Scripture quoted by permission. All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2018 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.”
(Click here to read Part 2 – “Controversial Passages”)
Complementarianism (AKA Patriarchy): The belief that women are not allowed to teach the Bible to men, or have authority over men. Some believe this applies only to the local church, while others believe that it applies in every type of situation. It also teaches that the husband is in authority over his wife.
Egalitarianism: The belief that women are co-equal with men in our service to Christ and in the home, and allowed to teach and lead as pastors and elders—given every opportunity as men.
Among the doctrinal issues within the Church today, there’s no debate more heated and divisive than the one that is going on now between complementarians and egalitarians. The contention between the two sides may be at an all-time high….at least in America. This is a particularly hot issue in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).
Complimentarians typically accuse egalitarians of being disobedient to the “plain teaching of Scripture,” making the Bible say what they want it to say, denying the inerrancy of Scripture, giving in to cultural pressure, etc. Such accusations are baseless. They may have reason to disagree with the egalitarian position, but to claim that there is no biblical basis for it, as they commonly assert, is verifiably false. When one takes an honest and unbiased approach to Scripture about this subject, it must be acknowledged that there’s a legitimate case to be made for the egalitarian position. Indeed, I would argue that it has deeper theological roots, as I believe this study reveals. Once you get past the idea that 1 Timothy 2:12 means all women in all churches for all time, it’s easy to see, or at least it should be, IMO. It’s not as cut and dried as complementarians believe. This subject is just as debatable as the doctrine of election or eschatology. It’s simply a matter of interpretation. The egalitarian position should be given just as much consideration and respect as the other.
The longer I live, the more I study the Word of God, the more I observe what goes on in the Christian community, the more convinced I become that one of the primary reasons for misinterpretation of Scripture is positional bias or positional contentment. I’ve been there myself. We believe what we want to believe. We want what we want. We’re happy where we’re at. We like things the way they are. I believe a Christian can be so locked into their belief system or denomination (esp. if you’re a pastor) or seminary or network or group of friends and associates, that it’s hard to look at Scripture without a filter. It’s difficult to approach Scripture without a positional bias when there’s so much to lose. This is perhaps especially true regarding the role of women in the local church. To leave the complementarian camp to join the egalitarian camp, would be costly for many. However, truth trumps everything else. We must be willing to set aside our positional biases to allow the truth to lead us where it wants to lead us. We need to be able to view Scripture with clear eyes. Therefore, in reading this study I encourage you to set aside positional contentment, and sincerely consider the scriptures and arguments made here.
I’ve been a Baptist or Baptistic in my theology nearly my whole Christian life. Therefore, my position regarding the role of women in the Body of Christ has traditionally been in line with their core beliefs, which typically includes a complementarian viewpoint regarding the role of women. However, for the past few years I’ve been sitting on the fence about this. I’ve been rethinking and restudying this whole matter. What follows in this study is, what I believe to be, a reasonable interpretation.
Complementarians may not agree, but neither should anyone be regarded as liberal or progressive or drifting from the truth by holding an egalitarian understanding. Such is completely unwarranted. Humility and grace is needed here. Further, egalitarians may not agree with all my interpretations regarding the controversial passages, but we can agree on the bottom line: the Bible does, in fact, provide support for women leadership and teaching positions in the local church. The gospel of Christ is given to all people without distinction, and the honor of preaching the gospel is given to all people without distinction.
This study is a bit lengthy, but such is the nature of making one’s case about a subject like this one.
How do we proceed?
First, we need to determine if there are any biblical references to women teaching or serving as leaders in the assembly of believers, which there are.
Second, we need to consider three doctrines that confirm the egalitarian position, while providing an ironclad argument against complementarianism. Those three doctrines are: The priesthood of believers; Sonship; Spiritual circumcision.
Third, we need to discuss the primary controversial passages, which are: 1 Timothy 2:11-12; 1 Corinthians 14:33-35; 1 Corinthians 11:3; Ephesians 5:22-24; 1 Peter 3:1-7; 1 Timothy 3:1-12; Titus 1:5-9; Titus 2:4-5. We’ll cover these passages in Part Two.
The First Post-Resurrection Message Was Preached By Women
As we read the four accounts from the Gospels below, we see that it was to women that the angels appeared, instructing them to go and tell the disciples that Jesus had risen from the dead. It was to women that Jesus first appeared after His resurrection. It was to women that Jesus first commissioned to proclaim His resurrection to His Apostles and those who were with them. At the first post-resurrection gathering of believers, it was women who first preached Christ, not men. That established the pattern and the honor given to women to proclaim Christ in the assembly of believers from that day forward. A precedent was clearly established in that first meeting of post-resurrection Christ-followers. That should be our guide. That should be our foundational understanding regarding the role of women in the local church, established by Jesus Himself. We have no greater authority than the Lord Jesus. Along with the next section, this account of the resurrected Christ to these women, serves as our foundation for interpreting all other Scriptures regarding the role of women in the local assembly of believers. Please read these Scriptures:
(Matthew 28:5-10) – 5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here, for he has been raised, just as he said. Come and see the place where he was lying. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead. He is going ahead of you into Galilee. You will see him there.’ Listen, I have told you!” 8 So they left the tomb quickly, with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 But Jesus met them, saying, “Greetings!” They came to him, held on to his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee. They will see me there.”
(Mark 16:1-11) – 6 But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has been raised! He is not here. Look, there is the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples, even Peter, that he is going ahead of you into Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you.”
(Luke 24:1-12) – 5 The women were terribly frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 He is not here, but has been raised! Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” 8 Then the women remembered his words, 9 and when they returned from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles. 11 But these words seemed like pure nonsense to them, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter got up and ran to the tomb. He bent down and saw only the strips of linen cloth; then he went home, wondering what had happened.
(John 20:1-18) – 17 Jesus replied, “Do not touch me, for I have not yet ascended to my Father. Go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene came and informed the disciples, “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them what Jesus had said to her.
Passages like 1 Timothy 2:11-12 and 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 should be interpreted according to what Jesus Himself revealed in those first post-resurrection events. Was Paul confused about the role of women? Did he not know about these accounts regarding these women? Was Paul teaching something that is contrary to what Jesus Himself revealed and established? Of course not. Paul obviously had a proper understanding about these matters, being led by the Spirit as he wrote those words in 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Corinthians 14 (and other passages).
The questions that must be answered by complementarians are these: Was that first gathering of post-resurrection believers somehow different from all other gatherings of believers from that point forward, that would make it inappropriate (sinful?) for women to proclaim Christ after that first gathering? How was it God’s will to use women to give the very first post-resurrection message of Christ to His people, but not His will in all gatherings after that? What changed? Where’s the biblical evidence that something doctrinally changed, and for what reason? Was Paul correcting Jesus?
If complementarians argue that these women merely gave testimony about the resurrection of Christ, and were not really teaching, that doesn’t fly. It’s a distinction without a difference:
For starters, they weren’t simply giving testimony about their faith. They were delivering the words of Christ, speaking on His behalf. They spoke the very Word of God as it was given to them. Isn’t that what pastors do on Sunday mornings, deliver the Word of God?
In addition, this was the initial post-resurrection gospel message given, the very beginning of that message, and it would obviously be limited in scope at that time. Pastors today have more to work with, having the completed Scriptures at hand.
Also, the death and resurrection of Christ is the central message of Christianity, which these women proclaimed, which Paul himself proclaimed:
(1 Cor 2:1-2) – 1 When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come with superior eloquence or wisdom as I proclaimed the testimony of God. 2 For I decided to be concerned about nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.
(1 Cor 15:3-4) – 3 For I passed on to you as of first importance what I also received—that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, 4 and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures,
This is the central message Paul preached, saying “woe to me if I do not preach the gospel” (1 Cor 9:16). The death and resurrection of Christ is the central message of the Christian faith, the same message pastors preach in their weekly gatherings — the same message Jesus commissioned these women to deliver to His disciples on that first day of resurrection. If those disciples had the same understanding of the role of women as complementarians do today, they wouldn’t have allowed them to proclaim that message to them. I guess they needed Paul to set them straight years later! May I say, the conflict complementarians have isn’t with egalitarian interpretation, but with the example of Jesus, who had a different view of women than they have.
From the very beginning Jesus established both the pattern and the importance of women as messengers of truth in post-resurrection ministry among His people (Lu 24:9) — and that’s what pastors and other Bible teachers are, messengers of truth. The challenge for complementarians is refuting this pattern. But why would they even want to? Why not just go with it? Why try to explain it away when the Lord Himself provided us with good reason to accept and appoint women in teaching-leadership roles? Our Lord’s own approval and encouragement is abundantly apparent. So why fight it? Why not follow His example and adopt it into our church ministries?
I want to emphasize this point — that there’s no justification for trying to make a difference between speaking (reading, repeating) God’s Word and teaching it, as they go hand in hand. Anytime anyone reads the Bible to anyone else, particularly the New Testament Scriptures (as it applies to our discussion), they’re teaching. The Word of God proclaims itself. It itself teaches. It interprets itself. It speaks and reveals the truth, as opposed to the false teaching of the world. There is no truth apart from God’s written Word. It’s God Himself who speaks, whether it’s a man or woman speaking His words. Note what Peter says:
(1 Peter 4:10-11) – 10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. (NIV)
Those who “speak” (the truth) are teachers, and recognized as those who speak “the very words of God.” Speaking and teaching God’s Word are inseparable as God reveals the truth, as His Word is spoken and compared from Scripture to Scripture, as the Holy Spirit illuminates it to our hearts. Yes, those who have the gift of teaching take it to a higher level, but at its most basic level (speaking, reading), they are essentially the same. In other words, speaking the words of Christ – as these women did – is in itself teaching. We’re all teachers when we speak God’s Word. We’re His messengers. Why do we read the Bible? To learn. Why do pastors encourage their people to read the Bible? To learn. When we read the Bible, what are we doing? We’re learning. Which means we’re being taught the truth by the written Word itself, as the Holy Spirit enlightens and applies it to our lives.
When we speak God’s Word, we are in partnership with Him — we as servant-partners, God speaking His truth through us. For example, when we read or repeat John 3:16, we’re teaching the truth about Christ and what He did for us in securing our salvation. When we read or repeat John 14:6, we’re teaching that there is only one truth and only one way to God, and that is through Jesus. When we read or repeat John 3:36, we’re teaching that those who reject Christ will experience God’s wrath. We can go on and on, verse after verse as we make our way through the Gospels and the rest of the NT Scriptures.
The point is that these women spoke the words of Christ, just as we speak the words of Christ when we read His words in the Gospels. In doing so, they were teaching the truth about Christ, just as we do when we repeat His words today. Those words, and the words of the rest of the NT, reveal (teach, instruct, inform) the truth about Christ and the Christian faith. To try and minimize what these women did, to suggest that the message they spoke has nothing to do with the role of women in the church as teacher-leaders because of the notion that “they were not actually teaching,” fails to see the broader picture.
Furthermore, one can easily imagine, and realistically so, that these women went into great detail about the events of that morning, all that they saw and all that they heard. One can also imagine, and realistically so, that there was much discussion about what Jesus taught them over the past three years, and how it all related to the events of that morning. Surely these women would have had a part in that discussion, considering they were front and center with the good news that they delivered. This too, is teaching and leading as they discussed the teachings of Christ. Again, it’s reasonable to assume they did.
When Jesus instructed the women to go to His disciples (and all who were with them) to proclaim His resurrection, they were His messengers, delivering the first post-resurrection message to His people. Therefore, trying to make a difference between speaking the words of Christ (God’s Word) and teaching it, is splitting hairs. It fails to see the true significance of that event and the pattern that Jesus established for women that day. There is no loophole to be found here.
With all of this in view, it’s inconceivable that these women were not regarded as leaders among the people — not Apostles, but leaders nonetheless. It’s as if Jesus was saying, “just so you don’t get this wrong, I want to establish the role of women in My assemblies from the very beginning by giving them the honor of delivering the first post-resurrection message to My people.” Yet, 2000 years later, we’re still missing it — primarily because of two verses (1 Tim 2:11-12), which can be interpreted in so many different ways, especially when we include verses 13-15, as we should. Bible teachers know that to properly interpret the Bible, we must use the clearly understood verses to interpret those that are difficult to understand or not as clear. And if we’re given examples, like we are in this case, then all the better!
So did Paul not know about those first women preachers? Did he misunderstand what Jesus instructed them to do when he wrote 1 Timothy 2:11-12? The burden to answer these questions with consistency of Scripture, rests on the shoulders of complementarians.
When Jesus gave the “Great Commission” to His people (Matt 28:16-20), He had already begun to carry it out through women. Their commission was the commission of all women from that point forward. Not only were they given the honor of proclaiming the good news to His disciples, but they were also given the responsibility of doing so. It’s no small matter that Jesus chose to use women to announce His resurrection. So how is it that women had the honor and responsibility of proclaiming Christ to His disciples in the beginning, but somehow lost it after that first meeting? I don’t believe there’s any reasonable explanation for such an idea.
Finally, if the way complementarians interpret 1 Timothy 2:13-14 is correct — that Paul was revealing an unchangable truth about women — how could Jesus use these women to deliver the first post-resurrection message to His people? Would He choose to violate His own word, His own truth? Could He? We know He would not. We know He could not. This is a serious discrepancy of the complementarian viewpoint. We only have two choices here. Either Jesus violated His own doctrinal truth about women, or the complementarian position is simply wrong.
From my perspective, I think it’s clear. Just as the gospel of Jesus Christ is given to all people without distinction, so is the honor of preaching the gospel given to all people without distinction and in any setting — both male and female. We must conclude that women should be given every opportunity to lead and teach that men have, because that honor was instituted by Jesus Himself on that first resurrection morning.
Paul Recognized and Approved Female Leader-Teachers
As I mentioned before, along with the previous section, this is the foundational discussion. It provides the basis for interpreting all other scriptures dealing with this subject.
(1 Cor 11:3-5) – 3 But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. 4 Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. 5 But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved. (NIV)
Here we see that Paul recognizes men “praying and prophesying” (first part); that’s a given. But he also recognizes women “praying and prophesying” (second part). You can’t accept the first part without accepting the second part. It’s only reasonable to conclude that Paul recognized and approved the role of women praying and prophesying in the local assembly of believers, just as he did the men. The fact that both men and women prophesied is what the Apostle Peter also revealed in Acts 2:16-18 where he says:
(Acts 2:16-18) – 16 But this is what was spoken about through the prophet Joel: 17 ‘And in the last days it will be,’ God says, ‘that I will pour out my Spirit on all people, and your sons and your daughters will prophesy, and your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams. 18 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.
Peter revealed that what they were witnessing on the Day of Pentecost was the fulfillment of what Joel prophesied, and part of that fulfillment was that both men and women would prophesy. So we see that Paul and Peter revealed the same thing that women had a role in speaking God’s Word.
If that’s not enough to convince us, Paul confirms this allowance three chapters later in chapter 14. But before we see what Paul reveals about the role of women in that chapter, we first have to see how the gift of prophecy is defined. He does that for us too.
Those who had the gift of prophecy, were called prophets. Prophets were not individuals who merely prophesied about the future, but primarily those who spoke for God, who spoke the very words of God. This is especially important to realize in the context of the New Testament. While they may have prophesied about future events, their primary role was speaking God’s Word. In the context of the NT, the prophets spoke the teachings of the Christian faith as it was revealed to them — while the NT Scriptures were being written. Paul himself confirms this in Romans 16, where he refers to the Christian message as the “prophetic scriptures:”
(Romans 16:25-26) – 25 Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that had been kept secret for long ages, 26 but now is disclosed, and through the prophetic scriptures has been made known to all the nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith—
“Scriptures of the prophets” (NASB)
The “prophetic scriptures” or “Scriptures of the prophets,” should be understood as referring to both Old and New Testament Scriptures (instead of one or the other), as the prophets were “carried along by the Holy Spirit:”
(2 Peter 1:19-21) – 19 Moreover, we possess the prophetic word as an altogether reliable thing. You do well if you pay attention to this as you would to a light shining in a murky place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20 Above all, you do well if you recognize this: No prophecy of scripture ever comes about by the prophet’s own imagination, 21 for no prophecy was ever borne of human impulse; rather, men carried along by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.
Thus, the point I’m making here is that the primary use of the gift of prophecy and the primary function of the prophet in the beginning years of the Church, was to reveal the teachings of Christ (Eph 3:4-5). Christians in the early Church didn’t have the completed NT Scriptures as we have today. Yet they had the same need to learn the truths of the Christian faith as we have (post-completion of the NT Scriptures). I’m not saying the prophets necessarily spoke the exact words as they were written by the NT writers (what we have in the 27 books of the NT), but they spoke the substance of what is written in those Scriptures — at least as it pertained to the basic teachings of Christianity — until those Scriptures were in complete written form. We can be very confident about that. Consider the following passages:
(Ephesians 2:19-20) – 19 So then you are no longer foreigners and noncitizens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of God’s household, 20 because you have been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.
(Ephesians 3:4-6) – 4 When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. 6 This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. (ESV)
(Ephesians 4:11-12) – 11 And he himself gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is, to build up the body of Christ,
(1 Corinthians 12:28) – 28 And God has placed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, gifts of healing, helps, gifts of leadership, different kinds of tongues.
God chose the Apostles and prophets to establish and lead the Church, “to build up the body of Christ,” which only came through the revelation and teaching of God’s Word. The gift of prophecy (prophets) was second only to the gift of apostleship (Apostles). Since God chose the Apostles for this work, I think it’s likely that they all had the gift of prophecy. However, not everyone who had the gift of prophecy were Apostles. There were many others who had this gift, including women — as he reveals in 1 Corinthians 11 and 14, as well as Acts 2:16-18.
Notice that the gift of prophecy came before the gift of teaching, which is a gift that pastors (elders/overseers) have. The truths of the Christian faith had to be revealed before they could be taught. The prophets revealed the truths, while the pastors and other teachers gave the sense.
The Apostles and prophets held a place of highest prominence in the Church. Therefore, it’s absolutely certain that the prophets were recognized as leaders, serving side by side with the Apostles, as they together built the foundation of the Church (Eph 2:20). Again, this included women. We’ll look at this further next.
Note: Even if you believe the gift of prophecy is still active today, we must recognize the unique use and all-important role that this gift served in the early years of the Church while the NT Scriptures were being written and the Church was being established.
In 1 Corinthians 14 Paul describes the gift of prophecy and its purpose, and reveals that both men and women had this gift:
(1 Cor 14:3-4) – 3 But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouragement, and consolation. 4 The one who speaks in a tongue builds himself up, but the one who prophesies builds up the church.
Paul is clear that the gift of prophecy is for the purpose of “strengthening, encouragement, and consolation…….for building up the church.” This only happens through the revelation and teaching of the Word of God. Those with this gift received a revelation from God, and then someone else gave the sense or the meaning. I believe it’s likely that most who had this gift, also had the gift of teaching, since they are so closely related, as 1 Cor 14:29-31 indicates. The gift of prophecy was needed while the NT Scriptures were being written. The early Christians had the same need to know the teachings of the Christian faith as we do.
(1 Cor 14:6) – 6 Now, brothers and sisters, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I help you unless I speak to you with a revelation or with knowledge or prophecy or teaching?
The gift of tongues had a very limited use, while the gift of prophecy was all-important, as it clearly provided the teachings of Christianity in their own language.
(1 Cor 14:12) – 12 It is the same with you. Since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, seek to abound in order to strengthen the church.
Again, Paul emphasizes the fact that the gift of prophecy “strengthened the church,” which is accomplished through the clear revelation and teaching of the Word of God.
(1Cor 14:18-19) – 18 I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you, 19 but in the church I want to speak five words with my mind to instruct others, rather than ten thousand words in a tongue.
Speaking “five words” in their own language via the gift of prophecy, had far more value than “ten thousand words in a tongue.” If you don’t understand the words, then it’s useless; it has no power to edify.
(1 Cor 14:24-25) – 24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or uninformed person enters, he will be convicted by all, he will be called to account by all. 25 The secrets of his heart are disclosed, and in this way he will fall down with his face to the ground and worship God, declaring, “God is really among you.”
Here through the use of the word “all,” Paul indicates that the gift of prophecy was practiced by both men and women. He makes no distinction. While this may be a hypothetical situation, the point is, Paul makes no distinction between men and women using this gift. If Paul absolutely forbade the use of this gift among women in the local assembly, it’s highly unlikely that he would include them here. Paul continues to reiterate the fact that it’s the gift of prophecy that changes lives.
(1 Cor 14:26) – 26 What should you do then, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each one has a song, has a lesson, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all these things be done for the strengthening of the church.
Again, Paul indicates that both men and women provided a “a song, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, an interpretation.” Are we to believe that out of this list, women only sang “songs?” I don’t believe so, for Paul says in Colossians 3:16 to “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and exhorting one another with all wisdom…” Men and women are to teach one another, and the only limitation put on that is that we’re to do so according to “wisdom” and “truth” (Eph 4:15,21,25). By the way, there’s no difference between “singing” truth and speaking truth in our churches. Yet, women did so, even today, and even in complementarian churches—a puzzling inconsistency.
Getting back to our present text, Paul again emphasizes that the gift of prophecy was for the purpose of “strengthening the church,” which only comes through the revelation (prophecy) and teaching of God’s Word.
(1 Cor 14:29-31) – 29 Two or three prophets should speak and the others should evaluate what is said. 30 And if someone sitting down receives a revelation, the person who is speaking should conclude. 31 For you can all prophesy one after another, so all can learn and be encouraged.
Over and over Paul emphasizes the great importance of the gift of prophecy, because while the NT Scriptures were being written in the early years of the Church, this gift was needed to provide the teachings of the Christian faith, the same teachings that we have in the completed NT today.
Furthermore, with what Paul says in chapter 11 about women “praying and prophesying,” it’s clear that he’s bringing that forward in this chapter. I would also like to point out that in regard to the gift of tongues in those days, whatever that gift was (as described in 1 Cor 14), it provided the teachings of Christianity, but was very limited and had to be interpreted. Both men and women spoke in tongues (1 Cor 14:5,23).
There’s nothing in this chapter (leading up to 1 Cor 14:34-35) that would indicate that it was only men who had the gift of prophecy and that it was only men who used this gift in the assembly of believers. I think that would be an unreasonable conclusion. All indications are, both men and women were blessed with this gift, in order to be a blessing to others through the Word of God that they revealed.
Therefore, when we come to 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, we must realize that Paul could not have been forbidding women from teaching in local church gatherings. I think it’s clear that he had something else in mind in that passage, which we will discuss later.
The Daughters of Philip the Evangelist
(Acts 21:8-9) – 8 On the next day we left and came to Caesarea, and entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him. 9 (He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied.)
Philip the evangelist had “four unmarried daughters who prophesied.” They were one example of the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy that Peter talked about in Acts 2:16-18. These women weren’t just out in the wilderness somewhere prophesying (speaking God’s Word) to a bunch of women and children! Knowing what we know about the gift of prophecy, knowing how important this gift was in delivering the teachings of the Christian faith, we know that these women had to have used this gift in the local assembly of believers (1 Cor 12:28; 1 Cor 14:4,6,12,19,26,29-31). Even if they used this gift in other settings, the primary place for using this gift was among the people of Christ, as they gathered together to hear the Word of God. This gift was primarily for the purpose of building up the Church, to strengthen and edify God’s people. The central place for doing that was in local church gatherings. This can only mean that God used both men and women to speak to His people in those gatherings! It’s reasonable to conclude that this practice would carry over once the NT Scriptures were completed. To conclude otherwise would be highly inconsistent.
The same teachings that were revealed to and by the prophets, are now what we have in the 27 books of the New Testament. As I said before, I’m not saying the prophets spoke the exact words of the NT Scriptures, but what they delivered was the substance of those Scriptures. The reason we can be confident of that is because Christians in those days had the same need to understand the gospel of Christ and His teachings that we do. Thus, the gift of prophecy was absolutely essential until the New Testament was completed. Women played a major role in that, in the same capacity and calling of men. And again, to be consistent, this practice would continue once the NT Scriptures were completed. It wouldn’t make sense otherwise.
In Luke 1:39-55 we see that both Elizabeth and Mary (the mother of Jesus) were “filled with the Spirit” and spoke the Word of God. Mary in particular prophesied at length. Then there was “Anna, the daughter of Phanuel,” whom Luke identified as a “prophetess.” Luke said this about her:
(Luke 2:38) – 38 At that moment, she came up to them and began to give thanks to God and to speak about the child to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.
All three of these women spoke God’s Word. What’s also important to realize is that every time their words are read in church services today, it’s the voice of women who are speaking, as the Holy Spirit spoke through them. Whoever reads their words, are merely the messengers. Are we to believe that God would speak through women in those days (about Christ), and at the same time prohibit women from reading and explaining their words in the local assembly today? I believe such an idea is inconsistent, which doesn’t bode well for the complementarian position.
Priscilla: In regard to Apollos and the message he was speaking, Priscilla and her husband Aquila “took him aside and explained the way of God to him more accurately,” which took place in the synagogue in Ephesus. Along with her husband, God used this woman to speak the message of Christ to this man more accurately (Acts 18:24-28). For a detailed discussion about this event by Marg Mowczko, click here.
Huldah the prophetess (2 Kings 22:14-20; 2 Chr 34:22-28): Huldah prophesied.
Deborah the prophetess and Judge of Israel (Judges 4:4): Deborah was not only a prophetess, but was also a leader of God’s people, Israel.
Both Huldah and Deborah spoke the Word of God. In Deborah’s case, she was also a leader of men. They were messengers and servants of the LORD. Thus, we see prophetesses in both the OT and NT. Both under law and grace we see God speaking through women to men. If God had a problem with women speaking His Word and leading over men, how could He have used them at all at any time? And if He used them in the past, then what reason would there be for Him not to use them that way today? This is a glaring inconsistency that complementarians have to reckon with.
We’ll get to this passage later, but 1 Timothy 2:11-12 can’t mean what complementarians believe it does. Nor can their understanding regarding headship be correct as they apply it to women’s roles in the church, and we’ll get to that subject later, as well. Complementarians can’t just ignore or explain away the fact that God used women to lead men and spoke through women to men in both Testaments. This is where we need to start, not with 1 Timothy 2.
(Romans 16:7) – 7 Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was. (NIV)
Most translators are in agreement that “Junia” (female) is the correct translation, rather “Junias” (male). It’s believed that she was either the wife of Andronicus or his sister. Also, many believe the Greek should be translated as “outstanding among the apostles” or “prominent among the apostles” (as is the case with the NIV), rather than “well known to the apostles” or “highly respected (or noteworthy) in the eyes of the apostles,” as other translations read. For an extended discussion on this verse by Marg Mowczko, click here and here.
For a very informative study about Euodia and Syntyche, by Marg Mowczko, click here.
The Church is a Bride!
Of all the women discussed in this study, the discussion of this “female” is perhaps the most significant of all. The Church is called the “Bride, the wife of the Lamb” (Rev 21:9). In other words, the Church is the Bride of Christ (Rev 19:7-9; Rev 21:2). Even more to the point, female terms are used to identify the Church, which is the Body of Christ (Col 1:24; Eph 4:15; Eph 5:23). A female designation has been given to the Church. The significance of this cannot be overstated—because the Church is composed of both female and male members. This is important to realize because the gifts of the Spirit and the various ministries of the local assembly, are discussed in the context of both the Body of Christ and the human body (Eph 4:11-16; 1 Cor 12), which neither is presented as a male body. This also applies to marriage and the home, where the Body of Christ is discussed in that context in Ephesians 5:21-33.
When such an entity is designated as female – as the Church is – the gifts and ministries of its female members cannot be, and must not be, diminished. Likewise, wives. Rather, such a designation actually elevates the status of the female members. Or to put it another way, how can any entity or organism that is designated as female, have inferior roles to their male counterparts? Does that really make any sense? To relegate women servants of Christ to non-leadership and non-teaching roles is completely contrary to the nature of the Body of Christ and how it’s described. If anything, in view of its designation, it’s males who should be relegated to non-leadership and non-teaching roles. However, we know that would be nonsense. That’s not what the Bible teaches.
The truth is, as male and female servants, as one in Christ and equal members of His body, neither can be diminished to a lesser role than the other, and neither can be elevated to a higher role than the other. It wouldn’t make sense either way. The only male authority in this body that matters is the authority of the Lord Jesus, who is the authority of us all.
It also needs to be pointed out that, it’s the corporate body that’s viewed as female (Bride), as a new creation in Christ, as a new entity (Eph 2:11-22). But as individual members of this body, there is “neither male nor female” (Gal 2:28). Those distinctions are done away in Christ. We are simply “one in Christ.” Therefore, functionally, when Paul talks about the gifts of the Spirit and the various ministries of the body, it’s viewed as female—while the individual members of this body are viewed as neither a male nor female. What the Bible doesn’t do, is describe the Body of Christ or its members, as male.
The division between male and female (which I believe occurred in the fall), is removed in Christ. In Him there is now a complete union of the two. Patriarchy destroys this beautiful picture. It fails to recognize the glorious reality that we have in our union with Him. Patriarchy creates a division where there is none. Functionally, it causes division in both the Church worldwide and in our local assemblies—which can and does lead to many problems. The same is true of marriage and the home. Disharmony of truth leads to disharmony in how it’s lived out.
Complementarianism is out of harmony with the Priesthood of Believers
(1 Peter 2:4-5,9) – 4 So as you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but chosen and precious in God’s sight, 5 you yourselves, as living stones, are built up as a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood and to offer spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ…..9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may proclaim the virtues of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
In this passage Peter is quoting Exodus 19:5-6:
(Ex 19:5-6) – 5 And now, if you will diligently listen to me and keep my covenant, then you will be my special possession out of all the nations, for all the earth is mine, 6 and you will be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you will speak to the Israelites.”
The nation of Israel was a kingdom of priests. That is, it was a nation made up of priests, who served in the “temple of the LORD” (1 Sam 3:3). The temple was a type of the Church, which is the “temple of God” of the New Covenant (NC) (2 Cor 6:16). Thus, we as the Church are a “kingdom of priests.” That is, we are the kingdom of God made up of priests, with Jesus as High Priest (He 4:14)—just as Aaron was a high priest of Israel under the Old Covenant (OC). The priests of the OC served God on behalf of the people of Israel. The people presented themselves to God through the priesthood. The high priest made atonement for the sins of the people once a year (Ex 30:10; Lev 16:29-34; He 9:7), and who was a type of Christ, who would make atonement for His people once for all time (He 9) as the High Priest of the NC. The other priests of Israel served God in other ways, making various other offerings to God on behalf of the people (Nu 29:39).
In Christ of the NC, we are individually priests unto God, as members of the Body of Christ. All believers in Christ serve God as NC priests—both male and female. We no longer need to approach God through the Old Testament priesthood, because we ourselves are priests in Christ, with Jesus as our High Priest, as Head of the Church. We now have direct access to God through Him (Eph 2:18; He 4:16; He 10:19-23). The OC priests were ministers of God, who served God on behalf of the people. Likewise, we as NC priests are ministers of God, offering ourselves as a “living sacrifice” (Ro 12:1).
What we’re to learn from this is that the priests of the OT were all males. However, in Christ both male and female are priests unto God. All the duties and privileges of the male priesthood are given to all believers in Christ, both male and female. As members of the Body of Christ and as servants of the Lord, there is no distinction between us, as Paul tells us in Galatians 3:28 and Ephesians 2:11-22). We are all “one in Christ” (Ga 3:28). Male and female distinctions as ministers of Christ are done away with in Him. We serve God as NC priests who are equal in every way.
The OT priests served equally, and were subordinate to no other priest, except to the high priest. The high priest was over all the others, as Christ is over all of us as our High Priest. The picture that the OT priesthood presents couldn’t be any clearer. How it applies to us as a NC priesthood, couldn’t be any clearer.
For complementarians to squeeze subordinate roles out of all this – male ministers in authority over female ministers – is inconsistent to the extreme. That’s not the picture that is given to us. That’s not what the Bible reveals. Patriarchy is completely out of harmony with the priesthood of believers. How does one see such a division between us except through a patriarchy lens? Because the only way for that to be true is if the priesthood of believers consisted only of males. The reality is, the only hierarchy of authority is between us (male and female) and Christ our High Priest. Complementarianism divides us where there is no division in our service to the Lord.
Complementarianism is out of harmony with sonship
(Galatians 4:4-7) – 4 But when the appropriate time had come, God sent out his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we may be adopted as sons with full rights. 6 And because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, who calls “Abba! Father!” 7 So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if you are a son, then you are also an heir through God.
(Romans 8:16-17) – 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. (NIV)
(Hebrews 1:2) – 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. (NIV)
(Galatians 3:28) – 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female—for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
From slaves to sons: I believe sonship confirms the egalitarian position for roles of women in the local church. In Christ, we – both male and female – have been adopted into full sonship, with all of the rights and authority that goes with it. (See Rom 8:17). When we’re out of this body of sin and in the eternal presence of God, we’ll enjoy the full experience of it. However, positionally, this is all ours now.
Before Christ, we were slaves to sin and death, separated from God. We were not His children. In Christ, we are born into the family of God as His children (regeneration). But we’re also adopted (a legal term, legal standing) into sonship as co-heirs with Christ (He 1:2), where we’re given all the rights and privileges and authority as a son (or daughter), who has received a full inheritance. This is equality in Christ.
This is an amazing revelation. We are co-heirs with Christ of all the spiritual blessings that are in Him as a new creation (Eph 1:3; Eph 2:14-15). We’re given all the rights and privileges and authority that belongs to an adopted son and daughter. It’s a legal matter that transfers all these things to the adopted children. Yes, women are women and men are men biologically, but as it pertains to rights and privileges and authority in our life and service to Christ, we are equals. The idea that men and women are equals but with different roles in our service to Christ (complementarianism), doesn’t line up with the inheritance that is involved in sonship, as those who belong to Christ and are co-heirs with Him. The complementarian position is out of harmony with all that sonship-inheritance represents. This is a major flaw in their position.
In eternity we will fully experience Galatians 3:28, where there will be no distinctions between us. All people and race distinctions will be forever done away with. We’ll simply be servants of the Lord, as one new creation, one new people in Christ (Eph 2:14-15). But positionally, in Christ, this is who we are now! We don’t wait until the eternal kingdom for these things to be true and put into practice as adopted sons and daughters now. Yes, women are women and men are men biologically, but spiritually there are no distinctions between us in living our lives and in our service to Christ. Sonship is something that belongs to us now, and is equal for men and women in every respect, and is to be lived out in our lives now.
Complementarianism is out of harmony with spiritual circumcision
It’s significant that Paul says in Philippians 3:3 that “we are the circumcision, the ones who worship by the Spirit of God.” At the time of conversion, when we place our faith in Christ, we experience the circumcision of the heart (Ro 2:29). This is spiritual circumcision that he’s talking about. Circumcision is a male thing, but spiritually, it’s applied to both men and women, because these distinctions are done away with in Christ. We’re equals in Him (Ga 2:28).
The Church as the Bride of Christ, the priesthood of believers, sonship and spiritual circumcision, all reveal a major flaw in the complementarian position. Each doctrine reveals a serious inconsistency with their position. Combining the four, they form one of the strongest arguments against complementarianism—if not insurmountable. On the positive side, they form one of the strongest cases for the egalitarian position. The significance of these four doctrines alone should turn even the most hard-line complementarian away from that position.
We could stop right here and all of this would be enough to confirm that women have a God-ordained role in the local church as leader-teachers. Even before looking at the passages in the next section, we’re already compelled to conclude that the complementarian understanding of those passages cannot be correct. However, it’s important that we try to get a proper understanding of the whole.
(Click here to read Part 2)