Can Women Be Pastors?

1 Timothy 3:2 – Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife,  sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach…

Yesterday, we looked at four patterns of males in senior spiritual leadership roles in Scripture and, today, we will look at the fifth and final pattern, oftentimes the most controversial among Bible-believing Christians.

In the New Testament, there are two primary lists of qualifications for senior spiritual leaders in the church. 1 Timothy 3:1-7 says he must be “the husband of one wife” and in the English translation says “he” seven times and “his” three times. Titus 1:5-9 also says he must be, “the husband of one wife”, and the English translation says “he” three times and “his” once. 1 Timothy 2:12-14 says, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.” This Scripture is at the heart of the debate regarding whether a gifted and godly woman, like Deborah, can be a pastor in the New Covenant church. 

Furthermore, the fact that Paul anchors his argument in creation, before sin entered the world, and God’s perfect plan was still in effect unhindered, means that we cannot simply say that what He commands is rooted in ancient culture and therefore no longer binding. Those who hold a hard interpretation of Paul’s command that women cannot teach or have authority over men in the church are prone to keep things tidy by simply telling women to only teach women and children. Those who hold a more flexible complementarian interpretation of Paul’s commands (as I do) believe that the word used here for “authority” (the only place it is used in the New Testament) refers to the highest authority role in the church. 

This also seems logical in the context, as what immediately follows in the next chapter of 1 Timothy is the requirements for elders/pastors, which include being a mature Christian man and an exemplary husband and father. Correspondingly, Paul forbids women to teach (which would include preaching according to 1 Timothy 5:17) and exercise authority (such as enforcing church discipline or setting doctrine). 

In the Old Testament, for example, we see Miriam leading worship (Exodus 15:20-21). The New Testament names wonderful women such as Priscilla, Lydia, Euodia, Syntyche, Phoebe, and many other godly women who served, led, and taught in the early church—but never in the highest role of spiritual authority. 

In summary, while godly, Bible-believing, Jesus-loving Christians disagree with me on this issue, including some very dear friends who I submit to as pastors over my life, it is my conclusion that, in essence, godly women would be welcome to lead and serve in any and every role but the highest level of leadership in a local church, and this does not equally apply to other arenas such as teaching in a Christian school or Bible college. 

Did the church you grew up in have female pastors? How does reading passages like 1 Timothy 2:12-14, 3:1-7, 5:17 and Titus 1:5-9 affect your thinking on this, if at all?

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