Does the Bible Allow Women to be Pastors? Answers to Common Objections
In the beginning, the Lord placed the first man and woman in the Garden of Eden to work and keep what God created. The Lord allowed them to eat anything they wanted, “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17). The Serpent, however, approached the woman to twist, question, and contradict what God told Adam. “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?’” (Genesis 3:1). After the woman responded responsibly, the Serpent offered an alternative position. “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5). God gives a clear word—don’t eat from that tree. Satan questions God’s Word and offers a different position. The man and woman chose to believe the lie, and it led to the fall of man into sin.
In my last article, I asked the question: Does the Bible Allow Women to be Pastors? Scripture is clear. Only biblically qualified men can hold the position of pastor in Christ’s church. But this clear teaching isn’t acceptable for many people. They respond with, “Did God actually say women can’t be pastors?”
As promised, I have followed up on my last article with common objections. I realize not everyone agrees with my position, and in response, alternative positions have been proposed. Here are four of the most common objections with biblical responses.
Objection #1: Wasn’t Paul’s command in 1st Timothy 2:12 related to cultural issues for that time that don’t apply today?
This objection presents itself with different nuances, but the basic argument is that Paul was only prohibiting women in Timothy’s church from becoming elders. He wasn’t intending to make the command binding on the church for all time.
The problem with this objection is that it neglects verses 13-14. Let’s read the passage in context. “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.” (1st Timothy 2:11-14) Two things should be observed. First, nothing in the text indicates that Paul’s prohibition is due to a cultural situation—such as uneducated or problematic women teaching in the church. Second, Paul gives us a two-part answer as to why he gives this command. “For” means because; meaning, the reason Paul is giving this command is because, “Adam was created was first, then Eve.” The first reason Paul lists why women cannot hold authority over men in the church by taking on the role of pastor is because it would violate the creation order. Men have been placed in authority over women and children both in the home and the church. This has nothing to do with holding women back or being sexist. This is God’s good design. He knows what is best for His people and the church. The second reason is because the woman, not Adam, was deceived and became a transgressor. This is a tricky portion of Scripture. Is Paul saying that Adam wasn’t deceived? No, Adam was deceived because he ate the fruit and disobeyed just like Eve. What Paul is saying is that Satan tempted the woman and consequently the woman led her husband into error. Adam should have acted as the head of his wife and protected her from Satan’s lies by holding fast to God’s commands. In God’s church, men must lead and protect women by teaching and obeying the Word of God. When the order is reversed, like in the Garden, we are taking women out from under the headship and protection of men; thus, opening them and the whole church up to Satan’s original schemes.
Therefore, Paul’s command in 1st Timothy 2:12 is not based on cultural circumstances whatsoever. His command that women cannot teach or take authority over men is rooted in the created order and fall of man, and thus binding on all churches for all ages.
Objection #2: What about all the women in the Bible involved in ministry?
There are many instances in Scripture where women were engaged in ministry, and rightfully so. Christian women are gifted and called to serve the Lord. That’s not the concern of this article. We’re asking the question: Does the Bible allow women be pastors? Many argue that women can be pastors, and they cite certain biblical stories or texts highlighting women who are engaged in ministry to support their position.
For starters, what about Deborah? Deborah was a prophetess and judge who led Israel after Ehud died (Judges 4:1, 4). It is argued that if God made Deborah a judge and leader over Israel, certainly women can be pastors.
But we need to take a close look and think carefully about this argument. First, the book of Judges is a descriptive, not a prescriptive, book in the Bible. Meaning, the book of Judges, and in particular Deborah’s account, is describing what happened. It is not necessarily telling us what must happen. Paul’s command for churches is prescriptive. He is telling us what must happen in the church. Narratives, like Judges, are merely describing events that took place. They’re not intended to prescribe moral commands and doctrine. Bottom line, that Deborah was a judge does not contradict or change Paul’s command in 1st Timothy. Secondly, Deborah was a judge during Israel’s darkest time in history. That she was appointed should be seen as a judgment on wicked people. This claim is bolstered by the fact that Deborah tried to give military command to Barak, and he was shamed for his initial reluctance. Even so, Barak was the one who led the men into battle (Judges 4:14-16). Deborah’s story is heroic, but it does not change the fact only qualified men can be pastors in God’s church.
Another example comes from Jesus’ ministry. Our Lord had several women who followed and assisted Him. Then, after the resurrection, it was the women who first announced that Jesus was alive (Matthew 28:1-10, John 20:18). It was women who “preached” the resurrection. Therefore, it is argued, women can preach in the church today. I have even heard an argument for women preachers that since Jesus is the Word of God, and Mary gave birth to Him, it follows that she also published the Word of God (that one is my personal favorite).
These arguments seem to hold some initial merit, but let’s remember, they are descriptive, not prescriptive. They are telling us what happened, not what must happen. The gospel narratives, like Judges, are just as authoritative as anything Paul penned, but unless specifically stated, they aren’t giving specific commands of what we should do as Christians. They are great examples, and they communicate essential truth, but in many cases, they aren’t telling us how to order God’s church. Furthermore, these passages having nothing to do with the office of pastor. They simply portray women telling others about Jesus—which all Christian women should do!
Time won’t permit to expound upon other examples, but I will conclude with a rapid fire of a few:
- Priscilla instructed Apollos but that was a private conversation, not preaching.
- The Elect Lady in 2nd John was not an elder but a reference to the church itself.
- Junia was “outstanding among the apostles” (Romans 16:7, NIV), but she wasn’t an apostle herself. She was “well known to the apostles” (Romans 16:7 ESV). Junia might even be a man, not a woman, as that name was not exclusively female at the time.
- Euodia and Syntyche were prominent in the church, but nowhere are they mentioned as elders (Phil 4:3).
- Phoebe was commended for being a servant to the church, not a pastor (Romans 16:1).
Objection #3: What about women who prophesied in the church?
If Paul allowed women to prophesy in the church at Corinth (1st Corinthians 11:5), then why would he prohibit women from preaching sermons? Prophecy in the early church was not what Jeremiah or Isaiah did in the Old Testament. Those men spoke the unadulterated, inerrant, Word of God publicly for everyone to hear. Prophecy in the early church, on the other hand, was for the church, more subjective, and in need of assessment from the elders because there was no guarantee that it was free from error (1 Thessalonians 5:20-21). For example, a man or woman would receive a prompting from the Spirit, share that word from the Lord with the church for her encouragement and edification, and it was the job of the elders to determine if this new word was in accord with sound doctrine.
Women were encouraged to share such revelations, but it was to be done within other parameters that have been set—such as speaking to their husbands first and submitting those revelations to the elders. These revelations are not the same thing as giving an exposition of the word with exhortations and authority. They aren’t sermons. That job belongs to the pastors of the church.
Objection #4: Why would God gift and call women to preach if they can’t be pastors?
There is no doubt that certain women have demonstrated great skill in communication. It is also true that God calls women to ministry. But these subjective callings and giftings should be interpreted by and aligned with Scripture. All Christian women are called to ministry, and God grants some Christian women the unique ability to teach, but that doesn’t mean God is calling them to violate His Word. When a woman discerns a desire to serve the church with her teaching abilities, she should do so within the boundaries created by God’s Word. Practically speaking, she should teach women and children but not men. To teach men would be to violate the clear teachings of Scripture.
The Serpent didn’t offer to Eve a complete contradiction of God’s Word—at least not at first. First, he questioned the Lord. Then he twisted God’s Word, and in the end, he offered a completely different position to the man and woman.
Scripture is clear on the question of women pastors. But many don’t want to accept what God has said. Instead, they mimic the enemy by saying, “Did God really say?” My Christian friends, let us not question the Lord. His Word is good and designed for our flourishing and His glory. To question and contradict Him not only brings dishonor to our Creator, but it will lead to our harm.
Brandon is the Associate Pastor of The Journey Church in Lebanon, TN and leads the Recovery & Redemption ministry for the church. Brandon is married to Sherrie and has a daugher, Emma.
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