When I decided to write a post about Feminism, I decided to write it through a lens that many of readers would easily recognize, and maybe even find relevant to their own experiences. Few issues within the Church today face as much contention as female authority, and by examining God’s timeless word and pulling His teachings out of it, I hope to clarify what is really a simple quandary with a simple truth. If you didn’t read last week’s post, I strongly suggest you read it before continuing here, because it lays the groundwork for what I’ll be discussing here. You can read it here or by scrolling down on my homepage.
My last post focused on the Old Testament, and honestly, I probably could’ve written a whole series on that alone just because of how much material is in there. This week’s post will focus on the New Testament, which is thankfully slimmer and a bit more straight-forward to read. That being said, I still probably won’t address every applicable verse and/or passage, but I do hope to look into some of the most relevant and contested ones. If there are any verses you think I left out that should have been included, or if you have a different interpretation of them, feel free to comment at the bottom of the page and I’d be to address/discuss them with you.
First, I’d like to point out the fact that yes, there are no female pastors in the Bible. I’d also like to point out the fact there are no male pastors either, except Jesus. The Greek word we get pastor from, poimēn, means Shephard. Only once in the entire New Testament is this word ever used as a noun to describe someone, and that one time is to describe Jesus. So in reality, the Bible did not have today’s current concept of pastor we have. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with today’s concept of a pastor, though. In fact, I think it’s great, and it’s merely an evolution of the ministerial role to fit today’s needs. So while you can argue that there were no female pastors in the Bible, you do have to acknowledge that there were no male as well.
Some of you may be wondering if there were no pastors in the Bible, then where on earth did we even get the idea from? Well, for those of you who were thinking that; that’s a very good question! For those of you who weren’t thinking that, are you sure you’re not just skimming this blog post? In the New Testament, we see two early church leadership roles described by Paul: The Minister, and the Deacon. The Minister is fairly similar to the current concept of a Pastor, they would teach their congregation. The Deacon was a delegate who the Minister would assign various tasks two to lighten their load. Parallels to this structure can be seen in the Old Testament, with Moses and the Levites.
So, what about female pastors and deacons? Well, I’m glad you asked, because I have several clear examples I’ve found in the Scriptures:
- Phoebe: In Romans 16, Paul commends to the Church in Rome “our sister Phoebe who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea.”. The word servant here is important, because in Greek it is the word Diakonos. However, the fact that this word is translated to servant is a bit odd. Diakonos is used in 23 other places throughout the New Testament, including by Paul to describe himself. What is this word translated to? Minister. So why then, is it translated to “servant”, when in so many other places, in the same context, is used as Minister? The answer is, translator’s bias. Whether on purpose, or more likely just tradition, this keyword has been mistranslated, to much error.
- Priscilla: In the same passage, Paul addresses Priscilla and Aquila, who “held a church in their home”. Aquila is a man’s name, while Priscilla is a woman’s name. During this time period, in just about every culture, you listed a man’s name first in an address, because they were the head of their house. However, here we see Paul address the women first, not just as the head of their house, but as the head of their church. While both were Ministers in their church, we clearly see that Priscilla is the dominant one, at least in Paul’s opinion. And again, only two chapters only, we see Priscilla and Aquila take Paul aside and address him on a theological issue. Again, Priscilla is mentioned first in this passage, explicitly denoting a dominant role. This is a powerful example of how God calls both Men and Women to leadership roles of all kinds, and of the difference between Christ and Culture.
- Junia: In verse seven of Chapter 16, Paul addresses Andronicus and Junia who are of note among the apostles. In the early Church, to be called an apostle was one of the highest honors, and reflected a great level of devotion to the Lord. We see here that while not the greatest of the Apostles, Junia was of note among them.
Now, I will address a few “commandments” of Paul that at first glance seem to forbid women from leadership positions. Firstly, 1 Corinthians 14:34 was probably not written by Paul. This verse calls for women to be “silent and submissive” and not teach “in accordance with the law”. While still included in some modern translations, this verse is widely regarded as a forgery by most Biblical scholars. It does not appear in earlier manuscripts of the letter, differs in writing style from Paul, and seemingly contradicts his other teachings (we just got done talking about his praise for female pastors and deacons). So this verse should not be used in arguments, and honestly shouldn’t even be in the bible, as it’s authenticity is sketchy at best.
Another letter (Timothy) by Paul calls for women to not teach men. This letter is actually calling for women to not be in pastoral positions, but it is very important to understand the context. Most of Paul’s letters were not originally intended to be shared, they were personal letters to certain people or to specific churches. This is one of those examples. In the city Timothy was in, women in leadership roles were often associated with cult priestesses, who engaged in bizarre and certainly not Christian teachings and rituals. As Christianity was new and attempting to set itself apart from the pagan traditions and religions that coexisted alongside it, anything that could undermine this effort is moot. Converts and people who heard of Christianity in this city would assume that it was no different. That is why having a female pastor in this situation would serve as a distraction and detract from Christianity’s message. It is also important to realize that Paul says he is not currently allowing women to be pastors in this location. He fully intends to integrate this in the future, just not at the moment. This is the same reason as to why Paul tells women to cover their hair in Timothy, because in the city he was in any women not wearing head coverings was pretty much assumed to be a cult prostitute. Again, Christianity was meant to be set apart, they would not want it to be confused with other religions.
If you read last week’s post, then you might remember how I discussed that before the Fall men and women were equal to each other. As any scholar of the Bible will tell you, God intends for humanity to be returned to the Eden model. This isn’t just in terms of our relationship with God, but also with our relationship with each other. Paul affirms this in Galatians:
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond-servant nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus”.
In Christ, we are all equal, not any higher or lower than each other. We can also see this Jesus’s own teachings and actions, he treated men and women the same, talking to all in a similar manner. Some of his most devoted followers were women, such as Mary and Mary-Magdalene. So great was their faith that after Jesus’s resurrection they were first to be informed by the angel, not any of his male followers. This is a strong statement, especially in the ancient world, because women were usually regarded as unreliable witnesses. We can see clearly that Paul is trying to continue the good work started by Jesus, which is not just evangelism, but also positive social change.
Now that I’ve gone over what the bible has to say, I’m going to spend a little time here at the end to go over inconsistencies in the arguments and policies of those who are opposed to female pastors or women in other leadership roles. Many churches, such as the Southern Baptist Convention (I only use them because they are the denomination I am most familiar with) allow women to have pastoral equivalent roles, such as Worship leader or Missionary, or even as a Children’s pastor. They don’t however, allow for women to be head pastors. This makes no logical sense, because assuming that Paul is against women in authority they shouldn’t have any of these roles, not just some of them. Others may be fine with a woman being their boss at work but would be against a woman having equal or dominant authority in a family. These policies and beliefs reek of hypocrisy and double standards and only cause harm.
You see, even if you truly do believe in traditional gender roles, you actually do your church and Christianity a disservice. There are many talented women out there, just as there are talented men, and by not allowing them to have leadership roles, you hurt your church and thus the Church by wasting that skill. And think of the hurt you cause these women, as many feel called to ministry and other leadership roles by the Lord, but are in turn spurned (rhyme completely unintended) from their calling. The sheer unjustness and travesty of these types of situations just appall me, and it has to stop. We wonder why people today are leaving Christianity in great numbers, especially in areas like Europe. Look no further than issues like this, for while hardly the sole reason why they are certainly a part of the problem.
Now, a moment of clarification. I’m all for empowering women, but there’s also nothing wrong with men in authority. Men are equally skilled and competent, and most male pastors and deacons I’ve met actively strive to follow the Word and live a Godly life. There’s nothing wrong with men being in the dominant role in a family or workplace either, all I mean to say is that this is not the only way and is not explicitly or implicitly called for by God, and the best way would be in equal authority.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this two-part post, and even if I didn’t change your mind, I hope at least it made you think. And to the non-Christians reading this, I hope you realize that not all Christians are sexist, nor are the teachings of the Bible. Instead, we see that sexism is wrong, and comes from sin. My hope is that someday all Christians and all other people as well can agree on this.