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“I have a question regarding your recent article that included a woman who reproved you. I do agree that a woman should not instruct or usurp authority over a man, however I wanted you to clarify what this means for us ladies in the witnessing of the Gospel to men (as that involves teaching), in teaching secular subjects like English, and in sharing biblical knowledge with men (when in a casual/social setting)? I want to hear what you have to say about this as I have been thinking about this more and am afraid of doing something I should not be doing.”
REPLY FROM BROTHER CLOUD
Many have inquired about this through the years, and the following is broad examination of the woman’s spiritual ministry as taught in Scripture:
WOMEN LEADERS IN THE BIBLE
As for the women leaders in the Old Testament, we must interpret the Bible in context and by comparing Scripture with Scripture.
The foremost Bible example of a woman leader in Scripture is DEBORAH. Why did God make Deborah a judge in Israel (Jud. 4:4-5)? The answer is not difficult. The men in Deborah’s day were very weak and cowardly. This is seen in the fact that Barak, the captain of the armies of Israel, refused to go into battle unless Deborah went with him. The woman had to remind him that God had said it is time to fight; the woman had to encourage and challenge him to go; yea, the woman had to go with him!
“And Barak said unto her, If thou wilt go with me, then I will go: but if thou wilt not go with me, then I will not go” (Jud. 4:8).
Deborah clearly realized that this was not right nor natural, and she told Barak it would not result in his honor. “And she said, I will surely go with thee; notwithstanding the journey that thou takest shall not be for thine honour; FOR THE LORD SHALL SELL SISERA INTO THE HAND OF A WOMAN...” (Jud. 4:9).
Obviously it was a period in Israel’s history during which God could find no man to do His will, and He used a brave, willing woman. We can praise God for women like Deborah who are willing to be strong when the men are weak. This has happened on numerous occasions, both in secular and in church history.
Deborah was living in an hour of spiritual apostasy. When God’s people turn away from Him, He renders men powerless against their enemies and removes wisdom from their hearts. These things are a judgment upon apostate people. We can see this very thing today in apostate North America, Great Britain, and Europe. In general the leaders are weak and seem lacking even in common sense. They cannot control their children and women rule over them, as in the days of Isaiah (Isa. 3:12). This is God’s judgment because of the apostasy of professing Christians. In Deborah’s day Israel was in bondage to their enemies because of their apostasy from the true God and His Scriptures (Jud. 4:1-2). This was why the men were so weak. God had removed their power as He did from sinful Samson.
“Therefore the flight shall perish from the swift, and the strong shall not strengthen his force, neither shall the mighty deliver himself. ... And he that is courageous among the mighty shall flee away naked in that day, saith the Lord” (Amos 2:14-15).
Someone might ask, “If God called Deborah to judge in Israel of old, perhaps He would call a woman to lead in a church today?” This cannot be so, because God’s Word has expressly forbidden the woman to teach or usurp authority over men in the churches (1 Timothy 2:11-12). We must rightly divide the Word of Truth. We do get our direct instructions for the church in the New Testament, not the old.
What about the DAUGHTERS OF PHILIP? They were prophetesses (Acts 21:8-9). But the fact that God gives ministry gifts to women does not mean they are free to take authority in the church or to ignore the apostolic injunction against teaching men.
As a missionary in South Asia in the 1980s, I wrote a gospel pamphlet entitled The Unknown God. The message was taken from Paul’s sermon on Mar’s Hill in Acts 17, an appropriate message to the idolatrous people of that part of the world. Some months after we began publishing this illustrated pamphlet I was approached by a female missionary who began to reprove me for the pamphlet and for what she considered to be an overly negative approach to the Gospel. I was heading to the barber shop one fine afternoon when I saw her coming toward me on her bicycle. She had collared me before to correct me about this or that thing, so I did the only brave, manly thing I could think of -- I tried to duck into the barber shop before she could catch me! Alas, though, I was too slow. She caught up to me and proceeded to take me to task as we were standing on the city street. She didn’t like the direct approach of condemning idolatry and preaching repentance. I reminded her that this was exactly what the Apostle Paul did. She countered that Paul was probably in the flesh when he preached that message. (I guess she knew that bit of information by revelation or vision or something!) I told her that Paul most certainly was not in the flesh when he preached the message recorded in Acts chapter seventeen by divine inspiration. I also told her that if God wanted to correct me, He would use a man to do it.
She said, “Have you not read of the daughters of Philip who were prophetesses?”
I reminded her that when Paul was staying at Philip’s house, God brought a male prophet from another city to prophesy to Paul instead of using Philip’s daughters.
“And the next day we that were of Paul’s company departed, and came unto Caesarea: and we entered into the house of Philip the evangelist, which was one of the seven; and abode with him. And the same man had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy. And as we tarried there many days, there came down from Judaea a certain prophet, named Agabus. And when he was come unto us, he took Paul’s girdle, and bound his own hands and feet, and said, Thus saith the Holy Ghost, So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle, and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles” (Acts 21:8-11).
When I had made this point from the Word of God, this missionary lady got back on her bicycle and peddled away.
There is no doubt that God gave gifts of prophecy to women. Peter, on the day of Pentecost, had promised that God would do this: “And on ... my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy” (Acts 2:18). But the Holy Spirit, the Spirit who gives the gifts, has placed restrictions upon the exercise of them. 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Corinthians 11 and 14 are Holy Scripture. Immediately after forbidding the women to speak in church meetings in 1 Corinthians 14:34, the apostle Paul warned that those who ignore this instruction are not spiritual. “If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord” (1 Cor. 14:37).
Some will doubtless ask, “Why does blessing appear to be upon the ministries of some women who preach and teach to men?”
First of all, God sometimes blesses the ministry of His Word in spite of the errors of the minister. In such cases, though, the minister (whether it be man or woman) will only receive personal reward for the labor inasmuch as it was done according to the Word of God. See 1 Cor. 3:6-15; 2 Tim. 2:5.
Second, many times that which appears to be God’s blessing is not. The Mormon Church is large and prosperous, but it preaches a false gospel. The same is true for the Roman Catholic Church, which is the largest “church” in the world. Whatever apparent blessings these “churches” have is a deception, because it is not from God. The Bible warns repeatedly of the danger of spiritual delusion. There are false gospels, false christs, false spirits (2 Cor. 11:3-4). Jesus warned of the “many” who will stand before Him in the judgment and will boast of their spiritual accomplishments, but He will say to them, “And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matt. 7:23). The devil poses as an angel of light and his ministers as ministers of righteousness (2 Cor. 11:15).
My friends, the bottom line is that the Bible, God’s holy Word, forbids the woman to teach or to usurp authority over the man. He forbade this 1,900 years ago, and He forbids it today.
Beware of being influenced by the rebellion of the hour.
WOMEN IN THE WORK OF GOD
There are two errors among professing Christians in regard to the woman’s ministry: (1) Some teach that women can do anything. (2) Others teach that women can do almost nothing. Neither position is Scriptural.
Godly women have a large and important role in the work of God. Though there are some restrictions upon their work, they should not be despised by the churches. The Bible often mentions women in an honorable manner. They held an honorable place in the life of Christ as well as in the ministry of the apostle Paul.
THE LIMITATION TO THE WOMAN’S MINISTRY
1 TIMOTHY 2:11-15
“Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.”
1. The woman is to have a humble, teachable spirit and is not to push herself into leadership positions (v. 11). Compare 1 Peter 3:4, “But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.”
2. There are two simple restrictions on the woman’s ministry.
“But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence,” 1 Tim. 2:12.
First, she is not allowed to usurp authority over the man.
Obviously, then, she can never hold a position such as pastor. In contrast to this biblical restriction, we have churches today, such as the Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul, Korea, pastored by David Yonggi Cho, and Willowcreek Community Church, which have woman pastors.
One of the qualifications of a pastor/elder is that the officeholder be “the husband of one wife” (1 Tim. 3:2, 12).
Second, the woman is not allowed to teach men.
This does not mean that a woman can never talk to a man about the Lord. I do not believe it is wrong for a woman to give her testimony and to share Christ with men in a casual setting. Not long ago I received an e-mail from a woman who wanted to talk to her father-in-law about the Lord, and she asked if I thought that would be appropriate. I told her that she should most definitely talk to her father-in-law about Christ.
The women who arrived first at Christ’s empty tomb were told to go and tell the male disciples that Jesus had risen (Matt. 28:7-8). This does not mean we can ignore plain restrictions in other passages, such as 1 Timothy 2:12, but it does tell us that women can testify to men under certain conditions.
What 1 Timothy 2:12 means is that the woman cannot teach with authority. That is the context. Examples of this would be teaching from the pulpit, teaching mixed Sunday School classes, teaching in Bible conferences to mixed crowds of men and women, and teaching at mixed Bible college classes. When a woman stands before a mixed crowd that includes men and opens the Bible and preaches or teaches, she is taking authority. There is not a more authoritative thing in the world than to teach and preach the Bible, and God’s Word forbids a woman to do this.
3. God tells us the reason for these limitations (“For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression,” 1 Tim. 2:13-14).
First, the order of creation requires these limitations (v. 13). The woman was created after the man to be his helpmeet and not his head.
Second, the nature of the woman requires these limitations (v. 14). The woman was not created to lead but to serve, and she was given the equipment to do the latter, not the former. As a result, she is more easily deceived, as Eve was.
4. God’s Word describes the woman’s greatest sphere of influence (“Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety,” 1 Tim. 2:15).
In this verse Paul exhorts the women saints not to be discouraged because of the fall but to know that they have a very important role in the world and in the church.
It is possible that this is a faint allusion to God’s promise to Eve that her seed would bruise the head of the serpent (Gen. 3:15), the prophecy of Christ’s coming as man’s Saviour. It is a great encouragement to godly women to remember that though the woman was the first sinner, the woman is also the instrument that God used to bring the Saviour into the world to redeem sinners.
Consider what this verse does not teach:
The verse is not saying that women obtain eternal salvation through child bearing. Salvation is not by faith and charity and holiness with sobriety. That would be a works salvation, but we know that the salvation of the soul is by God’s grace in Christ through faith without works (Eph. 2:8-9).
1 Timothy 2:15 also does not promise escape from the pain of childbirth. Godly women usually suffer as much as others in childbearing.
Further, the verse does not promise that a godly woman will never die in childbirth. Many godly women have died while bearing children.
Bible words must always be defined by their context, and here the term “salvation” is used in the sense of fruitfulness and fulfilling God’s purpose in this world. The main teaching of this verse is that the woman’s primary sphere of blessing in this world is the home and involves the work of bearing and training children. She shall “be saved” through the instrumentality of bringing up children and guiding the home, through the faithful performance of her duties as a wife and mother. “She shall be saved from the arts of impostors, and from the luxury and vice of the age, if, instead of wandering about, she remains at home, cultivates modesty, is subject to her husband, and engages carefully in the training of her children” (Wetstein).
The pronoun “they” refers either to women in general, to the woman and her husband, or to her children.
Women will be fruitful in this world if “they” continue faithfully in the things of God.
If she and her husband continue in the faith in a godly manner, they together will raise godly children.
Likewise, if the children continue in faith in a godly manner, they will be the woman’s “salvation” (Prov. 22:6).
We see an example of this in Timothy’s mother and grandmother (2 Tim. 1:5; 3:15). Because of their faith in Christ and godly Christian living and because they taught Timothy the Word of God, Timothy went on to serve Christ, and God’s blessing was upon all of them as a result.
This should be an encouragement to all women. Even single women and women who have no children can teach and influence children by their relationship to children as aunts, cousins, in laws, etc., by Sunday School and Bible clubs and other children’s ministries.
1 CORINTHIANS 14:34-35
“Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.”
This is referring to teaching and prophesying, which is the context. The woman is not allowed to speak out in the church services in the sense of teaching or preaching. She is forbidden to teach men or to usurp authority over men (1 Tim. 2:12). I do not believe it is appropriate for a woman to lead in public prayer in a mixed congregation. 1 Timothy 2:8 says it is the men who should lead in prayer (1 Tim. 2:8). I do not believe that it is appropriate for a woman to lead the singing in a mixed congregation or choir. She should not be put into a position whereby she is exercising authority over men.
This passage also forbids women to speak out and disturb the meetings with their questions and comments. Recently I heard from a pastor who was troubled about two women in his church who have the habit of speaking out during the teaching and thereby cause disturbance in the church. This is forbidden in 1 Corinthians 14.
This does not mean, though, that a woman can never say anything in the congregation. She can sing and testify in due order. A woman can testify about what God has done in her life without getting into a teaching mode, but she must be very careful that she limits herself to a proper capacity. If there is an open question and answer time, women can participate, but she is not to blurt out questions in a disorderly fashion in other contexts.
What Paul is talking about in the context of 1 Corinthians 14 is orderliness and the exercise of ministry gifts in the church services.
THE BLESSING OF THE WOMAN’S MINISTRY
Though there are restrictions upon the woman’s ministry in the Word of God, there are also many encouragements for the woman to serve the Lord. Women are exceedingly valuable in this world and in the service of Christ.
“... if women have mastered men for evil, they have also mastered them for good -- we gladly make declaration that some of the fairest and most fragrant flowers that grow in the garden of God and some of the sweetest and most luscious fruit that ripens in God’s spiritual orchards are there because of woman’s faith, woman’s love, woman’s prayer, woman’s virtue, woman’s tears, woman’s devotion to Christ” (R.G. Lee, Payday Someday).
Consider some of the ways that God has used women:
• It was a woman who brought Jesus into the world.
• Many women assisted Jesus during His earthly ministry (Lk. 8:2-3).
• It was a woman who anointed Jesus for His burial prior to His death (Mat. 26:6-13).
• It was mostly women who stood at the cross (Mat. 27:55-56).
• It was women who observed Jesus’ burial and who came to anoint Jesus after He was dead (Lk. 23:55-56).
• It was women who first came to the empty tomb and first believed the resurrection (Mat. 28:1-6).
• It was women who first reported the resurrection (Mat. 28:7-8).
• Women were waiting with the men in the upper room for the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:14).
Women are very, very important in church work, too (Romans 16:1-5). Many of the first Christians were women (Acts 17:4, 12), such as Lydia the first convert of Asia (Acts 16:14).
• Women can teach other women (Titus 2:3-5).
• Women can teach children. Women such as Lois and Eunice trained up young workers for the Lord (2 Tim. 1:5).
• Women can witness and bring sinners to Christ (John 4:28-30).
• Women are essential in the work of building strong spiritual homes so that the church is thereby strengthened in the Lord.
Consider three Bible examples:
Lydia is an example of a godly woman who is a blessing to the work of God (Acts 16:12-15, 40). She was the first convert in Philippi. She then influenced her entire household to trust Christ. After she was saved she begged Paul and Silas to stay as guests in her home. The Bible says “she constrained” them. This means she was a very persuasive woman! The church at Philippi started in Lydia’s home. In Acts 16:40, when Paul and Silas were loosed from jail they came first to Lydia’s home and there they “comforted the brethren.” It is obvious that this is where the church was accustomed to meet. This godly businesswoman was a very important member of the early churches.
Phebe is another example (Rom. 16:1-2). She was a servant of the church at Cenchrea, which was near Corinth. This teaches us the reality of church membership and the importance of faithfulness to the church. We serve the Lord Jesus Christ, but we serve Him in this world through the church. In 1 Timothy 3:15, the church that is called the house of God and the pillar and ground of the truth is the church that has pastors and deacons. Those who despise the church today despise the work of God. When we see her in Romans 16, Phebe was doing the work of the Lord. She was on some business pertaining to Paul. Many believe that she was carrying the Epistle of Romans. Paul instructed the believers to treat her with respect and to give her whatever assistance she needed.
Priscilla is another example. She worked with her husband in starting churches (Romans 16:3-5). She assisted her husband in instructing Apollos (Acts 18:24-26). Note, though, that this was in the context of the home and in the context of assisting her husband. It is not wrong for women to talk to men about the things of Christ in such settings. Priscilla was honored by Paul in God’s Word. In some passages Paul mentions Priscilla first, before her husband (Acts 18:18; Rom. 16:3). This might mean that she was the more zealous of the two, or it could mean that her husband spent more of his time with the tent business while she spent more of her time in the spiritual ministry, or it could mean that Paul was closer to her. Whatever the reason, it is a fact that Paul honored her and valued her as a servant of the Lord, and she is so honored in God’s eternal Word.
Women are very important in the work of God!
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