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Female Pastors? Examining What the Bible Says about Women in Ministry

Daniel J. Pentimone, M.Div.

For two thousand years, Bible-believing Christians have maintained that women have a significant role in God’s kingdom. They share the gospel of Jesus evangelistically. They have unique opportunities to raise families, training children and speaking God’s truth into the lives of other women. They often encourage and edify other members of their spiritual family - including their brothers in Christ. They were even involved in laying the foundation of the first-century church through the gift of prophecy.

Just as men and women have unique roles and functions in the biological and social realms, so they have unique roles and functions in the church. God has divinely directed that the office of ‘pastor’ is one role that is reserved for men. Pastors are also teachers, and the Bible is clear that women are not to preach (i.e., to instruct God’s people in the gathering of the local church).

A Clear Principle for Understanding the Bible

One of the most simple and basic principles for understanding the Bible is this: interpret what is unclear in light of what is clear. If the Bible gives clear direction on a topic, don’t second-guess that teaching because of a text that is unclear or highly debated.

The Bible Speaks Clearly

The Bible speaks clearly to the issue of female pastors and preachers:

  • “As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.” (1 Corinthians 14:33b-35)

  • “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.” (1 Timothy 2:11-12)

  • “This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife” (Titus 1:5-6a)

What about These Women?

Miriam / Deborah / Huldah
  • These women from the Old Testament are described as ‘prophetesses’ (Miriam - Exodus 15:20; Deborah - Judges 4:4; Huldah - 2 Kings 22:14)

  • Each of these women had a unique role in ancient Israel, but none of them fulfilled the role of a pastor.

  • While prophets deliver a revelation from God, there is no evidence that these women were involved in publicly proclaiming the already-revealed word of God to men.

  • Because there was no New Testament-style church in ancient Israel, no parallel can be drawn between these women and modern preaching or pastoring.

  • Lydia believed the gospel and hosted the apostles (Acts 16:14, 40)

  • Lydia is an example of a woman who responds to God’s truth and blesses the apostles. There is no evidence that Lydia had any leadership role in the church or was involved in preaching.

  • Phoebe is described as a ‘servant of the church at Cenchreae’ (Romans 16:1) and a ‘patron of many’ (Romans 16:2).

  • The word for servant (Greek: diakonos) is a general word that can refer to all believers (John 12:26). It is sometimes used in the more specialized sense, meaning a ‘deacon’ (1 Timothy 3:8). While the term can be applied to pastors, it certainly doesn’t demand that meaning.

  • No evidence suggests that Phoebe was preaching or holding the role of a pastor.

Philip’s Daughters
  • The Bible says that Philip the Evangelist had four unmarried daughters who prophesied (Acts 21:8-9)

  • While Christians disagree on what is meant by prophecy, it is clear from Ephesians 4:11 that prophets are not the same as pastors.

  • New Testament prophets had a unique role in laying a foundation for the church (Ephesians 2:20). Since this foundation has now been laid, many believe that prophesy is no longer a gift for the present.

  • What is clear is that this passage does not support female pastors, and it is highly debatable whether it provides any support for female preaching. Interpret unclear passages in light of clear passages.

Aquilla and Priscilla (aka Prisca)
  • Several passages in the Bible mention this couple, who were diligent to serve God together. When they met Apollos, an eager but immature believer, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately (Acts 18:26). They are also described as ‘fellow workers in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 16:3)

  • There is no evidence that Priscilla was a pastor or involved in preaching.

  • This couple took Apollos aside and explained biblical truth to him. This is a Christian couple taking an immature believer aside (probably in their home) and having spiritual conversations to grow him in maturity. This is significantly different from a woman teaching a man through preaching or pastoring.

  • By labeling this couple as ‘fellow workers’ (Greek: sunergoi), Paul uses a word that applies to all Christians. He even uses this word to refer to the entire church in Corinth (2 Corinthians 1:24). Hence, this has no connotation of preaching or pastoring.

A Few Other Arguments

Doesn’t the Great Commission imply that women should teach and baptize?
  • In the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), Jesus says that the church should (1) go, (2) make disciples, (3) baptize, and (4) teach. If women can do the first two, why can’t they do the last two?

  • The Great Commission was not given to every single individual Christian - it was given to the apostles, who represent the church that Jesus founded (this is especially evident in the book of Matthew). The universal church is commissioned to do this. This is not a command to every single believer - otherwise, is every single believer called to move to a foreign country?

  • Since this is a commission given to the church, Christians can’t argue that they are individually called to do all these things. Instead, the church should ensure that these things are happening. Each individual Christian has a role to play in this commission - but these roles look different from person to person.

Doesn’t Pentecost, and Joel’s prophesy, show that female preaching is a sign of the church age?
  • At Pentecost, women were involved in proclaiming the gospel to a multitude of Jewish people. When Peter observed this (Acts 2:16-17), he noted that it was a fulfillment of Joel’s prophesy (Joel 2:28). Joel said that both sons and daughters would prophesy at this time.

  • We maintain a distinction between public instruction of God’s people within the church and proclaiming the gospel evangelistically to unbelievers.

  • There is no evidence here of female pastors.

  • Once again, the Bible is clear that prophesy is different from pastoring (Ephesians 4:11). While prophecy certainly marked the beginning of the church, Joel is silent on whether prophecy will continue to mark the entirety of the church age.

Didn’t women proclaim the resurrection of Jesus to the apostles?
  • The evangelists are clear that women were the first to tell the apostles of the risen Christ (Matthew 28:1-10, Luke 24:1-2, John 20:11-18).

  • Mentioning the fact of the resurrection (which is, in some ways, very similar to evangelism) is different from publicly instructing men through proclamation. Nor did this occur within the context of a church gathering.

  • This is not the same as a woman being a pastor.

Female Pastors = Rejection of God’s Authority

Female pastors = Rejection of God’s Created Order
  • “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.” (1 Timothy 2:12-14)

Female pastors = Rejection of Scripture
  • The Bible is clear on this topic - to do otherwise is to disobey the Bible’s teaching and reject the authority of God’s Word.

Female pastors = Rejection of historic Christian tradition
  • As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached?” (1 Corinthians 14:33a-36) Notice Paul’s ironic sarcasm for those who claim to follow a different approach from what he is teaching!

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