Learning to thrive in the new life Jesus offers us – 2 Corinthians 5:16-17

Can a woman be a pastor? ‘Yes’ or ‘No’?

Can a woman be a pastor? Yes? No?

Dichotomy and Division

This January I spent two weeks at an ancient languages summer school. One of my classmates in Greek class came up with a flow chart to help work out where to place the accent in verbs. It’s one of those charts where a question is posed and you answer either ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and, depending on your answer, you take a step in a particular direction where another question is posed, and again you need to answer either ‘yes’ or ‘no’. You keep going until you reach the end of a particular path and there you find out, in this case, where to place your accent.

I remember using a similar system to classify organisms (particularly Australian native trees) into their relative genus and species during my brief science days. This kind of system is called a dichotomous key.

I began imagining how a dichotomous key could be used by churches to help them choose new ministers. An opening question might be: Does the person have an obvious, vibrant Christian faith – yes or no? Or, Does the person have a thorough and sound knowledge of Scripture – yes or no? Or, Does the person have a clear call to vocational ministry – yes or no? Gradually the focus of the questions would get narrower and more specialised to fit with the unique situation and needs of a congregation.

In reality, most churches use dichotomous reasoning when choosing a minister whether they realise it or not. However, instead of the questions posed above, the first question seems to be, Is the person a man – yes or no? A ‘no’ answer usually results in the candidate being instantly rejected, and the woman’s character, gifts, qualifications, and experience aren’t even considered.

I can’t help but feel that there is something askew with a view that places gender above character, calling, godliness, and giftedness. And there is something wrong with a system where, potentially, every man can be considered for ministry, but every woman is automatically disqualified.

Many people refuse to consider women for leadership and teaching roles in the church because they believe that the Bible prohibits women from these vocations. Understandably, they do not want to ignore scriptural injunctions and go against God’s will. However the very few Bible verses that seem to prohibit women from ministries that include public speaking, while they may seem plain and clear in the English, are actually far from plain and clear in the Greek. There are significant textual and hermeneutical uncertainties with 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:12.

Implementing restrictions on women’s ministry on the basis of these verses – which were written to specific churches undergoing their own set of circumstances in a culture vastly different from our own – is unsound and fraught with difficulties. This is evidenced by the variety of ways different churches implement their own interpretations of these two verses.

By only encouraging men in ministry, and by limiting what women can do and can become, a distinction is being drawn between the sexes, a distinction that divides the church into two classes. In some churches this divide is deepening. And yet I do not see this dichotomy between men and women in the New Testament. Spiritual gifts are not dependent on gender (Acts 2:18). And equality and unity, even in ministry, are taught as being basic Kingdom principles.

In many ministry situations the question of whether a minister is a man or a woman has little practical or spiritual relevance.

Related Articles

Interpretations and Applications of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35
1 Timothy 2:12 in Context
Questions about how to implement 1 Timothy 2:12
Women, Teaching and Deception
Are women pastors mentioned in the New Testament?
New Testament Women Church Leaders
Paul’s Qualifications for Church Leaders
Women in the Early Church
Complementarians Divide the Church
King Lemuel’s Mother and other Women who Taught Men

Posted January 20th, 2012 . Categories/Tags: Equality and Gender Issues, Equality in Ministry, ,

Unkind, judgemental, bizarre, and off-topic comments will be deleted.

12 comments on “Can a woman be a pastor? ‘Yes’ or ‘No’?

  1. Don Johnson says:

    I do think gender has relevance. The leadership of a congregation is plural in the NT and therefore should be plural in a congregation that wants to follow the NT model. And the plural leadership should reflect the diversity of the membership in a general way or at the least be heading in that direction. This allows for a greater flexibility among the leadership in meeting specific needs and requests.

  2. canalways says:

    hi Marg
    thanks for writing this stuff…it can be hard to find on the www. I’ve bookmarked it and will read some more when I’m not as sleepy

  3. Marg says:

    Don, This is such a good point. I agree with you completely.

    Dave, I saw that you posted a comment on the BWE blog too, and that your wife is a minister. It would be interesting to hear some perspectives on women in ministry from your angle.

  4. Belle says:

    I’ve just finished reading The Blue Parakeet by Scot McKnight and am feeling positive about the future for women; I pray that one day we won’t be the minority, and that giftedness, calling and character will rank above gender in these choices (even in plural leadership; I believe that God made men and women complementary in a way that means we can consider gifts and calling and character rather than gender and still end up with an evenly-gendered team). I highly recommend the book!

  5. Marg says:

    Hi Belle, One day I’m going to have to get round to reading The Blue Parakeet. I subscribe to Scot McKnight’s blog and have a great deal of respect for his scholarship, his theology and his point of view.

    I’m positive about the future of women too. I believe that the full equality of men and women in the church and home is inevitable, even if it seems to be taking a long time, and even though, in some parts of America, it seems to be going backwards.

  6. In ’85 as chairman of the Historical Committee for our State Convention of churches, I took a hard look at what kind of justification might have been used by some of our churches in the 1700s for having eldresses. It was an interesting experience, to say the least. The best I could develop was that they might have done it on the basis of exception as I found an example of a Puritan commentator who said concerning Paul’s comment in I Tim.2:12, “I suffer not a woman to teach…,” that this was true except she be specially called, gifted, or endowed as …and he named all of the prophetesses of the Old and New Testament. The liberal side ignored the matter as they wanted nothing to do with a view that considered the Bible to be the word of God, and the conservatives did likewise based upon a clear statement which surely allowed no exceptions. The methodology of science, being so analytic, and lacking a synthetic element, could be blamed in part for the effects observed.

  7. Marg says:

    Hi James, Your comment made me sad. According to your comment one verse – 1 Timothy 2:12 – has been used to suppress half of the church. And I notice that you only quote half of this verse. “Didaskein” is tied to “authentein” in 1 Tim 2:12.

    1 Timothy 2 has numerous couplets of synonymous ideas, such as “kings and all those in authority,” “peaceful and quiet lives,” “godliness and holiness” (v. 2), “this is good, and pleases God” (v. 3), “saved and … come to a knowledge of the truth” (v. 4), “a herald and an apostle,” “I am telling the truth, I am not lying” (v. 7), “anger or disputing” (v. 8), “decency and propriety” (v. 9), and “quietness and full submission” (v. 11). Given that context, it is probable that “to teach” and “to assume authority” are roughly approximate and refer to something like “exercising authority through teaching.

    Bird, Michael F. (2012-12-25). Bourgeois Babes, Bossy Wives, and Bobby Haircuts: A Case for Gender Equality in Ministry (Fresh Perspectives on Women in Ministry) (Kindle Locations 591-596). . Kindle Edition.

    Importantly, “authentein” is not the usual Greek word for “authority”. I believe it refers to a negative and unwholesome behaviour. I have yet to find the word “authentein” and its cognates used in a positive, healthy sense in Greek literature.

    I would suggest that all elders, male or female, need to be specially called and gifted. It is interesting that it was suggested that women need to be as gifted as certain Old Testament prophets, but men were not held to a similar standard.

    Personally, I think a faulty and limited view of women is the reason why women are prohibited from some ministries.

  8. Me says:

    Thank you for continuing to write about subjects like women’s ministry and calling in the church. I really appreciate what you have to say!

  9. Tania says:

    Thank you for your writing about this. It’s helping a lot, and encouraging me to learn more every day and be more prepared for our church!

  10. Kathleen Lewis says:

    What can I say? We are on the same page, same sentence, same Word. I appreciate you so much for sharing. Your mind is sharp and you are an avid studier. You are a blessing.
    Thank you,

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