Jesus and Women During Advent and Always


Every Advent season, it is good to remember the prominence of women in the lineage of Jesus. Listed among his ancestors in Matthew 1 and Luke 3, we see names such as Tamar (a victim of sexual misconduct), Rahab (a prostitute whose famous lie landed her in the faith hall of fame), Bathsheba (described as “the wife of Uriah” who gave birth to Solomon through another man, King David), Ruth (a widow from Moab and an outsider to Israel), and Mary (a teenage virgin girl from a poor, obscure town who found herself pregnant by the Holy Spirit).

It is clear that God esteems and elevates women as well as men. For this reason, I am sharing something I have previously written about the place of women in the world, in the church, and in the story of God. The following excerpt was first posted after our decision to commission our first class of Deaconesses at Christ Presbyterian Church. It isn’t explicitly about Christmas, but I hope it will nonetheless enrich our understanding of God during the Advent season.

Speaking of Advent, if you live in the Nashville area and don’t already have a church, I preach almost weekly at the Old Hickory Blvd location of Christ Presbyterian Church. We welcome you any Sunday at 8:30am or 11:00am, with classes in between (10:00am) for all ages and life seasons.

Concerning the dance between the genders in the Story of God, Kathy Keller says in her booklet, Jesus, Justice, and Gender Roles:

“The justice behind God’s creation of male and female and his arrangement of the different roles he chose for them may not always be apparent to us. Why one and not the other? But should we expect our finitude to understand the infinite, omnipotent, wise, good, lovely, gracious justice of God? Perhaps some inkling resides in the dance of the sexes, by which we reveal truth about the inner life of the triune God. The rest is clothed in mystery, to which we yield, with full confidence that it is meant for our good.”

Similarly, Katherine Alsdorf, founding director of Redeemer Presbyterian NYC’s Center for Faith and Work, has gone on record saying that as an egalitarian woman (who disagrees personally with Redeemer’s complementarian view), she has witnessed and experienced much greater levels of respect, esteem, and empowerment of women in Redeemer’s complementarian setting than in her previous, egalitarian church settings. You can read Katherine’s related essay here — it is short and well worth your time.

There are scores of other reasons, both theologically and historically, to applaud and champion women serving in their churches using the full range of the gifts God has bestowed upon them. This essay by pastor J.A. Medders provides an excellent summary of these reasons concerning the diaconal role. Medders notably highlights that women deacons appear in historic texts as early as 111 A.D. (the generation immediately following the Apostolic, New Testament age) — plus many other texts from the first, second, and third centuries.

In our own theological stream, we at Christ Presbyterian are not the first church to commission female deacons. Notable pastors and theologians like John Calvin, Benjamin Warfield, John Frame, Jerram Barrs, CEB Cranfield, James Montgomery Boice, Philip Ryken and Tim Keller have all taught and practiced their own versions of this. The same could be said of familiar, like-minded PCA churches Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City and Christ Community Church in Franklin, Tennessee, plus many others.

Consider also the following thoughts from Scripture concerning the place of women in the ministry and mission of Jesus:

Women teaching theology. Alongside her husband, Aquila, Priscilla taught theology to Apollos, a man and a preacher (Acts 18:24-26). Most scholars concur that because Priscilla’s name is mentioned first in the biblical text, that she was also the primary teacher to Apollos in this informal, yet significant setting. Based on her and many other examples, women are encouraged to exercise their teaching gifts in the church.

Women speaking God’s Word to the gathered church. In the Old and New Testaments, women exercised the gift of prophesy and were encouraged to do so (Joel 2:28-29; Luke 2:36-38; Acts 2:17-18, 21:9; 1 Corinthians 11:5). This gift was commonly shared during the public worship gatherings of the church (1 Corinthians 11:16, 14:1-19). Modern parallels in our denominational context (the Presbyterian Church in America) could include reading the Scriptures, leading in prayer, offering encouragement around the communion tables, sharing wisdom about a specific need or situation, facilitating aspects of the liturgy, and/or giving testimony to the Lord’s work during Sunday services.

Gifted women are encouraged to teach and lead. Some have wrongly used 1 Timothy 2:12-13 and 1 Corinthians 14:33-34 to restrict women from ever speaking in the church setting. Neither passage may be taken to prohibit women, in any context, from teaching about the Christian way of life. To make this prohibition is to do an injustice not only to women, but also to the intent of Scripture and the dynamic of the Holy Spirit. Scripture models and encourages women praying and prophesying in the worship assembly (1 Corinthians 11:5). In view of 1 Corinthians 11:5 and other passages (i.e., Acts 2:17-18, 21:9), whatever the prohibition in 1 Corinthians 14:33-34 means, it absolutely cannot mean that women should never teach or lead in the church.

Other examples include but are not limited to…

Women teaching women. Older women are encouraged to teach younger women in Titus 2:3-5.

Women teaching children. Timothy had known the Scriptures “from infancy” (2 Timothy 3:15). As a young child, Timothy was taught Scripture by his mother and grandmother (2 Timothy 1:5).

Women teaching men by example. The example of the “wife of noble character” in Proverbs 31 causes her husband to “rise and call her blessed” (v. 28), and her works “praise her at the gates” (v. 31). Also notable is the fact that she is an industrious businesswoman. See also 1 Corinthians 7:16; 1 Peter 3:1-2.

Women sharing the gospel with men. The Samaritan woman (John 4) shared the gospel with an entire town, including the men…and many of them responded (vv. 39-42). Mary’s famous prayer called “The Magnificat” (Luke 1:46-55) is a theological masterpiece that is preached from pulpits all over the world, year after year, especially but not exclusively during Advent. The same can be said of Hannah’s prayer (1 Samuel 1:9-28) and so many other female voices from Scripture.

Women giving testimony and exhorting publicly. Women are encouraged to share with the church their experience of God and His grace, specific Bible verses and what those verses have meant to them, etc. For example, many women testified of Christ’s resurrection to the apostles and other believers (Luke 24:10). Such sharing would also fall in line with women being permitted to prophesy – to speak God’s truth in the assembly of believers (cf., Joel 2:28-29; Acts 2:17-18, 21:9; 1 Corinthians 11:5).

Women serving and leading in multiple ways. Scripture is filled with leaders who are women. Miriam the prophetess led Israel in worship (Exodus 15:19-21, see also Psalm 68:24-25). Deborah served as a judge of Israel (Judges 4). Queen Esther became a hero to all of Israel (Esther 1-10). Ruth rescued the people of Israel from ruin (Ruth 1-4). Mary composed and sang a theologically rich song that became part of Scripture (Luke 1:46-55). Women are chosen as the first witnesses of the resurrection of Christ and became the first evangelists, the “apostles to the Apostles,” so to speak (Mark 16:1-8). Junia was “outstanding among the apostles” (Romans 16:7). Women assisted in diaconal work (1 Timothy 3:11), and Phoebe, a woman, is identified as a deacon (diakonon) in the church of Cenchreae (Romans 16:1).

Whatever our tradition or denomination or tribe, then, it should be clear that women have as much of a central role to play in the Story, ministry, and mission of God as men do. We are equally his image, and share an equal dignity and inheritance before him.

Rejoice in the men God has given us to show us more of himself!

Likewise, rejoice in the women he has given us to do the same!

Learn about Scott’s latest book, Beautiful People Don’t Just Happen

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17 responses to “Jesus and Women During Advent and Always”

  1. heather says:

    Thanks for your look at this. I basically agree with what you’ve said. For me, there are multiple ways women can serve in church, but the biggest “no-no” for women is to serve as head pastor. If a church has a woman head pastor then I know that church is compromising God’s Word, trying to please people over God. (And if they would compromise on that, what else would they compromise on?) But on the other hand, I do not agree with those churches who completely restrict women from serving in any capacity or those who say women can’t teach anyone or speak at all. That is equally damaging. Far too many churches mess up by going to one extreme or the other. It’s a shame! (Many feminists and liberal churches who want women to be in control are pushing back against the idea of submission, as if God favors or trusts men over women. But they don’t realize that God is not elevating men above women by assigning them headship. Men – as the head of family and church – actually have huge responsibilities and are accountable to God for how they lead. That is a serious, solemn responsibility, not a celebration of them somehow being more favored by God than women. If women only realized the huge responsibility that comes with headship, they might not want it so badly. They might be thankful that the buck stops with the men in leadership.) Thank you for your thoughtful post on this.

    • Laura Woodworth says:

      Heather, in your comment you wrote: “If a church has a woman head pastor then I know that church is compromising God’s Word, trying to please people over God. (And if they would compromise on that, what else would they compromise on?)”

      I find it interesting that you assume that a church would have a female head pastor only because they are trying to please people over God. Has it occurred to you that a church may believe that they are *being faithful* God’s Word by having a female head pastor? And you “know” that church is compromising God’s Word. Have you spoken to a female head pastor or to members of a church that has a female head pastor? Have you asked any of them if they are choosing to please people over the Lord? Have you asked them about their theology, their position on the Bible, etc.?

      I know several female pastors who love the Lord Jesus Christ, believe the Bible to be the Word of God and have not led their congregations down a slippery slope of compromise. They serve at small churches so are not “head pastors” but if they had a male associate/assistant pastor, I expect that they would be gracious and humble in their servant leadership. I currently attend a church with male pastors and both male and female elders. The pastors and elders preach and teach the Word of God, live lives of faith and grace, and serve with humility. Should our church ever hire a female head pastor, I would have no problem with it because I know our congregation would choose wisely as they have done in the past.

      I would encourage you as a sister in Christ to be careful about what you know and what you assume – to show grace in imputing motives to those you disagree with. I am grieved by the strife in the church in the US; I’m sure that Satan rejoices. I think that it is all too common for us to assume that someone doing something we agree with/approve of is doing so with good motives and that someone doing something we disagree with/disapprove of is doing so with bad motives.

      There are true believers in the Lord Jesus Christ who interpret the Bible in different, even contradictory, ways. The only sure thing about understanding and interpreting the Bible is that no one is 100% correct in doing it. The “checklist” in Scripture of what one must believe in order to be a follower of Jesus is extremely short. Romans 10:9,10 states “if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” I don’t know if you attend a church with creeds; if you do, you are aware that the Apostles’ Creed also sticks to basic statements of faith. I am fond of a saying by a 17th-century theologian that has been adopted as a motto of the Moravian Church and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church: “In Essentials Unity; In Non-Essentials Liberty; in All Things Love.”

      Grace and peace to you in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

      • Heather says:

        Laura, thank you for your thoughtful reply. And I would say that you’re right that I should not assume that they are trying to please people over God. That is too much of a blanket statement to fit in all situations. My observation has been that most denominations that have women head pastors also compromise on the Bible’s view of other socially-debated issues. I don’t know if I have ever seen a denomination that has women head pastors but doesn’t compromise on other issues. But that doesn’t mean they are not out there.

        My point about compromising is based on 1 Tim 3, which talks about the head leaders in a church. (Technically Paul calls these guidelines “trustworthy sayings” (NIV), not “commands”.) But it very clearly talks about men in these roles, particularly as overseer. I take that to mean the leader above all leaders, the head pastor. This “man as head leader” guideline also reflects God’s plan for marriage, man as the head of the family unit, and reflects Christ as the head of the church (Christ is the man, the church is the bride). All throughout, the Bible emphasizes men in the head roles, with them being the ones ultimately accountable to God for leading.

        While I am sure there are head women pastors whose hearts are in the right place and who want to glorify God, I think they are overlooking this biblical guideline and pattern. Yes, Deborah was a woman judge, but from what I understand, it’s because a man couldn’t be found who would be a strong-enough, righteous-enough leader. It’s an exception to the rule. And she was a judge, not head pastor of a local church (or am i misunderstanding this?).

        But nowadays, it appears to me that women are becoming head pastors NOT because there are no good, godly men around, but for feministic reasons (a generality). We are in a hyper-feministic culture, and it seems that too many churches are seeking to appease them. To impress society. To give the people what they want. (Once again, I am not saying this is all head-women-pastor churches, but all the ones I know about.).

        You are right that I shouldn’t assume that people-pleasing is their motive. But on the other hand, it doesn’t matter to me what their motive is. If they would go against a clear guideline of “men as overseer,” it leads me to believe they would compromise in other areas, especially since they generally try so hard to explain away the clear biblical guideline of “men as overseer.”

        I,too, am grieved by what I see happening in our country. But I grieve partly because people have decided that they know better than God how things should be done. They throw out Bible passages they don’t like. They ignore other passages or explain them away. Huge, disastrous compromises on God’s Word are being done in the name of “extending grace and loving others”. So many believers wrongly operate under the belief that “love others” is the greatest commandment, which leads them to support and encourage everything anyone wants to do or believe.

        But they fail to remember that “love God” is the greatest commandment. And to love Him is to obey Him. To obey Him is to do things His way. This is part of the reason why I am critical of churches who don’t do things His way, who think they can do whatever they want. If you can’t trust churches to uphold God’s truth in one area, you can’t trust them to uphold it in all areas. (This goes much deeper than women pastors. It’s about the generally-compromising attitude of churches in many areas. I have no idea about your church, so don’t take it personally. It’s about society and churches in general. It might not fit your church, but it is the case for so many others.)

        And the checklist you shared (Romans 10) is for being a believer, for obtaining salvation. Not for being a head pastor.

        Anyway, thank you for the very thoughtful, kind tone of your reply. You seem to really have a good heart. I wish I could be more “kind” sounding in my reply, but that would require a lot more writing. So I went for forthright and succinct. I hope you can see my point about the generally sad, compromising state of churches nowadays, with female head pastors being only a small part of it, a “red flag” but not necessarily a conclusive indicator that a church has gone astray. Blessings to you too.

  2. Alex Kocher says:

    Hey Scott! Thank you, thank you, thank you for this article and the resources contained in it. It moves me to tears of both gratitude and weariness to read the truths you have articulated so well. I love the picture of the narrow way of the believer being a tightrope and therefore the safest place that we can be is on the line!
    I do have one question for you. My ministry partner and I have just finished a booklet for women on a Kingdom/Mission view for women. We have wrestled deeply with how to present this material about being made in the image of God and the design of women as helper. When you say that “As Adam’s helper, Eve completes the image of God,” are you saying that men uniquely image God in one way and women image Him in another way? Or, that as the pre-fall man and woman, Adam and Eve completely imaged God? Just like we as women don’t want our roles narrowed where Scripture does not narrow them, we don’t want men or women to have their design narrowed in such a way that men are supposed to possess certain characteristics and women are supposed to possess other characteristics. Questions abound, but I will stick to that one for now and hope that it makes sense. I continue to be thankful for your life and ministry!

    • scottsauls says:

      Alex…great to hear from you! And an excellent question, to which the answer seems to be that male and female together, versus separate, give us the fullest picture of God’s image. As “he” and “she” rub off on and influence one another, both become, in essence and perspective, more fully God’s image as individuals as well. Jesus of course is the perfect picture of the complete image of God in one person, as Colossians attests. Though a man, he also had feminine attributes — weeping over Jerusalem as a mother hen does her chicks, and so forth. I hope sometime to be able to read what you have written! It sounds like a helpful resource for the church. Please say hello to Mason for me?

  3. Heather Manuel says:

    “As for slippery slopes, there is a traditional conservative “slip” we should be just as cautious about as we are the modernist liberal “slip.” ”
    YES! Thank you for this.

  4. Carolyn R says:

    I’ve always wondered how Deborah and the Old Testament prophetesses figure in this question, and never seen any discussion. To me their roles seem larger than what is allowed in the complementarian view.

  5. J. K. Jones says:

    Thanks for this!

  6. Jenny says:

    Hi Scott! Thank you for this post. It is something that has been on my mind a lot lately. I have grown up being taught and believing Paul’s teachings that only men can be the leaders of a church- that women have a part to play, but its not with the position of authority that men have. But the older I get (I am in my mid 40’s) and the more I have read my bible, the more I have started to question this position. I confess I have not studied theology, so can’t claim any great biblical background, but in my reading I have come across things that seem (to my mind) to clash with this belief that Paul’s roles for men and women in the church are God’s ordained order.
    The first one is someone you mentioned briefly in your post- Deborah, one of Israel’s God-appointed judges. Deborah didn’t just go to war like most of the other judges, she was actually holding court and settling disputes for the people of Israel. Her decisions must have had final authority. She was also a prophetess, who had the authority to command Israel’s army chief to go to war according to what God had told her. To me she sounds like she is starting to step into the position Paul reserves as only for men- yet, it is a position that has been given to her by God himself. Am I to believe that God would give such authority to a woman in the Old Testament, but that he would withhold it from women in the New Testament church? Surely, either He is ok with women being in a position of ultimate authority or He isn’t. But, perhaps I am comparing apples and oranges… perhaps I can’t compare the spiritual and judicial set-up of O.T. Israel and that of the N.T. church. ☺ Let me know.
    There are other question marks for me, but I will limit it to one more- in 1 Corinthians 11:7 Paul seems to ‘forget’ that woman are also made in the image of God when explaining why men don’t have to cover their heads when praying, and relegates women to simply being ‘the glory of man’, while men keep the status of being ‘the image and glory of God’. I understand that he may be referring to the belief that Eve was created second, but that shouldn’t result in seemingly ignoring the fact that she is made just as much in the image of God as Adam (Genesis 1). Perhaps I am misunderstanding Paul here, but it does make me wonder if he wasn’t still a little influenced by the cultural/religious beliefs of his time regarding women.

    Apologies for the lengthy post!

  7. Phil Cain says:

    Thanks for the article and the desire to be Biblical rather than following culture. I do have one comment: you mention ordained ministry a number of times but I don’t see any formal ordination in scripture only God’s calling on the individual which doesn’t require congregational ratification. Is this an example of the church’s practice going beyond scripture?

  8. Chuck Stewart says:

    There is much here that I agree with and goes a long way in combating the skeptics of Christianity who say that this religion casts women under the foot of man, which it absolutely does not.

    A few requests! Could you please briefly comment on 1 Timothy 3:12 and how Romans 16:1 provides the grounds for an exception. Also, do you think that context determines the usage of a particular word, for example, ‘diakonos’? Lastly, do you think 1 Timothy 3:11 was meant to apply to the wives of elders as well?

    Thank you for your time and response!

  9. Jordan says:

    Thank you for sharing, Scott! I’m a deaconess at Redeemer Prez in NY. Our Diaconate is essentially a determined, intentional, effort to love our neighbor as ourselves. It’s Acts 4:34 come alive! For me, there is no greater ministry. It is fulfilling scripture; a light in a dark city. I attribute much of my positive experience to our Director who sets the vision for our work and cheers us on. And, it’s vital that there is a framework for men and women to explore their gifts in this way. For those who are uncertain of females officially partaking in the service, I usually reference parenting and care-taking. We wouldn’t consider men as the only parent. We consider both mother and father as completely capable of fulfilling the duties of raising a child in Truth and Love. So, too, with the work of caring for the vulnerable of all ages, there must be a missionary, “all hands of deck” mindset. The harvest is plenty, but the workers are few! Lives are changed when they experience mercy and grace. And, I live for the chance to tell others who has been thinking of them, loves them, and died for them. Many of those conversations begin with first meeting immediate, earthly needs. And, living in a city that has a 3-1 female ratio, many of whom are unmarried, I find that the enormous calling of our majority deaconess team as gift from God to His people. Though I’ve never considered it a position of power, I do often wonder if we’ve forgotten the power of how Christ led. I’ll gladly never stand behind a pulpit and preach on Sunday morning. However, when I serve, I can’t help but think of Jesus kneeling down the night before He gave His life for me and washed the feet of the very men who would be so tempted to think their calling meant anything other than sacrificial service. When I serve my neighbor here in New York, I have one thing on my mind – My King and Savior. I do it for Him and no other earthly gain or praise. And do I feel powerful? No. But, I feel closer to the One who is. Everything is for Him. I’ll be sending up prayers for your new initiated servants. May their experience be as wonderful as mine.

  10. Vicki Gatchell says:

    Enjoying all the discussion above and thankful everyone is remaining respectful. Regarding Deborah: her story has been a big influence in my own journey to leadership. Always one to enjoy the second chair, I felt God calling me to step forward and lead in some areas about 7 years ago. Since I was, and am, a complimentarian, I wondered how leadership would look for me.

    Enter Deborah:
    From Judges 5:
    6“In the days of Shamgar son of Anath,
    in the days of Jael, the highways were abandoned;
    travelers took to winding paths.
    7Villagers in Israel would not fight;
    they held back until I, Deborah, arose,
    until I arose, a mother in Israel.
    8God chose new leaders
    when war came to the city gates,
    but not a shield or spear was seen
    among forty thousand in Israel.
    9My heart is with Israel’s princes,
    with the willing volunteers among the people.
    Praise the Lord!

    Note how Deborah refers to herself as “a mother in Israel.” This spoke loudly to me as a mother of almost-grown children who also works with a number of young men and women who I realate to in a motherly role. It suddenly gelled for me that as a mother, or motherly figure, many already looked to me for leadership, and I was even more deeply affected by the way I could feel so fiercely for the flourishing of those looking to my leadership. Yep, I’d fight for and with those young men and women (e.g. the young princes in Israel), because I’m a mother (biological or otherwise) and the wellbeing of those under my care I do not take lightly. Why did Deborah lead, and judge, and even go off to war Israel? They needed her! Barak and the others knew and trusted her. Because He could use her, God put her in that role. And today, God still gifts and places men and women in His service right where He wants them (1 Cor 12:11). I don’t need to be the head to lead others. I need to be who God created me to be, a leader who cares for the wellbeing of all who look to her for leadership.

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  12. Gail says:

    God does not call the equipped he equips the called. I believe this equally applies to both men and women. It’s based on where God wants to put us and we need to take his lead and be the person that he wants us to be for his glory. It makes no difference what role that takes. I come from a non-denominational (community church) background, but even so, elders and pastors are men. Women typically only teach women. A lot of these comments above are food for thought for me. I especially appreciate What Laura Woodworth brought to the table. If You’re reading this Laura, thank you!

    I will not place a limit on anything God has called me to do. If this includes pastoring a church so be it.

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  14. Meg says:

    To say that a woman cannot teach men is to do a great disservice to men, and isolate and oppress 50% of the population. Anywhere there is oppression, God weeps. I appreciate that CPC has deaconesses, and if we are to be true supporters of women as Christ was, women as well as men should be allowed to preach (as guest speakers occasionally preach). Of course there are Bible passages that people would use to claim women cannot teach men. There are also passages that seem to support the practice of slavery or polygamy, both of which we as Christians recognize as oppressive and do not support (although there have been people and churches historically that have used scripture to defend these practices). Any scripture that is interpreted to oppress a certain group of people is either being misinterpreted, or mistakingly seen as prescriptive when it was meant to for descriptive purposes. While CPC does so much more validating the inherent equal worth of women than many other churches, I do think, as well as expect, it to do more. Studies have shown that a hierarchal view of men over women increases the risk of male perpetrated interpersonal violence against their partner in religious groups as well as secular groups. An egalitarian view and treatment of women is protective against domestic violence. This needs to begin in our churches.

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