An Examination of What the Bible Teaches about the
Roles of Men and Women in the Church
F. Wayne Mac Leod
Light To My Path Book Distribution
Copyright © 2018 F. Wayne Mac Leod
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without written
permission of the author.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®,
NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan.
All rights reserved worldwide. The “NIV” and “New International Version” are
trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™
“Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard
Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by
permission. All rights reserved.”
Scripture quotations from The Authorized (King James) Version. Rights in the Authorized Version in
the United Kingdom are vested in the Crown. Reproduced by permission of the Crown’s patentee,
Cambridge University Press
Title Page
1 - Creation and the Fall
2 – Worship in the Old Testament
3 - Jesus and Women
4 -The Early Church
5 -The Teaching of Paul in 1 Corinthians 11
6 - The Teaching of Paul in 1 Corinthians 14
7 - The Teaching of Paul in 1 Timothy 2
8 - Principles for Application
About The Author
he role of women in the ministry of the church has been a hotly
debated topic for many years. Many books have been written on
the subject. The arguments for the role of women in the ministry of
the church have been both Biblical and social in nature.
There are those who read the Biblical texts about women in ministry and
interpret them literally for all cultures and times. Other people see the
passages to apply to the culture of the time where women were not as
educated and free as they are in our day. Then there are those who go as far
as to say that the teaching of the Bible on this subject is outdated and no
longer relevant to our present-day church. Let me tell you at the very outset
of this study where I stand on this matter.
First, I believe that the Bible speaks authoritatively to all cultures and
times. The Bible will not become outdated with time. What Jesus taught is
applicable to us in our day as much as it was for the apostles who wrote it.
God reveals His purpose for the church in His Word. He has given us His
Word to be a guide in doctrine and practice until He returns. The principles
taught in Scripture, apply to all cultures. How those principles are lived out
may differ from culture to culture but all cultures in all times are expected
to walk in the truth taught in the Word of God. It is our authority in all
matters of doctrine and Christian life. If we are to understand the role of
women in the ministry of the church, we must look to the teaching of
Scripture as our standard and authority in what God requires.
Secondly, God expects us to obey His Word whether we like what it teaches
or not. We cannot pick and choose what we want to obey. Let me be honest
here. If you were to ask me what I felt about the place of women in ministry
I could give you two answers.
On the one hand I could tell you my opinion, based on my personal
experience and understanding. I could tell you about women who preach
and teach as well as any man I have met. I could speak of the incredible
impact of godly women on my life and faith. I could point you to examples
of businesses and countries that have been led by capable and gifted
women. I could tell you that men and women stand before God as equals. I
could remind you of the wonderful gifts God has given to women that need
to be used in the body of Christ.
On the other hand, I could take you directly to the Scripture. We could sit
down and discuss the teaching of Paul and the example of Jesus. As we do
so, I might find myself in a dilemma. Does what Paul teaches fit my
personal opinion? Do I agree with him about the role of women in ministry?
To be honest, there are times when I find that my opinion clashes with what
the Scriptures teach. What am I to do when I don’t like what I see in
Scripture? After careful examination of the teaching of Scripture my
obligation, as a follower of the Lord Jesus, is to surrender to it and accept
God’s way above my own.
Thirdly, we must realise that if we are to properly understand and apply the
Scriptures we must take into consideration the culture of the day in which
they were written. There are commands and teachings in Scripture that only
apply to us in principle. We read, for example, in Leviticus 19:27 that the
law of God forbade the trimming of the beard and the sides of one’s hair. Is
it wrong for a man to trim his beard? To go to this extreme is to misinterpret
the Scriptures. These laws were written in the context of the pagan religious
practices of Old Testament times. They were intended to keep God’s people
from imitating the practices of these pagan cultures and falling away from
God. The practice of trimming one’s beard would not be a stumbling block
today as it was in the days of Moses. Nor would this practice be required of
us as New Testament believers in our day.
In our examination of the teaching of Scripture on the issue of the role of
women in the ministry of the church, we need to apply all three of the
above- mentioned principles. We need to take God’s word at face value. It
is not outdated. We need to commit ourselves to obeying what we discover
in God’s word, whether we like it or not. Finally, we need to be careful not
to misinterpret Scripture by ignoring the cultural context in which it was
written. With these principles as our guideline let us examine the teaching
of Scripture on this difficult subject.
F. Wayne Mac Leod
he world view of the apostles and New Testament believers was
rooted in Judaism and it’s understanding of God and creation. This
is the cultural perspective from which we must begin. Genesis 1-3
recounts the story of the creation of man and woman and gives us some key
details about God’s purpose for them.
In Genesis 1 we read:
26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our
likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and
over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the
earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 So
God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created
him;male and female he created them. 28 And God blessed them.
And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth
and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over
the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on
the earth.” (Genesis 1)
This passage has several details we need to emphasize.
First, notice that God created “man” in his own image. The word “man”
used in this verse is the Hebrew word adam which refers not just to a
male but to human beings regardless of sex. This becomes clear in verse 27
when we read:
27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them. (Genesis 1)
Simply put, God created both a male and a female human being.
What is important for us to note is that the male and female were created in
the image of God. This distinguished them from the animals. They were
equal participants in this image. While they were biologically different, the
man and the woman both reflected God’s image. Having been created in the
image of God, they were both to be treated with the respect and dignity that
this implied. To treat either a man or a woman with a lack of dignity and
respect was to insult the God who stamped His image on their lives.
Notice secondly from Genesis 1:26-28 that God gave both the man and the
woman dominion over the earth:
26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our
likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and
over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the
earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
(Genesis 1)
God created a male and a female in His image and said: “Let them have
dominion.” The use of the plural is significant. Dominion over the animals
and the earth extended to both the man and the woman. In other words, both
Adam and Eve were given the responsibility to care for and administer the
affairs of the earth. They would work together as man and woman to care
for the earth that God had given them.
Notice finally from Genesis 1:28 that one of the roles God gave to man and
the woman was to multiply and fill the earth.
28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and
multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over
the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every
living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1)
This first man and woman were to have children together and fill the earth
with human beings. Understand that God could have made human beings in
such a way that they did not need each other to have children, but He didn’t.
He created man and woman so that they were dependant on each other to
fully obey the mandate of God. The man would not be able to bear a child.
The woman, however, was created in such a way that she could carry a
child and deliver it into this world. Her milk would feed and nourish that
child until he or she was old enough to eat solid food. The male and the
female would have distinct roles to play in this God-given mandate to
multiply and fill the earth.
The difference between man and woman is seen not only in their biological
difference but in how they were created. According to Genesis 2:7, man
was created from the dust of the ground:
7 then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and
breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a
living creature. (Genesis 2)
The creation of woman, however, was quite different. She was created from
21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and
while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh.
22 And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made
into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said,
“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.”
From Genesis 2:19 we understand that the Lord God created man, the
animals and the birds from the ground:
19 Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of
the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man
to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every
living creature, that was its name. (Genesis 2)
Woman, however, was not created from the ground but from man. Consider
what is taking place in this context. Adam has been discovering all kinds of
animals and birds in the garden. God, in fact, has asked Adam to give them
names. These creatures were all created from the dust of the ground. If God
had created woman from the dust of the ground and brought her to man, he
would have seen her as any other creature. When God took her from
Adam’s side however, He was distinguishing woman from every other
creature that Adam named. She was not like them. She was like Adam
because she had come from him.
We are not told how Adam knew that she was formed from his rib, but it is
quite clear that when he awoke he knew she had come from him and was
like him and not like the animals around him. This act distinguished woman
from the other creation. She was created for man as a partner to him.
There is another important detail we need to see from the account of the
creation of man and woman. Adam was the first to be created. While the
birth order of our children does not mean as much to us today, in the Old
Testament Jewish context, this order of birth was very important.
Listen to the Law of Moses in Numbers 18:
15 Everything that opens the womb of all flesh, whether man or
beast, which they offer to the Lord, shall be yours. Nevertheless, the
firstborn of man you shall redeem, and the firstborn of unclean
animals you shall redeem. (Numbers 18)
Every firstborn that opened the womb belonged to the Lord and was given
to the priest for His service. If the firstborn was an unclean animal the
owner would pay a price to buy it back from the priest and keep it himself.
If the firstborn was a male child, the parents would purchase him back from
the Lord at a set rate and that child would live with them. While everything
belongs to the Lord, the Lord claimed the firstborn of all families for
The other important detail we need to understand about the firstborn is that
he would inherit a double portion of his fathers estate. Consider the law of
Moses as recorded in Deuteronomy 21:
15 “If a man has two wives, the one loved and the other unloved,
and both the loved and the unloved have borne him children, and if
the firstborn son belongs to the unloved, 16 then on the day when he
assigns his possessions as an inheritance to his sons, he may not
treat the son of the loved as the firstborn in preference to the son of
the unloved, who is the firstborn, 17 but he shall acknowledge the
firstborn, the son of the unloved, by giving him a double portion of
all that he has, for he is the firstfruits of his strength. The right of
the firstborn is his. (Deuteronomy 21)
This double portion was not to be taken away from the firstborn. He was to
be honoured because he was the firstborn and given this double portion of
his fathers estate.
We see from this that the firstborn, according to Old Testament Jewish
culture occupied a very special place. As firstborn he would have a special
inheritance and obligation before the father. This cultural understanding had
an impact on the teaching of the apostles about the role of woman in
ministry. Paul refers to this in 1Timothy 2:12,13 where he tells Timothy that
the woman should learn quietly, for the man was created first. We will
consider this passage later. For now, simply notice that this cultural
understanding of the firstborn and his privileges is used by the apostles later
to teach about the role of women in the ministry of the church.
As we move on now to Genesis 2:18 we read:
18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be
alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” (Genesis 2)
God created Eve to be a helper for Adam the firstborn. As the firstborn,
Adam had a great responsibility to care for the earth the Lord had given. He
could not do this alone. He needed the assistance of the woman to help him
to fulfil his mandate as firstborn of creation. As a helper, the woman was
not inferior. Though her role was to be a helper, she was equal to Adam in
dignity before God for she too had been created in the image of God.
Together as firstborn and helper they would have dominion over creation.
What we see in Genesis is that even before sin entered the world there are
differences in roles and titles. Man and woman were both created in the
image of God, but they were not created at the same time or in the same
way. Adam was created first then Eve. Adam was created from the dust of
the earth. Eve was created from Adam’s bone. Adam is created as the
firstborn. Eve was created as a helper. This was God’s intention in a perfect
The world in which Adam and Eve lived did not remain perfect. This first
couple would fall into sin. Genesis 3 recounts the story of how Satan
deceived the woman and caused her to eat from a tree that God had
forbidden. She not only ate the forbidden fruit herself but gave some of its
fruit to her husband to eat as well. Listen to what God said to Adam after he
ate the forbidden fruit:
17 And to Adam he said,
“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life (Genesis 3)
The Lord God cursed the ground, Adam was to cultivate because he
listened to the voice of his wife. There are two points I want to make here.
First, we observe that God had an expectation of Adam as the first created
and spiritual head of this small family unit. He had a spiritual obligation to
care for and protect his family. Being a leader is a lonely position. It means
making decisions that are sometimes unpopular. While good leaders hear
the suggestions of those under them, they must make the final decision
based on what they feel is in the best interests of their company, church or
family. This will often go against the ideas suggested by others.
Second, Adam listened to the voice of his wife and ate the fruit, despite the
command of God. The accusation of God in Genesis 3:17 shows us that
God expected that Adam would act as the head of the family unit in the best
spiritual interest of that family. He failed in his obligation as leader and
spiritual head. He chose instead to surrender this decision joined his wife in
Genesis 3:17 is not only important for what it shows us about the headship
of Adam, but it is also used by Paul in 1 Timothy 2:14-15 to show the
reason why a woman should not have authority over a man in the church.
We will examine this later but for now the point is that this creation story is
seen by the New Testament writers to be the basis for their understanding of
the role of women in the ministry of the church.
We have seen God’s rebuke of man in Genesis 3:17. Let’s backup and listen
to what God would say to the woman after eating the forbidden fruit.
16 To the woman he said,
“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children.
Your desire shall be contrary to your husband,
but he shall rule over you.” (Genesis 3)
Because of her disobedience, the woman would give birth to her children in
great pain. Take note of the phrase: “Your desire shall be contrary to your
husband, but he shall rule over you.” Consider what is taking place in this
verse. God created woman to be a helper. With the entrance of sin, her help
is now changed to “contrary desire.” God created man as the firstborn head.
With the entrance of sin, that headship is changed to “ruling over.” The
entrance of sin did not change God’s roles for man and women, it did,
however, change how they exercised those roles. He would exercise his
headship as a sinful leader. She would stand beside him as a sinful helper.
She would suffer the consequences of man’s twisted understanding of his
God-given role as the first born. He would experience the consequences of
selfishness, pride and rebellion brought on by sin in the life of his helper.
For Consideration:
What Scriptural evidence do we have in the book of Genesis that both man
and women were created in the image of God. What is the implication of
both being created in God’s image?
Genesis tells us that God gave dominion to both the man and the woman
over the animals and the earth that He created. What is the implication of
this for both the man and the woman?
God created man and woman different with a need for each other to fulfil
His mandate. How do our differences as men and women complement each
other in this task? Why do we need each other?
What is the significance that woman was not created from the dust of the
ground but from man? How did this distinguish her from the animals God
presented to man in those early days? What implication does this have for
us today concerning chow we treat women?
Why is it significant that Adam was created first?
God created Eve as a helper? What was the implication of this in her
relationship to Adam?
How did God’s condemnation of Adam after the fall show us His
expectation of him as a spiritual head?
How did sin impact the roles God gave to man and women in the Garden?
For Prayer:
Take a moment to thank the Lord that He created us male and female in His
image. Ask Him to enable you to see that image and how both men and
women reflect this image in different ways.
Ask God to help us as men and women to fulfil His creation mandate to
care for this earth as managers of His resources. Ask Him how you can be
more faithful in this.
Take a moment to thank the Lord that He created us male and female. Ask
Him to help us to find a way to work harmoniously together according to
His purpose.
Ask God to help us to fulfil our creation mandate despite the sin that affects
us every day. Ask Him to forgive you for times you have not been faithful
to His creation purpose for you as a man or woman.
e learned from the account of creation in Genesis that the Lord
created man and women in His image to have dominion over
the earth. While both man and women were created in the
image of God, they were created differently and with distinct roles. Let’s
take a moment in this chapter to examine how these differences worked
themselves out in the worship of the Old Testament.
Women and Men Worshipping Together
In Exodus 14 after Israel was freed from slavery in Egypt, Pharaoh sent his
army after them in the wilderness. God opened the waters of the Red Sea
for His children to cross. When the Egyptians followed, the Lord caused its
watery walls to collapse on them.
Safely on the other side, Moses led his people in a song of thanksgiving and
1 Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the Lord,
“I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;
the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.
2 The Lord is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation;
this is my God, and I will praise him,
my fathers God, and I will exalt him.
3 The Lord is a man of war;
the Lord is his name. (Exodus 15)
After Moses led the people in this song of thanksgiving, Miriam took a
tambourine in her hand and led the women in a celebration dance.
20 Then Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a
tambourine in her hand, and all the women went out after her with
tambourines and dancing. 21 And Miriam sang to them:
“Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;
the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.” (Exodus 15)
This dance was part of the worship offered to God after He delivered Israel
from the Egyptian army. Miriam and the woman played a significant role in
this celebration.
We see a similar incident in 1 Samuel 18:6,7. David had just come home
from defeating the Philistines. As he entered the city of Jerusalem, the
women came out to great him. They sang and danced to celebrate the
goodness of God in giving them deliverance from their enemies.
6 As they were coming home, when David returned from striking
down the Philistine, the women came out of all the cities of Israel,
singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tambourines, with
songs of joy, and with musical instruments. 7 And the women sang
to one another as they celebrated,
“Saul has struck down his thousands,
and David his ten thousands.” (1 Samuel 18)
We learn from 2 Chronicles 35.25 that both men and women sang sons of
laments in the worship of the Lord God.
25 Jeremiah also uttered a lament for Josiah; and all the singing
men and singing women have spoken of Josiah in their laments to
this day… (2 Chronicles 35)
Among the group who returned to Jerusalem in the days of Ezra were 200
men and women singers (see Ezra 2:65). We also see in Judges 5:1 how,
after defeating King Jabin, Deborah the prophetess and Barak the military
commander sang a song of thanksgiving to the Lord.
The women of the Old Testament were free to worship alongside men. They
sang and danced in celebration of God and His great victories.
Men and Women Joining Together Under the Preaching
and Reading of the Word
Not only did women join men in the praise and worship of God in the Old
Testament, they also joined them in listening to the reading and
proclamation of the Word of God. In Deuteronomy 31.12-13 Moses
commanded the assembly of men, women and little ones to hear the reading
of the Law of God:
12 Assemble the people, men, women, and little ones, and the
sojourner within your towns, that they may hear and learn to fear
the Lord your God, and be careful to do all the words of this law, 13
and that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn
to fear the Lord your God, as long as you live in the land that you
are going over the Jordan to possess. (Deuteronomy 31)
It was the purpose of God that men, women and children learn through the
reading of the Word, how to follow Him and His purpose.
After Israel’s defeat at Ai in Joshua 8, Joshua assembled the people to
renew their covenant with the Lord their God. He read to them the words of
the law. Men and women were gathered together to hear the words of this
34 And afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessing and
the curse, according to all that is written in the Book of the Law. 35
There was not a word of all that Moses commanded that Joshua did
not read before all the assembly of Israel, and the women, and the
little ones, and the sojourners who lived among them. (Joshua 8)
Ezra the priest, as well, had men and women assembled before him to listen
to the words of the Book of the Law:
1 And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the
Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the
Law of Moses that the Lord had commanded Israel. 2 So Ezra the
priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women
and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of
the seventh month. 3 And he read from it facing the square before
the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of
the men and the women and those who could understand. And the
ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law.
(Nehemiah 8)
Nehemiah 8 goes on to tell us that as the words of the law were being read,
the Levites instructed the people in the meaning of these words. The context
clearly indicates that men and women were in the assembly that day.
Women assembled with men under the reading and preaching of the Word
of God.
Women and Men Publicly Confessing Sin
There are at least two occasions in the Old Testament where women and
men are involved in public confession and weeping for sin. In the passage
we have just quoted from Nehemiah 8, we understand that both men and
women gathered to hear the Word of the Lord. Notice the response of “all
the people” to the preaching and teaching of God’s Word on that day:
9 And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and
scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people,
“This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.”
For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law.
(Nehemiah 8)
“All the people” wept as they heard the words of the Law. These
individuals, men and women, were touched by the truth of the word.
Together men and women grieved for their sin against God.
Ezra 10.1 makes this even clearer:
1 While Ezra prayed and made confession, weeping and casting
himself down before the house of God, a very great assembly of
men, women, and children, gathered to him out of Israel, for the
people wept bitterly. (Ezra 10)
Both men and women were being touched by the Spirit of God. Together
they confessed their sin and grieved before God.
Women and Men Bringing Offerings to the Lord
Women, like men were encouraged to bring their offerings to the Lord.
20 Then all the congregation of the people of Israel departed from
the presence of Moses. 21 And they came, everyone whose heart
stirred him, and everyone whose spirit moved him, and brought the
Lord’s contribution to be used for the tent of meeting, and for all its
service, and for the holy garments. 22 So they came, both men and
women. All who were of a willing heart brought brooches and
earrings and signet rings and armlets, all sorts of gold objects,
every man dedicating an offering of gold to the Lord (Exodus 35)
29 All the men and women, the people of Israel, whose heart moved
them to bring anything for the work that the Lord had commanded
by Moses to be done brought it as a freewill offering to the Lord.
(Exodus 35)
The Lord made no distinction between the offering brought by a man and
the offering brought by a woman. All whose hearts moved them were free
to bring their offerings to the Lord.
Men and Women Making Vows to the Lord
In Numbers 6.1-4 we read that both men and women were able to make
special vows of separation to the Lord as a Nazirite.
2 “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When either a man
or a woman makes a special vow, the vow of a Nazirite, to separate
himself to the Lord, 3 he shall separate himself from wine and
strong drink. He shall drink no vinegar made from wine or strong
drink and shall not drink any juice of grapes or eat grapes, fresh or
dried. 4 All the days of his separation he shall eat nothing that is
produced by the grapevine, not even the seeds or the skins.
(Numbers 6)
The Nazirite vow was a special vow of separation to the Lord for a period
of time and for a particular purpose. It is quite clear from Numbers 6:2 that
this was a vow of separation that either a man or a woman could take. There
was no distinction made for this vow.
While women could make vows to the Lord, we read in Numbers 30 that
there were some restrictions for women in the making of vows. The Law of
Moses stated that the vow of a woman who still lived at home with her
parents could be annulled by her father if he disapproved:
3 “If a woman vows a vow to the Lord and binds herself by a
pledge, while within her fathers house in her youth, 4 and her
father hears of her vow and of her pledge by which she has bound
herself and says nothing to her, then all her vows shall stand, and
every pledge by which she has bound herself shall stand. 5 But if
her father opposes her on the day that he hears of it, no vow of hers,
no pledge by which she has bound herself shall stand. And the Lord
will forgive her, because her father opposed her. (Numbers 30)
The same principle applied to a woman who had a husband. If the husband,
as the head of the household, disapproved of the vow his wife made, he
could annul the vow:
6 “If she marries a husband, while under her vows or any
thoughtless utterance of her lips by which she has bound herself, 7
and her husband hears of it and says nothing to her on the day that
he hears, then her vows shall stand, and her pledges by which she
has bound herself shall stand. 8 But if, on the day that her husband
comes to hear of it, he opposes her, then he makes void her vow that
was on her, and the thoughtless utterance of her lips by which she
bound herself. And the Lord will forgive her. (Numbers 30)
In the matter of making vows to the Lord, while the woman was free to do
so, she would need to have the approval of the head of her household,
whether she be an unmarried woman or a married woman.
Exhorting Men in Spiritual Matters
On several occasions in Scripture, women were used by the Lord to exhort
men who failed in their responsibilities before God. In Exodus 4.24-26 we
read how the Lord sought to put Moses to death. His wife Zipporah,
however, took a flint knife and cut off the foreskin of their youngest son,
appeasing the wrath of God and saving her husband’s life. Moses had failed
in his responsibilities as spiritual head of the family by not circumcising
their son. His wife rebuked him by saying: “Surely, you are a bridegroom of
blood to me” (Exodus 4:25). Were it not for her actions, Moses may never
have reached Egypt. When Moses failed in his obligation, she took on his
role and spared the family. While this responsibility belonged to the male
head of the family, in this case, Zipporah, as the wife took it on because of
her husband’s failure to be the leader he needed to be.
Deborah exhorted Barak to take courage and fight their enemy Sisera and
his forces. It appears that Barak was fearful of taking on this responsibility.
Deborah, however, challenged him to be faithful to the direction of the Lord
and the responsibilities he had as a military commander.
6 She sent and summoned Barak the son of Abinoam from Kedesh-
naphtali and said to him, “Has not the Lord, the God of Israel,
commanded you, ‘Go, gather your men at Mount Tabor, taking
10,000 from the people of Naphtali and the people of Zebulun.
(Judges 4)
Barak would only agree to go to war against Sisera if Deborah went with
8 Barak said to her, “If you will go with me, I will go, but if you will
not go with me, I will not go.” 9 And she said, “I will surely go with
you. Nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to
your glory, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.”
Then Deborah arose and went with Barak to Kedesh. (Judges 4)
Because he did not trust the Lord and take this responsibility willingly,
Barak would not be the one to defeat Sisera. Instead, Jael, the wife of Heber
would kill this great military commander when he came to her tent for
refreshment and rest (see Judges 4:17-22). Were it not for the exhortation of
Deborah, Sisera might have ravaged the land. She needed to challenge
Barak to be the leader God had called him to be. These women had a vital
role to play in challenging the man of their nation and families to be the
leaders God had called them to be.
Women Ministering at the Tabernacle
Women also had a ministry in the tabernacle. We have references to their
ministry at the entrance of this tent of meeting. We read, for example of
how Bezalel made the basin used for the tabernacle out of the mirrors of the
women who ministered in the entrance of the tent of meeting:
8 He made the basin of bronze and its stand of bronze, from the
mirrors of the ministering women who ministered in the entrance of
the tent of meeting. (Exodus 38)
Eli, the priest had sons who served as priests. The Scriptures describe them
as worthless men who did not know the Lord (1 Samuel 2:12). One of their
abominable sins is described in 1 Samuel 2:22:
22 Now Eli was very old, and he kept hearing all that his sons were
doing to all Israel, and how they lay with the women who were
serving at the entrance to the tent of meeting. (1 Samuel 2)
Eli’s sons slept with the women who were serving at the entrance of the tent
of meeting. Obviously, these women were not present at the entrance of the
tabernacle for prostitution, otherwise they would have been quickly
removed for this was clearly against the Law of Moses. Exodus 38:8
describes what they were doing as “ministry.” 1 Samuel 2:12 defines it as
While we are not certain as to the exact nature of the ministry these women
had at the tabernacle entrance, it is assumed that they had a role of serving
in clean-up or in being door keepers. Some commentators see the
possibility that they were involved in singing and dancing for the special
festivals celebrated throughout the year. Whatever their function was, it was
in important part of the overall ministry of the tabernacle.
Beyond their function at the entrance of the tabernacle, women played other
service roles in the religious life of the Old Testament. In Exodus 35.25,26
we read about the women who spun goat hair to make material necessary
for the construction of the tabernacle.
25 And every skilful woman spun with her hands, and they all
brought what they had spun in blue and purple and scarlet yarns
and fine twined linen. 26 All the women whose hearts stirred them
to use their skill spun the goats’ hair. (Exodus 35)
These women are described in Exodus 35:25 as “skilful women”. Notice,
however, that this was a voluntary act on the part of these women. Verse 26
tells us that it was those whose hearts stirred them to use their skill, that
made this significant contribution. They are recognized for their skill,
tender heart, and generosity.
Women of the Old Testament also played a significant role in the ministry
of hospitality. The Lord commanded a widow in Zarephath to provide for
the needs of His servant Elijah.
8 Then the word of the Lord came to him, 9 “Arise, go to Zarephath,
which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. Behold, I have commanded
a widow there to feed you.” (1 Kings 17)
God called this widow to support the prophet and provided him with a
home. This would have been a tremendous blessing for Elijah in his time of
Elijah’s successor, Elisha, experienced the same kind of blessing when he
ministered in the region of Shunem. Listen to the account of what happened
in 2 Kings 4:
8 One day Elisha went on to Shunem, where a wealthy woman lived,
who urged him to eat some food. So whenever he passed that way,
he would turn in there to eat food. 9 And she said to her husband,
“Behold now, I know that this is a holy man of God who is
continually passing our way. 10 Let us make a small room on the
roof with walls and put there for him a bed, a table, a chair, and a
lamp, so that whenever he comes to us, he can go in there.” (2
Kings 4)
Not only did this wealthy woman generously provide food for Elisha but
she spoke to her husband about making a small room on their roof with a
bed, table, chair and lamp where Elisha could stay every time he passed
through the region. She used her wealth to offer hospitality to the servant of
God. We get a glimpse of how grateful the prophet was in 2 Kings 4:13-17
when he asked her what he could do in return for her great generosity. The
woman had never had a child but when Elisha committed this matter to the
Lord, she and her husband were blessed with an heir.
In 1 Samuel 1:9-11 we meet the mother of Samuel the prophet, at the
temple where she had come to pray for a son and make a vow to dedicated
him to the Lord. She would return the following year to offer this son
Samuel to full-time service for the Lord (1 Samuel 1:26-28). She could not
have made a greater sacrifice. Her son, would become one of the greatest
prophets the nation of Israel knew.
These women were faithful servants of God. They devoted themselves to
using their skills and resources for the Lord. Their time, effort and
generosity were blessed by the Lord for the expansion of His kingdom.
Women receiving Words from God
Samson’ s mother received a visit from an angel in Judges 13. This angel
told her that she would give birth to a son who would deliver Israel from
their bondage.
Miriam, the sister of Moses is described in Exodus 15:20-21 as a
prophetess. She took her tambourine and led the women of the day in
dancing and singing worship and praise to the Lord who had delivered them
from the Egyptians.
Listen to the ministry of Deborah the prophetess as described for us in
Judges 4:
4 Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging
Israel at that time. 5 She used to sit under the palm of Deborah
between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the
people of Israel came up to her for judgment. (Judges 4)
Notice the phrase, “the people of Israel came up to her for judgment.” The
idea here is that these individuals needed to resolve their problems and
wanted to know what the Lord’s direction was for them. They would come
to Deborah and she would consult the Lord on their behalf.
After discovering the Book of the Law in the long-forsaken temple, King
Josiah commanded the priest Hilkiah to inquire of the Lord for him (2
Kings 22:12,13). The priest and his servants found Huldah the prophetess
and consulted her. She sought the word of the Lord for these men and they
returned with this word to the king (see 2 Kings 22:14-20). Through
Huldah, the Lord would remind these men of the judgement to come.
God spoke through prophetesses to the male leadership of their day
challenging them to turn to God. The prophetic gift was not limited to men.
Nor was a woman with this gift limited to using her gift for women alone.
Women Deliverers
The Bible recounts the stories of numerous women who brought
deliverance to Israel from her enemies. Were it not for Deborah, Barak
would not have defeated the army of Sisera (see Judges 4). Jael killed the
military commander Sisera, relieving Israel from this cruel oppressor (see
Judges 4.18-23). Abimelech, the evil king, was killed by a woman who
threw a stone on his head from the city wall of Thebez (see Judges 9:50-
55). Abigail’s wise advice kept David from wiping out the entire family of
Nabal (see 1 Samuel 25). These women were used of God bring great
victory to the people of God in times of crisis.
From what we have seen women were very active in the religious life of
Israel. There were, however, certain restrictions place on them. These
restrictions fall under two main headings.
The first set of restrictions placed on women in the Old Testament related to
ceremonial uncleanness. To be fair, this restriction was also for men.
There were many ways a man or woman could become unclean. Touching
the body of a dead person, for example, would make a person unclean
before the Lord and as such they would not be permitted to bring their
offering to the Lord (see Leviticus 9:6). If an individual was diagnosed with
a skin disease, they could be proclaimed impure by the priest and forbidden
to go to the tabernacle or even circulate among the people of God (see
Leviticus 13). Another means of becoming unclean was by touching an
unclean animal or insect (see Leviticus 11:13-40). These instances could
keep an individual from worshipping the Lord until they were purified.
Beyond the above examples were cases of bodily emissions. For example, if
a man had a bodily discharge he was considered impure. This discharge
might be a discharge of mucus or pus from a wound and likely related to an
infection of some kind in his body. This man was unclean. Anything he sat
on would be unclean and anyone who touched him would be unclean (see
Leviticus 15:2-13). This principle would also be true for a woman.
An emission of semen would also make a man unclean. If this was the
result of a sexual relationship with a woman both the man and the woman
were unclean and would have to bathe in water and wait until the evening
until they were pure again (see Leviticus 15:16-18).
A woman was considered unclean for seven days during her monthly
period. Anyone touching her during that time or anything she sat or laid on
would become unclean as well (see Leviticus 15:19-30).
When a woman gave birth to a child, the Law of Moses declared unclean
while she recovered. If the child was a male child, she would be unclean for
40 days. If the child born to her was a female, the mother would be unclean
for 80 days (see Leviticus 12:1-8). It is clear from Leviticus 12:4 that
during this time of impurity the woman was not permitted to go near the
sanctuary of God:
4 Then she shall continue for thirty-three days in the blood of her
purifying. She shall not touch anything holy, nor come into the
sanctuary, until the days of her purifying are completed. (Leviticus
These times of purification limited how often the woman could serve at the
tabernacle or bring an offering to the Lord. The Lord required that those
who worshipped Him (male or female) be ceremonially clean. Anyone who
refused to adhere to these standards was to be cut off from the assembly of
God’s people:
20 “If the man who is unclean does not cleanse himself, that person
shall be cut off from the midst of the assembly, since he has defiled
the sanctuary of the Lord. Because the water for impurity has not
been thrown on him, he is unclean. (Numbers 19)
We saw in the first chapter that God created Adam to be the firstborn and
spiritual head. The woman was created to be a helper. The law of the Old
Testament protected this relationship.
While a woman was free to make a vow to the Lord, that vow could be over
ruled by a male head in her life. If she was still living with her father, her
father had the right to overrule her vow. If she was married and her husband
did not approve of her vow, he too could overrule it and it would no longer
be binding upon her (see Leviticus 30.3-16). This reaffirms the headship of
the male in the family unit and his responsibility to protect those for whom
he was responsible.
In the Old Testament, the spiritual welfare of Israel was overseen by the
priests and Levites. By command of God, Aaron and his sons were chosen
to be priests (see Exodus 29:1-9). The Lord also chose the male descendants
of Levi to assist the priests in their regular duties (see Numbers 3:5-39).
Women were not given this role but were, like the rest of the people of
Israel, to submit to the spiritual leadership God had ordained for the nation.
What was true of the spiritual life of Israel is also seen in the family life of
the nation as well. The man was considered the head of the family unit.
4 And there shall be with you a man from each tribe, each man
being the head of the house of his fathers. (Numbers 1)
3 So Moses sent them from the wilderness of Paran, according to
the command of the Lord, all of them men who were heads of the
people of Israel. (Numbers 13)
The wife was seen in the Old Testament to be under the authority of her
20 But if you have gone astray, though you are under your
husband’s authority, and if you have defiled yourself, and some man
other than your husband has lain with you, 21 then’ (let the priest
make the woman take the oath of the curse, and say to the woman)
‘the Lord make you a curse and an oath among your people, when
the Lord makes your thigh fall away and your body swell… 29 This
is the law in cases of jealousy, when a wife, though under her
husband’s authority, goes astray and defiles herself. (Numbers 5)
The law of Moses protected the headship of the man in the spiritual
leadership of the nation of Israel and in the family unit. All who were under
this headship were to be submissive and respectful of this leadership,
whether they be male or female.
Women were quite active in the religious life of Israel. They worshipped
alongside men. They were instructed alongside men. They joined men in
the public confession of sins and brought offerings to the house of the Lord.
They could make religious vows like a man or enter the temple to pray.
They ministered in the entrance of the house of God and in a variety of
other service ministries in the spiritual life of Israel. God used women to
exhort men in their spiritual walk and challenge them in their role as
spiritual leaders. He gifted them with prophetic gifts and used them to
deliver His people from their enemies. Clearly, women played a vital role in
the spiritual life of Israel.
Despite these many avenues of ministry, the spiritual leadership of the
nation fell to man at this period of history. This was not for cultural reasons
but by the choice of God to call men to this position.
For Consideration:
What freedom did women have to worship and serve the Lord in the Old
Testament? Give some examples.
Give some examples of women who encouraged or exhorted men in their
position as spiritual leader? Was this right for them to do? Does exhorting
or correcting a person in authority mean that we are not in subjection to
their leadership?
Give some examples of women who were used by God to bring deliverance
to His people?
How does the Law of Moses protect the headship of the male spiritual
Does the fact that God ordained a male spiritual leadership imply an
oppression of women? Were men also to submit to the spiritual leadership
God has established over them?
Does headship imply position of privilege or responsibility of service? If
headship is the responsibility to care for those to whom it is responsible,
then can we say that the spiritual head is more important than those it
For Prayer:
Thank the Lord for the freedom He gave to women who worship and serve
Him in the Old Testament. Take a moment to thank the Lord for the women
He has used in your life to exhort you and draw you closer to Himself.
Ask the Lord to give you a proper perspective on headship in the Scripture.
Ask Him to teach you to respect and honour those who care for your
spiritual well-being.
Ask God to forgive you for times you have tried to take authority that was
not yours to take. Ask Him to give you contentment to walk in His purpose
for your life.
ne of the first references we have in the New Testament to the
attitude of Jesus toward woman is seen in the Sermon on the
Mount where He said:
27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit
adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman
with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his
heart. (Matthew 5)
Jesus told men that if they were to look lustfully at a woman they were
guilty before God of committing adultery in their hearts. In this statement
He attacks the evils of pornography and lustful thoughts. He commanded
men to be respectful in how they thought and responded to women with
dignity and respect.
In Deuteronomy 24 we read:
1 “When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no
favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and
he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and
sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house
(Deuteronomy 24)
Notice how the Law of Moses permitted a man to divorce his wife when
she “found no favour in his eyes,” or when he found something “indecent in
her.” The question of what this meant was open to great debate in the Old
Testament. This lead to men divorcing their wives for a variety of reasons,
leaving them for fend for themselves without support and income.
Jesus addressed this matter in the Sermon on the Mount when He said:
31 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a
certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that everyone who
divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes
her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman
commits adultery. (Matthew 5)
According to Jesus, a man was to remain with his wife and support her. He
was not to divorce her unless she was guilty of sexual infidelity. Jesus
protects women from being sent away because a husband lost interest in
her. He expected that a man who, in that culture, was the bread winner,
provide for the needs of his wife despite their disagreements. He was to
honour her and his commitment to her. It is clear from this teaching of Jesus
that women had the right to be treated with dignity and respect.
In Matthew 26.6-13 Jesus was in the home of Simon the leper when a
woman anointed his feet with a very expensive perfume. The disciples took
offence at the waste of a precious perfume. Jesus, however, took the side of
the woman and defended her actions.
10 But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the
woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. (Matthew 26)
Luke 7 describes a time when Jesus was in the home of a Pharisee when a
“woman of the city, who was a sinner,” approached him and anointed his
feet, kissed them and wiped them with her hair. The Pharisees were
appalled at her behaviour and could not believe that Jesus would let such a
woman even touch Him. Again, Jesus took her defence:
44 Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see
this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my
feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her
hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not
ceased to kiss my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but
she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore I tell you, her
sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who
is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 And he said to her, “Your sins are
forgiven.” (Luke 7)
Jesus attacked the attitude of the men toward this woman and showed them
how her actions were more noble then theirs. He did not hinder her from
approaching Him. He accepted her, despite her reputation in the community.
He loved her and accepted her offering. To Jesus, she was more sincere and
loving than any man in that room.
In Luke 10 were read the story of two sisters by the name of Mary and
Martha. They welcomed Jesus into their home. Martha kept very busy
serving Jesus and the disciples while Mary sat at Jesus’ feet listening to his
teaching (Luke 10:39).
Eventually, Martha began to feel angry that Mary was leaving all the work
of serving the guests to her. She interrupted Jesus’ and asked Him to tell
Mary to help her serve these guests.
40 But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up
to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to
serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” (Luke 10)
Jesus told Martha, however, that Mary was doing the right thing. He would
not ask her to leave His side to busy herself with the duties of serving the
41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious
and troubled about many things, 42 but one thing is necessary.
Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away
from her.” (Luke 10)
Jesus recognised Mary as an intelligent human being who was interested in
learning the truth. He accepted her as His student. She had every right to sit
at His feet like the men around her to learn. Jesus did not send Mary to the
kitchen to serve the guests. He delighted in her presence as a student of the
Word He taught.
In John 4 we see Jesus in a religious discussion with a Samaritan woman.
They discussed the difference between the Samaritan and Jewish
understanding of worship. They also touched on the issue of the Messiah
who was to come. When the disciples, who had been shopping, returned to
Jesus and found him in a deep discussion with a Samaritan woman they
were surprised:
27 Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was
talking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you seek?” or,
“Why are you talking with her?” (John 4)
Notice from verse 27 that the disciples marvelled that Jesus was talking
with a woman. No mention is made here in this verse about the fact that she
was a Samaritan. Jesus had entered a theological debate with a woman. The
disciples found Jesus freely conversing with this woman about deep issues.
He allowed her to question Him and in turn responded to her questions.
Jesus saw her as an intelligent human being, fully capable of learning and
discussing spiritual matters. This was quite radical for the day.
In John 8.1-11 the Pharisees brought a woman caught in the act of adultery
to Jesus. They were using this woman to find a way to condemn Him. The
interesting thing about this scene is that we have no mention of the man
who was caught with her. The Law of Moses was very clear that both the
man and the woman were to be put to death:
10 “If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both
the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.
(Leviticus 20)
Knowing the intentions of the Pharisees, Jesus responded by saying: “Let
him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her” (John
8:7). One by one they left the woman alone with Jesus. When everyone had
left Jesus spoke to the adulteress woman:
10 Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no
one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said,
“Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”
(John 8)
Jesus saw the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and knew that they were guilty
before God as well. If this woman deserved to die for sinning against God,
then so did the Pharisees. Jesus did not treat her any differently because she
was a woman.
Jesus saw both men and woman on an equal standing when it came to their
need for forgiveness and salvation. Speaking to the men who looked down
on the “woman of the city, who was a sinner” in Luke 7:37, Jesus said:
47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for
she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 And he
said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 Then those who were at
table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who
even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has
saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7)
While the men present in that room refused to accept her, Jesus assured her
that God had accepted her. She could go her way knowing that her salvation
and forgiveness had been guaranteed.
The religious leaders of the day condemned Jesus for healing a woman on
the Sabbath day (Luke 13). Jesus defended his actions before these leaders
15 Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of
you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and
lead it away to water it? 16 And ought not this woman, a daughter
of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from
this bond on the Sabbath day?” (Luke 13)
The men present that day would treat their donkey better than a woman.
They would break the Sabbath law to feed and water their donkey but
would not lift a hand to help a woman in need on the Sabbath. Jesus calls
these men hypocrites. Notice how Jesus addressed the woman. He calls her
a “daughter of Abraham.” In calling her a daughter of Abraham, he is
identifying her with the covenant made with Abraham. She was a partner
with men in the salvation that would come through that covenantal
agreement. She had an equal standing in salvation. She was an equal
covenant partner with men in the promise God made through Abraham.
In His teaching, the Lord often used illustrations that could be understood
by the women of His day. He used the illustration of a woman mixing yeast
into flour to describe the kingdom of God (see Matthew 13.33). On another
occasion he told a parable about a woman sweeping out her house to find a
lost coin (Luke 15.8). Still on another occasion he spoke about two women
grinding at a mill to illustrate what would happen in the last days (Matthew
The use of these illustrations shows us that Jesus wanted to include women
in his teaching. He often spoke to a mixed crowd. He was sensitive to both
women and men in His teaching.
We understand from Matthew 27:55 and Luke 8:3 that a group of women
followed Jesus and his disciples as they preached the gospel. These women
contributed greatly to His ministry:
55 There were also many women there, looking on from a distance,
who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him, 56 among
whom were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and
Joseph and the mother of the sons of Zebedee. (Matthew 27)
1 Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages,
proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God.
And the twelve were with him, 2 and also some women who had
been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene,
from whom seven demons had gone out, 3 and Joanna, the wife of
Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others,
who provided for them out of their means. (Luke 8)
These women ministered to Jesus as He and His disciples travelled from
place to place. They gave financially and practically to Jesus out of their
own resources.
When the Lord Jesus was crucified, women prepared spices and ointments
for His burial:
55 The women who had come with him from Galilee followed and
saw the tomb and how his body was laid. 56 Then they returned and
prepared spices and ointments. On the Sabbath they rested
according to the commandment. (Luke 23)
In John 20.10-18 we read how Mary Magdalene discovered the empty tomb
of Jesus and announced this to the disciples:
1 Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the
tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been
taken away from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter
and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them,
“They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know
where they have laid him.” (John 20)
While her understanding of the events was incorrect, Jesus would meet her
at the tomb and reveal Himself personally to her.
11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she
stooped to investigate the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white,
sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at
the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She
said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know
where they have laid him.” 14 Having said this, she turned around
and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15
Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you
seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if
you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I
will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and
said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). 17
Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to
the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending
to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary
Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the
Lord”—and that he had said these things to her. (John 20)
Jesus commissioned Mary to announce His resurrection and ascension.
What a privilege it was to announce the greatest event in history. This
resurrection and ascension would bring salvation to the ends of the earth.
There was never a more important message to proclaim. “He is risen
victorious over sin and death. He is ascended to sit at the right hand of the
Father on high.” Jesus entrusted this message to Mary Magdalene.
Jesus held women in high regard. He taught that woman should be
respected and treated with dignity. He showed no partiality in justice. Men
and women were equals before the law in the mind of Jesus. He taught
women and men together and made no distinction in their intellectual
abilities. According to Jesus, both men and women were equal partners in
salvation. Women ministered to Jesus and were commissioned by Him to
announce the good news of the gospel.
Divorce, in the New Testament would not be as easy. Men would not be
able to divorce their wives for any reason. Wrong, lustful thoughts about
women were forbidden and seen on a par with adultery. By His example,
Jesus stretched the cultural boundaries regarding the place and role of
What is important to note, however, is that while Christ elevated the
position of women and used them in the proclamation of the gospel, He still
placed the leadership of the church in the hands of men. He did not choose
women for the role of apostle or disciple. In this regard, Jesus respected the
principle of male headship, taught in the Old Testament. While we may
speculate as to why this is the case, He is our example and reveals to us the
purpose of God for the early church.
For Consideration:
What does the Sermon on the Mount teach us about how Jesus held women
in high regard?
On numerous occasions Jesus took up the defence of women when they
were mistreated or accused by the men of His day. What does this teach us
about the importance of justice and truth over gender?
Jesus openly taught and debated with women of His day. He also used
illustrations in His teaching that the women of His day could related to.
What does this say us about how He viewed their intellectual ability?
Jesus commissioned Mary Magdalene to tell the disciples about His
resurrection and ascension? Why was this message significant? What does
it teach us about the equality of men and women in the sharing of the
Is it significant that despite the high regard in which Jesus held women, He
did not choose women to be among His twelve disciples?
For Prayer:
Have you ever found yourself showing favouritism based on gender? Ask
the Lord to forgive you and help you to see everyone for the qualities God
has given them.
Consider the conversations Jesus has with women who were treated as
outcasts in their society. Thank the Lord that He accepts us as we are, male
or female, saint or sinner.
Ask the Lord to help us to accept His purpose for the church and its
leadership. Ask Him to reveal the purpose He has for you personally.
omen played a significant role in the early church in the days
of the apostles. Both men and women came to faith in the
Lord Jesus and were being added to the church.
14 And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes
of both men and women (Acts 5)
It is important to note the phrase “were added to the Lord.” Both men and
women were added to the list of believers becoming part of the church.
There is no distinction made between the sexes. This may not strike us as
significant in our culture and time but let’s compare this verse with other
passages in Scripture. Consider Matthew 14:21 and Matthew 15:38 for
21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women
and children. (Matthew 14)
38 Those who ate were four thousand men, besides women and
children. (Matthew 15)
Notice in these verses that the men alone are numbered. The women and
children were not counted at that time. Consider also the story of the
children of Jacob who travelled to the safety of Egypt because of a great
famine. The number of those who arrived in Egypt is recorded for us in
Genesis 46:26-27;
26 All the persons belonging to Jacob who came into Egypt, who
were his own descendants, not including Jacob’s sons’ wives, were
sixty-six persons in all. 27 And the sons of Joseph, who were born to
him in Egypt, were two. All the persons of the house of Jacob who
came into Egypt were seventy. (Genesis 46)
A close examination of this passage will show us that the only way you can
get seventy people from the list of those who arrived in Egypt is by
omitting the women and children. In fact, two sisters mentioned in verse 15
and verse 17 (Dinah and Serah) are not counted. Verse 26 tells us that the
number of those who travelled to Egypt did not include the wives of Jacob’s
In the church of the New Testament, women were numbered with the men.
They were equal partners and members of the body of Christ.
From Acts 2:17-18 we understand that this partnership in salvation
extended to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. According to Peter, the Holy
Spirit would be poured out on both men and women.
17 “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
18 even on my male servants and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.
(Acts 2)
Another sign of this equality is seen in the fact that both men and women
are now permitted the covenantal sign of baptism.
12 But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about
the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were
baptized, both men and women. (Acts 8)
Notice in Acts 8:12 that both men and women were baptised. As you may
recall, under the Old Testament, it was the young men only who were
circumcised as a sign of the covenant. Women did not have a sign of
identification with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This was to
change under the new covenant. Both men and women were baptised. They
are now equal partners in the sign of baptism.
Women joined men in prayer, worship and Bible instruction in the New
Testament church.
13 And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room,
where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew,
Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of
Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. 14 All
these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together
with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.
(Acts 1)
The apostles gathered with women in the upper room to pray. Notice in
verse 14 how they devoted themselves to prayer, together with the women.
The implication here is that this was not just a one-time event but a regular
When persecution broke out in the early church under Saul, both women
and men were being dragged off to prison for their faith in Jesus Christ:
3 But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house,
he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison. (Acts
1 But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples
of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the
synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the
Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. (Acts
4 I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to
prison both men and women (Acts 22)