During the past centuries, there had been a heated debate over what the role of women in the church should be. There is a growing belief that women can preach and serve as pastors. Some think that the traditional idea that men should only be the leaders of the church is outdated and are not applicable today. With the feminist movement, Christians are now feeling the inadequacy of men, and now they are turning to women as their leaders.
While everyone has their own opinion about this important topic, there is only one opinion that really matters. It is what God thinks. Does God approve women ministry? Can we read passages in the Bible that answer this crucial question? Most importantly, are we willing to accept the truth when confronted by it? It is the right time that we take a deeper and honest look at this matter. Let us analyze all sides of the argument.
In this blog, let us explore the answer to the question, “What does the Bible say about women being a preacher and pastor?” You will also learn about:
- Who are the famous female pastors today
- The role of women in the Old Testament
- The role of women in the New Testament
- How did Christ treat women
- The clear instructions against female pastors
- Understanding the instruction of Paul
- The role of women in the church today
- Possible objections to the teaching that women should not preach
- What happens if the woman leads the church
Famous Female Pastors today
As we look at the Christian world today, it is not hard to find popular female pastors. In the United States alone, female pastors are highly efficient when it comes to drawing a lot of followers. In fact, most of them are more eloquent, charismatic, and knowledgeable than their male counterparts.
You might have heard about Paula White, the personal Donald Trump. Or maybe Juanita Bynum, a famous evangelist, televangelist, author, and gospel singer based in Chicago. I should also not fail to mention Joyce Meyer, Bimbo Odukoya, Ida B. Robinson, and Darlene Zschech. If you want to know more of the popular female pastors, a list found in Ranker.com will show you.
Now, what I’m pointing it out here is that women ministry or female pastors and preachers are actually a reality today. We even have female priests in some churches.
According to a study released by the Barna Group, The State of Pastors 2017, there is a slow but steady rise in the number of female pastors. In the Protestant denomination, one in every 11 protestant pastors is a woman.
The Role of Women in the Old Testament
Throughout the Old Testament, we saw the intention of God when He created man and woman. We can also read the different stories of women, both righteous and unrighteous. Through these stories, we can get an idea of God’s purpose for women.
The Story of Adam and Eve
Let’s go back to the first man and woman – the story of Adam and Eve.
We see that Adam was first created by God. We read, “And the LORD God said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him’” (Genesis 2:18). This verse tells us that Adam was alone and God revealed His plan to create a “helper comparable to him.”
Does this mean that Eve was just an afterthought of God? Did God originally intended to have Adam alone for all eternity and eventually realized that that’s not a good idea? The answer is an absolute NO.
Earlier in Genesis 2, we read that God asked Adam to name all the animals. In the process, God was showing Adam that there was no one like him. God made Adam realized the need for companionship, and with this, God instilled in the mind of Adam how special a woman is. To make the point even clearer, God created Eve from a rib of Adam, thus indicating that they are truly of one flesh.
So, what can we learn from the story of Adam and Eve? We learn that men and women are of equal value. However, God intended that there will be a structure of government between the relationship of Adam and Eve. God put Adam over Eve – meaning, in terms of authority, Adam is superior to his husband. How can we know?
- First, Adam was created first.
- Second, Adam wasn’t deceived by Satan, only Eve. We can read it I Timothy 1:14, “And Adam was not deceived; but the woman, being deceived, was in the transgression.”
- Third, God said, “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall RULE over you” (Genesis 3:16).
We can see from the beginning, God establishes the role of men and women – the man having authority over women.
The Story of Miriam
Miriam is the sister of Moses and Aaron. She was called “Miriam, the prophetess” in Exodus 15:20. She led the triumphant praise and song to the Eternal after they have been delivered from the hands of the evil Egyptian Pharaoh.
There’s no doubt; Miriam held a leadership role in the wilderness community. However, when Moses took an Ethiopian woman as a wife, Miriam, together with Aaron, led a rebellion. God decisively showed Miriam and Aaron His chosen leader and that leader is Moses. As a result, Miriam was punished by God, and she was turned into a leper. Thankfully, Moses pleaded with God to heal her.
Does the story of Miriam prove that woman can take up leadership role? Absolutely, but not the leadership that is reserved for men to occupy. We can still see that there was a hierarchy of leadership; Moses as the supreme human leader and Deborah still need to submit to Moses.
The Story of Deborah
Another prominent female leader and judge in the Old Testament is Deborah. We don’t really know how she rose to be a leader, but perhaps because of her status as a prophetess, many people started to seek for her advice, and this made her prominent throughout Israel. She was also called a “mother in Israel” (Judges 5:7).
Is the story of Deborah a proof that women can be preachers and pastors? Let us look into details.
During the judgeship of Deborah, it was the time when Jabin, the king of Hazor, held Israel for twenty years. Jabin had a massive army, and the spirit of Israel’s patriotism was crushed. No one wanted to stand against Jabin, not a single man.
God revealed to Deborah that Barak, the son Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali, should “go and deploy troops at Mount Tabor” and “take with [him] ten thousand men of the sons of Naphtali and of the sons of Zebulun” (Judges 4:6). Now, we can see here that God asked for Barak to lead the army against Jabin’s army. God didn’t ask Deborah to do it. Thus, it is evident that God was still looking for a man to lead His army.
Out of fear, Barak agreed to assume the task but only if Deborah would accompany him. Barak eventually defeated their enemies; however, the glory of his victory was given to a woman.
From this story, we can conclude that God still prioritizes men to lead his people and not women. However, when men are weak, and there’s no man worthy to take the position of leadership, women were permitted to take the role. Like in the time of Deborah and Barak, we have seen the detrimental state of men. Barak seemed to be the man closest to becoming a leader; however, even him, he was too weak to the point that he looked at a woman, Deborah, as a source of strength instead of looking to God.
Yes, Deborah served as a judge. However, a judge and a pastor are different things. Judging includes determining what’s right and wrong. However, pastoring is the act of leading the flock of God.
When there’s no man worth of becoming a leader, God can use women to fulfill his plan and purpose. However, this only happens in extreme circumstances. As long as there are men who can act as a leader, they are given the priority over women. The story of Deborah is, therefore, not a proof that God allows women to be pastors or preachers.
Other women in the Old Testament
There’s no doubt that women played a vital role in fulfilling God’s will on this earth during the Old Testament period. However, the Bible is consistent when it comes to the form of government. Men are to have authority over women. Women are to submit to men and men ought to respect and love them.
However, we cannot see any indication in the Old Testament that women can carry out the role of a pastor or lead God’s flock. It has always been the role of men.
The Role of Women in the New Testament
Now, we come to explore the role of women in the New Testament.
All throughout the New Testament, we don’t see evidence that women can serve as a pastor. However, we can see the immense value of women when it comes to doing the work of God. These are some of the women worth mentioning who made a great impact in the New Testament era.
- Priscilla – the wife of Aquila. Notice that when their names are mentioned, Priscilla is always mentioned first. This shows that Priscilla might have played a more significant role. However, they are always partners at work. We can see in Acts 18-24-26 how they corrected Apollos at Ephesus and taught him about “the way of God more accurately.”
- The women who helped the Apostle Paul – we can see that Romans 16:1-16, that Paul mentioned more than ten female names and how they helped in his ministry.
- Lydia – she was instrumental in taking care of the brethren in the church at Philippi (Acts 16:13-15).
- Anna the Prophetess – a widow who served in the temple (Luke 2:36-27)
- Mary called Magdalene, Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna – the women who helped Jesus and have provided Him and His disciples food from their substance (Luke 8:1-3).
- Women first saw the resurrected Christ (Matthew 28:9-10).
- Dorcas who “was full of good works and charitable deeds” (Acts 9:36).
- Lois and Eunice for raising a godly man, Timothy (II Timothy 1:5; 3:14-15).
How did Jesus Christ treat women?
Jesus Christ, our greatest Master and Lord, has given us an example of how to treat women. All through Christ’s ministry, we have seen how He valued women and how they can fulfill God’s plan. We have seen how Christ treat women.
- He went against the norm of His days. Unlike other men, He associated with women.
- He accepted support from women.
- He was compassionate and merciful towards women.
- He protected and respected women.
We read in Luke chapter 20 the collective mindset of the men of Jesus’ day. They asked Christ in verse 33, “Therefore, in the resurrection, whose wife does she become? For all seven had her as wife?” Did you grasp that? The Sadducees see a woman as a property of a man, and even after her death and resurrection, they are still concerned who will own the woman!
But Christ had a different perspective. He said that women in the Kingdom of God “are equal to the angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.”
We can see that Christ greatly valued women. However, again, we don’t see women being used as pastors. Even the Apostles chosen by Jesus were all men.
Here’s a great present from Beyond Today entitled, “The Value of Women.” It is a great video that shows how the Bible truly values women. From Beyond Today website, “In a world that often devalues and dishonors women, where can a woman find her true value and identity? Learn the real truth.”
Not a question of value but a question of authority
Throughout the Bible, there is no denying that both men and women are equally valuable in the eyes of God. Both are precious, and they have their own innate worth. Concerning value, men and women are equal. We read:
“For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 26-28).
We can also read that God is no respecter of persons.
“Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, ‘Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons’” (Acts 10:34).
God also made the Holy Spirit available for both men and women.
“But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, that I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams. And on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days; and they shall prophesy’” (Acts 2:16-18).
Therefore, the question we have at hand is not a question of who is more valuable, but a question of authority and the nature of ministry each gender should handle.
Some important observations
Before we delve into the specific scriptures prohibiting women from being pastors, we need to consider these points:
- There were NO known pastors in the New Testament.
- All of the original Apostles were men, and there was no indication that a woman was added.
- All instructions to being a pastor are directed to men. No instructions to female pastors were given.
These important observations alone give us an indication that women are really not meant for a pastoral, preaching, and leadership role in the church.
The clear instructions against female pastors
Now we come to clear instructions from the Bible that has been a source of heated debate among Christian denominations today.
The Apostle wrote:
“Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are NOT permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, AS THE LAW ALSO SAYS. And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church” (I Corinthians 14:34-35).
Now, some people might think that the Apostle Paul might not be that serious with what he said. Probably, this was just a misprint. However, Paul repeated his instruction in I Timothy 2:10-12.
“Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in SILENCE.”
Now, those instructions are as bright as the sun. The Apostle Paul even said that these words originally came from God and they are “the commandments of the Lord” (I Cor. 14:36). He added that those who don’t believe what he says or follow his instructions are called “IGNORANT” (I Cor. 14:37).
Understanding the instruction of Paul
We need to dissect and careful digest the words of Paul for us to genuinely understand what he was saying here. For a modern reader like us, Paul’s words can be very frank, direct, and even a bit harsh. However, we need to take into consideration the issues that were plaguing the church at that time.
During Paul’s time, there was confusion about the role each member should assume. We read in the earlier verses that “Whenever [they] come together, each of [them] has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation” (verse 26). They all talked at the same time, and it seemed that they were trying to outdo each other and trying to make a name for themselves. They want to look good and gain the recognition of men. Thus, Paul said, “Let all things be done for edification.”
The solution of Paul was this:
“If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge. But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged” (verses 27-31).
Paul went on to say that God is not the author of confusion (I Corinthians 14:33). Thus, Paul was compelled to settle the dispute and ensure that there will be no gray area in this matter. Paul explicitly set the role of men when it comes to preaching and pastoring. He made it very clear that women are not to take these positions.
Again, this is not a question of who is better, but it is a matter of establishing a functioning and uniform government throughout God’s church. It is not a matter of who can speak or lead better, but a matter of avoiding confusion within the church.
What does it mean to be silent?
Women are to be silent in the churches, but this does not mean that they don’t speak at all. Silence here signifies submission to the authority. It means that they should listen more than speak. It also signifies that women should be possessed by peaceful disposition and calmness of spirit.
What are they exactly forbidden to speak? We read in I Timothy 2:12 that women not to teach or to have authority over a man. From this verse, we can conclude that women are not to teach publicly in the pulpit or be a pastor. Because, by doing so, they usurp authority over men.
Thus, Paul went on to say that women should learn in silence and in submission. And if they have questions, they should ask their husbands. Obviously, this does n’t mean that women cannot teach anymore because we can read in other passages that they are to teach others (2 Timothy 1:5; Titus 2:3-4). Therefore, the instruction of Paul is speaking of a particular circumstance.
What are the reasons that God forbid women to have a pastoral role?
You might ask the big question, “WHY?” This is a valid question that we must answer clearly and honestly. Here are some reasons that we can glean from the Bible why God designed the church government to be ruled by men and not women.
Women are a weaker vessel
We read in I Peter 3:7:
“Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered.”
Generally speaking, women are weaker than men regarding physical strength and size. Not only that, but most women are emotional and may act based on emotion rather than reason. Of course, this is not the main cause of women forbidden to take a preaching role in the church. This may just be a contributing factor as we can read below.
Men is the head of the family
Ephesians 5:23 tells us, “For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.”
Now, this is also one of the reasons that Paul said that when a woman take up the role of a teaching or preaching pastor, she is, in the same way, contradicting what God has already set and designed. Woman as a pastor can be seen as someone who is better than her husband. Even if the husband is also a pastor, there is a possibility of conflict between them.
Adam was formed first
We read in I Timothy 2:13:
“And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. FOR Adam was formed first, then Eve.”
Notice the word “for” in verse 13. Paul was saying that women should not be a pastor because Adam was formed first. God did not make Adam and Eve simultaneously. God, right in the beginning, is making a point that men should have authority over women.
Eve was deceived
Again, we read in I Timothy 2:14:
“And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.”
We can see that Adam wasn’t deceived by Satan, but only Eve. This shows us the tendency of women to get deceived. I’m not saying that men are smarter than women. But we can see from the life of Adam and Eve that women generally have a higher tendency to get deceived. Of course, this also puts men into greater accountability and responsibility. When something bad happens, men are held more accountable.
It is shameful for women to speak in the church
The apostle Paul said, “For it is shameful for women to speak in church” (I Corinthians 14:35). Now, why is that? What’s the reason that it is a disgrace for women to speak in the church? For one, God’s design is being disregarded. Notice what Albert’s Barnes Notes on the Bible has to say about I Corinthians 14:35 and why it is shameful for women to speak in the church:
“It is disreputable and shameful; it is a breach of propriety. Their station in life demands modesty, humility, and they should be free from the ostentation of appearing so much in public as to take part in the public services of teaching and praying. It does not become their rank in life; it is not fulfilling the object which God evidently intended them to fill. He has appointed people to rule; to hold offices; to instruct and govern the church; and it is improper that women should assume that office upon themselves.”
Moreover, we can also say that it is shameful in the part of men. If men can’t perform their leadership duties and have to rely on women to fulfill their roles, then that is considered shameful and should NOT be the case in the church of God.
It is God who assigned the role of men and women
We can read in the scripture that it is not the Apostle Paul who decide which gender to rule, but it is God. God is a God of order. He does not want His people to live in disarray and chaos. God knows that there will come a time when people will be confused with their role and that’s why right at the beginning, in Genesis 3:16, God already set the role. He said that the desire of the woman shall be for their husband and the husband shall rule over her.
We have read that the role of a woman is to support the man. The man leads; the woman follows and supports. Now, how can she fulfill this role if she is leading? You know, teaching requires leadership and authority, things that women cannot have if she was to fulfill the role God has assigned to her. Women should be too busy supporting her husband to the point that she doesn’t seek a leadership position anymore. And if a woman is not married, then she should be busy seeking the “ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price” (I Peter 3:4).
So what can women do?
We have read from the scripture that God intended men to have authority over women. This does not mean that God loves men more than women, but it is important to establish order in God’s church and even within the human family.
Consider this, God chose the descendants of Aaron to serve in the priesthood. This does not mean that other tribes and group of people are inferior or cannot assume the responsibility. It is just that God wants to assign specific people to do a specific purpose. It brings order, unity, and uniformity throughout God’s people.
Now, the question is, if women are not permitted to preach, then what can she do? The truth is, THERE ARE A LOT OF THINGS THAT WOMEN CAN DO as their service to God and to the brethren. Here are some of them:
Women are known to be prophetess in the Bible. Prophecy comes from the Greek word propheteuo and is used “with the primary meaning of telling forth the Divine counsels” ( Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words).
We read: “But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, that I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams. And on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days; and they shall prophesy’” (Acts 2:16-18).
Now, let us not take this verse to mean that women can preach in the pulpit. This just goes against clear scripture. Prophesying and preaching are different things. Prophesy can be done privately or within a small group. As long as prophesying is done by Paul’s direction, then it is permissible.
Of course, prophecy is not limited to predicting future. It also includes speaking godly and spiritual wisdom. Thus, women are also instructed to teach their children and impart wisdom that comes from God (Proverbs 1:8; 31:1).
Be a good example to the believers
We read in Titus 2:3:
“The aged women likewise, that they be in behavior as becomes holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things.”
Outside the church, women can even teach men about things that they know. There’s no denying that women can have special specialties, training, and skills that they may share with others.
Teach the young women
Again we read in the same verse, Titus 2:4-5.
“That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.”
Do other godly services
Women are to do their part in God’s work as well. They are a lot of things that women can do instead of lusting after a leadership role. It only takes a willing heart and a mind to know what else a woman can do in the church.
Women can serve in many other key roles at services. These include:
- arranging flowers,
- providing musical accompaniment,
- rendering special music,
- directing choirs,
- welcoming guests,
- teaching Sabbath school,
- organizing church activities,
- writing blogs,
- visiting and caring for the sick,
- sharing church literature,
- encouraging the brethren,
- using their talent and skills for the service of God,
- and others.
From this list, we can see that women are as valuable as men. Indeed, we read that God made Eve as a “helper comparable” to Adam (Genesis2:20). Now, helper here does not indicate inferiority. In fact, the Hebrew word rendered as “helper” is the same word to describe God as our “Helper”! Now, that’s the kind of help we can get from women.
Possible objections to the teaching that women should not preach
As humans, we are naturally hostile to all God’s commandment. Thus, we tend to think of all possible excuses to break God’s clear teachings. Throughout the centuries, women who advocate female ministry have laid out a lot of objections and their reasoning. I can’t possibly explain every single reason that they have, but I will just lay down here some of the most common.
- Women were uneducated during Paul’s time – this is simply not the case. Educational background is not a prerequisite to being a preacher or leader. While it can help, but it is not the pure basis. If this is the case, then the majority of Christ’s disciples should have been disqualified as they are uneducated.
- The teaching of Paul is based on their culture – while it is true that the culture of the day was that men were regarded higher than women, this was not the basis of Paul in his teaching. In its most fundamental core, the culture of Paul’s day was following the principles God had set. However, they have brought God’s principles to the extreme to the point they added man-made traditions and teachings. In the beginning, this is not the purpose of God. God has and will always be fair and just. He holds both men and women equally valuable. The culture of men may change, but God’s principles and law will always stay the same.
- Paul wanted to make the church different from the pagan religion of his day – the letter of Paul to Timothy was sent to Ephesus, a pagan and gentile city. In this place, the temple of Artemis is a well-known area of worship, and most leaders of this pagan religion are women. Women ministry advocates claim that Paul, in his reaction against the pagan worship of Artemis, was just trying to persuade the brethren not to follow them. Of course, this follows a faulty logic. The book of I and II Timothy did not mention Artemis or the pagan worship related to her. And if that was the case, it only shows that the women ministry model originated from pagan worship.
- Paul was just referring to the husband and wife relationship and not men and women in general – this is not true. We can read in I Timothy 2 that women are instructed to be modest. Does this mean that only married women should be modest? Obviously, not. Thus, the instruction in I Timothy 2 applies to both men and women, married or unmarried. Of course, if a woman is not married or a widow, by default, she becomes the head of her household. She submits to God. But in the spiritual sense, God has put men to be the leader of his “spiritual household.”
- God used women in the Old Testament as leaders – some of the prominent women cited are Miriam, Deborah, and Huldah. While I have already discussed this earlier, I would like to add that these women were chosen for a special purpose in a particular time. While they assume some kind of leadership roles, they were still subjected to the authority of men.
- Priscilla and Phoebe – these New Testament women may have made a great impact in the service of God, but we can nowhere find any indication that they held a pastoral role. While Phoebe was called a deacon (Romans 16:1), it only means a servant or one who serves. Notice that elders should be “able to teach,” a qualification not found in deacons (I Timothy 3:1-3; Titus 1:6-9).
- Galatians 3:28 – again, this verse is about justification and how men and women are equal when it comes to their chance of obtaining salvation from God. Galatians 3:28 does not talk about authority in the church, but that all believers, regardless of their social standing and station in life, have equal access to the grace of God. Paul both affirms that men and women were equal in the eyes of God and at the same time, establishes that men are of priority when it comes to leadership roles in the church.
What happens if the woman leads the church?
Now, let’s examine what will happen if a woman is to become a pastor, a person who leads the church of God.
The most obvious consequence of this action is that it goes against the design of God. We read:
“But I would have you know, that the head of the every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God” (I Corinthians 11:3).
That’s the form of God’s government. First is God, then Christ, then man, and then woman. If the reverse happens, chaos may ensue.
And since a woman leading a church goes against God’s explicit commandment, it is considered a SIN. What happens if we sin? The blessing of God departs from us. If a church is led by a woman, then it will eventually fail, and the blessing of God is not in them. Most importantly, the truth is not in them.
Does God prohibit women from being a pastor? The answer is yes and the reason and scriptural basis are written above. But this is not about gender superiority, but merely a matter of establishing order in the church.
We have established God’s word in this matter. The question now is, “Will we follow?” or “Will we go against God’s ordained form of government and rebel against His commandment?”
Of course, having men in authority does not guarantee that we won’t have trouble within the church. As long as we are humans, subject to frailties and weaknesses, we will still find ourselves stumbling once in a while. However, we know that if we follow God’s commandment, we have His stamp of approval and blessing. We simply follow, and it is up to God how He will bless our efforts in following Him.
So, let us all follow God’s commandment. At the end of the day, it is not what we think that counts. It is what God’s word has to say about the matter – that’s what all that matter!
How about you? What can you say about this vital subject? Please share your thought in the comment section.
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