Paul instructs women to be silent in the church. As with all Scripture, it’s important to look at passages in context. Since Paul wrote these words, is there any place for women to lead in the church? Many students attend seminary with the goal of becoming a pastor, but that’s not the only result. Let’s take a closer look at the role women played in the ancient church and how we can use those examples to guide us today.
Why Do Women Go to Seminary?
Before we look at the reasons women attend seminary, let’s look at the mission statements of a few well-known seminaries. Dallas Theological Seminary’s mission “is to glorify God by equipping godly servant-leaders for the proclamation of His Word and the building up of the body of Christ worldwide.” Fuller Seminary is “dedicated to the equipping of men and women for the manifold ministries of Christ and his church.” Lastly, Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary strives “to advance Christ’s Kingdom in every sphere of life by equipping Church leaders to think theologically, engage globally and live biblically.”
While a debate exists if women should be allowed to become pastors, we can see students attend seminary for other reasons. In the mission statements above, seminaries equip servant-leaders and prepare students for ministry. Women hold a vital role in the church; attending seminary can help them gain better knowledge and understanding of whichever area of ministry they may find themselves in.
Sharon Hodde Miller identifies that many women attend seminary for educational purposes. Females students desire to learn more about the Bible, study ancient languages, and gain a deeper understanding of theology. Top reasons also include feeling led to attend seminary, experience in ministry, or their community affirming their gifts. While many students enter seminary with the end goal of pastoring a church, this isn’t true for all. Some women may see a unique need in their congregation and enter seminary to study more about the subject. Others may desire to be well-learned to teach and lead other women. Miller states, “Clearly, theology is not just a male endeavor. Evangelical women want meatier teaching grounded in the Word of God, and they aren’t always finding it in the resources and messages offered to them.” Seminary gives women a space to dig deeper into the Bible.
What Does the Bible Say about Women Leading Other Christians?
Perhaps one of the greatest examples of women leading other Christians is when Mary Magdalene, Mary Mother of James, and Salome find the empty tomb shortly after Jesus’ resurrection. The women head to the tomb to anoint Jesus’s body with traditional burial spices. When they arrive, the stone is rolled away, and the tomb is empty. An angel appears. Mark 16:6-7 says, “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”
The women run to the disciples with the news and lead them to the empty tomb. At first, they don’t understand Jesus has risen from the dead. Thinking someone stole his body, Mary Magdalene cries outside the tomb. Then Jesus appears and shows her he is alive. John 20:17 states that Jesus tells her, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary goes to the disciples. In John 20:18, she says, “I have seen the Lord.” The central message of the gospel, Jesus’s resurrection after death, is shared by a woman to a group of men.
Many Biblical events can be labeled as before Jesus’s birth or after his death. Before Jesus’s birth, God’s people were bound by sin. Laws and traditions existed to help the people access God, but they couldn’t go to him themselves. Animals needed to be slain as offerings, and the veil’s thick fabric blocked people from God’s presence in the temple. When Jesus died, the temple was torn from top to bottom. The old way of living was gone. New possibilities shone for all God’s people when Jesus rose from the dead. Who first saw and heard this news? Three women.
Another example of a woman leading another Christian is found in Acts 2:18-28. Priscilla and her husband, Aquila, leave Corinth and head for Syria with Paul. During the journey, the boat docks in Ephesus. Paul continues traveling, but Priscilla and Aquila stay in the town. While they are there, they come across a well-taught preacher named Apollos. Being raised in the Jewish faith, Apollos knew the beginning of Christ’s message but did not know It fully. His knowledge went up to the baptism of John. Priscilla and Aquila taught Apollos the rest of the story, and he is able to bring a more accurate message of the gospel to the people. Priscilla and Aquila write him a letter of recommendation, and he goes to the Achaia province to continue preaching. Acts 18:27-28 says, “When he arrived, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed. For he vigorously refuted his Jewish opponents in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah.” Because of the leadership from Priscilla and Aquila, Apollos learned the full meaning of the gospel and could therefore lead others.
A third influential woman can be found in Judges 4-5. Deborah was a judge and prophetess. Christianity.com explains that “As a prophet, Judge Deborah was said to hear God’s voice and share God’s Word with others. As a priestess, she did not offer sacrifices, as the men did, but she did lead worship services and preach.” On a typical day, Deborah sat under the palm tree between Ramah and Bethel, ruling on different issues in the community. One day God told her to tell Barak, son of Abinoam, to prepare for war with 10,000 troops. Deborah relays the messages, and both of them head to war. While Deborah didn’t fight herself, she was there with Barak, and her message from God led him to victory.
What Does the Bible Say about the Role of Women in the Church?
Many who oppose women leading in the church cite 1 Timothy 2:11-12 as a Biblical source for this opinion. The text reads, “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.” When studying the Bible, however, it is essential to remember the full context.
Craig Keener notes this specific passage was written for a particular community during a particular time. In Paul’s day, women were less educated than men. Keener explains, “In ancient Greek and Jewish lecture settings, advanced students or educated people frequently interrupted public speakers with reasonable questions. Yet the culture had deprived most women of education.” It was considered rude for any uneducated person, man or woman, to interrupt a speaker. Therefore, Paul provided readers with an alternative. Since most women were uneducated, he encouraged them to hold their questions. After the lecture, they could ask their husbands, the educated men, in the privacy of their home. This would lessen possible public embarrassment. Keener further notes this could be interpreted as progressive in Biblical times. Paul essentially gave women the benefit of the doubt, assuming they were smart enough to have questions but constricted by their educational limits.
In 1 Corinthians 11:5, Paul acknowledged that women prayed and prophesied in the church, which makes it difficult to support the view that women should have complete silence. Joel 2:28-29 confirms that both men and women will receive the Spirit and prophesy.
Furthermore, 1 Corinthians 12:28 reads, “And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues.” The order of spiritual gifts lists prophecy as a higher-valued gift than teaching. Matthew Henry explains, “They are here placed in their proper ranks. Those of most value have the first place. Apostles, prophets, and teachers were all intended to instruct the people, to inform them well in the things of God, and promote their spiritual edification: without them, neither evangelical knowledge nor holiness could have been promoted.”
Analyzing specific verses of the Bible could lead to the argument women should wear head coverings (1 Corinthians 11:5). However, this is not a popular opinion in churches today. Again, the context is important. During the New Testament period, it was customary for women to cover their heads to discourage men’s lust. Married women were labeled promiscuous if they did not cover their heads, and their husbands could divorce them. Similar to verses addressing the silence of women three chapters later in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, we cannot take Biblical teachings out of context. It’s important to understand the world in which they were written.
Can Women Teach Christian Doctrine?
When Jesus gave The Great Commission, he addressed the entire crowd: men, women, and children. In Mark 8:34-35, Jesus says, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.” Jesus invited all his followers to go out into the world and spread the gospel’s good news.
Additionally, both men and women received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Acts 2:17-18 states, “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy … Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.” Another example is found in Acts 2:8-11 when Philip’s four unmarried daughters prophesy. Christianity.com defines “prophecy as the message and prophesy as delivering that message.” Those who prophesied carried messages from God to other believers.
It is a widely accepted view that women can teach women and children in the church. In Titus 2:3-4, Paul writes, “Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children.” Older women are to be role models for younger women in the church, teaching them how to live out their faith and care for their families.
We can see from what the Bible says about women’s ministry positions that they played a vital role. Seminary is meant to equip Christians to go out into the world and serve him. This is not a role saved for men. Women also can pursue God’s teachings and attend seminary. They can come alongside others, teaching, leading, and furthering God’s kingdom with that knowledge.
This article is the second in a series giving different perspectives about women attending seminary, teaching in the church, and associated questions about female church administration roles. To read the first article, go to:
To read more perspectives on this topic, go to:
Photo Credit: Unsplash/Melyna Valle
Jenna Brooke Carlson is an elementary dual language teacher in the Chicago suburbs. As a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and Word Weavers, she enjoys spending time with other writers and perfecting her craft. Her debut novel, Falling Flat, spreads the message that healing can occur, even after tragedy. Along with writing, she’s pursuing her dreams of creating a community of brave young women, who she can encourage to live out their dreams amid challenges and imperfection. Her days are busy, but she’s determined she can conquer anything with a fuzzy blanket and a hot cup of tea. To find out more about Jenna, visit her website at jennabrookecarlson.com.
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