Where do women pastors fit into the Bible’s teachings?
The question of whether or not women should be allowed to serve in leadership roles inside the church is likely the most contentious issue being discussed in churches today. Because of this, it is of the utmost importance not to view this problem as one of males vs women. There are women who believe that men should not serve as pastors and that the Bible places restrictions on the ministry of women, and there are men who believe that women can serve as pastors and that there are no restrictions on women in ministry. Some women believe that women should not serve as pastors, and others believe that the Bible places restrictions on the ministry of women. This has nothing to do with chauvinism or any other form of discrimination. This is a question of how the Bible should be interpreted.
According to what is written in the Bible, a woman ought to learn “in stillness and complete obedience.” I do not allow a woman to teach or have power over a male; she is required to be quiet” (1 Timothy 2:11–12). In the church, God assigns different roles to men and women. This is due to the manner in which mankind was created as well as the manner in which sin was introduced into the world (1 Timothy 2:13–14). According to the apostle Paul, God places a prohibition on women serving in positions of spiritual power over males, including those that include teaching. Because of this, it is impossible for women to hold the position of pastor over men, which unquestionably includes preaching to them, teaching them in public, and exercising spiritual authority over them.
This view of women in pastoral ministry is met with a lot of resistance from other people. The idea that Paul forbids women from teaching because most women in the first century did not have access to education is a widespread misconception. In contrast, educational attainment is not mentioned at all in 1 Timothy 2:11–14. If having an education was a prerequisite for serving in a ministry role, then the vast majority of Jesus’ disciples did not meet the requirements. A second prevalent argument is that Paul was the one who prohibited the women of Ephesus from instructing the male residents of the city (1 Timothy was written to Timothy, the pastor of the church in Ephesus). According to this argument, Paul was merely responding to the female-led rituals of the Ephesian idolaters, and the church needed to be different. Ephesus was famous for its temple to Artemis, and women were the authorities in that branch of paganism. On the other hand, Artemis is not mentioned at all in the book of 1 Timothy, and Paul does not cite the customary behavior of worshipers of Artemis as a justification for the prohibitions in 1 Timothy 2:11–12.
A further criticism is that Paul is not speaking about men and women in general when he is referring to husbands and wives specifically. The Greek words that are translated as “woman” and “man” in 1 Timothy 2 could be used to refer to husbands and wives; however, the basic meaning of the words goes beyond that specific application. In addition to this, the Greek terms used in verses 8–10 are the same. Are only husbands required to pray with their hands lifted up in a holy posture, free from anger and disagreement (verse 8)? Is it simply the wives’ responsibility to worship God, dress modestly, and perform good deeds (verses 9–10)? Of course not. Verses 8–10 make it abundantly clear that they are not only referring to husbands and wives but also to all men and women. There is nothing in the surrounding context that would indicate that verses 11–14 are referring specifically to husbands and wives.
In relation to women in the Bible who held positions of leadership, notably Miriam, Deborah, and Huldah in the Old Testament, there is a further argument against this understanding of women serving in pastoral ministry. This argument focuses on the Old Testament. It is true that these women were chosen by God for unique service to Him and that they stand as models of faith, courage, and, yes, leadership. On the other hand, the question of whether or not women held positions of authority in the Old Testament is not pertinent to the issue of pastors in the church. The epistles of the New Testament establish a new paradigm for God’s people, whom they refer to as the church or the body of Christ. This new paradigm involves an authority structure that is exclusive to the church and is not seen in the Old Testament for the country of Israel or any other entity.
In the New Testament, Priscilla and Phoebe are used in conjunction with similar lines of reasoning. Acts 18 portrays Priscilla and Aquila as devoted ministers for the cause of Christ. Since Priscilla’s name is stated first in verse 18, this may lead some readers to conclude that she played a more significant role in ministry than her husband. (The specific order of whose name appears first is presumably of little consequence, given that the order is inverted in verses 2 and 26, compared to what appears in verse 18.) Apollos may have received instruction in the gospel of Jesus Christ from Priscilla and her husband. In their home, they did, in fact, “teach to him the way of God more adequately,” which is true (Acts 18:26). Does the Bible ever indicate that Priscilla pastored a church or taught publicly or became the spiritual head of a congregation of saints? No. In contrast to what is stated in 1 Timothy 2:11–14, Priscilla did not participate in any ministry activities as far as we are aware.
Paul gives Phoebe a glowing recommendation in Romans 16:1 and refers to her as a “deacon” (sometimes translated as “servant”) in the church. On the other hand, similar to Priscilla, the Bible does not provide any evidence to suggest that Phoebe served in a pastoral role or taught male church members. Elders are required to be able to teach, although deacons are not. This is one of the qualifications for elders (1 Timothy 3:1–13; Titus 1:6–9).
The organization of 1 Timothy 2:11–14 makes the rationale behind the prohibition on women serving in pastoral roles crystal clear. The word “for” opens up verse 13, which explains the “reason” behind what Paul said in verses 11 and 12. Why are women not allowed to teach or hold positions of power over men? Because according to the Bible, Adam came first and subsequently Eve. And Adam was not the one who fell for the serpent’s trick; rather, it was the woman who fell for it (verses 13–14). The first person that God created was Adam, and then he created Eve to be Adam’s “helper.” The order that God established in creation has worldwide relevance, particularly in the context of the family (Ephesians 5:22–33) and the church.
The fact that Eve was tricked is cited in 1 Timothy 2:14 as one of the primary justifications for why women should not hold positions of spiritual authority over men or serve as pastors. This does not imply that women are gullible or that they are more readily fooled than males in any way, shape, or form. Why would women who are supposedly more easily duped be allowed to teach children and other women, both of whom are also prone to falling for deception? If all women are more easily duped, then why would children be allowed to learn from women? The text simply says that women are not to teach men or have spiritual authority over men because Eve was deceived. God has determined that men should primarily hold positions of responsibility in the church’s teaching ministry.
The spiritual gifts of hospitality, mercy, teaching, evangelism, and helping/serving are very strong among many women. Much of the ministry of the local church rests on women. The only thing that prevents women from publicly praying or prophesying in the church (according to 1 Corinthians 11:5) is that they are not allowed to have spiritual teaching power over males. There is not a single place in the Bible that places limitations on the spiritual talents that can be exercised by women (1 Corinthians 12). It is the responsibility of women, just as it is the responsibility of males, to minister to the needs of others, to exhibit the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22–23), and to proclaim the gospel to those who are unsaved (Matthew 28:18–20; Acts 1:8; 1 Peter 3:15).
Because only men are allowed to serve in positions of spiritual teaching authority inside the church, God has ordained this to be the case. This is not because men are inherently better teachers than women, nor is it because men are superior to or more intelligent than women (which is not the case). It is just the manner that God intended for the church to carry out its duties. In both their actions and the words that they speak, men are to be the ones to set the standard for spiritual leadership. Women are to take a less authoritative role. There is an emphasis placed on women teaching other women (Titus 2:3–5). Furthermore, the Bible does not prohibit women from instructing younger children. Teaching or having spiritual control over males is the only occupation that women are prohibited from doing. Because of this, it is impossible for women to work as pastors for men. This in no way diminishes the significance of women; rather, it enables them to concentrate their ministry efforts in a manner that is more congruent with God’s will and the abilities He has given them.