Thursday, April 27, 2017

What Does the Bible Say About Women Pastors?

When I discuss women pastors in this blog, I am referring to women in pastor positions which involve teaching men in a group and/or exercising authority over the whole church, including men.  This would include all Senior Pastor positions.  I am not addressing women serving as a pastor over women’s ministries or children’s ministries, which I believe the Bible allows.

I am convinced that the Bible does not allow women to serve as pastors.  There are three main reasons.  Each reason provides strong evidence on its own, and when combined these three lines of evidence leave no reasonable doubt in my mind about the Bible’s position on this issue.

1.  The Consistent Biblical Example

In the Bible, all the examples of people who were called by God to teach gathered groups His Word were men.

In addition to offering sacrifices and serving in the temple, God assigned the priests to “teach the Isrealites all the decrees the LORD has given them through Moses” (Leviticus 10:11).  The Old Testament priests were all men.

The twelve apostles were called to teach God’s Word.  They were all men.

We don’t know with certainty who God inspired to write some of the books of the Bible.  But the Bible names many of its own authors.  Of the approximately 30 named authors of the Bible, every one of them is a man.

In fact, there is not a single, clear, explicit positive example anywhere in the Bible from Genesis to Revelation of a woman teaching the gathered people of God.

What about Deborah, you ask?  No, the Bible only says she judged by sitting under a tree and settling the disputes of people who came to her.  I’m not saying it’s impossible that she taught gathered groups God’s truth, but the Bible does not explicitly state this.

What about women prophets?  No.  There are women prophets in both the Old and New Testament.  However, the Bible consistently separates the role of prophecy and the role of teaching.  In the New Testament, if any prophecy was given in a church meeting, the prophecy was to be evaluated by others (1 Corinthians 14:29).  During this evaluation, the women were to be silent (1 Corinthians 14:34).

What about Priscilla?  No.  Along with her husband, she privately taught Apollos, which is different from teaching the congregation as a pastor.

There really is not a single example in the Bible of a woman serving in a role that is equivalent to the job of a Senior Pastor.  Was this merely an accommodation to cultural norms?  No. Jesus Himself appointed the twelve apostles, and Jesus had the authority and courage to go against cultural norms, and He often did! Many women were among Jesus’ followers, and they serve as very positive examples and beautiful, powerful witnesses.  However, for the role of teaching the whole church His truth, Jesus chose twelve men.

#2  The Church is Like the Family

The Bible clearly and repeatedly teaches that the husband is the head of his family.  The Bible teaches this by teaching that children should obey their parents, and by teaching that the husband is the head of his wife (Ephesians 5:23).  This truth is also seen in the verses which instruct wives to submit to their husband’s leadership (Ephesians 5:22, 24; Colossians 3:18; 1 Peter 3:1).

It makes sense that leadership in the family prepares one for leadership in the church, which is God’s family.  In fact, the Bible makes good leadership of one’s family a requirement for pastors:

1 Timothy 3:4-5 He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church?

The church IS family, so it is appropriate that since God appoints men to lead in their families, He also appoints men to lead in His churches, which are our spiritual families.

#3 The Explicit Teaching of the Bible

The wording and context of 1 Timothy 2:12 are so clear and simple that this verse should settle the dispute about women serving as pastors. The context of this verse is a letter with instructions about conduct in a local church (1 Timothy 3:14-15).  Just four verses after 1 Timothy 2:12, Paul begins to give instructions for choosing elders (whom the Bible also calls pastors or overseers in other places).  So this verse does not mean that women cannot teach men math or physics or history, and it doesn’t even mean that a woman can’t teach a man something from the Bible in a private setting.  It means that women can’t teach men in the gathered church setting as a Senior Pastor does.  I’m not saying this is the only application, but it is certainly the primary application.

Those who come from an egalitarian viewpoint have endlessly attacked this verse by combinations of distorting its obvious meaning and denying its Biblical authority.  Then, after endless attacks, they basically say, “This verse is so controversial, we shouldn’t base our conduct on it”. In this way they undermine not only this specific teaching, but the authority, clarity, and trustworthiness of God’s Word in general.

One of the most common attacks on this verse is to claim that it was only meant to apply to a specific situation in Ephesus, where Timothy was instructing the church. However, the reasons Paul gives for His instruction in 1 Timothy 2:12 are found in the next couple of verses and have nothing at all to do with a local situation in Ephesus:

1 Timothy 2: 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.

Since Paul bases His instructions on events related to the creation of Adam and Eve and their fall, his instructions must apply to all of us.

Finally, in addition to 1 Timothy 2:12, two other verses state that overseers/elders must be the husband of one wife (1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:6).  Obviously only a man can be a husband.

Conclusion & A Resource for In Depth Study

The direct teaching of Scripture, the Biblical role of men as the head of their families, and the consistent example of the whole Bible, all demonstrate that only men should serve as pastors.

If you desire to study this topic in greater depth I recommend purchasing Wayne Grudem's book Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth This topic is not going away soon, so this book could be a good investment.

Hebrews 13:16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others . . .


  1. Just curious, Mark. Do you also wash feet as a religious practice in obedience to Jesus' very clear and specific command? This is not offered as a belligerent question; I am quite interested to know.

    Gary D. Collier

  2. Why are you "quite interested" in whether I wash feet as a "religious practice"? Is your question somehow relevant to this post on what the Bible teaches about women pastors?

  3. Sorry this was not clear, Mark. The question arises from your comment: "The Bible clearly and repeatedly teaches that . . . [X] " Since you have obviously thought a lot about this topic, I am quite interested in how you apply the same rule in other areas. Since Jesus clearly commands his followers to wash one another's feet, I thought, perhaps, you might apply the rule the same way. "He's clear about it, so we should do it"--that kind of thing. How this relates to this post is, if the rule does not apply universally, then how do I as a Bible reader know that it applies here? It is naturally possible for my question (or any question) to be read as insincere. But I assure you it is not. I believe the question is a reasonable one. Anyway, I come in friendship asking a serious question. I hope that is clearer. :-)

  4. That’s a fair question.

    Although I have participated in literal foot washing, I do not believe Jesus meant to teach that all Christians must literally wash one another’s feet. I believe He was teaching something like we should all humbly serve one another and He used foot washing as an example. In fact, when I literally washed a brother’s feet (and he washed mine) the goal was the same: to provide a visual example of humble service.

    So how can we discern the difference between Jesus’ command to wash one another’s feet and the Bible’s teaching that a husband is the head of his family?

    The command to wash one another’s feet is give just once. There are no examples of it being literally obeyed, although Paul does mention foot washing as one of several ways to serve the saints. This does not prove that it is not meant to be taken literally, but it points in this direction. The Bible teaches us to serve humbly in many ways. Notice that I am NOT saying that we should not obey the command of Jesus to wash one another’s feet. I’m saying that we obey it, not by literal foot washing, but by humble service. Having said this, I respect my brothers and sisters in Christ who do believe that foot washing is meant to be a type of ordinance similar to the Lord’s Supper which is done on a regular basis. While I don’t interpret it that way, I feel it is a minor issue, and I don’t think that interpreting as literal creates any major problem as those I know who do so ALSO see it as teaching humble service.

    The Bible teaches that the husband is to be the head of the family and that the wife is to submit to him in Christ a number of different ways:

    ESV 1 Corinthians 11:3 But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.

    ESV Ephesians 5:23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.

    ESV Ephesians 5:22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.

    NIV Colossians 3:18 Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.

    NIV 1 Peter 3:1 Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives,
    5 For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves. They submitted themselves to their own husbands,
    6 like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.

    I don’t see all these verses having some other principle behind them or being merely examples of a deeper principle like foot washing seems to be. For the principle would itself be that the husband is the head of the wife and a wife should submit to her husband “as is fitting in the Lord”.

    We must be careful not to think that because there are some commands and teachings which are not meant to be understood primarily literally, but which stand for something else (foot washing = humble service) that we are free to discard all commands and teachings as “not literal”!

  5. Mark, I appreciate your reply and the spirit of it. And since this is your blog, I hope to show respect. So, I respectfully offer that as a reader of the Bible myself (along with you), I don't find your approach one that satisfies in the long run. There is nothing about John 13 that implies it was "intended to be taken" only metaphorically, especially in a day when foot-washing was so much a part of both social and religious life. The act was much more than cleaning off dirt and was an established form of both social and spiritual interaction. There is no indication that a Widow who "washed the feet of the saints" (1Tim 5:10) as a requirement was mere metaphor.

    I agree that in our day/time/place we need to find appropriate ways of applying the command of Jesus: "If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet." But the effort, here, is no different from any other text in the entire Bible on any topic: including slavery, marriage and all sexual relationships, origins of life on earth, government, soldiering, . . . and everything else.

    For myself have I found that it is easy for me to list out texts on any topic; it is more difficult to pursue the question of how/when/why to apply them. So on "the role of women and men," I find that it is just as important to be willing to ask: "how might these statements to an ancient culture with very different social practices and realities apply now?" Just like "What are ways we now wash feet?" and "What do we learn from Paul's acceptance of slavery in his world," the question for us becomes, "What are proper relationships between men and women, fathers and mothers, etc. in our settings?"

    I do not intend any kind of "final statement" here, I only wish to point in a direction which I think is productive. I do not intend any lack of respect to you or your obvious efforts to be true to the biblical text. And I offer these comments in friendship and amity in the Lord.

    I intend no "debate" here and I gladly yield the floor to you for a final statement. It has been a pleasure interacting with you.