Early last week the “Ask Pastor John” podcast released an episode titled, “Is There a Place for Female Professors at Seminary?” There has been quite a few response to this particular episode of the podcast. In light of this, and some recent discussions that the elders of my church are working through, I wanted to write about the role of women in the church. Specifically, can or should women be pastors?
Biblical Requirements of Deacons, Elders, and Pastors
As the church grew after pentecost, there arose a need for more structure. We see in Acts 6:1-7 that the apostles needed help carrying out the practical needs such as distributing food to widows. As the gospel message spread there was an even greater need for structure, leading servants to take on a more specific role. This specified servant role became what we call deacons (see the qualifications of deacons in 1 Tim. 3:8-13).
διάκονος (diakonos). n. masc. and fem. servant, deacon, deaconess. A leader in the church who is committed to serve God through meeting the needs of the Church, characterized by a disposition of humility and self-sacrifice.
So can women be deacons? Well, in short, in my opinion yes. Deacons simply means a servant. The word (διάκονος) is in the New Testament 29 times. Most of these instances refer to the general call of all believers to be servants of Christ Jesus and like Christ Jesus. When we define deacons in such a way it is clear in my opinion that women can be deacons. The Lexham Theological Wordbook in its article on Church Leadership adds, “Both men and women are called to be servants (diakonos), as demonstrated by Phoebe, called a diakonos in Rom 16:1.”
Pastors & Elders
ἐπίσκοπος (episkopos). n. masc. overseer. A believer set apart from those in the church for the purpose of watching over, nurturing, and caring for the needs of those in the church.
We begin to get into debate as soon as we bring the roles of elders and pastors into the discussion. I am choosing not to address the greek words rendered “teacher” (διδάσκαλος, didaskalos), or “shepherd”(ποιμήν, poimēn) because when we use these terms in church we are usually referring to a pastor, and when we refer pastor and elders we are generally referring to the greek word above rendered overseer. So can women be overseers?
The role of pastor and/or elder is to have spiritual oversight and authority over congregation members. This leads most interpreters to believe that women should not hold the position of elder or pastor. It is also noted that the greek term for teacher is one meaning someone who teaches beliefs and doctrines and has authority over the one being taught. Again, we should take into consideration that when we use the term teacher in this way we are usually referring to pastors in general. (There is another greek word for elders that speaks to a council or a board of men who direct the church. Read the article here to gain more insight).
So, again, can women be pastors and/or elders?
1 Timothy 2:12
“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;” (1 Tim. 2:12-13)
Since elders and pastors rule over the church congregation and have spiritual oversight and authority, women cannot be pastors and/or elders.
Isn’t it Cultural?
The immediate question raised (especially in the wake of feminism) is, “Isn’t this command cultural?” This is a good question and one we must consider when interpreting any passage of scripture. But to answer the question, no. It is not cultural. We tend to think that because the bible was written in a different time period that most of the rules and regulations put in place were strictly cultural and cannot be applied to today. While this is true for some of the biblical “rules and regulations” it is not true for most.
We see from Genesis 1 up until the end of the bible that God created man to have authority over women. Man is the head, women is not. Not because women are inferior to men, but just because that is how God in his holy council decided to set things up. therefore since man is called to have authority over women, and since pastors, and elders hold authority over church members, women cannot be pastors or elders.
What Women Should Be
Women should be teachers in the sense of instructing others, specifically younger women in the church (Titus 2:3-6).
This role is vitally important in the church. Especially today. In fact, I attribute much of what is wrong with the culture to the lack of involvement on the part of moms in the lives of children. Women encourage, instruct, and teach.
So in conclusion, women cannot hold authority over men which is the job of pastors and elders.
As always this is a scratch on the surface of a much bigger topic: complementarianism.