Paul’s View of Women in Ministry

The One Year® Chronological Bible, NKJV (Tyndale, 2013), November 21

images-3God calls and gifts women for ministry, but He establishes parameters in which to operate. Women are tempted to expand their ministry beyond God’s parameters, and men are tempted to constrict those parameters. Paul addresses those parameters in several of his epistles (1 Cor. 11; 1 Tim. 2).

Paul permits women to pray and to prophesy in the local assembly with their heads covered, a symbol of being under authority (1 Cor. 11:5-16). Yet, in 1 Timothy, Paul states, “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” (2:11-12). Paul does not contradict himself in 1 Timothy. Women are not to be “unruly” in an open assembly, and married women are to defer to their husbands in an open assembly; they are not to act as an authority over their husbands.

Women who seize positions of authority over their husbands in the open assembly rebel against God’s stratified order. Eve’s exercise of authority and Adam’s abdicating of the headship role in the garden of Eden brought disaster. Paul does not deny women a role in ministry, but he does delineate parameters for them—for their good and for the good of the open assembly. A woman must be, first and foremost, a learner; and learners don’t interrupt or take control.

In the conclusion to Paul’s epistle to the Romans, he commends Phoebe for her service to the church in Cenchrea and then greets twenty-six leaders who served among the saints in Rome. Apparently Phoebe has played a huge role in an assisting Paul and others. Paul not only commends her service to the saints in Rome, but he entrusts the delivery of his epistle to her. One theologian notes the importance of Paul entrusting his epistle to Phoebe: “Phoebe carried under the folds of her robe the whole future of Christian theology.”

Paul highlights the ministry contributions of nine women, four of whom are described as “working hard;” three are mentioned as part of a couple:

  • Priscilla (Rom. 16:3) – Many theologians suggest that Paul mentions Priscilla first because she has speaking gift.
  • Mary (16:6) – “labored much”
  • Junia (16:7) – Part of the husband and wife team who are imprisoned with Paul for the faith. She and her husband are considered “of note among the apostles.”
  • Tryphena and Tryphosa (16:12) – Sisters “who have labored in the Lord”
  • Persis (16:12) – “labored much”
  • Rufus’s mother (16:13) – embraced Paul as a “son”
  • Julia (16:15) – Apparently the wife in another husband and wife team
  • Nereus’s sister (v. 15) – a saint

Interestingly, Paul only uses the phrase, “labored much in the Lord” three times in this list—and all to describe women! Perhaps it was to affirm women’s contribution to evangelism and church planting.

Paul’s list in Romans 16 demonstrates his high regard for the women who have served alongside him for the sake of the gospel.

Questions from today’s chronological Bible reading (1 Cor. 11:2-13:13):

What do the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper symbolize? How have the Corinthian believers corrupted the Lord’s Supper?
God assigned Moses, Aaron, the Levites, Bezalel, and the other craftsmen with specific tasks in the wilderness. He also appointed leaders over groups of fifty, one hundred, and one thousand. What happens in the vacuum of organization and leadership? Similarly, He gifts and appoints leaders in the church. How are the various members of the local church to view one another? What is the glue that cements together such diversity within the body?