Chapter 5 – Women and Authority

In God’s kingdom, sometimes the reason we are given authority is so we will serve those under us in such a way that they will go on to make a greater impact than us. Jesus did this for His bride. Consider three verses:


·         Jesus said in John 16:7: “…it is to your advantage that I go away…”

·         Jesus said in John 14:12: he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do”.

·         Jesus said in John 12:24: “…unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (which meant the fruit of His ministry would increase if He laid down His life and sent His bride out in His place).


These verses do not mean that anyone beside Jesus has ever been or will ever be sinless or the Savior. But they do mean that God’s purposes were more effectively advanced through the empowerment of Jesus’ bride rather than by Him doing everything on His own. 


Paul made an unbelievable statement in Philippians 2:3-7: …with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves… Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus.” Jesus – the most important Person who ever lived, the Savior of the world, the focal point of human history – considered others more important than Himself. How is this possible? Was He deceived? Was He just pretending or being falsely humble? No, He really believed it. He really expected others, who corporately composed His wife, to become more important than Him in the area that matters most – the advancement of God’s kingdom. On His own, He could only construct a cornerstone. But through His bride, He could construct an entire temple (see Ephesian 2:19-22, 1 Corinthians 3:11, and 1 Peter 2:4-5).


In the same way, sometimes husbands are given authority to protect, serve, and lead their wives so they will go on to make a greater impact than them. If this is true, why are we not more used to seeing this in the body of Christ? I have three thoughts on this:


1)      Throughout history, Satan has set up various systems to suppress women’s spiritual influence and block marriages from fulfilling this pattern.


2)      This pattern may be becoming more common presently compared to many previous generations in history.


3)      Greater impact does not necessarily mean greater visibility. This pattern may be seen more clearly from heaven when we are able to view church history from God’s perspective. It may also be reflected in the positions the saints are assigned to fill in the age to come.


Let’s briefly discuss each of these points.


1. Satan Has Set up Systems to Suppress Women’s Spiritual Influence

Throughout history, Satan has carefully set up both cultural and religious systems that diminish women’s influence. In some cultures, women have been treated like property or sex objects rather than human beings. They have been regarded as having no intellect or trustworthiness. They have been forbidden from filling leadership roles. Their testimonies have been inadmissible in legal disputes.


In some religious systems, women have been barred from spiritual leadership and male leaders have been either forbidden to marry or encouraged to have multiple wives. Both of these limit the potential for husband-wife partnerships to impact the world in the way God intended.


Satan knows the church will overlook some of the most important aspects of its identity and of God’s nature without women being given prominence. How can the church understand its identity as the bride of Christ without the influence wives, since they embody this metaphor? Or how can the church understand the nurturing, compassionate side of God (ex. Isaiah 66:13) without the influence of godly mothers?


2. Women’s Spiritual Influence May Be Increasing Today Compared to Previous Generations

Even in the church age, women have still been mostly disallowed from expressing their ministry gifts due to cultural norms. However, today it is becoming common for women to teach, preach, write, and hold various other positions of influence in the body of Christ. Beside them, we frequently see proud husbands lifting them up, supporting them, and encouraging them. What an incredible picture of Jesus and the church. The co-laboring partnership God created husbands and wives to function in is less hindered by unbiblical traditions today than in many past generations.


Some have interpreted 1 Timothy 2:12 (NASB), in which Paul says, “But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man…” to mean that women should not teach or hold positions of authority in the church. However, this is a mistranslation. The Greek word that is often interpreted “man” in this passage is the same word that is interpreted “husband” in Ephesians 5:22. The word can be translated either way depending on the context. Since the next two verses discuss Adam and Eve, the first marriage, and the rearing of children, the clear context is marriage and family rather than church structure. The verse should say that a woman should not exercise authority over her “husband”, which is how Young’s Literal Translation and some other translations translate it. This translation is consistent with the rest of scripture.


Women are shown teaching, prophesying, or exercising authority many places in scripture. For example, Aaron’s sister Miriam (Ex 15:20), Huldah (2 Kings 22:14), Anna (Luke 2:36), and the four daughters of Philip (Acts 21:9) are all called prophetesses. Paul permitted women to prophesy in church (1 Corinthians 11:5). Debra was a political and military leader in Israel (Judges 4). Phoebe was a deacon (Romans 16:1). And Junia was an apostle (Romans 16:7).


Furthermore, God chose a woman to be the first witness of His resurrection (John 20:14) and He chose a woman to become the first European convert (Acts 16:14). Also, from the very beginning of scripture (Genesis 1:28), God gave both men and women authority to rule over the earth. And at the end of scripture (ex. Revelation 20:4), there is no differentiation between men and women when redeemed saints are given authority of over the earth.


What About 1 Corinthians 14:34-35?

1 Corinthians 14:34-35 says:


“The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church.”


At first glance this passage appears to corroborate the mistranslated version of 1 Timothy 2:12. However, the clear context is keeping order while practicing the gift of prophecy (see 1 Corinthians 14:31-33, 39-40). Therefore, one might conclude it has a narrower application that only requires silence from women during portions of a service devoted to prophecy. But even this application is too broad since Paul explicitly stated women can prophesy in church only a little earlier in the same letter (1 Corinthians 11:5), as long as it is done in proper order and while abiding under an appropriate spiritual covering.    


I am wary of re-interpreting passages in light of historical context; sometimes this technique is used to dismiss what the passage plainly says. However, since Paul already stated that women can indeed prophesy in church, and since we have so many aforementioned examples of women occupying the offices of prophet, apostle, deacon, and other positions of authority, in this case the historical context may well be valuable. As it turns out, many theologians believe women in particular were contributing to an atmosphere of chaos in the Corinthian church by speaking out of turn during the practice of spiritual gifts. This would perfectly explain Corinthians 14:34-35’s contextual placement and its apparent contradiction with Paul’s earlier statement. Also, the Greek word used for “women” can be translated “wives” and perhaps it should be since verse 35 presumes all the women being addressed have husbands.


In summary, Corinthians 14:34-35 does not corroborate a mistranslation of 1 Timothy 2:12 or invalidate 1 Corinthians 11:5. Rather, when translated correctly, the three passages harmonize well together. They honor a woman’s legitimate role in ministry settings while also keeping order and abiding under appropriate spiritual authority structures. 


3. Greater Impact Does Not Necessarily Mean Greater Visibility

In a fallen world, strength is superior to weakness, authority is domineering, and power supersedes relationships. All of this devalues women and femininity. However, each of these trends is the opposite of God’s perspective. Therefore, the true value of women’s contributions to history will be understood much differently from heaven and in the age to come.


Let’s take a moment to consider some truths from scripture about women that are not typically recognized or appreciated in this age.


Women and Weakness

1 Peter 3:7 says, You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman…” This passage can feel insulting to some women because it highlights how women, in general, are physically weaker and emotionally tenderer than men. However, is this actually a negative statement? God’s kingdom works oppositely to how the world works. What does the Bible say about weakness? Consider 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 or Corinthians 1:27:


“And [Jesus] has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ …therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses… for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”


 “…God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong.”


So to summarize:


·         God’s power is perfected in weakness.

·         When we boast about our weaknesses, the power of Christ can dwell in us.

·         When we are weak, then we are strong.

·         God uses the weak to shame the strong.

·         Women are weaker than men.


When I first put these verses together, I started to feel envious of women! So much of the power that is available to us as believers comes from embracing a position of weakness and dependence on God. Paradoxically, women are uniquely qualified to carry the power of God because they are inherently weaker. They can potentially be entrusted with more authority because they will more naturally acknowledge their dependence on Him.


Several years ago I listened to a message by a woman who leads a discipleship ministry. Her message was perplexing. She spoke with such softness and gentleness, but here words seemed to carry so much power; so much weight and conviction! Many others said the same thing. It reminded of what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 2:3-5:


“I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but of the power of God.”  


My wife Jenny once ministered to a woman who was struggling with shame. Jenny asked the woman to say out loud the things she thought God wanted to say to her. However, the women felt too much shame to participate, so Jenny said, “Ok, I’ll say it.” As soon as Jenny said this, she felt tears welling up. The room suddenly felt as though God was right there with them. Jenny fought back the tears to tell the girl how deeply God loved her, how wonderful His plan for her life was, and how His view of her was totally separate from the shame she felt. By the end, they were both in tears. This woman had grown up in the church and had heard all these things before, but this time was different. The message she heard in that moment was in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and power of God.


Women are a Higher Order of Creation

There is a sense in which women are a higher order of creation than men. When God began to create living things in the Genesis account, each life form was progressively more complex and beautiful than the last. Each new level of creation had a greater capacity to reflect the Creator. This pattern continued in the creation of mankind. Eve being created last means she was the culmination, or highest part, of all that God created. However, the fact that He created her out of Adam’s own body showed that she needed her husband to fulfill her potential. Consider the following three logic steps:


Step 1: Men, in general, typify the strength of God and the building, accomplishing nature of God.


Step 2: Women, in general, typify the beauty of God and the relational nature of God.


Step 3: If there were no beauty, there would be nothing worth protecting. The reason strength exists is to protect and serve that which is beautiful. Likewise, if there were no relationships, building and accomplishing would be empty and meaningless. The fundamentally reason we build societies and is so that relationships (families, communities, churches) can exist and thrive.


In other words, the strength of God exists to protect and serve the beauty of God. The building nature of God exists to protect and serve the relational nature of God. I’ve occasionally heard Christian leaders say there is no greater joy in the universe than gazing upon the beauty of God. It’s not an accident that they choose beauty as His attribute that is most worthy of marveling at. All of God’s attributes are worthy of worship, but there is something truly special about His beauty. King David clearly agreed with this sentiment. In considering what He would ask of God if he could make only one request, he said in Psalms 27:4, “One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek: That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord.”


Women, Authority, and Wisdom

Relationships are the most valuable things in the universe. Women possess an innate appreciation for this truth since they are more relational by nature. This equips them to be entrusted with enormous amounts of spiritual authority if they also learn to assimilate the godly pursuits that come more naturally to men, such as building, protecting, and respect for hierarchy.


Stewarding authority has a lot to do with wisdom. There seems to be a special connection in the Bible between women and wisdom. It was the desire for wisdom, pursued in a forbidden way, which caused Eve to disobey in the garden (Genesis 3:6). Also, in the book of Proverbs, a book all about wisdom, wisdom is personified as a woman (chapters 3-4, 8-9) and it culminates with a woman (chapter 31).


In the book of Esther, King Ahasuerus could choose from among the most beautiful women in the world to be his queen. However, he sensed something about Esther that was different from all other women (Esther 2:17). He did not realize it, but what drew him to her was the grace and favor of God on her life. When he offered Esther dominion over half of his kingdom (Esther 5:3), he was probably not abdicating his responsibility as king, nor was he unconcerned about condition of his empire. On the contrary, he likely trusted her wisdom to rule so much that he knew the kingdom would prosper under her authority. 


On a practical note, it is important to recognize that marriage is the only context where headship and submission applies. The Bible does not say that every man is the head of every woman. A woman can be a pastor, a president, or a CEO. She can have authority over countless people. The only thing a woman can never be is the head of her husband.


Leadership that bears spiritual fruit requires grace from God. Therefore, it doesn’t matter how gifted or talented of a leader a woman is; she still does not have grace to be the head of her husband. Nor does it matter how much her husband prefers to follow; he does have grace to be the head if he chooses to believe God for it.


If a woman stewards authority over other people, like a CEO or a pastor does, it does not mean she is answerable to her husband for how she operates in those roles. He can counsel her and pray for her, but the authority is hers, not his. A husband’s position as the head only gives him authority in the area of their marriage and family. There may be some overlap between her family life and her other roles, but God can give couples wisdom to navigate through unclear areas when they ask Him for it. Headship and submission looks a little bit different in every marriage. God gives grace for each couple to apply His word to their unique relationship, personalities, and circumstances. 


Heralding the Second Coming; Replacing the Kings of the Earth

Regarding influence in the age to come and in the days leading up to it, consider an incredible statement David made in Psalm 68. The chapter contains several elements related to the second coming – Jesus Christ riding on a horse leading heavenly armies; a great earthquake; all the wicked melting like wax and perishing; Christ taking His throne in Israel forever (vs. 1-3, 7-8, 16-17). All of this imagery parallels passages in Revelation and other parts of scripture that describe the Battle of Armageddon and the second coming. But notice what it says in verse 11. Who does it say will proclaim the good news of the second coming? Who does it say will replace the wicked kings of the earth in their positions of authority? “The women who proclaim the good tidings are a great host; kings of armies flee, they flee, and she who remains at home will divide the spoil!” Evidently, women, wives, and faithful mothers will be at the forefront of proclaiming Christ’s return and among those given authority in His kingdom. 



Although men are more accomplishment-oriented, women, in a sense, are uniquely equipped for leadership since they are naturally more relational and relationship is the highest value of God’s kingdom. Plus, women are “weaker” (1 Peter 3:7) and God’s “power is perfected in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). However, women were also created to be covered, served, and empowered by their husbands in order realize their full potential. This ingredient has been missing from many marriages and in many generations, but when it is present it paints a special picture of the partnership between Christ and the church.




What exactly does God have in mind for believers in the next age and how does marriage prepare us for it? The next chapter is devoted to this topic.