Women as Leaders and Ministers: A Biblical Framework
The Role of Women in Ministry
[This is not a complete treatment of the topic –
rather, an excerpt from a larger ministry discussion I wrote recently]
Alongside men, women are created in the image of God himself.1 When God said it was not good for man to be alone,2 he created a woman to come alongside the man as the answer3 to his loneliness. The Hebrew word4 used to describe the woman in Genesis 2:18 is often rendered “helper,”5 which is perceived by some as little more than an assistant to man. However, this word is used of God himself on several occasions as he comes to the aid of a person or people.6 Add to this the fact that Eve was created to be a “suitable”7 helper for Adam and that Adam recognized her as such,8 and a more complete lens through which to view woman begins to form. Eve was created as the only appropriate companion to stand beside Adam in ruling over and subduing the earth. In fact, “God didn’t give man dominion over the earth until woman was standing beside him.”9 From the very beginning, woman was placed alongside man to live, rule, and subdue.
After the fall, God tells Eve that her husband will rule over her.10 It is significant that the ideas of a power struggle between the sexes and resultant male dominance are introduced only after the fall. The general culture throughout the Old Testament [after the fall] is one which reflects men ruling over women.11 However, even in the midst of such a culture, God brought forth women as leaders. One of the earliest examples is Miriam, Aaron’s sister, who was a prophetess.12 Another early example is Rahab, whose courage saved two Israelite spies.13 Then came Deborah, the prophetess and judge who led Israel in victory over Sisera.14 Scripture explicitly states that the honor did not go to a man [Barak] because, instead, he handed Sisera “over to a woman.”15 Huldah, a prophetess, was another noteworthy woman in the history of Israel.16 Esther, too, played a crucial role in the Old Testament narrative, courageously facing King Xerxes and saving the Jewish people from annihilation.17 Naomi and Ruth, despite the fact that they were not leaders in the sense of the aforementioned women, proved to play significant roles of their own, ultimately claiming a position within the lineage of Christ himself [Ruth].18
The place of women shifted dynamically in the New Testament. God chose to remedy the sickness induced by the First Adam’s disobedience by planting the Second Adam19 inside the womb of a young woman. “God deposited the solution to humanity’s hopelessness, the Champion who would finally vanquish the deceiver and end his war, within a woman – without a man’s involvement.”20 Christ’s miraculous conception was only the beginning. His earthly ministry further demonstrated the new paradigm. He spoke with women [even scandalous ones – which pushed strongly against cultural norms of the day],21 fellowshipped with them22, and used them as examples in his teachings.23
His most emphatic statement concerning women was saved for the end of his earthly ministry. Having been raised from the dead, he chose to reveal himself first to women.24 John depicts Jesus as entrusting Mary with the Gospel message [the risen Christ] and commissioning her to share it with the male disciples.25 It is Jesus’ remarkable precedent of both entrusting the Gospel message to a woman and commissioning her to share it that must remain in focus when encountering later passages that appear to prohibit women’s authority to minister.26 These hotly debated passages were written by the apostle Paul, who wrote that there is no longer male nor female for all are one in Christ Jesus.27 In addition, Paul himself recognized women as leaders in the church.28 In light of these clear statements from Paul [combined with the fact that Paul would not endorse a principle that contradicted Jesus’ ministry], his statements which initially seem severely limiting of women must be understood contextually and not taken at face value and applied as Scripture’s universal rule concerning women.
The biblical narrative starts with Eve coming alongside Adam as his colaborer in the earth, spirals downward into dominance and power struggle through the fall, and reclaims a powerful place for women in leadership upon the arrival of the Second Adam. Women are made differently from men in the ways they think and function, but the differences between men and women complement one another. They are not value statements, for both masculine and feminine personalities reflect the image of God. Rather, the differences offer evidence that we need each other. Both sexes are valuable, and both need to lead and be heard in the Body of Christ.
3The idea of women being created as “answers” is more fully discussed in John and Stasi Eldredge’s book Captivating.
5For example, the NIV
6Exodus 18:4; Deuteronomy 33:7, 26; Psalm 20:2, 33:20, 70:5, 115:9-10, 146:5
9Loren Cunningham and David Joel Hamilton, with Janice Rogers, Why Not Women? (Seattle: Youth With A Mission Publishing, 2000), 97.
11Genesis 4:19, 16:2; Exodus 1:15-15, 20-21; Numbers 3:15; Deuteronomy 24:1
16II Kings 22:14; II Chronicles 34:22
19I Corinthians 15:45
20Danny Silk, Powerful and Free: Confronting the Glass Ceiling for Women in the Church (Redding: Red Arrow Media, 2012), 125.
23Matthew 12:42, 13:33, 25:1-13; Luke 15:8-10, 18:1-8
24Matthew 28; Mark 16; Luke 24; John 20
26I Corinthians 14:34; I Timothy 2:11-12
28Romans 16:7; Philippians 4:2-3 [as did Luke in Acts 18]
*Photo by killerturnip on Creative Commons