Bible Study

A Woman’s Right to Preach: Is It Biblical? – Part 4

10. Argument From Slavery As A Model For The Role Of Women

a. Summary of the argument

The passages of Scripture instructing slaves to be subject to their masters (e.g., 1 Pet. 2:13-14) are adaptations of the principle of authority and submission to the existence of slavery in that culture. They are not intended to condone, mandate, or perpetuate slavery, but simply to apply Christian principles to an institution of the time. As the ignorance and prejudice that kept men and women in bondage to others disappeared, the need for those principles disappeared as well.

The relationship between slaves and masters parallels that of wives and husband. In fact, some of the passages addressing slaves and masters also address wives and husbands. As with slavery, those passages are simply cultural adaptations of authority and submission to accommodate the role expectations of that day. They are not intended to condone or perpetuate the subservience of women, or restrict them from leadership in the church indefinitely. To the extent that women's roles change and their contributions to society and the church are recognized and appreciated, the need for hose principles diminishes.

b. Representative quotes

1) "There are several comparable elements that suggest [a parallel between male and female and master and slave relationships]. We have seen, in Galatians 3:28, the distinctions between slave and free and male and female, although they continue to exist, are superseded by equality in Christ in the church.

"The instructions in Paul's letters prominently modify the relations between slaves and masters, and between husbands and wives, as in Ephesians5:22-33. Similarly Paul places restrictions on both slaves and women by instructing slaves to obey their masters and women to be subservient to their husbands and to refrain from exercising equality in the authoritative offices of the congregation.

"What is of great significance is the parallelism between the grounds on which the apostle supports his instructions to both slave and women. In 1 Timothy 6:1 he urges slaves to respect their masters 'so that God's name and our teaching may not be slandered' In Titus 2:5 he requires women to be subject to their husbands 'so that no one will malign the word of God'" (Clarence Boomsma, Male and Female, One in Christ, p. 48).

2) "Paul, ever careful not to upset the delicate cultural fabric of his day, encouraged women to continue to submit. What is new is how they are to submit: as to the Lord" (Austin H. Stouffer, "The Ordination of Women: YES", Christianity Today, February 20, 1981, p. 13).

3) "Those who today will admit slavery is wrong but still maintain that husbands must have authority over their wives are inconsistent. If they were consistent with their method of interpretation, which does not take enough account of cultural differences, it is likely that, had they lived one hundred fifty years ago, hey would have had to have opposed the abolitionists as subverters of the moral order–as many Bible-quoting white slave owners and their allies did. Many of the traditions which today use Scripture to subordinate women once did the same for slavery before that idea was anathema in our culture" (Craig Keener, Paul, Women and Wives, p. 207-8).

4) "Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him … Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect … Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands … Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives" (1 Peter 2:13-14, 18; 3:1, 7).

"[In that passage] Peter makes an interesting point about the position of women. He argues that we as Christians should submit ourselves to every man-made institution, and goes on to list several of those authorities 'instituted among men'–kings, governors, masters. Then i 1 Peter 3:1 he states that in the same way wives should submit to their husbands, because–it is implied–female submission is 'instituted among men.'

"In other words, Christians are expected to operate within the parameters placed around them by society. If slavery is an unchangeable part of the society, then servants are expected to obey their masters–until slavery is no longer 'instituted among man.' As we earnestly seek a true biblical role for women, God forbid that we withhold any gift he desire her to exercise for even one day longer than society requires!" (Stouffer, "The Ordination of Women: YES", p. 14).

c. Responses

1) We disagree that all distinctions between male and female have been superseded by equality in Christ (Gal. 3:28).

Galatians 3:28 speaks of spiritual equality, not equality of function (see our more detailed discussion above).

2) We disagree that it is inconsistent to admit slavery is wrong while maintaining that husbands have authority over their wives.

a) Marriage was instituted by God, slavery was not.

(1) Genesis 2:24; 3:16 – "For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh…. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you."

(2) Although there are some scriptural similarities between the male/female and master/slave relationships, one significant difference is that "the existence of slavery is not rooted in any creation ordnance, but the existence of marriage is" (John Piper and Wayne Grudem, "An Overview of Central Concerns: Questions and Answers," in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, p. 65).

b) Those who used the master/slave passages in the New Testament to oppose abolitionists were wrong, but that doesn't constitute guilt-by-association for those who appeal to the same passages in support of authority and submission within marriage. Nor does it mean that God's will is for submission within marriage to go the way of slavery.

Boomsma and others place great significance on the parallelism between the grounds on which Paul supports his instructions to both slaves and women (i.e., that God's name and Word would not be slandered – 1 Tim. 6:1; Titus 2:5).

However, "It is necessary to ask whether Paul groups together regulations for members of the household not because the relationships are parallel, but for mere convenience since all deal with the membership of many households of that day. As a matter of fact, it would appear that these relationships have quite different bases. Paul is quite willing for the slave's status to change to one of freedom (compare Philemon and also 1 Cor. 7:21). He never insists that slavery is instituted by God and therefore to be perpetuated. Paul is simply giving directions on how slaves and masters should live if they are in that situation" (Knight, "The Ordination of Women: NO", p. 17).

c) The basis for Paul's teaching is different for women and children than for slaves.

"We face a different situation concerning children. Paul grounds his word to children in the permanent word of the Ten Commandments (Eph. 6:1-3). And, likewise, when we ask about the basis for the uniform teaching on the role relationship of husband and wife in marriage, we find it is God's activity in Creation [a evidenced by Paul quoting Genesis 2:24 in Ephesians 5:31, and the specific correlation of Genesis 2 with headship in 1 Corinthians 11]" (Knight "The Ordination of Women: NO", p. 17).

d) Regarding a woman's role in the church, the basis for Paul's teaching isn't that God may not be slandered (although that certainly is implied), but that the Law, the order of creation, and the fall require it (cf. 1 Cor. 14:34; 1 Tim. 2:13-14).

3) We agree that Christians are expected to operate within the parameters placed around them by society (e.g., if slavery is an unchangeable part of the society, then servants are expected to obey their masters–until slavery is no longer 'instituted among man').

But Paul's instructions regarding a woman's submission in marriage and in the church aren't simply concessions to the role expectations of his society, and therefore subject to change as society changes.

a) Regarding authority and submission in the church, we have discussed that point in the sections on 1 Corinthians 11:4-5, 14:34-35, and 1 Timothy 2:11-15 above.

b) Regarding authority and submission in slavery, as long as slavery exists in a society, Christian slaves are to be submissive to their masters as God commands (and masters are to treat their slaves with fairness and respect). If slavery is done away with, the principles are no longer applicable.

c) Regarding authority and submission in marriage, as long as marriage exists in a society, Christian wives are to be submissive to their own husbands as God commands (and husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church).

However, unlike slavery, marriage and its corresponding authority and submission, was instituted by God, and therefore cannot be done away with. Even if a society were to outlaw marriage, Christians in that society would have to obey God rather than man.

4) Using slavery as a model for the role of women has a domino effect on other relationships. For example, if we abolish submission of wives to their husbands because it parallels slavery, to be consistent we must also abolish submission of children to their parents, because it is taught in the same passages.

a) Ephesians 5:22-6:9 – "Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord… Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church… Children, obey your parents in the Lord… Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters to the flesh … as to Christ… And, masters, do the same to [your slaves]" (emphasis added).

b) Colossians 3:18-4:1 – Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives … Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord…. Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth…. Masters, grant to your slaves justice and fairness" (emphasis added).

Key Principles:

  • The basis for Paul's teaching is different for women than for slaves, therefore the relationships are not parallel.
  • A major flaw in the slave/master argument is that slavery is not rooted in any creation ordinance, whereas marriage is.
  • Authority and submission within marriage is not a concession to society's standards; it is God's design for marriage in any society.
  • If we abolish submission of wives to their husbands because it parallels slavery, to be consistent we must also abolish submission of children to their parents.

11. Argument From Biblical Precedence

a. Summary of the argument

Whatever else Paul may have had in mind when he penned the restrictions in 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2, he wasn't forbidding women to lead and preach in the church. We know that because elsewhere he not only acknowledges that certain women did, in fact, minister in those capacities, but he also commends them for dong so.

b. Examples

1) The example of Phoebe

Romans 16:1-2 – "I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea; that you receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and that you help her in whatever matter she may have need of you; for she herself has also been a helper of many, and of myself as well."

a) Mrs. Booth comments: "I would draw attention to the fact that Phoebe, a Christian woman whom we find in our version of the Scripture (Romans 16:1) spoken of only as any common servant attached to a congregation, was nothing less than one of those gifted by the Holy Spirit for publishing the glad tidings, or preaching the Gospel. The manner in which the Apostle (whose only care was the propagation of evangelical truth) speaks of her, shows that she was what he in Greek styled her, a deacon or preacher of the Word" (Female Ministry, p.10).

b) The phrase "a helper of many" (v. 2) refers to one who is a leader in the congregation.

"In verse 2, the word translated 'help' further elucidates [Phoebe’s] function. Cognate terms from the same root are applied to those who exercised leadership in the churches, for example, 'those … who are over you in the Lord' (1 Thessalonians 5:12). In Romans 12:8 the same word is rendered 'leader,' and in 1 Timothy 5:17 it is applied to 'the elders who direct the affairs of the church.' Thus the term used by Paul could indicate that Phoebe not only fulfilled the function of a deacon but also had some administrative roll" (Sanders, Paul the Leader, pp. 168-69).


a) Without doubt Phoebe was a very special lady whom Paul commended in a special way.

(1) The Revised Standard Version says, "I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deaconess of the Church at Cenchrea,that you may receive her in the Lord as befits the saints" (emphasis added).

(2) If Paul had called Phoebe an overseer or elder, or commended her for faithfully preaching the Word, that would be a different story. But he commended her in a more general way, using the same term that is commonly used of every faithful servant of the Lord, regardless of their specific ministry.

(3) The Greek word translated "deaconess" in the RSV is diakonos, the same word translated "deacon" elsewhere (cf. 1 Tim. 3:8-12). Paul commended Phoebe as a woman who served the Cenchrean church–perhaps as a deaconess–and specifically calls her a deacon (because diakonos has no female form in the Greek language).

However, the nature of her ministry is speculative since Paul isn't specific. To argue from diakonos that she was a preacher of the Word in a local assembly, or perhaps in several churches, not only stretches the text, but also reads an implication into the word that isn't necessarily there.

(4) "Even if for argument's sake we say that Phoebe is a 'deacon,' the apostle's prohibition is not overturned. The very distinction in the New Testament between the official deacon and elder (or bishop) is that an elder holds the teaching or ruling office, while the deacon is in the serving office, one not inherently involving teaching or ruling. Thus even if we grant that Phoebe is a church deacon, the New Testament has still not placed her in the ruling or teaching office" (Knight, "The Ordination of Women: NO", p. 19).

(5) Admittedly Paul sometimes uses diakonos with reference to himself and others who did preach and teach in local assemblies (1 Cor. 3:5), but he also uses it of those for whom we have no record of any such ministry (cf. Eph. 6:21; Col. 4:7; 1 Tim. 3:11).

b) We disagree that "a helper of many" (v. 2) refers to a leader in the congregation.

George Knight comments: "An appeal to the usage of the feminine word prostatis (NASB and RSV: 'a helper of many') is often made to attempt to establish Phoebe as a leader in the congregation.

"The argument often proceeds from this word to a verb with the same root (proistemi) and the similar masculine noun (prostates). It usually insists that since the masculine noun and the verb are directly associated with leadership, the feminine noun must be also. As a matter of fact, New Testament Greek lexicons and classical Greek lexicons consistently indicate that this is not the case, and that the feminine noun indicates one who is a 'helper' or 'patroness' but not a leader.

"Paul Jewett, although contending that the word means more than that she was only a deaconess, candidly admits that 'in this passage, prostatis, literally 'a woman set over others,' should hardly be taken to mean that Phoebe was a woman 'ruler.' Rather the meaning would seem to be that she was one who cared for the affairs of others by aiding them with her resources'" (cited in "The Ordination of Women: NO", pp. 18-19).

c) Since Romans 16:1 is general in nature, we can't know the specific nature of Phoebe's ministry. We do know that Paul trusted her explicitly, knowing she would never make inappropriate requests. Certainly she would have understood any parameters Paul may have placed on women in ministry (e.g., 1 Cor. 14:34-35; 1 Tim. 2:11-15). To argue for the absence of parameters based on Paul's gracious commendation of her faithful service is to go beyond what the text actually says.

2) The example of Priscilla

Romans 16:3-4 – "Greet Prisca [Priscilla] and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who for my life risked their own necks, to whom not only do I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles."

a) Both Priscilla and her husband Aquila were fellow workers with Paul, and, according to Acts 18:26, both instructed Apollos in the gospel ("They took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately").

b) "Priscilla (verse 3) appears to have been more dynamic than her husband Aquila, but together they functioned as a husband-wife pastoral team, conducting a church in their homes at Corinth and Rome.

"That she exercised a teaching ministry is explicitly cited in Scripture (Acts 18:26), for she and her husband took the eloquent Apollos to their home and thoroughly explained the way of God. There is no suggestion that in doing so Priscilla was acting contrary to Paul's teaching. She shared with Aquila the title and task of 'fellow worker.' Paul described the indebtedness of 'all the churches of the Gentiles' to their joint ministry (verse 4)" (Sanders, Paul the Leader, p. 16).


a) We agree that Priscilla shared ministry responsibilities with her husband Aquila, although the precise nature and extent of her ministries are not known.

b) We agree that she exercised a teaching ministry of some sort because on one occasion she assisted her husband in thoroughly explaining the way of God to Apollos (Acts 18:26). However, that meeting took place in private and therefore did not violate Paul's prohibition against women teaching or exercising authority over a man in the public meeting of the assembly (1 Cor. 14:34-35; 1 Tim. 2:11-15).

c) We do not see any biblical support for Sanders' view that she appears to have been more dynamic than her husband. But even if that were true, it would have no bearing on the issue at hand.

d) Sharing the title of "fellow worker" with her husband does not mean she functioned in the same role as Aquila, but that they both were outstanding in whatever roles they filled.

3) The example of Junias

Romans 16:7 – "Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow-prisoners, who are of note among the Apostles; who also were in Christ before me" (KJV).

The NASB reads, "Greet Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen, and my fellow prisoners, who are outstanding among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me" (emphasis added).

a) Junias was a woman, and was also an exemplary apostle.

b) "Ancient commentators concluded that Andronicus and Junias were a married couple. Junias is not found elsewhere as a man's name. Of Junias, Chrysostom wrote, 'Indeed to be apostles at all is a great thing. But to be even among these of note just consider what a great encomium this is. But they were of note owing to their works, to their achievements. Oh! how great is the devotion of this woman, that she should be even counted worthy of the appellation of apostle'" (Sanders, Paul the Leader, p. 169).


a) This is a difficult passage to interpret precisely because Junias could have been either a male or female name, and the phrase "outstanding among the apostles" is ambiguous.

b) R.C.H. Lenski concludes:

"This is Junias, a man, not Junia (Julia), a woman, wife or sister of Andronicus…. Chrysostom may exclaim in admiration because of a woman apostle: such an apostle would be strange indeed. So also there is no difficulty regarding 'my kinsmen,' which Paul applies to Jews in general in 9:3, and certainly uses in this sense here in v. 10 and 21….

"These two men of Paul's own nationality at one time suffered with Paul as true soldiers of the Lord in his great campaign. Of course, when, where, how we do not know. In fact, they stand out as men of note not only in Paul's estimation but in the estimation of all the apostles [‘Outstanding among the apostles (or, “in the sphere of the twelve in Jerusalem”)]" (The Interpretation of St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans, p. 905-07).

c) William Hendriksen agrees that both are men, but understands them to have been apostles in the looser sense of the word (i.e., messengers, which is the literal meaning of "apostle").

"Extend greetings to Andronicus and Junias, fellow-countrymen of mine . . . men who are apostles, and as such, of note, and who were Christians even before I was" (New Testament Commentary: Romans Chapters 9-16, p. 505).

d) John MacArthur and others view Junias as the wife of Andronicus and explain "outstanding among the apostles" in this way:

"It seems likely that the meaning here is that Andronicus and Junias performed outstanding service in the Lord's work while working among, and possibly under, some of the ordained apostles, such as Paul and Peter. That interpretation is supported by Paul's remark that those two believers were in Christ before me, that is, were converted to Christ before he was.

"At the time of Paul's conversion most converts were still living in or near Jerusalem, where several of the Twelve were leaders in the church. If, therefore, Paul's two kinsmen were converted before he was, it is likely that they lived in Jerusalem and performed their outstanding service among the apostles in that city" (The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Romans 9-16, p. 365).

e) John Murray doesn't comment on the gender of Junias, but shares MacArthur's conclusion regarding their supposed apostleship:

"'Of note among the apostle' may mean that they were apostles themselves. If so then the word 'apostles' would be used in a more general sense of messenger (cf. II Cor. 8:23; Phil. 2:25). Since, however, the term has usually in Paul the more restricted sense, it is more probable that the sense is that these persons were well known to the apostles and were distinguished for their faith and service.

"The explanation is ready at hand; they were Christians before Paul and, no doubt, were associated with the circle of apostles in Judea if not in Jerusalem" (The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Epistle to the Romans, pp. 229-30).

f) We conclude that there seems to be no compelling reason from the verse itself to regard Junias as a female apostle, despite Chrysostom's comment to the contrary.

4) The example of Philip's daughters

Acts 21:9 – "Now [Philip the evangelist] had four virgin daughters who were prophetesses."

Clearly, these women prophesied.


a) We agree that these women prophesied. But we have no record of the context in which they exercised their prophetic gifts.

b) Our only interest here is in whether or not they preached or prophesied in the public assembly, and there is no clear indication that they did.

5) The example of Euodia and Syntyche

Philippians 4:2-3 – "I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord. Indeed, true comrade, I ask you also to help these women who have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel, together with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life."

"Euodia and Syntyche … apparently held positions of leadership so influential in the church that their disagreement endangered its unity. Although not condoning their estrangement, Paul commended them most warmly. They 'contended at [Paul’s] side in the cause of the gospel,' sharing the common task and ministry. He identified them with Clement and the other fellow workers in the proclamation of the gospel" (Sanders, Paul the Leader, p. 170).


a) We agree that these ladies ministered in significant ways and were apparently held in high esteem by Paul and others in the church at Philippi.

b) To have shared Paul's struggle in the cause of the gospel speaks very highly of their loyalty and commitment, but does not necessarily mean they taught, preached, or held positions of authority over men in the church.

(1) Many of those who affirm a woman's right to preach assume that when Paul commends a woman as a fellow-worker, he is indicating that she did the same things he did (i.e., evangelize, preach, teach, and administrate in the local church). But Christian ministry is very broad, and Paul was concerned with more than preaching the gospel (He taught the whole counsel of God, and his epistles cover virtually every aspect of ministry and church life).

(2) If Paul is specific about a person's ministry (e.g., 2 Tim. 4:1ff), we can draw specific conclusions. But when he uses more general terms, we must be careful not to read more into his words than he intended to convey.

c) Paul's commendation of Euodia and Syntyche is gracious but general, and indicates that "they exerted themselves and eagerly co-operated in the interests of the gospel with the apostle, and also with Clement and the other fellow labourers whom Paul had at Philippi" (Jac. J. Muller, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Epistle of Paul to the Philippians, p. 139). Beyond that, we should not speculate.

6) The example of the women gathered with the apostles on the Day of Pentecost

Acts 1:14; 2:1, 4 – "These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers."

"We are in the first of these passages expressly told that the women were assembled with the disciples on the day of Pentecost; and in the second, that the cloven tongues sat upon them each, and the Holy Ghost filled them all, and they spake as the Spirit gave them utterance…. The tongues were only emblematical of the office which the Spirit was henceforth to sustain to His people. The Spirit was given alike to the female as to the male disciple" (Booth, Female Ministry, p. 16).


a) We agree that the gift of the Holy Spirit is given to every believer–male and female alike (cf. Rom. 8:9).

b) We agree that women did prophesy in the early years of the church.

c) Further, it is likely that women spoke in tongues in the early years of the church, although Paul forbade them to do so in public worship services (cf. our conclusions regarding 1 Cor. 14:34-35 above).

d) However, a careful study of Acts 1:14 and 2:1, 4 will not support the conclusion that women were with the disciples on the Day of Pentecost, that they spoke in tongues and prophesied along with the disciples, and that they thereby officially initiated their own prophetic office.

For example:

(1) Acts 1:14 doesn't expressly say that the women were assembled with the disciples on the Day of Pentecost. It says they were among the 120 people gathered together with the disciples in an upper room sometime prior to the Day of Pentecost (cf. vv. 12-26).

(2) Chapter two begins, "And when the day of Pentecost had come, they [the twelve disciples, not the 120 – cf. 1:26] were all together in one place." Also, it was the disciples whom Jesus said would be "baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now" (Acts 1:5).

(3) Verse 2 adds that "suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent, rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting." Perhaps the disciples were gathered in the temple area rather than in a private house–the language of the text allows for either. It had to be someplace where the crowd could hear the noise and assemble (v. 6). Note also Luke 24:53, which says that the disciples were continually in the temple after Jesus' departure.

(4) When some mockers accused the tongues-speakers of being drunk (v. 13), Peter took his stand with the eleven (again indicating that it was only the disciples speaking in tongues) and said, "Men of Judea, and all you who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give heed to my words. For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only the third hour of the day" (vv. 14-15, emphasis added).

Peter explained that "these men" (the disciples with whom he stood) were not drunk. He made no mention of women or men other than the disciples.

Unfortunately the King James Version blurs verse 15 somewhat by translating it "For these are not drunk, as ye suppose" (emphasis added). "These" leaves room for more than the twelve disciples speaking in tongues and being accused of drunkenness. But the word Peter uses is ουτοι, which is a masculine plural pronoun that the New American Standard text rightly translates as "these men" (see also the NIV).

(5) Whether or not women spoke in tongues and prophesied on the Day of Pentecost perhaps isn't as significant to this discussion as some of the other points we've explored, but careful exegesis is always important. Conclusions drawn from inaccurate or incomplete interpretive procedures simply add confusion to the issue.

Key principle:

We do not wish in any way to diminish the godly character or significant contributions of the women mentioned above–or of countless other faithful women throughout history who have rendered exemplary service to the Lord. We simply point out that the examples cited above, which are used in support of a women's right to preach, give no clear example of a woman in the role of pastor, elder, preacher, or teacher, in a local congregation.

12. Argument From The Early Church Fathers

a. Summary of the argument

1) The writings of some of the Church Fathers tell of dynamic women who prophesied (preached) in the early church.

2) For example:

a) Justin Martyr

"Justin Martyr, who lived till about A.D. 150, says, in his dialogue with Trypho, the Jew, that 'both men and women were seen among them who had the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit of God, according as the prophet Joel had foretold, by which he endeavored to convince the Jews that the latter days were come" (cited by Booth, p. 11).

b) Irenaeus

"Dodwell, in his dissertations of Irenaeus says, 'that the gift of the spirit of prophecy was given to others besides the Apostle: and that not only in first and second, but in the third century–even to the time of Constantine–all sorts and ranks of men had these gifts; yea, and women too'" (cited by Booth, p. 11).

c) Eusebius

"Eusebius speaks of Potomania Ammias, a prophetess, in Philadelphia, and others, 'who were equally distinguished for their love and zeal in the cause of Christ'" (cited by Booth, p. 11).

b. Response

Like the argument from biblical precedence, this argument appeals to the record of godly women who served the Lord with distinction. However, none of the sources cited relate the context in which these women ministered, and therefore do not directly support the view that women preached and/or held leadership positions in the early church.

Key principle:

None of the sources commonly cited in support of this argument directly support the view that women preached and/or held leadership positions in the early church.


Of necessity we have dwelt on the few prohibitions Scripture places on women in ministry, and have concluded that women are not to preach or teach in the corporate gathering of the local assembly, or hold authoritative leadership roles in the church (e.g., Pastor or elder), or in any other way to exercise authority over men.

Those prohibitions must be taken seriously, but they should never overshadow the myriad of other ministries available to women, and in which godly women have served faithfully throughout church history (including, but not limited to, praying or prophesying within biblical guidelines and with a proper attitude of submission [1 Cor. 11:3-4; Acts 21:9], witnessing to women or men in public, praying with believers or non-believers in a non-leadership role, and teaching God’s Word to children and other women [Titus 2:3-4;1 Tim. 5:16]).

It is our sincere prayer that every Christian woman will experience the joy and satisfaction that comes with ministering her spiritual gifts within biblical guidelines to the glory of Christ and for the edification of His church.

Summary of Key Principles

1. Argument from Natural Qualifications:

  • The right to preach is not based on natural abilities, but on biblical authority and God's sovereign design for His church.

2. Argument from Superior Ability:

  • Biblical guidelines, not superior communication skills, must decide the question of a woman's right to preach.
  • The Holy Spirit's power and blessing are the keys to truly effective preaching.

3. Argument from Intellectual and Moral Pursuits

  • We do not deny a woman's intelligence or her ability to preach.
  • However, having the ability to do something and having God's permission to do it are two different things.
  • Only when women minister within their God-given parameters can they truly develop their capabilities fully (both for the glory of God and the benefit of their fellow Christians).

4. Argument from Historical Precedence:

  • God's will in this matter isn't determined by majority vote, personal experience, or a subjective "call." It's determined by divine revelation alone.
  • Because Christians do something doesn't necessarily make it a Christian thing to do.
  • The Lord will honor His Word despite the messenger.
  • To question the right of women to preach doesn't necessarily impugn the motives of women preachers.

5. Argument from Galatians 3:28

  • Galatians 3:28 speaks of spiritual equality, not functional equality.
  • The right to preach and teach is a functional distinction within the Body of Christ.
  • Authority and submission doesn't imply personal superiority or inferiority.
  • Christ Himself demonstrated the importance of authority and submission.

6. Argument from Joel 2:28-29 & Acts 2:17-18:

  • Joel prophesied that women as well as men would prophesy, and women as well as men did prophesy.
  • Joel doesn't indicate that prophecy will continue throughout the church age.
  • Pentecost was only a partial fulfillment of Joel's prophecy–a foretaste of what is to come in fullness in connection with Christ's Second Coming.
  • Joel and Peter didn't comment on the role of prophecy in the church. Paul does that in the passages we will examine later.
  • In the New Testament, prophecy and preaching are not synonymous.
  • New Testament prophecy has a revelatory element to it; preaching doesn't.
  • All New Testament prophets had a predictive element to their ministries.
  • Teachers and preachers have replaced prophets in the church.

7. Argument from 1 Corinthians 11:4-5:

  • The context of 11:4-5 is not the local assembly. Paul doesn't address corporate worship until verse 17.
  • First Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:12-13 are the interpretive keys that unlock the meaning of 1 Corinthians 11:4-5.
  • Both men and women prayed or prophesied in Paul's day.
  • Paul regulated the practice but did not prohibit it.
  • Paul addresses the issue of male headship in this passage, which is rooted in creation, not culture.
  • Paul's point is that whenever and wherever it is appropriate for men or women to pray or prophesy, they should do so in the appropriate manner.
  • In this passage Paul does not denote a place where praying and prophesying were appropriate.
  • In chapter 14 and 1 Timothy 2:11-15, Paul says that the church service was not an appropriate place for women to pray or prophesy.
  • Although women are not permitted to teach or exercise authority over men, they may participate in public prayer meetings.

8. Argument from 1 Corinthians 14:34-35:

  • First Corinthians 11:4-5 is not the interpretive key to this passage.
  • Paul does not prohibit women from ever speaking in a church service, but only from tongues, prophesy, and asking inappropriate questions.
  • The principles Paul teaches here apply to every congregation in every age.
  • Paul bases his teaching on God's Law and the order of creation.

9. Argument from 1 Timothy 2:11-15:

  • The context of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 is the local assembly.
  • Paul does not require absolute silence from women during a church service, but He does forbid them to be teachers and to exercise authority over a man.
  • Paul's prohibitions are based on the order of creation and the Fall.
  • Everyone who preaches or teaches God's Word exercises authority over his or her hearers.

10. Argument from slavery as a Model for the Role of Women:

  • The basis for Paul's teaching is different for women than for slaves, therefore the relationships are not parallel.
  • A major flaw in the slave/master argument is that slavery is not rooted in any creation ordinance, whereas marriage is.
  • Authority and submission within marriage is not a concession to society's standards; it is God's design for marriage in any society.
  • If we abolish submission of wives to their husbands because it parallels slavery, to be consistent we must also abolish submission of children to their parents.

11. Argument from Biblical Precedence:

  • The examples commonly cited in support of this argument give no clear example of a women in the role of pastor, elder, teacher, or preacher in a local congregation.

12. Argument from Early Church Fathers:

  • None of the sources commonly cited in support of this argument directly support the view that women preached and/or held leadership positions in the early church.


  • Boomsma, Clarence Male and Female, One in Christ. Grand Rapids, Baker, 1993.
  • Booth, Catherine Female Ministry: Woman's Right to Preach the Gospel. New York, The Salvation Army Supplies Printing and Publishing Department, 1975.
  • Clarke, Adam Clarke's Commentary: Vol. VI, Romans to Revelation. New York, Abingdon-Cokesbury Press.
  • Fee, Gordon D. New International Commentary on the New Testament: The First Epistle to the Corinthians. Grand Rapids, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987.
  • Felix, Paul W., Sr. "The Hermeneutics of Evangelical Feminism" in The Master's Seminary Journal (5/2, Fall 1994). Panorama City.
  • Foh, Susan Women & the Word of God: A Response to Biblical Feminism. Grand Rapids, Baker Book House, 1980.
  • Gould, J. Glenn Beacon Bible Commentary, 1 Timothy. Kansas City, Beacon Hill Press, 1965.
  • Grosheide, F.W. The New International Commentary: Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians. m. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1953.
  • Hendriksen, William New Testament Commentary: Romans Chapters 9-16. Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 1981.
  • Howe, E.M. "Ordination of Women" in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Grand Rapids, Baker Book House, 1984.
  • Keene, Craig Paul, Women and Wives. Peabody, Hendrickson, 1992.
  • Kent, Homer A. Jr. The Pastoral Epistles. Chicago, Moody Press, 1982.
  • Kistemaker, Simon J. New Testament Commentary: 1 Corinthians. Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 1993.
  • Knight, George W. III, "The Ordination of Women: NO" in Christianity Today. February 20, 1981.
  • Knight, George The Pastoral Epistles: A Commentary on the Greek Text. Grand Rapids, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1992.
  • Kroeger, R.C. and C.C. Kroeger I Suffer Not a Woman. Grand Rapids, Baker, 1992.
  • Lenski, R.C.H. The Interpretation of St. Paul's Epistles to the Colossians, to the Thessalonians, to Timothy, to Titus and to Philemon. Minneapolis, Augsburg Publishing House, 1961.
  • The Interpretation of St. Paul's First and Second Epistles to the Corinthians. Minneapolis, Augsburg Publishing House, 1963.
  • The Interpretation of St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans. Minneapolis, Augsburg Publishing House, 1961.
  • MacArthur, John Jr. Different By Design: Discovering God's Will for Today's Man and Woman. Wheaton, Victor Books, 1994.
  • The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: 1 Corinthians. Chicago, Moody Press, 1984.
  • The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Romans 9-16. Chicago, Moody Press, 1994.
  • Marshall, Alfred The NASB Interlinear Greek-English New Testament. Grand Rapids, Zondervan Publishing House, 1984.
  • Metz, Donald S. Beacon Bible Commentary: 1 Corinthians. Kansas City, Beacon Hill Press, 1968.
  • Muller, Jac. J. The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Epistle of Paul to the Philippians. Grand Rapids, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988.
  • Murray, John The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Epistle to the Romans. Grand Rapids, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1979.
  • Nicholson, Roy S. The Wesleyan Bible Commentary: 1 Timothy. Grand Rapids, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1971.
  • Piper, John and Wayne Grudem "An Overview of Central Concerns: Questions and Answers" in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Westchester, Crossway, 1991.
  • Price, Betty Women Current Events and the Word of God. Panorama City, Logos Bible Institute class syllabus.
  • Rienecker, Fritz and Cleon Rogers Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament. Grand Rapids, Zondervan Publishing House, 1982.
  • Ryrie, Charles The Role of Women in the Church. Chicago, Moody Press, 1970.
  • Ryrie Study Bible. Chicago, Moody Press, 1978.
  • Sanders, J. Oswald Paul the Leader. Colorado Springs, NAVPRESS, 1984.
  • Spencer, Aida Besancon Beyond the Curse. Peabody, Hendrickson, 1989.
  • Stouffer, Austin H. "The Ordination of Women: YES" in Christianity Today. February 20, 1981.
  • Summers, Ray Essentials of New Testament Greek. Nashville, Broadman Press, 1950.
  • Thomas, Robert L. Understanding Spiritual Gifts. Chicago, Moody Press, 1978.
  • Vine, W.E., Merrill F. Unger,William White, Jr. Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. Nashville, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1985.
  • Women and Their Role in the Church. Springfield, Immanuel Bible Church Elder Position Paper.

How to Do a Word Study

Our Goal:

To determine the meaning of a word within its biblical context.

Two Important Guidelines:

  • Word studies must always be based on the original language, not merely on the English text.
  • Ultimately, the context must determine the precise meaning of the word under consideration.

Some Helpful Study Tools:

  • An Exhaustive concordance
  • Vine's Expository Dictionary (Vine)
  • New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Colin Brown)
  • Word Studies in the New Testament (Vincent)
  • New Testament for English Readers (Alford)
  • A Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament (Rienecker, Rogers)
  • Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Harris, Archer, Waltke)
  • Nelson's Expository Dictionary of the Old Testament (Unger, White)
  • Various topical indexes
  • Various commentaries

The Procedure:

1. Select a word to be studied

Example: The English word "perish" in John 3:16:

"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life" (NASB).

2. Compare various English versions to see how the translators dealt with the word

Careful scholars will translate the original text with the English words that most clearly convey its meaning. Therefore, comparing the different English words used to translate a Greek or Hebrew word can broaden our understanding of the word's meaning.

In the case of "perish" in John 3:16, most translators stay with that word rather than seek a synonym. The Jerusalem Bible, however, reads, "Everyone who believes in him may not be lost, but may have eternal life."

Assuming the integrity of the translators, we can initially conclude that to perish is to be lost in some sense. That doesn't tell us much, but it's a start.

3. Define the English word using an English dictionary

Webster's New World Dictionary (1988) defines perish as: 1. "to be destroyed, ruined, or wiped out" 2. "to die; esp., to die a violent or untimely death."

It defines lost (from the Jerusalem Bible) as: "destroyed or ruined physically or morally"; "damned"; or "reprobate."

Note: We're not actually defining the Greek word at this point, but merely gaining insight into it's English equivalent(s).

4. Using an Exhaustive Concordance, locate any other passages in which the English word (perish) is used by the same Bible writer (John).

The New American Standard Exhaustive Concordance (p. 940) shows that perish appears again (in the NASB text) in:

John 10:28–Jesus said, "I give eternal life to [my sheep], and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand."

John 11:50–Caiaphas, the high priest, said, "It is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish."

Those additional texts may shed more light on our word's meaning. In some cases we'll have many additional verses; sometimes we'll have none. But at this stage of our research, it's best to study perish only in John's writings, even though perish is used by other writers. Other writers may use it in a way that has no direct bearing on John 3:16, but normally a writer will use the same word in the same way in the same book.

Also, if we're researching a common word, the task of tracing it throughout the entire Bible could be overwhelming and yield little fruit for our efforts. In our next step, when we're researching the actual Greek word, then it may be productive to trace it more extensively.

5. Define the word in it's original language

Use a lexicon or other reference source to find the root meaning of our word. A lexicon is a dictionary of the original language (Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek). Most exhaustive concordances contain lexicons.

For example: The NASB Exhaustive Concordance (page 940) tells us that "perish" in John 3:16 translates the Greek word apollumi. The Greek Dictionary section of the same concordance (page 1634) adds that apollumi is a combination of the Greek preposition apo, and the Greek verb ollumi, that means "to destroy." The preposition intensifies the verb action, therefore together they convey the idea of utter destruction.

In the NASB New Testament, appollumi is translated "to bring to an end" 1 time, "destroy" 17 times, "destroyed" 9 times, "dying" 1 time, "lose" 9 times, "loses" 7 times, "lost" 14 times, "passed away" 1 time, "perish" 16 times, "perishable" 1 time, "perished" 5 times, "perishes" 1 times, "perishing" 6 times, "put to death" 1 time, and "ruined" 3 times.

Other tools, such as Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, will give us additional information to help understand the definition of our word.

When we've completed this step, we'll have a lexical (generic) definition. A Bible writer may use a word in its strict lexical sense, but the context in which the word is used must be the final determiner of its precise meaning. It's a mistake to impose a lexical definition on to a word each time it appears in Scripture.

6. Trace the origin of the word

We can use other study tools like Colin Brown to trace the historical development (etymology) of our word, paying particular attention to any information that directly relates to our passage.

7. Consult commentaries for any additional light they may shed on the passage

Commentaries can be wonderful aids to study, and can help confirm our findings. But the joy of discovery is enhanced when we derive a word's definition ourselves rather than relying solely on commentaries. Sometimes we may discover that a commentary writer has been unduly influenced by his or her theology, or simply hasn't research the word thoroughly.

Sharpening Your Observation Skills

1. Be realistic

Select a portion of Scripture that is manageable yet challenging in length and content. There's no virtue in burning out before you've begun.

2. Don't assume you understand the text

Sometimes your Bible study will reveal that a text of Scripture doesn't mean what you previously thought it meant. So be careful not to bring wrong conclusions to the text.

3. Read the text carefully and repeatedly

Pay close attention to what is happening and/or being taught in the text.

Read from different translations, noting how the English words used to translate the original text may differ from translation to translation. Sometimes those differences will enhance your understanding of the text.

4. Take notes as you observe the text

Make a brief note of every observation you have. Write them in the form of a statement or question.

5. Ask questions of the text

Who What
Who are the personalities? Prompted this passage?
Who is speaking? Is going on?
To whom is he speaking? Is being talked about?
When Why
Did it happen? Coming from?
Is it happening? Is going on?
Will it happen? Going to?
Why Why
For what reason? Did it happen?
  Can it happen?
  Should I respond?










6. Things to look for in the text

a. Literary form – Is the text a discourse (John 5:19-47), narrative (Acts), poetry (The Psalms), parable (Matt. 13)? Try to determine if the writer is using literal or figurative language.

b. Tone – Note the overall tone of the passage. Is it tender (1 Thess. 2:5-12), intense (Gal. 1:6-10), urgent (Jude 3), joyful (Phil. 1:1-8)?

c. General structure – Note the arrangement of ideas in the text. Does the writer make a general statement then explain it with examples (Titus 1:5-9)? Does he give a list or series of ideas then summarize with a general statement (1 Pet. 3:8)?

d. Key words – Note the words most important to the passage. Often they will be repeated (i.e., "Word" in John chapter one).

In addition, carefully note the overall grammatical construction of the text: nouns, pronouns, adverbs, adjectives, and so on.

f. Connection/connectives and prepositions

  • but–introduces a contrast
  • if–introduces a conditional clause
  • for, because, therefore–introduce reason and results
  • in, into, with–important connectives
  • in order that–sets forth a purpose

g. Similarities, differences – Comparisons and contrasts – ("not, but, however").

h. Illustrations – Does the writer illustrate his point (James 1:5-12)?

i. Repetitions – Heb. 11 – "by faith."

j. Cause and effect – Col. 1:9-10; Phil. 1:9-10

k. Movement – From general to specific, and vice versa (Acts 4-5; John 4).

l. Progression of ideas – May come in the form of a climax or persecution (Gen. 22; 2 Pet. 1:3-11).

m. Questions and answers – 2 Cor.; Rom. 6:1, 15

n. Emphasis by space or time – Genesis

o. Warnings – Jude 3

p. Commands – John 4:16

q. Promises – John 4:14

r. Attitudes – Toward God, Christ, oneself, others.

7. An Example: Observations from 2 Timothy 2:15

a. Paul is speaking to Timothy.

b. Does passage apply to others (me, for example)? How do I know?

c. What prompted Paul to make this statement?

d. Why was it necessary for Timothy to respond appropriately?

e. Does verse imply that Timothy wasn't doing what Paul tells him to do?

f. Define "diligent."

g. Define "present."

  • Is this the same word Paul used in Romans 6:13 & 12:1?
  • Do those passages shed any light on this verse?

h. Define "approved."

i. What does it mean to "present yourself approved to God"?

j. Does this verse speak to how one gains God's approval?

k. Define "workman."

l. Define "ashamed."

m. What is the "word of truth"?

  • Is it the Bible?
  • If so, why didn't Paul simply say, "handling God's Word (or Scripture) accurately"?
  • Was the whole Bible complete by that time?
  • Was Paul referring to the Old Testament only?

n. What does it mean to handle the word of truth accurately?

o. What are the implications if the word of truth is handled inaccurately?

p. Is "be ashamed" a reference to shame in general, or the ministry in general, or regarding our handling of Scripture, or none of those?

q. Other possible observation questions:

  • Where was Paul when he wrote to Timothy?
  • Where was Timothy?
  • In what capacity was Timothy serving?

Digging Deeper into God’s Word

Some General Guidelines

When interpreting Scripture, we are seeking to discover the meaning of the words as the author originally intended them. This is called the literal, grammatical-historical approach.

The specific interpretive principles we apply to a passage will vary depending on its literary format (e.g. narrative, parable, poetry, prophecy), but our goals must always be the same: to discover what the Bible SAYS, what it MEANS, and how it APPLIES.

A passage of Scripture may have many applications but it has only one meaning. Our responsibility is to discover that meaning as accurately as possible with the study tools available to us (2 Tim. 2:15). Once we've done that, we can teach it to others with confidence.

A Suggested Bible Study Procedure

Here is a six-step procedure to understanding God's Word more fully:

1. Preparation

Prayer and purity are essential to every aspect of one's Christian life, but especially when dealing with God's Word. Consequently, we must never approach our studies with an impure heart (1 Pet. 2:1-3; James 1:21) or without seeking spiritual wisdom and understanding (Col. 1:9).

The Spirit's illumination and guidance are essential to accurate, productive Bible study. He won't interpret the passage for us (2 Tim. 2:15), but He will guide our studies and give us insights that can't be discerned on a purely human level (1 Cor. 2:6-16).

2. Observation

In this step we determine what the passage SAYS. To do so, we must read and reread the text, noting vocabulary (individual words) and syntax (relation of words to each another). If possible, we should observe the text in its original language and compare various translations.

It is helpful to ask the text these questions: Who? What? Where? When? Why? How? That's how we focus on details we might otherwise overlook.

At this point we aren't concerned with interpreting what we observe. Our goal is to squeeze every drop of information from the text and formulate that information into questions to be answered in the next step of the process.

3. Interpretation

Here we move beyond what the passage SAYS, to determine what it MEANS. We must reconstruct as much of the original context as possible (i.e. history, culture, geography, and language) by answering the questions we asked in the observation step.

This step always involves the most time and effort but produces the precious rewards of biblical depth and accuracy. Study aids such as original language tools, commentaries, encyclopedias, systematic theologies, and atlases are indispensable in this process.

4. Consolidation

Raw biblical data doesn't always apply directly to every believer's life, but biblical principles do. So we must discern the principles that govern the information we've learned from the text.

Some principles are explicit, others implicit. For example, Jesus' conversation with Nicodemus in John 3 doesn't directly apply to us (because we weren't there, we're not first-century Jewish Rabbis, etc.). However, our Lord's willingness to meet with Nicodemus tells us that He cares for individuals, is personally involved in their lives, is approachable, and welcomes earnest inquires. Those are principles that apply to everyone.

5. Correlation

Here is where we ensure that the principles we've formulated don't contradict what Scripture teaches elsewhere. Scripture is always consistent with itself (Ps. 119:160), so if there's a conflict, we must rethink your conclusions.

6. Application

Once we understand the passage and know that our principles are accurate, we're ready to answer the question: What specific responses does God expect from me? Applying biblical truth is the ultimate goal of Bible study.

Beginning A Bible Reference Library

Here are a few essential study tools that serve as a foundation for a good reference library:

1. Reference Bible (Ryrie, Thompson Chain, etc.)

2. Exhaustive Concordance (Strong's, Young's, Cruden's, NASB, etc.)

3. Topical Bible (Nave's, etc.)

4. Expository Dictionary (Vine's, etc.)

5. Bible Dictionary (Unger's, etc.)

6. A Bible Encyclopedia (Zondervan, etc.)

Note: If you have a Bible encyclopedia, probably you won't need a Bible Dictionary.

7. A Theological Dictionary Of New Testament Words (Colin Brown, etc.)