Women in ministry: an overview of some biblical passages

By Spencer D. Gear PhD


I.    Introduction

J. Hudson Taylor “founded the China Inland Mission as a faith mission in 1865, and by 1890 it embraced 40 percent of the missionaries of China.” [1a] It is now called the Overseas Missionary Fellowship.


J Hudson Taylor

Courtesy Wikipedia


I wrote this article in 2012 and updated it is 2018, “Women in ministry: an overview of some biblical passages.” I copied it to my Facebook page on 19 February 2022. Would you believe I received these kinds of replies from John V?

  1. “Some readers make the scripture say what they want to hear.”
  2. I don’t know what you wrote but I do know that the Bible says that Leadership is male.”

My reply was: So you accuse me when you didn’t even read what I wrote in favour of women in ministry. The Bible says Queen Esther, a leader, was a female. Junias (Rom 16:7) in the NT was an apostle, even there has been considerable debate over her gender status. To John I said: You have no basis for accusing me when you fail to read what I wrote in support of women in ministry. You made accusations without exegesis.

John had not read my article but was adamant: “The Bible says that Leadership (in the church) is male.”

There is a name given to people who do this. He is an ignoramus, which the Oxford English Dictionary defines as: “An ignorant or stupid person.” The Oxford Dictionary gives a range of synonyms that does not sound nice.

Douglas Moo’s contemporary commentary on Rom 16:7 states:

It is more natural to translate “esteemed among the apostles” (with a plural object, en often means “among”). . . But many scholars on both sides of this issue are guilty of accepting too readily a key supposition in this line of reasoning: that “apostle” here refers to an authoritative leadership position such as that held by the “Twelve” and by Paul. In fact, Paul often uses the title “apostle” in a “looser” sense: sometimes simply to denote a “messenger” or “emissary” (see 2 Cor 8:3; Phil 2:25) and sometimes to denote a “commissioned missionary” (Moo, 1996, pp. 923-924).

“J. Hudson Taylor makes extraordinarily ample use of the services of unmarried ladies,” wrote a German missionary in 1898, adding that he thought the idea “unbecoming and repellent.”
He was not alone — many missionary societies severely criticized the idea of sending single females to the mission field. But by 1898, the tidal wave of evangelical missions was sweeping away strict gender roles. The Women’s Missionary Movement, begun in America in the early 1860s, had already given birth to 40 “female agencies” — mission societies that sponsored only single women. Barred from ordained ministry in their homeland, hundreds of women eagerly volunteered to serve abroad.

A large measure of this change can be attributed to the policy of Hudson Taylor. Women were vital to the China Inland Mission from its inception. In 1878, he took a much criticized step in permitting single female missionaries to work in teams in the interior of China. By 1882, less than 20 years after its founding, the CIM already listed 56 wives and 95 single women engaged in ministry.

Women labored sacrificially and with distinction in virtually every capacity of [Hudson] Taylor’s mission. . .  Most of the single women missionaries in the CIM worked with a female partner or on teams that included married couples. But some struck out independently. [2]

It is difficult to know how many women, married and single, are involved as missionaries around the world.  I emailed a number of agencies to try to nail down some information.  One international mission agency emailed this response: “I do not know the context from which you write. If it is Brethren, it would astonish home assemblies to know all that courageous single lady missionaries do, but then get shut out of communicating this to the male home constituency!

“Lady missionaries tend to stay longer than married couples, and also often make better church planters – they push forward nationals; men too often want to control things.  As a rule of thumb in most missions today the numbers are 1/3 married men, 1/3 married ladies and 1/3 singles, with only 10% of the singles as men.” [3]

What would happen if we withdrew all the married and single women in public ministry from the mission field?  I’m talking about withdrawing adult women who minister to adult males and adult females on the mission field.

On Sunday, 18th July 2004, I attended Birkdale Baptist Church (Redlands Shire, outer Brisbane) with my son, Paul, Angela and my two grandsons, Joseph & Daniel.  I heard one of the finest sermons I have heard in quite a while by Robyn Lanham, a female missionary with WEC International.  Such God-gifted ministry would be closed down if women were not allowed to preach and teach publicly in this church or any church.  Did God make an error when he gifted Robyn Lanham with the ministry gift of teaching?

I am convinced that the Bible teaches that God gifts men and women for public ministry to adult males and adult females.  I have to survey the entire Bible in about 40 minutes.  I’ve been asked to keep it simple.  That is difficult when having to deal with difficult Greek grammar.  However, I want you to hold me accountable.  If there is anything in what I preach that is not simple enough, please shout out, Spencer!  I will stop so that you may ask your question of clarification.  I mean this.  If you want to debate this with me, please do that at morning tea after the service.

Should women teach men?  We are getting to that, but let’s look at an example from a very prominent female preacher.

Anne Graham Lotz (Angel Ministries)

Billy Graham has called his daughter, Anne Graham Lotz, “the best preacher in the family,” [3a] yet she has experienced some shocking harassment by pastors in the evangelical community.

Anne Graham Lotz learned this lesson personally as she began her itinerant ministry 13 years ago. She was addressing a convention of 800 pastors. As she walked to the lectern, Anne was shocked to see that many of the pastors had turned their chairs around and put their backs to her. She managed to share her message but was shaken. She asked herself, “Was the inaudible voice I had heard from these men, in essence saying, ‘Anne, you don’t belong in the pulpit when men are present’ authentic or not?” Wanting to follow God’s plan for her life, Anne went home and opened her Bible. As Anne read, the Lord told her that He put the words in her mouth and that she was not responsible for the reaction of her audience. God confirmed the call in her life. “Anne, you are not accountable to your audience; you are accountable to Me.” [3b]

II.    Foundation principles in understanding the Bible

If we are to interpret the Scriptures there are three basic principles that we must not depart from:

A. First, God is the God of truth; he does not lie.

Isaiah 45:19 says, “I have not spoken in secret, from somewhere in a land of darkness; I have not said to Jacob’s descendants, ‘Seek me in vain.’ I, the LORD , speak the truth; I declare what is right”  (NIV).  God is the God of truth.
Hebrews 6:18, states: “It is impossible for God to lie.”

God is the God of truth.  He does not lie or speak with a forked tongue.  His word is utterly dependable.  He cannot agree with women in public ministry on the one hand, and deny women in public ministry as a universal principle in the Kingdom of God.  So, how do we deal with the passages that seem to say that women must be silent and not have a public ministry, yet there are other clear examples of women in active public ministry?

B. Second, when we interpret the Bible, we must understand it in context.

Like reading my local newspaper, the Bundaberg News-Mail, it is important to understand verses as they relate to the verses around them, the entire book in which those verses are found, and in harmony with the entire Bible.  We must consider the context of any verses.

C. Third, we must understand the grammar of the original language, and the history & cultures of Bible times.

This takes work and most people don’t have the tools to do it, sadly.  All of us, especially preachers, must engage in historical-grammatical interpretation of the biblical text.

I Tim. 2:12 states: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent” (NIV).  Sounds clear on the surface, but we cannot interpret it without a knowledge of grammar (including the meaning of words, “authority” and “silent”) and a knowledge of what was going on in the Ephesian church where Timothy was.  We must understand the history and culture.

I Tim. 5:3 (ESV) reads: “Honor widows who are truly widows.”  Who are the true widows as opposed to the false widows?  We need a knowledge of grammar, history & culture.  I have noticed that the search for those who are “true widows” is not an issue in this church.  Why?  Cultural understanding.

I Cor. 11:5 reads (NIV): “And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head — it is just as though her head were shaved.”  I know that a hat on a woman’s head is an issue in Brethren assemblies, but they don’t seem to be an issue here in this church.  Why?  Culture.

I want to put a proposal to you that the teaching on the silence of women in ministry needs to be based on proper grammar and understanding of culture and history of the biblical texts. But I’m jumping ahead of myself.

III.    What do the Scriptures say?

Here I will look at 4 controversial areas.

3d-red-star-small  What does the OT say?
3d-red-star-small  The New Covenant and women from the Day of Pentecost onwards.
3d-red-star-small Four controversial passages:

a. I Cor. 14:33-34: “Women must remain silent in the churches.   They are not allowed to speak” (v. 34).

b. I Tim. 2:9-15, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent” (v. 12).

c.  I Tim. 3:12, “A deacon must be the husband of but one wife”.

d.  Can women be apostles or elders? Rom. 16:7 states, ‘Greet Andronicus and Junias…. They are outstanding among the apostles”.

A. Women in ministry in the Old Testament

The Old Covenant had very different rules for men and women.  There were special privileges given to certain male Jews and not to male Gentiles.  Some had larger functions than others  did (e.g. the Levites).  There were women in ministry in the OT. The OT congregation had almost no function.

We have OT examples of women in active ministry:
6pointblue-small  Miriam, the prophetess (Ex. 15:20); 
6pointblue-small  Noadiah, the prophetess (Neh. 6:14);

6pointblue-small Queen Esther (Book of Esther);

6pointblue-small Deborah, a prophetess (Judges 4:4);

6pointblue-small Huldah, the prophetess (2 Kings 22:14; 2 Chron. 34:22);

6pointblue-small Isaiah’s wife was a prophetess (Isa. 8:3);

What does a prophetess do?


6pointblue-small Judges 4:4-6 says that Deborah, the prophetess was “judging Israel at that time. . . the people of Israel came up to her for judgment.”  To Barak she prophesied, “Has not the Lord, the God of Israel, commanded you, ‘Go, gather your men at Mount Tabor…’”

6pointblue-small 2 Kings 22:15 says of Huldah, the prophetess, that “she said to them, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: ‘Tell the man who sent you to me, Thus says the Lord. . .”

The OT prophetess was a public person who heard the voice of God and delivered it publicly to God’s people, Israel, and to individuals.  She was a “thus says the Lord” person.

My conclusion: There were definitely women in active ministry to men in the Old Testament.

B.    The New Covenant and women

Luke 2:36 speaks of Anna the prophetess.

A limitation on female ministry seems to contradict the principle of men and women being equal before God and being able to minister.  See Paul’s epistles:

blue-arrow-small 1 Cor. 11:5, “And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head”; so women had active public ministries.
blue-arrow-small  I Cor. 14:26, ” What then shall we say, brothers [and sisters]? [3c]  When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.”  The word, “adelphoi” means “brothers” but it also means “brothers and sisters.”  See I Cor. 11:2-16 where women are addressed (v. 5).  See also Phil. 4:1-3 where Paul addresses the believers as “brothers” (adelphoi) in v. 1, but then, in the next sentence, in vv. 2-3 Paul addresses two women.  So, the term “brother” in Paul’s writings refers to men and women.
blue-arrow-small  Gal. 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
blue-arrow-small  Eph. 5:21, ” Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

A critical dimension of understanding the Bible is that God, being the God of all knowledge, is not going to give teaching in Old and New Testaments that contradict each another.  He is the God of truth.

Therefore, it should not be surprising that God would tell us in advance what would happen with the coming of the New Covenant.  He prophesied through the prophet Joel what to expect with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the New Covenant, from the Day of Pentecost onwards.  In Joel 2:28 it was prophesied: “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.”

That change has come about because of the New Covenant?  The law of God is written on the human heart.  The Spirit indwells people who repent, believe and trust Jesus as their Lord and Saviour – Jews and Gentiles, men and women, slaves and non-slaves.  Special clergy classes of people are abandoned as the Spirit gifts all people for ministry, males and females.

Magnifying glass over Bible - top view

If women are to be silenced from public ministry in the church, including ministry among men, it will violate God’s New Covenant.  From the Day of Pentecost onwards, Joel 2:28-32 began to be fulfilled according to Acts 2:17, “And in the last days [beginning with Pentecost] . . . I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and daughters shall prophesy”.   Here is not the place to get into what is meant by “prophecy,” except to say that you can’t engage in “prophecy” in the church gathering and be silent at the same time.  So, the New Covenant has done away with the silencing of women in public ministry among a mixed audience of males and females.

Some of Paul’s writings make the teaching ministry available to all believers, including women.  In Colossians 3:16, “teaching and admonishing” is the responsibility of “one another,” which must obviously include male and female.  If “teaching and admonishing” are restricted to males only, consistency of interpretation should require that compassion, kindness, gentleness, patience, bearing with, forgiveness and love (Col. 3:12-14, NIV) must be practised by males only.  Such a conclusion regarding Christian character is untenable.  See also 1 Cor. 14:26 where “each one” (male and female) in the church is encouraged to minister via a psalm,  teaching, revelation, tongue and interpretation when the church gathers.  If women are restricted from teaching, consistency of interpretation requires their silence with psalms, revelations, tongues and interpretations.  Paul affirmed the teaching ministry of women (Acts 18:26, Titus 2:3) and commended women in ministry (Rom. 16:1-15; 1 Cor. 11:5; Phil. 4:2-3.).
Does this include women in a teaching ministry of men? 

C.    The Controversial Passages

   1. I Cor. 14:33-34: “Women must remain silent in the churches.   They are not allowed to speak” (v. 34).

Remember the general principle of the New Covenant.  God has poured out his Spirit on ALL flesh, male and female.  God’s gifts of the Spirit are for BOTH men and women.
If women are excluded from a significant ministry in every church today (as they are in many evangelical churches), this will have ramifications at a deep level in the local, national and international church.  Should not this restriction have been included in the Pauline passages dealing with the churches’ teaching ministry (e.g..  Rom. 12, 1 Cor. 12, Eph. 4)?  Except for the one sentence in 1 Tim.  2:12, the gifts of the Spirit to the church have never been differentiated on the basis of sex in the entire New Testament.

How do we understand this silence of women issue in I Cor. 14?  I Cor. 11:5 says that women can pray and prophesy.  So, women allowed to speak in ch. 11 and told to be silent in ch. 14 does not make sense for the God of truth who does not lie.

Could something else be going on here?  What is happening that will help us in this church in Bundaberg in 2004?  Let’s examine this “something else” that helps our interpretation.

Take a look at the context of these verses from I Cor. 14:33ff.  We find this:

a. There was confusion in the Corinthian church as 14:33 states, “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.” God wanted peace instead of disorder in this church.

b. Could it be that the women had a big part in creating this confusion?  How?  By speaking and that was disrupting the church gathering.

c. We get this idea from 14:35 where the women are told  that “if they want to inquire about something” then they should “ask their own husbands at home.”  Were they seeking to learn in the church gathering and it was resulting in rowdy confusion?  Seems so.

d. If “it is shameful for a woman to speak in the church,” it cannot mean that women are forever stopped from public ministry in the church gathering as I Cor. 11:5 and 14:26 make clear.  It has to mean that it is shameful for a woman to engage in disruptive behaviour while in the church gathering and so contribute to the confusion in the church meeting.  This is a silencing of the women in “all the churches of the saints” (v. 33).  The inference is that it applied to all of the churches as women seem to have been the culprits in creating this confusion. [4]

e. This temporary silence of women in all the churches, would stop the confusion, quit the disruption, and “all things” would then “be done decently and in order” (v. 40, KJV).

While this explanation may not be acceptable to those who hold firmly to the traditionalist view of the silence of women in the church’s mixed gathering, I cannot see any other way out of it, without making God a liar or a perpetrator of contradictory messages.  Such would be blasphemy!  God can’t say on the one hand that it is OK for women to speak by praying and prophesying (11:5) and on the other hand women are to remain silent.  It surely was a local situation that was not meant to silence women for all time.  This also seems a more reasonable explanation in light of God’s views of the change, promoting women in ministry in the New Covenant, from the Day of Pentecost onwards. 

For a more extensive examination of this passage from I Corinthians, see: “Women in Ministry in I Corinthians: A brief inquiry.”

Let’s look at another challenging  passage, probably the most difficult passage.

2. I Tim. 2: 9-15, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent” (v. 12).

In I Tim. 1:3, Paul tells Timothy to “stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer.”  Then right at the end of the book, I Tim. 6:20-21, Paul writes: ” Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge [note those words],  which some have professed and in so doing have wandered from the faith.

This was a letter to Timothy about correcting false doctrine in the Ephesian church.  It was known as a Gnostic heresy (false teaching about false knowledge).

v. 11 “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission” (NIV).[5] In quietness a woman should learn and in full submission.

v. 12  “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent” (NIV).

“Authority” (v. 12) is an unusual word.  The normal Greek word for authority is exousia.  This verb is authentein, a rare word.  This is the only place it is found in the entire NT.  It means, to “have authority, domineer over someone.” [6]  It means being master over or domineering or something like that.  It’s a hard word to translate, but it is not the ordinary word for authority.  It does not have to do with authority in the church but a domineering that is going on in the Ephesian church.

A woman is permitted no teaching, no domineering over a man; she must be in quietness.  If your translation says that she must remain “silent” (as in the NIV), don’t believe it.  The word may mean silence, but there is another, clear, unambiguous word in Greek for silence that means to keep your mouth shut. [7]  It is NOT these words.  This word translated “silence” is exactly the same word in I Tim. 2:2:  We must live “quiet” lives.  I do not know why the NIV translated the very same root work, “quiet” (1 Tim. 2:2), “quietness” (1 Tim. 2:11) and “silent” (1 Tim. 2:12).  It is clear that “quiet” does not mean keep your mouth shut.  It means, not disturbing the peace, not disrupting things.  It’s the same word in 1 and 2 Thessalonians about the unruly, idle people who are sponging off others and not living in love. It does not mean women are to keep their mouths shut, but women are to stop disrupting things.  Get on with peacefulness.  Practise quietness, not domineering, not disrupting the community.

According to the remainder of Scripture, salvation is obtained by grace through faith.  But what does I Tim. 2:15 say? ” But women will be saved through childbearing–if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety” (NIV)  This verse links salvation to having babies.  How is this possible?  I have heard about Christian women who have died in child birth.

In trying to understand this passage, v. 15 was the toughest nut for me to crack, but when I began to understand this Gnostic heresy, it opened up for me.  For a more detailed explanation of this section of Scripture, see my paper, “Must Women Never Teach Men in the Church.”

Flower  What was the nature of this gnostic heresy?

According to I Tim. 6:20-21, those into false doctrine at Ephesus were involved in “godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge (gnosis).”

Flower  What was the Purpose of 1 Timothy?

The epistle begins (1:3) and ends (6:20-21) with a concern about false teaching.  The issue of false teachers and their teaching, mentioned throughout the letter (chs. 1, 4, 5, 6), also appears in the wider context of the pastoral epistles (2 Tim. chs. 2-4 and Titus chs. 1 and 3).  The purpose, then, of 1 Timothy was to provide instructions to combat the Ephesian heresy which Timothy encountered.  Within this context, I propose that 1 Tim. 2:12, is not a universal command applied to every Christian church, but a specific direction given to Timothy to correct the Ephesian error.

Flower  What was the nature of this Ephesian false teaching?

a. Those embracing false doctrines at Ephesus were involved in “worldly and empty chatter and the opposing arguments of what is falsely called ‘knowledge’ (gnosis)” (1 Tim. 6:20-21).  This Gnostic heresy included …

b. Elaborate systems of intermediate beings who bridged the gap between God and man, complete with astounding genealogies and fantastic myths about these primordial beings.  Other Gnostics were considerably closer to Jewish traditions and gave exaggerated roles to Adam, Eve, Cain and Seth. [8] See 1 Tim. 1:4, 4:3, 6:20; 2 Tim. 2:18, 23, 3:6-8, 4:5, 14, Titus 3:9.

c. If you read Acts 19, you will find that the Ephesian church was pioneered in the midst of confrontations with occult and pagan practices (Acts 19:9, 13, 18-19, 27).  The apostle Paul warned of the “savage wolves” who would attack the believers (Acts 20:29-30).  He exhorted them not to be “tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness, in deceitful scheming” (Eph. 4:14).  However, the Ephesian church reeled under the impact of various kinds of false teachings, influencing many to defect from the faith (cf. 2 Tim. 1:15, 4:14-15).

d. Some of the prime targets of the false teachers were women who listened to anybody, without coming to a knowledge of the truth (2 Tim. 3:6-9).

However, there is every indication that women were involved in propagating this Gnostic heresy through their roles of mediatorship (suggested by 1 Tim. 2:5-9).  The city of Ephesus contained thousands of female prostitutes associated with the temples of Artemis (or Diana) and Aphrodite (Venus).  It was considered a commendable duty to be a temple prostitute.  There was a long tradition in ancient religions of female figures serving as mediators.  Women were supposed to possess a special affinity for the divine.  This “mystic-sexual principle” was evident in early Christian heresies. [9]

Some false teachers exalted and revered Eve as the mediator who brought divine enlightenment to human beings.  They said that secret gnosis was given to Eve by the serpent, making her the originator of the knowledge of good and evil.  It was even proposed that Adam received life through Eve’s instruction. [10]

A Gnostic sect, the Nicolaitans, promoted heretical views in Ephesus according to Revelation 2:6.  They revered a book which, they claimed, was the work of Noah’s wife, Noria.  Sexual immorality was exalted because of its sacred nature, they said. [11]

If the heresy of 1 Timothy involved Gnostic groups, women probably were among their teachers.  Many early Christian writers showed that “women performed all churchly roles within many Christian gnostic groups.”  It is reasonable, then, to conclude that women in Ephesus were teaching heresy. [12]

False teachers were prohibiting marriage (1 Tim. 4:3) and may have encouraged women to leave their homes and meet together (1 Tim. 5:13).

All of this concern for public reputation, model domestic life, appropriate décor, and maternal domestic roles of women, clearly implies that the opposition Paul and Timothy faced in Ephesus, constitutes an assault on marriage, and what were considered appropriate models and roles for women. [13]

Flower How was this to be corrected?

The apostle is adamant about what should be done with false teachers: “Instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines” (1 Tim. 1:3).  They “must be silenced” and reproved severely (Titus 1:11, 13).  Could it be that this is the meaning of 1 Tim. 2:12?  Since women were involved in practising and teaching errors which plagued the Ephesian church, they were forbidden from teaching, as a temporary measure, until they received adequate instruction (1 Tim. 2:11).  One view is that “evidently the ban on teaching by women had been issued as one of several emergency measures during an extremely critical period in the history of the Ephesian church.” [14]

At the core of Paul’s strategy was the elimination of all unqualified or deviant would-be teachers, both male and female, so that the church’s teaching ministry would be carried out exclusively by a small retinue of approved “faithful men” who would be able to take from Timothy the teaching he had himself received from Paul and transmit it to others (2 Tim. 2:2).  Thus, neither women nor all men could teach in Ephesus, but only a group of trained and carefully selected individuals. [15]

Mary Lee Cagle, Pioneer Preacher, Church of the Nazarene

Courtesy Encyclopedia of Alabama

 What about that difficult v. 15, “women will be kept safe through childbirth, if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.”?  I don’t have time to go into the details, but this verse is not an explanation of how a woman can earn eternal salvation, but a Christian response to Paul’s argument for the temporary silence of women teachers.  A female false teacher “will be restored only when individual women continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty, thereby demonstrating the maturity of faith demanded of any Christian teacher. [16]  For an in-depth treatment, see “Must Women Never Teach Men in the Church?

My conclusion is that 1 Timothy 2:9-15 is not a command to prevent all women from teaching in the church for all times.  Paul’s intention was not to place a permanent limitation on women in the ministry.  Rather, these verses were addressed to a problem situation in Ephesus where women were teaching heresy.

I agree with Mark Roberts conclusion: “So today, if women fail to continue in faith and love and holiness with modesty — like men who fail similarly — they should not teach.  Ones like these, whether female or male, need to learn in silence and to practice what they learn.  But if women have learned, if they have persevered in the Christian faith, if the Holy Spirit has gifted them for teaching, let us not quench the ministry of the Spirit through women. . .  We must encourage our sisters as they seek to serve Christ in his frighteningly patriarchal church.” [17]

3. I Tim. 3:12, “A deacon must be the husband of but one wife”

This is also the same statement for elders in 1 Tim. 3:2, that the elder must be “the husband of but one wife.”  On the surface, this verse looks as though all debate is ended. Deacons can only be men because the qualification is “the husband of but one wife.”  In context, if we look at v. 8, Paul is speaking of male deacons who “are to be men worthy of respect, sincere, . . . etc.”  That’s how it seems with a surface reading.

Let’s observe something about the phrase “husband of but one wife” (NIV).

The word translated, “husband” is the Greek, aner.  Let’s check out the most authoritative Greek-English lexicon (a lexicon is a dictionary), Arndt & Gingrich, and discover the various meanings of aner. [18]  This is what we find:

Flower   Remember the story of the feeding of the 5,000 people by Jesus.  In Matthew 14:21 it reads, “The number of those who ate was about five thousand men [aner], besides women [gune]and children.”  These are the words translated as “husband” and “wife” in I Tim. 3.  There is no way that we would translate Matt. 14:21 as “The number of those who ate was about five thousand [husbands], besides [wives] and children.” Aner in this context means “man in contrast to woman.” In addition to Matt. 14:21, you’ll find find “man in contrast to woman” used also in passages such as Mk. 6:44; Acts 4:4; I Cor. 12:3;
Flower  Also, aner speaks “of a woman having sexual intercourse with a man” referring to Joseph and Mary in Lk. 1:27, 34;

Flower  Yes, it can be translated as “husband” See Mt. 1:16; Acts 5:9ff;
Flower  It also means a “man in contrast with a boy” (I Cor. 13:11);
Flower  It refers to a “full-grown man” (Eph. 4:13);
Flower Aner is also used as the equivalent to “someone/some people” in Lk. 9:38; John 1:30; Acts 6:11.

So, there is no reason why aner should be translated only as “husband.”  It is just as valid to translate as “a man, a mature man, or a person.”

In the phrase, “the husband of but one wife,” the word for “wife” is the Greek, gune.  Again we go to the most authoritative Greek-English lexicon by Arndt & Gingrich [19] and this is what we find.  Gune can refer to the following:

blue-arrow-small  Remember Matt. 9:20?  It reads, “Just then a woman [gune] who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak.   So, gune here refers to “any adult female.”  You’ll find a similar kind of use for gune in Lk. 1:42; 1 Cor. 14:34ff.
blue-arrow-small  Yes, it can refer to “wife” as in Matt. 5:28; I Cor. 9:5; Col. 3:18ff.
In Luke 4:26, we read, ” Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon.”  The “widow” is gune in the Greek.
blue-arrow-small  In Matt. 1:20, Mary is said to be Joseph’s bride or wife.
blue-arrow-small  In Rev. 12:1-17, gune speaks of “the woman in heaven.”

So, gune can mean an adult woman, wife, or widow.

What then is the meaning of “the husband of one wife” in 1 Tim. 3:2, 12 as it refers to qualifications of deacons and elders?  One of the outstanding evangelical Greek scholars of today is Dr. Gordon Fee.  He writes that this “is one of the truly difficult phrases in the Pastoral Epistles.” [20] There are at least 4 options for what it means:

First, it would require that overseers & deacons should be married.  Support could be found “in the fact that the false teachers are forbidding marriage and that Paul urges marriage for the wayward widows” (see 5:14; cf. 2:15). [21] But, this would contradict what Paul says in I Cor. 7:25-38 that singleness was best for most effective ministry.  Besides, in that Roman culture, it was assumed that most people would be married.

There’s a second possible interpretation: to prohibit polygamy (having more than one wife at the same time).  This would emphasise the one wife aspect, “but polygamy was such a rare feature of pagan society.” [22] Even further, if you go to I Tim. 5:9, it states that “no widow may be put on the list of widows unless she is over sixty, has been faithful to her husband” (NIV).  So, warning against polygamy would have been irrelevant.

A third option: “It could be prohibiting second marriages.”  “It would fit the widows especially and all kinds of inscriptional evidence praises women (especially, although sometimes men) who were ‘married once’ and remained ‘faithful’ to that marriage after the partner died.” [23]  So, this view would mean that a widow or widower could not remarry and be a church leader, and divorce and remarriage would be prohibited for deacons and elders.  But, the scriptures give biblical reasons for divorce and remarriage in passages such as Matt. 5:31-32; 19:1-9; Mark 10:1-9, and 1 Cor. 7:10-15.

The fourth possibility is that “it could be that it requires marital fidelity to his one wife.” [24] That’s how the New English Bible translates the phrase, as “faithful to his one wife.”  Again I quote prominent Greek scholar of today, Gordon Fee:

In this view the overseer is required to live an exemplary married life (marriage is assumed), faithful to his one wife in a culture in which marital infidelity was common, and at times assumed…. The concern that the church’s leaders live exemplary married lives seems to fit the context best—given the apparently low view of marriage and family held by the false teachers (4:3; cf. 3:4-5). [25]

Therefore, the “husband of one wife” can also be translated as “the man of one woman.”  He was a one-woman man.  While the English Standard Version [25a] translates I Tim. 3:2, 12; Titus 1:6 as “the husband of one wife,” it gives this footnote: “Or a man of one woman.”  Today’s New International Version [25b] translates the phrase as “faithful to his wife.”  It is giving an example of the need for faithfulness in marriage relationships.  Commentator R. C. H. Lenski explains: “The emphasis is on one wife’s husband, and the sense is that he have nothing to do with any other woman.  He must be a man who cannot be taken hold of on the score of sexual promiscuity or laxity…. To begin with, a man who is not strictly faithful to his one wife is debarred [from service as an overseer].” [25c]

It cannot restrict deacons to males only.  We know this from Rom. 16:1.  Let’s take a look into who Phoebe was.

Rom. 16:1 states, “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church in Cenchrea” (NIV).  We need to note that Phoebe, in the Greek is said to be a “diakonos.”  Paul used the Greek masculine, “diakonos,” in 1 Tim. 3:8 (cf. 3:11) to indicate male deacons.  Here in Rom. 16:1 we have clear biblical evidence that the feminine “diakonos” was used to refer to a female deaconess. [26]

You will miss this in some English translation. The NIV: “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant [footnote: “or deaconess”] of the church in Cenchrea.”  The NASB, ESV, KJV and NKJV, all refer to Phoebe, “the servant.”  The New Living Translation and NRSV read: “Our sister Phoebe, a deacon in the church.”  The RSV translates as “our sister Phoebe, a deaconess of the church.”  Phoebe was a female deacon, i.e. a deaconess.

A final controversial issue:

4. Can women be apostles or elders?  Rom. 16:7

This verse reads: “Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me” (that’s the ESV).  The NIV translates as: “Greet Andronicus and Junias, my relatives who have been in prison with me.  They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.”  These two different translations show some of the difficulties in translating this verse.
Literally, the Greek reads, word-for-word (English translation): “Greet Andronicus and Junia/Junias the kinsmen of me and fellow-captives of me who are notable among, in or by the apostles who also before me have been in Christ.”
The controversy surrounds:

(a)  Junia’s gender?  Male or female?

(b) The phrase, “among the apostles”, and

(c) If Junia is feminine and she is among the apostles, this makes her a female apostle.

Let’s look at this briefly.  Three quick points:

a. Firstly, let’s examine the gender of Junia.

The Greek form, jounian (from Junias), depending on the Greek accent given to it, could be either masculine or feminine.  So the person could be a man, Junianus, or a woman, Junia.  “Interpreters from the thirteenth to the middle of the twentieth century generally favored the masculine identification, but it appears that commentators before the thirteenth century were unanimous in favor of the feminine identification; and scholars have recently again inclined decisively to this same view.  And for probably good reason. . .  The Latin ‘Junia’ was a very common name.  Probably, then, ‘Junia’ was the wife of Andronicus (note the other husband and wife pairs in this list in Rom. 16: Prisca and Aquila [v. 3] and [probably], Philologus and Julia [v. 15].” [27]

b.    Second: Is Junia a female apostle?

The phrase “esteemed/notable by the apostles” is a possible Greek construction as in the ESV. [28] But it is more natural to translate as “esteemed/notable among the apostles,” as with the NIV.  Why is it more natural?  It’s a technical Greek expression that I explain in another paper on women in ministry that I will give to the deacons to consider. [29]  Andronicus and Junia were probably a husband and wife team of apostles. [30]

c.    Junia is therefore a female apostle

This means that Junia was a female apostle, not one of the Twelve, but one of the ministry gifts of Christ to the church (see Eph. 4:11).

IV.  Summary

1. In the OT there were women in public ministry: prophetesses.
2. In the NT,

a. From the Day of Pentecost, in this New Covenant, God is pouring out his Spirit on all flesh.  Spiritual gifts are for both men and women, including public ministry of preaching, teaching, other gifts of the Holy Spirit, BUT men or women who teach false doctrine must not be given the floor until they have corrected their teachings and  have returned to biblical  truth.
b. In the NT, the restrictions placed on gifts for women AND men are in local churches for correction of error or to stop confusion or bedlam in the church gathering, according to I Cor. 14 and 1 Tim. 2.

c. We haven’t had time to examine what Paul said in I Cor. 7:
ff. about his preference for singleness for the most effective ministry, “because of the present crisis” (I Cor. 7:26).

d. Objections to women in ministry should be on the same level as women wearing a head covering in I Cor. 11, food sacrificed to idols (1 Cor. 8), slavery (I Tim. 6:1ff) and those who are truly widows (1 Tim. 5).  A local custom or heresy drove them.

e. What have we done to gifted women with teaching, preaching and other public ministries?  Too often we have sent them to the Sunday School to teach children (and many have done that in humility and have done it well).  But it is wrong to do that when we may have women who are gifted Bible teachers in this church and they are prevented from exercising those gifts because of the elevation of male-only ministry in the evangelical church.

f. Take these examples: The OT Tyndale Commentaries written by Joyce Baldwin, Dean of Women at Trinity College, Bristol.  She wrote the commentaries on Esther [31], I & 2 Samuel, Daniel [32], and Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi.

(Dorothy L. Sayers, courtesy Wikipedia)

g. Dorothy Sayers (died 1957) was a British Christian who was a “novelist, playright, academic, and a Christian apologist. . .  Works like The Mind of the Maker (1941) reveal how skillful an apologist for orthodox Christian teaching she was. . .  Sayers was a prominent member of that midcentury group of English Christian writers of whom C. S. Lewis is the best known.” [33] Closing down women in public ministry among men closes down God’s gifts to the church.  I cannot support such censorship within the church.

h. I call on this church to set the women free to exercise the gifts that God has given them.  Since the Day of Pentecost, God has poured out his Spirit on all people.  The gifts of the Spirit are not discriminated on the basis of gender.  Please, Please – let the men AND women loose to exercise their God-given gifts.  Some of the worst preachers I have ever heard, who should never be let loose in any pulpit, have been men.

i. I close with I Cor. 12:4-7, “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them.  There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.  There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.  Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good” (NIV). [34]

Gold Chain Of Round Links Clip Art


In support of women in ministry see:

For a contrary view on Junia see:



1a.  Cairns 1954/1981, p. 402.
2.  Tucker 1996 [22 April 2007].
3.  Patrick and Robyn Johnstone, Operation World, [email protected]; [3rd  August 2004].
3a.  See: http://www.cbsnews.com/earlyshow/healthwatch/healthnews/20010913terror_spiritual.shtml [3rd August 2004].
3b.  See: http://www.cbn.com/700club/profiles/annegrahamlotz2.asp [3rd August 2004].
3c.  What does adelphoi (brothers) mean?  Is it referring to males only, or are women included?  Gordon Fee links his comments about adelphoi in 14:26 with his explanation of the vocative adelphoi in I Cor. 1:10:

“Although it means ‘brothers,’ it is clear from the evidence of this letter (11:2-16) and Phil. 4:1-3 that women were participants in the worship of the community and would have been included in the ‘brothers’ being addressed.  The latter passage is particularly telling since in v. 1 Paul uses the vocative adelphoi, and then directly addresses two women in the very next sentence.  It is therefore not pedantic, but culturally sound and biblically sensitive, for us to translate this vocative [in I Cor. 1:10] ‘brothers and sisters’” (Fee 1987, p. 52 n22).

   4.  Gordon Fee states,

“The most commonly held view is that which sees the problem as some form of disruptive speech.  Support is found in v. 35, that if the women wish to learn anything, they should ask their own husbands at home.  Various scenarios are proposed: that the setting was something like the Jewish synagogue, with women on one side and men on the other and the women shouting out disruptive questions about what was being said in a prophecy or tongue; or that they were asking questions of men other than their own husbands; or that they were simply ‘‘chattering’’ so loudly that it had a disruptive effect.
    “The biggest difficulty with this view is that it assumes a ‘church service’ of a more ‘orderly’ sort than the rest of this argument presupposes.  If the basic problem is with their ‘all speaking in tongues’ in some way, one may assume on the basis of 11:5 that this also included the women; furthermore, in such disarray how can mere ‘chatter’ have a disruptive effect?   The suggestion that the early house churches assumed a synagogue pattern is pure speculation; it seems remote at best” (Fee 1987, p. 703).

  5.  The following information on “authority” and “quiet” is based on Gordon Fee, cassette tape, “Pastoral Epistles: About Women”, preached at Waverly Christian Fellowship, Melbourne, 1997.
6.  Arndt, Gingrich & Bauer 1957, p. 120.
7.  That is, use the negative, m?, with lale? (I speak), thus meaning “I do not speak.”
8.  Kroeger 1980, p. 15.
9.  Ibid., pp. 15-16.
10.  Ibid., p. 16.
11.  Ibid.
12.  Roberts 1983, p. 19. n39
13.  Scholer (1985).]
14.  Bilezikian 1985, p. 261.
15.  Ibid., p. 182.
16.  Mark D. Roberts, “Women Shall Be Saved: A Closer Look at 1 Timothy 2:15,” The Reformed Journal, April 1983, p. 17.  Ibid.
18.  Arndt, Gingrich & Bauer, pp. 65-66.
19.  Ibid., p. 167.
20.  Fee 1988.
21.  Ibid., p. 80.
22.  Ibid.
23.  Ibid.
24.  Ibid.
25.  Ibid., pp. 80-81.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version [ESV].  Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Bibles (a Division of Good News Publishers), 2001.
Today’s New International Version: New Testament Preview Edition 2001, available from: http://www.tniv.info/pdf/TNIV_NewTestament.pdf [12th August 2004].
25c.  Lenski 1937, 1946, 1961, 2001, pp. 580-581.
26.  Arndt, Gingrich & Bauer 1957, pp. 183-184.
27.  Moo 1996, pp. 921-922.
28.  This is using the preposition, ev, in its instrumental sense.
29.  “With a plural object [apostles], ev often means ‘among’; and if Paul had wanted to say that Andronicus and Junia were esteemed ‘by’ the apostles, we would have expected him to use a simple dative [case] or [the preposition] hupo with the genitive [case].  The word epistemoi (‘splendid,’ ‘prominent,’ ‘outstanding’); only here in the NT in this sense [cf. also Matt. 27:16]) also favors this rendering” (Moo 1996, p. 923,
30.  Gordon Fee (1987) says that that Rom. 16:7 refers to “probably Andronicus and his wife [Junia]” (I Corinthians, n80, p. 729). Gordon Fee says that that Rom. 16:7 refers to “probably Andronicus and his wife [Junia]” (p. 729, n80).
31.  Baldwin 1984.
32.  Baldwin 1978.
33.  Pollard 1978, pp. 334-335.
34.  Today’s New International Version, available from: http://www.tniv.info/pdf/TNIV_NewTestament.pdf [5th August 2004]


William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich 1957, transl & adapt. of Walter Bauer (4th ed) 1952, “authenteo,”A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature.  Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, limited edition licensed to Zondervan Publishing House.

Joyce G. Baldwin 1978 Daniel (The Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, gen. ed., D. J. Wiseman).  Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press.

Joyce G. Baldwin 1984, Esther (The Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, gen. ed., D. J. Wiseman).  Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press.

Gilbert Bilezikian 1985, Beyond Sex Roles: A Guide for the Study of Female Roles in the Bible.  Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House.

Earle E. Cairns 1954, 1981, Christianity through the Centuries: A History of the Christian Church.  Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Gordon D. Fee 1987, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, gen. ed. F. F. Bruce.  Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Noel S. Pollard, “Sayers, Dorothy Leigh,” in J. D. Douglas, gen. ed., Twentieth-Century Dictionary of Christian Biography.  Carlisle, United Kingdom: Paternoster Press, 1995.

Gordon D. Fee 1988, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus (W. Ward Gasque, New Testement ed., New International Biblical Commentary). Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers.

Richard and Catherine Clark Kroeger 1980, “May Woman Teach?  Heresy in the Pastoral Epistles,” The Reformed Journal (October).

R. C. H. Lenski, 1937, 1946, 1961, 2001, Commentary on the New Testament: The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistles to the Colossians, to the Thessalonians, to Timothy, to Titus, and to Philemon.  Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers.

Douglas G. Moo 1996, The Epistle to the Romans (The New International Commentary on the New Testament).  Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Noel S. Pollard 1995, “Sayers, Dorothy Leigh,” in J. D. Douglas, gen. ed., Twentieth-Century Dictionary of Christian Biography. Carlisle, United Kingdom: Paternoster Press.

Mark D. Roberts 1983, “Women Shall Be Saved: A Closer Look at 1 Timothy 2:15,” The Reformed Journal (April).

David M. Sholer 1985. “The Place of Women in the Church’s Ministry: 1 Timothy 2:9-15,” Dean of the Seminary, Professor of New Testament, Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, Chicago,   The address was delivered at Macquarie University, Sydney, NSW, Australia, on March 15, 1985, sponsored by Zadok Centre, Canberra, Australia, and available on cassette tape.

Ruth A. Tucker 1996, “Unbecoming Ladies: Women played a controversial but decisive new role in China missions,” Christian History (October 1), available from: http://ctlibrary.com/418 (Accessed 22 April 2007).

“Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good” (I Cor. 12:7, NIV).


Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 24 February 2022.