The Bible’s Viewpoint
Should Women Be Ministers?
“I HAVE been amazed and angered by the fact that nothing has changed for women, in terms of being ordained,” wrote a Catholic woman to the newspaper USA Today. Many people share her view. After all, in other religions women serve as ministers, priests, bishops, and rabbis.
Religions on both sides of the controversy—those forbidding women to be ministers and those allowing them to preach from the pulpit—claim to adhere to the Scriptures. However, the Bible does not support either view. How can that be? To answer, we must first consider how the Bible uses the word “minister.”
What does the word “minister” mean to you? Many would immediately think of a religious leader, male or female, who presides over a congregation for worship. But the Bible uses the word in a broader sense. Consider the Christian woman Phoebe, whom the apostle Paul introduced as “our sister, who is a minister of the congregation that is in Cenchreae.”—Romans 16:1.
Do you imagine Phoebe standing before the congregation in Cenchreae, presiding over a religious service? Really, what ministry did Phoebe perform? In his letter to the Philippians, Paul writes that certain women “worked together with me . . . in spreading the good news.”—Italics ours; Philippians 4:2, 3, Contemporary English Version.
The primary way in which first-century Christians spread the good news was “publicly and from house to house.” (Acts 20:20) Those who engaged in that work were ministers. That included women such as Priscilla. She, along with her husband, “expounded the way of God more correctly” to a God-fearing man who had not yet been baptized as a Christian. (Acts 18:25, 26) Like Phoebe, Priscilla evidently was an effective minister—as were many women.
A Dignified Role
Was the public ministry a menial assignment, a secondary task to be relegated to women while the men did the important work of presiding over the congregation? Not at all, and for two reasons. First, the Bible makes clear that all Christians—including men with weighty congregation responsibilities—were to share in the public ministry. (Luke 9:1, 2) Second, the public ministry was and still is the primary means by which Christians of both genders fulfill Jesus’ command to “make disciples of people of all the nations, . . . teaching them.”—Matthew 28:19, 20.
There is another vital role that certain women have in the congregation. Paul wrote: “Let the aged women be . . . teachers of what is good; that they may recall the young women to their senses to love their husbands, to love their children.” (Titus 2:3, 4) Thus, mature women with experience in Christian living have the privilege of helping younger and less experienced women to gain maturity. That too is a dignified, weighty role.
Teaching in the Congregation
Nowhere in the Bible, however, are women told to stand before the congregation to teach. Rather, the apostle Paul instructed them to “keep quiet in the meetings.” Why? One reason, he wrote, is so that things would be done “in a proper and orderly way.” (1 Corinthians 14:34, 40, Today’s English Version) For the congregation to run smoothly, God has assigned the role of teaching to one group. Note, though, that a person is not granted the privilege of oversight in the congregation simply because he is a male; it is granted only to those men who truly qualify.*—1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9.
Is the role that God has assigned to women demeaning? No. Remember, Jehovah God ordains them to a high calling—that of publicly bearing witness about him. (Psalm 68:11) Among Jehovah’s Witnesses today, men and women who are public ministers have helped millions to attain to repentance and gain salvation. (Acts 2:21; 2 Peter 3:9) That is no small accomplishment!
The arrangement for men and women promotes peace while showing honor to both genders. To illustrate: The eyes and ears perform complementary tasks to help a pedestrian cross a busy street. Similarly, when men and women accomplish God’s will according to the roles they have each been assigned, God blesses the congregation with peace.—1 Corinthians 14:33; Philippians 4:9.*
Note, too, that a man’s authority in the congregation is limited. He is in subjection to the Christ and must act in accord with Bible principles. (1 Corinthians 11:3) Those with congregation responsibility must also “be in subjection to one another,” displaying a humble, cooperative spirit.—Ephesians 5:21.
By honoring the role that God has given to men in the congregation, Christian women also serve as an example to the angels in heaven.—1 Corinthians 11:10.
HAVE YOU WONDERED?
● How did women in the early Christian congregation teach?—Acts 18:26.
● Who are appointed to oversee the congregation?—1 Timothy 3:1, 2.
● How does God view the ministry of Christian women today?—Psalm 68:11.
[Blurb on page 29]
“Jehovah himself gives the saying; the women telling the good news are a large army.”—PSALM 68:11