In recents weeks a public debate manifested due to a comment made by John MacArthur, a prominent Christian minister, admonishing Beth Moore, another prominent minister, to “Go home” being she is a woman and according to his understanding of Scripture should not be publicly teaching others – namely men. Within recent history, discussion of whether a woman can be in leadership of the Christian ekklesia (assembly/congregation/church) has indeed sparked much controversy. Such comments propagated by both Mr. MacArthur and Mrs. Moore as well as many other Christian voices caused me to dig into Scripture for myself regarding this matter. I invite you to grab your Bible and peruse some critical Scripture that you may not have encountered before, but will certainly be foundational as we come to some fascinating conclusions as well as further reflection.
For better or worse, according to the Bible, husbands and fathers are responsible for their wives and daughters under their roof. Since the beginning of time, Abba Father (God) has set an order and heavy responsibility on a married man and father. Consider how not only was Adam created first, but even more so when Eve was deceived by Satan and consequently she unknowingly deceived her husband, God addressed and held Adam accountable FIRST of the two. As another similar example, Queen Jezebel of Israel also greatly influenced and deceived her husband, King Ahab, for evil. Ahab, being both King and husband, having authority over both the nation and his wife, had to answer for his decisions influenced by his wife with his own life – FIRST. According to 1 Kings 21:17-22:40, King Ahab perished due to his decision to go along with his wife’s evil advice. Much later and according to the prophecy given through Elijah, Jezebel also perished for her influencing sin (2 Kings 9:30-37). Whether us ladies like it or not, God has a prescribed order of authority, one we should not be eager to usurp. Through the creation account, we see God established the husband as being held accountable for his wife. Likewise, we see in Genesis 3:16 God affirms the husband will rule or have authority over his wife. This does not mean to lord over her in an abusive capacity, although tragically some do, rather, it is designed to best protect and serve her.
The Torah expounds on this concept bringing clarity through an entire chapter of instructions on this important matter. Numbers 30 clearly affirms a father or husband has final say over his daughter or wife within his household. This passage lists in great detail a variety of scenarios defining a young(er) woman indeed has a voice, but if her father or husband overrules her decision, then her decision/oath/agreement/plans are annulled. Conversely, if a woman’s husband or father remains silent or vocally supports her decision, then she is bound to it and held accountable to the LORD (as is her male authority). Interestingly enough, Abba Father, our ultimate authority, also clarifies in Numbers 30:9 that any woman who is a widow or divorced is under her own authority being she is clearly no longer under her father’s roof or a husband’s and answers directly to Abba (God). We see a similar tangible example with Miriam, the unmarried, older prophetess, for Scripture list her a being a prophetess and much older sister of Aaron and Moses, but does not list a husband nor mentions anywhere in the text of living with her father (see Exodus 15:20) upon the timeline of Numbers 12. This is presumably why in Numbers 12, Miriam is listed first as speaking against Moses (Numbers 12:1) and is directly held accountable for what she speaks by being disciplined by Abba Father when He afflicted her with leprosy. Kindly, both her brothers intercede on her behalf and she is healed after her prescribed affliction has run it’s seven day course (Numbers 12:9-15). Notice in verse 14 of Numbers 12, the LORD inferred if her father had been alive, he himself would have rebuked her or overruled her ill words towards her brother, Moses. But since her father, is no longer present, Abba Father directly addresses her and holds her accountable, which correlates with Numbers 30:9. It could also be argued she was disciplined for attempting to usurp her authority, as a female, over Moses, a man, by stating in Numbers 12:2, ” ‘Has the LORD indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us also?’ And the LORD heard it.” Notice in the text, Aaron also agreed and said such things, but he was not disciplined – was Aaron not disciplined because he was High Priest or because he was a man or both? Why was just Miriam disciplined? I suspect the greater offense was more so because a) Miriam was a woman attempting to usurp a man’s God-appointed authority and b) she was an unmarried, child of God, and directly accountable for herself being she had no male covering, which the Apostle Paul speaks of as well in 1 Corinthians 11:3 and 1 Timothy 2:12-13:
- “But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.” 1 Corinthians 11:3 (NKJV)
- “And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. For Adam was formed first, then Eve.” 1 Timothy 2:12-13 (NKJV)
Speaking of teaching or having authority, in Jewish tradition, a Rabbi, or teacher is to be highly respected with much authority and influence over his students or followers just as Yeshua/Jesus was over his disciples. A teacher naturally has great influence over their audience so a woman teaching would not only influence others, but would naturally assume authority over them as well. The Bible states a woman should not teach men and therefore, have authority over a man. Nevertheless, Scripture permits women, regardless of their marital status, to teach other women (Titus 2:3), which incidentally is how Beth Moore’s ministry began.
Regardless of the debate of male or female teachers being permitted, the Apostle James advises no one be eager to be a teacher for with much authority comes much accountability to God (James 3:1). Similar sentiments have been expressed as the burden of the prophet (Jeremiah 20:7-10; Habakkuk 1:1; Nahum 1:1).
Furthermore, based off Scriptures from both the Old and New Testaments, it would appear women can operate in many crucial roles and be utilized in their giftings so long as the following parameters are met:
- A woman can never usurp the authority of a man, especially the authority of her husband or father assuming she dwells in his house still. A few Biblical examples would be the life of Eve, Miriam, and Jezebel, as discussed previously. Another positive example would be Queen Esther and how careful, yet successful, she was when presenting her plea to the King, her husband.
- If a woman’s husband or father supports her calling/plans/purpose, she may proceed in operating in that office/calling. If a woman’s husband or father does not support her, his authority, his voice supersedes hers. If she is authentically called by the LORD to do x, y, or z, her God-given male authority will see such giftings in her and support her, per the LORD’s will and plan for her life. A few Biblical examples would be Deborah, a married prophetess (Judges 4:4), Huldah, a married prophetess (2 Kings 22:14), Isaiah’s wife and prophetess (Isaiah 8:3), Lydia, a presumably married seller of purple who hosted Paul and Barnabas in her home (Acts 16:11-15), Priscilla, a married female apostle (Acts 18:1,28:26, Romans 16:2), Junia, a married, female apostle (Romans 16:7), and Phillip’s unmarried prophetess daughters (Acts 21:8-9). **It should be noted, however, that we have no Biblical examples of unmarried, divorced, or widowed female apostles – the only two female apostles defined in Scripture are married. Though fascinatingly enough, Priscilla seems to be the dominating apostle since the Apostle Paul lists her name before Aquila twice (Acts 18:1; Romans 16:2).
- If the woman is unmarried and not living in her father’s household, or divorced, or widowed, she is directly under the authority of Abba Father and not an appointed man (Numbers 30:9). Nevertheless, she still cannot usurp a man’s authority as exampled by Miriam. She will directly be held accountable to God for her decisions. She may operate in her giftings/calling without a man and does not have the benefit of a man protecting her or wisely guiding her like a 2nd opinion. Consequently, she is held accountable in all that she does, for better or worse. By not having an active male overseeing her, it does not mean she is of less value or a dangerous threat. It simply means she is responsible for herself. In addition to Miriam (Exodus 15:20), a few Biblical examples could be Anna, the widowed prophetess (Luke 2:36-37), Mary Magdalene, a (presumably unmarried) supporter and evangelist of Jesus/Yeshua (Luke 8:1-3, 23:49,55-56, 24:1-11; Matthew 27:55-56, 61, 28:1-10; Mark 15:40-41, 16:1-11; John 19:25, 20:1-18), Susannah a (presumably unmarried) supporter of Yeshua/Jesus (Luke 8:1-3), Phoebe, a (presumably unmarried) female administrator of sorts (Romans 16:1-2), Mary, a (presumably unmarried) female laborer in the body of Christ (Romans 16:6), Mary and Martha, the unmarried sisters who ministered to Jesus/Yeshua (Luke 10:38-42; John 11; Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:1-9) and the divorced Samaritan woman evangelist (John 4:27-42).
We can see in various Biblical examples, there is much evidence for women having critical roles in certain positions of leadership primarily as prophetess, whether married or unmarried, throughout all of Scripture (front and back of the Book) or operating at the very least in the gift of prophecy (I Corinthians 11 and 14); however, there is no supportive Biblical examples of unmarried/divorced/widowed female apostles or female pastors.
Similarly, Scripture clearly states the office of a bishop/elder (overseer) or deacon (those in leadership of the ekklesia/church) ought to be held exclusively by men, though it seems to indicate they should be married men (1 Timothy 3:2-7, 8:11-12). Most likely because these elders and deacons will be pastoring many married couples and their families so they too will need marital and parenting experiences in addition to the Spirit to guide them in their counsel. Conversely, it would seem acceptable, if not preferable, for male apostles and prophets, who are known to be sent to various places and people, to be unmarried as was the Apostle Paul (I Corinthians 7:1-2, 7-9, 26-27,32-38), numerous other apostolic men, and the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 16:2) or the prophets Elijah and Elisha. It is difficult to easily go where you are called to go in a variety of places or to specific people when you need to tow along a household of people and belongings, though certainly possible – just look at Abraham (Genesis 15:20). Likewise, it is better for a never-married woman to remain unmarried if at all possible so that she too may serve the Lord in whatever called capacity without distractions (1 Corinthians 7:34). Even so, a wife and mother can still serve the Lord by ministering to her immediate family first then others just as a husband and father is called to do.
Furthermore, women ministers, regardless of their marital status, ought to err on the side of caution or the appearance of usurping the men’s authority by avoiding teaching men. Nevertheless, a woman can prophesy to a man as exampled by Deborah, Huldah, and Anna so long as it is clear her motive is not to usurp a man’s authority, but rather assist him in his direction per the LORD. It is not the prophetess’ job to convince a man of the word of the LORD, but simply to deliver it. How a man responds is between him and the LORD – the man will have to answer for himself accordingly. A word of caution to the budding prophetess: In the event a man rejects your prophecy, be careful, dear prophetess, not to usurp God-appointed authority by speaking against that man. The LORD will deal with him, not you. Assuming it was indeed a word from the LORD, that man will know in God’s time a prophetess was in his midst.
In summary, based off my conclusions, women can certainly possess many leadership roles according to Scripture. Some such positions seem to indicate marital stipulations while others do not, such as a woman may be a prophetess, an evangelist, or a teacher (of other women or children), regardless of her marital status, and yet as an apostle, it would appear she would be one along with her husband, not on her own. Other roles woman may not occupy such as an elder/bishop or deacon. It would make Biblical sense to not have a single/unmarried/divorced/widowed female Apostle establishing churches since a woman, per the LORD, cannot function in the government of the ekklesia as an elder/bishop or deacon herself; hence, the need for an apostolic husband. Together, the two can produce much fruit just like in natural marriage produces children. Whatever a woman’s role may be specifically in an ekklesia type of setting, ultimately, there will be a man presiding over her per God’s design for her own benefit. It is best to have the men as the head of the ekklesia with many women serving alongside the men, for just like the home, the two will become one and produce much spiritual fruit. Neither a man or woman can produce fruit in of themselves – they must be in unity to do so – they need each other and should respectfully honor and serve one another. Otherwise, the ekklesia will emulate a single-parent household. By becoming one in leadership, the men and women of the ekklesia will produce many healthy spiritual generations to come!
“Nevertheless, neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord.” 1 Corinthians 11:11 (NKJV)
Food For Thought: If a husband is supportive of his wife being a female teacher/preacher of both women and men, such as the circumstance with Beth Moore, Joyce Meyer, Paula White, Marilyn Hickey, or Christine Caine as a few examples, does that contradict Scripture? How does Numbers 30 apply to that type of situation considering the husband did not annul her intention? If he approves, then, in theory, she is not usurping his authority, correct? Would the supportive husband be wrong in approving his wife to teach/preach? What are your thoughts?
For further study, explore: 1 Timothy 3:4-5; Ephesians 5:22-33; Titus 2:5; 1 Peter 3; 1 Corinthians 11:3, 5