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  • Writer's pictureJosh Reading

Women in leadership

NOTE: This post is very much a 101 introduction to Women in Leadership and Teaching. If you have a question please don't hesitate to ask.


Scripture contains a number of passages and verses that lead to significant disagreement over the role of women in different spheres of life, in particular Leadership in the Church and the home.

Broadly speaking the two different perspectives can be classified as the 'Complementarian' View and the 'Egalitarian view'. There is a tendency in this discussion, as with many others to use perjorative language such as 'heirachialist' to speak of the Complementarian view or 'liberals' or simply 'feminist theology' when speaking of the Egalitarian view. This style language is entirely unhelpful. The goal of every dedicated Bible student is to follow the word of God to wherever it leads and handle difficult passages with humility and care. It need also be understood clearly that within both these broad camps are Jesus loving, theologically and biblically informed individuals.


There is not a 'single' complementarian view, however the basic theme of complementarianism is that God has created men and women as 'complementary', equal in value but different in God's design on their roles. This potentially extends from Civil occupation, Church Leadership and Leadership in the home.

As with many perspectives there is a spectrum within complementarianism.

Traditional Complementarian's embrace a view of the role of women in society emphasising the role of women (atleast mothers) as primarily homemaker's. Husbands are the 'head' of the household (primary leader) and men alone can hold general leadership in the Church. Women can hold leadership and teaching roles only in women's or children's contexts.

'Soft' complementarians often embrace the husbands primary leadership in the household (though functionally may differ on what that looks like) however allow women to teach and hold positions of general leadership in the Church. Soft complementarians may differ as to the extent of that Leadership, allowing women to teach and lead but not have the position of 'Elder'.

In practical function, soft complementarians and egalitarians may operate nearly identically in the Church and Civil society however differ in roles held in the household.


“ a movement based on the theological view that not only are all people equal before God in their person hood, but there are no gender-based limitations of what functions or roles each can fulfill in the home, the church, and the society.” [1]

It is worth noting some egalitarians hold functionally traditional roles in regards to motherhood and fatherhood. Thus may believe it is 'best' for the mother to be the primary nurturer and 'homemaker' whilst the husband in this context is the primary protector and provider, however that would be considered a personal choice as opposed to a creation mandate.

Crucially, the outcome of such a discussion is not one that is core to Christian identity or theology (salvation centred) though different proponents of the perspectives will argue that it is some how central. It is nonetheless important.

For the purpose of this post we will look primarily at the role of women within the life of the Church community. Discussion regarding the role of women and men in marriage and family is a related issue but it is not the same issue as addressed in this post.


Before moving on, I want to acknowledge the single verse in the entire Bible which seems to prohibit women from teaching and having authority over men (1 Tim 2:12). I will address this verse and the other passages from 1 Timothy but lets us first take the whole counsel of scripture and through such understand a single verse as opposed to placing a single verse onto all of scripture.


The simple answer is... JESUS

Jesus gave the greatest example of a godly leader. When the disciples jostled for position, he described that position of a leader as a servant and slave (Matt 20:20 - 28). This whole discussion would be far more fruitful if the primary focus of people was not on having authority but servant hood. Our goal should always be to out serve people rather than out rank them.


When addressing nearly any issue it is important to pull back from specific verses especially when there are complex details within verses or passages. An important principles in Biblical interpretation is allowing 'clear passages' to interpret 'difficult passages'.


Women have been recognised and ordained as leaders of God's people throughout scripture.


When we look at the Old Testament we do see an emphasis on the role of women as wives and mothers. These roles should still be revered however we also see clear examples of God ordained women operating as judges, prophets and leaders.


Miriam, which means prophet (Exodus 15:20) is identified by the Prophet Micah as one of the key leaders God used to lead Israel out of Eqypt (Micah 6:4) Miriam's song was directed not only at the women in Israel but clearly at all Israel.


Judges 4:16 tells us that “the Lord raised up judges” to provide leadership for the kingless people (Judges 2:16). Deborah was one of these judges and held a position of political, spiritual and military influence. She was “...a prophet, the wife of Lappidoth, (and) was leading Israel at that time.” (Judges 4:4)

It need be remembered, that Israel operated as a spiritual community not simply a civil community. Her influence and leadership both as a civil leader and spiritual leader is absolutely clear.

Huldah (2 Kings.22:14-20) was the prophet Josiah sought (through sending Hilkiah)for her wisdom and understanding in the word and God's will for Israel.

Some have tried to argue that Deborah was only appointed by God because of an absolute lack of qualified male leaders, however such is over reaching and ignores instances such as Huldah. The prophets Jeremiah, Zephaniah, Nahum, and Habakkuk all we contemporary to Huldah yet she was chosen above them to confirm the scrolls authenticity

Additionally in the Old Testament we see other women called Prophets including Noadiah( possibly a false prophet - Nehemiah 6:14), and Isaiah's wife (Isaiah 8:3). Additionally, Rachel (Gen. 30:24), Hannah (1 Sam. 2:1-10) and Abigail (1 Samuel 25:29-31) are all described or seen to prophesy.

Importantly, the role of the Prophet is directly selected by God as opposed to other positions in the society selected by people. God's affirmation of women is clear in this.


In the New Testament text, but prior to the the start of the New Covenant under Jesus we also see other's mentioned as Prophets or Prophesying. This is important, as their insight, direction is never understood to be specifically for a female audience. In fact, their teaching and direction is at times contained in the canon of scripture.

Anna was a prophetess (Luke 2:36 – 38). She is specifically noted for her devotion to God in prayer and fasting.

The word tells us in Luke 3:38 she “...spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.” Being noted as a Prophet, it is an artificial construct to separate her revelation and declaration of Jesus as different from that of preaching of the Apostles (2 Cor 4:5)

Additionally, we see Elizabeth (Luke 1:41-45), and Mary, the mother of Jesus (Luke 1:46-55) prophesying. Importantly this prophetic teaching is found in the text of scripture which all hold as inspired by God (2 Tim 3:16). Confronting as it might sound, if one rejects the voice of women, they need consider tearing these pages out of the Bible (of course no Bible believing Christian would do so, so the question remains, why reject the voice and leadership of Women as universal)

Other general examples from the context

Coming up to Jesus we also see women play important roles in synagogue leadership, including that of 'head' and esteemed position at 'Mother of the Synagogue'.[2] Whilst such examples are not 'biblical' it need be understood that though men clear dominated leadership in the Jewish contexts, it was not exclusive.


Jesus himself took a very different path from most Rabbi's so far as engaging women in his ministry and teaching. Jesus talked freely with women, healing and made clear as his disciples (Luke 8:1 – 3). He taught in the house of Mary and Martha and encouraged them to sit at his feet and learn, a behaviour very different from that of the wider practices.

It needs to be understood, that it was the Rabbi's disciples that in time often rose to become the Rabbi themselves. Without such an opportunity, the practicality and wisdom of women leading and teaching would be problematic and plays into later issues regarding women teaching and leading in certain contexts.


Under the law, Israel was the primary recipient of the revelation of God. Kings, Prophets and Priests were the primary recipients of the power of God and understanding.

Yet a seismic shift had come through Christ in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the early believing community.

Peter speaks, quoting Joel

“‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. 18 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.” (Acts 2:17 – 18)

The power of the Holy Spirit, the prophetic revelation and understanding would no longer be limited but rather an important shift had come. There would be a priesthood of all believers (2 Peter 2:5 – 9) It can be rightly said, there was now a sense of the prophethood of all believers.

The power of the Holy Spirit meant that all God’s people qualified for the gifts of His Spirit (Acts 2:17,18). As in salvation, it is not gender, ethnicity or societal position that matters but Christ (Gal 3:28) So too is the case in the empowering for mission, it is the gifting and power of the Holy Spirit that matters not that of gender, ethnicity or age. Spiritual Gifts are given to each believer (1 Cor 12 – 14, Rom 12) and there is no indication that Gifts (and the influence that is created through them) is limited to the male gender.


Throughout the Epistles and Acts we have a number of women clearly referred to as possessing leadership influence in the Church. Though in comparison to male leaders there are few, that these women are noted at all must firstly be considered. The prevailing context both in the Jewish, Greek and Roman worlds was one where women were regularly considered less than men in value, intellect and ability yet that is not what we see in scripture.

Some of these can be seen including Chloe (1 Cor 1:11) Euodia and Syntyche who ministered with Paul (Phil 4:1 – 13). Phoebe was a deacon (Rom 16)

Priscilla was addressed by Paul first at times (Rom 16:3), a practice often denoting importance. In referring to Priscilla with her husband Aquila, Acts 18:26 says “But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him (Apollos), they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately." In short Priscilla taught Apollos with her husband.

The writer Luke uses the same word for 'explained' (ektithēmi ) of Peter explaining the Gospel in Acts 11:5 – 7 and Paul explaining the Gospel in Acts 28:23 – 24. Some try to discount Priscilla as 'didasko' is not used (which Paul uses in the Epistles for teaching) but Luke is clear and must be understood in his own semantic. Priscilla explains the Gospel in the same way an astrophysicist explains the cosmos, explaining is teaching. Priscilla teaches a man.


Additionally, we see Junia likely referred to as an Apostle in Rom 16:7 with her husband Andronicus. Though there is some dispute due to the phrasing in this passage, it was actually the common held belief in the earlier Church that Junia was indeed both a woman and Apostle.

Later in history, some tried to manipulate her name to the masculine because the understanding was the verse said this person was certainly an Apostle.

What is important, is that until recently there was little debate around the Apostleship of Junia, rather some tried to argue she was Junias (a male) but this idea has been discounted by the vast majority of scholars (even very conservative). With humility we can say Junia was likely an Apostle and should not be found any more unusual than a woman being a Prophet or Judge (as we see elsewhere)


There is only one verse in all of scripture that appears to prohibit women from teaching or having authority over men.

1 Tim 2:11 - 15

“A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. 15 But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety (1 Timothy 2, NIV).

For clarity, we will break up this passage and comment

“A woman should learn in quietness and full submission.”

This statement actually taints the whole passage in a positive change, it is an innovation. Women are actively encouraged to learn. Only men were normally encouraged to learn in such a way.

“I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.”

The issue here is a little unusual if understood in light of the broader biblical examples given such as Deborah whom God appointed having clear authority or Huldah called as the Prophet for Israel to unpackage the scrolls.

Firstly it is important to note Paul's command is present tense not an ongoing tense. Some Greek scholars argue for the translation to be “I do not permit women to presently teach”[3].

Secondly, the key here is the word authentein translated in the NIV as 'assume authority'. This word is entirely absent from the rest of scripture and not a common word in wider Greek text.

However, when seen it is primarily understood not simply as one having authority but rather one who takes it out of place and violently, it is aggressive in his nature. Payne writes “the authent- root words are typically strong and emotionally-laden words with negative or dominating overtones such as: murderer, domestic murderer, perpetrator, or autocrat”[4]

The Apostle Paul normally uses another word for authority, “exousia”, here he does not. Such a usage in particular points to an inauthentic form of authority being used.

Additionally, there is a shift in the reference to women here. Paul says “a woman” in verses 11-15 and back to “women” in the next chapter. Such language suggests the possibility of a specific woman, perhaps the one that has triggered this letter and response to Timothy.

The question need be asked, What would cause women to ignorantly wrestle authority in the context? The answer is not difficult. In Ephesus, the goddess Artemis had a woman as the high priestess. This was a position of real authority creating a context in which women would be likely to attempt to lord it over men.

Pointing to a very specific set of circumstances is Paul's opening purposes of 1 Timothy.

“...command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless geneaologies…They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm…” (1 Tim 1:3-4, -7).

Women in this context were likely uneducated, creating a recipe for disaster. The first step in solving this problem? “A woman should learn...” 1 Tim 3:11b

Moving into V 14 we actually hear an echo of the problem spoken of in 1 Tim 1:3. Among the “myths and endless genealogies” (1 Tim 1:3) was the idea that Eve was created before Adam and was superior to him. The emerging Gnostic style teaching is well documented in the region and likely seen when Paul speaks of women “going about from house to house ... saying things they ought not to.” (1 Tim 5:13) which had already seen people “turned away to follow Satan” (1 Timothy 5:15)

Verse 14 says

“And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.”

Those that reject women preaching use this verse claiming that it is universal in it's implication not cultural or situational.

There are a couple issues in this claim, firstly is the functional claim that gender precludes men from deception or women to be deceived more. It does not take long to realise such simply does not stand up. Secondly, if this is universal in it's nature, then all the God ordained women that lead or taught throughout scripture (as previously cited) were in the wrong, which places God in the wrong for ordaining them, which is not possible, thus we must consider this text to have a specific context and intention. There are a couple perspectives worth noting when considering this passage.

Dr Jeremiah Gibbs argues

“But notice the argument: Adam was born first, then Eve, and it was Eve that was deceived. Why was Eve able to be deceived in Genesis? The text isn’t explicit, but notice that Eve isn’t there when God gives commands about the garden to Adam. She only had these commands second hand, and therefore is easily deceived about what God actually said to Adam. Like the women in Ephesus, she was easily deceived because she had not been taught. As Paul instructs a community dealing with false teachers, he instructs them to not let uneducated women become deceived and then perpetuate false teaching.” [5]

Dr Gibbs perspective is particularly consistent when one considers Paul's encouragement to the women to learn. In light of the false teaching perpetuated particularly among women such builds on the case for well informed and mature women to teach in the Church in general. Other scholars, such as Gordon Fee point out the possibility that these verses are actually quotations from Paul's opponents not his own, particularly in light of V 15 which goes against the gospel itself.

Additionally supporting the contextual reality and difficulty of this passage is verse 15.

“But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety” (1 Timothy 2:15)

Scholars hold different opinions regarding what V 15 meant exactly. What we do know is it DOES NOT mean that salvation for women is through some other action other than Jesus. Believing this verse says women will be saved if they have children is simply heretical and no scholar would ever suggest that is the intent. Such shows that this whole passage is being built on a unique situation.

This statement is difficult but my opinion leans towards the view that being sanctified (or saved) is actually a reference not to eternal salvation as such but rather being set apart, a special position as a mother which was often maligned in this context.

To understand 1 Tim 2 consistently, is to understand Paul prohibiting ignorant women from taking up authority due to their context and background. While they are learning they are to be silent. He then affirms the role of mother in contradiction to those things taught by false teachers.

1 Corinthians 14.33-35

“For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people. 34 Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says.35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.” (1 Cor 14:33 – 35 NIV)

There are a number of simple but important observations in the text. Firstly, is the reality that no one including Paul actually expected women to actually be 'silent'. In 1 Cor 11:6 women are told to “prophesy and pray” but with humility before God.

Secondly, the “woman” in verse 34 is made clear, she is speaking to her husband in V 35. Though there is discussion as to the nature of the context, where women and men often sat separately, the crucial statement implies disturbance of some sort. “If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their husbands at home, it is a disgrace for a woman to speak”. Understood in this context, it appears that disgrace is being brought by the disturbance.

The tone in the Greek “is grammatically suggestive” [6] the 'questioning' going on was combative, suggesting disagreement between a husband and wife.


Some use the Eldership standards given n 1 Tim 3 and Titus 1 as examples of prohibiting women from these positions as an “Elder has to be a husband of one wife”, such is a terrible and inconsistent argument. Firstly, Jesus himself and Paul would be excluded, it would also contradict Paul's instruction to remain single for the sake of the Gospel (1 Cor 7)

Secondly, the Greek text does not actual use masculine pronouns, rather when the masculine is seen in translations, it has been placed there.

These instructions, quite simply, are about the lifestyle of the potential leader. It is telling that Paul gives no other demographic information about potential leaders. He isn’t concerned with demographics in these passages, but ethics. CONCLUSION Some time ago I was informed by a couple I continue to love as friends that after hearing my wife preach on conviction they were convicted that they needed to leave our Church because they did not believe in women teaching. I hope you can see the irony in this moment. Due to her teaching they felt the need to not have her (or any other woman) teach them again. When we say a woman cannot handle the word of God with authority, insight and communicate it to men we are saying that the penis is greater than the word of God. I have a problem with that, I respect the word of God too much to embrace such an idea. To embrace women in leadership and teaching is not to malign the beauty given in God's design for women as mothers, sisters, wives, daughters and friends, it is not to succumb to some supposed treacherous 'feminist' agenda to remove men but to embrace God's empowerment and enabling of all believers alike, men and women, young and old, Jew and Gentile (Acts 2:17-18)

The vigour with which many argue against the full recognition of women in leadership and teaching is often less about exegesis and hermeneutics and more culture and experience. This can of course be the case on both 'sides' of the discussion. No doubt there is more within this topic from both those who believe in Women in leadership and those that oppose such, however through solid biblical review and the fruit born through the operation of the gifts and leadership by women (and men) I absolutely embrace the role of women as leaders and teachers in the general community of our Church.

SOME EXTRA READING Dr Jeremiah Gibbs - Women in Ministry - Women Preachers?


[2] Information taken from a message by Dwight A. Pryor in a tape series entitled, The Ministry Of Women in the Early Church and Synagogue. Dwight A. Pryor is the Director of the “Center for Judaic-Christian Studies” (P.O. Box 293040, Dayton, OH USA 45429).

[3] Keener

[4] Philip Barton Payne “Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul's Letters”


[6] Waldemar Kowalski quoted by Rick Wadholm

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