Complementarianism, Rock Your Role

The Mailbag: Questions about the role of women in the church

A reader recently left a comment containing numerous questions on my article Rock Your Role: Jill in the Pulpit (1 Timothy 2:11-12). Her individual questions are in bold type below with my answers in regular type.

If you have questions about the role of women in the church, I recommend not only that article, but all of the articles in my Rock Your Role series. Jill, Rock Your Role FAQs, and The Mailbag: Counter Arguments to Egalitarianism seem to answer the questions I’m asked the most, so you may want to start with those.


some honest questions here

Thanks for asking. I hope my answers will help. I’d like to preface my answers with some biblical information I hope will be helpful to all of my readers when addressing questions and issues like this:

You did not say whether or not you are a genuinely regenerated Christian, nor was I able to infer from your questions whether or not you are. This is going to be crucial to your understanding and accepting the biblical answers I’m about to give you, because Scripture makes clear to us that people who aren’t saved do not embrace the things of God. They aren’t even able to understand them in any meaningful way.

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

1 Corinthians 2:14

Scripture is also clear that those who belong to Christ will obey His written Word, while those who do not belong to Christ -even if they claim to be Christians- don’t obey His written Word.

And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.

1 John 2:3-6

Sometimes when we read hard truths in the Bible, we initially struggle to accept them, but genuinely born again Christians are on a general trajectory of increasing in their love for, understanding of, and submission to God’s written Word. False converts (unsaved people who think they’re saved) and unsaved people are on the opposite trajectory and increasingly disdain, harden their hearts against, and rebel against God’s written Word.

If, in examining your own heart, you (or someone else reading this) find yourself on that second trajectory regarding this or any other biblical issue, let me offer you some resources that will help and that are much more urgent for you than the issue of the role of women in the church:

What must I do to be saved? (in the blue menu bar at the top of this page) You must repent and believe the biblical gospel.

Am I Really Saved? A First John Check-Up If you’re not really sure whether or not you’re saved, you may find it helpful to work through my Bible study on 1 John.

Searching for a new church? (in the blue menu bar at the top of this page) If you’re saved, you need to be a faithful, invested member of a doctrinally sound local church. Among many other things, that’s where you’ll learn the biblical answers to questions like the ones you’ve asked below.

As I said in the Jill article:

Godly women don’t look for ways to get around Scripture.
Godly women look for ways to obey Scripture.

If you already know Christ as Savior, awesome! It’s wonderful that you’re asking questions and learning more about Scripture so you can grow in Him.

Now, let’s tackle your specific questions…


—if the letter to Timothy was a letter to him and we are reading his mail, then what about the other NT letters written to the various churches? Are we also not reading their mail and what God was meaning for them to do?

I would encourage you to read that paragraph again carefully. I’ve bold-typed some of the more salient points:

First Timothy (along with 2 Timothy and Titus) is one of the pastoral epistles. It was written by Paul to young pastor Timothy as sort of a job description and operations manual for pastors, elders, and the church. So right off the bat, an important point we often miss about 1 Timothy is that it was written to a man, Timothy, a pastor, who would use this letter to train his elders (also men) and, subsequently, his congregation. That doesn’t mean that 1 Timothy doesn’t apply to women, or shouldn’t be studied by women, or that women aren’t required to obey 1 Timothy. It just means that when we open the letter of 1 Timothy, we need to understand that we, as women, are reading somebody else’s mail. Mail that pertains to us, yes, but mail that’s addressed to Timothy, and by extension, to pastors and elders today. That will help us better understand the tone and perspective of the passage.

So, you could think of it like this: the pastoral epistles (1&2 Timothy and Titus) have three “levels,” if you will, of who they’re addressed to: a) immediate: Timothy and Titus, b) by extension: all other / subsequent pastors and elders, c) with application to every church, Christian group, and individual Christian.

The other epistles, generally speaking, have two “levels” of who they’re addressed to: a) immediate: a specific church or people group of Christians (the church at Colossae, the church at Ephesus, etc.) b) by extension: all other / subsequent churches, groups of Christians, and Christian individuals.

There’s a sense in which, from Genesis through Revelation, we’re “reading somebody else’s mail,” because we were not alive when any of the books of the Bible were written, so we were not the original audience of any of Scripture. That being said, the Bible is still God’s word to us, through those original audiences. All of it, when correctly handled, applies to us in one or more ways, and we are required to obey God’s commands, instructions, laws, and teachings to New Testament Christians, no matter where in the Bible they are located.


—What about women who are called to preach? Like slave Sojourner Truth and 2 quaker women called to preach against slavery in the south USA civil war times. Were they wrong? sinning? going against scripture?

I don’t know who the Quaker women are that you’ve referred to, and I’m not overly familiar Sojourner Truth or any of her “sermons,” but I think you may be conflating and confusing a few things here. Let’s see if we can untangle them.

  1. As I mentioned in my preface remarks, just because someone claims to be a Christian (or history has led us to believe they were Christians) does not mean they have actually been born again. I don’t know whether or not any of these women were truly Believers, and neither do you. Sojourner said and did some things that might cause one to wonder, and, while there could be individuals who get saved while still in Quakerism, the Quaker belief system, generally speaking, is not biblical, and therefore, not Christian.
  2. Making civil speeches against slavery (or on any other topic) is not “preaching” even if the speech maker or others called it preaching. “Preaching” is defined by Scripture alone, not by culture or common parlance. Preaching is the proclamation of God’s rightly handled, written Word for the edification of the church.
  3. If any of these women were actually preaching – proclaiming God’s Word or exhorting people from God’s Word – in a co-ed gathering, then yes, they were “wrong, sinning, and going against Scripture” because God’s written Word prohibits women from doing that as I explained at length in the Jill article. And when God’s written Word says not to do something and we do it anyway, that’s called sin.
  4. God doesn’t call women to preach or pastor. God has never called a single, solitary woman to preach. Ever. First, because God doesn’t give extra-biblical revelation like that. He tells us exactly who He has called to preach (and who He hasn’t) in 1 Timothy 2:11-3:7 and Titus 1:5-9. Second, because, even if He did give extra-biblical revelation, God is not a man that He should lie or change His mind, and He already told us in His Word that women aren’t to pastor, preach to, or teach men, or exercise authority over men in the gathering of the church body.

—Paul gives “commands” about operating under patriarchy and slavery, both part of Roman society. He does not talk against either yet today we Christians abhor slavery but still support patriarchy. Why?

Because patriarchy was God’s design and command and antebellum American slavery wasn’t. I’m not totally sure exactly what you mean by Roman “patriarchy” and the “commands” Paul gave about it, which passages you’re referring to, or what all you many have in mind about patriarchy and slavery as you asked this question, so I can only give you a very general answer.

  • Instructing Christians on how to behave in a godly way when they’re in the middle of ungodly circumstances is not the same thing as God condoning or approving of those ungodly circumstances. There were many Christians who obeyed Scripture’s instructions while in concentration camps during World War II. That doesn’t mean God was in favor of concentration camps.
  • Antebellum American slavery was “man stealing” (which was a different type of slavery than that practiced during New Testament times), and is prohibited by Scripture.
  • Male headship was established by God at Creation and is continually buttressed and re-established throughout the Bible:

Look at the overall general pattern of male headship and leadership in Scripture. First human created? A man. The Patriarchs? As the word implies – all men. Priests, Levites, Scribes? Men. Heads of the twelve tribes of Israel? Men. Major and minor prophets? Men. All kings of Israel and Judah? Men. Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic Covenants? All established between God and men. Authors of Scripture? Men. The forerunner of Christ? John the Baptist – a man. Messiah? A man. All of the apostles? Men. All of the pastors, elders, and deacons of churches in the New Testament? Men. Founder and head of the church? Christ – a man. Leader and head of the family? Men. – from: The Mailbag: Counter Arguments to Egalitarianism

Anyone – including the Romans of Paul’s time – who stepped outside of God’s commands regarding patriarchy and slavery was in sin.


—-in Ephesians 5:21 and following verses Paul tells 4 different groups to submit. He uses 2 different forms. For people and spouses he uses the form that means to submit as to one another. For children/slaves he uses the form that means to submit to an authority. Why weren’t women included under the same one as children/slaves?

I’m sorry, but this question is impossible to answer because neither slaves nor children are mentioned in Ephesians 5:21-33 (or even in 5:1-20). If by “following verses” you meant elsewhere in Ephesians or in other places in the New Testament, you should have specified those passages so I could look at them, understand what you’re talking about, and explain them to you in context.

I also don’t know where you’re getting your information about “two different forms” (of the word “submit,” I’m assuming), so I have no way of knowing whether or not that’s accurate, and since I don’t read Greek, and I suspect you don’t either, I prefer to stick to reliable English translations rendered by experts in the biblical languages.

All I can say is, since I don’t know which passages you’re referring to, I don’t know why, allegedly, two different forms of the word submit were used. All I can tell you is – you know whether or not you’re a wife, and you know what the English word “submit” means, and if you’re married, Scripture’s instruction to you in Ephesians 5:22-33 (and elsewhere in Scripture) is to submit to your husband.

There is nowhere in Scripture where husbands are commanded to submit to their wives or that husbands and wives are to “mutually submit” to one another. Many egalitarians try to make Ephesians 5:21 say that, but that is a twisting of Scripture. Notice that verse 21 isn’t even a complete sentence. If you read verse 21 in context (i.e. – read verses 1-21) it should be obvious that Paul is addressing the church, not married couples, and that verse 21 is referring to being unselfish and putting others in the church first. (Check your cross-references on that verse. One of them is probably Philippians 2:3.) See why I keep harping on “rightly handled Scripture”?


—-why do churches send women who say they are called to preach to the mission field?

Because they’re in sin. Those churches are either ignorant of Scripture’s commands about women preaching, or they’re in rebellion against those commands. Both are shameful, and both are sin.

If it is wrong here in the US for a woman to preach/pastor why is it ok in a foreign land?

It isn’t. If it’s a sin in the United States, it’s a sin in Kenya, Croatia, Uruguay, Sri Lanka, Australia, Antarctica, and everywhere else on the planet (and off the planet if God ever allows humans to live on the moon or something like that).

—-why did Jesus break the rules about women? He talked with them, obeyed his mom at the party, let them learn of spiritual things, defended them, the woman at the well was the first evangelist and women were the first to see the empty tomb (all these things broke rules/laws about women and their testimonies were outlawed in that time and place) What was the point of doing this if women were going to be told they could not preach/teach and their only purpose to be wife/mom/homebodies? It does not make sense to me.

Where does the Bible say any of those things, though? Most of the things you’ve listed aren’t God’s law, they were secular law, Pharisaical law, or cultural custom, not commands of God. Jesus never broke any of God’s laws that are spelled out in the Bible. That would be sin, and we know Jesus never sinned. He wasn’t bound by man’s laws, and certainly not if they contradicted God’s Word. That’s why He and the Pharisees butted heads so often. They were trying to bind Him to their man-made laws (which often contradicted Scripture), which they sinfully equated to Scripture. By ignoring man-made laws and customs about women (while obeying God’s law about them) Jesus re-elevated the women He came into contact with to their rightful biblical place.

Let’s look:

  • “He talked with them…defended them” – There’s nothing in Scripture telling men they can’t talk to or defend women. Men talk to women all over the Bible and there are many places in Scripture where men are called upon to take up arms to defend women and children.
  • “Obeyed His mom at the party” – I assume you’re talking about the wedding at Cana. I just want to make sure we’re all understanding this correctly. From an earthly perspective, Jesus was obeying or acquiescing to His mother. However, Jesus, while fully man, was also fully God. He knew exactly what He was going to do next. Mary’s request was in line with His pre-ordained plan to turn the water into wine, and thus, in addition to the miracle, also gave Him an opportunity to set us an example of honoring His mother. Had she requested something that was not in line with His plan to turn the water into wine, He would have honored her in another way, but he would not have “obeyed” her request.
  • “Let them learn of spiritual things” – Not only does Scripture not prohibit women from learning spiritual things, women are commanded to “learn of spiritual things” from Genesis to Revelation. When Adam told Eve, “Hey, God said we can’t eat from this one tree right here,” that was a spiritual thing a woman learned. Deuteronomy 6:7 commanded the Israelites to teach God’s Word to their children, not just their sons. Ezra taught God’s law to “both men and women and all who could understand what they heard”. I also addressed this concept in the Jill article: First Timothy 2:11 (immediately before 2:12, which prohibits women from pastoring, preaching ,etc.) says “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness.” God (remember, Jesus is God) commanded pastors to make sure women had the opportunity to “learn of spiritual things”.
  • “the woman at the well was the first evangelist” – Welllll, technically, no. We don’t even know for sure if she was a Believer when she went back to town and told everyone to come see Jesus. But OK, let’s go with that for a minute. Again, Scripture doesn’t prohibit women from relaying the gospel to lost people they encounter, it commands it of all Christians. (If you’re not clear on the difference between evangelism and preaching/pastoring, listen here.)
  • “women were the first to see the empty tomb…their testimonies were outlawed in that time and place” – I know a woman’s testimony in court was considered unreliable, but I’m not positive it was actually “outlawed”. But even if it was, that would have been a secular law. God’s Word doesn’t outlaw it. Yes, perhaps Jesus allowed women to be the first eyewitnesses to His resurrection in part to honor these women who had followed Him so faithfully, and to demonstrate that the testimony of women isn’t unreliable just because they’re women.

What was the point of doing this if women were going to be told they could not preach/teach and their only purpose to be wife/mom/homebodies? It does not make sense to me.

Because, as I said, Jesus elevated women to their rightful biblical place. He didn’t lower them to the wrongful, unbiblical place of modern day feminism and its rebellion against Scripture.

But really listen to what you’re saying here. I hope you didn’t mean to do this, but you just dismissively swept aside God’s high, holy, good, and biblical calling on the lives of most Christian women to be godly wives and mothers and manage their households well for the glory of God.

“Their only purpose…” Seriously? I don’t mind telling you I’m personally offended that you just insulted what I’ve dedicated my heart, soul, and life to for the past 30 years. You’re saying it doesn’t matter because I wasn’t pastoring or preaching to men. Never mind that I continually poured God’s Word into the six beautiful children He blessed us with. Never mind that I’ve gotten up every day for three decades – with no pay or vacation time, mind you, 24/7/365 – and striven to be a godly example, encouragement, and helpmeet to my husband. Never mind that I’ve taught and discipled more women and children at my church than I can count. No, all of that is worthless because I wasn’t preaching to or teaching men. That women’s teaching is only valuable if they’re teaching men. You may not have meant that, but that’s the effect of what you said. I’m not trying to be unnecessarily harsh with you, I’m trying to give you just enough of a healthy, biblical sting that you’ll realize that you’ve been influenced more by what the world values for women than what God values for women.

Godly women honor and respect the high calling and unique gifting women have to disciple other women and to raise up the next generation of godly men and women by discipling our own, and other, children. Because this is such a weighty and arduous responsibility, we consider it a blessing that God has not also burdened us with the responsibility to preach, teach the Scriptures to men, or exercise authority over men in the context of the gathering of the church. Rather, we encourage the men who have been given this responsibility, leaving godly women free and unfettered to carry out the ministry God has given us. – from: The Mailbag: Counter Arguments to Egalitarianism


I have so many more questions and seeking lots of help to find the answers. The scripture says to study to show yourself approved. I hope this applies to women too!

It absolutely does! I’m glad you’re asking questions and seeking to learn! And you’re right, as I’ve referred to throughout this article, 2 Timothy 2:15 says:

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

2 Timothy 2:15

As I said at the beginning, the best place to get your questions answered and to learn how to rightly handle Scripture is in a doctrinally sound local church. Ask a godly older woman in your church to disciple you. (Not sure what that’s all about? Listen here and here.) “Pester” your pastor (he’ll love it!). And study, study, study, directly from the text of Scripture (listen here, and check out the Bible studies tab in the blue menu bar at the top of this page).

Thanks for any insight you can give me.

You are most welcome. It is my pleasure to serve you in Christ.


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

8 thoughts on “The Mailbag: Questions about the role of women in the church”

  1. Hello, I loved this article and look forward to reading many more. Can you tell me what Paul was talking about in the scripture where he refers to a woman named Junias? It seems he is calling her an apostle which does not make sense to me.

    Like

    1. Great question! First of all, so little is known about Junia that reputable scholars and translators disagree as to whether Junia(s) was a man or a woman. We know for certain that if Junia was a woman, she was not an apostle, nor was Paul calling her one. All of the apostles were male, and it would have conflicted with Paul’s own writings for a woman to be in that position. However, it doesn’t really matter if Junia(s) were a man or woman because all the verse says is that Junia(s) and Andronicus were “well known to the apostles,” not that they were apostles themselves. I’ve addressed the women mentioned in Romans 16 in this article under the section on Phoebe.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I have a situational question. Here’s the scenario. One Mormon couple invites another couple to dinner. The other couple are followers of Jesus but the wife is a more mature Christian while the husband is not comfortable leading a conversation regarding scriptures. The Mormon couple begins to ask questions and the believing wife of the other couple is the one answering from Scripture and gives the gospel. Was it wrong for her to answer in depth the questions and was it wrong for her to give the gospel while her husband remained quiet but in agreement? I am the woman answering those questions and just want to know if I was supposed to remain quiet.

    Like

    1. Hi Melodie- No, that was not wrong at all. That’s probably very similar to the situation Priscilla and Aquila were in with Apollos (Acts 18:24-28). The biblical prohibition is against women pastoring, preaching, instructing men in the Scriptures, and holding authority over men in the context of the gathering of the church body. An informal dinner between two unbelievers and two Believers is not the gathering of the church body. Sharing the gospel with the lost (what you were doing) is not the same as pastoring/preaching/instructing/authority to the saved (what the Bible prohibits). A private discussion is not the same as public teaching/preaching. I would encourage you to go back up to the second paragraph of this article and begin reading the articles linked there. :0)

      Liked by 1 person

Before commenting please see the "Welcome" tab in the blue menu bar at the top of this page. Comments are handled manually, so there will be a delay before approved comments are posted. I do not publish comments which promote false doctrine.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.