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. This fact is particularly true within the mainline denominations which tend to be more liberal and contemporary. 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, especially in Evangelical and Reformed circles. 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 achieve an 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 (Liberal, Evangelical, and Reformed) to address and rethink the general issue of the role of women in the church, as well as the specific concern of the propriety of women becoming pastors in the church. My aim in this booklet 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? This presentation represents merely one view among various possible ones. In discussing such a controversial and potentially explosive issue, the watchword surely must be: "Speaking the truth in love."

A Biblical Exegesis Pertaining to 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 '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 official ecclesiastical office (cf. Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:1,2). An elder is a bishop (overseer) is a pastor. 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; Hb. 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. This duty can be compared to that of a landlord of an apartment building. The landlord ensures that the building is secure, that the facilities are adequate and functional, that the residential needs are satisfied. He is responsible for the management of the building, which involves the authority to make decisions. Similarly, elders are to manage the church (cf. 1 Tim. 3:5). They are the guardians of Christ for His heritage. They are to protect the whole membership from false doctrine and heresy (Acts 20:28); they are to direct church procedures and activities (Acts 6:1ff.); they are to determine and define church policies (Acts 15:1ff.). Elders are to exercise this management or rule 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). They are to rule or 'lead' (proistemi) with diligence (Rm. 12:8).

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 sheep-herder who tends a flock of sheep. The sheep-herder guides the sheep to water and pasture; he shelters and guards them; he grooms and shears them. Jesus Christ likens His people to a flock of sheep (Jn. 10:7-16). As sheep, believers require guidance and nourishment. Christ Himself is the chief Shepherd (1 Pet. 2:25) who "shall guide [His elect] 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 identified with the teaching and instruction of spiritual truth. Elders tend to the 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. 3:2). All elders must have the ability or gift to teach, though some are set aside, and financially provided for, to be resident teachers. So, Paul writes, "Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching" (1 Tim. 5:17).

The Elder's Role

Thus 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 duty and function to perform, as well as a didactic one. The Scriptural witness to this fact is conclusive. For instance, Paul addressed the Ephesian elders and reminded them that "the Holy Spirit [had] made [them] overseers, to shepherd the church of God" (Acts 20:28). Further, he requested 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 exhorted, "Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith" (Hb. 13:7). Subsequently, this same writer instructs this Jewish Christian congregation as to what their appropriate response should be to eldership management or rule and teaching. The rule (in the Lord) should be obeyed; and the teaching (in the Lord) should be submitted to. The Scripture reads, "Obey your leaders and submit to them; for they keep watch over your souls, as those who will give an account" (Hb. 13:17).

Reasons Against Women Being Pastors

With this background exegetical teaching pertaining to the pastorate, the issue of the propriety of woman pastors or elders may now be addressed. The Scriptures unquestionably teach that women are not to be elders. At least three reasons support this contention. The first reason concerns the matter of the specific qualifications outlined for entering the office of an elder or overseer; the second reason concerns the direct prohibition against women becoming elders; and the third reason concerns the practice and procedure of ordination to the pastoral office.

1. Eldership Qualifications

First, then, 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 to be the 'head' in the home under Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 11:3). This fact that the man is to manage the household is further substantiated when the statement of the similar qualification for deacons is examined. It reads, "Let deacons be husbands of only one wife, and good managers (lit.- managing well - kalos proistemi] of their children and their 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. Paul subsequently instructs (implying the link between the household and the church), "Let the elders who rule well [kalos proistemi] be considered worthy of double honour, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching" (1 Tim. 5:17).

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. But women shall be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint (1 Tim. 2:12-15).

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 is simply stating that women are not to assume the functions or duties of an elder; or simply, women are not to be pastors. The apostle Paul, in forbidding women to rule and teach, provides the rationale 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

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 (i.e., made in the image of God), stood as the natural head. He, in virtue of the creational precedence and status, assumed a leadership role and function. The man immediately exercised this headship or rule in the naming of the other creatures. God brought to the man all His creatures "to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name." (Gen. 2:19) The woman was created after the man to fulfil the role of "a helper suitable for him" (Gen. 2:18,20). The woman was created under (not unequal or inferior to) the man. Priority in creation, according to the divine design, naturally entailed leadership (cf. 1 Cor. 11:3, 7ff.). The man's creation involved the endowment of leadership; the woman's creation involved the endowment of support to that leadership, though both the man and the woman, as the image-bearers of God, have "rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth" (Gen. 1:26). 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 universal or absolute foundations.

Accordingly, the original creation, prior to the intrusion of sin, provides the cosmological basis for the regenerative creation (at least that which precedes the consummation). The laws, principles, and structures of creation, which God deemed "very good," have been neither altered nor modified. In fact, they are to be consciously reaffirmed and reinstituted by those who comprise the church of Jesus Christ. Grace permits and enables one to conform and submit to God's wise designs for His creation by beginning to reverse the effects of sin in actual experience. So, when Paul instructs Timothy on 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

The second reason for Paul's prohibition of women entering 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). Hence, Paul posits that "through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin" (Rm. 5:12). Both the man and the woman received divine judgement for their rebellion. In addition to death, they were destined to live out their earthly lives in suffering and pain. The creation was now under the divine curse (cf. Rm. 8:20-22).

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 natural laws and conditions. The Spirit's regenerative and renewing work in the believer is not perfected while he or she remains part of this fallen creation. The physical body is yet to undergo such 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) Thus, Paul informs,

"For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it...For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now...we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body" (Rm. 8:20,22,23). If the curse remains upon the earth, then the divine judgement remains in force. The curse and the judgement are self-evidently inseparable. Though, the believer has been ultimately delivered from the curse (of decay and death), he or she nevertheless remains affected by it while he or she 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." Notwithstanding, though Christians are still affected by the curse and divine judgement while remaining in this world, God has made special provision in this period of grace for Christians in order to curtail the effects of that judgement. For instance, the divine juridical pronouncement to the woman included personal pain and suffering. God declared, "I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth, in pain you shall bring forth children" (Gen. 3:16). In 1 Timothy 2:15, Paul conveys the divine counter and compensating promise (which seems to substantiate the fact that this passage should indeed be interpreted and understood within the orbit of Genesis 1 to 3 as presented) which states, "But women shall be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint." Hence, this apostolic prohibition or regulation constitutes normative church practice.

C. The Question of Women Prophesying

This prohibition is neither undermined nor contradicted when Paul suggests that women do prophesy (1 Cor. 11:5). In response, the Scripture distinguishes between the office of an elder and the office of a prophet(ess) (Eph. 4:11). The gift of teaching (typically associated with elders) and the gift of prophecy (associated with prophets or prophetesses) are essentially different (cf. Rm.12:6,7). Prophesying was the direct communication of divine revelation from God (see 1 Cor. 14:30,31). Therefore, the actual content of communication was (pre-)determined. The prophet or prophetess never spoke independently, but was directly "moved by the Holy Spirit" (2 Pet. 1:21). Personal freedom in actual communication of the truth was precluded. The analytical and reflective powers of the mind became virtually obsolete. So, for instance, the injunction for the early church was: "And let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment. But if a revelation is made to another who is seated, let the first keep silent" (1 Cor. 14:29,30). The elder or pastor, on the other hand, has a degree of personal freedom in actual communication, though the essential content must remain unalterable. He must harness and direct his analytical and reflective powers of mind. Thus, the possibility of error or heresy continually looms.

Furthermore, in accordance with the progressive revelation of God, this gift of prophecy was initially an extraordinary and temporary spiritual gift associated with the inauguration of the dispensation of the Spirit and the universal thrust of the Gospel. Both men and women were to participate in the initiation of the new era in fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy (Joel 2:28-32; cf. Acts 2:17-21). With the coming of the age of the Spirit and grace, there is spiritual egalitarianism. In Christ, "there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female" (Gal. 3:28). There is equality in status and position, but diversity in functions and roles (Rm. 12:4ff; 1 Cor. 12:4ff.). So the appearance of the extraordinary spiritual gifts was a unique phenomenon which marked the commencement of the new spiritual age. Such gifts are not now a part of normative church practice and ministry.

The charge that the apostle Paul is contradicting himself when he states, on the one hand, that women do prophesy (1 Cor. 11:5) and, on the other hand, that women are to keep silent in the church (1 Cor. 14:34,35) is virtually unfounded. There is no clear evidence to suggest that women prophesied in the church itself. Paul's directive is that prophets (not prophetesses) are to speak in the church (1 Cor. 14:29-33). Having issued this specific directive, Paul immediately commands that women are to keep silent in the churches (1 Cor. 14: 34,35). It seems highly unthinkable that a man of Paul's stature would glaringly contradict himself within the space of three to five sentences of text.

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 (Hb. 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 fact. The Law stipulated that only men were to be ordained to the office which pertains to religious ministry (see Ex. 28,29; Lev. 8,9,21f.; Nu. 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 concerns the diaconate. In Acts 6, the formal office of the diaconate is created under apostolic authority and oversight. The apostles themselves gave instruction on the procedure for securing personnel to serve as deacons. The instruction was: "But select from among you, brethren, seven men [aner - male) of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom whom we may put in charge [cathistemi] of this task [i.e., the daily serving of food]." This instruction discloses who is to be a candidate for the formal office, as well as what are to be his qualifications. When the candidates had been selected or elected by the congregation, they were then ordained by the apostles (i.e., church leaders or elders). Furthermore, this act of ordination was administered through prayer and the laying on of hands (Acts 6:6). Ordination is an official consecration unto God for religious service or ministry.

The second, and final, occurrence of cathistemi in reference to New Testament ecclesiology concerns the pastorate 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 proceeded to give the necessary, and normative, qualifications of those who were to be ordained to this office. It becomes quite apparent that the apostolic teaching pertaining to ordination is that a candidate must be a male. 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 suggests that the ordination of women is certainly not founded on clear Biblical grounds.

Again, as with the diaconate, so with the pastorate, the candidates are selected or elected by the congregation. Acts 14:23a reads: "And when they [Paul and Barnabas] had appointed [cheirotoneo - elect by raising hands] elders for them in every church." Similarly, the candidates are ordained by the church leaders or elders through prayer and the laying on of hands (cf. Acts 14:23b; 1 Tim. 4:14;5:22). Hence, the election to an ecclesiastical office is through congregational recognition, and the ordination to that same office is through pastoral or eldership confirmation. Election to the office naturally and logically precedes ordination to it.

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 textual 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 normative Biblical pattern, and thus is currently relevant.


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