What role should women have in church?

Submit Bible questions, through our easy to use form,
to our team of mature Christians known as the Email Evangelists.

What role, if any, should women play in the church? Does the Bible allow women to teach in church, especially to men? Are there female ministers in the Bible? Is it permissible for a married woman to pray publicly? Some believe that ALL women, married or not, should not speak at all during services. Others feel that women should be able to ask questions but not allowed to make statements or comments. They view this type of active participation by women as "teaching men."

A Most Difficult Scripture

Perhaps the most important verses used to argue against the active participation of women in spiritual fellowship are found in 1Timothy.

"Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence." (1Timothy 2:11-12)

This passage is usually interpreted to mean that during church services, women are to remain silent in the presence of men, thus showing their complete spiritual subjection to God and Jesus. Women, therefore, are not to teach during Sabbath school, nor are they to teach in any manner during the preaching service, for to do so would be usurping authority over the men that are present.

1 Timothy 2:11 and 12 are also invoked to prohibit women from having any authority over men in any and all activities, whether during Sabbath services or otherwise. Thus prayer or speech of any fashion in the presence of men is said to be prohibited by Scripture. Teaching men through the medium of writing is prohibited. Actively participating in the planning, organizing, staffing and directing of activities over men is also prohibited, the reasoning goes. There are four major assumptions made when interpreting 1Timothy 2:11-12.

  1. That the singular "woman" means "all women," whether married or not

  2. That the singular "man" means "all men, "whether married or not

  3. That the term "silence" means "absolutely mute"

  4. That the command specifically applies to church services and activities of any kind

Are childless
women cursed?
Should women
wear ONLY dresses?
Is it wrong for unmarried couples to sleep together?
Should women
wear only long hair?
Does God approve
of wearing earrings?

Is this understanding of the verses listed above in 1Timothy consistent with the meaning of other Scriptures? Is it possible that we are applying cultural customs and bias to the Scriptures? Can we prove what is the true meaning of these verses? What is the setting of the verses? Is it Sabbath fellowship only, or is it family fellowship as well? Is the command here applicable to all women and all men? What does the term "teach" mean? What does it mean for a woman to "usurp authority over the man" ? What does it mean to be silent "with all subjection" ? To whom is the woman to be in subjection, to her husband, or to all men? What is the real topic under discussion here?

In Context

Paul was writing to the young evangelist Timothy, who was serving the brethren at Ephesus at the time. The year was circa 66 A.D. The Jewish Wars with Rome had just begun. The subject under discussion in 1Timothy 2 is the preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles (1Timothy 2:7). Paul therefore reminds Timothy that all Christians (men and women) should pray for kings and all that are in authority, to the end that the gospel might be preached in a setting of peace and tranquility (1Timothy 2:1-4).

Timothy was therefore to teach that Christian men to pray.

"I (Paul) desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting" (verse 8)

Praying, in other words, that this gospel would go to the Gentiles, in due time, in a proper atmosphere of peace and tranquility. Timothy was to teach Christian women to pray the same thing. Only instead of admonishing the women to pray without "wrath and doubting," the women were to pray another way - .

"in like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel . . . " (1Timothy 2:9).

The word translated "modest" is the Greek kosmios and in this context carries the meaning of a Christian woman who is quiet and tranquil in her worship of God. It means a woman who fulfills the Christian duties which are incumbent upon her; a woman who is sensible, self-controlled and who voluntarily places limitations on her Christian freedom.

The word translated "propriety" is the Greek aidios and has the meaning of a modesty which has an innate moral repugnance to a dishonorable act; i.e., a reverence for the good as good. Aidios is used only here in 1Timothy 2:9 and in Hebrews 12:28. The word "moderation" in the Greek is sophrosune and has the meaning of soundness of mind, sanity or self-control. Thus it means placing voluntary limitations on one's spiritual freedom of thought and behavior.

Marriage and the Gospel

Sophrosune gives us an important clue to the context of Paul's statements in 1Timothy 2:11-12. The fact that Paul is indeed referring to the marriage relationship is revealed by the words "woman" and "man." When Paul stated, "Let a woman learn" he was actually commenting on the Christian role of the wife. "Woman" is translated from the Greek gune (wife), and "man" is translated from the Greek andros (husband). When used with anthropos (man or mankind), gune may mean women in general. But when used with andros, it can only mean "wife" and must be translated so. Paul is not discussing here the general relationship of women to men, but the specific relationship of wives to husbands.

The real question is what are the proper roles of the converted husband and the converted wife in relationship to preaching the gospel of Jesus. Paul addresses this question in verses 11-15 of 1Timothy 2. The context reveals Paul's answer: the natural order is not to be disturbed in the preaching of the gospel. This natural order, ordained by God, is the role of the husband as head of the wife as Paul argues (1Timothy 2:13-15).

The role of childbearing was biologically reserved for the wife from the very beginning. The role of fathering and leadership in the family was reserved for the husband from the very beginning. Paul argues that this is so for the sake of the children. Thus when husbands and wives are interacting at home, in an assembly, or anywhere else, the position of the husband as the natural head of the family should not be undermined! For, as Paul argues, this natural relationship is in accordance with God's ordained order in creation.

Does this mean that the wife must be mute in services, or in public in general, when her husband is present or when any man is present? Not at all! The Greek text does not support or warrant such a conclusion. In 1Timothy 2:11 Paul does not argue that wives are not to learn, but only that they should "learn (manthano) in silence, with all submission." Learn what? Be in submission to whom? In absolute silence? The word translated "learn" here is the Greek verb manthano and grammatically must answer to the Greek verb didasko, to teach. In the simple aorist tense, manthano means to learn anything. But in this context, manthano refers to the wife learning the facts of God's plan of salvation. This wonderful plan of salvation includes women in general and wives in particular! The phrase in the Greek about 'letting a woman learn' is in the present imperative. Thus Paul is commanding here that wives be continually and repeatedly taught the plan of salvation by their husbands!

What does Paul mean then, when he commands that this learning be done in "silence" and in "submission?" The Greek word translated "silence" is hesuchia and refers to tranquillity of spirit or a state of being undisturbed. Thus Paul is not requiring Christian wives to remain absolutely silent but to speak with calmness and self-control.

"One must bear in mind here that during the era of time when Paul was writing, it was usually men who were the ones to receive an education. If this word meant 'complete silence,' women would never have the opportunity to ask questions or increase her [their] knowledge of the Scriptures. Simply speaking, the wife ought to be displaying a tranquil spirit in her attempt to learn" (Zodhiates, The Hebrew/Greek Key Study Bible, World Kein, p. 1497).

Paul is encouraging, indeed commanding, that wives speak up, ask questions, learn of God's plan of salvation, but that they do so in a manner that does not undermine the husband's position as head of the family.

The word "submission" must also be understood in this context. The Greek word is hupotage and simply means "to place in proper order." Hupotage refers to the natural order that God established between the husband and the wife. Paul simply shows here that in the wife's desire to learn, whether in the family or gathered in Christian fellowship, the proper order requires that she always respect her husband's position as her leader (cf. 1Corinthians 11:3). As there is complete equality of husband and wife in Christ (Galatians 3:28), Paul is not saying that the wife is inferior to her husband. This is not a matter of superiority and inferiority, as viewed by many today; it is a matter of respecting the God-ordained order in family relationships. Both husband and wife have equal claim and authority over each other (1Corinthians 7:3-5). Nevertheless, God Himself has ordained that when a man and a woman voluntarily enter into a marriage relationship, the husband is to be the leader (Ephesians 5.22-24), and this role is to be upheld, respected and nurtured for the sake of the children and for the very salvation of the wife (1Timothy 2:13-15).

Is it Wrong for a Woman to Teach a Man?

The question still remains, what did Paul mean when he commanded the following.

"And I do not permit a woman (wife) to teach (the plan of salvation to her husband) or to have authority (dominate over) over a man (husband), but to be in silence (maintain a tranquil spirit)." (1Timothy 2:12)

The apostle Paul did not intend that a wife remain completly silent in relation to her mate! What kind of marriage relationship would it be if a wife could not say a single thing to her husband? A correct understanding of this verse is contained in the phrases "to teach" and "to have authority." The phrase "to teach" means "to teach [the plan of salvation] continually." The phrase "to have authority" (over the husband) literally means to act as oneself, or it can also mean to dominate. Christian wives should not, in public or private, go beyond her ordained God-given marriage position and undermine her mate's position of the primary salvation teacher with in the church or family. This, however, does not apply to women who are single.

Saved in childbearing

The apostle Peter wrote that some of Paul's words are "hard to be understood." In his first epistle to Timothy, Paul makes a statement that has been widely misunderstood and misrepresented by ministers and teachers, and has consequently brought needless anxiety to many Christian women.

"Nevertheless she will be saved in childbearing . . ." (1Timothy 2:15).

In this verse, Paul is not speaking of Christian women being saved by giving birth to children and fulfilling the role of motherhood, as many have been taught. The words "in childbearing" are a mistranslation of the Greek text. A correct translation would read "through the childbearing." These words are referring to a specific birth by which believing women are saved, as well as men.

Paul is speaking of the birth of Jesus Christ, the Seed of Genesis 3:15. The promise of His birth was first given when Adam and Eve sinned against God and came under the penalty of death. It is through the birth of Jesus Christ, the promised Savior, that all mankind can be saved from the penalty of sin, which is eternal death.

The meaning of 1Timothy 2:15 becomes clear when we read the verse in its context: Paul is declaring that redemption and salvation are freely available to believing women through the birth of Jesus Christ in the flesh. As the Passover Lamb of God, He shed His blood to free all humans from the condemnation of sin. Nothing we can do in this life could ever earn this redemption. To teach that believing women must bear children in order to obtain God's gift of salvation is contrary to all that is revealed in Scripture. While little ones are a blessing to a home, and rearing them can teach many lessons about patience and love, the bearing of children should not be viewed as essential for the salvation of Christian women.

"For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived (he sinned knowingly), but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression (she was misled into sin). Nevertheless she (women) will be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control." (1Timothy 2:13-15).

An example of a female minister

"I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant (Greek: diakonos) of the church in Cenchrea . . . " (Romans 16:1-2)

Phoebe was a diakonos (Strong's Concordance #1249). This word is translated in the New Testament scriptures as "servant" (Matthew 23:11; Mark 9:35; John 2:5), "minister" (Matthew 20:26; 2 Corinthians 6:4; Ephesians 3:7), and "deacon" (Philippians 1:1; 1Timothy 3:8, 12). Does that mean she held the office of "deaconess?" Make no mistake, Phoebe was a diakonos -- a minister!

Was Phoebe a church pastor? Probably not. She was a ministrant or servant, one who was actually SERVING the needs of others. When men take to themselves the title of "minister," only to become the man in charge and boss people around, that man is NOT a minister -- he is ruling over the faith of others.

Does this mean that there are female ministers in the Bible? Yes, it does. Not pastors, not elders, not bosses, but true servants of God! Are they only meek and weak servants, destined only to wash dishes? Yes, every congregation ought to be FILLED with servants -- ministers -- men, women, and children (Ephesians 4:12-13)!

Additional Study Materials
Are childless women
cursed of God?
Are home fellowships
in the Bible?
What exactly
is fellowship?
How should wives
be submissive?
in the book of Esther?
Bible Answers to Questions  -  Basic Articles  -  Beginners Studies  -  Pictures  -  In-Depth Articles  -  Life of Paul
Maps and Timelines  -  Prophecy  -  Reference Materials  -  Roman Empire  -  The Sabbath  -  Study by Topic
Discount Bookstore  -  FREE books