Women pastors - what does the Bible say?

The only way to have a productive dialogue on the women pastors issue is to discuss it biblically. Yes, undeniably, there are men whose views on the issue are clouded by chauvinism. At the same time, there are men and women on both sides of the discussion. So, it should never be assumed that one holds a particular view due to latent chauvinism. The issue should be decided based on what the Bible teaches, not on who can make the strongest ad hominem attack.

The key passage on the women pastors issue is 1 Timothy 2:11-12, which reads, "Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet." At its face, this passage is abundantly clear. Paul restricts women from teaching or having spiritual authority over men. While it is not explicitly laid out in the text, the focus seems to be on the concept of pastoring/shepherding. A pastor's duties are primarily teaching and leading. It is this shepherding role over men that God, through Paul, restricts to men.

There are several lines of argument against this interpretation of the women pastors issue in 1 Timothy 2:11-12:

(1) Women were uneducated at that time, and therefore not qualified to be teachers. The passage nowhere mentions education. Education is not mentioned as a qualification for church leadership in 1 Timothy 3:1-13 or Titus 1:6-9. If education were a requirement, few, if any, of Jesus' disciples would have been qualified.

(2) Paul was only dealing with Artemis worship at Timothy's church in Ephesus. The context, and all of 1 Timothy for that matter, nowhere mention Artemis or the prominence of women in the worship of Artemis. If there was a problem with women usurping authority over men in the church in Ephesus, Paul would have addressed it directly.

(3) Paul is referring to husbands and wives, not men and women. Wives are not to teach or have authority over their husbands. The Greek words could refer to husbands and wives, but the context indicates otherwise. Are only husbands to lift up holy hands in prayer? Are only wives to dress modestly (1 Timothy 2:8-10)? The immediate context indicates that men and women in general are the subject, not husbands and wives exclusively.

(4) There are women in the Bible who served in ways that contradict this interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:11-12. Miriam, Deborah, Huldah, Priscilla, and Phoebe are the most commonly given examples. Ultimately, Miriam, Deborah, and Huldah are meaningless to the issue, as Paul is addressing leadership in the church. Leadership in old covenant Israel is not the subject at hand. In regards to Priscilla and Phoebe, the New Testament nowhere describes them serving in a way that contradicts 1 Timothy 2:11-12. Priscilla, with her husband Aquila, discipled Apollos in their home (Acts 18:26). Phoebe is simply identified as a servant/deaconess of the church (Romans 16:1).

(5) Galatians 3:28 says that men and women are equal in God's eyes. Men and women are absolutely equal in God's eyes, but that is not the issue. The subject of Galatians 3:28 is equality in Christ, equal access to the salvation Christ offers. Men and women, Jews and Gentiles, slave and free are absolutely equal in this context. Church leadership is not the subject of Galatians 3:28. Further, we cannot take one verse and use it to cancel out another verse. Both Galatians 3:28 and 1 Timothy 2:11-12 are absolutely true. They do not contradict each other.

If education, culture, or marriage are not the reason for the restriction on women in 1 Timothy 2:11-12, what is the reason? The answer is given in the next two verses: "For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived" (1 Timothy 2:13-14). The order of creation and the nature of the fall impacts spiritual leadership in the church, and in the family (see Ephesians 5:22-33). Women are not to teach or have spiritual authority over men because women were created to be "helpers" to men and because Eve was deceived into sin. Through creation, and because of the Fall, God has chosen to give men the primary teaching authority in the church.

So, what exactly does this mean practically? What are women restricted from doing? The clear implication is that women are not to serve in any role which involves the authoritative spiritual teaching of men. By this definition, the role of teaching pastor/shepherd is reserved for men. This is confirmed in the two passages which deal specifically with the qualifications for church leadership (1 Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:6-9). Church leaders are described as the "husband of one wife," "a man whose children believe," and "men worthy of respect."

Rather than focusing on what ministries women are restricted from, the focus should be on the multitude of ways God calls and gifts women to serve. Women are nowhere restricted from proclaiming the gospel to the lost (Acts 1:8; 1 Peter 3:15). Women are encouraged to teach other women (Titus 2:3-5). Women are nowhere restricted from teaching children. Women seem to excel, far beyond men, in some of the spiritual gifts and fruit of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12; Galatians 5:22-23). Women being restricted from spiritual teaching authority over men is not a punishment. Rather, it is a refocusing to the ministries, skills, and gifts God with which blesses women.

Related Truth:

Does the Bible talk about church government?

Is the office of pastor taught in the Bible?

Is the role of Pastor Emeritus biblical?

Is God/the Bible sexist?

What does it mean for wives to submit to their husbands?

Return to:
Truth about Church

Subscribe to the CompellingTruth.org Newsletter:

Preferred Bible Version:

CompellingTruth.org is part of Got Questions Ministries

For answers to your Bible questions, please visit