Frank Viola has written extensively on women in ministry.
His book The Day I Met Jesus (2015), with Mary De Muth (the author and sex-abuse advocate), was a best-seller and highly popular in women’s ministry groups.
His articles, Rethinking Women in Ministry, God’s View of a Women, and A Farewell to Self-Righteousness have been read and shared by countless Christians. (You can find all these articles on this site. Just “Search” in the search window on the top right.)
Here are some excepts from one of Frank Viola’s articles on women in ministry.
A basic question must be answered at this point: What is the overall teaching of the New Testament on a woman’s role in the church? That is, what’s the big picture about women in ministry?
You’ll find that it’s perfectly consistent with the broad principles of the New Covenant.
What follows, therefore, is a chronological survey of women in ministry in the New Testament. Since I don’t have a concordance in front of me, I’m doing this from less than inspired memory:
Elizabeth and Mary (not Zachariah and Joseph) are the first to receive the message of Christ’s birth into the world. They are honored and blessed by angels. They are also the first to sing and prophesy about the Christ child.
The prophetess Anna receives honorable mention as one who speaks of the Messiah to those who have waited for Him (Luke 2:36-38).
During our Lord’s earthly ministry, a group that Luke calls the Women were just as well known as the Twelve (Luke 8:1-3; 23:49, 55; 24:24). In fact, the twelve male disciples were a rather pitiful bunch when compared to the Lord’s female disciples (see Chapter 16).
Both the Twelve and the Women were among the 120 who waited for the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost (Acts 1:14). The Women, along with the men, spoke in tongues, declaring the “great things of God” (Acts 2:1-11).
The Holy Spirit was poured out upon women and men alike—the result being that “your daughters shall prophesy” (Acts 2:17-18).
In Christ, all earthly barriers have been destroyed. Galatians 3:28 boldly declares, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” Women, therefore, are not second-class citizens in the church of God.
Paul and Silas plant a church in Philippi. It begins with all women. Lydia is one of them. She hosts the church meetings in her home. It’s inconceivable to think that the women in the church in Philippi could not speak or function in the meetings. The reason? The church was made up mostly of women (Acts 16:12ff.).
Priscilla and her husband, Aquila, teach Apollos the way of the Lord more fully (Acts 18:26). It’s noteworthy that four out of the six times that Priscilla and Aquila are mentioned in the New Testament, Priscilla’s name appears first (Acts 18:18, 26; Rom.
16:3; 2 Tim. 4:19). This is ancient shorthand signifying that Priscilla was more spiritually prominent. Also, the fact that her name appears first when she and her husband instructed Apollos indicates that she led in that exchange (Acts 18:26, NASB and NIV).
Philip the evangelist had four daughters who were prophetesses (Acts 21:9). This means they prophesied. (Note that first-century prophecy was always done in and among the church. Question: If a woman is prophesying by God’s Spirit, why on earth would a man be barred from hearing it?)
In 1 Corinthians 11:4-5, Paul says that women may both pray and prophesy when the church comes together (1 Cor. 11:1-34). The context of this passage makes clear that Paul is referring to public meetings where both men and women are present (1 Cor. 11-14).
When Paul wrote his letter to the Roman Christians, he honored the following women for their service in the church: Phoebe, Priscilla, Mary, Tryphena, Tryphosa, Persis, Julia, and the sister of Nereus (Rom. 16). Paul lists about twice as many men as women. But he commends more than twice as many women as he does men.
In Romans 16:2, Paul calls Phoebe a prostatis, which means “one who stands in front of, superintends, guards, and provides care for others.” The word is a derivative of proistemi, which is used in Romans 12:8, 1 Thessalonians 5:12, and 1 Timothy 5:17.
Paul mentions Junia as a fellow-apostle (Rom. 16:7). This is the most natural way to construe the statement “notable among the apostles.” And “Junia” is clearly a feminine name.
In Philippians 4:2-3, Paul makes special mention of Euodias and Syntyche who helped him in the Lord’s work.
Paul reminds Titus that the older women should be “teachers of good things.” They should also to teach the younger women (Titus 2:3-5).
Paul commends Timothy’s mother and grandmother. We can reasonably infer that these two women taught Timothy the holy Scriptures since he was a child (2 Tim. 1:5; 3:15).
Clearly, women were active in ministry in the first-century church. Because they were recipients of the Holy Spirit, they were just as much a part of the believing priesthood as were the men. We find them prophesying publicly. Praying publicly. Teaching publicly. We also find them “contending side by side” with Paul in God’s work. In addition, Paul calls some women “co-workers,” a term he uses for his male associates.
That said, some have interpreted the “limiting passages” to mean that women must de facto be excluded from sharing in a meeting when men are present. But this conclusion runs against the grain of the broad principles of the New Testament. For this reason, advocates of the “women-must-not-speak” position are forced into completely non-Scriptural dances distinguishing between “sharing” (when only sisters are present) and “teaching” (when men are present). But this is pure invention. And it’s dissonant with the Biblical context.
There’s no evidence anywhere that Paul or his entourage ever excluded anyone from ministry on the basis of gender. Paul happily worked alongside women like Priscilla, Euodias, and Syntyche without any supercilious hokum about Divinely-ordained female inferiority. Further, there’s no analog for the “women-cannot-speak-with-men- present” idea in any of Paul’s other letters. In short, both Paul’s letters are consistent with the revolutionary sentiment that he voiced in Galatians 3:28.
The truth of the matter is that the “limiting passages” are highly obscure. Anyone who asserts that they are clear and direct is living in a fog of presumption and academic naivety. For one thing, such an assertion reflects a benighted dismissal of texts like Acts 2:17, Galatians 3:28, and 1 Corinthians 11:5, 14:26, 31.
Pick up any decent commentary. Look up the “limiting passages,” and you’ll discover the various ways these texts can be interpreted due to the ambiguity of the language. The fact that competent evangelical scholars disagree on the meaning of Paul’s word usage in these passages attests to their obscurity.
It’s my opinion that we should always interpret the obscure by the clear, not the other way around. When we interpret the clear and consistent thrust of Scripture in light of one or two obscure passages, we end up rupturing the core message of the Bible. And we are forced to do all sorts of exegetical gymnastics to make the many clear passages fit our interpretation of the few obscure texts.
Therefore, when an obscure passage seems to be at odds with the clear thrust of Scripture, we must look carefully at context.
See also Frank Viola Women