It seems that this is an issue that I have had to continually deal with throughout my ministry. I just can't get away from it. It created such a stir in both my licensing and ordination interviews that I wondered if the ministry commission of a former district of my former denomination would even license or ordain me. I wound up going back and forth with a number of pastors on those committees about this. I remember once being part of a ministry training event where I was partnered up with a female pastor for a project. I intentionally did not make her position an issue but focused on our task at hand. However, she kept going on and on about how not everyone accepted her as a pastor and then kept pressing me on what I thought about the matter. In such a case, I was drawn in, so to speak, to the controversy again. My understanding of the Bible's teaching on this issue even led to me losing a teaching opportunity I had been offered for a class on systematic theology for pastors and anyone who wished to join. I had already begun planning out the lessons and topics when the lady in charge discovered that I was on a "trusted teachers" list by a group in the denomination who held to the same view as me when it comes to the position of women pastors. This brought about all kinds of questions directed towards me about my view and basically being told that I could not say anything about it, even if I was asked. All of the controversy it generated led me to withdraw from accepting the opportunity. And I have had more discussions and debates concerning the issue, both online and off, than I can even count. All of this has resulted in me studying and restudying this issue, considering the arguments offered by the opposing side. But, try as I may, and I have tried, I just cannot find any of them convincing at all. They seem to be an attempt to get around the plain reading of Scripture when it comes to the proper roles of men and women in God's good design. Allow me now to demonstrate that to you in looking at the most common of the arguments typically presented to make the case that a woman should be able to serve as a pastor just as much as a man can.
The first ones instructed to tell of the empty tomb were women. I'll start with what appears to be one of the most common arguments given for women to preach and serve as pastors which I view as being the weakest. I am really surprised at the number of people who use this argument. Many of which in my opinion ought to know better. Anyway, the argument goes that since the very first ones who were told to proclaim the message of the empty tomb were the women who arrived to discover it that Easter morning, it then supposedly follows that women must be called to preach the gospel. After all, those ladies were given the charge to share the good news of the resurrection. However, it wasn't an ordination service that the angel conducted for these women. Nothing is said about them "feeding Christ's sheep" or "tending to His lambs" as Jesus commissioned Peter for serving as an elder or pastor (John 21:15-17; 1 Peter 5:1). There is no indication that they were called to preach behind a pulpit to a mixed group every Sunday morning or serve as the primary leaders in the church. These women were simply told to do exactly what every Christian should; to share the gospel with everyone. Rather than serve as a strong case for women to preach and pastor, it shows us that every Christian woman, just like every Christian man, is to be an evangelist in the sense of making the good news of the empty tomb and its implications known to all. To apply it to more than that is to read something into the context that is not there.
Paul's words in 1 Timothy 2:12-14 and 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 were limited to the cultural situation at the time. Another popular argument used to get around the plain teaching of Scripture on this matter regarding women being pastors and preaching is to claim that the two texts which directly address it are ONLY referring to a cultural situation at that time occurring in specific churches. That it was not something universal for all churches at all times. The two passages attempted to be dismissed in this way are 1 Timothy 2:12-14 where Paul makes it clear that a woman is not to teach or exercise authority over a man (v. 12) and 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 that "women are to keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak" (v. 34). The problem with arguing that these instructions were limited to situations in Ephesus where Timothy was serving and Corinth where his letter was written is that Paul does not say or even imply that. While we cannot deny that factors in the churches of Ephesus and Corinth certainly influenced Paul in addressing this issue, he makes it clear that the reason for the prohibition of women publicly teaching and having authority in the church stems not from the problems in those churches but from God's Word itself. He does not say that a woman must not teach or exercise authority over a man in 1 Timothy 2 because it would stop those women from spreading their false teaching as some like to claim. That's not anywhere in the text at all! Instead, he points to the order of creation with God making Adam first followed by Eve (v. 13). The implication then is that this prohibition goes back to God's design with His creation of men and women. Men were made to lead and women to serve as their helpers or helpmates in carrying out the mission of glorifying God. The mention of the woman being deceived and not Adam may reflect the man stepping out of his leadership and protective role for the woman which led to her deception (v. 14). After all, it sounds as if he was there the whole time the snake was tempting Eve with his lies and he did and said nothing (Genesis 3:6). The issue is going against established gender roles. If women were participating in the official pastoral teaching and preaching ministry in the church there in Ephesus, this is why it is wrong and Timothy must confront it. Likewise, in the Corinthian passage, Paul says that the women are not permitted to publicly speak but are to subject themselves to male leadership "just as the Law also says." It was because of what "the Law", which was shorthand for the first five books of the Bible (referred to as the Torah to the Jews) says. Not because of what was going on, though that is why he needed to remind them of Scripture's teaching on the matter. The women at the time must have went beyond prophesying (reciting God’s Word given to them) and also gave the interpretation and explanation of it, which would put them in a place of teaching and exercising authority over the men in the congregation. Paired up with the 1 Timothy verses, Paul must be thinking of Genesis here as well with the creation of the different sexes and their complimentary roles. That makes it applicable to every church in every time. And if that isn't enough to convince you, notice that Paul states in 1 Corinthians that this teaching is the case "in all the churches of the saints" (v. 33) and that the women are to keep silent "in the churches" (v. 34) and not just the church of Corinth. As the first argument winds up reading more into the text than is there, this one ignores what is actually said in the text.
Deborah, Esther, Priscilla, Phoebe, and prophetesses as case studies of women in ministry leadership. Typically, whenever it is said that the Bible limits the function and office of pastor to qualified men, someone will bring up the names of Deborah, Esther, Priscilla, Phoebe, and the prophtesses mentioned throughout Scripture who all appeared to have some sort of leadership role. There are a few things we need to realize about these ladies greatly used by God. First, none of them served as a pastor of a church or in an official leadership position of the church. Deborah was a prophetess and judge which served more as a political leader of the day. And even then, she asked a man, Barak, to lead the troops in battle (Judges 4:6-7) and when he insists that she go with him (v. 8), she tells him that he will be humiliated with the honor going to a woman and not him (v. 9). Esther was a queen who did not carry the authority her husband had over the kingdom. In fact, she could not even just casually approach him without risking death (Esther 4:11; 5:2). As for Priscilla, it is important to note that she ministered alongside her husband, Aquilla, and that in a private setting and not a public one (Acts 18:26). In fact, she is never mentioned apart from her husband (Acts 18:2, 18, 26; Romans 16:3; 1 Corinthians 16:19; 2 Timothy 4:19). I have no problem understanding Phoebe to be an official deacon or deaconess of the church with her reference as a "deacon" or "servant" in Romans 16:1. Keep in mind that there is a distinction between the office of deacon and elder/pastor in the New Testament (see 1 Timothy 3) and that a deacon is not required to have the ability to teach as the elder/pastor is. (While v. 2 specifies that an elder must be "able to teach," such is not mentioned at all in the list of qualifications given for a deacon (vv. 8-12)). Now, regarding the number of prophetesses we find throughout the Bible, an interesting difference can be observed of them from their male counterparts. For one thing, in the Old Testament, they appear to have more of a private ministry in contrast to the prophet's public one. We don't see them proclaiming any revelation they received out in the open to a crowd for everyone to hear. Rather, people came up to Deborah for her judgment (Judges 4:5) and Huldah for a specific word of the Lord (2 Kings 22:14-20). And in both cases, the name of their husbands are given. The only prophetic activity we are told about Moses' sister, Miriam, who is identified as a prophetess, is her leading the WOMEN in worship following God's victory over their Egyptian pursuers. As will be discussed further below, the New Testament does not equate prophesying and preaching or teaching. (I am indebted to Kevin DeYoung for these helpful insights.)
Many of those women often pointed out as examples of women leaders are exceptions that prove the rule rather than disregard it. They do not set the standard for women serving in official authoritative teaching capacities in the church. We have to even ask just what a Deborah is doing there in the time of the judges. The only woman serving as a judge in light of the rest of them being men. Instead of us seeing that as being a right role for her to have been in, we probably are supposed to view it as further evidence of things being wrong during that time in Israel's history. After all, the whole point of the book is summarized at the end that "In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes" (Judges 21:25). These are things that take place when everyone does what is right in their own eyes instead of what is right as defined by God's Word. It is a very dangerous thing to try to normalize for the church today much of what is recorded to have occurred in the book of Judges. After all, we certainly shouldn't take Jephthah's foolish and rash vow as justification to make anything similar today (12:30-40), Samson's womanizing ways be an example to follow (13-16), or to hide in the bushes to steal women as the tribe of Benjamin (21:20-23), right? And I don't even want to think about the horrendous situation regarding the priest's concubine and what happened there in comparison to Sodom and Gomorrah (19). (A far more comprehensive and detailed examination of the case of Deborah can be found here.) A closer look at each of these cases reveals that none of them actually were one that indicated a woman teaching or exercising authority over men in the context of the church being normative.
Junias as an apostle?Another case that sometimes is thrown out as evidence that a woman can serve in a main leadership role in a congregation is the issue of Junias spoken of in Romans 16:17. But what is said about this individual actually leaves us with more questions than answers. For one, we are not sure whether this is a man's name or a woman's. The form of the Greek name really could indicate either gender. (It has been compared to the English names, "Chris" and "Pat" which by themselves cannot tell you if the person is a "he" or a "she" since they could be a boy's name or a girl's name.) The fact that the name is given coupled with the clear male "Andronicus" may mean that this one serves as his wife such as is the case of "Priscilla and Aquila" but it doesn't have to be. It could be like "Paul and Silas" mentioned together as partners in ministry but not marriage obviously. Also, it is not clear whether the Greek should be translated that these two were "outstanding AMONG the apostles" or "outstanding TO the apostles." Basically, were they apostles themselves who stood out in comparison to the others or the apostles considered them to be outstanding? You can see that modern translations go both ways. With so much ambiguity about this person and what is said about him or her, it is best not to build a strong case for women to be pastors and preachers based on it. It just is not clear that he is a she who also is an apostle. Junias may be a very valuable faithful servant of the Lord who the apostles appreciated and acknowledged and nothing more than that. (Which of course does not devalue or downplay their importance in the work of God's kingdom. Much of what needs to be done in the church is accomplished not by pastors behind the pulpit but by the everyday ordinary members faithfully using the gifts that God has given them to build up His body.) Such would serve as a very shaky foundation for an argument in favor of women pastors.
Jesus and Paul's elevation of women. It is said that with Jesus and Paul's clear elevation of women in their ministries, certainly they would be in favor of women serving as pastors today. Now, it is indeed true that both Jesus and Paul elevated the value and status of women in comparison of the culture of their day. Jesus had female disciples (but not apostles) who followed Him and He even allowed Mary to sit at His feet to learn from Him (Luke 10:39). Something that was not permitted of women in His day. Of course, one of the daily prayers of the Pharisees was "Thank God that I am not a gentile, a woman, or a slave." Paul both acknowledges and commends female servants in the church. But in their rightful elevation of women, they did not elevate them outside of the good design that God had for them as seen in His creation of man and woman. For instance, Jesus intentionally chose 12 MEN to serve as His apostles who would lead the church. Paul clearly indicates that the leadership role of elder in the church is limited to men both in their function of authoritative teaching (1 Timothy 2:12-13) and in their character qualifications (3). (I remember a chair of a Search Committee tell me once that he would be open to considering a woman to be called as the pastor of their church as long as they could find one who met the qualification of being "the husband of one wife." They never would which is exactly the point!) I would argue that Jesus and Paul elevated women more than churches today do who have a woman pastor because to place and support a woman in a role God has designed exclusively for men and not for women would not be to elevate her as a woman but really lower her to be more like a man. A lot of this debate factors into what God calls a man and woman to be. Gender confusion in one sense is not a new thing. It has been an issue in the church for a number of years since the beginning of the ordination of women.
Galatians 3:28. If there is one verse used as a prooftext for women being pastors, this would be it. "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." This is often taken to be the lynchpin of the justification for the position. In fact, it is mentioned in the argument as a way to redirect from the teachings of 1 Timothy 2-3 and 1 Corinthians 14 or treated as the lens through which those two passages must be viewed through. The problem is not found in the verse itself, of course, but with its being taken out of context and isolated from the rest of Scripture's teaching pertaining to the good distinction that God has designed for gender. First, Paul clearly is not intending this statement to be taken to mean that in Christ all ethical, gender, and social distinctions no longer exist. That there is no difference whatsoever between Jewish and Greek Christians, believing men and women, and saved slaves and their masters. They are all equal in Christ with none of them being greater or more important than the other. However, there are still crucial distinctions among ethnicity that being united to Christ does not terminate. I can tell stories from being in seminary with those of a different cultural background than me who spoke and did a number of things that seemed foreign to me and which many things I had said and did were just as much to them. We also did not look alike, having been given a different shade of skin. Yet, in light of the clear differences between us, what united us together was Christ. All the differences took a backseat to that. Our shared unity in Him transcended any ethical differences that set us apart. And the same one who wrote this verse also wrote Ephesians 5:22-33; 6:5-9 and Colossians 3:18-4:1 which speak of the different roles husbands and wives have in relation to each other as well as slaves and their masters. Their unity in Christ does not erase those distinctions. It just emphasizes the togetherness of those with such distinctions.
A Necessary Consequence of Pentecost Ministry. Another passage used in reference to support women preaching and serving as pastors is Joel's prophecy in chapter 2 verses 28 and 29 of his book. The argument goes that the prophet predicts a coming day when both the sons and daughters of the people shall prophesy and with Peter indicating in his sermon in Acts 2:16-21 that this spoke of what was the people were witnessing occur on the day of Pentecost with the apostles speaking in tongues, we are now living in the time when women are not only allowed to preach today but have been called to it. They are the "daughters" to which the prediction mentions. However, a closer look at this prophecy reveals that the emphasis is not on both men and women prophesying but the Spirit being poured out on all believers who are a part of God's covenant people. In fact, the point is made twice at both the beginning of v. 28 and again at the end of v. 29 that God will "pour out My Spirit," serving as bookends of the section so to speak. What is in the middle just further elaborates this outpouring to be irregardless of gender ("sons and daughters"), age ("old men and young men"), and status ("male slaves and female slaves"). It is connected with Moses' earlier wish in Numbers 11:29; "Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets that the LORD would put His Spirit upon them." This was said right after the Spirit of God came upon the elders and they began prophesying, but only momentarily (v. 25). Two men in particular had the Spirit remain on them and continued to prophesy, leading Joshua to ask Moses to restrain them (vv. 26-28). This prophecy of Joel expresses God's intention for Moses' wish to become a reality which it did after the Holy Spirit's outpouring on the day of Pentecost and now where men and women in Christ are equally filled with the Spirit immediately at their conversion and following. The prophesying and dreaming of dreams and visions were associated with God's Spirit being upon the prophets (Numbers 11:26; 12:6; see also the number of times the prophets write what they "saw" down in their books). So, rather than this predicting that women would be granted the role to preach alongside men, it simply states that the day is coming when God's Spirit will be upon all those in His church. I think that Joel would be shaking his head and saying "You're missing the point" to those who, as well meaning as they are, use this as a prooftext for women to behind a pulpit preaching.
Furthermore, the idea of prophesying and preaching are two different concepts in Scripture. Two separate Hebrew words and two separate Greek words are used for them. And they are never used interchangeably. Prophesying always refers to delivering a direct word revealed from God while preaching is heralding someone else's word that wasn't directly revealed to you. No one prophesies a new word from God freshly revealed directly to them today but they do preach the revealed word already given directly to the prophets and apostles. I don't get up each Sunday behind the pulpit and deliver something God revealed specifically and directly to me the night before that morning. Instead, I seek to explain and apply what God has already said as revealed in His Word. I herald His Word but not prophesy it. I think that it is problematic to equate prophesying with preaching as the Bible clearly doesn't but maintains a distinction between the two.
That is just Paul's opinion and not Jesus' command. One attempt to dismiss the clear teaching of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 regarding the service of women in the church is to emphasize the fact that Paul prefaces his statement on the prohibition of women teaching or exercising authority over a man with the words "I do not allow" or "I do not permit" and claiming that this is merely the apostle's opinion he writes. It's not something that Jesus commanded or would necessarily agree with. I see two problems with such an argument. First, it ignores the fact that this is an "apostolic" prohibition. It is not just anyone writing this but one of Jesus' own apostles. One who has been sent out with His authority and moved along by His Holy Spirit to write down His very words (John 14:26; 16:12-14; 2 Peter 1:21). This cannot simply and conveniently be relegated to being his opinion that can be dismissed. No more than anything else Paul, Peter, John, or Jude write. In a very real sense, we must understand all of the words of the Bible to be "red lettered" and understood of conveying the very words of Jesus Himself since the apostles wrote with His authority by His Spirit and it was His Spirit who inspired the prophets before Him (1 Peter 1:10-11). A second problem I notice with this argument is that it serves as a slippery slope to get around a lot of other teachings from the letters of the apostles people may not like. In fact, it is used to skirt Scripture's condemnation of homosexuality for instance. How many times are texts like Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; and 1 Timothy 1:8-11 thrown out by proponents of this perversion because they were written by Paul and not said by Jesus? It is the exact same argument! That's why I have pointed out elsewhere that there is a connection between the acceptance and promotion of women pastors and that of homosexuality. Usually, but not always thankfully, those who get around Scripture's teaching on the distinction of gender roles in the church and the family wind up also affirming and promoting homosexuality. You are not going to be able to find a denomination today that ordains homosexuals that sometime in its past did not also ordain women. If anyone knows of a rare exception to this, please let me know.
Another case of slavery? It is often claimed that this is a case like slavery where the church has been in error in misunderstanding what Scripture says on the issue and applying it to support or prohibit what Scripture actually does not. The first thing that needs to be pointed out here is that there is a difference between the slavery Scripture speaks of and that which characterized our nation's past. For one thing, the type of slavery referred to in both the Old and New Testaments was not based on one's ethnicity or shade of skin. Jews would have Jewish slaves and Gentiles gentile ones. Also, in some cases, someone would voluntarily serve as a slave in order to work off a debt that was owed. It was not a permanent position. They could buy their own freedom or a relative could purchase it for them. In fact, the Old Testament law called for a year of Jubilee after six years where all the slaves had to be released (Exodus 21:2). There were even slaves who had such a good master and were treated as part of his family, sitting at the table for meals, and having a nice room in the house that they chose to remain with their master for the rest of their life, leading to a provision being made for that (vv. 5-6). Such certainly is a far cry from the trans-Atlantic slave trade where those with darker skin tones were kidnapped and forced into service and treated as being less than human. The Bible unequivocally condemns that. Kidnapping was forbidden carrying the death penalty (v. 16) and masters were to be punished for killing their slaves (v. 20) and the slaves were to be set free should their master damage his eye or knock out a tooth (vv. 26-27). To equate American slavery to that which is regulated in the Bible is to attempt to compare apples and oranges. The two are not the same.
We also should recognize that the Bible never condones or commends slavery. It regulates it at best and teaches how having Christ in one's life transforms the relationship slaves and masters have with each other (Ephesians 6:5-9; Colossians 3:22-4:1). Paul even encourages a slave to become free if the opportunity presented itself though generally everyone should remain in the condition he was in when he was called to salvation (1 Corinthians 7:20-22). Likewise, he called for Philemon to receive his runaway slave, Onesimus, back "no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother" (Philemon 16).
Finally, we need to realize that while there were misguided ones in the church who poorly attempted to justify American slavery with these Scriptures which were not discussing the same thing, it was Christians who led to the abolition of that slave system. We see that with the persistent efforts of William Wilberforce in England. A closer look at Scripture's teaching on slavery will condemn the past practice of it in our nation just as an examination of what it says about women serving as pastors will condemn the present practice of that.
The evident gifting of certain women for ministry. Many times, the evidence given for the justification of women serving as pastors or preaching is the undeniable gifting seen with certain women for the task. It is presented that to limit the office and function of pastor to that of a man would be to limit the service of women with the gifts the Holy Spirit has bestowed upon them. The position which I argue for does not in any way deny that particular women may have been given certain gifts of speaking or teaching. Nor does it call into question their ability to do such. However, they are to use those gifts in the context in which the Lord has called them. We absolutely need women to be gifted to teach their children and perhaps other children in the church. Where would the church be without the ladies faithfully serving as Sunday School teachers to our children and youth as well as in our Vacation Bible School and other children's ministries. Also, in an informal way, the older women are to teach the younger women in the church "in sensibility: to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be slandered" (Titus 2:3-5). Of course, a woman can teach such much better than any man because they not only have the head knowledge of the subjects but the experience of seeking to faithfully practice it.
Just because a woman may have the gift of teaching does not mean that she must exercise it behind a pulpit. There are a number of other areas within the church by which a woman may teach that does not involve teaching or having authority over men. And the only way that this would limit a woman in using her gifts would be if preaching served as the exclusive means of teaching in the church which it does not. It is just one place among many to teach. There are so many other opportunities for women to use their God-given gifts other than being a pastor or preaching to a mixed audience.
The positive and edifying experience of women pastors. In several of my discussions with people on this topic, I have had it brought up to me someone's very positive experience with a woman pastor. How she has helped them so much to grow in their spiritual life and the blessing they received from her sermons. Surely, this must indicate that they are exactly where God would have them to be doing what He would have them to do. How could someone say then that they are in rebellion towards God and His Word? The major issue here is that this is an appeal to experience as the authority in the matter and not what the Word of God itself says. And experience is never a reliable testimony that should ever trump Scripture. Instead, we are always to seek to understand our experiences in light of the teaching of Scripture. We do not start with our experience and search the Scriptures to justify it but rather start with Scripture and ask how are we to understand and interpret our experience as well as what to do with it. I remember a number of years back participating in a community ministerial service with other pastors in the neighborhood where one of the women pastors gave the message. I was actually greatly edified and encouraged by it, with it being just the message I needed to hear at the time. Later that day, I reflected on why that was the case. Was it because this woman was doing what she was called to do as a pastor and I have just been wrong in my understanding of these things? But then, how could that harmonize with Scripture's consistent indication of God's intention for women to serve in other areas of the church instead? The thought hit me that it wasn't the woman's preaching that impacted me but the Scripture she preached in that service. What had a made a difference at that moment had nothing to do with her but everything to do with God's Spirit working through His Word as He always promises to do. I would have received the blessing I did regardless of who did the preaching because the blessing did not come from the preaching or the preacher but the Word proclaimed. It should be said that one's experience with a woman pastor should never dismiss or question what God clearly has said in His Word.
This position considers the Bible's teaching on women as a whole and not just one or two verses. I've had it said to me several times that this position under consideration takes the Bible's teaching on women as a whole whereas my position only considers one or two verses. Those verses usually being the 1 Timothy 2:12-17 and 1 Corinthians 14:35-36 addressed above. This is a case of what is called a "strawman fallacy" in reasoning where someone distorts the other view in order to easily tear it down and defeat it. It is compared to building a straw man that they can better light on fire to dismantle. The problem of course is that it is not true that those of us who argue that Scripture limits the office of pastor or elder to men only base it on just two verses. As I hopefully have made clear in the presentation of my position, I hold to my view not only on account of the words of one or two passages in Scripture but the principles, patterns, and practice of it in its entirety. The principle of male leadership is taught in those two verses as well as in regards to the marriage relationship elsewhere, it is clearly implied from the order of creation of man and woman and what is said about them in Genesis 2, the pattern is seen in men being called to lead and women to serve as their helpers under their leadership throughout the Bible, and the practice with Jesus intentionally choosing 12 men to be apostles in leading the church and elders to be men with the specific qualifications being given. Rather than this being limited to two verses, I would argue it encompasses the whole from Genesis 2 in God's different creation between the sexes to the teaching of the proper gender roles in both marriage and the church.
There certainly could be more arguments made to examine but these are the most common ones I have interacted it with in my discussions and debates with others on this issue. Hopefully, you can see what I do not find any of them persuasive at all. I will continue to study this issue of the intended role of women in the church and consider the opposing arguments. However, there has to be some more convincing arguments than these to get me to change my view. I am open to them being made. I will keep sticking by Scripture on this even though it goes by the culture which has influenced the church. "Here I stand, I can do no other . . . "