CAN WOMEN ASSUME A PASTORATE?
1. Dr. Robert C. Anderson states in his introduction page xiii, “…by my interpretation of Scripture, to conclude that the office of pastor is one to which God has called males.” Church leaders, scholars and lay people who take this view often know best three verses from Paul, “I permit no women to teach or have authority over a man”; (1 Tim. 2:12) “Wives, be subject to your husbands as to the Lord,” (Eph. 5:22) and “Women should be silent in the churches.” (1 Cor. 14:34) This is a classic case of selective literalism. This is when the Bible reader chooses which passages he/she wants to apply literally; they shout them out and then ignore all the others that don’t line up with their theology related to their particular interpretation or position. If we were to be completely honest with ourselves, I think we all do this as well. A major rule in interpretation is to read and interpret the Bible literally whenever possible, however, this does not mean always. For Example, if we were to take everything literally, then we would pick up snakes as Jesus said that we could do. Also, if we are wearing a cotton polyester blend or any other kind of blend, we would be disobeying a biblical command in the Old Testament. (Lev. 19:19) Five times, Paul and Peter tell Christians to “Greet each other with a holy kiss.” I would not want to attend a church in which every single male would kiss my wife as I enter and leave the church premises. The simple explanation is that those things are cultural customs and different cultures have different customs. In fact, almost everything in the Bible is culturally conditioned – just as almost everything we do is culturally conditioned. The clothes we wear; out hair style; the kind of house we live in; the books we read; everything in our lives is deeply affected by the culture in which we live. The same is true in Bible times.
Even though the Bible is culturally conditioned, we can still see the principles of life that God has revealed in spite of the different cultures. We can see what God is like primarily because we see Jesus Christ – God incarnated revealed in human form. Thus, we study the Bible to see what it can teach us about crucial matters that are so important to all of us.
Paul in his training as a Pharisee had been taught to have little or nothing to do with women, but he had years to think through all of that with the things he had heard about Jesus and Jesus’ treatment of women. He had learned that in Christ here is neither Jew nor Gentile, male nor female, slave or free – We are all one in Christ. Paul would never do or teach anything different from, what Jesus did and taught.
I want to give six examples in the New Testament that will prove that women not only can be leaders in the church, but can also assume a pastoral role.
1. (Acts 16) when Paul went to Philippi he found a women prayer meeting and it became the first house church pastured by Lydia which was a women. This church became the first house church in Europe. In fact, this church became Paul’s favorite church. The letter to the Philippians shows his great joy in that church. Paul said that it was the only church that regularly supported him, and the only church from which he accepted monetary gifts. In the 4th chapter of Philippians, he names two women of the church as his co-workers who “struggled beside me in the work of the gospel.” Does this sound like Paul taught that women should not proclaim the gospel to men as well as women? Or that women should remain silent in the church? Absolutely not!!
2. Paul was not the only one who recognized women as leaders of churches. The letter of 2 John is addressed to “the elect lady and her children whom I love in the truth.” It closes with “the children of your elect sister send you their greetings.” Some commentaries, especially older ones, say that the “elect lady” and the “elect sister” were churches and not individual women. But common – sense and a careful reading of this letter points to churches lead by women.
3. There was a married couple who were great Evangelist’s and church planters named Priscilla and Aquila. Paul stayed in Ephesus a while and then went on to Caesarea, leaving Pricilla and Aquila in charge of the believers in Ephesus. This Evangelistic Couple are mentioned and commended by Paul eight times in his letters – more often than anyone else except Timothy, and in all but two instances Priscilla’s name is mentioned first although that was contrary to the custom of that day (as well as ours!) She was at the very least Aquila’s equal. In Rom 16, when Paul is sending greeting to many people, Priscilla and Aquila lead the list and he says, “They worked with me in Christ Jesus, and risked their necks for my life, to whom, not only I give thanks but also all the churches of the Gentiles. Greet also the church in their house.” This couple could hardly have done what they did if Priscilla was to remain silent and not be permitted to teach all who came, that is, male and females.
4. Phoebe is also mentioned in Rom. 16:1 as a “deacon” in the church of Cenchrea. It is usually assumed that she was the one who carried Paul’s letter to the Romans from Greece. It was a hazardous, difficult, and dangerous journey yet Paul trusted her to make this journey and carry this important letter. What is of supreme interest is that except in a few recent translations, the word “deacon” in reference to Phoebe, is translated some other way (“servant”) in KJV, and “(deaconess”) in others. However, Paul describes her with the same word that he uses to describe himself, Apollo, Tychicus, Epaphras, Timothy – where it is always translated “deacon.” Whatever Phoebe did in the church of Cenchrea must have been important, for Paul says she was a benefactor of many, including himself. It doesn’t sound like she was a silent women who never took leadership.
5. In Paul’s second letter to Timothy, Paul writes, “Continue in what you have learned and firmly believe, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you through faith in Christ Jesus.” I wonder who taught Timothy from his childhood about the faith? It was Lois and Eunice, his grandmother and mother! So much for women not taking a leadership role. These Godly women raised one of the greatest leaders in the early church. It is simply amazing how God is no respecter of persons. He uses all of us to accomplish his will!
6. Interestingly, although Paul had never been to Rome when he wrote the letter to the Romans, he had heard about these people and their word for God of which Paul mentions ten women in his greeting. (Rom. 16) Paul describes the women with the same terms as he greets the nineteen men.
On page 130 of Dr. Robert Anderson’s book he states: “Although I do not find the term deaconess in the Bible, I like the concept……Older women of the church who have been freed of parenting responsibilities can be equipped to teach and minister to the younger women and families in need.” My question is why not now? Why can’t a woman be used with all their capacities, gifts and calling? The answer is they can!
The fact is the author is contradicting his stance on women not allowed to assume the office of a pastor. What is so amazing to me is that he does not support women being in the pastorate but justifies the term “deaconess” as a way of using women to participate in home visitations.
Getting back to my 6 scriptural examples of why women can be leaders and even pastors, we find that Paul was not sexist in his activities, and I think it is obvious from all accounts that he was not. But why did he write those few referenced that make him sound like a male chauvinist? Let me point out several facts that will clear this most misconceptions and misinterpretations.
1. 1 Corinthians was clearly a letter written by Paul to a church that had a lot of problems: Divided loyalties, sexual immorality among members, people taking each other to court, wounding a fellow Christian’s conscience by eating meat offered to idols, order in worship services, to name a few. It is interesting that these problems go on even in today’s church. Every culture has its own ideas of proper worship and in the early church Paul had the added problem of trying to make it possible for Christian Jews and Christian Gentiles to worship together. This can be equated to the same problem some churches experience with combining black and white people into their congregation. Just like us, those Christians had strong ideas of proper dress, hair style, worship style, etc. Add to that the cultural attitudes and differences between the way men and women should act in worship.
In 1 Corinthians 11 Paul tells men that they should pray and prophesy in church with their heads uncovered. Why? We really don’t know, but we recognize even today it is not usually considered good manners for men to wear hats in church. Then Paul says that women should have something on their heads when they pray and prophesy in church. Again, we really don’t know why, but it probably had something to do with what was considered proper in that society. Please note that women were to PRAY AND PROPHESY in church services. This chapter has a lot of cultural patterns that we really don’t understand.
It is in this same letter that the phrase “women should be silent in the church” appears. Paul did not mean this literally since he had just explained how women could and should pray and prophesy in public gatherings. In the same 14th chapter Paul explains how important the gift of prophecy is in evangelism and in teaching. We need to read all of this recognizing that Paul is speaking to a first century situation in a particular town.
2. The next well quoted verse by Paul and the one most often given to “prove” that women are not to be leaders (especially pastors) in the church, is 1 Tim. 2:11,12. “Let the women learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach and to have authority over a man.” Again, we need to be reminded that we dare not read anything in the Bible apart from its literary and cultural and historical context. Remember, a text without its context is pretext. First, this letter was a personal letter from Paul to Timothy. This was not written to a church. It is an intimate letter in which Paul tries to help Timothy with some of the problems he knows he is having. The first chapter talks about wrong doctrine, myths, endless genealogies, and those who have shipwrecked the faith. The city of Ephesus was a very difficult city in which to work and preach as well. It was the center of worship of the goddess Artemis – the fertility goddess of all Asia. The temple to Artemis in Ephesus was considered on of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
The emphasis in this passage seems to be on the importance of women learning. In that culture, women did not have the same educational opportunities as men. Interestingly, it has only been in the last 100 years that women in America began to get opportunities for higher education. So Paul’s statement that women should learn is very forward-looking for his time. And since this is followed immediately by the statement, “I am not permitting a woman to teach or have authority over a man” it is possible that these uneducated women were taking a teaching role for which they were not prepared. Finally, the word “man” was added by the translators for better readability in the English. There is no actual word in the Hebrew/Greek text. (KJV)
The other situation that might have been going on is that the women in that particular church were being disorderly by asking questions and shouting from one end of the church to the other. In those times the women would sit on one side and the men at another. So to address this situation Paul tells Timothy that these women should quietly, after the service, ask their husbands any questions that they may have. What this passage is really teaching the women is that God does not permit for a woman to “Push” her husband by their words nor to usurp authority over him. God forbids imperative statements made toward her husband! What this passage is teaching women in a practical sense is that the wife should never command her husband.
3. The reference to Adam being formed before Eve may be difficult to understand but it is possible that Paul was refuting one of the wild myths circulating in Ephesus. On a practical level, the fact that man was formed first indicated a priority of responsibility. Since God appointed the man the head of the wife (family), the wife is not to usurp authority over him in his role (office). Conversely, the man is charged to accept and serve in this role, not as a tyrant or dictator but as a servant under God’s assignment and subject to the Holy Spirit. Paul does not teach that Adam was morally, intellectually, or spiritually superior to Eve, simply that her trustfulness made her susceptible to deception. Would Timothy think Paul was talking about all women of all time? No! No doubt Timothy knew all about Priscilla and Aquila and the part they had played in teaching Apollo in this very town of Ephesus!
4. This leaves one more often quoted passage in order to prevent women from fulfilling their God appointed purposes – Ephesians 5:22 “Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands as to the Lord.” This must be read by the preceding verse. Submission is a part of the life of every believer – Male and Female. Also note that Paul was really speaking of Christ and the church, and using marriage as an example of the oneness that believers should have with each other and with Christ. “For the two shall be one flesh.” What a wonderful picture of our union with Christ! Both husband and wife are equally responsible in their relationship although they have separate and distinct roles and responsibilities. The only place where Paul talks exclusively about marriage is 1 Corinthians 7 and has nothing to say about husbands being in charge and wives being secondary or that a woman cannot fulfill the office of the pastorate.
We must also note that the three letters where Paul talks about the “gifts” God gives to the church for edification, there is never any distinction between the gifts God gives women than those God gives men. (Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4) If Paul thought that some gifts were strictly for men and not for women, would he not have somehow arranged those lists to be obvious?
So did Paul practice what he actually preached? He sure did! But what we have been told he preached is often a misunderstanding caused by selective literalism and failure to read those selected verses in the light of the historical cultural situation of Paul’s time. It is a misapplication of scripture taken out of its context. I think Paul has gotten a bum rap, and I would like to see him restored to his place as a champion of all believers and their service for God, to include women. He was a true follower of Jesus, as all of us want to be and should be.
I am so happy that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile, male or female, bond or free. We are all one in Christ and Christ can call who he wants into the pastorate. We should all try to live what the scriptures say instead of our own traditional beliefs. Where the Bible speaks, let us speak, and where the Bible is silent, let us be silent.
Pastor Henry Vazquez
Jan 30th, 2004. Dissagreement against the book The Effective Pastor by Dr. Robert Anderson. Omega Bible Institute and Seminary Masters of Divinity Student.