Women in positions of spiritual leadership Part 1: 4 reasons that the Bible does not allow it

men-and-womenRecently, there has been a great deal of discussion about an interview given by Mark Driscoll to a British journalist. During the interview, it was discovered that the journalist is married to a woman who is also the head elder in their church. Driscoll rightly points out that her holding that position is wrong according to the Bible. However, rather than turning the conversation to the biblical data on the subject, Mr. Driscoll began to question the validity of female elders based on church size and the perceived masculinity of the male members in that church. The problems with this line of thinking are numerous and include:

  • Churches lead by female elders are not monolithically small.
  • Churches who are faithful to the biblical model of gender are not monolithically large.
  • “Masculine” men attend both female-lead churches and male-lead churches.

The best way to handle the question of women in eldership is to look at the biblical directives and then follow those commands. In an article written by Pastor Scott in 2007, we discover four reasons why the Bible does not allow women to hold positions of spiritual leadership in the Church:

A woman in a position of spiritual leadership violates what Scripture explicitly prohibits. 

1 Timothy 2:12 is the primary text behind the debate. In it Paul says the following words: But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. Most understand that the phrase “to teach and exercise authority over a man” refers only to women who hold the office/role of pastor or elder in the church. For example, Craig Blomberg writes

The authoritative teaching role that Paul prohibits women from taking would thus be the office of overseer or elder (pastor) inasmuch as [1Timothy] 3:2 and 5:17 assign the combined function of teaching and authority uniquely to this office. – Pentecost To Patmos, p.363-65

Given the above support as well as the fact that in the very next context (3:1-15), Paul goes on to give the qualifications for the person functioning in that capacity, it is virtually impossible to see 2:12 as referring to anything other than the elder/pastor. However, what is equally impossible to do, is to see this verse as being something other than perceptive.

In other words, what Paul is giving here is a command, in this case a “negative” command or prohibition. We see this, not only from the sentence formation, but also from the grammatical structure of the words used in the original language. The verb within the phrase, “I do not allow” exists in the imperative mood, which means that which Paul says here, he expects to be obeyed! It is a prohibitive command: women are not to teach or exercise authority over a man. They are not to function as pastors, elders or teachers of men in the church.

Since the words that Paul writes here are the holy, authoritative Word of God, to disobey such a command is to be in open rebellion (sin) against God! Some at this point have argued that although God may be prohibiting women from this role, violation of this command is not really sin. To them it is simply an issue of church polity or man’s view of how church affairs should/may be conducted. However, is that how God sees it?

If God gives a command, is not our violation of it always considered sin? 1 John 3:4 defines sin as “lawlessness” or “without law. Is this not an example of just that? If God commands me to do something or not do something, to violate such a command, means that I am functioning “without law”, or acting according to “lawlessness.” Though some choose to see this issue as not a “big deal” or “not as lawless” as other sins, they are forgetting God’s perspective on the issue. To God, sin is sin; all sin is heinous, abominable, and worthy of death. None more so than sins which are committed by justifying them as something other than sin! In short, God takes all sin seriously—especially those which are done and then justified as “okay” or not really a “big deal.” Therefore, any violation of God’s commands finds His disapproval and possibly even His wrath.

Consider the following as examples of Godly prohibitions and how violations were dealt with. Many of these things might be issues that many might not see as a “big deal”:

  • Eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Consequence: The guilt of sin and death is imputed to the entire human race. (Genesis 2:17; Romans 5:12-18)
  • Burning un-prescribed incense before the Lord. Consequence: God burns Nadab and Abihu alive. (Leviticus 10:1-2; Numbers 3:4)
  • Touching the ark of the covenant. Consequence: God strikes Uzzah dead. (1 Chronicles 15:2, 13; 2 Samuel 6:6-7)
  • Carrying out priestly duties while not holding the office of priest. Consequence: King Uzziah is stricken with leprosy. (2 Chronicles 26:16-22)
  • Keeping sheep that God commanded should be killed. Consequence: Saul loses his right to be king. (1 Samuel 15:3,9, 23)
  • Lying about your financial commitment the church. Consequence: God strikes Ananias and Sapphira dead. (Acts 5:1-2, 5, 10)

We see from these texts that when God commands us to do something or not do something, we are to obey, no matter how “big a deal” we think it is! To God all of His commands matter, nothing is trivial, all lawlessness is serious sin and all lawlessness is open rebellion. Therefore, a violation of 1Timothy 2:12 is no different.

Note: I believe that this is the reason behind Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 where he prohibits the prophetess from speaking in the general assembly. Paul was so concerned about individual women who might the command in 1Timothy 2, that even those who had been given the gift of prophecy were not allowed to share their message publicly in the congregation for fear that such would use that platform as validation in pursuing positions of authority or teaching (over men) in the church.

A woman in a position of spiritual leadership destroys God’s model of male headship. 

God’s model in Scripture is one of male headship (Ephesians 5:22-23; Colossians 3:18; 1 Corinthians 11:3). It is this model of male headship to which Paul appeals as his support for prohibiting women as pastors, elders or teachers of men. Continuing on in 1 Timothy 2, verse 13, he writes: “For it was Adam who was created first, then Eve.”

This is Paul’s reason for prohibiting women in this particular role, because Adam (man) was the first to be created, not Eve (the woman). In other words, God, in creation, established His order of male headship and testified to that by creating the man before the woman (Gen 2:7, 21-22).

What Paul is saying applies universally to all Christian churches. I say that because some have claimed that in 1Timothy 2:12, Paul is referring to a particular woman—rather than applying this prohibition to all. If that were true, then his reference to Adam and Eve in verse 13 would make no sense at all. Think about it, if Paul is referencing only a certain woman – or certain women—then his appeal to God’s creative order/creation design, that of male headship, is irrational. It is obvious from the scope of Paul’s explanation in verse 13 that the prohibition in verse 12 applies to all women.

A woman in a position of spiritual leadership hinders God’s Gospel and its goal. 

The goal of the Gospel:

To redeem a people who will gain the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ, through lives which testify to the excellency of God and the restoration of His creation design. (2 Thessalonians 2:14; 1 Peter 2:9; Romans 8:18-25)

Although that last part is still in process, in other words, God’s creation design will not be fully restored until the new heavens and earth are realized; it is nonetheless taking place now! Men and women are being redeemed by the blood of Christ, and as a result, living lives which glorify God and demonstrate His perfect creative design taking us back to the issue of male headship.

Male headship was part of that creative design. God intended the man to have authority over the woman – at least in the home and the church. Therefore, when we violate that command in either sphere, we hinder the goal of the gospel as well. We hinder part of what God desires to accomplish through its message which is more than just saving or redeeming us. God redeems us for the purposes mentioned above: glory and creative restoration. Therefore when those things are not the product of the gospel lived out in our lives, then the message itself is clouded or hindered. Again,women as pastors/elders or teachers of men clouds or hinders the gospel message by the circumvention of one part of its goal which is male headship.

Allowing women to function in positions of spiritual authority in the local church also undermines the Gospel by teaching that obedience to all of God’s commands is not essential to savingly receiving its message. This practice implies that one can choose to ignore God’s clear prohibitions yet still come to Christ and be saved.

A woman in a position of spiritual leadership cancels God’s pattern of spiritual leadership. 

This could have been discussed under the second point, but I felt it deserved its own place of consideration.

When we look to the pattern of spiritual leadership that God has ordained in Scripture, it is always one of men. Priests were always men, the apostles were all men and now the leaders of the church are to be the same: men. Some might use the example of Deborah to refute such a claim, however, never does the Bible tell us that she functioned in any spiritual capacity. Deborah was a judge and not a spiritual leader. Such a role or office has never been given to a woman in Scripture. So why start now? Shall we succumb to the liberal credo of  “egalitarianism” – the church’s version of “political correctness”? Is there a mandate to do so? Has God even allowed for it?

From what we have seen above, clearly the answer is “No!”

Women who function in roles of spiritual leadership in the church is still a “big deal” to God and should be a big deal to us. Those women are in open rebellion and sin before God. Therefore, the church should not associate or support women who function as such. Instead, in love, we should be calling them out of their sin and saving their souls from death.

My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. – James 5:19-20

In conclusion, I want to ask a final question to those who agree with what I have said here yet continue to consider this an issue that is not worthy of breaking fellowship. The question: since Scripture commands us to break fellowship with all those who continue in unrepentant sin (Matthew 18:15-20; 2 John 1:9-11; 1 Corinthians 5:11-12), can you biblically make a distinction between this particular sin and other sins? Are we ever told to break fellowship with certain individuals over one sin, but not with others in a different sin?

Is there a biblical distinction? I see none.

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