Ask OldTimer

Should Women Be Allowed to Serve in the Ministry of the Church?

The Question:

Many churches will not allow women to serve in any ministry position, such as pastor or teacher, because Paul said "Let the women keep silent in the church". Is this what the New Testament REALLY teaches?

The Answer:

The Apostle Paul listed the main ministry positions of the church in his discourse of Christ's gifts in the book of Ephesians 4:7-16:

But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says: "When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men."  (What does "he ascended" mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Looking at this passage as one complete thought, we see that Christ had a plan to apportion or to allocate His grace to us, to bring us to unity and maturity in Him, as part of His Body, "as each part does its work". He selected certain individuals to lead us to this goal, specifically: "It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers…"

Notice first of all, that in the original Greek of this passage, that Paul does NOT say that Jesus gave "some MEN" to hold these offices, it simply says "some". Now some churches have adopted the position that only men can hold these offices. If that is true, then the New Testament would have to support that - meaning that no women are ever mentioned as holding these offices.

Or, to put it another way, if women ARE allowed to hold these offices, then we should have at least ONE example of a woman who did, right? So let's examine what the Word says about it.

First of all, an apostle is "one sent out" on a special mission by Christ. We usually think of apostles as those who pioneer a new work for Christ. While He was on earth, Jesus especially selected twelve individuals for this office, one of whom, Judas, betrayed Jesus, and was replaced by Matthias. People commonly think that there are only twelve apostles mentioned in the New Testament, however, there are actually 24 individuals who are called apostles, including our Lord Jesus Himself.

Well, were any of the apostles female? Yes, a female apostle is mentioned in this verse:

Romans 16:7 Greet Andronicus and Junias, my relatives who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.

Junias is mentioned as being Paul's relative and outstanding among the apostles. The form of this name in Greek is female, Iounias {ee-oo-nee'-as}, meaning "youthful". Junias was imprisoned with Paul at one time and had become a believer before he did. Andronicus is probably her husband or brother, as male and female names usually were not linked in the Bible unless they were married or related.

The next ministry office Paul mentions is a prophet. Prophesy in the Greek propheteuo {prof-ate-yoo'-o} means "to prophesy, to be a prophet, speak forth by divine inspirations; to predict with the idea of foretelling future events pertaining especially to the kingdom of God; to utter forth, declare, a thing which can only be known by divine revelation; to break forth under sudden impulse in lofty discourse or praise of the divine counsels; under like prompting, to teach, refute, reprove, admonish, comfort others; to act as a prophet, discharge the prophetic office" [Strong's Concordance].

Are any women in the New Testament identified as prophets? Yes, quite a few, actually! (And there were also women identified as prophets in the Old Testament as well.) The first one mentioned in the New Testament is Anna, who is specifically identified as a prophetess (a female prophet) by Luke. Anna was one of the first prophets, along with Simeon, to recognize Jesus as the Messiah. She was well known in the temple, and had spent day and night there for 84 years, fasting and praying and waiting for the Christ. She spoke publicly in the temple to "all".

Luke 2:36-38 There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four [or for 84 years]. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, and Mary, the mother of Jesus, also spoke prophetically as recorded by Luke in his gospel (Luke 1:39-55). In addition to these ladies, it is recorded that Philip the evangelist had four daughters who prophesied (Acts 21:8-9). There were numerous unnamed female prophetesses in the New Testament referred to in 1 Corinthians chapters 11-14. In Acts 2:16-18, Peter also refers to the prophecy of Joel that "your sons and daughters will prophesy", and so the office of prophet is not limited to men!

What about the office of evangelist? Can women do that also, according to the New Testament? Again, the answer is YES! Philip is the only person in the New Testament that is actually called an evangelist, but many women functioned as evangelists as well.

The word "evangelist", Greek euangelistes, means bringer of good tidings. These are normally those who evangelize, bring good news to the lost and new converts to the faith, specifically missionaries. The first person who was told to "go and tell" the good news of Jesus' resurrection was a woman, Mary Magdalene!

John 20:15-18 "Woman," he said, "why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?" Thinking he was the gardener, she said, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him." Jesus said to her, "Mary." She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, "Rabboni!" (which means Teacher). Jesus said, "Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, `I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: "I have seen the Lord!" And she told them that he had said these things to her.

Before Jesus ascended into heaven, He gave 120 of His disciples these instructions:

Acts 1:8 "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

They returned to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives to wait for the Holy Spirit. In the upper room they joined together in prayer - and Luke tells us that along with the male disciples were "the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus" (Acts 1:14). These women received the Holy Spirit along with the men and became witnesses of the good news of the gospel.

Another woman is mentioned in John's gospel as being an evangelist, or a bringer of good tidings about Jesus, and that is the woman at the well in Sychar in Samaria:

John 4: 28-29 Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, "Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?"

Because of her testimony, many of her townspeople became believers:

John 4:39-42 Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman's testimony, "He told me everything I ever did." So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers. They said to the woman, "We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world."

Can women be evangelists, telling the good news of our Lord Jesus Christ? YES! What about the office of pastor/teacher? Can a woman be called of God to do that? According to the New Testament, yes she can!

Pastors, Greek poimen, usually translated shepherd, means to tend a flock. Pastors are responsible for the day to day care of a group of believers, their spiritual guidance, feeding and protection with tender care and vigilant superintendence. Teachers, Greek didaskalos, are responsible to training believers in the Word and bringing understanding to them. Many Bible scholars believe that the office of pastor/teacher is one office, because in leading a group of people, teaching and guidance are both needed.

In Acts we are told about a couple known as Priscilla and Aquila, who were tent makers and co-laborers with Paul. They were from Pontus in Italy and had recently settled in Corinth when Paul met them. He stayed with them because they were also tentmakers. They accompanied Paul on a missionary journey to Syria, and stayed on at Ephesus as Paul continued his journey. They would give valuable aid upon Paul's return, providing advice as to where and how the work there could be started.

Acts 18:1-3, 18-19 After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. There he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them. ... Paul stayed on in Corinth for some time. Then he left the brothers and sailed for Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila. Before he sailed, he had his hair cut off at Cenchrea because of a vow he had taken. They arrived at Ephesus, where Paul left Priscilla and Aquila. He himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews.

When Apollos came to Ephesus, he taught about Jesus accurately, although his knowledge was limited. Priscilla and Aquila brought them into their home and taught him.

Acts 18:26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.

In Romans 16:3, Paul calls them "fellow workers in Christ Jesus". The Greek word for "fellow workers" or helpers is sunergos {soon-er-gos'} and means a companion in work, a fellow worker. Not only were they fellow workers, but at some point risked their lives for Paul, a fact that was well known among the Gentile churches, but that incident was not recorded in the New Testament for us.

Romans 16:3-5a Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. Greet also the church that meets at their house…

In Romans 5a and I Corinthians 16:19, we find that they co-pastor a church in their home back at Corinth.

1 Corinthians 16:19 The churches in the province of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Priscilla greet you warmly in the Lord, and so does the church that meets at their house.

The word for "church" here is ekklesia {ek-klay-see'-ah}, "an assembly of Christians gathered for worship in a religious meeting, a company of Christians, or of those who, hoping for eternal salvation through Jesus Christ, observe their own religious rites, hold their own religious meetings, and manage their own affairs, according to regulations prescribed for the body for order's sake, and those who anywhere, in a city, village, constitute such a company and are united into one body".

In 2 Timothy 4:19, Paul asks Timothy to "Greet Priscilla and Aquila and the household of Onesiphorus." In almost every case where these co-pastors are mentioned, Priscilla is mentioned first, which possibly indicates that she had the higher authority and position.

John writes his second letter to an "elect" or chosen lady with her children, which may indicate that she was in a position of authority over them in her house spiritually. House churches were the norm in those days.

2 John1:1, 10 The elder, To the chosen lady and her children, whom I love in the truth--and not I only, but also all who know the truth--… If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him.

So we've seen that the New Testament records that women held these offices of ministry in the early church: apostle, prophet, evangelist and pastor/teacher. What about the other offices in the church?

Phoebe was a deaconess in Cenchrea, and came to help the believers at Rome with a recommendation from Paul. He may have met her on his missionary journey with Priscilla and Aquila, when he stopped at Cenchrea and took a vow and had his hair cut off. He asked the Roman believers to welcome her in the Lord, for she had been a great help to many, including Paul. She was possibly the carrier of this letter to Rome.

Romans 16:1-2 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant [deaconess] of the church in Cenchrea. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been a great help to many people, including me.

The Greek word here translated "servant" in the NIV is diakonos {dee-ak'-on-os}, which means: "a deacon, one who, by virtue of the office assigned to him by the church, cares for the poor and has charge of and distributes the money collected for their use". It is translated "deacon" in Philippians 1:1 and 1 Timothy 3:8,12.  Diakonos in the New Testament is also translated as "minister" (see 2 Corinthians 3:6; 6:4, Ephesians 3:7, etc). The Amplified and Revised Standard Version of the Bible translates this word as "deaconess" here.

The other church position mentioned in the New Testament is that of an overseer. In Greek, it is episkopos {ep-is'-kop-os}, meaning "1) an overseer 1a) a man charged with the duty of seeing that things to be done by others are done rightly, any curator, guardian or superintendent 1b) the superintendent, elder, or overseer of a Christian church". There aren't any women specifically called overseers or bishops in the New Testament, but the language used for Andronicus and Junias, both apostles, suggests that they might have been also overseers.

Romans 16:7 Greet Andronicus and Junias, my relatives who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.

The Greek word translated in the NIV as "outstanding" is episemos {ep-is'-ay-mos} meaning 1, of note, having a mark on it, marked, stamped, coined, marked in a good sense, of note, illustrious. This is translated "of note among" (YLT, KJV, KJ21 & NKJV), "notable among" (HNV), "respected among" (NLT), "held in high esteem" (Amplified), "distinguished among" (Catholic, 1941), and "outstanding among" (NIV & NASB) the apostles, which may suggest that they held the position of overseers as well.

There are also many women mentioned in the New Testament who are simply called laborers for Christ, some co-laborers with Paul. Paul greets several women in Rome who were described as laborers in the Lord. Some scholars believe that ALL the people that Paul greeted in Romans chapter 16 were church leaders, of whom 11 were women (Phoebe, Priscilla, Junias, Mary, Tryphena, Tryphosa, Persis, Rufus' mother, Julia, Nereus' sister, and Olympas).

Romans 16:6,12 Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you. … Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord. Greet my dear friend Persis, another woman who has worked very hard in the Lord.

The Greek word for labor is kopiao {kop-ee-ah'-o} which means to grow weary, tired, exhausted (with toil or burdens or grief), to labor with wearisome effort, to toil, of bodily labor.


Philippians 4:2-3 I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side [sunathelon] in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers [sunergos], whose names are in the book of life.

Euodia and Syntyche were two female church leaders who were having a disagreement. Paul identifies them as fellow workers along with Clement, another early church leader whose writings have been preserved for us. The Greek word for "contended at my side" is sunathleo {soon-ath-leh'-o}, meaning to strive at the same time with another, having the connotation of being in the same ministry.

The Greek word for co-laborers or fellow workers is sunergos {soon-er-gos'}, meaning a companion in work, fellow worker. The verb form is sunergeo {soon-erg-eh'-o}, meaning 1) to work together, help in work, be partner in labor 2) to put forth power together with and thereby to assist. It implies equality of duty, motivation and office. At the end of his greetings, Paul admonishes the Corinthians:

1 Corinthians 16:16 I urge you to be subject to such men and to every fellow worker [sunergos] and laborer. (RSV)

Note that "men" is not in the original text, so Paul is referring to all the leaders listed.

Other women are called "disciples", which means "disciplined learner". In Acts 17:11-12, we are told about prominent Greek women in Berea who became believers.

Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. Many of the Jews believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.

Since we've seen that women did hold ministry positions in the early church, is there any reason they cannot do the same today, if God calls them and equips them for His service? Remember what Paul said:

Galatians 3:26-29 You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Can women hold positions of ministry in the Church? According to the New Testament, if God has called them and gifted them, the answer is a resounding "YES!"

cover A very good book on this subject is "What Paul REALLY said about Women: An Apostle's Liberating Views on Equality in Marriage, Leadership, and Love, with study questions" by John Temple Bristow, Harper San Francisco, ©1988. 

Other questions on this topic are found at these links:

Must a woman bear children to be saved?

Is it wrong for a woman to wear pants?

Should women wear head coverings in church?

The Bible says that we are God’s Sons. What about God’s daughters?

Warrior Women in the Bible, online version

Warrior Women in the Bible, text version

Return to Top

All files ©1999-2001 Karleen E. Page, All Rights Reserved. ONE copy may be printed or copied to your PC for personal use only. Please email for any other permissions. Thank You. Posted at Ask OldTimer.

This page has been visited times.