“Dear Mr. Wilson:
I came across your website and after reading some of your articles, I would like your response to a matter that bothers me. My church does not permit women to become pastors or to speak from the desk during the divine service. However, women are allowed to teach Sunday school classes for the children.
I have read Paul’s comments in 1 Corinthians 14:34 and 1 Timothy 2:12 and although Paul leaves no doubt about his feelings on the role of women, does God actually forbid women from serving as a pastor or religious leader? If so, where is the text? I would like to read it. Thank you in advance for taking time to answer my question.
Thank you for your email. You have asked a good question and this topic continues to generate considerable controversy. The Roman Catholic Church, Orthodox Jews and numerous Protestant Churches will not allow women to serve as priests, rabbis or ordained ministers.
Furthermore, most if not all sects within the Islamic faith will not permit women to serve as religious leaders. Historically, religion has been a male dominated business for thousands of years.
(One could say that religion is where it is today because it has been dominated by males for thousands of years, but that is another matter. Smile.) So, your question goes to the heart of a long standing controversy: Does God forbid women from serving as pastors and religious leaders?
There is no specific text where God Himself says that women are forbidden from serving as pastors or religious leaders unless the two texts you mentioned are treated as God speaking directly through Paul.
However, if we treat everything that Paul wrote as God speaking directly through him, a number of insurmountable textual problems will arise. For example, look at 1 Corinthians 7:29 and Romans 13:12. These two texts indicate that Paul sometimes spoke for himself.
I mention this phenomenon because some people treat the Bible as though it were a book of divine “proof texts.” This is not the case. The Bible requires investigation, line upon line, and precept upon precept. God’s ways are intricate and expansive.
If you can accept the concept that there is a difference between God’s intended will and God’s permissive will, you may find my conclusions to be helpful, even surprising. So, please give the following response to your question some prayerful consideration.
By definition, God’s “intended will” is a process or behavior that God initially prefers. Bible history proves that unfortunately, God’s intended will is rarely achieved. The problem is mankind. We are rebellious toward God by nature.
Human beings can choose to rebel against God’s authority and this explains why God does not often get the response that He seeks from us. I like to think of God’s intended will as “Plan A.” However, when people rebel against “Plan A,” God eventually abandons “Plan A” and implements another course of action that I call “Plan B.”
Ultimately, the will of God cannot be thwarted because God will find someone to accomplish all that He wants accomplished. Keep in mind, “Plan B” only becomes necessary when rebellion makes “Plan A” unattainable. There’s one more point about “Plan B” that I need to make.
When God puts “Plan B” in motion, the outcome is even larger, grander, and better than “Plan A!” There are many “Plan A – Plan B” stories in the Bible. Please consider these two examples:
1. When God put Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, He intended for them to enjoy life to the fullest. There was no sin, so there was no death, suffering, sorrow or pain. Everything that God created for Adam and Eve was perfect and beautiful and God made it possible for the parents of the human race to live happily ever after—as long as they did not sin.
For some length of time, Adam and Eve were filled with joy beyond words. Because there was no rebellion in their nature, they were in perfect harmony with each other. Differences of opinion were easily resolved because their love and respect for each other was not tainted with any hint of selfishness.
The Garden of Eden sums up God’s intended will for mankind, or, as I call it, “Plan A.” But, Adam and Eve sinned. They rebelled against God’s law. Accusations started, then sorrow, suffering, pain and death appeared. For no reason other than love for mankind, God implemented “Plan B.”
The plan of salvation is the first “Plan B” to be implemented in the Bible and it was put into effect because of God’s permissive will. God did not intend that Adam and Eve should sin. God did not make them sin. Eve was deceived by Lucifer and Adam willingly chose to sin.
Jesus loved Adam and Eve more than we can imagine. When they sinned, Jesus asked the Father if He could die in their place so that they might live again. The Bible says, “God so loved the world, that He gave His only son.” Four thousand years later, Jesus came to Earth and He was executed for our sins.
The death of Jesus was a “Plan B” operation. “Plan B” became necessary because Adam and Eve rebelled against God, but God has a permissive will. God has made a way possible for mankind to regain all that was lost.
One day, the Garden of Eden will be restored and when it is, the redeemed will know and understand things about the love and character of God that could not have been known if sin had not happened. Thus, under salvation’s “Plan B,” God initiated a course of events that will have an even greater and grander outcome than the original Garden of Eden “Plan A!”
2. After Moses killed the Egyptian taskmaster, he fled into the desert for fear that Pharaoh would kill him. Forty years later, God sent a reluctant Moses back to Egypt to lead His people out of slavery. I’m sure you know the story of the Exodus.
It is a magnificent story, but here is a component of the story that most people never think about. All of the adults who were miraculously delivered from Egypt were put to death in the wilderness, except Caleb and Joshua and their families.
Did God know what He was going to do the Israelites before they left Egypt? Yes. Did God deliver Israel from Egypt so that He could kill them in the wilderness? No. How do these facts align with God’s intended will and God’s permissive will?
Of course, God has perfect foreknowledge, but He will not use His foreknowledge to manipulate the outcome of any event. God can be trusted to keep His foreknowledge separate from His love! That’s what the book sealed with seven seals is all about. But that is another story.
God can’t manipulate our choices and declare that we have free will. (John 3:16; Revelation 22:17) Would a God of love miraculously deliver Israel from Egypt only to kill them in the desert. No! God fully intended to take Israel into the promised land within two years after leaving Egypt.
That was “Plan “A.” However, at Kadesh Barnea, when the twelve spies came back from Canaan, they led the Israelites into rebellion against God by giving a faithless report. God said, “very well, then you shall all die in the wilderness because of your rebellion” (Numbers 4) and they did.
During this forty years of wilderness exile, God raised up a new generation of people which He took through the Jordan river and into the promised land. Thus, a “Plan B” was implemented.
After reading these examples you may be wondering what God’s intended will and God’s permissive will have to do with women serving as pastors, priests, rabbis, etc. Actually, this: The role of women as pastors, teachers, evangelists, priests, etc. falls under God’s permissive will, “Plan B.”
When the work of God languishes because there aren’t enough qualified men, God calls and qualifies women to serve. This is true of prophets as well as pastors! Here are three women whom God called to serve as prophets: Anna, Luke 2:36; Huldah, 2 Kings 22:14 and Deborah, Judges 4:4.
The point here is that the office of prophet is higher than that of a pastor. In other words, if it was permissible for God to call women to serve as prophets, it is permissible for God to call women to serve as pastors. (More about this in a moment.)
God’s Intended Will: Male Dominance
Some theologians argue against having women pastors on the basis of “created order.” Catholic and Protestant leaders also base their “male only” position on Paul’s writings (including the texts you mentioned earlier).
They claim the words of Paul affirm the will of God which was first declared in the Old Testament and they have a very good point. From the beginning, God imposed a spiritual responsibility on men that He didn’t give to women! Please study the following paragraphs and as you do, keep God’s intended will in the back of your mind. (A whole book could be written on this topic, but I will make this short.)
1. Before there was sin, Adam did not “rule” over Eve as lord and master. Adam and Eve were male and female, both individuals were created in the image of God. Adam and Eve were united like the members of the Godhead are united, they were one in purpose, plan and action. Sin ruined this.
Because sin transforms the attitudes and natures of sinners, God declared that men would have authority over their wives. Eve’s sin forced generations of women into a role that might be described as slightly more elevated than that of a servant.
“To the woman he said, “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16)
I know that these words offend a lot of women today, and I know that some Baptists distort the intent of this text, but given the nature of sin, this text is profound and beautiful. Here’s why: After the fall, Adam and Eve changed. Both of them became naturally rebellious – toward God and one another.
The carnal nature rebels against authority naturally. To deal with our inner rebellion, God established two governments in the psyche of mankind. The first government occurs within the family unit and the second government becomes necessary when two or more families live in close proximity to each other.
(Think of the second government as local, state and national governance.) Both levels of government are divinely appointed. (Genesis 3:16; Romans 13:1) Each requires an executive officer. And interestingly enough, both governments naturally rise from within mankind. Every household has some form of government and so does every nation.
At the family level, each husband was appointed by God to be the trustee of his family. The male is accountable to God for the well being of his family—both spiritually and physically. From God’s point of view, every man who takes a wife also receives a serious responsibility for the spiritual and physical well being of his wife and any offspring they may create.
When a man and woman are married, they form a single corporation and the male becomes its chief executive officer. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24)
At this point, I need to make a few general statements and of course, general statements are not true in all cases. Because God knew that males would have a tendency to ignore, abandon or distort their spiritual responsibilities, God made the hearts of females naturally submissive not only to their husbands but to the Holy Spirit. Think about this, if a man and wife are equally dominant, the marriage can’t last.
No corporation endures if there are two competing chief executives. Because men are naturally more analytical than sensing, God has helped males to maintain their higher position by making females naturally inclined to defer to male leadership (if present) in matters of religion and government.
You have to remember that Lucifer studied Adam and Eve for some time before making his move to deceive them. Lucifer did not approach Adam because Adam was too analytical. Lucifer’s sophistry would have been discovered and his lies exposed if he approach Adam, but Eve was more trusting and less suspicious than Adam.
She found it quite easy to trust the beguiling words of the serpent. As I said, general statements they are not always true, but they do generally reflect a “created order” that is found throughout the world.
Because God appointed males to be the spiritual head of the house, God spoke mostly to males in the Bible times. God told “the man” not to eat of the tree. (Genesis 2:16) God spoke to the patriarchs – not to their wives. Noah was commissioned to build the ark.
The birthright was passed down from father to son – however, under the right circumstances there was a “Plan B”, the birthright could be transferred from father to daughter. (Joshua 17:4) Last, in the Old Testament, God is often called the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – never the God of Sarah, Rebekah and Leah/Rachel. Why is this? God established an order of male dominance.
In terms of establishing a family, men ask women to marry them, not the other way around. Why? Because there is created order. Men are physically capable of providing for a family. Men can defend their families in battle and they afford greater protection for the family than women can offer.
Men have been given survival abilities to a greater extent than women. These general statements testify that there is a “created order” or a “Plan A” and this was the order of life for thousands of years.
Peter affirms this saying: “For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.” (1 Peter 3:5–6)
2. The estate of women has been very sad for thousands of years. Most women have been poorly treated, poorly educated and held in low esteem ever since sin began. In fact, women in the United States only gained the right to own property and vote during the 20th century!
It would be fair to say that the status of women in third world countries today is deplorable. The point here is that every male-dominated culture tends to perpetuate itself by constantly denigrating women, depriving women of education and business opportunities and this continues largely because (a) men don’t respect women as equals and (b) men don’t want female competition.
In ancient times it was not uncommon for one man to have many wives. (Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines! 1 Kings 11:3) However, there are only a few instances in recorded history where one woman had many husbands simultaneously.
For better and worse, this has been a male-dominated world ever since sin began. So ladies, if there is any satisfaction with male dominance, it is that men are mostly responsible for the condition of the world. Smile.
3. Paul’s counsel to the church at Corinth (1 Corinthians 14:34) and to Timothy (1 Timothy 2:12) reflects God’s intended will. Male dominance was clearly imposed upon Israel at the time of the Exodus. “Consecrate to me every firstborn male. The first offspring of every womb among the Israelites belongs to me, whether man or animal.” (Exodus 13:2)
Paul’s training was that of a Pharisee. He appeals to the unspoken doctrine of male dominance when instructing Timothy about church operations. Paul wrote: “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission [to men]. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve.
And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who [being weaker] was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing [raising a family]—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.” (1 Timothy 2:11–15, insertions mine)
Now, look at this passage written by Paul to the church at Corinth. It sounds harsh in today’s culture of equality for women, but you must remember that Paul’s view of women was consistent with Israel’s male dominance culture of fifteen hundred years.
Israel’s priests were males. Israel’s teachers were males. Israel’s elders were males. Furthermore, women worshiping alongside men in church was a recent transition in Paul’s day. In Judaism, women were not allowed to enter into the inner court of the temple for worship!
However, women could worship in the synagogues where they were required to sit segregated from men. Once these background matters are understood, Paul’s words to the church in Corinth are to be expected: “And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down [in the meeting], the first speaker should stop. For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. [In other words, prophets must exercise self control.]
For God is not a God of disorder but of peace. As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law [of Moses] says. If they [don’t understand something and] want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak [up] in the church [service].” (1 Corinthians 14:30, insertions mine)
4. One could conclude, and many women do, that Paul disliked women. I don’t think Paul disliked women. Actually, I think Paul is more concerned about upholding male dominance and this position appears to put women down unless “Plan A” is understood. It is true that no ship can have two captains.
Someone has to bear the ultimate responsibility for the management of the ship. Every marriage has to have a leader, someone who oversees the business and direction of the family. Every government has to have a leader. It is true that many women are smarter, brighter and more capable as business heads than their husbands.
Should these gifts nullify God’s order of male dominance? No. Should women rule over their husbands? No. Should a man thoughtfully consider the counsel of his wife? Yes. Should a man abdicate his responsibilities and turn them over to his wife? No. Should a man consider his wife to be “a voting member of the board?” Yes. Should the wife feel free to express her thoughts? Yes. If the husband is inept or negligent should a capable wife step in and take the helm of the family? Yes! It is better for the marriage to succeed than to fail. The survival of the family unit is a high priority for God. That’s why he established male dominance in the first place.
Someone has to be accountable, someone has to lead and take responsibility, but when the male is unable or unwilling to carry out his responsibilities, God is pleased to have the woman takes over. (1 Samuel 25; Proverbs 31:10–28) This is His permissive will.
5. What does God say about women serving as pastors? Before I fully address this question, I would like to present a profound truth. During the Great Tribulation, God will have 144,000 servants speaking for Him all over the Earth. For reasons beyond the scope of this study, these individuals will be both males and females.
“Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days. I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.” (Joel 2:29–31) The point here is that God does not view women as lesser human beings. On the contrary, in the last days, God will speak equally through women and men.
It is true that God put males in charge of things until the time comes for the restoration of Earth, but in many cases, men have neglected, distorted or rejected this responsibility and they have not produced the fruit which God desired. This male-dominated world is in a big mess.
Conclusion: When God separates a male or female from ordinary people to serve as a pastor, the evidence of that calling will be seen – even if the organization itself fails to recognize it. Eventually, the calling of every pastor, teacher or evangelist can be measured (quantified) because that person will produce fruit that proves their calling!
In many situations, if God calls a woman to serve as a pastor, teacher or evangelist, it make take a few years before her church family recognizes that God has truly called her to serve. It takes time for fruit to mature and develop and it takes time for those around her to admit that yes, she is truly called of God.
However, once the elders of a church body recognize God’s calling in their midst, the right thing to do is to affirm it. They should support God’s servant for He called her! We have already noticed in Joel 2 that God’s final servants on Earth will also include women! Why? Because God calls women when there are not enough men to accomplish His will.
In closing, I would like to offer an interesting parallel. As the Christian faith invaded Judaism, the leaders of Israel became very angry and they did everything possible (including murder) to stop Christianity from spreading. One day, the apostles were arrested for preaching in the name of Jesus and they were handed over to the Sanhedrin who were ready to kill them.
“But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. Then he addressed them: ‘Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.’ “ (Acts 5:34–39)
I hope this helps!
PS: Here’s seven “sound bites” that I have created for fun. Use them if you see fit:
“During the days of Esther, God used a woman to save the entire nation of Israel, so what’s wrong with God using a woman to save a few souls?”
“If there were enough men—humble and willing to serve the Lord, He wouldn’t be calling on women.”
“It’s interesting that Christian husbands are very pleased to have dedicated wives teaching their children the essentials of life, things like morals, honesty, integrity and Bible stories. But let a woman speak on these matters publicly, and they get furious. Makes me wonder about men.”
“If you believe that Paul’s comments about women speaking in church is God’s truth, then you’re going to have to accept Paul’s comments about taking your wife to bed: Leave her alone!” 1 Cor 7:29
“It’s true that a woman can’t always do a man’s work. But, when it comes to answering the call of the Lord, what is a woman supposed to do? Send her husband?”
“Yes, this is a male dominated world. Do you see anything that needs improvement?”
“The Bible warns in Revelation 14 that if any man worships the beast, he will receive the wrath of God. It’s interesting that God chose to warn males this way.”