What the Bible really says about women: Can women preach?

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What the Bible really says about women: Can women preach?

By | 2018-03-02T16:32:16+00:00 July 14th, 2015|

First in an occasional series.

“And afterward,

    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your old men will dream dreams,
    your young men will see visions.
29 Even on my servants, both men and women,
    I will pour out my Spirit in those days.

Joel 2:28-29

God’s vision for the church, proclaimed centuries before Pentecost, was that this body would exhibit radical equality. Discrimination on the basis of gender, age, or social status would be completely dismantled. Even young girls would prophesy, that is, proclaim the truth. (Kind of like in this video:)

In the Old Testament, God makes a promise through the prophet Joel. Israel, exiled, cried out to God. God responded with a call to repentance, and a promise of restoration.

Through Joel, God promised to restore them as a nation, and to bless them, abundantly enough to “repay you for the years the locusts have eaten.”

Verse 28 says “and afterward…” After what? After repentance, rescue, and all that blessing, God will pour out the Spirit, not just on a few, but on “all people.” Not just on men, but women, not just on sons, but daughters. Not just on old people, but young.

This ancient prophesy was fulfilled, the Bible says, at Pentecost. This is not just our interpretation of the text, but the Bible’s interpretation of itself. In Acts 2:17-21, Peter quotes the prophet Joel, saying that the coming of the Holy Spirit was the fulfillment of that prophesy.

So based on the prophesy and fulfillment of it, what does the Bible say the church should be characterized by: hierarchy, or equality? And what does the Bible say about who can prophesy or preach?

Where, exactly, in the words “your daughters shall prophesy” do we find rules restricting the roles of women? We don’t. To prophesy means to proclaim, to preach, to speak truth. (Despite this, authors like Wayne Grudem have attempted not only to oppress women but to do so in a systematized way, by creating a list of 83 things women can’t do). Marg Mowczko has an excellent critique of Grudem’s (wacky) proclamations here.

The Bible does not elevate one gender above another but calls every person to full participation in the body. It calls us to unity that bridges every divide: gender, race, class, even religion. “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28, which seems to echo the refrain of Joel’s prophesy and Peter’s affirmation of it.) The verses about spiritual gifts and the metaphors comparing the church to a human body make no mention of gender. So why has the church, which this passage in Joel and Acts refers to, continued to restrict the participation of women? (Not all churches, but many.) Roles within the body are to be based on spiritual gifts, not gender.

keri speaking

Perhaps it is because of faulty logic. If men allow women to flourish, does that require them to diminish? Is the relationship between the sexes a zero-sum game? (Author Carolyn Custis James says no in this excellent article The Rise of Women and the Manhood Crisis.)


The word for prophesy in the biblical Greek of the New Testament (propheteuo) means

  1. to utter forth, declare, a thing which can only be known by divine revelation
  2. o under like prompting, to teach, refute, reprove, admonish, comfort others

That sounds very pastoral. It sounds like preaching, or teaching, under the influence of the Holy Spirit.

So why do “bible believing” churches restrict women from preaching? Are they worried that if women fully use their gifts, men will have to step down, or feel slighted, or diminished?

That’s not what the Bible says. This verse in Joel (and in Acts) says that when women flourish, men flourish too. That the Spirit is on all people, not just some. The Holy Spirit is not limited, but abundant. If I am filled with the Spirit, that does not mean there is less Spirit for everyone else. it means the Spirit is flowing freely, among all the people.

What’s been your experience? Are you a part of a church where both young and old, men and women, can speak God’s truth freely? 




  1. David Hirstius July 14, 2015 at 7:29 pm - Reply

    Keri, the Holy Spirit (which is Love) can and does work through everyone and everything. Of course women can preach. We are all loved and called to participate in the life of the Spirit. Unfortunately, my church does not allow this gift. Only celibate males are allowed to minister and preach. As a married person, even I am barred from ministry.

    • Keri Kent July 15, 2015 at 10:46 am - Reply

      I agree, it is odd how the church has restricted the use of certain gifts to certain groups. In the case of only allowing single, celibate males to preach–that’s a long standing tradition in many churches, but an odd one, considering that Peter, regarded by those same churches as the founder of the Church (upon this rock… etc. and his preaching in Acts 2). Peter was a married man (or at least, he had a mother-in-law, (see Mark 1:30) which single men don’t typically sign up for without having a wife!)
      I appreciate your comment and input!

  2. Michelle July 15, 2015 at 11:27 am - Reply

    Thanks for this Keri. I was raised in and still attend churches that bar women from being involved in preaching/pastoring. While my husband and I live out a more egalitarian marriage at home, we still keep family devotions as a dad-leading practice. In all honesty, I am more gifted in this area but have never been able to step out and embrace that gift. I’ve been able to step away from many other teachings my fundamentalist background taught but not this one. Not sure why though. Would you share with me your interpretation of the verses that many of these churches use to justify their positions? I know my father uses 1 Timothy 3 verse 2 in particular where the qualifications of bishop state “husband of one wife.” Thanks again for your insights.

    • Keri Kent July 15, 2015 at 12:37 pm - Reply

      So glad you stopped by the blog. Welcome! This is definitely a place to wrestle with the things you’re talking about. A great post recently on The Junia Project talked about 1 Tim. 2:12. Here’s a link: http://juniaproject.com/5-reasons-stop-using-1-timothy-212-against-women/
      An important question when we are trying to interpret Scripture is: was this a directive for a specific situation in a specific time, or is this true for all believers of all times? For example, do not commit murder is “for all times,” But specific directives about sacrifices of bulls and goats for certain sins was for a “specific time” and no longer apply.
      It’s very important to note that Paul’s letter to Timothy was not written to the church at large, but to a young pastor who evidently needed some coaching for specific situations.
      Also, the qualifications for bishop or deacon in 1 Timothy 3, if looked at as a whole, describe a person who is honorable and moral. A man who is faithful to his wife is a certain type of man. That is one example in a long list of characteristics that describe a man of integrity. While it has been used to keep women out of serving as deacons (or overseers), doing so is a double standard. If we were strict about this interpretation, single men would be disqualified, as would men without children, or even men with just one child, as verses 4 and 5 talk about him managing his own family and children (plural). Also, this was written to Timothy, who pastored a church of mostly Jewish Christians. One could argue that being a Messianic Jewish is another qualification for deacon! 🙂 (I’m being facetious, but pointing to the fact that we have to look not only at the letter but the spirit of what is written)
      Interestingly, Timothy’s father was not a man of faith, but he was taught and instructed in faith by his mother and grandmother, who are mentioned in the book of Acts. So Timothy would certainly have known about women using their spiritual gifts (including teaching and leading) to help a man (himself) grow in faith.
      The most important verse in 1 Tim. 3, however, is verse 11: “In the same way, the women are to be worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything.”
      “In the same way.” What does that mean? Some say “the women” refers to the wives of deacons. Or you may think, “the women” refers to women in general. So women in general are held to the same standards as men who are overseers, but they can’t be overseers? that doesn’t make sense. Others scholars say, because it says “in the same way,” because it refers to women deacons in the early church. They should also be righteous and moral, having the same qualifications, which Paul elaborates on in the rest of the verse. (You might read up on Phoebe, who was a deacon in the early church. See this article: http://newlife.id.au/equality-and-gender-issues/phoebe-a-deacon-of-the-church-in-cenchrea-part-7/
      What does this mean in practical terms for your situation? Might you and your husband try leading family devotions together? If he’s open to that, it could be a way to move forward slowly. I know my husband and I find it a bit more challenging at first to plan a lesson for our small group together, but ultimately, that work of planning and seeking what God wants us to teach strengthens our relationship. Ask your husband what he thinks, share your thoughts with him. We’re called to mutual submission, what does that look like in family devotions? Could you do it together or even take turns leading?
      Also, as a mom who was an admitted failure at doing family devotions, I found that many “teachable moments” happened as my children and I were “walking along the way” as Deuteronomy so aptly puts it. Our best “devotions” often happened in the minivan. Speak God’s truth in small moments to your children. Talk about the creative genius of God when you take them to the zoo and consider the giraffes. Pray with them at bedtime or in moments when they are afraid or come to you with questions. Explore your gift in an informal way, and ask for courage and grace to invest your talents in a way that honors God.

      • Keri Kent July 15, 2015 at 12:37 pm - Reply

        (Wow, maybe I should have made my reply a separate blog post) 🙂

        • Michelle July 15, 2015 at 1:09 pm - Reply

          Keri, Thanks so much for such a thoughtful response. I’m off to take a look at the links you provided. 🙂

  3. Jim Reiher July 15, 2015 at 4:46 pm - Reply

    Great blog thanks Keri.

    re I Tim 3:2. I often wonder if people who take it in such a restricted straight-jacketed way, think about what they are doing. Your explanation is excellent.

    I would add that if that meant only men could be bishops, (or leaders), then the commandment that says “thou shall not covet they neighbours wife” is only for men as well. Apparently it is okay for women to covert their neighbours husbands since that is not noted in the verse!

    • Keri Kent July 15, 2015 at 8:18 pm - Reply

      Excellent point Jim. Thanks for your comment!

  4. Dianne July 19, 2015 at 7:31 pm - Reply

    More and more, I question the idea of “leadership” period, whether it applies to men or women, as a particularly “Biblical” idea. Yes, it happens. People lead. Someone has to, obviously. But I’m not sure i see a particular call to leadership in Scripture. I see a call to love, to lay down our lives for one another, to serve, etc. I was raised in a very male-centric church environment, and very hierarchal as well, and looking back, I think it encouraged a lot of pride. Lots of people setting themselves up on pedestals etc. (literally, one chapel service “honored” a popular man by carrying him down the aisle in one of those cart things on guys shoulders!) I’ve been connected with my current faith community now for about 8-9 years, and I’m honestly blown away by the pastor who is just a humble servant. His teaching on leadership revolves around Jesus’ serving others. If only we could all just look to serve one another, whether it be through teaching, encouragement, hospitality, whatever. Who wouldn’t sit up and pay attention and want to follow that example?

    • Keri Kent July 21, 2015 at 3:00 pm - Reply

      Sounds like your current church community is living out what Jesus said: Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (matthew 20:25-28). So many churches seem to skip over that “Not so with you” part! Thanks for your insights, Dianne.

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