Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

Are there women pastors in the New Testament?

Are there women pastors in the New Testament?People sometimes ask me if I can name any woman who was called a pastor in the New Testament. The people who ask me this question are usually those who believe that only men can be pastors, and one of their claims to support their view is that that no woman is called a pastor in the NT.

I usually respond to their question by saying that no one—male or female—is called a pastor in the NT, no one, that is, except for Jesus Christ.

The Greek word for “pastor” (which is the very same Greek word for “shepherd”) is usually used as a verb (poimanō) in the NT, rather than a noun (poimēn); being a pastor or a shepherd was primarily a function rather than an office in the very early church.

Furthermore, unlike the words “elder”, “apostle”, “prophet”, or “teacher”[1], the word “pastor” (poimēn) is not used in the NT as a title attached to a specific individual—except for Jesus Christ, in which case poimēn is typically translated as “shepherd”. Jesus is called the Good Shepherd (John 10:11,14), the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls (1 Pet. 2:25), the Chief Shepherd (1 Pet. 5:4), and the Great Shepherd (Heb. 13:20 cf. Matt. 2:6; 25:35; 26:31; Rev. 7:17; 12:5; 19:15).

The only time the word “pastor” is used as a noun and applied to ministers, other than Jesus, is in Ephesians 4:11. Here the word “pastor/shepherd” is linked with the word “teacher” indicating that one of the main functions of pastors is teaching. Importantly, no gender is specified in Ephesians 4:11 or in any other verses about ministry gifts.[2]

While many Christians may have pastoring abilities, the Bible speaks of pastoring as a leadership function (cf. John 21:15-17). The Jewish understanding of being a shepherd, or pastor, was one of leadership. Leaders are sometimes called “shepherds” in the Old Testament, especially in the book of Jeremiah.[3]

While I cannot name any woman, or any man for that matter, who is specifically called a pastor of a church in the NT, it is likely that Priscilla, Nympha, Euodia and Syntyche, the Chosen Lady, and other NT women, were female church leaders who functioned as pastors. [See links below for articles on some of these women.]


[1] Some NT verses which express the functions or titles, “elders”, “apostles”, “prophets” and “teachers”, of church leaders include Acts 11:27; 13:1; 14:14; 15:1ff; 21:10; Romans 16:7; 1 Corinthians 12:28-19; Ephesians 2:20; 3:5; 1 Peter 5:1-2; 2 John 1:1; 3 John 1:1; etc. Philip is called an “evangelist” in Acts 21:8 (cf. Eph. 4:11; 2 Tim. 4:5).

In reference to actual people in ministry, Paul used the word “coworker” most frequently.

“The designations most often given to Paul’s fellow workers are in descending order of frequency as follows: coworker (synergos), brother (adelphos) [or sister (adelphē) as in the cases of Phoebe and Apphia], minister (diakonos) and apostle (apostolos).”  E.E. Ellis, “Paul and his Coworkers” in Dictionary of Paul and his Letters, Editors: Gerald F. Hawthorne and Ralph Martin (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993) p.183.

[2] Verses which mention Spiritual giftings: Acts 2:17-18; Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:7-11, 27-28; 14:26-33; Ephesians 4:11-12; Hebrews 2:4; 1 Peter 4:9-11.

[3] The frequent criticism of Jeremiah was that Israel’s shepherds (leaders) were careless and self absorbed: Jeremiah 2:8; 10:21; 12:10; 22:22; 23:1-4.

Update: I just found an article today (2/12/11) by Philip B. Payne on the same subject as this post.  Here is an excerpt:

Even if in the NT no women were identified by name as elders, overseers, or pastors, and many men were, this would not logically exclude women from those leadership positions any more than the actual lack of Gentile men identified by name as elders, overseers, or pastors in the NT excludes Gentile men from those leadership positions.

In fact, however, apart from Christ (Heb 13:20; 1 Pet 2:25; 5:4), no men or women overseers (ἐπίσκοπος) of a church or pastors (ποιμήν) of a church are named in the NT. John refers to himself in 2 John 1 and 3 John 1 as “the elder,” but nothing in either context associates this title with a local church or with administrative duties. The article indicates that this refers to something unique, which would not apply to local church administration. It probably identifies something like the last surviving elderly apostle and eyewitness of Christ. The only other NT association of ‘elder’ with any named person is Peter’s self-identification as a “fellow-elder (συνπρεβύτερος), a witness of Christ’s sufferings.”

The clearest NT identification of an individual with titles associated with senior local church leadership is not a man at all, but a woman: “Phoebe deacon . . . of the church in Cenchrea.

Related Articles

The First Century Church and the Ministry of Women
Did Priscilla Teach Apollos?
Euodia and Syntyche: Women Church Leaders in Philippi
The Chosen Lady in 2 John
New Testament Women Church Leaders
Bible Women with Spiritual Authority
Working Women in the New Testament
Shepherds and Harvest Workers: Matthew 9:36-38
What was the “job description” of Jesus’ apostles?

Posted July 17th, 2011 . Categories/Tags: Equality and Gender Issues, Equality in Ministry, Women in Ministry, , , , , , ,

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

22 comments on “Are there women pastors in the New Testament?

  1. TL says:

    I thought you were going to talk about the shepherds of the OT, from which the concept was birthed, and why we are compared to sheep. And wasn’t Rebecca the first named woman shepherd of the OT.

  2. Marg says:

    Oh, I hope I didn’t dissappoint.

    Moses’ wife, Zipporah, and her sisters were shepherds:

    “Now a priest of Midian had seven daughters, and they came to draw water and fill the troughs to water their father’s flock. Exodus 2:15b-16

    And Rachel was a shepherd:

    “. . . Rachel came with her father’s sheep, for she was a shepherdess.” Genesis 29:9b

    Couldn’t find a reference to Rebekah being a shepherd, but I probably looked too quickly.

    I guess Shepherd-Sheep terminology is used because the Israelites could readily identify with it. It was a common industry. Many Israelites were involved in caring for sheep, including some famous people: Jacob, Moses, David, etc.

  3. TL says:

    Too tired to look it up today. But look around the time that Jacob found Rebekah at the well. Somewhere in there I believe there is a reference to her tending the sheep.

  4. Caleb says:

    That’s a really cool article! Like it a lot.

  5. Marg says:

    Thanks Caleb! 🙂

  6. Thank you for the link to my study concluding that the only explicit local church leadership title given to a named person in the New Testament is Phoebe “deacon of the church of Cenchrea.” Anyone reading this is welcome to purchase my Man and Woman, One in Christ for $17.75 (Zondervan list $29.99) at http://www.pbpayne.com, which lists many endorsements for the book.

  7. Marg says:

    Thank you for leaving a comment, Dr Payne.
    I have your book and wholeheartedly recommend it.

  8. Rich says:

    Again, on the of those who can serve as pastors. pleease read 1 Peter 5.1-4 and you have another area where the Word supports men only as pastors. Just as you refer to the word for elder in your article, here in 1 Peter, the appointed elders are to serve as overseers. The criteria for an overseer (1 Tim. 3.1-7 and Titus 1.5,6) does specifiy that an overseer is to be the husband of one wife.
    I share this perspective because most people who argue for women to be pastors simply leave out these texts. This undermines the leadership of the church and therefore renders her unsubmissive to Christ as her head.

  9. Marg says:

    Rich, I just read 1 Peter 5:1-4 again and there is nothing in the Greek which specifies that this passage is only relevant for men unless you think that because Peter is a man then only men can be like Peter. (My everyday New Testament is the Greek)

    The Greek word presbuteros is a grammatically masculine adjective, but just because it is grammatically masculine it doesn’t men that it cannot apply to women. Abraham and Sarah, for instance, are called presbuteroi (plural) in Genesis 11:18 in the LXX.

    [In Greek, many masculine words can apply to women and plenty of grammtically feminine words apply to men. Most of the Greek words about leadership are grammatically feminine.]

    I do not leave out 1 Tim 3:1-7 or Titus 1: 5-6 in my discussions on the matter of women pastors, in fact I have written an article on it. http://newlife.id.au/equality-and-gender-issues/pauls-qualifications-for-church-leaders/

    My life is geared to being submissive to Christ, so I’m not sure where you’re going with your last statement.

  10. Don Johnson says:

    I think Phoebe was a leader of a church, based on the meaning of prostatis. In any case a pastor is just one example of an overseer, others being apostle, prophet, evangelist and possibly teacher. It is only because of the restriction in many churches where they ONLY see a pastor or perhaps pastors that people are not aware of the others.

  11. Don Johnson says:

    On Rich’s comment, the term often translated as “husband of one wife” also applies to deacons and yet Phoebe was also a deacon, so this is a puzzle that needs to be solved, as it can appear to be a contradiction and within the Pauline corpus no less, as if Paul contradicts himself.

    Comps tend to solve the puzzle by suppressing the implications of Phoebe being a deacon.

    Rather than do that, egals point out that the list of qualifications is written in a shorthand form in that no one thinks an elder must have kids, but IF they do have children, one should assess their parental skills as those are relevant to being an elder. Furthermore, there is evidence that the term in Greek applied to both genders.

  12. Marg says:

    Rich and I have had a few discussions. He was my inspiration for this: http://newlife.id.au/equality-and-gender-issues/protecting-the-weaker-sex/

    I also explained the one-woman-man idiom which still stumps a lot of Christians. I have written about this here.

    Romans 16:1-2 (about Phoebe) is pretty much the closest thing I have to a proof text on the issue of women in ministry. And Phoebe was probably the person who delivered the letter to the Romans. This job meant that she was effectively Paul’s envoy. In those days a usual part of the letter carrier’s job was to help explain the contents of the letter and verbally deliver any further instructions from the sender.

  13. Wanda says:

    I am really confused, as my Bible KJV says that a Pastor must be the husband of one wife. Not the wife of one husband. Can some one clear this up for me please? Thank you and have a blessed rest of the week.

    • Marg says:

      Hi Wanda,

      A pastor and an “elder” (Titus 1:6ff) or “overseer/bishop” (Timothy 3:1ff) are not necessarily the same thing, but I do understand your question.

      All the qualifications for ministry in Timothy 3:1ff are moral qualifications, except for the ability to teach. The “one-woman-man” qualification is also referring to the moral state of fidelity and monogamy. It is not primarily referring to the gender of the person. (This is unclear in many English translations.)

      The “one-woman-man” phrase in Greek is used numerous times on grave inscriptions to relate that the deceased person was virtuous. When Paul used the phrase, he didn’t use it to disqualify single men, widowers, or women, etc. He was just saying that an already married overseer had to be faithful in marriage. Similarly, we cannot use the qualifications to prohibit a person without children to be a minister (cf 1 Tim.3:4), otherwise we would exclude people like Jesus and Paul.

      Nowhere does it say that a pastor, elder or overseer/bishop must be male. In fact there are several women mentioned in the New Testament who functioned as pastors and leaders of their housechurches. Also, the qualification in 1 Timothy 3:1ff are free of masculine personal pronouns, which is unlike many English translations.

      I have written more about the phrase a “one-woman-man” here.
      And I have written more about the ministry of women in the first century church here.

  14. Cassandra Lavender says:

    Ephesians 4:11

    Shows that pastor and teacher are two different offices.

    • Marg says:

      Hi Cassandra,

      The Greek indicates otherwise. Ancient Greek grammar concerning lists is different to English grammar.

      In Greek, you can commonly have either:
      ~ a list with no conjunctions at all between each item,
      ~ a list with a conjunction between every item.
      ~ or, as in the case of Ephesians 4:11, you can have a list which consistently uses one kind of conjunction (δὲ, which contrasts with the μὲν); but the introduction of a different conjunction (καὶ which is a correlative conjunction), signals something different is happening (i.e. the combining of “the pastors and teachers”).

      Furthermore, (although this doesn’t apply here) if you have a list without the use of conjunctions but there is just one (or possibly a few) items joined by a conjunction, then the items joined are treated somewhat as one item. I have come across this grammar countless times in ancient Greek literature, papyri and inscriptions.

      In Ephesians 4:11, it is not just the different conjunctions which indicates that “pastors” and “teachers” are somehow combined. The lack of an article for “teachers” (compared with a definite article for apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors) also indicates this.

      The NIV (2011) translates Ephesians 4:11 correctly and quite literally: “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers,” The NIV adds the word “Christ” for clarity, but otherwise it is a precise literal translation from: “καὶ αὐτὸς ἔδωκεν τοὺς μὲν ἀποστόλους, τοὺς δὲ προφήτας, τοὺς δὲ εὐαγγελιστάς, τοὺς δὲ ποιμένας καὶ διδασκάλους,”

      In the very early church very few ministers were called “pastors”; many more ministers were called “teachers”. It might be that “pastors and teachers” was the one kind of minister with two different names, or that being a pastor involved also being a teacher.

      I’m not sure precisely what you mean by “offices”. There is no word for “offices” in verses about Christian ministry in the Greek New Testament New Testament, and it means various things to modern Christians.

  15. dtheus says:

    Education without revelation is just like faith without works—Dead

  16. Marisa De More says:

    Well, I’m revisiting this topic of women in leadership and came across your blog post. I haven’t yet come to a conclusion as I haven’t finished studying the Scriptures. Suffice to say, it’s never good practice to base a doctrine, or our behaviour, on probabilities. For example, you write:

    ” … it is likely that Priscilla, Nympha, Euodia and Syntyche, the Chosen Lady, and other NT women, were female church leaders who functioned as pastors …”

    but ‘being likely’ isn’t evidence of any leadership/oversight role. Without hard Scriptural evidence in context, we can’t say women are free to serve as Overseers on the basis that these women in the bible were ‘likely’ leaders too! Trust you don’t mind me adding this to the pot? 🙂

    • Marg says:

      From everything we know about church life in the mid-first century, especially what the New Testament reveals, I stand by my statement: “It is likely that Priscilla, Nympha, Euodia and Syntyche, the Chosen Lady, and other NT women, were female church leaders who functioned as pastors.”

      There is evidence in the New Testament that women, such as Priscilla, Phoebe and the Chosen lady, had an oversight and pastoral role in their congregations/house churches.

  17. Donald Johnson says:

    The first thing to see is that the original question is carefully crafted to seem like it cannot be answered in the affirmative. But what is really reveals is that it cannot be answered in the affirmative by those using the common exegetical methods of comps, which is why they ask it.

    But this also means it entails deconstructing those common exegetical methods of comps which takes time.

    • Cassandra says:

      None. Women are not permitted to usurp authority over the man.

      • Marg says:

        No one should usurp anyone’s authorisation to minister.

        Moreover, according to New Testament teaching, legitimate Christian ministry is not an authority over another capable person.

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