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Biblical Studies 101: What is the role of women in the church?

Recorded history is both telling and dependent upon who holds the plume. While Christianity claims a heritage older than most of the edifices in which it is preached, the rules of engagement concerning women have been altered. As Christian churches across America continue to demonstrate growing acceptance of women clergy, signs of struggle are still on the front lines of Herstory. One of the foremost questions in Christian Women's Studies today is, What is the role of women in the church?

South African Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, with fellow 2010 Lincoln Medal Recipient South African Justice Albie Sachs, right, give their applause during the Ford's Theatre's "Spirit of America" celebration in Washington during its annual gala, Sunday, June 6, 2010.
AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta


Most Christians know of Mary Magdalene. Even non-believers majorly know the story of Mary the mother of Jesus. Time would fail before one could mention every woman who had holy boldness and compassion making a difference in the early Christian church. Christianity is traditionally well known for its call to embrace the value of women. In some religious orders, however, the call to serve was segregated from the call to pastoral ministry when this now worldwide religion was in its formative days. Ironically, women have not only been instrumental in the long-standing prominence of Christianity in many countries around the world, they are also among the earliest recorded evangelists.

From time to time, nations revisit the influential words and deeds of great men and women who were instrumental in securing freedom, equality, and other self-evident necessities of truth. It would seem that a recollection of Christian roots would solve this entire debate.

Do you know Saint Nino? She, like many apostles was an evangelical "closer." God may set the stage with any number of seeds via His workmanship on the earth. Then, He will water in what way He will. Then, He gives the increase (1 Corinthians 3:6). (Closers (men and women) are often called to the forefront when God intends to accomplish revival among His people and in the world to be won.)

While St. Nino's ministry was so profound that many have emeliorated her story to the pages of legend, scholars do agree that her zeal - and that with anointing, is majorly responsible for converting some of the most bold believers in the Christian world. While others had preached the Gospel before her ministry began, St. Nino is credited with inspiring the conversion of Queen Nana of Iberia to Christianity (after her prayers brought healing from the queen's terminal illness), who's testimony caused King Mirian III to believe. Christianity was thereafter adopted as the state religion, formalizing the Gregorian Orthodox Church.

If women are ordained for Christian leadership, why are they disproportionately underrepresented in Biblical text? We have only to mark accounts of Biblical lineage to know that herstory could not have been fully recorded - and thus can not be the basis of sexual discrimination in ministry. Not a single instance of these begetting accounts so much as names the mother of every child born. Should we take for Gospel that there were no women in the camps of Israel, for example? God forbid.

Some elements have been lost in translation, contributing to the arguments of those who would justify a mysogynistic religion - including printing of the word "man" in some instances where the author originally wrote, "one" (e.g. mankind as opposed to a male person). Furthermore, some misconception has been the result of proliferated misunderstandings coupled with lack of personal study (not to mention dismissal of John 21:25).

Our society has become so facinated with words like heresy and blasphemy, that most of reaches mainstream media (the only Bible some minds are taking in) is merly sexualized ranting, having no Biblical salt. Acknowledging that not every day's events, or every name given under the sun is not written in the Bible, does not equal a claim that the Bible is fallible. If you think the Bible includes everything ever done in the annuls of Christianity, it may come as a shock that John 21:25 says, "And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen."

What would Jesus do?

While some misconstrue faintly recorded herstory in the Christian faith as a lack of presence, reasoning that women were less prominent in spiritual warfare, the concept was never taught or exemplified in the life of Christ.

"Jesus always showed the greatest esteem and the greatest respect for woman, for every woman, and in particular He was sensitive to female suffering. Going beyond the social and religious barriers of the time, Jesus reestablished woman in her full dignity as a human person before God and before men ... Christ’s way of acting, the Gospel of his words and deeds, is a consistent protest against whatever offends the dignity of women." – John Paul II, "Thoughts on Women?Address to Italian Maids," April 1979.

Should women be ministers?

The usual trouble with the question of whether or not women should be ministers is the foundation of the question. If you first assume that ministry means only preaching in a pulpit, you have already limited the work of ministry itself, not to mention the opportunity for women to be instrumental. Ministry in itself is neither male nor female. Whomever conducts the behavior of ministry is a minister: man, woman or child. Perhaps the more insightful question is whether or not women should be pastors - that's the question troubling the heart of many churches today.

First, if a person is called to preach, it is God who called them, else they will not be able to bear the fruit of the calling. So, judge the fruit - not the person. Second, ask yourself whether you fully know the heart of God? In Jeremiah 3:15 we read,

"And I will give you pastors according to mine heart, which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding." He did not say, I will give you men and not women to feed you.

Part of the problem some face in faith is expecting the reward of faith without having to believe. This is self-defeating. Before you have all of the answers, you have to give all of the dominion to God. Often we look for answers and condemn those who can tell us difinitively on what axis the earth is spinning since we can not see it for ourselves. We look for the stamp of someone else, saying the one is authorized to preach tidings of Good News. Jesus said,

And it came to pass, that on one of those days, as he taught the people in the temple, and preached the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes came upon him with the elders, 2 And spake unto him, saying, Tell us, by what authority doest thou these things? or who is he that gave thee this authority? 3 And he answered and said unto them, I will also ask you one thing; and answer me: 4 The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or of men? 5 And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say, Why then believed ye him not? 6 But and if we say, Of men; all the people will stone us: for they be persuaded that John was a prophet. 7 And they answered, that they could not tell whence it was. 8 And Jesus said unto them, Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things.

Can a woman be a pastor? In a word, Yes.

Should a woman be a pastor? Whom God calls, He also justifies. Romans 8:30 KJV. The New Living Translation states, And having chosen them, he called them to come to him. And having called them, he gave them right standing with himself. And having given them right standing, he gave them his glory. And if God gets the glory for reviving His people, it does not matter who gets the credit.

Is every woman ready to be a pastor? No; nor is every man. Pastorship is not a job you apply for by filling out a form and having someone put in a good word for you. People confuse the office of a pastor with the call of a Shepherd. A shepherd, called by God will have a flock - in God's time. A person merely seeking to "be leader of the sheep," without care of the flock will be first to the slaughter - in God's time, lest he or she is converted.

Finally, do not make a woman who preaches (or teaches), synonymous with feminism. Equality under God is not just something women want. A woman preaching under the anointing of God is a laborer in harvest. When man(kind) prays, "send forth labours into the harvest," we should not expect God to limit His assets. He will use the willing mind, the open heart, the faithful servant - whomever he or she may be.

"And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common." Acts 10:15 KJV

With increasing awareness of majorly pseudo-Biblical foundations for supression of women's leadership without heirarchical bounds, the church is addressing a crossroad which it can no longer pass over.


Mpho Tutu, the youngest child of Desmond Tutu - the Nobel Peace Prize-winning, retired Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa, was ordained as an Episcopal priest by her father in 2004. Tutu recently published a book, “Made for Goodness: And Why This Makes a Difference,” co-written with her father about their shared Christian faith. Read the June interview by Cathleen Falsani.

Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage. Matthew 22:9 KJV


  • Blackout 5 years ago

    Hi Shenica. I think that your quest to find herstory in the history of the church is admirable, but I think that if you really want to confront the anti-woman bigotry which pervades the christian church, you will need to at least acknowledge that this discrimination IS biblically based.

    "Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but [they are commanded] to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church." ~ 1 Corinthians 14:34-35

    "Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve." ~ 1 Timothy 2:11-13

    Personally, I think that this kind of institutionalized misogyny is both primitive and disgusting, but it is a core theological teaching in most christian sects.


  • Alden Marshall, Knoxville Religion and Spiritualit 5 years ago

    Good article. As to 1 Tim 2, ursurp is a good version and it means to take unwarrented authority, but the 4 dtrs of Phillip were prophets." Keep silent" referred to that place and time for at other times women did speak, as prophets, for example. Futhermore, in Romans 16, Junia was an apostle. That is the Greek form, which is feminine and not Junius. Chrysostom agreed, and added that although he did not understand, it was clearly a female apostle noted. Whatever else apostles were, they were very important leaders of the church.

  • Blackout 5 years ago

    Hi Alden. When you say "unwarrented authority," what do you mean? What kinds of authority are categorically warrented for men, but not women? As for keeping silent referring "to that place," how does this alleviate the inherent inequity in the instruction? Are you saying that mysogyny was morally acceptable in the past, but not now?

  • Blackout 5 years ago

    What? No answers? Interesting...

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