The Truth About Women in Public Ministry

For centuries women have been restrained from fulfilling their God-given leadership roles in the five-fold ministry. It is time for men to liberate and release women to fulfill their callings in God.
By Don Rousu

Women, I have a prophetic word for you:

"The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to preach good news to the oppressed, and to proclaim release to the captives."
It's time to hear the Lord saying, "Release my captive daughters to do my will."

You have been held captive in the Church. You have been restrained and in many ways disqualified from public ministry. I know, because I cooperated in that restraining process thinking it was right to do so. But by His Word and Spirit, God has radically changed my thinking and set me free to embrace my wife, Ruth, as my closest ministry partner. We are a team—equal partners, and a perfect complement. I am the head, she is the heart. Today I know that God has more than doubled my effectiveness and anointing by releasing Ruth to minister with me publicly. I can no longer imagine doing ministry without her.

Why have women in the Church been restrained? In large part, it has happened because men dominated the Church for hundreds of years. We brought a male bias to the translation and interpretation of Scripture. But it also appears that the Sovereign Lord has allowed the enemy a hand in this as well. Could it really be all three? Man, the devil, and God Himself?

This pattern can be found in Scripture. For example, while in their Egyptian captivity, the people of Israel were simultaneously shackled by Pharaoh, held captive by Satan, and restrained by God—all to fulfil the purposes of the Lord at His appointed time. He is the God who brings good out of evil. When the time came, Moses called to Pharaoh, "Let my people go!" In one night all restraints fell away, and the people of God walked out of the land to their destiny.

Now is the time for a Moses-like proclamation. Right now God is orchestrating something far greater than the Exodus. Prophetic intercessors everywhere bear witness that God is preparing us for a harvest of unprecedented proportions in which we will need every labourer. We sense that God is about to do something so big that it will take a full expression of the Body of Christ to fulfil His purposes. It's time to hear the Lord saying, "Release my captive daughters to do my will." Just as it took both man and woman, Simeon and Anna, to pray and prophesy over the infant Jesus in the temple, so God is raising up both men and women to birth His purposes. We need to embrace His heart.

Tipping a sacred cow

As I embraced a radical shift in my theology regarding the role of women in public ministry, I realized that the captivity of women in the Church resulted primarily from one passage:

The mistranslation hinges on the Greek verb, authentein.

"Let a woman learn in silence in full submission. I permit no woman to teach or have authority over a man. She is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness with modesty" (1 Timothy 2:11).

The Church has built a whole doctrine and practice essentially on this one text. In the last few years, however, valuable evidence has accumulated that the original Greek has been misunderstood and mistranslated. A particularly enlightening resource is a book published by Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, I Suffer Not a Woman, by a scholarly couple, Richard and Catherine Clark Kroeger.

The mistranslation hinges on the Greek verb, authentein. The problem is that this verb is found nowhere else in the Bible. From years of studying biblical languages, I know that translators learn the meaning of a word by studying it in other Bible passages. Where there are no other Bible passages, they must look in comparative literature of the same time period. Although most translators of 1 Timothy have interpreted authentein to mean "to usurp authority" over a man, or "to have authority" over a man, such a translation violates both the context of Paul's writing and the first-century usage of the word in other literature. Let me explain.

The authentic meaning of authentein

Research shows that the meaning of authentein changed dramatically over a period of 1,100 years. When we first find it in classical literature of the 6th century B.C., the word usually meant "to initiate" or "to be responsible for a murder." Jumping ahead to 200 or 300 A.D., this word usually meant "to claim ownership of property" either rightfully or wrongfully through fraud. During the same period it could also mean "to usurp power." However around the time the New Testament was written, the most common meaning of authentein was "to be, or claim to be the author or the originator of something." To underscore the point with a pun, this appears to be the authentic translation of authentein, the crucial verb of 1 Timothy 1:12.

Not only have translators overlooked the prevailing meaning of the word authentein at the time the New Testament was written, but they also seem to have missed the cultural context in which Paul wrote his letter to Timothy.

Perversion of Scripture infiltrates the Church

Timothy was in Ephesus. Ephesus was the world centre of paganism governed spiritually by the female deity Artemis whom the Romans called Diana. The cult of Artemis taught the superiority of the female and advocated female domination of the male. It espoused a doctrine of feminine procreation teaching that this goddess was able to bring forth offspring without male involvement. The cult was characterized by sexual perversion, fertility rites, endless myths, and elaborate genealogies traced through female rather than male bloodlines. Magic, and all manner of demonic activity flourished.

… gnostic teachings infiltrated the Church …

Also present in Ephesus was a contingent of Jewish gnostics who represented the first century's equivalent of the New Age movement. The Greek word for "gnostic" is gnosis meaning "knowledge." Gnostics acknowledged spirit guides and combined the teachings of Artemis with the teachings of the Old Testament. An example of their distortion of Scripture is evident in their version of the Old Testament story of Adam and Eve.

In the most prevalent gnostic version of the story, Eve was the "illuminator" of mankind because she was the first to receive "true knowledge" from the Serpent, whom gnostics saw as the "saviour" And revealer of truth. Gnostics believed that Eve taught this new revelation to Adam, and being the mother of all, was the progenitor of the human race. Adam, they said, was Eve's son rather than her husband. This belief reflected the gnostic doctrine that a female deity could bring forth children without male involvement.

Gnostics also taught that the Hebrew God was a lesser deity and therefore changed His name from Yahweh to Ialdabaoth. Because they believed that physical matter was evil and the world of the spirit was good, they maintained that God had made a serious mistake in creating the material universe.

These gnostic teachings infiltrated the Church, and in writing to Timothy, Paul encouraged him to confront the problem of false doctrines head on. He told him to forbid certain people from peddling their false teachings in the Church and to admonish others to turn away from myths and endless genealogies. He told him to oppose those who speak falsely of the living God, warn people about the doctrines of demons, avoid stupid, senseless controversies, and have nothing to do with old wives' tales such as the corrupted story of Adam and Eve. He urged Timothy to use the Scriptures as an antidote "for sound teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness."

What Paul really said

In light of the authentic meaning of the word authentein and of the social context within which Paul wrote his letters to Timothy, let me offer what I believe is an appropriate rendering of the text in Timothy. I believe Paul is saying, "I am not allowing (present tense for that situation) a woman to teach or to proclaim herself the originator of man (authentein)." Do you see how this translation offsets false doctrine?

I submit that this translation is possibly the most legitimate …

The word that is frequently translated "silence," hesuchia, also means harmony, peace, conformity or agreement. I therefore suggest Paul goes on to say, "she must be in agreement," meaning agreement with the Scriptures and with sound teaching in the Church.

He continues in this vein saying, "Adam was formed first, then Eve." This statement militates against the doctrine of Eve as progenitor. He also says, "Adam was not deceived, but the woman was! And sinned!" This statement directly contradicts the notion that Eve was the "illuminator," and carrier of new revelation.

I submit that this translation is possibly the most legitimate because it fits the social context, is true to the Greek, speaks to the troubled situation, and lines up perfectly with all of Paul's other teachings and practices concerning women.

Women: Paul's co-labourers in the Gospel

There is no indication that Paul restricted women in their callings before God. Throughout his ministry, Paul speaks of women as his co-labourers in the Gospel:

… there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus …

He worked with a wife-husband team in the tentmaking business. He travelled with them planting and pastoring house churches and training the great orator, Apollos, to be more accurate in the Word of God. He usually mentions Priscilla, the woman, first before her husband, Aquila.

Paul also encouraged Timothy to trust the faith he had received from two women, his grandmother and his mother.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul commends a woman leader, Phoebe, to the Church at Rome. He says he is sending her himself as a minister of the Gospel. The Greek word for "minister" here is diakonos, a deacon. It implies that Phoebe had the same status in the early Church as Stephen the martyr and Philip the evangelist. In speaking of Phoebe Paul also uses the word prostatis, which means leader, overseer, or someone with stature, responsibility and authority.

In the same chapter Paul greets his relatives, Andronicus, a man, and Junia, a woman. He says that they both were in Christ before he was, and that they are highly prominent among the apostles.

Paul breaks rabbinic tradition in which he was raised and insists that women should learn the Word of God just like men in humility of heart and in full submission to the truth of Jesus Christ. Paul wants to equip women who will teach the truth of Scripture rather than myths and lies.

Paul tells Timothy which women to add to the church payroll. He counsels him to employ those who can serve a ministerial function in the church—women with good character and a proven track record.

Finally, Paul himself said, "As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:27, 28).
God's purpose for women today

Throughout the centuries, God has raised up remarkable women in the Body of Christ to places of leadership. They have stood in the five-fold ministry of the Church as apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. Several women come to mind who have profoundly shaped the character and ministry of numerous men, myself included: Madame Guyon, Hannah Whithall Smith, Jesse Penn Lewis, Mother Teresa, Jackie Pullinger-To.  [ Heidi Baker I might add - pris ]

… this is not about the dominance of men or about the subservience of women.

Dr. Paul Yonggi Cho, pastor of the largest church in the world, said that his ministry would not be what it is today were it not for his mother-in-law and for women who were willing to pastor the many cell groups of which his church consists. He claims that 6,000 women were leading cell groups before he found the first man who was willing to do the task. These are but a small token of what God will do in the near future with women whose lives are yielded to Him.

Paul told Timothy to look for women who, like Jesus, have washed the feet of the saints. We are therefore called to search out those in whom He is incarnate, whether male or female, and release them into freedom to serve according to their callings. We will know them because in their submission to God's discipline they will reflect His holiness. They will demonstrate His nature and His character, have a servant-heart, walk in humility and obedience. Such people will exhibit the mind of Christ, manifesting His wisdom and His authority. His love, His Word, and His anointing will be in them, and through them, the world will see Jesus.

So, you see, this is not about the dominance of men or about the subservience of women. It's about seeing Jesus fully expressed in all the members of His Body. And today there are many women in the Church who reflect the character, ministry and anointing of Jesus. The time has come to break the yoke of oppression, fear, bitterness, enmity, prejudice and distorted teaching. It is time to recognize the callings God has placed on the lives of His daughters, and release them into their ministries. The hour is late.

In these last days God is setting the stage for the great harvest. When it comes, it will look like Luke 5 all over again. Remember that great catch of fish? Nets breaking! Boats sinking! Overwhelmed disciples calling for help! Now is the time to hear His voice. He is stirring the Church to pray as never before. And as we pray, the Lord of the harvest is calling for every available labourer. Women of God, come forth!

Don Rousu and his wife Ruth pastor the VCF, Edmonton, Alberta.

Originally published in Spread the Fire, October 1997.