Alexander R. Hay

To the women of our congregations to whose faithful ministry so much is owed.


The part which the woman should take in ministry in the things of God is a matter of great importance, both to her personally and to the Church. It affects her obedience to God, her duty towards her fellow-men and her spiritual growth. And this is intimately related to the life of the Church within and to the witness which God has purposed that the Church should give to the world.

Unfortunately, however, there has been no little confusion in this matter and many women, in consequence, have not been able to know clearly what is the place they are intended to fill and the contribution they are intended to make. Some have risen above this and entered richly into God’s purpose; many have been hindered by doubt and fear that they might be intruding into something that was not God’s will for them; while others have accepted it as an excuse for inactivity.

There are the two extremes. In the one, women are prohibited all public witness and, in the other, they have sought to minister as a man would minister, not discerning the special part which the woman is intended to take. Both of these, naturally, have brought loss to the church. Various factors have contributed to this confusion. Ignorance, prejudice and sentiment have all had a part. Passages of Scripture have seemed to be contradictory and sufficient care has not been taken to understand them. In some cases, passages have been taken out of their context and given interpretations that are mistaken. But we feel that the fundamental cause of confusion has been the failure to appreciate the different but complementary parts for which God created the man and the woman and the corresponding contribution which He intended that each should make.

God has rooted this difference in man’s nature. Because of the part which God intended the woman to take as a proper help to the man and as the mother of the race, He has surrounded her with special protections to guard her and enable her to fulfill her work – protections deeply rooted in the instincts and in the sentiments, not only of the woman but also of the man, affecting profoundly her attitude to him and his to her.

Sometimes there is the attempt to ignore these instincts or to set them aside, depriving the woman of their protection and equating her with the man in his duties and work. This leads to one extreme. At other times there is the exaggerated manifestation of these instincts, depriving her of freedom and placing her in the position of an inferior. That leads to the other extreme.

Usually, in everyday life, the instincts which God has implanted are strong enough and sufficiently balanced to make that which is normal prevail, but the tendencies to the two extremes always appear. In the Church also these two tendencies are evident, affecting the attitudes and the participation in ministry of both sexes, and either extreme is mistaken and harmful.

When we examine the teaching of Scripture regarding the woman’s work in spiritual things we find it completely in accord with the nature God has given to her. Could it be otherwise? God made the man and the woman to fulfill the definite and glorious purpose He had for each, so in his Word we can expect to find that purpose clearly and consistently revealed.

The Laws of Interpretation

As there have been difficulties in the interpretation of some passages of Scripture relating to this subject, it is well that we bear in mind from the beginning the great laws of interpretation that must guide us as we search the Scriptures and seek to have a true understanding of their meaning.

These laws are as follows:

(1) Each passage of Scripture must be considered in relation to its immediate context. When taken out of its context it may appear to have a different meaning.

(2) The interpretation must be consistent with the teaching of the book in which the passage appears.

(3) It must be consistent with the general teaching throughout the New Testament.

(4) It must be consistent with the teaching throughout the whole of Scripture.

Any interpretation that contravenes any of these principles cannot be the true one. The teaching of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, is always entirely consistent. It cannot contradict itself and be true. If the inspired writers contradicted themselves or each other their teaching would lose all authority.

Along with these four principles of interpretation, there are two other factors that must be taken into account:

(1) As most readers of Scripture are dependent upon a translation, it is important to be certain of the exact meaning of the original. The meaning of a word or phrase in one language is sometimes difficult to express fully in another.

(2) Due to the fact that the writers of Scripture wrote many years ago and lived in other lands, it is necessary, for the understanding of some passages, to know the circumstances in which they were written and the local customs to which there is reference.

It is the neglect to observe these simple rules that has caused the misunderstandings regarding the teaching of Scripture on women’s ministry.

Underlying Principles

During forty years of missionary work, ministering in the establishing and care of churches in different lands, we have found it necessary to give the matter of women’s ministry the most careful consideration. In some of the congregations a majority of the members are women. Their witness, the testimony of their lives and their sacrificial service, in many cases, have been used of God greatly in the spreading of the Gospel and the strengthening of the churches. But where their witness has been weak the church has been weak. We would share with you the result of our search in the Scriptures and our experiences in the Church. God has not left us without clear guidance in the matter. It is not, however, a subject that can be compressed into a simple, brief statement. We must understand the principles which underlie and govern it. The spiritual ministry of women is not simply a matter of preaching and praying in public. It is the fulfillment of God’s purpose for her life, embracing all her days and all her actions and it is in this sense that we must consider it. We shall endeavor, therefore, to present it in the light of the whole teaching of Scripture.

The witness and practice of Scripture in this matter, in both the Old and New Testaments, is always straightforward and consistent. The woman is not regarded as an inferior nor have restrictions been imposed upon her as a punishment. Her ministry is never subject to arbitrary rules or commandments. God never acts arbitrarily. God’s purpose for her obeys the great principles of his order for man, whom He created male and female, and to understand it these principles must be understood and taken into account. The woman’s ministry is always related to the fact that she is a woman and to the purpose for which God created the woman.

God’s Purpose for Man

The purpose for which God created man is stated, “So God created man in his own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth, and subdue it…’” (Gen. 1:27-28). This placed the man and the woman in a cooperative union for the accomplishment of a common purpose.

Man was made in God’s image and likeness. This likeness was not a material one. Man was not like God physically, but spiritually and morally. God is love. Perfect love is the very essence of his being ; his character, attributes, thoughts, purposes and acts are all expressions of it. And perfect love was the essential basis of man’s nature and character as God made him. The law which ruled man was the law of love; he was to love God with all his heart, mind and strength and his neighbor as himself. As God’s rule of the Universe was governed by the law of perfect love, so man’s rule of the earth was to be governed by that same law.

The man was not placed on the earth alone for the carrying out of this work. God said : “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper, comparable to him” (Gen. 2:18). One in whom the manifesting of love is basic could not live alone. He must have an object on which to manifest love. Also, as love requires fellowship, he must have a companion with whom he could share in a communion of love and cooperate in love’s work.

As the man was made of the dust of the earth, so far as his physical being was concerned, that he might partake of the nature of the realm over which he was to govern, so the woman was made to partake of his nature, that she might be a true and proper help to him. So closely related to him is she that she is “bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh” (Gen. 2:23).

We are told that God caused Adam to fall into a deep sleep and that from his “innermost being” He took that from which He “built”, or “constructed”, a woman who was to be the man’s help or helper. This is the true sense of Gen. 2:21-22. (It should be noted that the word rendered “rib” in this passage is translated in a number of different ways elsewhere – beam, board, chamber, side-chamber, leaf, corner, etc. Only here is it rendered “rib”, a translation which is incorrect. Just what was taken from the man is not specified. The evident sense is that the woman was so intimately and entirely of the man and one with him that she was in every way fitted to share his life as his helper-companion).

The woman’s special part was to be a helper to the man in the work to which he was appointed, providing for him a fellowship and cooperation that were essential to the carrying out of the great task which God had given him. She was to be his companion in service, the mother and home-maker for the well-being of the family, the sharer of his life and work, contributing a part that is essential and indispensable

Love’s Expression

The home, therefore – the union of the man and the woman in marriage, and children – has its roots in love. Its purpose and the whole reason for its existence is love. Perfect love, as we see it in God, is not an abstract principle but an active force. Because He is perfect love He was impelled to create man. Love is a creative force creating love. It requires the fellowship of love with those who can give love intelligently and of their own free will because they love. And that fellowship must not be a mere sterile, selfish communion of sentiment and emotion but a cooperation in love’s work of creating love for the benefit of others.

When God created man in his own image, with love as the basis of his being, He placed him in a situation in which it was possible for love to have its perfect expression and fulfillment. He placed him on the earth to exercise dominion, based upon love, over all nature and living things. He also placed him in families with the power to create beings to love who were capable of returning his love and entering with him in fellowship in the works of love. It is in this latter part particularly, though by no means exclusively, that the woman is privileged to have her special ministry.

Woman’s Special Qualities

For this work God endowed her with special qualities. Man had been given the qualities necessary for his work; woman was fitted for hers. She was specially “built” or “constructed” by the Creator for a work for which she was needed. Physically, mentally and emotionally, she was endowed with the characteristics, abilities and instincts necessary to enable her to fulfill her great ministry.

An interesting statement from a scientific standpoint has been given of the differences that characterize the woman:

“The differences existing between man and woman do not come from the particular form of the sexual organs, the presence of the uterus, from gestation, or from the mode of education. They are of a more fundamental nature. They are caused by the very structure of the tissues and by the impregnation of the entire organism with specific substances secreted by the ovary. Ignorance of these fundamental facts has led promoters of feminism to believe that both sexes should have the same education, the same powers and the same responsibilities. In reality woman differs profoundly from man. Every one of the cells of her body bears the mark of her sex. The same is true of her organs and, above all, of her nervous system. Physiological laws are as inexorable as those of the sidereal world. They cannot be replaced by human wishes. We are obliged to accept them just as they are. Women should develop their aptitudes in accordance with their own nature, without trying to imitate the males” (Dr. A. Carrel).

This difference between the man and the woman is seen most clearly in the realm of the emotions; in their influence upon mind and personality. Both man and woman are equally equipped with mental power, both partake of the same emotions and exercise the same will power. Yet the woman, in certain ways, is influenced differently by emotion than is the man. For instance we speak of the woman’s “intuition”. That is a product of the mind influenced more by the emotions than by logical reasoning. This fits her admirably for her ministry as wife, mother, home-maker, hostess and the many other tasks allied to these. It is from the heart rather than from logic that the understanding and wisdom for such ministry comes.

The man’s mind also is influenced profoundly by emotions, but in a different manner. He is more logical in his thinking, forming his judgments rather by a deliberate weighing of the facts. This fits him for his work of dealing with the forces of nature, understanding them, using them, governing them, and for the exercise of the headship on earth which God has given him. In all his work also the heart must govern, but logical reasoning is essential.

In Partnership

Thus we find the man and the woman essentially alike and yet different, fitted for different parts of the same task, complements of each other, so that the task can be accomplished fully only by the cooperation of the two. In the relation of the one to the other there is no question of superiority or inferiority but simply of different qualities fitting for different parts of a common task in which both must make an essential contribution and in the fruits of which both participate.

The essential equality of the two, in spite of their different responsibilities and equipment, is seen when we come to the highest sphere, their relation to God: “In Christ Jesus” there is “neither male nor female”, just as there is neither race nor nationality, but “you are all one” (Gal. 3:28). In their responsibilities toward God and in his dealings with them they stand as equals.