Aquila taught Apollos, Priscilla took the primary role because the order of names listed in Greek tells us to what extent people were involved.
Addressing Critics of Egalitarianism
1 Timothy 2:12
One verse that those who oppose women being teachers tend to use is 1 Timothy 2:12, and it reads, “But I do not allow a woman to train or dictate to a man, but to be in a quiet demeanor (TLV).” The Greek word in this passage is ἀνδρός (anair). While this word can be translated as ‘man,’ in this passage, it should be translated as ‘husband.’ Why? Because the rest of the passage makes the context of the Apostle Paul’s statement quite clear:
“But I do not allow a woman to train or dictate to a man, but to be in a quiet demeanor. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. Also Adam was not deceived but the woman—being deceived, she fell into transgression.
Nevertheless, she will be sustained through childbearing—if they continue in faithfulness and love and holiness, with sound judgment (1 Timothy 2:12-15).” Clearly, 1 Timothy 2:12 is said within a context of a husband and a wife. Therefore, in 1 Timothy 2:12, instead of using the word, ‘man,’ the English translations should use the word, ‘husband.’
1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is considered to be the companion verse for 1 Timothy 2:12 because it addresses the same issue, “let women keep silent in the communities, for it is not permitted for them to speak out. Rather let them be in order, as the Torah also says. If they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home—for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak out in the community (1 Corinthians 14:34-35).” As it was in 1 Timothy 2:12, the Apostle Paul is addressing an issue of behavior of the wives of husbands. This was not about teaching, but rather, it was about not disrupting the congregation’s service.
Furthermore, if women are to keep silent, why did Philip’s four unmarried daughter’s prophesy? “He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied (Acts 21:9).” Joel 3:1 also reads, “So it will be afterward, I will pour out My Ruach [Hebrew for ‘Spirit’] on all flesh: your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.” Acts 2:17 is the record of the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy, “And it shall be in the last days,’ says God, ‘that I will pour out My Ruach [Spirit] on all flesh. Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.” How can women prophesy if they must ‘keep silent?’
Anna was a prophetess that was mentioned in Luke 2, “And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem (Luke 2:36-38).” In this passage, Yeshua was presented in the temple. A man named Simeon blessed God while holding Yeshua in his arms, and then Anna gave thanks to God and spoke of Yeshua to all of those who were seeking redemption in Jerusalem. Clearly, this goes against the complimentarian view of 1 Timothy 2:12, and Anna shows that it is permissible for women to speak, preach, and teach the Gospel even in synagogues.
1 Corinthians 11:5 reads, “But every woman praying or prophesying with her head uncovered dishonors her head. For it is one and the same as having been shaved.” How can a woman pray or prophesy if she is supposed to keep silent at all times?
Consider the following made-up story (I give credit to my Rabbi for this example): There is a plane full of missionaries that crash lands on an island of pagan tribes. Everyone dies except for one woman. Should the woman preach the Gospel to the pagan tribes or should she ‘keep silent?’ Should the pagans perish from not hearing the Word that produces faith because only a woman survived the plane crash? Certainly not.
1 Timothy 3:1-7, Overseers
Sometimes, those who believe women shouldn’t be ordained or shouldn’t teach go straight to 1 Timothy 3. 1 Timothy 3:1-7 reads,
Trustworthy is the saying: “If any man aspires to the office of overseer,he desires a good work.” An overseer, then, must be beyond criticism—the husband of one wife, clear-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine, not violent but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money, managing his own household well, keeping his children under control with all respectfulness. (But if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s community?) He must not be a new believer, or he may become puffed up and fall into the same judgment as the devil. Furthermore, he must have a good reputation with those outside, so that he will not fall into disgrace and the devil’s trap.1 Timothy 3:1-7
Some English translations have the word ‘office’ in 1 Timothy 3:1, but the truth is, the Greek word for ‘office’ is not present in 1 Timothy 3. Thus, this passage is not talking about the ‘office of overseer’ which would be denoted in the Hebrew in passages such as Numbers 4:16. The question is, what is an overseer? Sometimes the word is also rendered as guardian or bishop. In essence, the overseer is a leader who oversees a congregation, a group of people, or resources.
First, there are people in the Bible that the Greek word for overseer, ἐπισκοπή (episkopay), refers to that do not meet all of the qualifications that are listed in 1 Timothy 3. For example, in 1 Peter 2:25, the Apostle Peter uses the Greek term, episkopay, in reference to Yeshua the Messiah, “For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” Yeshua was not the husband of one wife, for Yeshua was not married. Paul was an overseer, but he was not married either (1 Corinthians 7:8). Are we to conclude that women cannot be rabbis or pastors yet they can be apostles? Nonsense.
Second, 1 Timothy was not written as a treatise for a full list of qualifications for leaderships in congregations nor should the qualifications listed be universally applicable to all congregations. Rather, the qualifications given were specifically for the church at Ephesus. 1 Timothy was written in response to the heresies that Timothy, an apostolic representative of the Apostle Paul, was dealing with in the congregation at Ephesus.
The qualifications that the Apostle Paul gives for overseers is understandable in light of the type of heresy that was infiltrating the congregation of Ephesus. We do not know all of the manners of heresy that were being propagated by some at this congregation, but what we do know are a few examples. A few heresies that were being propagated was the forbidding of marriage (1 Timothy 4:3), abstaining from certain foods (probably all meat), and the teaching of myths. In 1 Timothy 3, the Apostle Paul sought to give Timothy some guidance on the appointing (not ordaining in the sense that most modern churches understand it today) of overseers in the congregation.
Thus, since the term ‘overseer’ has been attributed to people who do not meet the qualifications given in 1 Timothy 3, specifically, Yeshua, we can conclude that the description in 1 Timothy 3 is not a specific office, but rather, it has to do with leadership in general in the church of Ephesus, and therefore, they are not to be taken as mandatory, universal qualifications.
1 Timothy 3:8-13
In the next part of the passage, the Apostle Paul talks about servant leaders (or deacons),
“Servant-leaders likewise must be dignified, not double-speaking, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. They must keep hold of the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. Also let them first be tested—then let those who are blameless serve as servant-leaders. Women likewise must be dignified, not backbiting; clear-minded, trustworthy in every respect. Let servant-leaders be husbands of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. For those who have served well as servant-leaders gain for themselves a good standing and great confidence in the faith that is in Messiah Yeshua.”1 Timothy 3:8-13
In this passage, women are mentioned. Some others who may hold the same position on women in congregations that I do may be tempted to say that the Greek word for ‘women’ in this passage, ἀνδρός (anair), should be translated as ‘women,’ but if we look at the context in this passage, the Greek word ‘anair’ should be translated as ‘wives’ rather than women.
Even so, we know that women can be servant leaders, for, in Romans, the Apostle Paul refers to Pheobe as a servant leader (deacon), “Now I recommend to you our sister Phoebe—who is a servant-leader of Messiah’s community at Cenchrea (Romans 16:1).” Thus, though 1 Timothy 3 does not specifically say women can serve as deacons, clearly, the Apostle Paul recognizes that they can serve as deacons. This goes to show that the instructions given in 1 Timothy 3 concerning congregational leadership are not universally mandatory. 1
Overseers are people who oversee people and the assets of God (Numbers 4:16, Acts 10:28). There are women in the Bible who have fulfilled this role, and they were appointed by no other than God Himself:
Deborah was a judge in Israel (Judges 4 and 5). She, by the delegated authority of God Himself, told Balak that God had commanded him to lead Israel into battle against Jabin’s army (Judges 4:14). After the battle, Israel had peace for 40 years.
Huldah was a prophetess (and a relative of the prophet Jeremiah) that was consulted in 2 Kings 22:14-20 concerning the meaning of a scroll. Both Jeremiah and Zephaniah were active prophets at the time (so much for the notion that women are only raised up to leadership when no eligible men are available).
Rahab was a gentile woman that had profound spiritual insight (Joshua 2:9-11) and she safeguarded Israelites against her own people and she ended up joining Israel to go against her own people. She ended up being the mother of Boaz.
The High Priest Aaron’s sister, Miriam, was a prophetess (Exodus 15:20). According to Micah 6:4, Miriam was alongside Moses and Aaron when God was in the process of delivering the Israelites from Egypt, “When I brought you up from the land of Egypt, and redeemed you from the house of bondage, I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.”
In Romans 16:7, Junia, a female, is referred to as an apostle, “Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellow-prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.”
Unfortunately, many in the body of Messiah have an overly simplistic view of 1 Timothy 2 and 3, and it is clear, both in the New Testament and the Old Testament, that women can serve as leaders in the body of Messiah. Though husbands are meant to be the head of the household, in the body of Messiah, women can still serve as leaders whether it be servant leaders or overseers.
If you are interested in seeing objections that have been given to this article’s arguments answered, you may find the objections and those answers here.
- There is a very interesting article on this topic that can be found at http://gospelgeeks.net/women-ministry-1-timothy-31-13/