The Church and Women in Leadership

A statue of Saint Thecla in the gorge of Saint Thecla, Ma'loula, Syria. Photo credit: Bernard Gagnon | CC3.0, Wikimedia Commons. Starting in the mid to late second century, a Christian work called The Acts of Paul and Thecla circulated very broadly and enthusiastically in the Mediterranean region.  It is probably a mix of fact and pious fiction.  In it, Thecla, a disciple of Paul and blessed by him, preached and ministered to both men and women in the region of Asia Minor.  Tertullian of Carthage complained that some Christians were using the story of Thecla to advocate for women baptizing and preaching.  This is one data point suggesting that women had considerable authority in ministry and in the church in the earlier period of the church (see this book). In the Eastern Orthodox Church, Thecla is honored as a saint, protomartyr, and equal to the apostles.


the church and women in leadership

Messages and Essays on the Church and Women in Leadership

Christian Ethics of Organization:  The Church, Organizations, and Organizational Authority A long essay exploring authority in the church, and Christian ethics for any and all organizations 

The Rights of Women in the Bible part 1 and part 2 An exploration of women's rights in the various roles they found themselves in throughout the biblical narrative.  

The Theme of Women in Judges, and the Portrayal of Deborah as Leader Notes on how Deborah is portrayed as a prophet like Moses, and the significance of her portrayal for the entire Book of Judges and the rest of the biblical canon.

Women Speaking Authoritatively in the Worship Service in 1 Corinthians 11 This passage indicates that women preaching and praying was a standard practice in the earliest congregations.  It was established before Paul.  This means that the embodied practice of headship including women preaching authoritatively.  I argue that this unique Christian worship context controlled the meaning of the word head (Greek kephale).  It is therefore a mistake for Protestants to claim 'sola Scriptura' in such a way that scholars look for the meaning of kephale from the Septuagint Old Testament of the Greek usage outside the New Testament.  That method does not account for the hermeneutical priority of 1 Corinthians 11.

Women and Speech in 1 Corinthians 11 and 14 This is a comparison of all the possible combinations of how two major passages about women speaking can and must be interpreted together

The Implications of the Chiastic Structure of 1 Timothy on the Question of Women in Church Leadership This argument for the entirety of 1 Timothy being a chiasm means that the "widows" of ch.5 correspond to the "elders" of ch.3.  The paper also discusses the meaning of the Greek word authentein in 2:12 versus the standard Greek word for legitimate and proper authority, exousia.  The entirety of 1 Timothy is shown to support women in church leadership and preaching-teaching authority.

Paul's View of Headship in Marriage: How 1 Corinthians Interprets Ephesians and Colossians The word "head" (Greek kephale) was normatively defined by 1 Corinthians 11, where women preached, representing the head to the body.  Therefore, people who have not had the experience of sitting under the authority of a female preacher-teacher have an incomplete understanding of headship, and probably an exclusively male understanding, which is defective.  Also, the ethics of marriage taught in 1 Corinthians can be shown to take logical priority (not hermeneutical priority, except in a simplistic sense) over the ethics of marriage taught in Ephesians and Colossians.

Women Restored, Women Restoring A thematic study of Luke - Acts, which uses a literary methodology to argue that women had authority in creation, because they have authority in Jesus' new creation. 

Women in the Early Church part 1 and part 2 A compilation of the most compelling evidence to support women in church leadership roles in the early church

Women in Church Leadership part 1 and part 2 An presentation drawing from the key biblical passages

Women in Church Leadership and Biblical Translation A short letter response to a friend who asked about issues present in Bible translation


Other Books and Articles on the Church and Women in Leadership

Peter Green, Saint Hilda of Whitby (St. Wilfrid's Parish Church) about Hilda (c.614 - 680 AD) who founded and led a monastery for men and women; five of her disciples went on to be bishops

John Wijngaards, Women Priests in the Ancient Church (Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research) and Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research, Jesus Empowered Women to Preside at Eucharist (Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research)

Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research, Women Deaconnesses in Historical Records (Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research) and John Wijngaards, Reconstruction of the Ordination Rite of Women Deacons (Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research) explores the ordination rite recovered in the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) realm. See also Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research, A Resurrecting, Remembering & Re-enacting: Reconstructing the Ordination of Women Deacons during the First Millennium (Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research) a list of women we know from church history

Gordon Hugenberger, Women in Church Office: Hermeneutics or Exegesis? A Survey of Approaches to 1 Tim 2:8 - 15 (paper, Journal of Evangelical Theology Society, Sep 1992)

Thomas F. Torrance, The Ministry of Women (Touchstone Magazine, Fall 1992)

Stephen J. Davis, The Cult of Saint Thecla: A Tradition of Women's Piety in Late Antiquity (Amazon book, 2001)

N.T. Wright, Gender and the Biblical Basis for Women's Service in the Church (video, 2004)

Dennis J. Preato, Empirical Data in Support of Egalitarian Marriages and A Fresh Perspective on Submission and Authority (God's Word to Women, Apr 23, 2004) note comments on Cyril, Theodore, and John Chrysostom and their engagement with 1 Corinthians and Ephesians based on an Athanasian view of the Trinity, where the Son is the power of the Father (1 Cor.1:24), rather than an Augustinian view of the Trinity, where the Son has power, but the Father has more

Gordon Hugenberger, Women in Leadership (short summary, Park Street Church website, Apr 14, 2008)

Kathleen E. Corley, Maranatha: Women's Funerary Rituals and Christian Origins (Amazon book, Apr 2010) studies funeral rites and customs in the ancient Roman world; she compares them to the Gospels’ accounts of the women at Jesus’ empty tomb announcing his resurrection, finding a new role for women mourners at the heart of Christian faith

Scot McKnight, Women Preachers - A Story Often Neglected (BeliefNet, Aug 2010)

Jimmy Carter, Losing My Religion for Equality (Women's Press, Jan 25, 2013)

Rachel Pietka, Hey John Piper, Is My Femininity Showing? The Implications of Allowing Women to Teach "Indirectly" (Christianity Today, Apr 2013)

Kate Wallace, A Complementarian View of Justice? (blog, Mar 14, 2014)

Karen Swallow Prior, The Most Influential Reformer You've Never Heard of: Hannah More (Christianity Today, Mar 2014)

Sandra Glahn, The Feminists We Forgot (Christianity Today, Apr 2014)

Steve Hoeft, Ginger Whitacre, Stay At Home Mom Exposes Largest Price Fixing Company in History (Faith Driven Business, Apr 3, 2014)

Virgins of the Desert (CityDesert website, Dec 6, 2014) about Egyptian monasticism with mention elsewhere

Amy R. Buckley, Why You Should Be a Christian Feminist (Relevant Magazine, Dec 31, 2014)

Brice C. Jones, Domestic Violence, Local Bishops, and a Church in a Fourth Century Papyrus (Brice C. Jones, Apr 19, 2015) a very important historical example

Orthodox Deaconness (St. Phoebe Center website) offers some insight into the decline of the female diaconate, and calls for reinstating it in Orthodoxy

Margaret Mowczko, Prominent Biblical Scholars on Women in Ministry (New Life blog) Mowczko is an outstanding resource; check out her blog

Emily Nielsen Jones, A Plea to My Millennial Sisters*: Keep Ringing the Bell To Keep the Doors From Swinging Backwards on Your Daughters & Theirs… (Linked In, Oct 26, 2015)

Alex Mar, The Rebel Virgins and Desert Mothers Who Have Been Written Out of Christianity's Early History (Atlas Obscura, Jan 21, 2016)

Scot McKnight, The Silence of Complementarians on Slavery (Patheos blog, Apr 25, 2016)

Rachel Elizabeth Asproth, When Women Police Themselves, The Church Is Diminished (CBE International, May 10, 2016)

Patricia Miller, Women Are Leaving Church, and the Reason Seems Clear (Religion Dispatches, May 25, 2016) conservative politics

Emily Nielson Jones, “Band of Brothers”: The Very Young, Very Male Face of Boston’s Church Planting Movement (Missio Alliance, Jul 20, 2016) a troubling pattern

Gary S. Shogren, Lady Apostle Lands in Jail! (Open Our Eyes Lord, Oct 29, 2016)  

Sarah MacDonald, Researcher: Artifacts Show That Early Church Women Served as Clergy (National Catholic Reporter, Jul 13, 2019) expresses too much certainty from archaeological reliquary evidence, but still very interesting

The Trinity as a Hierarchy of Power? Or Not? Debates with Subordinationists, Implications for Gender Equality 

Jamin A. Hubner, Hubner and Grudem Transcript on the Trinity (2016 ETS Panel Discussion Q and A) (, 2016)

Liam Goligher, Is it Okay to Teach a Complementarianism Based on Eternal Subordination? (Mortification of Spin, Jun 3, 2016) excellent exploration of Nicene trinitarianism

Liam Goligher, Reinventing God (Mortification of Spin, Jun 6, 2016)

Michael F. Bird, Patristics Scholar Michel R. Barnes Weighs in on the Intra-Complementarian Debate on the Trinity (Patheos, Jun 13, 2016)

Michael F. Bird, Patristics Scholar Lewis Ayres Weighs in on the Intra-Complementarian Debate (Patheos, Jun 13, 2016) although Ayres holds to Augustine's version of the trinity, while I hold to an Athanasian version in accordance with the fourth century view, which arguably undergirded Nicaea 325 AD and Constantinople 381 AD; see Peter Leithart, Athanasius (Amazon book, Jul 2011) p.75 - 77

Jamin Hubner, Contemporary Revisions to Trinitarian Theology: A Concise Assessment (CBE International, Jun 21, 2016) 

Mark Woods, Complementarianism and the Trinity: Is Wayne Grudem a Dangerous Heretic? (Christian Today, Jun 28, 2016)

Bobby Grow, A Response to Al Mohler on Tradition and the Trinity With Reference to Richard Muller (Evangelical Calvinist, Jun 28, 2016)

Bobby Grow, Maximus the Confessor's Response to the Eternal Functional Subordinationism in the Trinity (Evangelical Calvinist, Jun 30, 2016)

Jonathan Kleis, The Fathers, the Reformed, and the Orthodox Say ‘No’ to Eternal Trinitarian Subordination (Reformissio, Jul 10, 2016) T.F. Torrance's account of Athanasius' influence on the Council of Constantinople

Kevin Giles, Seven Points in Favor of the Nicene and Reformed Doctrine of the Trinity (CBE International, Dec 14, 2016) rejecting a hierarchical Trinity and hierarchical gender relations

Allison Quient, The Trinity in Our Image? Reconsidering an Evangelical Social Agenda for the Trinity Pt.1 (Split Frame of Reference, Jan 4, 2017)

The Status of Women in Christian-Influenced Cultures

Alice Speri, It Took a Handful of Women to Kneecap One of the World's Most Brutal Crime Networks (The Intercept, Sep 9, 2018) about Italy's Ndragheta, an organized crime family, and the women who brought them down.  This story raises a sociological question:  Why did organized crime develop alongside the Roman Catholic Church, in its Italian heartland?  Could this be the sociological effect of (1) having an all-male hierarchy, (2) moving the practice of confession away from transparency with the broader Christian community into secret-sharing with male priests, and (3) portraying the Virgin Mary (the ideal woman) not as a pro-active loudmouth (which is biblical) but as a silent, submissive sufferer?


the church: pentecost and hope