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Can only men be church leaders?
Some people think that the qualifications for church leaders recorded in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:6-9 were written only about men and apply only to men. They believe that the implication in these passages is that only men can be church leaders. All of the qualifications listed in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:6-9, however, can be readily applied to both men and women.
N.B. The masculine personal pronouns that appear in many English translations of these passages – and the word “man” that appears in many English translations of verses 1 Timothy 3:1 and Titus 1:6a (including the NASB 95 used in the highlighted texts in this post) – are entirely absent in the Greek. See endnote 7.
Monogamy and Fidelity in Marriage
One phrase which does not seem to apply to women is where it says that a church leader should be, literally, a one-woman man (1 Tim 3:2; Titus 1:6). This is usually translated into English as “the husband of one wife”. The phrase, a one-woman man, is however an idiom and there are dangers in applying it too literally. Because it is an idiomatic expression, many people have had difficulty explaining and adapting its meaning in the context of contemporary Western church culture, a culture that is vastly different to first century church culture.
If taken literally, the one-woman man requirement would rule out unmarried, widowed and divorced men – as well as women – from being church leaders. Yet Paul says elsewhere that being single and celibate enables people to serve God better (1 Cor 7:32-35). Paul himself was single. If taken literally, polygamists would also be excluded from being church leaders. According to Roman law, however, bigamy (and therefore polygamy) was illegal, and it was uncommon in the Empire. Paul is not addressing polygamy here.
The real intent of this phrase is marital faithfulness in the church leader who is already married. Philip B. Payne writes that, “The closest English equivalent to one-woman man is ‘monogamous’, and it applies to both men and women.” Even some notable Hierarchical Complementarians (Christians who are against women in certain leadership roles), acknowledge that the phrase a one-woman man does not exclude women and cannot legitimately be used to argue that women cannot be church leaders. [See endnote 6] This is because the phrase is essentially describing the moral quality of marital fidelity, and not primarily referring to marital status or gender.
The use of a one-woman man in the 1 Timothy passage about ministers (diakonoi – “deacons”) shows that it may be applied generically to both men and women. 1 Timothy 3:8-10 is about men ministers; 1 Timothy 3:11 is about women ministers; and 1 Timothy 3:12-13 is about both men and women ministers (diakonoi). Chrysostom wrote that the phrase a one-woman man in 1 Timothy 3:12 “. . . must be understood therefore to relate to Deaconesses [women ministers]. For that order is necessary and useful and honourable in the Church”. (Chrysostom, Homilies on 1 Timothy, Homily XI) [More about deacons in 1 Timothy 3:8-13 here.]
An Orderly and Honourable Household
In 1 Timothy 3:4 (NASB) Paul says that a church leader “must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity.” [Again, please note that there are no masculine personal pronouns in the Greek of 1 Timothy 3:1-7 or Titus 1:6-9. See endnote 7.] The ability to lead and manage one’s household well can also be equally applicable to both men and women.
In many cultures, including the Greco-Roman culture, it is women who lead and manage their households. Paul advised the younger widows in the Ephesian church to remarry, have children and “keep house” (1 Timothy 5:14). Interestingly, the word Paul uses for “keeping house” here is oikodespotein, which literally means “to be the master of a household”. Oikodespotein is from oikodespotēs: oikos=house, despot=master (Strong’s number 3616).
The King James Version literally translates 1 Timothy 5:14 as:
I [Paul] desire therefore that the younger widows marry, bear children, rule the household, and give no occasion to the adversary for insulting. (Underline added.)
It is important to note, however, that Paul did not have the day-to-day practical running and management of the household in mind when he wrote 1 Timothy 3:4-5. All the qualifications stated in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:6-9 are essentially moral qualifications. Paul wanted church leaders to be people of honour and dignity. In the first century Mediterranean world, the honour-shame dynamic was a powerful force in society, and a highly esteemed man or woman could have great influence. The conduct of individual members of a household affected the level of honour of the entire household. Therefore, a church leader needed to have an honourable household with well behaved children, including adult children. Paul wanted church leaders with a level of moral integrity that was above reproach. He did not want church leaders who might bring dishonour, disrepute, and shame on the church.
Gender Bias and Gender Inclusiveness
Undoubtedly most church leaders in early church times were male, and the list of qualifications in 1 Timothy 3:1ff assumes that the overseers in Ephesus will be male, and married, and have children, and have their own households to manage; but nowhere in the New Testament does it state that church leaders must be men.
The New Living Translation (NLT), (which gives the impression of being gender inclusive because it frequently translates adelphoi into “brothers and sisters”,) has taken the bold step of inserting the statement “So an elder must be a man” in 1 Timothy 3:2. This statement simply does not appear anywhere in any Greek manuscript of the New Testament. The translators of the NLT have inserted this statement to put across their biased opinion that a church leader must be a man. They have tried to pass off their opinion as being “the Word of God”. Had Paul wanted to say, “an elder (or overseer) must be a man” he would have done so.
The opening sentence of 1 Timothy chapter 3 literally says, “. . . If someone aspires to overseer-ship, he/she desires a fine task.” There is absolutely no gender preference suggested in this sentence whatsoever.
 Local church leaders were commonly called by the adjectives presbuteroi–elders or episkopoi–overseers in the New Testament. (Episkopoi is translated as bishop in some Bible versions.) More on early church leadership and government here.
 Even if there were masculine personal pronouns in this passage, this still would not rule out the possibility that women can be overseers. There are a few grammatically masculine articles, adjectives and participles in 1 Timothy 3:1ff and Titus 1:6ff, but since the masculine gender is the default grammatical gender when speaking about groups consisting of men only and groups consisting of men and women, a case cannot be made that these passages exclude women. If we begin to argue that passages that use grammatically masculine participles, etc, exclude women, then women would be excluded from many of the New Testament scriptures which speak about salvation, including John 3:16.
 The phrase, a one-woman man, is an idiom found on numerous sepulchral (gravesite) inscriptions celebrating the virtue of a surviving spouse that had not remarried. By noting that he or she was married only once, it suggests the virtue of extraordinary fidelity. (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd Edition, Walter Bauer, revised & edited by F.W. Danker, University of Chicago Press, 2000, 292.)
Paul used the phrase a one-man woman in this context when writing about widows in 1 Timothy 5:9. These women had been married only once, their husband had died, and they were now single and celibate. The New Revised Standard Version somewhat captures this meaning in their translation of this phrase as “married only once” in 1 Timothy 3:2, 12; 5:9 and Titus 1:6. However, the implication of idiom a one-women man in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 is of marital fidelity and monogamy.
 Marital fidelity is only required while both husband and wife are alive. When the husband or wife dies, the other person is free to remarry or remain celibate (Rom 7:2-4; 1 Cor 7:39). Celibacy and virginity were becoming highly esteemed virtues in the 2nd century church; and by the 5th century, celibacy was compulsory for Roman Catholic church leaders. This unbiblical decree has caused no end of problems to the Roman Catholic church which still insists upon it. Interestingly, if the requirement a one-woman man was taken literally, it would prohibit Roman Catholic priests and other unmarried men from being church leaders.
 Andy Wood’s paper on The Meaning of “The Husband of One Wife” in 1 Timothy 3:2 provides an indepth look at the meaning and application of this phrase, here .
 Philip B. Payne writes:
Two of the most prominent complementarians acknowledge this phrase does not clearly exclude women. Douglas Moo acknowledges that this phrase need not exclude “unmarried men or females from the office . . . it would be going too far to argue that the phrase clearly excludes women. . . .” Douglas J. Moo, “The Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:11–15: A Rejoinder,” TJ 2 NS (1981): 198–222, 211. Thomas Schreiner acknowledges, “The requirements for elders in 1 Tim 3:1–7 and Titus 1:6–9, including the statement that they are to be one-woman men, does not necessarily in and of itself preclude women from serving as elders. . . .” Thomas R. Schreiner’s “Philip Payne on Familiar Ground: A Review of Philip B. Payne, Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul’s Letters.” JBMW (Spring 2010): 33–46, 35.
Taken from Does “One-Woman Man” in 1 Timothy 3:2 Require that all Overseers be Male? [See the comments section below for more on this.]
 While 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:6-9 are completely free from masculine personal pronouns in the better, older Greek manuscripts (the Textus Receptus contains one masculine pronoun in 1 Timothy 3:7), pronouns need to be added in English translations to make sense of the sentences. In English, the literary convention has been to use masculine pronouns, even if the subject matter applies to women also. However, as pointed out in endnote 2, even if masculine pronouns were used in the Greek of 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:6-9, this still wouldn’t rule out women from being church leaders. In Greek also, the literary convention was to use masculine pronouns when speaking about a representative person, or a group of people that included men. [See my article Why Masculine Pronouns can be misleading in English Bibles and in the Church here.]
 The reality is that in early church times, and in contemporary society, it was, and is, a woman who primarily runs the household.
 Paul gave this instruction to the young Ephesian widows because of certain problems within the Ephesian church. One of the more serious problems was the spread of false teaching within the church. It seems that the younger Ephesian widows were engaging in irresponsible conversation and conduct which may have involved listening to, and spreading, false teaching. This even led to some of the young widows wandering from the truth to follow Satan (1 Timothy 5:13-15). [I’ve written more about Paul’s instructions to young wives and young widows towards the end of this article and here.]
 Despite Paul’s concern for the social respectability of church leaders in his letter to Timothy, in other letters Paul is less concerned and pushes for a counter-cultural acceptance of all Christians as ministers (1 Cor 12:4ff). We know that some slaves became episkopoi (overseers/bishops) in the early church.
 Several modern English translations of the New Testament (including the NLT) frequently translate the Greek word adelphoi as “brothers and sisters”. Adelphoi is grammatically masculine, and in older Bible versions the word was translated simply as “brothers”. However, it is obvious from its usage in the scriptures, and in other writings, that adelphoi can refer to both men and women believers. The NLT translators (and others) have translated most occurrences of the very common word adelphoi as “brothers and sisters” and painstakingly included an explanatory footnote each time. The NLT also translates the literal “sons” (huioi) into “children” when speaking about children of God, i.e. believers. This commendable inclusion of women reflects the true Biblical understanding of the words adelphoi and huioi. However the views of the NLT translators towards full gender equality and inclusivity clearly stops short of allowing women to be church leaders (overseers and elders). [More on gender bias in the NLT here.]
 “. . . If anyone/someone, (masc. or fem.) aspires (no gender specified) to overseer-ship (feminine noun), he/she/it desires (no gender specified) a noble/fine task (neuter adjective and noun).” A literal translation of 1 Timothy 3:1b showing grammatical gender.
© 5th of August, 2010, revised 4th of November, 2010; Margaret Mowczko
An abridged version of this article was published by Christians for Biblical Equality (International) in their Arise e-newsletter on the 19th of August, 2010. (Arise archives)
Qualified for Every Good Work (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
The Means of Ministry: Gifts, Grace, Faith . . . Gender?
The First Century Church and the Ministry of Women
New Testament Women Church Leaders
Teachable: A Qualification for Overseers and the Lord’s Servants
1 Timothy 2:12 in Context
Paul’s Masculine and Feminine Leadership
Various articles on Paul and Women
Unity and Equality in Ministry: 1 Corinthians 12