In 1 Timothy 2:11-12, the Apostle Paul wrote, “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.” The context here is church leadership, an instruction that continues into chapter 3. A woman is not permitted to be a pastor in a church (elder, bishop, overseer, etc.). This is an office to be held only by qualified men.
This instruction is not limited to the time-period in which the Apostle was writing. It applies to all people in every place at every point in the history of the church. How do we know this? Because Paul goes all the way back to Genesis with his explanation: “For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor” (verses 13-14).
So the first reason the role of pastor is to be filled by a man is because Adam was formed first, and Eve was formed from Adam as his help-meet. The differences between the sexes and the different roles they are assigned are not a result of the fall. They were established at creation and have applied to all people in all cultures at all times.
The second reason a pastor is to be man is because Eve was deceived first. This might seem unfair because Adam certainly sinned as well, and death came to all men because Adam sinned (Romans 5:12, 1 Corinthians 15:21). Men can also be deceived as well as women. But the woman was the first to be deceived, following the deceiver and misleading her husband rather than following the lead of her husband.
So whether we’re talking about a perfect, sinless world, or the fallen, sinful one we currently inhabit, God intends that a man be the one to shepherd the flock of God (pastor means “shepherd;” see also 1 Peter 5:1-5). He must be a one-woman man and “manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church” (1 Timothy 3:4-5)? These instructions are clearly for men as overseers of the church. There are no additional instructions for women as overseers.
Elsewhere, Paul wrote, “As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak at church” (1 Corinthians 14:33-35).
Now, this doesn’t mean a woman is supposed to have duct-tape over her mouth from the moment she walks into church to the moment she walks out. The context is teaching the church, or administering the authority of the word of God over the gathered people of God. The role as overseer is set apart for specifically a man to fill.
|Problem solved! (Just kidding, sweetheart.)|
This also doesn’t mean a church that obeys this instruction is oppressing women. Heavens, no! A woman sitting in that church during a gospel sermon is no more oppressed than any man in the congregation. The truth does not oppress those who listen to it — it sets them free (John 8:31). It is a woman’s delight to learn quietly with all submissiveness, and she does this in honor of the Lord.
Women serve an incredibly important role in the church. If a church was all men and no women, that would be a dysfunctional church (see Titus 2:1-8). The church is to be made up of men and women, young and old, complimenting one another in their strengths and weaknesses, working and growing together so that we may be a functioning body of Christ.
But each according to their own purpose. God made men and women different from day one of creation… sorry, day six. He meant for men to fill certain roles and women to fill certain roles. We are one body in Christ made of individual parts, each functioning in their own way. One person is not to infringe upon another or take it upon themselves to do the task given to someone else. We all submit to one another out of reverence to Christ (Ephesians 5:21).
Bad Arguments for Women Pastors
Over the weekend, a friend got into a discussion over this topic with a feminist, and the feminist retorted with a list of names — women of the Bible who were more than just “helps” but, in her view, were qualified to be pastors. That list was as follows: “Deborah, Hannah, Miriam, Ruth, Esther, Jael, Proverbs 31, Wisdom personified as woman in Proverbs 8 (present with God at creation), Phoebe, Lydia, Prisca, Mary, Mary Magdalene, [were] all just there ‘to help’?”
This is a very common tactic when arguing for why women deserve to be pastors: throw out the name of a woman from the Bible. Boom! But that name is always taken out of context. There are no examples of a woman serving as a pastor in the church. None of the apostles were women, for that matter. I can say “period” and leave it at that. The instruction in 1 Timothy 2:11-12 is clear.
But for the sake of teaching, I’d like to go through that list of names and explain why they’re actually bad examples. While they are not examples of women pastors, most of them are certainly great examples for being strong women of God.
The book of Judges captures a very dark time in Israel’s history. In those days there was no king in Israel, and the people did what was right in their own eyes (Judges 17:6, 21:25). But God gave them judges to be their leaders, decision-makers, and deliverers.
The pattern of the story of Judges goes like this: the people sinned and worshiped false gods, the Lord sent an enemy to punish and oppress them, the people cried out for mercy, so God sent a judge to conquer their enemies and deliver a semi-repentant Israel. Wash, rinse, repeat. Three of the most famous judges were Samson, Gideon, and a woman named Deborah.
Deborah was a prophetess and a God-fearing woman who judged during a time when there were no God-fearing men. In Judges 4, Deborah confronted Barak, commander of the Lord’s army, who was reluctant to do what God had told him to do: gather his troops and fight the Canaanites. Instead, Barak told Deborah, “If you will go with me, I will go, but if you will not go with me, I will not go.” So Deborah mommied him and led him by the hand to get him to obey God.
If you had been reading through Deuteronomy and Joshua, by the time you got to Judges 4, you’d recognize Israel’s digression in faith and obedience. In Deuteronomy 1:15, the tribes of Israel had wise and experienced men as heads over them. In Joshua 24:1, these men met with Joshua to renew their covenant before God. But within a generation, Israel began worshiping the Baals and forgot what the Lord had done for them (Judges 2:10-12).
It got to the point that the men weren’t doing what the leaders of Israel were supposed to do. So God placed a woman over them as though to say, “Sure, I’ll deliver you from your enemies. But to your shame, I’m going to send a woman to do what no man will do.” It was an embarrassment that Deborah was judge, not a high achievement (consider Judges 9:53 where it was to Abimelech’s shame that he was killed by a woman and not a man). In Deborah’s song of victory, she praised the tribes that stepped up to fight and lambasted those who stayed home (Judges 5:14-18).
Isaiah 3:12 says, “My people — infants are their oppressors, and women rule over them.” It is the judgment of God upon a nation when women occupy the roles that should be filled by men. Barak should have been the judge of Israel, following in the footsteps of Othniel, Ehud, and Shamgar before him. But because he was kind of a weenie, God gave Deborah to do what Barak wouldn’t.
So using Deborah as an argument for why it’s okay for a woman to be a pastor really isn’t a good move. It would be to admit, “There are no godly men here, so a woman is going to have to do this job.” When a woman is pastor, the church is immature and disobedient, just like Israel was when Deborah was judge. She is a great example of a God-fearing woman. She is not an example of a pastor.
I confess, this is one of my favorite Bible stories. Still in Judges 4, when Barak succeeded against the Canaanite armies, Sisera, the commander of the Canaanites, fled on foot to the tent of Jael, wife of Heber the Kenite, a descendant of Moses’s father-in-law. Sisera hid in her tent and told Jael, “Stand here at the opening of the tent, and if any man comes and asks you, ‘Is anyone here?’ say, ‘No.'”
When Sisera fell asleep, Jael went and grabbed a tent-peg and a hammer and nailed his head to the ground. Yes, this stay-at-home wife pulled a stake from her tent, went over to where the enemy was sleeping, put the spike on the his temple, and with a mallet in her other hand, she pound, pound, pounded that stake through his head and into the dirt, pinning his cranium to the ground. A woman did that. That is so Judges.
The context of this story further emphasizes the lack of obedience among of the men of Israel. Because Barak hesitated to obey God, the Lord didn’t give him the victory over his enemy. Instead, He embarrassed Barak by giving the final blow to the hands of Jael, a humble wife who was not even an Israelite. Likewise, when a woman stands in the pulpit administering the teaching of God over His church, it’s an embarrassment to all the men under her.
|Go on and call a stay-at-home wife weak. I dare ya.|
Hannah was one of Elkanah’s two wives. His other wife, Peninnah, had children, but Hannah had none, and Peninnah made fun of Hannah for being barren. Troubled in spirit, Hannah prayed fervently before the Lord, and this was at a time when even the high priest, Eli, wasn’t seeking God. She asked God to give her a son, and if He would so bless her, she would commit her son to His service.
God was gracious to her, and she gave birth to a son whom she named Samuel, meaning “heard of God,” because the Lord heard her and granted her request. Samuel became one of Israel’s greatest prophets. He anointed Israel’s first king, Saul, and then Saul’s successor, David. While Samuel grew in the service of the Lord, Hannah was blessed to have five more children.
And that’s the story of Hannah. She is an outstanding example of patient submission and steadfastness. The ridicule of others, including the high priest, did not make her doubt God. She sought the Lord with all her heart. But she was not a person of authority and she never had a leadership role. If a woman wants to become a pastor, and she looks at Hannah as an example, she should consider what Hannah said in 1 Samuel 2:3: “Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by Him actions are weighed.”
Miriam was the sister of Moses and Aaron, and not as great an example of godliness as Hannah was. Miriam is mentioned as a prophetess in Exodus, but this is explicitly in the context of leading other women. Exodus 15:20 says, “Then Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women went out after her with tambourines and dancing.”
Unfortunately, Miriam is most remembered for opposing Moses, her brother and Israel’s leader. In Numbers 12, she and Aaron took issue with Moses being married to a Cushite woman, but this was only a cover for the real source of their animus: Miriam and Aaron believed they were just as capable and qualified to lead Israel as Moses was. They said, “Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?”
But Moses was a meek and humble man who did not try to defend himself. Instead, the Lord made Himself heard. He called the three siblings to stand before the tent of meeting, and said:
“Hear my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the Lord make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream. Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the Lord. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?”
When the Lord departed from them, Miriam was struck with leprosy. Moses plead with the Lord on her behalf, and she was healed after seven days. This demonstrated to Miriam that not only was Moses God’s chosen prophet, Moses loved her and still interceded for her even when she contested him and thought more highly of herself. It was because Moses did this for her that she was cured. In Deuteronomy 24:9, Moses told the people to remember what God did to Miriam so they would not make the same mistake by forsaking a prophet of God.
Perhaps from this story you recognize the irony of using Miriam as an argument for why a woman can be a pastor. The Lord has spoken clearly concerning this matter: a woman is not to be the teaching authority over a church, no matter how well she thinks she could do that job. She may be a great preacher. But if she thinks that makes her deserving of the position of overseer in Christ’s church, she’s as prideful as Miriam was.
Ruth and Esther
Just because a woman has a book of the Bible named after her doesn’t mean 1 Timothy 2:11-12 is null and void. Context, people! Ruth and Esther were great and godly women, but they weren’t pastors. They weren’t even authority-figures. Yup, even Queen Esther.
Ruth was a widow from Moab, the daughter-in-law of a Judean widow, Naomi. The two of them were quite destitute when they returned to Judah, Naomi’s homeland. But Boaz, their kinsmen redeemer, saw by her works that Ruth was a godly woman (1 Timothy 2:10). He showed kindness to Ruth and Naomi by taking Ruth as his wife. The Lord blessed Boaz and Ruth and they became ancestors to King David and later Christ Himself. Plot twist: the main character of the story actually isn’t Ruth. It’s Naomi (see Ruth 4:17).
Esther was a queen, but she had no authority. Ahasuerus (or Xerxes in some translations) was the reigning monarch. Do you remember how Esther became queen? Ahasuerus’ wife, Vashti, stood up to him because she wouldn’t make an appearance at his party as his arm-candy. So the king had her banished and replaced her with Esther, who had so little authority that if she entered the king’s presence without being summoned, he could have her executed (Esther 4:11).
When the existence of the Jews was threatened by Haman’s evil plot, Esther, herself a Jew, risked her own life to save her people. She was shrewd and she was wise in the way she earned the favor of the king so that an entire race of people would be delivered. The Lord put her in such a position “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14). She was perfectly safe living out her days as queen. But Esther was obedient to God above all else, even if her obedience had cost her everything. Obedience is not a feminist’s forte.
Proverbs 8 and 31
The picture of wisdom personified as a woman in Proverbs 8 is in contrast with the forbidden woman of crooked speech mentioned in the previous chapters. Which one will you go after: the adulteress who tempts the sinful passions of the flesh, lusts in darkness, leads to death, and forgets her covenant with God (Proverbs 2:16-17); or wisdom who is virtuous, is the way of kings and princes, walks in righteousness, leads to abundant life, and has been with the Lord since the beginning (Proverbs 8:13, 21-22)? The comparison is summarized in the next chapter. See Proverbs 9.
Liberal theologians love to use the personification of wisdom as a woman. Heretic author William Paul Young, in his manure-pile-of-a-book The Shack, even made wisdom the fourth person of the Trinity. Young’s god was three parts woman and one part man. But Proverbs 8 doesn’t mean wisdom is literally a woman any more than Jerusalem was literally a whore (Ezekiel 16) or that our best deeds before a holy God are literally a woman’s soiled menstrual cloth (Isaiah 64:6). Point made?
The Proverbs 31 woman I rarely see in a feminist. Okay, I’ve never seen the Proverbs 31 woman in a feminist. The feminist is far too full of herself. But a woman who fears the Lord, “Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. She looks well to the ways of her household and she does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her” (Proverbs 31:25-28).
The Proverbs 31 woman is a wife and a mother who loves her husband and children, works at home, and is submissive to her husband, “that the word of God may not be reviled” (Titus 2:5). If that sounds awful and oppressive to you, you have no joy in Christ. A wife’s submission to her husband is not oppression — it is the delight of her heart, a willful obedience to God as a picture of the way the whole church is to submit to Christ (Ephesians 5:22-24).
Likewise, it is a joy for a woman in the church to humble herself before God, heeding the roles God has designated for men and those He has designated for women. Whether a wife, mother, or single, it is a woman’s pleasure to follow in quiet submission and not rebel against what God has ordained.
Phoebe, Lydia, Prisca, Mary, and Mary Magdalene (Bonus: Junia)
Now we get to the grab-bag of names in the New Testment, none of whom are examples of women as pastors. I want to emphasize again that these women are all great examples of godliness. But strong women in the Bible do not equate to being pastors. A submissive woman is a strong woman. When anyone, man or woman, tries to put themselves in a place God has not given to them to serve, that is not strength. It’s prideful, self-serving, and rebellious.
Phoebe is the first name mentioned in Paul’s list of thanks at the end of Romans. She is a servant of the church at Cenchreae, neighbors to Corinth (which was where Paul was when he wrote to the church in Rome). The argument is often made that Phoebe was a deacon in the church, given that the English word “servant” is translated from the feminine form of the Greek word for “deacon.” Wherever one falls in the translation debate of Romans 16:1, you would only be arguing for whether a woman can be a deacon, not whether she can be an elder or an overseer. An overseer must have an ability to teach (1 Timothy 3:2). A deacon does not have to meet that qualification.
After Pheobe comes Prisca (Romans 16:3). Prisca is a variation of the name Priscilla, wife of Aquila. They were a husband and wife evangelism duo, their most famous convert being Apollos. At the time they encountered him, Apollos was not yet part of the church and did not know the way of Christ (Acts 18:24-28). Women absolutely can evangelize and share the gospel with others. Preaching to unbelievers is not the same thing as being an overseer in the church. It’s also okay for a sister to encourage a brother in the Lord. But this should not be done in private. Priscilla was with her husband when they taught Apollos.
Lydia was Paul’s first convert in Philippi (Acts 16:14), and it’s possible that the church at Philippi met in her home (v.40). She was the matriarch of her household which indicates that she may have been a widow. She was also wealthy as a “seller of purple goods.” But she would not have been the pastor or an elder in the Philippian church, and there’s nothing that suggests she was.
Mary was the mother of Jesus, a great woman of God. But again, not a pastor. Mary Magdalene was the first to tell the disciples that the tomb of Christ was empty and He had risen from the dead (John 20:1-2). What a gracious and wonderful thing that God chose women to proclaim this good news first, during a time when a woman’s testimony was not even admitted in court. Indeed, women are just as instrumental as men in the spread of the gospel. A woman can do that without being a pastor.
Finally, there’s Junia. In Romans 16:7, Paul says, “Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me.” The NASB uses the names Andronicus and Junias, and says they “are outstanding among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.”
Some interpret “outstanding among the apostles” to mean that Andronicus and Junias were outstanding apostles. But all this means is that Andronicus and Junias were highly praised by the apostles, not that they were apostles themselves. Besides, there’s debate as to whether Junia/Junias was a woman or a man.
The apostles were men specifically chosen by Christ, and pastors are men who continue to teach the word of Christ as first administered by the apostles, that we may grow together in love (Ephesians 4:11-16). Though it is not for a woman to fill this role, I cannot emphasize enough how needed women are to the service and growth of the church. The men must include and not hinder them.
Furthermore, I cannot emphasize enough how important it is that women grow in godliness and holiness. Listen to the preaching of the word, and do what it says. Your selfish frustration in reading “quietly with all submissiveness” will cause you to miss the instruction “let a woman learn!” A strong woman of God is supposed to be a woman educated in the ways of God. Feminists hate this. They don’t want women to be strong in the faith. They want them to be weak (2 Timothy 3:6). Strong women aren’t easily manipulated by their lies — the same lies of that ancient serpent who hissed at Eve, “Did God really say…?” (Genesis 3:1)
Men and women are fellow heirs in the grace of life (1 Peter 3:7). Though God made us different and assigned to us different roles, we are to be one in the Spirit and in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:38). Let us do our work without anger or quarreling, bitterness or jealousy. Humble yourself before the Lord, and at the proper time, He will exalt you. Consider others needs ahead of your own, in love and submission to our heavenly Father, to the praise of His glorious grace.
For those who read this article a second time, you might notice a few changes. Nothing was omitted, but a few additions were made. I took a nap and had a couple more thoughts. Thanks for reading and sharing!