Women Pastors? Elders? Apostles? Prophets?
Does the Bible Give Us Guidance on Ordaining Women?
Arguments For and Against
by Pastor Jim Feeney, Ph.D.
- Summary: The ordination of women as pastors, Bible teachers, elders, and other ministry offices has become commonplace in many denominational and independent churches. Pastor-teacher Jim Feeney offers biblical analysis of many of the currently popular arguments for women's ordination.
In large segments of the Christian Church today, there has developed the practice of ordaining women as ministers and placing them in positions to lead, teach, and preach to assembled congregations of both men and women. The ordination of women pastors has become increasingly commonplace. And the ordination of women as prophets and even as apostles, although not yet common, is far from being rare. In contexts ranging from local churches to large Christian conventions, ordained women ministers routinely teach and preach to mixed congregations of men and women.
The New Testament reveals a wide variety of spiritual gifts and ministries for Christian women. I have written on this in another Bible study entitled Women’s Ministry in the New Testament. I concluded that study by listing two primary ministry areas in the church that the Lord has specifically reserved for men: that is, (1) teaching men, and (2) leading or having authority over men. This is unequivocally stated by the apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 2:11-12 — "A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent."
The context of that divine instruction from the apostle Paul was ministry in and leadership of the Christian church, as the apostle in the very next chapter wrote: “...I am writing you these instructions so that ... you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God...” (1 Timothy 3:14-15).
I invite you to join me in an examination, in the light of Scripture, of many of the contemporary arguments being set forth for the practice of ordaining women ministers and having them lead, teach, and preach to men. My hope is that this bible study will help serious inquirers to draw their conclusions on this much-debated subject from the clarity of Scripture, rather the trends of modern society or from pragmatic analysis based on anecdotal results rather than on Scripture.
Argument #1: “We must recognize giftedness — those God-given spiritual abilities that God has given women.”
A Biblical Response: Of course we should! We ought to thank God for all cases of His Holy Spirit’s enabling of us. However, discerning that God has given spiritual gifts to a woman does not lead to the conclusion that we should therefore ordain her to an Ephesians 4:11 “fivefold” ministry or to eldership in the local church. God’s Word has declared, “Your sons and daughters will prophesy” (Acts 2:17). But the same Word of God, the Bible, declares, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man” (1 Timothy 2:12). Spiritual giftedness in a Christian woman does not confer upon her authority to lead and teach men.
- •• Acts 21:8-11 records an excellent illustration of this. The apostle Paul was staying at the home of Philip the evangelist (vs. 8), who “had four unmarried daughters who prophesied” (vs. 9). This spiritual giftedness did not make them Ephesians 4:11 prophets. In fact, God wanted to speak a major prophetic word to Paul in that very home. Bypassing the daughters who had the gift of prophecy, God brought up from Judea “a prophet named Agabus” (vs. 10), who proceeded to speak a major revelation concerning the apostle’s future.
•• Giftedness must not be confused with authorization. For example, I hold a commercial pilot’s license with multiengine and instrument ratings. However, when I board a commercial airliner, what I do not do is turn left into the cockpit and say, “Move over, my friend; I am capable of flying this plane.” No! I may have the “giftedness”, but I do not have the authorization.
- • My having the giftedness, the ability, to fly a plane does not give me the authority to take over the authorized pilot’s or copilot’s roles. Likewise, a Christian woman’s spiritual gifts and abilities are not authorization to teach and lead men contrary to 1 Timothy 2:11-12 and other verses that we will examine. In sum, being capable of doing something is not the same as being authorized to do it. God has given a wide variety of spiritual gifts to women of faith. But none of those spiritual gifts grants permission to violate the clear statements of Scripture that the roles of leading men and teaching men are reserved biblically for men.
- •• I have extensively read or listened to bible studies and sermons by men favoring the ordination of women. A common denominator in these messages has been a lengthy listing of the many gifted, spiritual women of the New Testament. To that I would say a hearty ‘amen.’ There is no question that the New Testament names a considerable number of spiritual women. However, many of those same writers and preachers then, without Scriptural support, leap forward to the antibiblical conclusion that gifted women must then necessarily be qualified to be ordained ministers. However, there are no New Testament verses which support that conclusion, but many which place men only in those ordained ministry roles of New Testament leadership, preaching, and teaching to the entire congregation.
Argument #2: “Sister ___ is not usurping authority over men by preaching to the assembled church, because the church’s pastor has delegated authority to her to do this.”
A Biblical Response: That is exactly what the apostle Paul told Pastor Timothy NOT to do! The precise biblical prohibition reads: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man.” (1 Timothy 2:12) I pastored two local churches, one in New York and one in Oregon, for 22 years. In my pastoral role, I feared God too much to say, “Well, Lord, I’m going to delegate authority to this woman to preach on Sunday, even though you had the apostle Paul write that this is something women are not permitted to do.” Any pastor who has used that rationale, I would suggest, is standing on thin ice biblically. How can pastors or elders authorize women to do what the Bible tells women not to do?
- •• It is generally understood that the seven letters in Revelation 2-3 were written to the individual “angelos”, the senior minister of each of those seven churches. Of great relevance to this pastoral-delegation argument is the letter in Revelation 2:20, KJV to the leader of the church in Thyatira — “I have a few things against thee [singular, the pastor], because thou [the pastor] sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication...”
- • Jesus rebuked the pastor of the church in Thyatira because that pastor “...[permitted] that woman Jezebel ... to teach” the church and through her teaching to lead them into sin. Pastors and elders are to safeguard the church. The Thyatiran pastor failed to do so, and was rebuked, because against the command of Scripture he had permitted this woman Jezebel to have a teaching influence upon the congregation. Pastors, please! ... obey the word of God and do not facilitate the antibiblical practice of women teaching men and leading men in the churches.
Argument #3: “We believe that particular Scripture [in First Timothy or in First Corinthians (see below)] is just 'situational' or simply a local cultural instruction.”
A Biblical Response: If the direct context and surrounding verses make it plain that a verse is related to a unique situation, then that is an understandable argument. A good illustration of this would be the prophet Nathan’s exposure of King David’s adultery (“Thou art the man!” — 2 Samuel 12:1-7). That is clearly a unique situation; it is certainly not an indictment of every man.
However, the Bible as a whole was given as timeless truths and universal principles. In the absence of clear proof, it is a dangerous precedent to isolate verses and declare them “situational” or “cultural” and then to proceed in a direction contrary to the clear statements of those verses. There are two main Scripture portions (1 Corinthians 14:33b-37 and 1 Timothy 2:11-14) that, without situational or cultural reinterpretations, clearly prohibit women from leading or teaching men in the churches.
- •• 1 Corinthians 14:33b-37 As in all the congregations of the saints,  women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says.  If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.  Did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached?  If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command.
- • The command that women not speak in the churches is not situational or cultural. It was the inspired apostle’s teaching to apply to all cultures — “As in all the congregations of the saints ... women ... are not allowed to speak.” Many modern Western minds, having been beaten down for several decades by the secular Feminist Movement, react in horror at a statement like this. But it is urgently important that we hold to the Bible and not let our modern culture shape the Church and its practices. God wants His Church, by contrast, to influence the culture in the right ways of God.
• “As in all the congregations ... women should remain silent in the churches ... [KJV] as also saith the Law.” The apostle Paul wrote these verses to Corinthian Greeks and told them that “the Law” said the same thing. The Jewish Law had the same precepts that Paul wrote to the entirely different Corinthian Greek culture 1,500 years later. These were different cultures a millennium and a half apart. Yet Paul gave the Corinthians a cross-cultural, cross-millennial message concerning male leadership and speaking ministries in the Church. Significantly, under the Law the Jewish priests were all men. The apostle Paul’s carefulness in prohibiting the women from usurping men’s leadership roles in the church was entirely consistent with Mosaic Judaism’s teaching on this same subject (“as also saith the Law”).
• Some who have pushed for women’s leadership and pulpit roles in today’s Church have proclaimed that Paul was a male chauvinist. That is, pure and simple, an assault on the reliability and fully inspired nature of the Bible and deserves no further comment among Christians with a high view of Scripture.
• Others in trying to find a loophole in these verses in order to “liberate” women have suggested that, while not a male chauvinist, Paul must have been influenced by the biases of his culture or his personal maleness. Again, the simple, in-context reply to that false assumption is the text itself (vs. 37) — “What I am writing to you is the Lord’s command.” It was not Paul’s bias; it was the Lord’s command.
- •• 1 Timothy 2:11-14 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission.  I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.  For Adam was formed first, then Eve.  And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.
- • The statements here are so clear that it is understandable how those influenced by a feminist philosophy would wish to reinterpret them to be understood as merely situational and/or cultural. But they cannot be relegated to isolated, specific “situations” that are not revealed in the text. What is revealed in the text is that Paul intended these prohibitions for the Lord’s Church and was not just addressing local customs, practices, or marriage relationships (as some maintain). To the contrary, the apostle states, “I am writing you these instructions so that ... you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:14-15). These are instructions for the Lord’s Church, not to correct local or cultural problems. As 1 Corinthians 14:37 says of Paul’s similar teachings there, “What I am writing to you is the Lord’s command.” It is not situational, cultural, chauvinistic, or biased. It is for the entire Church Age the Word of God, “the Lord’s command”.
• 1 Timothy 3:15 asserts that these teachings reserve to men the roles of church leadership and pulpit ministry “in God’s household, which is the church”. Likewise, 1 Corinthians 14:34 teaches that “women should remain silent in the churches”. I can find nothing in these verses that prohibits capable women from leadership in the secular realm — for example, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, in my opinion a very capable leader of her country. No, these are commands for the Church.
• The apostle Paul wrote, “I do not permit a woman to ... have authority over a man...  For Adam was formed first, then Eve.” Genesis chapter two enables us to understand this reasoning. We see there that the man Adam was created by God and exercised dominion over the creation before Eve was even created. Based on that original design of God, Paul delivered the inspired Scriptural principle that women are not to have authority over men in the Lord’s work, because in the Garden of Eden God established the man in authority over the creation, then created the woman to be a “help meet” to the man (see Genesis 2:18, KJV, with 1 Corinthians 11:9).
- • Also note that, immediately after Paul forbade women having authority over men in the church (1 Timothy 2:12), the apostle then listed the qualifications of a church leader/overseer in 1 Timothy 3:1-7. These prerequisites for leadership roles included (vs. 2) that the leader be “the husband of but one wife”. Church leaders are to be male, not female.
- • The apostle also wrote, “I do not permit a woman to teach ... a man ... For ... Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived...” Referring again to Genesis (chapter 3:1-6, 13), Paul forbade women to teach men. Again, Paul’s reasoning was not simply his own, but it was the inspired Word of God. And the reason God in His Word told the women of the church not to teach men was their susceptibility to deception, as revealed especially in Genesis 3:13, where, after she had eaten the forbidden fruit, Eve admitted, “the serpent deceived me”. It cannot be reinterpreted out of the text that the reason Paul listed for women not teaching men was the deceptibility factor seen first in Eve and still a relevant factor thousands of years later at the time God inspired Paul to write this.
- • Someone might ask, “What about women teaching women on doctrinal issues?” I do not know that the Bible makes a clear statement on that. On the one hand, it is clear that older women are to teach younger women on womanly subjects (Titus 2:4-5 — “Then [the older women, vs. 3] can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands...”). But in this same chapter (vs. 1), Paul writes to Titus, the recognized spiritual leader, “You must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine.” It was the male leader who was commanded to teach and establish sound doctrine. This fact — coupled with the Genesis 3:13 and 1 Timothy 2:14 references to the woman’s susceptibility to deception — leads me to recommend that the teaching of main doctrinal subjects in the churches be done by the male pastors, elders, and other male ministers.
- • Let us for a moment hypothetically assume (as some assert) that Paul was writing to Timothy about some unnamed situational problem in the Ephesian church that Timothy led. Even if so, that would change nothing. Paul’s reply must still be seen as “scripture ... given by inspiration of God, and ... profitable for ... correction” of erroneous conduct “in God’s household, which is the church of the living God” (2 Timothy 3:16, KJV; 1 Timothy 3:15). There is no proof whatsoever in the First Timothy text that it was a situational issue. But even if it were, God spoke through Paul the heaven-inspired Scriptural principle that applied to that church and to all churches — that is, men are to lead and teach in the assembled congregation. Situational or otherwise, God established the principle of male leadership and male teaching roles in the assembled church.
Argument #4: “Well, we know that the Bible was written in a time of male-dominated cultures. So the spiritual language of the times was male-dominant.”
A Biblical Response: The premise itself is disputable. Some embracing a feminist position have objected to God being called “Our Father” and angels being identified by male names, attributing this simply to the biases of male-dominated cultures. But the historical record of ancient spirituality does not permit this argument. The ancient world, along with its male deities, had a superabundance of female deities. Goddesses seemed to be almost universal in ancient cultures. A short list of examples would include Asherah in Canaan, Ishtar in Babylon and Assyria, Aphrodite among the Greeks, the Egyptian goddess Isis, and the famous Roman goddess Venus. There is no support for modern feminist declarations of a domineering ancient male bias in spiritual things. To the contrary, history shows a spiritual pantheon of goddesses in the ancient nations and the cultures in and surrounding Israel.
But the more important rebuttal of this false argument is from the Bible itself. Again, we are assuming a high view of Scripture, agreeing that the Bible is the inspired Word of God in its entirety. Without this mutual agreement, we have no common ground upon which to discuss the ordination of women and their exercising leadership in the New Testament Church. The Bible is inerrant, it transcends cultures, and it is intended to shape cultures, not to be shaped by them. So from the standpoint of biblical inerrancy, I take note of the fact that in His Bible:
- •• God revealed Himself as “God the Father” (John 6:27, et al.), as “Our Father” (Matthew 6:9, et al.).
•• Jesus is repeatedly called “the Son of God” (Mark 1:1, et al.).
•• In the Creation, “Adam was formed first, then Eve” (1 Timothy 2:13). And the man Adam exercised dominion in the earth before the woman Eve was created (Genesis 2:19-22).
•• The priests, Israel’s spiritual leaders and teachers under God’s Old Covenant, were all males (Exodus 28:1, et al.).
•• Moses appointed seventy men as elders of Israel (Numbers 11:24).
••The apostles whom Jesus chose to lead His early Church under God’s New Covenant were all males (Matthew 10:2-4).
•• In sum, God the Father and His Son Jesus were revealed in male names. And God’s spiritual leadership on earth, both before and after the Cross, was comprised of males.
•• A concluding thought — God, who has given us His Bible, is not affected by cultures and biases!
Let me repeat the erroneous Argument #4 — “Well, we know that the Bible was written in a time of male-dominated cultures. So the spiritual language of the times was male-dominant.” A corollary to this incorrect line of reasoning often states something like this: "Women in ancient times were generally uneducated and were not prominent in their societies compared to men. This is no longer true in our modern times." The bible itself consistently disproves this false notion about the ancient cultures in which bible characters moved and lived. Contrary to the assertion that women were subjugated to male dominance in bible days, the Scriptures give numerous examples of notable, prominent, influential women in the nations and cultures of bible times. For example:
- •• The virtuous woman of Proverbs 31:10-31. In addition to managing her household admirably, she:
- • deals in real estate (16)
• has her own earnings (16)
• makes further investments with those earnings (16)
• is a successful businesswoman, involved in trade with other merchants (18, 24)
- •• Luke 8:3b These women were helping to support them out of their own means. Some of Jesus' followers in Israel were "women of means".
•• Acts 13:50 "...women of high standing" were mentioned when Paul preached in Antioch of Pisidia.
•• Paul's preaching in Thessalonica was favorably received by "not a few prominent women" (Acts 17:4).
•• In Berea, the new Christian converts included "a number of prominent Greek women" (Acts 17:12).
•• Over an entire millennium (from Proverbs to Acts), and in a variety of ancient nations including Israel, the bible gives illustrations of the widespread presence of entrepreneurial women, women of means, women of high standing, prominent women. And yet, in compliance with the clear teachings of the New Testament Scriptures, we see not one clear instance under the New Covenant of a woman in the God-ordained ministry role of an apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, or teacher (Ephesians 4:11), nor do we see a single instance in the New Testament of a woman elder in the churches.
Argument #5: “Modern Christian women need to be ‘liberated’ from past gender restrictions, since the New Testament says, ‘There is neither male nor female’ (Galatians 3:28). Therefore we can surely have women pastors and elders, and even women apostles and prophets. The former inequalities are gone, and now there is neither male nor female.”
A Biblical Response: We have a problem here. Either (1) we have a clear contradiction in the Bible, or (2) ordained women ministers and their supporters are misinterpreting this key verse in Galatians. Of course, the only biblical choice can be number two (that is, they are misinterpreting), because Jesus Himself unequivocally said, “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’?" (Matthew 19:4). So how do we resolve Galatians 3:28’s apparent conflict with Jesus’ words? Simply reading the full context of the Galatians verse clears things up immediately.
Galatians 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
- •• Are there Jew and Greeks? Of course. Were there at that time slaves and free? Certainly. Male and female? Jesus said that there were. The key to the entire verse is “...in Christ Jesus”. In our earthly relationships to each other, of course there are Jews and Greeks, slaves and free, male and female. But in our relationship directly to Jesus Christ, those distinctions are irrelevant. So the key to understanding this often-misinterpreted verse is to read the “in Christ” context.
- • “There is neither ... male nor female ... in Christ Jesus”.
• But in our relationships with one another — for example, in marriage — it is quite obvious, as Jesus said, that “God made them male and female ... a man ... [and] his wife” (Mark 10:6-7).
• “In Christ”, in our direct relationship one-on-one with Him, the gender distinctions are irrelevant.
• But on earth, in our relationships with each other, God has not blurred the gender distinctions. So an erroneous feminist view of Galatians 3:28 must not be permitted to do violence to the clear statement of the New Testament that “I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man” (1 Timothy 2:12) in the ongoing functioning of the churches.
Argument #6: “God is moving mightily in our time! These are special times. How can we hold back the anointed women preachers and teachers?”
A Biblical Response: The Book of Acts records highlights of the activities of the early Church in the first century. God was moving mightily then, too! And in those spectacular spiritual times recorded in the Book of Acts every single named fivefold preacher and teacher was a man. Every one (see also #10 below). Despite the fact that those were clearly “special times”, we saw no women pastors, no women elders or apostles or other leaders and pulpit ministers of the early Church.
Argument #7: “My wife is called ‘pastor’ because I’m the church’s pastor and she shares those pastoral burdens as my wife.”
A Biblical Response: I pastored local churches for 22 years and never called my wife “pastor”. Did she share with me behind the scenes all the joys and heartaches, the stresses and blessings, of my pastoral role? Absolutely. But did she share with me in the performance of those pastoral duties? Not at all. Being married to me, an ordained pastor, did not make her a pastor. Similarly, being married to me, a former pilot and Air Traffic Controller, did not make my wife those things. As one of my sons correctly pointed out, if a woman marries a helicopter pilot, that doesn’t make her a helicopter pilot. My God-given call to teach and lead men did not confer that call upon her, because that would violate the command that a woman is not to teach or have authority over men in the church (1 Timothy 2:12; 3:15). My pastoral ordination in 1980 did not extend pastoral ordination by association to my wife. Nor should it.
- •• The New Testament apostles’ wives were never called apostles. There is no New Testament instance of an elder’s wife becoming or being called an elder herself. In fact, one of the qualifications of being an elder is being “the husband of but one wife" (1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:6).
•• The process leading to the ordination of a male pastor involves much training, preparation, and practical experience. This process includes such things as:
- • helping him discern that he is indeed called by God
• getting him involved in extensive biblical and practical training
• seeking the wisdom, counsel, and approval of his church elders
• often serving a substantial internship
• But then often without his wife having done most or all of these things, some churches will just automatically call them “Pastor Joseph and Pastor Mary”. There is no biblical support for this.
Argument #8: “Sister ___’s prophetic ministry is so powerful, how could we deny that gift of God in her life by failing to recognize her as a prophet?”
A Biblical Response: As mentioned earlier, having a spiritual gift in one’s life — even at a very high level of Holy Spirit anointing — is not the equivalent of holding the related Ephesians 4:11 fivefold ministry office. The illustration we gave was that of the evangelist Philip’s “four unmarried daughters who prophesied” (Acts 21:9). Despite that spiritual gift of prophecy in those young women of faith, when God wanted to deliver a major prophetic word to the apostle Paul, He led to that very home “a prophet named Agabus” (vss. 10-11), who delivered a vital prophetic word to Paul. The young ladies’ gift of prophecy did not make them prophets like Agabus.
- •• Revelation 2:20, KJV Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols.
- • The New Covenant was established by the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. And the New Testament record subsequent to the Cross names only one “prophetess” — Jezebel of Thyatira. And she was clearly a self-appointed, false prophetess — “which calleth herself a prophetess”. Furthermore, Jesus was rebuking the church’s senior minister for permitting this false prophetess to have a teaching ministry to the church — “...thou sufferest that woman Jezebel ... to teach and to seduce my servants”. To any church leaders reading this, I urge you to consider the consequences of permitting women in your churches, with your permission, to violate 1 Timothy 2:11-12 by allowing them to teach men and/or to have authority over the men of the church.
• In sum, the biblical record of the New Covenant under which we live shows no record of a God-called, New Testament/New Covenant, female prophet/prophetess. That is entirely consistent with Paul’s apostolic command that women not teach or have authority over men.
Argument #9: “But sister ___ is not exercising ‘authority’ in violation of 1 Timothy 2:11-12. She is simply ministering her ‘giftedness’ (as an apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, teacher, or elder).”
A Biblical Response: I have heard this erroneous argument more than one might imagine. The response to that is simple and biblical. We cannot isolate authority from these God-ordained ministries. For example:
- •• Matthew 7:29 [Jesus] taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law. One mark of a God-called and anointed teacher is teaching with authority.
- •• 2 Corinthians 13:10 This is why I write these things when I am absent, that when I come I may not have to be harsh in my use of authority — the authority the Lord gave me for building you up, not for tearing you down. Paul’s apostleship to them included God-given authority.
- •• Titus 2:15 These, then, are the things you should teach. Encourage and rebuke with all authority. The Bible does not state precisely which of the fivefold offices Titus held. But whichever one(s) it was, he was to exercise it “with all authority”. It is illogical and without Scriptural support to suggest that one can receive a fivefold ministry office from the Lord without the God-given authority to fulfill it.
- •• Hebrews 13:17 Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. These unnamed spiritual leaders had authority, to which the saints were to submit and obey.
- •• 1 Timothy 5:17, KJV Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine. Here we see elders ruling, a clear statement that church elders have authority from God.
- •• In sum, we see again and again in the Bible that when God grants a fivefold ministry or eldering gift, He grants the authority to fulfill it. So the argument that ordained women ministers with great giftedness are exercising that gift without authority is not biblical. To be a pastor of a church and yet not have authority in that church is nonsensical. To be an apostle and not have what Paul called “the authority the Lord gave me” is antibiblical. To be a teacher without authority is to be like the scribes of the Law, not a Spirit-anointed teacher. This argument of giftedness-but-not-authority is a nonbiblical attempt to circumvent the clear teaching of 1 Timothy 2:11-12 that a woman in the church is not to have authority over men. Without God-given authority, ministries such as pastoring and teaching would be flat, lifeless, and ineffective.
Argument #10: “But just look at the New Testament. It is absolutely filled with godly, gifted women. How can we hold back these women from fulfilling their calling?”
A Biblical Response: No one that I know, including me, has any desire whatsoever to prevent women from fulfilling all that God has called them to accomplish. But the key is this — let’s encourage women of faith to fulfill all those things to which God has called them. And the main emphasis of this study of Scripture is that God has called only men to the ministries of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers, and elders. That is, the ministries of leadership, authority, and preaching and teaching ministries to the assembled church of men and women.
- •• 1 Timothy 2:11-12, as we have seen, expressly prohibits women from teaching men and having authority over men.
•• The God-called, clearly-identified fivefold ministers under the New Covenant are all men. Some dispute that fact and quote Romans 16:7, KJV, which says, “Salute Andronicus and Junia [NIV: Junias], my kinsmen, and my fellowprisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.” They assert that Junia/Junias was a woman apostle. However, that is an assumption lacking indisputable evidence, as follows:
- • Scholars debate, without resolution, whether the name “Junia” or its other rendering “Junias” can clearly be shown to be a woman or a man. One cannot assume that a name ending with the letter “a” automatically refers to a woman. For example, Aquila and his wife Priscilla are mentioned in Acts 18:2. Although ending in an “a”, the name Aquila with absolute certainty refers to a man, the husband of Priscilla.
• Scholars debate, also without resolution, whether the text is properly understood to mean “who are of note among the apostles” or “who are well known to the apostles”. The former translation could suggest that the two named persons were apostles. The latter translation would mean that they were well known to, but not counted among, the apostles. This and the previous issue of the gender of the name cannot with any degree of certainty be resolved.
• Fortunately, the resolution of the issue is found elsewhere, in the earlier-mentioned 1 Timothy 2:12. The very same apostle Paul who wrote of Junia(s) in Romans 16:7 said to Timothy: Do not allow women to teach or have authority over men. Therefore, it is Paul’s teaching in the Bible that resolves the issue of whether Junia/as was a female apostle. Paul gives instructions that would make that impossible.
• And note further Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 9:5 — “Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles?” The “other apostles” that Paul referred to were obviously all men, each of whom had “a believing wife”. That would make it impossible for Junia/Junias to be a female apostle.
Argument #11: “Priscilla, the wife of Aquila, seems to have been teaching the Bible to a man.”
A Biblical Response: The text alluded to in this argument is Acts 18:26 "[Apollos] began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately." Several obvious thoughts come to mind that do not permit the erroneous conclusion that Priscilla was a teacher of men.
- •• This was not a formal teaching situation. It was a situation where the preacher Apollos had been invited to Aquila’s and Priscilla’s home (vs. 26, NIV).
•• They “explained to him the way of God more perfectly.” The scenario seems to have been an informal discussion with Apollos in his hosts’ home.
•• There is no indication that Priscilla took the lead in any of this. In fact, her name occurs seven times in the NIV New Testament, never by herself, but in all seven cases in association with her husband.
Argument #12: “If we women don’t have some leadership roles in the church, how will our voices be heard when we have important input?”
A Biblical Response: I don’t personally know of any church leaders consistently closing their ears to women’s input. And this input can be had without ordaining the women and/or putting them into leadership and pulpit roles to men. I was a local-church pastor for 22 years and a Bible college teacher for twelve years. Throughout that time my wife never functioned as an ordained minister, nor did she ever lead or teach men. However, the input and wisdom that she shared with me profoundly influenced the churches in which I have ministered. For example:
- •• On a number of occasions my wife offered suggestions to me which I then brought to my fellow elders. Some of those suggestions were well received by the church’s governing elders and were incorporated appropriately into the church’s life and ministry.
•• Time and again, having heard God's voice in her own devotional times, my wife has shared biblical insights with me that I have then incorporated into sermons I have preached.
•• This very website that you are reading today came into being as a result of a revelation of the Lord to my wife which she then shared with me.
•• The operative principle is found in 1 Corinthians 14:35 — "If they [the women] want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home." In the absence of a husband, single women or widows can fulfill this by asking questions or sharing an insight with an elder of the church.
Argument #13: “Being a wife and mother is a wonderful thing. But I have spiritual gifts and callings that need a larger expression beyond the home.”
A Biblical Response: Yes and no.
- •• Yes — The assembled church congregation provides an excellent opportunity for men and women alike to minister in the multitude of ways open to both sexes. For example, prayer, gifts of the Holy Spirit, serving, praise and worship ministries, and a multitude more. The two roles reserved for men, as we have already discussed, are the church authority roles and the pulpit ministry to the assembled church.
•• No — Probably the most elaborate teaching in the Bible on the definition and meaning of a virtuous woman is found in Proverbs 31:10-31. A similar, shorter list of the traits of godly women is found in Titus 2:3-5. One of those positive womanly traits is “to be busy at home” (Titus 2:5), rendered in the King James Version as “keepers at home”. There is no doubt that the prevailing teaching of the Bible specifies the home as the woman’s prime place of fulfilling her God-given role on earth. Let me offer some biblical observations confirming that.
- • In the descriptions of the virtuous, God-fearing woman in Proverbs 31 and Titus 2, not one of the godly traits listed referred to prayer, Bible reading, “quiet time”, and the like. Should these be part of the virtuous woman’s life? Of course! But it cannot be ignored that in both those Scripture portions, the things for which the virtuous woman was praised were predominantly domestic and family-oriented.
• Note that in Proverbs 31 the virtuous woman is deeply involved with the domestic needs of “her family” (vs. 15), “her household” (vss. 21, 27). Meanwhile, “her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land” (vs. 23). The modern “Women’s Liberation” movement scoffs at this type of biblical thinking and has, as a result, inflicted great harm upon the American family in the past several decades. Sad to say, that same antibiblical feminist thinking has been steadily permeating the American Church, with predictably similar results as the biblically distinct roles of men and women, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, are blurred and in some cases eradicated.
Argument #14: “Women are intelligent, capable, and spiritually gifted. Why should they be excluded from being elders of a local church?”
A Biblical Response: Women do not qualify Scripturally as elders in the local church for a variety of biblical reasons:
- •• Eldership by its very nature is a ministry of authority in the church — for example (1 Timothy 5:17, KJV), “the elders that rule well”. A woman being an elder would violate the prohibition of women having authority over men in the church (1 Timothy 2:12).
- • One of God’s indictments of backslidden Jerusalem and Judah was (Isaiah 3:8, 12) “Jerusalem staggers, Judah is falling ... Youths oppress my people, women rule over them. O my people, your guides lead you astray; they turn you from the path.” God has from earliest times placed men in positions of spiritual leadership. For example (Psalm 77:20), “You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.” God did not lead His people by the hand of Moses, Aaron, and their sister Miriam. Moses subsequently appointed seventy men as anointed elders (Numbers 11:24-25). God through Moses also appointed the sons of Aaron to serve as the priests leading Israel’s service at the Tabernacle and the later Temple (Exodus 28:1).
- •• New Testament church elders are biblically defined as being males — “the husband of but one wife” (1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:6).
•• On a very practical level, difficulties in the area of biblical purity can arise in the process of appointing women as elders in the church. I asked a pastor friend of mine if he intended to ordain women as elders in his church. He said “no” for the following reason. To raise up a good elder, he said, the pastor must spend much time, sometimes one on one, getting to know that person very well, finding out if their life is in biblical order. He will counsel the elder candidate. The pastor and the elder candidate may travel together on sick calls, hospital visits, and other similar practical training activities. In sum, this pastor said, it is inappropriate for a pastor to spend that kind of personal time alone with a woman other than his own wife.
•• Permit me at this point to make a related observation concerning traveling ministry. Sometimes church leaders, elders, etc., go out on ministry travel in small groups. A simple, biblical observation is that it is not good to have mixed groups of men and women, not married to each other, traveling together. A seldom-mentioned Scripture that directly addresses this subject is 1 Corinthians 9:5 — “Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles?” This verse reveals to us that the early Church’s married apostles customarily had their wives travel with them. They understood the importance of having safeguards for biblical holiness and purity.
Argument #15: “Sister ___ is such an anointed preacher [and/or] Bible teacher. How can we conscientiously prevent her from blessing both men and women with her anointed ministry?”
A Biblical Response:
- •• The plain teaching of First Timothy 2:12 straightforwardly says, “I do not permit a woman to teach ... a man”.
•• The history of the early Church in the Book of Acts was certainly a time of anointed ministry. Yet we see not one single instance in that God-inspired historical record of a woman preaching or teaching in the capacity of an apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, teacher, or elder. And that inspired historical record covered multiple cultures and countries.
•• Congregational preaching, a role entrusted by God to men (1 Timothy 2:12), has historically seen some women adopt masculine attributes and mannerisms in the pulpit. A gentle and gracious femininity rarely succeeds in such situations. So historically, some women preachers have spoken and acted with manly characteristics in the pulpit. This leads to a visible personality that is quite the opposite of the praiseworthy “gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight” (1 Peter 3:4). It is very difficult for a woman to “preach the word ... [and to] reprove, rebuke, exhort...” (2 Timothy 4:2, KJV) and still retain her gentle and quiet spirit.
•• One part of the duties of a preacher/teacher of the Word is to “speak and exhort and rebuke with all authority” (Titus 2:15, KJV). It is impossible for a woman preacher in the church to do this without directly violating 1 Timothy 2:12 — “I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man.”
Argument #16: “Those who do not believe in women's ordination tend to focus their arguments on 1 Timothy 2:11-12 and 1 Corinthians 14:33-35.”
A Biblical Response: How is this a problem? The Bible declares that “all Scripture is God-breathed [KJV: is given by inspiration of God] and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). These are inspired Scriptures and are perfectly “useful for ... correcting” erroneous teachings concerning leadership and pulpit roles for women in the Church. One never needs to apologize for using Scripture to ensure accurate teaching.
Argument #17: — “Sister ______ is a God-recognized pastor (or elder, or prophet, etc.), because the eldership of our church formally laid hands on her to set her in that ministry office.”
A Biblical Response: Local churches and their elders sometimes act contrary to Scripture. That would be the case here. Elders are not infallible. Laying on of hands is indeed a biblical method of setting someone into a biblical ministry role. It happened often in the Bible. But there is not one instance recorded in the Scriptures where hands were laid on a woman for this purpose, while there are a number of instances where men were set into ministry by the laying on of hands. For example:
- • The Levites (Numbers 8:9-11)
• Joshua, to take the leadership of Israel (Numbers 27:16-18, 22-23)
• The seven deacons (Acts 6:5-6)
• Barnabas and Saul (Paul) as apostles (Acts 13:1-3; 14:4,14)
• Timothy’s ministry gift (1 Timothy 4:14)
•• Consistent with other Scriptures we have looked at affirming men’s leadership and preaching/teaching roles, the biblical examples of establishment in ministry by the laying on of hands involve men 100% of the time.
Argument #18: “Scriptures like 1 Timothy 2:11-12 and 1 Corinthians 14:33-35 (or Titus 1:6 or 1 Timothy 3:2) are controversial and therefore should not be dogmatically used to validate any one particular position.”
A Biblical Response: These verses are "controversial" only because they were defined so by a surprising, unintentional coalition of liberal Protestants in the 20th century and a substantial number of Pentecostals and charismatics in the same time frame. They deem these Scriptures controversial because they don’t fit the conclusions that they choose to draw — conclusions that cannot be comfortably supported in light of these and other verses without casting doubt on them by naming them “controversial”. In fact, there is nothing controversial about Bible verses which say:
- •• Do not have women teach or lead men in the churches (1 Timothy 2:12).
- •• Women are “not allowed to speak” in the churches (1 Corinthians 14:34). At the very least, this verse says women are not to be what we call “the speaker” in a church service.
- •• Elders, who are spiritual leaders in the local churches, are to be the “husband of but one wife” — that is, elders are men (1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:6).
- •• The Gospels show that Jesus’ chosen apostles were all men.
These verses are unclear or "controversial" only if one is uncomfortable with the clear message that they communicate about male headship in the Lord’s Church.
Satan offered the forbidden fruit to the first woman, Eve, along with the promise "...you will be like God, knowing good and evil" (Genesis 3:5). Satan is tempting today’s Christian women with a similar siren song: "You will minister like men, teaching and leading men".
The larger context of Eve’s temptation includes Satan’s subtle question to her, “Did God really say...?” (Genesis 3:1). From the earliest times Satan’s tactic has been to discredit and cast doubt on the Word of God.
I believe that Satan is continuing that tactic today, by saying in essence to Christian women, “Did God really mean in First Timothy that women are not to teach or have authority over men?” Satan’s assault on God’s Word continues. And unfortunately many contemporary Christian women, supported by church leaders, are choosing to reinterpret this and other Scriptures to push for a blurring, and even a denial, of the distinctions God has established between men and women and their respective roles in the home and in the Church.
My concluding, heartfelt exhortation to the Church is this: the Bible is not an evolving document that adjusts to fit in with current cultures and changing societal values. It is a timeless document for all cultures over the centuries. “Forever, O Lord, thy word is settled in heaven” (Psalm 119:89, KJV). Do not let our contemporary cultural values shape the Church. Rather, let the churches, grounded in the immutable principles of Scripture, be the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world” that will model to the world the kingdom that God is establishing on earth.
God has placed His Church on this earth and has populated it with spiritually gifted men and women. Under the divinely-decreed spiritual leadership and pulpit ministries of God-called men, the Church is then blessed by the additional wide variety of spiritual gifts of dedicated Christian men and women. And the results are dramatic in the Church and in the world touched by the Church as “the whole body [of Christ] grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Ephesians 4:16). Churches who elect to follow this heaven-sent pattern can be assured that the blessings of God will rest upon their labors!
Related topics include Male Leadership in the Home and the Church, A Virtuous Woman's Meaning in the Sight of God, and Christian Women's Ministry.
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©2007, James H. Feeney.
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