“All scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” 2 Timothy 3:16
Thousands of people, both men and women across the world, attend a college or seminary to become pastors, priests, or certified Bible teachers. It’s encouraging that so many people are interested in taking a greater role in the church.
But is it for everyone?
Is it okay for both men and women to be pastors or priests? How about women, specifically? What does the Bible say about who serves in places of authority in the church? The answer may surprise you.
Going Straight to the Source
A very controversial topic in the church (or in any faith, for that matter) is whether women are Biblically permitted to be pastors, priests, or even rabbis. Some modern men and women think it’s just fine while other more conservative people do not. Some people think it’s a sexist issue while others fail to see any problem.
It’s always important to remember that when we come across issues such as this, we should never apply our feelings or personal opinions to it because feelings and opinions can be faulty. And Satan is always trying to lead us astray. Instead, as followers of Christ, we must always go straight to the Word of God for definitive answers.
So, let’s begin by looking at 1 Timothy 2 with a little bit of historical background.
Paul’s First Letter to Timothy
After his first release from a Roman jail (Acts 28:30), the apostle Paul and his protégé, Timothy, went back to the cities where they had been ministering before Paul’s arrest. One of those cities was Ephesus, which is where he left Timothy behind to deal with the issues the church was having, such as false doctrine, idol worship, and disorder in the church’s leadership.
Paul then went on to Macedonia, which is where he was when he wrote his two letters to Timothy. He intended for the letters to encourage Timothy in his work and to offer some practical advice to the young missionary. The two letters, along with the book of Titus, are now known as the Pastoral Epistles.
In Paul’s first letter, he advises Timothy in five different areas—false doctrine, church order, false teachers, pastoral responsibilities, and proper pastoral conduct and behavior as a leader in the church. It’s in chapter two where we find Paul addressing the issue of women as leaders in the church. Evidently, many women were involved in the church’s leadership, and it was causing some concern among some of the church members.
Remember, these people had only recently accepted the truth that Jesus is the promised Messiah. Before then, they were practicing Jews. And back in those days, women did not have any authority in the Jewish faith (or anywhere else).
There was also the issue of women leading others in worship to the pagan god Artemis at a nearby temple. Paul knew the Christian church needed to be different.
The result was confusion and discontent about the role of women within the church. Paul attempts to clear up the matter as he advises Timothy in his letter.
Women as Learners
“Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived fell into transgression.” (1 Timothy 2:11-13 NKJ)
Many people have objections over Paul’s statement. But let’s try to think as a first-century Christian and decipher what Paul truly meant.
“Let a woman learn in silence…” (v11)
In the Greek, the word “let” (manthaneto) has an imperative meaning in which Paul is saying women must be allowed to learn in the church. The command was revolutionary for its time. Women were not held in high esteem by either the Jewish or Greek cultures, and so they were largely uneducated.
It’s theorized that certain women, armed with a new faith and a brand-new church, might have exerted a little too much girl power to try to gain a place of authority and respect. But Paul says they should commit to learning first, not teaching. At least not to men.
He also says they must do it “in silence.” It was not meant as a command to keep their mouths shut, but to characterize the role of women as learners.
“…with all submission.” (v11)
Women were permitted to learn. They could even teach, but only to children or other women. They were not permitted to teach men. And they certainly were not to take the authority of the pastors or elders. Paul explains this more in verse twelve.
God’s Design for Women in the Church
“And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man…” (v12)
Paul recognizes the importance of teaching within the church, but in this case, he’s referring to teaching or pastoring an entire church. Paul goes on to say in 1 Timothy 3:2 and 5:17 that it’s the elders who rule over the church and should have spiritual authority, and they should all be men.
Paul recognizes men and women in a church have unique roles that were designed by God. He goes on to explain in verses thirteen and fourteen.
“For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived fell into transgression.” (v13, 14)
Paul begins by saying, “For Adam…” The word for means he is giving his explanation for what he said in the previous sentence (verse 12). And his explanation has everything to do with the creation story. God made Adam first, and then He made Eve from one of Adam’s ribs.
His point is that God designed a woman’s role based on the original creation order. He made her to be a helper (Genesis 2:18), not the authority. Paul is also noting that Eve wasn’t suited to assume any authority over Adam, but she did anyway. And we all know what happened next.
Not only did Eve believe Satan’s lies and eat the fruit, but Adam, her husband, did too. He followed Eve instead of obeying God. In the end, they both violated God’s design about the roles of men and women as they brought sin into the world.
Paul isn’t trying to say that women are more easily deceived than men. Rather, he is saying that women are not to be in places of authority where they would teach entire congregations, which include men. To do so would upset God’s order of things.
God created Adam first, so men are the rightful authority.
Qualifications to be a Pastor
In 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:6-9, Paul outlines the criteria for becoming a bishop.
“This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work.” 1 Timothy 3:1
“If a man is blameless, the husband of one wife…For a bishop must be blameless as a steward of God.” Titus 1:6-7
The Greek word for bishop is episkopos, and the Greek word for pastor is poimen. Both words are masculine, not feminine, nouns both meaning “to shepherd” or “to care for.”
In both Biblical passages, Paul details what the qualifications are to be a bishop—blameless, the husband of one wife, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach, not given to wine or greed, and who rules his house well, among other things—with the first point being that a bishop should be “a man.”
Paul nor anyone else in the Bible detail the qualifications for a woman to become a pastor.
It’s Not Men vs. Women
It’s important to understand that Paul’s words have nothing to do with sexism or male dominance or male chauvinism, though today’s culture would have you believe that. It has nothing to do with men versus women or men somehow being better than women. That would be a lie. In fact, Paul openly welcomed women’s participation in the church and the community.
We can’t disagree that women play a vital role in the church. It’s obvious women are crucial to keeping the ship upright and sailing smoothly. Yet, the Bible makes it clear they are not to be elders (spiritual overseers) or leaders of the church because of God’s design of His creation and His direction of how the church functions. Paul is trying to clarify this point.
This fact doesn’t leave women out in the cold. Though women cannot be bishops or pastors or elders, God has many unique roles for them to play.
Women might teach children or other women in the church. They might manage the office. They might head certain departments, lead mission groups, or organize events. The list goes on and on (and on). It’s quite true that God has many places of leadership within the church for women.
Women in the Bible
Some people might argue that God put several Biblical women in places of spiritual authority over men, and so women today should be allowed to do the same.
One of these women is Miriam. She was Moses’ and Aaron’s sister. The Bible says she was a prophetess (Exodus 15:20), but her brothers were the ones who were in charge. At no time was she in a formal position of leading the Israelites, though many people believe she was a leading figure among the women.
Another woman is Deborah in Judges 4. Deborah was a prophetess of great wisdom, and so she performed the tasks of a judge. She showed great courage and leadership after Barak pleaded that she go with him into battle. Deborah was a strong woman, but she was not a bishop or pastor.
A third woman is Phoebe. Paul describes her as a “servant of the church.” He also adds, “For indeed she has been a helper of many and of myself also.” Because of this description, Phoebe is often called a deaconess, which in Greek means servant. She was never a pastor or bishop, though.
In Acts 18, we find Priscilla. She and her husband, Aquila, ministered to a man named Apollos after he tried to teach a group of people in Ephesus about the Lord. Priscilla and Aquila took Apollos aside and told him about Jesus. Apollos then went on to Achaia, teaching the truth about Christ. Priscilla, together with her husband, taught Apollos. She did not do this alone, nor did she do it publicly. So, she can’t be called a pastor either.
Finally, some people refer to Lydia in Acts 16. She was the first one in Philippi who converted to Christianity. Acts 16:15 says Paul baptized her and her household, not that she was the leader of a house church. It also says nothing about her teaching men publicly.
God’s Word Never Changes
Some people still might disagree with Paul. Some might still think it’s perfectly fine that women become pastors or priests or elders. It’s human nature that we have different views and opinions. But we must be unified in one fact or else we fail as a church.
We must all recognize the Bible is God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16), perfect (Psalm 119:96), pure (Psalm 12:6), and infallible (Proverbs 30:5). We should never try to alter it. And, we should never pick apart God’s Word choosing to believe some of it while ignoring other parts of it. Either we believe all of it is true, or we believe none of it. To do otherwise would deny God of His sovereignty and character.
As a messenger of the Lord, Paul felt compelled to instruct the truth of God’s word and set the record straight with Timothy regarding the role of women in the church. He is also setting it straight with us today.
Women are not less capable or intelligent or in any way inferior to men. They are not less important in the church. In fact, God has given them (and me) an important ministry that plays a crucial role in the health and function of the church. It’s a role that lines up with God’s plan and enables us all to better reach others with the gospel message of Jesus as we grow in our faith.
The roles of men and women complement each other in the church. It is God’s design. As a church, we must all acknowledge it.
If you have come to a different conclusion than what the Bible says after careful prayer and searching, then you have that right. But always remember, God’s truth never changes. Trusting and obeying that truth benefits us all.
Paul was often misunderstood about his views of women. In Paul, Women, and Church, Dr. Eddie Hyatt explains how Paul commonly treated women with respect and valued them as friends and coworkers in the Christian faith. Dr. Hyatt also takes a theoretical approach to Paul’s words in the New Testament that show Paul did not try to restrict a woman’s role in the church.
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