Monday, May 15, 2023

Anonymous Asks (249)

“What does the Bible say about women pastors?”

Depending on what the person asking means by the word “pastors”, today’s question may point us toward two different potential errors in the interpretation of scripture.

Pastoring in Three Senses

First, we may think of pastoring, or shepherding, in at least three different senses: (1) in the modern sense, as a career in which one becomes the primary source of Bible teaching and leadership for a local church; (2) in the formal biblical sense, as one of a number of men feeding and guiding the people of God in- and outside of church meetings; (3) in an informal biblical sense, as anyone feeding and guiding believers outside of church meetings.

When fathers or mothers give moral guidance from the Bible to their children, they are pastoring them in this third, informal sense, just as Timothy was probably instructed in the word of God as a child by two godly older women in his family. When Christians give scriptural counsel or instruction to other believers over coffee or around the dinner table, they are also pastoring in this third, informal sense, just as Aquila and Priscilla explained the word of God more accurately to Apollos. So then, in this third sense, anyone can be a “pastor” who has a concern for feeding the sheep and the ability and knowledge to teach the Word accurately, women obviously included. We should have no objection to this sort of “woman pastor”, though it strains language to describe her that way.

Non-Biblical Pastoring

The first, modern sense of the word “pastor” is a non-biblical role for both men and women. Nowhere in the New Testament is pastoring the people of God envisioned as a career, or are churches instructed to look for the leadership and direction of a single, formally trained individual. Even the earliest churches had multiple teachers. So, while it is certainly possible for a woman today to take a paid “pastoring” position in some denominations, the position itself is at odds with the New Testament pattern established and taught by the apostles. We should object to this sort of “woman pastor” because the role she is seeking for herself is something the writers of scripture would have envisioned as less than ideal, to say the least.

But what about this second sense? Can a godly woman be one of several people who leads and feeds the people of God in- and outside of church meetings?

Elders, Pastors and Teachers

Here we must stop to distinguish between three different biblical roles: elders, pastors and teachers. The short way to think about it is that all elders must be both pastors and teachers, and all pastors must be teachers, but not all pastors are elders, and not all teachers are pastors or elders. Churches benefit from all three, and there is an overlap between the roles, but they are not identical. Basically, like so:

elder > pastor > teacher

A longer explanation: we know that all elders ought to be both pastors and teachers because when Paul called the Ephesian elders to meet him in Acts 20, he referred to them as overseers of the flock and instructed them to “feed” the church of God (as Peter does also), which is the pastoral or shepherd role. (The verb “feed” is literally “shepherd”.) Paul also insisted that elders be able to teach. Pastors by definition are teachers: shepherd feed sheep. Those who don’t are not shepherds. However, not all gifted pastors and teachers qualify to serve as elders, because elders are older. They are married men who have raised children through the teen years. (If you doubt that last statement, research the biblical usage of the words translated “debauchery” and “insubordination” in Titus 1:6. They could never be true of infants or small children.) A man who marries and has children in his early twenties might therefore meet the qualifications for serving as an elder in his early forties, but not before. So then, a gifted pastor or teacher may not yet be qualified to serve as an elder, but may certainly shepherd or feed the flock as he is able. A woman does not meet the qualifications for serving as an elder even if she is able to teach, because all biblical elders are men.

Teaching and Exercising Authority

Pastoring has two aspects, of which Bible teaching is one, feeding the sheep with the word of God. Exercising authority is the second, which can easily be seen from the Old Testament usage of the word “shepherd”. Kings were to exercise a shepherd-rule over their people. Or consider the statement that the Lord Jesus will “rule [shepherd] all the nations with a rod of iron”. In the New Testament, Peter writes concerning the shepherd’s authority and the spirit in which it ought to be exercised.

But the point is that both these aspects of formal pastoral care are outside the purview of women. The New Testament plainly and clearly forbids women from teaching the word of God in a church setting, as well as from exercising authority over male believers. In 1 Corinthians, Paul says, “It is shameful for a woman to speak in church.”

Since neither teaching the word of God in the church nor exercising authority over men are roles God designed or intended for women, it is impossible for a woman to serve as a pastor in the formal, biblical sense. Those who teach from the platform are wrong, and those who attempt to exercise God’s delegated authority with respect to a congregation are doubly wrong: they haven’t got any.

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