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In the first century, women did not serve as appointed teachers within the Christian congregation. This extended answer aims to explore the reasons behind this and examine how women contributed to the advancement of spiritual interests during this time.
The Apostle Paul’s writings provide guidance on the role of women in the congregation. In 1 Timothy 2:11-14 (ESV), he states, “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.” Similarly, in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 (ESV), Paul instructs, “The women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.”
These divinely inspired instructions directed women to listen attentively to teachings provided by appointed men within the congregation, remaining silent and refraining from giving public instruction. Women were expected to show submission to the congregation’s teaching arrangement, and any public questioning or disagreement would have been considered disruptive and disrespectful. Instead, women were encouraged to discuss any questions or concerns with their husbands at home, in a more private setting.
Paul’s reasoning for these instructions was rooted in Scripture, specifically the book of Genesis. The account of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden establishes that man was created first and that woman was deceived by the serpent (Genesis 2:18-23, 3:1-6). Consequently, Christian women were expected to adhere to these principles, acknowledging their subordinate role by wearing a head covering when praying or prophesying (1 Corinthians 11:3-6).
Although Christian women were expected to remain silent during public gatherings, they could still contribute to the spiritual well-being of the congregation in other ways. Paul encouraged women to dress modestly and engage in good works (1 Timothy 2:9-10). Their attire and demeanor would reflect positively on the congregation, providing a strong witness to nonbelievers.
Christian women also played a vital role in private teaching. Older women were expected to mentor younger women, helping them understand their responsibilities as wives and mothers (Titus 2:3-5). Additionally, women taught their children about faith, as demonstrated by Timothy’s mother and grandmother (2 Timothy 1:5, 3:15).
Women also participated in spreading the Gospel message as disciples of Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:19-20). Notably, Priscilla worked alongside her husband to provide spiritual guidance to Apollos (Acts 18:26). Christian women were also involved in acts of hospitality, supporting the needy, and creating clothing for others (Acts 9:36, 39; 1 Timothy 5:9-10).
In summary, Christian women in the first century played significant roles in the advancement of spiritual interests, despite not serving as appointed teachers within the congregation. They participated in private teaching, evangelism, and acts of kindness, demonstrating their value as members of the Christian community. To align with God’s will today, this first-century model should continue to be observed, as any deviation would be a human invention rather than a divine directive.
Were Women in What We Today Would Call the Pulpit?
Do Women Belong in the Pulpit? “MOST Christian laymen cannot understand why, if women can be monarchs, prime ministers, judges, surgeons, scientists, they must be prevented from celebrating Holy Communion and marriages,” writes Church of England clergyman Nicholas Stacey in The Times of London.
Although the Church of England trains women for special service, up till now it has not permitted women to serve as priests to administer its sacraments. Do you agree with the stand of the church, or do you believe that women should be in the pulpit?
Could Split Churches
The issue of women as clergy has become a wedge between members of the same religion. The Church of England could easily split into two separate institutions over the issue, warns Dr. Graham Leonard, Bishop of London, the leading cleric opposing ordination of women. Some people blame prejudice for keeping women out of the pulpit, but more is involved.
For decades, the Church of England has been trying to reconcile its differences with Rome. But in a recent letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury, the pope said that any admission of women to the priesthood would constitute “in the eyes of the Catholic Church, an increasingly serious obstacle to that progress.”
One important element, though, has been left out of this debate—the Bible. How did women serve in the early Christian congregation, and what should be their role today?
Equal but Different
At the birth of the Christian congregation in the year 33 C.E., women along with men were recipients of holy spirit. This is exactly as the prophet Joel had foretold centuries earlier, the apostle Peter explained.—Acts 1:13-15; 2:1-4, 13-18.
Later, Peter came to full realization of another important fact: “God is not partial.” (Acts 10:34) Literally, that scripture means that God is not a “taker of faces.” A “taker of faces” shows recognition and preference for another person. In ancient times, many a judge would favor the wealthy over the poor. Or verdicts would be handed down based on nationality, social rank, family, or friendship rather than on the facts. But Jehovah does the opposite. He favors only those who fear him and work righteousness. When it comes to salvation, God does not esteem a man’s ‘face’ over a woman’s ‘face.’ Both are on an equal footing with him.—Acts 10:35.
Therefore, the Scriptures afford Christian men and women an equal measure of honor as members of the congregation. The apostle Paul writes to Christians in Galatia that “there is neither slave nor freeman, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one person in union with Christ Jesus.” All have an independent spiritual standing before God; yet all are united as a body of his servants. All are alike in God’s household.—Galatians 3:26-28.
Nevertheless, there are differences between men and women in the congregation. But just as natural differences between a man and a woman are no obstacle to their complementing each other, so the different privileges that men and women enjoy within the Christian congregation should not be an obstacle to the congregation’s harmony. What are those differences?
Teachers—When and to Whom?
The differences center on teaching and authority. Women are barred from serving in an official teaching capacity in the congregation and from exercising spiritual authority over fellow congregation members. In his pastoral letter to Timothy, Paul plainly states: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man, but to be in silence.”—1 Timothy 2:12.
Paul next points to the basis for not allowing women to be teachers—a divinely appointed relationship between man and woman. “For Adam was formed first, then Eve,” he writes. (1 Timothy 2:13) God could have created Adam and Eve at the same moment, but he did not. Adam existed for some time before Eve. Does this not reveal God’s purpose for Adam to direct, to be the head, rather than Eve? (1 Corinthians 11:3) And to teach is, in effect, to act as a master, or head, over those taught. Those taught listen and quietly learn. Thus, in the congregation only men are to be teachers and overseers.
Need the fact that women do not teach in the congregation cause frustration and resentment? No. Women are free to teach Christian doctrine and are invited to do so. In what context and under what circumstances? Older women can be “teachers of what is good” to the younger women. And just as Eunice and her mother Lois instructed Timothy, so Christian women still follow their example in training children in “The Way” of the truth.—Titus 2:3-5; Acts 9:2; 2 Timothy 1:5.
Today, Christian women also follow the examples of Euodia and Syntyche by preaching the good news publicly. (Philippians 4:2, 3) They can be teachers by conducting Bible studies with interested people. (Matthew 28:20) Hundreds of thousands of women find spiritual fulfillment in this urgent work of preaching and teaching. They point others to the establishment of a world of righteousness and peace under the reign of Jesus Christ—a hope they share equally with their Christian brothers.—Psalm 37:10, 11; 68:11.
The Significance of Romans 16:7 in the Context of Serving as Pastor or the Apostleship
Romans 16:7 (Updated American Standard Version) reads, “Greet Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners, who are well known among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.” This verse introduces a notable pair, Andronicus and Junias, who were greeted by Paul in his letter to the Romans.
The term “kinsmen” (συγγενής) used by Paul to describe Andronicus and Junias could denote “fellow countrymen” or, more likely, blood relatives within the extended family. Furthermore, Paul refers to them as “fellow prisoners,” indicating that they had endured imprisonment alongside him at some point. These two individuals held a distinguished reputation among the apostles, as Paul explicitly states that they were “well known among the apostles.”
However, it is crucial to note that Paul does not designate Andronicus and Junias as apostles themselves. Instead, he emphasizes their prominence within the apostolic community. The Greek term “episēmos,” translated as “well known,” is a plural masculine adjective, suggesting that the appropriate interpretation would be “men who are well known among the apostles.”
In examining Romans 16:7, it becomes evident that Andronicus and Junias were highly esteemed members of the early Christian community, recognized for their dedication and commitment to the faith. While they were not apostles themselves, their influence and contribution were undoubtedly acknowledged and valued by the apostles and the wider Christian congregation.
Addressing the Argument that Paul’s Writings Were Influenced by the Patriarchal Society of His Time
The assertion that the apostle Paul’s writings were a product of the patriarchal society in which he lived is not a valid argument. To begin, if the Bible were written today, one could argue that Paul’s words were influenced by contemporary liberal-progressive cultural norms. This counter-argument illustrates that it is not appropriate to assume that cultural context overrides the divine inspiration of Scripture.
Furthermore, Paul explicitly asserts that “All Scripture is inspired by God” (2 Timothy 3:16) and that “men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). Although God permitted the biblical authors to express their thoughts in their unique writing styles, the content of their writings was ultimately guided by God’s will and not influenced by societal norms or cultural biases.
The divine inspiration of Scripture ensures that the teachings contained within it are not swayed by human cultural constructs. Consequently, it is not plausible to argue that Paul’s writings were merely a reflection of the patriarchal society he lived in. Instead, his words should be understood as conveying the timeless truths and principles established by God, transcending the limitations of any specific culture or era.
Deborah of Ancient Israel: A Distinctive Role in Biblical History
In the annals of the Old Testament, Deborah stands out as a remarkable figure, serving as a prophetess in ancient Israel. As the wife of Lappidoth, she played a crucial role in bolstering the faith and courage of Judge Barak, offering unwavering moral support akin to the encouragement a wife might provide her pastor husband. Furthermore, Deborah was tasked with resolving disputes by imparting divine wisdom and guidance to address the challenges faced by her people (Judges 4:4-5).
It is essential to recognize the distinction between Deborah’s role as a prophetess in Israel and the role of a New Testament pastor (elder). As a proclaimer of God’s Word, she did not assume the responsibility of teaching; rather, her primary duty was to convey God’s message. In ancient Israel, the teaching of God’s law fell upon the priests and Levites (Leviticus 10:11; 14:57; 2 Chronicles 15:3; 35:3). Judges 4:4 highlights Deborah’s unique position, stating, “Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time.”
The Old Testament acknowledges several women as prophets, including Miriam (Exodus 15:20), Huldah (2 Kings 22:14), Noadiah (Nehemiah 6:14), and Isaiah’s unnamed wife (Isaiah 8:3). Hannah’s prophetic utterances (1 Samuel 2:1-10) and Anna’s prophetic ministry in the New Testament (Luke 2:36) further illustrate that women were not precluded from serving as prophets in biblical times.
In conclusion, Deborah’s role in ancient Israel demonstrates her exceptional status as a prophetess, moral supporter, and conflict resolver. Her contributions, however, should not be conflated with the responsibilities of a New Testament pastor or elder, as these roles were distinctly separate in biblical history.
What about Women who claim Women’s Call to Serve as Pastors
Contemporary discussions surrounding the role of women in the church have led some to assert that they have been called by God to pastor congregations. This bold declaration has spurred a multitude of debates, but it is essential to examine the biblical context and the writings of the Apostle Paul in order to reach an informed perspective on the matter.
In 1 Corinthians 7:12 (Updated American Standard Version), Paul highlights the distinction between his own inspired words and those of Jesus. He acknowledges that while Jesus may not have explicitly addressed certain topics, he himself is speaking under divine guidance. Turning to 1 Timothy 2:12, Paul’s authoritative stance is further emphasized, asserting that women should not teach or exercise authority over men within the congregation.
With these scriptural foundations in place, it becomes apparent that women are not permitted to serve as pastors or deacons, as these positions require teaching and exercising authority. Analogously, if a homosexual man or a polygamous man claimed to have a calling to pastor a church, their desires would not supersede the clear teachings of Scripture. The Bible explicitly prohibits homosexuality and polygamy for those serving as pastors or elders. Therefore, personal feelings or perceived callings cannot justify actions that contravene God’s Word.
However, this does not imply that women cannot serve in other ministerial roles. They can evangelize, teach unbelievers, instruct unbaptized boys and girls, and lead women’s Bible studies. They can also contribute as missionaries. It is essential to recognize the specific context in which Paul wrote, “Let the women keep silent in the congregations” (1 Corinthians 14:34). He was not silencing women entirely but rather encouraging orderliness and respect during worship. In fact, Paul affirms that women can teach in certain capacities (2 Timothy 1:5; Titus 2:3-5).
In conclusion, while some women may feel called to pastor a church, the Bible outlines specific roles and responsibilities for men and women within congregations. It is crucial to adhere to these scriptural teachings and allow them to guide the structure and function of the church. Personal desires and emotions should not supersede the clear guidance provided by God’s Word.
 James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament) (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).
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