The Biblical View of Women

Part 1 [Part 2]

Sam Shamoun

Having examined the role of women in Islam, it is now time to focus our attention on the Biblical view of women.

Women are Equal to Men in Nature and Essence

The Holy Bible affirms that women are equal in value, have the same essence, and share the same divine image that the men do. They also share with the men sovereignty over the physical creation:

"Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let THEM have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male AND FEMALE he created them." Genesis 1:26-27

"This is the book of the generations of Adam. When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. Male AND FEMALE he created THEM, and he blessed THEM and named THEM MAN when THEY were created." Genesis 5:1-2

"For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. NEVERTHELESS, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God." 1 Corinthians 11:7-12

Here, Paul says that even though it is true that women were created for men and are to reflect their glory, this is only part of the picture. The complete picture is that men also come from women and are therefore dependant on them just as much as the women are dependant on the men. And yet both are completely dependant on God.

Scriptures emphatically teach that the women are one flesh with the men, and men must view their female spouses as their own bodies:

"Then the LORD God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.’ So out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, ‘This at last is bone OF MY BONES and flesh OF MY FLESH; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken OUT OF MAN.’ Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become ONE FLESH." Genesis 2:17-24

The above text shows that man finds his completion and wholeness in the woman since he is alone without her, something that God said isn’t good. The expression "fit for him" in Hebrew is kenegdo and means "a help corresponding to him," that is "equal and adequate to himself." (Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, Charles A. Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (BDB) [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968], p. 617)

The statement that there was no suitable mate for the man amongst the animals further shows that woman is equal to man in essence and nature, and is much higher than animals since the implication here is that anything less than human, anything different from man in essence, wouldn’t have sufficed as a helper for him. The fact that God created the woman out of Adam also proves her equality in essence since anything originating out of man would have to be of the very same nature. After all, human flesh gives birth to human flesh and human beings bring forth other human beings, they don’t produce animals.

The next text illustrates this point rather clearly:

"Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband." Ephesians 5:25-33

Paul commands husbands to view their wives as their very own bodies, quoting Genesis 2:24 and the example of Jesus’ relationship to the church to cement his case.

And, because of this coequality of essence and physical union, men are not to treat their wives harshly. Paul repeats this exhortation in another of his epistles:

"Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them." Colossians 3:19

One writer commented on how significant and astonishing Paul’s statements from Ephesians are in contrast to the Apostle’s immediate historical and cultural surroundings:

"The high and honorable marriage ethic set forth in Ephesians, which stems from Christ’s view of women, cannot be found in the pagan literature of the Greco-Roman or in the cultures of Islamic societies. The civil and humane behavior that is expected between a Christian husband and wife today reflects a sea-change effect Christ bequeathed to the life and well-being of women. Renowned historian of ancient Rome corroborates this by saying that ‘the conversion of the Roman world to Christianity [brought] a great change in woman’s status.’ Another has added: ‘The birth of Jesus was the turning point in the history of woman.’" (Alvin J. Schmidt, The Great Divide: the Failure of Islam and the Triumph of the West [Regina Orthodox Press Inc., Boston, Massachusetts 2004], pp. 66-67)

Women are Equal to Men in Redemption and Salvation

God loves women and redeems them along with men. Christ died for both men and women, making all of them co-heirs of the kingdom:

"for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male NOR FEMALE, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise." Galatians 3:26-29

"Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, SINCE THEY ARE HEIRS WITH YOU OF THE GRACE OF LIFE, so that your prayers may not be hindered." 1 Peter 3:7

In fact, the Holy Bible refers to women converts that were considered to be of prominent status:

"And some of them were persuaded, and joined Paul and Silas; as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women." Acts 17:4

Women are Equal Recipients of the Spiritual Gifts

The Holy Bible teaches that women, just as much as men, receive the diverse giftings of the Holy Spirit such as prophesying, teaching, evangelism etc.:

"You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the LORD your God and there is none else. And my people shall never again be put to shame. And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons AND YOUR DAUGHTERS shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male AND FEMALE SERVANTS in those days I will pour out my Spirit." Joel 2:27-29

According to the NT, the fulfillment of this promise began at the Day of Pentecost when the followers of the Lord Jesus were given the Holy Spirit:

"When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance." Acts 2:1-4

"But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them, ‘Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: "And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy."’" Acts 2:14-18

Some of these followers were women:

"Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod's household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means." Luke 8:1-3

"Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day's journey away. And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers. In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120)…" Acts 1:12-15

The Apostles Paul and Peter wrote regarding the gifts of the Holy Spirit:

"For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness." Romans 12:3-8

"Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were ALL baptized into one body--Jews or Greeks, slaves or free--and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many." 1 Corinthians 12:4-14

"The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts." 1 Corinthians 12:21-31

"The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As EACH has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies--in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen." 1 Peter 4:7-11

The body of Christ, the Church, includes women believers showing that they too receive the same baptism and gifts of the Holy Spirit that all the other members experience.

The following passages even mention specific prophetesses, female evangelists etc.:

"Then Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women went out after her with tambourines and dancing." Exodus 15:20

Miriam was also one of Israel’s leaders:

"For I brought you up from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery, and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam." Micah 6:4

Israel also had a prophetess who judged and counseled people. She even led the army of Israel to victory!

"Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the people of Israel came up to her for judgment. She sent and summoned Barak the son of Abinoam from Kedesh-naphtali and said to him, ‘Has not the LORD, the God of Israel, commanded you, "Go, gather your men at Mount Tabor, taking 10,000 from the people of Naphtali and the people of Zebulun. And I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the river Kishon with his chariots and his troops, and I will give him into your hand"?’ Barak said to her, ‘If you will go with me, I will go, but if you will not go with me, I will not go.’ And she said, ‘I will surely go with you. Nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the LORD will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.’ Then Deborah arose and went with Barak to Kedesh. And Barak called out Zebulun and Naphtali to Kedesh. And 10,000 men went up at his heels, and Deborah went up with him…When Sisera was told that Barak the son of Abinoam had gone up to Mount Tabor, Sisera called out all his chariots, 900 chariots of iron, and all the men who were with him, from Harosheth-hagoyim to the river Kishon. And Deborah said to Barak, ‘Up! For this is the day in which the LORD has given Sisera into your hand. Does not the LORD go out before you?’ So Barak went down from Mount Tabor with 10,000 men following him. And the LORD routed Sisera and all his chariots and all his army before Barak by the edge of the sword. And Sisera got down from his chariot and fled away on foot. And Barak pursued the chariots and the army to Harosheth-hagoyim, and all the army of Sisera fell by the edge of the sword; not a man was left." Judges 4:4-10, 12-16

Deborah is specifically said to be a spiritual mother to Israel:

"The villagers ceased in Israel; they ceased to be until I arose; I, Deborah, arose as a mother in Israel." Judges 5:7

Deborah is not the only one. The Bible mentions several other prophetesses as well:

"Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam, Acbor, Shaphan and Asaiah went to speak to the prophetess Huldah, who was the wife of Shallum son of Tikvah, the son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe. She lived in Jerusalem, in the Second District." 2 Kings 22:14

"And I went to the prophetess, and she conceived and bore a son. Then the LORD said to me, ‘Call his name Maher-shalal-hashbaz;’" Isaiah 8:3

"Remember, O my God, Tobiah and Sanballat according to these works of theirs, and also Noadiah the prophetess and the rest of the prophets who were trying to frighten me." Nehemiah 6:14

"The prophet Anna was also there in the temple. She was the daughter of Phanuel from the tribe of Asher, and she was very old. In her youth she had been married for seven years, but her husband died. And now she was eighty-four years old. Night and day she served God in the temple by praying and often going without eating. At that time Anna came in and praised God. She spoke about the child Jesus to everyone who hoped for Jerusalem to be set free." Luke 2:36-38

"On the next day we departed and came to Caesarea, and we entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him. He had four unmarried daughters, who prophesied." Acts 21:8-9

The blessed Paul mentions the proper decorum that believers need to observe in worship:

"Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head--it is the same as if her head were shaven… Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered?" 1 Corinthians 11:4-5, 13

Paul’s instructions presuppose that the practice of women praying and prophesying within the Church was commonplace. After all, it would be meaningless for Paul to require women to cover their heads when they prayed or prophesied if they weren’t allowed to perform these functions in the Church.

The Holy Bible also warns against false prophets AND false prophetesses:

"And you, son of man, set your face against the daughters of your people, who prophesy out of their own minds. Prophesy against them and say, Thus says the Lord GOD: Woe to the women who sew magic bands upon all wrists, and make veils for the heads of persons of every stature, in the hunt for souls! Will you hunt down souls belonging to my people and keep your own souls alive? You have profaned me among my people for handfuls of barley and for pieces of bread, putting to death souls who should not die and keeping alive souls who should not live, by your lying to my people, who listen to lies. Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I am against your magic bands with which you hunt the souls like birds, and I will tear them from your arms, and I will let the souls whom you hunt go free, the souls like birds. Your veils also I will tear off and deliver my people out of your hand, and they shall be no more in your hand as prey, and you shall know that I am the LORD. Because you have disheartened the righteous falsely, although I have not grieved him, and you have encouraged the wicked, that he should not turn from his evil way to save his life, therefore you shall no more see false visions nor practice divination. I will deliver my people out of your hand. And you shall know that I am the LORD." Ezekiel 13:17-23

"And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: ‘The words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze. I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first. But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works, and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you as your works deserve.’" Revelation 2:18-23

Much like the reference to false prophets presupposes the existence of true prophets so does mentioning false prophetesses assume that there were true prophetesses that God had raised up for his people.

What the foregoing shows is that the true God of the Holy Bible had no qualms in commissioning female prophets to speak as his representatives. Allah, on the other hand, has issues with female prophets, as we have already seen.

The OT mentions that there were women who ministered in the Temple:

"He made the basin of bronze and its stand of bronze, from the mirrors of the ministering women who ministered in the entrance of the tent of meeting." Exodus 38:8

Moreover, a woman is also listed among the apostles!

"Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners, who are outstanding among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me." Romans 16:7

Both the textual and historical data conclusively demonstrates that Junia was a woman who functioned as an apostle{1}. As an example, note what one of the great Church fathers John Chrysostom (AD 347-407) stated about her:

… Then another praise besides. "Who are of note among the Apostles." And indeed to be apostles at all is a great thing. But to be even amongst these of note, just consider what a great encomium this is! But they were of note owing to their works, to their achievements. Oh! how great is the devotion (filosofia) of this woman, that she should be even counted worthy of the appellation of apostle! But even here he does not stop, but adds another encomium besides, and says, "Who were also in Christ before me." (Chrysostom, Homilies on the Epistle of St. Paul the Apostle to the Romans, XXXI. 7, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series I, Volume XI; online source)

Speaking of apostles, the Holy Bible doesn’t even have a problem depicting angels as women!

"Then the angel who talked with me came forward and said to me, ‘Lift your eyes and see what this is that is going out.’ And I said, ‘What is it?’ He said, ‘This is the basket that is going out.’ And he said, ‘This is their iniquity in all the land.’ And behold, the leaden cover was lifted, and there was a woman sitting in the basket! And he said, ‘This is Wickedness.’ And he thrust her back into the basket, and thrust down the leaden weight on its opening. Then I lifted my eyes and saw, and behold, two women coming forward! The wind was in their wings. They had wings like the wings of a stork, and they lifted up the basket between earth and heaven. Then I said to the angel who talked with me, ‘Where are they taking the basket?’ He said to me, ‘To the land of Shinar, to build a house for it. And when this is prepared, they will set the basket down there on its base.’" Zechariah 5:5-11

The Quran, on the other hand, has a major problem with angels being females:

Has then your Lord (O Pagans!) preferred for you sons, and taken for Himself daughters among the angels? Truly ye utter a most dreadful saying! S. 17:40 Y. Ali

Now ask them (O Muhammad): Hath thy Lord daughters whereas they have sons? Or created We the angels females while they were present? S. 37:149-150 Pickthall

And they regard as females the angels who are the servants of the Gracious God. Did they witness their creation? Then their testimony will be recorded, and they will be questioned. S. 43:19 Sher Ali

Those who do not believe in the world to come name the angels with the names of females. They have not any knowledge thereof; they follow only surmise, and surmise avails naught against truth. S. 53:27-28

According to Paul, women could have a teaching position within the Church in that he permits them to teach other women:

"Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled." Titus 2:3-5

Paul also assigns women the office of deaconess, that the Church can have female deacons:

"Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. Women likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus." 1 Timothy 3:8-13

Some commentators and translators do not believe that Paul is mentioning an office of deaconess, and therefore render the text in the following manner:

"Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things." 1 Timothy 3:11

The above rendering gives the impression that Paul was exhorting the wives of the deacons. There are several reasons why we do not accept this rendering and understanding of the text. First, Paul earlier referred to the qualifications of bishops without ever mentioning their wives personally and telling them how they should conduct themselves (cf. 1 Timothy 3:1-7). This is a rather strange omission if in fact 1 Timothy 3:11 is referring to the deacons’ wives since one would naturally assume that the Apostle would address the wives of both groups. That he didn’t provide instructions on how the wives of the bishops should conduct themselves seems to make a strong case that the reference to women in 3:11 isn’t in connection to the deacons’ wives, but to deaconesses.

Second, Paul mentions a female deacon in one of his letters:

"I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deaconess (diakonon) of the church in Cenchrea. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been a great help to many people, including me." Romans 16:1-2

There are some who believe that the word diakonon is being used in a broader sense to mean servant or slave{2}, thereby implying that Paul wasn’t calling Phoebe a deaconess. Our main objection to this view is that Paul could have used another word if he meant servant/slave, namely doulos, a word that he commonly uses:

"Paul, a servant (doulos) of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God," Romans 1:1

"Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves (doulous), you are slaves (douloi) of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves (douloi) of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves (edoulootheete) of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves (doula) to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves (doula) to righteousness leading to sanctification. When you were slaves (douloi) of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness." Romans 6:16-20

Our belief is that since the Apostle didn’t use this specific word this pretty much demonstrates that he intended to let his readers know that Phoebe was a deaconess of another Church and should be treated with the respect due to her.{3}

Third, there is extra-biblical evidence corroborating the fact that there were female deacons in the Church. Pliny the Younger (c. A.D. 62-113), the Governor of Bithynia in northwestern Turkey, wrote a letter to the emperor Trajan about the Christian movement, dated A.D. 111:

"I have never been present at an examination of Christians. Consequently, I do not know the nature of the extent of the punishments usually meted out to them, nor the grounds of starting an investigation and how far it should be pressed … I have asked them if they are Christians, and if they admit it, I repeat the question a second and third time, with a warning of the punishment awaiting them. If they persist, I order them to be led away for execution; for, whatever the nature of their admission, I am convinced that their stubbornness and unshakable obstinacy ought not to go unpunished … They also declared that the sum total of their guilt or error to be no more than this: they had met regularly before dawn on a fixed day to chant verses alternately amongst themselves in honor of Christ as if to a god, and also bind themselves by oath, not for any criminal purpose, but to abstain from theft, robbery, and adultery … This made me decide that it was all the more necessary to extract the truth by torture from two slave-women whom they call deaconesses. I found nothing but a degenerate sort of cult carried to extravagant lengths."

For more on this letter please check out the following links:

There are specific Church councils which even refer to the office of deaconess in their canons:

Concerning the former Paulinists who seek refuge in the catholic church, it is determined that they must be rebaptised unconditionally. Those who in the past have been enrolled among the clergy, if they appear to be blameless and irreproachable, are to be rebaptised and ordained by the bishop of the catholic church. But if on inquiry they are shown to be unsuitable, it is right that they should be deposed. Similarly with regard to deaconesses and all in general whose names have been included in the roll, the same form shall be observed. We refer to deaconesses who have been granted this status, for they do not receive any imposition of hands, so that they are in all respects to be numbered among the laity. (The Canons of the Council of Nicaea (AD. 325), Canon 19:

Canon 15. A woman shall not receive the laying on of hands as a deaconess under forty years of age, and then only after searching examination. And if, after she has had hands laid on her and has continued for a time to minister, she shall despise the grace of God and give herself in marriage, she shall be anathematized and the man united to her. (The Canons of the Council of Chalcedon (AD. 451); online source)

In light of the foregoing, we feel that the data strongly favors the position that there is an office of female deacon in the Church.

Women also functioned as evangelists and missionaries. An example of a woman who evangelized people by leading them to Christ is the Samaritan woman with whom Jesus conversed:

"Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, ‘What do you seek?’ or, ‘Why are you talking with her?’ So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, ‘Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?’ They went out of the town and were coming to him… Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me all that I ever did.’ So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.’" John 4:27-30, 39-42

Also recall that earlier we had cited Acts 2:1-4 where a group of disciples received the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. What the reader may not be aware of is that this filling of the Holy Spirit was specifically given in order to equip all the believers to testify and evangelize the world on behalf of the risen Christ:

"In the first book, O The-oph'ilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commandment through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. To them he presented himself alive after his passion by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days, and speaking of the kingdom of God. And while staying with them he charged them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, 'you heard from me, for John baptized with water, but before many days you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.' So when they had come together, they asked him, "Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?' He said to them, 'It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Sama'ria and to the end of the earth.'" Acts 1:1-8

As we also saw, this group of evangelists included women:

"Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day's journey away; and when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. All these with one accord devoted themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers. In those days Peter stood up among the brethren (the company of persons was in all about a hundred and twenty) ..." Acts 1:12-15a

Hence, God empowered even the women to be his very witnesses all over the world in spreading the Good News of his Son Jesus, the risen Lord and immortal King!

In fact, Paul praised many women as fellow co-workers and evangelists, going out of his way both to mention and honor them by name:

"Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well. Greet also the church in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in Asia. Greet Mary, who has worked hard among you." Romans 16:3-6

Prisca, or Priscilla, and Aquila were a husband and wife team who were renowned among the believers. These were the very persons who took a young fiery believer named Apollos under their wing:

"Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him and explained to him the way of God more accurately. And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus." Acts 18:24-28

What is interesting about this is that both texts happen to mention the name of the wife before the husband!

"Greet those workers in the Lord, Tryphae'na and Trypho'sa. Greet the beloved Persis, who has worked hard in the Lord. Greet Rufus, eminent in the Lord, also his mother and mine. Greet Asyn'critus, Phlegon, Hermes, Pat'robas, Hermas, and the brethren who are with them. Greet Philol'ogus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olym'pas, and all the saints who are with them." Romans 16:12-15

"I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life." Philippians 4:2-3

The Quran, unlike the Holy Bible, mentions only one woman by name, that of Mary the blessed mother of the Lord Jesus.

History even testifies that it was primarily the work and evangelistic efforts of Christian women which led to so many conversions:

"As already noted, neither Christ nor his apostles promoted or organized a woman’s movement. Yet Christ’s message of repentance and salvation proclaimed by his apostles had revolutionary effects on the lives of women. The early Christians not only included women in the life of the church, but they also gave them freedom and dignity unknown to women at that time.

The acceptance women received in Christian circles was not an end in itself. It moved them to active evangelists and missionaries, as we saw with Phoebe, Euodia, Syntyche, and others. The work and zeal of faithful Christian women was a powerful force in the early church’s spiritual and numerical growth and expansion. As every church historian knows, women commonly were more active in the early church than men. St. Chrysostom (late fourth century) said: ‘The women of those days [early church] were more spirited than men.’ W.E.H. Lecky credits women "in the great conversion of the Roman empire,’ and he adds, ‘In the ages of persecution female figures occupy many of the foremost places and ranks of martyrdom." Leopold Zscharnack says: ‘Christendom dare not forget that it was primarily the female sex that for the greater part brought about its rapid growth. It was the evangelistic zeal of women in the early years of the church, and later, which won the weak and the mighty.’ They exercised the sword of the spirit to promote the growth of the church." (Alvin J. Schmidt, The Great Divide, pp. 74- 75)

Women can also be eyewitnesses according to the Holy Bible. After all, the first eyewitnesses to the greatest event in history, the bodily resurrection and the empty tomb of the Lord Jesus, were women! Women, not men, were the first to see the resurrected Lord:

"When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. And they were saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?’ And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back--it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’ And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid." Mark 16:1-8

"But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.’ So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.’" Matthew 28:5-10

"Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples went back to their homes. But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’ She turned and said to him in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, "I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God."’ Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’--and that he had said these things to her." John 20:1-18

Women and Men are Different in Position and Function

The Holy Bible also teaches that God specifically designed it from the very beginning of creation that man would hold a position of authority, that he would be the head of a woman:

"Then the man said, ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.’" Genesis 2:23

"The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living." Genesis 3:20

The man’s naming of his wife implies his authority over her, and the fact that he named her both before and after the Fall shows that God had designed this to be so from the very start. Another indication that God created the man to be the head of the family is the fact that he was created first, even before the woman (cf. Genesis 2:24-25). As a result of this chronological priority women are to be in loving submission to their head.

These points are reiterated all throughout the Holy Bible, showing that this is indeed the view held by all of God’s inspired agents and messengers:

"But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God… For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man." 1 Corinthians 11:3, 7-9

"Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands." Ephesians 5:22-24

"Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord." Colossians 3:18

"Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives-- when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external--the braiding of hair, the wearing of gold, or the putting on of clothing-- but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening." 1 Peter 3:1-6

Moreover, in light of God’s specific and deliberate design women are not to hold a position of authority and headship in the Christian congregation. The NT Scriptures clearly teach that God appointed male eldership over the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ:

"The saying is sure: If any one aspires to the office of bishop, he desires a noble task. Now a bishop must be above reproach, the HUSBAND [note that it says husband, implying male headship] of one wife, temperate, sensible, dignified, hospitable, an apt teacher, no drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and no lover of money. He must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way; for if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he care for God's church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may be puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil; moreover he must be well thought of by outsiders, or he may fall into reproach and the snare of the devil." 1 Timothy 3:1-7

"This is why I left you in Crete, that you might amend what was defective, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you, if any man is blameless, the HUSBAND of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of being profligate or insubordinate. For a bishop, as God's steward, must be blameless; he must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of goodness, master of himself, upright, holy, and self-controlled; he must hold firm to the sure word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to confute those who contradict it." Titus 1:5-9

However, women can pray, prophesy or proclaim, sing, and speak in tongues in the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ, provided it is done in an orderly manner (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:5; 12:4-31; 14:1-25).

The Bible explains what the attitude and position of women should be in relation to this male leadership:

"What then, brethren? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn; and let one interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silence in church and speak to himself and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to another sitting by, let the first be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged; and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silence in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as even the law says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. What! Did the word of God originate with you, or are you the only ones it has reached? If any one thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that what I am writing to you is a command of the Lord. If any one does not recognize this, he is not recognized." 1 Corinthians 14:26-38

"likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness--with good works. Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 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--if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control." 1 Timothy 2:9-15

What these texts are saying is that women cannot hold a role of elder or bishop, and cannot make authoritative decisions in relation to Church governance since this is the function of the presiding elders. They must learn in quiet submission and not seek to usurp the authority which Christ has given the male leadership of his Church.

Sadly, some have distorted these last two passages to mean something other than what Paul intended. They claim that Paul is muzzling the women by forbidding them to speak altogether, which is the furthest thing from reality.

In the first place, Paul’s instruction in 1 Corinthians 14 is directed to Christians who were acting in a disorderly manner. Paul was correcting such chaotic behavior by telling believers how and how not to behave. In light of this context, Paul tells women not to contribute to this chaos but to remain silent and, if need be, ask their husbands privately. The reference to husbands clearly shows that Paul was addressing a specific situation where there were married women who were disrupting the worship service by acting out of line. Besides, it is not the place of women to administer discipline or to correct disorderly behavior and conduct in the congregation. That is the job of the male leadership appointed by Christ.

In a similar way, Paul in 1 Timothy 2 is telling women that they cannot function as teachers or hold authority in a congregation consisting of both men and women since God designed that men will be the ones who will authoritatively teach and lead a mixed congregation.

There are still others that claim that Paul’s statement in 1 Timothy that Eve was deceived, not Adam, is intended to show why women are inferior to men.

To correct this gross distortion of the text we need to remind the reader that the Holy Scriptures, specifically Paul, hold Adam responsible for the death and corruption of the human race, not Eve:

"But like Adam they transgressed the covenant; there they dealt faithlessly with me." Hosea 6:7

"Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned-- for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man's sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. If, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." Romans 5:12-21

"But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by A MAN came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ." 1 Corinthians 15:20-23

"Thus it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven." 1 Corinthians 15:45-49

The foregoing makes it quite obvious that the blessed Apostle Paul holds the first man primarily responsible for the fall of humanity. Hence, his statement that Eve was deceived, not Adam, is no more an insult to all women then Paul’s claim that Adam plunged all humanity into sin and death is an indictment against all men. Paul is simply stating the facts, as reported in God’s true Word.

If anything, Paul’s comments are intended to protect women by placing the responsibility on men to insure that Christ’s Church does not fall prey to the enemy’s cunning:

"And from Mile'tus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church. And when they came to him, he said to them: ‘You yourselves know how I lived among you all the time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which befell me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance to God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, bound in the Spirit, not knowing what shall befall me there; except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may accomplish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. And now, behold, I know that all you among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom will see my face no more. Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God which he obtained with the blood of his own Son. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I coveted no one's silver or gold or apparel. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities, and to those who were with me. In all things I have shown you that by so toiling one must help the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive."’" Acts 20:17-35

For example, Paul reasons that Eve being deceived by Satan is tied in with the fact of a reversal of roles, an implicit indictment against the first man for failing to protect her and do what he was created to do. Adam was supposed to lead Eve as her head, and yet he allowed the serpent to deceive her and lead them into sinning against God. Had Adam intervened to protect Eve by opposing the serpent, she wouldn’t have been deceived into becoming a sinner. In other words, it is precisely because of Adam’s failure to take responsibility as the head of the relationship that the woman was deceived into becoming a transgressor against God. After all, had Adam done what he was created to do then Satan would have failed to achieve his task. This is perhaps one of the reasons why Adam is blamed for plunging humanity into sin and despair.

This also explains why Paul goes on to say that, instead of assuming a role which God assigned to men, women would do well to perform their roles as mothers and nurturers of the family. Women honor God by carrying out the specific directives which God gave them to do, thereby resulting in their salvation (or more precisely, is the evidence of their salvation since one is saved purely by the grace of God through faith in Christ alone [cf. Romans 3:20-28; 11:5-6; Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:8-10]).{4}

Concluding Remarks

At this point we want to summarize what we have discussed and seen thus far. This is what we have learned from God’s true Word, the Holy Bible, regarding women:

  1. They are created in the image of God.
  2. They share the same essence and nature of men, and therefore have the same intrinsic value and dignity in the eyes of God.
  3. They are designed to rule, along with the men, over God’s physical creation.
  4. They could function as prophets, leaders, teachers, missionaries, and evangelists.
  5. They are given the same kinds of spiritual gifts that the men receive.

At the same time, the Holy Bible teaches that:

  1. Men are the head of women. This doesn’t mean that every man is the head of every woman, since sons are not the heads of their mothers, a person cannot be the head of another man’s wife etc.
  2. Even though women are co-rulers with men, man holds authority over them because he is the head in the relationship.
  3. Women cannot hold authoritative roles of teaching or eldership over men, since God has designed that the men will function as leaders and protectors of the Church of Jesus Christ.

We conclude our discussion by looking at some final references from God’s true Word in praise of godly women. This should confirm to the reader that our analysis that the Holy Bible grants women great honor and dignity is correct and sound:

"He who finds a wife finds what is GOOD and receives FAVOR from the LORD." Proverbs 18:22

"Houses and wealth are inherited from parents, but a prudent wife is from the LORD." Proverbs 19:14

The ideal woman is one who maintains godliness, manages her family, and is successful at business. Such a woman is priceless according to the Holy Bible:

"A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth FAR MORE THAN RUBIES. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life. She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands. She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar. She gets up while it is still dark; she provides food for her family and portions for her servant girls. She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard. She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks. She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night. In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers. She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy. When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet. She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple. Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land. She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes. She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue. She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: ‘Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.’ Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD IS TO BE PRAISED. Give her the reward SHE HAS EARNED, and let her works BRING HER PRAISE at the city gate." Proverbs 31:10-31

Recommended Reading

For those wanting a fuller and more in depth analysis of the issues raised in this paper regarding men and women roles in the Holy Bible, we highly recommend the following website and all of its online books:

Godly Evangelical scholars who love the Lord and God’s Word have written these books in order to better equip Christians as to what the Holy Bible truly says about these issues.



{1} For a very helpful book which provides the textual and historical data establishing that Junia was a prominent female apostle we cautiously recommend the following book by Eldon Jay Epp, Junia The First Woman Apostle (Fortress Press, Minneapolis 2005). We say cautiously since the author holds to more of a liberal critical view of the Holy Bible which is not based on any solid evidence, but on a priori assumptions. Apart from his critical views, Epp’s book is a great read.

{2} In the NT Church, the office of deacon was instituted specifically because the Apostles were need of believers who could serve and attend the needs of the believing community so that the twelve could focus on prayer and preaching the word:

"Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists murmured against the Hebrews because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the body of the disciples and said, ‘It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brethren, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.’ And what they said pleased the whole multitude, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Proch'orus, and Nica'nor, and Ti'mon, and Par'menas, and Nicola'us, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands upon them." Acts 6:1-6

So in one sense a deacon is a servant, which means that everyone serving could be viewed as being a deacon of sorts:

"It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant (diakonos), and whoever would be first among you must be your slave (doulos); even as the Son of man came not to be served (diakoneetheenai) but to serve (diakoneesai), and to give his life as a ransom for many." Matthew 20:26-27

"What then is Apol'los? What is Paul? Servants (diakonoi) through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each." 1 Corinthians 3:5

"But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant (diakonos) of sin? Certainly not!" Galatians 2:17

"provided that you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which has been preached to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister (diakonos)." Colossians 1:23

Yet, just as the above text suggests that Paul’s appointment to be a minister refers to his commission as an apostle, i.e. in an official position within the Church, one could serve as a deacon in an official capacity, as a specific role or function either within the Church or government:

"Then the king said to the attendants (tois diakonois), ‘Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.’" Matthew 22:13

"For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of him who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant (diakonos) for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain; he is the servant (diakonos) of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer." Romans 13:3-4

Thus, deacon in a more restricted sense refers to an official role within Christ’s Church.

{3} But even this point is not so ironclad since in the previous chapter Paul uses the same word in connection to Jesus being a servant to the Jews:

"For I tell you that Christ became a servant (diakonon) to the circumcised to show God's truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs," Romans 15:8

In light of this, one can legitimately argue for the view that Paul was simply calling Phoebe a servant, taking deacon in the more general sense of one who serves and not as one holding a specific office in the Church.

It may even be that Paul used the title deacon in relation to Christ to show how the Lord Jesus perfectly fulfilled this role (as well as a host of others) as an example for the others who assume these various positions and functions within the Church. After all, Christ is given many of the same titles and roles assumed by believers. For instance, both the Lord Jesus and believers are called living stones:

"As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." 1 Peter 2:4-5

Both the Lord Jesus and believers are called shepherds and overseers or bishops:

For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer (episkopon) of your souls. 1 Peter 2:25

"And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory." 1 Peter 5:4

"Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers (episkopous), to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood." Acts 20:28

Both the Lord Jesus and believers are called apostles and priests, with Christ being the High Priest of our faith:

"Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession;" Hebrews 3:1

"He appointed twelve—designating them apostles —that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach." Mark 3:14

"But on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit." Romans 15:15-16

"But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light." 1 Peter 2:9

"and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the first-born of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen." Revelation 1:5-6

"And they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.’" Revelation 5:9-10

Thus, Paul calling Jesus a deacon is quite in line with the fact that Christ assumed many of the roles found within the Church in order to set forth the example for others to emulate. If understood in this manner then the reference to Jesus being a deacon wouldn't undermine the point of Phoebe having functioned in an offical capacity as a deaconness of the Church.

{4} Muslims who bring up such objections are either being dishonest or do not know what their own religious scriptures and traditions teach about women. For example, there are several narrations which are classified as sound by Sunni Muslim scholarship that blame Eve for women’s negative and sinful behavior toward their husbands:

Narrated Abu Huraira:
The Prophet said, "Were it not for Bani Israel, meat would not decay; and were it not FOR EVE, no woman would ever betray her husband." (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 55, Number 611)

Hammam b. Munabbih said: These are some of the ahadith which Abu Huraira (Allah be pleased with him) narrated to us from Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him), and one of these (this one): Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) said: Had it not been for Bani Isra'il, food would not have become stale, and meal would not have gone bad; and had it not been FOR Eve, a woman would never have acted unfaithfully toward her husband. (Sahih Muslim, Book 008, Number 3472)

Thus, if Muslims have a problem with what Paul wrote regarding Eve, they must definitely have a problem with Muhammad who blamed women’s betrayal of their husbands entirely upon Eve.

Women in Islam and Christianity
Articles by Sam Shamoun
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