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Church of Christ
100 Rena Road Van Buren Arkansas 72956

The Roles of Men and Women in the Church

As you probably know the question of whether or not women should be allowed to preach or take on leadership roles is one that has been heavily debated in recent years. In modern times, especially in the present culture of the United States of America, when equality between races, genders, etc. is not only preferred but demanded, Biblical truth often gets pushed to the side to make room for what the majority demands.

Throughout the Old and New Testaments God has chosen for the leaders of His people to be men. Even God Himself, whom we know to be all-powerful, has chosen to reveal Himself to man in male personification - Father, Son & Holy Spirit (when Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit in John 14:15-18 he referred to "Him" in the masculine voice).

The angels also whom God sent to speak to men were always male.

Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden. Adam was created first, in the image and glory of God. Then Eve was created, in the glory of man (1Corinthians 11:7). God caused Adam to go into a deep sleep and He removed one of Adam's ribs. From the rib God formed Eve. Adam called her "woman, because she was taken out of man." (Genesis 2:23). The woman was created to be a companion for man, to be "a helper comparable to him." (Genesis 2:18). Eve, as you know, was the first to partake of the forbidden fruit (Genesis 3). Adam also partook at Eve's behest. When the apostle Paul referred to this incident in Romans 5:12-21 he wrote that it was through Adam that sin entered the world. That responsibility goes along with being the head of the family.

Take a look also at the Old Testament genealogies. Notice that they are always male specific. This is consistent with the evidence that the system of government, even before the written law, was patriarchal, with the "birthright" being passed down from father to firstborn son. Many times throughout the Old Testament reference is made to the fathers of the people. When God spoke to Moses from the burning bush (Genesis 3), He identified Himself to Moses as the God of his fathers - "I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." In the patriarchal age, before the written Law of Moses, we do not see women speaking out publicly. They were, for the most part, willingly subordinate to men. The apostle Peter put forth Sarah as an example, from the patriarchal period, for godly women in New Testament times (1Peter 3:1-6).

God chose to give the Law to Moses for the children of Israel. There are several things we notice in reference to the gender question that was part of the design of the Old Law.

First of all, notice the law of circumcision. Although circumcision was commanded hundreds of years before God gave the law to Moses, it is nonetheless mentioned several times in the New Testament as a part of the Law. The law of circumcision was a command that was designed to "set apart" the children of Israel as God's people. It was a physical act that identified the Israelites as God's chosen people. In keeping with His own consistent nature, it is no accident that the symbol that God chose to identify His people was an exclusively male symbol (Genesis 17).

Notice also the Levitical priesthood. The high priests were the male descendants of Aaron. The priests from the Levitical tribe were the male descendants of Levi (Numbers 3-5).

Notice also the kings that led the nation of Israel throughout the time of the Old Testament law. The queens of Israel are only mentioned in passing. Never in the Biblical history of Israel did an Israelite queen ever lead the nation. One queen tried to run things once and she died a violent death. Her name was Jezebel (2Kings 9:30-37).

Notice also that the vast majority of the Old Testament prophets were male. There are a few notable exceptions to this: Miriam, the sister of Aaron, was called a prophetess (Exodus 15:20). Deborah, a judge in Israel, was also called a prophetess (Judges 4:4-5). Deborah did recognize and accept the dominance of men in her society and her religion (4:9). Huldah was a prophetess consulted by Hilkiah the high priest under orders from Josiah king of Judah (2Kings 22-23). Anna was an elderly prophetess in Jerusalem when the Christ was born. When Jesus' parents took Him to Jerusalem "to do for Him according to the custom of the Law," Anna came to him and gave thanks to God and spoke of him to all those who looked for redemption in Israel (Luke 2:36-38).

In New Testament times Philip the evangelist had four virgin daughters who prophesied (Acts 21:9). There were indications that some women in the first century had received the miraculous spiritual gift of prophecy. In 1Corinthians 11 Paul wrote, "Every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved" (1Corinthians 11:5). Two verses earlier Paul had made this statement, "I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God" (11:3). Miraculous prophesying, along with all other miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit are no longer available to Christians in the church today.

Notice also that the apostles chosen by Christ were all men.

The dominance of male leadership in patriarchal and Old Testament times was more the design of the creator than it was culture. The design of the New Testament is no different. Under the New Testament there is total equality between races, cultures and genders in the terms of individual salvation, and in other areas as well, but when it comes to church leadership God has chosen men.

The apostle Paul wrote to Timothy and Titus instructing them to appoint overseers/elders to shepherd the church. To Timothy he wrote, "This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of overseer, he desires a good work…" (1Timothy 3:1). To Titus, Paul referred to the same office. He instructed Titus to, "appoint elders in every city…" (Titus 1:5). In seeking out these men Paul listed qualifications that they must possess in order to effectively serve the church.

As for praying, preaching and teaching, Paul and the other inspired New Testament writers never said that women could not preach or teach. They merely limited women as to when and where. Paul wrote, "I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting; in like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, but, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works. Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. Nevertheless she will be saved through childbearing if they continue in faith, love and holiness, with self-control." (1Timothy 2:8-15). Paul instructed that men should pray everywhere. Doesn't this seem to indicate that women should pray but not everywhere?

In giving instructions to the church in Corinth the apostle Paul referred to the Old Testament laws concerning women and he commanded, "Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says." (1Corinthians 14:34).

Paul did command that women should teach in some situations. He commanded Titus to teach, "…the older women likewise, that they be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things - that they admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed…" (Titus 2:3-5).

While it is not permitted for women to lead the church or to have authority over the men of the congregation, or to teach when there are Christian men in the congregation, there is however evidence to suggest that the commission to share the gospel applies to women as well as to men. In the book of Acts, Luke recorded an encounter between a married couple named Aquila and Priscilla and a Jew named Apollos. Luke wrote, "Now a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures, came to Ephesus. This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things of the Lord, though he knew only the baptism of John. So he began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Aquila and Priscilla heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately…" (Acts 18:24-26).

There are many scriptures that describe the roles of men and women in the church and in the home. These scriptures make it clear that while the woman's role in the church is vital, their role is not one of leadership. In a culture where it is common and becoming more acceptable for women to take on leadership roles, and even though women have proven themselves to be as capable as men in many areas, the fact remains that it is simply not biblical for women to lead the New Testament church. If some women find this to be unsatisfactory, my advice for them is to fulfill to the best of their ability the responsibilities that God has assigned to them in His word. Put God's word to the test and you will find that there is happiness and contentment in obeying God. 

by David Banks