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What Scripture Says About Women and Authority

What Scripture Says About Women and Authority

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While there are several levels to calling and various ways God can extend a leadership call, nowhere does the Bible teach that either gifts or secondary callings are bestowed according to gender. In fact, women preached, prophesied, and led in both the Old and New Testaments . . . sometimes over men. (See the examples of Deborah in Judges 4–5, Huldah in 2 Kings 22, Anna in Luke 2, Priscilla in Acts 18, and Junia in Romans 16.[i]) The exercise of calling was sometimes limited by gender, but the fact of calling was not.

The Bible is also clear that God is proauthority. Scripture describes authority systems in the home, church, government, and spiritual realms. Christ followers are commanded to honor those in authority, even as God claims ultimate authority over these individuals and systems (Romans 13:1).

The Bible also calls believers to accountability, even in the absence of human authority systems. Scripture clearly teaches that Christ followers are ultimately accountable to God for their thoughts, words, and actions. In addition, the Bible provides examples of accountability between human beings, not only to those in authority but also to colaborers and even those under someone’s care. In the New Testament in particular, the twelve apostles and then the seventy-two disciples sent by Jesus gave a report of their ministry (Luke 9:10, 10:17); believers in the early church reported to the whole fellowship (Acts 15:4); and the apostles gave seven men responsibility to care for widows via the distribution of food (Acts 6:1-7).

The examples of accountability in Scripture proceed from the key biblical principles of stewardship and community. Throughout the Bible, we see the theme of stewardship. God entrusts human beings with relationships, wealth, material resources, power, time, truth, responsibility, spiritual gifts—and calling. Each person will be expected to give account of how they cared for (stewarded) their assigned responsibilities (Matthew 25:14-30). Throughout the Bible, we also see that the people of God are people of community. They worship together, serve together, and grow as they live in relationship together. The “one another” exhortations of the New Testament—there are more than thirty!—can only be fulfilled in the context of community.

 

 

In particular, this community is experienced and expressed through participation in a local church. The word church (the Greek ekklēsia) literally refers to God’s gathered people, and those gatherings took place publicly, locally, and regularly. In the early church, an “unchurched Christian” would have been an oxymoron.

The concept of authority is important, but we need to understand it within the broader principle of accountability. The Gospel of Matthew records that during Jesus’ teaching ministry on earth, he often answered questions about specific issues by saying, “You have heard it said, but I tell you . . .” His interlocutors wanted to pin him down on sticky issues and the letter of the law of Moses, but Jesus challenged his listeners to a higher standard based on the spirit of the law of love (Matthew 5:38-39).

In the same way, we can easily focus only on the permission question of “Can a woman teach/preach/lead?” and lose sight of the broader biblical theme of accountability and its related principles of community and stewardship. But these themes provide a necessary framework to help us determine how to faithfully live out our callings.

 

About the Author

 

Angie Ward is a leader, teacher, writer, and pastor’s wife. She is an award-winning regular contributor to Christianity Today leadership publications and has served as a contributing editor and editorial advisor for Leadership Journal, Building Church Leaders, and Gifted for Leadership. She is also a highly regarded teacher and speaker, with classroom experience at Denver Seminary, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Trinity International University, and Lancaster Bible College | Capital Seminary & Graduate School. Her leadership experience includes roles in church, para-church, nonprofit, and educational contexts.

 

Taken from I Am a Leader: When Women Discover the Joy of Their Calling by Angie Ward. Copyright © 2020. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries.

[i] The earliest biblical manuscripts indicate that Junia was a woman; in later translations (from the 12th century), this name was changed to the masculine Junias. Most scholars today affirm that Junia was indeed a woman. Even if Junia was not an apostle, Paul clearly recognized her as “among the apostles” and as a leader in the early church, even if her role is unclear. See https://juniaproject.com/who-was-junia/ and https://carm.org/junia-apostle.