What does the Bible say about women pastors in ministry?

The question of women serving as church leaders is one of the most read debated questions in Bible-believing churches.  In business, government, sports, science and other fields, women have proved themselves able and intelligent in every way.  Why do some churches retain old ideas then and keep them out of the preaching role?  The answer is that a church is not guided on the same principles as other areas of society.  While some church groups may feel free to treat the Bible as only one several of their sources of authority, the Holy Scriptures should the main purpose of a church is to put into practice the word of God (1 Timothy 3:15).  The question of whether women should preach is not a question of personal preference or ability, but whether it is in line with the teaching of the Bible.

Relevant scriptures

Some relevant scriptures in regards to this question include 1 Timothy 2:11-14, 1 Timothy 3:1-13.  The way we understand these words from God will guide us.  A similar question in regards to women in the church is to the question of the silence of women.  These scriptures are 1 Corinthians 11:5; 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and are answered in the question “Should women speak in the church?”

1 Timothy 2 – Authority is male

 1 Timothy 2:11-14  Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness.  (12)  I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.  (13)  For Adam was formed first, then Eve;  (14)  and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.

 While in a church gathering, there are distinct roles given to men and women as a result of (1) creation “Adam was formed first, then Eve” and (2) the results of the fall “the woman was deceived and became a transgressor”.  Teaching the scriptures, according to this passage, is a male role.  Exercising authority over man is also not permitted for women.  This would include leadership roles and public teaching roles in the church.

Having stated the clearest interpretation of this passage, it should be noted that there are attempts to nullify this primary meaning by applying other interpretations.

 Women had a lack of education?

The first objection to this statement in 1 Timothy 2 is that women were not capable in their culture to teach the scriptures to men because of their limited experience, education and lack of opportunities from centuries of male-dominated traditions.  However the verse does not say “due to lack of education, I do not permit a woman to teach or exercise authority”.  Formal education did not factor into Christ’s decision to choose the disciples / apostles and it was not a factor in excluding women either. 

Only for the wives?


Another argument against this passage is to say that the passage only applies to women who are married.  Some translations of the passage say “wives” rather than “women” in general.  However, the passage is teaching about men and women. The references to men and women in the surrounding verses make clear sense for both married and single people.  For example in 1 Timothy 2:8 “I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling.” Are only husbands to lift up holy hands in prayer?  A second example in 1 Timothy 2:9  say “likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire”.  Are only wives to dress modestly? Of course not.  The passage is talking to people both married and single.

Examples of women ministers

Another argument used against this scripture is the mention of women who served as deaconesses in the Bible.  Service is a godly work for both men and women.  However, the service of godly women would not have contradicted Holy Scripture in that of taking a leadership role or in public teaching of men.  One example of woman who served was the couple Aquilla and Pricilla.  In Acts 18, they work as tent makers with Paul.  At the end of the chapter, in verse 26, Apollos was invited to their house to learn more of the way of God.  This threesome Bible study resulted in that Apollos became a better public teacher.

Act 18:26  “He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him and explained to him the way of God more accurately.”

The women mentioned in Romans 16 are referred to as “servants” and “helpers” and “workers” including Phoebe, Pricilla, Mary and Junia.  It is not necessary to think of these women as part of any special religious class of leadership. Any sister who serves can be a “deaconess” or “servant” or “worker” without being a teacher or exercising authority over a man. 

1 Timothy 3:1-13  and Titus 1:5-9 – Elders and Deacons are Men of Respect

Among the list of requirements for both elders and deacons in the assembly is the reference to a man with his family: “husband of one wife and his children are believers”. The words “he” and “his” are mentioned eight times in 1 Timothy 3.  The leaders of the church are required to be male. 

Conclusion

The scriptures are the church’s operating manual.  The question of women leadership in the church therefore is not to be based on questions of ability or fairness or from trends in politics or business.  1 Timothy and Titus teach that God has put men in position of authority.  The Bible also does not restrict women from teaching or service, but it is not to be in the context of authority over the man.

Shad Sluiter