What Does the Bible Say about Women in Ministry?

St. Teresa of Avila by Peter Paul Rubens (1615)

The early church in the book of Acts gives churches and Christians today a framework of how Christ intended his church to function. Part of this includes two offices, elders and deacons, that are used to accomplish Kingdom work in local churches and the surrounding areas. Today, there is not so much confusion over what these offices are to do, but who is permitted to hold them.

The office of “elder” is fulfilled primarily through that of teaching, oversight of the flock, and sharing in the ministry of Christ.[1] The role of a deacon, or deaconess, is fulfilled by service. If the elder is an overseer and teacher, than a deacon is a doer. The deacons are those that do service within the church for the church, “they are to be practical servants (and not necessarily teachers).”[2]

The requirements for an elder can be found quite clearly in 1 Timothy 3:2-7: “Therefore an

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overseer must be above reproach…husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive…He must not be a recent convert…he must be well thought of by outsiders” (ESV). Likewise, the requirements for a deacon are found in the next passage: “Deacons…must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain…wives must be dignified…husband of one wife, managing their children and households well” (vv. 8, 11, 12).

In light of the role women may play in ministry, it is important to understand Biblically what was the case and to be careful to apply this to our current Church practice. First, a woman may not be an elder. Paul is quite clear that women are not permitted to teach men (2:12), and that an elder must be able to teach (3:2). These two verses quickly rule out women filling the role of an elder. Also, woman are not permitted to rule over men (2:12) and as an elder one is an overseer (3:2) that must care for God’s church (v. 5).

The office of deacon is different than an elder in qualifications, responsibilities, and in that women are permitted to fill this office. Although Paul states that a deacon is to be the husband of one wife (v. 12) he also records that there were women who filled this office by serving in the New Testament church during his time of ministry (specifically Phoebe who was “a servant of the church at Canchreae” (Rom 16:1)).

Some hold to the view that women are permitted to hold the office of elder and will reference Titus 2:3. What they fail to realize is that Paul states specifically, in verse four of Titus chapter two, that women are to teach “young women,” if they are going to teach. If Paul was permitting women to teach anyone of any age he would not have clarified his statement made in verse three. Some may also use Galatians 3:28 as a verse permitting woman to teach and be overseers. If they do use that verse for such a purpose they are grossly using it out of it’s context.

Others say that women should not be permitted to have any role in the church. There is simply no solid Biblical argument for such a view. Women played a large role in the ministry of Jesus (Matt. 27:55-56; Mark 15:40-41; Luke 8:1-3), were present at his crucifixion (Luke 23:27, 49, 55-56), instructed by an angel after his resurrection (Luke 24:6-8), and were present as helpers in the early church (Acts 1:14; 2:17-18; 9:36-43; 21:8-9; Rom. 16).

As far as limitations on women outside of the church go, there are none. Women can and do hold positions of authority over men (specifically in the workplace). In such a case, the wise man (and woman) will heed Romans 13: “be subject to the governing authorities…those that exist have been instituted by God” (v. 1).

With all of this being said, women can, and do, play a very important role in the local church. They can raise questions to have theological issues clarified. They can have leadership roles in the teaching of younger woman and children, and can also have very important roles in the management (specifically administration responsibilities) of the local church.

As stated previously, Jesus used women in his ministry. As this is the case, and where Biblically permitted, the church of today should not keep women from playing active roles in their ministry.


  • [1] Wallace, R.S. “Elder.” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Elwell, A. Walter. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Company, 2001), 369.
  • [2] Burge, G.M. “Deacon, Deaconess.” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Elwell, A. Walter. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Company, 2001), 320.

BibliographyBurge, G.M. “Deacon, Deaconess.” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Elwell, A. Walter. 320. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Company, 2001.

Wallace, R.S. “Elder.” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Elwell, A. Walter. 369. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Company, 2001.

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Article header photo credit: St. Teresa of Avila by Peter Paul Rubens (1615). http://wp.me/p1EaDQ-24

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