Roles of Men and Women in Christ

Traditional church thinking assigns different ‘roles’ to men and women with the claim they  are endorsed by God.

This article is a response to the thinking of men that has silenced women. It is to show that men and women have the same duty to become like Christ and their role is the same because they are ‘born again’. It has nothing to do with rejecting teachings because they are ‘culturally unpalatable’ but rejecting them because they are not ‘of God’.

Being ‘born again’ was not a new concept introduced by Jesus. He fully expected Nichodemus, as a teacher in Israel, to understand that natural birth belongs to thinking of the flesh, but those born from above are not bound by it. The God of the Old Testament gave women the same role as He does in the New Testament – those ‘In Christ’ become ‘Beloved Disciples’ – they follow Jesus and lose their fleshly identity just as Abraham and Sarah did. Even though they founded the ‘Jewish’ race, it was always the line of faith that mattered and becoming a ‘Spiritual Israelite’ –

“He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” John 1:11


Because there are no Laws in the Old Testament that silence women, many have said that Genesis 3:16 must be what the silencing and subordination of women in 1 Cor. 14 refers to –

Gen. 3:16 ISV He told the woman, “I will greatly increase the pain of your labour during childbirth. It will be painful for you to bear children, since your trust is turning toward your husband, and he will dominate you.”1 Cor. 14:34 Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says

But Genesis 3:16 was a descriptive, not prescriptive. Because Eve’s turning (often translated as ‘desire’) had been towards Adam when she was tempted, instead of towards God, then Adam would dominate her.  We are captive to whatever holds our desire –

‘If anyone is destined for captivity, into captivity he shall go.’  Rev. 13:10

The words to Eve make more sense when understood as ancient interpreters understood them –

If your desire/turning is for your husband then will rule over you”

The Targum of Jonathan Ben Uzziel (Rabbi and disciple of Hillel) said:

“And to your husband shall be your desire, and he will have rule over you unto righteousness or unto sin.” 

This interpretation is interesting as it recognises that it can be a bad thing for a husband to rule over his wife – they can lead them to sin.

The Greek word in the Septuagint for ‘dominate/rule over’ in Gen. 3:16 is used by Jesus to show that we are not to dominate one another –

‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them’; and they that have power over them, are called beneficent.  But you not so: but he that is the greater among you, let him become as the younger; and he that is the leader, as he that serves.’  Luke 22:25-6

The curses in Genesis are reversed by turning to God.

The ground was cursed because of Adam, yet if Israel turned to God the curse would have ceased and at times it did –  

“The Lord will make you abound in prosperity, in the fruit of your womb, in the fruit of your livestock, and in the fruit of your ground in the land that the Lord swore to your ancestors to give you. The Lord will open for you his rich storehouse, the heavens, to give the rain of your land in its season and to bless all your undertakings.” Deut. 28:2-7

God also reversed the curse of the ground in Genesis 8:21

And when the LORD smelled the pleasing aroma, the LORD said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man”.


In the case of 1st Corinthians, it is important to separate who is saying what and recognise the different voices within the letter.


First Corinthians contains several passages which appear to contradict each other. The addition of quotation marks takes away the confusion. Chapter 7 makes it clear that Paul is citing members of the church. It is a dialogue between the Church at Corinth and Paul –

“Now for the matters you wrote about”. 1 Cor. 7:1


Chapter 14 gives a good example of 2 opposing opinions within 3 verses. Let’s add quotation marks and separate the comments between the church and Paul –

“In the Law it is written: ‘With other tongues and through the lips of foreigners I will speak to this people’. So…Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers”.     1 Cor. 14:21-22“But if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and inquirers or unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind?”  1 Cor 14:23

2 completely opposite views within 3 verses, obviously one viewpoint belongs to the church at Corinth, and one is Paul’s view. Without discerning who is saying what we run the risk of siding with the false teaching of the writers to Paul.

Paul sets the church straight – Tongues are for believers, not unbelievers.

In the same chapter Paul sets the church straight regarding women prophesying and speaking in tongues. The church is trying to silence women just as the nations around them did, a cultural thing. Paul quotes the traditions and discards them –

The church says women must be silent ‘as even the law says’ (1 Cor. 14:34).  It can’t be the law of Moses referred to – it didn’t silence women. Roman law silenced women and said that man was the head of the house.

Separating the text helps to show what is going on –

‘As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silence in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as even the law says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church’. 1 Cor. 14:34-35What! Did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only ones it has reached?”  If anyone thinks they are a prophet or otherwise gifted by the Spirit, let them acknowledge (perceive) that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command. And if anyone ignores this, they should themselves be ignored. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, zealously prophesy! and do not forbid speaking in tongues.”       1 Cor. 14:36-39 NIV

Traditional thinking cites the words of the church, and uses them to wrongly silence women.

Paul responds to this thinking by asking two questions –

1 – “Did the word of God originate with you?”

“In the beginning was the word…in Him was life” John 1:1-4 The word came out from Jesus, not the writers of a letter to Paul. Men are not given the sole right to proclaim the word of God – it didn’t originate with them.

2 – “Or did it come to you alone?”

The light of Jesus reached women and men alike.


The spirit had been poured out on men and women and all were prophesying.  Certain members of the church thought that only men should prophesy and women should be silent as even the Law of the Land said. Paul reminded the church at Corinth that the word of God did not originate with men – it came to both men and women.  He concludes the chapter by encouraging all to prophesy –“So, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy and do not forbid speaking in tongues.” 1 Cor. 14:39 NIV. 

The great irony is that many have followed the ‘cultural norms’ of first century Rome in silencing women and making man the ‘head’. They have not comprehended what it means to be ‘One in Christ’ nor a ‘Spiritual Israelite’ who is born again.

1 Corinthians 11

In chapter 11 Paul addresses the issue of what women wear on their head while they prophesy in church – showing that women were indeed prophesying.

The church believed that man was more important because Adam was made first. Paul wants them to know that the head of man is Christ – not place themselves directly below God and leave Christ out as they had done in verse 7 –

A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man”  For man is not from woman, but woman from man” 1 Cor. 11:7-8“The head/origin of every man is Christ, the head/origin of woman is man, and the head/origin of Christ is God.”          1 Cor. 11:3
ORIGIN MATTERS – Man is more important because Adam was the origin of EveCHRIST IS THE ORIGIN OF EVERY MAN. The origin of one woman was a man

It can’t be Paul claiming that woman was made for the glory of man – such thinking contradicts what we are told in Isaiah 43:7 –

“Bring My sons from afar, and My daughters from the ends of the earth – everyone called by My name and created for My glory, whom I have indeed formed and made.” 

Paul tells the Corinthian writers that Eve might have been formed ‘from’ man and ‘for’ man – but the ‘man’ (singular) is of the woman and every man since Adam is born of woman. Paul tells them that Christ Himself, the head of every man, also came from woman, and that men and women are not independent in the Lord.

To the Jews order mattered -Who came first.  In Christ we are a new creation –

“For man is not from woman, but woman from man. Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man.” 1 Cor 11: 8-9  “As the woman came from the man, even so is the man also by the woman; and all things are from God.”  1 Cor 11:12

The Jews thought that because man was first, and a greater glory than woman, that women should cover their hair and conform to traditions – the same traditions that have continued down the ages and permeate Middle Eastern cultures today.


The other passage used to silence women is in 1 Timothy 2.

“Let the woman learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit the woman to teach or to usurp authority over the man; but to be in quietness.” 1 Timothy 2:11-12

As with Paul’s Corinthians passage, it is necessary to understand the context.

“Stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies.”  

1 Tim 1:3

Paul told Timothy to stop some of the people from teaching – the ones spreading wrong doctrine. In chapter 2 he says who those “certain people” are – his message is directed at a woman or perhaps a group of women.

He didn’t allow a woman (with wrong doctrine – who is still following the myths and genealogies) to teach nor to “usurp authority” (act of herself – independently of the men) but to learn quietly. The reason – her teachings are wrong – “For Adam WAS formed first” – this statement is not elevating Adam because he was first – it’s countering the wrong doctrine the woman was teaching that Eve was formed first. The focus of this chapter is correcting wrong teaching.

We know from the Gnostic writings that there were ideas circulating that Eve woke Adam from sleep and existed first.  

It is now recognised that Christians from an early time combined their beliefs with Gnostic ideas –

While we don’t know how Gnosticism in general began, we know the belief dates back several centuries before the birth of Christ. However, when Christianity reached the Hellenistic world, the Gnostics were among the first to adopt it. Sunday Moulton ‘Gnosticism: Definition & History’ (Ch. 14, Lesson 6,

Paul warned of these Gnostic teachings – “Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge (gnosis)” 1Tim.6:20.


Sophia was one of the figures in the Gnostic stories. Her daughter was Eve. We can deduce from Paul’s comments that the Gnostic ideas were present in Ephesus at the time he wrote.  One of the Gnostic texts says that Eve woke Adam from sleep –

From “On the Origin of the World”

Sophia sent Zoe, her daughter, who is called “Eve,” as an instructor in order that she might raise up Adam, in whom there is no spiritual soul so that those whom he could beget might also become vessels of light. When Eve saw her companion, who was so much like her, in his cast down condition she pitied him, and she exclaimed: “Adam, live! Rise up upon the earth!” Immediately her words produced a result for when Adam rose up, right away he opened his eyes. When he saw her, he said: “You will be called ‘mother of the living’, because you are the one who gave me life.”

This passage promotes the myth that Eve was made first. Some Gnostics tried to combine their teachings with those of Christianity; they adopted the creation stories but changed their meanings.


Some quote 1 Tim. 2:15 to show that  women are saved through childbearing, as if this is her role that saves her –

And she shall be saved through the child-bearing, if they remain in faith, and love, and sanctification, with sobriety. 1 Tim. 2:15 YLT

At a surface reading it’s a perplexing passage.  Women are not saved by having children, they are saved by the same process as men, through grace and faith –

‘For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.’ Eph. 2:8

The context of women being saved by childbearing is the same as the context of Adam being formed first.  Paul is referring to the wrong doctrine of the woman and correcting it, but we are only hearing one side.  The Gnostics believed that having children created more ‘vile flesh’ and hindered a woman’s salvation.  Paul assures them that having children will not hinder salvation.

We can deduce what the woman was saying from Paul’s statements in correction of her wrong teachings –

WRONG TEACHINGS OF THE WOMAN (Line up with known Gnostic teachings)CORRECTIONS BY PAUL
Eve was formed firstAdam WAS formed first
Eve was not in the transgressionThe woman WAS in the transgression
Having children hinders salvationWomen SHALL be saved throughout childbearing

Did Paul really silence all women for all time or was he silencing a woman with wrong doctrine and referring to those wrong doctrines?  It makes more sense that the passages above are countering the Gnostic teachings of the time that EVE WAS MADE FIRST and not part of Adam’s transgression, and the Gnostic myth that having children hindered salvation –

“Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. And she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.”

Would Paul contradict Jesus who said there was to be NO HIERARCHY

“Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah.  The greatest among you will be your servant.” Matt. 23:8-9

Matt.23:11“Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.”  Mark 10:43

“Whoever does the will of God is My brother and sister and mother.”       Mark 3:35

Would Paul say order matters in one place because Adam was formed first, when he says in another place that order doesn’t matter and anyway – all men since Adam come from woman –

1 Cor. 11:11-12 “Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman.  For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. And everything comes from God.”

Compared to

‘Women are to be silent for man was formed first.’

Let’s compare the traditional interpretation of the Timothy passage with an alternative one.

Traditional interpretation – Women are to be silent because Adam was made first – A universal rule from Paul to apply to all women for all time.

Alternative interpretation – Deceived women teaching wrong doctrines are to stop teaching and learn in quietness – Advice for a local situation to women who still needed to learn and were leading others astray. Other women like Priscilla were ready to teach and they did. (Acts 18:26)

Paul’s command was only for ‘certain people’ – the ones teaching wrongly.

But Paul didn’t just silence women with wrong doctrine, he silenced anyone with wrong teaching. That’s the real point here.  It’s not a matter of gender – it’s a matter of stopping those who teach wrongly whether they are male or female.

In Titus he said there were certain men of the circumcision party who must have their mouths muzzled –

 “For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision: Whose mouths must be stopped (muzzled)” Titus 1:10-14 

In Philippians Paul referred to the circumcision party as dogs –

“Watch out for those dogs, those workers of evil, those mutilators of the flesh!”     Phil. 3:2

Conclusion: Paul was not silencing all women for all time, he was silencing one woman (or a group of women) who were teaching wrongly, he told her/them to learn in quietness.


Some also use Ephesians 5 & 6 to justify a different role for women, but this is not the purpose Paul intended.

Paul does indeed refer to Man as the head of woman, but he was not endorsing this as a teaching of Christ, but a fact of life in the Roman world – a situation of the flesh.  Roman law said

‘Man is the Head of the Wife’

‘Father is the Head of the Daughter’

Ephesians 5 and 6 describe three groups of people bound to others by non-spiritual circumstances

Those in a marriage relationship –  “A man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife.” Eph. 5:31

Slaves bound to masters – “Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh”. Eph. 6:5

Children and parents – Eph. 6:1

In all these situations people are bound to other people – Paul is saying – while you are in those situations to which you are bound – make the best of them – submit to the ones who rule over you.

All these situations are “according to the flesh” – There is no suggestion that men should be the spiritual heads or leaders of women. The fact is, according to the flesh – men have ruled over women and husbands have ruled over their wives. In Ephesus at the time of Paul’s writing, the husband was the head of the wife under the Roman Law – Patria Potestas – The power of a Father and the power of a Husband.  Paul is saying – you are bound by this – make the best of it – submit as to the Lord.

Paul uses these situations “of the flesh” and turns them into parables of Christ and the Church, and says to “submit because of Christ”.

Those in a marriage relationship – “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her” Eph. 5:25.

Slaves bound to masters – “As bondservants of Christ” Eph. 6:6.

Children and parents – Children, obey your parents as you would the Lord, because this is right.” Eph. 6:1.

The theme of wives submitting to husbands continues throughout the New Testament.  In Ephesians 5 Paul tells men to love their wives as Christ loved the church, making the best of the situations we are bound to.  But nowhere does he say that man is the spiritual head of woman.

The theme of slaves submitting to masters continues throughout the New Testament, but nowhere does Paul say that masters are the spiritual heads of slaves.

Not only are wives to submit to husbands, servants to slaves and children to parents but Paul says to “submit to one another” meaning everyone submits – Eph. 5:21.


1 Peter 3:1 tells wives to submit to their unbelieving partners or “heads” as the husband is referred to in the Ephesians passage –

“Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives”.

Submitting to ones husband does not mean or imply he is the spiritual head – it is an action to please Christ and even non believing husbands should be submitted to.  



Clearly Ananias didn’t give Saphira good spiritual advice, and they were both struck dead. Logic says that Paul can’t be saying that our spiritual advice must come from our husbands when the husband gives bad advice. Likewise, Abigail was married to a fool, she went against his foolish authority to live a better way.


God and Jesus did choose women witnesses, teachers and prophets. But men have generally preferred to accept the witness of men. Enough is recorded in the pages of the Bible to reveal the equality that God bestows on those who believe – Jew or Gentile, slave or free, man or woman.

It took Peter a long time to realise that Gentiles are equal. This was not a new event in Christ, Rahab became an Israelite the second she believed in the God of Israel. Caleb was a Kennite (a Canaanite of the land) but represented the tribe of Judah because he was considered equal, but by the time of Ezra only Jews were accepted.

It took the 11 disciples a long time to accept the witness of women. Jesus revealed Himself first to Mary Magdalene and gave her a message for the others

“Go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that He had spoken these things to her.” John 20:11-18

The 11 male disciples didn’t believe her.  The first recorded words of Jesus (in Mark) to the 11 after His resurrection, are words of rebuke for not listening to her witness –

“Afterward He appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at the table; and He reproached them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who had seen Him after He had risen.” Mark 14:14

But still the witness of a man prevailed over that of a woman –

“They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found The Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” Luke 24:33

Not only were the early disciples slow to catch on, but many today still have closed eyes to the wonderful message of equality given by God.

The great commission of Jesus is for all, male and female, to go into all the world and preach the gospel. He did not silence women, He entrusted them to pass on His words.

About alsowritten

Another voice in the wilderness
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2 Responses to Roles of Men and Women in Christ

  1. Pingback: Context of Writings Silencing Women (notes) | alsowritten – Robin's Blog

  2. Pingback: In which God will one believe? – Questiontime – Vragenuurtje

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