We are witnessing in the church today an unprecedented phenomenon and trend. More women are training for, and entering into, the pastoral ministry than in any other time in the history of the church. The reaction to this relatively new phenomenon ranges from bitter outrage to hearty endorsement. Quite often, the discussions and debates over the propriety of a woman pastor are contentious and divisive ones. Such consequences, of course, are inevitable when the issues reduce to one of commitment to the Scriptures themselves as constituting the very truth of God. High regard for the integrity, sufficiency, authority, relevancy, and inerrancy of the Scriptures naturally results in a sense of obligation and necessity to acquire the accurate interpretation of those Scriptures, as well as to promote the faithful practice of the same.
Compelling sociological factors, which have been engendered by the feminist movement, have pressed the church to address and rethink the general issue of the role of women in the church, as well as the specific issue of the propriety of women becoming pastors. My aim in this paper is simply to present a Biblical view on the pastoral ministry, with the specific question of concern being: Should women be elders or pastors in the church? In discussing such a controversial and potentially explosive issue, the watchword surely must be: "Speaking the truth in love."
A BIBLICAL EXEGESIS ON THE ELDERSHIP
The predominant term used for the spiritual leaders in the church is elder (presbuteros). It occurs 14 times in this capacity, as opposed to the more frequently used term today 'pastor' (poimne) which occurs only once in this same capacity. The other term which is used for the spiritual leader is 'overseer' (episkopos) which occurs 4 times in this capacity. These three designations are used interchangeably in the New Testament for the same ecclesiastical office (cf. Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:1, 2). Elders (bishops, pastors) are representatives and ambassadors of Jesus Christ for the church (cf. 2 Cor. 5:18-21). In addition, they are stewards, for they have been entrusted with the welfare of the church (Tit. 1:7). Their primary responsibility is to care for (epimeleomai) the members of the spiritual body of Christ (1 Tim. 3:5), for which they will have to render an account (Jas. 3:1; Heb. 13:17).
Elders have two main duties or functions in the exercise of their care for the church. First, they are to oversee the membership. The apostle Peter exhorts the elders to "exercise oversight" (episkopeo) over the flock of God (1 Pet. 5:2). That is, elders are to superintend the affairs and activities of the church. They are the guardians of Christ for His heritage. They are to protect the whole membership from false doctrine and heresy (Acts 20:28). Elders are to exercise this management in an attitude of readiness, eagerness, and humility, without "lording it over those allotted to [their] charge, but proving to be examples to the flock" (1 Pet. 5:3).
The second duty or function of elders is to shepherd the membership. The apostle Paul exhorts the Ephesian elders "to shepherd [poimaino] the church of God which He purchased with His own blood" (Acts 20:28). That is, elders are to attend or minister to the (spiritual) needs of the body of Christ. This duty can be compared to that of a sheepherder who tends a flock of sheep. The sheepherder guides the sheep to water and pasture; he shelters and guards them; grooms and shears them. Jesus Christ likens His people to a flock of sheep (John 10:7-16). As sheep, believers require guidance and nourishment. Christ Himself is the chief Shepherd (1 Pet. 2:25) Who "shall guide [His own] to springs of the water of life" (Rev. 7:17). Elders, who are the undershepherds of the chief Shepherd, have a similar responsibility.
This figurative tending or shepherding of the sheep is literally and primarily seen in the teaching and instruction of spiritual truth. Elders tend to the spiritual needs of the flock of Christ by preaching and ministering the Word of God Mark records, "And when He [Jesus] went ashore, He saw a great multitude, and He felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and He began to teach them many things" (Mk. 6:34). Accordingly, Christ has provided "pastors [poimne] and teachers [didaskalos]" for His spiritual sheep (Eph. 4:11). Christ has not provided pastors in addition to teachers, but pastors who are teachers. In Ephesians 4:11, Paul is speaking of only one office. Thus Paul instructs Timothy that elders must be "able to teach" (1 Tim. 2:2). All elders must have the ability or gift to teach.
THE ELDER'S ROLE
The role of an elder in the church, which is patterned on the role of the Lord Jesus (see 1 Pet. 2:25 - poimne, episkopos), is basically that of an overseer and shepherd (or teacher). He has an administrative function to perform, as well as a didactic one. The Scriptural witness to this fact is conclusive. For instance, Paul addresses the Ephesian elders and reminds them that "the Holy Spirit [had] made [them] overseers, to shepherd the church of God" (Acts 20:28). Further, he requests of the Thessalonian believers to "appreciate those who diligently labor among [them], and have charge over [them] in the Lord and give [them] instruction" (1 Th. 5:12). Peter exhorts elders to "shepherd the flock of God . . .exercising oversight" (1 Pet. 5:2). Even the writer to the Jewish Christians exhorts, "Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith" (Heb. 13:7).
REASONS AGAINST WOMEN BEING PASTORS
With this background exegetical teaching on the pastorate, I now address more particularly the issue of the propriety of woman pastors or elders. The Scriptures unquestionably teach that women are not to be elders. I will present three reasons to support this contention.
1. Eldership Qualifications
First, the specific qualifications outlined for those aspiring to the pastorate or eldership strongly imply that such candidates are to be men (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Tit. 1:5-9). The overseer or elder is required to be the "husband of one wife" (1 Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1:6). Furthermore, he must be a person who "manages (proistemi) his own household well (kalos)," which is prerequisite for taking care of the church (1 Tim. 3:4,5). The management of the household, according to the Scriptures, is primarily the man's, rather than the woman's, responsibility. The man is considered the 'head' in the home under Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 11:3). Management of the household by men is further substantiated when the similar qualification for deacons is examined. It reads, "Let husbands of only one wife, and good managers [lit, managing well - kalos proistemi] of their children and their own households" (1 Tim. 3:12). This statement leaves no doubt as to who is to manage the household. Consistency, therefore, demands that the similar qualification for those aspiring to be pastors must also refer to men and not women.
2. Women Prohibited
The second reason why women are not to be pastors or elders is because the Scriptures specifically prohibit such action. The apostle Paul, in communicating to Timothy the policies, practices, and principles which are to govern "how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God" (1 Tim. 3:15) states:
But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being quite deceived, fell into transgression (1 Tim. 2:12-14).
This prohibition is not directed against teaching or exercising authority (i.e., having rule) in the abstract or universal sense, but rather teaching and exercising authority within the specific context of the church. Paul furnishes the rationale or ground for such a prohibition. The first reason for such a prohibition is a cosmological one; the second reason is a juridical one.
A) The Cosmological reason for Prohibition
First, women are not to be pastors or elders because "Adam was first created, and then Eve." God created the world with a particular design and structure. He imposed a certain order and form on His creation. He created the cosmos with particular operative principles and laws; and in His wisdom and plan, the man was created first. This peculiarity of God's cosmos had significant and determinative consequences. Man, being first in the creation order of rational, earthly existence, stood as the natural head. The woman was created after the man to fulfill the role of a "helper suitable for him" (Gen. 2:18, 20). The woman was created under (not unequal nor inferior to) the man. Priority in creation, according to the divine design, naturally entails leadership (cf. 1 Cor. 11:3, 7ff.). The man's creation involved the endowment of leadership; the woman's creation involved the endowment of cooperation to that leadership. Even the source of the woman's creation symbolizes this leadership-follower creational principle. Woman was created from a rib taken from man's side, which suggests a dependent relationship.
Accordingly, the nature of the creation order (i.e., the inherent structures and principles of this particular cosmos) presumably remain universal and unalterable. Indeed, this very fact provides the basis for Paul's argument for the propriety of head coverings in his address to the Corinthian church. He states:
For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; for indeed man was not created for the woman's sake, but woman for the man's sake. Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels (1 Cor.11:8-10).
It is interesting that when Paul teaches on topics that pertain to man-woman relationships, his basis is usually the creation order, the original design and structure of the cosmos, and not cultural peculiarities or trends. Paul advances his various arguments in reference to the universal or absolute foundations.
So when Paul instructs Timothy concerning proper administration in the church, acknowledging the preeminence and the necessity of conformity to God's original design (which still bears a universal character), he reasons, "For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve." In the church, the echoes of the original (sinless) creation must resound as the recreation is in progress, though in the consummation of all things, the original creation will be supremely surpassed.
B) The Juridical Reason for Prohibition
The second reason for Paul's prohibition which excludes women from the pastoral ministry or eldership, as stated in 1 Timothy 2:14, concerns the divine pronouncement of judgement. The rule of the man and the submission of the woman has a juridical basis. "It was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being quite deceived, fell into transgression." The woman listened to the serpent (i.e., the devil) and disobeyed the commandment of God to refrain from eating the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:16, 17; 3:2, 3). The whole creation, through Eve's lead, became corrupt though the structures and inherent principles of the creation remained intact. Yet the man, as the natural head, was held ultimately responsible. It was when he ate of the forbidden fruit that "the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked" (Gen. 3:7).
Part of the divine pronouncement of judgement for Eve (and thus for all women) was: "Yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you" (Gen. 3:16). As long as the curse of sin is upon the creation, the judgement remains in force. The judgement applies to this earthly existence until the establishment of the new creation order. Even those who comprise the church of Jesus Christ remain subject to this judgement because they continue to live and function in this fallen and accursed world, and thus remain subject to its laws and conditions. The Spirit's regenerative and renewing work in the believer is not perfected while the believer remains part of this fallen creation. The physical body is yet to undergo a spiritual transformation. Thus, while the body remains identified with this corrupt creation, it remains subject to the divine judgement on creation. The work of the Spirit has begun to reverse the effects of sin in the believer, but complete eradication will not be "until the period of restoration of all things" (Acts 3:21). If the curse remains upon the earth, then the divine judgements remain in force. The curse and the judgements are inseparable. Though the believer has been ultimately delivered from the curse (of decay and death), he nevertheless remains affected by it while he remains in this world. The woman, therefore, through divine juridical pronouncement, must submit to the rule of the man and not usurp authority, particularly in the Christian home and church, where God's Word, whether pronounced at creation or on the isle of Patmos, should be willingly obeyed.
Paul understood and appreciated the universal and inflexible applicability of this juridical pronouncement or edict as evidenced in his reference to it as the ground for the justification of the exclusion of women from the pastorate. In addition to this particular injunction given to Timothy, he similarly enjoins this church practice on the Corinthian congregation. He commands:
Let the women keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but let them subject themselves just as the Law [i.e., the five books of Moses] also says. And if they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church (1 Cor. 14:34, 35).
Paul's basis of argument is the juridical pronouncement or edict of God, which is still in force during this present age. The woman is not to be an elder or pastor in the church because Adam was not deceived, "but the woman being quite deceived, fell into transgression." Hence this apostolic prohibition or regulation concerning women and the pastoral ministry constitutes normative church practice.
3. Pastoral Ordination
The third, and final, reason why women are not to be elders or pastors in the church concerns the matter of ordination to the pastoral office. The New Testament Greek verb which means 'to ordain' in reference to an official post or formal office is cathistemi. It can also be translated 'to appoint' or 'to put in charge'. The ideas of managerial responsibility and oversight seem to be implied in its usage. The verb occurs 21 times in the New Testament, with 5 of its occurrences referring to a specifically religious/ecclesiastical role or function. Three occurrences refer to the formal office of the high priest under the rubric of the Levitical administration (Heb. 5:1; 7:28; 8:3). The other two occurrences refer to the particular offices within New Testament ecclesiology (Acts 6:3; Tit. 1:5).
With respect to the Levitical administration, the high priest of Israel was always a man. Old Testament Scriptures, tradition, and history indisputably establish this factordained the office which pertains to religious ministry (see Ex. 28, 29; Lev. 8, 9, 21f; Num. 8, 18). Accordingly, though diversity does exist between the Old and New dispensations, organic unity is clearly evident. The first occurrence of cathistemi in reference to New Testament ecclesiology pertains to the diaconate. In Acts 6, the formal office of the diaconate is created under apostolic authority and oversight. The apostles themselves give instruction on the procedure for securing personnel to serve as deacons. The instruction is "But select from among you, brethren, seven men [aner - - male] of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom who we may put in charge [cathistemi] of this task [i.e., the daily serving of food]."
The second, and final, occurrence of cathistemi in reference to New Testament ecclesiology concerns the pastor-ate or eldership. In Titus 1:5, this particular office is in view. The apostle Paul had commissioned Titus, an apostolic representative, to "appoint [cathistemi] elders in every city". Paul proceeds to give the necessary, and normative, qualifications of those who are to be ordained to this office. It becomes quite apparent that the apostolic teaching pertaining to ordination is that a candidate must be a man. The apostle states: "If any man is above reproach, the husband of one wife (mias gunaicos aner, lit, a male of one woman)" (Tit. 1:6; cf. 1 Tim. 3:2). Nowhere in the New Testament is there a set of alternative qualifications, which strongly suggests that the ordination of women is certainly not founded on clear Biblical grounds.
It is interesting that the New Testament teaches that there are only two formal ecclesiastical offices, the diaconate and the pastorate (cf. Phil. 1:1), and the only two textual occurrences to ecclesiastical ordination in the New Testament Scriptures refer to these two offices respectively: The Scriptures provide sufficient information in order to draw some sound conclusions about the nature of ecclesiastical ordination. The only two witnesses to this religious, official act virtually agree in substance. Accordingly, the plain conclusion of the Scriptures is that only men are to be ordained to an ecclesiastical office. This teaching appears to be the Biblical pattern, and is thus currently relevant.
We have a responsibility to stem the tide of ecclesiastical compromise and Scriptural prostitution, and to summon the church of Christ back to Biblical truth and faithfulness.
The above article is from the September/October 1999 issue of The FCM Informer. The editor writes about the "Purpose of this 'Informer' Issue":
Because of the aggressive offense being waged by the radical feminists across the Mennonite Church today, we have devoted most of this issue to the question of women in the ministry. Much of our church publishing energy is being used to "push" the feminist agenda including attempts to feminize God. It is past time that true Biblicists respond to this blasphemy. Historian William Manchester has said, "the erasure of distinctions between the sexes is not only the most striking issue of our time, it may be the most profound the race has ever confronted."
Those who are not familiar with the work of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood would be well served in contacting the Council at P. O. Box 317, Wheaton, IL 60189 and asking for a copy of "The Danvers Statement". The ten "Affirmations" of CBMW are a major contribution to promoting the true Biblical position.
The author is the Pastor of Unionville Baptist at Unionville, Ontario.
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