Should Women be Pastors?

pulpitThis question comes up frequently, but is a little difficult to answer. Not due to a lack of Biblical data, but because I don’t believe the modern church is operating in the same way as the early church. When you’re “comparing apples to oranges” it is hard to talk about how that fruit is used.

I also recognize that this topic sparks a lot of heat; because the answer to this question is very personal to a lot of people.  Therefore, I am answering the question with much respect towards all who are answering the call of the Lord in their lives.

In the modern church, when we think of a pastor, we generally envision a man or woman who is the head of a local church or churches.  Directly beneath them is a group of chairpersons, or board of directors, who in turn, have people serving beneath them.  The people at these lower positions answer to the board, who in turn answer to the pastor. The pastor may in turn answer to a bishop, or someone seated in an office over him or her.

Although this type of arrangement is common, it is not a model that has a Biblical basis.  Rather, when Paul established any church, he appointed elders (plural) to help guide the church (Acts 14:23).  In his letter to Titus, Paul instructed him to do the same (Tit. 1:5).

It is obvious, then, that the early church did not have a single man as the head, but a group of men who were qualified to lead.  Furthermore, these elders did not answer to a residing bishop.  We know this because in Acts 20:17-30, Paul used the terms “elder” and “bishop” interchangeably.   They meant the same thing to him.  In his mind, an elder was a bishop (an overseer) who was called to “shepherd” (pastor) the church (Acts 20:28).  These did not reflect different offices with different levels of power, but different terms that described the same function.

Perhaps within a century of Paul’s lifetime, the early church began to show signs of change. They began to see a bishop as someone a little higher on the food chain. He was set over a pastor or elder.  Today this has morphed into something that many of us are familiar with. Although the Bible does not strictly forbid the modern arrangement, we can see that it is not what Paul had set up.

Now, let’s get back to this very hotly debated question: Should Women be Pastors?

There are two passages of scripture that seem to address this issue:

  1. When Paul instructed Titus (Titus 1:5-9) to appoint elders (bishops/pastors) in every city, he listed some qualifications for those elders. Near the beginning of that list is the requirement that the elder be a “husband of one wife.”  (This same qualification is repeated to Timothy in 1 Tim 3:2).
  2. While giving Timothy instructions for both men and women in the church, Paul indicates that a woman is not to be in authority over a man (1 Tim 2:12-14).

That the qualifications of a pastor be the “husband of one wife” would indicate that Paul is thinking of a male, not a female.  We also note that in the church, a female is not to be in a position of authority over a male.  Therefore, based on Scripture, if the modern-day pastor/elder/bishop is in a position of authority where men are involved, then it would appear that a woman is not to take that position.

Obviously, not all churches understand this matter as I have offered, or what I believe Paul has modeled.  The reasons why some churches/denominations place women in these positions vary.  However, the following reasons are those most frequently offered.

  1. Gal. 3:26-28 tells us that there is no difference between males and females.  Therefore, women have the same rights as males to be pastors.
  2. The ancient world was male-dominated. Paul’s writing reflected this worldview.  Allowing women to be in charge would have been too radical for his time.
  3. When Paul, in 1 Tim 2:12, forbade women to have authority over a man, he was discussing marriage, not the church. This is evident because in the very next verse Paul gives the context of Adam and Eve – a husband and wife, not a pastor and congregation.
  4. God would not equip women to lead if they were not permitted to do so.

These might seem like compelling arguments.  However, I’d like to offer my respective responses that I believe are worth considering.

  1. There are no differences between men and women. The truth is that Christian men and women are in fact different. We look differently, we think differently, and we act differently.  Therefore, the Galatians passage must be understood in another way.

In Gal. 3, Paul is arguing that Abraham’s seed is not necessarily the Jewish people. Rather, it is everyone who has faith in Jesus Christ.  In that sense, he suggests, there is no longer a Jewish person or a Gentile person, a slave or free person, or a male or female. Rather, we are all valued the same, regardless of our differences.   A Christian slave may have many differences from his master. Likewise, Christian men and women continue to live out their obvious differences, though having the same value in Christ to God.  Gal. 3 does not obliterate everyone’s role in society.

  1. Paul was a product of his times. The idea that Paul’s culture was male-dominated and thus not the same as ours seems to be the most commonly offered basis for allowing women to be pastors.  However, I believe that this is a gross misunderstanding of reality.

Paul considered himself an apostle to the Gentiles. He spent most of his Christian life immersed in Greek culture, not Jewish.  Women had significant roles in Greek culture.  They ran businesses, had money, and served as priestesses in pagan temples.  It would not have been scandalous for Paul to have placed women in positions of leadership.   Furthermore, Paul had suffered many beatings, threats, and dangers because he was unafraid to stand up against the thinking of his day. He wasn’t the kind of man to back down from truth to appease anyone.  To suggest that we have more enlightenment today than a man who was personally commissioned by Jesus is a frightening position to take.

  1. Paul meant marriage, not the church.  It is true that 1 Tim 2 does not claim to be talking about church meetings, per se.  However, it should strike the reader as odd that Paul would forbid a woman to teach her husband in the privacy of their home, yet not care how they interacted publicly.  What was it about the family’s home that made it wrong for her to teach him?

The reference to Adam and Eve is extremely important, in my opinion.  When Paul tells Timothy that a women is not to teach or have authority over a man, he tells us why.  If Paul had been doing this because society wasn’t ready for women to teach (see #2 above), then he would have said so.  However, his reasoning isn’t based on culture.  It is based on an historical event that would be true for every culture; that Adam was formed first and that Eve had been deceived.  That is as true today as it was for Paul’s day, as it will be for all future generations.

  1. Why would God equip women to lead?  This argument seems to presuppose that people like me are calling for women not to be leaders in any capacity. That is absurd.  The New Testament is full of examples of women taking special roles in the church.  They were able to prophesy (Acts 21:8-9), and pray out loud (1 Cor 11:5). Women were evangelists and deaconesses.  Women were also encouraged to teach younger women, young girls, and young boys (that’s 3/4 of the church’s population!). I couldn’t imagine why women wouldn’t be permitted to serve as counselors, evangelists, missionaries, or a host of other leadership positions.

It should be pointed out that men are not able to be elders just because they are men. Many men will never qualify to be an elder – even if they feel equipped.  For example, if Paul had evangelized a man who had multiple wives he could not have been an overseer because he wasn’t a “husband of one wife,” – even if he felt equipped!  Likewise, if a Christian man today is known to be quick-tempered, he would be disqualified from being a pastor, even if he has met the other requirements.  No person – male or female – should be a church leader simply because they desire it.

As always, responses are welcomed.  I know that I didn’t include all of the scriptural passages covering this topic. Therefore, if you would like me to respond to a particular passage, please let me know.



Dane Cramer is a Christian blogger, backpacker, amateur filmmaker, volunteer jail chaplain and author of two books: Romancing the Trail and The Nephilim: A Monster Among Us.



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