Why Women Cannot Be Pastors of Christ’s Churches

Why Women Cannot Be Pastors of Christ’s Churches

(The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) convenes in Indianapolis June 11-12, 2024. The most significant vote that will be taken will be to ratify the “Law Amendment” into the constitution of the SBC. That amendment, which was passed last year by a super-majority, must be ratified again this year with two-thirds of the messengers voting for it. If it passes again Article 3, Paragraph 1 will be amended to read, that a church will be in “friendly cooperation with the Convention” only if it “Affirms, appoints, or employs only men as any kind of pastor or elder as qualified by Scripture.” This article shows why biblical fidelity requires Southern Baptists to adopt this amendment. For a fuller discussion of the issues involved, a debate that Dwight McKissic and I had on women preachers can be found here.)

A godly woman cannot pastor a church of Jesus Christ because Jesus Christ forbids it. The debates surrounding this issue—including the recent Southern Baptist debate over the Law Amendment—really do turn on this simple reality. The Lord of the church has decided who He will have serve as pastors in local churches. He has expressed His will in simple, clear terms & those who have no desire to obfuscate His meaning readily acknowledge this.

Others, guided more by the feminist zeitgeist than the plain teaching of Scripture, sometimes suggest that the issue is really about the value of women. Unless a church is willing to have women pastors then, the reasoning goes, they are oppressing women. That argument is specious.

God created both men and women in His image (Genesis 1:26-27). Both men and women, therefore, are worthy of dignity, respect and honor. The Second London Baptist Confession of Faith says exactly this. 2LC: 4.2: “He created man, male and female, with reasonable and immortal souls, … being made after the image of God, in knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness…” (4.2). Likewise, the Baptist Faith and Message states,  “Man is the special creation of God, made in His own image. He created them male and female as the crowning work of His creation. The gift of gender is thus part of the goodness of God’s creation” (Article 3).

To submit to Scripture’s requirement that only qualified men may be pastors does not deny the valuable services in God’s kingdom that women can and have performed. In the Old Testament, as the late Roger Nicole wrote, “Miriam the prophetess, sister of Moses, wrote a song recorded in Scripture (Exodus 15:21). She was followed by Deborah (Judges 4:4), Huldah (2 Kings 22:14, 2 Chronicles. 34:22), Isaiah’s wife (Isaiah 8:3),…all of whom also were called prophetesses” (Priscilla Papers, Vol. 20, No. 2; Spring 2006, p. 5).

Similarly, in the New Testament we read of Anna, “a prophetess” (Luke 2:36) and Philip’s 4 daughters “who prophesied” (Acts 21:9). Add to them Mary, Martha, Euodia, Synteche, Phoebe, Priscilla, Tryphena Tryphosa, Persis, Rufus’ mother, Junia, and others, and you immediately that women played important roles in the early church. This pattern has continued throughout history. Perpetua, Felicitas, Anthusa, the mother of John Chrysostom, and Monica, the relentless, praying mother of Augustine, are all representative of mighty women of God who served Christ well throughout history. It is no wonder that the fourth century pagan, Libanius said, “What women these Christians have!”

Christ has not been unclear about who may serve as a pastor in any church that bears His Name.

As the father of five godly daughters (and one godly daughter-in-law) and husband of a godly wife, I have a front row seat to the important roles that women have been assigned in the kingdom of God. All these women are boldly devout, theologically astute, wonderfully gifted, and joyfully committed to serving Christ in their local church. Because they are strong, spiritually mature, and biblically grounded, none of them has ever aspired to be a pastor or ever felt in any way slighted because that job is not open to them. They delight in being women of God and celebrate the differences between themselves and their brothers in the Lord.

Christ has not been unclear about who may serve as a pastor in any church that bears His Name. He cares deeply about how His churches are organized and operate. We see this in the language that the Apostle Paul uses to instruct Timothy about giving leadership in the church at Ephesus. He writes, “I am writing these things to you so that, 15 if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:14-15). God cares about how His people conduct themselves in His house. In other words, His house—His rules.

And God has made it a rule that only qualified men can serve as pastors in His church. This is abundantly evident from the plain teaching of the New Testament both in the examples we have (no church was led by women pastors) and in the qualifications prescribed for pastors—“he must be…the husband of one wife” (μιᾶς γυναικὸς ἄνδρα, a “one woman man;” emphasis added), 1 Timothy 3:2. Additionally, the Apostle Paul addresses the question directly in 1 Timothy 2:9-14.

Verses 11-12 are simple and clear: “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. This prohibition against women teaching or exercising authority over men comes amid Paul’s instructions about how believers are to conduct themselves “in every place” (v. 8), which is a reference either to the house churches in Ephesus or quite possibly to all the churches where Paul taught. With the modern rise of feminist hermeneutics this passage has been increasingly subjected to critique and reinterpretation in modern times. However, prior to this, there has been a remarkable consensus of its understanding across all of church history.

Paul identifies two positive activities that he does not permit women to engage in with respect to men—teaching and exercising authority. Some see this as one activity—that of teaching men with authority, believing that such an interpretation allows for women to teach men in the church as long as they don’t do it in an authoritative or “an elder-like way.” Yet, the word for “teach” (διδάσκειν) is normally used in the New Testament to denote the accurate teaching of the gospel. Douglas Moo says that it denotes “the authoritative proclamation of God’s will to believers.”[1] In the pastoral epistles, “teaching” always refers to “authoritative doctrinal instruction,”[2] as seen, for instance in 1 Timothy 4:11, “Command and teach these things.”

The second activity that this passage forbids to women is “exercising authority” over men in the church. The word Paul uses (αὐθεντεῖν) has been the subject of much research over the last forty years. Egalitarian scholars have tried to demonstrate that etymologically it has an ingressive or even pejorative connotation, so that it should be understood as “to assume authority” or “to lord it over.” Since this word is used only here in the New Testament and rarely elsewhere, etymological studies are tenuous at best. What is far more helpful is to note the way Paul uses it in the context.

Consider the rationale on which he bases his apostolic prohibition in vv. 13-14. “For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.” He does NOT ground this prohibition in the cult of Artemis or anything else that might be unique to the cultural setting of Ephesus where Timothy was. Rather, he says that the reason that women are not to teach or exercise authority over men in the church is because of what happened at creation and what happened at the fall.

Just as there was order between men and women at the beginning—by God’s design—so there is to be order in the church, again, by God’s design.

Paul appeals to the divinely created order that God established in the beginning. Adam was created as Eve’s head by God’s design. When Eve was deceived by the devil it was because God’s created order was overturned. She took to herself a responsibility she did not have, and Adam abdicated a responsibility that he did have by God’s design.

Just as there was order between men and women at the beginning—by God’s design—so there is to be order in the church, again, by God’s design. We have seen the devastating consequences of forsaking that order in the Garden. We should not be surprised by more grievous consequences when His order is forsaken in the church. If anyone would like real time examples of the latter simply consider the last century of the Unite Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church in the USA. They did not become LGBTQIA+ celebrants overnight. Rather, their steady decline began with a rejection of God’s rules for His house.

Once God’s Word is rejected in the ordering God’s church, God’s judgment falls on God’s people. Those who love Christ and fear God should never stand idly by and let such perversion of the Word of God take place without a fight.

[1] Douglas Moo, “What Does it Mean” in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem, Crossway: Wheaton, IL, 241).

[2] Ibid.

Tom Ascol has served as a Pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, FL since 1986. Prior to moving to Florida he served as pastor and associate pastor of churches in Texas. He has a BS degree in sociology from Texas A&M University (1979) and has also earned the MDiv and PhD degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas. He has served as an adjunct professor of theology for various colleges and seminaries, including Reformed Theological Seminary, the Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary, African Christian University, Copperbelt Ministerial College, and Reformed Baptist Seminary. He has also served as Visiting Professor at the Nicole Institute for Baptist Studies at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. Tom serves as the President of Founders Ministries and The Institute of Public Theology. He has edited the Founders Journal, a quarterly theological publication of Founders Ministries, and has written hundreds of articles for various journals and magazines. He has been a regular contributor to TableTalk, the monthly magazine of Ligonier Ministries. He has also edited and contributed to several books, including Dear Timothy: Letters on Pastoral Ministry, The Truth and Grace Memory Books for children and  Recovering the Gospel and Reformation of Churches. He is also the author of From the Protestant Reformation to the Southern Baptist ConventionTraditional Theology and the SBC and Strong and Courageous. Tom regularly preaches and lectures at various conferences throughout the United States and other countries. In addition he regularly contributes articles to the Founders website and hosts a weekly podcast called The Sword & The Trowel. He and his wife Donna have six children along with four sons-in-law and a daughter-in-law. They have sixteen grandchildren.
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