Summary: Strong men are not intimidated by gifted women..
Strong men are not intimidated by gifted women.
1. The Bible endorses women in leadership. Paul’s first epistle to Timothy seems to limit women’s roles in leadership (see 1 Tim. 2:12). Yet Paul also gushed with praise for the women who served with him as co-laborers—women such as Phoebe (Rom. 16:1-2), Junia (Rom. 16:7) and Priscilla, who helped lay foundations in the early church (see 1 Cor. 16:19). In Phil. 4:2-3, Paul expresses solidarity with two women leaders, Euodia and Syntyche. And he refers to other women who obviously led churches, such as Chloe (1 Cor. 1:11) and Nympha (Col. 4:15), and he does not try to silence or restrict them.
Traditionalists who insist on barring women from leadership positions always refer to 1 Tim. 2:12 as an ironclad rule—yet they ignore the women who served with Paul. The obvious question is: Why did Paul tell Timothy to clamp down on the women in Ephesus when he allowed Priscilla to teach? The most sensible interpretation is that the Ephesian women were teaching heresy. They had no business teaching the Bible or leading the church, yet Paul encouraged faithful women.
2. Churches need women’s gifts and perspectives. God created both male and female, and His nature is revealed through both genders (see Gen. 1:26-28). This is why the biblical definition of a family is a father and a mother. If a child needs both parents to learn the ways of God (see Prov. 1:8-9), then surely we need instruction from both men and women in the church. If only men are allowed to function in leadership or teaching roles, the church itself will be male-dominant—and this can lead to issues of control, abuse or sexual sin (the problem of child abuse in the Catholic Church is just one obvious example).
I had just completed a teaching session in which I had explained why 1 Tim. 2:11-12 does not prohibit women from functioning in leadership roles in the Church. One student, who was obviously disturbed, challenged me with a question. “Can you show me one place in the New Testament where a woman ever functioned as a pastor?” I replied, “If you will first show me one place where a man ever functioned as a pastor!” He was stunned in that he could not think of a single example.
Eisegesis vs. Exegesis
My answer was designed to show him how much we read into the Biblical text. This is known as eisegesis--to read something “into” the text that is not there. On the other hand, exegesis means to “take out” or extract from what is there. It is so easy to practice eisegesis and read into the Bible our own prejudices, assumptions and traditions. The Church is guilty of eisegesis in many areas, but none so much as in the development of its doctrine of women and their role in the Church. An honest exegetical examination of the appropriate passages, however, reveals a very different view.
Women Pastors in the NT
There are numerous women leaders in the New Testament, some who obviously functioned in pastoral roles of oversight. Paul mentions 2 of these female pastors in Rom. 16 as well as a female apostle.
Phoebe, a Woman Pastor
In Romans 16:1 Paul commends to the church at Rome our sister Phoebe who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea. Paul refers to Phoebe as a servant which is the Greek word diakonos. Diakonos, or its verb form, is translated minister in 23 other places in the New Testament. For example, in Eph. 3:7, Paul says that he became a minister (diakonos) according to the gift of the grace of God. Phoebe, therefore, was a minister, probably a pastor, from the church in Cenchrea. This is borne out by vs. 2 where Paul refers to her as a helper of many and of myself also. The Greek word translated helper in this verse is prostates and, according to Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon, means to set over, to rule, superintend, preside over, protect, and care for. When this passage is examined apart from our traditions and prejudicial assumptions, the evidence is overwhelming that Phoebe functioned in what today we would call pastoral ministry.
Priscilla, A Woman Pastor
In verses 3-5 of the same chapter, Paul refers to Priscilla and Aquila and the church that is in their house. Priscilla and Aquila are always mentioned together in Scripture which indicates that they worked and ministered together as a husband and wife team. This is confirmed by Acts 18:26 where both Priscilla and Aquila took Apollos aside and both explained to him the way of God more accurately. In the Greek, Priscilla is always mentioned first.
Since Paul reversed the culturally accepted manner of mentioning the husband first, he obviously wanted to make a point about her leadership role. Many commentators conclude that Priscilla is mentioned first because she was the spiritually gifted one and the leader of the church that met in their home. Again, the evidence is overwhelming. Priscilla functioned as a pastor.