I grew up in the care of a woman minister. She is my mother actually and she didn’t just teach us the word of God, she taught my father the word of God and taught several other men and women who believe in her calling the word of God. My mother actually led my father who grew up in a pagan home and culture to Christ. So, my first experience of how God uses people was in a woman! Until I heard people saying that God wouldn’t use women to teach His word or minister to men, I have always believed strongly that God uses anybody to whatsoever capacity He chooses.
Before I knew what the organized Church setting was, I already had the experience of God from home and I have already heard God speak to me through His word, through dreams and few times in a physical experience. When I became committed in the organized Church system, I was a bit amazed at how many people especially from the orthodox and some Pentecostal circles viewed women ministers. This view was credited to Paul and I have taken my time to really study that place and know what it is saying.
Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 2:11-12
“A womanshould learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.”
This is a very difficult place to interpret but a careful look at the words puts up questions and shake the very things even some early Christians have made out of the words of Paul. No wonder Peter said in 2 Peter 3:16 concerning Paul’s commentaries
“Some of his comments are hard to understand, and those who are ignorant and unstable have twisted his letters to mean something quite different, just as they do with other parts of Scripture.”
Anyone can twist the writings of Paul to mean what Paul never meant but we can actually understand Paul’s writings by interpreting it alongside the character of Jesus in its entirety. Some questionable things in what Paul said are “A woman… A man”. Why not “Women shouldn’t teach men?” Another statement that is questionable is “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission.”
The question is, this full submission is to who exactly? What if she is being taught what is against God’s word? Should she be submitted to it? So many early Christian fathers have written a lot on this especially with an endorsement to restrictions on women in ministry and I am not trying to play the role of an antagonist. I am simply trying to communicate what I understand as a believer who checks the character of God and ensure the rest of the word we believe are in sync with it.
Notice that from verses 9-10, Paul was talking to women in general, he was encouraging them to manifest the godly virtues expected of them! But from verse 11-12, something changed! Paul stopped using the word “women” and used a singular form “woman.” In the Greek text, the same word used for women is used for wives and from the tone and quick switch to “a woman” rather than “women” we realize that Paul was referring to certain women here. He was talking to women who are under the authority of men, he was referring to married women.
However, was Paul asking married women to be quiet in Church? What did he mean with “learning in silence?” The Message Bible gives us a clue as it reads
“They should study to be quiet and obedient along with everyone else.”
Because of the woman’s wiring, they tend to talk or even gossip more than men and with regard to the excesses associated with this, Paul was saying “study to be quiet and obedient.” Obedience or submission here doesn’t even suggest an exclusivity to the husband but to God’s word! While women should be submissive as a way of expressing love to their husband, the peak and height of a woman’s submission should be to God’s word. Paul calls it “full submission” which clearly indicate a reverence given only to God. Does that mean women don’t submit fully to their husband? No, they submit as long as it is God’s will. A woman shouldn’t do things unpleasing to God as an act of submission to a husband and therefore we understand full submission as submission to God.
One question again is this, if Paul was writing to women in general, should he ask women to be submissive to men just on the basis of gender? Should a woman suddenly submit to me because I am a man? Should women look up to men they just met in the mall as their superior and submit to them? This raises a red flag in what we have usually made out of this place over the years.
Another big question lies in Paul’s statement which says “I do not permit a woman to teach or assume authority over a man” First, Paul maintains his sudden shift from “women” to “a woman.” It shows this wasn’t addressed to all women as it even allows the room of God using “women” if He wants to. The Message Bible also gives us a better rendering and it says “I don’t let women take over and tell the men what to do” You see that?
Although MSG translates “a woman” here as “women”, the original Greek text has the word used here as “γυνὴ (gynē)” which means “a woman”while verse 9 uses the word “γυναῖκας (gynaikas)” which means “women.” In this understanding, we can rightly interpret what Paul was saying using the concept of the Message Bible as
“I don’t let a wife take over and tell her husband what to do.”
So Paul shifted from talking to women and started talking to wives as regards their relationship with their husbands. He doesn’t want them to take over because of course, they shouldn’t take over, marriage is a partnership as God says in Malachi 2:14
“…You have been unfaithful to her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant.” They should agree together!
I always feel the misunderstanding of Paul’s words in this chapter of the Bible lies largely on translation errors. For instance, in verse 15, Paul was reported by some translations to have said that salvation will come to women through childbearing but this isn’t what Paul was literally saying. He was saying that “by the reason of childbirth, salvation came to the world.” This is because Jesus was born of a woman and we know that the only way anyone is saved is by believing with his or her heart and confessing with their mouth that Jesus is Lord! (Romans 10:9). Paul can’t be saying that the salvation of women rests on their ability to give birth and this is why I said we can only understand certain places in the Bible when we carefully examine it in line with the character of God.
So, Paul wasn’t saying women shouldn’t take leadership roles or talk in Church. He was saying they should learn to be quiet when necessary and also not try taking over and controlling their husbands in an ungodly manner. This counsel was addressed in part to all women and in part to “a woman.”
Should women play certain roles in Church or should they be quiet? Whatever Paul meant by not allowing women to teach isn’t to be interpreted in a literal sense. If Paul really meant that, then women shouldn’t lead in songs, they shouldn’t even minister as ushers or try ushering men into their seats. It means women should only be in Church meetings to listen and go away but somewhere else we see Paul say something that rules out the idea of women being silent in Church meetings.
Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 11:15
“But every woman who PRAYS or PROPHESIES with her head uncovered dishonours her head–it is the same as having her head shaved.”
My personal emphasis here in on prayers and prophecies. Paul wasn’t talking about a personal ministration here and we know that prophecy is a gift of the Spirit and the gift of the Spirit isn’t given for personal usage, it is given for service in the Church and for the maturity of the believers. According to Paul, Prophecy isn’t to see the future but to build up believers. He wrote in 1 Corinthians 14:4
“the one who prophesies edifies the church.”
In this context, we understand that Paul was saying “But every woman who leads in prayers and speak words of encouragements or the word of God…” Prophesy has to do with speaking to the people and the Paul wrote previously in verse 3
“But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort.”
Now it is clear that Paul never ruled out women participation in the ministry and whatever instruction Paul gave in 1 Timothy 2:11-12 isn’t something meant for the Church gatherings in its entirety, it doesn’t even define women’s role in ministry. That instruction is meant for women and how they relate to things. Paul wasn’t saying a woman can’t be a President, a Governor and of course a minister in the Church. After all, Church Pastors don’t even make the rules and take over authority if we must look at it from the Biblical standpoint. Concerning Church leadership, the plurality of elders is encouraged. The Church isn’t supposed to be governed by an elder but by elders. And so, even if a woman happens to be among elders, it doesn’t mean she has taken over authority because no single man takes over authority in the proper Christian setting.
While we have seen that Paul wasn’t suggesting women should play no role in the Church meeting, even if we go ahead to insist that this is Paul’s personal practice not to give women opportunity to minister in Church gatherings, it has not been the practice of others or even the practice of God! God used women greatly in the Old Testament, how much more the New Testament where the Bible declares that there is no barrier of gender in the calling of God (Galatians 3:8)! As much as God can use Mark, He can also use Mary. The tradition of not including the women in most reports was prevalent in the Jewish culture and this is why you may obviously not find enormous reports about women participation in ministry but there were records too hard to ignore anyway.
Concerning Miriam, a woman of God in the Old Testament, God recognized her leadership alongside that of Moses when He said in Micah 6:4
“I brought you out of Egypt; I rescued you from slavery; I sent Moses, Aaron, and Miriam to lead you.”
Do you see that? It is in the character of God to use anyone He chooses. Miriam was a leader too just as Moses and Aaron were and God recognized them together.
How can we talk about women who God used and not talk about Deborah? She wasn’t just used to raise a child or perhaps give birth to a saviour and then fade in the background. The Bible records that Deborah was a leader in Israel who before her leadership met a failed Israel but was used by God to save Israel. The Bible says
“Now Deborah, a prophet, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time. She held court under the Palm of Deborah between Ramahand Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites went up to her to have their disputes decided.”
She is a Prophet and yet a wife! She was a wife and yet she was a leader who decided disputes. Her role as a leader didn’t clash with her role as a wife.
I wouldn’t want to bore you with so many lists of powerful women God used in certain ways but if God could use Deborah in the Old Testament as a Prophet and a leader, how much more now that we are one in Christ? How much more now that there isn’t any law anymore restricting anyone from having access to God or serving God in any capacity?
Jesus said to the women who came to take care of His dead body in Matthew 28:10
“Go, tell My brothers to go to Galilee. There they will see Me”
Jesus was asking them to go tell the disciples, those who would become leaders about His resurrection. He didn’t ask them to keep quiet and do nothing! Jesus didn’t stop the Samaritan woman from going about and declaring about Him! (John 4:28-29). If women were to keep quiet and play no ministerial roles in the Church, why would they assemble with other disciples in the upper room waiting for the power to be witnesses of Christ all over the world? Jesus said in Act 1:8
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth”
The essence of the power of the Holy Spirit is to be Christ’s witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. If women were also filled with this power, women cannot be quiet about Jesus! They can open their mouth and give words of the prophecy, they can build up the Church and take leadership roles even while serving in submission to Christ as everyone else should.
Paul was never in any way saying a woman shouldn’t preach God’s word in gatherings if given the opportunity by any means. If God uses a woman in ministry and you feel disturbed about it, go and question God! Carry your placards and protest against God!
Quoting Joel 2:28-32, Peter acknowledged that God would use anyone regardless of gender and he said thus in Act 2:17-18
“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. Even on My menservants and maidservants, I will pour out My Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.'”
God calls men and women into the ministry! God’s calling and gifting aren’t restricted to gender and there isn’t any indication from God’s word and His character that He only uses men to lead or fulfil. How can we who have been saved from the law still be given to human laws and ideologies as regards to how God uses us?
This I believe! I believe in the ministry of women too!
~ George O.N