Who Says Women Can’t Pastor?
A Biblical Exposition Showing That Women Too Are Called
to Leadership by Eddie L. Hyatt D.Min., M.Div., M.A.
I had just completed a teaching session in which I had explained why 1 Tim. 2:11-12 does not prohibit women from functioning in leadership roles in the Church. One student, who was obviously disturbed, challenged me with a question. “Can you show me one place in the New Testament where a woman ever functioned as a pastor?” I replied, “If you will first show me one place where a man ever functioned as a pastor!” He was stunned in that he could not think of a single example.
Eisegesis vs. Exegesis
My answer was designed to show him how much we read into the Biblical text. This is known as eisegesis--to read something “into” the text that is not there. On the other hand, exegesis means to “take out” or extract from what is there. It is so easy to practice eisegesis and read into the Bible our own prejudices, assumptions and traditions. The Church is guilty of eisegesis in many areas, but none so much as in the development of its doctrine of women and their role in the Church. An honest exegetical examination of the appropriate passages, however, reveals a very different view.
Women Pastors in the NT
There are numerous women leaders in the New Testament, some who obviously functioned in pastoral roles of oversight. Paul mentions 2 of these female pastors in Rom. 16 as well as a female apostle.
Phoebe, a Woman Pastor
In Romans 16:1 Paul commends to the church at Rome our sister Phoebe who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea. Paul refers to Phoebe as a servant which is the Greek word diakonos. Diakonos, or its verb form, is translated minister in 23 other places in the New Testament. For example, in Eph. 3:7, Paul says that he became a minister (diakonos) according to the gift of the grace of God. Phoebe, therefore, was a minister, probably a pastor, from the church in Cenchrea. This is borne out by vs. 2 where Paul refers to her as a helper of many and of myself also. The Greek word translated helper in this verse is prostates and, according to Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon, means to set over, to rule, superintend, preside over, protect, and care for. When this passage is examined apart from our traditions and prejudicial assumptions, the evidence is overwhelming that Phoebe functioned in what today we would call pastoral ministry.
Priscilla, A Woman Pastor
In verses 3-5 of the same chapter, Paul refers to Priscilla and Aquila and the church that is in their house. Priscilla and Aquila are always mentioned together in Scripture which indicates that they worked and ministered together as a husband and wife team. This is confirmed by Acts 18:26 where both Priscilla and Aquila took Apollos aside and both explained to him the way of God more accurately. In the Greek, Priscilla is always mentioned first. Since Paul reversed the culturally accepted manner of mentioning the husband first, he obviously wanted to make a point about her leadership role. Many commentators conclude that Priscilla is mentioned first because she was the spiritually gifted one and the leader of the church that met in their home. Again, the evidence is overwhelming. Priscilla functioned as a pastor.
Junia, A Woman Apostle
In verse 7 of the same chapter, Paul sends greetings to Andronicus and Junia who are of note among the apostles. Junia is a feminine name and so we have here a woman who is recognized by Paul as an apostle. The early church father, John Chrysostom, commenting on this verse, said, "Oh how great is the devotion of this woman, that she should be even counted worthy of the appellation of apostle." If a woman can function as an apostle, may not she also function as a pastor.
What About 1 Timothy 2:11-12?
"But,” some will ask, “What about Paul's admonitions in I Corinthians 14:34 and I Timothy 2:12 for women to be silent?" For the sake of space, we will look at 1 Tim. 2:11-12 which many consider to be the Bible’s clearest statement against women functioning in leadership. It says, Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. On the surface and out of context, this passage sounds quite clear in its restriction of women. But a different picture emerges when we consider four simple exegetical facts.
1 Timothy Was Written To An Individual, Not To A Church
First of all, the letter of 1 Timothy was written to an individual, not to a church. We should expect, therefore, that the things written in the letter are related to the situation of the individual, i.e. Timothy, to whom it was written. It is a “personal” letter.
1 Timothy Addresses A Personal, Local Situation in Ephesus
Secondly, vs. 3 of chpt. 1 clearly states the reason for this letter to Timothy. It is not to lay down a universal system of church order. It is to encourage and instruct him as he deals with a false teaching that is circulating among the Christians in Ephesus where he is located.
This requires rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15). Paul obviously was not issuing universal edicts for all churches of every time and place. He is addressing unique issues related to Timothy and the church in Ephesus.
A Strange Greek Word
That Paul is addressing a unique situation in Ephesus is further borne out by the fact that the word “authority” in 2:12 is a translation of the Greek word authentein which is found only here in the entire New Testament. If Paul is here giving a universal edict for church order, why doesn’t he use the normal word for authority, exousia, which he and all other New Testament writers use. Why does he here use a word that neither he nor any other New Testament writer ever uses--a word that refers to someone who claims to be the author or originator of something.
The obvious answer is that Paul is here dealing with the unique situation that exists in Ephesus. If Paul had been giving a universal rule for church order in this passage, he would have used the normal New Testament word for authority.
Paul May Have Been Addressing A Particular Woman in Ephesus
Fourthly, this view is borne out by the fact that there is a change from the plural to the singular and then back to the plural in this passage. In vss. 9-10 of chpt. 2, Paul refers to “women” in the plural. But when he comes to the restrictive admonition of vss. 11-12, he changes to the singular and refers to “a woman.” Afterwards, in vs. 15, he returns again to the plural. This may indicate that, in writing this passage, Paul had a particular woman in mind who was primarily responsible for spreading the false teaching in Ephesus. Be that as it may, Paul, in this passage, is obviously addressing a unique, local situation in the city of Ephesus.
So, who says women can’t pastor? Not Jesus! Not Paul! And not the New Testament!
Much info. for this article was derived from the book In the Spirit We’re Equal by Dr. Susan C. Hyatt.
www.icwhp.org † www.eddiehyatt.com