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Q&A: Is it biblical for a woman to be a pastor?

QUESTION: I have a friend who does not believe [there should be] women pastors. What does the bible teach about this?

A: I appreciate the fact that you specifically asked to hear what the Bible has to say on this subject. Too often I'm asked for my own opinion.

There are no references in God's Word to women attaining the role of pastor or leader of a fellowship. Some people believe this is due to the low status of women in biblical times, and that we need to revise such ideas and allow women to serve alongside men in the pastoral calling. That is certainly their choice and I respect them in it. But I think that position could stand some scrutiny—centering around the following question:

Is the absence of women pastors in the Bible just a reflection of society in biblical times, or are there genuine scriptural reasons that transcend culture and time? 

Frankly it's just too easy to dismiss biblical ideas as "outdated" or merely cultural. And I'm going to go out on a limb and say that I personally believe there is solid biblical ground for not having women function in the traditional role as pastor. Reasons that have nothing whatsoever to do with equality or ability. 

So, are you saying that women are incapable of functioning in a pastoral role?

Heavens no!! I have observed that women are incredibly capable, and in some cases do a better job than their male counterparts when it comes to the dynamics of leadership. My own wife is a very capable leader in her own right, which includes administrative oversight and teaching ability. 

One of the key passages for understanding this issue is a statement that the Apostle Paul made in his first letter to Timothy. He wrote: "I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man..." 1 Timothy 2:12a. (NASB). 

So here's the real question: Did Paul make this statement to Timothy because he was influenced by his own patriarchal society, or was was he being led by the Holy Spirit? 

The Bible reveals that God has placed an order in Creation between men and women. This order has absolutely nothing to do with equality, intelligence or ability. In other words, the Bible does not teach that men are superior and women are inferior. Men are not God's favorites. This order between men and women is communicated this way:

"...the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior." Ephesians 5:23 (NIV)

God decided to give this role of "headship" to the man. Why? That's a good question, because I have observed that women often make better leaders. But what we do know is this pattern of headship is one which reflects the very relationship of Christ to the Church. Read the passage again from Ephesians quoted above and notice the connection. 

Therefore, just as it would be inappropriate for the Church to instruct its Head (Jesus Christ) it is likewise inappropriate for a wife to instruct her husband. Why? Because the moment she does, she is the one assuming the role of headship—not her husband. It is a violation of God's created order.

Keep in mind that although the title "pastor" is never ascribed to a woman in Scripture, that doesn't mean that a woman cannot function in a pastoral role. To pastor is to shepherd (in fact, the same Greek word is translated as both pastor and shepherd). And women are encouraged to minister in this way to other women in the Word of God—encouraging and instructing in the Word. (See Titus 2:3-5)


  1. He wrote: "I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man..." 1 Timothy 2:12a. (NASB). For Adam was first formed, then Eve. 1Ti 2:14
    1Ti 2:14
    And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.
    so how can you say he might not be led by the holy spirit , he backs up what he is talking about with scripture. its pretty solid what Paul was saying. so should we just throw out acts and every letter Paul wrote ? do we get to pick and choose what is true and what is false in the WORD of GOD?

    1. In the gospels Jesus did not want us lording it over one another so what Paul says in 1st Timothy 2:12 is applicable to men who teach also. 1st Timothy 2:11-15 all of those verses were a rebuke to a woman and certain other women who were lording it over. Paul was also correcting Gnosticism at Ephesus. The word to teach in the Greek is to constantly teach in a know it all manner. I think Paul was concerned because when you hear something over and over it sounds like the truth and this particular woman and other particular women were teaching a Gnostic falsehood. Have authority over this Greek word is only used once in the New Testament and means absolute sway over another. This woman was doing what Jesus didn’t want anyone to do even with the truth let alone falsehood. Paul would have said the same thing to a man if that would have been the case. The classic Greek for this have authority over is even more extreme meaning absolute authority to the point of murder. Paul was obviously talking about a certain woman and some other women like her. The women needed exhorted because of a belief that Artimis would help them in childbirth IF they were having children. Some were holding to a Gnostic asceticism. Therefore Paul wanted the women of Ephesus to know that getting married, having sex, having children would not jeopardize their salvation as some ascetics taught. Having children is morally pure Paul wanted them to know that. In today’s Christianity in the States Paul might say having a quiver-full is not necessary for your salvation; to not make a saving idol out of having children. The wording might be a little sloppy Greek to English or it could be because the recipients knew what Paul wanted to say but we don’t not being in their shoes, therefore it seems like Paul is saying women are saved by having children, however one knows this certainly doesn’t line up with the rest of scripture. Paul was speaking against the asceticism of not getting married and having children that women were practicing to obtain salvation. Remember the church was going through thinking circumcision was necessary for salvation, see the book of Galatians. Paul had two types of Gnostics here in Ephesus, one taught licentiousness and the other asceticism, Paul had to deal with both. He wasn’t telling good women not to lead, he was talking to some women who were trying to lead the men and other women into a cult. Paul was not talking about the introverted shy women, who have truth in their hearts, he’d tell them to speak up. He wasn’t talking about the extroverts and everyone in between because, Priscilla obviously. In today’s world at your little church he may be talking about the woman who shows up and shouts out loud “prophecies” and distracts everyone and gets on their nerves. In First Corinthians 14:34 we find the other confusing exhortation, but again it is to certain women in Corinth who were part of a cult in Delphi. The priestesses of this cult became intoxicated off of a drug and would utter incoherent sounds. I think also Paul wanted to clarify there was a difference between the Holy Spirit’s gift of tongues and that. No wonder he told them to be quiet. People who do not want women have full ministry opportunity in the Church proof-text with these verses from 1st Timothy and 1st Corinthians, instead of interpreting in the light of all scripture, in the light of the individuals he was writing to, history, backgrounds of the cults and religions of the day.

    2. Hannah, thank you very much for your comment. You said, " 1st Timothy 2:11-15 all of those verses were a rebuke to a woman and certain other women who were lording it over."

      You went on to say:

      "Paul was obviously talking about a certain woman and some other women like her."

      I'm assuming you obtained this information from some extra-biblical source since it is no where stated in the Bible Can you please cite your source material? Thank you!