the weblog of Alan Knox

Replay: Spiritually Gifted Women

Posted by on May 11, 2013 in spiritual gifts | 12 comments

Three years ago, I wrote a post called “Spiritually Gifted Women.” The post was part of a series of posts that I wrote on women and service (ministry) from the perspective of Scripture. Unfortunately, there’s alot of organizational and hierarchical baggage attached to some terms in Scripture, terms such as “minister” or “ministry” or “pastor” or “preacher” etc. Much of that baggage surrounds gender roles and various forms of service. I think it’s time to look again at how those terms are used in Scripture.


Spiritually Gifted Women

In a previous post – “Spiritual Gifts and Women” – I started writing about “women in ministry,” or, perhaps a better way to phrase it, “women serving others.” I pointed out that the authors of Scripture do not make a gender distinction when listing spiritual gifts. Neither Peter nor Paul lists certain gifts for men and other gifts for women. Also, they do not specify that only men have certain gifts.

So, from this conclusion, it seems that women could be gifted by the Holy Spirit with any of the gifts listed, that is, apostleship, prophecy, evangelism, teaching, shepherding, leading, serving, helping, giving, etc. Based on these gifts, and the exercise of these gifts, it would be proper to call a woman an apostle, a prophet, an evangelist, a teacher, a shepherd, a leader, a servant, a helper, a giver, etc.

Again, according to Scripture, God gives gifts to his children through the Holy Spirit for the purpose of serving others. (see Romans 12:6, 1 Corinthians 12:7, 1 Peter 4:10) We see this specifically of gifts like prophecy, which is intended to be used to edify others, not just the one with the gift of prophecy:

On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. (1 Corinthians 14:3-4 ESV)

Thus, the woman who is a prophet should speak to others for the purpose of building them up.

Unfortunately, spiritual gifts are often associated with “offices” or “positions” in the church. Thus, because Acts 20:28 and 1 Peter 5:2 speak of elders as “shepherding,” we often associate the spiritual gift of “shepherding” with being an elder. In fact, in many contexts, elders are called “pastors” because of this associations.

Similarly, since some elders “lead” (1 Timothy 5:17), we often associate “leading” with being an elder (or other “office” or “position”, whatever we call it). However, it seems from Scripture that others lead, even if they don’t haven’t been appointed as an elder or even if they don’t have a specific “position.” (see 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13, Romans 12:8, Hebrews 13:7, 17)

The same could be said for teaching. In 1 Timothy 3:2 and 1 Timothy 5:17, Paul says that elders should be able to teach, and that we should honor those who work hard at teaching. But, these passages do not indicate that only elders teach. In fact, there are several passages that place teaching in the context of the entire body of Christ. (see Matthew 28:18-20, Colossians 3:16)

Thus, the stigma against women having certain spiritual gifts (especially apostleship, prophecy, teaching, evangelism, shepherding, and leading) or being called by labels related to those spiritual gifts (apostle, prophet, teacher, evangelist, shepherd, and leader) comes more from the association of those spiritual gifts (and titles) to certain “offices” or “positions” in the church, not from the spiritual gifts themselves.

Now, once again, this does not mean that women (or men, for that matter) should exercise their spiritual gifts in any context. So, for the next few posts about “women in ministry (service)”, I’ll look at some of those contexts.


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 5-11-2013

    I was going to start my comment with a question, but my family hates it when I try to make a point by asking a question, so I’ll resist the inclination to do that this time. I’ll make a number of statements instead, but first a quote from the above blog: “So, from this conclusion, it seems that women could be gifted by the Holy Spirit with any of the gifts listed, that is, apostleship, prophecy, evangelism, teaching, shepherding, leading, serving, helping, giving, etc. Based on these gifts, and the exercise of these gifts, it would be proper to call a woman an apostle, a prophet, an evangelist, a teacher, a shepherd, a leader, a servant, a helper, a giver, etc.”

    I agree that a child of God is given a gift (or gifts) of the Holy Spirit. But I don’t agree with the above statements, since that gift (or gifts) will be used in the context of the local church — and that is the caveat.

    As I understand the gifts, there are foundational gifts, confirmation (sign) gifts, and maturation gifts (for the maturing, building up of the church). The foundational gifts were just that…we learn from Eph. 2: 20 that “apostles and prophets” were men given as the foundation of the church. As for any building, there is ever only one foundation laid.

    The criteria of an apostle is found in Acts 1: 21, 22. Based on that Scripture, apostles are no longer found today — there is no such thing as apostolic succession. And all the apostles were men.

    The gift of prophecy was also foundational. In the sense that a prophet told forth the mind of God (spoke as God), and since we have the complete canon of Scripture today (unlike the early part of the first century), the gift of prophecy is no longer found today (nor is it needed, in the sense that a prophet reveals “new” truth…God has revealed His truth in the Scriptures). The apostle Paul also indicated that prophecy would cease in 1 Cor. 13: 8. Logically, this happened when the full canon of Scripture was realized.

    Although the gifts themselves are not listed as being gender specific, the roles of men and women in the church obviously are, and as such, the gift each child of God receives (for we do each one of us, receive at least one gift) must fit with the role he or she has in the local church (for example, an “eye” doesn’t make a very good “ear”).

    Perhaps this is where the “stigma” (if it can or should even be called that) against women having certain gifts comes from. For instance, based on Scripture, the Holy Spirit will not give the gift of public teaching in the church to a woman — there is enough Scriptural warrant to make a definitive statement such as that. However, a woman can have the gift of teaching, as it fits with her role in the church. She certainly would be permitted (and is encouraged in Scripture) to teach younger sisters, as well as children.

    That would also eliminate women from the role of leading (shepherding) in the whole assembly, since an elder is to be “apt to teach” (the whole assembly). However, the same thing that I said of teaching could be said of leading as it pertains to women in the local assembly.

    Perhaps I jumped the gun a bit…but I think it’s extremely dangerous to start making conclusions based on general information when all the facts haven’t been considered yet.

  2. 5-11-2013

    Well, certainly this subject is bound to bring out differences amongst the family but it is worthy of discussion. Alan will no doubt have more to say. I’d like to jump in on a couple of thoughts as I’ve considered some of the points that Ron brings up.

    First, Foundational, Signs and Maturing gifts are our own categorization of the gifts that Scripture speaks of, based on our own observations and understanding. No disagreement here at this point.

    Second, I suspect that it’s a bit of a leap to intuit that Foundational was limited to the early church. That some gifts might end is also possible come the Marriage Feast of the Lamb or beyond. It isn’t obvious that we’ve passed their usefulness. No dates were set, it is a bit dangerous to apply them retroactively based on incomplete observation and assumptions.

    Third. That another might take the place of leadership of Judas is not by itself a limitation. The prophecy was fulfilled. Paul’s later apostleship certainly demonstrates that it wasn’t just one who took Judas’ place of leadership. While Paul’s story has a particular uniqueness, the Spirit has not revealed that he was the last apostle. Even by this theory’s standards we now have 13 apostles or one more than was supposedly the limit.

    That prophecy may be of foundational value can be agreed to. That it can only have been then and must have now ceased is a bit of a leap without support.

    When I read of Deborah, the judge of Israel in the old testament, I cannot see that God is opposed to female leadership over men in principle. That Paul did not personally permit it was a statement of his style and perhaps of the culture at that time and counsel for the culture he was writing to. His statement speaking of his personal practice cannot be taken as an edict of the Spirit for all time. It seems he went out of his way to identify it as his personal practice not a command.

    That there are ways, times and context to any of these gifts is perfectly understandable. I’ll let Alan elaborate.
    In any event, how we understand some of these issues in no way prevents us from utilizing the gifts that we have been given.

  3. 5-11-2013

    A few comments…

    Acts 1:21-22 does not mention “apostle.” Whatever “the Twelve” were, they were not the limitations or the definition of apostle, since there were many more apostles in Scripture besides the Twelve. While the Twelve were apostles, they were more than apostles, and many other people were apostles who were not the Twelve. Acts 1:21-22 seems to refer to “the Twelve” (whatever than means), not apostles.

    Women were both apostles and prophets in the New Testament (Romans 16:7, Acts 21:8).

    I’m not convinced that Ephesians 4:11 is a list of special spiritual gifts. It is introduced like all other spiritual gift lists. I do not think it was intended to be exhaustive or a list of authority or offices among the church. Instead, to me, it reads like the other spiritual gift lists as an example of some of the gifts that God gives to his church through the Holy Spirit.

    Even if those are special gifts, Paul makes it clear in Ephesians 4:16 that the continuing work of ALL spiritual gifts are important for the growth of the church. It seems to me that the church still needs edifying, and thus still needs the work of all gifts, including apostles, prophets, etc.

    As far as I can tell, there is no connection between gender and spiritual gifts in Scripture, and there is not connection between elder or overseers and spiritual gifts in Scripture. Even if someone were to argue that women cannot be elders, this still does not preclude them from being given any spiritual gift.


  4. 5-12-2013


    It’s clear that the “eleven” plus Matthias, making “twelve,” are definitely apostles:
    Acts 1:25, 26 – “That he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place. And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.”

    No connection between elders/overseers and spiritual gifts? If we lose the terrible translation “pastor” in Eph. 4, replacing it instead with the word “shepherd” (which is the word used every other time it appears), I believe the connection is clear when we look at passages such as Acts 20:28, 17 and 1 Peter 5:1,2. You are correct in saying not everyone who has the gift of shepherding is an overseer, but I believe every overseer/elder should have the gift/ministry of shepherding.


    There is the tendency today to dismiss parts of Scripture as not applicable to us by using the “cultural” argument, or the “personal” quirkiness of the apostle Paul. In looking at these well-known portions, I have found they are unwarranted. It amazes me that we admit Paul was greatly used by the Lord to reveal to us the mystery of the Church, and then use those arguments to dismiss some of what he says. Basically, we don’t apply certain principles in the local church as laid out for us by the thirteenth apostle because we don’t like them, or feel they don’t fit in with our idea of how things work in our world.

    Does that disqualify a group as operating as a local church? No, but certainly as a New Testament church.

  5. 5-12-2013


    The Twelve were apostles, but “The Twelve” does not equal “apostle.” There were other apostles besides “the Twelve.”

    When speaking of/to elders, both Paul and Peter instruct them to shepherd. They do not say that elders must have the spiritual gift of shepherding. There is a difference in Scripture.

    Just like teaching, encouraging, giving, etc. shepherding can (and should) be done by those who do not have the specific spiritual gift of shepherding. For example, there is a spiritual gift of teaching, but all are called to teach. There is a spiritual gift of encouraging, but all are called to encourage. There is a spiritual gift of prophecy but Paul says all can prophesy.


  6. 5-12-2013

    Oops. While the theologians were turning themselves and the church into pretzels over what God said and meant, He slipped quietly past into the church and endowed his people with gifts and ministries.
    Clearly He hasn’t read their commentaries and pronouncements.
    I appreciate the motive for most learned scholars to prevent heresy and offer biblical teaching, and from my limited viewpoint, they have managed to do some of that well, and others not so well.
    Conventional wisdom would say because our leaderless, poorly educated fellowship were all young, we were susceptible to being overtaken by a spirit of heresy without strong leadership and teaching.
    But the facts contradict this wisdom because leadership doesn’t prevent heresy.
    As a matter of fact, we think history shows they start it.
    And if it is non leaders starting all the divisive trouble in the church, then the leaders aren’t doing their job.
    They cant have it both ways.
    Loving one another as brethren and family, as Jesus loves us, with that deep love operating daily in our midst, with the addition of older wiser fatherly and motherly members to add the life wisdom into the fray is what keeps us from heresy.
    And lest someone jump in to remind me that I left out the scriptures, or put them second in importance to people, I make no apology.
    They are Gods words, and Word, but they don’t interpret themselves.
    They are contextualized by our obedience, humility, submission, meekness, goodness, temperance, long suffering etc.
    Show me a group of believers who are living according to the known Word of God, producing the fruit of His Spirit, and I will engage them about differences of scriptural understanding.
    Show me a group of believers who are willfully ignorant of, or not obeying the known Word of God, and I will show you the modern church, with whom their is mixed fruit and thorns.
    Scriptural discussion is useless with them, until after they are walking according to Gods Word.
    Leaders, in their zeal to lead, tend to pre-empt that kind of daily life dynamic, thus facilitating the necessary cultural bacteria in which the spores of dis-unity and narcissism breed.
    And non leaders love to have it so.
    They seem to find each other.
    Its then natural for these leaders to construct theological hogwash from the precious scriptures, that reinforce their positions of fruitless leadership.
    The current and latest bit of swill is the one called servant-leaders.
    Still leaders, usurping God’s Kingship in the lives of believers, but hiding behind servant titles and vernacular.
    Fact, there is no leader in the NT other than Jesus.
    Everyone else is a follower, regardless of how gifted or if they have a ministry, including the apostles.
    And on that note, if apostles and prophets were only needed to lay the church foundation, then how well have pastors and teachers maintained it?
    We could use an apostle and prophet to re-lay them.
    But God, being gracious, long-suffering, kind and patient with his sheep, (He calls us sheep cuz we are dumb) winks at all the tempests in a teacup that we create, and simply goes ahead with His plan to get a bride for His Son, with whomever will listen and obey.
    Very often, as history shows, those are women. The doctrines of obedience, submission, suffering in childbirth, silence etc that men have used their executive and physical power to subjugate the world over, have actually proven effective to train women into defacto ‘leaders’ (read followers).
    Men could use a little of this training.
    Male leaders have a terrible track record being followers, even when the orders are from God.
    I believe Lucifer is male.(not sure if that’s relevant, but it sounded clever)
    Our young fellowship, comprised in the beginning of 90% girls, (Yeah, as one of the few guys, it was fun initially) saw gifts and ministries develop, long before we knew the scriptures, or even reached our 20’s.
    By the time our critics told us that our elders could not be women, that a women could not teach a man, that prophecy, tongues, interpretation, healings, words or knowledge and wisdom, helps et all were not real, it was too late; the heresy had us by the throat.
    Today, 40 years later, that heresy has produced evil and dangerous families, who have zealous and pro-active Godly children, stable happy marriages, courageous and stubborn faith in the face of sickness and disease, humility and love in the face of persecution and worst of all, a crop of kids who are going to spread this heresy that women are kingdom builders beside their men, far and wide.

    But, being a humble servant of the Lord, if any august theologian sends me his/her thoughtful, scriptural treatise that can conclusively shatter the heresy we live by, I will endeavor to bring it before the folks in our diverse circles for consideration to cease and desist, and disband.
    But here’s my challenge and condition.
    They must also include conclusive proof, with real life examples in today’s context, of vibrant, Godly, non hierarchical, men only led churches who produce similar fruit and ministry to Acts, and us (and others if you want to hear about them) , and that matches their theology.
    Having (a bit facetiously)tried to bring some life to this otherwise spirit deadening and endlessly circular argument, I yet beg of us too quit marching around this smoking mountain and get on our way to things that will promote Jesus as our Life and one another’s welfare and growth.

  7. 5-12-2013


    I appreciate much of your concern. We do see examples of leaders in Scripture, although I agree that they are not described the way leaders today (even “servant-leaders”) are described. Like you, I don’t like the term “servant-leader” either. We lead when we serve others. This applies to anyone.

    Also, we are all theologians. Anytime we attempt to understand God – whatever methods or tools we use – we become a theologian. At some point, this will apply to anyone.

    Finally, I think all groups (your and mine included) will have some areas of their lives in which they are failing to follow God in some ways. However, God in his grace and mercy works through us in spite of our problems. I think history demonstrates this also.

    However, even though I know that God will work through me and other believers in spite of our waywardness, I desire to understand him more and more, and I hope to continue learning and growing in my understanding of God.


  8. 5-12-2013

    Good point about us all being theologians.
    But, it seems that, in the first century church, especially before the gentiles came in, there was far less theological warfare & the collateral damage it births?
    I think my complaint is exactly your point, that we r all contributors to this mess called churchianity. I was trying to point out that we could trust our understanding & explanations less than God leading us into all truth.
    And the grossly ignored point that would allow that to happen pretty quickly is
    is when we will all stop being theological & become children. I think that if those early Jewish believers were here commenting they would have exhorted all of us for being overly smart about the scriptures and short on simply doing the hard work of obeying the simple foundations. And for the record, that obedience being my own determinate if a theologian (not the laymen type like me) is qualified to pronounce on the doctrines that divide, I listen to and trust you Alan.blessings Greg

  9. 5-12-2013

    Interesting conversation, thank you. Look forward to the follow up posts.

  10. 5-12-2013

    the last sentence of my last comment was done on my phone which lost some of what I wrote, which i will clarify here.
    I know im not a short writer, having only begun to write a few yrs ago.
    The reason I listen to you Alan, and open my spirit and mind to learn from you, and anyone else who isnt just commenting and/or theologizing (is that even a word?) is because you have opened up your life to scrutiny by the church, telling of your journey, faults and all, which is in sync with your doctrine, which in turn is in sync with scripture and other obedient saints agreement, and most importantly as you point out, as you understand it. Theory and practice are married in your life, as you said, and as they are in mine, and others. I think that’s got to be the litmus test to determine if someone is a theologian, and qualified to be taken seriously by the church.
    There are so many contradicting voices among Gods people, and apparently too little discernment of how to sort out the silly from the true.

    Im not saying of course that others also dont walk transparently as you do, and so far your claim is proven by the lack of public evidence to the contrary, but if someone who wants to prognosticate, pontificate, teach, exhort, suggest et al, Im open to hear it, but…without knowing their lives enough to corroborate their walk with their confession, I must ask and probe to know. I only trust what Jesus said, and he said that only those who do His will shall know if His doctrine is His fathers or not. This again brings me back full circle to Jesus prescription for keeping the community truthful and pure. Its unity, in the bonds of brotherly love. Truth isnt only objective and scriptural and positional; its relational, contextualized to become the life of Christ in us,transforming us as we obey Him.
    I know you know this, and most of your readers as well Im guessing, but I find a great vacuum of basic understanding of the mechanics of how the gospel works in us as a community, among the general church population.
    And Im coming across an increasing number of emerging and established theologians who fall into that camp.
    Hence my long winded explanation, for which i apologize if I overstated it.

  11. 5-13-2013


    The part about “follow up posts” referred to when I first wrote that post. I’m sorry about the confusion.


    As always, I’ve appreciated the interaction and learning from your perspective (as well as the perspective of other here).


  12. 5-13-2013

    my bad! I can go back and look at them. I see a bunch on “related posts” that sound like followups, thank you!