Christian women, Church, Complementarianism, Rock Your Role

Sisters Are Part of the Family of God, Too!

I’ve got some wonderful, godly male friends and acquaintances on social media. I’ve learned from their wisdom, referred people to their churches, and had a great time joking around with them.

But every now and then there are men who stumble across my social media accounts or blog or podcast, seemingly drunk with biblical ignorance, who clearly don’t think women should have any sort of a voice when men are around – or at all, I guess. In my mind I call them the “Shut up and go sit in the corner” guys, because that’s what it feels like they’re saying to me, and to women everywhere.

One of the errors of the Pharisees’ legalism was that they stretched the boundaries of God’s laws farther than God intended them to go. This is why, when we see Jesus and the disciples walking through the fields and picking kernels of grain to eat in Matthew 12, the Pharisees accused them of “doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath”. Because this was, ostensibly, “harvesting” and “threshing” – working on the Sabbath.

But as Jesus went on to explain to them, this kind of unbiblical overreach of the fourth Commandment was never God’s intent. The Sabbath was a gift of rest meant to benefit God’s people, not to oppress and enslave them to nitpicking, nor to keep them from enjoying God’s blessings.

Today, the pendulum has swung to the other extreme, and antinomianism, rather than legalism, is the false teaching du jour. Antinomianism stretches the boundaries of God’s grace farther than God intends it to go. That’s why we have to spend so much time teaching and explaining that the Bible prohibits women from being pastors and elders, and from preaching, instructing men in the Scriptures, and holding authority over men inside the biblical boundaries of the formal gathering of the church body. Because, for the antinomian, practically anything, anywhere, goes.

But the “Shut up and go sit in the corner” guys help us to see that the same type of legalism the Pharisees practiced – though not as prolific – is still alive and well today. They stretch the boundaries of God’s command for the role of women in the church gathering to all other venues in which women might have a voice – to anyone, about anything. Some even say women aren’t permitted to teach other women and children, which is clearly at odds with Scripture.

The God who consistently values women holistically – their skills and talents, their intelligence, their contributions and hard work – throughout Scripture never intended this kind of unbiblical overreach of His commandment regarding the role of women in the church. This command was a gift meant to benefit God’s people, not to oppress and enslave women nor to keep us – or our brothers – from enjoying God’s blessings, especially the blessing of each other.

God consistently values women holistically – their skills and talents, their intelligence, their contributions and hard work – throughout Scripture.

Sometimes we lose sight of the fact that there’s a difference between the “set apartness” and formal structure and hierarchy of God’s house for worship and instruction, and the informal, unstructured “family time” around the table, around the living room, around the Twitter machine. And we forget that these two different environments serve two different purposes.

Worship and instruction are vital and primary. But we are the family of God. Brothers and sisters. Siblings. We need each other. The give and take. The back and forth. The jokes and laughter. The sharing, advice, support, encouragement, and yes, even the occasional, biblically appropriate brotherly or sisterly reproof. We’re to relate to each other as family – especially during “family time,” which is different and discrete from worship and instruction time.

We are the family of God. Brothers and sisters. Siblings. We need each other.

How dysfunctional would a family be if, during informal times of fellowship all of the sisters were prohibited from taking part in the discussion, sharing thoughts, offering insight, setting an example, and even proffering loving words of correction?

Normal, healthy, natural families don’t operate that way. And God uses the natural family as the metaphor for the way He relates to us: Father to child, the way we relate to Him: child to Father, and the way we relate to each other: brothers and sisters.

We’re to love one another and draw strength and help from one another, not amputate half of us from fellowship. When legalistic men unbiblically silence women…

…they’re out of alignment with the God who values women.

God showed us that women are valuable by purposefully and intentionally taking the time and effort to craft a woman in the first place. He could have stopped with Adam, but when He finished forming man, for the first time in Creation, He said, “It is not good…”. And the crowning glory, the final masterpiece of His world, was woman.

Throughout Scripture, from Sarah, Hannah, Esther, and Deborah, to Mary, Anna, Priscilla, Phoebe, and so many more, we see God using women to glorify Him and further His Kingdom.

Jesus and the epistles instruct men to love and protect women, to respect women, and to treat them with honor and dignity.

The God who sees women as a valuable part of His creation, who requires the respect of their worth, would never shut them out of family life, treating them as though they don’t matter.

…they are rebelling against God’s complementary Creative design.

Why did God say at Creation that it wasn’t good for man to be alone? Because he needed a helper “fit for him,” or “corresponding to him”.

Yes, God was speaking of that particular man, Adam. Yes, God was speaking of all husbands yet to come. But there’s a very real sense in which God was also saying, “It is not good for male humanity to be alone on planet Earth. Therefore, I’m going to make women as well.”.

Mankind needs the complementarity of womankind. He’ll be strong where she’s weak and she’ll be strong where he’s weak. He will fill out Creation with masculine beauty that she can’t contribute and she will fill out Creation with feminine beauty that he can’t contribute. He’ll see things from one perspective, and she, from another. It’s like two gears in a machine that fit together perfectly and work together perfectly, yet each doing its own distinct part.

God wasn’t finished with Creation when He created man. Something was still missing that God wanted to supply, and He filled in that hole in Creation with woman.

God wasn’t finished with Creation when He created man. Something was still missing that God wanted to supply, and He filled in that hole in Creation with women.

And when you basically tell women, across the board, to sit down and shut up, you’re denying and suppressing God’s Creative design for women… and men.

…they are crippling the church’s ability to carry out the “one anothers” in a healthy way.

Love one another. Comfort one another. Forgive one another. Serve one another. Bear one another’s burdens. Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another.

Because men and women complement one another in our strengths and weaknesses, we need both men and women to minister the one anothers to each other in the church. Otherwise, the balance is completely thrown off. Without the compassion and nurturing God has uniquely wired into women, a man’s “Comfort one another,” could turn into, “Suck it up and rub some dirt on it. You’re fine.” “Forgive one another,” might become, “I’ll forgive you….but first I’m going to punch you in the mouth.” Without the dispassionate objectivity and firmness more common to men, women’s comfort might turn into enabling, and forgiveness into being a doormat. And how can a woman properly bear the burden of a man who’s struggling with lust, or a man the burden of a woman facing infertility?

We minister to one another together. We need both halves of the church for it to be healthy and whole.

We’re family, folks. We sisters need you brothers, and, yes, you brothers really do need us sisters – even you “Shut up and go sit in the corner” guys. That’s not feminism, it’s not rebellion, it’s not sin…it’s family. When we understand and embrace this, we’ll discover what a precious gift God has blessed us with.

The gift of each other.

Additional Resources:

Rock Your Role series

Rock Your Role FAQs

Complementarianism, Mailbag, Rock Your Role

The Mailbag: Counter Arguments to Egalitarianism

What are some of your favorite counter-arguments to egalitarian theology? 

Such a great question for a plethora of reasons. One important reason is that it’s a hot topic right now that needs to be dealt with biblically in order to silence the lies and to make onlookers aware that the Bible does address this issue with the correct answer. Another reason is that, when you think through an issue via an apologetics, “point-counterpoint” framework, it really helps solidify in your mind, and give you confidence in, what the Bible has to say about the issue.

So let’s start off with some basics…

If “egalitarian” is a new term for you, let’s nail down what egalitarianism is and what complementarianism is. Both have to do with the issue of women’s roles in the church and in the home.

Egalitarianism is the anti-biblical view that women can do anything men can do in the context of the church and home. Women can be pastors, elders, heads of denominations, preach whenever, wherever, and to whomever they want, and they don’t have to submit to their husbands.

Complementarianism is the biblical view that women and men are of equal value and worth in salvation and in the imago dei, but have different, yet equally important roles in marriage and the church. Complementarians embrace the Bible’s teaching that women are privileged to portray the relationship of the church to Christ by graciously and joyfully submitting to our husbands. Complementarians 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.

Currently, there is a movement afoot to establish a third position regarding this issue. It’s often called soft complementarianism – an attempt to straddle the fence, make everybody in both camps happy, and have your cake and eat it too. There are a variety of beliefs among those who choose this label. Many would argue, for example, that a woman may not hold the office of pastor (i.e. she can’t be on staff as the pastor of a church), but it’s perfectly OK for her to guest preach the Sunday morning sermon. At least on Mother’s Day.

Let’s dispense with soft complementarianism right now. It is a position of compromise between the biblical and the anti-biblical. Compromising with sin has never been a biblical stance for God’s people to take. Ever. The Bible tells us “a little leaven leavens the whole lump.” You don’t have to consider yourself a full-blown egalitarian to infect the church with ungodliness. Just a little compromise, a little leaven, a little dab’ll do ya. And that little dab never makes the church or individual Christians more godly, more biblical, or more Christlike. It always leads to more compromise and greater ungodliness.

Furthermore, we don’t treat other sin and rebellion this way. No one would dream of saying, “I hold to a soft view of adultery. Only actual extra-marital sex is off the table. Kissing, touching, dating other people – that’s all fine.”

For those who would argue that complementarianism vs. egalitarianism is a secondary theological issue, I would argue vehemently that it should not be categorized this way. Egalitarianism is sin because it is rebellion against God’s Word. And it is extremely detrimental when high profile complementarians unhelpfully classify it as a “secondary issue”. I know all they mean when they say that is that it is not part of the ordo salutis or a linchpin doctrine of soteriology. But when Christians hear “secondary issue” what they think is, “Oh, this is an issue where both sides have genuine biblical support like pre/post/a- millennialism or credo/paedo baptism. We can just agree to disagree and both sides are biblical.” Nobody thinks that about adultery, murder, gossip, lying or any other sin, and we need to be more careful in our terminology lest we give people an opening to think that way about egalitarianism.

Rebelling against God’s commands regarding the role of women is either a sin or it is not. There is no middle ground, so so-called soft complementarianism is not a biblically legitimate position to take. If you’re a “soft complementarian,” you’re a functional egalitarian. And if you’re a Christian who’s toying with this idea, I urge and encourage you to repent, love Christ and His Word more than you love the world and its ideals, and unashamedly embrace and promote what the Bible says about the role of women.

The next foundational issue we need to explore is whom we’re addressing when we make these apologetic arguments.

There are only two kinds of people in the world: saved people and unsaved people. Which means there are only two kinds of people who hold the egalitarian view: saved people and unsaved people.

The Bible is abundantly clear that saved people have the mind of Christ. That means we think the way Jesus thinks and we view the world and the church the way Jesus views the world and the church. We deny ourselves, putting aside whatever we might want or think, and we submit, as Jesus did, to “It is written…“. Additionally, obedience (or lack thereof) to the commands of Scripture is an indicator of whether or not someone actually belongs to Him. In fact, God says if you claim to be a Christian and you habitually and unrepentantly walk in disobedience to, and rebellion of heart against, His commands, you’re a liar, and you don’t know Christ.

What this means in practical terms when dealing with any biblical issue – egalitarianism, evolution, abortion, homosexuality, etc. – is that a sizable portion of the people on the unbiblical side of the issue are unsaved. Because a saved person has the mind of Christ, she will embrace, believe, and obey God’s Word regarding these issues and come out of these unbiblical camps, and an unsaved person will continue to fight for the unbiblical position. A new or previously poorly discipled Christian may need to be taught what Scripture says about these things, and it may take some time for her to come to grips with God’s commands, but her nature is to fight her flesh to submit to God’s Word, not to make provision for her flesh to fight against God’s Word.

Why do we need to understand this crucial foundational concept in debating this issue? Because people who are unsaved regard the things of God as foolishness and they cannot accept them no matter how much you explain Scripture to them or how much sense you make. This is a spiritual issue that requires a spiritual solution – the Holy Spirit must save the person and open her eyes to the truth of His Word. Often, what the person you’re arguing with needs most is the gospel, not an argument about a theological issue. And you will need to be careful and wise to discern when your apologetics are helpful and effective with someone who truly wants to learn and accept the biblical view, and when it’s time to gather up your pearls, step out of the pigpen, and go home until the Holy Spirit does His good work in her heart.

So I guess all of the above would be my primary apologetic argument against egalitarianism: If you’re truly saved, the fruit of your new nature in Christ will be to forsake and repent of any opinions or positions you hold that conflict with Scripture and submit to, love, and obey God’s commands. If you’re not saved, your opinion doesn’t really matter when it comes to how the church is run because the church is the body of Christ – Believers – not the house of unbelief.

Another argument I’m fond of is what I call the “let’s take a stroll through the Bible” argument, because it addresses so many arguments about 1 Timothy 2:12 that it’s almost a “one size fits all” argument:

But the Bible only says one time that women can’t preach to men!

That was just Paul, as a human, saying women can’t teach men, not God.

That passage is about wives taking authority over their husbands, not about women preaching to or exercising authority over men in the church.

That instruction only applied to the women of the Ephesian church at that particular time.

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. Now which fits better with this pattern, women preaching to, teaching, and exercising authority over men in the church, or women not preaching to, teaching, and exercising authority over men in the church?

It’s not just one verse. The entirety of Scripture backs up 1 Timothy 2:12. Which means it wasn’t just Paul’s human idea, just for the women of Ephesus, or just about wives and husbands. Male headship and leadership in God’s foundational institutions – family and church – has been God’s idea, God’s plan since the dawn of Creation (as 1 Timothy 2:13-14 clearly explains). It’s much harder for someone claiming to be a Christian to throw out the whole Bible than to sweep one verse aside.

Another argument that often needs to be made is explaining the difference between descriptive and prescriptive passages of Scripture, because one of the most common arguments egalitarians will make is, “Look at Deborah! Look at Priscilla! Look at the women at Jesus’ tomb! Look at the women Paul commends in Romans 16! They were all in some sort of leadership or teaching position, so that means women can do anything in the church that men can do!” No. No it doesn’t.

Broadly speaking, there are two main types of Scripture: descriptive and prescriptive. Descriptive passages describe something that happened: Noah built an ark. Esther became queen. Paul got shipwrecked. These passages simply tell us what happened to somebody. Prescriptive passages are commands or statements to obey. Don’t lie. Share the gospel. Forgive others.

If we wanted to know how to have a godly marriage, for example, we would look at passages like Ephesians 5:22-33, 1 Corinthians 7, and Exodus 20:14,17. These are all passages that clearly tell us what to do and what not to do in order to have a godly marriage.

What we would not do is look at David’s and Solomon’s lives and conclude that polygamy is God’s design for marriage. We would not read about Hosea and assume that God wants Christian men to marry prostitutes. We would not read the story of the woman at the well and think that being married five times and then shacking up with number six is OK with Jesus.

And when looking for instruction about the role of women in the church, we look to clear, prescriptive passages which tell us what to do and what not to do, not descriptive passages about various women in the Bible. Descriptive passages may support, but never trump, the clear instruction of prescriptive passages.

(I’ve addressed each of the women often trotted out in defense of the sin of role-busting in my article Oh No She Di-int! Priscilla Didn’t Preach, Deborah Didn’t Dominate, and Esther Wasn’t an Egalitarian.)

Some try to make the argument that it’s OK for a woman to preach or teach Scripture to men if she’s doing it “under her husband’s/pastor’s authority”.

When God tells us (in context, rightly handled, correct covenant, etc., of course) not to do something and we do it anyway, that is sin, right? Only God has the authority to say what is sin and what is not. No one – not your pastor, your husband, your parents, your best friend, the Pope, nobody – has the authority to tell you that it’s OK to do something God has said is sin. That authority belongs to God alone.

Try inserting any other sin into that situation. Does your husband, pastor, etc., have the authority to tell you it’s OK to lie? Cuss? Covet? Of course not. And why would they even consider doing such a thing?

If you were to ask your husband and pastor to show you from Scripture where God says it’s OK for them to allow you to teach men, they would quickly realize that they are not basing their decision on Scripture (because there is no Scripture that allows them to do this), but on their own opinion that it’s OK.

When God says “no,” no man has the right to say, “yes.” 

And there’s the “You don’t know Greek, so you don’t know what that passage really means. I do.” fallacy.

Some have tried to make the argument that 1 Timothy 2:12 is mistranslated – that “woman” and “man” should be translated as “wife” and “husband” – and that this passage isn’t prohibiting women from teaching men at all, it’s really about marriage. I’ve dealt with that fallacy in this article.

And finally, if a Christian struggles with the biblical argument against egalitarianism, God has graciously given us a real-time, tangible, visible argument against it. Take a look at all the once doctrinally sound Christian churches and denominations that are now apostate – the ones that embrace homosexuality, New Apostolic Reformation heresy, preach morality or liberal politics instead of the gospel, etc. They all followed the same pattern. The very first step they took on the road to apostasy was “soft complementarianism”: letting women teach co-ed Sunday school classes, preach on Mother’s Day, hold committee positions that placed them in biblically improper authority over men, and so on. The next step was full blown egalitarianism: allowing women to be elders, ordaining women as pastors, placing women in unbiblical denominational leadership positions. Next came embracing homosexuality: extending church membership to unrepentant, practicing homosexuals (and now, transgender people), ordaining them, and allowing them to serve in any and every position of church and denominational leadership, including the pastorate. And the final step is abandoning the gospel and the authority and sufficiency of God’s Word altogether. It happened to the Lutherans, the Episcopalians, the Methodists, the Presbyterians, scores of non-denominational churches, and now it’s happening to Southern Baptists. Not a single church or denomination that has embraced egalitarianism has become holier, truer to God’s Word, or more spiritually healthy. They have all ended up dead eventually, and the true Christians in those churches and denominations have left to form biblical churches and denominations.

Egalitarianism is anti-biblical, harmful to men, women, and the church, and dishonoring to God. We may not be able to convince every egalitarian to repent and embrace what God’s Word says about the role of women, but it’s important to think through this issue in a biblical way, and using an apologetic framework is a great way to do that.

Additional Resources:

Rock Your Role Series

Jill in the Pulpit

Oh No She Di-int! Priscilla Didn’t Preach, Deborah Didn’t Dominate, and Esther Wasn’t an Egalitarian

Women Preaching: It’s Not a Secondary Doctrinal Issue

All Things Being Equal

Rock Your Role FAQs

Fencing off the Forbidden Fruit Tree

The Mother of All Rebellions: Having a Woman Preach on Mother’s Day


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.

Christian women, Complementarianism, Rock Your Role

Throwback Thursday ~ Rock Your Role: All Things Being Equal (Galatians 3:28)

Originally published August 21, 2015

Being a church lady can be really confusing at times, am I right? There are so many questions and Scriptures to sort through and figure out. We want to serve the body of Christ in a godly way, but sometimes it’s hard to know how to go about that.

Rock Your Role is a new series I’m starting today that will examine all of the “go to” Scriptures that help us understand our role as women in the church. Some of these passages are – let’s just be honest – tough. Tough to understand. Tough to accept.

As we tackle tough passages like these, it’s important to ask ourselves a few equally tough questions, search our hearts, and answer honestly. Before reading each article in the Rock Your Role series, I’d like to ask you to prayerfully consider these questions:

1. Do I really believe God’s word has the final say when it comes to what I (and the church) should believe and do?

2. If so, am I truly willing to “put my money where my mouth is” and back up that belief with action and obedience, even if I don’t initially like or fully understand a certain biblical concept or command?

3. Is this passage a tough one for me because it challenges my preconceived notions and opinions? Am I willing to put my ideas aside and hear what God’s word has to say so I can obey it?

Ready to dive in? Let’s get started with…

equal gal 3 28

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Galatians 3:28

For those of you who have been around the blog for a while, you might be surprised that I’m kicking things off with this verse. I’m about as complementarian as they come, and Galatians 3:28 is the rallying cry for egalitarians. But this verse is foundational to our understanding of the role of women in the church because it tells us who we are in Christ.

Before we zero in on verse 28, though, let’s zoom out and look at the book of Galatians as a whole. Galatians was written by Paul to the churches at Galatia to combat the false doctrine of the Judaizers- those who taught that the Gentiles must first become Jews (be circumcised and follow the Mosaic law) before they could become Christians. The Galatians were being seduced by this teaching, allowing it into their churches, and many were being drawn away from the truth of the gospel. Paul wrote to straighten them out and remind them – and us – that we are justified (saved and made right with God) through repentance and faith in Christ, not by keeping the law.

Galatians 3 is a perfect showcase for Paul’s theme of justification by faith. Take a moment and read the whole chapter now.

Paul reminds the Galatians that they were saved by faith, not works of the law, just like Abraham was. Paul explains that the law came with a curse attached for those who disobeyed it, but that Christ redeemed us from that curse. In fact, the whole purpose of the law was to teach us we can’t keep it and push us to faith in Christ as our only hope for salvation.

Wait a second. What’s all this talk about the law and faith and salvation and stuff? Isn’t this passage about women being equal to men and that they can serve in any capacity or office in the church that men can?

Um…no. No, it’s not. And that’s where the wheels fall off of the egalitarian argument. The entirety of Galatians chapter three is about salvation by faith instead of works. It says nothing about women serving in the same roles in the church as men. Nada. Zip. Zero.

It tells us something better. Something far more precious to the women of that time – and to us – than we realize. Let’s look at verse 28 in its immediate context:

But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

Do you see that? We’re no longer under the guardianship of the law. Anyone can come to Christ in repentance and faith- Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, all are welcome. The ground is level at the foot of the cross. No one is more important than anybody else. We are all equally saved, equally loved, equally forgiven of our sin, equally precious in God’s eyes. In a time when women were considered less important, less valuable, less intelligent, less everything than men, this would have been joyous news, indeed. It should be to us, as well.

But equality in salvation does not translate to equality in church roles. A king and a pauper might have worshiped side by side in the Galatian church, but when it came to the role of giving, the church would not have expected the same offering from the pauper as from the king. This didn’t make the king more important than the pauper, it just gave him a different area of responsibility because of who he was. Likewise, men and women are equally saved and forgiven in God’s eyes, but still fulfill different roles in the body of Christ because of who they are.

Let me illustrate this another way. My husband and I have 6 children. Each and every one of us are all equally Lesleys even though I married into the family and the rest of them were born into the family. No family member is more loved or important than another. However, we all have different roles, which come with different blessings and responsibilities. My 12 year old might not be able to drive the car, but he doesn’t have to work eight hours a day and pay bills, either. I no longer have to do homework (thank you, Lord!), but I do have to do housework. Our family would not operate in a healthy way if I tried to take on my son’s role or my husband tried to take on my role.

It’s the same way in the church. God loves, forgives, and saves each one of us equally. But he also loves us each individually. And it’s because of that individual love that He gives each of us unique roles to fill in the church so that it will operate in a healthy way. As we’ll see throughout this series, the role of women in the church is precious and vital to the well being of the body of Christ. So is the role of men. They are both equally important, yet God has specially gifted women to fulfill the roles He has designed for us just as He has specially gifted men to fulfill the roles He has designed for them.

Ladies, you have a Savior who loves and values you as a woman, and your role in the church is no less important than any man’s just because it’s different from his role. There are no second class citizens in God’s kingdom.

Christian women, Complementarianism, Rock Your Role

Throwback Thursday ~ Rock Your Role: Oh No She Di-int! Priscilla Didn’t Preach, Deborah Didn’t Dominate, and Esther Wasn’t an Egalitarian

Originally published November 13, 2015

Rock Your Role is a series examining the “go to” and hot button Scriptures that relate to and help us understand our role as women in the church.
Don’t forget to prayerfully consider our
three key questions 
as you read.

she di int

How can you say women aren’t to preach to, teach, or hold authority over men in the church? What about Deborah, Esther, Huldah, Phoebe, Priscilla, and the women at Jesus’ tomb? Didn’t they all preach to men, teach them, or hold authority over them?

That’s one of the arguments often put forth by people who reject what God’s word plainly says about the biblical role of women in the church. And the short answer is very simple: Yes and no, and so what?

But maybe a longer answer would be better.

First of all, there’s a proper way and an improper way to understand Scripture. We want to make sure we understand Scripture the proper way. When we look to Scripture to find out how we should behave – what we should do and not do – we do not look first, or primarily, at the biographies of people in the Bible and what they did or didn’t do, and model ourselves after them.

Broadly speaking, there are two main types of Scripture: descriptive and prescriptive. Descriptive passages describe something that happened: Noah built an ark. Esther became queen. Paul got shipwrecked. These passages simply tell us what happened to somebody. Prescriptive passages are commands or statements to obey. Don’t lie. Share the gospel. Forgive others.

If we wanted to know how to have a godly marriage, for example, we would look at passages like Ephesians 5:22-33, 1 Corinthians 7, and Exodus 20:14,17. These are all passages that clearly tell us what to do and what not to do in order to have a godly marriage.

What we would not do is look at David’s and Solomon’s lives and conclude that polygamy is God’s design for marriage. We would not read about Hosea and assume that God wants Christian men to marry prostitutes. We would not read the story of the woman at the well and think that being married five times and then shacking up with number six is OK with Jesus.

And when looking for instruction about the role of women in the church, we look to clear, prescriptive passages which tell us what to do and what not to do, not descriptive passages about various women in the Bible.

Descriptive passages may support, but never trump, the clear instruction of prescriptive passages.

But just for funzies, let’s take a quick look at these ladies so often trotted out in defense of Christian women disobeying Scripture. (If you’re unclear as to what God’s word says about women’s role in the church, you might want to check out this article and this article before reading further.)

Deborah, Huldah, and Esther:

The very first thing we need to remember about these ladies is that they were under the old (Mosaic) covenant of the Old Testament, not the new (grace) covenant of the New Testament. There are a lot of things about the old covenant that no longer apply to Christians in the New Testament because Christ fulfilled the law of the old covenant (Bacon and poly-cotton blends, anyone?). Likewise, there are things about the new covenant that did not apply under the old covenant (The church? Evangelism? Nowhere to be found in the Old Testament), or for which there are no reasonable precedents in the Old Testament because the church is a new covenant institution.

None of these women were pastors. None taught men the Scriptures in the church (or even temple) setting. None assumed authority over men in the church (or even the temple).

Deborah was a judge. She decided disputes between Israelites and discussed with Barak battle instructions that God had already revealed to him. When Barak refused to stand up and fight like a man, God used Deborah, a woman, to show him that another woman, Jael, would get the glory for killing Sisera. In a patriarchal society a woman in leadership and a female war hero would not have been seen by men or women as a positive thing, but rather as shaming men who were too cowardly to step up, lead, and protect their women and children.

Huldah was a prophetess. She was sent for during the reign of Josiah when the temple was being repaired and the priests hadn’t even been able to find the book of the law for years. Again, what does it say about the spiritual condition of the most important men in the country – the king and the high priest – when they, in a highly patriarchal society, have to humble themselves and seek out a woman to tell them what God says? Huldah repeated to them what God had told her, and that was it. Since we now have God’s written word and He no longer speaks through direct revelation this way, there is no parallel between Huldah and New Testament women preaching, teaching, and exercising authority.

Esther, under threat of death, couldn’t even talk to her own husband without his permission, so I’m not really sure why people seem to think she exercised any authority over men. In fact, the writer of the book of Esther several times makes a point of saying how obedient she was to Mordecai. Esther wasn’t a spiritual leader, she was a queen. The word “God” isn’t even mentioned in her book, and she certainly didn’t instruct anybody in the Scriptures. Esther is probably one of the weakest examples you could come up with as support for women preaching, teaching, or exercising authority in the church.

The Women at Jesus’ Tomb, Priscilla, and Phoebe

The women at Jesus’ tomb were sort of Old Testament-ish, too, if you think about it. The church didn’t yet exist when they saw Jesus resurrected and ran back to tell the disciples about it. Still, this was not preaching, teaching, or holding authority over the disciples even in a non-church setting. This was a) giving eyewitness testimony of what they had seen and b) carrying a message from Jesus to the disciples. There was no commentary or instruction from the women to the disciples, just a report on what they had seen and a message of where Jesus and the disciples would meet up. And, really, don’t people usually see “messenger boys” (or girls) as subservient to the people they’re carrying messages between?

Priscilla (or Prisca) might be the best known Christian woman in the church era of the New Testament. When people try to use her as an argument for female preachers, teachers, and authority, they usually go to Acts 18:26 which says that she and her husband took Apollos aside and fully explained the gospel to him. This was a private meeting among the three of them, likely in their home over a meal or other casual circumstances, not preaching or teaching in the church. Additionally, the Bible makes absolutely no mention of how much, if any, of the actual “explaining” Priscilla did. It’s quite possible she just sat by as Aquila did the majority of the explaining and contributed only here and there or when Aquila forgot something.

Phoebe is mentioned once in the New Testament, in Romans 16:1-2. Paul commends her to the church at Rome and asks them to help her out because she has been a good servant of the church at Cenchreae. That the word “servant” can also be translated as “deaconess” in no way indicates that Phoebe (or Priscilla or any of the other women mentioned in Romans 16) preached to or taught men or exercised authority over men, despite the fact that male deacons today might do such things. The Greek word diakonos simply means “servant.” Acts 6:1-6 gives us a glimpse at some of the services the early deacons likely provided- “waiting tables” and meeting the physical needs of the believers. The apostles even drew a distinction between their preaching of the word and the need for others to minister to the material needs of the people.

And one more thing about Priscilla, Phoebe, and the other women of Romans 16: Who – under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit – wrote the book of Romans? Paul. Who – under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit – wrote 1 Timothy 2:11-15? Paul. Would the Holy Spirit have led Paul in Romans 16 to praise women who were rebelling against His word in 1 Timothy 2? Have you ever known God, anywhere in Scripture, to praise people who unrepentantly break His word? Would it make any sense, logically, for Paul to praise in Romans 16 women who were habitually and rebelliously disobeying his instructions in 1 Timothy 2?

God does not contradict Himself. God’s word does not contradict itself. If He gives us an explicit command, biographical details of a Bible character’s life do not override that command, and we are to obey it.

While there are numerous, important ways God wants Christian women to serve Him in the church, the Bible is clear that we are not to preach to or teach men or exercise authority over men in the assembly of believers. We are to follow in the footsteps of godly women like Esther, Priscilla, and all the others by humbly submitting to His word and obeying it.


Additional Resources:

Bad Examples of Women Pastors (But Great Examples of Godly Women) by Gabe Hughes

Rock Your Role

Rock Your Role: A Head of the Times- Head Coverings for Christian Women? (1 Corinthians 11:1-16)

Rock Your Role is a series examining the “go to” and hot button Scriptures that relate to and help us understand our role as women in the church. Don’t forget to prayerfully consider our three key questions as you read.

head coverings

Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven… Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a wife to pray to God with her head uncovered?
1 Corinthians 11: 4-5, 13

In this series, we’ve been examining the biblical passages that define and give shape to our role as godly women in the church. We’ve taken a look at the different roles God has laid out for men and women in the church and the passages of Scripture people commonly like to twist to argue against the clear teaching of God’s word about those roles.

But aside from a very small minority of folks, no one is arguing that Christian women need to wear some sort of head covering in church or while praying. Most of us seem to instinctively know that the first half of 1 Corinthians 11 is not a command that is binding on 21st century American women. So why even bring up this passage in this series?

Because much like the tiresome “Leviticus also prohibits eating shellfish and wearing garments of mixed fibers!” argument repeatedly trotted out by those offended when Christians rightly call homosexuality a sin, 1 Corinthians 11 is used by feminists, egalitarians, and others as a “gotcha” passage against Christians who rightly uphold the biblical roles of men and women in the church. “If you believe women shouldn’t preach, teach men, or hold authority over men in the church,” they say, “then why don’t you wear a head covering? See? You’re a hypocrite! You pick and choose which Scriptures you’ll obey!”

What they (and often we) don’t realize – because this passage takes some digging and study – is that women who obey Scripture’s parameters for biblical womanhood (submitting to their husbands, following God’s role for women in the church, etc.) are “wearing a head covering.”

First Timothy 2:11-15, the most commonly cited biblical prohibition against women teaching or exercising authority over men in the church, works hand in glove with 1 Corinthians 11:1-16. Both passages deal with male and female roles and authority in the church. But, whereas, in 1 Timothy God gives only universally applicable, unchanging reasons for His instruction that women are not to teach or exercise authority over men in the church (the creative order {verse 13}, and the deception of Eve {verse 14}), in 1 Corinthians, He gives both universal reasons (3, 8-9, 11-12) and transient, man-made, cultural customs (head coverings and hair length) as an additional illustration of the principle He is teaching.

First Corinthians is something of a “policy and procedure manual” for the church. Through Paul’s letter, the Holy Spirit is instructing the church at Corinth, and, subsequently, us, on everything from orderliness in the worship service, to love, lawsuits, marriage, idolatry, and other issues of importance. Chapter 11 fits right in with the flow of instruction. God decided the church needed to be taught about authority and gender roles and inspired Paul to pen this section.

As chapter 11 opens, Paul commends the church at Corinth for keeping God’s word as Paul had taught them (2), but, apparently, something was out of whack with the authority structure and the way men and women were behaving in the church, because Paul immediately pivots to say,

“But I want you to understand…” (3)

In other words, “You’ve been doing pretty well in these other areas, but this area needs some improvement so I’m going to give you very clear instruction about it. Listen up.”

If you’ve ever taken a composition class, you know that persuasive or instructive writing often follows the format of presenting a thesis statement (the main point of your paper) and then supporting or proving that thesis statement with evidence, examples, or logical arguments. This is the format Paul seems to follow in this section.

Why is this important?

Because those who use this passage to argue against the biblical roles of men and women either misunderstand or ignore the main point the Holy Spirit is trying to teach in these verses.

The thesis statement of this passage of Scripture is not found in the verses mentioning head coverings and haircuts. It is found in verse 3:

But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.

In other words, the entire point of this section of Scripture is not that women should wear head coverings, the point is the biblical line of succession of authority. Head coverings, head shaving, short haircuts, and long hair are examples, illustrations, and logical arguments supporting the main point in verse 3.

God is the head of Christ, Christ is the head of man, and man is the head of his wife. And, similar to the way that Christ has a different role in the godhead than God the Father, yet is not in any way inferior to Him, women have a different role in marriage and the church than men, yet are equal to them in value, worth, and salvation. (11) Paul proceeds to explain this by using head coverings and hair lengths- commonplace marks of apparel whose function and significance would have been easily understood by his first century audience -to illustrate his point.

At that particular time, in that particular locale, among those particular people, a head covering was worn by married women to signify a) that they were married, and b) that they respected and were in submission to their husbands. For the women of the church of Corinth, it was a symbol that they understood and embraced their role as godly wives. A woman who pointedly refused to wear her head covering in church would have been making a statement akin to, “I can do what I want. I don’t have to do what my husband, my church leadership, or even God says.” (Kind of like women in the church today who argue against biblical womanhood so vehemently.) By doing so, she dishonored both her own head (herself) and the “head” of her home, her husband. Worst of all, she rejected and rebelled against the authority structure God Himself established.

In a way, refusing to wear the head covering would have been similar to a wife today who takes off her wedding ring and flings it at her husband when she’s angry or leaves her ring at home when she goes out because she’s on the prowl for another man. It’s not the mere act of removing the ring itself that is intrinsically wrong, but, rather, the symbolic statement she makes by removing it.

Head coverings are no longer a cultural norm in Western society. Christian women today do not have to wear a literal head covering, but even from the earliest Old Testament times godly women have always adorned themselves with “a symbol of authority” (10) on their heads: their humility and submission to their husbands and to Christ, in the home, in the church, and in the world.

Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening. 1 Peter 3:3-7

If you’re following in Sarah’s footsteps, striving to love Christ and obey His written word in all you do, you are already “wearing a head covering.” So the next time someone tries to use this passage of Scripture against you, asking, “Why don’t you wear a head covering?” you can confidently answer, “I do. Why don’t you?”


Additional Resources:

Here are some great resources that get into more of the specific details of this passage.

Addressing the Dressing III: Clothes and Roman Culture by Lyndon Unger

Addressing the Dressing IV: Hair and Roman Culture by Lyndon Unger

1 Corinthians 11:2-16- An Interactive Bible Study by Lyndon Unger

Does 1 Corinthians 11:4-5 mean a woman should never ever cut her hair? at CARM

Should Christian women wear head coverings? at Got Questions

It’s a Shame for a Man to Have Long Hair? by WWUTT (When We Understand the Text)

Head Coverings for Women by John MacArthur

Why Don’t You Wear a Head Covering? at G3 Ministries