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Question:

"Did the apostle Paul say that women can't have short hair? (1 Corinthians 11:1-16). What did he mean about a woman's "covering," and about women being silent in church, and about women not teaching, and so on? Can women be deacons or elders or pastors or apostles?"

Answer:

Many Christians have some uncertainty or confusion about various Scriptural issues concerning women, and I have wrestled with these issues as well. Let's jump right in and look at one of the most confusing passages about women, which will help illustrate some important Bible study principles that we will see throughout this article:


Women Will be "Saved" through Childbearing
1 Timothy 2:15: "But women will be saved [sozo] through childbearing--if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety."
When we talk about being "saved," we usually mean that we are saved from the penalty of our sins. In other words, our sins have been forgiven and we will go to heaven when we die. But notice what happens if we take the above verse at face value. We might be tempted to think that if women give birth then their sins will be forgiven and they will go to heaven when they die, because Paul said that they will be "saved" through childbearing.

The problem with this interpretation is that if we do a thorough study of what the New Testament teaches about salvation, we will find that salvation is based solely on having faith in Jesus as our Lord and Savior. Nothing else can save us, and therefore the apostle Paul was not speaking of salvation in the verse above.

This illustrates an important point about studying the Bible. If we simply take a verse at face value, without doing a prayerful, thorough, and objective study of the rest of Scripture (or at least the rest of the New Testament), then it is easy to form some false conclusions.

Now let's take a look at the Greek word for "saved" in the verse above. The Greek word that Paul used is sozo, which actually has several meanings. According to Strong's Greek Dictionary, sozo means "heal, preserve, save (self), do well, be (make) whole." So in addition to salvation, the Greek word sozo also has the meaning of healing a person, and saving a person (physically), and making a person whole. Here are some examples of how this Greek word is used in the New Testament:
Matthew 1:21: "She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save [sozo] his people from their sins.""

Matthew 8:25: "The disciples went and woke him, saying, "Lord, save [sozo] us! We're going to drown!""

Matthew 9:22: "Jesus turned and saw her. "Take heart, daughter," he said, "your faith has healed [sozo] you." And the woman was healed [sozo] from that moment."

Luke 17:19 (KJV): "And he said unto him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole [sozo]."
Since this Greek word for "saved" has several meanings, let's look at each meaning (using the examples above) and see how they relate to the idea of being "saved through childbearing":

  1. Matthew 1:21: "She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save [sozo] his people from their sins.""
    This is an example in which sozo is used to describe people being saved from the penalty of their sins. However, we have already seen that being "saved through childbearing" cannot be a reference to salvation from sins.
  2. Matthew 8:25: "The disciples went and woke him, saying, "Lord, save [sozo] us! We're going to drown!""
    This is an example in which sozo is used to describe people being saved from physical danger. In 1 Timothy 2:15, did Paul mean that women will be "saved" from physical danger during childbearing? Consider that there have been many Godly women who have died during childbirth, so it is unlikely that Paul meant that women will be kept physically safe throughout the process of childbearing.
  3. Matthew 9:22: "Jesus turned and saw her. "Take heart, daughter," he said, "your faith has healed [sozo] you." And the woman was healed [sozo] from that moment."
    In this verse, sozo refers to physical healing. However, it's unlikely that this is what Paul meant in 1 Timothy 2:15 because it is not true that women in general are spontaneously healed of physical problems simply by giving birth.
  4. Luke 17:19 (KJV): "And he said unto him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole [sozo]."
    In this verse, someone was "made whole" in a physical sense. This use of the word sozo has led some Bible commentaries to suggest that women generally will find "wholeness" in their unique ability to bear children, as in this example:
    "A woman will find her greatest satisfaction and meaning in life, not in seeking the male role, but in fulfilling God's design for her as wife and mother with all "faith, love, and holiness with propriety" (i.e., self-restraint; cf. 1 Tim. 2:9)." (The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Walvoord and Zuck, Dallas Theological Seminary, p.736)
These examples of the different uses of sozo help illustrate another important point. When we study the Bible, it is good to keep in mind that we are reading a translation of the Bible. Words and phrases and thoughts are not always accurately transmitted from one language to another, which is why it is wise to look at the same passage in several different translations of the Bible, and to look it up in several Bible commentaries, and to look up some of the Greek or Hebrew words to see what they really mean, and so on, before we form our views and doctrines. In case you're interested, my article called Is the NIV Bloodless and Corrupt? describes some of the interesting issues involved in translating the Bible, and my article called How Do You Study the Bible? offers some thoughts and suggestions and books and websites and software programs to help you in your study of the Bible.

As we can see, 1 Timothy 2:15 ("women will be saved through childbearing") is a difficult verse to understand. The important thing to recognize here is that Paul was not teaching that women will receive salvation (i.e. be allowed into heaven) based on whether or not they have given birth to children, because that would contradict the clear teaching of Scripture which says that salvation is based on having faith in Jesus as our Lord and Savior.

We have also seen that it is important not to simply take a verse at face value, but instead we should try to look at the greatest weight of evidence in the Bible to see what God is trying to tell us. In addition, we saw that translations of the Bible can sometimes be misleading, which is why it is often helpful to look at the meanings of the Greek words to get a better idea of what the author was saying.

These and other Bible study principles will be important as we try to understand some of the difficult New Testament passages concerning women.


Must Women Have Long Hair (or Cover Their Heads)?
1 Corinthians 11:4: "Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head."
1 Corinthians 11:5: "And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head--it is just as though her head were shaved."
1 Corinthians 11:6: "If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off, she should cover her head."
1 Corinthians 11:7: "A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man."
1 Corinthians 11:8: "For man did not come from woman, but woman from man;"
1 Corinthians 11:9: "neither was man created for woman, but woman for man."
1 Corinthians 11:10: "For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head."
1 Corinthians 11:11: "In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman."
1 Corinthians 11:12: "For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God."
1 Corinthians 11:13: "Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered?"
1 Corinthians 11:14: "Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him,"
1 Corinthians 11:15: "but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering."
1 Corinthians 11:16: "If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice--nor do the churches of God."
1 Corinthians 11:17: "In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good."
1 Corinthians 11:18: "In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it."
Some of these verses are difficult for us to understand, but a number of Bible scholars agree that this passage needs to be understood in the context of the culture in which Paul lived. Here are some things that various Bible scholars say about this passage:
"11:4 ... In the culture of Paul's day, men uncovered their heads in worship to signify their respect for and submission to deity. When a man prayed or prophesied with his head covered, he failed to show the proper attitude toward Christ.
11:5-6 For a woman, taking off her head covering in public and exposing her hair was a sign of loose morals and sexual promiscuity. Paul says she might as well have her hair cut or shaved off. The shaved head indicated that the woman either had been publicly disgraced because of some shameful act or was openly flaunting her independence and her refusal to be in submission to her husband. Paul's message to her was: Show your respect for and submission to your husband by covering your head during public worship." (NIV Study Bible, p.2218, emphasis added)

"The covering here involves either the hair of a woman hanging down or, in case that might not be possible, the veil. It must be remembered in this connection that women of loose morals, especially the prostitute priestesses of the temple of Aphrodite in Corinth, kept their hair very short in order to be distinguished for what they were. This was strictly forbidden for Christian women in order that no one would mistake them as women of loose morals." (The Complete Word Study Dictionary of the New Testament, Spiros Zodhiates, p.831, emphasis added)

"11:5-6 It cannot be unequivocally asserted but the preponderance of evidence points toward the public head covering of women as a universal custom in the first century ... According to Paul, for a woman to throw off the covering was an act not of liberation but of degradation. She might as well shave her head, a sign of disgrace (Aristophanes Thesmophoriazysae 837). In doing so, she dishonors herself and her spiritual head, the man." (The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Walvoord and Zuck, Dallas Theological Seminary, p.529, emphasis added)

"Amongst Greeks only the hetairai, so numerous in Corinth, went about unveiled; slave-women wore the shaven head--also a punishment of the adulteress" ... A woman convicted of adultery had her hair shorn (Isaiah 7:20). The Justinian code prescribed shaving the head for an adulteress whom the husband refused to receive after two years. Paul does not tell Corinthian Christian women to put themselves on a level with courtesans." (Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament Offsite Link, emphasis added)

"it was a custom, both among the Greeks and Romans, and among the Jews an express law, that no woman should be seen abroad without a veil. This was, and is, a common custom through all the east, and none but public prostitutes go without veils. ... As a woman who dresses loosely or fantastically, even in the present day, is considered a disgrace to her husband, because suspected to be not very sound in her morals; so in those ancient times, a woman appearing without a veil would be considered in the same light." (Clarke, from http://www.e-sword.net/commentaries.html Offsite Link, 1 Corinthians 11:5, emphasis added)
Now, when we come across passages that we don't understand (or we don't like), it would be very convenient to say that those passages were only valid in the first century and they don't apply to us today! But we need to be careful because that approach can easily lead us into error. Still, there's no doubt that some New Testament passages do not literally apply to Christians today. For example, in Romans 15:30-31 the apostle Paul urged people to pray that he would be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea, but now there's no point in praying for the apostle Paul because he has been dead for almost two thousand years. Therefore, certain New Testament passages do not apply today as they did in the first century.

As we can see in the quotes above, there is some agreement among Bible scholars that in Paul's culture it was appropriate for a woman to physically have a covering over her head during public worship. There are different opinions about whether a woman's long hair was sufficient as a covering, or whether all women (or just married women) had to wear cloth over their heads, but there is general agreement that this was based on the social customs of Paul's time. For example, notice what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 11:6 (above):
1 Corinthians 11:6: "If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off, she should cover her head."
Paul said that a woman should cover her head if it is a disgrace for her to have her hair cut or shaved off. It was a disgrace in Paul's culture for a woman to have her hair cut in this way (see the Bible commentary quotes above), but this is not a disgrace in modern Western culture. Therefore, many Bible commentaries agree that Christian women today do not need to obey first-century social customs concerning hair length or a physical "covering."

Now, notice that in 1 Corinthians 11:5 (above) Paul said that women should be "covered" when they pray or prophesy, which refers to public prayer or public prophesying in church (according to many Bible commentaries). Then in 1 Corinthians 11:16-18 (above), Paul specifically placed his instructions in the context of church meetings, which demonstrates that women are allowed to pray and prophesy out loud in church. This helps shed some light on another difficult passage concerning women's roles and actions in the church, which we'll look at next.


Must Women Be Silent in Church?
1 Corinthians 14:26: "What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church."
1 Corinthians 14:27: "If anyone speaks in a tongue, two--or at the most three--should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret."
1 Corinthians 14:28: "If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet [sigao] in the church and speak to himself and God."
1 Corinthians 14:29: "Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said."
1 Corinthians 14:30: "And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop [sigao]."
1 Corinthians 14:31: "For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged."
1 Corinthians 14:32: "The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets."
1 Corinthians 14:33: "For God is not a God of disorder but of peace. As in all the congregations [ekklesia] of the saints,"
1 Corinthians 14:34: "women should remain silent [sigao] in the churches [ekklesia]. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says."
1 Corinthians 14:35: "If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church."
1 Corinthians 14:36: "Did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached?"
1 Corinthians 14:37: "If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord's command."
1 Corinthians 14:38: "If he ignores this, he himself will be ignored."
1 Corinthians 14:39: "Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues."
1 Corinthians 14:40: "But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way."
On the surface, it sounds like Paul was commanding all women to be completely silent in church (verses 34-35, above). But is that really what Paul was saying here? Should women be totally silent from the moment they enter the church until they leave the church? Are they not allowed to verbally greet anyone? Are they not allowed to manage their children while in church? Are they not allowed to have women's group meetings in the church building? Are they not allowed to say anything at all within the church building?

To answer these questions, recall that Paul had earlier said that women are allowed to pray or prophesy out loud in church (1 Corinthians 11:5, in the previous section), and therefore Paul could not have been commanding all women to be totally silent in church in verses 34-35 (above). This "silence" means something else. In the passage above, notice that Paul said that everyone has gifts which can be used in church meetings, and he said that anyone can speak a message in tongues or give a word of prophecy in church as long as it is done in an orderly and considerate manner (verses 26-33). Notice that Paul did not exclude women from exercising their spiritual gifts in church. Then Paul said that if anyone (whether a man or a woman) is publicly speaking in tongues, that person should "keep quiet" if no interpretation comes forth (verse 28). "Keep quiet" is the NIV's translation of the Greek word sigao, which means "to keep silent...hold peace," according to Strong's Greek Dictionary. This is the same Greek word that Paul used in verse 30 when he said that a prophet (whether a man or a woman) should stop speaking when another prophet receives a word from the Lord, and it is also the same Greek word that Paul used when he said that women should "remain silent" (verse 34). So in order for a church meeting to be "orderly," there are times when men and women can exercise their spiritual gifts, and there are times when men and women need to be silent.

Now let's compare verses 34-35 (above) in several different versions of the Bible. In the following Bible translations, the Greek word ekklesia is translated either as "congregations" or as "churches" or as "assemblies," which is fine, but specifically notice that the NIV has the phrase, "As in all the ekklesia of the saints," at the beginning of a new sentence (unlike the other translations below):
"For God is not a God of disorder but of peace. As in all the congregations [ekklesia] of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches [ekklesia]." (1 Corinthians 14:33-34, NIV)

"For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches [ekklesia] of the saints. Let your women keep silence in the churches [ekklesia] ..." (1 Corinthians 14:33-34, KJV)

"for God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches [ekklesia] of the saints. Let the women keep silent in the churches [ekklesia] ..." (1 Corinthians 14:33-34, NASB)

"for God is not a God of tumult, but of peace, as in all the assemblies [ekklesia] of the saints. Your women in the assemblies [ekklesia] let them be silent ..." (1 Corinthians 14:33-34, Young's Literal Translation)

"For God is not of confusion, but of peace, as in all the assemblies [ekklesia] of the saints. Let your women be silent in the assemblies [ekklesia] ..." (1 Corinthians 14:33-34, Literal Translation of the Holy Bible)

"For God is not God of confusion, but of peace, as in all the churches [ekklesia] of the saints. Let your women be silent in the churches [ekklesia]..." (Pocket Interlinear New Testament - literal translation of the Greek text)

"For God is not a God of disorder, but of peace, as He is in all the Churches [ekklesia] of His people. Let married women be silent in the Churches [ekklesia] ..." (1 Corinthians 14:33-34, 1912 Weymouth New Testament)
As we can see, the NIV has the phrase, "As in all the ekklesia of the saints," at the beginning of a new sentence, but the other translations (above) have that phrase at the end of the previous sentence. The difference is significant, because if the NIV is correct then this command for women to be silent would be a universal command for all churches, but if the other translations are correct then this would be a command which was originally written to the Corinthian Christians concerning their assemblies (i.e. their church services). There are several indications that the NIV translation is not as accurate as the other translations (above), as we can see when we compare the NIV version of this passage with Young's Literal Translation:
1 Corinthians 14:33-34 (NIV): "For God is not a God of disorder but of peace. As in all the congregations [ekklesia] of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches [ekklesia]."

1 Corinthians 14:33-34 (Young's Literal Translation): "for God is not a God of tumult, but of peace, as in all the assemblies [ekklesia] of the saints. Your women in the assemblies [ekklesia] let them be silent ..."
Here are several things to notice in the NIV and YLT versions above:

  1. The NIV has translated the Greek word ekklesia in two different ways in this passage (first as "congregations," then as "churches"), which obscures a problem in the NIV interpretation. If the NIV had been more consistent in its translation then it would read something like this:
    "As in all the churches of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches."
    In the NIV's interpretation, Paul used the Greek word ekklesia in a redundant way, because the second mention of "the churches" is unnecessary and awkward. In contrast, the YLT (and the other translations above) have the Greek word ekklesia in two different sentences, which is neither awkward nor redundant.
  2. The NIV says, "women should remain silent," which makes it sound as if Paul was speaking to all women. However, the word "women" comes from the Greek word gune, which can mean "women" or "wives," and the only way to tell which meaning is correct is by the context. For example, notice that we can easily understand the various meanings of the word "fired" in the following statement because of the context:
    "Yesterday at church I was all fired up for the Lord, but today I was feeling bad because I fired one of my employees. On the way home from work I had a scare when a car back-fired, because it sounded like someone had fired a gun. But this evening I fired up my grill and had a great dinner with my family, and I'm feeling much better."
    So in any language, the context is important when we are trying to understand the meanings of words. Notice that even in the NIV, the context indicates that "wives" is the proper meaning of the Greek word gune in the verse which we are examining:
    1 Corinthians 14:34: "women [gune] should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says."
    1 Corinthians 14:35: "If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman [gune] to speak in the church."
    In the context here, notice the reference to women being in "submission." The Greek word for "submission" is the specific word which is used for a wife being in submission to her husband, and we will see this same Greek word several more times in similar passages concerning husbands and wives. In this same context, we see Paul specifically saying that the gune ("wives" or "women") should ask questions of their own husbands at home. Therefore, the context indicates that gune means "wives" here, not "women" in general.

    Based on the context, Paul was not saying that all women in all churches must be silent, but rather he was speaking specifically to married women who were creating disturbances (as we will see in several Bible commentaries in a moment).
  3. Another indication that Paul was using the word gune as "wives" in 1 Corinthians 14:34 is because the Greek text actually says, "Let your women be silent" (for example, see "Young's Literal Translation" and "Literal Translation of the Holy Bible," above). Unfortunately, the NIV has "women should remain silent" in this verse, which is not entirely accurate because the NIV has left out the word "your" (i.e. "your women").

    But who are "your women"? Again, the word for "women" comes from the Greek word gune, which means "woman" or "wife." In most situations it would not be proper for a man to speak in such an authoritative way to someone else's wife, because she is not "his woman" (his wife). Paul was telling the men in Corinth to speak to their own wives about being quiet in church (or "holding their peace," as we saw above).
So when we examine the context of verses 34-35 (above), it shows that the NIV does not have the best translation of those verses. Rather than talking about all women in all churches, as the NIV implies, Paul was specifically talking about the married women in Corinth.

We can see this even more clearly by noticing the larger context in 1 Corinthians 14:26-40 (above). Bible scholars often point out that Paul was writing to the Corinthian Christians in order to bring correction to their disorderly church meetings, as 1 Corinthians 14:26-40 (above) describes. In the context of Paul's correction concerning the disorderly church meetings in Corinth, Paul said that wives should stop creating disturbances during the service. Scholars have pointed out that in the first century it was rare for a woman to be educated (as we'll see in a moment), and it has been suggested that men and women might have been segregated on opposite sides of the room during church meetings in the first century. Therefore, if married women had questions about what the preacher or teacher was saying, and especially if they needed to raise their voices in order to ask their husbands across the room, then this would create a disorderly atmosphere in the service. Paul was trying to correct such disorderliness in the Corinthian church (for example by saying that wives should ask questions of their husbands at home), and he said that such disorderly behavior was "shameful."

With all of that in mind, here are some things that Bible commentators have written:
"Let the women keep silence in the churches. ...It may be that even this prohibition was due to the circumstances that existed in Ephesus, where Timothy was, and in Corinth, and would not apply everywhere. If so, it applies wherever similar circumstances exist, but not elsewhere. Both were Greek churches. Among the Greeks public women were disreputable. For a woman to speak in public would cause the remark that she was shameless. Virtuous women were secluded. Hence it would be a shame for women to speak in the church assembly. It is noteworthy that there is no hint of such a prohibition to any churches except Grecian. Wherever it would be shameful, women ought not to speak." (People's New Testament commentary Offsite Link, verses 34-35, emphasis added)

"But - to be under obedience, as also saith the law - This is a reference to Gen_3:16 : Thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee. From this it is evident that it was the disorderly and disobedient that the apostle had in view; and not any of those on whom God had poured out his Spirit." (Clarke, from http://www.e-sword.net/commentaries.html Offsite Link, 1 Corinthians 14:34, emphasis added)

"Two indications strongly suggest that married women were in view in this passage. The first is the word submission (hypotassesthosan, v.34). When it occurs elsewhere in the New Testament with specific reference to a woman, it always refers to a married woman who was to be subject to her husband (Eph. 5:22; Col. 3:18; Titus 2:5; 1 Peter 3:1, 5).
      The second indication is the phrase their own husbands (1 Cor. 14:35), whom the inquisitive women were to consult if they had questions. This would obviously be a difficult assignment for single women (e.g., 7:34) or those with unbelieving husbands (e.g., 7:13).
      First Timothy 2:11-15, which enjoins women to be quiet in worship, is frequently cited as a parallel to this passage. But there too, married women were probably in view, as verse 15 would not apply to an unmarried woman. Also, when Eve is named in the Old Testament, it is as Adam's wife ...
      ... Such silence would express their subordinate (but not inferior) relationship to their husbands. This contrasts with a disturbance caused by their talking to their husbands during the service." (The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Walvoord and Zuck, Dallas Theological Seminary, p.541, emphasis added)
For all of these reasons, the weight of evidence shows that Paul was not commanding all women to be silent in church, but instead he was bringing correction to the church in Corinth for their disorderly meetings. One type of disorderliness was brought about by married women who were creating disturbances by trying to ask questions of their husbands during the service.

After saying that wives should ask these questions of their husbands at home, the next thing Paul said was that it is disgraceful for a wife to "speak" in church:
1 Corinthians 14:35: "If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman ["a wife"] to speak in the church."
If we simply look on the surface and take this verse at face value, we might be tempted to say that women must not speak at all in church. But we have already seen that women are allowed to speak in church, so we must look deeper in order to properly understand this verse. When we recognize that there are several different Greek words (with different shades of meaning) which can be translated into English as "speak," it helps us discover the most likely meaning of this verse. For example, here is what one Greek dictionary of the New Testament says:
"Paul says that it is shameful or vile for wives to speak in church and cause confusion. The word for "speak" is lalein, the inf. of laleo (2980) which in the context of 1 Cor. 14 means to speak in such a way as to cause confusion, in contrast to lego (3004) which means to speak intelligently and understandably. ... If a wife has a question which she needs to have clarified, she must not ask in church and embarrass her husband, but she should ask her husband at home. It should be borne in mind that at the time of Paul's injunction, it was rare for a woman to be educated. Neither should a wife speak in church in such a way as to usurp authority (authenteo [831]) over her husband (1 Tim. 2:11, 12)." (The Complete Word Study Dictionary of the New Testament, Spiros Zodhiates, p.101, emphasis added)
So when Paul said that it is disgraceful for wives to "speak" in church, the Greek word that he used specifically means, "to speak in such a way as to cause confusion." Paul was concerned about orderliness and peace in church meetings, he was not commanding wives to be totally silent in church. Therefore, if a husband and wife are sitting together in a modern church service, and if the husband and wife occasionally whisper to each other, then they are not violating Paul's command because they are not speaking in such a way as to cause disturbances or disorderliness in the service.


The Outward Appearance
1 Timothy 2:8: "I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing."
1 Timothy 2:9: "I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes,"
1 Timothy 2:10: "but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God."
Notice that Paul was addressing all men everywhere (verse 8, above), which shows that he was not limiting these instructions to a specific local situation. Then Paul began verse 9 with the Greek word hosautos, which means "likewise" (see Strong's Greek Dictionary). For example, here is how verse 9 is translated in other versions of the Bible:
1 Timothy 2:9 (KJV): "In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array;"

1 Timothy 2:9 (Young's Literal Translation): "in like manner also the women, in becoming apparel, with modesty and sobriety to adorn themselves, not in braided hair, or gold, or pearls, or garments of great price,"

1 Timothy 2:9 (NASB): "Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments,"
So Paul addressed all men "everywhere" and then he addressed women "likewise," which seems to indicate that his remarks are general principles for the entire Church body. In this passage, Paul said that "women who profess to worship God" should focus on their outward good deeds above their outward appearance, as this Bible commentary describes:
"The context requires that we understand these directions as to women, in relation to their deportment in public worship, though the rules will hold good on other occasions also.
in modest apparel--"in seemly guise" [ELLICOTT]. The adjective means properly. orderly, decorous, becoming; the noun in secular writings means conduct, bearing. But here "apparel." Women are apt to love fine dress; and at Ephesus the riches of some (1 Timothy 6:17) would lead them to dress luxuriously. The Greek in Titus 2:3 is a more general term meaning "deportment." ...
braided hair--literally, "plaits," that is, plaited hair: probably with the "gold and pearls" intertwined (1 Peter 3:3). Such gaud is characteristic of the spiritual harlot (Revelation 17:4)." (Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary Offsite Link, verses 9-10, emphasis added)
Paul does not seem to be saying that women cannot dress nicely or that they cannot accessorize, but rather that it would be wrong to overdo it by crossing the line into "luxuriousness" or "gaudiness," so to speak, which would be characteristic of a "spiritual harlot" (as the commentary above puts it). In other words, it's a matter of where our focus is being placed. Are we trying to call attention to our bodies (or our wealth) by the way we dress, which demonstrates pride, or are we focusing more on our inward beauty and outward good deeds to make us attractive?

Notice that the apostle Peter echoed Paul's instructions:
1 Peter 3:1: "Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives,"
1 Peter 3:2: "when they see the purity and reverence of your lives."
1 Peter 3:3: "Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes."
1 Peter 3:4: "Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight."
Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament says that:
"Peter is not forbidding the wearing of clothes and ornaments by women, but the display of finery by contrast." (Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament Offsite Link)
Again, we should focus more on outward good deeds (which come from our inward beauty) to make us attractive rather than trying to call attention to our bodies or our wealth by the way that we dress.


Are Women Allowed to Be Deacons?
1 Timothy 3:8: "Deacons [diakonos], likewise, are to be men [the word "men" is not in the original Greek here] worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain."
1 Timothy 3:9: "They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience."
1 Timothy 3:10: "They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons."
In verse 8 (above), the NIV implies that deacons must be men. However, the Greek word for "men" does not appear in this verse in the Greek texts. For example, here's how this verse is translated in other versions of the Bible:
"Likewise must the deacons be grave, not doubletongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre;" (1 Timothy 3:8, KJV)

"Deacons in like manner must be grave, not double-tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre;" (1 Timothy 3:8, American Standard Version)

"Ministrants--in like manner grave, not double-tongued, not given to much wine, not given to filthy lucre," (1 Timothy 3:8, Young's Literal Translation)

"Likewise, deacons are to be reverent, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy of ill gain," (1 Timothy 3:8, Literal Translation of the Holy Bible)
Now, in verse 8 (above), notice that the word "deacon" comes from the Greek word diakonos, which means "deacon, minister, servant" (see Strong's Greek Dictionary). Here are some ways that this Greek word is used in the New Testament:
John 2:9: "and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants [diakonos] who had drawn the water knew."

Romans 13:3: "For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you."
Romans 13:4: "For he is God's servant [diakonos] to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant [diakonos], an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer."

Romans 15:8: "For I tell you that Christ has become a servant [diakonos] of the Jews on behalf of God's truth, to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs"

1 Corinthians 3:5: "What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants [diakonos], through whom you came to believe--as the Lord has assigned to each his task."

2 Corinthians 11:14: "And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light."
2 Corinthians 11:15: "It is not surprising, then, if his servants [diakonos] masquerade as servants [diakonos] of righteousness."
The above passages demonstrate that household servants are "diakonos," rulers are "diakonos," Jesus is a "diakonos," Paul and Apollos were "diakonos," servants of the devil are "diakonos," and so on. This Greek word is most often used in the sense of "servant," and in fact the function of a "deacon" (diakonos) is to serve in the local church. Notice that the above passages are not referring to the "office" of a deacon because they are not using the word diakonos in the context of the local church.

Now let's compare what Paul said about "deacons" in 1 Timothy 3:8-9 and about "women" or "wives" in 1 Timothy 3:11:
1 Timothy 3:8 (KJV): "Likewise must the deacons be grave, not doubletongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre;"
1 Timothy 3:9 (KJV): "Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience."
1 Timothy 3:10 (KJV): "And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless."
1 Timothy 3:11 (KJV): "Even so must their wives [gune] be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things."
In verse 11 (above), some translations of the Bible use the expression "their wives." However, the word "their" does not appear in verse 11 in the Greek texts, which is why "their" is in italics in the KJV (above). When Bible translators add the word "their" (like in the KJV above), it gives the impression that verse 11 is referring to the "wives" of deacons. Verse 11 is referring to "women," and the Greek word for "women" here (a form of the Greek word gune) can have the meaning of "wives" if it's appropriate to the context. In Paul's discussion of deacons, there is nothing in the context which directly refers to husbands or wives or marriage, so it's possible that we should interpret gune as "women" rather than as "wives" in verse 11. But who are these women? Some people believe that they are the wives of the deacons, but again, the context does not directly lead to that conclusion. Another possibility is that they are female deacons ("deaconesses"). For example, notice that the list of qualifications in verse 8 (above) closely matches the list of qualifications in verse 11 (above), which is reasonable if Paul was saying, "Men serving as deacons must have these qualifications [verse 8], and women serving as deacons must be likewise qualified [verse 11]." Consider that if we say that only men can be deacons, then we would have to interpret verse 11 as meaning that a deacon must have a wife who is also qualified to be a deacon (even though she can't actually serve as a deacon) because of the similarity of qualifications in verse 8 and verse 11. But is this really what Paul intended? As we will see later, there is never any requirement that an apostle must have a wife who fits the qualifications for an apostle, nor is there ever any requirement that a pastor must have a wife who fits the qualifications for a pastor, nor is there ever any requirement that an elder must have a wife who fits the qualifications for an elder. It would be unusual if there is a requirement that a deacon must have a wife who fits the qualifications for a deacon, because this does not fit any pattern that we see for all of the other offices in the Church.

For all of the above reasons, a number of Bible commentaries argue that Paul was referring to "deaconesses" in verse 11, as in the following examples:
"11 - their wives--rather, "the women," that is, the deaconesses. For there is no reason that special rules should be laid down as to the wives of the deacons, and not also as to the wives of the bishops or overseers. Moreover, if the wives of the deacons were meant, there seems no reason for the omission of "their" (not in the Greek). Also the Greek for "even so" (the same as for "likewise," 1 Timothy 3:8, and "in like manner," 1 Timothy 2:9), denotes a transition to another class of persons. Further, there were doubtless deaconesses at Ephesus, such as Phoebe was at Cenchrea (Romans 16:1, "servant," Greek, "deaconess"), yet no mention is made of them in this Epistle if not here; whereas, supposing them to be meant here, the third chapter embraces in due proportion all the persons in the service of the Church. Naturally after specifying the qualifications of the deacon, Paul passes to those of the kindred office, the deaconess. "Grave" occurs in the case of both. "Not slanderers" here, answers to "not double-tongued" in the deacons; so "not false accusers" (Titus 2:3). "Sober" here answers to "not given to much wine," in the case of the deacons (1 Timothy 3:8). Thus it appears he requires the same qualifications in female deacons as in deacons, only with such modifications as the difference of sex suggested. PLINY, in his celebrated letter to Trajan, calls them "female ministers."" (Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary Offsite Link, verse 11, emphasis added)

"Apparently "women as deacons" (Romans 16:1 about Phoebe) and not women in general or just "wives of deacons." See Pliny (Ep. X. 97) ministrae." (Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament Offsite Link, emphasis added)

"if the apostle had those termed deaconesses in his eye, which is quite possible, the words are peculiarly suitable to them. That there was such an order in the apostolic and primitive Church, and that they were appointed to their office by the imposition of hands, has already been noticed on Rom_16:1 (note). Possibly, therefore, the apostle may have had this order of deaconesses in view, to whom it was as necessary to give counsels and cautions as to the deacons themselves; and to prescribe their qualifications, lest improper persons should insinuate themselves into that office." (Clarke, from http://www.e-sword.net/commentaries.html Offsite Link, 1 Timothy 3:11, emphasis added)
So according to various Bible commentaries, Paul was probably referring to female deacons in 1 Timothy 3:11 (above). In fact, two of the above commentaries point out that Pliny (Pliny the Younger, governor of Pontus/Bithynia from 111 A.D. to 113 A.D.) referred to "female ministers" in a letter to the emperor Trajan (the word "minister" means "servant," as in the Strong's definition for diakonos above). Here are some translations of a portion of Pliny's letter to Trajan:
"Accordingly, I judged it all the more necessary to find out what the truth was by torturing two female slaves who were called deaconesses." (University of Pennsylvania Offsite Link, emphasis added)

"Therefore I placed two women, called "deaconesses," under torture" (Fordham University Offsite Link, emphasis added)

"I thought at this point that it was necessary to get information from two slave women, whom they call Deaconesses (ministrae) about the actual truth, by means of torture." (Middlebury College Offsite Link, emphasis added)

"These examinations made me think it necessary to inquire by torments what the truth was; which I did of two servant maids, who were called Deaconesses" (PBS Offsite Link, emphasis added)
So according to these and other translators, the governor Pliny wrote to the emperor Trajan concerning some "deaconesses" whom he had questioned about Christianity. If that is the correct interpretation then perhaps there were female deacons back then.

Now, imagine that I travel to your town, and I visit your church. Imagine that I am carrying some words of introduction written by my pastor, saying that I am a deacon of the church in my town. What picture does that bring up in your mind? It makes you think of me functioning in the office of a deacon (diakonos) in my church, right? With that in mind, take a look at the following passage:
Romans 16:1: "I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a diakonos of the church in Cenchrea."
Romans 16:2: "I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been a great help to many people, including me."
In the above passage, a lady named Phoebe was traveling to Rome, and the apostle Paul had written some words of introduction for her, saying that she was a diakonos of the church in Cenchrea. This is exactly the same as the illustration I described a moment ago in which I traveled to your town with some words of introduction from my pastor. Therefore, if my illustration caused you to picture me functioning in the office of a deacon at my church, then it is reasonable to picture Phoebe functioning in the office of a deacon at her church (based on the passage above). Some people might argue that Phoebe was simply a "servant," and that she did not hold the "office" of a deacon. However, the above passage does not make such a distinction, and in fact the essential definition of the office of a deacon is that a person is a "diakonos" in the local church (as we saw earlier). The above passage specifically describes Phoebe in this way.

Notice that Paul gave her a strong recommendation, which indicates that she was faithful and effective in her calling. Paul specifically pointed out that Phoebe was a diakonos in her home church, for the purpose of informing the Roman Christians of her status at her church. Paul did not simply refer to Phoebe as a "servant," but instead he called her "a servant of the church," which is specifically the definition of the office of deacon. In addition, notice that in Romans 16:2 (above) Paul asked the Roman Christians to give Phoebe any help that she might need, and he said that she had been a great help to many people (including Paul himself). This is perhaps a further indication of her status as a committed and hard-working deaconess at her home church.

Based on what we have seen so far, the weight of evidence leans heavily towards the view that women are allowed to hold the office of a deacon. However, it's important to try to be thorough when we study the Bible, and here is a passage which casts doubt on this view:
1 Timothy 3:12: "A deacon [diakonos] must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and his household well."
This is interesting, because Paul seems to have commended Phoebe as a faithful and committed deaconess of her church, yet in the above passage Paul stated that deacons must be married men who manage their children well. So can women be deacons, or can't they?

Well, let's consider some questions for a moment. Does your church (or other churches that you know) have any deacons who are unmarried? If so, then those churches are not interpreting 1 Timothy 3:12 (above) in its most literal sense. Does your church (or other churches that you know) have any deacons who are childless? If so, then those churches are not interpreting 1 Timothy 3:12 (above) in its most literal sense. Does your church (or other churches that you know) have any deacons who don't manage their children very well (perhaps their children are "wild" or they don't obey very well or they are hard to handle, etc.)? If so, then those churches are not interpreting 1 Timothy 3:12 (above) in its most literal sense.

So the question is, how literally are we supposed to take 1 Timothy 3:12 (above)? If Paul intended for his statement to be taken completely literally then that's fine, it just means that Phoebe was not a deaconess and that deacons must all be married men who manage their children and households well.

But is it possible that Paul did not actually intend for his statement in 1 Timothy 3:12 (above) to be taken in its most literal sense? Consider that Paul made many male-oriented statements such as the following, which we don't interpret in their most literal sense:
Romans 8:14: "because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God."

Romans 8:19: "The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed."

Romans 8:23: "Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies."

Romans 9:3: "For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race,"
Romans 9:4: "the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises."

Galatians 3:26: "You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus"

Galatians 4:5: "to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons."

Galatians 4:6: "Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father.""

Galatians 4:7: "So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir."

Ephesians 1:5: "he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will--"

1 Thessalonians 5:4: "But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief."

1 Thessalonians 5:5: "You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness."
In the above passages, notice that Paul had a tendency to speak in the masculine form by referring to "sons" and "brothers," and notice that we mentally interpret these statements as if Paul had said, "sons and daughters" and "brothers and sisters." In the majority of male-oriented statements that Paul made, we don't take them completely literally. In fact, in English we tend to speak in the masculine form as well, without meaning it completely literally. For example, imagine that you hear someone say, "If a Christian commits a sin then he should repent and confess his sin and God will forgive him." When we hear statements like this, we mentally interpret such statements as if they are referring to men and women, just as we mentally interpret Paul's statements above as if they are referring to men and women.

Since Paul had a tendency to speak in the masculine form without intending for it to be taken completely literally, then perhaps this is what he was doing when he said that a diakonos must be the husband of one wife and must manage his children and his household well (1 Timothy 3:12). He might simply have meant something like, "If a deacon is married, then he or she must be a one-woman man or a one-man woman, and if he or she has kids then he or she must be able to manage his or her children and his or her household well." Notice how awkward it is when we try to be as specific as possible in such a statement, which is why we rarely use "he or she" and "his or her" in English. Instead, we tend to use "he" and "him" even when we are referring to men and women in general.

What it boils down to is that if a church or denomination takes 1 Timothy 3:12 in its most literal sense then we would expect their deacons to all be married men who manage their children and their households well. But if a church or denomination takes 1 Timothy 3:12 as being simply a masculine form of speech (similar to many other male-oriented statements that Paul made), then they might have female deacons.

One interesting fact is that the apostle Paul was unmarried and therefore probably childless (1 Corinthians 7:7-8). If his statement in 1 Timothy 3:12 was meant in its most literal sense then it would mean that the apostle Paul, who referred to himself as a diakonos in 1 Corinthians 3:5 and who wrote virtually half of the New Testament, was not qualified to function as a deacon in a local church! This hardly seems to make any sense. Granted Paul was called to be an apostle and not a deacon, but it seems beyond reason that he would be unfit to serve as a deacon in a local church. For example, Paul frequently described himself as a servant, and he often described the ways that he served the saints (see Romans 1:1, 9, 7:6, 15:8, 17, 25, 31, 1 Corinthians 3:5, 4:1, 2 Corinthians 4:5, 6:4, 11:8, 13:4, Galatians 1:10, Ephesians 3:7, Philippians 1:1, Colossians 1:23, 25, 2 Timothy 1:3, Titus 1:1). Since Paul had a servant's heart and served the believers in every way possible, is it reasonable to believe that he was unfit to be a servant in a local church (i.e. a deacon) simply because he was not married? Yet this is what we must assume if we take 1 Timothy 3:12 in its most literal sense.

For all of the above reasons, the weight of evidence seems to lean toward the view that women can serve as deacons in the local church.


Are Women Allowed to Be Elders?
Acts 20:17: "From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church."
Acts 20:18: "When they arrived, he said to them: ...
Acts 20:28: "Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood."

1 Timothy 5:17: "The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching."

1 Peter 5:1: "To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ's sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed:"
1 Peter 5:2: "Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, serving as overseers--not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve;"
1 Peter 5:3: "not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock."
According to the above passages, elders were "overseers" and "shepherds" of the church, and they directed the affairs of the church, and some of them were the preachers and teachers in the church.

Here are some of Paul's qualifications for an elder ("overseer"):
1 Timothy 3:1: "Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task."
1 Timothy 3:2: "Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,"
1 Timothy 3:3: "not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money."
1 Timothy 3:4: "He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect."
1 Timothy 3:5: "(If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God's church?)"
1 Timothy 3:6: "He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil."
1 Timothy 3:7: "He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil's trap."
In the above passage, Paul described some qualifications for an "overseer" (which comes from the Greek word episkopos, meaning "bishop, overseer," according to Strong's Greek Dictionary). Notice that Paul gave similar instructions to Titus, using the terms "elder" (presbuteros) and "overseer" (episkopos) interchangeably:
Titus 1:4: "To Titus, my true son in our common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior."
Titus 1:5: "The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you."
Titus 1:6: "An elder must be blameless, the husband of but one wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient."
Titus 1:7: "Since an overseer is entrusted with God's work, he must be blameless--not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain."
Titus 1:8: "Rather he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined."
Titus 1:9: "He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it."
A number of Bible commentaries point out that the words "elder," "bishop," and "overseer" all refer to the same office. For example:
"In 1 Tim. 3:2 and Titus 1:5, 7, an elder denotes the dignity of the office, and episkopos, bishop or overseer, denotes its authority and duties (cf. 1 Pet. 2:25; 5:1, 2, 4)." (The Complete Word Study Dictionary of the New Testament, Spiros Zodhiates, p.635, emphasis added)

"Elders or presbyters, and bishops were only different designations for the same office. This arrangement was not changed until after the close of the first century and the death of the last of the apostles. Of these statements, admitted by the candid learned even of episcopal bodies, the following proofs may be submitted: (1) Paul (Acts 20:17) summons the "elders" of the church at Ephesus, and in verse 28 calls them "bishops." (2) In the church of Philippi the "bishops and deacons" are named as the officers (Phil. 1:1). (3) Paul in this Epistle names bishops and deacons as the officers (chapter 2), but in 5:17-22, names "elders" as officers intrusted with the same duties already named as those of the bishops. (4) In the Epistle to Titus, Paul commands (1:5) to "ordain elders in every city," but in turn describing the qualifications of an elder he calls him a bishop (1:7). (5) Peter (1 Peter 5:1, 2) addresses "elders" and commands them to exercise the office of "bishops" over the flock. The Greek word as well as the word bishop, etymologically means to act as an overseer, or to take the oversight. (6) I might add that Clement of Rome, who wrote to Corinthians about the beginning of the second century, uses the terms interchangeably." (People's New Testament commentary Offsite Link, verse 1, emphasis added)

"The term overseer (episkopos), sometimes translated "bishop," is only one of several words used in the New Testament to describe church leaders. "Elders" (presbyteroi) is by far the most common. Other terms such as "rulers" (proistamenoi, Rom. 12:8; 1 Thes. 5:12), "leaders" (hegoumenois, Heb. 13:17) and "pastors" (poimenas, Eph. 4:11; cf. also Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2) are also used. Though each of these terms may describe a different facet of leadership, they all seem to be used interchangeably in the New Testament to designate the same office. This office is different from that of deacons" (The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Walvoord and Zuck, Dallas Theological Seminary, p.736, emphasis added)
So the words "elder," "bishop," and "overseer" all refer to the same office. In addition, some of the elders were the preachers and teachers in their churches, as the following passage describes:
1 Timothy 5:17: "The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching."
Here are some things that Bible commentaries say about this verse:
"Especially they who labor in the word and doctrine. The class we call preachers, or pastors." (People's New Testament commentary Offsite Link, verse 17, emphasis added)

"Especially they who labour in word and doctrine - In preaching and instructing the people. From this it is clear that, while there were "elders" who labored "in the word and doctrine," that is, in preaching, there were also those who did not labor "in the word and doctrine," but who were nevertheless appointed to rule in the church. Whether, however, they were regarded as a separate and distinct class of officers, does not appear from this passage. It may have been that there was a bench of elders to whom the general management of the church was confided, and that a part of them were engaged in preaching; a part may have performed the office of "teachers" (see the Rom_12:7 note; 1Co_12:28 note), and a part may have been employed in managing other concerns of the church, and yet all were regarded as the προεστωτες πρεσβύτεροι proestotes presbuteroi - or "elders presiding over the church."" (Barnes, from http://www.e-sword.net/commentaries.html Offsite Link, 1 Timothy 5:17, emphasis added)

"Especially they who labor in the word and doctrine - Those who not only preach publicly, but instruct privately, catechize, etc." (Clarke, from http://www.e-sword.net/commentaries.html Offsite Link, 1 Timothy 5:17, emphasis added)
Again, the terms "elder," "bishop," and "overseer" all refer to the same office, and among the elders there were some who were the preachers (or pastors) and teachers.

In order to determine whether or not women can be elders, let's take a look at most of the qualifications which Paul listed in the passages above:
  • must be above reproach (blameless)
  • temperate
  • self-controlled (disciplined)
  • respectable (upright, holy)
  • hospitable
  • able to teach (must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it)
  • not given to drunkenness
  • not violent but gentle
  • not quarrelsome (not overbearing or quick-tempered)
  • not a lover of money (and not pursuing dishonest gain)
  • must not be a recent convert
  • must have a good reputation with outsiders
  • one who loves what is good
Notice that all of the above qualifications can apply to men and women equally. Now let's look at the remaining qualification which Paul listed:
  • the husband of but one wife, whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient, who manages his own family well, and whose children obey him with proper respect
This is essentially the same as one of the qualifications which Paul described for deacons. Notice that if we interpret Paul's statement that "a deacon must be the husband of one woman" as being a general statement that can apply both to men and women (which was simply written in the masculine form), then we must also interpret, "an elder must be the husband of one woman," as being a general statement that can apply to men and women as well. No matter what our personal views happen to be, it is important not to be inconsistent when we study the Bible.

If a church believes that the phrase, "husband of one woman," must be taken literally, then we would not expect any of their elders to be women. However, if a church believes that "husband of one woman" is a general statement which was simply written in the masculine form, does this mean that some of their elders can be women? Not necessarily. We still need to look at the weight of evidence in the New Testament concerning elders.

For example, when we studied about deacons we saw several reasons why there might have been female deacons in the first and second centuries. Let's see if those reasons apply to elders as well:

  1. We saw that in 1 Timothy 3:8, Paul listed some qualifications for deacons, and then in verse 11 he listed a similar set of qualifications for "women." Since these qualifications for women are listed in the context of the office of a deacon, a number of Bible commentaries say that verse 11 is referring to deaconesses.

    However, in the qualifications for an elder there are no similar qualifications given for women.
  2. We saw that a lady named Phoebe was commended by Paul as being a diakonos in her church, which is essentially the definition of the office of a deacon. Phoebe appears to be an example of a female deacon.

    However, there are no examples of any female elders in the New Testament.
  3. According to Bible commentaries and historians, the second-century governor Pliny wrote to the emperor Trajan concerning female deacons.

    However, there do not appear to be any early writings concerning female elders.
What it boils down to is that there is no clear evidence that women were ever allowed to serve as elders in the local church. Most of us can probably think of Godly Christian women who would make good elders, and I would like to believe that women can hold the office of an elder, but where is the Scriptural evidence to support that? If God allows women to be elders in the church, He didn't say anything about it anywhere in the New Testament!

Sometimes people will point out that the word presbutis (the feminine form of the Greek word for "elder") occurs in Titus 2:3, and they argue that this is an example of female elders in the New Testament. However, if we look at that word in context then it becomes clear that it has nothing to do with the office of an elder:
Titus 2:3: "Likewise, teach the older women [presbutis] to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good."
Titus 2:4: "Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children"
The above passage uses the feminine form of the Greek word for "elder," but it is simply speaking of "elder women" as compared to "younger women." It has nothing to do with the office of an elder.

Occasionally I receive emails from people who argue that women are just as capable as men to hold the office of an elder (or pastor, etc.), and I completely agree! Throughout my 20-year secular career most of my bosses have been women, and I have had a good relationship with all of them, and they all did a great job. Similarly, I have known many Christian women who seem to have great leadership skills, and who know the Bible very well, and who have a strong relationship with the Lord. However, the argument that "women are just as capable as men" misses the point. The issue is not about men's and women's capabilities, the issue is about men's and women's God-given roles. If God does not have a problem with women being elders, then we should not have a problem with it either. Similarly, if God has not made that role available to women, then we should accept His decision.

Now, when Paul said that an elder must be "the husband of but one wife" (1 Timothy 3:2, above), what exactly did he mean? The literal Greek in that verse is "aner of one gune," which can mean either "husband of one wife" or "man of one woman" (see Strong's Greek Dictionary, for example). This means that an elder must only be married to one person (which excludes polygamy), and it also means that an elder cannot be an adulterer. Notice that Paul did not specifically say anything here about an elder being divorced or widowed. Some people assume that Paul meant to exclude divorced or widowed people from being elders, but is that really a valid assumption? Consider that if an unsaved man gets divorced, and then later he receives salvation, then all of his previous sins are forgiven. At that moment he stands before God as a person who has done nothing wrong (because he has received the righteousness of Christ). Similarly, a Christian man might be married to an unsaved or adulterous wife who decides to divorce him, through no fault of his own. In such a case, the man is divorced for Scriptural reasons (see for example Divorce and Remarriage in the Church Offsite Link). In addition, it is not a sin for a Christian man to be a widower (assuming that he didn't kill his wife, of course). In these scenarios the man has done nothing wrong, and we have no basis for punishing a person who has done nothing wrong. As the above scenarios demonstrate, a married person (male or female) who has not sinned can end up divorced or widowed. Since that person has done nothing wrong then he or she would be "above reproach" in those situations, which is the first qualification that Paul listed in 1 Timothy 3:2 (above). For this reason, it seems unreasonable to have a problem with an elder or a pastor or a deacon being divorced or widowed if he or she has not done anything wrong. In fact, even if a person has done something wrong in the past, if we see evidence of genuine repentance then there should be room for forgiveness and restoration.


Are Women Allowed to Be Pastors?

Before we try to answer the question of whether or not women can be pastors, let's first take a look at what the New Testament says about pastors.

In the NIV (and in other translations), the word "pastor" only occurs in this verse:
Ephesians 4:11: "It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers"
The word "pastors" in verse 11 (above) is translated from the Greek word poimen, and here is what this Greek word means:
"shepherd, pastor." (Strong's Greek Dictionary)

"1) a herdsman, especially a shepherd
1a) in the parable, he to whose care and control others have committed themselves, and whose precepts they follow
2) metaphorically
2a) the presiding officer, manager, director, of any assembly: so of Christ the Head of the church
2a1) of the overseers of the Christian assemblies
2a2) of kings and princes" (Thayer's Greek Dictionary)

"Shepherd, one who generally cares for flocks. ... The spiritual guide of a particular church (Eph. 4:11)" (The Complete Word Study Dictionary of the New Testament, Spiros Zodhiates, p.1191)
So the Greek word which is translated as "pastor" really means "shepherd." Here is every place in the New Testament where this Greek word is used:
Matthew 9:36: "When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd [poimen]."

Matthew 25:32: "All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd [poimen] separates the sheep from the goats."

Matthew 26:31: "Then Jesus told them, "This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: "'I will strike the shepherd [poimen], and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.'"

Mark 6:34: "When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd [poimen]. So he began teaching them many things."

Mark 14:27: ""You will all fall away," Jesus told them, "for it is written: "'I will strike the shepherd [poimen], and the sheep will be scattered.'"

Luke 2:8: "And there were shepherds [poimen] living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night."

Luke 2:15: "When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds [poimen] said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.""

Luke 2:18: "and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds [poimen] said to them."

Luke 2:20: "The shepherds [poimen] returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told."

John 10:2: "The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd [poimen] of his sheep."

John 10:11: ""I am the good shepherd [poimen]. The good shepherd [poimen] lays down his life for the sheep."
John 10:12: "The hired hand is not the shepherd [poimen] who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it."
John 10:13: "The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep."
John 10:14: ""I am the good shepherd [poimen]; I know my sheep and my sheep know me--"

John 10:16: "I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd [poimen]."

Ephesians 4:11: "It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors [poimen] and teachers"

Hebrews 13:20: "May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd [poimen] of the sheep,"

1 Peter 2:25: "For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd [poimen] and Overseer of your souls."
We can see that the Greek word poimen is always translated as "shepherd" in the NIV (and in other versions of the Bible), with the single exception of Ephesians 4:11 ("pastors"). The word "pastor" does not appear anywhere else in the New Testament.

Notice that in modern times we refer to certain people as "pastors," even though the New Testament uses the Greek word for "shepherds." In the following passages we can see that elders were "shepherds of the church," and elders were "overseers" of the church, and elders "directed the affairs of the church," and there were elders "whose work [was] preaching and teaching." In other words, all of these duties that we normally associate as being a pastor's duties were in reality done by elders. As you read the following passages, notice the governmental or church offices which are described in the New Testament: Apostles, elders, and deacons. Where are the pastors? Every time you see the word "elders" or "overseers" in the following passages, ask yourself the question, "Why not pastors?"
Acts 11:29: "The disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea."
Acts 11:30: "This they did, sending their gift to the elders [Why not pastors?] by Barnabas and Saul."

Acts 14:23: "Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church [Why not pastors?] and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust."

Acts 15:5: "Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, "The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses.""
Acts 15:6: "The apostles and elders met to consider this question [Why not pastors?]."

Acts 20:17: "From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church [Why not pastors?]."
Acts 20:18: "When they arrived, he said to them: "You know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I came into the province of Asia." ...
Acts 20:28: "Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood."

Acts 21:18: "The next day Paul and the rest of us went to see James, and all the elders were present [Why not pastors?]."

Philippians 1:1: "Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons [Why not pastors?]:"

1 Timothy 3:1: "Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task [Why not a pastor?]."

1 Timothy 3:8: "Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain."

1 Timothy 4:14: "Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you [Why not pastors?]."

1 Timothy 5:17: "The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching [Why not pastors?]."
1 Timothy 5:18: "For the Scripture says, "Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain," and "The worker deserves his wages.""
1 Timothy 5:19: "Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses [Why not a pastor?]."

Titus 1:5: "The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you [Why not pastors?]."

James 5:14: "Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church [Why not pastors?] to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord."

1 Peter 5:1: "To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder [Why not pastors?], a witness of Christ's sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed:"
1 Peter 5:2: "Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, serving as overseers [Why not pastors?] --not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve;"
We saw earlier that the English word "pastor" only occurs in Ephesians 4:11, and it is translated from a Greek word which is always translated as "shepherd" in all of the other occurrences in the New Testament. Notice in the above passages that the governmental or church offices are apostles, elders, and deacons, and notice that the elders were "shepherds of the church," and elders were "overseers" of the church, and elders "directed the affairs of the church," and there were elders "whose work [was] preaching and teaching." Where is the office of a pastor?

Consider that our modern church hierarchy often has a senior pastor at the top (who is the visible or physical head of that church and who does most of the preaching), perhaps followed by some associate pastors, then perhaps a board of elders, then perhaps a board of deacons. However, there is a growing number of people who feel that our modern form of church does not conform to the church structure that we see in the New Testament, and this has led many people to leave traditional churches and join the "house church" movement. Personally, I feel that people should attend the church in which the Lord has specifically placed them, which might or might not be a "house church" (for help in discerning which church the Lord wants you to go to, see my article called How to Hear the Voice of God). If you're interested in more information about "house churches," here are some websites that might be helpful: The question that we're trying to answer in this section is whether or not women can be pastors, and what we have seen is that there is no specific office called "pastor" in the New Testament. Instead, it was the elders who performed the functions which we think of as being a pastor's duties. Therefore, if we say that women can be elders, then we're also saying that women can perform the duties that we associate with pastors (because "pastors" in the New Testament were elders). Similarly, if we say that women cannot be elders, then we're also saying that women cannot perform the duties that we associate with pastors. In fact, some people argue that there should not be an office called "pastor" at all.

Before we leave the subject of pastors, there is a woman named Priscilla who might have a bearing on this discussion. Here are all of the references to her:
Acts 18:2: "There he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them,"
Acts 18:3: "and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them."

Acts 18:18: "Paul stayed on in Corinth for some time. Then he left the brothers and sailed for Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila. Before he sailed, he had his hair cut off at Cenchrea because of a vow he had taken."
Acts 18:19: "They arrived at Ephesus, where Paul left Priscilla and Aquila. He himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews."

Acts 18:26: "He [Apollos] began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately."

Romans 16:3: "Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus."
Romans 16:4: "They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them."
Romans 16:5: "Greet also the church that meets at their house.

1 Corinthians 16:19: "The churches in the province of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Priscilla greet you warmly in the Lord, and so does the church that meets at their house."

2 Timothy 4:19: "Greet Priscilla and Aquila and the household of Onesiphorus."
It's interesting that when Priscilla and Aquila are mentioned, Priscilla's name is usually mentioned first. This might imply that Priscilla was more prominent in some way than her husband was, as the NIV Study Bible suggests:
"Priscilla and Aquila. The order of the names used here (but cf. v. 2) may indicate the prominent role of Priscilla or her higher social position" (NIV Study Bible, p.2135, emphasis added)
Priscilla and Aquila held church meetings in their home (Romans 16:3-5, 1 Corinthians 16:19, above), which is an example of a "house church" in the New Testament. We're not told what roles Priscilla and Aquila had in that church, and they are never called elders or pastors (or anything else). All we are told is that the church met in their home. For example, last year the Lord placed me in a house church, and we had church in several people's apartments, although we never met in the home of the leader of the house church. In other words, the fact that we met in different people's homes did not imply that those people were the "pastors" or "elders." Similarly, Priscilla and Aquila are never called pastors or elders (or anything else); we are simply told that the church met in their home. Some people argue that Priscilla must have been a pastor of her church, but this is going beyond what we are told about her.

What it boils down to is that there are no clear examples of female pastors anywhere in the New Testament. Most of us can probably think of Godly Christian women who would make good pastors, and I would like to believe that women can hold the office of a pastor (if there is really meant to be such an office), but where is the Scriptural evidence to support that? If God allows women to be "pastors" in the church, He didn't say anything about it anywhere in the New Testament!


Are Women Allowed to Be Apostles?

Just as there are no clear examples of female "pastors" or female elders in the New Testament, there are also no clear examples of female apostles in the New Testament. Here are all of the people in the New Testament who possibly had an apostolic ministry:
Matthew 10:2: "These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John;"
Matthew 10:3: "Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus;"
Matthew 10:4: "Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him."

Acts 1:24: "Then they prayed, "Lord, you know everyone's heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen"
Acts 1:25: "to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.""
Acts 1:26: "Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles."

Acts 14:14: "But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting:"

Hebrews 3:1: "Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess."

Romans 16:7: "Greet Andronicus and Junias, my relatives who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was."

1 Thessalonians 1:1: "Paul, Silas and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace and peace to you." ...
1 Thessalonians 2:6: "We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else. As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you,"
Based on the wording in the NIV, the above people might have had an apostolic ministry in the first century. One thing to notice is that they are all men, with the possible exception of one of the people mentioned in Romans 16:7:
Romans 16:7: "Greet Andronicus and Junias, my relatives who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was."
Some people argue that the above verse describes a female apostle, but this argument is based on two assumptions: One, that Junias was a woman, and two, that Andronicus and Junias were apostles. Concerning the first assumption, scholars are divided over whether or not Junias was a woman. Some ancient manuscripts have "Junia" in this verse, but other manuscripts have "Junias," so there are differences of opinion about whether this person's name should have a masculine or a feminine ending. Some people say that Andronicus and Junias must have been husband and wife based on the fact that their names are paired together in Romans 16:7 (above), which would mean that Junias was a woman. However, notice what Paul wrote a few verses later:
Romans 16:12: "Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord."
Tryphena and Tryphosa were both women, and notice that their names are paired together in this verse. Therefore, we can't claim that Andronicus and Junias must have been husband and wife just because their names are paired together. So the argument that there was a female apostle in the New Testament is based on a single verse (Romans 16:7, above), but scholars can't agree on whether the person named "Junias" (or "Junia") in that verse was a man or a woman. That's not very strong evidence to "prove" that there were any female apostles in the first century. In addition, notice that the vague phrase, "outstanding among the apostles" (Romans 16:7, above) does not prove that Andronicus and Junias were apostles. It might simply mean that they were highly esteemed by the apostles. For example, here are some things that several Bible commentaries say about this verse:
"Rom 16:7 - Andronicus and Junias (Andronicou kai Iounian). The first is a Greek name found even in the imperial household. The second name can be either masculine or feminine." (Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament Offsite Link, emphasis added)

"7. Andronicus and Junia--or, as it might be, "Junias," a contracted form of "Junianus"; in this case, it is a man's name. But if, as is more probable, the word be, as in our version, "Junia," the person meant was no doubt either the wife or the sister of Andronicus. ...
which are of note among the apostles--Those who think the word "apostle" is used in a lax sense, in the Acts and Epistles, take this to mean "noted apostles" [CHRYSOSTOM, LUTHER, CALVIN, BENGEL, OLSHAUSEN, THOLUCK, ALFORD, JOWETT]; others, who are not clear that the word "apostle" is applied to any without the circle of the Twelve, save where the connection or some qualifying words show that the literal meaning of "one sent" is the thing intended, understand by the expression used here, "persons esteemed by the apostles" [BEZA, GROTIUS, DE WETTE, MEYER, FRITZSCHE, STUART, PHILIPPI, HODGE]. And of course, if "Junia" is to be taken for a woman, this latter must be the meaning." (Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary Offsite Link, emphasis added)

"Of note among the apostles. Well and favorably known to the apostles." (People's New Testament commentary Offsite Link, verse 7, emphasis added)

"Who are of note ... Among the apostles - This does not mean that they "were" apostles, as has been sometimes supposed. For,
(1) There is no account of their having been appointed as such.
(2) the expression is not one which would have been used if they "had" been. It would have been "who were distinguished apostles;" compare Rom_1:1; 1Co_1:1; 2Co_1:1; Phi_1:1.
(3) it by no means implies that they were apostles All that the expression fairly implies is, that they were known to the other apostles; that they were regarded by them as worthy of their affection and confidence" (Barnes, from http://www.e-sword.net/commentaries.html Offsite Link, Romans 16:7, emphasis added)

"Of note among the apostles - Whether this intimates that they were noted apostles or only highly reputed by the apostles, is not absolutely clear; but the latter appears to me the most probable. They were not only well known to St. Paul, but also to the rest of the apostles." (Clarke, from http://www.e-sword.net/commentaries.html Offsite Link, Romans 16:7, emphasis added)

"who are of note among the apostles; were well known by, and in great account with the twelve apostles, though not of their number" (John Gill's Exposition of the Bible Offsite Link, emphasis added)
What it boils down to is that scholars are not sure whether Junias (or Junia) was a man or a woman, and scholars are not sure whether Andronicus and Junias (or Junia) were considered to be apostles or whether they were "persons esteemed by the apostles." Therefore, we can't honestly claim that Romans 16:7 proves that there was a female apostle in the first century. Perhaps Andronicus and Junia were husband and wife, and perhaps they both were apostles, but we just can't prove these things from the Bible.

Again, there are no clear descriptions or examples of any female apostles in the New Testament. We saw several pieces of evidence which seem to indicate that there were female deacons in the first and second centuries, but there is no clear evidence that there were ever any female elders or "pastors" or apostles. There are a number of Christian women in the New Testament who were commended for their service, but not one of them was ever called an apostle or a "pastor" or an elder. I would like to believe that women can hold the office of an apostle, but where is the Scriptural evidence to support that? If God allows women to be apostles in the church, He didn't say anything about it anywhere in the New Testament!


The Order of "Headship"

Now let's turn our attention to the order of "headship" which God has established:
1 Corinthians 11:3: "Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God."
Notice that God the Father is the Head of Christ the Son. This does not mean that Jesus is inferior to the Father (because they are both God), but there is an order in the roles and relationships between them. The above passage also says that Christ is the Head of man, and then it says that "the head of the woman is man." What does this mean?

Every occurrence of the word "man" in the passage above comes from the Greek word aner, which can mean "man" or "husband" (see Strong's Greek Dictionary, for example). The word "woman" in the passage above comes from the Greek word gune, which can mean "woman" or "wife" (see Strong's Greek Dictionary, for example). So in 1 Corinthians 11:3 (above), the Greek text essentially says, "the head of a gune is the aner," and some versions of the Bible have translated this as, "the head of a woman is the man." But does this mean that all men are the heads over all women? For example, does the fact that I am a man give me the right to claim headship over another man's wife? If not, then what does this verse mean? Notice how this verse is translated in a literal version of the Bible:
"and I wish you to know that of every man the head is the Christ, and the head of a woman is the husband, and the head of Christ is God." (1 Corinthians 11:3, Young's Literal Translation)
Because of the meanings of the Greek words gune and aner, we can see that it is valid to translate the Greek text in this verse as saying that a wife is under the headship of her husband, and this fits perfectly with the rest of the teaching of the New Testament concerning the idea of "headship."

Keep in mind that Jesus voluntarily submitted Himself to the Father, yet Jesus is not inferior to the Father (because they are both God). In the same way, when a wife voluntarily submits herself to her husband, this does not make her inferior to him in any way. We'll see more about this later.


What Is "Headship"?

Some people argue that the word "head" does not refer to authority, but rather it refers to the "source" of something (and therefore "headship" does not require a wife to submit in any way to her husband). However, the New Testament strongly refutes that argument, as the following passages demonstrate:

  • Colossians 3:18-19:
    "Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them."
    Notice that wives are specifically told to submit to their husbands, and notice that husbands must love their wives and not be harsh with them. Headship and submission are a two-way street, they are not meant to imply a situation of dominance and subjugation, nor do they imply superiority and inferiority. Here's what a New Testament Greek word study dictionary says about this passage:
    "In Col. 3:18 (KJV), it is a command to wives: "Wives, submit yourselves (hupotassesthe, the pres. continuous mid. voice)." In the NASB, "be subject to your husbands"; NIV, "Submit to your husbands." This is the response of a wife to the love shown by the husband. She finds her place under her husband because that is the thing she wants to do. ... This is how things have been arranged by the Lord. Woman was created from man and she finds her fulfillment in one man whom the Lord gives to her for life (Gen. 2:21-24)." (The Complete Word Study Dictionary of the New Testament, Spiros Zodhiates, p.175, emphasis added)
    So according to the shades of meaning in the Greek text, it is not the husband's place to subjugate his wife under his domination. Rather, he must love his wife and treat her properly, and it is the wife who voluntarily places herself under her husband's loving care. It's a two-way thing of mutual love and respect.
  • Ephesians 5:22-33:
    "Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church-- for we are members of his body. ... However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband."
    Here Paul specifically made an association between "headship" and submission. He said that just as the Church submits to Christ (our "Head"), so also a wife should submit to her husband (her "head") and respect him. However, Paul also said that husbands must love their wives just as Christ loves the Church, and as husbands love their own bodies. Again, it's a two-way thing of mutual love and respect for each other. Here's what a New Testament Greek word study dictionary says about this passage:
    "In Eph. 5:24 Paul says she should do this [place herself under her husband] as the Church hupotassetai, finds her place under Christ. ... The submission of the Church is not brought about by subjugation. It is through the wooing of the Holy Spirit. ... The love of the husband wins the wife who finds her natural shelter under her husband." (The Complete Word Study Dictionary of the New Testament, Spiros Zodhiates, p.176, emphasis added)

    "In Eph. 5:33, "Nevertheless, let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband" (KJV); "respect" (NASB, NIV). If the proper position of a wife is under her husband, then at all times she should look up to him and the husband should stand so high as to give his wife someone to really look up to with the greatest respect. The verb phobeomai does not mean paralyzing fear, but respect which is the response to abundant, sincere love of the husband toward his wife, for "there is no fear in love" (1 John 4:18)." (The Complete Word Study Dictionary of the New Testament, Spiros Zodhiates, p.177, emphasis added)
    So according to the shades of meaning in the Greek, the husband's love and respect for his wife, as well as his actions and behaviors, should enable his wife to look up to him with sincere love and respect. This is the ideal that husbands and wives should strive for. There is no subjugation by the husband, nor is there fear on the part of the wife.
  • Titus 2:3-5:
    "Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God."
    Once again we see that wives should "be subject to their husbands." Here's what a New Testament Greek word study dictionary says about this passage:
    "Titus 2:5, "obedient to their own husbands" (KJV); "subject" (NASB, NIV). The Gr. text is the pres. part. mid. voice hupotassomenas, placing themselves in their proper order under their husbands. It is a natural, voluntary attitude by the wife who finds her proper fulfillment in the love of her husband. She is not commanded there by her husband, but is wooed to his bosom. This is a constant, abiding attitude." (The Complete Word Study Dictionary of the New Testament, Spiros Zodhiates, p.176, emphasis added)
    So again we see that the Greek text describes a wife finding fulfillment in the constant, abiding love of her husband. It is a two-way thing of mutual love and respect for each other.
  • 1 Peter 3:1-7:
    Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear. Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers."
    Here's what a New Testament Greek word study dictionary says about this passage:
    "1 Pet. 3:1, "Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands" (KJV); "be submissive" (NASB, NIV). The Gr. text says hupotassomenai, placing yourselves in your proper position under your husbands. Again it is a natural, voluntary, continuous attitude." (The Complete Word Study Dictionary of the New Testament, Spiros Zodhiates, p.176, emphasis added)

    "1 Pet. 3:5, "for after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection (hupotassomenai) unto their own husbands." In the NASB and NIV, "being submissive," "were submissive." The Gr. text is "as they submitted themselves," or "placed themselves in their proper place under their husbands" (author's translations), the Lord having instituted that order of existence. Again, the verb is in the pres. mid. part., indicating that the wives voluntarily submitted themselves to their husbands." (The Complete Word Study Dictionary of the New Testament, Spiros Zodhiates, p.176, emphasis added)
As we can see, there is a pattern in the New Testament in which wives are instructed to be in proper submission to their husbands, and husbands are commanded to treat their wives with the utmost love, honor, consideration, gentleness, and respect. In a moment we'll look more closely at what "submission" means.

Again, men and women are not inferior to each other, but God has established an order in the roles and relationships between a husband and wife, just as there is an order in the roles and relationships between the Father and the Son, and between Christ and the Church.


What Does "Submission" Mean?

The idea of a wife submitting to her husband is not very popular these days because people tend to see submission as a bad thing, as if the wife has to be a "doormat" under the tyranny of her husband. However, this is a wrong understanding of submission. For example, did Jesus ever do anything wrong or bad during His life on earth? Obviously not, because He lived a sinless life (Hebrews 4:15). But notice that Jesus lived His entire life in submission to the Father (see for example John 5:30, 8:28, 14:10).

Since Jesus never did anything wrong or anything bad during His life on earth, and since Jesus lived His whole life in submission to the Father, then there is nothing wrong or bad about proper submission. In addition, God never commands us to do anything evil or bad, yet He commands us to be in submission to Christ. So when we have a proper understanding of submission, we can see that it is not a bad thing after all.

In Colossians 3:18-19, Ephesians 5:22-33, and 1 Peter 3:1-7 (in the previous section), notice that not only are wives told to respect and submit to their husbands, but husbands are told to love and respect their wives. As we saw, it's a two-way thing of mutual respect and seeking to honor God. Obviously we are all imperfect (which means that no husband will ever be worthy of his wife's submission, and no wife will ever submit perfectly), but consider the example of Bill Clinton. He committed improper sexual acts while he was the President of the United States, and then he lied about them under oath. Many people did not have much respect for Bill Clinton as a person because of his behavior, but he was the President and therefore it was proper to show him due respect. This did not mean respecting the man, it meant respecting the office as the Bible commands:
"Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king. Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh." (1 Peter 2:17-18)
In other words, leaders are all imperfect, but it is proper to pay due honor and respect to the office that they hold. In a similar way, all husbands are human, and all husbands will make mistakes. But if the wife properly submits herself to the husband's role as the head of the family (even if she can't quite respect the man himself) then this honors God and He is likely to bless her obedience. However, keep in mind that "grudging" submission, or "mocking" submission, or any kind of submission with a bad attitude, demonstrates a heart that is filled with pride and rebellion. Therefore, this is not proper submission and we shouldn't expect God to bless it.

Notice that in nature, two-headed creatures (such as those skeletons of two-headed snakes at certain amusement centers) do not live very long. Ideally, a husband and wife will act as a team because they are "one flesh," and the husband is the "team leader" who is held accountable to God. For example, even though Eve was the one who was initially deceived and ate the forbidden fruit, the sins of the human race came through Adam. Both of them sinned, but Adam (the husband) was the one who was held accountable:
"And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner." (1 Timothy 2:14)

"Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come. But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God's grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man's sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God's abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous." (Romans 5:14-19)

"For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive." (1 Corinthians 15:22)
Again, Adam and Eve both sinned (and in fact Eve is the one who sinned first!), but it was Adam who was held accountable. So even though a modern Christian wife is accountable to God for her own sins, there's a sense in which a husband is the "team leader" who is held accountable to God for his family. As we have seen over and over, headship and submission are meant to be a two-way thing in which both parties are honoring each other and honoring God and acting as a team.


Are Women Allowed to Teach?
1 Timothy 2:11: "A woman [gune] should learn in quietness and full submission [hupotage]."
1 Timothy 2:12: "I do not permit a woman [gune] to teach or to have authority over a man [aner]; she must be silent."
1 Timothy 2:13: "For Adam was formed first, then Eve."
1 Timothy 2:14: "And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman [gune] who was deceived and became a sinner."
In verse 11 above, Paul spoke about "a woman" (or "a wife") learning in quietness and submission, which is exactly what he said about married women in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 (as we saw in a previous section). Once again, the word "woman" here comes from the Greek word gune, which can mean "wife" or "woman," and the word "man" here comes from the Greek word aner, which can mean "husband" or "man," and the word for "submission" comes from the same Greek word which we have seen several times concerning a wife submitting to her husband. Since the same Greek words are being used in the same context that we saw earlier (concerning a wife submitting to her husband and learning in "quietness" during the church service), it is likely that Paul was once again speaking of wives in verses 11-12 above.

But notice that in verse 12 Paul said that a woman or a wife should not teach (or should not teach a man). What did he mean by that? If we only look on the surface then we might be tempted to say that women must never teach in church or in ministry, but that would contradict other New Testament passages, such as the following:
Acts 18:24: "Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures."
Acts 18:25: "He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John."
Acts 18:26: "He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately."

2 Timothy 2:24: "And the Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead, he [the word "he" is not in the Greek texts] must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful."

Titus 2:3: "Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good."
Titus 2:4: "Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children,"
Titus 2:5: "to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God."
In Acts 18:24-26 (above), Priscilla (a woman) was involved in teaching Apollos (a man). In 2 Timothy 2:24 (above), Paul said that a servant of the Lord must be able to teach, and he did not qualify this statement by restricting it only to men (some Bible translations use the word "he" in this verse, but "he" is not in the Greek texts). In Titus 2:3-5 (above), Paul specifically said that older women should teach and train younger women. So when Paul said in 1 Timothy 2:12 (above) that he did not permit "women" to teach, he was not saying that women can never teach. Otherwise he would have been contradicting himself.

Now, what does "teaching" mean? Essentially it means imparting knowledge or information to someone else. Notice that when someone speaks a word of prophecy from God, that person is "imparting knowledge or information to someone else." Similarly, when a person speaks a message from God in tongues, that person is "imparting knowledge or information to someone else" (which needs to be interpreted into the local language). If you recall, we saw earlier that women are allowed to prophesy and speak in tongues in church, which means that women can "impart knowledge or information to someone else" in church. Here are some Scriptural examples concerning women and prophesying:
Acts 2:17: ""'In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams."

Acts 2:18: "Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy."

Acts 21:9: "He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied."

1 Corinthians 11:5: "And every woman who prays or prophesies"
Again, prophesying involves "imparting knowledge or information to someone else," which means that these prophetesses were teaching Christian truths to other people (and these passages do not exclude men from learning from these prophetesses). In addition, we have already seen that Priscilla (a woman) was involved in teaching Christian truths to Apollos (a man), and here are some more examples of women teaching Christian truths to men:
Matthew 28:5: "The angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified."
Matthew 28:6: "He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay."
Matthew 28:7: "Then go quickly and tell his disciples: 'He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.' Now I have told you.""

Matthew 28:9: "Suddenly Jesus met them [the women]. "Greetings," he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him."
Matthew 28:10: "Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.""

Mark 16:5: "As they [the women] entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed."
Mark 16:6: ""Don't be alarmed," he said. "You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him."
Mark 16:7: "But go, tell his disciples and Peter, 'He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.'""
Mark 16:8: "Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid."

Mark 16:9: "When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons."
Mark 16:10: "She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping."
Mark 16:11: "When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it."

Luke 24:9: "When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others."
Luke 24:10: "It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles."
In the above passages we see that an angel first told the wonderful truth of the Resurrection to women, and he commanded the women to impart this knowledge and information to the apostles. In fact, Jesus Himself first appeared to women after His Resurrection, and He commanded them to impart some knowledge and information to the apostles. So the very first people to teach about the awesome truth of the Resurrection were women, and the first people to whom the women taught this truth were men (the apostles). Notice that if it is wrong or sinful for women to teach spiritual truths to men, then Jesus would not have told women to teach men about His resurrection. In fact, Jesus later demonstrated the fact of His resurrection to the apostles (John 20:19-20, 26-30), so there was no "need" for women to teach the truth of the Resurrection. Yet Jesus commanded these women to teach this important truth to men.

Not only was the fact of Jesus' resurrection taught by women, but the fact of Jesus' birth was taught by a woman as well:
Luke 2:36: "There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage,"
Luke 2:37: "and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying."
Luke 2:38: "Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem."
In the above passage we see that a prophetess named Anna taught about the Messiah's birth to all (which does not exclude men). In addition, the words of Jesus' mother are recorded in Scripture for the purpose of teaching men and women about the goodness of God:
Luke 1:46: "And Mary said: "My soul glorifies the Lord"
Luke 1:47: "and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,"
Luke 1:48: "for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed,"
Luke 1:49: "for the Mighty One has done great things for me-- holy is his name."
Luke 1:50: "His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation."
Luke 1:51: "He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts."
Luke 1:52: "He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble."
Luke 1:53: "He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty."
Luke 1:54: "He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful"
Luke 1:55: "to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers.""
The point of all of this is that women were allowed (and even commanded) to teach Christian truths in the New Testament, including teaching them to men, so what did Paul mean about not allowing "women" to teach? Here are some things that a Greek dictionary says about that passage:
"1 Tim. 2:12 should not be interpreted as a prohibition by Paul for any woman to teach, but only for a wife when that teaching may be construed by those who hear her to think that she is dominant in her relationship with her husband. ... Paul is anxious to make very clear here that no woman through her teaching should give the impression that she is the boss and lording it over her husband. If any such impression is given at any time, then she should keep quiet (hesuchia [2271], be undisturbed and not disturbing others. The word hesuchia is the ant. of tarache [5016], disturbance). The word does not mean silence" (The Complete Word Study Dictionary of the New Testament, Spiros Zodhiates, p.388-389, emphasis added)

"With the verb authenteo in 1 Tim. 2:12, "But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority [authentein, the pres. inf. of authenteo [831], to act as an absolute master]" ... Such exercise of authority is forbidden by a wife over her husband in 1 Tim. 2:12. Nor is a husband permitted to be an autocrat over his wife. ... The argument here is that if a wife teaches indiscriminately, especially men, she may be so puffed up that she may be tempted to put a ring through her husband's nose and master him. The moral here is that a wife should avoid any activity which will in any way adversely affect her marital relationship. No teaching in the church or in the world is worth the price of a wrecked marriage. A wife cannot boss her husband, nor can a husband boss his wife. His love must voluntarily make her seek protection under him." (The Complete Word Study Dictionary of the New Testament, Spiros Zodhiates, p.177, emphasis added)
Once again we can see that Paul was concerned about the relationship between a husband and a wife, and about proper "orderliness" in the church and in the home. Paul was not saying that women can never teach, because that would contradict all of the passages which we examined a moment ago.

And when Paul said that "a woman" (gune in the Greek) must not have authority over "a man" (aner in the Greek), the context makes it more likely that Paul was referring to a wife "lording it over" her husband. The Greek word for "authority" in verse 12 means "dominate" or "usurp authority over" (Strong's Greek Dictionary), and "one who acts on his own authority, autocratic; an absolute master; to govern, exercise dominion over one" (Thayer's Greek Dictionary), and "to lord it over the man" (Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary Offsite Link, verse 12), and "playing the master" (Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament Offsite Link), and so on. Therefore, Paul's statement here is consistent with his other discussions of husbands and wives which we have already examined, and Paul reinforced this by pointing back to the very first husband and wife (1 Timothy 2:13-14, above). So 1 Timothy 2:12 does not seem to mean that women can never be in authority over men (such as a woman being in charge over an area of ministry in a church). Once again we see that many of Paul's comments concerning women are not intended to be commands to all women, but instead they are referring to the husband's and wife's behavior with each other in the home as well as in church services.

In the NIV, Paul also said that the wife must be "silent" (1 Timothy 2:12). As the Greek dictionary quoted above points out, the Greek word used in verse 12 does not actually mean "silent," but instead it means "not disturbing others." According to Strong's Greek Dictionary, the noun form of that word is hesuchia ("stillness, that is, desistance from bustle or language: - quietness, silence"), and the adjective form is hesuchios ("keeping one's seat (sedentary), that is, (by implication) still (undisturbed, undisturbing): - peaceable, quiet"). Apart from 1 Timothy 2:11-12, here are all of the other occurrences of these two Greek words in the New Testament:
Acts 22:2: "When they heard him speak to them in Aramaic, they became very quiet [hesuchia]."

2 Thessalonians 3:12: "Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down [hesuchia] and earn the bread they eat."

1 Timothy 2:2: "for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful [hesuchios] and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness."

1 Peter 3:4: "Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet [hesuchios] spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight."
Notice that the noun and adjective forms of this Greek word actually refer to being peaceful and settled down and not disturbing others. In other words, Paul was not commanding women to be completely silent. Again, many of Paul's comments concerning women are not intended to be commands to all women, but instead they are referring to the husband's and wife's behavior with each other in the home as well as in church services.


"There Is Neither Male Nor Female"

Some people use Galatians 3:28 to claim that there are no distinctions between men and women, and therefore there should be no distinctions between men's and women's roles in the church and in the home:
Galatians 3:28: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."
Based on this verse, people sometimes claim that all distinctions between men and women have been erased, and therefore wives do not need to submit to their husbands.

However, notice that if Paul was teaching in Galatians 3:28 (above) that all distinctions between males and females have been erased, then he was also teaching in that passage that all distinctions between slave and free have been erased (because "neither slave nor free" is included in that verse along with "neither male nor female"). Yet Paul specifically taught that the distinctions between slave and free within the body of Christ were not erased:
Ephesians 6:5: "Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ."
Ephesians 6:6: "Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart."
Ephesians 6:7: "Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men,"
Ephesians 6:8: "because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free."
Ephesians 6:9: "And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him."

Colossians 3:22: "Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord."
Colossians 3:23: "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men,"
Colossians 3:24: "since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving."
Colossians 3:25: "Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there is no favoritism."
Colossians 4:1: "Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven."

1 Timothy 6:1: "All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God's name and our teaching may not be slandered."
1 Timothy 6:2: "Those who have believing masters are not to show less respect for them because they are brothers. Instead, they are to serve them even better, because those who benefit from their service are believers, and dear to them. These are the things you are to teach and urge on them."

Titus 2:9: "Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them,"
Titus 2:10: "and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive."
Paul clearly said that there continued to be differences in roles and relationships between slaves and masters in the body of Christ, and therefore Paul was not teaching in Galatians 3:28 (above) that all distinctions between slave and free have been abolished. This means that Paul also was not teaching that all distinctions between men and women have been abolished.

When we look at Galatians 3:28 in its proper context, we can see what Paul was saying:
Galatians 3:22: "But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe."
Galatians 3:23: "Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed."
Galatians 3:24: "So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith."
Galatians 3:25: "Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law."
Galatians 3:26: "You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus,"
Galatians 3:27: "for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ."
Galatians 3:28: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."
Galatians 3:29: "If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise."
In Galatians 3:28 (above), Paul was simply saying that men and women all receive justification in exactly the same way (through faith in Christ Jesus), and that men and women who belong to Christ become heirs according to the promise made to Abraham. There is no difference in the way that men and women receive salvation, just as there is no difference in the way that Jews and Greeks, slave and free, receive salvation. This passage says nothing about the proper roles and relationships between men and women in the church and in the home.


Conclusion

To summarize, here are some of the issues discussed in this article:

  • Women do not receive salvation and forgiveness of sins through childbearing (1 Timothy 2:15).
  • A woman's long hair (or physical "covering") appears to be a cultural issue rather than a Scriptural command for all women throughout all time (1 Corinthians 11:4-18).
  • Women are not commanded to be completely silent in church (1 Corinthians 14:34-35, 1 Timothy 2:11). Instead, men and women are free to exercise their spiritual gifts as long as they follow the guidelines given in the New Testament. Disorderly conduct is inappropriate during church services.
  • Women are not commanded to dress in a plain or "frumpy" manner (so to speak), but we should be careful not to pridefully call attention to our bodies or our wealth by the way we dress (1 Timothy 2:9, 1 Peter 3:3-4).
  • The evidence leans towards the view that women are allowed to serve in the office of a deacon.
  • There is no clear evidence that women ever served in the office of an elder in the New Testament.
  • There is no clear evidence that women ever served in the office of a "pastor" in the New Testament (if there is really meant to be such an office).
  • There is no clear evidence that women ever served in the office of an apostle in the New Testament.
  • The husband is the "head" of the family, just as Christ is the Head of the Church and God is the Head of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:3). Men and women are not inferior to each other but they have certain differences in their roles, just as Christ is not inferior to the Father but they have certain differences in their roles.
  • Women are allowed to teach Christian truths, and women can teach men as long as this does not result in a wife lording it over her husband or appearing to be the dominant spouse. 1 Timothy 2:12 does not seem to mean that women can never be in authority over men (such as a woman being in charge over an area of ministry in a church).
  • "Neither male nor female" refers to receiving salvation, it does not mean that all distinctions have been erased between men and women (Galatians 3:28).
Many of the New Testament instructions concerning husbands' and wives' roles can be difficult for us to understand, and they need to be prayerfully and sensitively handled in the church and in the home. But we should also keep in mind that God is not looking for our approval of His commands, or whether we "like" His commands. He expects our obedience. If we seek to honestly understand and apply God's Word to our lives, honoring His ways above our own ways or our own desires, then He will honor us for it and pour out incredible blessings in our lives!


I hope this has been helpful, and may the Lord abundantly bless you as you study His Word!
 
 
 
  Modification History  
 
 

  • 11/04/2005 - Modified some of the wording.
  • 08/03/2005 - Re-wrote much of this article.