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 Issues | Ministry | Women and ordained ministry

Christians in the past accepted the Bible's teaching

Through the ages the ministry of men and women was largely a non-issue because people accepted the teaching of Scripture.  However, on occassion it was addresed, often as a passing reference to some other issue, and a few of these references are given below.

The Bible teaches clearly that the roles of teaching and authority wihin the full church should be exercised by men.  These quotations show that Christians through the ages both recognised this as the teaching of the Bible and sought to be faithful  to it.


Apostolic Constitutions (4th Century)

We do not permit our “women to teach in the Church,” but only to pray and hear those that teach; for our Master and Lord, Jesus Himself, when He sent us the twelve to make disciples of the people and of the nations, did nowhere send out women to preach, although He did not want such. For there were with us the mother of our Lord and His sisters; also Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Martha and Mary the sisters of Lazarus; Salome, and certain others. For, had it been necessary for women to teach, He Himself had first commanded these also to instruct the people with us. For “if the head of the wife be the man,” it is not reasonable that the rest of the body should govern the head.
(Apostolic Constitutions Book 3 Chapter VI) c. AD390

Tertullian (3rd Century)

In precisely the same manner, when enjoining on women silence in the church, that they speak not for the mere sake of learning (although that even they have the right of prophesying, he has already shown when he covers the woman that prophesies with a veil), he goes to the law for his sanction that woman should be under obedience.
Tertullian Against Marcion : Book 5 : Chapter 8

It is not permitted to a woman to speak in the church; but neither (is it permitted her) to teach, nor to baptize, nor to offer, nor to claim to herself a lot in any manly function, not to say (in any) sacerdotal office.
Tertullian : On the Veiling of Virgin chapter 9 c AD207

Cyprian (3rd Century)

In the first Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians: “Let women be silent in the
church. But if any wish to learn anything, let them ask their husbands at
home.” Also to Timothy: “Let a woman learn with silence, in all
subjection. But I permit not a woman to teach, nor to be set over the man,
but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve; and Adam was
not seduced, but the woman was seduced.”
Cyprian : Testimonies 46 c AD250

John Chrysostom (4th Century)

On Romans chapter 16 verse 6.

“Greet Mary, who bestowed much labor on us.”
How is this? a woman again is honored and proclaimed victorious! Again
are we men put to shame. Or rather, we are not put to shame only, but
have even an honor conferred upon us. For an honor we have, in that there
are such women amongst us, but we are put to shame, in that we men are
left so far behind by them. But if we come to know whence it comes, that
they are so adorned, we too shall speedily overtake them. Whence then is
their adorning? Let both men and women listen. It is not from bracelets, or
from necklaces, nor from their eunuchs either, and their maid-servants, and
gold-broidered dresses, but from their toils in behalf of the truth. For he
says, “who bestowed much labor on us,” that is, not on herself only, nor
upon her own advancement, (see p. 520) (for this many women of the
present day do, by fasting, and sleeping on the floor), but upon others
also, so carrying on the race Apostles and Evangelists ran. In what sense
then does he say, “I suffer not a woman to teach?” (1 Timothy 2:12.) He
means to hinder her from publicly coming forward (1 Corinthians 14:35),
and from the seat on the bema, not from the word of teaching. Since if this
were the case, how would he have said to the woman that had an
unbelieving husband, “How knowest thou, O woman, if thou shalt save
thy husband?” (ib. 7:16.) Or how came he to suffer her to admonish
children, when he says, but “she shall be saved by child-bearing if they
continue in faith, and charity, and holiness, with sobriety?” (1 Timothy
2:15.) How came Priscilla to instruct even Apollos? It was not then to cut
in sunder private conversing for advantage that he said this, but that before
all, and which it was the teacher’s duty to give in the public assembly; or
again, in case the husband be believing and thoroughly furnished, able also to instruct her. When she is the wiser, then he does not forbid her teaching and improving him. And he does not say, who taught much, but “who bestowed much labor,” because along with teaching (tou~ lo>gou) she performs other ministries besides, those in the way of dangers, in the way of money, in the way of travels. For the women of those days were more  spirited than lions, sharing with the Apostles their labors for the Gospel’s sake. In this way they went traveling with them, and also performed all other ministries. And even in Christ’s day there followed Him women, “which ministered unto Him of their substance” (Luke 8:3), and waited upon the Teacher.
Chrysostom : Homilies on Romans – Homily 31 on Rom 16.6

John Calvin (16th Century)

In the other class are the hours set apart for public prayer, sermon, and solemn services; during sermon, quiet and silence, fixed places, singing of hymns, days set apart for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, the prohibition of Paul against women teaching in the Church, and such like. To the same list especially may be reffered those things which preserve discipline, as catechising, ecclesiastical censures, excommunication, fastings, etc. Thus all ecclesiastical constitutions, which we admit to be sacred and salutary, may be reduced to two heads, the one relating to rites and ceremonies, the other to discipline and peace.
Calvin : Institutes : Book 4 : Ch 11 Para 29

Richard Hooker (16th Century)

To make women teachers in the house of God were a gross absurdity, seeing the Apostle hath said, “I permit not a woman to teach” (1 Tim 2.2); and again “Let your women in churches be silent” (1 Cor 14.34). Those extraordinary gifts of speaking with tongues and prophesying, which God at that time did not only bestow upon men, but on women also, made it the harder to hold them confined with private bounds. Whereupon the Apostle’s ordinance was necessary against women’s public admission to teach.
Richard Hooker : Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity Book 5, 62.2

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