‘The Ministry of Women in the Church’ – Noel Brooks
I. Scripture shows that women have a place in the ministry of the church
OT. Ex 15: 20; Judges 4 and 5; 2 Kings 22:14; 2 Chron. 34:22-25; cf. Neh.6:14; Isa. 8:3. Give special attention to Joel 2:28, 29 which points forward to the Messianic age.
NT. John 20:10; Matt 28:10; Acts 2:17,18l 21:9l Rom. 16:1,3,6,12,15; 1 Cor.11:5; Gals. 3:28.
II. It is clear, however, that Scripture place some restrictions on the ministry of women.
1 Cor. 11:3-16 – Implies that women engaged in ministry must not exercise authority above men; see below for explanation.
1 Cor. 14:34-40 – on the surface this appears to command the total silence of women in Christian assemblies. But see below for discussion.
1 Tim. 2:11-12- this supports I Cor. 11:3-16, but limits the silence to teaching. This also is discussed below.
III. Can these two aspects of biblical revelation be reconciled?
(A) Historically and traditionally it has been assumed that women are almost automatically excluded from what might be called “Clerical “ positions in the church, leaving open to them various voluntary ministries such as Sunday School teaching, women’s meetings, and in some cases missionary work.
(B) At the other extreme, in fairly recent years, some claim that the silencing of women was a cultural practice binding only on women in apostolic days similar to the wearing of the head-covering or the holy kiss or foot-washing. Thus, the prohibitions and restrictions on women’s ministry are not binding on the church in a western culture. Appeal is made to Gal. 3:28 –“there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither free nor free, there is neither male nor female; for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” If Paul’s statement here is accepted in the sense as a (even the) fundamental principle in this matter, it would put an end to the argument. The principle would stand in the same relationship as the question of slavery. Slavery was accepted in the apostolic church it was also accepted that in Christ slavery was abolished. It would take many hundreds of years for the ideal to become actual. It could be argued that it is the case also with the roles of men and women in the church. In Christ the distinction is abolished. The same privileges belong to both. In Christ the distinction is abolished. Yet Paul, who annunciated the principle of oneness in Galatians 3:28, in other passages [ text is missing in original document; following page has “ment, this would be a concession on Paul’s part similar to the slavery question.”]
Only with the passing of the centuries would women’s equality with men be acceptable, which time has now come. Hence, the adoption in many Christian denominations of women’s ordination, while other churches continue to agonize over it, and some even still resist or reject it. However, it is not quite clear that Paul’s principle of “all one in Christ Jesus” does apply to Christian ministry. Certainly in context Paul is thinking only of the blessings of salvation. There is no suggestion that he would apply the same principle to ministry. And in the passages which restrict the ministry of women he gives no hint that the restrictions were meant only for the early church. I myself feel unable to concede that the principle of all “one in Christ Jesus” extends to all aspects of life and of Christian ministry. The restrictive passages should be taken seriously. Just as in the natural roles and functions of men and women there are plain differences confined to one or the other, even though men and women are equal in worth and dignity, so, accordingly to the Pauline restrictive passages, there are forms of Christian ministry which are reserved for men, yet women are not de-valued or demeaned in any way by the restriction, any more than they are de-valued or demeaned by their sexual differentiations.
(C ) There is, however, a middle way of looking at this question
This focus on 1 Corinthians 11:3-16, a passage which preserves both the rights of women to engage in Christian ministry, and the principle of restriction on that ministry. According to this middle way Christian women are free to participate in all forms of Christian ministry provided the headship of man is preserved. The problem is discussed in some length by John Stott in the section “Women, Men, and God” in his book Issues Facing Christians Today (pages 252-254). His practical conclusion is that “it is biblically permissible for women (to minister) provided that the content of their teaching is biblical, its context a team, and its style humble. For in such a situation they may be exercising their gift without claiming a “headship” which is not theirs” (page 253).
It is clear that in 1 Cor. 11:2-5 Paul taught that women may pray and prophesy in Christian services. It cannot be denied that these ministries are among the foremost which may be exercised. In the 14th chapter he plainly rates prophesy as supreme among the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and in view of his many exhortations and encouragements to pray it cannot be denied that he viewed prayer at least as important. Yet, a woman may do both in the services of the church. However, Paul also insists that in the performance of these….[text missing? Next page begins “… wearing a head-covering…..”]
The typed text picks up….
“….wearing a head-covering. If she does “she dishonors her head.” The meaning of this is debated (Gordon Fee has a long , involved discussion on the passage in his scholarly commentary on First Corinthians in the New International Commentary of the New Testament , pages 498-530). Some claim that the term “head” here means Christ, others that it means husband or man in general, in this context gifted men in the church service. In either case according to Paul not to wear a head covering meant the dishonoring of that head. Is this a universal rule for the church today, or was it a cultural practice for apostolic times only? Some cling to the former opinion and insist that women in Christian assemblies, especially if they pray or prophesy or engage in any other form of public ministry should wear a head covering of some kind. Other, however, (for example John Stott) make a distinction between a universal principle which abides forever, namely, respect for male head ship in the church, and the cultural practice of head-covering. Stott says, “The practice of ‘cultural transposition’ seeks to cloth the unchanged essence of revelation in new and appropriate cultural dress. In the first century masculine headship was expressed in the requirement of female head coverings and in the prohibition of women teaching men could it not be expressed today, in a way that is faithful to Scripture and relevance to the twentieth century, in terms of female participation in team ministries of which men are leaders?” (ibid, page 253).
Wayne Grudem, in an excellent study The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today, discusses the subject of “Women and Prophecy” in chapter 11. He says: “In 1 Cor. 11 Paul affirms one temporary expression (head coverings) of an eternal, created difference (role differences between men and women). He sees head coverings as outward expressions of the difference between men and women, outward expressions which were commonly recognized in that society at that time. But there is no good reason for us to think that such an expression as style of head-covering (or style of clothing generally) was intended to be a rule for all societies for all time…What is abiding is the eternal relationship between men and women which Paul depends on to support his teachings on the head coverings, the temporary expression.”
Thus, in 1 Cor. 11:2-5, Paul recognizes the right and freedom of Christian women to engage in Christian ministries, but insists that they must do so under the headship of male leadership. The modern type of team ministry provides for this. [Note: this may be a clue to dating this document. Team ministries emerged in Pentecostal circles in the late 1970’s and 1980’s]
A similar idea underlies the regulations of 1 Cor. 34:34-27 where Paul says, in the KJV, “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.” In order to weaken this command some focus on the Greek verb laleo, claiming that the word means “to chatter”, thus bringing disruption to the services. What are the facts concerning this word?
Laleo occurs about 300 times in the NT in many different contexts, and was frequently in a good sense, describing rational and informal discourse, including the words spoken by Jesus, by the Holy Spirit, by the Apostles, and by Christian people in general. For example Hebrews 1:1,2 :” God, who at various times and in different ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son…” Did God chatter in this self-disclosure? Surely not! In Cor. 14 itself the word occurs 14 times, mainly in a good sense.
The remarks of Thayer and those of Bauer, Ardnt, and Gingrich should settle this question.
Thayer: The primary meaning of lalein, to utter ones’ self, enables us to undertand ots very frequent use in the sacred writers to denote the utterances by which God indicates or gives proof of his min and will, whether immediately or through the instrumentality if his messages or heralds. (Perhaps this may account for the fact that, the classical Greek lalein is the term for light and familiar speech, and so assumes readily a disparaging notion, in biblical Greek it is nearly if not quiet, free from such suggestion)” (Greek-English Lexicon to the New Testament, page 368).
Bauer, Ardnt, and Gingrich: In the Greek-English Lexicon…..on the noun Lalia which occurs only four times in the NT. “Mostly (in classical writers) in an unfavorable sense gossip or common talk; in our (that is biblical ) literature, always in a good sense” (page 464). Thus, while there is a faint possibility that Paul is forbidding the Corinthian women to chatter during church services, it would seem that it is rather a desperate attempt to rob Paul’s command of real meaning. The overwhelming evidence if Scripture favors a good meaning for the word and thus previous evidence for the view that in the NT certain restrictions are placed on the ministry of women. Paul is not telling women they must not chatter during church services, but that they should not take part in the ministry which is going on.
But what was the precise nature of this forbidden ministry?
In the light of 1 Cor. 11:2-5 it cannot refer to praying or prophesying, or indeed to any other kind of charismatic ministry. It does not appear to be only a repetition of 1 Cor. 11:5, namely, to speaking without a head-covering, meaning, assuming the headship God gave to man at the creation and which still stands. Wayne Grudem makes a good case for his view that Paul is thinking of judging of prophecies which he had just described in verses 29-33. He writes, “On this view, Paul would be saying, ‘Let the others (that is the rest of the congregation) weigh what is said (by the prophets….but) ‘the women should keep silence in the churches.’ In other words, women could not give spoken criticism of the prophecies which were made during a church service. This rule would not prevent them from silently evaluating the prophecies in their own minds (v.29 implies that they should do so) but it would mean that they would not voice those evaluations in the assembled congregations” (The Gift of Prophecy, pages 220, 221).
For women to sit in judgment of the prophecies would violate his command in 1 Cor. 11:5. Grudem concludes:” The woman should keep silence during the evaluation of prophecies” (page 224). The issue arises once again in 1 Tim. 2:11-15. Paul says, “Let the woman learn in silence in all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence” (NKJV). Probably this prohibition should be interpreted in light of 1 Cor. 11:2-5. That is, that Paul was not forbidding all teaching by women but ministry which sought to override the ministry of the male leadership. This is supported by the expression, “to have authority over a man.” Stott asks : “Is it possible that the demand for female silence was not an absolute prohibition of women teaching men, but rather a prohibition of teaching which infringes the principle of male headship” (Issues Facing Christians Today, page 252).
Grudem similarly writes: “Paul is arguing from a larger conviction about an abiding distinction between the roles appropriate to males and to females in the church…this distinction comes to focus in the prohibition of women from exercising doctrinal and ethical governance, even from time to time, over the congregation” (page 24).
Paul goes on to show that the ground for male headship was laid at the creation when God made man first, and women afterwards. In a similar way Jesus had claimed that the union of one man with one woman in marriage was grounded in the creation (Matthew 19:1-6).
Thus, Paul teaches, the respective roles of man and woman in the human family were divinely planned from the creation. Both have their roles o play and both roles are equal in value, dignity and importance, yet they are different in order, man being the head, the woman fulfilling her roles in submission to her husband/head. It must be stressed, however, that the husband’s leadership does not consist in harsh and unloving domination but in loving and gracious leadership, as Paul teaches in Ephesians 5:22=23.
Though Paul does not plainly say so, the implication is that the same is true of men and women in the church. Indeed, his reason for making the reference to the headship of the man in the family is in order to justify his rules for men and women in the church.