Can Women Preach? New Expanded Version

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"The Lord gives the word [of power]; the women who bear and publish [the news] are a great host".- Psalm 68:11, Amplified Bible


The great British preacher Charles Spurgeon once told a story about a Hindu woman who said to a missionary "Surely your Bible was written by a woman." When the missionary asked why, the woman replied "Because it says so many kind things for women (1)." Throughout the Bible, we see a number of godly women who were mightily used of God. For example, one of Israel's greatest military leaders was a woman named Deborah (Judges 4 & 5). The dramatic story of Queen Esther, told in the Book that bears her name, shows how this great woman protected the Jewish people from certain destruction. Proverbs 31 is a beautiful and liberating portrait of the godly woman. In fact, you could easily say that the first evangelistic message ever preached was by women, as they were the first to report that Jesus had risen from the dead (Luke 24: 9-10).

In light of this, it is ironic that within the modern church, the contributions of women are too often overlooked. A major debate in the Christian community has been whether or not it is appropriate for women to serve as preachers, teachers, etc. I realize that this is an "in house" debate, and that there are sincere Christians on both sides of the issue. Nonetheless, I am deeply concerned that through serious misunderstanding of the Scriptures, many gifted voices within the church have been silenced.

Please don't misunderstand my purpose in writing this article. I am not, in any way, trying to downplay the importance of solid male leadership in the church. Nor am I simply trying to be "politically correct" or bow to any sort of liberal ideology. On the contrary, my Theological views are very conservative, and I firmly believe in following biblical authority in all areas of life and doctrine. This is the very reason that I believe that it is wrong, and even sinful, to bar genuinely gifted women from the ministry.

There are three Scripture passages commonly used to support the idea that God forbids women from preaching, teaching, and performing various other duties in church. Before we look at them, let's examine a few basic rules of Bible interpretation:

With this in mind, lets take a look at the passages in question:

The first example is 1 Corinthians 14: 34-35, in which the Apostle Paul instructs us to "Let the women keep silent in church..." This is indeed a very troubling verse, if it is not understood properly. If it is intended as an across-the-board prohibition of women speaking in church, then lets take it to its full conclusion: We must conclude that women are not allowed to sing and verbally praise and worship God. They are also forbidden from talking, visiting, and fellowshipping with one another. I thought these were some of the reasons we come to church in the first place!

When we look at this passage in light of other Scripture, the intended context becomes much more obvious. It is Scripturally very clear that women did in fact pray aloud and prophecy in church services (1 Corinthians 11: 4-5.) What then, do these verses ultimately mean ? Verse 35 gives us some indication: "If they (the women) will LEARN anything, let them ASK their husbands at home." Apparently, the problem Paul was dealing with was women causing disruption in the church services by asking their husbands questions in a disorderly manner.

This interpretation fits perfectly into the overall context of this chapter, which is guidelines for the proper order of the service, particularly, but not limited to, Spiritual gifts such as tongues and prophecy. We see such statements as "Let all things be done unto edifying' (verse 26,) "God is not the author of confusion, but of peace" (verse 33,) and "Let all things be done decently and in order" (verse 40.) In other words, whatever is being done in church, whether it be speaking in tongues, prophesying, or asking questions, let it all be done in a peaceful, edifying, and orderly manner.

Next we will examine 1 Timothy 2:12, in which Paul states "I do not suffer (permit) a woman to teach, or usurp authority over a man." In interpreting this verse, it is important to remember that the Greek words for "man" and "husband," as well as the words for "woman" and "wife," are the same. In the very next verse, Paul refers back to Adam being formed first, then Eve. From all indications, this passage is, by context, referring to the marriage relationship, not the church. Paul is not saying that men cannot learn from women. Rather, he is simply stating that women are not to be manipulative or domineering over their husbands. There is a big difference.

In Acts 18:24-26, we read of a lady named Priscilla, who, along with her husband Aquila, "expounds the way of God more perfectly" to a brilliant Jewish man named Apollos, who would later become a mighty preacher of the Gospel. If 1 Timothy 2:12 was intended to totally forbid women from teaching men, then Apollos was sinning by accepting spiritual guidance from Priscilla. However, if this was the case, the Bible certainly doesn't indicate it. Priscilla provides a beautiful picture of a woman who, in right relationship with her husband, uses her God given gifts to further the Kingdom of God in a powerful way. In fact, notice that when Priscilla and Aquila are mentioned, her name is usually mentioned first! (See Acts 18:1-4; 18-28; Romans 16: 3-4; 1 Corinthians 16: 19; 2 Timothy 2: 14).

Finally, we will look at 2 Timothy 3:2, 12 and Titus 1:6, both of which teach that elders, deacons and other church leaders are to be "the husband of one wife". As we discussed earlier, all Scripture must be interpreted in light of Scripture as a whole. With this in mind, if these verses were intended to be an absolute command that only married men are permitted to be church leaders, then Paul himself would be disqualified, as he was unmarried (2 Corinthians 9:5). If the title of "deacon" was solely reserved for men, how do we explain a lady named Phoebe, who is called a "servant of God" since the Greek word translated "servant" is diakonos, which is where we get the word "deacon?"

We have numerous other examples in the Bible of female prophets, (Romans 16:1-2, 1 Timothy 3: 11,) and others who were "laborers in the Gospel" (Phillipians 4: 2-3.) In fact, Romans 16:7 refers to a woman named Junia, who was even recognized by the early church fathers as being a female Apostle! Is this a contradiction? Not at all. It simply illustrates that the intended meaning of this passage to be is a guiding principal: Church leaders, be they male or female, are to be faithful to their spouses.

In summary, I would like to quote from Acts 2: 17-18, which is quoted in fulfillment of an earlier prophecy recorded in Joel 2: 28-29: "...and it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh: and your sons AND YOUR DAUGHTERS shall PROPHESY...And on my servants AND ON MY HANDMAIDENS I will pour out in those days of my Spirit, and they shall PROPHESY." In these verses, the Greek word for "prophesy" can also be translated "to proclaim," "to declare," "to sing," "to write," and yes, "to preach."

I would estimate that there are considerably more Christian women within the church than men, but let's conservatively use the statistic that world's Christian population consists of 50% men, and 50% women. If Satan can twist Scripture in such a way the he shuts up over half of the Body of Christ, he has seriously weakened it. Let's not give him the chance!


1999, 2006 JHB

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NOTES & BIBLIOGRAPHY:

1-Spurgeon, C.H. "My Sermon Notes." Grand Rapids: Christian Classics, 1884. p. 292. Quoted in Kennedy, D. James and Newcombe, Jerry. "What If Jesus Had Never Been Born?" 1994. Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, Tennessee.p. 17.


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