The Bible and Female Leadership

From Issue: R&R – Issue 31 #2

Amid the polarization that plagues American civilization in general, and Christendom in particular, one chasm continues to widen between those who wish to conform to Bible protocol and those who wish to modernize, update, adjust, and adapt Scripture to secular society. The cry of those who are pressing the feminist agenda is that the church in the past has restricted women in roles of leadership and worship simply because of culture and flawed hermeneutical principles. They say we are the product of a male-dominated society and have consequently misconstrued the contextual meaning of the relevant biblical passages. As attitudes soften and biblical conviction weakens, Scripture is being reinterpreted to allow for expanded roles for women in worship. At least some of this propensity for compromise is due to the skeptic’s insistence that God, the Bible, and Christians suffer from misogyny.

The central passage in the New Testament that indicates gender role in the home is Ephesians 5:22-33. The premier passage that treats gender roles in worship is 1 Timothy 2:8-15. Both passages indicate that men, i.e., adult males (andras), are to be holy, spiritual leaders in the home and in worship, while women are admonished to be modest and unassuming, and to fulfill the critical responsibilities assigned to them by God. What conceivable reason would the inspired writer (Paul) have for placing any limitations on either men or women? Was his concern prompted by the culture of that day? Was Paul merely accommodating an unenlightened, hostile environment, or asserting his own chauvinistic tendencies? The Holy Spirit gave the reason for the limitations, and that reason transcends all culture and all locales. Paul stated that men are to be kind, loving, nurturing leaders, and women are to submit to that leadership in the home and the church, because Adam was created before Eve. Here is the heart and core of God’s will concerning how men and women are to function and interrelate.

God’s original design for the human race entailed the creation of the male first as an indication of the man’s responsibility to be the spiritual leader of the home and the church. That is his functional purpose. Woman, on the other hand, was specifically designed and created for the purpose of being a subordinate (though not inferior) assistant. This feature of Creation explains why God gave spiritual teaching to Adam before Eve was created, implying that Adam had the created responsibility to teach his wife (Genesis 2:15-17). It explains why the female is twice stated to have been created to be “an help meet for him,” i.e., a helper suitable for the man (Genesis 2:18,20, emp. added). This explains why the Genesis text clearly indicates that in a unique sense, the woman was created for the man—not vice versa. It explains why God brought the woman “to the man” (Genesis 2:22)—not vice versa—again, as if she was made “for him.” Adam confirmed this understanding by stating “the woman whom You gave to be with me” (Genesis 3:12, emp. added). It explains why Paul argued on the basis of this very distinction: “Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man” (1 Corinthians 11:9, emp. added). It further clarifies the implied authority of the man over the women in his act of naming the woman (Genesis 2:23; 3:20). The Jews understood this divinely designed order, evidenced by the practice of primogeniture (“firstborn” male). God’s creation of the man first was specifically intended to communicate the authority/submission principle for ordering the human race (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:8). Indeed, the evolutionists, skeptics, atheists, feminists, and theological liberals who disdain this reality are faced with the stubborn reality that gender distinction is inherently built into the created order via a host of clear cut emotional, psychological, and physiological differences between men and women—from chromosomes, to life span and muscle strength (cf. Jacobsen, 2007). Paul pinpoints perhaps the most prominent and distinguishing feature: the ability of females to bear children (1 Timothy 2:15).

Bible teaching on difference in role in no way implies a difference in worth, value, or ability. Galatians 3:28 (“neither male nor female”), 1 Timothy 2:15 (“she shall be saved”), and 1 Peter 3:7 (“heirs together of the grace of life”) all show that males and females are equals as far as their person and salvation status is concerned. Women are often superior to men in talent, intellect, and ability. Women are not inferior to men anymore than Christ the Son is inferior to God the Father, citizens are inferior to the President, or students are inferior to teachers. The role of women in the home and in the church is not a matter of control, power, or oppression. It is a matter of submission on the part of all human beings to the will of God. It is a matter of willingness on the part of God’s creatures, male and female, to subordinate themselves to the divine arrangement regarding the sexes. The biblical differentiation is purely a matter of function, assigned tasks, and sphere of responsibility. The tragic mistreatment of women through the centuries in countries and cultures around the world by men who have abused and misused their authority in no way discredits the biblical principle.

A massive restructuring of values and reorientation of moral and spiritual standards has been taking place in American culture for over 50 years now. The dismantling of scriptural gender differentiation is one facet of this multifaceted effacement and erosion of biblical values. Virtually every sphere of American culture has been impacted. To the extent that God’s will for the proper functioning of the human race deteriorates, to that extent we will continue to see the unraveling of America’s foundational values and increasing social confusion and disorientation.

Many talented, godly women possess abilities and talents that would enable them to surpass many of the male worship leaders functioning in the church today. However, the Bible stands as an unalterable, eternal declaration of God’s will on the matter. By those words we will be judged (John 12:48). May all people bow humbly and submissively before the God of Heaven in conformity to His perfect will for people.


Jacobsen, Joyce (2007), The Economics of Gender (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing), third edition.


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