Recently, our Highlands College evening class was asked to ponder what the Bible has to say regarding women in ministry. After viewing a video teaching on this subject from Dr. Craig S. Keener, professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary, and based on the scriptures referenced and some contextual explanation, here are my thoughts in defense of women in ministry and women not remaining silent.
We are surrounded both presently and in history with examples of many mighty women of God. I will not namedrop here (the list of references would be way too lengthy), but as you read this, I am sure several or even hundreds will come to your mind. These “women in ministry,” who may or may not have an official title or church position, have served not only as prayer warriors and missionaries or through leading ministry outreaches to the hurting and the broken, but also as teachers, speakers, and even preachers for the Lord.
Hopefully, these Biblical references will further encourage women who believe the Lord is calling them to speak, teach, preach and even prophesy, to not remain silent, but arise in obedience and in divine order and alignment for such a time as this.
Miriam, Huldah, and Deborah served as prophets in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, Anna is listed as a prophet and Junia in an apostolic role (see Exodus 15:20-21; 2 Kings 22:3-20; Luke 2:36-38; Romans 16:7).
Philip’s four virgin daughters prophesied (Acts 21:8-9).
There are references by Paul of women praying and prophesying in the church in 1 Corinthians 11, as well as Paul commending many of his fellow women servants in ministry as servant leaders (Romans 16; Philippians 4:2-3).
Miriam led in worship (singing and dancing). She was not silent, nor was she still as she led prophetic, spontaneous worship that involved dancing and tambourines too!
Deborah led as both a judge and a prophet. She was not silent. In Judges 4, we see Barak would not even go to war without Deborah.
Huldah served as a prophet with a word for the nation. She was not silent.
Both Deborah and Huldah certainly held positions of spiritual authority equal to men.
God used all these women listed in scripture prophetically, timely and powerfully.
They definitely were not silent.
In all of these examples, speaking and remaining silent are not in line with their gifts, anointings and assignments, nor are they in line with the mandate of going into all the world and preaching the gospel and making disciples. Many of Paul’s fellow workers who were women were clearly teaching as referenced in Romans 16 with Priscilla (and Aquila). Also, in Acts 18:24-26, we know that Priscilla and Aquila took Apollos (an enthusiastic and eloquent speaker) aside and “explained the way of God more accurately to him.” This indicates that Priscilla did operate as a teacher, and likely operated in the office of pastor-teacher along with her husband.*
The references in 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2 referring to women keeping silent and not speaking must be taken in context as well as in light of the whole understanding of scripture, and with an understanding of cultural and social customs specific to the text referenced. When studied in light of the historical and social background at that time, we see that the reference in 1 Corinthians 14:35 stating, “Women should be silent during the church meetings,” was more about women who were speaking and causing disorder in the worship meeting for several reasons. Obviously, women were allowed to pray and prophesy just like the men as eluded to in 1 Corinthians 11, just as long as their heads were covered. Again, the head covering is referring to another Corinthian social custom that was clearly understood during this time. Also, being under the proper covering of authority or order in the church is certainly vital. (The same is true even in meetings not involving the church. The principle of not causing disruption by subverting the person who is in charge or leading the meeting applies to any organization or meeting.) Paul is reiterating the importance of making sure the meetings involving worship are conducted in an orderly manner, and this is the clear emphasis in the preceding verses in 1 Corinthians 14. Clearly the women were being disruptive through their speaking out of order here and Paul was addressing this issue.
Jesus obviously honored all women, no matter their background, especially given his interaction with the woman caught in adultery, the Samaritan woman at the well, and the fact that he appeared to women first after being resurrected from the grave, including Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (John 4; 8:1-11; Matthew 28). Although this is not the point, it is a good reminder.
Finally, scripture proves that our gender, ethnicity, nor our race has anything at all to do with God’s empowering us with His Spirit and calling us as His royal priests to serve Him and the people He loves, which include both the saved and the not yet saved. Furthermore, in the last days, God has promised to pour out His Spirit on “all” people, and men and women alike will prophesy. God anoints those He appoints and who are available and answer His call, both men and women, young and old.
One More Point to Ponder:
Esther is another brave young woman who did not remain silent, but instead arose to the call to speak boldly on behalf of her people, as Mordecai reminded her,
“Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for such a time as this?” (See Esther 4:14)
Additional References: Galatians 3:26-29; 1 Peter 2:9; Acts 2:17-21; Joel 2:28-29 *New Spirit Filled Life Bible Commentary by Jack W. Hayford
Professor Craig S. Keener’s video teaching entitled “Women in Ministry is available on YouTube. Further insight is provided through his teaching.