Can Women Be Pastors (1 Tim. 2:12-14)?

I felt as though the Church and others were forcing my doctrinal positions to submit to the many subjective feelings of each Christian and Church.

The topic of women pastors, teachers, elders, and executives in the Church has been controversial for years. In fact, I personally got saved at a Church that had women elders. I use to hear 1 sermon a month from the female elder and wonder ‘is this right’… ‘what does the Bible say about this’? I even attended a Bible study where my friend said his mom felt called to be a pastor because she heard a voice from the Holy Spirit in the middle of a Church service. I also attended a Church that taught a plurality of male elders was the Biblical model, only to find out that the executive administrator was a lady who had the power to fire and hire pastors and make ministry changes to the Church. This reminded me all too much of the corporate world I had come from. I felt as though the Church and others were forcing my doctrinal positions to submit to the many subjective feelings of each Christian and Church. These experiences drove me to seek out Biblical answers. Answers that wouldn’t change based on a Church or Christian. I looked into hermeneutics (how to interpret the Bible) and asked ‘what does the Bible say about female pastors and teachers and positions of leadership in the Church’? Eventually the truth of Scripture was clear and I changed Churches as I learned more about a healthier ecclesiology (the study of the Church). Below we will look at some common terms, the main text, grammar, and context to arrive at a fair conclusion.

The Terms

  • Egalitarian – Church government set up with the belief that gender roles (male & female) are equal in all offices of the Church (i.e. women can be pastors).

  • Complementarian – Church government set up with the belief that gender roles (male & female) function differently in offices of the Church as a submission to God’s intended design (i.e. women cannot be pastors). These designed roles complement one another. Complementarianism teaches that males and females are functionally different (functional subordination), but also teaches that males and females maintain spiritual equality in Christ.

The Text

“12 But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. 13 For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. 14 And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.” - 1 Timothy 2:12-14

The Grammar

The grammar of 1 Tim. 2:12-14 has been questioned by egalitarians through the use of a grammatical construction called hendiadys, which in Greek is literally translated ‘one through two’. Applying a hendiadys means you take the conjunction, ‘or (ουδε)’, to bring about one negation through the two verbs ‘to teach or exercise authority over’. The result is one single meaning of ‘authority over a man’ given through the two verbs ‘to teach or (ουδε) exercise authority over’. This grammatical implication would render an egalitarian understanding that allows female teachers, elders, and leaders as long as the teaching isn’t authoritatively done ‘over’ the male teacher. However, this grammatical rendering is not consistent because Paul uses ‘or (ουδε)’ not to join ‘to teach or exercise authority’ to a single meaning, but rather to dis-join (a disjunctive conjunction) two separate and distinct actions.[1] The use of a disjunctive conjunction should have us conclude that women who ‘teach’ or ‘exercise authority over’ a man is not permitted by God.

The meaning of ‘to teach’ in Greek is the idea of a known public teacher, preacher, or instructor. The idea of ‘exercise authority over’ is one word in the Greek, authentein, and means to dictate, control, or give orders to men. These offices are designed by God for qualified men (1 Timothy 3 & Titus 1). God intends for qualified men in the Church to rule well in these offices (1 Tim. 5:17). Paul is clearly telling Timothy here that the Church should be set up without situations where women are ‘to teach’ or ‘to exercise authority over’ men. Paul is explaining that submission and obedience is applied in the Church when women don’t perform a public teaching while men are present or leadership position that usurps authority over a man (i.e. being able to fire and hire pastors and make overseeing decisions).

The Context

The doctrine of complementarianism is rooted in creation, not in cultural hermeneutics.

Furthermore, egalitarians take 1 Tim. 2:12-14 out of context by assuming a cultural hermeneutic. Egalitarians take ‘I do not permit’ in v.12 to be a descriptive present tense that could be translated ‘I do not presently permit a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man’.[2] The context suggests that Paul’s emphasis is not on a ‘present’ description of the culture at the time, but on an eternal principle rooted in Creation (1 Tim. 2:13-14; c.f. Gen. 3). The passage suggests a universal application throughout time by using Adam and Eve as an illustration in v.13-14. Adam and Eve were not a part of the culture spoken to in 1 Timothy, but are rooted in the story of creation and the fall (Gen 1-3). The context presupposes that these truths are to be applied to all Church leadership universally within God’s creation. The doctrine of complementarianism is rooted in creation, not in cultural hermeneutics. Paul implies that complementarianism is the view that teaching and authority is rooted within the function of manhood according to God’s created order, ‘Adam who was first created’ (v.13). It is important for us to keep in mind that functional subordination does equate to spiritual subordination. The Bible teaches spiritual equality, but functional subordination. We see functional subordination play out within the persons of the Trinity when Jesus submits to the Father’s will (John 6:38). This implies that the function of elders, overseers, pastors, and teachers in the Church is rooted in God’s created design for males, not females.

This also implies that females teaching or exercising authority in the presence of men are being disobedient and deceptive. That is precisely Paul’s argument in v.14. In v.14, Paul explains that Eve was deceived to believe that she would not die (Gen. 3:4). Adam and Eve were functioning out of God’s designed order (functional subordination). Adam failed to teach and lead Eve, and Eve failed to submit to Adam and consult him as her leader to understand what God was teaching about spiritual death and sin. God’s design for complementarianism was challenged from the very beginning, there is nothing new under the sun (Ecc. 1:9).

Consider some further evidence of God’s design for complementarianism in the following observations: 1) all 66 books of the Bible were written by men; 2) all Priests had to be male (Exodus 28:1); 3) all the 12 Apostles were male; and 4) all of the sermons recorded in the Gospels and the book of Acts are by men (i.e. Peter in Acts 2 to the Jews and in Acts 10 to the Gentiles).

Conclusion

Alexander Strauch summarizes complementarianism by reminding us that

“In the minds of contemporary people, excluding women from Church eldership is sexist, discriminatory, and one more example of male dominance. But this need not be the case. No one who truly loves people, who is sensitive to God’s Word, and who is aware of the painful dehumanization that women have suffered (and still suffer) world-wide would want to discriminate against women…Yet in our zeal to right the wrongs committed against women, we must not forget that God designed male-female distinctions in order for the sexes to beautifully complement each other and to exercise different functions in society. To deny those distinctions is as destructive and dishonorable as it is to discriminate against women.”[3]

When we fail to achieve God’s design for a complementarian Church structure, by allowing women to teach in the midst of men or to be given authority over men, we open our Church up to the same deception that Eve experienced in the garden. It is the job of male elders to provide the teaching and oversight; anything short of this is disobedience to God’s Word in 1 Tim. 2:12-14 and Genesis 1-3. For an even more thorough treatment of this text, please read: Köstenberger, Andreas J., and Thomas R. Schreiner. Women in the Church (Third Edition): An Interpretation and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15. Crossway, 2016.

As a result of looking into Scripture, I concluded and resolved to only participate in Churches that reflect a complementarian view of Church leadership in practice and theory. Yes, there are indeed needs for biblical women to teach in women’s ministry, counseling for ladies, to serve as deacons, and teach in women’s Bible studies; however, that is not the same as being pastor-teacher in the presence of men, elder, executive leader, or preacher at a Church. I pray that we all operate in Church as God designed. Amen!


[1] Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament with Scripture, Subject, and Greek Word Indexes (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan Academic, 1997), 672.[2] Ibid., 525. [3] Alexander Strauch, Biblical Eldership: An Urgent Call to Restore Biblical Church Leadership, ed. Stephen Sorenson and Amanda Sorenson, Rev Exp edition. (Littleton, Colo: Lewis and Roth Publishers, 2003), 51.

David J. Lupinetti is the Associate Pastor at San Tan Bible Church in Arizona. He has a passion for Expository Preaching, Biblical Counseling, Discipleship, and Evangelism.