WOMEN AND CHURCH LEADERSHIP: An Inquiry and a Response to Pastor Keith A. Smith’s “Can Christian Women be Pastors and Preachers?”
© 2012, by John Tors. All Rights Reserved.
For many centuries, the Christian church understood that God had allocated to men only the authority and authoritative teaching roles in the church. In the last several decades in the Western world, however, the changing zeitgeist has led to this understanding being challenged. Many churches and entire denominations have embraced the ordination of women as elders, pastors, and even bishops.
Some who have done so have simply rejected the authority of the Bible in this matter, but others who profess to follow the Bible have argued that what they call the “traditional” view is based on a misunderstanding of the relevant passages of Scripture. Both popular and scholarly writings have attempted to persuade the Christian church that the Bible does indeed allow for women in authoritative positions in church leadership.
It is crucial that we come to a right understanding about this momentous issue. Unlike debates about such issues as the proper mode of baptism, this is not simply a matter of personal belief. If a person believes that effusion is an acceptable form of baptism, whereas God demands full immersion, then that person will be answerable to God himself. The issue of women’s ordination is different. If a church accepts a woman as pastor, then everyone sitting under her teaching and authority is a participant in that action, and if this is against the word of God, then all are complicit in the disobedience. And history has shown that a church that willing embarks upon a path of disobedience in one area will find it spreading in other ways, into increased liberalism, heterodoxy, and even apostasy.
It is clear, then, that this is a matter which the church must get right. If the Bible does indeed allow for women in church leadership, then it is a grave injustice to bar them from it. If the Bible forbids it, however, then churches that accept it are in peril of their very souls.
In this article, we will look at the most important passages that address this issue. After that, we will examine an article that has been circulating on the internet, posted on several different sites, written by one Pastor Keith A. Smith. (I have been unable to locate the original source of this article.) Pastor Smith advocates the position that “Christian women [can] be pastors and preachers.” Since he brings up most of the arguments adduced by those who believe that women are eligible for all church leadership positions, a careful study of his claims can help us reach the right conclusion about this matter. The following, then, are three key passages that germane to this issue:
1 Timothy 2:12-14: “And I do not permit a woman to teach (didaskein) or to have authority (authentein) over a man, but to be in silence. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.”
- This passage, in the context of church structure and operation, clearly forbids a woman to hold an authoritative teaching position or position of authority vis-à-vis Christian men in spiritual matters. (Didaskein is not teaching in its broadest and most general sense of explaining things but is authoritative teaching.) That disallows women, inter alia, to be pastors or elders. The command is rooted in both pre-fall creation order and the basis of the woman’s fall, and not in any supposed cultural factors of Paul’s day.
1 Corinthians 14:33b-35: “As in all the churches of the saints, let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church.”
- The context in view here is the judging of prophetic utterances in the church; this important leadership function is forbidden to women.
1 Timothy 3:2, 4-5: “An overseer then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach … one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?) …”
- The overseer (the most general term for church leaders) must be the husband of one wife, which is something no woman can be. Furthermore, here male headship in the church is paralleled to male headship in the home, which is something that is clearly taught in many places in Scripture (Ephesians 5:22-33; Colossians 3:18; 1 Peter 3:1-7). We cannot get rid of the former as long as this latter stands.
Let us now look at the arguments raised by those who disagree with this assessment, as encapsulated in the aforementioned article by Pastor Keith A. Smith. The following is a point-by-point response.
Smith’s first claim is that
There is not one Scripture in the Bible that forbids women from preaching, but on the contrary, there are many verses that encourage both men and women to preach the Gospel.
And here we see Smith’s first fundamental mistake: he equates preaching the Gospel with holding an authoritative position of church leadership, when they are actually two different things.
To be precise, what the Bible forbids is women holding authoritative/teaching positions vis-à-vis Christian men in the church and spiritual matters (1 Timothy 2:12-14; 1 Corinthians 14:33b-35; 1 Timothy 3:1-5), which obviously includes the positions of pastor and elder, though it is not limited to these roles. The prohibition is in regard to action, not title; authority/authoritative teaching vis-à-vis Christian men is forbidden, regardless of the title (or lack thereof) given to the one doing it.
Of course this does not forbid women to preach the gospel/evangelize (something all Christians should do), or to prophesy (which, as we will see, is something different from authoritative teaching), or to teach Christian women or children, or to teach secular things (e.g. calculus, quantum mechanics). We must not go beyond what is written.
Smith, however, repeatedly commits the error of confusing these two categories, thinking that if he shows that the Bible allows the latter category of activities, then the former must also be acceptable. This is not so, because there are specific passages in the Bible that forbid the former, as I have listed.
Next, Smith claims that
The Bible teaches that God is not a respecter of persons, and He will use any and all who will yield to Him, regardless of race, age, or sex.
Of course, but step number 1, the sine qua non, of yielding to Him is obedience (e.g. Luke 6:46; John 15:14). The woman who yields to Him will not seek to be a pastor or elder in defiance of His clear Word. God will use them for other tasks.
Smith’s appeal to Galatians 3:28 and Acts 10:34 do not help his case. These verses both teach that all Christians, regardless of race, gender, or social status, are equal in God’s eyes. This, however, says nothing about roles assigned by God, which may indeed be gender based. Or are we to assume that the other Jews were inferior to the Levites, since only the tribe of Levi (and, specifically, the descendants of Aaron) were eligible for the priesthood?
Next, Smith points out that
Moses said in Numbers 11:29, “Would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put His spirit upon them!”
Indeed he did, but prophets are not equivalent to pastors and elders. Moses did not express a wish that all the Lord’s people would be Levites, which are the closest OT equivalent to pastors (Nehemiah 8:5-8 cf. 2 Chronicles 17:7-9; Deuteronomy 33:8-10; Malachi 2:7).
Smith then asserts that
The crying need of the hour is for more laborers. It is a trick of the enemy to try to down rate thousands of our faithful laborers just because they were born females.
Indeed there is a need for labourers, as Jesus Himself said (Matthew 9:37-38). There is much work of evangelism to be done, and certainly women are to share in this labour. However, that does not mean they should take on roles (pastors, elders) that the Bible forbids to them. Apropos to this, since it is the word of God that commands these restrictions, it is dangerously erroneous to suggest that this is “a trick of the enemy.”
In his next two points, Smith again commits the error of confusing evangelism with holding authoritative/teaching positions in the church, as he writes “The Great Commission, Mark 16:15, ‘Preach the Gospel,’ is to ALL believers, and to all the church of Jesus Christ. The command to ‘preach the Gospel’ is to both male and female” and “It is an undeniable fact that God has called and anointed thousands of women to preach the Gospel.“
Preach the gospel, yes. Take on the role of pastors or elders, no.
Smith goes on to commit a different sort of error by arguing that
The Full Gospel organizations have hundreds of licensed and ordained women who are preaching, teaching, evangelizing, pastoring, and doing mission work with the signs following their ministry. God is using them for the salvation of the lost, deliverance from sin, gifts of the Spirit, and infilling of the Holy Spirit.
Here is Smith’s second fundamental error, making his flawed human wisdom and opinion of events overrule the clear word of God. It is Scripture that is the sole authoritative rule for the faith and practice of Christians (2 Timothy 3:16-17), and Scripture clearly forbids women pastors and elders, though not evangelists.
These women may be sincere and well-intentioned, but they cannot be authenticated by signs, for Jesus clearly warned that
“false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect” (Matthew 24:24).
Elsewhere we read that
The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders” (2 Thessalonians 2:9; see also Revelation 13:13a, 14a).
Now, we are not suggesting that the women to whom Smith refers must all be false prophets; nevertheless, the fact that even false prophets can do signs necessarily means that signs per se cannot be used to authenticate any spiritual claims.
On the contrary, it is obedience to the word that shows that one is a true servant of Christ, whereas those who act contrary to the Biblical doctrine in this or any other matter should not be listened to:
Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Christ … (Romans 16:17-18a)
To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them. (Isaiah 8:20)
No wonder, then, that the historical evidence shows that denominations that accept women in church leadership positions inevitably drift into liberalism, heterodoxy, and even outright apostasy. There is no such thing as safe disobedience.
Smith then resorts to the old, abused trope, warning that
The Bible says, “Touch not mine anointed and do my prophets no harm.”
This passage, Psalm 105:13-15, has nothing to do with the issue at hand; it is God’s warning to the nations not to do physical harm to Israel, issued prior to the time they entered the Holy Land. Women who take on forbidden roles are not God’s anointed nor are they His prophets, and neither are those who promote this disobedience. Those who do such things people must indeed be confronted and rebuked (1 Timothy 5:20; Galatians 2:11), which, by the way, has nothing to do with physical harm.
Next, Smith says
And may we be reminded of the Scripture in Acts 5:39, “If it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God.
Yet again, Smith is wrong. The Bible does not teach this; it simply records that Gamaliel gave this advice to the Sanhedrin as they contemplated what to do about the apostles’ preaching (Acts 5:34-39). What he said was,
“… keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing; but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it – lest you even be found to fight against God” (Acts 5:38b-39).
This is Gamaliel’s advice, not God’s, and it is patently bad advice, for not everything that is “of men … will come to nothing”, for God allows some such things apparently to prosper for a long time. Or shall we conclude that Buddhism and Islam are “of God”, for neither has yet “come to nothing.”
Smith’s next argument is that
When someone says, “God does not call women to preach,” it is like saying that God does not baptize with the Holy Spirit today.
No, it is not; this is a false analogy. We know that all believers are baptized with the Holy Spirit upon faith (Romans 8:9; Ephesians 1:13-14; 1 Corinthians 12:13. By the way, the “Full Gospel” [sic] organizations are completely in error about the baptism of the Holy Spirit, but that is another topic), and we know this on the basis of what the Bible says. On the basis of the same Bible, we know that God does not call women to be pastors or elders; in fact, He forbids such. He does, of course, call them to evangelism.
Smith then returns to his second fundamental error, writing that
We know better, because we have witnessed and experienced it with our own ears and eyes.
This is a serious methodological problem. Smith and his ilk follow what seems good to their fallible eyes, so they believe that they “know better” than what the word of God says. Should we allow our experiences, and the conclusions we might draw from them, to overrule the word of God? If we do, how are we different from Eve in the Garden of Eden, who “saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes” (Genesis 3:6), and on this basis set aside the explicit word of God that had commanded her not to eat of the fruit?
And Smith avows that “I would be afraid to condemn women preachers, lest I would be found to be fighting against God, and to be committing the vile sin of attributing the works of the Holy Spirit to the devil,” but I, on the other hand, would be afraid not to condemn women pastors.
It is the duty of the Christian leader to teach “the whole counsel of God” (cf. Acts 20:26-27) and it is only in so doing that the leader will have done his job – and this “whole counsel” includes the prohibition on women in authoritative/teaching positions. Inasmuch, then, as the Scripture forbids women to be pastors or elders, it is those who approve such things that are “found to be fighting against God,” not those who oppose them. Smith, we note, worries about “committing the vile sin of attributing the works of the Holy Spirit to the devil”; is it not then problematic to describe the gender-based leadership restrictions in the God-breathed Scriptures “a trick of enemy”?
The problems continue. Smith now appeals to Joel 2:28, Acts 2:17-18 (which quotes Joel 2:28) and 1 Corinthians 11:5, which all speak of women prophesying. He seems to think that prophesying is an authoritative/teaching role, and if women can prophesy (which they certainly can do, according to the Bible), they can also be pastors and elders. He is wrong, for these are two very different things. It is not at all the case that “Both the Hebrew (Nebrah), and Greek (Proph) used for prophetess means (female preacher). (See Young’s Concordance, Pg. 780.)” as Smith asserts.
What is a prophet? According to the detailed and authoritative Bauer-Danker-Arndt-Gingrich Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, the Greek prophetes (“prophet”; the listing for prophetis simply says that it is the feminine form of prophetes) means “a proclaimer or expounder of divine matters or concerns that could not ordinarily be known except by special revelation.” A prophet, then, receives divine revelation in the form of a direct message from God, and passes that on as it has been received. He does not explain it, exegete it, give the sense of it, or bring his own expository skills to bear upon it; he simply passes it on verbatim.
This is exactly what we see in the Bible (Jeremiah 1:9; 2:2-5; Ezekiel 2:3-7; Joel 1:1; Jonah 3:2; Micah 1:1; Zephaniah 1:1; Haggai 1:13 et passim.) Prophecy sometimes involved foretelling things that were going to happen, to prove that the prophet was really bringing God’s message (Deuteronomy 18:21-22; Isaiah 46:9-10a); even in apostolic times, prophecy sometimes involved foretelling things that were going to happen, in order to help Christians minister more effectively (cf. Acts 11:27-30, 21:10-12).
A pastor, on the other hand, (or any Christian leader engaged in authoritative teaching), takes the same revelation, the Bible, that is available to all, and brings his analytical and teaching skills to bear upon exegeting it and explaining it and helping people to understand it better, and he does so with authority for the church. This is clearly a very different thing from prophesying, and it is this that is forbidden to women. As Smith discusses this point, he continually fails to make this distinction, rendering his whole argument null and void.
And when Smith asks “Would God inspire and anoint someone to do something that was wrong and sinful??“, we answer, “Of course not.” It follows, then, that God does not ever “inspire and anoint” a woman to become a pastor or elder, since He has forbidden such things, and it would therefore be “wrong and sinful” for a woman to take on such positions – or to accept claims of being inspired or anointed to overrule the clear words of Scripture.
The next gambit Smith appeals to is to claim that
God called and used women preachers in the Old Testament.
There are two problems here, however. First, the Bible records what people did, and sometimes even Godly people did wrong things with no recorded censure e.g. Abraham lying about the status of Sarah, first to Pharaoh (Genesis 12:10-20) and later to Abimelech (Genesis 20). So even if Smith could find examples of women taking on forbidden in roles, he would not thereby prove that it was okay to do so, or that the explicit statements of Scripture in this matter can be ignored. Second, what Smith must do is find examples of God endorsing women acting in positions of spiritual authority/teaching, and this he utterly fails to do. Not one of the examples he adduces fits the requirement:
- Deborah was a prophetess, which is a legitimate role for her. She also acted as a judge (though there is, in fact, no mention that God called her to this role), and this is a civic government role, not a spiritual authority role.
- Miriam, as Smith tells us, “was a Prophetess and a Song Leader in Israel,” neither of which is a spiritual authoritative role and both of which are open to women.
- Huldah was a prophetess; she did not hold a spiritual authoritative position.
- Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz’s mother was a prophetess; she did not hold a spiritual authoritative position.
So not even one of the examples Smith proffers shows a woman acting in a spiritual authoritative role analogous to a pastor or elder. (Smith’s detailed claims about these women, and the errors he makes about them, are discussed at length in Appendix 1 of this article.)
Smith’s next gambit is the related claim that
God called and used women preachers in the New Testament.
And again he is wrong. God did use women to advance His kingdom, but not as pastors or elders. For example, Smith points out that
The first message of the Resurrection of Christ was spoken by women to a group of men.
Yes, these women reported what they had seen and heard. This is not authoritative teaching and in no way resembles the role of a pastor. And the putative NT examples Smith puts forth are no better than his OT examples. Anna (Luke 2:36-38) and Phillip’s four daughters (Acts 21:9) prophesied; they did not hold authoritative/teaching positions in the church, and Priscilla and Phoebe were co-workers with Paul but there is no hint that they held authoritative positions, either. (A detailed discussion of the claims made for these women is included in Appendix 2 of this article.)
In sum, then, Smith cannot give us even one genuine example of a women serving in a spiritual authoritative/teaching role analogous to that of a pastor or elder anywhere in the Bible. And no wonder; the Bible is clear that women are not to serve in such roles. Adducing examples of women serving in roles that are patently not analogous to that of a pastor or elder is pointless.
Next, Smith claims that “There is no sound reason why a woman or man should not preach the Gospel” arguing that
There is a desperate need in the church for more workers. Laborers are few, and God will use any and all who will go for Him.
He again commits the same error he does throughout his paper: Evangelism and bringing the Gospel to unbelievers is a task for both male and female Christians, but this is separate from the issue of women holding the office of pastor or elder. For this latter, there is the soundest possible reason to forbid it, which is that God tells us in Scripture that this is not acceptable.
Smith’s next argument is highly problematic; he asserts that “Some say God will not use a woman to preach, because ‘The woman was deceived’,” but then he appeals to Romans 5:12, which, he says “seems to indicate that Adam was just as guilty as Eve in the fall of man.“
So, says Smith
If anyone should be kept from preaching because of sin, it would be Adam.
Once again, the issue is not preaching simpliciter but holding a spiritual/authoritative position, and the reason that Smith is trying to argue against here is not merely something that “some” say. It comes from 1 Timothy 2:12-14, which reads
And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in quietness. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived fell into transgression.
Note, then, that it is not “some” who say this, but the word of God that says it. So when Smith offers his specious argument why this is actually not a reason, he is not arguing against the opinions of “some” people but against the word of God Himself. And whenever one argues against the word of God, he is always wrong. Always.
We will explore Smith’s next point in full, because it includes one of the most common arguments made by those who advocate for women pastors and elders. Since the Bible contains clear and explicit statements (e.g. 1 Timothy 2:12-14) disallowing this, those who advocate for it must come up with a justification for not following them. So here is Smith’s tenth point:
1 Corinthian 14: 34-35 does not say anything about women preachers. If Paul intended this verse as a general rule to bar all women from speaking in church, then they cannot teach Sunday School, testify, pray, prophesy, sing, or even get saved, and this would contradict the rest of the Bible (Acts 2:4; Acts 2:16-18).
Paul was rather dealing with a particular problem in the church. Women were not educated as were the men in that day; therefore the women would talk back and forth to their husbands in church and ask questions concerning the sermon. Paul said, “If they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home; for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.” If they want to talk things over let them wait until they get home.
This is a standard trope of liberal scholarship which Smith follows here. What the word of God says is quite plain, but those who want to get around invent a putative historical situation and then claim that the passage applies only to that situation, and not generally. Nonsense.
First, as a general principle, if we can invent a situation and then use it to deny the general applicability of a teaching in the Bible, then we may as well throw out the Bible, for we can do this for anything we do not like. Want to get a divorce? Of course Jesus forbids it, but, hey, why not invent the situation that so many people were getting divorced in Jesus’ day that it threatened the social fabric, and so Jesus’ teaching was only meant to apply to that sort of situation, so divorce is not actually forbidden generally? Want to endorse homosexuality? Why not claim that Romans 1:27 and like passages actually only apply to pederasty, which was rampant then, and does not actually forbid loving, monogamous same-sex relationships? (Oh, wait, those who want to endorse homosexuality already do this.) So it is clear that with this approach one can simply follow his own desires and not the Bible; one may as well discard the Bible then.
Second, the Bible tells us that
All Scripture is God-breathed and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17, bolding and underlining added.)
This is the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture i.e. that the Scripture tells us everything we need to know about how to live the Christian life. Yet according to Smith, some external information is needed to know that 1 Corinthians 14:33b-35 doesn’t actually mean what it says. This is unacceptable to the evangelical.
Third, I have said that this is an invented situation, and invented it is. There is no actual evidence to suggest that what Smith describes was happening in the Corinthian church. There is no evidence at all. This situation was invented by liberal scholars from whole cloth for the sole and express purpose of overturning the application of 1 Corinthians 14:33b-35. No evangelical who cares about obeying God should allow himself to be misled by it.
Fourth, the basic rationale given in the invented situation is seen to be ridiculous if one thinks a bit. Smith says that “Women were not educated as were the men in that day”, when in fact very few men were educated, either. Women learned the skills of homemaking, and men learned a craft (farming, fishing) from their fathers. Both men and women learned what they learned about God and His word at home and in the synagogue (Deuteronomy 4:9, 6:7, 11:19). Please notice the following verse and the significance of it:
Now when [‘the rulers of the people and elders of Israel’] saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. (Acts 4:13, cf. 4:8; bolding added.)
That’s right, folks, these two chief apostles were “not educated”! We note, furthermore, that in the detailed lists of qualification for church leadership, in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, education is not a requirement. So suggesting that the restrictions on women’s roles was based on their lack of education, and so no longer hold today, is fatuous in the extreme.
If a woman cannot speak in church, then she cannot speak in prayer meeting, young people’s service, etc., for who can deny that Sunday School and Prayer meeting, and Youth work are parts of church? Christ’s Church is not a building, but rather it is found where two or three are gathered together in His name, whether at a street meeting, in a tent, a home, church, classroom or anywhere else.
This ties in with a point Smith raised earlier:
Even if the words prophet and preacher could be separated, how could anyone prophesy to bring exhortation, comfort and edification to the church, if she were forbidden to speak in church and was to keep silent?
The substance of Smith’s argument seems to be that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 prima facie “bar[s] all women from speaking in church”, yet that cannot be the case, since then “they cannot teach Sunday School, testify, pray, prophesy, sing, or even get saved,” and Smith claims that this “would contradict the rest of the Bible (Acts 2:4; Acts 2:16-18).“
First, we note that it is indeed an issue whether Scripture contradicts itself in this matter, but Smith’s examples do nothing to show that it does. If 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is “a general rule to bar all women from speaking in church”, then the activities listed by Smith would be forbidden, and the fact that churches engage in them would not make them right, or show God’s word to be wrong. (With the exception of the last one. Salvation is received as a gift based on faith in Jesus Christ and nothing else. A belief system that requires anyone to speak in church to “get saved” is something other than Biblical Christianity.) Furthermore, Acts 2 in no way shows a contradiction with 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, since that was an example of a public evangelistic sermon to unbelievers, and not speaking in church. Smith would have been better off appealing here to such passages as 1 Corinthians 11:5 (which he mentioned earlier), because such passages do indicate that women can speak in church, which seems to show that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is not a complete prohibition on all speaking by women in church.
So what does 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 mean? The answer is found in the immediate context, and not in inventing some background situation out of whole cloth. First, the broad context is the proper exercise of spiritual gifts, which Paul identifies as his topic in 1 Corinthians 12:1:
Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be ignorant.
Notice that he follows this up almost immediately, in v. 3, with
Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.
It seems, then, that some in the congregation were actually claiming gifts and spiritual guidance that were telling them Jesus was accursed! No wonder Paul had to deal with this issue.
Paul goes through a lengthy discussion of spiritual gifts in general and tongues in particular and the superiority of love. In chapter 14, Paul turns to the specific topic of how to exercise the gifts of tongues and prophecy within a church meeting (vv. 19, 23), and it is at this point that a crucially important point is made, in v. 29:
Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge.
Claims of prophecies (or tongues, for that matter), are not to be accepted as genuine by default; after all, some claiming such spiritual guidance were saying that Jesus is accursed. Some, then, who claim to be uttering words from God are lying frauds, and there are others who are deceived by demons. So this is one area where the vitally important teaching office of the church must come into play. Those who are well versed in Scripture are to stand in judgment of any utterance that one claims has been revealed to him by God, and they judge on the basis of their understanding of the Bible (e.g. 1 Timothy 4:6; 2 Timothy 2:15; Hebrews 5:12-14), and not on the basis of claims of immediate revelation. And it is at this point that the injunction for women to be silent comes; they are to have no part in this sort of judgment, which belongs to the authoritative teaching office of the church, which is forbidden to women. This is completely consistent with the Biblical teaching that women can pray and prophesy and sing, etc. in church, but they cannot hold a position of authority/authoritative teaching vis-à-vis Christian men.
Smith now turns his attention to another crucial and clear verse on this issue, 1 Timothy 2:12-14, and tries to explain why it does not mean what it says. He asserts that “1 Timothy 2:12 is not a blanket rule for all women of all churches” and, as before, risibly suggests that
If it were, then the women could not speak at all, for the same verse that tells them not to teach also tells them to be silent. If all women had to keep silent in church, then that would be promoting disobedience to God, for they could not prophesy, pray, testify, sing, exhort, do personal work, or even get saved.
Smith, however, is wrong on all counts.
First, 1 Timothy 2:12 is indeed “a blanket rule for all women of all churches.” There is nothing in the context to restrict its application. In fact, Paul says “everywhere” (v. 8) and speaks of “women professing godliness,” which certainly should be universal. Furthermore, the underlying basis for the command in 1 Timothy 2:12 is that
Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived fell into transgression. (vv. 13-14)
So the basis of the restriction in v. 12 rests in historical truths that were already 4,000 years old in Paul’s day, which means it is impossible to try to attribute them to any local circumstance. They are equally true for all Christian women in all times and all places.
Second, it should be noted that in 1 Corinthians 14:34, the word translated as “silent” is σιγαω (sigao), which means an absence of all sound, but in 1 Timothy 2:11 the word translated “silence” is ἡσυχια (hesuchia), which doesn’t mean an absence of all sound, and it would be more accurately translated here “quietness,” not “silence.” (For example, the term is used in Acts 11:18 “When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, ‘Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.’” One cannot be silent and be “saying” things.)
So what this passage is teaching is that women should learn in quietness, but this does not forbid such activities as prophesying or praying or singing. (Again, the idea that one must speak in church to “get saved” is nonsense and has nothing to do with Christianity.) They are, however, clearly forbidden in v. 13 to do authoritative teaching (didaskein) or to have authority (authentein) in spiritual matters over a Christian man.
Next, Smith says something that is completely correct, viz. “Whenever an interpretation to a verse contradicts the rest of the teaching of the Bible, we know this interpretation is incorrect, for the Holy Spirit will never contradict His own Word” – and it is this that confutes Smith’s claims. Certainly the teaching of male headship in both the home and church is a consistent teaching throughout the Bible, so that there is no contradiction between the idea that women are not to be pastors and elders and anything else in the Bible. On the contrary, it is the claim that the Bible allows for women as pastors and elders that creates a contradiction with the clear statements in 1 Timothy 2:12-14 et al.
Smith follows this up by claiming that this verse is not referring to “public worship or church service” but “is giving instructions to wives as to how they were to conduct themselves in regard to their husband.“
What is being taught here, says Smith, is that
It is wrong for a woman to usurp authority over her husband (in church, home, or any place else).
The women, he says “should rather be silent and in subjection to her husband.” So Smith maintains that 1 Timothy 2:12-14 is about the relationship between husband and wife and “says nothing about preaching, nor does it say anything about a public worship or church service.“
Yet again, Smith is completely wrong. There are Biblical passages about the proper roles in husband/wife relationships (e.g. Ephesians 5:22-23), but this is not one of them. Since Greek does not have separate words for “woman” and “wife”, when γυνη (gune) is in reference to a wife, it is generally paired with a possessive indicator to show that “wife” is meant and not “woman,” and there is no such indicator in this passage.
Even more directly, 1 Timothy tells us what 1 Timothy 2:12-14 refers to; after finishing the section of instructions of which this passage is a part, Paul writes
These things I write to you, though I hope to come to you shortly; but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God” (1 Timothy 3:14-15a).
That is clear enough that anyone should realize that Paul is talking about roles in the church, not in the home. It is undeniable, then, that 1 Timothy 2:12-14 clearly forbids women to hold the office of pastor or elder, or to do any authoritative teaching or hold authority in spiritual matters vis-à-vis Christian men.
Now, the instructions given for selecting church leaders in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 also disqualify women, but Smith tries to blunt the force of these instructions, writing
Some have used Titus 1:6-7, “If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children …” but there is a difference between a preacher and a bishop.
He claims that these instructions are only for bishops, not pastors. But this is a complete failure to understand the terms. The Greek episkopos (translated into English as “bishop”) simply means “overseer” and is the most general term for church leaders; it is not a specific office, as later episcopal church polity made it to be. A pastor certainly is an episkopos and so is an elder. The instructions in these passages, therefore, do disqualify women from the role of pastor and elder and any other position under the broad rubric of episkopos.
Not only does Titus 1:6-7 does seem to teach that an episkopos should be married with children, 1 Timothy 3:2, 4-5 does so even more clearly:
A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife … one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?)
This passage correlates male headship in the household with male headship in the church, and makes the proven good execution of the former prerequisite to holding the latter position. If one acknowledges the God-given fact of male headship in the household, as Smith seems to do, then this is further indication that women cannot hold the position of episkopos positions in the church.
Smith tries further to counter this by writing
If God called a single man with no children to be a Bishop, as Paul was, surely this verse is not opposed to it, nor would this scripture oppose a woman Bishop if she was called of God for the work, as was Deborah.
This is only one sentence, and yet there are a plethora of errors in it.
First, Paul was not an episkopos. He was not involved in the actual oversight of a church but was an itinerant evangelist and church planter (a position for which, for obvious reasons, it was advantageous to be single). Second, even if one wishes to argue about allowing a single man to be an episkopos, he is designed to be the head of a household and, should he get married, he will put that design into operation, whereas even a married woman can never do this.
As for Smith’s fatuous claim that “this scripture [would not] oppose a woman Bishop if she was called of God for the work, as was Deborah,” three things must be said in response. First, Deborah, as is discussed at length in Appendix 1, was certainly not called by God to be a bishop. Second, as we have already seen, there are other passages that make it clear women are not to hold spiritual/authoritative positions and so do indeed “oppose a woman Bishop.” Third, inasmuch as God has told us in His word that women are forbidden to have the role of an episkopos, it necessarily follows that He has never “called“ a woman to such a work, nor is He doing so now, nor will He ever do so; He does not contradict His own written word, as Smith has already said.
Smith now tells us that
The Bible often speaks of “man” when it refers to both men and women inclusively. The word “mankind” also includes both men and women.
Yet again, Smith is confused about the terminology. It is true that the Greek word ἀνθρωπος (anthropos), which means “man”, is often used in the generic sense to mean human beings in general, just as the English word “man” is often used to mean human beings. However, the other Greek word for man, ἀνηρ (aner), specifically means the male human, as opposed to gune, which means woman, the female human. In the passages under consideration, from 1 Corinthians, 1 Timothy, and Titus, the word translated “man” is always aner, and never anthropos, so what we have said about what they teach about women’s roles stands intact.
In fact, it is exceedingly difficult to discern Smith’s point here. Does he really want to translate 1 Timothy 2:12 as “I do not allow a human to teach or have authority over a human?”
Smith’s next point is extremely problematic and perilous. He writes
To condemn women preachers and women church workers is a serious offense, because God has stamped His approval on them by His Spirit over and over again, and who is man to fight against the Spirit of God?
Now, it is true that to teach anything contrary to the Bible is indeed a serious offense, and the more so if the one teaching error is a pastor (cf. James 3:1). It would indeed be a “serious offense” to condemn women holding spiritual/authoritative positions vis-à-vis Christian men (which is the real issue here, not the nebulous “women preachers and women church workers”) if God endorsed them. However, as we have amply shown, the word of God clearly forbids this, and so the “serious offense” is teaching that women can be pastors or elders or hold any other such office.
Furthermore, as we have said, God does not contradict His own word, which clearly forbids such roles to women, and that necessarily means that He has not “stamped his approval on them by His Spirit over and over again.” These unverifiable claims based on human opinion cannot override the explicit word of God. Therefore, those who are “fight[ing] against the Spirit of God” are those who teach that women can hold these offices.
Continuing in the same vein, Smith avers that
To condemn women preachers and women church workers is in a sense to claim they are doing wrong and committing sin … and all those who support them and listen to them are having a part in that sin.
Actually, it is not merely claiming this only “in a sense”; it is a clear and unequivocal statement of fact. Let me make it plain to Smith: Women who take on any position that involves authority and/or authoritative teaching in spiritual matters vis-à-vis Christian men are most certainly “doing wrong and committing sin” and most certainly “all those who support them and listen to them are having a part in that sin.“
Smith follows this up by writing
For anyone to do this, he must condemn approximately 99% of all the Spirit-filled believers and the vast majority of all of Christianity.
And so the errors continue.
First, without objective documentation to buttress Smith’s claim, we can reject out of hand his claim that “99% of all the Spirit-filled believers and the vast majority of all of Christianity” agree with women holding forbidden roles.
Second, by writing “the Spirit-filled believers and … all of Christianity,” Smith is drawing a distinction between “Spirit-filled believers” and the rest of “Christianity.” Now, being “Spirit-filled” does not consist in the putative exercise of spiritual gifts (especially when this is done in a manner contradicted by Scripture e.g. the claim that all Christians should speak in tongues) but by obedience to the commands of God, including the commands forbidding women to take on such authoritative roles.
Third, truth in not determined by majority opinion, but by the word of God, and we have shown what the word of God says in this matter. So even if 99% of Christians ever decide to embrace this (or any other) error, the true servant of Christ will continue to denounce it:
… let God be true but every man a liar. (Romans 3:4b)
Finally, Smith quotes Acts 10:34, which reads,
“Of a truth, I perceive that God is no respecter of persons … “
But let us look at that entire quotation from Peter:
“In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.” (Acts 10:34-35).
It is clear what this statement is about: God makes salvation through Christ available to all people regardless of nationality. It is fatuous to use this fact to try to deny distinctions of role based on gender in the church that God has explicitly commanded elsewhere.
In sum, then, we conclude that the answer to Smith’s question, “Can Christian women be pastors?” is a resounding “No!” We have seen that the Bible is very clear on this matter, and God demands obedience to this. To ignore these teachings and accept women in episkopos roles is a very dangerous and wrongheaded decision indeed.
The following are Smith’s claims about “women preachers in the Old Testament”, and detailed responses to them.
Judges 4:4-5. Deborah was a Judge for both civil and criminal cases. The children of Israel came to her for judgment. She was the chief ruler of Israel for 40 years, giving orders to the Generals and all the army. She did the work of an evangelist, prophetess, Judge, and a preacher. God gave her authority over the mighty (Judges 5:13).
There is a veritable plethora of errors in what Smith says here. Before we look at them, however, let us point out that, whatever else Deborah did, she did not exercise teaching authority in spiritual matters, nor is there any scintilla of a suggestion that she did. That remained the rightful role of the male Levites and no one else. Furthermore, if she was indeed appointed by God to judge Israel in “both civil and criminal cases,” that is not a forbidden role. So Smith’s example is irrelevant to the matter at hand.
It should also be noted that whether God did, in fact, appoint Deborah to this role is at least open to debate. Anyone who knows the Bible knows that the Book of Judges is a woeful litany of Israel’s continual disobedience and failure to live as God wanted, so to pick a situation that existed in those days and assume by default that it was right is rather careless.
The Bible tells us that Deborah was a prophetess; that is the role assigned her by God. The Bible also tells us that “the children of Israel came up to her for judgment” (Judges 4:5b), but it is not clear that they should have done so. Unlike the first two judges, Othniel, about whom we read, “The Spirit of the LORD came upon him, and he judged Israel” (Judges 3:10) and Ehud, about whom we read, “the LORD raised up a deliverer for them: Ehud the son of Gera” (Judges 3:15b), there is no explicit statement that Deborah was raised up as a judge by God.
Furthermore, the recurring pattern among the judges is that Israel is oppressed by an enemy, finally repents, and then God raises up a deliverer for them, after which there is a period of peace during which that deliverer judges Israel. Yet during the period in which Deborah is judging, there is actually oppression (Judges 4:3-4); why is Israel being oppressed if they are doing things the way they should be, as under the other judges?
Let us continue. Smith claims that Deborah “was the chief ruler of Israel for 40 years.” Where does he get this from? The Bible never stipulates the length of her tenure. Smith claims that Deborah “[gave] orders to the Generals and all the army.” No; if one reads Judges 4:6-7, he will see that all Deborah is doing is passing on the immediate revelation of God – which, after all, is what a prophetess is supposed to do. Nor is there any record of her talking to any other “Generals” or “all the army.” Smith claims that Deborah “did the work of an evangelist, prophetess, Judge, and a preacher.” The Bible shows her doing the work of a prophetess and a judge, but never an “evangelist” or a “preacher.” We should adhere to what the Bible actually says here, and not add in things that the Bible does not say.
Finally, Smith claims that
God gave her authority over the mighty (Judges 5:13).
Actually, Judges 5:13, from the midst of the victory song of Deborah and Barak, reads,
“Then the survivors came down, the people against the nobles;
The LORD came down for me against the mighty.”
It is a clear reference to God defeating the powerful army of Jabin, and says nothing about giving Deborah any sort of authority at all, let alone “authority over the mighty.” So many errors in such a short paragraph.
Exodus 15:20; Numbers 12:1; Micah 6:4. She was a Prophetess and a Song Leader in Israel.
Yes, neither of which involves authoritative teaching in spiritual matters, as a pastor would do.
2 Kings 22:14. Five men went to Sister Huldah and communed with her. She spoke to a congregation of men concerning the book of the Law. A female preached to a man’s congregation, and her message was taken to the nation and produced a revival.
Once again, if one reads the actual passage, he will see a very different picture from what Smith portrays. Here is the entire passage (2 Kings 22:14-20):
So Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam, Achbor, Shaphan, and Asaiah went to Huldah the prophetess, the wife of Shallum the son of Tikvah, the son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe. (She dwelt in Jerusalem in the Second Quarter.) And they spoke with her. Then she said to them, “Thus says the LORD God of Israel, ‘Tell the man who sent you to Me, “Thus says the LORD: ‘Behold, I will bring calamity on this place and on its inhabitants—all the words of the book which the king of Judah has read—because they have forsaken Me and burned incense to other gods, that they might provoke Me to anger with all the works of their hands. Therefore My wrath shall be aroused against this place and shall not be quenched.’”’ But as for the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the LORD, in this manner you shall speak to him, ‘Thus says the LORD God of Israel: “Concerning the words which you have heard—because your heart was tender, and you humbled yourself before the LORD when you heard what I spoke against this place and against its inhabitants, that they would become a desolation and a curse, and you tore your clothes and wept before Me, I also have heard you,” says the LORD. “Surely, therefore, I will gather you to your fathers, and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace; and your eyes shall not see all the calamity which I will bring on this place.”’” So they brought back word to the king.
It is abundantly clear that the five men went to Huldah the prophetess to “inquire of the LORD … concerning the words of this book that has been found” (2 Kings 22:13), as they had been sent to do by Josiah. They did not go to hear Huldah “preach to a man’s congregation”, and she did not do that, nor did they go to hear “her message.” They went to hear the immediate word of God, a divine revelation about the book they had found, and that is what they heard: the immediate word of God passed on by Huldah in her proper God-given role as prophetess. She did not “preach to a man’s congregation”, and it was not “her message,” but the immediate word of God that “produced a revival.” (More precisely, the revival occurred because the people obeyed this word of God, instead of trying to redefine it to suit their desires.)
Isaiah 8:3. She was a prophetess.
Yes, she was a prophetess, not a pastor or an elder.
Luke 2:36-38. She must have prophesied in church, because she did not depart from the temple.
This is utterly incoherent. Anna was 84 years old when Jesus was eight days old; there would not be a church to prophesy in for another 33 years, by which time Anna would be long since dead. How not departing from the temple means that “she must have prophesied in the church” is unclear, since the church did not meet in the temple. And, again, she was a prophetess, not a pastor.
Phillip’s Four Daughters
Phillip had 4 daughters who prophesied. Acts 21:9.
Prophecy is fine; being a pastor or elder is forbidden.
Priscilla assisted Paul in his revival meeting and even taught Apollos in the way of the Lord more perfectly.
Priscilla is mentioned six times in the New Testament, and none of them says that she “assisted Paul in his revival meeting.” (By the way, Paul did not do “revival meetings.” He was an itinerant evangelist and church planter.) We read the following in Acts 18:24-26:
Now a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures, came to Ephesus. This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things of the Lord, though he knew only the baptism of John. So he began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Aquila and Priscilla heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.
So what you have here is a husband-and-wife team “explaining” (Greek ektithemi, not didasko, which would be authoritative teaching) the Gospel to a non-Christian (note that Apollos “knew only the baptism of John,” which meant that he was preaching repentance in light of the coming kingdom). This is a good and legitimate thing for Christian men and women to do, and has nothing with women holding authority or engaged in authoritative teaching over Christian men in spiritual matters.
Romans 16:1-2. Paul commended Phoebe to the Church at Rome and requested that they assist her in her business. She was one of Paul’s assistants in the work of the Lord and delivered the Book of Romans to the people from the hand of Paul.
The claim that Phoebe “delivered the Book of Romans to the people from the hand of Paul” is only speculation, and is not stated in the text. It is irrelevant, anyway, since neither this nor any of the other facts listed by Smith about Phoebe suggests that she held the position of either pastor or elder.
I am reminded of what the evolution propagandist does. When he is asked to show a genuine example of evolution (which requires the spontaneous creation of qualitatively new genetic information), he does not do so, for he cannot, for there is no such example (indeed, it is mathematically impossible). Instead, he shows examples of selective breeding (which in every case involves a corruption or loss of existing genetic information, and is therefore the opposite of evolution). In other words, he does a bait-and-switch, showing examples of what is not evolution as if somehow that could demonstrate evolution.
Those who advocate for women pastors and elders invariably do much the same thing; they argues that women can be pastors, but then only adduce examples of what are not women pastors, as if somehow examples of women who are not pastors demonstrates that women can be pastors. What they do not do is show an actual example from the Bible of a woman acting as a pastor or elder, which is not surprising, since there is no such example. No wonder, then, that not one of Smith’s offerings is a genuine example of a woman holding an episkopos position.
FOR DETAILED DISCUSSIONS ON SPECIFIC TOPICS RELATED TO THIS ISSUE, GO TO THE COUNCIL ON BIBLICAL MANHOOD AND WOMANHOOD’S WEBSITE AT https://www.cbmw.org/