Can Women be Elders? – Part 2

by Dez Pain http://www.rgbstock.com/images/dez+pain
by Dez Pain
http://www.rgbstock.com/images/dez+pain

In Part 1, I consider that Gender neutrality is evident in 1 Tim 3:1, indicating that from the outset God is open to both male and female elders. 1Tim 3:1 reads, “This is a true saying, If a man (Gk. tis – anyone) desire the office of a bishop, he (not in Gk.) desireth a good work.

However, even if Paul had only males in mind for elders when writing to Timothy, we need to keep in mind that Paul was not writing a manual, but a letter for an occasion and our interpretation of God’s word needs to keep this in mind. As such, we should consider that Paul was quite easily being descriptive of elders and deacons as males, for this was where the church was at socially, but that this was not necessarily being prescriptive for eternity.

This is obvious for us in our time on the issue of slavery, about which Paul also wrote on concerning slaves and slave-owners, and yet we do not take what he wrote as an endorsement of slavery. Also, we do not believe that his writing on slavery within the church requires it to be an eternally prescriptive element for church and society, though it is in the eternal word of God. Why? Because we have learned to interpret, sensitive to the context and not willy-nilly apply what we read.

So, just as slavery was not being endorsed by its inclusion in Paul’s writings, female eldership is not to be disallowed by its exclusion from his writings, if indeed it was excluded.

Remember, that in Christ we are restored to the equality at creation (Gen 1:28), male rule since the fall (Gen 3:16) is ended, and there is “neither male nor female”, we are all “Sons of God” and we regard “no man according to the flesh”. What reason then would God have to be gender exclusive when it comes to the role of eldership? None!

Rob Morley

13 thoughts on “Can Women be Elders? – Part 2

  1. My one reservation in this is symbolism. The sanctuary service was rich with symbolism, and the priests and high priest represented Christ. The furniture and services pointed forward to Jesus’ first advent, and also the judgment, etc. Since Jesus, we still have symbolism in the bread and wine and baptism. Does the person leading the church represent Christ? Is it important to maintain the symbolism with a male? Part of my own response is that not all the sacrifices were of male animals, yet they all pointed to Jesus. (Although the scapegoat – in the context of other bible prophecy is likely to represent Satan. Jesus was never led into the desert to perish, and I believe it refers to the end of time when the ultimate responsibility for sin is placed back where it belongs. I can find the texts if you are interested.) I don’t think it’s worth being divisive over the issue of women in ministry – for example, in certain countries and cultural contexts. Women can still serve, and God always finds a work for them, in a similar way that in countries where there is persecution, people find a way to serve the Lord and communicate the gospel.

    1. Hi Lisa,
      Thanks for your thoughtful response. Here are some further thoughts of mine in light of what you have commented:

      You ask, “Does the person leading the church represent Christ?”
      In response, I would like to draw attention to the fact that Christ leads the Church, His body, of which He is the Head. He leads each individual member to act according to His directives. In this set-up, elders are not meant to lead in a top-down manner, but through example and servanthood among the flock (Matt. 20:25-27). No person (singular) led any New Testament church, but a plurality of elders without rank was normative in the churches where all the members, individually and corporately, “represent Christ”. If you are interested, I have a post on this entitled, No Rank, only Roles in the Body of Christ.

      You wonder, “Is it important to maintain the symbolism with a male?”
      Firstly, we need to avoid continuing a symbol or creating a symbol not authorized by God. Keep in mind that Christ fulfills the Law and its symbolisms. He is now the leader of the Church and its individual churches to whom all symbolism of the OT had pointed. As for the members “in Christ”, in contrast to the limitations in the Old Covenant and worldly social norms, “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28).

      I agree that we need to sensitively handle these issues in different cultures (even within churches in cultures like our own), but with the aim of eventually bringing about the fullest expression of God’s intentions as expressed in His word. Recognizing that God makes ways where man restricts should not have us acquiesce to the status quo.

      Yes, God makes ways in difficult circumstances, but we are not to leave wrong interpretations unaddressed. Consider how Jesus railed against the Pharisees on this. Also, had Catholicism’s traditions and message of salvation by works not been confronted, many of us would have been more stifled in our ability to express Christ individually and corporately. Consider that had slavery not eventually been confronted, we may have still had it even in our churches today.

      As I see it, whether or not it is “worth” addressing, should be measured by who God is in totality and not by what God does despite us. So, instead of saying, “I don’t think it’s worth being divisive over the issue of women in ministry”, I would rather argue that I don’t think it is worth being restrictive over the issue of women in ministry, as the reformers and abolitionists did on their issues.

    1. Hi Steven,
      Yes, in English it is difficult to see as it is translated with reference to males. However, in the Greek, 1 Tim 3:5 reads, “for if someone (tis – gender neutral) does not know how to manage his/her/their own household, how will he/she/they (pro-noun is non-existent) care for God’s church?

      1. Hi Steven,

        I explain this in “Can Women Be Elders? – Part 1” at https://realchurchlife.wordpress.com/2015/01/13/can-women-be-elders/. If you have a chance, you might want to look at this.

        In a nutshell, I Tim 3:1 is gender neutral. Then, 1 Tim 3:2-4, for brevity sake, is the description of the typical candidate of the time. The omission of single men and woman in these verses is not to be interpreted as the exclusion of them. Then, in 1 Tim 3:5 Paul returns to the gender neutral terms he began with in 1 Tim 3:1.

      2. Yes and therefore the specifc restricts the general. There is similar exegetical controversy about the principle of Submitting to one another in love, and then the “case by case” exposition of how that is played out. Wives submit to husbands, children submit to parents etc.

        Following your thinking, does it follow that if my wife was an elder, I would be required to submit to her in church/spiritual matters, yet not in the household.

        yet this thinking is in direct contravention of wives submitting to husbands.

        (don’t misunderstand me, I am not on a power trip about submission, I am fully aware that I will be held accountable for the spiritual climate of my household. And, in my experience, the more I submit to the Holy Spirit, that same Holy Spirit who also lives inside my wife, will attest to her spirit that it is OK to follow. Yes – I am a continuing work in progress :-)!!)

        I take it you are not a fan of Wayne Grudmen or Richard Phillips on this topic :-)!!

        My understanding of exegisis (in part) is what is the principle in that cultural context, and then apply that principle (not reinterpret it to our current cultural context), to our way of life. And of course, you take those verses and see how they fit in the chapter, and then in the book, and then in the entire Word of God.

        I have checked against my Greek Testament, and I agree with your hermenustic analysis. I’m not understanding why you exegetically sideline v.2-4 in light of other Scripture.

      3. Hi Steven,
        As I see it, the specific does not restrict the general. This is not the only interpretive mechanism to use, especially when it contradicts Scripture. By your argument Eph. 5:21 is limited by Eph. 5:22, which, according to you, specifies that wives are to do the submitting in marriages. Yet, a spirit of mutual submission is evident in Eph. 5:21, because later in the passage it says that slaves are to obey (be subordinate) to their masters (Eph. 6:5) and then, “Masters, do the same to them” (Eph. 6:9).

        Consider that in 1 Peter 5:5 it specifically says, “the younger is to submit to the elder”, but then immediately in 1 Peter 5:6 it becomes general when it says, “ye are all to be subject to one another”. In this instance, it is clear that the specific command does not have bearing on the general. And, it stands to reason that younger masters are to submit to older slaves even though slaves are specifically told to be subject to their masters.

        Also, we cannot assume that the specific command has bearing on the general in the case of Eph. 5:21-22 or 1 Tim 3:1-5 simply because the general is stated first.

        As I see it, the general call in 1 Peter 5:6 “ye are all to be subject to one another” and Ephesians 5:21 “submitting to one another in reverence for Christ” is in agreement with Galatians 3:28, which reads that “in Christ Jesus”, not in coming to Christ Jesus, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female”.

        Regarding spouses, they are required to submit to one another regardless of eithers’ role in the church and to one another at all times in the home. There is no rank in the church nor in a spousal relationship pre-Fall (Gen 1:28) nor since the Resurrection.

        I agree with your approach to exegesis! And, I confirm it by my interpretation of this passage.

        No, I am not fond of Grudem’s theology of Complementarianism. It is an untenable approach to the logic of Scripture and offers very vague proposals for its practice. Arguing full-blown Patriarchy would be wrong too, but it is at least more logical than Complementarianism.

        It appears to me that Complementarianism’s main proponents don’t quite know how to make it work.

        As to the extent that women can be involved in leadership IN SOCIETY, ‘John Piper and Wayne Grudem, representing the Complementarian position, say that they are “not as sure in this wider sphere which roles can be carried out by men or women”.[12]’
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biblical_patriarchy

        Then, in support of his own view, Randy Alcorn gives Grudem’s proposal for women IN MINISTRY. He says the following:
        ‘Grudem lists 28 possible roles in the church (the number could be greatly increased, he realizes), and he proposes that nine of those should be restricted to men and the other 19 open to both men and women. Of course, he is only giving his opinion, and nearly everyone would adjust the list one way or the other, but I believe he is trying to do justice to Scripture while maintaining a position of “if uncertain, if the Bible isn’t clear, give the benefit of doubt to women being able to take the role.”’

        Grudem and Piper (and Alcorn) are not very concrete or reassuring. In my mind they appear to be floundering in no-man’s land of Complementarianism. They cannot embrace all the restrictions on women in society found in Biblical Patriarchy, but this is where they theologically belong. And Christian Egalitarianism, the only alternative, is an understanding not acceptable to them.

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