I don’t know of many more controversial issues in the church than issues regarding women in ministry. It is not controversial whether or not women can do ministry or be effective in ministry, but whether or not they can teach and preside in positions of authority over men. The most controversial issue aspect of this issue, of course, is whether or not women can hold the position of head pastor or elder in a local church.

There are two primary positions in this debate; those who believe that women can teach men and hold positions of authority over men in the church and those that do not. Those that do, normally go by the name “Egalitarians.” Those that do not, go by the name “Complementarians.” I am a complementarian but I understand and appreciate the egalitarian position. In fact, the church I serve at most often is an egalitarian church. (However, I don’t want you to think that my complementarianism is not important to me. There is much more to complementarianism than whether or not a woman can preach!)

There are a lot of passages of Scripture which contribute to the debate, but one stands out more than all the others. 1 Tim. 2:11-15:

“A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. 12 But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. 13 For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. 14 And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. 15 But women will be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint.”

I don’t want to debate whether or not this passage teaches either position. I am simply going to assume the complementarian position and attempt to deal with the sting of “I don’t allow a woman to teach.” It does have quite a bit of sting.

I like to make the Scripture pragmatically understandable. In other words, I want to not only understand what it says, but to rationally understand why it says what it says. Why does God give this instruction or that? What practical rationale might be behind the instruction of God? I know that we cannot always find it and our obligation to obey transcends our understanding but, in my experience, more often than not, our understanding of the command can accompany our obedience so that we are not so blind.

“I do not allow a woman to teach.” We think of this as coming from God. God says, “I do not allow a woman to teach.” Teaching is something that requires _________ therefore, women are not qualified. You fill in the blank:

1. Intelligence

2. Wisdom

3. Love

4. Concern

5. Rational

6. Persuasiveness

While I think the sting of this passage assumes that Paul is speaking about one of these, I don’t choose any of them. I think Paul (and God) has something different in mind.

The other night, at 3am there was a sound in our living room. Kristie woke up, but I did not. She was looking out there and saw the lights go on. She got scared.

Pop quiz: What did she do next?

a. Got a bat and quietly tip toed out there to see who it was.

b. Got a gun and peeked around the corner.

c. Woke me up and had me go out there.

Those of you who choose “c” are both right and wise. You are right because that is what happened. (It was my 2 year old Zach who decided it was time to get up.) You are wise because that is what normally happens and is typically, for those of you who have a man in the house, the best move. Why? Because men are better equipped to deal with these sort of situations. There is an aggression that men have, both physical and mental, that is more able to handle situations that might become combative. That is the way we are made.

Now, let me give my short and sweet answer as to why Paul did not allow women to teach:

Paul did not let women teach due to the often aggressive and combative nature that teaching must entail concerning the confrontation of false doctrine. Men must be the teachers when combating false teaching. However, because the role of a teacher in the church is so often to combat false doctrine, and because false doctrine is always a problem, generally speaking, the principles are always applicable. The “exercising of authority” is inherently tied to teaching and its necessary condemnation of false doctrine.

The combative nature of teaching is particularly relevant to a broader understanding of the characteristics of men and women.

The best illustration in the real world that I could use to help you understand what I am saying is that of a military commander in charge of leading troops into battle. Of course there might be an exception here and there, but do a study and you will find that no matter what the time or culture, men are always leading here. Why? Because men are simply better equipped and more followed. There are certian areas where men and women have a unique stature. I believe, like in military, the position of head pastor is the same. Not only are they better equipped for the issues that will arise, but they are followed more readily.

Let me give you another example: Two years ago, my wife was confronted by another couple who did not believe that she was doing what was right. She used to do princess parties where she would dress up as a princess (Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty) and go to little girls’ homes and entertain them for an hour or so. She was really good at this. After we moved from Frisco to Oklahoma, she still had one party on the schedule. She called her boss and let her know that she could not do it since we had already moved. Her boss became very angry and began to threaten her. She also said that she was going to bring in her husband (who was a lawyer) and sue Kristie. Kristie became very scared and did not know how to handle this situation, especially since her boss was now using her husband as part of the threat. She told me about this and I told her not to speak to her boss anymore, but to let me handle it. I did. I stepped in and confronted both her boss and her husband’s threats concerning the issue. In the end, they backed off.

I felt that it was my duty and obligation to step in and be strong on behalf of my wife as the situation became confrontational. Kristie is both tender, gentle, and, in those situations, frightened. She was going to give in and travel back to Texas to perform this last party even though she would lose money in the gas it took to go there and back. Her boss refused to pay her mileage.

My point is that men are conditioned to handle confrontation better than women. It is not that Kristie could not have done the same thing as me, it is just that this was not her bent. Women, generally speaking, are not bent to deal with confrontation the same way as men. Teaching in the church involves, more often than not, confronting false understanding.

Can women teach? Absolutely! Can women understand and think as well as men? Most certainly. But the bent of a man is better able to handle the type of teaching that is always necessary in the church.

Would I let a woman teach from the pulpit from time to time? Yes. Paul is not restricting women teachers over men in the absolute sense. The infinitive here, “to teach” is in the present tense which suggests the perpetual role of teaching which exercises authority (confrontation).

The role of head pastor, I believe requires confrontation. That is not all there is, but it is there and it is very important. It is because of this, I believe, Paul said that women cannot teach or exercise authority over men.

See follow-up posts here and here.

Comments are open again. Be safe. Read the rules.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    1,432 replies to "Why Women Cannot Be Head Pastors"

    • TL

      Some points to consider. It was not possible for Paul to have seen the RISEN Lord, since he was not around the Christians at that time, and Christ only spoke to him without appearing to him on the Damascus road experience. We have Paul’s testimony that he did see Jesus, but not the risen Christ.

      Also, we do not know that Junia, Barnabas, and other apostles did not see the Lord, risen or otherwise. It is likely that they did even though it was not thought necessary (by Paul) to have noted that fact as it was probably common knowledge then.

      It seems more accurate to say that there were particular requirements for the 12 for their particular commissioning that were different than other apostles.

      The literal meaning of apostolos means sent or commissioned. Paul was an apostle to the Pharisees before Christ commissioned him. Thus one really cannot be commissioned by God for a service without being some level of an apostle.

    • Don Johnson

      There are lots of types of apostles in Scripture; the concept is Hebrew and it does mean “one who is sent out” the question is always who is doing the sending.

      Jesus is an apostle in his own class and was sent by God.

      The 12 apostles were sent by Jesus, one disqualified himself and another was picked to make 12, as they needed to map to the 12 Tribes of Israel. So Jesus and the 12 could be said to fill an office.

      There are other apostles in the NT and they were sent out by a congregation. Paul claims he was sent by Jesus, so he is special but not one of the 12.

      The apostles sent out by a congregation are not in an office, they simply have a ministry that have been given as a gift from the Spirit. The importance of it not being an office is that when a person dies or quits or otherwise leaves office, the office remains and is then filled by another, but this is not what happens in the faith. A church in the NT has plural leadership, but it is flexible as to numbers.

    • Ed Kratz

      Not sure why I’m commenting since this is old now, but this post just strikes me as so far out of the line with the theology I learned mostly from you and Rhome.
      Paul gives his reasons right in the quoted scripture. That’s really the only reason needed.

      1 Tim. 2:11-15:

      “A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. 12 But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. 13 For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. 14 And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. 15 But women will be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint.”

    • Ruth Cooley

      My God supplies all my needs in Christ Jesus. Through praye. I am certain even the gates of hell shall not prevail against the church including the women. And, by the way, although I am married happily for over 32 years, my husband would support any attempt I may have at battling your missive word for word. Your reasoning is not sound. God bless you and may He give grace and wisdom to the women in your congregation and in your home.

    • Justeen

      LOL! Oh pulleeeeez! Sure I’ll wake my husband up concerning an intruder and we’ll both go after him with a couple of baseball bats. Two’s better than one IMO!

    • Ed Kratz

      You illustrate my point well. Two baseball bats? The man will choose the gun. 😉

    • Greg.

      Old post but worthwhile. I somewhat echo your complimentarian view michael but rational is a little bit lacking I feel as in the argument can be put forward for women who are stronger than men physically and emotionally. However..if one looks at the criteria for being an elder you can see that he must be a strong man spiritually. Physicality does not come into it. A strong spiritual man will always be God’s choice for leadership.

      Hence David Moses Joshua Jacob Joseph. Even Deborah said that her leading the army to victory was not God’s choice and that it should be one of the Princes. To me the issue is one of respect. Respect for God’s created order of male female and the respect that God commands from women to men.

      Picture the scene where a man sins in the church and must be put out of the fellowship and he is publicly disfellowshipped by a woman pastor. How disrespectful that would be both to the man and manhood in general in accordance to what I see as God’s created order for men and women. God picked male apostles for a reason. And does the scriptures not say in Titus that the women are to teach the other women in certain aspects.

      Peter himself said that women are the weaker sex and which statement is NEVER addressed in the church. What I believe personally by that is that when the onslought of the enemy the world and the flesh comes against the body of Christ it is the mans role to protect. And I know many women that think the same.

    • Don Johnson

      Deborah was God’s choice, go back and reread all of Judges.

      God’s order is for all humans to rule the earth as co-regents. It is only sinful man that teaches men are over women.

      Jesus picked 12 male apostles to map to the 12 tribes and 12 patriarchs as Scripture teaches, this is why one needed to be replaced when he disqualified himself. But these no longer exist. And Junia was a apostle of a congregation along with others that Paul mentions.

    • April Carter

      Eve was cursed to be submissive to Adam. Women are, therefore, to be submissive to men. Not to make them their gods, but to be more like a sidekick. It’s like Batman and Robin, so to speak. Women, like Robin, are strong and can exert power. But not as much as men, who, like Batman, are stronger and more powerful.

    • Red

      “I don’t want to debate whether or not this passage teaches either position. I am simply going to assume the complementarian position and attempt to deal with the sting of “I don’t allow a woman to teach.” It does have quite a bit of sting.”

      Paul did not allow 1 woman from teaching (because she was deceived as the passage itself says). So, so what? It cannot be proven that Paul stopped more than 1 woman from teaching – simply fact. No one theologian, pew sitter, lay man, Bible student, whoever, – no one can prove otherwise. So, we should just let scripture tell us what it wants to and leave it at that without trying to add the idea to the passage, that Paul was not allowing women (plural) in Ephesus to teach. I think that would be respectful towards the passage itself.

    • R. A. Fiallos

      This is silly, of course women can be head pastors, just like they can be doctors, lawyers, CEOs, Presidents, etc. We are continuously evolving as a society and this includes the way women are viewed and treated. Let’s not be so pompous as to claim God’s “order” as if we were there. There is a lot in the scriptures that we don’t understand–yet. What we do know is that the scriptures date back to a different world, culturally. We are not the Patriarchal world of old, and thank God for that. Otherwise we would be stoning people to death, declaring lepers outcast, making women sleep outside when going through menstrual cycles, own slaves, etc.
      Men: f you really take everything in the bible literally, why do you allow your wives to cut their hair, to wear anything other than long skirts, wear make up, etc? Why aren’t they covering their head at church? Stop with the ego trip and stop using scripture to justify your own view point. God’s viewpoint is a lot greater than…

    • Victorious

      April Carter:

      Only the serpent and the ground were cursed. All other conditions prophecised were adverse and all have been overcome with the exception of men wanting to rule over women. It was not a command; simply the adverse conditions of living outside of the perfect environment of the garden.

    • Guz

      Of course a woman cannot be “Head Pastor,” since that title belongs to the Lord Jesus only (1 Peter 5).

      Pastor is a rare word in the NT for a person so gifted spiritually (Eph 4 is the ONLY such reference, & there it is pastor-teacher. A careful reading of 1 Peter 5 indicates that pastor is the spiritual gift that corresponds to elder=bishop, by admonishing elder-bishops to pastorize. Shepherds feed & lead the flock. Feeding is obviously analogous to teaching. The functions of pastor are the same as elder=bishop, teaching & overseeing.

      However, inasmuch as an elder-bishop has concrete standards to meet (like husband of one wife, having children who are pistos, etc.), a man with the pastor-teacher gift might fail to be an elder because of misconduct.

      There are no such offices in the Bible as Senior Pastor or assistant pastor, except possibly in the case of the evil Diotrephes, who loved to have the preeminence.

    • Mutax

      I can’t know. If it is to guess i would risk the egalitarian position and see the results. (Principle of checking the fruits)
      Real wisdom needed.
      I would be good if we could ask a master on this.
      Will (female) should follow Intelect (male).
      Man should ceaseless be looking to Heart and be wise (love).(Woman inside man?)
      (english is not my language, please adapt as proper)

      I remember St Augustin and Monica when saying this…

    • Mutax

      If the church has the flexibility and if the people can recognize a wise (In Christ) member and if this member found wisdom beyond uncertainty it would be logical and wise to not impede (he/she) from authority.
      If nobody is master, who is the best of us?
      Also, we could ask: Who is best at what?
      This is not democracy but meritocracy.
      Of course schisms, disputes are not produced in a healthy environment. Each and everyone’s personal responsibility.

      This is another viewing angle.

    • Isha

      This reminds me of when I see a movie or a tv show and one of the main characters is this cutthroat, ambitious, career woman. It puts a bad flavor in my mouth. Women are supposed to be gentle and submissive creatures. In a similar movie with men in these roles, it looks normal (and is preferred). I would not want my husband to be a stay at home dad and me be the provider. Aside from his best dish being Mac & cheese and having no skill in the art of cleaning up after one’s self, I wouldn’t be able to handle the kinds of things he goes through at work. It is very unnatural to “toughen up” a woman… And it’s almost disgusting to see the result of this toughening up. I like my role. I like how I don’t have to deal with situations that take me out of me gender specific nature. I don’t want to be put into competition with a bunch of ambitious people. I prefer the safety and security of my home where there is just as much work needing to be done as outside of the home. I like my husbands role and I wouldn’t expect him to write thank you cards or light candles.

    • R. A. Fiallos

      Isha, it sounds as if you have a great husband who loves and cares for you and you love and care for him as well. You complement each other. The reality for many women, however, is that they need to learn to fend for themselves–often out of necessity. I am all for women staying at home to care for the household and children, OR, excelling in education and business if that is what they wish. Intellectually speaking, women are as capable as men of running businesses and organizations, of course they are capable of running a church. Should they? If they honor God in their duty as a pastor, why not?

    • patricia

      Hi Michael;
      I esp. appreciated your story about how you intervened when your wife’s rather awful boss thought she could take advantage of her and use her husband to intimidate her. It pleases me greatly, as a woman to hear of men taking the leadership and authority they are supposed to. Your wife is free to be gentle and tender because of that.

      However, your argument is weak, if you will forgive me. The idea that women are not capable of confrontational reasoning is not real. Ask my husband if I am capable of combative reasoning and contending for something I think is right or good, lol. Or a former people pleasing and thus compromising and dishonest pastor if confrontational reasoning is beyond women. Ask any man who has ever made the mistake of harshly grabbing someone else’s child by the arm if a woman can be aggressive or combative! I once challenged my former FIL to step outside with me because he was being abusive towards my three year old! I was ready to teach him a lesson about hurting a defenseless child! My child’s dad said I was breathing fire.

      I think God’s withholding pastoral headship from women has something more to do with creation order and design. Many women would make better pastors than men. I have winced over the lack of people skills, pride, empathy lack of biblical counseling skills of many pastors. I suspect this is more because its about them glorying in their own estimate of their gifts rather than rejoicing in their weakness and leaning totally on Jesus though which creates the aforementioned issue.

      The fact that God used Deborah in that way was unusual, not normative and I suspct he used her because at that time none of the men would obey and lead; note Barak’s need to be prodded into leading and readying his men. The question then is not can women lead men, but rather ought women to lead men. I say no, I think it robs men of their glory somehow when women overstep God given bounds and women are robbed thusly…

    • patricia

      Michael, though as I’ve said I don’t think women can’t do the aggressive kind of confrontational reasoning you mention, I have done some further thinking that may actual support more of what you have said than disprove it. I may have illustrated more than I realized in my first post and my stories of confrontation got me asking, well, how and why did I have to do this? I have had to learn how to develop combative reasoning skils and confrontational skills, unnaturally enlarging an abilty that is reserved for occasional use and not primary use, precisely because the men in my life abdicated their role and responsibilty. This taught me that there was no strength, authority or justice that could be counted on and I would have to fend for myself. This has come with a great cost to me. I think women can confront and combat and should where necessary, as we’re all called to confront sinning brothers for instance, but I think that you’re probably right, we aren’t naturally designed to be “switched on” that way continually. In fact, the story about your wife’s boss actually ilustrates really well what we often become when we pursue worldly ideas of strength and authority. Jesus demonstrated authority that came through submission to the Father! I can tell when I am doing something out of God’s natural design for me because it feels like a strain and a burden and I can literally feel a power drain that wears me down. When I am in submission to God, and within his boundaries, however, I feel the opposite, kind of a grace and beauty and a sustaining river of life that doesn’t take away vitality but enhances it. I blush to say it but I seem somehow radiant with grace and mercy. Its interesting. When I am in proper relationship to God and His order, I don’t have to kick open doors or really combat anyone as the grace of God in my life opens those doors and disarms arguments much more than being ” aggressive” or combative ever could. Much to think on, iron…

    • John Inglis

      Re the posts between Patricia and Mike on confrontation

      There is not a bright line and also a gap between men and women on the ability to be confrontational. Rather, the situation is more like two overlapping bell curves. More men may be one way, and more women another, but there are still many women who are at ease being confrontational and men who are not. Moreover, much of the discrepancy has to do with culture and upbringing and power relationships.

      Interesting, linguistic studies of power imbalances and language use show that when men are in a less powerful situation (e.g., being cross-examimed before a judge) they tend to use words and language styles that are generally considered to be typical of women.


    • Shevon

      I stumbled upon this blog this morning and found this article. I found it to be tremendously clear, logical and biblical.

      Thank you!

    • newenglandsun

      “Why? Because men are simply better equipped and more followed.”

      Another logical answer and solution is that it is because of social pressure put on the stereotypical roles. Like you admitted, there are exceptions.

    • newenglandsun

      Dr. Patton said: “men are always leading here”

      Women can be just as combative as men.

      Again, it is complicated because some women are combative and some women are not. Some men are combative and some are not.

    • Caleb Harper

      I totally agree with you, the Bible clearly states that women should not have spiritual power over the man. To say that the Bible allows women to preside over men in spiritual matters is false. Those that do read it that way are reading it with an eisegesis perspective. Thank you for posting something like this to help inform those that are deceived.

    • Chika

      Thank you for your post on this matter.

      It sounds like your wife, has been nurtured to act a specific way. I think its ridiculous that she immediately became scared when she was threatened with a law suit. I don’t know if this is how she behaves, but you portrayed her in a very weak manner in which she lacks reasoning and confidence capacities.

    • Becca

      I have been in the Marine Corps for three years. I am currently getting my degree and am in officer school and will be commissioned upon graduating. For you to say it would be a bad thing for a female General to lead troops into battle is incorrect. I Have only been in three years and have met female Sgt Majors, Lieutenants, captains, and yes generals and every one of them are outstanding leaders that I would follow into battle any day. In fact, I would follow them more eagerly and with more confidence than some males that I have met. In leadership positions it is not about gender it is about having a command presence and being able to lead your followers by the example you set and your ability to instill confidence and teach effectively.
      As far as I am concerned if a male cannot see past gender differences and learn from a female then it is because of their own flaws not the inability of the teacher. That is like me saying I cannot learn from you just because you are a male.
      And yes Adam was deceived. He was deceived my Eve. So obviously in this case Eve was the stronger of the two if she was able to persuade Adam to eat the fruit despite it’s origin. They were both deceived so there is really no merit in saying women cannot teach because they are “the weaker vessel.”
      In the Timothy passage you quoted Paul was giving women an opportunity to learn, which had not previously been given to them. He says that they cannot teach in this passage because they do not yet have the experience and knowledge to teach the Bible because of their lack of education. Obviously this is not true today as females can earn degrees in theology and Biblical studies. In my opinion this passage is in no way relevant to women being pastors in today’s society.

    • Jan

      I completely agree with your assesment on why God’s Word is against women taking the position of senior pastor aka elder/overseer in the Church.

      There are some people in the comments section who went the other extreme and said women should never teach in a mixed congregation.This is wrong according to God’s Word and equally hindering church growth as the egalitarian position.In Philippians 4:3 we see Eunice and Synteche preached the Gospel along with Apostle Paul.Junia is said to be prominent among Apostle(Apostle is someone who preach the Gospel and plant churches).In 2 John ,Apostle John calls himself the Elder ,but calls the Apostle lady (probably Philip’s daughter) in charge of the infant church she planted as “elected lady” instead of elder.Why?
      -Because she had to care her childeren(the church she planted) only until they have mature men willing to take up the position of Elder.Thus the “elected lady” phrase signify temperory leadership post a women can take on a Church she planted by evangelization.

      Thus there are 3 offices in New Testament Church-God’s Church.

      1.Senior Pastors/Elders/Overseers-only for Men.
      2.Assistant Pastors/Deacons-both men and women.
      3-The elected lady-Only for women over the church they plant by evangelization.

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