Posted by: Pastor Terry Hagedorn | March 16, 2010



The church faces a division over ordination of women because, in the face of calls for it from some quarters today, (1) there is no biblical precedent for the practice, and (2) some explicit biblical prohibitions seem to militate against the practice.

(a) Absence of Biblical Precedent. The Bible teaches that, despite their significant role in ministry, women in Old Testament times were not ordained as priests. Also, though they made major contributions to the ministry of Christ, He did not appoint a single one of them as an apostle; further, when a replacement apostle was sought (Acts 1:15-26), even though women were present and surely met most of the requirements set (vv. 21-22), it was a male who was chosen. In addition, we have no record of any woman’s being ordained as an elder or pastor in the New Testament church. Why was this so?

(b) Biblical Prohibition of Women Elders/Pastors. Despite the active involvement of women in ministry in the apostolic church, Paul’s pastoral epistles to Timothy and Titus (letters specifically written to pastors and laity) contain instruction that only men may aspire to the office of elder or pastor. 1Tim 2:12 (KJS) But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man; “a bishop [or elder] must be . . . the husband of one wife” (1 Tim 3:2; Titus 1:6). These passages all use the same Greek word for “man” and “husband.” It is not the generic term anthropos, from which the English word “anthropology” derives and which refers to human beings, male or female, without regard to gender. [1] Rather, Paul employed the specific word aner, a term that means a male person in distinction from a woman (cf. Acts 8:12; 1 Tim 2:12), one capable of being a husband (see Matt 1:16; John 4:16; Rom 7:2; Titus 1:6). Why did Paul prohibit women from exercising the headship/leadership role of elder or pastor?

The lack of biblical precedent for ordaining women to the headship role in the church, combined with the Bible’s prohibitions of the practice, raises some questions. Were the Old Testament writers, Jesus Christ, and Paul sexist? Should the male headship role be explained away as an accommodation to the Bible writers’ culture and times? If so, how can we account for the fact that at the same time, the Bible also noted the significant role of women in ministry, including prophesying, praying, teaching, etc.? Could it be that women’s exclusion from the Old Testament priesthood and from the New Testament roles of apostles and elders/pastors is not based on mere sociological or cultural factors but rather is rooted in God’s divine arrangement established at creation? If so, does this divine arrangement mean that men and women are not equal? OF COURSE NOT?

What the Issue is Not: Equality of Being, Worth, or Status. The question of whether or not to ordain women as elders and pastors should not be confused with whether women and men are equal. Equality of being and worth (ontological equality) is a clear Biblical teaching, affirming that all human beings–male and female–have equal standing before God as created beings, as sinners in need of salvation through Christ, and as people called to the same destiny. The scriptural evidence for this equality is that (1) both “male and female” were created “in the image of God” (Gen 1:27; Matt 19:4; Mark 10:6); (2) both have been redeemed by Jesus Christ, so that “in Christ” there is neither “male nor female” (Gal 3:28); and (3) both are “joint heirs of the grace of life” (1 Pet 3:7).

Nowhere does the Bible relegate women to second-class status or make men superior and women inferior. To say otherwise is to misrepresent biblical teaching and affront the loving character of the God who created Eve to be Adam’s “help meet for him,” a partner “fitting” or “suitable” to him. Within this equality, just as gender differences between men and women indicate that they were created to complement one another, so also this complementary nature indicates a functional distinction between them.

The issue of women’s ordination is, therefore, not a question of whether women and men are equal. The Bible has already settled that issue. Women and men are equal; neither is inferior to the other. What the Issue Is. The real issue in the debate is whether the equality of male and female does away with functional differences. While maintaining equality of being, has the Bible assigned a headship/leadership role to the man and a supportive role to the woman? If so, were these complementary roles established before or after the fall? Are these roles applicable only to the home, or are they also valid in the church? What Bible principles govern the male-female relationship?

What the Issue is Not: God’s Call for Women in Ministry. The issue of whether or not to ordain women as elders and pastors should not be confused with whether women can be in ministry. The Bible clearly teaches that women have been called to the work of ministry as surely as have men. In the Old Testament, women participated in the study and teaching of the law (Neh 8:2; Prov 1:8; Deut 13:6-11), in offering prayers and vows to God (1 Sam 1:10; Num 30:9; Gen 25:22; 30:6, 22; 2 Kings 4:9-10, 20-37), in ministering “at the entrance to the tent of meeting” (1 Sam 2:22), in singing at the worship of the temple service (Ezra 2:65), and in engaging in the prophetic ministry of exhortation and guidance (Ex 15:20; 2 Kings 22:14-20; 2 Chron 34:22-28; Judges 4:4-14). Of this latter group, especially prominent are Deborah, “a prophetess . . . [who] was judging [NIV “leading”] Israel at that time” (Judges 4:4), and Huldah, the prophetess to whom Josiah the king and Hilkiah the high priest looked for spiritual guidance (2 Kings 22).

The New Testament portrays women fulfilling vital roles in ministry. Besides Mary and Martha, a number of other women, including Joanna and Susanna, supported Jesus with their own means (Luke 8:2-3). Tabitha ministered to the needy (Acts 9:36). Other women, including Lydia, Phoebe, Lois, and Eunice, distinguished themselves in fulfilling the mission of the church (Acts 16:14-15; 21:8-9; Rom 16:1-4, 12). Of these, many were Paul’s co-workers in ministry. Priscilla apparently was well educated and an apt instructor in the new faith (Rom 16:3; Acts 18:26); Paul calls Phoebe “a servant of the church” and a “succourer of many, and of myself also” (Rom 16:1, 2); Mary, Tryphena, Tryposa, and Persis all “worked very hard in the Lord” (Rom 16:6, 12); Euodia and Syntyche were women Phil 4:3 (KJS) And I intreat thee also, true yokefellow, help those women which laboured with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other my fellowlabourers, whose names [are] in the book of life. ; and Junia, who suffered imprisonment with Paul, received commendation as someone “of note among the apostles” (Rom 16:7).

Despite all of these wonderful attributes and abilities–women are still not to be pastors–that is the way it is. However, not all men are called to this office, either. That is not prejudice, either–it is just the way it is, as well.


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