The Role of Women in Leadership
Having regard for our understanding that God’s grace is given to all mankind and dispensed without regard to gender, ethnicity or language, the leadership of The Apostolic Church, in a decision taken by a majority of apostles, has agreed that ‘equipping’ grace, that is the grace given to minister and to lead is also distributed by divine choice, irrespective of any criteria, including gender. In considering appointment to leadership positions, the church has an obligation to assess the nature of a person’s (Ephesians 4) gifts along with godly character, maturity and experience. Accordingly, the church has decided to consider women for recognition and ordination as ascension ministers. Recognition and ordinations will be on the same basis as for male candidates. The church has made this decision with due regard for this being different to our past understanding and practice.
2 Introductory Comment
We accept that, in the past, most leaders, we among them, widely held a view that arises from a particular interpretation of Scripture. We understand that there are Scriptures upon which a traditional view stands and we now generally accept that these are directed towards specific cultural practices that existed in the locations to which epistles were sent. We acknowledge that, in God’s goodness, He brings greater illumination to Scripture with the passing of time, and, therefore, with greater scholarship, insight and understanding, we are confident that this shift is sustained by sound interpretation, the weight of Scripture, and its trajectory through time as God prepares his people for eternity.
In making this decision, care has been taken to limit our consideration to Scriptural evidence, intentionally avoiding cultural and societal trends and shifts. It must be conceded, however, that the cry for justice as heard in the western world in respect of matters like equal pay for equal work, and the appropriate objections to predatory treatment of women in the workplace by male employers and fellow workers as well as so much more, may well arise from the work of the Holy Spirit who inspires in humankind a response to the echo of the perfect world that once was, as well as an anticipation of the perfect world which is to come. Nonetheless, the decision taken by a majority of the apostleship relies not upon societal trends but upon a considered and studied approach to and consideration of Scripture, its words, its tenor and general direction.
It is evident in the context of the wider body of Christ that people with biases of all kinds contribute to the debate. It is also evident that there are sincere Bible scholars who contribute to this discussion and do so with the intention to pursue truth. That being said, great minds continue to disagree so we remain wary of assuming that the answer is simple or that any one party alone has a definitive answer. No doubt, all parties, certainly most, would all vigorously contend for the inerrancy of Scripture, yet there are differing interpretations that lead to alternative conclusions. While there is diversity in both interpretation and conclusions, there must be love and respect that undergirds us as we consider this, and other, issues, irrespective of the conclusions we draw. No issue, however complex or challenging, can be allowed to divide or paralyse Christ’s body, which is, in essence, one.
3 Our Journey
Over an extended period, NLT members agreed to an extensive period of personal review and reflection with a commitment to confidentiality including the freedom to consult within a framework of confidentiality. NLT did not want to conduct its research or anything that may arise from it in an atmosphere that was either excited by, or hostile to, the prospect of change. This continued to the point where a majority of NLT members believed it was appropriate to ask the full apostleship to consider the matter, which it did with appropriate notice, in November 2018 and June 2019. Accordingly, the apostleship, also having committed to review and reflection on a confidential basis for the period between meetings, made the decision referred to at 1.
This decision was taken by apostles in council, as is appropriate. Apostles had opportunity to explore the matter within the framework of confidentiality with reference to written works as well as other consultations. The matter, being one that has long been in focus by the wider church and the world at large, is one that all apostles had previously considered, and had contributed to in previous discussions and debates.
3 Reasons for Change
The following summary includes some of the biblical underpinning for this decision. It would be fair to say that these reasons summarise the basis of change but the reasons would not be limited to these as various apostles drew upon a range of resources in making individual determinations. While not exhaustive, it is representative of some of the arguments that have guided this change of position.
3a In Creation
Man (‘adam), a generic term, meaning the ‘human person’, is created in God’s very image (Genesis 1:26–27; 5:1–2). This creation in God’s image includes the identification of persons as male and female. This mutuality of women and men carries no suggestion of male headship or female submission.
There is a central question here around ‘authority’ – where and to whom it belongs. Therefore, defining relevant spheres of authority is important. God institutes authority from the beginning and gave it to mankind, both male and female. There is no statement in which God says authority belongs to the male. Rather, God forms an equal partnership between male and female. The woman is not created second to indicate lesser authority, importance and consequential submission. It was clearly due to fact it was not good for the man to be alone. She was created specifically to meet Adam’s need of companionship and share equally with him as a partner in the work assigned to humankind, not as second best but as an able, equal and compatible partner.
It should be noted that Genesis 2 is a picture of equality and compatibility. It speaks nothing of church leadership or gender hierarchy.
This mutuality is confirmed by the fact that both the man and the woman together, without distinction, are charged with responsibility (dominion) for all of God’s creation (Genesis 1:26, 28). This equal partnership between man and woman is also present in the retelling of the creation story in Genesis 2. Here the man is found in need of a companion, but none of the creatures God has created qualify (Genesis 2:18–20). Thus, God differentiates man (‘adam) into man (‘ish) and woman (‘ishshah), persons of separate male and female gender identity. The point of such a provision of companionship is to relate the male and female persons as equals, indicated by the common designations (‘ish/’ishshah; the same word root) and the common identity of bone and flesh (Genesis 2:23). This is climaxed with the concept of mutuality expressed in the “one flesh” language (Genesis 2:24).
Some have interpreted Genesis 2:23, in which the man (‘ish) calls the ‘bones of my bones and flesh of my flesh’ woman (‘ishshah), as an act of naming that demonstrates the headship or authority of man over woman. However, that type of naming does not occur until after the Fall when ‘Adam named his wife Eve’(Genesis 3:20).
Genesis 2 also indicates that the woman partner with the man will be an appropriate ‘helper’ (Genesis 2:18). The word ‘helper’ (‘ezer), when used of a person in the Old Testament, always refers to God (in 29 places) apart from one reference to David. The word ‘helper’ is not to be understood as an expression of submission and service to man; rather, the woman as helper serves God with man.
The woman and man sin together (Genesis 3:1–7). Although it does not show clearly in English translations, the serpent addresses the woman with the plural ‘you’. Genesis 3:6 states that the woman ‘gave some [of the fruit] to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.’ The fact that the man was with her indicates that both partners are together involved in disobedience to God. This is also seen by the fact that it is after both ate that it is said: ‘Then the eyes of both of them were opened’ (Genesis 3:7).
The statements of judgement for disobedience (Genesis 3:14–19) describe future realities, which involved a supremacy/subjection relationship between man and woman. These statements are not creation mandates; rather, the relationship of mutuality, partnership, and equality portrayed in Genesis 1:1–3:7 is now sadly marred by sin.
Paul’s contention concerning the Cross is clear; it, with the resurrection, is the first visible manifestation of God’s action to ‘undo’ the consequences of Adam’s failure. It might be said that the Cross restores what was lost at the Fall. Therefore, the statements that describe the consequences of sin are not the ideal plan of God for mankind but the practice of mankind in ‘survival mode’. Survival mode is rendered unnecessary from the Cross, though it has, of course, shaped mankind’s habitual and cultural practices since the Fall.
3b In the Old Testament
If God was opposed to women in leadership then it would make sense that there would be no valid examples of female leaders in the Bible. However, even in a hostile culture, female leaders are called and used by God in the Old Testament. To regard such instances as exceptions by virtue of men’s failure to lead, would reflect weakly on God, his power and his principles. It is also disingenuous toward women. Does it not make more sense to simply acknowledge that this was God’s purpose and intention, a choice that reflected His heart?
3c In Jesus’ Ministry
Jesus lived in the times of the Old Testament (the New Testament commencing with the shedding of his blood) yet lived in way that anticipated change. His attitude to foreigners, to the ceremonially unclean, to women, to sinners was in stark contrast to the norm of his times. The historian Josephus cited an axiom of his day which illustrated that view of women in Jesus’ world, ‘The woman, says the Law, is in all things inferior to the man. Let her accordingly be submissive’. In so many ways, Jesus’ teaching and actions greatly affirmed the worth and value of women, contrary to the loud voice of the surrounding culture. Further, Jesus’ ministry occurring as it did at the vital juncture between the old and new covenants, that is, between ‘Israel-centric’ and the inclusive, universal Church. At the time of calling the disciples, the new covenant was not yet inaugurated. It, therefore, Jesus serves his purpose in choosing twelve Jewish men to be his first disciples.
In the time of Jesus’s ministry, women were usually regarded as subordinate and inferior in virtually every area of life. They were to remain at home, to be good wives and mothers, and to take no part in public discourse or education.
Jesus, however, by his teaching and actions, affirmed the worth and value of women as persons to be included along with men within God’s love and service. In Jesus’ time, the prerogative of divorce belonged almost exclusively with men, and virtually any reason could be used to justify divorce. Jesus tolerated no such ‘male chauvinism’. He recalled the ‘one flesh’ concept (Genesis 2:24) of mutual partnership and God’s intention for marriage (Matthew 19:3–9). Although women were held responsible, in Jesus’s time, for all sexual sin, Jesus rejected this with his dramatic indictment of men, ‘anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart’ (Matthew 5:28).
Jesus affirmed Mary’s choice to ‘sit at his feet’ while Martha worked in the kitchen. The phrase ‘to sit at the feet’ is also used of Saul of Tarsus as a student of Gamaliel. Learning, in Jesus’ time, was a male-only privilege yet Jesus affirmed Mary’s choice and responded to Martha with the words ‘what she (Mary) has chosen will not be taken away’ (Luke 10.38-42).
Jesus reached out to women who were rejected. In spite of the laws regarding uncleanness, Jesus allowed a woman with a twelve-year menstrual problem to touch him, and he commended her faith (Mark 5:25–34). Jesus permitted a sinful woman to anoint and kiss his feet (Luke 7:36–50). Jesus challenged religious leaders by saying: ‘I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you’ (Matthew 21:31). He also offered salvation directly to women who were known as adulteresses (John 4:4–42 and John 8:1–11).
Jesus taught women and included them in his group of committed disciples. It was to the Samaritan woman that Jesus made his most explicit affirmation that he was the Messiah, and he shared with her his basic mission (John 4:4–42). According to Luke 8:1–3, many women were in Jesus’s band of travelling disciples. These same women were present at the crucifixion and burial and on resurrection morning (Luke 23:49, 55–56; 24:1).
The Samaritan woman was responsible for evangelizing her town (John 4:39–42). The women Jesus included became the proclaimers of Jesus as Saviour and risen Lord. Ravi Zacharias makes the point that the greatest truth on which the Gospel hangs is the resurrection, yet we see Jesus choosing to reveal Himself first to the women, to go and tell the other disciples. All of Easter hangs on the testimony of women, with whom Jesus trusted the entire Gospel.
Among Jesus’s disciples we know of seventeen men by name: the Twelve, Joseph Justus, and Matthias (Acts 1:23), Lazarus, Nicodemus, and Joseph of Arimathea. What is not so often noted is that we also know women by name from among his circle of devoted disciples: Mary the mother, Mary Magdalene, the ‘other’ Mary, Mary of Bethany, Joanna, Susanna, and Salome.
Some argue that there was no women amongst the Twelve and for this reason there should be no women in ordained church leadership. However, there were no Gentiles amongst the Twelve either. Consistency is preferred in the argument so if there are no women there ought be no Gentiles. Further, it is likely none of the disciples were over 30 years of age at the time Jesus called them. To be consistent, then, no Gentile, woman or person over 30 years of age should be called either.
Under the new covenant, and as the church developed from its Jewish base to embrace Gentile believers, the significance of 12 was not the same. After James’ early death, there was no attempt to replace him. Also, many women began to rise into prominence and ministry responsibility.
Also, Jesus’ ministry was directed primarily to Jewish people in Israel (Matt 15:24), and for Jesus to be recognised as a rabbi he needed at least 10 male disciples. The Twelve assisted Jesus in healing and teaching Israelites. One must wonder if it is inconceivable that Jews would accept this ministry from Gentiles or women.
Interestingly, Jesus chose Judas as 1 of 12 – indicating Jesus never intended these 12 to be some kind of paradigm of church leadership
Further, for most part, the Twelve never operated in local church leadership
Finally, the argument that the Twelve were men and so women ought not be in church leadership, is circumstantial. There is no teaching or definitive statement around this, simply conclusions drawn from circumstance. This is not a helpful basis on which to build theology.
At the Great Commission (Matthew 28.19ff), Jesus instructed his followers to ‘make disciples’, ‘baptise’ and ‘teach’, an instruction given in perpetuity to his followers through time, irrespective of their gender, ethnicity, education or social standing.
Jesus’s inclusion of, and ministry to and through, women within his own life and teaching were a powerful witness to the early church of the partnership of women and men within its membership and ministry.
3d In the Early Church
Apart from documenting the widespread presence of women in the early church, the account in Acts presents us with three additional items of importance. First is the fact that when the Holy Spirit came in power and in fulfilment of God’s Word (Joel 2:28–32) both men and women were present (Acts 1–2). Peter interpreted the events of Pentecost to mean that the ‘last days’ of God’s time had come and that God’s Spirit was poured out on both women and men enabling them to prophesy. This foundational role was significant in the early church (see Acts 21:8–9; 1 Corinthians 11:5).
Second, the involvement of women in the establishment of the Philippian church is noteworthy (Acts 16:11–40). Paul begins the church in Philippi, the leading city of its district, with a group of women gathered for prayer outside the city gate (Acts 16:13–15). The ‘place of prayer’ here is probably to be understood as a synagogue. Clearly one of the leaders of this synagogue was Lydia. She and her home became the centre of the new Philippian church (Acts 16:14–15, 40). This data is very significant background for the two women of Philippi who worked with Paul in the gospel ministry (Philippians 4:2–3).
Third, Acts gives some indication of the importance of Priscilla (Acts 18:2,18, 26). She, along with her husband Aquila, instructed Apollos, who became a noted teacher in the church (Acts 18:26). There has always been debate over the significance of the fact that Priscilla taught Apollos at home rather than in the church, but it must be recognized that she did teach Apollos (see 1 Timothy 2:12).
Further, Philips daughters (Acts 21:9) are referenced as ‘prophetesses’. Fourth century church historian Eusebius called them ‘mighty luminaries’ ranked them ‘among the first stage in the apostolic succession’ and a benchmark for prophetic ministry in the early church and compared them to Agabus, Judas and Silas.
3e In Paul’s Writings
Galatians 3:28, like Acts 2, has been cited for hundreds of years as a basis for women in ministry. Detractors of women in ministry often argue that Galatians 3:28 refers only to the spiritual reality of equal access to God through faith in Christ Jesus. The text does refer to this, but it clearly encompasses other realities as well. There are three traditional pairings, and they reflect the three basic social divides of hostility within the first century AD in the Roman Empire.
Further, the conflict of Paul and Peter recorded in Galatians 2:11–14 demonstrated that the declaration of ‘neither Jew nor Greek’ had social implications in the life of the church. Paul’s letter to Philemon has similar implications for ‘neither slave nor free’ in asking Philemon to accept Onesimus as a dear brother in the Lord just like Paul (Philemon 15–17). Paul’s declaration about male and female had implications, too, for the life of the church. The point is not the obliteration of God’s created differences between male and female, but that sexual differentiation does not determine the participation in Christ’s Church for persons created in the image of God.
Paul also notes the mutuality of men and women in Christ in two striking passages in 1 Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians 7:3–5 Paul makes it clear that sexual relations between a husband and wife are matters of mutuality and equality in respect and in rights. Such a position grew out of the love and inclusiveness of Christ and was directly counter to the prevailing Jewish and pagan opinion in the Roman Empire that the husband had all the sexual rights over his wife. In 1 Corinthians 11:11–12 Paul includes a strong and explicit assertion of the mutuality of men and women lest his discussion about head coverings be misunderstood as against women’s participation.
The discussion of head coverings for women in 1 Corinthians 11:2–16 clearly implies and assumes that women, as well as men, engage in prayer and prophecy (1 Corinthians 11:5). The participation in prophecy is the ‘best’ gift in the Church because it is the means of edification, encouragement, and comfort in the Church (1 Corinthians 14:3). Edification, leading to maturity, is one of the purposes of the Church’s life together. Thus, Paul concludes the first part of his discussion over head coverings (1 Corinthians 11:2–10) by stating that women ought to have authority on their heads. 1 Corinthians 11:10 is rarely translated accurately in English (most often one finds reference to ‘a sign of authority’ or ‘veil’), but Paul asserts that women have authority, using his normal word, which always means the active exercise of authority (and never the passive reception of it).
Paul’s letters also mention twelve women by name who were co-workers with him in the gospel ministry. This is the most often neglected evidence from the New Testament relevant to the participation of women in ministry.
Three women are known as leaders of house churches (the only type of church there was in the first century): Chloe (1 Corinthians 1:11), Nympha (Colossians 4:15) and Apphia (Philemon 2). To this group we can add Lydia, a Pauline house church leader known from Acts 16.
Paul stated that four women—Mary, Tryphena, Tryphosa, and Persis (Romans 16:6, 12) had ‘worked very hard in the Lord’. The Greek word translated ‘work very hard’ was used very regularly by Paul to refer to the special work of the gospel ministry, including his own apostolic ministry (1 Corinthians 4:12; 15:10; Galatians 4:11; Philippians 2:16; Colossians 1:29; 1 Timothy 4:10; see also Acts 20:35) as well as the work of others in the ministry, leaders and persons of authority in each case (1 Corinthians 16:15–16; 1 Thessalonians 5:12; 1 Timothy 5:17). Thus, for Paul, the term ‘work very hard’ was not a casual term referring to menial tasks.
In Romans 16:3–4 Paul greeted Priscilla and Aquila. This husband and wife team is mentioned six times elsewhere in the New Testament. It is significant that Priscilla is usually mentioned first, since the cultural pattern would be to name the husband first. This may indicate that Priscilla was the more important or visible leader and may suggest that she had a higher social status and/or more wealth than Aquila. Paul indicated that he and all the Gentile churches were indebted to both of them. Paul designated Priscilla and her husband, Aquila, ‘fellow workers in Christ Jesus’, a term used regularly for other leaders in the gospel ministry: Urbanus (Romans 16:9), Timothy (Romans 16:21), Titus (2 Corinthians 8:23), Epaphroditus (Philippians 2:25), Clement (Philippians 4:3), Philemon (Philemon 1), Demas and Luke (Philemon 24), Apollos and himself (1 Corinthians 3:9), and several others (Colossians 4:11).
In Philippians 4:2–3 Paul mentioned two women, Euodia and Syntyche, whom he also classed ‘along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers’, and noted that these two women fellow workers ‘contended at my side in the cause of the gospel’, an expression similar to the ‘worked very hard in the Lord’ phrase applied to the four women noted in Romans 16. In view of Acts 16:11–40 it is not surprising that two such women leaders emerged in the Philippian church.
Phoebe, usually assumed to have been the one to deliver Paul’s letter to Rome, is warmly commended by Paul to the Roman church (Romans 16:1–2). Phoebe is designated as ‘a servant of the church in Cenchrea’. Although some have thought the word ‘servant’ here means ‘deacon’, that is most unlikely since the other New Testament texts that refer to the office of deacon mention the office of bishop in immediate conjunction with it (Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:8, 12). Paul regularly used this term ‘servant’ to refer to persons clearly understood to be ministers of the gospel: Christ (Romans 15:8), Apollos (1 Corinthians 3:5), Epaphras (Colossians 1:7), Timothy (1 Timothy 4:6), Tychicus (Ephesians 6:21; Colossians 4:7), himself (1 Corinthians 3:5; Ephesians 3:7; Colossians 1:23, 25), and generally (2 Corinthians 3:6; 6:4; 11:15, 23). Thus, Phoebe should be understood as well as the minister (leader/preacher/teacher) of the church in Cenchrea.
Paul identified Andronicus and Junias as ‘outstanding among the apostles’ (Romans 16:7), an expression that includes them within the apostolic circle. Junias is a male name in English translations, but there is no evidence that such a male name existed in the first century AD. Junia, a female name, was common, however. The Greek grammar of the sentence in Romans 16:7 means that the male and female forms of this name would be spelled identically. Thus, one has to decide—on the basis of other evidence—whether this person is a woman (Junia) or a man (Junias). Since Junia is the name attested in the first century and since the great church father and commentator on Paul in the fourth century, John Chrysostom, understood the reference to be a woman Junia, we ought to read it that way as well. Chrysostom wrote ‘To be an apostle is something great. But to be outstanding among the apostles – just think what a wonderful song of praise that is! They were outstanding on the basis of their works & virtuous actions. Indeed, how great the wisdom of this woman must have been that she was even deemed worthy of the title of apostle.’
In fact, it was not until the thirteenth century that she was changed to ‘Junias’ and thereafter Luther and others followed suit, making ‘Junia’ to be Junias and, therefore, a man.
Michael Bird, theologian and New Testament scholar wrote, ‘There is a tsunami of textual and patristic evidence for ‘Junia’ that proves overwhelming. Despite some naughty scribes, biased translators, lazy lexicographers and dogmatic commentators, the text speaks about a woman named ‘Junia.’ Jewett goes so far as to call the masculine ‘Junias’ a ‘figment of chauvinistic imagination.’
These thirteen women surveyed here (Lydia, Chloe, Nympha, Apphia, Mary, Persis, Tryphena, Tryphosa, Priscilla, Euodia, Syntyche, Phoebe, and Junia) provide clear evidence from Paul that women did participate in the gospel ministry, as did men. Paul’s common terminology made no distinctions in roles or functions between men and women in ministry.
3f In 1 Timothy 3 & Titus 1
Some believe that 1 Timothy 3 is written in such a way that only men can be church leaders yet all the qualifications can be applied equally to men and women.
The masculine personal pronouns of our English translations are not present in the Greek. For example, ‘man’ in 1 Timothy 3:1 & Titus1:6a are entirely absent in the Greek. The literal translation of 1 Timothy 3:1 is, ‘…If someone (or anyone) aspires to ‘overseership’, he/she desires a fine task’. There is no gender preference here (see ESV). It is either a mistranslation or a projection of the translators to read the word ‘man’ in this verse. Nowhere in the Greek New Testament does it state that church leaders or episkopoi must be men. There is no gender attached to this word. Even where it is used with reference to men, it does not rule out women as the masculine was the default grammatical gender when speaking about groups. (The same grammatical device applies in English but is largely overlooked in current usage.) If this were not understood, then even some salvation passages would exclude women (e.g. Acts 4:12).
Paul states an overseer should be the ‘husband of one wife’, literally, ‘a one-woman man’ (1 Tim 3:2, Tit 1:6). This phrase was idiomatic and it is dangerous to apply it literally. The phrase was used on ancient gravestones to celebrate the virtue of a husband/wife who had not remarried, for to marry only once denoted extraordinary fidelity and moral integrity. Interestingly, 1 Timothy 5:9 has same phrase but inverted, a ‘one–man woman’. The phrase is used not intending to exclude those who are female but to ensure polygamists and the sexually unfaithful are not given positions of authority. The NIV brings out the reference to being faithful. Philip B Payne writes, ‘The closest English equivalent to one-woman man is ‘monogamous’, and it applies to both men and women.’
1 Tim 4:3 says they ‘must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity’ (also in Titus 1:7). As stated, there are no masculine pronouns in Greek. The bigger picture here is of honour and dignity, not gender. Surely Paul’s intent was not to introduce a hierarchy of leaders with married men with children at the top. Rather, his intention was to outline the virtues required in the character and conduct of leaders.
3g In 1 Corinthians 14:34–35
It should be recalled that Paul has already indicated in this letter that women did participate in prayer and prophecy with the authority in the church (1 Corinthians 11:5, 10; 14:3–5). This fact alone shows that 1 Corinthians 14:34–35 cannot be a general, absolute, and timeless prohibition on women speaking in church but must be an injunction against disorderly interjection. It has nothing to do with women preaching, teaching or leading in a church setting but rather about self-control, respecting proper order, speaking appropriately and not disrupting the gathering. The Greek word is translated ‘settle/quieten down’ and is also used in Acts 22:2 in the context of ‘quietening the behaviour of crowd who are causing commotion’. ‘Silence’ here has to do with not disrupting, being disorderly, meddling or interfering and must be a specific silence related to the circumstances which Paul was addressing. ‘They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. (v34). What law is this? The Jewish oral law, later the Talmud that reflected an understanding that women were inferior in every way, the antithesis of a balanced view of Scripture.
The view that seems best is to understand the speaking prohibited here to women to refer only to disruptive questions that wives (usually uneducated in the culture of Paul’s time) were asking their husbands. This corresponds precisely with the resolution Paul offers (1 Corinthians 14:35): ‘if they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home. . . .’ Such disruptive questioning was also considered a disgrace in Paul’s day in which it was widely believed that it was morally indiscreet for any wife to say anything on any subject in public. This view of disruptive questioning also fits well the specific context (1 Corinthians 14:26–40) in which Paul is concerned about appropriateness and order, which permit genuine edification (note that 1 Corinthians 14:26 expects everyone to participate).
3h In1 Timothy 2:8–15
1 Timothy 2:8–15 is the paragraph in the New Testament that provides the injunctions (2:11–12) most often cited as conclusive by those who oppose preaching, teaching, and leadership ministries for women in the church. It is inappropriate, however, to isolate verses 11–12 from the immediate context of 1 Timothy 2:8–15. If any of the paragraph is perceived as culturally bound (as 2:8–10 often is) or as especially difficult in terms of Pauline theology (as 2:15 often is), it must be realized that these same issues must be confronted in understanding 2:11–14.
It should also be observed that 1 Timothy 2:11–12 is a general prohibition on teaching and authority exercised by women. It is not directed to only a certain level of persons. Further, it is not limited to only certain styles of teaching. In other words, if 1 Timothy 2:11–12 were a transcultural, absolute prohibition on women teaching and exercising authority in the church, then it prohibits all such activity.
The word in verses 11 and 12 often translated as ‘in quietness’ (11) and ‘silent’ (12) is identical in Greek. The same term is used by Paul in 2 Thessalonians 3:12, which the NIV translates as ‘settle down’. The point is that this term, which is often assumed to mean only ‘verbal silence’, is better understood as an indication of proper order or acceptance of normal practice. The term translated ‘to have authority’ (authentein) occurs only here in the New Testament and was rarely used in the Greek language.
‘Authentein’ is best translated as ‘to domineer, usurp authority’ and extrabiblical texts use it to describe aggression. Everywhere else, when talking of ‘authority’ Paul used the more-often used word ‘exousia’. It is, therefore, unhelpful for us to not understand what he is specifically saying here. It is different to his every other use of the word. Paul is objecting to something other than legitimate use of authority. He is seeking to prohibit usurping and abusive activity, not the appropriate exercise of teaching/authority in the church. Some link verb ‘didaskein’ (to teach) to the verb ‘authentein’ (as sometimes was the case in Greek) to make a single point. This makes the better interpretation, ‘don’t teach in a domineering way’.
The clue to the abuse implied is found within the heretical activity outlined in 1–2 Timothy. The heretics evidently had a deviant approach to sexuality (1 Timothy 4:3; 5:11–15) and a particular focus on deluding women, who were generally uneducated (2 Timothy 3:6–7).
The injunctions are supported with selective Genesis arguments (1 Timothy 2:13–14), using Genesis 2.13 and the fact of Eve’s deception (2:14, see the use of this in 2 Corinthians 11:3 for male heretics. The function of the Genesis argument is parallel to its use in 1 Corinthians 11:7–9 where it is employed to argue that women must have their heads covered in prayer and prophecy. In both cases scriptural argument is employed to buttress a localized, limited instruction.
3i In Peter’s Writings
In talking about elders (1 Peter 5.1-5), Peter is not talking about ‘men’ but about ‘people’ who occupy this position of leadership. There is nothing in the Greek that indicates he is talking of men.
In v5, he addresses ‘you who are younger’ to be subject to elders. Again, there is no reference to gender here, just to an age group. So there must be male and female involved. In the same way in v1-4, he speaks to ‘elders’ without reference to gender. It is a reference to it’s male and female. The Greek does not allow a translation where ‘the younger’ means ‘everyone’ while the ‘elders’ are males.
1 Peter 5, ‘presbeuteroi’ (members of a presbytery) are either older adults with pastoral responsibilities, or those who lead the church. Linguistically, the word allows for means male and female.
The word ‘kephale’ (Gr.) is translated as ‘head’ and much of church history the interpretation meant, essentially, ‘authority over’. Modern scholarship has a assigned a different interpretation, that of ‘source’ to kephale and scholars are divided on a meaning that is clear and beyond debate. Having considered the main streams of argument, Scholer writes ‘The use of the term kephale in the New Testament texts about the relationship of men and women, understood in their own contexts, does not support the traditionalist or complementarity view of male headship and female submission as described by those authors noted earlier. Rather, this data supports a new understanding in Christ by which men and women are viewed in a mutually supportive, submissive relationship through which either men or women can bear and represent authority in the church’. Respected scholar Gordon Fee, agrees that kephale is best understood as ‘source’ or ‘source of life.’
The concept of headship is often used as a means of justifying male leadership. Without doubt, the head of the Church is Christ. Paul refers to the ‘husband’ as ‘head of the wife’ (Eph. 5.23). He is not referred to as ‘head of the house’, neither here nor anywhere else, but the head of his wife in the same way as Christ is head over the church. Headship, in this context, has to do with loving and sacrificing for the benefit of another (Christ for the church; the husband for his wife). While Christ is the head of the church, he is separately referred to as having authority over it. His headship is described as giving abundant life, causing to flourish, saving her, loving her, giving himself for her/dying for her. What is not seen in this passage are references to ‘authority over’ leading to leadership and rulership. Paul seems to be making two separate points, not assuming that headship automatically carries the meaning or implication ‘authority over’.
The headship of the husband over his wife is not the same as a role of leadership by ‘all men over all women’. To take the Genesis reference here to be the creative order of man being head of woman, this may then mean that all men have authority over all women. There is no basis whatsoever to limit this principle to that of the context of church leadership. Clearly, the Scriptures refer the human institutions of marriage (where the husband is head of the wife), the church and civil society (to which we may have applied our limited understanding of authoritative headship when it is neither stated nor intended.) We accept the legitimacy of the role of a female prime minister or monarch quite rightly as there is no reason why we should not. Paul’s injunction to the headship responsibility of husbands does not preclude women from fulfilling a leadership responsibility given by virtue of an agreed ascension gift deposit, properly developed maturity and Christlike character in the same way as may be assessed in a man.
Consistency of interpretation and application leads to extreme conclusion as would be the case if it was suggested that all positions of authority, whether political, commercial, educational, medical or anything else, should be male because of the creation pattern. However, we understand this to refer to marriage, giving it a sense it otherwise lacks. We understand and apply a specific and relevant sphere of authority.
4 Weight, Direction, Consistency and Balance
In making its decision, the majority of apostles accept that the weight and direction of Scripture, through redemption, is towards mankind fulfilling its creation mandate, that is, to share with God in the administration of the ages, irrespective of gender, ethnicity or any other criteria. Christ’s inclusion of women in his earthly ministry, the role women played in the early church, are progressions towards the ultimate and permanent state of all redeemed humankind.
Two other broad and basic issues of responsible biblical interpretation should be considered; balance and consistency. In terms of balance, it is the total weight or witness of Scripture that should be considered in forming our view. Balance in interpretation means we consider the total witness of Scripture. We cannot, therefore, elevate 1 Timothy 2:11–12 to be the dominant text through which all other texts about women in leadership and/or ministry are read.
In terms of consistency, it is crucial to approach our understanding of all biblical texts in the same way in order to counter blind spots and biases, which we all have.
Opposition to women in ministry has often been mounted virtually on the basis of one Pauline text (1 Timothy 2:11–12). Whatever that difficult text and context means, it must be put in balance with all other biblical texts that bear on the same issue. This shows that the 1 Timothy text speaks to a limited cultural situation.
Consistency in interpretation is notoriously difficult. Scholer asks, ‘why is it that so many persons insist that 1 Timothy 2:11–12 is a transcultural, absolutely normative text, but at the same time do not approach other texts in 1 Timothy with the same passion?’ 1 Timothy 3:2 would rule out all single men from ministry, and 1 Timothy 5:3–16 would require churches to establish a list of widows for those sixty and older and would require that all widows fifty-nine and under remarry for the reasons of their sensual desires and idleness. Again, we may, with Groothuis, concur that ‘it is inconsistent to regard the dress code in 1 Timothy 2:9 as culturally relative and, therefore, temporary, but the restriction on women’s ministry as universal and permanent. These instructions were part of the same paragraph and flow of thought’. If v11-12 is transcultural and absolute, then so too should be the rest of 1 Timothy. We cannot isolate v11-12 from v8-10 or v15 and interpret them differently.
Finally, consistency and balance mean that we cannot impose on texts understandings that are not there. We cannot divide the injunction of 1 Timothy 2:11–12 into two levels of authority imposed from our context so that women can be included in some activities but excluded from others.
The underlying biblical theology of a ‘new creation in Christ’ in which there is ‘neither male and female’ is a powerful affirmation of the commitment to equality in the gospel, the Church, and all of its ministries. Jesus’s inclusion of women among his disciples and witnesses, the coming of the Holy Spirit on both sons and daughters, and Paul’s inclusion of women in his circles of co-workers in the ministry all affirm the full and equal participation of both women and men in all the ministries of the gospel.
Surely the supreme purpose of Christ’s redemptive work is to set God’s creation free from the curse of the Fall. This includes restoring equality between men and women. It takes both to reflect the complete image of God.
We affirm that the implementation of this decision will be applied as carefully as we are able, and with due respect for the different positions held by our leaders and people. While we will consider appropriately qualified women for ordination, we affirm that leaders who hold an objection in conscience are not and will not be expected in any way to participate in the recognition and ordination process. The only expectation is that required of all leaders, that being respect and courtesy for all people, the very attitude we display ourselves and expect from others.
All candidates for ordination should demonstrate that one or more of the leadership gifts mentioned in Ephesians 4 is present and functioning in a mature manner. Alongside this, there must be evidence of godly character, seen consistently in the life of the church as well as affirmed by those from other backgrounds. The candidate must also exercise a leadership function in a local church and/or fulfil an approved and related ministry outside the local church. All candidates for ordination should have successfully completed at least the first year of a degree course or an equivalent that is satisfactory to our credentialling body.
As in the worldwide Apostolic Church family, there are nations where women are ordained, as there are where women are not ordained. This distinction has not caused a breach in relational terms and nations work together, communicate and fellowship, despite there being divergent views on this subject. We could easily link as a fellowship of churches (or fellowships of churches) which are connected by a combination of our vision (perhaps, the thoughts around ‘belting the globe’ still describe this as well as any other simple expression), our observance of firmly-held doctrine (the tenets), history (though this becomes increasingly less relevant), values (which are understood as biblical and practical yet carry differing emphasis according to the insights of respective leaders and the cultural settings in which they function). Is this international template not a model for what could happen in this country?
In making the decision, the apostleship sought to discover, as best it can, a position in respect of this issue that is best supported by its interpretation of Scripture. It does so in the knowledge that seeking truth is our highest priority and that there are consequences for making decisions of this kind, as, indeed, there are for not making decisions which are justified by evidence.
The apostles acknowledge that there will be those who will celebrate this decision as there are those who may grieve. Despite immediate reactions and responses, the apostles believe that people of good will and good grace, can continue to serve the purposes of God to bring a continuing apostolic expression to the United Kingdom and to the world.
The apostles further acknowledge that the church around the world holds, in good conscience, different views on this subject and that even in the Apostolic Church around the world there are different positions. We recognise that around the world, as mentioned previously, the Lord has used, and is using women in both leadership and ministry, ordained and otherwise, to advance the Kingdom with integrity, anointing, effectiveness and authority. It cannot be that we consider illegitimate what the Lord is evidently using.
That various positions exist in the worldwide apostolic fellowship has in no way impaired the fellowship of leaders and people. This gives cause for hope that people who, in good conscience, hold different positions based on a genuine difference of Scriptural interpretation can continue to serve and minister together under one denominational ‘umbrella’.
Addendum (Additional Reading)
Women Leaders Past and Present
Church history is replete with strong godly women leaders who achieved remarkable breakthroughs for Kingdom of God. Every era has outstanding women with strong leadership callings from God.
There are records in papyrus, inscriptions, ordination rites, evidence from frescos, plaques and tombstones which all point to women in leadership roles. Women are referred to as church elders in ancient extra biblical texts (4 Maccabees). A synagogue plaque has ‘Sophia of Gortyn’ described as an elder andsynagogue ruler.
It was the Council of Laodicea (circa 360 C.E) which banned ordination of female elders. Clearly, this indicated that the ordination of women elders was taking place in up to the 4th century.
Of note among more recently women leaders are people like Catherine Booth, a driving force in the formation and early years of the Salvation Army and outstanding missionaries like Amy Carmichael, Bertha Smith and Marie Monsen. Early Pentecostal revivals saw the likes of Lilian Yeomans, Carrie Judd Montgomery, Minnie Draper, Ida Robinson, Aimee Semple McPherson and Florence Crawford rise in leadership ministry; some started churches that continue to this day.
(It might cause pause for thought as we consider our practice regarding overseas missionary ministry. There have been various women missionaries overseas who have served in roles of leadership that would never have been allowed in our home nation, by virtue of their gender. If we can’t recognise women in leadership roles in the UK then surely it is hugely inconsistent to do so when they are overseas.)
Influence of Culture
It is argued that previous generations used the Bible to support race discrimination and slavery by virtue of the cultural lens through which they viewed humanity, society and life. Further, that as views in society have changed, then so has the law and practice around race discrimination and slavery. However, it may also be argued that the same is true when it comes to gender. This is reflected across wider society but is also significantly relevant in terms of church life and leadership ministry.
As Christianity moved from an obscure and persecuted sect or cult to the state religion of the Roman Empire, it is logical to observe how culture had a far greater influence on the church. Many argue the Laodicean Council decision to stop ordination of women exemplified the church bowing to the culture of the day.
The attitude to Greeks is illustrated by some of their outstanding writers. For example, Socrates believed that women were halfway between men and animals, while Plato said that evil people would be reincarnated as women and Aristotle commented that women were defective males.
Some relatively modern philosophers have also contributed their thoughts. Like Schopenbauer who saw women as foolish and useful only for children, Nietzsche, who considered men shallow who thought women to be equal, Darwin who found women inferior in all aspects, and Freud who saw women hopelessly envious of man’s biology.
The Church Fathers also had their own views. John Chrysostom, mentioned earlier, believed women to be a ‘necessary evil’ and a ‘natural temptation’. Tertullian saw women as ‘the devil’s gateway’ of sin to men. Augustine said another man would’ve been a better for Adam as women were for procreation only. Thomas Aquinas thought women were defective by nature, not imaging God. Men, he thought, needed to dominate because women can’t reason well. Luther said man reflected God’s image but the woman only lesser, similar to the sun and moon. Man’s dominion was woman’s punishment for introducing sin into the world, while John Knox said women should be subordinate because the female nature was ‘stupid, weak, unstable, and cruel … it was repugnant by nature for woman to be in leadership’.
Calvin saw women as ‘born to obey men’ and Charles Hodge said that for the general good all women should be deprived of the rights to self-government.
‘Christianity has not been spared from error merely due to a sincere dedication to scripture and prayer. Our best theologians have been proven grossly wrong in the past. Are we above error today? Because of this we should step cautiously and humbly into areas that would restrict others’ freedom.’ (Remy Diederich)
In our recent past, believers have been forbidden people to wear make-up or jewellery, go to the movies, play sport on Sundays, buy anything on Sundays, play cards, women to wear trousers or have short hair, men to have long hair or wear shorts. All in from a tradition that had an extraordinarily high view of the Bible – but it didn’t mean it was right.
Concluding Thoughts and a Final Word
Both sides of this argument believe that major hermeneutical gymnastics are required to negate their view. However, there are far too many issues to simply accept Paul’s injunctions in Timothy and Corinthians as universal and timeless prohibitions. The balance of evidence significantly favours other interpretations, understandings, local and cultural factors.
Well-known theologian Thomas F. Torrance advocates in self-explanatory terms for the ministry of women appealing to the Incarnation when he writes, ‘Moreover, the fact that the Son of God became man through being conceived by the Holy Spirit and being born of the Virgin Mary, that is, not of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of a human father, but of God (John 1:13) means at this decisive point in the incarnation the distinctive place and function of man as male human being was set aside. Thus, as Karl Barth pointed out, in the virgin birth of Jesus by grace alone, without any previous sexual union between man and woman, there is contained a judgement upon man. This certainly implies a judgement upon the sinful, not the natural, element in sexual life, but is also to be understood as a judgement upon any claim that human nature has an innate capacity for God; human nature has no property in virtue of which man may act in the place of God. Moreover, the sovereign act of God in the virgin birth of Jesus carries with it not only a rejection of the sovereignty of man over his own life, but a rescinding of the domination of man over woman that resulted from the fall (Gen.3:16). Thus any preeminence of the male sex or any vaunted superiority of man over woman was decisively set aside at the very inauguration of the new creation brought about by the incarnation. In Jesus Christ the order of redemption has intersected the order of creation and set it upon a new basis altogether. Henceforth the full equality of man and woman is a divine ordinance that applies to all the behaviour and activity that applies to “the new man” in Christ, and so to the entire life and mission of the Church as the Body of Christ in the world.’
The last word goes to an unnamed theologian, who wrote, ‘probably the biggest hindrance to a productive approach to the gender debate is the perceived threat of the ‘slippery slope.’ Many fear that a rapid descent into a secular, liberal, or pagan feminism would be the result if evangelicals were to accept a nonhierarchical, flexible, equalitarian approach to gender relations. In view of this fear, it is crucial that we understand what is and what is not at stake in this debate. What is at stake is the opportunity for women to pursue their callings whatever they may be, as well as the opportunity for both men and women to benefit from the full range of women’s gifts and to learn from and relate to women as whole persons. What is not at stake is biblical authority, biblical morality, the integrity of the church, or the preservation of the family and civilized society.
‘In conclusion, it is my deepest conviction that the full evidence of Scripture and an understanding of balance and consistency in interpretation mean that we must rethink some of our traditions and reaffirm with clarity and conviction the biblical basis for the full participation of women in the ministries of the church. The underlying biblical theology of a ‘new creation in Christ’ in which there is ‘neither male and female’ is a powerful affirmation of the commitment to equality in the gospel, the Church, and all of its ministries. Jesus’s inclusion of women among his disciples and witnesses, the coming of the Holy Spirit on both sons and daughters, and Paul’s inclusion of women in his circles of coworkers in the ministry all affirm the full and equal participation of both women and men in all the ministries of the gospel. In short, it is biblical for a woman to be a church leader. Moreover, if we deny gifted women the opportunity to exercise their ministries, we reject some of the very people Jesus has appointed and given to his church. The church’s mission can only be enhanced and made more effective when gifted men and women minister together using their complementary skills and abilities. Men and women should be united in the cause of the gospel and in building up the body of Christ, as well as in equipping the people of God to reach the lost’.