WOMEN’S ROLE IN THE BODY OF CHRIST

Today, there is much  confusion concerning the role of women within the Body of Christ. Some people believe that women should only participate in the Body of Christ in a passive manner and be completely subordinate to the authority of the male membership. Others believe that women should have equal status with male members and assume positions as spiritual leaders within the Church.

Although volumes could be written about the relationship between men and women within marriage and within the Body of Christ, this study will only present an overview of the subject as it relates to the elect of God and it will examine the following eight important topic areas in order to clearly define the role of women within the congregations of God:

1. The original relationship of man and woman at creation

2. The adjusted relationship of man and woman after their disobedience

3. The relationship between men and women under the New Covenant

4. The culture that affected the early church

5. The marriage relationship between men and women as God's elect

6. The instructions for order within the formal teaching and worship assemblies of the elect

7. Examples of women's functions and responsibilities within the early church and its ministry

8. Who Jesus Christ has authorized to be the spiritual leaders of the Church

THE ORIGINAL RELATIONSHIP

It was God's original intent for men and women to live together in a harmonious, sharing relationship:

Genesis 2:18, 21-23

"And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper that is fit for him" (v18).

"And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh thereof; And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her to the man. And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man" (vs.21-23).

The English word 'help' is translated from the  Hebrew word 'ezer', which can mean 'partner.' The usage of this Hebrew word clearly shows that Adam and Eve formed a partnership (a marriage) with different roles within this partnership in order to contribute to its success.

The apostle Paul's statements about the creation of humanity also clearly show that the first man and woman were supposed to live in a harmonious partnership:

"For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man. . .. Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord" (1.Cor.11:8-9, 11).

THE ADJUSTED RELATIONSHIP

After Eve took the forbidden fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and gave some to Adam, the relationship between them was altered forever. Eve's punishment for her disobedience was the loss of equal status in the relationship between man and woman:

"To the woman he said, I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; in sorrow you shall bring forth children; and your desire shall be to your husband, and he shall rule over you" (Gen.3:16).

Eve's punishment represents a significant change from the original intent of the man-woman relationship. Today,  instead of being an equal partner in the marriage relationship, the woman is to be second in authority to the man:  "he shall rule over you."

In his instructions to Timothy concerning how godly women should conduct themselves  and perform their role in the marriage and the church, Paul says,  "For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing [looking toward the Saviors birth], if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety" (1.Tim.2:13-15).

Because of  disobedience in the garden of Eden,  the relationship between men and women has been altered. The same rules of conduct and responsibility that existed in the garden no longer apply to the man-woman relationship. Instead of an equal partnership within the marriage, the man  must now bear the full responsibility before God as the authority figure in the marriage and the woman is responsible before God to follow her husband's leadership.

THE NEW COVENANT RELATIONSHIP

It is extremely important to place the New Covenant relationship between men and women in the proper context in order to understand the women's role in the church:

"For as the body is one, and has many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body [both men and women], whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many" (1.Cor.12:12-14).

"There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you be Christ's, then are you Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise" (Gal.3:28-29).

What Paul says  about spiritual equity within the Body of Christ is the inspired word of God; there is absolute spiritual equity among males and females. All the elect are coheirs with Christ and all are the Father's children; however, there is not equity in function and responsibility within the spiritual Body of Christ. In his first letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul explains the different functions and responsibilities that are within the congregation of God during the gospel age of salvation:

"And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which works all in all" (1.Cor.12:5-6).

"Now you are the body of Christ [both men and women], and members in particular. And God has set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues" (1.Cor.12:27-28).

Paul explains that various members within the Body of Christ have different functions and responsibilities, according to how God has placed each person within the church. Although all are members, not all have identical functions or responsibilities. The same is true of spiritual gifts; not all have exactly the same spiritual gifts or the same number of spiritual gifts. Functions, responsibilities, and spiritual gifts are given according to the will of God and for the spiritual needs and work of the church. The scriptures clearly show that there  is no equity in function, responsibility, and spiritual gifts within the church.  Jesus Christ administers these functions, responsibilities, and spiritual gifts as he sees fit to both men and women in order to accomplish his responsibility before the Father for the care and work of the church.

THE CULTURE OF THE DAY

In order to have a clear picture of the problem concerning relationships between men and women in the early church, it is necessary to know something about the culture that existed during the beginnings of the early church and the general attitude that most men had toward women at that time.

In the Greek culture, respectable wives led a very secluded life. They took no part in public affairs and rarely, if ever, appeared at meals or social occasions with men. Moreover, they were severely limited in their opportunities for recreation and other social contacts. They were mostly kept at home where conversation between the husband and wife was neither valued nor expected. Wives were expected to bear children and to serve the needs of men. Moreover, the Greek culture greatly influenced the Jewish culture and the relationships between men and women.

Another prevalent view at that time was the Stoic philosophy, which taught that women were a distraction and a temptation to men and should be avoided by men so they could be free to pursue things that make men superior.

Both the Greek and the Stoic philosophies underlie the traditional interpretations of the writings of Paul regarding women's roles in marriage and the church.

The question of educating women was never wholly settled in ancient Judaism, but rarely were women educated. A rabbinical teaching concerning women says, "It would be better to see the torah burnt than to hear its words upon the lips of a woman." And another says,  "Teaching a girl is the same as starting her on a road to depravity."

Within the practice and tradition of Judisim at that time, many Jewish men included the following statement in their prayers: "I thank God that he has not made me a Gentile, a woman, or a boar." Josephus also  records how the Jewish law declared that the wife "is inferior to her husband in all things."

With the understanding that the membership of the early church was  heavily influenced by the Greek and Jewish culture and the  Stoic philosophy of their day, and that a situation existed wherein women who were mostly uneducated and  had little exposure culturally or socially to the society around them were being called to be part of the body of elect,  it is easier to understand the cause of some of the problems between men and women in the early church. Furthermore, it can be understood  why Paul said the things that he did about women's participation in formal worship assemblies and their need to be taught how to conduct themselves in their new found freedoms within the Body of Christ.

THE MARRIAGE RELATIONSHIP

The apostle Paul clearly answers the question concerning who is to be in authority and the leader within marriage relationship and the congregations of God. In  Ephesians 5, Paul  addresses the problem of the day concerning the attitude of male superiority and, at the same time, he teaches the women in the body of Christ about their responsibility in the marriage role in relationship to their husbands:

 "Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything" (Eph.5:22-24).

Paul clearly shows that the husband is in authority over his wife just  as Jesus Christ is in authority over the church; therefore, it is the duty of the wife to be subject to this authority.

"Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourishes and cherishes it, even as the Lord the church: For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones"  (Eph.5:25-30).

Paul's instructions to the husband in verses 25-30 were in opposition to the culture of the day. Paul says that wives are not to be treated as property or second class citizens but they are to be treated as befits a child of God.  Paul says that, because the husband is in authority over his wife, he is responsible to love his wife in the same unselfish sacrificial way that Jesus loves humanity. The husband must diligently work to preserve and nourish his wife as Christ does the church. Moreover, a husband must love and care for his wife as he does his own body.

"For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined to his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband" (Eph.5:31-33).

There is no doubt that the husband is first in authority in a godly family unit and his authority must be tempered with love and concern for his wife as they work together to serve God and each other toward their goal of salvation.

An Erroneous Assumption

Some men feel that, because they are called the head of the wife and the wife is subject to them, they have absolute authority over their wives in everything. This erroneous assumption is the cause of much distress between men and women within the church. In order to clearly understand the authority of men in the church,  the original meanings of the Greek words translated into English as 'head', 'subjection to', and 'love', which are in Ephesians chapter 5 need to be understood.

The 'Head'

"For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church . . ." (Eph.5:23).

The Greek word used to designate a leader who has absolute authority over another person in a hierarchical structure is 'arche'. Paul did not use this word that describes absolute authority over another person when he spoke of the husband's authority in the marriage; he chose a word that has an entirely different meaning.

The English word 'head' in verse 23 is translated from the Greek word 'kephale', which denotes the head of a body. This word is also used to mean foremost in terms of position, much as a capstone might be used in construction; however, 'kephale' is never used to mean 'leader', 'boss', 'chief ' or 'ruler'. The 'kephale' was the man who went before the troops in battle; he was the point man. Thus, the intent here is that the husband is the head of the wife as the leader, the point man, the one out in front, not as the one who has absolute authority over another person's life.

Paul also says that the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church. As head of the church, Christ has deep love for the church and leads by example. Therefore, the man is to also lead  by example.

'Be Subject To'

"Therefore as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing" (Eph.5:24).

In verse 24, Paul, did  not use the Greek word ' Hupotasso', which means 'to subordinate';  he used the Greek word 'Hupotassomai', which connotes  a voluntary and willing support role and  implies 'allegiance to', 'to tend to the needs of ', 'to be supportive', 'to be responsive to'.

Paul also expressed the need for the same type of  'Hupotassomai'  attitude within the entire church when he said, "submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of the Lord" (Eph.5:21). The willingness to be supportive and responsive to the needs of one another in the church is necessary for there to be peace and harmony within the church.

'Love'

"Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it" (v.25). The English word translated as 'love' is the Greek word 'agapao', which is almost identical in intent and meaning to 'hupotassomai'. Both involve a suppression of  self interest in order to serve the needs of someone else. 'Agapao'  is being responsive to the needs of others with a willing sacrificial type of love;  whereby, one is willing to lay down their life for others.

The Husband-Wife Relationship

The husband-wife relationship is very important to one's spiritual success and one's relationship with the Father and Jesus Christ. The principles of leadership and responsibility before God are the same regardless of whether one or both mates are a child of God. Notice what the apostle Peter said about husbands and wives who are both children of God:

"In like manner, you husbands, dwell with them [the wife] according to knowledge, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered" (1.Pet.3:7).

Both men and women are called equally to be in the first resurrection. However, in regard to their specific roles, there are  some differences. This is important for the husband to understand, because if he does not have the proper attitude, behavior, and respect for his wife, his prayers to the Father will be  hindered, because he is not in harmony with God's laws concerning his relationship with his wife.

ORDER WITHIN THE ASSEMBLIES

In his first letter to the Corinthian church, Paul address a serious problem concerning disorderly conduct during formal assemblies of the church and gives the following instructions to eliminate this situation:

1. When men wanted to speak to the congregation in a foreign language, no more than 3 could speak during a formal assembly and only if there was an interpreter present to translate the foreign language on behalf of the congregation (1.Cor.14:27-28).

2. If any men felt they had an inspirational message to give to the congregation, no more than two or three could speak during a formal assembly—and only one at a time—and each should weigh the words of the others (1.Cor.14:29-32).

3. Women were to remain silent during formal assemblies:

"For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints. Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted to them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also says the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church" (1.Cor.14:33-35).

The English word 'silent' is translated from the Greek verb 'sigao', which means 'a voluntary silence' and connotes a request for silence  in the midst of clamor and disorder. Additionally,  Paul says that it is a shame for a woman to speak in church. The English word 'speak' is translated from the Greek word 'laleo', which means 'to talk'.

Paul approved of women being together with men during formal assemblies of the church, because in Christ they are one. However, these were new and radical ideas to both Gentiles and Jews. This newfound freedom led to a disregard for orderliness and courtesy during their formal teaching and worship assemblies, especially on the part of women who were not accustomed to listening to public speakers or participating in public worship. Paul instructed the women not to talk during the worship service: "Let them be subject, as also the laws says". The law that Paul referred to was probably the one is Genesis 3:16 that says, "To the woman he said—and your desire shall be to your husband, and he shall rule over you."

WOMEN'S FUNCTIONS AND RESPONSIBILITIES

Paul mentions many women in his letters. His comments about some of these women shows that they had a significant role in serving the church membership and supporting its work and the work of the ministry. These accounts also show that both men and women worked together to accomplish the goals of the church and its ministry. The following examples show  how women have been used in supporting the work that was being done by the apostles and other elders.

Euodias and Syntyche

"I beseech Euodias,  and beseech Syntyche, that they be of the same mind in the Lord. And I intreat you also, true yokefellow, help those women which labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other my fellow-laborers, whose names are in the book of life" (Phil.4:2-3).

Here, Paul shows that there were two women (Euodias and Syntyche) who worked with him as he proclaimed the gospel. Paul does not say exactly what these two did, but whatever they did, he considered them an integral part of his evangelistic team.

Aquila and Priscilla

Aquila and Priscilla were a married couple who helped Paul in his ministry and allowed the church to meet in their home. It is interesting that the husband Aquila is mentioned first in Paul's letter to the Corinthians and Priscilla is mentioned first in his letter to the Romans, which  may indicate special recognition for her service to the church:

"The churches of Asia salute you. Aquila and Priscilla  salute you much in the Lord, with the church that is in their house" (1.Cor.16:19).

"Greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus" (Rom.16:3).

Phebe

"I commend to you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea: That you receive her in the Lord, as becomes saints, and that you assist her in whatsoever business she has need of you: for she has been a succourer (helper) of many, and of myself also" (Rom.16:1-2).

Paul introduces  Phebe as a prominent member of the church who should be received with the courtesy and respect due to a child of God. Paul had  apparently sent her to Rome to accomplish some task for him and he instructed the elect there to assist her in the things that she had to do there. This account shows that some women in the church were trusted with responsibilities that would affect the church and its ministry.

Elderly Women to Teach the Younger

"But speak you the things which become sound doctrine: That the aged men be sober minded, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience. The aged women likewise, that they be in behavior as becomes holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed" (Tit.2:1-5).

The responsibility of the elderly women to teach the younger women was very important in the early church, because this was a time when most women were denied a formal education and were mostly considered as property. However, within the church it was to be different. Women were to be treated as coheirs and fellow-laborers in the faith. Therefore, there was a need for the older more experienced women to help the younger ones to develop this new freedom with discretion, modesty, and moral behavior in order to set a good example of a godly woman to the society around them.

THE AUTHORIZED LEADERSHIP OF THE CHURCH

Today, there is much confusion concerning who Jesus Christ has authorized as the spiritual leaders of the church and which of the various functions and responsibilities can be perform by men and women in the formal worship and teaching assemblies of the church.  This confusion is primarily due to the adoption of counterfeit Christianity's standards of worship by God's elect and a lack of a clear understanding by the elect concerning who is authorized to be a spiritual leader within the congregations of God.

Functions and Responsibilities

Under both the Old and New Covenants, the function and responsibility for the spiritual leadership of God's chosen people is assigned to men. The priesthood of ancient Israel were all males as were all the apostles, evangelists, and elders of the early church.

One only has to review the qualifications that were necessary to become and remain an elder in the early church to clearly understand that the spiritual leadership of the  Father's elect children is the function and responsibility of  men. There are no examples of a woman being an elder of the early church.

Although the spiritual leadership of ancient Israel and the early church were all males, the  office of a prophet is different, in that it is a function and responsibility apart from the priesthood and the ministry to the Body of Christ. A prophet is always directly chosen by God for a specific task, such as delivering a message of repentance to God's people, foretelling or delivering  punishment for disobedience to God, blessing or cursing people or nations on behalf of God, foretelling future events, and, in some cases, teaching spiritual lessons.

With the exception of the special calling of prophets and prophetesses, God has placed men in these leadership responsibilities. This structure was and is needed to mature all of the elect and carry out a work for God.

The role of teachers within the early church is used rather broadly. The New Testament shows that teachers can be men or women depending on what is taught and the circumstances surrounding the teaching process. For example,  older women are to teach the younger women (Tit.2:3-4).

The gifts of miracles, healings, helps, governments, and differences of tongues are all mentioned without reference to gender. The direct examples mentioned in the Bible are mostly men but women are also mentioned.

Can a Woman Teach?

Many men seize upon Paul's instruction to Timothy to prove that women in the Body of Christ are prohibited from functioning in any kind of teaching responsibility. However, this is not what this scripture says; otherwise, Paul would have been contradicting himself, because he told Titus to have the elderly women teach the younger women (Tit.2:1-5).

"A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have [usurp] authority over a man; she must be silent" (1.Tim. 2:11-12 NIV).

Verse 12 warns women to not usurp the authority of a man. The English phrase 'usurp authority' is translated from the Greek word 'authenteo', which literally means 'to act of oneself ' and figuratively means to 'dominate'. At one time this word described one who kills with his own hands. Later, it was used to indicate how one may act on his or her own authority and dominate others in an autocratic manner. 'To domineer' would be a more accurate translation of the Greek word 'authenteo'.

The end of verse 12 tells women to be silent. The Greek word used is 'hesuchia', which means 'a restful quietness, as in mediation or study'. Paul was telling women that they must learn, which requires that they be voluntarily quiet and respectful.

SUMMARY

The spiritual leadership of the early church had tremendous latitude as to how they directed and accomplished their responsibilities (1.Cor.12:5-6). Today, it is no different; there is great latitude in how formal worship assemblies are conducted, how the churches' membership interacts  with one another,  and what responsibilities are given to  men and women. The scriptures clearly show that women must actively participate in the work of the ministry of the church as long as this participation does not violate the letter or spirit of the law concerning spiritual leadership.

It is clear from the scriptures that men and women share an equal calling in Jesus Christ as shown in Galatians 3:28-29; 1 Peter 3:7 and 1 Corinthians 11:11. It is also clear there are many different functions and gifts given to  both men and women within the body of Christ, and that all are to work together in harmony to fulfill God's purpose. See 1.Cor.12:12-14, 27-28.

Although the primary leadership role within the body of Christ clearly lies with men who are called to those responsibilities as shown in Ephesians 4:11-14; 1 Timothy 3:1-5, 8-12 and Titus 1:5-9, the importance and the value of  women's participation in the performance of the churches' ministry and work should never be underestimated or undervalued, because women are also called by God to be coworkers in the faith  and coheirs of the Kingdom of God with Jesus Christ.

By Charles E. Barrett, file b8w7