Of Male Headship and Women In Ministry
This document sets forth my personal faith regarding the subject matter at the time of the writing. The Holy Spirit through Paul reminds us that now we see through the glass darkly seeing in part and knowing in part (1 Cor 13:12). I am mindful that even saved sanctified Holy Ghost filled Peter had to learn about dealing with the Gentiles (Gal 2:11-14; Acts 10:34). Indeed, I must admit I have grown in my understanding of this matter. I therefore caution myself and all to be open to a deeper understanding of the subject matter and not to be so dogmatic/rigid/insistent about one’s position especially when one is not the decision making authority. This does not mean one has to speak and/or act in a way that violates one’s integrity. This does not mean one should avoid sharing one’s belief, publicly or privately, when the circumstance warrants it. It does mean one should do so with care giving preference to private sharing unless public sharing is absolutely warranted.
Male headship is the biblical norm for spiritual matters in the home, church, and nation in general. But this does not apply to non-spiritual matters and heading entities such as a computer business, construction company, or a non-profit organization whose mission is not primarily preaching and teaching of spiritual doctrines. Here non-profits include government entities since their primary role is not preaching and teaching of spiritual doctrines although they are to apply spiritual doctrines in their job capacity.
Nothing in this document should be misconstrued as justifying abuse of females by males or males by females. Indeed all forms of abuse to include but not limited to mental and physical abuse are forbidden by scripture. Occurrence of physical abuse is self-evident when the event occurs. Mental abuse may be more difficult to determine; but biblical love will prevent its occurrence.
The scripture teaches all Christians, male and females, are ambassadors for Christ and are therefore heralds of the Gospel (Good News) of Jesus Christ. Preachers are heralds concerning Jesus Christ. So then male and females may preach in the sense of ambassadorship. But we know that there are different levels of ambassadorship in the kingdom of God, e.g., elders and non-elders. For more info see Of Preaching Teaching.
Here we will only deal with the spiritual role of females concerning public preaching/speech. In short, females may preach/speak publicly so long as they do not do so in a manner, position, or forum that project them as having spiritual authority or spiritual honor over men, especially their husbands.
The male headship principle existed before the fall in Genesis 3; biblically, it yet exists today. This is evidenced by God creating the male from the dust of the ground but not the female. Instead the female was created from the male to be the helper to and in oneness/unity with the male. This same principle exists in the biblical doctrine that the taint of sin (i.e., sin nature) and primary responsibility for sin comes down through the male not the female (Romans 5:12, 19). It follows that God has ordained the male to be the spiritual head of the home, church, and society at large in order for the male to have the authority to fulfil this primary responsibility to avoid sin and lead his family to do the same (Joshua 24:15).
Although not a determinant alone, the biblical truth that the 12 tribes of Israel are named after only sons of Jacob/Israel contributes to the male headship principle even though Jacob had a daughter named Dinah. Furthermore, although not a determinant alone, the 12 apostles are also all men (Matthew 10:2-4). Also, the Bible speaks of apostles having a special place in the afterlife (Matthew 19:28; Luke 22:30; Revelation 21:12, 14). All of this also contributes to confirmation of the biblical male headship principle.
Consider the following:
- There is no biblical example of a female proclaiming what thus saith the Lord publicly in the synagogue.
- There is no biblical example of a female proclaiming what thus saith the Lord publicly on the physical street or physical mountain.
Radio, TV, Internet are modern day equivalents to the physical street and mountain.
- There is no biblical example of a female proclaiming what thus saith the Lord publicly from house to house or place of business.
- There is no biblical example of a female proclaiming what thus saith the Lord publicly in some one else house or place of business.
- There is a biblical example of a female (Hulda) privately responding to the questions of the King and other men.
- There is a biblical example of a female (Priscilla) assisting her husband in privately expounding the Word of God to a man.
- There is a biblical example of a female (Deborah) applying the principles of God in resolving questions of men/women who came to her “place of business”.
- There is a biblical example of females (1 Cor 11:5) permitted to prophesy and pray in the assembly under male authority and in the presence of male authority.
- There is one biblical example of a female (Anna) speaking in the Temple in that she “spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem”. More on Anna will be discussed later.
- There is a biblical distinction between roles of male and female in the body of Christ that is sound doctrine even to this day. Galatians 3:28 is about equality in opportunity for salvation; this scripture is not about roles of male and female. This view is supported by the biblical truth that both Peter and Paul speak of the male headship principle after Jesus went to the cross and even after the day of Pentecost. Thus, Acts 2:17 reference to Joel 2:28 does not invalidate or cancel this biblical distinction in roles of males and females.
Luke 2:36-38 as well as 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 and 1 Timothy 2:11-15 and provide a foundational doctrinal framework for female participation in the public assembly in a ministerial role. This doctrinal framework includes the male headship principle. The male headship principle is a commandment or at least a biblical doctrine throughout scripture (Gen 2:15-17; Gen 3:17; 1 Cor 11:1-3; Eph 5:22-23; 1 Pet 3:5-7; Jer 1:7; 2 Tim 3:16-17) and therefore throughout the universal church of Jesus Christ. Note that all of God’s prescriptions he gave in Genesis 3:16-19 are yet in effect.
Anna (Luke 2:36-38) spoke in a public or at least semi-public forum but not as one having spiritual authority over men. The women of 1 Corinthians 11 are listed as speaking prophetically in the assembly but whose role, authority and honor is in subjection to men.
1 Corinthians 11:1-16 provides headship symbolism provisions for both male and female in the assembly. The 1 Cor 11 head covering symbolism is discussed in the article entitled Of Male and Female Head Covering.
1 Timothy 2:12 does not prohibit females from teaching but rather prohibits them from teaching in a way that projects, assumes, or gives the perception of one having spiritual authority over adult males. Colossians 3:16 provides a biblical example of such allowable teaching. Here Colossians demonstrates that a female soloist or lead singer may teach and admonish others in the assembly through song. Yet, she does not do so as one having spiritual authority over males.
In 1 Timothy 2:11-15 the bible speaks of the woman’s silence and submission to the male. This silence is not without qualification and depends on the context and circumstance. The idea is that because God has ordained for the male to be the head of the woman she is to defer to the male whenever possible and in the absence of clear and compelling abuse. This means that even if the woman enjoys speaking more than the man or even is more communicative and educated than the man, she still is to defer to the man. Even if it takes him 10 minutes to say what she can say in five minutes she is to patiently wait on him to speak. Even if he does not say as much as the woman could say, she is to not overshadow him in her speech participation. This does not mean that she should not speak but it does mean she should be careful not to overshadow the male.
Voluntary compliance to the spirit of Luke 2:36-38 as well as 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 and 1 Timothy 2:11-15 demonstrate the man’s and woman’s degree of faithfulness to biblical principles as set forth by God.
Although it may apply in other contexts, the male headship principle certainly applies whenever there is a captive audience. In this context a captive audience is a group who is expected to be present even if they cannot be forced to be there. For example, a regular worship service on Sunday morning is a captive audience as the members and others who seek God is expected to be present. However, a professional gospel music concert is not a captive audience in that there is no expectation for any particular person to be present. Any worship element held in a church sanctuary is generally expected to be a captive audience; there are exceptions however if such exceptions do not violate the spirit of the male headship principle.
The male headship principle applies whenever the church (local or regional) officially assembles for worship, evangelism, preaching, and/or teaching of and/or decision-making on spiritual doctrines. Such males are usually clergy but also may be laity when no clergy is available. For example, in traditional Judaism, the synagogue service may be completely officiated by male laity when no Rabbi is available. The male headship doctrine normally does not apply to unofficial church gatherings (e.g., professional gospel music concert) outside the church building. The male headship doctrine normally does not apply to official or unofficial church gatherings when the focus of the gathering is not worship, evangelism, preaching, and/or teaching of spiritual doctrines (e.g., banquets). However, it may apply if the format and purpose warrants it in consideration of the spirit of the male headship principle.
The universal church consists of unassembled persons everywhere who have accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour in spirit and in truth. There are regional churches to include local churches. Our concern here is mainly with regional churches rather than the universal church. Note that such regional churches need not regularly meet in a designated public building/place such as one normally used by a local church. Such an assembly may meet outside in a park or in someone’s home or other multi-use buildings/places as was done during Bible days.
The church is the church no matter where assembled and no matter the purpose for the assembly. A meeting of members from various churches and denominations is still a church assembly, even if it carries a non-denominational, inter-denominational, or other generic identifying name/label. Persons will undoubtedly preach/teach/speak/act at such an assembly. Therefore, there needs to be accountability for what is said and done. Also, individuals contacted during an evangelistic initiative will eventually need to be followed up with; any such follow up needs to be consistent with biblical sound doctrine.
Biblical Principles Taught by the Example of Deborah and Jezebel
Deborah of Judges 4/5 in a sense headed Israel from a governmental (judge) perspective. Her primary role as judge was not to preach and teach in the sense of giving a sermon or teaching Sunday School or teaching Bible Study. Rather it was to apply spiritual truths to the circumstances of those who came to her for judgement. This was similar to Moses and those men he appointed in Exodus 18:13-16, 25-26). Consistent with the rest of scriptures Deborah would not have operated at the same level of Moses just as the other men in Exodus 18 did not operate on the same level as Moses. She would have operated within the confines of the male-headship principle.
Deborah was a prophetess in addition to being a judge. In her role as prophetess she did deliver a word privately but not in a public assembly. Deborah’s role/position was not one of dominance over men.The Bible does not present her as having more public spiritual authority nor more public spiritual honor than men including her husband.
Indeed, there is no evidence Deborah had the power to compel a man to do anything. In fact, she had no such power over Barak as he made the decision to go to war or not go to war. Indeed, God took away some of his honor for giving Deborah more honor than he should when he said he would not go unless she went with him.
Deborah’s role of non-dominance as a judge illustrates a very important biblical principle concerning governmental office. That principle is that females should not dominate numerically or positionally where major public spiritual/moral decisions are to be made in contrast to private matters. It is not a question of capability although the bible clearly establishes the woman as the weaker vessel (1 Peter 3:7). It is simply a question of the God ordained order with respect to certain roles.
Consequently, we conclude that females may be legal judges/lawyers in the capacity of enforcing existing laws. Females may participate in making laws and changes to laws so long as they do not numerically and positionally dominate. This includes service on the US Supreme Court.
Consequently we also conclude that females may also be the President of the USA and Governors of States, Mayors of Cities and similar positions; this is because their role is not primarily spiritual but rather administrative,
managerial, legal, and similar functions.
Indeed, Jezebel assumes the authority of her husband King Ahab (1 Kings 21:8). God rebukes her action strongly and even rebukes her husband strongly for allowing her to assume such authority and take wrong actions using the authority of a King. Both women and males should be careful not to take on the spirit of Jezebel and Ahab.
Prophets and Prophetess:
A prophet is a male God set aside to prophesy as God leads him. A prophetess is a female that God set aside to prophesy as God leads her. A prophetess is not a female prophet.
The Bible lists a number of prophetess as well as reference to women who prophesied. Yet, none of these prophetess did so as the leader of an assembly. 1 Cor 11:4-5 speaks of women prophesying in the assembly and Philip’s daughters (Acts 21:9) who prophesied. Note that in the Bible Phillips daughters nor the women in 1 Cor 11 are called prophetess.
In 1 Cor 11:5 the women were part of the assembly but there is no indication they were leaders in the assembly. Moreover, the point is made they should function as those not having authority over men in the assembly . Also note that the same Greek word (Strong’s G4395) is used in 1 Cor 11:4-5 and Acts 21:9 for the word prophecy. Yet the Greek word for prophetess (Strong’s G4398) is used in Luke 2:37 in calling Anna a prophetess. Hence, the biblical text does not say the women of 1 Cor 11:5 and Acts 21:9 operated in a standing prophetess office but rather that God occasionally used them to prophesy to the people.
The prophetess Deborah most likely judged the people privately under the tree; however, since she sat under a tree seemingly in the open it is possible this occurred within a public context but not before an assembly of the people, especially not a captive audience.
The prophetess Huldah (2 Kings 22) answered a private inquiry. The prophetess Miriam (Exodus 15:20-21)sang publicly but this is not what we generally mean by formal preaching. The prophetess Anna spake of Jesus to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem (Luke 2:36-38). She is discussed in detail later.
Note that all of these women participated in ministry in a non-structured assembly setting except for Miriam in Exodus 15. Yet, Miriam participation was in singling rather than formal preaching.
A Note on Anna
Luke 2:36-38 says: And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser: she was of a great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity; And she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem.
The prophetess Anna regular function within the temple was fasting and prayers (Luke 2:37). But when Jesus parents entered the Temple with the baby Jesus in that instant the scriptures indicate she began to prophesy about who he was, that he was the Messiah for who they looked. Her prophecy was a prophetic confirmation of and in support of the prophecy of Simon (Luke 2:25-35). Her prophecy was consistent with 1 Cor 11 provision that females may prophesy in the assembly of believers with restrictions, which she most likely adhered to.
Note that the Greek word (laleo, G2980) for spake used in Luke 2:38 is used of Jesus in Matt. 9:18 and Matt 28:18 where it is translated spake but not preached. Spake, spoke, talked and variants thereof are the usual translations of the word. Yet, in Acts 8:25; 11:19; 14:25; 16:6 it is translated preached with respect to the word of the Lord. Yet, in considering this word analysis one should also be mindful that preaching is teaching is speaking but speaking is not necessarily teaching and not necessarily preaching.
Anna the prophetess spoke within the assembly most likely in the sense of the women mentioned by Paul in 1 Cor 11 although the women of 1 Cor 11 were not necessarily set aside prophetess since one does not need to be a set aside prophetess/prophet to be used by the Lord occasionally to speak prophetically.
Luke 2:36-38 gives one biblical example of a female the Prophetess Anna proclaiming in the Temple in that she “spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem”. It is not clear where she was in the Temple. The Bible does not say but the most likely place is the Women Court of the Temple since other-than-bible-sources explicitly say women had restrictions on where they could go in the Temple. I do not based doctrine on other than bible sources, however. But given the rest of scriptures it is most likely true that she was not in the equivalent of our “Sanctuary” where the main church assembly functions take place. She may have been in a place equivalent to a fellowship hall or foyer or entrance way. In any case there is no clear biblical evidence that she stood before a congregation and preached to them. Or perhaps she prophesized to them in the sense of the females mentioned in 1 Cor who did so under male authority in the presence of male authority and not presented as the primary person present. Note that a male who is in another building or city is not a male present; he is a male absent (e.g., a bishop in another city up the chain is a bishop absent). Moreover, not that Anna’s primary purpose was fasting and prayers (Luke 2:37). The conclusion is she was not a general preacher in the sense we think as a preacher.
A Note on Priscilla
Priscilla is not listed as a prophetess but she participated with her husband Aquila in expounding (preaching, teaching, explaining) the way of God and Jesus Christ more perfectly to the preacher Apollos (Acts 18:24-28); here Aquila and Priscilla does this privately for the scripture says they took Apollos aside. Also, Priscilla did not operate alone but with her husband. Note that her functioning with her husband is no justification for the concept of wife/female as “co-pastor” as here they operated in a private rather than public context and certainly as not one having spiritual authority over men. She is best viewed as witnessing or at most “lay preaching” to Apollos.
A Note on Rachel
Rachel (Genesis 29:9-10) served as a shepherdess for her father’s sheep for verse 9 says she kept them (KJV) or was a shepherdess (NKJV) as the Hebrew word used here has to do with shepherding; indeed, the Hebrew word (raah, Strong’s H7462) translated here as kept (KJV) and shepherdess (NKJV) is the same Hebrew word variously translated herdsmen, feed, shepherd, and pastor elsewhere in the Old Testament. However, Rachel shepherdship here has to do with physical matters rather than spiritual matters. So this type of shepherding is akin to that which takes place in a business or commercial arena rather than in a spiritual arena. We must always be mindful that words may have both spiritual and non-spiritual meaning depending on the context in which they are being used.
For example of a woman witnessing and in a sense preaching for Christ but not as one in authority see: War Room Movie Clip – Gospel & Grace (Marriage)
For historical info on why Catholic do not admit females to the priesthood see ON THE QUESTION OF ADMISSION OF WOMEN TO THE MINISTERIAL PRIESTHOOD
For info on Church of Christ view of women in church leadership see Can Women Have Leadership Positions In Church Worship?
For more pulpit considerations see Of the Pulpit
For more info on titles of address see Of Biblical Ministry Functions, Titles of Address, and Positions
For more info on head covering symbolism see aforementioned article entitled Of Male and Female Head Covering
Key/additional scriptures include Col 3:18-19; Eph 5:21-23, 24-26, 27-29, 30-32, 33; 1 Pet 3:5-7; 1 Cor 11:3, 7-9, 10-12; 1 Tim 2:13-15; Gen 2:7, 18-20, 21-23, 24-25.
To God Be the Glory!
Of Biblical Ministry Functions, Titles of Address, and Positions
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