So, Can a Woman Be a Pastor? You May Be Surprised!
A deep dive into women in church leadership.
Can a woman be a Pastor? Honestly, this is one of the hottest topics when it comes to Christianity. You have women trying to break out into what they believe their calling is and others limiting their ability to do so. No true Christian wants to go against the Word of God and sometimes we can get in our flesh when we do not like something. After all, the Word of God is offensive to the flesh. So let’s start with the two verses in Timothy that is used all of the time when it comes to women in a ministry position.
1 Timothy 2:12– But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.
1 Timothy 3:2– An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach.
I mean WOW! It says it clear as day right there. I guess women can not be teaching over men and I guess women can’t be elders, deacons, pastors, etc. Or maybe there is a different meaning to these verses. The best advice I can give when it comes to reading the Bible is taking a look at the context of the verse (and no, that is not the verse before and the verse after). 🙂
When it comes to context, there are 4 questions you have to ask yourself:
1. Who wrote this book or letter?
2. Why was he writing this book or letter?
3. What did it mean to the people receiving this book/letter?
4. What was the problem that was looking to be solved with this book or letter?
To better explain this, let’s take a look at some other examples in scripture. I want you to see exactly what I am talking about to show you what I mean.
Example number one. Let’s read a verse out of Corinthians:
1 Corinthians 7:8– So I say to those who aren’t married and to widows—it’s better to stay unmarried, just as I am.
But then at the same time, we find this verse.
Proverbs 18:22– The man who finds a wife finds a treasure, and he receives favor from the LORD.
So which is it? Should one get married or should one stay single? If Proverbs says that a wife is a blessing, why would Paul say that his preference is to remain single? This is why context is important. Without knowing what is going on during both of these time periods, you would think the Bible contradicts itself, but it does not. It is not what Paul is writing IN Corinthians, but rather to the Corinthians.
Let’s take a look at another set of verses.
Psalm 127:3– Children are a blessing and a gift from the Lord.
But then why did Jesus say this:
Luke 23:29– For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.’
What days are coming? Is that for us (no), is it for them…YES! Why are the barren blessed? The answer: Jesus knew that within a decade, the Romans would come by ship over to Jerusalem and absolutely destroy the temple, the people, and everything in it in 70 AD. Why would God want you to have kids knowing that would happen…he doesn’t. So are children a blessing…YES, but in the wrong season your blessings can become burdens and no child should ever be a burden.
Context and content change EVERYYYTHINNGGG. Is this starting to make a little sense?
Women in Church Leadership
So let’s finally do it. Let’s talk about the age-old question about women in church leadership. All of the time I get asked, “Can a woman be a Pastor?” or “Where in the Bible does it say women can be Pastor’s, Elder’s, or Apostles?”. Or how come you ordain women into Church leadership?
I can easily see why some people come to the conclusions they do with some of the scriptures we have read above, but with a little bit of digging and studying, we can bring some clarity to this topic. We see in the Old Testament Deborah the Judge who is a ruler and Prophet. We also see the Prophet Huldah, who according to Jewish tradition was one of the “seven prophetesses” with Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Abigail, and Esther who proclaims God’s revelation to His people. We know Huldah was the relative of Jeremiah and taught the Word publicly in school…over men and women.
So to begin our studies on this, let’s go to the Word. Let’s highlight some of the women in the Bible to paint a picture of how women are used. This way the next time someone asks you, “Can a woman be a Pastor?”, you will have a good answer for them.
Deborah the Judge; Can a woman be a Pastor?
I want to start with Deborah the Judge. She was a great example of women in leadership We will use only one old testament reference since we are not under the Old covenant anymore, but we can still see scripturally, culturally, and historically how the women were used in the framework of the Church structure.
Now let’s take a look at the scripture:
Judges 4:1-4– Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, now that Ehud was dead. So the Lord sold them into the hands of Jabin king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor. Sisera, the commander of his army, was based in Harosheth Haggoyim. Because he had nine hundred chariots fitted with iron and had cruelly oppressed the Israelites for twenty years, they cried to the Lord for help. Now Deborah, a prophet, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time.
The word Leading or Judging is the Hebrew word Shaphat which means to judge, govern, lead, vindicate, punish. To act as a lawgiver. Simply put, to rule and execute.
The one thing that I believe is important to highlight here is that an Old Testament, Biblical Judge was not your typical Judge like we see today in the court system. This was not Judge Judy. A Judge had many more responsibilities than that and leading mean and teaching men was a part of it. If God is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8), why the change now? In a better covenant that truly levels the playing field. Even in the Old Testament, where there were hierarchies and rules and laws…God was still using women mightily. Now in the New Testament, where it doesn’t matter if you are a Hew or a Greek, a Male or a Female (Galatians 3:28)…you catch my drift.
But Johnny, can it mean something else? Maybe, but here is another verse where this word Shaphat is used.
2 Samuel 7:11– And as since the time that I commanded judges to be over my people Israel, and have caused thee to rest from all thine enemies. Also the LORD telleth thee that he will make thee a house.
To wrap this up we see Deborah, wife a Lappidoth, who was ordained by God as a Prophet and Judge. She was leading, teaching and ruling over men and women. You can specifically see in scripture she ruled over the general Barak (Judges 4). We also know she was not the ONLY one as historical records have many women judges and various leadership responsibilities within the Temple.
Women In Church Leadership – New Testament
What I would like to do now is use 3 examples of women in the New Testament. We can easily see how they were used and how they operated. We will be able to see what their roles and responsibilities were. Then, after we deal with these few examples we will specifically get into the “anti-women” verses that appear in scripture.
Can a Woman Be a Pastor? Consider Phoebe.
Let’s talk about Phoebe and what Paul writes about her in Romans.
Romans 16:1-3– I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea; that you receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and that you help her in whatever matter she may have need of you; for she herself has also been a helper of many, and of myself as well. Greet Prisca (the Roman name for Priscilla) and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus,
The Hebrew word for servant is Diakonos which literally means one who executes the commands of another, or Deacon. It literally is the Greek word for Deacon, a church office role. Not only do we have Paul calling her a deacon, but we can also see in church history that shew as a Deacon as well. Here is an excerpt from soho.com about Phoebe:
I argued that because the apostle Paul commended the work of Phoebe-a deacon (Romans 16:1-2)-the tradition of female deacons continued throughout the early centuries, as noted both by the archaeological evidence and also in Christian literature preserved from this period. For example, Clement of Alexandria (150-215 C.E.), Origen (185-242 C.E.), John Chrysostom (347- 407 C.E.), and Egeria (a fifth-century pilgrim) refer to female deacons without reservation. The historical evidence is abundant because the biblical record is so clear.
With this being said, we know that there are only 2 places in scripture that give you a literal checklist for the qualifications for elders & Deacons (lumped together) and referring to both offices as an office of “overseer”. The interesting point here that people seem to forget is that it actually gives you a checklist for the women too! If women could not be in church leadership, then why is Paul listing off things he would like the women to do, specifically in the places he is explaining the expectations of Elders and Deacons?
Let’s take a look at 1 Timothy 3:1-13 (You can also see this in the book of Titus chapters 1 & 2)
1 Timothy 3:1-13- It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain, but holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. These men must also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach. Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things. Deacons must be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households. For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a high standing and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.
This whole text is about qualifications for Elders and Deacons…why mention women if they could not be Elders or Deacons? It is pretty obvious he is addressing the men directly and the women directly. The other VERY interesting pasrt is the word “Likewise”
While some scholars believe Paul restricted the office of deacon to men, others do not, since, when describing the qualities that the office-holders called “deacons” must possess, Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 3:11 gunaikas (Greek for “women”) hosautos (Greek for “likewise”), translated “likewise the women.” The “likewise” indicated that the women deacons were to live according to the same standards as the men deacons (see also the Apostle Paul’s use of the term “likewise” in Romans 1:27, 1 Cor. 7:3,4,22, and Titus 2:3,6).
Likewise is the Greek word Hosautos which means in like manner or the same. Literally telling the women “to do the same thing” in your context. To make the point even more, look at how the word “likewise” was used in Romans 1.
Romans 1:27– and in the same way (likewise) also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.
Now back to Romans 16. The second word that I would like to highlight is the word helper or succourer. The Greek word that is used here for helper is Prostatis, which in Greek literally means “a woman set over others.” The fact that there is a word for this is mind-boggling. As mentioned in L’Osservatore Romano, here is an awesome excerpt to ponder.
In classical Greek the word prostates (προστάτης) (feminine, prostatis) was used to mean either a chief or leader or a guardian or protector, often in a religious context; it was later used also to translate the Roman concept of a patron. The Apostle Paul’s use indicates that its range of meanings had not changed by New Testament times. This suggests that Phoebe was a woman of means, who, among other things, contributed financial support to Paul’s apostolate, and probably hosted the house church of Cenchreae in her home, as well as, providing shelter and hospitality to Paul when in the town…who also taught, trained and pastored the men and women when paul was not there.
So with this knowledge based on the Word of God and Historical reference, we know Pheobe was a Deacon in the church who led and taught over men and women. She served them and was a prominent leader figure in their life. We also see it was Paul who set her apart.
Euodia and Syntyche
The next set of ladies I want to chat about here is Euodia and Syntyche. So let’s turn to the book of Philippians.
Philippians 4:2-3– I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord. Indeed, true companion, I ask you also to help these women who have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel, together with Clement also and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.
Euodia and Syntyche were true companions who shared in the struggle in the cause of the Gospel. Then Paul relates them WITH Clement and calls them his fellow workers (equals). He says they shared in the struggle in the cause of the Gospel. Qhat was the cause of the Gospel? PREACHING AND TEACHING the good news to Gentile regions!
What I don’t get is to why the assumption is that they only taught women. It doesn’t say it or reference it, history doesn’t say it or confirm it, in fact, the exact opposite. Are you going to let a few misinterpreted verses lay out a guideline on how to treat a whole gender in the body?
What we have to ask ourselves is with all of the evidence we have seen, are the scriptures in Timothy a general church mandate or a contextual issue.
—If this was a general church mandate, how come this is the only letter we see this type of mandate in?
—If this was a general church mandate, why is Paul himself putting women in leadership positions?
To answer the question “Can a woman be a Pastor?”, we have to ask ourselves the 4 points of context checking that I had brought up earlier. The letters to Timothy were written to him while he was in EPHESUS.
I pulled out 2 historical pieces about Ephesus specifically around the Temple of Artemis. You know Diana. C’mon, you have seen Wonder Woman…right?
The Temple of Artemis or Artemision (Greek: Ἀρτεμίσιον; Turkish: Artemis Tapınağı), also known less precisely as the Temple of Diana, was a Greek temple dedicated to an ancient, local form of the goddess Artemis (associated with Diana, a Roman goddess). It was located in Ephesus(near the modern town of Selçuk in present-day Turkey). It was completely rebuilt twice, once after a devastating flood and three hundred years later after an act of arson, and in its final form was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. By 401 AD it had been ruined or destroyed. Only foundations and fragments of the last temple remain at the site.
We know this was opposition to Paul as he was ministering since we can see Artemis get a shout out in the book of Acts.
Acts 19:23-29– About that time there occurred no small disturbance concerning the Way. For a man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Artemis, was bringing no little business to the craftsmen; these he gathered together with the workmen of similar trades, and said, “Men, you know that our prosperity depends upon this business. You see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost all of Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away a considerable number of people, saying that gods made with hands are no gods at all. Not only is there danger that this trade of ours fall into disrepute, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis be regarded as worthless and that she whom all of Asia and the world worship will even be dethroned from her magnificence.” When they heard this and were filled with rage, they began crying out, saying, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” The city was filled with confusion, and they rushed with one accord into the theater, dragging along Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul’s traveling companions from Macedonia.
Look at what we have just read here. Demetrius was making silver shrines of Artemis that he would sell and make the moolah! Paul’s preaching was so powerful, that people started to convert and then would stop buying these false idols.
“In terms of cultic life in Ephesus, it is clear that women played a significant role and held important offices in many cults. The mythology of Ephesus [including the myth that Ephesus was founded by warrior women known as the Amazons which bolstered their status in the Artemis cult. According to Pausanias, from very early days, if not originally, the Amazon women resided at the sacred place and performed rituals to Artemis there (7.2.4). Cultic activity for women was more prominent in Asia Minor than elsewhere (Ramsay 1900:67). Kearsley notes that the fifteen women who were archiereiai (“chief priests” or “high priests”) in Ephesus is the largest group known from any city (1986:186). At least some held the title in their own right and were not dependent on the title of their husbands. Women were prominent in the Artemis cults as priestesses; and in the cult of Hestia Boulaia in the civic centre of Ephesus, the influential position of prytanis is known to have been held by women (for example, Claudia Trophime I.Eph IV.1012). Favonia Flacilla was both prytanis and gymnasiarchos (I.Eph IV.1060).”
Here is another excerpt I found helpful:
“A prytanis was a priest or priestess who ministered in the Prytaneion. The Prytaneion was a large administrative building situated in “a central position in the Upper Agora and was the home of Hestia Boulaia with the sacred fire of the city.” Paul Trebilco states that “In Asia Minor twenty-eight women were known to have held the position of prytanis (a position of very high rank involving the finances and cultic life of the city) in eight cities of the first three centuries of the Common Era.” While we have evidence for twenty-eight, there may have been even more women who held this office. In his commentary on Ephesians, Clinton Arnold explains that the prytanis “was similar to the mayor of a city, and this office holder presided over the town council.” Thus, the priest or priestess of a Greco-Roman city, including the city of Ephesus, exercised “liturgical authority in parallel to the legislative, judicial, financial or military authority of the city’s officials.” Political and religious activities were intertwined in the Greco-Roman world. There are many indications (from ancient statues found in Ephesus, etc) that the “new Roman woman,” with new social freedoms and powers, was making her influence felt among the wealthier Ephesian women. The passage in 1 Timothy 2:9-10, where wealthy women in the Ephesian church are given corrective instructions, is another indication that not all women in Ephesus were the epitome of sōphrosunē—modest propriety.”
So here are the options. 1. It is a context issue or 2. the Bible has errors…lots of them!
Can a woman be a Pastor? We believe that is a resounding Yes! If you wish to draw closer to God and even serve as one of the great women in church leadership here at SOH, contact us!
References: 1. MacDonald, Margaret Y., “Was Celsus Right? The Role of Women in the Expansion of Early Christianity”, Early Christian Families in Context: An Interdisciplinary Dialogue, ed. David L. Balch and Carolyn Oziak (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003), p. 166 2. Liddell, Scott & Jones, 1882, Lexicon, s.v. 3. Manes, Rosalba. “Phoebe a woman of luminous charity”, L’Osservatore Romano, January 2, 2018 4. Jewett, Robert. Romans: A Commentary (Minneapolis, MN.: Fortress Press, 2007), p. 943
Connect with the author and lead Pastor of Sound of Heaven Church Johnny Ova