Women In Leadership?

This always seems to be a hot topic in some circles. Many have been taught that women cannot be in authority because (1) 1 Cor 14 says they are to be silent in church (2) 1 Tim 2:11-12 says that women are to learn in silence with all submission and are not to have authority over a man (per some translations) and (3) 1 Tim 3 teaches that leaders must be “the husband of one wife”, so a leader would have to be male.

Let’s take a look at 1 Cor 14:34-35 in context: “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.  And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home, for it is shameful for women to speak in church.” This is talking about women causing a distraction asking their husbands questions during the service – they are not to do it. This cannot mean that a woman must be completely mute during a service.  For one thing, how could your “sons and daughters” prophesy as Joel predicted and Peter affirmed if women had to have duct tape over their mouths?  If this “silence” means total lack of sound, we cannot allow women to pray in church, lead worship, even participate in praise and worship, teach Sunday school, be greeters (except sign-language greeters for the deaf), etc..

But what about women preaching, teaching and leading?  In Judges 4, Deborah had a position of authority as the judge of Israel. If you were a man, you had to submit to her decisions! The first people who proclaimed the resurrection were women who were commanded to tell the male disciples (“and Peter!”) that Jesus was alive.  Mary and other women were in the upper room in Acts 1, and they all prophesied in tongues to the people in Jerusalem. Therefore, Mary and the other women were preaching about God’s works to the men assembled in Jerusalem. If they could do so then, why not now?

Because, some say, no woman can teach or have authority over a man.  Yet Priscilla and Aquila BOTH taught the man Apollos in Acts 18.

How can we square this with 1 Timothy 2? We must conclude that 1 Tim 2 is a similar thought to 1 Cor 14 where a woman is learning.

If a woman is sitting in the congregation, she should not try to start teaching her husband while someone else is teaching.

But doesn’t it say that a woman can’t teach or have authority over a man?  This is a rare case where the old King James Version is actually clearer than the New King James Version, except that the modern usage of suffer doesn’t mean permit as it does here:  “But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.” We’ve already determined women don’t’ have to be mute all the time, but notice here the idea that the woman should not usurp authority that isn’t hers – over “the man”. This would apparently refer to her husband, not any man in general, since for example a single woman does not have to submit to any man (other than to a church leader in church business or a boss at work).  I believe that Paul is addressing the same kind of situation he was addressing in 1 Cor 14 of women being out of order during church services.

Yes, but what about 1 Tim 3’s requirement that elders and deacons be the husband of one wife?  The only clear meaning is that the elder or deacon not be a polygamist. A strict interpretation of this would prevent any single people from ever serving in leadership, and Paul was single, so that can’t be what he meant.

As far as the “husband” part goes, it doesn’t mention the wife of one husband, so could a church leader actually be a woman? Yes, per Paul himself! In Romans 16:1-2, Paul told the Romans to help Phoebe (we know she’s a woman because Paul calls her a sister) with any business she had need of.  Phoebe had a position of responsibility.  Actually, we can even tell what that position was: “a servant of the church in Cenchrea” – the word servant is the same word translated deacon in 1 Tim 3 where it says that the deacon must be the husband of one wife!  So Scripture itself prevents a narrow interpretation of 1 Tim 3 to restrict leadership positions to men.

Paul goes on to greet other  women who labored in the gospel.  For example, “Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers” as opposed to “Aquila, my fellow worker, and Priscilla, his helpmate, who sat smiling and admiring what Aquila did and saying, ‘Nice teaching, dear’ after sitting in silence.” (Especially since Priscilla was named first!)

God can and does use women in leadership.  If you’re a woman, God can use you! (Our leadership training is open to both genders!)