Women Ministers In The New Testament Church? -- By: C. E. Cerling, Jr.

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 019:3 (Summer 1976)
Article: Women Ministers In The New Testament Church?
Author: C. E. Cerling, Jr.


Women Ministers In The New Testament Church?

C. E. Cerling, Jr.*

Were there women ministers in the New Testament Church? This is one of the most important, but least posed, questions in the women’s liberation debate. We have a marked tendency to focus on Paul’s clear statements in 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2 that he does not allow women to speak in church. But even in 1 Corinthians, where he speaks strongly against women speaking in church (ch. 14), he gives detailed instructions about women’s dress when they are speaking (ch. 11).

The New Testament picture of the ministry is unclear. Who has authority over whom? It is difficult to tell. Apostles are obviously first, but who comes after them? Presbyters (elders)? Deacons? Prophets? Fellow workers with the apostles? Deaconesses? Who has authority over whom? Did women hold any offices other than that of deaconess? Is it possible that some ministerial offices were superior to others, according to what the New Testament says? Based on a rare consensus among New Testament scholars, the first question receives a simple “no” for an answer. The second question is not so easy.

If we would claim there were women apostles, many people would raise their hands in horror. There is almost an innate feeling that apostles should be men. For that reason we want to illustrate the complexity of this subject with a New Testament name for ministers that is not emotionally loaded. Were women “fellow workers” with the apostles? We can ask this question because few people have formed an opinion ahead of time.

In Philippians 4:2 f., Paul names two women who have “labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers.” We know that Paul speaks of women becaue he names them as such. They worked with Clement and Paul in the gospel. We do not know if Clement was a minister or layman. Nothing then can be learned about the word “fellow worker” from what we know about Clement.

Paul uses the word “fellow worker” (synergos) twelve times. (It is used only one other time in the New Testament.) He uses it primarily of co-workers without in any way suggesting they are equal with him. In 1 Corinthians 3:9 it is equivalent to deacon (as is also the case in the variant in 1 Thessalonians 3:2). Ten of the twelve times he uses this word of someone who was a minister. (You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
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