Women in the Pulpit

“Please cancel Sound of Faith with their agency as soon as possible.”

It was quite a shock when we recently received this news that a major Christian network was canceling our radio program Sound of Faith on 19 stations they own, because they are against women preaching in the pulpit. This shock was punctuated by the remark “as soon as possible.” We had been on these stations for two years; some longer. 

In their email, they referred to an article written in SBCLIFE (Southern Baptist Convention) about women pastors. First let me say, that my father, R.G. Hardy, is the pastor of our church, Faith Tabernacle, and I assist him, as I have done since age 13. Nevertheless, the article, while lengthy, detailed, and at times over-reaching in what Paul affirmed, seems to boil down to one major point—Headship. It states:

“Paul clearly affirms the priority of men in church leadership.” Whichever position one takes, it is hardly fair to say Paul clearly denounced and denied women’s equality in leadership. The foundation of the debate is based on the question of headship, and Paul’s statements must be taken, not only in context, but in unity.

These primary texts are 1Corinthians 11:3 and Ephesians 5:23:

“But I would have you know that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.” At first reading, this sounds like Christ is the head of men, but not the head of women. If the man is the head of the woman, does this mean Christ is not? Not according to Ephesians 5:23:

“For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church.”  Now we have clarification—Paul was speaking of marriage, which is further understood when we know the Greek words for man, woman, husband, wife:

aner means both man and husband.

gyne means both woman and wife.

Since these Greek words can mean either, we must look at the context, as well as agreement with other verses, to determine which is meant: Women in general? Or strictly wives?

The question is: Is every man the head of every woman? And the answer is No. A man may be the head of one woman—his wife—but he is not the head of every woman. Thus, 1Corinthians 11:3 cannot mean that every man stands in the same relationship to every woman as Christ does to every man. Christ is the head of the woman just as much as He is the head of the man in the Church. If not, then women are not part of the Church, because Christ is the Head of the Church. And what about unmarried women?—Who is their head?

The Home vs. the Church

Paul was illustrating that from the family-domestic standpoint, the husband is the head of the wife, just as from the spiritual standpoint, Christ is the head of the Church. He did not say that the husband is the wife’s head spiritually. If that were true, a saved wife with an unsaved husband would have no spiritual head. My husband, Benny, is my head in the home, but he is not my spiritual head—Christ is. It is only in the domestic sense that the husband is the head of the wife. Every woman can come to Christ directly without the consent or mediation of any man— including her husband. The problem arises when the Greek terms aner and gyne are not properly translated. If we do not understand the proper roles of headship in the Church, then we will further subordinate women from serving in pulpit ministry. Mistranslation of these terms is clearly seen in 1Corinthians 14:34-36:

“Let 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 says the law. And if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.”

Notice the KJV translated gyne— women, but aner— husbands. Why the inconsistency? If they had said wives in corresponding to husbands, it changes the whole scenario. It is either women and men—or wives and husbands. The correct translation is wives, because wives are to be obedient to their husbands, but not to all men in the church. Furthermore, if they are to ask their husbands at home, they are obviously wives.

Women—Prophesy or Keep Silent?

I’m sure you’re aware of the fact that women were not as educated as we are today, and it was not unusual for them to ask their husbands what something in the sermon meant during the service, which of course, would be disruptive. Paul could not have meant that they were not to speak at all, because in the same chapter, verses 23-24, 31, Paul referred to the whole church coming together in one place and speaking in tongues all at once. He said that this would cause confusion to unbelievers in the midst. He went on to explain:

“But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believes not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all…. For you may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted.”

Paul was regulating the operation of the gifts in the church assembly, and he stated that all may speak in tongues, and all may prophesy, but only one at a time. We know that women spoke in tongues, because on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit fell, the women were there too (Acts 1:13-14). “And they were all in one place, in one accord, when cloven tongues of fire, sat upon each of them, and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost and spoke in tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:1-4).

When they went out into the city speaking in tongues, people asked, “What does this mean?” Peter replied with Joel’s prophecy: “It shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: and on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit, and they shall prophesy” (Acts 2:17-18). So when women prophesy in church, according to Paul, “All may learn”—including men.

The Greek word for prophesy—propheteuo means “to hold the office of a prophet, to do the work of a prophet, to speak forth in declaration, warning, or exhortation, as directed by the Spirit of God” (Bullinger). As we saw in 1Corinthians 11:5, Paul said that women could pray and prophesy in the church. Why would he then say in Chapter 14 that they could not speak at all in the church? It would be a foolish contradiction.

The major mistake made by those against women in the roles of pastor, preacher, teacher in the church, is they confuse the role of headship in the home with that in the church. The SBC article claims: “For a woman to serve as pastor would be to take the place of headship over men.” But Paul said that Christ is the head of men. He is also the head of women, because He is the head of the Church. Otherwise, Christ is not the head of married women, because their husbands are. And single women are headless.

The Trouble in Ephesus

1Timothy 2:11-12 is the favorite passage of those who claim women cannot be in pulpit ministry: “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.”

Once again, we must remember the meanings of the Greek words gyne and aner. When we translate them wife and husband, it gives the clear sense. We should also look at the context of this personal letter to Timothy regarding a unique situation. Timothy was Paul’s protégé in training to become a pastor of the church at Ephesus, but at this time he was not the pastor. We know from Acts 20:20 that there were many house churches in Ephesus which Paul visited, teaching publicly from house to house. Such a situation would obviously lend itself to unique problems.

Paul stated the purpose of his letter to Timothy (1:3), reminding him how he had “besought him to stay at Ephesus, that he might charge some that they teach no other doctrine.” Paul was departing for Macedonia, and he pressured Timothy to stay behind to confront and deal with those who were preaching a hetero—different doctrine. It is inferred that Timothy was reluctant to do so, and later in the letter, Paul exhorted him, “Let no one despise your youth” (4:12). Keeping this in mind helps us to gain an accurate interpretation of the situation, that he was addressing a specific situation at Ephesus, involving the women. He may also have been speaking of a particular woman (perhaps representing a company of women) who was propagating this other doctrine.

In verses 9-10, he admonished all godly women to dress modestly, referring to women—plural. But in verses 11-12, he switched to singular—the woman—a woman—whom he will not permit to teach.  She is “to learn in silence.” The Greek word for silence—hesuchia—is rendered peaceable in verse 2. It means “tranquility, calmness, to be free from turmoil.” But it does not mean to be silent as in muteness.

The Matter of “Authority”

Paul also did not allow “a woman to usurp authority over the man.” Whenever we see the word authority in the New Testament, we expect it to be the Greek term exousia. In fact, it is used over 100 times in the NT and refers to the normal exercise of authority in the Church and over satanic powers (Luke 10:19). It is a delegated authority given by one who has authority to delegate authority, and this is what Jesus gave to all believers when we speak in His name. But here the Greek word is authentein. It is only found here in the entire NT, and this should get our attention. In ancient Greek literature, it was used of someone gaining control, getting the upper hand, and in a word, means to domineer. The root auto indicates that this person acts on his/her own authority.

Ephesus was the center of worship for the female goddess Diana, also known as Artemis. Her temple was one of the ancient wonders of the world; her worship dominated the Ephesian culture. In Acts 19:21-41, Paul experienced a riot in the city when the silversmiths protested that he was turning people away from their goddess. They made much money crafting her idols, and they claimed that her image fell down from Jupiter. The people cried out for two straight hours, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians.” She was a goddess of sex and fertility, but there were more sinister elements to her worship: It was said that she could have a baby without a man, and there was strong evidence that stories of Diana were being mingled with stories from the Bible in Paul’s day. Archaeologists have found Gnostic accounts of creation combining myths with the Genesis account, claiming that Eve was a virgin without a husband who gave life. Adam was born of her, and she was Adam’s teacher. Was Paul addressing this very false doctrine being propagated by a woman in the Ephesus Church? Consider verses 13-14 that follow:

“For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.” This strongly suggests that Paul’s prohibition was against the woman who was propagating this different and damnable doctrine.

We must ask the questions: Was he referring to women and men in general, or wives and husbands? Was the prohibition against a wife usurping unlawful authority over her husband? Whatever the case, it does not mean that women cannot speak in church, or it would be a contradiction of the other Scriptures where Paul said they can and may.

To me, one of the most insensitive statements in the SBC article is: “The wife submits to her husband. The husband submits to the Lord Jesus. Jesus submits to God. In His submission to God the Father, Jesus identified with both man and woman. In submission to the Lordship of Christ, men identify with the submissive role of women.”

Women also submit to the Lordship of Christ! To say that when men submit to the Lord, they experience what women experience when they submit to men, is ridiculous, if not arrogant. In the Body of Christ, we all submit to Christ and to one another: “Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God” (Eph. 5:21). A correct comparison of men experiencing what women experience in submission to men would be in the workplace. Men have to submit to their superiors, bosses, supervisors, even CEO’s, some of whom are women. But when it comes to submitting to the Lord, there is no difference. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).

Paul’s Female Co-Ministers

The article also cites Romans 16, Paul’s thank you to his many helpers in the Gospel. It correctly points out that of 16 mentioned, 10 are women who played a significant role in the work of Paul. But it stopped short of giving some of these women their proper leadership credentials, including Phoebe who starts off the list, and whom Paul described as “a servant of the church at Cenchrea.”

diakonos should be translated minister, as it is in 23 other places where it is used of men, including Paul, Barnabas, and Apollos (1Cor.3:4-5). In this one place where it is used to speak of a woman, the same translators chose to use servant. It seems to be an example of male bias. Paul said she was “a succourer of myself and others” which Greek word prostatis—to stand before— means a woman set over others, a magistrate, presider, prefect. She stood alongside of Paul, and he instructed them to “assist her in whatever business she had.”

While Priscilla and Aquila, the husband-wife tag team, are referenced, it minimizes the role Priscilla played as an equal in teaching Apollos deeper knowledge, and in the church in their house (1Cor. 16:19). It is notable that Paul always mentioned Priscilla first, going against the conventional practice in the ancient world which always mentioned the man first. It is possible that she was the better teacher.

Curiously, there was no reference to “Junia”—whom Paul called “an apostle.” Junia was a common feminine name in the first century, and without exception, all Greek NT manuscripts have the feminine form of Junia and not the masculine Junius. Junia was universally recognized as a female apostle for the first several centuries of Church history. Chrysostom declared: “Oh how great is the devotion of this woman that she should be counted worthy of the appellation of apostle.”

Yet consider, in the 1984 translation of the NIV, they changed Junia to Junius. One professor of the NT said, “It is hard to see any reason other than the translators’ bias against the possibility that a woman could be an apostle.” Another NT scholar said, “The assumption that the name must be male is a striking indictment of male presumption regarding the character and structure of earliest Christianity.” 

In the 2011 edition of the NIV, they replaced the male Junius with the feminine Junia.  The evidence that she was a female apostle is conclusive.

Assist—Not Resist!

Borrowing Paul’s thoughts regarding women in leadership in the Church, it would be well if the men in the Body of Christ would assist them and not resist them in their ministries. But sadly, many just swallow the denominational male bias without taking the time to study the Scriptures, rightly dividing the word of truth, including the original Greek text, with an open heart, asking the Holy Spirit for “the wisdom that is from above, that is pure and peaceable, gentle and easy to be intreated, full of good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in them that make for peace” (James 3:17-18). Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God” (Matt.5:9).

With all the increasing division in the world: racially—blacks and whites, Arabs and Jews; politically— vindictive partisanship; morally—especially the cultural chaos of sexual deviancy; the attacks against Christian values with intensifying persecution; against freedom of speech and religion; Islamic terrorism and hatred of God’s Jewish people—it is reprehensible that there should be such vehement division in the Church over not the message—but the messengers who are preaching the Gospel with power and truth.

I don’t think it is incredulous to say that the day is coming when we can no longer freely preach the Bible on these hot-button issues, such as same-sex marriage and abortion. It has already come in some western nations, and America has imported many false gods who are gaining control of the media. We should be flooding the airwaves with the Word and not silencing it. Surely this breaks the heart of God and gives our adversary the advantage.

“But none of these things move me; neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24).

Please Note: An adapted version of this message by Sharon is on CD. Order from our e-store at www.soundoffaith.org

Parts of this article are derived from The Woman Question (Kenneth E. Hagin) & Paul, Women & Church (Eddie Hyatt).