Who May Lead in Public Prayer?



Who May Lead in Public Prayer?

Richard Hollerman

Certain Biblical truths have been avoided, abused, neglected, or disobeyed for so many years that some people are totally ignorant of their importance. Life goes on as normal and these men and women give no thought at all to something that Scripture teaches. Let’s explore one of these neglected truths about which most people are ignorant.

Vast numbers of people assume that women may do publicly anything that men may do. They imagine that women may preach, teach, pray, and lead publicly, taking control over a large or small group of people. Some go so far as to think it pleases God that a woman become a pastor, teacher, or college Bible teacher.

Probably many of our readers realize that God does give restrictions to a woman’s public participation in Christian gatherings. Although women and men are equal in their relationship with God (Galatians 3:28), and although women may teach even men in certain circumstances (cf. Acts 18:26), there are plain restrictions or limitations laid out in Scripture.

No woman was an apostle. No woman wrote inspired Scripture. No woman could be an overseer, shepherd, or elder in a local assembly (1 Timothy 3:1-2), nor can a woman be a deacon (3:12). A woman is not permitted to teach over men (1 Timothy 2:11-12) or speak in the public assembly (1 Corinthians 14:33-37).

Although this Biblical teaching may be a shock to women (and men), it is plainly found on the pages of your own Bible.  But the question that arises is plain: “Is a woman permitted to pray in public?”  We do know that both women and men prayed for some days in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit was poured out on Pentecost (Acts 1:14). But evidently this involved someone leading the prayers and not every one of the 120 disciples prayed publicly or led in the prayers. But is there another scripture that would clarify the answer to the question of women praying?

Notice Paul’s command at 1 Timothy 2:8: “I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension.” We know that the English term “man” is sometimes translated from the Greek anthropos which means “a human being, male or female” “without reference to sex or nationality” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words).  But this is not the Greek term that Paul uses here. He uses another term, aner, which Vine discusses in these words: “[Aner] is never used of the female sex; it stands (a) in distinction from a woman” (Ibid.). This is not a point that is conjecture or debatable. It is clear from the Greek. Notice the following Greek authorities:

        ·       “This is men in contrast to women” (Word Pictures in the New Testament, A. T. Robertson.


        ·       “With reference to sex, and so to distinguish a man from a woman; either (a) as a male . . . 1 Tim. 2:12; or (b) as a husband” (Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament).


        ·       “In contrast to woman” (Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich, Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament).


        ·       “Aner generally means a ‘man’ as opposed to a woman . . . 1 Cor. 11:3-35; it is also the word for ‘husband’” (Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words).


        ·       “The Gk words properly rendered man are: anthropos, ‘man-faced,’ and so a ‘human’ being, and aner, a ‘male,’ as distinguished from a woman” (The     New Unger’s Bible Dictionary).


        ·       “. . .a man, as opp. To woman” (Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon).

This shows that it is clear that the men (the males) are to pray “in every place.” “The Gr. Word for ‘men’ as opposed to women. God intends for men to be the leaders when the church meets for corporate worship. When prayer for the lost is offered during those times, the men are to lead it” (MacArthur Study Bible, 1 Timothy 2:8). “The word Paul uses is oi Andres, ‘the men’ (males) . . . not, as in v. 1, 4, 5, anthropoid, human beings” (R. C. H. Lenski).

If God through Paul commands that only the males lead in public prayers, why is it that this command is so often violated in our day?  Since women’s participation became prominent in the nineteenth century, some churches just assume that women may lead in prayer just as men do. But what factors contributed to this violation of a clear Scriptural command?

·       The Methodist movement was open to women’s participation.

·       The Holiness movement of the nineteenth century permitted women’s public participation.

·       The Pentecostal movement of the early twentieth century permitted women’s participation.

·       Various cults were begun by women (Seventh-day Adventists, Christian Science, etc.).

·       Theological liberalism of the nineteenth century denied the inspiration of Scripture, thus Biblical commands lost their foundation.

·       Various religious movements permitted female participation (such as the Salvation Army that was headed by “General” Booth’s wife and daughter).

·       The feminist movement of the nineteenth century must have had an effect on the churches.

·       Women missionaries became prominent.

All of these and other factors must have contributed to the general idea that women could participate publicly, including such activities as teaching, preaching, giving testimonies, singing, and also praying.

What do you think of today when you observe and hear a woman give her testimony in public? What goes through your mind when a woman teaches a Bible class of mixed people, men and women? What do you think when you sit in a high school or college classroom and a woman teaches the men as well as the women?

You may be like me in visiting various churches and finding that women lead out in the singing of solos, or give their testimonies, or make announcements, or even teach. You may be exposed to women who are actually “pastors” or teachers or some other church leaders. And it has become commonplace for women to publicly pray—the very activity that they are not permitted to do, according to the Lord’s apostle Paul.

We don’t at all expect this trend to change in the coming years. While some Evangelical and Fundamentalist churches do limit men to the position of being the “pastor” or public teacher, still some of these do allow women to become missionaries, or address the congregation, or lead in public prayers.

Now is the time to determine that you will submit yourself to the clear, unambiguous, and understandable teaching of God’s Word.  After all, it is His Word that must always guide our personal life and congregational life. And God’s Word is what will judge us in the great Last Day!



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