Can Women be Pastors?

Can Women be Pastors?

Abigail G. Neace


Can women be ordained as Pastors or elders? Women in pastoral ministry is a frequently debated topic between church denominations, on grounds of biblical interpretation. Michael Houdmann of says it well. “There is perhaps no more hotly debated issue in the church today than the issue of women serving as pastors. As a result, it is very important to not see this issue as men versus women. There are women who believe women should not serve as pastors and that the Bible places restrictions on the ministry of women, and there are men who believe women can serve as pastors and that there are no restrictions on women in ministry. This is not an issue of chauvinism or discrimination. It is an issue of biblical interpretation.”                                                                       

Despite the topic of discussion, men, and women both serve in leadership capacities in today’s churches. Reed (2018) says in 2016, 20.7 % of U.S Clergy were women and 16 % of Black Protestants had women clergy. According to Rowell (2016), in 2018-2019, only three percent of evangelical congregations had a female senior or head clergyperson. But 30% of mainline congregations did, mainline denominations being defined as long established, historic denominations such as United Methodist Church, the American Baptist Churches USA, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.,) and the Episcopal Church (, 2015). In 2020, 72.8% of evangelicals approved of a woman preaching on Sunday morning. When asked about religious affiliation, church attendance, and prayer life, Pew Research polls show that on average the percentages are roughly 10 percent higher for women and, according to Sandstrom (2016), while many large religious organizations in the United States allow women to be ordained – and to hold leadership positions within the organization – few women have actually served at the very top. Pew Research looked at nine major religious organizations in the U.S. that both ordain women and allow them to hold top leadership slots. Of those organizations, four have had a woman in the top leadership position. And, so far, each of these four has had only one woman in the top position.

The first woman ordained minister of a mainstream Protestant church was Antoinette Brown Blackwell, who was ordained to the Congregationalist church. She attended Oberlin College, completing the literary course in 1847 and, after overcoming objections by family, faculty, and friends, she completed the theological course in 1850. Although her professors had allowed her to preach, they refused to license her or allow her to graduate. She was an itinerant preacher and lecturer until September 1853, when she was ordained minister of the Congregational church in South Butler, New York; she became thereby the first ordained woman minister of a recognized denomination in the United States. (Editors, 2022)                                              

Each denomination has alternate ways of reading the Bible, and with that comes different interpretations of the Scriptures. Some determine the meaning after looking at face value while others dig deeper into context. Looking at the different ways to apply cultural background and historical context to scripture readings, it is important to understand how Christians, who view Scripture as authoritative can come to different interpretations. So, is there a biblical basis for women in ministry?

 Biblical Interpretation and Cultural Context

Biblical interpretation must be read with a cultural and historical context. Without it, some scriptures become confusing and even seem void. The importance and role of women in the Bible can be seen throughout the scriptural texts and when applying historical and cultural context can help clear a few issues and concerns. First Timothy 2: 11-15 provides an example here. This verse states “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man, she must be quiet. 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. But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love, and holiness with propriety.” In reference to First Timothy 2 11- 15, Westfall (2016), suggests that, in his letter to Timothy, Paul was intending to write to a general audience instead of a broad one. While looking at the language of the letter, she suggests that First Timothy was meant as a personal letter. In the Ancient world, it was understood that “personal” letters were not necessarily private but meant to be shared within a circle of interest. In this case, the “circle of interest” would be the church at Ephesus. Today, the letter to the church at Ephesus is interpreted to mean that a woman cannot speak in church and should not be behind the pulpit, in today’s society as well as biblical society. Denominations such as Roman Catholics, Southern Baptists, Mormons or Latter-day Saints, and the Orthodox Church do not allow women to be ordained within the church. (Masci, 2014) 

Westfall (2016) uses the example that if we were to read someone else’s private mail it would seem incoherent to us because we were not the intended recipient. She says, “We might assume that the text was reasonably coherent and cohesive within its context in order to survive; that is, it was coherent and cohesive to its recipient(s) because the reader could fill in the gaps and supply the logical connections with the information” She goes on to say that we, outside of Pauline authority may not be able to entirely make sense of the text. The situation of the Church of Ephesus was that it was a pagan-centered culture. A temple dedicated to Diana was located at Ephesus. However, Paul began preaching there and people began to convert to Christianity. A Christian Church was set up by Paul and Timothy amid pagan worshippers. So, when the followers of Diana converted to Christianity, they took their practices with them. For example, perfume, heavy makeup, and immodest clothing. The pagans who were mainly female were used to drawing lots of attention to themselves.  So, in the text, the new Christians are being told not to draw unnecessary attention to themselves. In the same way, people in the church today, dress modestly, drawing as little attention as possible, therefore allowing the focus to point towards God, not our human desires. (Westfall, 2016)

According to Keener, (2001), because Paul, in some cases, advocated women’s ministry, we cannot read his restrictions on women in ministry as universal prohibitions. Rather, as in the case of head coverings in Corinth, Paul addressed a specific cultural situation. This is not to say that Paul here or anywhere else wrote Scripture that was not for all time. It is merely to say that he did not write it for all circumstances and that we must take into account the circumstances he addressed.

The Biblical Role of Women

One might argue that the Biblical role of women, is due to the patriarchal social system in which the father one or more men, as in a council exert absolute authority over the community. (Pauls, 2022) However, some say the Bible portrays a heterarchical society which is a form of management or rule in which any unit can govern or be governed by others, depending on circumstances, and, hence, no one unit dominates the rest. (Muira, 2014). Meyers (2014) says that the Bible shows more heterarchy, in its writings and texts, rather than hierarchy. Heterarchy acknowledges that different “power structures can exist simultaneously in any given society, with each structure having its own hierarchical arrangements that may crosscut each other laterally (Meyers, 2014).”

Biblical Role of Women in the New Testament

In the story of Jesus’ burial and resurrection, three women were identified by name. All four Gospels identify Mary Magdalene and Mary mother of James. However, Mark Identifies Salome and Luke identifies Joanna as also being present at the tomb. At that time, it was a societal norm for the family of the deceased to tend to the body. The family would come with spices and anointing oils to prepare the body for burial. (Laan, 2003) In Jesus’ case, the only family he had was his mother and siblings, and his disciples were as close as family. However, according to John 20:19-29, after Jesus’ death on the third day, all twelve of the disciples are hiding in an upper room for fear of the Roman government. Jesus was gone and the Holy Spirit had not made Himself known. They were afraid that if they were seen, they would be killed. Therefore, the women from Jesus’ inner circle were his mother, Mary, Mary Magdalene, and the other women followers of Jesus such as Salome and Joanna, who went to the tomb as was their societal duty.

Luke 23: 50-56, says that the body of Jesus was taken from the cross, wrapped, and buried within a short amount of time. The women prepared the spices used for anointing and rested on the Sabbath day “according to the commandment.” Then Luke 24: 1 says “But on the first day of the week at early dawn, they went to the tomb taking the spices they had prepared. The women saw the empty tomb and witnessed the “two men in dazzling apparel (Luke 24:4).”

In their intent to anoint Jesus’ body, the women revealed their strong devotion and love for Christ. Just as they loved and cared for Him during His earthly ministry (Luke 8:1-3), they also sought to make sure His body was cared for in death. According to Bricker (2021), Because of their devotion to their Lord, they were the first to hear of the resurrection and to see the risen Christ (Matthew 28:5-10). The women were the first to find the empty tomb, the truth, and reliability of the resurrection are strengthened. Women’s testimonies in court were not seen as legitimate during the New Testament times. This aspect of first-century culture validates Jesus’ resurrection because if the writers of the gospels had invented the story of the resurrection, as many skeptics claim, they would not have chosen women to be the first ones to the tomb. Instead, they would probably have chosen the disciples as the first ones present at the empty tomb, since men could serve as valid witnesses in court. As it is, all four gospel accounts describe the women at the empty tomb first, giving credence to the fact that Jesus had indeed risen from the dead. (Bricker,2021) In a society, where a woman’s word was not allowed in court, Jesus commissioned those three women to be the first to proclaim the resurrection. (Strong & Leonard, 1989) By publicly including women in his ministry, Jesus shattered the prejudicial customs of his day. Nothing in the Mosaic Law prevented men and women from conversing with one another so why was it unusual for Jesus to speak directly to women? The society of Jesus’ day, with customs dictated by rabbinic Judaism, and the way in which the scriptures had been interpreted, made Jesus’ public regard for women unique. (Glaser, 2020)  

Complementarianism vs. Egalitarianism

Complementarianism versus Egalitarianism in churches proves to be a major sticking point. Complementarians believe that men and women have been created equally in God’s image, but have different, complementary, God-ordained roles in both Church and home. They also believe in male leadership in the Church and the home, and they believe that men should mirror God the Father, whom they see as loving, wise, protective, and all-knowing. They take a strongly essentialist view of gender roles, stating that “hierarchical” gender roles were established by God at creation and that this institution does not allow for female members in the clergy or for family structures that do not place the man as the head of the household. (Dizon, 2014) Complementarianism stresses that although man and woman are “equal before God as persons,” they are “distinct in their manhood and womanhood,” forming the basis for distinction between the roles of the men and women. It then states that though these gender roles were corrupted into a source of oppression at the Fall, they were not created by the Fall itself. (Dizon, 2014). For complementarians, there are strong differences between men and women that dictate their roles. Egalitarians say that people should be treated as equals, should treat one another as equals, should relate as equals, or enjoy equality of social status of some sort. (Arneson, 2013). According to Dizon, (2014) Egalitarians argue that “hierarchical” gender roles were formed after the fall and that Christ’s redemptive work was meant to eliminate such roles from the Christian Church. They thus allow for women to take on a greater variety of roles, such as being members of the clergy and are more flexible regarding the roles of men and women in family life. Egalitarians argue that, based on Galatians 3:28, the relational distortions that have plagued humanity are officially abolished in Christ. According to Galatians 3:28, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” This eradication is not to say that Christians perfectly model the oneness that is envisioned in this verse; rather, Egalitarians argue that to maintain hierarchical gender roles would be a violation of the ideal set out by Paul in Galatians. (Dizon, 2014)

Many Church leaders both men and women, take a strong stance against Women in Ministry. Because of the strict separation of the complementarian view, it is more likely that a man would be in leadership over the church that holds the complementarian view. The complementarian view holds that women should not hold church leadership roles that involve teaching or authority over men. (Duncan, 2004) Egalitarianism is more likely to allow a woman as the leader of their church. Since the belief there is that men and women are equally gifted, a woman that has felt the call of ministry on her life, then she would be able to freely pursue that call. (Ziegenhals, 2009)

The face value of texts such as First Timothy 2:11- 16 and 1st Corinthians 14: 34, again may seem null and void but we must apply a cultural context to them and be willing to dig deeper. Christians should consider the era, and society, in which the text was written. For example, in Colossians 3: 22 says “Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.” If we do not apply a cultural context here, then we can assume Paul endorsed slavery. In verse twenty-three of the passage, Paul reminds the Corinthians that they are slaves purchased by Christ, like those purchased in a marketplace, and that true freedom is only found in Christ, slavery, by comparison, is nothing. The historical context shows that slavery in Paul’s day was not as oppressive as later forms of slavery. Many prominent people in the ancient world were slaves, including teachers, writers, politicians, artisans, and philosophers. Some slaves were better off financially than many who were born free or had purchased their freedom. And slaves often anticipated their freedom after 10 to 20 years of service to their masters, yet some chose to stay with their masters. (McDonald, 2006) For example, in the story of Jacob and Rachel, Jacob essentially made himself a slave so he could have Rachel’s hand in marriage. He worked for Rachel’s father for a total of 14 years.                                                                                                                                     

Defining Ministry

Oxford University Press (n.d.) defines ministry as the spiritual work or service of a Christian or group of Christians. It also defines a minister as a person authorized to conduct religious worship or even a government department that has a particular area of responsibility. Ministry in Jesus’ day would have been defined as caring for someone, or something or seeing to that person’s needs which according to the gospels is exactly what the women in Jesus’ circle did.

The Greek word diakonia is sometimes translated as “ministry” Diakonia is where our word deacon comes from, and the word refers to “a person who serves. Our English word “liturgy” comes from the Greek leitourgia, which can also be translated “ministry.” Diakonia is used in Acts 6:4 to describe the “ministry of the word” It is also used in 2nd Corinthians 3:8 to mean the “ministry of the spirit” and in 2nd Corinthians 5:18 it means the “ministry of reconciliation.”(Morrison, 2019) Leitourgia is used in Hebrews 8:6 to describe the ministry that Jesus received as our high priest.  

Ministry of Women in the New Testament

Starting in the New Testament, Jesus’ gospel teachings include women. Rourke (2019) says the New Testament reveals how women served Jesus, the church, and carried out the Great Commission. This is relevant for at least two reasons. First, the role of women in the church is often depicted as an exception, not an expectation. Second, to focus exclusively on the eldership, which is limited to men, distracts from the otherwise diverse and rewarding ministries that both genders engage in. (Rourke, 2019) In the Gospels, women can be seen in roles such as Patrons. Luke 8:3 tells us Joanna and Susanna were among “many others” who “provided for them out of their means.” In Romans 16:2 it is stated that Paul’s ministry was financed by women. A deaconess named Phoebe is identified as Paul’s “patron” or “benefactor” a term that literally means defender or protector Others, like Priscilla, mentioned in Romans 16:5 and Lydia in Acts 16:14, volunteered their homes. In Romans 16:6, 12, Mary, Tryphaena, Tryphosa, and Persis are mentioned as “laborers for the Lord.” Going a step further, Priscilla and Aquila were essential partners in Acts 18. They were left behind to maintain the church when Paul departed for a different city (Rourke, 2019). The four gospel accounts of Jesus’ earthly ministry contain the mention of more women than virtually any other secular writing of that era. In them, we hear Jesus’ praise women for their faith such as the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15:28; or for their generosity like the parable of a poor widow’s gift in Mark 12:43-44. Contrary to custom, he spoke freely to women in public in John 8:10-11 and taught theology to them such as in Luke 10:39. He entrusted them with the message of the resurrection while the male disciples hid in fear of the Jewish authorities. In contrast to some of the disciples, no woman deserted Him, betrayed Him, or failed to believe His words. Because of their faith, their understanding, and their fidelity, women were often examples to men. And after His ascension to Heaven, these same faithful women were with the men in prayer in an upper room in Jerusalem, waiting for the promise of God’s Spirit to prepare them for ongoing ministry (Matthews, n.d.).

Some women in the New Testament have the gift of teaching. In Luke 2:38, Anna the prophetess is introduced as a woman who served the Lord by staying in the temple and worshiping. She would also teach the people, and “to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.” Second Timothy 1:15 says that Timothy was brought up in the faith by His mother and grandmother. In Acts 18:26 Priscilla was used by God to teach or correct men like Apollos. Verse 26 says that Priscilla “explained the way of God more accurately” (Rourke, 2019).

Jesus had women who “ministered and cared for him.” Those women included Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome as referenced in Mark 15:40–41. Tabitha in Acts 9: 36, was likely the same kind of woman, “full of good works and acts of charity” (Rourke, 2019). Acts 1:12–14 notes that women were among the disciples gathered in the upper room before Pentecost. In Acts 2:17–18, Peter quotes the Old Testament prophet Joel and says that when the Holy Spirit is poured out, men and women will prophesy. Peter used Joel 2:28 to combat the accusations of drunkenness on the Day of Pentecost. The passage says “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit.” The Bible is clear: women were an important part of Jesus’ ministry in the early church. (Rourke, 2019)

Ministry of Women in the Early Church and History

Shaw (2004) says women’s position within Christianity may be best described as paradoxical. Biblical texts that mention women and the range of practices in the early church added to some confusion and allowed the origins of Christianity to be consumed by the dominant patriarchal structure and ideology of the church that has led to historical inaccuracies. “…it now seems likely that women and men were equally deacons in the first two centuries of Christianity in many places, and that a separate order of deaconesses with distinctive roles for women only fully emerged in the third century” (Shaw 2004). According to First Timothy, deacons must have met certain qualifications. The origin of the office of Deacon comes from Acts 6:1-6 with requirements given in First Timothy 3:1-10,12. Stephen was chosen as the first “deacon” in Acts 6:1-6. This passage says, “a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution.” Distribution or ministration as the King James Version translates, can refer to help, and service and can range in meaning from “spiritual” biblical teaching (Act.6:4) to the “practical” giving of provisions, supplies, support, and finances to those in need (2Co.9:12). The Greek, diakoneō “to serve” is used in Acts 6 and First Timothy; often translated as ministry, service, or deacon. The Grecian Jews complained that the widows in that town were not being thoroughly helped. Therefore, seven men were chosen to take on the duty of caring for the widows. The other twelve would be responsible for preaching and “ministry of the word.”                                                                                                                                                                 

Women’s Ministry in the Second and Third Century

Women like Perpetua in the third century were martyred for their witness and their faith. According to Bates (2011), Perpetua functions as a symbol of the universal Christian. Her depiction in terms of both male and female indicates that the early church saw the prophetic Spirit breathing where it willed, with no gender preference. No one in the group perceived Perpetua’s actions as violating a God-ordained male headship. Perpetua and her fellow martyrs provide a “universal solution valid for men and women. This account establishes an egalitarian tone by setting it within the context of the last days when God will pour out his spirit on all humanity, and men and women alike will prophesy. The text of The Martyrdom of Perpetua offers no hint that Perpetua, her companions, or her redactor viewed her perception of herself as both male and female as a psychological anomaly. Nor did the church that included this account as part of its literature for services view her as an aberrant female and a threat to God-instituted male/female differences. Even Augustine, whose gender ontology was less than flattering to women, honored Perpetua by preaching sermons in her honor, quoting, and paraphrasing from the account of her martyrdom (Bates, 2011).

Bates (2011), continues to explain how, in the late second or early third century, Clement of Alexandria extrapolated the need for female deacons from 1 Corinthians 9:5 and 1 Timothy 3:11. He saw societal gender separation as evidence of women traveling with Paul and the other apostles to evangelize women in their own quarters. By the third century, widows functioned as clergy in the Alexandrian church however the women may have ministered in the role of teacher, but only to other women. In places like Syria, qualifications included age and quiet demeanor as well as marital status and duties centered on prayer. A widow was not to instruct those who asked her about the Christian faith unless she was refuting idols or speaking about the unity of God. For deeper teaching, she was to direct questioners to the rulers of the church. (Bates, 2011).

More recently, in 17th century Great Britain, women were seen as more suited than men for the gift of prophecy because their natural passivity made them more receptive to the messages of the Spirit. These women came to be writers, not by their own desire, but as a call or command by God to write that required obedient acceptance (Shaw, 2004) During, the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th and 19th centuries when men left family farms in search of work. In their absence, women were encouraged to devote themselves to preserving traditional religious virtues of humility, charity, self-sacrifice, and nurture, while men pursued individual interests and cultivated an ethic of toughness and self-reliance.

Evangelicals and fundamentalist denominations in the 19th and 20th centuries were at the forefront of allowing women to preach. More than one hundred women served as traveling preachers for denominations such as Methodists and Freewill Baptists during the early 19th century, and scores of women became fundamentalist preachers in the early 20th century (Brekus, 2014).

In the new, free marketplace of religion during the American Revolution, churches had to rely on persuasion rather than coercion to attract members, and the formerly established churches faced stiff competition from upstart religious groups who had been inspired by the populist rhetoric of the American Revolution. Antiauthoritarian, anti-intellectual, deliberately set themselves apart from the “worldliness” of established churches by insisting that God could choose anyone, including the poor, uneducated, enslaved, or even female to spread the gospel. Nothing better symbolized their countercultural identity than their willingness to allow large numbers of women into the pulpit (Brekus,2014). According to Brekus (2014) evangelicals that allowed women to preach, were motivated by both practical and theological considerations. Practically, all these sects lacked enough male ministers to keep pace with their exponential growth in the early nineteenth century. They were desperate for help so, they relied on women as well as men to lead meetings and organize new churches.                                                                                           

Elders and Overseers

The words elder or overseer in the ESV Bible are normally used to refer to leaders of tribes in Israel or another definition is simply “old (of humans)” Psalm 105:22 says, “to bind his princes at his pleasure and to teach his elders wisdom.” This is consistent throughout the Old Testament. However, according to, Matthew 15:6 elder means “older; ancestral; in the Gospels and Acts, “elder,” usually as an official leader of the Jewish community, in the epistles, “older man or older woman who may or may not be a leader of the church depending on the context.” Again, this second definition and translation are consistent throughout. The word elder occurs about one hundred seventy-eight times in the ESV translation. Overseer occurs about three hundred and two times in total.

Elders and Overseers, along with chief priests were the official leaders of local churches. According to the definition, the word elder may refer to an older man or woman. That depends on the context of the verse. In First Timothy 4:14, Luke 22:66, and Acts 22:5 the phrase “council of elders” is used. According to the phrase “council of elders” is only used three times. The Greek word is presbyterion, which in these three passages of scripture, refers to the Jewish Sanhedrin, a “council of old men.”  (

According to Cruden’s concordance (1968) page 176, the original government of the Hebrews was patriarchal. The head of the family exercised supreme rule over all his descendants and his married sons would do the same over their families. When the father died the eldest son would succeed him in the headship. Only men of mature age came into these positions, hence the designation of elder. In the same way, Jacob was the head of those who went to Egypt with him. From this came the great influence of the older generation and the division of Israel into tribes with a priest, head or chief over the whole. In other Nations as well as the Hebrews general use of the word elder came to be used as an official title for those who were representatives of the people and thus made all the decisions. From all of this came bodies such as seventy elders mentioned in Exodus and Numbers and, later, the Sanhedrin referenced in the gospels (Cruden,1968, pg. 176).

Qualifications for Overseers and Deacons

Qualifications for church leaders are given in First Timothy 3:1-7 which states that an overseer of the church should be the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, able to teach, hospitable respectable, not quarrelsome, and not a lover of money. He must also manage his household well, with all dignity and keep his children submissive. He must not be a recent convert and must be well thought of by outsiders. In First Timothy 3: 8- 10 it says Deacons must be dignified, not double-tongued not addicted to much wine not greedy for dishonest gain. They must hold the mystery of faith with a clear conscience. In verse eleven, qualifications are given for the wives of deacons as well. Here it says “Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded faithful in all things. Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.” As can be seen in these verses, the pronouns he and his are used. It also says, “The husband of one wife” According to Briones (2017), The language in this passage is almost entirely masculine. In verse one though an indefinite pronoun is used. The pronoun (anyone) τίς in verse one and the word γυνή (wives or women) in verse eleven reveal the possibility for any gender to be an elder and for women to be included in the diaconate. There have been disagreements about how to translate the word γυνή in this instance, given that it may give a different meaning to who can be a deacon. If the word is translated as “women,” it opens the possibility for both genders to be part of the office of the diaconate. Otherwise, the translation of the same word as “wives” closes that possibility based on the pastorals and verse 11 would then be regarded as the spouses of the deacons and not women who would enter into the service of the church by in the office.  Given that the translation is a key matter for this text, one must analyze the usage of γυνή in the New Testament. (Briones, 2017) When it comes to in-text references, the pastoral epistle of 1 Timothy uses the word γυνή, nine times. In it, the translation of women is favored sixty-even percent more, over wife by most translations given the context of the passages of the epistle However, verse eleven, is rather ambiguous in its context allowing for the freedom for either translation. Paul’s dialect favors the “women” translation in terms of this letter. However, he also wrote other letters, which are of importance when evaluating this passage. On the basis of intertextual analysis of those letters, the word is better translated as “women”, given the usage of diakonos in Romans 16:1, which designates Phoebe, a woman, as a deacon of the church.  If one were to translate γυνή as wives, it would raise a problem in the consistency among the scriptures given the mention of a female deacon within the text. (Briones, 2017)

Women in Pastoral Roles in the Bible

The New Testament identifies many men by name as local church leaders, such as elders, overseers, or pastors. No women are explicitly mentioned by name however it is worth noting that no Gentile men are mentioned either. If we were to limit ourselves only to the leadership characteristics identified by Paul, then we would be limited to men who had converted from Judaism to Christianity to lead our churches today. According to Payne, apart from Christ in Hebrews 13:20 and 1 Pet 2:25; 5:4, no men or women are named as overseers and pastors of a church in the NT. John refers to himself in First and Second John as “the elder,” but nothing within these contexts associates this title with a local church or with an administration. The article indicates that this refers to something unique, which would not apply to local church administration. It probably identifies something like the last surviving elderly apostle and eyewitness of Christ. The only other NT association of “elder” with any named person is Peter’s self-identification as a “fellow-elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings.” The only person named with an explicit title of local church leadership is not a man, but a woman Romans 16:1-2 says “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a deacon of the church in Cenchrea. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been a leader of many, including myself also.”  The only person identified by name with a title as a local church leader in the New Testament is Phoebe. She is given two titles: “deacon of the church of Cenchrea” and “leader of many.” Every word that Paul chose to describe Phoebe in Romans 16 describes her as a leader or benefactor. The word (prostatis) that is applied in Romans 16:2 refers to leadership. This includes the usage directly before in Romans 12:8, the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads (proistēmi) with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.” and 1 Timothy 5:17, “The elders who rule (proistēmi) well are worthy of a double honor.” Used in relation to the family, the word means, “ruling one’s household” referring to the head of the family (1 Tim 3:4, 5, 12).

According to Payne, since Romans was written before any surviving reference to the office of a local church “overseer,” or “deacon” may have been the only officially recognized title for a local church leader at that time and place. If by prostatis, Paul identifies a church office here, then he describes Phoebe using two titles for a church office that may have been equivalent to the titles of “overseer,” “elder,” and “pastor.”

Consequently, the argument that, since women are not given the title “elder,” “overseer,” or “pastor” of a church in the New Testament, they may not occupy those offices. The same logic here, would exclude all gentile men from these local church offices as well. (Payne, 2012)


A variety of viewpoints have been presented in this paper, not all of them complimentary of one another. There is no question the topic is controversial within churches and denominations. The bottom line seems to be this – the topic at its heart is how different denominations interpret the Bible.

If Christians were to look at the cultural roles of women in the New Testament, women were used extensively, especially in stories like the resurrection, where a woman’s word would’ve been used as validation or proof. Women in biblical society did not have the stance that men had. A woman’s word was not legitimate in court, was subject to strict purity laws and places such as Genesis 30:1, which may reflect the idea that a woman’s identity was tied to childbearing.                                          

When applying cultural contexts to the scriptures it is important to note contradictory behavior within our own thinking. When looking at verses such as First Timothy 2:9, which instructs women not to wear makeup and jewelry, it is not taken literally and is said to be a very specific audience and circumstance that Paul was addressing. Christian women today wear jewelry and makeup, but if these women were to take this verse literally and out of context, then it could be said that Christian women should not be allowed to wear makeup and jewelry. However, when looking at First Timothy 2:12, the verse is often taken literally and the specific circumstance that was previously mentioned is forgotten and thus debated.

Jesus offered his teaching to both men and women in the New Testament. His parables include both genders, and at least four women are identified by the gospel writers as being a part of Jesus’ inner circle.

Christian women in the New Testament clearly had roles within the church. Whether it be tending to the widows, housing the disciples when needed, or helping churches out financially “out of their own means,” and finally women like Pheobe who are mentioned as leaders. Jesus had women who “ministered and cared for him,” during his earthy ministry, likely women like Mary Magdelene and Joanna.                             

But the question at hand is whether women meet the qualifications to serve as pastors and elders. Going solely off the masculine language used in First Timothy 3:1-7, it would seem that the answer is no. However, looking at the original languages, indefinite pronouns are used in verses one and verse eleven. The pronoun used is verse one translates to “Anyone” and in verse eleven, a pronoun for “wives” or “women” is used. After studying this, scholars believe this opens up opportunities for both men and women to hold the office of deacon or overseer.”                                                                                           

The question of women in ministry is one that may not be fully answered. Some scriptures, especially within Paul’s writings, sound contradictory. For example, “I do not permit a woman to teach” next to “I commend to you our sister Phoebe a deacon in the church…” This does not mean that the Bible is fallible. It simply means that Christians today are unsure of the meanings behind such texts and with study, different denominations have come to different interpretations. The evidence seems to point to the idea that Women should be allowed to hold high church offices and preach after looking at the historical and cultural contexts of scriptures compared to today’s society.                                                     

Two main reasons why churches struggle with this debate is, that many people fail to see multiple sides of an argument. In interdenominational relationships, the theology of this issue is debated while both parties are blinded to one another’s point of view. Difficult topics can be discussed without belittling someone else because of their view on Scripture. This is not always the case but surely it is seen. Second, is that groups such as Egalitarians take pride in looking at the Bible in a literal sense and call themselves things like “Bible-Believing Christians.” Sometimes Christian groups get too caught up in the clique they belong to and do not see that there can be more than one way to look at things.

Therefore, whether women are allowed to preach, hold the office of deacon, be ordained as pastors or elders is and will continue to be a topic much discussed by the Church. Christians that love the Lord and live for him can still disagree on topics and continue to grow in knowledge and learning, no matter what denomination they belong to. Confusing portions of Scripture should not hinder us from extensively studying it. In fact, it should be even more reason to study these passages.                                                                                                                                                                                             


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