Women Pastors

Should Women Be Pastors?

The following is a book review of Women in the Church's Ministry, by R. T. France.

Since many women are becoming pastors in churches in our day, many Christians are discovering how important it is that they study the scriptures in order to determine what they believe is God's will concerning whether or not women should serve as pastors. In his book, Women in the Church's Ministry, A Test Case for Biblical Interpretation, R. T. France offers an argument in favor of the ordination of women as pastors.

In order to prepare the reader for his views, France offers his view of Biblical hermeneutics (interpretation) in Chapter 1. He argues that we can't assume that the New Testament epistles apply to 20th century Christians, due to the following reasons:
  • We must consider "the changing context of Christian discipleship" (pg. 22).
  • We must consider our "very different times and culture" (pg. 23).
  • We must question the "relevance to our own situation" (pg.23).
  • Scripture cannot be assumed to have "application to any and every church context" (pg. 24).
  • "The horizon of the biblical writers is different from ours" (pg. 24).
  • We must consider the "changing world order" (pg. 36).
France argues that just because the apostles gave certain commands to 1st century churches, that doesn't mean that they apply to us. He says that we should not "enshrine a permanent principle which must apply to all church contexts in all times and places, and which rules out the holding of authoritative office in the church by any women anywhere. . . we are not at liberty to infringe (God's) provision, whatever may happen in society at large" (pg. 21).

However, a liberal use of this method of interpretation quickly endangers the very core truths of Christianity. For example, 1 Corinthians 6:18 instructs the reader to "flee from sexual immorality." Using France's method of liberal interpretation, one could deduce that this only applied to the members of the 1st century church at Corinth, and not to us today. We all know that the Corinthian church had some major problems. The argument would then continue that Paul only meant for them to flee from sexual immorality until they resolved the other problems in their church. Once those were resolved, a little sexual immorality never hurt anybody. This doesn't apply to me because my church doesn't have a reputation for sexual immorality. To restrict me from any and all sexual immorality would be to limit my freedom in Christ. Can you see how dangerous and absurd this becomes? In fact, France uses such means to even suggest that salvation is by works, and not by faith alone, when he cites salvation for women through child-bearing (pg. 69).

France tries to justify his principles for interpretation by somehow comparing them to dispensational truths (although it's difficult to believe that he is a dispensationalist). He cites animal sacrifice (pg. 25) as an example of how we don't apply all scripture to everyone throughout time. However, he fails to mention that Christ brought us the age of grace wherein we are no longer under the law, but under grace (Romans 6:14). Christ was our ultimate sacrifice, so we no longer need to bring animal sacrifices. France tries to invent an ultra-dispensationalism where we can just pick and choose which passages apply, without scriptural support for our decisions.

In particular, relative to women as pastors, France cites two scripture passages which he believes must mean something different than their traditional interpretation, in order to justify his views.

As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. 1 Corinthians 14:33b-35

This passage indicates that in all churches, women should be silent and submissive. For a woman to assume the role of pastor would be disgraceful. France offers the following possible alternative meanings:
  • The relevant issue here may only be "how a married couple should behave in church" (pg. 47).
  • This imperative was necessary only because there were some "married women behaving inappropriately" in the church at Corinth.
  • This is referring to speaking in tongues, not normal speech (pg. 54-55).
  • This only meant that the women should stop "asking unnecessary questions" (pg. 54-55).
  • This only meant that the women should stop their "loud chatter and gossip" (pg. 54-55).
  • This imperative was necessary only because some women had apparently been "questioning what prophets had said" (pg. 54-55).
  • This only meant that the women should stop "interrupting instead of listening" (pg. 54-55).
It's obvious that France just wants to justify what he believes by inventing new meanings for scripture.

A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. 1 Timothy 2:11-12

This passage is probably the most adamant in unconditionally denying women the office of pastor unconditionally. Since the role of a pastor is obviously an authoritative role of teaching (Ephesians 4:11), including the responsibility of teaching men, then women cannot occupy that office. In other words, since women cannot teach men (1 Timothy 2:11-12), and pastors are teachers (Ephesians 4:11) of both men and women, then it follows logically that women cannot be pastors.

In France's view, this passage could mean:
  • Some women were "teaching with improper authority" (as in the female-dominated worship of Artemis) (pg. 61-62).
  • Some women were just ignorant would-be teachers (pg. 61-62).
  • These women just needed "to learn first," then they could teach (pg. 61-62) schools, universities, Sunday School (pg. 64)
  • This only meant that these women should "stop shouting and calm down" (pg. 66).
  • It meant that these women could teach, but with a "restful, non-argumentative attitude" (pg. 66).
  • This only meant that a wife was not to have authority over her husband (pg. 66).
Although all of these interpretations are flawed, the last one is particularly absurd. If Paul meant "wife" and "husband" instead of "woman" and "man," he would have used the Greek words for "wife" and "husband." Furthermore, this interpretation would imply that it was OK for a woman to usurp authority over other men, but not her husband. In other words, if her husband were sitting in the congregation, she couldn't teach, but if he left, then she could.

Finally, France simply discounts these verses as "an obscure passage" (pg. 70). After all, he argues, what about some of the other imperatives for women such as the braiding of hair, the wearing of gold, pearls, and expensive clothes, and head coverings (pg. 71)? We don't see many churches adhering to these imperatives, so we must assume them to be obviously outdated. France is saying that since some churches violate these imperatives, it must be OK for us to violate the imperative against women pastors. However, this logic is the same as I used to teach my young children when they argued for certain rights based upon the behavior of their friends. "If your friend jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?" Just because Abraham slept with his housekeeper, does that mean we should sleep with ours?

France also says, "First-century society was of course strongly male-dominated ... but the New Testament writers nowhere state that this fact of society is either inevitable or a part of the divine purpose" (pg. 36). To attempt to illustrate his point, he compares the issue of slavery, "which is neither commended nor directly disputed, but which will in due course be undermined as Christian people are enabled to apply the wider principles of New Testament ethics in the context of a changing world-order." However, this is not a valid comparison with the issue of women serving as pastors. The comparison breaks down when we, in fact, do see explicit imperatives concerning women in ministry, as is clearly seen in the above passages.

Women in Ministry

In Chapter 4, France cites many of the various roles of women in the New Testament churches (pg. 79-88), including the following:
  • Women met together as part of the church, including Mary (Acts 1:13-14).
  • Converts included women (Acts 5:14).
  • Women provided premises and hospitality (Acts 12:12).
  • Lydia, the first convert in Europe, was a successful business woman (Acts 16:14-15).
  • Tabitha provided good works and acts of charity (Acts 9:36-42).
  • Priscilla probably played an important role in the growth of the church (Romans 16:3).
  • Women prayed (1 Corinthians 11:5).
  • Euodia and Syntyche were fellow strugglers in the work of the gospel (Philippians 4:2-3).
  • Phoebe probably took a letter from Rome to Corinth (Romans 16:1-16).
  • Phoebe was a deaconess (Romans 16:1-16).
  • Paul greeted many women (Romans 16:1-16).
  • Mary worked very hard (Romans 16:6).
  • Tryphaena and Tryphosa were workers in the Lord (Romans 16:12).
  • Peris worked hard in the Lord (Romans 16:12).
  • Paul called Prisca a co-worker (Romans 16:1-16).
  • Junia was in Christ before Paul was (Romans 16:7).
  • Junia was prominent among the apostles, probably as a messengers or an envoy (Romans 16:7).
France goes on to say that there no second-class citizens in the kingdom of God (pg. 90), and there was an increasing prominence of women in the New Testament church (pg. 91). He is apparently confusing any church activity with the scripturally specific role of pastor. I agree that women should meet with the other church members, be hospitable, be entrepreneurial, be kind, play important roles in the church, be prominent, pray, struggle, and work hard. These are all things that are commended in the New Testament for all Christians. However, when it comes to the role of pastor, there are specific qualifications. Not everyone is qualified to be a pastor, including all women, and many men. However, none of them should feel slighted, because we all have different gifts, and we're all part of the body (1 Corinthians 12:12-27).

Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,... 1 Timothy 3:2

One of the main oversights by France is the fact that he fails to discuss 1 Timothy 3 where Paul is giving explicit qualifications for pastors. In order to understand the imperatives of this passage, we must first consider the people and positions whom the Bible calls pastors.


The most revealing passage here is Acts 20 where Paul addresses an assembly of elders from the various local churches in the city of Ephesus, just before his final departure from that city. In verse 17, these men are called "elders" (transliterated "presbuteros"), meaning "old men" or "spiritually mature men." Then in verse 28, these same men are called "bishops" ("episkopos"), meaning "overseers". Also in verse 28, we see that these men are charged to "feed" or "oversee" the "flock". The Greek word used here for "feed" is "poimaino", meaning "to shepherd", and the Greek word used for "flock" is "poimnion", meaning, those whom the shepherd oversees. Therefore, this elder / bishop is also called a pastor ("poimen"), meaning "shepherd", as in Ephesians 4:11, since it is his duty to "shepherd the flock" by teaching and explaining the Bible to them. This is also obvious from the very words themselves: the bishop is called an overseer, and what he is overseeing is called a flock, and the job description of a shepherd is to oversee the flock. This same argument applies to 1 Peter 5:2, where elders are commanded to "be shepherds" ("poimaino") ... "serving as overseers" ("episkopeo"). Based upon this logic, the terms elder, bishop, pastor, and overseer are synonymous.

Having shown that the term "overseer" is synonymous with the term "pastor," it cannot follow that a woman can assume the role of pastor. The Greek language in this verse, and subsequent verses, clearly indicates that the pastor is to be a man. Furthermore, he is to be the husband of one wife. In other words, the following test must be passed by the person aspiring to be a pastor: Is this person the husband of one wife? Obviously, no woman passes this test. In addition, 1 Timothy 3 is in agreement with many other supporting passages including 1 Corinthians 11:3 and Ephesians 5:23.

Male Leadership

When 1 Timothy 2:11-12 which states that women should not teach or have authority over men, it makes this statement unconditionally. It does not specify this directive only for certain types of ministries, certain services, certain times of the day, or certain teaching techniques.

This argument can also be defended based upon a principle of protestant hermeneutics whereby scripture is used to interpret scripture (Protestant Biblical Interpretation, Bernard Ramm, page 104). Since women cannot teach men (1 Timothy 2:11-12), and pastors are teachers (Ephesians 4:11) of both men and women, then it follows logically that women cannot be pastors.

Fundamentalist Authorities

Lewis Sperry Chafer, founder of Dallas Theological Seminary, is very definitive on this point in Volume 7 of his Systematic Theology. Chafer says, "Woman, as her position has been defined by the Scriptures, is in great peril when out of her sphere which never becomes that of leadership" (pg. 310-311).

Jerry Falwell contributes to this argument in the Liberty Bible Commentary. Referring to 1 Timothy 2:11-14, Falwell says, "The woman being deceived or beguiled by Satan indicates a fundamental tendency which shows the woman should not be the leader in the home or the church. Paul speaks later (2 Timothy 3:6) how women are susceptible to be 'led away'" (page 2499).

The Wycliffe Bible Commentary says, "... women are not to assume either leadership or the teaching office in the church. To illustrate the principle of masculine leadership, Paul cites the order of creation as establishing the man's natural headship (1 Corinthians 11:8, 9)" (Page 1373).

Conforming to the World

One of the great dangers here is submitting to societal pressure in order to appease the world and conform to its views (Romans 12:2). Judge Robert H. Bork touches on this issue in his book Slouching Towards Gomorrah. Bork describes the radical egalitarianist who "resents any distinction among people or forms of behavior that suggests superiority in one or the other" (page 5), and insists that both sexes should be "represented proportionately in all areas of endeavor" (page 10). Bork cites the sin of envy as the root of this rebellion against authority, defining it as the dissatisfaction produced "not by what they lack but by what others have" (page 70).

Bork also refers to radical feminism whereby "feminist theory provides a doctrine of original sin: The world's evils originate in male supremacy" (page 196). Bork argues that "the contention that underneath their cultural conditioning men and women are identical is absurd to anyone not blinded by ideological fantasy" (page 198). Furthermore, Bork warns that "radical feminists have very little use for religion or churches as they are, but they do not leave the churches whose doctrines and liturgies they find objectionable. They work from within to change the churches so that the final product will bear little resemblance to Christianity. The feminists call for 're-imagining' the Christian religion, which means rejecting all traditional doctrine" (page 287).

Owen Weber 2009