Click here to
Female Ministry; or,
Woman's Right to Preach the Gospel
Catherine Booth, along with her husband William Booth, founded the
Salvation Army in England in 1865. That organization arose as part
of the emerging holiness renewal movements in both England and the
United States that began around 1840. For various reasons, many of the
early leaders of this renewal movement, as well as the burgeoning
missionary and temperance societies and the suffrage and anti-slavery
movements that emerged in the USA about the same time, were women.
They provided strong and capable leadership in these areas, especially
helping stimulate the revivals of the latter 19th century as well as the
explosion of missionary activity throughout the world.
However, opposition to expanding roles for women was fierce. The
traditional male-only institutions in England and much of Europe along
with the antebellum culture of the USA strongly resisted any changes in
the status quo. Still, not only were there women who had
the courage to speak out against the injustices of political, social,
and religious systems that methodically excluded them, other women
simply took up the tasks of leadership especially within the church.
Catherine Booth was not an activist by modern criteria of activism.
She was more of a determined leader who had a vision and worked
prayerfully toward what she felt God had called her to do in the world.
Yet, she was well able and willing passionately to defend her role in
the church, seeing the challenge to women in ministry as a challenge to
God's work in the world and to the teachings of Scripture, as well as to
her own calling.
This article was originally published in London in 1859 under the
title Female Teaching and republished in 1861. An edited less
confrontational version was published 1870 under the title Female
Ministry, which is the version here. In it, Catherine Booth simply appeals
to Scripture and a well-reasoned rationale for women in ministry.
[Editor's note: There have been only minor changes from the original published
text. For example, for ease
of reading some long paragraphs
are divided, blocks of text in all capitals are converted to bold
italics or indented as quotations, and older biblical citations (2 Kings
xxii. 12-20) are written in more modern form (2 Kings 22:12-20). Also,
references to some nineteenth century pamphlets are omitted. The British
and sometimes archaic spelling of some words is retained.]
Female Ministry; or,
Woman's Right to Preach the Gospel
The principal arguments contained in the following pages were published in
a pamphlet entitled Female Teaching, which, I have reason to know, has
been rendered very useful.
In this edition all the controversial portions have been expunged, some new
matter added, and the whole produced in a cheaper form, and thus, I trust,
rendered better adapted for general circulation.
Our only object in this issue is the elicitation of the truth. We hold that
error can in the end be profitable to no cause, and least of all to the cause of
Christ. If therefore we were not fully satisfied as to the correctness of the
views herein set forth, we should fear to subject them to the light ; and if we
did not deem them of vast importance to the interests of Christ's kingdom, we
should prefer to hold them in silence. Believing however that they will bear the
strictest investigation, and that their importance cannot easily be
over-estimated, we feel bound to propagate them to the utmost of our ability.
In this paper we shall endeavour to meet the most common objections to female
ministry, and to present, as far as our space will permit, a thorough
examination of the texts generally produced in support of these objections. May
the great Head of the Church grant the light of His Holy Spirit to both writer
Female Ministry; or, Woman's
Right to Preach the Gospel
THE first and most common objection urged against the public
exercises of women, is that they are unnatural and unfeminine. Many
labour under a very great but common mistake, viz. that of confounding
nature with custom. Use, or custom, makes things appear to us natural,
which, in reality, are very unnatural; while, on the other hand, novelty
and rarity make very natural things appear strange and contrary to
nature. So universally has this power of custom been felt and admitted,
that it has given birth to the proverb, "Use is second nature." Making
allowance for the novelty of the thing, we cannot discover anything
either unnatural or immodest in a Christian woman, becomingly attired,
appearing on a platform or in a pulpit. By nature she seems
fitted to grace either. God has given to woman a graceful form and
attitude, winning manners, persuasive speech, and, above all, a
finely-toned emotional nature, all of which appear to us eminent
qualifications for public speaking.
We admit that want of mental culture, the trammels of custom, the
force of prejudice, and one-sided interpretations of Scripture, have
hitherto almost excluded her from this sphere; but, before such a sphere
is pronounced to be unnatural, it must be proved either that woman has
not the ability to teach or to preach, or that the possession and
exercise of this ability unnaturalizes her in other respects; that so
soon as she presumes to step on the platform or into the pulpit, she
loses the delicacy and grace of the female character. Whereas, we have
numerous instances of her retaining all that is most esteemed in her
sex, and faithfully discharging the duties peculiar to her own sphere,
and at the same time taking her place with many of our most useful
speakers and writers.
Why should woman be confined exclusively to the kitchen and the
distaff, any more than man to the field and workshop? Did not God, and
has not nature, assigned to man his sphere of labour, "to till
the ground, and to dress it"? And, if exemption is claimed from this
kind of toil for a portion of the male sex, on the ground of their
possessing ability for intellectual and moral pursuits, we must be
allowed to claim the same privilege for woman ; nor can we see the
exception more unnatural in the one case than the other, or why
God in this solitary instance has endowed a being with powers which He
never intended her to employ.
There seems to be a great deal of unnecessary fear of women occupying any
position which involves publicity, lest she should be rendered unfeminine by the
indulgence of ambition or vanity; but why should woman any more than man be
charged with ambition when impelled to use her talents for the good of her race.
Moreover, as a labourer in the GOSPEL her position is much higher than in
any other public capacity; she is at once shielded from all coarse and unrefined
influences and associations; her very vocation tending to exalt and refine all
the tenderest and most womanly instincts of her nature. As a matter of fact it
is well known to those who have had opportunities of observing the private
character and deportment of women engaged in preaching the gospel, that they
have been amongst the most amiable, self-sacrificing, and unobtrusive of their
"We well know," says the late Mr. Gurney, a minister of the Society of Friends,
"that there are no women among us more generally distinguished for modesty,
gentleness, order, and right submission to their brethren, than those who have
been called by their Divine Master into the exercise of the Christian ministry."
Who would dare to charge the sainted Madame Guyon, Lady Maxwell, the talented
mother of the Wesleys, Mrs. Fletcher, Mrs. Elizabeth Fry, Mrs. Smith, Mrs.
Whiteman, or Miss Marsh with being unwomanly or ambitious. Some of these ladies
we know have adorned by their private virtues the highest ranks of society, and
won alike from friends and enemies the highest eulogiums as to the devotedness,
purity, and sweetness of their lives. Yet these were all more or less public
women, every one of them expounding and exhorting from the Scriptures to mixed
companies of men and women. Ambitious doubtless they were; but theirs was an
ambition akin to His, who, for the "joy that was set before Him, endured the
cross, despising the shame:" and to his, who counted all things but dung and
dross, and was willing to be regarded as the off-scouring of all things that he
might win souls to Jesus and bring glory to God. Would that all the Lord's
people had more of this ambition.
Well, but, say our objecting friends, how is it that these whose names you
mention, and many others, should venture to preach when female ministry is
forbidden in the word of God? This is by far the most serious objection
which we have to consider--and if capable of substantiation, should receive our
immediate and cheerful acquiescence; but we think that we shall be able to show,
by a fair and consistent interpretation, that the very opposite view is the
truth. That not only is the public ministry of woman unforbidden, but absolutely
enjoined by both precept and example in the word of God.
And, first, we will select the most prominent and explicit passages of the New
Testament referring to the subject, beginning with 1 Corinthians 11:1-15: "Every
man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head. But
every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered, dishonoureth
her head: for that is all one as if she were shaven," etc. "The character," says
a talented writer, "of the prophesying here referred to by the apostle is
defined 1 Corinthians 14:3, 4, and 31st verses. The reader will see that it was
directed to the 'edification, exhortation, and comfort of believers;' and the
result anticipated was the conviction of unbelievers and unlearned persons. Such
were the public services of women which the apostle allowed, and such was the
ministry of females predicted by the prophet Joel, and described as a leading
feature of the gospel dispensation. Women who speak in assemblies for worship,
under the influence of the Holy Spirit, assume thereby no personal authority
over others; they simply deliver the messages of the gospel, which imply
obedience, subjection, and responsibility, rather than authority and power."
Dr. A. Clarke, on this verse, says, "Whatever may be the meaning of praying and
prophesying in respect to the man, they have precisely the same meaning in
respect to the woman! So that some women at least, as well as some men,
might speak to others to edification, exhortation, and comfort. And this
kind of prophesying or teaching was predicted by Joel 2:28, and referred to
by Peter (Acts 2:17). And, had there not been such gifts bestowed on woman,
the prophecy could not have had its fulfilment. The only difference marked
by the apostle was, the man had his head uncovered, because he was the
representative of Christ: the woman had hers covered, because she was placed
by the order of God in subjection to the man; and because it was the custom
both among Greeks and Romans, and among the Jews an express law, that
no woman should be seen abroad without a veil. This was and is a custom
through all the East, and none but public prostitutes go without veils; if a
woman should appear in public without a veil, she would dishonour her
head--her husband. And she must appear like to those women who have
their hair shaven off as the punishment of adultery." See also Doddridge,
Whitby, and Cobbin.
We think that the view above given is the only fair and common-sense
interpretation of this passage. If Paul does not here recognise the
fact that women did actually pray and prophesy in the primitive Churches,
his language has no meaning at all; and if he does not recognise their right
to do so by dictating the proprieties of their appearance while so engaged, we
leave to objectors the task of educing any sense whatever from his language. If,
according to the logic of Dr. Barnes, the apostle here, in arguing against an
improper and indecorous mode of performance, forbids the performance itself, the
prohibition extends to the men as well as to the women; for Paul as
expressly reprehends a man praying with his head covered as he does a
woman with hers uncovered. With as much force might the doctor assert
that in reproving the same Church for their improper celebration of the Lord's
Supper (1 Cor. 11:20, 21), Paul prohibits all Christians, in every age,
celebrating it at all. "The question with the Corinthians was not whether or not
the women should pray or prophesy at all, that question had been settled on the
day of Pentecost; but whether, as a matter of convenience, they might do so
without their veils." The apostle kindly and clearly explains that by the law of
nature and of society it would be improper to uncover her head while engaged in
acts of public worship.
We think that the reflections cast on these women by Dr. Barnes and other
commentators are quite gratuitous and uncalled for. Here is no intimation
that they ever had uncovered their heads while so engaged; the fairest
presumption is that they had not, nor ever would till they knew the
apostle's mind on the subject. We have precisely the same evidence that the
men prayed and preached with their hats on, as that women removed their
veils, and wore their hair dishevelled, which is simply none at all.
We cannot but regard it as a signal evidence of the power of prejudice, that a
man of Dr. Barnes's general clearness and acumen should condescend to treat
this passage in the manner he does. The doctor evidently feels the
untenableness of his position; and endeavours, by muddling two passages of
distinct and different bearing, to annihilate the argument fairly deducible
from the first. We would like to ask the doctor on what authority he makes
such an exception as to the following: "But this cannot be interpreted as
meaning that it is improper for females to speak or to pray in meetings of
their own sex." Indeed! but according to the most reliable statistics we
possess, two-thirds of the whole Church is, and always has been, composed of
their own sex. If, then, no rule of the New Testament is more positive than
this, viz. that women are to keep silence in the Churches, on whose
authority does the doctor license them to speak to by far the larger portion
of the Church.
A barrister writing us on the above passage, says "Paul here takes for granted
that women were in the habit of praying and prophesying; he expresses no
surprise nor utters a syllable of censure, he was only anxious that they should
not provoke unnecessary obloquy by laying aside their customary head-dress or
departing from the dress which was indicative of modesty in the country in which
they lived. This passage seems to prove beyond the possibility of dispute that
in the early times women were permitted to speak to the "edification and
comfort" of Christians, and that the Lord graciously endowed them with grace and
gifts for this service. What He did then may He not be doing now? It seems truly
astonishing that Bible students, with the second chapter of the Acts before
them, should not see that an imperative decree has gone forth from God, the
execution of which women cannot escape; whether they like or not, they 'shall'
prophesy throughout the whole course of this dispensation; and they have been
doing so, though they and their blessed labours are not much noticed."
Well, but say our objecting friends, hear what Paul says in another place:--"Let
your women keep silence in the Churches, for it is not permitted unto them to
speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And
if they will learn -1-
anything, let them ask their husbands at home; for it is a shame for women to
speak in the Church" (1 Cor. 14:34, 35). Now let it be borne in mind this is the
same apostle, writing to the same Church, as in the above instance. Will any one
maintain that Paul here refers to the same kind of speaking as before? If so, we
insist on his supplying us with some rule of interpretation which will harmonize
this unparalleled contradiction and absurdity.
Taking the simple and common-sense view of the two passages, viz. that one
refers to the devotional and religious exercises in the Church, and the
other to inconvenient asking of questions, and imprudent or ignorant
talking, there is no contradiction or discrepancy, no straining or twisting
of either. If, on the other hand, we assume that the apostle refers in both
instances to the same thing, we make him in one page give the most explicit
directions how a thing shall be performed, which in a page or two further
on, and writing to the same Church, he expressly forbids being
performed at all.
We admit that "it is a shame for women to speak in the Church," in the
sense here intended by the apostle; but before the argument based on these
words can be deemed of any worth, objectors must prove that the "speaking"
here is synonymous with that, concerning that manner of which the apostle
legislates in 1 Corinthians 11. Dr. A. Clarke, on this passage, says,
"according to the prediction of Joel, the Spirit of God was to be poured out
on the women as well as the men, that they might prophesy, that is
teach. And that they did prophesy or teach is evident from what the
apostle says (1 Cor. 11), where he lays down rules to regulate this part of
their conduct while ministering in the Church. All that the apostle opposes
here is their questioning, finding fault, disputing, etc., in the
Christian Church, as the Jewish men were permitted to do in their synagogues
(see Luke 2:46); together with attempts to usurp authority over men by
setting up their judgment in opposition to them; for the apostle has
reference to acts of disobedience and arrogance, of which no woman would be
guilty who was under the influence of the Spirit of God."
The Rev. J. H. Robinson, writing on this passage, remarks: "The silence imposed
here must be explained by the verb, to speak (lalein), used afterwards.
Whatever that verb means in this verse, I admit and believe the women were
forbidden to do in the Church. But what does it mean ? It is used nearly
three hundred times in the New Testament, and scarcely any verb is used with so
great a variety of adjuncts. In Schleusner's Lexicon, its meaning is
seventeen distinct heads, and he occupies two
full pages of the book in explaining it. Among other meanings he gives
respondeo, rationem reddo, pręcipio, jubeo; I answer, I return a reason, I
give rule or precept, I order, decree." In Robinson's Lexicon
(Bloomfield's edition), two pages nearly are occupied with the explanation of
this word; and he gives instances of its meaning, "as modified by the context,
where the sense lies, not so much in
(lalein) as in the adjuncts." The passage under consideration is
one of those to which he refers as being so "modified by the context."
Greenfield gives, with others, the following meanings of the word: "to
prattle--be loquacious as a child; to speak in answer--to answer, as in
John 19:10; harangue. plead, Acts 9:29.; 21. To direct, command,
Acts 3:22." In Liddel and Scott's Lexicon, the following meanings are
given: "to chatter, babble; of birds, to twitter, chirp; strictly,
to make an inarticulate sound, opposed to articulate speech; but also
generally, to talk, say."
"It is clear then that
lalein may mean something different from mere speaking, and that to use
this word in a prohibition does not imply that absolute silence or abstinence
from speaking is enjoined; but, on the contrary, that the prohibition applies to
an improper kind of speaking, which is to be understood, not from the word
itself, but, as Mr. Robinson says, from 'the context.' Now, 'the context' shows
that it was not silence which was imposed upon women in the Church, but
only a refraining from such speaking as was inconsistent with the words, 'they
are commanded to be under obedience,' or, more literally, 'to be obedient:' that
is, they were to refrain from such questionings, dogmatical assertions, and
disputations, as would bring them into collision with the men--as would ruffle
their tempers, and occasion an unamiable volubility of speech. This kind of
speaking, and this alone, as it appears to me, was forbidden by the apostle in
the passage before us. This kind of speaking was the only supposable antagonist
to, and violation of 'obedience.' Absolute silence was not essential to that
My studies in 'Biblical criticism,' etc., have not informed me that a woman
must cease to speak before she can obey; and I am therefore led to the
irresistible conclusion, that it is not all speaking in the Church
which the apostle forbids, and which he pronounces to be shameful; but, on
the contrary, a pertinacious, inquisitive, domineering, dogmatical kind of
speaking, which, while it is unbecoming in a man, is shameful and
odious in a woman, and especially when that woman is in the Church, and is
speaking on the deep things of religion."
Parkhurst, in his lexicon, tells us that the Greek word "'lalein," which our
translation renders speak, is not the word used in Greek to signify to
speak with premeditation and prudence, but is the word used to signify to speak
imprudently and without consideration, and is that applied to one who lets his
tongue run but does not speak to the purpose, but says nothing." Now unless
Parkhurst is utterly wrong in his Greek, which it is apprehended no one will
venture to affirm, Paul's fulmination is not launched against speech with
premeditation and prudence, but against speech devoid of these qualities. It
would be well if all speakers of the male as well as the female sex were
obedient to this rule.
We think that with the light cast on this text by the four eminent Greek
scholars above quoted, there can be no doubt in any unprejudiced mind as to the
true meaning of "lalein" in this connection. And we find from Church history
that the primitive Christians thus understood it, for that women did actually
speak and preach amongst them we have indisputable proof. God had promised in
the last days to pour out His Spirit upon all flesh, and that the daughters
as well as the sons of mankind should prophesy.
And Peter says most emphatically, respecting the outpouring of the Spirit on the
day of Pentecost, "This is that which is spoken of by the prophet Joel,"
etc. (Acts 2:16, 18.) Words more explicit, and an application of Prophecy more
direct than this does not occur within the range of the New Testament.
Commentators say, "If women have the gift of prophecy, they must not use that
gift in public." But God says, by His prophet Joel, they shall use it,
just in the same sense as the sons use it. When the dictation of men so flatly
opposes the express declaration of the "sure word of prophecy," we make no
apology for its utter and indignant rejection.
Presbuteros, a talented writer of the Protestant Electoral Union, in his reply
to a priest of Rome, says:
"Habituated for ages, as men had been, to the diabolical teaching and delusions
practiced upon them by the papal 'priesthood,' it was difficult for them, when
they did get possession of the Scriptures, to discern therein the plain fact,
that among the primitive Christians preaching was not confined to men, but women
also, gifted with power by the Holy Spirit, preached the gospel; and hence the
slowness with which, even at the present time, this truth has been admitted by
those giving heed to the word of God, and especially those setting themselves up
as a 'priesthood' or a 'clergy.'
As shown in page 66, God had, according to His promise, on the day of Pentecost
poured out his Holy Spirit upon believers--men and women, old and
young--that they should prophesy, and they did so. The
prophesying spoken of was not the foretelling of events, but the
preaching to the world at large the glad tidings of salvation by Jesus
Christ. For this purpose it pleased God to make use of women as well
as men. It is plainly the duty of every Christian to insist upon the
fulfillment of the will of God, and the abrogation of every single thing
inconsistent therewith. I would draw attention to the fact that Phoebe, a
Christian woman whom we find in our version of the Scripture (Rom. 16:1)
spoken of only as any common servant attached to a congregation, was nothing
less than one of those gifted by the Holy Spirit for publishing the glad
tidings, or preaching the gospel. The manner in which the apostle
(whose only care was the propagation of evangelical truth) speaks of her,
shows that she was what he in Greek styled her, a deacon (diaconon) or
preacher of the word. Our translators speak of her (because she was a
woman) only as 'a
servant of the Church which is at Cenchrea.' The men 'deacons' they
styled ministers, but a woman on the same level as themselves would be an
anomaly, and therefore she was to be only the servant of men
ministers, who, in the
popish sense, constituted the Church!"
The apostle says of her--"I commend unto you Phebe our sister, who is a minister
(diaconon) of the Church which is at Cenchrea: that ye receive her in the
Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business
she hath need of you." To the common sense of disinterested minds it will be
evident that the apostle could not have requested more for any one of the most
zealous of men preachers than he did for Phebe! They were to assist "her in
whatsoever business she" might require their aid.
Hence we discern that she had no such trifling position in the primitive Church
as at the present time episcopal dignitaries attach to deacons and
deaconesses! Observe, the same Greek word is used to designate her that was
applied to all the apostles and to Jesus Himself. For example: "Now I say
that Jesus Christ was a minister (diaconon) of the circumcision"
(Rom. 15:8). "Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers (diaconoi)
by whom ye believed" (1 Cor. 3:5). "Our sufficiency is of God; who also hath
made us able ministers (diaconous) of the new testament" (2 Cor.
3:6). "In all things approving ourselves as the ministers (diaconoi)
of God" (6:4). The idea of a woman deacon in the "three orders!"--it
was intolerable, therefore let her be a "servant." Theodoret however says,
"The fame of Phebe was spoken of throughout the world. She was known not
only to the Greeks and Romans, but also to the Barbarians," which implies
that she had travelled much, and propagated the gospel in foreign countries.
See Doddridge, Cobbin, and Wesley, on this passage.
"Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow-prisoners, who are of
note among the apostles; who also were in Christ before me" (Rom. 16:7). By the
word "kinsmen" one would take Junia to have been a man; but Chrysostom and
Theophylact, who were both Greeks, and consequently knew their mother tongue
better than our translators, say Junia was a woman. Kinsmen should
therefore have been rendered kinsfolk; but with our translators it was out of
all character to have a woman of note amongst the apostles, and a
fellow-prisoner with Paul for the gospel: therefore let them be kinsmen!
Justin Martyr, who lived till about A.D. 150, says, in his dialogue with Trypho,
the Jew, "that both men and women were seen among them who had the extraordinary
gifts of the Spirit of God, according as the prophet Joel had foretold, by which
he endeavored to convince the Jews that the latter days were come."
Dodwell, in his dissertations on Irenęus says, "that the gift of the spirit of
prophecy was given to others besides the apostles; and, that not only in the
first and second, but in the third century--even to the time of Constantine--all
sorts and ranks of men had these gifts; yea, and women too."
Eusebius speaks of Potomania Ammias, a prophetess, in Philadelphia, and others,
"who were equally distinguished for their love and zeal in the cause of Christ."
"The scriptural idea," says Mrs. Palmer, "of the terms preach and prophesy,
stands so inseparably connected as one and the same thing, that we should find
it difficult to get aside from the fact that women did preach, or, in other
words, prophesy, in the early ages of Christianity, and have continued to do so
down to the present time to just the degree that the spirit of the Christian
dispensation has been recognised. And it is also a significant fact, that to the
degree denominations, who have once favoured the practice, lose the freshness of
their zeal, and as a consequence, their primitive simplicity, and, as ancient
Israel, yield to a desire to be like surrounding communities, in a corresponding
ratio are the labours of females discountenanced."
If any one still insists on a literal application of this text, we beg to ask
how he disposes of the preceding part of the chapter where it occurs. Surely, if
one verse be so authoritative and binding, the whole chapter is equally so; and
therefore, those who insist on a literal application of the words of Paul, under
all circumstances and through all time, will be careful to observe the apostle's
order of worship in their own congregations.
But, we ask, where is the minister who lets his whole Church prophesy one by
one, and himself sits still and listens while they are speaking, so that all
things may be done decently and in order? But Paul as expressly lays down
this order as he does the rule for women, and he adds, "The things that I
write unto you are the commandments of the Lord" (ver. 37). Why then do not
ministers abide by these directions? We anticipate their reply--"Because
these directions were given to the Corinthians as temporary arrangements;
and, though they were the commandments of the Lord to them at that time,
they do not apply to all Christians in all times." Indeed; but unfortunately
for their argument, the prohibition of women speaking, even if it meant what
they wish, was given amongst those very directions, and to the Corinthians
only: for it reads, "Let your women keep silence," etc.; and, for
aught this passage teaches to the contrary, Christian women of all other
Churches might do what these women were forbidden to do; until, therefore,
learned divines make a personal application of the rest of the chapter, they
must excuse us declining to do so of the 24th verse; and we challenge them
to show any breach of the Divine law in one case more than the other.
Another passage frequently cited as prohibitory of female labour in the Church,
is 1 Timothy 2:12, 13. Though we have never met with the slightest proof that
this text has any reference to the public exercises of women; nevertheless, as
it is often quoted, we will give it a fair and thorough examination. "It is
primarily an injunction," says the Rev. J. H. Robinson, "respecting her personal
behavior at home. It stands in connection with precepts respecting her apparel
and her domestic position; especially her relation to her husband. No one will
suppose that the apostle forbids a woman to 'teach' absolutely and universally.
Even objectors would allow her to teach her own sex in private; they would let
her teach her servants and children, and perhaps, her husband too. If he were
ignorant of the Saviour, might she not teach him the way to Christ? If she were
acquainted with languages, arts or sciences, which he did not know, might she
not teach him these things? Certainly she might! The 'teaching,' therefore which
is forbidden by the apostle, is not every kind of teaching any more than, in the
previous instance, his prohibition of speaking applied to every kind of speaking
in the Church; but it is such teaching as is domineering, and as involves the
usurpation of authority over the man. This is the only teaching forbidden by St.
Paul in the passage under consideration."
"If this passage be not a prohibition of every kind of teaching, we can only
ascertain what kind of teaching is forbidden by the modifying expressions with
didaskein stands associated: and, for anything these modifying
expressions affirm to the contrary, her teaching may be public, reiterated,
urgent, and may comprehend a variety of subjects, provided it be not
dictatorial, domineering, nor vociferous; for then, and then only, would it be
incompatible with her obedience."
The Rev. Dr. Taft says, "This passage should be rendered 'I suffer not a woman
to teach by usurping authority over the man.' This rendering removes all
the difficulties and contradictions involved in the ordinary reading, and
evidently gives the meaning of the apostle." "If the nature of society," says
the same writer, "its good and prosperity; in which women are jointly and
equally concerned with men; if in many cases their fitness and capacity for
instructors, being admitted to be equal to the other sex, be not reasons
sufficient to convince the candid reader of woman's right to preach and teach
because of two texts in Paul's epistles, let him consult the paraphrase of
Locke, where he has proved to a demonstration that the apostle, in these texts,
never intended to prohibit women from praying and preaching in the Church
provided they were dressed as became women professing godliness, and were
qualified for the sacred office."
"It will be found," says another writer, "by an examination of this text with
its connections, that the teaching here alluded to stands in necessary
connection with usurping authority, as though the apostle had said, the gospel
does not alter the relation of women in view of priority, for Adam was first
formed, then Eve."
"This prohibition," says the before-named barrister, "refers exclusively to the
private life and domestic character of woman, and simply means that an ignorant
or unruly woman is not to force her opinions on the man whether he will or no.
It has no reference whatever to good women living in obedience to God and their
husbands, or to women sent out to preach the gospel by the call of the Holy
If this context is allowed to fix the meaning of
didaskein in this text, as it would in any other, there can be no doubt
in any honest mind that the above is the only consistent interpretation; and if
it be, then this prohibition has no bearing whatever on the religious exercise
of women led and taught of the Spirit of God: and we cannot forbear asking on
whose skirts the mischief resulting from the false application of this text will
be found? Thank God the day is dawning with respect to this subject. Women are
studying and investigating for themselves. They are claiming to be recognized as
responsible human beings, answerable to GOD for their convictions of
duty; and, urged by the Divine Spirit they are overstepping those unscriptural
barriers which the Church has so long reared against its performance.
Whether the Church will allow women to speak in her
assemblies can only be a question of time; common sense, public opinion, and the
blessed results of female agency will force her to give us an honest and
impartial rendering of the solitary text on which she grounds her prohibitions.
Then, when the true light shines and God's words take the place of man's
traditions, the Doctor of Divinity who shall teach that Paul commands woman to
be silent when God's Spirit urges her to speak, will be regarded much the same
as we should now regard an astronomer who should teach that the sun is the
Another argument urged against female preaching is, that it is unnecessary; that
there is plenty of scope for her efforts in private, in visiting the sick and
poor and working for the temporalities of the Church. Doubtless woman ought to
be thankful for any sphere for benefiting her race and glorifying God. But we
cannot be blind to the supreme selfishness of making her so welcome to the
hidden toil and self-sacrifice, the hewing of wood and the drawing of water, the
watching and waiting, the reproach and persecution attaching to her Master's
service, without allowing her a tittle of the honour which He has attached to
the ministration of His gospel.
Here, again, man's theory and God's order are at variance. God says, "Them that
honour me I will honour." Our Lord links the joy with the suffering, the
glory with the shame, the exaltation with the humiliation, the crown with
the cross, the finding of life with the losing of it. Nor did He manifest
any such horror at female publicity in His cause as many of His professed
people appear to entertain in these days. We have no intimation of His
reproving the Samaritan woman for her public proclamation of Him to her
countrymen; not of His rebuking the women who followed Him amidst a taunting
mob on His way to the cross. And yet, surely, privacy was their
proper sphere. On one occasion He
did say, with reference to a woman, "Verily, I say unto you, wheresoever
this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this,
that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her" (Matt. 26:12; see
also Luke 7:37-50).
As to the obligation devolving on woman to labour for her Master, I presume
there will be no controversy. The particular sphere in which each individual
shall do this must be dictated by the teachings of the Holy Spirit and the gifts
with which God has endowed her. If she have the necessary gifts, and feels
herself called by the Spirit to preach, there is not a single word in the whole
book of God to restrain her, but many, very many to urge and encourage her. God
says she shall do so, and Paul prescribes the manner in which she
shall do it, and Phebe, Junia, Philip's four daughters, and many other women
actually did preach and speak in the primitive Churches.
If this had not been the case, there would have been less freedom under the new
than under the old dispensation. A greater paucity of gifts and agencies
under the Spirit than under the law. Fewer labourers when more work to be
done. Instead of the destruction of caste and division between the
priesthood and the people, and the setting up of a spiritual kingdom in
which all true believers were "kings and priests unto God," the division
would have been more stringent and the disabilities of the common people
greater. Whereas we are told again and again in effect, that in "Christ
Jesus there is neither bond nor free, male nor female, but ye are all one in
We commend a few passages bearing in the ministrations of woman under the old
dispensation to the careful consideration of our readers. "And Deborah, a
prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, she judged Israel at that time," etc. (Jud.
4:4-10). There are two particulars in this passage worthy of note. First, the
authority of Deborah as a prophetess, or revealer of God's will to Israel, was
acknowledged and submitted to as implicitly as in the cases of the male judges
who succeeded her. Secondly, she is made the military head of ten thousand men,
Barak refusing to go to battle without her.
Again, in 2 Kings 22:12-20, we have an account of the king sending the
high-priest, the scribe, etc., to Huldah, the prophetess, the wife of Shallum,
who dwelt at Jerusalem, in the college; to inquire at her mouth the will of God
in reference to the book of the law which had been found in the house of the
Lord. The authority and dignity of Huldah's message to the king does not betray
anything of that trembling diffidence or abject servility which some persons
seem to think should characterize the religious exercises of woman. She answers
him as the prophetess of the Lord, having the signet of the King of kings
attached to her utterances.
"The Lord gave the word, and great was the company of those that published it"
(Ps. 68:11). In the original Hebrew it is, "Great was the company of women
publishers, or women evangelists." Grotius explains this passage, "The Lord
shall give the word, that is plentiful matter of speaking; so that he would call
those which follow the great army of preaching women, victories, or female
conquerers." How comes it that the feminine word is actually excluded in this
text? That it is there as plainly as any other word no Hebrew scholar will deny.
It is too much to assume that as our translators could not alter it, as
they did "Diaconon" when applied to Phebe, they preferred to leave it out
altogether rather than give a prophecy so unpalatable to their prejudice. But
the Lord gives the word and He will choose whom He pleases to publish it; not
withstanding the condemnation of translators and divines.
"For I brought thee up out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed thee out of the
house of servants; and I sent before thee Moses, Aaron, and Miriam" (Mic.
6:4). God here classes Miriam with Moses and Aaron, and declares that
He sent her before His people. We fear that had some of our friends been
men of Israel at that time, they would have disputed such a leadership.
In the light of such passages as these, who will dare to dispute the fact that
God did under the old dispensation endue his handmaidens with the gifts and
calling of prophets answering to our present idea of preachers. Strange indeed
would it be if under the fulness of the gospel dispensation, there were
nothing analogous to this, but "positive and explicit rules," to prevent any
approximation thereto. We are thankful to find, however, abundant evidence that
the "spirit of prophecy which is the testimony of Jesus," was poured out on the
female as fully as on the male disciple, and "His daughters and His handmaidens"
prophesied. We commend the following texts from the New Testament to the careful
consideration of our readers.
"And she (Anna) was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed
not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And
she coming in that instant, gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of Him
to all them that looked for redemption on Jerusalem" (Luke 2:37, 38). Can any
one explain wherein this exercise of Anna's differed from that of Simeon,
recorded just before? It was in the same public place, the temple. It was during
the same service. It was equally public, for she "spake of Him to all who
looked for redemption in Jerusalem" (see Watson on this passage).
Jesus said to the two Marys, "All hail! And they came and held Him by the feet,
and worshipped Him. Then said Jesus unto them, Be not afraid: go, tell my
brethren that they go before me into Galilee" (Matt. 28:9, 10). There are two or
three points in this beautiful narrative to which we wish to call the attention
of our readers.
First, it was the first announcement of the glorious news to a lost world
and a company of forsaking disciples. Second, it was as public as the
nature of the case demanded; and intended ultimately to be published to the ends
of the earth. Third, Mary was expressly commissioned to reveal the fact to the
apostles; and thus she literally became their teacher in that memorable
occasion. Oh, glorious privilege, to be allowed to herald the glad tidings of a
Savior risen! How could it be that our Lord chose a woman to this honour?
Well, one reason might be that the male disciples were all missing at the time.
They all forsook Him and fled. But woman was there, as she had ever been, ready
to minister to her risen, as to her dying Lord--
"Not she with traitorous lips her Savior stung,
Not she denied Him with
She, whilst apostles shrunk, could danger brave;
the cross, and earliest at the grave."
But surely, if the dignity of our Lord of His message were likely to be
imperiled by committing this sacred trust to a woman, He who was guarded by
legions of angels could have commanded another messenger; but, as if intent on
doing her honour and rewarding her unwavering fidelity, He reveals Himself
first to her; and, as an evidence that He had taken out of the way the curse
under which she had so long groaned, nailing it to His cross, He makes her who
had been first in the transgression, first also in the glorious knowledge of
"Acts 1:14, and 2:1, 4. We are in the first of these passages expressly told
that the women were assembled with the disciples on the day of Pentecost; and in
the second, that the cloven tongues sat upon them each, and the Holy
Ghost filled them all, and they spake as the Spirit gave them utterance.
It is nothing to the point to argue that the gift of tongues was a miraculous
gift, seeing that the Spirit was the primary bestowment. The tongues were only
emblematical of the office which the Spirit was henceforth to sustain to His
people. The Spirit was given alike to the female as to the male disciple, and
this is cited by Peter (16, 18), as the peculiar specialty of the latter
dispensation. What a remarkable device of the devil that he has so long
succeeded in hiding this characteristic of the latter day glory! He
knows, whether the Church does or not, how eminently detrimental to the
interests of his kingdom have been the religious labours of woman; and while her
Seed has mortally bruised his head, he ceases not to bruise her heel; but the
time of her deliverance draweth nigh."
"Philip the evangelist had four
daughters, virgins, which did prophesy." From eusebius, the ancient
ecclesiastical historian, we learn that Philip's daughters lived to a
good old age, always abounding in the work of the lord. "Mighty
luminaries," he writes, " have fallen asleep in Asia. Philip, and two of
his virgin daughters, sleep at Hierapolis; the other, and the beloved
disciple, John, rest at Ephesus."
"And I entreat thee also, true yokefellow, help those women which laboured with
me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other my fellow-labourers" (Phil.
This is a recognition of female labourers, not concerning the
in the gospel, whom Paul classes with Clement, and other his
fellow-labourers. Precisely the same terms are applied to Timotheus, whom Paul
styles a "minister of God, and his fellow-labourer in the gospel of Christ" (1
Again, "Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my helpers in Christ Jesus; who have for my
life laid down their own necks; unto whom not only I give thanks, but all the
Churches of the Gentiles" (Rom. 16:3, 4).
The word rendered helpers means a fellow-labourer, associate coadjutor
[Greenfield] working together, an assistant, a joint labourer, a colleague.
[Dunbar] In the New Testament spoken only of a co-worker, helper in a Christian
work, that is of Christian teachers. [Robinson] How can these terms, with any
show of consistency, be made to apply merely to the exercise of hospitality
towards that apostle, or the duty of private visitation? To be a partner,
coadjutor, or joint worker with a preacher of the gospel, must be something more
than to be his waiting-maid.
Again, "Salute Tryphena and Tryphosa, who labour in the Lord. Salute the beloved
Persis, which laboured much in the Lord" (Rom. 16:12). Dr. Clarke, on this
verse, says, "Many have spent much useless labour in endeavouring to prove that
these women did not preach. That there were prophetesses as well as prophets in
the Church we learn, and that a woman might pray or prophesy provided that she
had her head covered we know; and, according to St. Paul (1 Cor. 14:3), whoever
prophesied spoke unto others to edification, exhortation, and comfort, and that
no preacher can do more every person must acknowledge. Because, to edify exhort,
and comfort, are the prime ends of the gospel ministry. If women thus
prophesied, then women preached."
"There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither male nor female, for ye are
all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28). If this passage does not teach that in the
privileges, duties, and responsibilities of Christ's kingdom, all differences of
nation, caste, and sex are abolished, we should like to know what it does teach,
and wherefore it was written (see also 1 Cor. 7:22).
As we have before observed, the text, 1 Corinthians 14:34, 35, is the only
one in the whole book of God which even by false translation can be made
prohibitory of female speaking in the Church; how comes it then, that by this
one isolated passage, which, according to our best Greek authorities,
-2- is wrongly rendered and wrongly applied, woman's lips have been sealed
for centuries, and the "testimony of Jesus, which is the spirit of prophecy,"
silenced, when bestowed on her? How is it that this solitary text has been
allowed to stand unexamined and unexplained, nay, that learned commentators who
have known its true meaning as perfectly as either Robinson, Bloomfield,
Greenfield, Scott, Parkhurst, or Locke have upheld the delusion, and enforced it
as a Divine precept binding on all female disciples through all time?
Surely there must have been some unfaithfulness, "craftiness," and "handling of
the word of life deceitfully" somewhere. Surely the love of caste and
unscriptural jealousy for a separated priesthood has had something to do
with this anomaly. By this course divines and commentators have involved
themselves in all sorts of inconsistencies and contradictions; and worse,
they have nullified some of the most precious promises of God's word. They
have set the most explicit predictions of prophecy at variance with
apostolic injunctions, and the most immediate and wonderful operations of
the Holy Ghost in direct opposition "to positive, explicit, and universal
Notwithstanding however all this opposition to female ministry on the part of
those deemed authorities in the Church, there have been some in all ages in whom
the Holy Ghost has wrought so mightily, that at the sacrifice of reputation and
all things most dear, they have been compelled to come out as witnesses for
Jesus and ambassadors of His gospel. As a rule, these women have been amongst
the most devoted and self-denying of the Lord's people, giving indisputable
evidence by the purity and beauty of their lives that they were led by the
Spirit of God.
Now, if the word of God forbids female ministry, we would ask how it happens
that so many of the most devoted handmaidens of the Lord have felt
themselves constrained by the Holy Ghost to exercise it? Surely there must
be some mistake somewhere, for the word and the Spirit cannot contradict
each other. Either the word does not condemn women preaching, or these
confessedly holy women have been deceived. Will any one venture to assert
that such women as Mrs. Elizabeth Fry, Mrs. Fletcher of Madely, and Mrs.
Smith have been deceived with respect to their call to deliver the gospel
messages to their fellow-creatures? If not, then God does call and qualify
women to preach, and His word, rightly understood, cannot forbid what His
Further, it is a significant fact, which we commend to the consideration of all
thoughtful Christians, that the public ministry of women has been eminently
owned of God in the salvation of souls and the edification of His people.
Paul refers to the fruits of his labours as evidence of his Divine
commission (1 Cor. 9:20). "If I am not an apostle unto others, yet doubtless
I am to you: for the seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord." If this
criterion be allowed to settle the question respecting woman's call to
preach, we have no fear as to the result. A few examples of the blessing
which has attended the ministrations of females, may help to throw some
light on this matter of a Divine call.
At a missionary meeting held at Columbia, March 26th, 1824, the name of Mrs.
Smith, of the Cape of Good Hope, was brought before the meeting, when Sir
Richard Otley, the chairman, said, "The name of Mrs. Smith has been justly
celebrated by the religious world and in the colony of the Cape of Good Hope. I
heard a talented missionary state, that wherever he went in that colony, at 600
or 1000 miles from the principal seat of government, among the natives of
Africa, and wherever he saw persons converted to Christianity, the name of Mrs.
Smith was hailed as the person from whom they received their religious
impressions; and although no less than ten missionaries, all men of piety and
industry, were stationed in that settlement, the exertions of Mrs. Smith alone
were more efficacious, and had been attended with greater success than the
labours of those missionaries combined." The Rev. J. Campbell, missionary to
Africa, says, "So extensive were the good effects of her pious exhortations,
that on my first visit to the colony, wherever I met with persons of evangelical
piety, I generally found that their first impressions of religion were ascribed
to Mrs. Smith."
Mrs. Mary Taft, the talented lady of the Rev. Dr. Taft, was another eminently
successful labourer in the Lord's vineyard. "If," says Mrs. Palmer, "the
criterion by which we may judge of a Divine call to proclaim salvation be by the
proportion of fruit gathered, then to the commission Mrs. Taft is appended the
Divine signature, to a degree pre-eminently unmistakable. In reviewing her
diary, we are constrained to believe that not one minister in five hundred could
produce so many seals to their ministry. An eminent minister informed us that of
those who had been brought to Christ through her labours, over two hundred
entered the ministry. She seldom opened her mouth in public assemblies, either
in prayer or speaking, but the Holy Spirit accompanied her words in such a
wonderful manner, that sinners were convicted, and, as in apostolic times, were
constrained to cry out, 'What must we do to be saved?' She laboured under the
sanction and was hailed as a fellow-helper in the gospel by the Revs. Messrs.
Mather, Pawson, Hearnshaw, Blackborne, Marsden, Bramwell, Vasey, and many other
equally distinguished ministers of her time."
The Rev. Mr. Pawson, when President of the Wesleyan Conference, writes as
follows to a circuit where Mrs. Taft was stationed with her husband, where
she met with some gainsayers:--'It is well known that religion has been for
some time at a very low ebb in Dover. I therefore could not help thinking
that is was a kind providence that Mrs. Taft was stationed among you, and
that, by the blessing of God, she might be the instrument of reviving the
work of God among you. I seriously believe Mrs. Taft to be a deeply pious,
prudent, modest woman. I believe the Lord hath owned and blessed her labours
very much, and many, yea, very many souls have been brought to the saving
knowledge of God by her preaching. Many have come to hear her out of
curiosity, who would not have come to hear a man, and have been awakened and
converted to God. I do assure you there is much fruit of her labours in many
parts of our connection."
Mrs. Fletcher, the wife of the sainted vicar of Madeley, was another of the
daughters of the Lord on whom was poured the spirit of prophecy. This eminently
devoted lady opened an orphan house, and devoted her time, her heart, and her
fortune, to the work of the Lord. The Rev. Mr. Hodson, in referring to her
public labours, says, "Mrs. Fletcher was not only luminous but truly
eloquent--her discourses displayed much good sense, and were fraught with the
riches of the gospel. She excelled in that poetry of an orator which can alone
supply the place of all the rest--that eloquence which goes directly to the
heart. She was the honoured instrument of doing much good; and the fruit of her
labours is now manifest in the lives and tempers of numbers who will be her
crown of rejoicing in the day of the Lord." The Rev. Henry Moore sums up a fine
eulogium on her character and labours by saying, "May not every pious churchman
say, Would to God all the Lord's people were such prophets and prophetesses!"
Miss Elizabeth Hurrell traveled through many counties in England, preaching the
unsearchable riches of Christ; and very many were, through her instrumentality,
brought to a knowledge of the truth, not a few of whom were afterwards called to
fill very honourable stations in the Church.
From the Methodist Conference, held at Manchester, 1787, Mr. Wesley wrote to
Miss Sarah Mallett, whose labours, while very acceptable to the people, had been
opposed by some of the preachers:--"We give the right hand of fellowship to
Sarah Mallett, and have no objection to her being a preacher in our
connection, so long as she preaches Methodist doctrine, and attends to our
Such are a few examples of the success attending the public labours of females
in the gospel. We might give many more, but our space only admits of a bare
mention of Mrs. Wesley, Mrs. Rogers, Mrs. President Edwards, Mrs. Elizabeth Fry,
Mrs. Hall, Mrs. Gilbert, Miss Lawrence, Miss Newman, Miss Miller, Miss Tooth,
and Miss Cutler, whose holy lives and zealous labours were owned of God in the
conversion of thousands of souls, and the abundant edification of the Lord's
Nor are the instances of the spirit of prophecy bestowed on women confined to
by-gone generations: the revival of this age, as well as of every other, has
been marked by this endowment, and the labours of such pious and talented ladies
as Mrs. Palmer, Mrs. Finney, Mrs. Wightman, Miss Marsh,
-3- with numberless other
Marys and Phoebes, have contributed in no small degree to its extension and
We have endeavored in the foregoing pages to establish, what we sincerely
believe, that woman has a right to teach. Here the whole question hinges.
If she has the right, she has it independently of any man-made
restrictions which do not equally refer to the opposite sex. If she has the
right, and possesses the necessary qualifications, we maintain that, where the
law of expediency does not prevent, she is at liberty to exercise it without any
further pretensions to inspiration than those put forth by that male sex. If, on
the other hand, it can be proved that she has not the right, but that
imperative silence is imposed upon her by the word of God, we cannot see who has
authority to relax or make exceptions to the law.
If commentators had dealt with the Bible on other subjects as they have dealt
with it on this, taking isolated passages, separated from their explanatory
connections, and insisting on a literal interpretation of the words of our
version, what errors and contradictions would have been forced upon the
acceptance of the Church, and what terrible results would have accrued to the
world. On this principle the Universalist will have all men unconditionally
saved, because the Bible says, "Christ is the Saviour of all men," etc. The
Antinomian, according to this rule of interpretation, has most unquestionable
foundation for his dead faith and hollow profession, seeing that St. Paul
declares over and over again that men are "saved by faith and not by works." The
Unitarian, also, in support of his soul-withering doctrine, triumphantly refers
to numerous passages which, taken alone, teach only the humanity of Jesus.
In short, "there is no end to the errors in faith and practice which have
resulted from taking isolated passages, wrested from their proper connections,
or the light thrown upon them by other Scriptures, and applying them to sustain
a favourite theory." Judging from the blessed results which have almost
invariably followed the ministrations of women in the cause of Christ, we fear
it will be found, in the great day of account, that a mistaken and unjustifiable
application of the passage, "Let your women keep silence in the Churches," has
resulted in more loss to the Church, evil to the world, and dishonour to God,
than any of the errors we have already referred to.
And feeling, as we have long felt, that this is a subject of vast importance to
the interests of Christ's kingdom and the glory of God, we would most earnestly
commend its consideration to those who have influence in the Churches. We think
it a matter worthy of their consideration whether God intended woman to bury her
talents and influence as she now does? And whether the circumscribed sphere of
woman's religious labours may not have something to do with the comparative
non-success of the gospel in these latter days.
1. "Learning anything by asking their
husbands at home," cannot mean preaching. That is not learning, but teaching
"the way of God." It cannot mean being inspired by the Holy Ghost to foretell
future events. No woman having either taught or prophesied, would have to ask
her husband at home before she knew what she had done, or understood what she
had said. Such women would be only fit to "learn in silence with all
subjection." The reference is evidently to subjects under debate. [return]
Disinterested witnesses every one will allow. [return]
The record of this lady's labours has long been before the public. "English Hearts and Hands," in a truly fascinating manner,
describes the wonderful success with which those labours have been attended.
Well has it been for the spiritual interest of hundreds that no sacerdotal
conclave has been able to place the seal of silence upon her lips, and assign
her to 'privacy as her proper sphere.' [return]
[Note: No copyright
claim is made for the original text of this article by Catherine Booth.
However, all other information contained on this page is copyrighted,
2018 by Dennis
Bratcher and CRI/Voice, Institute.]
Women and Theology
Women and the Call of God
Women in Ministry
Issues in Ministry
Bible in the Church