Are Women Oppressed in Churches?

I recently came across Kris Valloton’s article where he writes: “Many women wake up every day to a world of discrimination simply because of their gender. But the most troubling aspect of this oppression is that the church is often found leading it! Many believers have developed a theology that proactively uses the Bible to disqualify women from the most formidable roles of leadership, especially in the Church. I am appalled by the number of Christian leaders who are convinced that women are not as qualified, called, and/or gifted to lead as men. The argument for disempowering women is illogical, unscriptural and beyond-outdated! I’d like to propose that any stinking thinking that relegates women to a lower seat of power or authority is way past its expiration date and it’s high time we get with the program that Jesus preached throughout His ministry” (

As a woman, I respect this male author for supporting and appreciating women but I strongly disagree with his perspective on the role of women in ministry. In his article, Kris argues that oppressing women is unscriptural. Of course, I wholeheartedly agree. At the same time, I submit that the Bible presents ample evidence for the fact that God assigned men and women their unique spiritual roles in the very beginning of primeval history. Are we in the position to judge God’s decision as oppressive just because it does not fit our limited human understanding? Of course not! Moreover, I submit that any attempt on our part to reconstruct the order established by God for male and female ministry would be dishonoring God. Before we proceed with our discussion, let us be reminded of God’s warning given in Revelation 14:6-7: “And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, Saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters” (KJV).

Contrary to many misogynist trends throughout church history, both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament present women as God’s precious vessels. Just like men, women are created in the image of God, called to advance God’s holy Kingdom on earth, responsible for their actions and equal to men in God’s plan of salvation (Genesis 1:27–28). Both Eve and Adam receive God’s blessing and are commanded to multiply and “have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:28). This text demonstrates that God wants both genders to be in charge and take care of the beautiful nature He entrusted to them.

Furthermore, God used women in remarkable ways to orchestrate history and set spiritual examples for future generations. Sarah, Rebekah, and Rachel became matriarchs of the twelve tribes of Israel, while Mary was chosen to be the mother of Jesus the Messiah (Genesis 21:2, 25:21; Matthew 1:18). Also, Hannah served as a role model for unreserved trust in the power of the God of Israel (1 Samuel 1:20). Abigail, the wife of her ungrateful husband Nabal, demonstrates exemplary wisdom as she saves her husband from death and David from sinful bloodshed (1 Samuel 25:2-38). In addition, Proverbs 31:10-31 portrays a powerful woman of diverse skills who by no means appears oppressed. Proverbs 31:25 states that “strength and dignity are her clothing.” She is the engine of her household – she makes vital decisions as a merchant or a businesswoman, she plants vineyards, she sustains her family and workers, she practices charity, she encourages her husband in serving the Lord and the community, and she teaches with kindness and wisdom (verse 26). This biblical image of a woman has been so popular and praised in Judaism that Proverbs 31:10-31 is commonly recited in Jewish homes on Shabbat ( Another reference to female instruction is found in Proverbs 6:20-21 where the teachings of both the father and the mother are presented as equally valuable: “My son, keep thy father’s commandment, and forsake not the law of thy mother: bind them continually upon thine heart, and tie them about thy neck.” Teaching, guidance and encouragement are precious gifts God gave women to make vital differences in their families and communities.

However, Scriptures demonstrate that while women’s roles in life and ministry are as important as those allotted to men, they are still different. Only men are given the spiritual power and authority that qualify them as spiritual heads of the household and permit them to serve in the capacity of a priest or a bishop over both genders. For this reason, one will never find a single example in Scripture where a woman served as a priestess, a king, or a bishop. Should this be regarded as a sexist, abusive theology invented by men in the patriarchal society? Or, is this a “temporary oppression” of women instituted by God as a curse for Eve’s disobedience (see Genesis 3:16) which has been abolished on the cross of Calvary? Neither! The distribution of ministry roles one finds in Scripture is a manifestation of perfect order established by God for mankind from its inception.

Let’s take a closer look. Genesis 2:7, 18-23 shows that Adam was created first, then Eve as his helper (Genesis 2:7, 18–23). The sequence of creation suggests that God created Eve for Adam and not Adam for Eve. It also suggests that Adam was intended to be a leader in his family. In addition, the creation order reflects the concept of “primogeniture” or “birthright” – the Old Testament practice in which the firstborn son has preeminence and authority in the family for that generation (Genesis 25:27–34; 35–23; 38:27–30; Deut. 21:15–17).[1] Apostle Paul draws on the principle of birthright as he affirms that women cannot exercise spiritual authority over men in church or a household: “A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve” (1 Timothy 2:11–13).

Also, Adam and Eve were made to reflect the mystery of the relationships between the Persons of the Triune God. Paul states in 1 Corinthians 11:3: “But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.” While the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit are equal in divine substance and “constitute” one Godhead, they are distinct in some functions. It was the Father who sent His Son to atone for the sins of the world (John 3:16), yet it was the Son who died on the cross (Matthew 27:32–56), and yet it is the Holy Spirit which comforts, counsels and guides believers in all truth (John 14:26). The dynamics between the Father and the Son were to be manifested in the household headship, as we find in 1 Corinthians 11:3: “But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God” (KJV).

In addition, Adam, not Eve, first receives instruction from God. In Genesis 1:28, God commands both Adam and Eve to multiply and subdue God’s creation. However, God forbids specifically Adam prior to the creation of Eve to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil: “The Lord God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:16-17). This fact demonstrates God’s plan: just as God taught Adam, Adam should teach his wife Eve, not the other way around. The principle of a husband representing the Lord in the household is further reflected in Ephesians 5:22-24: “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the Savior of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything” (KJV). Some argue that Eve’s response to the serpent in Genesis 3:3 indicates that similarly to Adam, she received the command directly from God to abstain from the tree of knowledge of good and evil: “But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die” (KJV). Although it is possible that God indeed instructed Eve, she could be merely reporting God’s original message to Adam as communicated to her by her husband and not necessarily implying that God had spoken directly to her (Genesis 3:3). In either case, the text plainly shows that the Lord had given Adam the instruction regarding the tree of knowledge before Eve was created (Genesis 2:16-17).

Furthermore, Adam, not Eve, is primarily held accountable for sin (Grudem, Bible Doctrine, 205). As stated above, being the first one to receive the commandment from God not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, assumed spiritual teaching authority for Adam over his wife – Adam was expected to correctly pass on God’s instruction to Eve. Adam’s spiritual authority, in turn, involved carrying responsibility for both Adam’s and Eve’s spiritual welfare. Hence, the “coefficient” of Adam’s accountability was greater than Eve’s. As we are reminded in Luke 12:48, “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more” (KJV). Particularly due to the spiritual authority Adam was entrusted with over his family, God addresses Adam first to account for what has happened in the Garden of Eden: “And the Lord God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou? And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself. And he said, Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?” (Genesis 3:9-11, KJV). Thus, although Eve sinned first, was responsible for, and bore the consequences of her sin, mankind was counted sinful because of Adam’s sin, not Eve’s: “For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:21–22, KJV).

Moreover, “Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression” (1 Timothy 2:14, KJV). In my opinion, this argument for not allowing women to exercise spiritual authority over men is unrelated to Eve’s punishment for disobedience stated in Genesis 3:16. Also, 1 Timothy 2:14 doesn’t suggest that women are more easily deceived than men. If that were so, God would never appoint women to teach other women (Titus 2:3-5). So, what does 1 Timothy 2:14 say? It affirms that particularly Eve was seduced by Satan’s marketing strategy while Adam was not. Genesis 3:6 reads: “And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat” (KJV). While it is very possible that Adam was present with Eve during her conversation with the serpent, some scholars have suggested that he was not (

There could be a time interval between Eve’s encounter with the serpent and her conversation with Adam. Hence, Genesis 3:6 may mean that Adam was with Eve after she had talked to Satan and obtained the forbidden fruit. Such scenario would explain the lack of evidence for Adam’s participation in the serpent’s conversation with Eve, as well as Paul’s assertion in 1 Timothy 2:14 that Adam was not deceived by Satan. In either case, Adam did not confront his wife or correct her. He knew the fruit Eve offered him was forbidden by God and yet he still ate. Thus, Adam’s primary transgression was defined by his choice to obey Eve instead of the Lord (Genesis 3:6). In fact, Genesis 3:17 states that the Lord holds Adam liable for hearkening unto the voice of his wife instead of His. Eve’s transgression, on the other hand, as pointed out in 1 Timothy 2:14, was defined by both falling into deception herself and then teaching her husband falsehood instead of consulting and obeying him as originally intended by God.  So, 1 Timothy 2:14 directly links Eve’s deception with prohibition of teaching men because Eve chose to usurp the teaching authority and responsibility over Adam she never had. Thus, women are forbidden to teach or exercise spiritual authority over men to affirm God’s original distribution of spiritual roles.

So, what is the meaning of Genesis 3:16: “… and he shall rule over thee”? I submit that Genesis 3:16 did not assign men their unique spiritual role but began the “epoch of the usurpation of power” by fallen men over fallen women. As Dr. Grudem puts it: “In the punishments God gave to Adam and Eve, He did not introduce new roles or functions, but simply introduced pain and distortion into the functions they previously had” (Bible Doctrine, 205). I submit that prior to the Fall, the relationship between Adam and Eve mirrored the relationship between Jesus and His church, which was comprised only of the first blameless human couple at that time. The relationship Jesus the Messiah has with His church is revealed in Ephesians 5:22,25-27: “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it, That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish” (KJV). Adam and Eve’s relationship in Eden was mutually selfless, sacrificial, humble, and loving with Adam’s spiritual authority serving to edify his wife while Eve’s obedience to Adam aimed to honor God. Did their relationship suggest any kind of oppression? Of course not! This was God’s original plan! This Edenic scenario is also exactly the marriage dynamics the Holy Spirit reconstructs in our lives as we are transformed in the image of our Messiah (Ephesians 5:22-32). However, sin had devastating effects on human nature, the relationship between God and mankind, as well as on human interpersonal relationships. Those consequences would be later reflected in the post-Fall male-female dynamics. After the Fall, men and women kept their spiritual roles but the latter ones now had room for fear, control, pain, manipulation and abuse (Genesis 3:16).

Furthermore, throughout biblical history, genealogies were traced through men and reflected the unique relationships those men had with God. It was particularly a male bloodline through which blessings and curses were passed down through generations (Genesis 9:1, 25; 49:28). The task of providing spiritual instruction, guidance, protection, as well as carrying responsibility for the spiritual welfare of society was still entrusted to men and was evidenced in male leadership throughout Israel’s history. In the periods of Israel’s apostasy, the Lord would severely rebuke and discipline His people primarily for the iniquity of its male leaders: “The heads thereof judge for reward, and the priests thereof teach for hire, and the prophets thereof divine for money: yet will they lean upon the Lord, and say, Is not the Lord among us? none evil can come upon us.  Therefore shall Zion for your sake be plowed as a field, and Jerusalem shall become heaps, and the mountain of the house as the high places of the forest” (Micah 3:11-12, KJV). In the same vein, Jesus the Messiah rebukes Israel’s male leadership when He says: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in” (Matthew 23:13).

Contrary to Kris Valloton’s claim that “Jesus founded the Women’s Liberation Movement” (, Jesus never reassigned the spiritual roles for mankind. So, Kris’ statement is a historical fallacy. During His earthly ministry, Jesus served both men and women with healing and teaching just as He had prior to His incarnation. Similarly to the way He reached out to the desperate Hagar in the wilderness as the Angel of the Lord, Jesus shared with the Samaritan woman about the living water that He alone could offer (Genesis 21:17-19; John 4:13-14).  Jesus, YHWH incarnate, is surely a liberator, but not from His everlasting order and truth, but from sin and death (Romans 8:2). Jesus encouraged both men and women to be heralds of His truth but He never taught that women should be priests, rabbis or pastors.

As the God of Israel started building His church body on Shavuot (Pentecost), He generously poured out the gifts of His Spirit on all believers. Those gifts were equally distributed to both men and women to serve for their edification: “God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles? Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret?” (1 Corinthians 12:28–30, KJV). Please note that Paul does not say anywhere that now men and women have equal spiritual authority and responsibility. First, the passage does not even mention any gender and second, it states that not all believers have identical ministry appointments. As evidenced by the New Testament and the early church history, the bishops or elders where still men, appointed by God to instruct God’s community and carry responsibility for its spiritual growth before God. Women were expected to serve the Lord wholeheartedly with the precious gifts of the Spirit in the capacity of deaconesses, prophetesses, evangelists, and so forth, according to God’s will (Acts 21:8–9; 1 Corinthians 11:5; Acts 18:26; Romans 16:1–2). Women’s ministry of prophecy and evangelism definitely involved teaching God’s Word but without exercising spiritual authority over men and only with submission to male spiritual authority. An example would be Priscilla who together with her husband Aquila instructed Apollos on correct understanding of Scriptures (Acts 18:26). The text does not indicate that Priscilla exercised spiritual authority over Apollos as a rabbi, priest, bishop, pastor, or any kind of church leader. The passage does not suggest that she preached publicly either. Also, as demonstrated in the Epistles, when men of God preached or prophesied, women were to obediently receive their instruction, just as it had been practiced in ancient Israel: “A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet” (1 Timothy 2:11-12).

I am convinced that the Bible is God-breathed Scripture, inerrant and infallible, and “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21). The Bible was not written to conform to human culture but for our fallen culture to submit to the timeless authority of the Bible. Although written in a specific time period, Scripture is relevant to all humans in all generations till the end of time. It’s a divine instruction, life-transforming teaching our Heavenly Father gave us out of His unmerited love for us lest we perish. We should be reminded that when we tamper with God’s instruction, we partner with Satan as once did Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:1-7).

There are so many ways in which the Holy Spirit empowers women to serve Him today! He encourages them to evangelize, prophesy, pray, counsel, support, demonstrate the abundancy of the fruit of the Spirit, as well as teach other women and children (Acts 1:8; 1 Corinthians 11:5; Galatians 5:22-23; Titus 2:3-5). Women are only restricted from “serving as pastors or having spiritual authority over men” (

In fact, without women, men can’t do their job efficiently, as God designed women to be their helpers (Genesis 2:18). And let me point out that the concept of a “helper” is not demeaning in any way because God Himself is identified in Scripture as our Helper (Psalm 33:20). So, why do some feminist activists like Kris Vallotton claim that empowering women is only about teaching and leading men ( When there is so much pain, iniquity, and death in our modern society, why do some Christians invest their time and energy in promoting world-driven feminist ideology instead of seeking and rescuing the lost? Can we truly please and glorify God with strange fire (Leviticus 10:1)? Let’s stop and think about this.

[1] Wayne Grudem, Bible Doctrine, 203.