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Feminism and Women in the Church

Francesco De Lucia



From the apostolic era until the end of the nineteenth century, almost no voice of dissent was heard in Christendom from what the church had generally regarded as a perspicuous, biblical teaching: women are excluded, according to the clear testimony of infallible Scripture, from the special offices of minister, elder and deacon in the church. What accounts for such a departure in the mainline evangelical, Presbyterian and Reformed churches today are the winds of cultural change that have been blowing harder and from every direction on the churches in the last decades. The winds of rationalistic autonomy from the Word of God, of functionalist anthropology (man is described not in terms of what he is but of what he does), of civil rights, of equality of opportunity, and of the social changes that have taken place regarding the positions of men and women in the areas of work, politics, etc., on a large scale in Western societies in the last decades of the twentieth century, have swept away a large part of the evangelical, Reformed and Presbyterian denominations, by leading them to a denial of the authority of Scripture on these, as well as other, important issues.

But these winds have hit also another group of churches, which while still claiming to uphold the authority of Scripture, and while still resisting some of the winds that have completely devastated the mainline denominations, are presenting "new perspectives" on the issue of the roles of women in the church, and are doing so by claiming that the church of the past 1900 years has mostly misinterpreted the scriptural passages that bear on the matter, having been conditioned by wrong cultural presuppositions in its approach to the texts.

There is still a third group of more conservative churches, that while rejecting the positions of the two groups mentioned above, and while still excluding women from the offices of minister and elder in the church on scriptural grounds, are either granting too much to the feminists exegetically or are even accepting the feminist contentions for the ordination of women as deacons.

In this article we will not try to argue against the group within the feminist movement that denies the inspiration and infallibility of the 66 books of the Old and New Testament in the name of the rationalistic philosophy of man, and of cultural trends. We will simply assume the full inspiration and infallibility of the Scriptures as stated by the Word of God itself in passages like II Timothy 3:15-16 and II Peter 1:19-21, and will not let the rationalistic speculations of fallen men dictate to us what to believe or how to interpret Scripture. Rather, this article is aimed at those within the feminist movement who would still admit the inspiration of the whole Scripture but who think that the relevant biblical passages do not deny women special offices in the church and that thus the church for its past 1900 years or so has misinterpreted them. Moreover, we are also writing to the third group, those who claim to be conservative, while still erring on the exegesis of some important passages, among which two which are crucial in determining the right scriptural position (I Corinthians 11:5 and 14:34-35), and that still grant to the feminists that women should be allowed into the office of deacon. After considering the key scriptural texts, and seeing that they do indeed deny women all special offices unqualifiedly, we will present a brief biblical presentation of the positive role of women in the church.


The Correct, Scriptural Teaching Against Women Ministers and Elders

We will start our examination by considering what the Scriptures positively establish concerning the offices of minister (or teaching elder) and (ruling) elder. We will here not consider these offices as absolutely distinct as regards their essence, but we will look at the functions peculiar to both of them, thereby willing to imply that, although they do have a different function in the church, in different degrees both their respective ranges of activities are shared also by the other office. We will define what these offices involve, and then proceed to an examination of I Corinthians 14:34-35 and I Corinthians 11:5, two of the most important and foundational passages, often misinterpreted even by modern conservatives.

Let us start with the office of minister (or teaching elder). With minor disagreements and slightly different emphases, all the evangelical, Presbyterian and Reformed Churches agree that the functions especially peculiar to this office are to preach the Word of God, to administer the sacraments, to pray in behalf and for the congregation.1 On the other hand, those peculiar to the office of (ruling) elder are: to rule and take the oversight of the flock by teaching and admonishing the members, and to exercise church discipline.2

All of these activities, by both offices, involve the exercise of authority above those whom they minister to, and are necessarily done through speaking in the name and on behalf of God in Christ (in the case of preaching, teaching, admonishing, and disciplining), and in the name and on behalf of the church to God (in the case of praying). All of them involve exercising considerable authority in the church. Thus, the question whether women may be teaching and ruling elders in the church can actually be solved by answering these two more fundamental questions:

(1) Were women in the public worship of the apostolic church allowed to speak at all?

(2) Were women in the apostolic church allowed to exercise ecclesiastical authority over the other members of the congregation?

If we find that women, according to apostolic, inspired Scripture, were not then and thus not now allowed to exercise ecclesiastical authority over the church at large, nor to speak at all in the church gathered for worship, there can remain no doubt at all that they are not allowed to preach, teach, admonish, discipline, and pray in the church either (the main functions of elders in the church), because all of them necessarily involve authority and speaking.

At this point, we remind the reader that even within the camp of those who would answer "no" to the questions we have asked above, there are some who would do so qualifiedly. Some would say that women are not allowed to exercise authority over the church, that they are not allowed to preach in the church, but that they are indeed allowed to pray and to exhort. Some would say that they were and are forbidden to preach and that they were and are forbidden to pray in the church, but that in the past they were allowed to pray and even to utter prophecies, even if only in rare and special occasions. These views, in all their variations, we believe are wrong and contrary to Scripture, and are the result of a wrong interpretation of I Corinthians 14:34-35 and I Corinthians 11:5. We will here argue that the only consistent, biblical answer to the modern, feminist, "evangelical" contentions is that women in the church gatherings were not (in apostolic times), and are not (today) allowed to exercise any authority nor to speak at all, and this by inspired apostolic command. This is the teaching of I Corinthians 14:34-35 and I Corinthians 11:5. To these passages we will now turn.

I Corinthians 14 and Speaking in Church

We will consider, first of all, the matter of speaking in the church gathered for worship, which is the main thing a teaching (and a ruling) elder must do for the discharging of his office. I Corinthians 14 is the main scriptural passage regulating the matter of speaking in the church. From it, then, we do expect to get clear, apostolic directions regulating this activity in the church.

The Greek verb used in I Corinthians 14:34-35 corresponding to the KJV’s "speak" is lalein. This verb is used throughout chapter 14 to designate generally whatever was uttered with the mouth during the church service:

  • In v. 2, it is used for tongues speaking considered as functionally equivalent to uttering inspired "mysteries" (i.e. new NT doctrinal revelations; cf. Eph. 2:10; 3:1, 5) in another tongue;

  • In v. 3, it is used for prophecies, which are designated as edifying, exhortative and comfort-giving inspired utterances;

  • In v. 4, it is used for both of the above;

  • In v. 5, it is used for both of the above, and we are told that interpreting this speaking (lalein) was edifying to the church;

  • In v. 6, the Greek word lalein, used with reference to speaking in tongues and prophesying, is explicitly said to be a speech that conveys revelation, knowledge, prophecies, doctrine;

  • In v. 9, it is used to designate generally whatever was "uttered by the tongue;"

  • In vv. 18-19, the apostle says that he prefers to say (lalein) five intelligible words in the church, rather than one thousand unintelligible words, and this in order that he might teach (katexeso) others also.

The Greek verb lalein is also used in chapter 14 in the verses following those we have just considered above to refer to the same kinds of utterings, and in general to indicate anything that was uttered with the mouth in audible form.

Now let us read I Corinthians 14:34-35:

Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak [lalein]; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak [lalein] in the church.

The question we face at this point is this: since the apostle in verses 34-35 of this chapter positively and unqualifiedly forbids women to speak (lalein), is he thus forbidding all speaking on women’s part, including prayers, prophecies, etc.?

To this question, as we have mentioned earlier, different theologians have given different answers, and this within the "non-feminist" camp. In the past, Baptist theologian John Gill (18th century) and Presbyterian theologian R. L. Dabney (19th century) have argued that women in the gatherings of the church may have prayed and prophesied, in the sense of verses 14-17, that is, may have uttered with the mouth inspired prophecies which may have been in the form of prayers (vv. 14-15), inspired songs (v. 15) or doxologies and giving of thanks (vv. 16-17). This, they would add, was allowed only in apostolic times, when the gifts of prophecy still continued. This is so, they say, because I Corinthians 11, particularly verse 5, allows women to pray and prophesy in the gatherings of the church. According to this view, women were allowed to utter the kind of prophecies described before, together with prayer (v.5), even though they were (and are) not allowed to speak (lalein) in the sense that they were not allowed to teach or preach in the assembly, or to ask questions (14:34-35). Thus according to the Gill/Dabney view women during the worship service were and are allowed to pray (then in an inspired form and today in a non-inspired form) and prophesying (which today has ceased), but they were and are not allowed to teach/preach and ask questions.3 Some variants of this view are shared my most of the conservative, evangelical, Presbyterian and Reformed world.4

A careful analysis of this view will reveal that it is flawed. First, it implies that the prophecies that these women were supposedly allowed to utter, even if they were not in the form of teaching, but of giving thanks, doxologies, prayers, songs, were not teaching. But note, instead, that the apostle Paul says in verse 19 that even to utter five words (lalein), and that without making distinction as to the form in which they are uttered, was to be made in order to teach others! From this we infer that those prayers, doxologies, etc., even if they were not explicitly in the form of teaching, were indeed teaching and doctrine, and were given by the Holy Ghost with the purpose to teach and to convey doctrinal content. This content consisted of new, inspired, doctrinal utterances, that the passage calls "mysteries" (v. 2) given in the form of doxologies, or prophecies, or prayers. In whatever form they were conveyed, they were inspired utterances given by the Holy Spirit with the explicit purpose to teach and thus to edify the assembly who received them (v. 5)! A contextual reading of I Corinthians 11 and 14, moreover, reveals that by "praying" and "prophesying" are here meant inspired prayers and prophecies (14:14-17) that conveyed doctrinal NT mysteries, and that thus authoritatively taught, exhorted, and edified those who listened and understood them.

Second, even if it were argued that even though today all forms of inspired utterings have ceased women are still allowed to utter uninspired or, according to the strange notion of some modern charismatic conservative evangelicals (e.g., Wayne Grudem or C. J. Mahaney), "semi-inspired" prayers or exhortations etc., this would still be untenable in the light of the following passage in chapter 14 (vv. 34-35), where women were and are forbidden to speak (lalein, the verb used throughout ch. 14 to mean everything uttered by the tongue generally and in any form) when gathered with the whole church! They had simply to be completely silent, to the point that they could not have even asked questions (v. 35)!

The best analysis of the passage was written almost 100 years ago by Presbyterian stalwart, B.B. Warfield. Many today, including conservative evangelicals, Presbyterians and Reformed people, have the opportunity to learn from him the proper exegesis of this passage. We will quote him at length:

The word [lalein] is in its right place in 1 Corinthians 14:33ff … and necessarily bears there its simple and natural meaning. If we needed anything to fix its meaning, however, it would be supplied by its frequent use in the preceding part of the chapter, where it refers not only to speaking with tongues … but also to the prophetic speech, which is directly declared to be to edification and exhortation and comforting (verses 3-6). It would be supplied more pungently, however, by its contrasting term here— "let them be silent" (verse 34). Here we have laleo directly defined for us: "Let the women keep silent, for it is not permitted to them to speak." Keep silent—speak: these are the two opposites; and the one defines the other … He then adds explanatorily: "For it is not permitted to them to speak." "It is not permitted" is an appeal to a general law, valid apart from Paul’s personal command, and looks back to the opening phrase— "as in all the churches of the saints" … And that is the meaning of the … words that he adds in verse 36, in which—reproaching them for the innovation of permitting women to speak in the churches—he reminds them that they are not the authors of the Gospel, nor are they its sole possessors: let them keep to the law that binds the whole body of churches and not be seeking some newfangled way of their own. His injunction of silence he pushes so far that he forbids them even to ask questions; and adds with special reference to that, but through that to the general matter, the crisp declaration that "it is indecent"—for that is the meaning of the word—"for a woman to speak in church" … he tells us repeatedly that this is the universal law of the church. He does more than that. He tells us that it is the commandment of the Lord … (verse 37).5

We conclude this section again with the words of Warfield, "It would be impossible for the apostle to speak more directly or more emphatically than he has done here." We urge all those who are fiddling with the clear words of I Corinthians 14:34-35 to abandon their compromised exegeses, and submit to its full, perspicuous, even though unpopular, teaching.

I Corinthians 11:5

At this point, though, the feminists, and the modern conservatives would say that in the above analysis we are wilfully ignoring, to one degree or another, the teaching of I Corinthians 11:5, that in their view clearly allows women to prophesy and pray (whether it be considered in inspired or uninspired form) in the church. Modern conservatives would argue that allowing this passage to say that women may today pray or prophesy does not constitute a major concession to the feminists. The feminists, on the other hand, (correctly) say that if women could and can prophesy and pray in the church gathered for worship this should lead us to conclude that there is no good reason why to prevent them to preach, since preaching is correctly considered a form of prophecy: both entail conveying the Word of God authoritatively in the church.6 And if we take the position that I Corinthians 11:5 allows women to pray and prophesy in the church, we have opened the door for a reconsideration (i.e., twisting) of the clear words of I Corinthians 14:34-35.

But let us have a closer look at the passage itself.

In I Corinthians 11:5 women are commanded to cover their head when praying and prophesying. The feminists, and modern conservatives, say that this verse clearly proves that women are allowed to pray and prophesy in the church, and that thus I Corinthians 14:34-35 must be reinterpreted (i.e., twisted) in such a way that allows women to speak, even though the two groups may differ as regards to what degree they should be allowed to do so. But, as we have seen, if we let I Corinthians 14:34-35, taken in its context and according to its natural sense, speak in its full force, women are commanded absolute silence during the church worship.

So what should we say about I Corinthians 11:5? It is important to remark, at this juncture, that, contrarily to the flawed hermeneutical method of the feminists (and modern conservatives), who proceed from a passage that is less clear to one that is clearer in comparing them and determining their respective meanings,7 we should instead move from the clear statements of I Corinthians 14:34-35 to less clear passages, such as I Corinthians 11:5. Bearing in mind, then, the unequivocal command of unqualified silence given in 14:34-35, we thus turn to a close consideration of I Corinthians 11:5, and seek to establish its meaning in the light of the former, clearer passage. Long ago, John Calvin and Charles Hodge in their commentaries on I Corinthians 11:5 offered us a logical and clear exegesis of the passage, precisely by following the above outlined hermeneutical principle. Again, we plead with both feminists and modern conservatives to listen to the fine exegeses of two of the most important theologians of the Christian church of all time. We will begin with Calvin:

It may seem, however, to be superfluous for Paul to forbid the woman to prophesy with her head uncovered, while elsewhere he wholly prohibits women from speaking in the Church (I Tim. 2:12). It would not, therefore, be allowable for them to prophesy even with a covering upon their head, and hence it follows that it is no purpose that he argues here as to covering. It may be replied, that the Apostle, by here condemning the one, does not commend the other. For when he reproves them for prophesying with their head uncovered, he at the same time does not give them permission to prophesy in some other way, but rather delays his condemnation of that vice to another passage, namely in chapter 14.8

Charles Hodge agreed:

It was Paul’s manner to attend to one thing at a time. He is here [11:5] speaking of the propriety of women speaking in public unveiled, and therefore he says nothing about the propriety of their speaking in public in itself. When that subject comes up, he expresses his judgment in the clearest terms, 14, 34. In here disapproving of the one, says Calvin, he does not approve of the other.9

John W. Robbins, who in line with these great Reformed theologians of the past and against the views of both feminists and modern conservatives, has written one of the best and most consistent books in the last decades on the subject, comments and expands on Calvin:

The lesson in logic Calvin gives is extremely important: ‘By here condemning the one [speaking with uncovered head] he does not commend the other [speaking].’ If one were to say, it is wrong to go through a red light while speeding, he cannot be understood to say that it is right to speed. It is wrong both to speed and to ignore red lights. So it is with women speaking in church uncovered. Women speaking uncovered in church is wrong, and so is women speaking in church … I Corinthians 11, in which so many imagine Paul gives women permission to pray and prophesy in church meetings, contains no permission. Let those who say Paul gives permission there quote his words. Neither does 1 Corinthians prohibit women from praying and prophesying in church meetings. It is silent on the issue. The subject that Paul discusses in that chapter is not the roles of men and women in church, but the relative authority of men and women. After … he commands women, in chapter 14[:34-35], to be silent in the church meetings.10

After having looked at the proper exegeses of two key passages frequently misinterpreted or completely twisted by modern scholarship of every stripe, we can confidently say that the answer to our first question is clear: inspired Scripture clearly and absolutely commands women not to speak at all in the church gathered for worship. They are absolutely forbidden to utter anything and are positively commanded to be absolutely silent. But we have seen that speaking is essential to the discharging of the functions of the teaching elder, which we have said are especially to preach and pray in the church. Thus, even apart from any other consideration we could add in this regard, the conclusion is inescapable: according to inspired, apostolic command, women are clearly and absolutely forbidden the office of teaching elder in the NT church.

But what about the exercise of authority in the church? If not permitted to speak at church and thus to exercise the office of teaching elder, could women perhaps exercise authority in the church above every other member and thus function in the office of ruling elder? We have said the functions peculiar to this office are to rule and to take the oversight of the flock by teaching and admonishing the members, and to exercise church discipline. All of these require the exercise of authority of Jesus Christ in the church, and more particularly the authority that He Himself exercises in ruling, overseeing and disciplining the members of the church through them. Are women allowed to have and exercise this authority? What saith the Scripture?

To answer this question, we should notice that the way in which the ruling elder discharges his office is by way of speaking, too. Thus, already only from this one argument we should be able to conclude without any doubt that this office too is closed to women in the church. Nevertheless, we will show more proof from Scripture. First, let us consider what the Bible establishes concerning the roles of man and woman in the family, of which the church is an extension. If we will find that man and man alone is supposed to rule in the family, we cannot expect then to see the woman rule over man in the church, since the Scriptures do not contradict themselves. Second, we shall see that at one point the Scripture clearly and unmistakably says that women are not to usurp authority over man, by teaching in the church, but that on the contrary they are to be in a position of submission and are to learn in silence. Let us consider then first what the Scriptures have to say regarding the general roles of men and women in the Christian family. The main passages that establish the proper man/woman relationship in the NT are: (1) I Corinthians 11:2-16; (2) Ephesians 5:22-33 with Colossians 3:18-19; and (3) I Peter 3:1-7. Let us have a brief look at them in order.

(1) In I Corinthians 11:2-16, the following is treated: woman’s/man’s respective proper attitudes when praying and prophesying; woman’s submission to man’s "authority;" man as the head of the woman as Christ is the head of man, and God as the head of Christ. Contrary to the sophisms of the feminists, if the word "head" (kephale) when attributed to Christ means that He is the "head" of man, we cannot expect to see this same word having a different meaning in the very next clause when it is attributed to man to describe his position with respect to the woman. Man as man is the head of the woman. Moreover, the woman is said to be the glory of man (11:7), to have originated from man (11:8), and to be created for man’s sake and not the contrary (11:9). Man comes first, the woman comes after him, from him, for him, and to be his glory and help. The Holy Spirit traces here the submission of woman to man to God’s created design for the human race since the beginning of creation and before the fall occurred and sin distorted their relationship.11

(2) Ephesians 5:22-33 and the parallel passage Colossians 3:18-19 command the submission of Christian wives to their husbands in everything as unto the Lord, and clearly affirm that man is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church, thus delineating their respective callings in these positions of submission/authority. The important principle is here laid down that man and woman in their family relationships are to reflect the true marriage relationship between Christ (the loving husband and head) and His church (His loving, obedient bride). We learn that marriage among humans was instituted by God to be a reflection of His marriage with His people through Christ, and that thus as the church is commanded to be in submission to, obedient to and to learn from her head and husband, Jesus Christ, so the wife must submit to, reverence and learn from her husband. Also from this passage, we learn that, contrary to the protests of the feminists, the authority of man over the woman and his headship are established by paralleling it to the authority and headship of Christ over the church in the New Testament dispensation. No one who claims to uphold the inerrancy of Scripture should still have arguments against man’s headship and authority over the woman after reading Ephesians 5:22-23 and Colossians 3:18-19. That a genuine relationship of submission/authority between wife/husband is meant in these passages is further confirmed by the closely related instructions given to sons and fathers (Eph. 6:1-4 with Col. 3:20-21) and servants and masters (Eph. 6:5-9; Col. 3:22-4:1), both relationships described in terms of submission/authority (sons to fathers and masters to servants), and that with the same words used in the wife/husband and church/Christ contexts.

(3) I Peter 3:1-7 also exhorts Christian wives to submit to their husbands, whether they are believers or not, to be modest and to reverence them. Similarly, it commands husbands to be understanding and patient with their wives, by not abusing the God-given authority they have over them, in order that their prayers may not be hindered.

From these passages we see that the relationships and roles of husband and wife in the context of the home and marriage, clearly set forth in terms of genuine submission/authority, and rooted in general, spiritual principles regarding the authority of Christ over the church, and the God-established prelapsarian creation ordinances, surely are not to be overthrown in the church relationships and roles as the feminist argument would have it, since the church is made up of families (Gen. 12:3; Acts 2:39; 16:14-15, 31-33; I Cor. 1:16; etc.). Thus, these relationships of submission/authority between man and woman are to be consistently maintained, and this according to the regulations peculiar to the church context. If, for example, we are told that the wife is to submit to her husband in everything in the Lord (Eph. 5:24), we cannot expect to see her, in the church context, exercising authority by ruling in the church not only above her husband (unto whom she is elsewhere commanded to submit in everything), but also above all other husbands, and even by disciplining them, if this is required according to the authority a ruling elder has in the church! Already and only from this one argument, without need of inquiring any further, we should without any hesitation be able to recognize that the feminist argument for women in places of authority, such as ruling elder in the church, is absurd and contrary to Scripture.

But were these clear passages and arguments not enough, Scripture speaks very clearly exactly on this point in I Timothy 2:11-15. Being part of an epistle specifically written to treat matters pertaining to the order in the church (3:15), these verses declare,

Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.

In his commentary, Puritan Matthew Henry explains the passage (I Tim. 2:11-15) very clearly:

… Women must learn the principles of their religion, learn Christ, learn the scriptures; they must not think that their sex excuses them from that learning which is necessary to salvation … They must be silent, submissive, and subject, and not usurp authority. The reason given is because Adam was first formed, then Eve out of him, to denote her subordination to him and dependence upon him; and that she was made for him, to be a help-meet for him. And as she was last in the creation, which is one reason for her subjection, so she was first in the transgression, and that is another reason. Adam was not deceived, that is, not first; the serpent did not immediately set upon him, but the woman was first in the transgression (II Cor. 11:3), and it was part of the sentence, Thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee, Gen. 3:16. But it is a word of comfort (v. 15) that those who continue in sobriety shall be saved in child-bearing, or with child-bearing—the Messiah, who was born of a woman, should break the serpent's head (Gen. 3:15); or the sentence which they are under for sin shall be no bar to their acceptance with Christ, if they continue in faith, and charity, and holiness, with sobriety.

… Here observe, … their outward deportment and behaviour … must be in silence, with all subjection … Women are to profess godliness as well as men; for they are baptized, and thereby stand engaged to exercise themselves to godliness; and, to their honour be it spoken, many of them were eminent professors of Christianity in the days of the apostles, as the book of Acts will inform us. … According to Paul, women must be learners, and are not allowed to be public teachers in the church; for teaching is an office of authority, and the woman must not usurp authority over the man, but is to be in silence. … Here are two very good reasons given for the man's authority over the woman, and her subjection to the man, v. 13-14. Adam was first formed, then Eve; she was created for the man, and not the man for the woman (I Cor. 11:9); then she was deceived, and brought the man into the transgression …12

In this passage, too, among other things we see that the command of silence, and of submission, and the prohibition of exercising authority over man in the church, as well as in the family, is grounded in the God-established, prelapsarian creation ordinances. The woman was formed after man, and for man. That is the reason why we are told she must be silent and in submission. Submission and silence have nothing to do, as the feminist would have it, with the fall and the distortion of the roles of man and woman. Neither the NT dispensation nor salvation introduce in the church any new relationship between man and woman in their positions and roles. These words were written in the NT dispensation, as were Ephesians 5:24-25, and I Corinthians 11:2-16. All that the feminists argue against these passages proves to be nothing other than sheer, worldly rebellion against the authority and design of the Word of their Creator regarding the positions and roles of man and woman in the home and in the church. They have been thoroughly influenced and deceived by the culture of this wicked age and are twisting and contradicting the Word of God miserably with many cunning arguments which they bring from the world’s quarters into the church. But there is no middle ground and there may be no compromise between the position of the world and that of the true church. These people, both the feminists and to a degree the modern conservatives, must to repent of their wicked sophisms and humbly receive the Word of God with child-like faith.

Some Objections Answered

At this point, after we have drawn a clear and unmistakable answer from the Bible on the matter of women speaking and exercising authority in the church, the feminists, not content with Scripture’s clear words, come with many objections. We will present their main objections and then answer them.

(1) The objection from Acts 2

Objection: At Pentecost even "daughters" prophesied, and that in a public assembly composed of both men and women. What is your answer to this?

Answer: The instance of Acts 2, as is also true for other instances in Scripture, cannot be considered as normative to establish the general right of women to speak in the church. We cannot take the fact that women also prophesied publicly with men as a pattern for the whole New Testament period (as we cannot find a similar instance in the whole of the book of Acts either), because if everything that happened on that occasion is supposed to establish a pattern for the whole NT period, then we should not leave out the fire and the sound of a mighty wind as normative for every church gathering of the whole NT period, and no one wants to go this way! Thus, it is crystal clear that Acts 2 was and is to be considered in many ways as a special, unique event in the whole of the NT church history that bears unique and unrepeatable characteristics. The one prophecy of Joel 2 was fulfilled at that precise time in a special and vivid way, and the point of women prophesying together with men at the same time in the same assembly was a extra-ordinary, special, unique, unrepeatable event that pointed out clearly and in a unique and extraordinary way to the fulfilment of the promise of redemption and the inauguration of the "last days." This promise was made to the sons of Israel, but also to their daughters, as the Messianic salvation had been promised not only to males but also to females. Prophesying, then, was a clear sign of the starting point, the unrepeatable starting point of the new dispensation of the catholic Spirit of Christ who is given to men and women of every tongue in the NT church.

(2) The objection from OT prophetesses passages

Objection: The OT prophetesses Miriam, Deborah, Anna and Hulda are evidence that already of old God intended women to be prophets among His people. From this we infer that they were and are allowed to speak at church.

Answer: Miriam, Deborah, Hulda and Anna are clearly exceptions in the inspired record of the history of God’s people, and not the rule. They are mentioned in connection with their husbands or some male relative. This means they are identified with their authority, under which they functioned. Let us take a brief look at each one of them.

Miriam (Ex. 15:20-21) appears with her brother Aaron, and is said to sing a song in a context made of women only. She was not prophesying among men.

Deborah is mentioned in connection with her husband Lapidoth, thus indicating that her identity is tied to that of her husband (Judg. 4:4). Unlike the ordinary male prophets in OT Israel, who were sent to minister to people (e.g., Judg. 6:8; I Sam. 7:15-17), she is said to "dwell under the palm tree of Deborah," and the people came up to her for judgment. Moreover, when she went out with Barak, under his request, and not sent by the Lord (Judg. 4:8-9), she said that this was an abnormal situation that would have brought dishonour unto him, because the Lord would have given Sisera in the hand of a woman, who was not supposed to appear as having authority or honour over men. In Deborah’s words themselves we see that her functioning as a prophetess was abnormal and thus an exception.

Hulda (II Kings 22:14) is also identified with her husband, and discharged her service "in the college," were people went to talk to her. She is not said to discharge a prophetic office publicly, as we are told ordinarily of the male prophets (e.g., Jeremiah, cf. Jer. 2:2; 7:2; 11:6; 17:19; 19:2, 14; 26:2; 36:6). She too, evidently, was an exception.

Also the wife of Isaiah is said to be a prophetess, but apparently she is called such only because she was the wife of Isaiah. Of her we have no record of prophetic utterance.

Anna (Luke 2:36-38) is identified with her father Phanuel, and apparently she dwelled in the temple (that is, in the women’s court of the temple) as her house after the death of her husband. Her speaking to those coming to the temple can be taken as a speaking to individuals, much like what Priscilla did with Apollos in Acts 18, and not a public service, which was reserved only to males. The wording of the text is in favour of this interpretation ("and spake of him [i.e., Christ] to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem," that is, to all those who from time to time came up to the temple looking for redemption, and not in a public gathering).

(3) The objection from John 4:28-30 and Acts 18:24-26

Objection: The Samaritan woman and Priscilla are clear NT examples of women preachers. Neither of them were criticized or disciplined by Christ or the apostles for discharging this ministry.

Answer: Both passages show women witnessing (which is the calling of every member of the church in any good occasion; I Peter 3:15) and not preaching (which is assigned to and to be done by qualified and called males only). Both, moreover, are examples of women witnessing outside the public church gatherings for worship. They tell us nothing about women preaching in the church at all. Those who use these texts to support their feminist views do so superficially and improperly.

(4) The objection from Galatians 3:28 and Acts 10:34

Objection: These passages obliterate any discrimination between man and woman in the NT church, contrary to what you do in forbidding women the special offices.

Answer: Both passages clearly speak of the inclusion in the church of people of every class, tongue, race, gender, etc. They speak of salvation, that is, who are admitted by God into His covenant, salvation-partaking church. This church is made up of both women and men, free and slaves and so on. These passages are strong proof for the catholicity of the church. They tell us nothing about the roles of men and women in the catholic, salvation-partaking church. It is indeed amazing how feminists can twist these very clear passages.

(5) The objection from Romans 16:6-7, 12

Objection: Here we have Junia, a female, who is said to be of note among the apostles, and thus she was an apostle! Others women are said to be "labouring," and thus they were ordained in some special office.

Answer: Junia is an abbreviation of a common Roman male name. But even if we take it as being a female name (which is also possible, although not required), we should note that "of note among the apostles" can indeed mean that Junia and Andronicus had distinguished themselves among some apostles for their services to them, but not that they were distinguished apostles, because there is no evidence whatever in the NT that any woman was ever called by Christ to be one.13 The other women "laboured" in the legitimate sense in which the women around Christ did, and in the way Titus 2:3-5 and I Timothy 5:4-16 tell us they legitimately could. Nothing of what is said in these verses contradicts in the least the truth that women were not, and are not, allowed in special church offices.

(6) The objection from I Timothy 3:1-15 (particularly verse 11)

Objection: I Timothy 3:11 lists requirements for women (gunaikas) elders. Thus they were and are permitted to occupy this office if they qualify for it according to these requirements.

Answer: The gunaikas of I Timothy 3:11 could not possibly be referring to women elders, especially because these are required to "rule the house and children well" in I Timothy 3:4, 12, and this position of authority is most clearly assigned only to men in the family (Col. 3:18; Eph. 5:22-33; I Tim. 2:9-15; I Peter 3:1-7).14 The word gunaikas, then, can legitimately, and, in this case, must be translated "wives" for the considerations above. Thus, it refers to the requirements that the wives of male elders must have, and not to women elders.

(7) The objection from "actual experience" and "results"

Objection: Around the world many women preachers see great results from their ministries. God blesses them clearly with converts and people flourishing under their ministries, and this is evidence that your views are wrong. You should not go against the work of the Holy Spirit who Himself qualifies, approves and works through them!

Answer: First, no experience can ever be taken as an element to decide whether women are or not allowed to be ministers. Scripture carefully and rightly exegeted is the only authority to decide whether they can or cannot be preachers, and Scripture clearly says they cannot. From God’s Word we should then judge any experience and result, and not the other way around. Second, even homosexual preachers claim to see the same success women preachers claim to have in their ministries, while there can be no doubt that their ministry is contrary to Scripture and is not approved by God. These considerations should be enough to completely disqualify the argument from "actual experience" and from "results."


The Clear, Scriptural Teaching on Women in the Office of Deacon

Having treated the matter of women in the offices of teaching and ruling elder, let us now turn to consider women deacons. As we have said, a number of conservative churches, while agreeing with most of what we have said on the matter of women speaking and ruling in the church, would still agree with the feminists that there is a lawful place for women functioning in the office of deacon. Are they right in granting this point? We are convinced they are not. Here are the reasons:

(1) The office of deacon, in its original NT institution, was assigned by the infallible apostles only to males, and thus belonged only to and was exercised only by males (Acts 6). Among the first seven deacons that the church was lead to choose according to apostolic directions, not one was a female.

(2) Into this office one is installed through ordination, which is a rite symbolic of the conferring of authority, on behalf of Jesus Christ through other men, on the person ordained to function in that office. In the case of the office of deacon, the authority conferred is that of administering the mercies of Christ on His behalf to those in material need, also bringing them from Scripture words of comfort as an official representative of Christ in that capacity.15 Women are not allowed to exercise any authority over men in the family or in the church.

(3) The NT apostolic requirements for this office are designed specifically and exclusively for males (I Tim. 3:1-15).

Some Objections Answered

(1) The objection from Romans 16:1-4

Objection: Phoebe is said to be a "deaconess," and thus she is a NT example of a woman serving in the office of deacon.

Answer: The word Greek diakonon can and does mean simply and generically "servant" many times in the NT, where it is in fact so translated (Matt. 8:9; 24:45; 26:51; Rom. 16:1; etc.), and does not necessarily refer to an ordained deacon. This is so also because the ordained deacon, among the other qualifications, must rule his house and children well, and the Scriptures clearly teach that not women but only men are to rule the house (Col. 3:18; Eph. 5:22-33; I Tim. 2:9-15; I Peter 3:1-7). We do have examples of women exercising a form of diakonia (i.e., service) to the saints, but this does not and cannot imply that they were actually ordained in the special office of deacon for the considerations made above. We shall consider in the last part of this study some of the forms in which this diakonia (i.e., service) is expected from them.

(2) The objection from I Timothy 3:1-15 (particularly verse 11)

Objection: I Timothy 3:11 lists requirements for women (gunaikas) deacons. Thus they were and are permitted to occupy this office if they qualify for it according to these requirements.

Answer: The gunaikas of I Timothy 3:11 could not possibly be referring to women deaconesses, especially because these are required to rule the house and children well in I Timothy 3:12, and this position of authority is most clearly assigned only to men in the family (Col. 3:18; Eph. 5:22-33; I Tim. 2:9-15; I Peter 3:1-7). The word gunaikas, then, can legitimately, and, in this case, must be translated "wives" for the considerations above. Thus, it refers to the requirements that the wives of male deacons must have, and not to women deaconesses.


The Positive Calling of Women in the Church

But what is the role of women in the church institute and within the organic life of the body of the saints? What does the Scripture say concerning their positive calling as part of the church of Jesus Christ?

We shall answer by stating, first of all, that Christian women, with men, have been called by the sovereign, electing grace of God to share a place in the one church of Jesus Christ in all ages, so that they have always been and are a necessary part of God’s people, and the Bible testifies of this from cover to cover. Women, moreover, with men, have been granted the Holy Spirit in order to be engrafted into the body of Christ, having their sins forgiven, and being equipped to live a holy life of thankfulness according to the rule of the decalogue in every sphere of life. They are thus partakers of the holiness of the church. In the third place, women have been engrafted into the church of Christ from every nation of the world, without any discrimination of race or nation, and thus are in the catholic church. And lastly, women have been granted the high privilege to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven with men, in this way being among those who, founded upon the doctrine of the apostles and prophets, are part of the church apostolic.

But beyond the privileged status and general calling that women fully and indiscriminately share with men within the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church of Christ, the Scripture assigns them several important roles in the Christian church and family that are peculiar to them as women. The most relevant passages in Holy Scripture pertaining to the calling specific to Christian women are those listed in Proverbs 31:10-31; Isaiah 43:10 with I Peter 2:9, 3:15, John 4:28-29 and Acts 18:26; Ephesians 5:22-24 and I Peter 3:1-7; I Timothy 2:9-15; 5:3-16 (particularly vv. 10 and 14); II Timothy 1:5; Romans 16:1-2; Titus 2:3-5. From a careful reading of these passages we can provide the following summary:

(1) Christian women are specifically called by God to love and please their husbands (whether they are believers or unbelievers) and to submit to them, obeying them in everything which is not contrary to Scripture as unto the Lord, not exercising authority over or teaching them, but being discreet, quiet, meek in spirit, talking to them kindly and wisely. They have to be chaste, and dress in a modest way, recognizing that their best ornament are good works and not luxurious clothes; gentleness and graciousness and not precious jewels (I Cor. 7:34b; Eph. 5:22-24; I Peter 3:1-7; Titus 2:4b, 5b; Prov. 31:26).

(2) Christian women are specifically called by God to be keepers at home, by being laborious and diligent in the necessary and manifold work to be done at home, in helping and providing the necessary support to their husbands and children in their respective callings. They must raise children in the fear of the Lord by fulfilling the enormously important task of teaching them the Word of God at home (and in the Christian school, an extension of the home) and by being to them an example of godliness (Prov. 31:12-19, 21-24, 27; Titus 2:5; I Tim. 2:15; 5:10a, 14).

(3) Christian women are specifically called by God to love and cultivate Christian hospitality, towards strangers and especially towards those of the family of faith; to do good works such as assisting the afflicted (the sick, the poor) and the ministers of the Gospel in their needs (Prov. 31:20; I Tim. 5:10; Rom. 16:1-2).

(4) Christian women are called by God to be witnesses of the gospel whenever they get a chance (outside the public worship context), primarily by good works, and also by word of mouth. They must also teach younger women and children Christian sound doctrine and the way of godliness (Prov. 31:26; Isa. 43:10 cf. I Peter 2:9; 3:15; John 4:28-29 cf. Acts 18:26; Titus 2:3-5; II Tim. 1:5).

Of course, this is only a brief outline of the most relevant passages of Scripture bearing on the topic of the positive callings of Christian women in the family and church, and it is not meant to be an exhaustive treatment. For a more comprehensive view of the teaching of Scripture on the positive calling of Christian women, we recommend purchasing and studying Far Above Rubies, edited by Herman Hanko.



In this article we have seen that Holy Scripture unmistakably forbids women the special offices of teaching and ruling elder and of deacon. The main functions of these offices are clearly prohibited to them, and this means that the roles (but not the status) of men and women are supposed to be and are indeed different. Scripture tells us in clear language what their calling must be.

Let every Christian woman therefore take heed to the clear Word of God, shunning the false, unscriptural notions of feminism, refusing to take an authority in the family or church that God in His fatherly wisdom has assigned only to men, and instead reflecting in their manifold and vital callings in the church the beautiful submissiveness and graciousness of Christ’s bride, which in God’s eyes is of great price. It is such women who shall be called blessed and whose praise is both of God and of men (Rom. 2:29; Prov. 31:28, 30-31)!


1 See the Reformed Form for Ordination of Ministers of God’s Word and the Form for Ordination of Missionaries
2 See the Reformed Form for Ordination of Elders and Deacons.
3 See John Gill’s Commentary on the relevant passages, and R.L. Dabney’s The Public Preaching of Women.
4 Representative of the views of most conservative, evangelical, Presbyterian and Reformed people is The Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.
5 B.B. Warfield, Paul on Women Speaking in Church, pp. 1-2.
6 Following Holy Scripture, which teaches that in the preaching of the Word Christ Himself speaks to His church (Rom. 10:15; Eph. 2:17; 4:20-21; John 10:27, etc.), the Reformed and Presbyterian churches have always confessionally considered the faithful preaching of the Word of God as the Word of God. Cf. Second Helvetic Confession, Ch. 1: "The preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God," and Westminster Larger Catechism, Q. & A. 160: "What is required of those who that hear the Word preached? A. t is required of those that hear the Word preached, that they … receive the truth … as the Word of God."
7 In the case of the feminists, this is a very common hermeneutical feature. It plays a major role in their entire flawed scheme on the issue of the roles of women according to Scripture.
8 Quoted in John Robbins, Scripture Twisting in the Seminaries: Part I (USA: The Trinity Foundation, 1985), pp. 25-26; italics mine.
9 Quoted in John Robbins, Scripture Twisting in the Seminaries: Part I (USA: The Trinity Foundation, 1985), pp. 26; italics mine.
10 John Robbins, Scripture Twisting in the Seminaries: Part I (USA: The Trinity Foundation, 1985), pp. 26-27; italics mine. There is also another interpretation of I Corinthians 11:5 which is worth considering. According to this view, the passage (11:2-16) is not addressing the subject of church gatherings at all (which according to this view would not be taken into account until 11:17), but it is regulating, in general, the way men and women should pray at any time and in any situation. Among those holding this view are orthodox Lutheran commentator, R. C. H. Lenski, and renowned commentator and lexicographer W. E. Vine. They would argue that the words "in the church" are not actually in the passage, and that thus I Corinthians 11:5 does not say where women are here to be viewed as "praying or prophesying." The point of the passage then would not be to establish the proper behaviour of women when in the church, but their proper attitude in general, that is, whenever and wherever they pray or prophesy, with respect to the proper way of showing submission to their authority whenever and wherever they do it. Gordon H. Clark summarizes this view thus: "Since the later Corinthians reference [14:34-35] commands silence … the only problem is that of contradiction. On this point two things may be said. First … the prayers of women that Paul permits [in I Corinthians 11:5] may have taken place in informal prayer meetings. Or … the prayers may have been made in women’s own homes. Of course … these texts clearly presume that women did pray and prophesy. But the point at issue is where and when? The text does not say ‘in the church.’ It must refer to some informal gatherings, such as one of our women’s missionary societies … That there were, actually and historically, occasions of prayer and prophecy other than the regular church service, and that therefore the present interpretation does not depend on unsupported assumptions, is clear, if not from Acts 11:28, at least from Acts 21:9-11. What Agabus did hardly fits into a worship service; and exegesis cannot deny that Philip’s daughters prophesied, like Agabus, when no church service was in progress." Even if this interpretation is preferred, the conclusion is the same: women were not and are not permitted to pray or prophesy in the church, and thus I Corinthians 14:34-35 still applies with full force (i.e., it commands women absolute, unqualified silence in the church gathered for worship).
11 Reading the creation account, we notice other elements which clearly indicate man’s genuine authority over Eve before the fall: (1) In the same way which Adam named the animals in the capacity of king and prophet under God (Gen. 2:19-20), which activity in ancient OT culture was an act of authority, he named also the woman, and did so twice, both before and after the fall (Gen. 2:21-23; 3:20), which indicates his position and role was not supposed to change after sin, nor was different before; (2) before the creation of the woman God had instructed Adam not to eat the fruit, implying that Adam had been entrusted with the task of instructing his wife to do the same (Gen. 2:16-17), which is an act of leadership; (3) although the woman transgressed first, God searched out Adam and addressed him first as responsible for sin (Gen. 3:1-7), and in the Pauline epistles (Rom. 5; I Cor. 15) we read that Adam is responsible for the fall of the human race, not Eve, despite her having transgressed first; (4) after the fall, part of the consequences of sin for the woman is her sinful desire to rule over and dominate man (Gen. 3:16 cf. 4:7), which on the other hand may be followed by a wrong exercise, on the part of man, of the lawful authority he has over her. All this, plus the apostolic commentaries in I Corinthians 11 and Ephesians 5, is evidence that Adam was created by God to be the head of the woman, for he had been placed in a position of leadership and had been entrusted with real authority over her, and thus he was responsible for lovingly instructing and leading her in ruling God’s creation for God’s glory.
12 Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (USA: Hendrickson, 1991), pp. 2353.
13 We will take no time to refute the risible charge of the feminists that the "resurrection passages" in the gospel accounts are evidence for a supposed apostolic commission given by Christ to the women who were witnesses of the resurrection. These women were witnesses, not preachers.
14 Another of the qualifications required of those who desire the office is to be "husband [or man] of one woman." Even though the feminists have argued that the word "husband [or man]" can also generally mean "man" in the broader sense of "human being" and thus must not necessarily be taken as referring to a male, this contention is easily refuted by looking at the Greek term used (aner), which when used in a context where the other, more general word for "man" is used (anthropos, see I Tim. 2:1, 4-5; 4:10; 5:24) can only mean "male." The requirement that elders rule their families well (3:4), as demonstrated in the article, further reinforces this consideration.
15 See the Reformed Form for Ordination of Elders and Deacons.