Can women be elders, pastors, preachers, or officers in the church?

 A woman is to learn quietly with full submission. I do not allow a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; instead, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and transgressed. But she will be saved through childbearing, if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with good sense.

This saying is trustworthy: “If anyone aspires to be an overseer, he desires a noble work.” An overseer, therefore, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, self-controlled, sensible, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not an excessive drinker, not a bully but gentle, not quarrelsome, not greedy. He must manage his own household competently and have his children under control with all dignity. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a new convert, or he might become conceited and incur the same condemnation as the devil. Furthermore, he must have a good reputation among outsiders, so that he does not fall into disgrace and the devil’s trap.

-1 Timothy 2:11-3:7

(updated 4-21-23)

Can or should a woman serve in the office of elder in the church?  The simple answer from the Bible is no.  

These are my notes, mainly from Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology book and listening to Steve's Gregg's The Narrow Path radio show archives, and also various scholars, mixed in with my own opinions, observations, and conclusions.  I also read two popular egalitarian scholars, Marg  Mowczko and Gregg Boyd, which I suggest you read.

It seems to me that we can not revoke 1 Timothy 3:2 through a enlightened hermeneutical approach.

Women leaders?  YES.  Women elders or overseers, in the church?  No.  

The reason that being an elder is closed to all women is that only particular men can become elders.  Most men, and all women, are prohibited from becoming elders.  

People who are serious about the Bible and believe in women elders have to argue that Paul's words in 2 Timothy were situational, for that time and that current culture, and not for all time.  But Paul's argument against women elders is not situational but universal, because he bases it on God's creation order.

Two more notes before we begin:

1. Paul is not arguing for male superiority, but for God's creation order.  

2. And Paul is not saying that all women in the Ephesus church in particular need to be quiet, but that women are just not allowed to be elders, whose job it is to teach in the public church meetings.


Background, foundation

God created men and women equally in His image:

So God created man
in his own image;
he created him in the image of God;
he created them male and female.
-Genesis 1:27
  • Men and women have equal value before God.
  • Men and women have equal value as persons.
  • Men and women have equal value to the church.
  • Men and women have equal access to salvation.

 

And it will be in the last days, says God,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all people;
then your sons and your daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
and your old men will dream dreams.
I will even pour out my Spirit
on my servants in those days, both men and women
and they will prophesy.
-Acts 2:17-18

There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female; since you are all one in Christ Jesus.
-Galatians 3:28
  • Jesus gave women high dignity and respect in his earthly ministry.
  • Churches throughout history have not followed Jesus and have failed to recognize and count women as equal to men.
  • Churches have failed to recognize that God sometimes gives women equal or greater spiritual gifts than men.
  • Churches have failed to give women full participation in ministries and the decision making processes in church life. 
  • That the Bible does not permit women to fulfill the church governmental role of an elder has been the conclusion of the majority of Christians throughout history.

Can women function in the role of elder in the church?

1 Timothy chapters 2 and 3 addresses the question most directly and persuasively.  The context of the passage about women and men is the assembling of the church:
Therefore, I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument. Also, the women are to dress themselves in modest clothing, with decency and good sense, not with elaborate hairstyles, gold, pearls, or expensive apparel, but with good works, as is proper for women who profess to worship God. 
-1 Timothy 2:8-10

Gordon Fee (1 and 2 Timothy, Titus; p. 70) asks these questions:

  • why these concerns?
  • why in this way?
  • why the inordinate amount of time devoted to the women in comparison with the men?
Fee says that it is about the false teachers and is a response to the controversies and conflict over false teaching (1 Tim. 1:3).

I Timothy 2 is addressing itself to problems of public worship. (Homer A. Kent, The Pastoral Epistle; p. 99, and Lightfoot, The Role of Women. p. 31)

Quotes and notes about why Paul addressed women's attire and hairstyles:
  • “While their dress is an issue, their attitude is Paul’s true concern.” (William Mounce, Pastorals, pp. 108-9)
  • Paul’s point in these verses is that works that express a godly character should characterize Christian women more than the way they dress and groom themselves. (Thomas Constable's notes)
  • “The reason for Paul’s prohibition of elaborate hair styles, ornate jewelry, and extremely expensive clothing becomes clear when one reads in the contemporary literature of the inordinate time, expense, and effort that elaborately braided hair and jewels demanded, not just as ostentatious display, but also as the mode of dress of courtesans and harlots . . .”   Perhaps Paul gave these instructions to the men (v. 8) and to the women (vv. 9-10) partially to counteract the natural (fleshly) tendencies in males and females. Most men tend to be active, so it is important that they give attention to praying, which is more contemplative than active. Women like to look good, so they need to remember that good deeds are more important than good looks. (George W. Knight III, The Pastorals; p. 135-6: quoted in Thomas Constable's notes)
  • “While today this manner of dress is not nearly as exclusive as it was in Paul’s day, nor indeed restricted to women, its effects can be the same. I am reminded of a visit to a large, upper-middle-class church in Dallas (it could have been any large city or suburb). When I entered the sanctuary, the first thing that struck me was the glitter of jewelry, the expensive clothing and the fashionable hairstyles. The craning necks as people sized one another up gave the impression that for many the purpose of gathering together that Sunday morning was to display economic status. A newcomer of modest economic means could not help but feel a sense of exclusion.” (Philip H. Towner, The Letters to Timothy, p. 71)
  • “A woman’s adornment, in short, lies not in what she herself puts on, but in the loving service she gives out.” (Donald Guthrie, The Pastorals; p. 75)

And in that setting, Paul says:

A woman is to learn quietly with full submission.  I do not allow a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; instead, she is to remain quiet.
-1 Timothy 2:11-12
  • Teaching authoritatively is the function of elders or overseers, who many churches today call preachers, pastors, priests, vicars, or bishops.
  • These functions are what Paul prohibits women from doing in the church.
Notes and quotes:
  • "Learn quietly" means "without contention" (David Guzik, Enduring Word Bible Commentary, 1 Timothy)
  • The same word for quiet (silence in other translations) is used in verse 2: "so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life".  Quiet is not silent, but under control, subordinate.
  • "To learn in silence has the idea of women receiving the teaching of the men God has chosen to lead in the church, with submission instead of contention.  Submission is the principle; to learn in silence describes the application of the principle." (David Guzik)
  • Typically the women should not accept the role of teacher of the congregation or of leader of the whole church. (Philip P. Towner, The Letters to Timothy; p. 217)
  • "The verbs “teach” and “exercise authority” are in the present tense in the Greek text, which implies a continuing ministry rather than a single instance of ministry." (Thomas Constable's notes)
  • “Teach and have authority over a man (v. 12) may be references to separate activities that Paul restricted to men. Or the first term might represent a specific example of activity that falls under the general rule that follows: women’s teaching in the public assembly would violate the given authority structure. In either case, we should notice that Paul did not employ his usual term for ‘the normal exercise of authority’ (exousia). He chose an unusual word (authenteo) that could carry negative connotations such as ‘to usurp or misappropriate authority’ or ‘to domineer.’ The unusual term probably signifies an unusual situation. In the Ephesian context at least, women had misappropriated authority by taking upon themselves the role of teacher.” (Philip Towner, 1-2 Timothy, p. 77)
  • "The Greek word (hypotage) means to rank under. It is clear in military life that a private, for example, who ranks under a colonel is not necessarily of less value or possesses less ability than his or her superior officer. Rank has to do with order and authority, not personal superiority and inferiority." (Thomas Constable's notes)
  • "Paul seems to have been speaking here of the whole local congregation. I do not think he would have objected to women teaching or leading some groups within the church that we commonly recognize as sub-groups provided they do so with the approval of the male leadership of the church (cf. Acts 18:26; 2 Tim. 3:14-15; Titus 2:3). Furthermore we should bear in mind that Paul was describing a typical church situation in which there were men who could provide teaching and leadership. If these were absent, exceptions might be necessary to achieve the higher goals of the church, namely, the building up of the saints to do the work of ministry. In some countries today there are few males who can or care to take leadership in churches. In these situations I think female leadership is better than none, at least until males can and will lead." (Thomas Constable's notes)
  • Exactly what did Paul prohibit women from doing in verse 12? He did not want them to teach a man or to exercise authority over a man in the local church meetings. (Constable citing William Mounce: Pastoral Epistles, p. 130)
  • The CEB translates 1 Timothy 2:12 this way: "I don’t allow a wife to teach or to control her husband. Instead, she should be a quiet listener.  Young's Literal translation is: "and a woman I do not suffer to teach, nor to rule a husband, but to be in quietness,".  The Knox and Wycliffe translations also have the word "husband".
  • And TPT translates 1 Timothy 2:11-12 this way: "Let the women who are new converts be willing to learn with all submission to their leaders and not speak out of turn. I don’t advocate that the newly converted women be the teachers in the church, assuming authority over the men, but to live in peace."
  • Don Williams, in his book, The Apostle Paul and Women in The Church (1977, p. 112), has this point to make about 1 Tim. 2:12: "The phrase rendered "I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men," appears timeless in English, that is, "I never allow a woman to teach...."  However, in the Greek it is a present active indicative verb which can be translated "I am not presently permitting a woman to teach or have authority over men...."  Thus in contrast to the extremists demanding full women's liberation in Ephesus, Paul prohibits the teaching of those not properly instructed.  But the verb tense cannot be made necessarily into a general principal for all time.
The context of the statement, "I do not allow a woman to teach or have authority over a man", is the qualifications to be an elder: those who oversee, govern the church, and teach authoritatively in the church.  It is notable that most men, including Paul and probably Timothy as well, did not meet the qualifications for elder in the church.  Paul and Timothy, as far as we can tell, were not married; so were disqualified from this function or office in the church.  In other words, eldership is not open to all Christian men, as it is closed to all Christian women.  Eldership is closed to all women and most Christian men.  Elders not only have to be men, but married men, with a number of other qualifiers that would rule out many.

Men and women who are not elders can speak, preach, teach, share, pray, prophecy, or sing in church meetings.  In the New Testament, the elders were the pastors.  So, most men and all women were barred from the office of pastor, because to be an elder, a man must have certain qualifications.  Many of our churches today do not follow the New Testament prescription.

All the spiritual gifts are open to women, including leadership (Rom. 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, Ephesians 4:7-16).  But a woman cannot be an elder or overseer who exercises authority or governance over men in the church.

There are dozens, if not hundreds, of ministries that women can be involved with in the church.  They are only barred from the office of overseer or elder.

Paul is setting up what is normal for church life.  Can a woman who is gifted especially in teaching, stand in, in emergency circumstances?  Yes, temporarily and if there is no qualified man.  A gifted unmarried or young man can as well, but that is not the norm, and we should not seek to change what is normal from what God laid out in the word of God.

What about a woman being a pastor but not an elder at a particular church?  Public church leadership was carried out only by elders in the NT.  The gift of pastor or teacher (or pastor/teacher) can be given to a woman, but she cannot be an elder.  Elders must be gifted as teachers but all those gifted as pastors are not qualified to be elders.

If a woman has gifts and feels called and is driven to fulfill her ministry, she has to figure out how to do it without violating the prohibitions laid out in the word of God.  If you hold the view that women can not be elders, that means, as a woman minister you can not do what only elders can do:
  • Elders govern (rule or manage) the church (1 Tim. 3:4-5, 5:17; 1 Peter 5:2-5, Heb. 13:17, Acts 20:28).
  • Elders teach authoritatively in the church (1 Tim. 3:2, 5:17; Titus 1:9).
Can a woman teach men if she is under the authority of the elders just as a male guest teacher would?  This is something for individual churches to decide.  A woman can prophecy, read scripture, pray out load, exhort, tell a story, or give her testimony.  But she can not teach where there are men present in the meeting, is what the Bible seems to say.  Can she teach boys?  And what is preaching?  Can a person preach without teaching and aren't parables or stories a form of teaching?  If a woman knows doctrine and is allowed to share something where men are present, can she be careful to share without teaching?  All these are interesting questions that we have to work out and decide on in church life.






Objections to this view

Case closed, right?  Not so fast, many people would say.  Here are the two major arguments for the position that Paul did not mean women for all time, cannot function as elders.  Notes on these two, and points on the answer to them:

Argument:

1. This passage (1 Timothy, 2 and 3) applies only to a specific situation, place and time, that Paul is addressing; where women are teaching heretical doctrine at the church of Ephesus.

Answers:
  • Nowhere in 1 Timothy does Paul address the issue of women teaching false doctrine.
  • The only issue with women that he addresses is gossip (5:13).
  • Paul's moratorium on women teaching is not just to heresy teachers, but to all women.
  • Paul's reason or foundation for the prohibiting of women teaching is not that they are teaching false doctrine, but rather God's creation order before the fall, and the out-of-order reversal that occurred in male and female roles in their fallenness.
  • Paul's reason for men's and women's roles is not limited to this one specific situation, but is applicable generally.
Argument:

2. Paul gave this prohibition here for Ephesus, because women were not educated enough in the first century and therefore not qualified to teach or govern the church.

Answers:
  • Paul nowhere mentions lack of education in his reason for prohibiting women from teaching or eldership.  
  • Instead, Paul points to God's creation order.
  • Formal Bible training was never required for leadership in the NT church.
  • Basic literacy was available to both men and women in the first century.
  • There were many well-educated women in the ancient world.  This would have been true in Ephesus.
    • One of those women might have been Priscilla, who with her husband Aquilla, taught Apollos about the counsel of God.  She, along with other women that even Paul had educated, are prohibited from teaching men in the public assembly of the church.
    • Because of Priscilla's teaching Apollos and the numerous shout-outs that Paul gives her, along with the probability that she hosted a church at her house leads some people to say she was an elder.  But she cannot be an elder because the office of elder/overseer is closed to women.  Priscilla could very well have been a leader, evangelist, teacher, and an apostolic worker.

What about 1 Corinthians 14:33b-36?  
As in all the churches of the saints, the women should be silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak, but are to submit themselves, as the law also says. If they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home, since it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. Or did the word of God originate from you, or did it come to you only?
  • Paul is not squelching women from all speech in church.  The context is "when you gather"(11:34), and earlier in 11:5, Paul says that women can pray or prophesy "out loud" (in the meeting):
Every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since that is one and the same as having her head shaved.

The speech (talking out loud in a meeting) that Paul says women should not participate in is the weighing of spoken prophecies.  Vs. 14:29:

Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should evaluate.

The spoken evaluation is for men only, because that is a governing, authoritative function.  This is consistent with Paul's teaching in 1 Timothy 2. 


What about Galatians 3:28?

"There is no male nor female."  Doesn't this mean that Christ's redemption has brought about the abolishment of gender distinctions: male headship and female subordination especially?  Doesn't this mean that gender distinctions are of the old order, done away with in Christ?  Equality is restored?  They might say, "to insist on gender distinctions is to ignore the fullness of God's restoration."  Galatians 3:28 is the interpretive grid for all the gender roles texts, is what some Egalitarian theologians say.

Gregg Boyd wrote:

...we now recognize that the whole of Scripture proclaims the freedom and equality of all believers (Gal. 3:28).

Answer:

Galatians 3:28 is in a section of scripture that is dealing with:

 "the fundamental issues of salvation, not the concept of headship and submission.  The context addresses the purpose of the law, justification by faith, and the lofty position of every Christian in union with Christ.  Paul's point in that all Christians, no matter what their race, social status, or gender, share equally, by faith the glorious, universal privilege of sonship and heirship apart from the works of The Law." (Alexander Strauch, Biblical Eldership, 1995, p.64)


Elders (public teachers and governors in the church) are men

1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9 teach us that elders (people who teach publicly/authoritatively and govern the church) are men (not women):

This saying is trustworthy: “If anyone aspires to be an overseer, he desires a noble work.” An overseer, therefore, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, self-controlled, sensible, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not an excessive drinker, not a bully but gentle, not quarrelsome, not greedy. He must manage his own household competently and have his children under control with all dignity. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a new convert, or he might become conceited and incur the same condemnation as the devil. Furthermore, he must have a good reputation among outsiders, so that he does not fall into disgrace and the devil’s trap.
--------------
The reason I left you in Crete was to set right what was left undone and, as I directed you, to appoint elders in every town. An elder must be blameless, the husband of one wife, with faithful children who are not accused of wildness or rebellion. As an overseer of God’s household, he must be blameless, not arrogant, not hot-tempered, not an excessive drinker, not a bully, not greedy for money, but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, righteous, holy, self-controlled, holding to the faithful message as taught, so that he will be able both to encourage with sound teaching and to refute those who contradict it.


  • The objection that Paul was "old fashioned" or that his letters were written in an ancient context where women were not educated or a host of other issues is answered by Paul's argument that it has nothing to do with these, but God's order in the church is based on God's order in creation.

Male leadership through the whole Bible
  • There is a consistent pattern of male leadership among God's people from Genesis through Revelation.
  • Though there are rare exceptions under unusual circumstances, that are not the pattern.
  • There is not one example in the whole Bible of a woman teaching the Bible to a congregation, which is the job description of the pastor/elder.
  • The Old Testament priesthood was closed to women.
  • The rare women prophets mentioned in the OT, Deborah and Huldah never prophesied in public to a congregation.
Some objections answered

What if a woman is gifted and feels called to ministry, shouldn't she be allowed to become a pastor (preacher)?
  • The same Spirit who gifts us has guidelines for the gifts.
  • There are many other ministries besides pastor/elder/preacher where a woman can fulfill her calling and use her gifts.  Women desiring the one thing that is forbidden, brings us right back to the story of the fall of mankind.
Isn't exclusively male leadership in the church a relic like slavery that should be done away with?
  • God did not establish slavery, but He did establish male and female roles, order, and distinctions for family and church life.

 


____________________

Bibliography: 

Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem; 1994, pp. 937-45 

Steve Gregg, radio archives:  Topic: Women Pastors Link here

All other sources are noted in parentheses where used.

An interesting article on Feminist Hermeneutics for further study: 

Michael F. Stitzinger, “Cultural Confusion and the Role of Women in the Church: A Study of I Timothy 2:8-14

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