Design of Women: For the Church Part 2
Updated: Jul 13
God gives spiritual gifts to both men and women for the edification of the church (1 Cor. 12:7–11; Rom. 12:3–8). These gifts include evangelizing, pastoring, teaching, and preaching (Eph. 4:11–12). When everyone in the church is equipped and encouraged to use their gifts, the church flourishes. The members of the body are meant to use their God-given gifts to make the body whole and full of life. But the question remains: what are the biblical limitations for women in the exercise of their gifts?
In part 1, I addressed three main questions: Can a woman speak? Can she teach? Can she teach a man? In part 2, we'll discuss what the Bible says about the #designofwomen for the church in offices and spiritual gifts.
Can Women Hold Offices in the Church?
The Bible only recognizes two offices, or formal position, in the church: elder and deacon. The qualifications for elders and deacons are detailed in 1 Timothy 3:1–13 and Titus 1:5-9, but we’ll explore the 1 Timothy text in this article.
The qualifications for an elder include (1 Tim. 3:1-7):
To live above reproach
The husband of one wife
Able to teach
Not a drunkard
Not violent but gentle
Not a lover of money
Good manager of household
Not a recent convert
The qualifications for a deacon include (1 Tim. 3:8-13):
Not addicted to much wine
Not greedy for dishonest gain
Hold the mystery of faith with a clear conscience
Tested and proved blameless
The husband of one wife
A good manager of household and children
Wives that are dignified, not slanderers, sober-minded, and faithful in all things
We can interpret these texts as literal prescriptive or literal descriptive. If we interpret the passage as literal prescriptive, then we abide by every specific qualification. This means that not only do the elders and deacons need to be male, but they need to be married males who run their households well. Single, divorced, or remarried men would not qualify. Women in general would not qualify.
Our foundation should not rest on tradition or fear of how others will characterize us, but a thorough and well-informed interpretation of God's word.
If we interpret this passage as literal descriptive then we take the principles of these passages and apply them to our modern-day qualifications for elders and deacons. This means that we can take the phrase “husband of one wife” and abide by the principle underlying this qualification, which could be faithfulness, not a polygamist, or commitment to family. We could also interpret the phrase “keeping his children submissive” and “manage his own household” as a commitment to family and a faithful shepherd to those under their care. With this interpretation, the elder position could be open to single males, single females, and married females. It could also possibly be open to divorced and remarried men or women.
The same exegetical principles—literal prescriptive or descriptive—would apply to the qualifications for deacons. The only difference between consideration of women for the office of deacons as opposed to elders is that we see a biblical reference to a woman deacon in the New Testament. The same Greek word for “deacon” in 1 Timothy 3:8–13 is also used to describe and label Phoebe in Romans 16:1. Because we see a woman deacon commended by Paul, I’m inclined to interpret the qualifications for deacon as literal descriptive. And in order to stay consistent with my hermeneutics used to interpret the deacon section, I also lean toward interpreting the qualifications for elders as literal descriptive.
My goal in unpacking this text is not to push for women elders and deacons in the church, but to encourage churches to remain consistent in their hermeneutics when interpreting the text. I see a lot of logical inconsistencies with church leaders’ interpretations of this passage. Their picking and choosing may have to do more with what they’re comfortable with (“this is the way it’s always been” or, on the other side, “this is the way it should be if we want to be inclusive”) and what they fear others will think of them (“I don’t want to be seen as a liberal” or, on the other side, “I don’t want to be seen as unloving or exclusive”) than a desire to remain true to the word of God. Our foundation should not rest on tradition or fear of how others will characterize us, but a thorough and well-informed interpretation of God's word.
Is “Pastor” a Gift or an Office?
In the American Evangelical church, “pastor” has become an office. Senior pastor has become not only an office, but often the CEO of the church. I don’t think it’s wrong for the church to make pastor an office or position, but it’s difficult to argue that the Scriptures teach that the pastor is an office. Harold Hoehner in his academic article, “Can a Women be a Pastor-Teacher?,” argues that the Scriptures maintain a distinction between offices and gifts. Elders and deacons hold offices, and pastor is a gift associated with shepherding, counseling, guiding, and directing (Eph. 4:11).
Can Women be Pastors?
I think “pastor” is a fitting title for formal positions of leadership in the church, but the title is never dedicated in the Bible for men alone. Pastor is a gift exercised by both women and men for building up the church. If a woman is fulfilling a pastoral role at a church (i.e. pastor to women, worship pastor, children’s pastor), I don’t think it’s wrong or biblically inaccurate to give her a title with “pastor” in it.
I believe God designed women and men to use their spiritual gifts to benefit the church. These gifts may express themselves in a paid-staff position, formal office in the church, pastoral role, volunteer position, or faithful membership. Wherever we serve and in whatever capacity we use our gifts, I pray we do it with a posture of humility, love for God’s people, and commitment to his Word.