Women's Ministry in the Bible's New Testament Church
- Summary: The New Testament reveals a wide variety of spiritual gifts and ministries exercised by women of faith. The New Testament describes a much smaller list of ministries which are reserved specifically for men.
2 Timothy 3:16 All SCRIPTURE is GOD-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.
John 8:31-32 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the TRUTH will set you FREE.”
The Scriptures of the Bible are “God-breathed.” They are the Word of God. And they will set us free. Holding firmly to the Word of God never brings bondage; it brings freedom. “The truth will set you free.”
The Word of God contains much positive teaching about the ministry of women in the New Testament Church. When properly understood and faithfully followed, God’s Word brings clarity, blessing, and liberty to this theme of Christian women's ministry. To some the topic is controversial, especially the subject of the ordination of women as pastors and other fivefold ministries. But the discussion need not be controversial if the Scriptures are faithfully applied.
Historically, the cross of Christ brought many profound changes. It brought God’s people from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant. We no longer have animal sacrifices, because Christ the Lamb of God was sacrificed once for all time. The Aaronic priesthood has been made obsolete. The temple of God is no longer a physical building, but now is the bodies of believers individually and corporately. The former spiritual leadership by Old Testament priests and prophets has now been superseded by the New Testament leadership of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers, and elders. Many other changes could be mentioned which were brought about in the transition from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant.
Therefore, in examining the biblical basis for the ministry of women in this Church Age, it is wise to ascertain what the New Testament teaches on this important topic. I believe that we will find the results of such a study to be affirming, not confining.
Perhaps the best approach to this topic is to search the New Testament for illustrations of the wide variety of ways in which Christian women of the bible ministered. The range of ministries for women is impressive.
- Acts 1:14 They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.
Acts 12:12 When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying.
1 Timothy 5:5 The widow who is really in need and left all alone puts her hope in God and continues night and day to pray and to ask God for help.
•• The ministry of prayer was practiced by New Testament women of faith in a variety of contexts. For example (as shown in the verses above):
- • Women were participants in church prayer meetings.
• Mary hosted a prayer meeting in her home.
• Some widows were known for their diligent personal prayer lives.
- Acts 21:8-9 Leaving the next day, we reached Caesarea and stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven. He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied.
Acts 2:17-18 “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.”
1 Corinthians 11:4-5 Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head — it is just as though her head were shaved.
•• Women ministered in the gift of prophecy, which is illustrative of being used in the 1 Corinthians 12 gifts of the Holy Spirit.
- • “Philip the Evangelist...had four unmarried daughters who prophesied” (Acts 21:8-9). The evangelist had four spiritually gifted daughters who prophesied.
• “Your sons and daughters will prophesy” — both men and women will be used in this gift of the Spirit, without gender differentiation.
• We read above of an expectation in the Corinthian church of “every woman who prays or prophesies...” The context was the gathered church. It is entirely appropriate for a woman to pray or prophesy in the assembled congregation.
Acts 2:17-18 “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy.” Women, equally with men, are to receive the baptism with the Spirit, to be Spirit-filled believers, with the resulting exercise of spiritual gifts (as here, in prophecy).
- Titus 2:3-5 Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.
•• Older women are called upon to train the younger women in areas of womanly expertise. The older women have both the hands-on experience and the accumulated wisdom in these areas, making them the most qualified people to teach these things to younger women. This is a valuable and ever-present women's ministry opportunity for mature Christian women.
- Luke 8:1-3 After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Cuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.
•• Women in the New Testament are shown using their financial resources wisely to support ministry.
- • They provided this support “out of their own means,” suggesting that they had both the financial wisdom and the discretionary right to manage their resources.
- Romans 16:1-2 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church in Cenchrea. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been a great help to many people, including me.
•• Many New Testament women are actively involved in service ministries and “help” ministries. The variety of opportunities in these endeavors is extensive and is limited only by available time, resources, and energies.
- • Jesus Himself said that He came to earth “not to be served, but to serve.” His personal example makes serving and helping others very noble activities.
- Romans 16:12 Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord. Greet my dear friend Persis, another woman who has worked very hard in the Lord.
•• “Working very hard in the Lord” — like helping and serving (above) — opens up a broad range of fruitful ministry.
- • An illustration that comes to my mind is the long hours of faithful volunteer work put in by various women at the “Give-N-Take” clothing and food pantry in our former church in Alaska. Hundreds of needy people were blessed by these ladies “working very hard in the Lord.”
- John 4:28-30 Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” They came out of the town and made their way toward him.
•• Witnessing, sharing our faith in Jesus Christ with others, is a vital ministry available to all women of faith.
- • The biggest single influence upon my accepting Jesus as my Lord and Savior in 1969 was the Christian witness to me of a young woman (whom I later married in 1972).
• I recall a delightful encounter more than thirty years ago with an older lady in the Burnside district of Portland, Oregon. She asked us, “Have you found Jesus?” We had, but we were still touched by her sincere heart and her concern for our souls.
- Acts 9:36 In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (which, when translated, is Dorcas), who was always doing good and helping the poor.
•• Good works and helping the poor — “Tabitha” ministries — have been fruitfully practiced by Christian women for thousands of years. The need is virtually without limit.
- • I think of India’s beloved Mother Teresa as a classic example of these ministries.
- Acts 16:14-15 One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.
•• Hospitality is a ministry in which some women seem to flourish. It is a true blessing to the recipients.
- • A pastor in Salem, Oregon, wrote that if just 10% of the adults in a church exercise the gift of hospitality, it will revolutionize the church for good.
- Acts 18:25-26 [Apollos] had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.
•• We see here an informal, “kitchen-table” discussion of the Word of God, with a husband and wife together sharing insights, in the context of extending hospitality in their home.
- 1 Timothy 5:1-2 Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.
•• The local churches are blessed to have older women who can be godly, encouraging, caring “mothers” to many.
- • The apostle Paul himself wrote of such a lady — (Romans 16:13) “Greet Rufus...and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too.”
- 2 Timothy 1:5; 3:15 I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also ... [3:15] and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
•• An invaluable role for millions of Christian women is to raise children in the faith and in the Word of God. This is a "women's ministry" at the very top rank of importance!
- • While I have been deeply involved, in a “24/7” sense I honor my wife with most of the credit for our four children all actively serving the Lord. Her diligence to raise them “in the Lord” has been remarkable and has provided them a spiritual legacy with eternal value.
•• An extended application of this vital ministry is women teaching children in Sunday School.
- Luke 24:1, 6-10 On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb....  “He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ “ Then they remembered his words. When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles.
•• Women of faith can effectively testify — even to apostles (above) — about their personal encounter with the Lord and their relationship to Him.
The Scriptures we have studied above display a wide variety of meaningful ministries for New Testament women. That leads us to the question: “Are there any DIFFERENTIATIONS in the New Testament ministry roles of men and women?” To that important question I offer the biblically supported answer: Yes, there are two categories of ministry reserved to men. As we have studied above, there are dozens of significant ministry roles available both to women and men, with just two ministry categories reserved by God for men. Those two are listed in 1 Timothy 2:11-12.
- 1 Timothy 2:11-14 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission.  I do NOT PERMIT a woman to TEACH or to HAVE AUTHORITY OVER A MAN; she must be silent.  FOR Adam was formed first, then Eve.  And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.
•• Paul clearly lists two areas of ministry that are not permitted for the woman to do:
1)“I do not permit a woman to TEACH...a MAN.”
2)“I do not permit a woman to...have AUTHORITY OVER a MAN.”
- (1) “I do not permit a woman to TEACH ... a MAN” — This is in agreement with the consistent New Testament pattern, in which it is always men that are shown preaching to or teaching the mixed congregation of men and women.
• This is not at all an across-the-board prohibition of women teaching. For example we see the older women in Titus 2:3-4 told to teach the younger women in the womanly topics listed there. And we have seen Timothy’s grandmother and mother teaching the child Timothy the Scriptures at an early age (2 Timothy 1:5; 3:15).
• 1 Timothy 2:12 is simply a specific, focused directive of Scripture that the women not teach men. The ordination of women to "pulpit ministries" is a direct violation of this God-breathed Scripture.
(2) “I do not permit a woman to ... have AUTHORITY OVER a MAN.” — This, too, is consistent with the universal New Testament pattern of male leadership in the church. This verse excludes the ordination of women to church leadership roles. Ordaining women to positions such as "pastor" puts them in an antibiblical place of authority over men in the church. Elsewhere I have written an in-depth bible study examining many of the modern arguments for the ordination of women.
• 1 Timothy 3:1-2 “Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer [King James: ‘a bishop’, that is, a church leader], he desires a noble task.  Now the overseer must be ... the husband of but one wife...” See also, Titus 1:6 “An elder must be ... the husband of but one wife.” The church leader, the one in a place of spiritual authority, is described as a male — “the husband of but one wife.”
• 1 Timothy 3:2, 4-5 “Now the overseer ...  must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect.  (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?)” — The husband’s leadership in his home is seen as a proving ground for male leadership in the church, which represents multiple homes.
• 1 Timothy 3:8, 11-12 “Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect...  In the same way, their wives are to be women worthy of respect....  A deacon must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and his household well.” — Like the elders, the deacons in the church are to be men, “the husband of but one wife.”
• 1 Timothy 3:14-15 “...I am writing you these instructions so that ... you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church.” — These apostolic instructions from Paul, including the calling and qualification of male church leaders, show “how people ought to conduct themselves in...the church.”
Galatians 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
•• Paul wrote: “There is neither...male nor female.” This has been unfortunately misunderstood by some as having obliterated all male-female distinctions. From that misunderstanding some churches have approved the modern practice of ordaining women to the ministry and having them teach men and have authority over men. This misinterpretation of Galatians 3:28 fails to consider the context, that is, “There is neither ... male nor female ... IN CHRIST JESUS.” In our relationship directly to HIM these human distinctions — male-female, slave-free, Jew-Greek — are irrelevant.
- • But in our human relationships to one another, these distinctions remain real and relevant. Speaking of that human-to-human context, Jesus Himself said, “...God made them male and female” (Mark 10:6).
Permit me to conclude with some final observations concerning the ministry of women in the New Testament. A healthy perspective can often be achieved by moving from the scrutiny of individual Scriptures to a broad overview of the patterns of the Bible.
The twenty-seven books of the New Testament show a clear and consistent pattern — (1) church leadership and the associated exercise of authority in the church and (2) the ministry of teaching men are activities which God has committed to men to accomplish.
- • Jesus, the Head of the Church, is the Church’s preeminent apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor-shepherd, teacher, elder, and deacon-servant. Jesus is a male, “the Son of God.” These ministry and leadership expressions of Himself to His Church He entrusted in all biblically recorded cases to men.
• Jesus chose 12 male apostles.
• The other clear examples of named fivefold ministries in the New Testament era are consistently seen to be the names of men.
• Elders and deacons are to be men — “the husband of but one wife.”
Other than these two categories — that is, (1) teaching the man and (2) having authority over the man — we have seen the New Testament revealing an extensive record of godly women ministering in a wide variety of spiritual gifts, ministries, and activities, for example —
- • Prayer ministries of many kinds
• Prophecy and, by association, other gifts of the Spirit
• Older women teaching younger women
• Financial support of ministries
• Service ministries
• Help ministries
• “Working very hard in the Lord”
• Good works
• Helping the poor
• Assisting her husband in sharing the Lord and His truths with people
• Being “mothers” to many in the church
• Being loving, godly wives
• Raising their children in the Christian faith
• Teaching other children, for example, in Sunday School
• Specific applications of these many opportunities actually open the door to an almost limitless variety of ministries for women, consistent with the Scriptural principles shared in this study.
God in His sovereignty has chosen to appoint men to the ministries of church leadership and preaching-teaching to the mixed congregation. But the vast majority of ministries in this New Testament era are common to both men and women of faith — for example, gifts of the Spirit, prayer, witnessing, testifying, good works, service, music ministries, administrative roles, and many more ministries of profound importance to the New Testament church.
When we all — men and women, teens, boys and girls — respond faithfully to our appropriate callings and ministries in the Lord, then we will experience the dynamic power of true, biblical team ministry, as “...the whole body ... grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Ephesians 4:16).
For a biblical response to many of the current
arguments for ordaining women, please see our
Ordination of Women: Yes or No?.
God's most elaborate description
of the godly woman may be seen at
A Virtuous Woman's Meaning & Definition in God's View
"Christian Egalitarians" have wrongly tried
to blur gender distinctions. Please see our
Male Leadership in the Home and the Church
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Pentecostal Sermons and Bible Studies
by Pastor Jim Feeney, Ph.D.