What Does the Bible Say About Women and the Church?

Being a woman with the spiritual gifts of teaching and leadership, when the Lord called me into ministry I ran into Christian leaders who believed the Bible confined women to the nursery or the kitchen. Worse, as a counselor, I met women whose pastors stood behind their abusive husbands. Such misunderstanding and misinterpretation of Scripture has harmed many in the body of Christ, and not just women.

I’m delighted that Julie Zine Coleman has tackled the thorny topic of Women and the Church with grace and truth in her new book On Purpose. Her thoughtful research of church history and her study of the Scriptures will bless you. Now here’s Julie…

He cornered me in the snack bar after chapel. At the camp director’s request, I had just led the singing that evening for the new group of campers and counselors at Boy’s Camp. I had been initially reluctant to lead in front of a group of men, believing that the Bible restricted women in that way. But they were desperate. There was no one else. I would not be “usurping authority,” they assured me. The camp oversight was asking me to do it.

But the speaker didn’t see it that way. Beet red in the face, barely controlling his anger, he confronted me. Why would I ever think it appropriate to lead men? He then went on to lecture me on what Scripture teaches about women (like I hadn’t heard it my whole life long) and had me reduced me to tears by the time he was done.

I Tried to Explain

I tried to explain, but he was having none of it. That was it for my new assignment. The camp did without a competent song leader for the rest of the two weeks. Having no one was better than having a woman.

This was one of many incidents that made me question the many restrictions placed on women in most conservative denominations at that time. Please understand, I knew the Scriptures cited for those limitations almost as well as John 3:16. My problem was I was a born leader. It came out my pores. So I was constantly banging my head on that glass ceiling.

I often wondered why God would have made me the way I was, if I had to worry every time I used my spiritual gifts. I lived in constant fear of crossing the line to inappropriate.

That was in the 1970’s. Much has changed in society since my college days. Women now hold key leadership positions in business, in politics, and enjoy respect by society in general. Equality has been reached on many levels. But not in the Church.

It has been said that the Church is always arriving thirty years late and out of breath. But in this case, traditional roles have been dictated by Scripture, which is timeless and far above any cultural determination. Right? But does Scripture really teach limitations? Or is the traditional position in reality an interpretation of God’s Word, subject to human error or misunderstanding?

Are These Limits on Women in the Church Based on Scripture or on a Traditional Interpretation?

Anyone studying Scripture has factors that can keep them from a correct understanding. Basic beliefs that we have been taught from an early age, be they right or wrong, become the foundation and filter for any additional knowledge we may gain.

Our tightly held assumptions are the lens through which we see the world. Our experiences chime in as well. Past hurts or successes will color how we receive information. In part, those things have made us into who we are today.

So, while Scripture is God’s Word, divinely inspired, accurate and powerful, human interpretation is not. An interpreter is always affected by their core beliefs. We all view the world and even the Bible through a certain lens.

My passion for this subject comes from a concern that we have gotten it wrong. I ache for future generations whose culture has moved on, giving them a freedom in secular society that the Church will unnecessarily not allow.

I have seen women told to stay in abusive marriages while their church leadership tiptoes around the abusers, refusing to hold them accountable. Too many people leave Christian fellowship because of their disillusionment with how women are treated by the body.

Worst of all—I have seen women walk away from God, because they believe He thinks of them as second-class citizens in His kingdom.

Now more than ever, we need to get to the bottom of these passages. Truth will set us free every time. What does God have to say about women’s place? It’s time to dig in. You might well be surprised.

What does God have to say about women’s place? It’s time to dig in. You might well be surprised. @JulieZColeman #Women, #Church Click To Tweet

About the author:

Julie Zine Coleman helps others to understand and know an unexpected God. A popular conference and retreat speaker, she holds an M.A. in biblical studies. Julie is the managing editor for Arise Daily. When she is not glaring at her computer, she spends time with her grandchildren, gardening, or crafting. More on Julie can be found at JulieZineColeman.com and Facebook.

Julie’s new book, On Purpose, is a careful study of the passages in the Bible often interpreted to limit women in the church and home. Each chapter reveals timeless biblical principles that actually teach freedom, not limitation.

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  1. Julie Z Coleman

    Thanks, Debbie, for allowing me to share these thoughts with your readers. This is an important topic that affects not only women, but all members of the body. Because if we in the church are unnecessarily limiting women, we are endeavoring to walk on one leg, when we were given two. It’s time to take another look at these passages! To God be the glory.

    • Debbie Wilson

      Amen, Julie. Thank you for researching this topic so that we can better understand what the biblical writers were saying.

  2. Jan

    You’ve made me very curious to read your book. This is an important topic indeed and I believe distorted notions on this subject keeps many people from following Jesus.

    • Debbie Wilson

      I think so too, Jan. And Julie’s book dives deeply into many confusing passages or passages that I believe have been misunderstood.

    • Julie Z Coleman

      Thank you Jan! Because it is common to pull several texts concerning women out of their contexts, then group them together to make a doctrine (talk about distortion!), my book examines one passage per chapter. I hope you will read it, Jan. The Lord gave me some pretty awesome insights as I dug into each one. I think you will be blessed! (Spoiler alert: freedom for everyone!)

  3. Jeanne Takenaka

    Reading verses in context is crucial to reading and applying God’s word. When we pick and choose what to apply and how, we often misrepresent God and His truths to the world around us. This books is timely and needed.

    • Julie Z Coleman

      So true, Jeanne! We never want to put words in God’s mouth. It was an amazing time of discovery when I dove into the context of each passage. I hope you will enjoy the book!

    • Debbie Wilson

      Jeanne, I found Julie’s book very helpful as she sets not only the biblical context but the historical context in which it was written.

  4. J.D. Wininger

    Thank you Ms. Julie and Ms. Debbie. Too often, and still today, I see Christ’s true church suffer from the division and divisiveness Satan and mankind creates. I’ve often thought of Lydia and many others in Jesus’ time and how they were anything but “backseat Christ followers.” I want to be careful here, as I want to also remain as scripturally right as I can be, but God’s word doesn’t tell us that women can’t assume leadership roles in the church. Some of the best Bible teachers I’ve been blessed to know are women. Children’s ministry? I think quite often that women are better equipped for that nurturing role than men. I’m not a believer in female pastoral duties, but if God has truly called a woman to minister, they should always heed His calling upon their life. Ministry leadership does not always mean being a Pastor, or perhaps even Elder. I’ll be the first to admit though, I don’t know what I don’t know, but I do know this. The speaker who accosted you at that camp was wrong to do so. We may have our beliefs, traditions, etc., but if we don’t reach out to someone in love, then we are not reaching out to them with a godly intent but a personal agenda. Enjoyed your post ladies.

    • Debbie Wilson

      J.D., I too love how Paul esteemed the women in ministry, especially Priscilla. I appreciate Julie’s book. Unfortunately, many teachings have led women to be treated as 2nd class citizens in the church. Jesus came to demolish that. When I worked as a counselor guess which verse unbelieving or carnal husbands used as a hammer. When I’d turn to that passage and read the context women found hope, Jesus cares about them. They were to operate out of reverence for Christ, not fear of their husbands. Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty.

    • Julie Z Coleman

      Yes. Always in love. Without it we are a clanging gong. It wasn’t until I got that through my head that I was finally able to write this book (because I did not want to write in anger). We are all brothers and sisters in Christ, heirs to the kingdom, beloved by God. Even in disagreement, we must treat each other accordingly. As frustrating as that can be. Worth it.

  5. Lesley Goodall

    Where can I go where women are treated properly. I find that if awomen is joined to a Man in the religion she is respected. Otherwise she is ignored and cannot do better than them??

    • Debbie Wilson

      Lesley, you bring up a good point. I do have single friends who’ve had thriving ministries. Have you read about Henrietta Mears? She was the director of Christian education of 1st Presbyterian Church of Hollywood which produced many great leaders including Bill Bright and Billy Graham. I hope you find a place that will encourage you to use your spiritual gifts.

    • Julie Z Coleman

      We have a long way to go. But God is on the move, and many churches are responding to the plethora of literature that sets the truth apart from tradition.

  6. Ann J Musico

    the Jesus I know, love and serve gave extraordinary respect to women throughout His ministry on earth so I have always believed we are favored in His sightl regardless of the inaccurate interpretations of imperfect human beings.

    • Debbie Wilson

      Well said, Ann.

  7. Connie Jo Earls

    Thank you for sharing this! And thank you for taking the time to write about this topic. Can’t wait sit to read the book!

    • Debbie Wilson

      Julie is an excellent teacher. I know you’ll enjoy her book, C.J.

    • Julie Z Coleman

      I hope it will be helpful!! I learned so much in researching and writing it! God bless.

  8. Barbara Latta

    It is long overdue for the church to operate according to the truth of what God’s Word really says instead of tradition. Thanks for sharing this awesome post.

    • Debbie Wilson

      Amen! Thank you, Barbara.

    • Julie Z Coleman

      Yes!! Thanks for your encouragement!

  9. Lisa Blair

    I am sad to hear of the painful things you have endured. I’m so thankful you laid the pain, your giftings, and leadership at His feet, allowing the seed to be broken, planted, watered, so that many are fed by the bread that has been produced from the wheat grown. I purchased your book, Julie, and thank you for your labor of love. FYI, you might find this book to be an encouragement to your soul, How I Changed My Mind about Women in Leadership: Compelling Stories from Prominent Evangelicals.

    • Debbie Wilson

      Lisa, thank you for your recommendation. I appreciate it so much.

  10. Karen Griffin

    I loved how Julie covered these topics in her book. So much goes against what I have been taught, but now I feel equipped to really pray over these issues and study the Word trying to “rightly divide the Word of truth.” Thank you, Julie Z Coleman for all your research and dedication in writing this book. Thank you, Debbie Wilson for sharing about it.

    • Debbie Wilson

      Thank you, Karen!

  11. Lisa notes

    I finally left my conservative congregation over this very issue a few years back. As a woman, I was not allowed to pray aloud if a man was present. I have thoroughly enjoyed my freedom in Christ since I walked away from that church, and found a church that allows everyone to use the gifts that God has placed inside them to spread God’s love.

    • Debbie Wilson

      Wow, Lisa, that is really strict and confining. It is dangerous to pluck verses out of context. Paul writes in one place “how” a woman is to pray in public, so when he tells them to be quiet in another you know he’s not dealing in general. We need to dig deeper to understand what was going on in his audience.

  12. Katherine Pasour

    I’m so thankful you shared this message, Julie (and Debbie). As a woman who has been in leadership roles since the 1970s, I’ve had lots of opportunities to experience oppression from men (and from women–sometimes women are their own worst enemies in this issue). Fortunately, I’ve been blessed to be in a church denomination for the last 35 years that embraces women in leadership roles. However, gender discrimination (and other types as well) is still very much a part of our society. I’m thankful we’ve come a long way, but there’s still some distance to go. Thank you both.

    • Debbie Wilson

      It is always encouraging to connect with others who’ve had similar journeys. Thank you, Katherine, for sharing yours.

  13. Nancy Elizabeth Head

    Thank you, Julie and Debbie, for sharing this important message. I remember Elizabeth Elliot’s account of speaking before a congregation and how she dealt with these passages. She always had a man introduce her. Then she spoke to mixed groups, men and women, giving insights only she had. Thanks, Julie for tackling this topic. God bless!

    • Debbie Wilson

      Elizabeth Elliot was certainly a gift to the church. Thank you, Nancy.

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