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The Family and the Church: How Should Biblical Manhood and Womanhood Work Out in Practice

Introduction

As we have seen throughout this book, the Bible is quite clear that men and women are equally God’s image bearers (Genesis 1:27) and therefore equal before God and in relationship with one another, and also that they are fellow-heirs in the Christian life, equal in their spiritual standing before God (1 Peter 3:7; Galatians 3:28). The Bible is also clear that men and women, who are equal with respect to creation and redemption and therefore share many things in common, are called to different and equally important roles in marriage and the church. It is God Himself (as we shall see later) who has determined distinctive roles for men and women in order that thereby they may fulfill the creation mandate that He has given to mankind (cf. Genesis 1:28; 3:15-19). God has called men to serve as leaders in marriage and the church, and women to submit themselves willingly to that leadership, as they labor together in their distinctive roles (Ephesians 5:23-24; 1 Peter 3:1-6; 1 Timothy 2:12; 3:1-13). In defining how men and women are to relate to one another in fulfilling their respective roles, God has called men to exercise a headship that is loving, gentle, and considerate (e.g., Ephesians 5:25ff.; 1 Peter 3:7), and He has called women to submit to that headship in a willing, gentle, and respectful way (e.g., Ephesians 5:24, 33; 1 Peter 3:1-2).

The question we all must face is how to carry out our Biblical roles with Biblical attitudes in specific, everyday situations. But before we proceed to the positive outworkings of Biblical manhood and womanhood, we need to be more aware of the forces working against us that must be overcome and the antidotes God’s grace provides.

The Effect of Sin

The fundamental antithetical force is the effect of sin on our relationships. This we see from Genesis 3:16, in which God speaks of sin’s effect on the relationship of men and women: “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (NIV; unless otherwise noted, all citations from Scripture in this chapter are from NIV). In these words, God is indicating that as a result of sin, rather than exercising a caring headship and leadership, men will seek to “rule” in an autocratic, unloving way. And He is indicating with reference to women that rather than being submissive helpers, they will “desire” to have mastery over their husbands. (We are understanding the word desire here in the same sense as that of its next occurrence [Genesis 4:7], where sin has the “desire” to master Cain.)1 By saying this, God was indicating that just as sin, as a result of the fall, will bring pain (Genesis 3:16) to the joy of childbirth (the fulfillment of God’s mandate to be fruitful, Genesis 1:28) and sweat and difficulty to the joy of work (the fulfillment of God’s mandate to subdue the earth and rule over it, Genesis 1:28), so also it will bring strife into the role relationship God had established between man and woman at creation (Genesis 2:18). Thus, God has forewarned that sin will make the role relationship of man and woman a place beset by struggle that only God’s grace can help us overcome.

We have seen and still see the horrible fulfillment of this curse’s effect in man’s domination of woman in those places and cultures where the effects of the gospel have not been felt. In contrast, in cultures and nations where the gospel has had strong influence, the joint-heir status of men and women has emerged as a wonderful by-product. But now we see in those same cultures and nations where secularization is replacing the effects of the gospel that a by-product of equality remains, while at the same time the society is giving expression to the sinful side of the curse pronouncement-women desiring to remove themselves from any distinctive role in their relationship to men and to be as much leaders in the home and church as men are, while men become increasingly passive or abusive in relation to women. We can see these outworkings of God’s prophetic pronouncement in Genesis 3:16 on the broad scale of history and society, but we must also be aware of the presence of those very tendencies in every human heart, including the hearts of Christian men and women. Since Christians, like others, are affected by the “spirit of the age,” these sinful tendencies within men and women will be compounded by the feminist push of our age as well as by a chauvinistic and macho backlash.

The Correlation of Role and Attitude

Any discussion of the practical outworking of the Biblical principles of headship and submission must take into account these sinful tendencies that so easily subvert us and work against compliance with the Biblical norm. We need to notice again how carefully the apostles present their teaching on the role relationship of men and women so as to affirm two things simultaneously and thereby to give balance to their teaching. First, they reiterate the mandate of God about the role relationship based on creation and speak of the headship of men and the submission of women. Second, they demand attitudes and actions that will seek to overcome the sinful tendencies that work against the proper functioning of these roles. Because people in authority, as a result of sin, often seek to rule and dominate with selfish or cruel attitudes, men are instructed not to be embittered against their wives (Colossians 3:19) but to love them and give themselves to them (Colossians 3:19; Ephesians 5:25), to nourish and cherish them (Ephesians 5:29), and to honor them as fellow-heirs (1 Peter 3:7). Because people under authority, as a result of sin, often resent their role and seek to minimize or escape it, or to take the position of leadership, women are repeatedly urged to submit (1 Peter 3:1; Ephesians 5:24; Colossians 3:18; Titus 2:5) because it is God’s will and should be done as to the Lord (Ephesians 5:27; Colossians 3:18) and with respect (Ephesians 5:33) and a gentle and quiet spirit (1 Peter 3:4).

The balanced interrelationship of these two truths must control any discussion of the day-to-day situation, since these are the operative principles that the Scriptures give to guide us in all such day-to-day outworkings of male/female role relationship in marriage and the church. Thus we must constantly reiterate the roles of headship and submission and also constantly call for attitudes and actions that enable these roles to be fulfilled, by God’s grace, in a world where sin works from within and without against those roles and against those attitudes and actions.

I. The Family

    A. God’s Delineation of the Distinctive Roles of Husband and Wife in Genesis 3

We can further delineate what is entailed in the roles of husbands and wives in marriage and family by taking careful account of the focused description that God gives of each in Genesis 3 on the basis of the truths first outlined in Genesis 1 and 2 at the dawn of human civilization and in a setting that antedates any particular culture or society.2

In this chapter, He gives the effects of sin, not only as it brings death and separation from God to all humans but also in its effects on men and women in their respective maleness and femaleness. In doing so, God relates the effect of the curse respectively to that portion of His creation mandate (as already established in Genesis 1 and 2) that most particularly applies to the woman on the one hand and to the man on the other hand. God had said to them: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over … every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:28, NASB). Now He relates the curse to that aspect of the creation mandate that is the particular responsibility of the woman and of the man and in so doing indicates the particular role that He has determined each is to fulfill. Thus, for the woman He speaks of her pain in childbirth (i.e., while seeking to be fruitful) and the struggles (as we have noted above) that will surface in the husband/wife relationship (Genesis 3:16): “To the woman he said, ‘I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.’” In short, God speaks about what is unique to her as a woman, namely, being a mother and a wife. To the man He speaks of the difficulties he will have in his toil (i.e., while seeking to subdue the earth) to secure bread (Genesis 3:17-19): “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” Thus He delineates what is the main calling for man, namely, the responsibility of breadwinner and provider for his wife and family. It will be helpful for all our discussion to keep this perspective in view and realize that it is the perspective God has given and not some “Victorian” or “traditional” view that has grown up out of some society or culture and been adopted unwittingly as the Biblical norm.

Therefore it is important in marriage and the family for a man to realize his responsibility as the primary breadwinner and to assume that responsibility willingly and gladly. It is equally important for a woman to realize her responsibility as the primary one to care for the children and the home, as these verses indicate, and as Proverbs 31 (see below) also indicates. This will provide the security and necessary time and energy for the woman to bear children but also to be with the children in their formative years when they are very dependent on their mother and need her presence. It is in this spirit that the Apostle Paul encourages young widows “to get married, bear children, keep house” (1 Timothy 5:14, NASB). Christ’s apostle exalts the home and women’s duties in it and encourages women to be “busy at home” (Titus 2:5).

Sad to say, when these distinctive emphases are not maintained, children often fail to develop healthy sexual identities (see Chapter 17 in this volume), and marriages tend to break up because husband and wife are no longer dependent on each other but are increasingly independent, ready to go their own ways.3

    B. What About the Wife and Mother Working Outside the Home?

Some Christians have interpreted Titus 2:5 (“workers at home,” NASB)4 to mean that any work outside the home is inappropriate for the wife and mother. But the fact that wives should care for their home does not necessarily imply that they should not work outside the home, any more than the statement that a overseer in the church should “manage his own household” (1 Timothy 3:4-5) means that he cannot work outside the home. In neither case does the text say that! The dynamic equivalent translation of Titus 2:5 by the NIV, “to be busy at home,” catches the force of Paul’s admonition, namely, that a wife should be a diligent homemaker. Moreover, Proverbs 31:10-31 depicts a wife and mother whose support for the family extends well beyond ordinary domestic chores (cf. e.g., verses 16 and 24: “She considers a field and buys it … she plants a vineyard… . She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies belts to the tradesmen,” NASB). Since Scripture interprets Scripture and its teaching is consistent and unified, we realize that the picture of Proverbs is not contradicted by the Apostle Paul.

Furthermore, we must realize that the emphasis on the home is the very point of the Proverbs passage. The woman in Proverbs works to care for her family and to fulfill her responsibility to her family (cf., e.g., verses 21 and 27). She does this not only for her children but also to support her husband’s leadership role in the community (verse 23). She is seeking the good of her family. Furthermore, she seeks to aid the poor and needy by her labors (verse 20).

Here, then, are keys to the question of a wife and mother working outside the home: Is it really beneficial to her family, does it aid her husband in his calling, and does it, in correlation with these first two, bring good to others? Can she do it while still being faithful to her primary calling to be wife and mother and to care for her home? It must be noted that even though the woman in Proverbs has not sought to “find herself” or to make her own career, but rather to serve her family, in the end she receives praise from her family (verses 28, 29) and recognition for her labors (verse 31) because she has conducted the whole endeavor in obedience to the Lord she reverences (verse 30). The decision in this realm must not be unilateral on the part of the woman but made under the leadership of her husband as the head of the marriage and the family.

    C. Decision-making by Husbands and Wives

This brings us to the question of responsibilities and processes for decision-making. The delicate balance that must be maintained is that of the husband’s leadership in a situation in which two equal image bearers of God are involved. The husband must honor his wife (1 Peter 3:7, “grant her honor as a fellow-heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered,” NASB) and respect her views, opinions, feelings, and contributions about the issue at hand, and he must do so in a way that takes into account both his and her strengths and weaknesses (1 Peter 3:8, “husbands … be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner”).5 He must not give over the leadership to the woman as Adam did to Eve, for then to him also the rebuke given to Adam will apply (“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife,” Genesis 3:17, NASB).6 Neither should he act rashly and harshly as Nabal did, not seeking the sensible and wise advice that his wife could and would have given him (cf. 1 Samuel 25:2-26:38). After all, the wife is given to the husband to be his chief “helper” (Genesis 2:18). The husband and wife should seek to come to a mutually satisfactory decision after discussion and through prayer and seeking the principles of God’s Word, and they should do so under the leadership and guidance of the husband, who should initiate this process. In a world of sin in which both husband and wife are beset by the limitations sin brings to our understanding and to the evaluative and decision-making process, there will be times when a consensus may not be reached. In this situation, it is the husband’s responsibility to exercise his leadership role and make the decision. The wife needs to submit to that decision (unless the decision is clearly and intrinsically evil [cf. 1 Samuel 25:14; Acts 5:29]).

    D. Decision-making as It Relates to Changing Jobs and Relocation to Another Community

In a highly mobile age, it is appropriate to consider job location change. Therefore, to illustrate the matter of decision-making, let us take the question of changing jobs and relocating the family. Let the question be compounded by assuming that the wife also has a good position. In this case, let us assume that the wife is not inclined to move because she likes the locale and she does not want to give up her own paying job. This is understandable.

The husband should give due weight to all of these concerns. The two should pray about the matter and seek to understand each other’s perspective and the good of the family as a whole, including the long-range as well as the short-range perspective. This decision-making must consider the total welfare of the family and not simply the benefits of the job. At the same time, it must include obedience to the creation mandate, on the part of the husband particularly but also the wife, who has agreed to be his helper in this responsibility, to fulfill to the best of his (and their) ability his primary calling as the one to be involved in work to support the family. A decision not to take the job and not to move, in light of the needs of the rest of the family, would be quite appropriate as long as no veto or coercion on the part of his wife has in actuality usurped the leadership or caused the husband to forfeit or surrender it. However, should he become convinced before God that the move is in the best interests of his family and will allow him and his wife to best fulfill the creation mandate and best glorify God, he should sympathetically lead the family through this transition, seeking to explain why the move is right from his perspective.

In such a case, it seems to me that two factors besides his general responsibility as leader are key elements. First is the recognition that the man, more than the woman-whose focus and energy are to be directed inward toward the family (cf. again Genesis 3:16-17 and Proverbs 31:27)-is called on to fulfill his role by directing his time and energy outward from the family in the work area (cf. again God’s evaluation of what is characteristic of man as a male, Genesis 3:17-19). Second, the woman is created to be the man’s helper (Genesis 2:18; 1 Corinthians 11:8-9). From these perspectives, the husband’s work must take precedence (when necessary) over the wife’s, and she must be willing to help her husband fulfill his calling in this realm even if it means that she must give up her position. A clear perspective on this subject will eliminate or remove many conflicts that could arise in this area.

    E. Caring for the Children

The care and management of the home and children is another area in which Christians need to implement Biblical principles carefully. The Scriptures present the direct management of the children and the household as the realm of responsibility of the wife and mother. First Timothy 5:14 says that wives are “to manage their homes” (NIV). The Greek word oikodespoteo, which is rendered “manage,” is a very forceful term. Proverbs 31 indicates some of the many ways in which this management is carried out (cf., e.g., verses 26 and 27: “She opens her mouth in wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. She looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness,” NASB). The husband must recognize this calling and grant her the necessary and appropriate freedom of operation under his leadership. At the same time, the wife must recognize that her management is to be conducted in submission to her husband’s leadership, who is responsible for the overall management of the household (cf. Titus 2:5, “to be busy at home … and to be subject to their husbands”). The Apostle Paul says that the man is responsible to manage his own household well (1 Timothy 3:4-5).

Although the wife and mother will have the most contact with the children, especially when they are young, and therefore will have the most direct responsibility for supervising them, the husband and father is held responsible for instruction and oversight of the children (Ephesians 6:4; 1 Timothy 3:4). It is imperative that fathers and mothers carry out this joint task in such a way that the leadership of both over the children is maintained and the headship of the father over the family is manifest. Thus neither should allow the children to play one parent off against the other in seeking to contravene the other’s commands or prohibitions. The parents should resolve those questions in private away from the children; in public they should uphold each other’s decisions, especially the mother upholding the headship of the father. Fathers should exercise an appropriate leadership by being careful to avoid exasperating or provoking comments or commands (Ephesians 6:4; Colossians 3:21) that not only discourage or anger their children but also provide occasion for their wives to feel the necessity of intervening and make it more difficult for them to be subject to their husbands’ leadership. Exasperating or provoking comments or commands include commands that are unjust and comments that are given in a callous or unfeeling way. All parental give-and-take before children should manifest mutual respect and communicate before the children that the husband genuinely loves and respects his wife and the wife, too, respects and desires to submit to the leadership of her husband and their father. Such an attitude can itself be the best setting for the children to learn their own necessary submission to both father and mother.

The division of duties in the home and household must take seriously the respective roles of the woman and the man and their equal importance before the Lord and in the home. The direct care and supervision of the children is the specific calling of the wife/mother (cf. again Genesis 3:16; 1 Timothy 5:14; Titus 2:5). It would be unnatural in the normal family setting for the husband/father to assume this task and to surrender the task of “breadwinning” to his wife.7 This is not to say that he is not to be as concerned and as involved in the training of their children as she is, but rather that he does so in correlation with his responsibility as the primary provider.

    F. The Allocation of Other Duties and Responsibilities

Other duties and responsibilities should be allocated in such a way that the feminine and masculine proclivities come to their natural expression and the strengths and weaknesses of each partner are recognized and their mutual dependence on each other for distinct roles are a help to both. Yet we must realize also that there are many things in the daily affairs of a household that the specific teachings and broader principles of Scripture do not categorize as either “masculine” or “feminine.” Here we must allow freedom and variation and not attempt to go beyond what is written in the principles we affirm and teach.

II. The Church

There are two basic Biblical truths relating to men and women that must be affirmed and upheld in the life of the church. The first is their equality as bearers of God’s image (Genesis 1:27) and as fellow Christians (Galatians 3:28;8 1 Peter 3:7). The second is the leadership role to which men are called by God in the church so that by apostolic injunction, based on God’s creative action, women are not allowed “to teach or exercise authority over a man” (1 Timothy 2:12, NASB).

    A. The Use of Women’s Gifts

The first truth has as its corollary that women are to use their gifts in every way that Christians in general are to do, except for those areas explicitly prohibited by Scripture. This is seen in Paul’s treatment of the gifts in 1 Corinthians 11-14, where women are excluded only from speaking in church (1 Corinthians 14:34-35)9 where congregational “teaching” is involved (1 Corinthians 14:26; notice that the items listed in verse 26 correspond with the subjects dealt with in verses 27 and 35 [with only the first item, “a psalm,” not dealt with in these verses] and in particular notice that “teaching” [NASB] in verse 26 is the one-word description for the “speaking” Paul will deal with when it comes to women in verses 34 and 35).10 These women are recognized as properly participating in praying and prophesying, for example, but are only asked not to throw off the cultural sign of their submission when they do so (1 Corinthians 11:1-16).

Some very practical deductions and applications can be drawn from these principles. If all other members of the church participate in voting at congregational meetings, then of course women members equally share that right. If all other worshipers are participating in the worship by sharing and praying, then women also should participate equally. The church of Christ, its men and women, must be equally concerned to uphold both these aspects of inclusion and any necessary exclusion in fidelity to God’s Word.

One must not draw the false conclusion that the Scriptures are opposed to women teaching or exercising any kind of leadership. Far from it. Women are encouraged by the Apostle Paul to teach other women and to make full use of their gifts in that realm (Titus 2:3-5). Just as Paul directs how tongue speakers and prophets may use their gifts in accordance with God’s order, so he encourages women to teach other women (Titus 2:3-5).

Similarly, the New Testament commends the activities of women in various sorts of ministries except those that would violate the male leadership principle. In an earlier work I summarized this range of ministries in the following words:

Several passages indicate that women are involved in diaconal tasks and appropriate teaching situations. A sampling of those activities may be seen in the following: older women are called upon to teach and train younger women concerning their responsibilities to their husbands and children (Titus 2:3-5); wives (gunaikas) are referred to in the midst of the description of male deacons (1 Timothy 3:11); Phoebe is designated “a servant [diakonon] of the church which is at Cenchrea” (Romans 16:1); Paul refers in 1 Corinthians to women praying or prophesying (11:5); and Priscilla and Aquila, that inseparable husband-and-wife team, in a discreet and private meeting expound to Apollos “the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:26).11

This brief Biblical summary, as true as it is and as helpful as it is, reminds us by these examples of the wide range of ministries available to women in the kingdom of God. The Danvers Statement, Affirmation 9, in this wide-ranging perspective and broad sweep, has attempted to express that range. Its words serve as a fitting conclusion to this particular section:

With half the world’s population outside the reach of indigenous evangelism; with countless other lost people in those societies that have heard the gospel; with the stresses and miseries of sickness, malnutrition, homelessness, illiteracy, ignorance, aging, addiction, crime, incarceration, neuroses, and loneliness, no man or woman who feels a passion from God to make His grace known in word and deed need ever live without a fulfilling ministry for the glory of Christ and the good of this fallen world. (See Appendix Two.)

    B. The Biblical Principle of Male Leadership in the Church

Alongside our insistence on women’s legitimate participation in the life of the church, we need to remind ourselves again that the apostolic teaching insists on men being the primary leaders in the church (just as in marriage) and therefore excludes women from that role. The clearest statement is 1 Timothy 2:12: “I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man” (NASB). The contextual setting of this statement makes it plain that the apostle is speaking about women publicly teaching men in the religious realm and exercising authority over men in the Christian community. It is the male/female role relationship based on creation that requires this prohibition (cf. 1 Timothy 2:13). And thus, since the church by definition includes both men and women, those situations where both are present are situations in which this prohibition is in effect.

      1. Applied to Church Officers

When the Apostle Paul moves on from this statement of principle to a description of the qualifications for the officers in the church (overseers and deacons; 1 Timothy 3:1-13), as an outworking and application of this principle, he describes them in masculine terms (i.e., the husband of one wife; cf. both 1 Timothy 3:2 and 3:12).12 Similarly, the church today, as it seeks to apply the apostolic principle faithfully, has insisted that the primary leadership of the church must be male. This has meant that both the minister who serves as a full-time teacher and pastor and the ruling officers chosen from within the congregation (often called “elders” in line with the Biblical nomenclature) have been males. But this would also apply to other church officers, who may not be called “elders” but who have governing authority for the whole church similar to that of elders in the New Testament. The equivalent office to New Testament elders is called by other names in differing systems of church government: “deacons” in many Baptist churches, the “vestry” in an episcopal system, and often just the “church board” or “church council” in many churches. That the office of elder should be filled by men is particularly appropriate, since their labors are designated in terms of teaching (1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:9) and of managing and caring for the church (1 Timothy 3-5)-the very roles denied to women in 1 Timothy 2:12.

Most Christians and churches who have made the application to “elders” have done so also for “deacons,” noting that they, too, are designated in masculine terms (1 Timothy 3:12; also Acts 6:3, where the Greek word used for “men” [aner] is the word used to distinguish men from women rather than one used for men as mankind whether male or female [anthropos]). They have noted furthermore that the role of deacons is still one of leadership, even if leadership in the area of service. At the same time it should be noted that women (or wives) are referred to in this section on deacons (1 Timothy 3:11). This has led to two understandings. The first is that the text distinguishes them from the deacons (who are males), does not designate them as deacons, but mentions them because they serve with and alongside the deacons in diaconal service. It is my judgment that this view understands the passage correctly and furthermore that it is the wives of deacons who are in view. A reference to wives would explain what would otherwise appear to be a seemingly abrupt statement in the midst of the passage but which, on such an understanding, is but the first of several comments about the deacon’s family.13 Others understand this verse as indicating that the New Testament recognized female deacons or at least deaconesses, and they appeal to Phoebe in Romans 16:1-2 for corroboration. If this understanding is correct, then the modern church should act accordingly. However, I think (as do others) the prior understanding is more likely, since the reference to Phoebe as a “servant of the church” has been widely understood to be a use of the Greek term diakonos in a non-technical and non-official sense, as it often is used elsewhere in the New Testament.14 Even though we must recognize that 1 Timothy 3:11 and Romans 16:1-2 must be considered in their interaction with one another, the hermeneutical principle is that the section dealing most fully and explicitly with the office and with deacon as a technical term must be resolved first, and then the historical statement may more appropriately be evaluated in that light. Whichever position is adopted as to whether women are to be “deaconesses,” there is still consensus that women should be involved in “diaconal” or service ministries in the church, whether they are elected as “deaconesses” or not.

      2. The Biblical Principle of Male Leadership in the Church Related to Teaching Activities

Here it should be noted that the prohibition that the Apostle Paul gives in 1 Timothy 2:12 (and 1 Corinthians 14:34-3515) is not stated in terms of a prohibition of an office in the church or restricted to that sphere (e.g., a woman may not be an elder/overseer), but is stated rather in functional language indicating what she may not do (“I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent,” 1 Timothy 2:12).

For this reason, it seems clearly contrary to the apostle’s teaching for some to argue that the male elders in the church may give a woman the right to give the exposition of the Word of God to the church and to say that since she does it under the authority of the male leadership, this activity would be acceptable. Paul rules out such an activity and underscores this by saying that, in the public teaching situation where men are present, a woman must remain “silent” with respect to this activity and not “speak” (cf. again 1 Timothy 2:12; 1 Corinthians 14:34-35). No decision of male leadership can justify approving the exact opposite of what the apostle commands. This unqualified prohibition extends to every situation in the life of the Christian community where there is actual, recognized teaching of the Scriptures and the Christian faith to a group that includes men, e.g., a Sunday school class, a small group meeting, a couples group, etc. The statement in the text focuses on the activity of teaching and, by implication, includes the authority inherent in that activity. Other activities in which a group might be involved, such as participating in a group discussion on the meaning of a passage of Scripture or sharing the impact of the passage on their lives, which are neither teaching nor the exercise of authority, should certainly include the full and free participation of the women of the group. The prohibition is focused and specific, and thus the implication is that all other activities are open to women.

Since this is a statement of principles on the part of the apostle, it would seem that this principle extends to teaching the Bible to men in colleges, training men in seminaries, and teaching the Bible and Biblical truth to men in parachurch organizations. In women’s colleges, in schools training women to serve as directors of Christian education, and in women’s parachurch groups, according to the Scriptures (cf. Titus 2:3-5), women have every right to teach.

The question arises as to how this prohibition of women teaching men applies where boys are in transition to manhood; i.e., what is the cut-off point? It seems that the church must answer this question in terms of the society’s evaluation of the time when, in that particular society, the boy becomes a man. If the young man is still under the direction of his parents and the instruction of a woman, his mother, at home, then it would seem appropriate for him to be under the instruction of a woman in the church. If he is regarded as on his own or as having reached manhood, whether married or not, then he should not be taught by a woman. Teaching a mixed group of high school students would seem, in our society, to be one kind of “borderline” situation. In such cases, if all involved agree on the basic Biblical principles involved and then pray for wisdom in applying those principles (cf. James 1:5-8), appropriate solutions will generally be found. Where doubt still remains, since we should not want to disobey the apostolic injunction, often the best solution would seem to be not to place a woman in that doubtful situation but rather to look to male leadership.

What of the Apparent Blessing When Women Seem to Have Violated These Principles? It may be retorted that in all these situations women have served in the church and their service has produced blessings in spite of the Apostle Paul’s prohibitions. This kind of end-justifies-the-means argument surfaces more often than we think among Christians who would object to such an argument in other situations.16

But here we must realize that God often gives blessing in spite of our mistakes. We gladly admit that God’s grace is greater than all our sins, including the unwitting ones in this and many other areas. And we gladly rejoice, as did Paul, in any proclamation of the gospel and teaching of the Word of God (cf. Philippians 1:14-18). However, in this passage Paul does point out the errors in that activity and their effects (e.g., “envy and strife,” verse 15; “selfish ambition,” verse 17), and it is to be hoped that the effect of his doing so would be that such errors would be remedied. We would seek to have the same Pauline balance, i.e., to rejoice in God’s grace overcoming disobedience because His Word was present and effective. But we should not argue that such an outcome justifies the practice.

      3. The Biblical Principle of Male Leadership in the Church Related to Leadership Activities

Just as we have sought to apply the principle of women not teaching men in the Christian community above, so also here in a similar way we must address the question of exercising authority over men in the life of the Christian community. Any board or committee in the local church or at other levels in the life of the church that exercises authority over that body should consist, by definition, of men who are called on to give leadership. Most denominations who hold this principle specify that the membership of denominational boards will be made up of church officers only, i.e., men. Since parachurch organizations (such as mission boards or campus ministries) and Christian institutions (such as Christian colleges and seminaries) are also part of the church universal, the body of Christ, it would seem that such restrictions should apply to their governing boards as well. They are part of the church; why should they act as though they were not? However, if a committee in the local congregation is formed to have representative input from various groups in the church, e.g., the women’s group, etc., to give a cross-sectional perspective that can be used by the officers but that does not itself exercise authority, then, of course, all segments should be included. This would also be the case for advisory councils of parachurch organizations. On the other hand, it must not be argued that men cannot possibly conduct the affairs of the church involving men and women without the presence and input of women as members of the governing bodies. We have already seen that Christ’s church, according to Scriptural teaching, is to be led by a male leadership. Thus, since male leadership can serve in the body of Christ that encompasses men and women, boys and girls, then a leadership of men also can function in other areas of the Christian community. This will entail, of course, that male leaders must be sensitive to and eagerly listen to the concerns of the whole spectrum of people whom they lead, with a special regard for the opposite sex. But that is the kind of male leaders the Scriptures call for--servants who lead with love, gentleness, and understanding as well as with strength and commitment (1 Peter 3:7).

      4. Official Church Policies

Should specifications regarding male leadership in the family and church be formally included in the governing documents of a church such as the church constitution or by-laws, or in denominational affirmations of faith or statements of policies? In previous generations, such statements were included sometimes, but not usually, because male leadership was almost universally assumed to be Biblical (see chapter 15 in this volume). But in today’s situation, with so many differing viewpoints expressed even within Christian circles, it would seem appropriate to include some policy statements at some level, at least concerning the most fundamental aspects of male/female roles. This is because the principle of male leadership in the church is a basic Scriptural principle based on the most fundamental of truths, God’s creation order.

It must not be argued that only teaching about the Person and work of Christ and about salvation are teachings that can be considered fundamentals of the faith. The following Scriptural accounts, with their statements of principles based on God’s creation order, make it abundantly plain that our Lord and His apostle regarded the implications of God’s creation order as fundamental truths to be taught and observed by the people of God. Jesus makes the point that His teaching about marriage and divorce is based on God’s creation order (Matthew 19:4-9). Furthermore, Paul indicates that teaching that repudiates marriage and regards foods God created as inherently unclean is absolutely unacceptable and is so because it denies the fact that what God created is good, i.e., it attacks God’s creation order (1 Timothy 4:1-5). Because the principle of male leadership is based on the most fundamental of truths, God’s creation order, it should be clearly and explicitly stated by the church as part of its basic teaching, and adherence to this general principle, especially as it applies to the ruling and teaching officers of the church, is an appropriate requirement of all officers in the church.

III. Correlation of the Family and the Church

We have dealt with the family and the church and have sought to work out and apply the principle of male leadership in both realms. In closing we may correlate these realms again to give perspective to the Scriptural teaching in its application to our lives. Those who recognize the Scriptural teaching about male leadership in marriage, both men and women, know that the leadership role of the husband/father does not in any way detract from or decrease the equally important role of wife/mother. That insight is helpful when we appraise male leadership in the church. Male leadership in the church does not decrease or detract from the gifts and graces women bring to the life of the body of Christ. Just as the male leadership in the home does not and should not keep the woman from exercising all of her God-given abilities, so also male leadership in the church does not and should not keep women from exercising, outside of the exclusively male realm of leadership itself, all of their God-given abilities within the church.

We wisely recognize in the family that being the male head is not all there is to the family life. We also need to recognize that, in the church, leadership over the church as a whole is not all there is to what is important and pleasing to God. Just as we recognize, accept, and acknowledge that God has wisely given man and woman different roles in the family, so we need to recognize and accept that in the life of the church God has also given man and woman different roles in relation to the leadership of the church, and we should gladly confess with the Apostle Paul that “God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired” (1 Corinthians 12:18, NASB).

Copyright 1997 Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. All rights reserved.


1 See S. T. Foh, “What Is the Woman’s Desire?” WTU 37 (1974): 376-385; also Chapter 3 in this volume (pp. 108-109).

2 See Chapter 3 for a full discussion of the distinctive roles of men and women in Genesis 1 and 2.

3 Cf. the observations of Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: Simon Schuster, 1987), pp. 97-132.

4 Probably the KJV rendering “keepers at home” lent itself to that misinterpretation.

5 See Chapter 1, p. 49, for a discussion of male and female weakness.

6 It is obvious from the text of Genesis that Eve encouraged wrongdoing when she gave Adam the fruit. It is equally obvious that she takes the leadership role in that activity and that Adam simply follows her leadership. She allows herself, though, to be drawn into the role of spokesman by the serpent. She does not turn to her husband, from whom she had received God’s command (cf. Genesis 2:16-17, where God gives the command to the man before the woman is created, and Genesis 3:2-3, where the woman relays that command), to ask him about what God had said and meant by His command, but rather acted unilaterally in opposition to the command that her husband had given to her (Genesis 3:6). Furthermore, she leads her husband by taking the fruit and giving it to him to eat (Genesis 3:6). In both Genesis 3:6 and 3:17, the remarks about the woman are not superfluous asides, even though they easily could have been left out, as an examination of the text bears out, but they are there to indicate exactly what happened and who had assumed the responsibility of making the decision to eat. The fact that Adam was following Eve’s leadership and not simply deceived by the serpent is borne out by Paul’s inspired evaluative statement in 1 Timothy 2:14 that “Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived” (NASB). Thus it seems appropriate to say that God’s first comment to Adam, “because you listened to your wife” (Genesis 3:17), is a rebuke to Adam for his failure to carry out his God-ordained leadership role, not simply a reminder to Adam that he had listened to bad advice from Eve.

7 First Corinthians 7:5 says a husband and wife may temporarily set aside their conjugal rights by mutual consent for a period of time in order to serve God. On this principle, a wife could properly be the primary breadwinner to assist her husband in securing his education so that he could assume, in a better-equipped way, that responsibility that is rightfully his. Of course, if the husband is prevented from assuming this responsibility by reason of health or being out of work, the wife will gladly do what he cannot do for the good of the marriage and their mutual welfare. But these should be considered exceptions to the norm and warranted either by necessity (the latter) or as a temporary situation making the norm possible (the former).

8 Since the first truth, especially the statement in Galatians 3:28, is often used to deny the second truth, it is necessary to understand not only the breadth of the implications of what Paul is asserting in Galatians 3:28 but also what is not being implied. Ronald Y. K. Fung wisely warns against an unwarranted appeal to this verse in the following statement drawn up after a careful exegesis of the verse in its context:

It seems precarious to appeal to this verse in support of any view of the role of women in the Church, for two reasons: (a) Paul’s statement is not concerned with the role relationships of men and women within the Body of Christ but rather with their common initiation into it through (faith and) baptism; (b) the male/female distinction, unlike the other two, has its roots in creation, so that the parallelism between the male/female pair and the other pairs may not be unduly pressed. (The Epistle to the Galatians, NICNT [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1988], p. 176, n. 44.)

See also chapter 6 in this volume.

9 Biblical students should not follow Gordon Fee, a very able exegete and textual critic and also an “evangelical feminist,” in his argued conjecture that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is not authentically a part of 1 Corinthians and is therefore “certainly not binding for Christians.” As he himself acknowledges, “these two verses are found in all known manuscripts” (The First Epistle to the Corinthians, NICNT [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1988], pp. 708 and 699, respectively). In spite of this uniform testimony to the authenticity of the text, Fee advances arguments relating to transcriptional and intrinsic probability that can be adequately answered (see Chapter 6 in this volume) and that have not convinced most textual critics, the most noteworthy recent example being the team of experts that edited the critical text for the United Bible Societies who gave these verses a “B” rating, i.e., the next-to-highest rating in terms of certainty and authenticity. Unfortunately, one reading the commentary will not be aware of many of these answers because Fee has not provided them for the reader or has denied the validity of some that he relates without, however, demonstrating that they lack validity.

10 See Chapter 6 in this volume, which understands 1 Corinthians 14:33b-36 in a different way from this, but one that is also consistent with the overall perspective of this chapter and this book as a whole.

11 George W. Knight III, The Role Relationship of Men and Women (1985; reprinted Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian Reformed, 1989), pp. 27ff. See also Chapter 11 in this volume, especially p. 218.

12 This masculine description, “husband of one wife,” is not merely descriptive of the usual situation, as is the reference to his being married and having children, because it follows on the heels of the statement of principle in 1 Timothy 2:12 and therefore is normative, as are the other qualifications that do not in the nature of the case allow for a viable alternative. The New Testament commends singleness as a viable alternative (cf. Matthew 19:12 and 1 Corinthians 7:7ff.) and recognizes that Paul, who is single, is, like Peter, a “fellow elder” (1 Peter 5:1). Thus being married and having several children is not being stated as a requirement for an elder, but rather the requirement being stated is that of fidelity to his spouse if he is married and a godly oversight of his children if he has children. However, it is fair to say that the masculine aspect of the statement husband of one wife does indeed imply exclusively male elders, and particularly so (as we have noted) when it follows hard on the heels of 1 Timothy 2:12.

13 See author’s forthcoming commentary on The Pastoral Epistles in the NIGTC series, which treats this question at some length. See also the discussion of this passage in Chapter 11 of this volume.

14 Compare, for example, the earlier, and only other, occurrences of the Greek word diakonos in Romans, i.e., Romans 13:4 (twice) and 15:8.

15 Those who understand 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 to be Paul’s prohibition on women “judging” the prophets (cf., e.g., the very helpful book by J. B. Hurley, Man and Woman in Biblical Perspective [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, and Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press, 1981], pp. 188-194), a view that I do not myself adopt, still concur that an activity or function is prohibited and that the text says that women should not seek to participate in that activity. Since the prohibition is related to women only, it may be said that Paul does not rule out men in general from participating in this activity. The entire section of 1 Corinthians 14 is dealing with the participation of members of the congregation in the congregational worship (see especially verse 26). The conclusion to be drawn, it seems to me, is that women are prohibited from even an occasional teaching of the church but that men, even though they are not officers, are not prohibited from this activity. This close consideration of the text evidences that Paul is concerned about prohibiting the activity of teaching and is not just concerned with a prohibition of a teaching office in the church, as is sometimes assumed--of course, the former also prohibits the latter.

16 For example, those who hold that only those who profess faith in Christ should be baptized will not be persuaded otherwise if those who practice infant baptism have spiritually successful ministries, and vice versa. God’s general blessing on a person does not prove that a particular activity in his or her life is in accord with Biblical teaching.

Related Topics: Ecclesiology (The Church), Christian Home