The following discourse on women preachers is given in Christian love to my brothers and sisters in Christ who have a different point of view on this subject. I share this because of a deep love for the Word of God and a desire to see His Word honored and obeyed in the Christian Church. It is a response to the Foursquare Church document: “Women’s Leadership Ministry.” The Foursquare Church is a firm defender of women preachers and pastors in the public assembly of believers. The Bible, however, does not support it.
Because of the length of the discourse, I have divided it into three parts.
To begin, I’d like to look at comments made about five key OT women that appear to give Biblical support to the Foursquare Church’s position on women preachers and pastors.
We will let God’s Word light our path.
It is true that Miriam was one of the three God sent before Israel in the Exodus (Mic. 6:4). She was called “the prophetess” when she led the women of Israel with timbrels and dance and told them to “sing to the Lord” after His great victory at the Red Sea (Ex. 15:20,21).
We see her thoughtful concern for her infant brother hidden among reeds along the Nile, and her decisive action (Ex. 2:1-9).
Yet, perhaps the most extended portion of the Bible associated with her, relates to her insubordination to Moses and God (Num. 12). She and Aaron spoke against Moses. The two of them questioned why he was the principle leader of Israel. They saw themselves as equally gifted and equal in authority. They were unwilling to submit to the order God had arranged for leadership. The Lord’s anger burned against them and Miriam became leprous. After her death, this is what she is remembered for (Deut. 24:9). Lot’s wife is remembered in a similar way (Luke 17:32). In both cases it is a lesson given, that serves as a warning to others.
Deborah was a prophetess and a judge (Jdgs. 4:4). The Foursquare document states: “Her assistant, Barak, deferred to her primary leadership because he recognized her gifts and calling (Judg.4:8).” This resembles the spin on a curve ball. According to Deborah’s own words, it was not to Barak’s credit, but his shame, that he would not accept the Lord’s charge unless she came along. She said, “I will surely go with you; nevertheless, the honor will not be yours in the journey you are about to take, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hands of a woman” (4:9). Sisera’s death at the hands of Jael (5:24-27) was God’s punishment for Barak’s disobedience. Had he accepted his responsibility, in obedience to the summons Deborah issued from God, Sisera would have died at his hands.
The nature and outcome of this story is due to Barak’s refusal to obey God’s command and believe God’s promise: God’s command for him “to go and march to Mount Tabor” and God’s promise that he would give Sisera and his army into his hand. He refused to do this if Deborah did not go with him (4:8). God’s command didn’t include taking Deborah along (see 4:6,7). His response revealed his weakness as a commander, a disobedient heart and a lack of faith. In fact, it also revealed that he was NOT deferring to Deborah’s leadership or acknowledging her gifts. If he had, he would have obeyed her without waffling.
Deborah understood the role of Barak and the role of men in general. She also understood her own role. She sang, “I, Deborah, arose, a mother in Israel.” Not a commander or a soldier. She wasn’t trying to fill a man’s boots. She was a mother who stirs her apathetic, sometimes spineless, children, so they will get out of bed and do something. By the time she did this, Israel had sunk into “great degradation and disgrace” (Keil and Delitzsch). This was largely due to the sad state of men. But Deborah herself may also be somewhat to blame. She was the judge at the time of Sisera’s severe twenty-year oppression (4:2-5). Israel had chosen “new gods.” Their enemy was “in the gates.” “Not a shield or a spear was seen among forty thousand” (5:6-8).
After the victory, Deborah and Barak sang that once again “the leaders led in Israel” (5:2), referring as much as anything to men like Barak who were supposed to lead. She had deferred to him to lead the troops and fight the battle.
That he did.
This gives rise to two questions. If Deborah played the leading role and is celebrated for that, as the Foursquare authors claim, what is Barak doing in Hebrews 11? And why isn’t Deborah there?
Regarding the prophetess Huldah, the document says, “Huldah. . .advised both the high priest and the king in regard to their futures (II Kgs. 22:14-20).” Huldah’s message was to King Josiah who inquired of her (II Kgs. 22:11-13,15,18-20). And she was not giving him advice. She was reporting a direct revelation from God.
On Esther the document states: “Esther, who became queen of the Persian empire, saved the lives of her people through her bravery, and she also established the 13th and 14th of Nisan as a celebration of that deliverance. The Feast of Purim is observed to this day.”
There is a “glaring omission” in this narrative. His name is Mordicai. All along Esther was submitting to his direction and instruction. A practice clearly in keeping with the Old and New Testament teaching on a woman’s submissive role (I Pet. 3:1-6; Titus 2:1-5; I Tim. 2:8-11; I Cor. 11:3). There is no doubt about Esther’s bravery. But she moved forward in response to Mordicai’s directives (Est. 2:10,20,22; 4:6-8,13,14). She was also submissive to her husband the king, showing deference toward him, unlike Vashti (ch. 1).
The edict, allowing the Jews to defend themselves and gain their deliverance, was written and sent out by Mordicai (8:7-14).
The Jews in the far-reaching kingdom of Ahaseurus observed the 14th and 15th (not the 13th and 14th) of Adar (not Nisan) before any decree to that effect was made. The custom originated with them (9:15-18). Mordicai established it as a yearly observance (9:20-23,26-28). Then Esther and Mordicai jointly confirmed this with a decree (9:29-32) that is ascribed to her (9:32).
Mordicai’s greatness grew until he was second in the kingdom to King Ahaseurus (8:15; 9:3,4; 10:2,3). The story of Esther actually begins and ends with Mordicai (2:5; 10:3).
How could Mordicai be missing in a historical account about Esther? The authors of “Women’s Leadership Ministry” have succeeded where Haman failed.
5. Isaiah’s Wife
Of Isaiah’s wife the document says, “Isaiah referred to his wife as ‘the prophetess,’ showing full acceptance of her gift and call (Isa. 8:3).” “Showing full acceptance of her gift and call”? This embellishment of Scripture is not helpful. Only the words “the prophetess” appear in the text. It may be nothing more than Isaiah’s way of referring to his wife.
No prophetic utterance from her is given here or anywhere else.
Isaiah 8:3 simply says, “I approached the prophetess, and she conceived and gave birth to a son.” Their sexual rendezvous, the conception and birth of a son, and the prophetic meaning of the name God told Isaiah to give him is the subject given to us in the context. Nothing more.
If she is a prophetess (in the gifting sense), one would wonder why there are no passages attributed to her in the book that bears her husband’s name, especially a husband who “fully accepted her gift and call”!
Other questions could also be raised. If she shares a prophetic gift equally with her husband, why isn’t she the one writing the book? Why doesn’t he defer to her (I Cor. 14:32)?
There is also another problem. There is no historical record of anyone, a king or otherwise, ever calling on Isaiah’s wife because of her “prophetic gift.”
We agree with R.C.H. Lenski who wrote, “There is little material here for the advocates of women preachers in the Christian Church” (Interpretation of I Timothy, page 572).
The Foursquare draft follows with this heading: “Did Paul disagree with Peter concerning Joel’s prophecy?” The prophecy is Joel 2:28-32 which Peter refers to in Acts 2:16-21.
The “dilemma” is formally stated in the following paragraph in the document.
“If, as some assert, Paul absolutely forbade women to speak in a gathering of believers, he would have been rejecting Peter’s announcement [revealing Joel’s fulfillment on the Day of Pentecost: ‘I will pour forth my Spirit on all mankind, and your sons and daughters will prophesy, and your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams; even on my bond slaves, both men and women, I will in those days pour forth of my Spirit and they will prophesy.’]. . . This point needs to be made firmly because, if that were the case, we would be forced to decide whether we believe Peter or Paul is correct. If Paul forbade women to prophesy in a service, then he stood in direct opposition to Peter. And if Peter’s announcement was correct, then Paul must not have been inspired when he commanded women to remain silent in a church service. Of course the Foursquare Church does not believe that there is a contradiction in the Holy Spirit’s words through these two great apostles.”
With this the authors of “Women’s Leadership” evidently feel they have been dealt “a winning hand,” something that could lock up the opposition for good and throw away the key! What good is the belief I have if Paul has Peter on the ropes and is punching him in the nose?
This is the message we find when we turn over the black spot placed in our hand: “If Paul absolutely forbade women to speak in a gathering of believers, he would have been rejecting Peter’s announcement.”
Paul says, “I do not permit a woman to teach, or to have authority over a man, but to be in subjection,” and, “It is not permitted for a woman to speak.” Peter quotes from Joel, who says, “Your sons and daughters, both men and women, will prophesy.” Paul is referring to a woman’s conduct in church (ἐν ἐκκλησία). Peter has nothing to say about where a woman prophesies. The words “church” and “service,” used above, appear nowhere in Acts 2. Peter doesn’t tie a woman’s prophesying to a place anymore than he does a young man’s visions or an old man’s dreams. (Who wants an old man to dream while he preaches?) These are all related to one’s personal experience with God.
Peter simply quotes Joel’s fulfillment. Paul will address practical aspects related to the proper use of these gifts in a public assembly in his letters to churches. There is no tension here but what we ourselves create because of an unwillingness to simply believe and obey the Word of God.
We see the fulfillment of Joel’s prophesy unfold in Philip’s four daughters (Acts 21:8,9). No church is linked to this. Paul and his fellow travelers witness the four sisters prophesying while they are staying at Philip’s house.
We know that women were prophesying in Corinth. At the point in his first letter to the Corinthians where Paul makes a reference to this (I Cor. 11), he is expressing neither approval or disapproval. He is simply addressing a practice that relates to “heads” (vv, 1-16), the actual pearl in the oyster he is aiming to get at. You might think of the “women prophesying” component as the oyster shell. To help you understand, let’s look at it in another way. . .
Imagine that I am approaching you as we walk a path from opposite directions through the woods. It is a beautiful sunny day. But you are unaware that there is a tiny twig on your nose. If I say to you, “Friend, you have a twig on your nose: you might think about brushing it off,” I am not approving of your nose. (It is red and unusually conspicuous because you forgot to apply sun block.) I’m asking you to remove the twig that is on it. When Paul instructs women in the Corinthian church not to prophesy or pray with their heads uncovered, the issue, or the focus of the question he is addressing (the pearl), is not women prophesying and praying, but whether it is proper for their heads to be uncovered when they do. Which, by the way, is related to God’s order of authority and the submissive role He has ordained for them (I Cor. 11:3f.). The context reveals the scope of this. It is much bigger than the relationship between husbands and wives. It reflects the way we were created and what we learn from our natural endowments.
Submitting ourselves to God’s order is also important because elect angels are observing what we do. They expect obedience from us. That we will behave differently than the rebels among them that abandoned their “posts.” They do what God says without hesitation. They view disobedience, or any lack of submission we display, as a strange thing (Luke 1:19,20).
The issue of women prophesying in church is not dealt with in chapter 11. Paul draws a bead on that in chapter 14. There he says it is best that women not speak at all “in the churches” (vv. 34-38). You will observe that this falls in line directly behind the instructions he gives for prophesying in church (v. 29-33).
One final word on Peter and Paul, so we don’t have to sing “Will the circle be unbroken?”
In comparing Peter, in Acts 2, and what we see in Paul’s epistles, we need to be careful that we are not comparing apples with oranges, as I have already pointed out. There is another dissimilarity between them. Joel’s fulfillment relates to prophesying. Paul’s primary concern relates to teaching. The key point Paul is making in his letters–the bull’s eye he is aiming at–is this: women are to be in submission, and are not to teach or have authority over men in a called-out assembly of believers (a church).
There is a reason for this. Nowhere in the NT, that I am aware of, does a woman ever hold a proper position as a teacher of men in a public assembly of believers. For a woman to prophesy is one thing. For her to teach is quite another.
In the NT a distinction is made between prophets and teachers. “He [Christ] gave gifts to men. . . He personally gave [to the church] some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers [the last two are one office]” (Eph. 4:8,11; also see I Cor. 12:28 and Rom. 12:6,7). Prophesying is not the same as teaching. Though they may be similar in some ways and, at times, even overlap to some degree, there is a fundamental difference between them. When a woman prophesies, she is not teaching. Like Old and New Testament prophets and prophetesses, she is proclaiming a direct message from God. She is a vessel pouring out a divine message conferred to her from above. She resembles something rare today: a news reporter who declines to make personal comments. Being a prophet or prophetess is all about being a mouthpiece, like the silver tube you stick in the end of a trumpet. God speaks through you. You have nothing of your own to say. That is the fundamental nature of a prophet.
A teacher, on the other hand, explains, expounds, elucidates, and gives the meaning of a Biblical text–often a prophetic word–the written Word of God. (Prophets may not even know what they’re saying: I Pet. 1:10-12.) A teacher draws truth from God’s words and “feeds [God’s] sheep,” the practical reason for combining the call of pastor and teacher. Because of the great value God has placed on His Word (Ps. 138:2), it is both a wonderful privilege and an awesome responsibility never to be taken lightly. A teacher’s brain is highly engaged, whereas a prophet, in some ways, simply opens his mouth. A teacher’s need for prayer, and his dependence on God, lie at the heart of his call. He is putting his hands on a plow. Hence the words: “those who labor in word and teaching” (I Tim. 5:17).
Prophets can’t get it wrong, if they are speaking directly from God. But teachers can go terribly wrong and mislead great numbers of people, like a train that jumps the tracks and carries many to their death. Hence Jesus’ strong rebuke to the church at Thyatira for “letting [doing nothing to stop] the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and is teaching and causing my servants to go astray” (Rev. 2:20,21). Jesus does not take feeding His sheep lightly. “Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture” (Jer. 23:1). It is not wise to take up a mantel that was not meant for us. Some women will say, “But God has called me to preach to all the flock!” If God gives calls contrary to His Word, what point is there in preaching the Word?
I know that the authors of the document defending women preachers see this in a different way.
I have read it more than once and given them a chance to make a case from the Bible.
I am deeply grieved by the treatment the Word of God is given, most notably in those portions of the document addressing key passages in I Corinthians and I Timothy. According to the authors, the time for these texts has passed. Though we can “learn” from them, they belong to the first-century church (Corinth and Ephesus, to be exact) when women had problems unique to their time and situation. Evidently they were problems women in churches no longer have. Despite the testimony of Scripture about its own longevity (I Pet. 1:23-25), now the primary value of these passages is historical. That is that. The directives Paul gave to these churches on this subject are no longer relevant. In some odd way they never were. That Paul ever had to tell women in churches to be silent was an aberration from the start. Right? (I am taking the authors’ point of view here.) He never intended to be at odds with Peter. But for two brief moments in Achaia an Asia Minor he may have been. If one follows the Foursquare reasoning to its logical conclusion.
Many of the arguments given, to support the authors’ grounds for their beliefs, are based on conjecture and presupposition. Whether it is intentional or not, it is a classic “twisting” of God’s Word. The Scripture passages themselves must be problematic or there would be no need for this. Something about them demands that they be either adjusted or squared or deposited in the past. They cannot be allowed to stand unchallenged! There is something about them that is objectionable, even reprehensible. What they represent is not acceptable. Not for us. The authors work tirelessly to make them conform to an “ideal.” This, in itself, informs the reader that the battle is with the Bible, not someone else’s belief! A child would simply believe. These force the Word to bend until it is acceptable. Then they believe. They believe what they want to believe.
I realize that I must be careful about making claims like this. But it is not without reason. I have looked closely at this document. Love speaks truth to a brother.
God can defend His own Word. But it is too precious to me to remain silent.
Let us look at statements in the Foursquare draft relating to I Corinthians.
A Look at I Corinthians 11
Paul commends Corinthian believers in I Corinthians 11:2 “for being reminded of him in all things, and holding fast to the traditions, just as [he] delivered to [them].” The writers of the document say this “indicates that the churches had been trying to obey him in [the] matter” he deals with in the verses that follow: that is, women having their heads covered while they prayed or prophesied. By tying the verses that follow, to his commendation, one has Paul’s approval for women prophesying in church. (Or does he? We will take a closer look at that shortly.) Unfortunately, the commendation he gives in verse 2 refers to issues he addressed in the past. It is a wise way for him to prepare the soil for what he is about to say.
Verse 3 begins a discussion on something new. Though it was a matter of concern Paul was aware of in the Corinthian church, it was a subject he had not yet addressed formally. “But I want you to know. . .” is like turning a corner on a street. We are now somewhere we have not been before. The word “but,” itself, separates the commendation from the verses that follow, and sets them apart, like a boat released from its mooring.
Also notice the plural form the authors use in reference to the church at Corinth (“the churches”) at the beginning of their quote two paragraphs above. There was only one church in Corinth. I am not aware of the authors making a reference to, or including, other churches that lie beyond Corinth. Suggesting that Corinth had more than one church can be helpful to eliminate problems that may arise from the plural form Paul uses in I Corinthians 14:34. The goal is to tie a verse like that solely to Corinth: to carefully guard so that no other church will slip unintentionally under its authority. Almost like guarding against a cancer.
Regarding verses 4 and 5 of I Corinthians 11, the document states:
“This portion of the text indicates that some of the women had decided that, if men did not have to cover their heads during worship, then neither did they. Of course, theologically, they were right. But, in the culture of the day, removing their head covers was an inappropriate social statement. . . [W]hen the women of Corinth sat in church with their heads uncovered, they pressed cultural sensitivities too far. . . Paul’s sole concern was the social statement made by their uncovered heads.”
This quote begins, “This portion of the text indicates that some of the women had decided that, if men did not have to cover their heads during worship, then neither did they.” This is assumed. It is not stated in the text.
(There are also other issues. It’s possible some men had long hair.)
This is followed by, “Of course, theologically, they were right.” The assumption that was made is treated as if it is true and used to make a theological statement. But if some women did draw this conclusion: theologically, they were wrong.
A lot is made of “cultural sensitivities” and Paul’s “sole concern” about “the social statement” women will make. If that is the main thing on Paul’s mind, why is he constantly providing a theological basis for the directives he gives to men and women in this passage, even though cultural elements are indeed present in some practices he addresses (most notably, a woman’s head covering)? You wait with bated breath, don’t you, for my answer?
Behind it all is the Creator’s design relating to headship and submission, the manner in which we were made (found in the first chapters of Genesis): the natural order God has ordained. There is no reason theologically for women not to have their heads covered. It is not, in this case, merely an adherence to a custom or a legalistic regulation. For a Christian woman in Corinth it symbolizes God’s design relating to her submissive role and her gender. Men and women should always present themselves in a manner appropriate to their God-given role and gender. (At times cultural practices may correlate with this.) It is important to God that a woman show her submission. And that a man also give evidence for his obedience. This reflects our relationship to Him.
See for yourself the theological (rather than cultural) basis Paul gives for his instructions: “A man aught not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God”; “But the woman is the glory of man” (she is made from him: her covering is a symbol of submission); “Man does not originate from woman, but woman from man”; “Man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake” (these provide a Scriptural basis for a woman’s submission); “The woman ought to have authority on her head because of the angels” (a display of submission); “Does not nature itself teach you that it is a shame for a man to have long hair?” (that is, hair hanging from his head like a woman’s–confusing God-given roles and genders).
Social and cultural patterns migrate. They shift like a cloud of birds spinning through a blue sky. If the culture relating to a woman’s head covering changes, a woman’s hair is given to her for a covering (11:15) and a symbol of her submission. The Creator’s design holds fast through time’s shifting sands, like an anchor secured beneath a rambling sea.
The quote above concludes with this: “Paul’s sole concern was the social statement made by [women’s] uncovered heads” (my underlines). As I have already shown, this is a bold departure from what Paul actually wrote. It also creates problems. Paul says, “The woman ought to have authority on her head because of the angels.” What do angels care if women make a social statement? Their concern is theological: the glory of God.
As for the matter of women prophesying in church, Paul is said to contradict himself in I Corinthians 14:34 and 35. Now Paul is punching himself in the nose. The alleged contradiction is with his statement in I Corinthians 11:5 which I alluded to more than once already. But if you look closely, you will find that from 11:17 through the end of chapter 14 Paul concentrates his focus specifically on the subject of the Corinthians gathering for public worship, with instructions pertaining to that. The preceding verses cover a broader field that has a bearing on one’s private worship and conduct. They reflect one’s personal relationship with God.
This concludes Part 1 of my discourse on women preachers. The Bible’s response to the position held by the Foursquare Church.
© James Unruh, 2017 and beyond