God’s Design for Men and Women in the Church

America and much of the world have undergone a sexual revolution. The Church and the Family have often followed. How is it working out? Why are relations between men and women so infrequent, and so toxic? There is another way, God’s way, and we will discuss it here. 

By Mark D. Harris

How are relations between men and women in American society? How about the rest of the world? Are they better than they were one thousand, one hundred, ten, or even two years ago? How are relations between men and women in the Church? Are they as God intended?

Is the Bible a misogynistic book? How can Paul, and the Scottish Presbyterian Preacher James Fordyce (1720-1796, in his Sermons for Young Women), and ministers like me even talk (“mansplain?”) about the differing roles of men and women in the Church?

We can, and indeed we must, because the Bible is the word of God, profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Long after our bodies, and those of our adversaries, return to dust, His Word will remain. In these and all other areas, the Word burns within us (Jeremiah 20:9). Whether male or female, no one is permitted to change or ignore the word of God.

Prayer with Harmony

V8 – Paul commands Christian men to pray publicly in every church. This does not include only the pastor but a wide swath of men throughout the congregation. This Greek word refers to men as opposed to women. “Lifting holy hands up” suggests a purity of heart and a focus on God. A prerequisite is harmony in the Body of Christ, meaning a church bereft of major division with a people focused on the Savior rather than battling over the style of music or color of carpet.

Modesty with Concern for Others

VV 9-10 – Women in the first century Roman world displayed their wealth and beauty by wearing expensive clothing, especially fine cottons from Mesopotamia or silks from China. Purple was an expensive dye and lucrative trade (Lydia of Thyatira). “The Purple” was a symbol for the Roman Emperor. They braided strands of gold, as well as jewels and pearls, into their hair.

These practices had several effects:

  1. Excite the sexual imagination of men.
  2. Invite the envy of women.
  3. Stimulate the vanity of the wearer.
  4. Shift the focus of the assembly away from Christ.

Paul taught to minimize such distractions, such distinctions, and to maximize the focus on Christ and the Church.

On a web search of “should women be able to wear whatever they want,” and the same question phrased in a few different ways, the answer was universally “yes.” The reason was “because women don’t dress for men, they dress to express themselves.”[1] Such reasoning only addresses effect #1 above, but not any of the other effects. The Bible teaches that the attitude of expressing oneself or “doing your own thing,” regardless of what it does to the thought and focus of others, is profoundly selfish (1 Corinthians 8:9-13).

What do you think about modesty among women in the church?

Harmony Based on God’s Design

VV 12-14 – Paul prohibits women from exercising authority over men, whether in teaching or in serving as a pastor in a church. The issue is not that women cannot teach but that they cannot exercise authority over adult men. Women have traditionally taught other women or children because these activities do not involve exerting authority over adult men. Some argue that this prohibition is purely cultural, applicable only to the first century Roman Empire. Paul, however, appeals to universal justifications for this restriction.

  1. God created Adam first, and the first in anything has preeminence (firstborn, first place, etc.). Since Eve was created second, she plays a supportive role.
  2. Eve was deceived by the serpent. In her spiritual confusion, she believed a lie and ate the forbidden fruit. Adam was not deceived. He knew that what he was about to do was evil, and he did it anyway.
  3. Paul used examples from before the Fall. He did not teach that women’s complementary role was a result of sin, but of the order of Creation.

One wonders what would have happened had Adam refused to eat after Eve did.[2]

Are women naturally more prone to spiritual confusion or even evil than men? It is impossible to say, but religions (and cultures) throughout history have subordinated women to men and associated women with confusion, evil, temptation, or worse:

  1. Women are the primary consumers of religion in every major religion but are largely excluded from positions of leadership.[3] Even most New Religious Movements (NRM) are “patriarchal,” led by males, with women in “subordinate” positions.[4]
  2. Many cultures such as Native American, African, European, and Asian have a concept of an “evil eye” in which a witch (usually a woman) can curse someone simply by looking at them.
  3. Menstruation was thought of as evil.
  4. In early Buddhism, a woman had to be reborn as a man in an advanced life to then achieve “moksha.” Vajrayana Buddhist sects Shingon and Tendai teach that women were “born of the six devils.”[5]
  5. Myths in many cultures throughout the world portray a woman as bringing evil into the world, breaking the primordial harmony, or otherwise causing the world to fall from its former state. Pandora and her box are an example. The Iroquois “Sky Woman” was cast out of heaven for violating a taboo.
  6. In Hindu society, girls and women were always under the authority of a man – their father, their husband, or their son. Women were not considered capable of taking care of themselves.

God made women equal to men in every way. Women are equally created, equally loved, equally sinful, and equally heirs to the treasures of Christ. Women as a sex do not deserve opprobrium, and they have unjustly suffered from such lies throughout world history. The God of the Bible lifts women higher than any other faith tradition.

But the overall testimony of the Bible, and Paul’s arguments, is that women are not the same as men. They have different strengths, different weaknesses, different roles, and different opportunities in Christian families and in the Church. Women are complementary to men, and neither women nor men are complete, with a few exceptions, without the other. Reflecting the Creator, the Apostle intends that we rejoice in these differences, not despise them.

Returning to the question of whether women are more prone to spiritual deception than men are, Paul uses Eve’s deception to argue that on average, women are. It is as if Paul did a population study of every man in the Garden of Eden, and only one was there, Adam, and every woman in the Garden of Eden, and only one was there, Eve. He concluded that since Eve, the perfect woman and mother of all, was deceived, while Adam, the perfect man and father of all, was not, women are softer targets for spiritual deception than men are. Satan, through the serpent, tacitly acknowledged the same thing when he approached Eve first. Paul then generalized the results of that study to all of Adam and Eve’s children, the whole human race.

What do you think about “not allowing women to exercise authority over a man” in the church? A permanent truth? An outdated cultural practice only applicable to the past? What do you think about the prominence of similar attitudes in almost all other religions? What do you do as a result of this teaching in your life? Is this teaching applicable outside religion, such as politics, business, and other organizations?

Order from Faithfully Doing One’s Duty

V15 – This is a difficult passage, inviting many interpretations. “Women will be saved through childbearing” cannot speak of eternal salvation, because that comes through Christ alone. It probably does not refer to improved survival through childbirth because it is not clear (although it is probable) that faithful Christian women in pre-modern times survived childbirth better than non-Christian women.

It is plausible that Paul is saying that women who are faithful in their God-given roles of child-bearing, tending the house, and support for their husbands (Proverbs 31, Titus 2:3-5), will be more protected from the vicissitudes of life and have better families than those who are not. Further, this “salvation” will extend to their children and their children’s children to a thousand generations. If this is the correct interpretation, while the primary duties of Christian women involve ensuring that their families are well cared for, work outside the home is not excluded. The “excellent wife” in Proverbs 31 keeps her home beautiful, but is also involved in charitable work, agriculture, manufacturing, trade, and real estate. A Fortune 500 CEO would struggle to match the “excellent wife” in the profits of her labor.

Paul is advising Timothy how to handle relationships between men and women in the church and has briefly focused on the position and duties of women. However, women cannot fulfill their God-given role if men do not fulfill theirs. Despite the longings of some in our society, the Creator made men and women to be together, to complement each other, and to work together for His glory on earth.

What is a man? What is a woman? What is gender? Are gender roles confining or liberating? What do you think about these arguments and the differences between men and women? How do these teachings impact your life? Your ministry?


God provides clear guidance for men and women in the Church, and in Christian homes. Do Christ-followers believe and obey, trusting in the Lord for their needs and finding fulfillment in Him, or not?


[1] https://www.debate.org/opinions/should-women-be-able-to-dress-how-the-please, https://www.theodysseyonline.com/top-10-reasons-why-girls-should-wear-whatever-they-want, https://thoughtcatalog.com/shahida-arabi/2017/11/dear-society-women-shouldnt-have-to-dress-modestly-to-be-respected-or-to-avoid-rape/, http://www.consented.ca/myths/provocative-clothing-is-a-risk-factor/,

[2] For completeness sake, some Christian and other traditions teach that Adam was virtuous in eating the fruit because he wanted to die with Eve. Others hold that eating the fruit is actually a euphemism for sex – Eve had sex with the serpent, and then Adam had sex with Eve. Either way, sin entered the world through Eve and then Adam.

[3] Lorne L Dawson, Cults and New Religious Movements, (Malden MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2003), 230.

[4] Lorne L Dawson, Cults and New Religious Movements, (Malden MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2003), 228.

[5] https://www.bustle.com/articles/188304-7-times-men-have-called-women-devils-in-history-because-trump-is-hardly-the-first.

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