What does the Bible say about what roles women can serve in ministry?
There is a bit of contention among Bible-believing people over what roles women can fill in ministry. Christians can and certainly do disagree on the answers to how women can function in the church. So, what is the primary reason for this ongoing debate?
Most of the debate is centered around the concept of women having spiritual authority over men. This stems from 1 Timothy 2:12, which says: "I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet" (see also 1 Corinthians 14:34). The common rebuttal that people use to counter this verse is Galatians 3:28, which states: "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." Others say that since 1 Timothy 2:13–14 seems to root the prohibition in the created order, it still applies. The question, then, is whether the issue of a woman having authority over a man is relevant to the culture at the time of writing, or if it is more relevant to the formation of the governmental structure of the church and thus still applicable today.
The Greek word Presbuteros, translated "seasoned male overseer," is used sixty-six times throughout the New Testament. Presbutera is the feminine form of the word and it is never used in reference to shepherds or elders. The requirements for an elder in the church are outlined in 1 Peter 5:1–4, and based on the criteria listed in 1 Timothy 3:1–7, the roles of elder, bishop, pastor, and overseer are interchangeable because they have the same required qualifications and serve in the same way (Titus 1:6–9). The use of the masculine form of the word, along with the phrase from 1 Timothy 2:12 that says women should not "teach or exercise authority over a man," seems to indicate that the roles of elders and pastors should be for men, as they involve teaching and leading a congregation and overseeing their spiritual growth (1 Timothy 3:2).
Other than this one aspect, it seems there is no real reason for any questioning as to what roles women can fill in ministry. Throughout the Bible, women have always held roles of critical value and importance in the work of the ministry. When Jesus was crucified, it was women who stayed with Him at the cross after the men left (Matthew 27:55–56). Jesus first appeared to Mary Magdalene after His resurrection and commissioned her as an evangelist of His resurrection (John 20:1–17).
In the early church, women were equal disciples, praying alongside the men and working in the church or hosting the church gatherings in their homes (Colossians 4:15). It is possible that Phoebe was a female deacon or deaconess (Romans 16:1). Paul mentioned multiple women by name and referenced them as co-workers, showing that they were viewed as equals in the kingdom work of Christ (Romans 16:6, 12; Philippians 4:2–3; Philemon 1:2).
There is no scripture preventing women from filling any other role in ministry. It is safe to assume that women may be children's and youth ministers, worship leaders, and any other number of ministry roles. The only seeming restriction set in place within the Bible is that women should not be in authority over adult men in the church. Therefore, the ministry restriction concerning women is a matter of spiritual authority rather than one related to functionality, indicating that women are not in any way less able than men to serve in the ministry.
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