Women in ministry
I thought I would take on another easy question: ‘What about women in ministry?’ Admittedly, the question is multi-faceted and the issues are complex. (I recognize for some that the issues are not complex: for some the Bible says that women should not be in authority—though many define authority differently, which affirms my point that the issues are complex—and so it is black and white). The complexities include at the most basic level whether or not women can teach in the Church at all (including the teaching of children; youth; or, adults—whether that be women only, or both women and men). The issues also include whether or not women can have authority in the Church and at what level (including authority over children; youth; adults—whether it be women only, or both women and men).
Before we look at the primary biblical text in question (1 Tim 2:12-14), allow me to digress and give a brief background of my own journey with regard to these issues. I came to faith in Christ in a wonderful, but very conservative, church environment. As a result the Bible was read as very black and white (aside from the red letters of course!). The Bible lays it out very concretely—as I was taught—women cannot ‘teach or have authority over a man’ (1 Tim 2:12). Over the years two things began to cause me to wonder if this was not too simple. (Now I have always held a very high view of Scriptural authority, and still do).
First, I had several encounters with women in higher education. On a few occasions I had the privilege of having a female classmate during my post-graduate work. I noticed that she was much brighter and had a keener sense of Scripture than most of the men in the class. Furthermore, I found myself studying various scholarly articles and books that were written by women. I wondered to myself at the oddity of it all. These female scholars are very gifted. They are great writers and communicators. And they appear from their writings to have a deep passion for the Lord. Yet, ironically, what they write and communicate can be used to teach and train leaders and pastors, but at the same time, they themselves are not allowed to speak from a pulpit on a Sunday in many churches. This just didn’t seem to mesh for me.
A second catalytic factor that caused me to delve more deeply into the Scripture was the fact that I have clearly witnessed women in the Church who are quite gifted in a variety of ways. Some of these women are high level executives that are quite gifted at running and managing multi-million dollar corporations. Yet, many of them are suppressed in today’s churches and their voices are not heard simply because of their gender.
Now, I fully understand that this does not have to be this way. That is, women can thrive in environments in which there gifts and passions are utilized, where they are affirmed and not suppressed, and yet they are still restricted for cultural reasons from having full authority in a local church. After all, when we look at the Church of the NT we find that women held prominent roles/positions in the Church and thrived even though they were restricted from having pastoral authority: e.g., Priscilla, Pheobe, Philip’s daughters, among others. Jesus seemingly allowed women as disciples. Furthermore, women were prominent in the Gospel accounts. Etc. Yet, at the same time Paul forbade them from holding the office of ‘pastor over men’ (1 Tim 2:12). This demonstrates that women can simultaneously be used effectively and esteemed in numerous ways in the Church, all the while being withheld from holding high offices in the Church. I get that.
But, we must also acknowledge that we don’t see women at the time of Paul writing commentaries, scholarly articles, being esteemed professors, and even presidents of seminaries! So, the question remains, ‘how can we allow women to do such things in our modern academic environment and then tell that same woman that she cannot teach on Sunday?’ She can teach our emerging pastors in the colleges and seminaries Monday through Friday, but she cannot teach our congregations on Sunday. This is a fundamental difference between our setting and the setting of the NT.
You see, the irony is much deeper. Many young pastors and teachers write their messages based on outlines, lectures, etc., that they had from their time in formal education. So, if the notes that this young pastor used on a given Sunday came from a lecture that a female professor gave to him, that would be okay: as long as he gave the sermon? He can tell everyone what he learned from her, but she can’t deliver the same sermon (even though she is more qualified and perhaps more gifted to do so)?
Now, in order to gain more consistency in these matters, one option would be to eliminate women from positions in higher education. But, these women are highly qualified and quite gifted at what they do. We would be essentially asking them to not utilize gifts that God has given them. And we would be restricting in a manner in which Scripture does not forbid.
But what about Scripture? Fair enough. We still need to contend with the Scriptures. Space will not allow me to delve into all the texts, nor even every nuance of 1 Tim 2. But a good look at the primary text in question, 1 Tim 2:12-14, is necessary. Here we find the command of Paul that: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man” (1 Tim 2:12).
Now we immediately recognize that this is not an absolute dictum forbidding all teaching activities of women for several reasons. For one, we see women doing just that throughout the NT. Priscilla is teaching Apollos in Acts 18. Philip’s four daughters are prophesying in Acts 21. And in 1 Cor 11:5, Paul stresses that women must have their heads covered when praying and prophesying in Church (note: the act of prophesying entails teaching).
Also, we must observe that the twin prohibitions of ‘teaching’ and ‘having authority’ in 1 Tim 2:12 appear to entail the primary functions of a pastor. Thus, while not absolutely forbidding a woman from teaching in every setting, Paul is forbidding them from the role of a pastor or church leader ‘over men’. This would suggest that a women preaching on a Sunday morning to the congregation may well be permitted even by Paul; for though they are performing a task that a pastor performs they are not exercising his position as pastor and leader of the flock. That is, the text forbids them from two things that together constitute the position/office of what we term ‘pastor’. This does not mean that a woman cannot perform the task of teaching—which is why we see women teaching at various times in the NT. To suggest that women cannot preach on Sunday, but yet they can present the same message to a classroom on Wednesday is quite silly. What is the difference between a woman teaching a message on a Wednesday and her giving the same message on a Sunday morning? She is performing the task but not the office of a pastor. This distinction is quite significant. Paul allowed the former and forbade the latter.
Furthermore, we should also note that Paul seemingly restricts women from having this role of authority (pastor: i.e., ‘teaching and having authority’) not absolutely, but only over ‘a man.’ For many, and I would concur, this means that women are permitted to function and serve as children’s pastors, or, even pastors of women. That this holds true finds support in Paul’s letter to Titus in which he counsels Titus on how to relate to younger and older men and women. Propriety, even in Paul’s day, suggests that women are better suited at addressing and ministering to women.
It is at this juncture that most evangelical churches would actually be in agreement with me. They have no problem with women being in authority over women and children. Some refuse to allow a woman to preach on Sunday, but, as we have shown, that does not appear to be what Paul is forbidding here. At this point, we could stop and most everyone, even the quite conservatives, will be content, though not necessarily in full agreement, with what has been said. Paul seemingly allowed women to teach in various settings and to be in authority over women and children. But, let’s look at the prohibition of women in 1 Tim 2:12-14 to see if there is more.
What we notice is that Paul’s prohibition of women from occupying the office of pastor over men is justified by Paul in 1 Tim 2:13-14. Here Paul gives two reasons for his prohibition. His first justification is that Adam was formed first (2:13). This is a reference to what is called ‘primogeniture’ (basically: the order of birth or creation). Paul is saying that since Adam was first in creation, we are going to establish a rule that man is to be first in the Church. Now this appears very concrete and very conclusive. It remains true today that Adam was formed first—in fact, it will remain true forever. Therefore, Paul’s prohibition appears to be eternally validated. Thus, in order to argue that Paul’s prohibition of women being pastors over men was culturally conditioned (that is, it is not necessarily the result of absolutely binding and eternally fixed factors), one would need to contend that the law of primogeniture is not absolute.
Well, it is not. There are numerous occasions in which the one who was first was not given the privilege forever: Isaac over Ishmael; Jacob over Esau; Ephraim over Manasseh; Moses over Aaron; David is the youngest in his family, etc. Furthermore, primogeniture is culturally bound in that it was necessary to impose in a culture that was intimately tied to land transfers and the allotment of inheritance. This was important in the ancient world. For, it was necessary to pre-determine who was the inheritor of the land and such. In such cultures it was often essential to not split up the farms equally among all surviving heirs as this would have been detrimental to the long term survival of the clan. In such societies, then, it was natural to choose the oldest—since the oldest was more likely mature enough to care for the family; and younger siblings may even have been in need of care themselves. Choosing the oldest as a rule also eliminated/minimized the potential for sibling rivalry. These pragmatic factors made primogeniture a part of the fabric of the biblical world. But, as such, they do not necessarily translate to our contemporary situation. Thus, to say that Paul was saying men can be pastors and women cannot based on an absolute fact that Adam was made first, fails to recognize that it was not based on this absolute, but on a culturally accepted practice of primogeniture. Thus, for Paul, this was a valid reason. But it was a reason that was culturally conditioned. And one that does not necessarily translate into all cultures for all time.
The second reason that Paul states to justify his restriction of women from the office of pastor over men is that Eve was the one who was deceived (1 Tim 2:14). Again it appears that Paul has provided for us a theologically grounded basis for his rule—the fact is that she was deceived first. Paul appears to be setting forth the fact that Eve, and the women of his day, were more susceptible to deception.
This is an important point. But, before we look at the nature of this assertion we must reflect on the fact that for Paul the pastor must keep watch over the flock. In doing so, one of the most central roles of the pastor is to watch over the teaching and beliefs of the flock and to guard them from deception (note: the devil’s name is ‘the deceiver’: this is one of his primary weapons!). Therefore, whether it is a woman, or anyone else for that matter, who are more subject to giving in to false teaching and deception, Paul lays forth an important rule that the pastor must not be one who is more susceptible to deception (I’ll return to this in a moment).
Now, we must ask why it is that Paul deemed that women are more susceptible to deception. For a while, I myself concluded that since Paul stated that women are more susceptible to deception, then it must simply be so. However, more recent studies have revealed (beyond the fact that I was naïve among other things) that there are several causes that make a person more susceptible to deception. Among these factors are such things as age (children are more easily deceived than adults), experience, intelligence, and education (the more educated the less likely to be deceived). Note that gender is not a factor! Thus, Paul was not saying that women by nature are more naturally deceived. Why then did Paul say that women are more easily deceived? Considering all the factors that contribute to a person being subject to deception, the only factor that would have been generally, and perhaps almost universally true of women at the time of Paul, is that they were not privileged to the same levels of education as men. As a result, women were, generally speaking, not qualified to serve as pastors.
But, as access to education is made more available to all, including women, then we may conclude that women may well qualify to serve as pastors over men—and many of them are quite qualified. That is why we can have women as scholars, professors, and university presidents today, yet they essentially did not serve such roles in Paul’s day. Paul wasn’t forbidding a woman who lectured on Wednesday from teaching on Sunday. The educational preparation wasn’t there. Now that it is, it stands to reason that Paul would have been willing to allow women to teach the same message on Sunday that they did on Wednesday and to allow them the authority to lead the entire church.
What does this all mean? First off, even if we take Paul’s prohibition as an absolute restriction that excludes women from the office of pastor over men, I do not see any reason why women cannot function as pastors over women and children, or why a woman cannot teach or preach. But, it also does not appear that Paul has given us a timeless edict. He has laid down a principle that cannot be ignored: namely, that whoever serves as a pastor must be educated and prepared so that they are not easily deceived. This would apply to men and women. Anyone who is not educated well enough is more subject to deception (modern studies have confirmed this to be one of the leading factors for deception among adults), and therefore should not be in the office of pastor in the Church. This corresponds with Paul’s list of qualifications in 1 Tim 3 for pastors: including the fact that they cannot be a ‘new convert’ (1 Tim 3:6) and that they must be ‘able to teach’ (1 Tim 3:2). For those who are new converts will be susceptible to deception as they are likely not educated in the teachings of the Church. And those who cannot teach means that they are not qualified with the knowledge of the Word, which also would make them more susceptible to deception.
Why stress this point? Because some of these very churches who adamantly restrict women from being pastors and teachers in the Church based on 1 Tim 2, have men in these positions who are not qualified based on the fact that they lack the education necessary to protect the flock from the deceptions of the devil. The principle, as Paul has set forth in this passage, is that anyone who is more easily deceived cannot serve as pastors and teachers over the Church. Paul simply eliminated all women because in his day they were, generally speaking, not privileged to the education necessary to qualify them for such positions. But, in chapter 3, as we have noted, when he lists the qualifications for pastors, he notes that men who are not educated (i.e., new converts and not able to teach) are similarly excluded from the office of pastor over men.
In all, women have tremendous gifts and callings from the Lord. These gifts and callings are essential to the full growth and edification of the body! It is time that we all recognize them for who they are and what they can bring to the table!
 Cf Acts 18. Note in 18:18, 26, Rom 16:13, and 2 Tim 4:19 her name precedes that of her husband suggesting strongly that she has a more prominent role. 1 Cor 16:19 is an exception where Aquila appears first, but this only makes one wonder more why Priscilla (or Prisca) is listed first in every other occasion.
 Rom 16:1 appears to call Pheobe a deaconess. Though most translations use ‘servant’ here. The calling out of Pheobe itself suggests someone of note. Grammatical considerations also lend towards her being a deacon.
 Acts 21:18-19: they are called prophetesses. One must remember that a prophet in the NT is more than one who receives oracles from the Lord. But they are often associated with teaching and exhorting. Cp Paul’s contrast of those who speak in tongues vs those who prophesy in Acts 14.
 Luke 10:39 has Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet listening to him, which is the posture of a disciple. Luke has seemingly depicted her in the role of a disciple.
 Granted that one may contend that perhaps Priscilla may have performed tasks similar to these.
 Other passages do not forbid women from being pastors. 1 Cor 14:34 is discussing abuses in term of disorderly conduct in the church and not roles and functions of authority and does not need to be discussed here.
 My own translation. The Greek is interesting here because the word order reads: “to teach women (the word ‘women’ is in the case that identifies ‘women’ as the object of the verb) I do not permit, nor to have authority over a man”. This suggests that Paul is stressing the words ‘to teach’ and the word ‘women’.
 Titus 2. Note: Paul gives no provisions for Titus on how he is supposed to counsel younger women. Presumably, because this would have been inappropriate.
 Now I am not suggesting that Paul allowed women to be pastors of women in his day because such is an anachronistic thought. It doesn’t appear that they had such roles then. I am suggesting that if Paul were here today in our contemporary western churches he would have had no problem with women being ‘leaders’ of women. You’ll see why below I refrained from using the designation ‘pastor’ here.
 The Greek of 1 Tim 2:13 begins with gar (for) which often states the reason why something is true. That is, Paul is effectively saying, ‘The reason why women cannot be pastors over men is . . . (v 13) and . . . (v 14).