Gospel Gazette Online
Vol. 14 No. 6 June 2012
Page 15

Priscilla's Page Editor's Note

Role of Women in the Church

Bonnie Rushmore

Definition of Terms

Bonnie RushmoreWhen discussing “the role of women,” there are three words that typically upset those who desire to change biblical teaching on the woman’s role. So, before turning to the Bible, we must understand the definitions for these words – subjection, submission, role – as used when discussing God’s desire for the “role of women.” When women and men understand how these words are used in the biblical framework of the role of women, controversy will cease, and women’s roles will automatically fall into place – as long as Christians truly desire to please God.


The dictionary definition for “subjection” is “1. the act of subjecting. 2. the state or fact of being subjected” (dictionary.com). The word “subject” as used in the previous definition is an adjective, meaning, “being under domination, control, or influence” (dictionary.com). Basically, the word “subjection” means someone or something has control or influence over you. Every day of our lives, each one of us is subject to someone or something!


“Submission” is a noun meaning, “1. an act or instance of submitting 2. something submitted; a proposal, argument, etc. 3. the quality or condition of being submissive to another” (Dictionary.com). The root word “submit” is a verb meaning, “1. to give over or yield to the power or authority of another (often used reflexively). 2. to subject to some kind of treatment or influence” (Dictionary.com).

As you can see, the words “subjection” and “submission” can be used interchangeably since they have essentially the same meaning. To be in subjection or to be in submission is to allow someone to have control and authority over another. Keep this definition in mind as we look at Bible passages that teach the role of women in the church, and later as we study God’s plan for women in the home.


The third word we need to define is “role.” In the context of our study, this word is a noun meaning, “2. proper or customary function: the teacher’s role in society. 3. Sociology. the rights, obligations, and expected behavior patterns associated with a particular social status” (Dictionary.com). As we look at the “role of women,” a synonym would be “responsibility of women.” What are the responsibilities of women – what is the expected normal behavior of women as authorized by God in His Holy Writ?

Authoritative Relationships

God designed the role (responsibility) of woman at creation. Adam was first formed then Eve. “For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression” (1 Timothy 2:13-14). The leadership roles were further defined by God when he stated, “Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee” (Genesis 3:16). Man is to rule over the woman. Woman is to be submissive to the man. This does not mean that men and women are not equal. Men and women are equal in salvation (Galatians 3:28). Nor does being submissive mean women are inferior or weak.

Ephesians 5:22—6:5 discusses relationships and levels of authority.

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother,” which is the first commandment with promise: “that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.” And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord. Bondservants, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ. (NKJV)

Wives are to be in subjection to their husbands. This is the same as the church being in subjection to Christ. To have the proper relationship, husbands must love their wives, just as Christ loves the church. Children are to be in subjection to their parents. Parents, fathers in particular, are commanded to treat their children fairly and lovingly teach them the ways of God. Employees are to work for their employers as if they were working for Christ.

Furthermore, all mankind is commanded to submit to the authority of the government under which it resides. Jesus taught, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21). Paul, by inspiration admonished,

Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor. (Romans 13:1-7)

God demands that we show respect, honor and submission to the rulers of this land. We must obey the laws of the land in which we live or visit. The only exception to this command is when specific laws of the land are contrary to the laws of God (Acts 5:29).

These passages clearly show that in every aspect of life each of us is commanded to be submissive to someone else. All individuals are subject to the authority of someone else. Children are subject to the authority of their parents. Students are submissive to their teachers. Employees are subject to their boss. Citizens submit to their government’s rules and regulations. We understand that someone has to have the final say and authority. Otherwise, we would live in a world of chaos and mass confusion. Why then, do we refuse to accept that someone has final say and authority over us in religion? The above Scriptures clearly teach that wives submit to the leadership of their husbands. The church is subject to Christ, and Christ is submissive to God the Father – as is ALL MANKIND!

Scriptures Discussing Women’s Role Within the Church

1 Corinthians 11:2-16

Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you. But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonors his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved. For if a woman is not covered, let her also be shorn. But if it is shameful for a woman to be shorn or shaved, let her be covered. For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. For man is not from woman, but woman from man. Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man. For this reason the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. Nevertheless, neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord. For as woman came from man, even so man also comes through woman; but all things are from God.  Judge among yourselves. Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him? But if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her; for her hair is given to her for a covering. But if anyone seems to be contentious, we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God.

In this chapter Paul explains the hierarchy order – that was established at creation – and how it affects role relationships. The word “head” means, “authority or superior rank.” Women are under the authority of men, men are under the authority of Christ and Christ is under the authority of God. Verses eight and nine explain the reason for this hierarchy role – woman was made from man and woman was made for man (compare Genesis 2:20-23). As we have already noted, just because one is under the authority of another does not make one inferior to another.

The phrase “because of the angels” indicates the dire consequences of women disobeying God’s mandate that they be in submission to men. When the angels failed to follow God’s hierarchy order, they were cast into darkness and chains (Jude 6). Men, women and the angels are required to follow all of God’s commands respectively applicable to them, including His submission/authority regulations. Failure to do so will result in an unhappy eternity!

Once Paul reminded the Corinthians of the hierarchy order, he began his discussion of prayers and prophesying. The Greek word for man is “aner (an-ayr’)” meaning, “male” – it is never translated mankind, which would include women. Paul addressed the men about prayers and prophesying. The first definition of the Greek noun for “prophet” is, “signifies the speaking forth of the mind and counsel of God…” and the first definition for the Greek verb for “prophesy” is, “to be a prophet, to prophesy, is used (a) with the primary meaning of telling forth the Divine counsels…” (Vine).

Don McWhorter made the following observation:

The matter of male leadership and female submission has been plainly and forcefully presented. Paul sets forth a theoretical situation in verses 4 and 5 to illustrate the point. In that culture an uncovered head symbolized dominance while a covered head showed submission. In verse 4 he illustrates the principle of dominance by using an imaginary situation of what a man of that culture would never, even think of doing – stepping forth to lead the assembly with his head covered… Continuing the illustrations, he argues in verse 5 that a woman must not dare do what a man could not even imagine doing… In that society, a woman’s submission was indicated by her covered head. How dare her to abandon her role of submission! She would do that if she presented herself with an uncovered head.

These verses clearly teach that a woman cannot have a leadership role over man and be submissive to him. Such a situation is impossible!

The length of hair discussed in verses 14 and 15 again addresses the authority/submission relation. The custom at the time of this writing was men had short hair and women had long hair. Short hair on men indicated authority while long hair and veils on women indicated submission. If a woman cut her hair or removed the veil, she portrayed to those who saw her that she was no longer submitting to male leadership. While the Bible does not address “how long is long” and how “short is short” in relation to men’s and women’s hair, any child of God, desiring to please the Father, will consider one’s hair length and style, along with clothing choices and overall daily Christian living in accordance with the culture in which the individual lives or visits. Is the woman with a short, manly hair style portraying an attitude of submission to male leadership?

1 Corinthians 14:34-35

Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church.

The context of 1 Corinthians 14 is the worship assembly. Beginning with verse 26, Paul discusses the use of tongues (languages) during worship. If there is no interpreter then the one speaking in a foreign language is instructed to keep silent. When a prophet desired to give a message from God, Paul instructed him to wait his turn. The one speaking should finish his lesson giving others the opportunity to speak (29-32), thus giving all in attendance an opportunity to learn. The apostle Paul, by inspiration, clearly admonished the Corinthian church to let one person speak at a time. We cannot edify (verse 26) if several are speaking at the same time. Verse 40 states, “Let all things be done decently and in order.” Verses 34-35 teach that women are not permitted to utter a word in the public assembly. The context surrounding these two verses specifically includes leading songs and prayers as well as preaching in the presence of men. Further, the apostle affirmed that this principle was likewise taught in substance or was the summary sentiment of the Old Testament in general. There is not a specific passage to which the phrase “also saith the law” refers, but the reference is to the comprehensive Old Testament law of God. However, the God-ordained, respective roles of man and woman, from creation throughout the Bible, are not difficult to discern. Essentially, the apostle Paul reminded his readers that the law of God regarding the respective and contrasting roles of men and women had not changed from the Old Testament to the New Testament.

Don McWhorter gives a slightly different explanation of the phrase “as the law also says (verse 34)”:

…it is the law of submission that Paul said was confirmed by “the law.” The command for silence on the part of women in the situation under discussion was an application of the law of submission. Paul’s words are: “They are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law.”

Whether Paul was referring to the “comprehensive Old Testament law of God” or more specifically to the “law of submission” is immaterial, since God’s law of submission began in the Garden of Eden at the beginning of time. God’s plan for separate roles for men and women has not changed from creation until now.

Yet, one must remember that women are commanded to sing in worship to God and this verse does not prohibit them from singing. This passage forbids women from taking a leadership role – placing themselves in a position of authority over men – during the public assembly.

Perhaps the inspired writer knew that some would challenge this discourse regarding men’s and women’s roles within the public assembly. Consider verse 37, “If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord.” Paul suggested that those who believe to have divine knowledge should affirm these statements are from Almighty God.

1 Timothy 2:8-12

I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting; in like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, but, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works. Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.

The context of 1 Timothy 2:8-12 pertains to worship and notes the respective roles of men and women regarding its public aspect. In 1 Timothy chapter two, Paul used three different Greek words when discussing men and women. In verses 8 and 12, he used the word aner, meaning “an individual male,” when instructing the men. He used the term gune (goo-nay’) in verses nine and twelve meaning, “a woman; specially, a wife,” when addressing the women. Earlier in the chapter (verses 1, 4-5) the apostle Paul used the word anthropos (anth’-ro-pos) meaning mankind, when giving the same instructions to both the men and the women.

The Greek word for “silence” is hesuchia (hay-soo-khee’-ah) meaning, “stillness, i.e. desistance [to cease, as from an action; stop or abstain] from bustle or language: quietness, silence.” The word silence is used twice in this context, both times in relation to the women. They are to learn with quietness and they are to refrain from teaching and having authority over the men. Clearly, the inspired writer deliberately chose different words to address the men and women to show distinct roles and behaviors in worship to God.

In this passage God commanded men to lead the prayer in worship. No man can give a woman the permission to lead a prayer in the presence of men. Women are commanded not to usurp authority of men. When a woman leads a prayer in the presence of men she takes control away from the man and gives it to herself.

Jane McWhorter noted:

Woman …has never been given the right to teach over him [man] in an authoritarian way. The broad principle applies to the situation anywhere that Christians have assembled for spiritual matters, whether it be at a church building, a home, a convention hall, or a lectureship at a Christian college. No man, not even an elder, can give the woman permission to violate God’s law.

However, women are commanded to sing in worship to God (Ephesians 5:19). According to Colossians 3:16 the songs we sing are to teach and admonish one another. Thus, when women sing songs of praise to God, they are teaching men who are also singing praises to God.

Further, a comparison is made between men praying and serving God and how a godly woman acts. A godly woman is known by the way she dresses. She is more concerned with the spiritual dress then the physical dress. When we diligently try to apply godly characteristics to our lives, we will have the best spiritual dress available.

There is no alternative to godly women in the church. Their place of submissive service is critical to the church and invaluable to its growth. They have been blessed with responsibility of continuing “in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety” (1 Timothy 2:15). Support, understanding and praise are due in “good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over” (Luke 6:38) for “her price is far above rubies.” (Sweeten)

The Bible emphatically declares that women are to be in subjection to men. Women cannot preach, pray, lead singing, serve at the Lord’s Table, teach a Bible class or serve in any capacity where they are in authority over men. Any Christian woman desiring to serve her Lord will gladly accept the God given hierarchy order. She will with humility submit to male leadership in the church and in the home. She will be submissive – not because she has to – but so that she can be a faithful servant of her Lord.

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