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Can women be elders?

In our day and time this is a very emotionally charged issue, but I am personally convinced that Scripture teaches us that women should not be elders nor should women be in leadership positions where they exercise authority over men. I believe this includes being the teacher in a class where men are present such as a Sunday school class.

In churches that do not have an elder form of government, as in many Baptist churches, the deacons really function like elders. They are the leaders of the church and exercise governmental authority or leadership. In such cases, what is true of elders would apply here as well. The point being that women should not hold the position of elder or deacon where they function like elders. The biblical basis for this is found in passages like 1 Tim. 2:11f and even 3:1f since this clearly refers to men as is evident by clause, “the husband of one wife” in 3:2.

While men and women are equal in Christ, equality does not remove the distinctions between manhood and womanhood or of roles. This is clearly evident in the Godhead. While Christ is equal with the Father, being God of very God, He nevertheless submits to the Father (see 1 Cor. 11:3; 15:27-28). Just as husbands are declared to be the head of the home and are to lead (never domineer, but lead as servants, etc.), so men are to be the leaders in the church. This role has been sorely distorted because of the fall of man into sin and only by our new life in Christ can these distortions be removed, but that does not mean the removal of the distinctions in male and femaleness nor of roles and responsibilities. For an excellent web cite that covers many of these issues, may I suggest Council On Biblical Manhood and Womanhood at www.cbmw.org.

In general, the work of deacons is one of helping the elders in their ministry and may be illustrated by Acts 6. But the question here is whether or not the mention of women in the list of requirements for deacons in 1 Tim. 3:11 refers to deaconesses in an official capacity, to the wives of deacons, or to helpers of deacons. Debate has continued on this issue for a long time. As an illustration, in the Ryrie Study Bible, Ryrie states:

Most likely a reference to the wives of the deacons, rather than to a separate office of deaconess, since the qualifications for deacons are continued in verse 12. If he had a different group in mind, it would seem more natural for Paul to have finished the qualifications for deacons before introducing the office of deaconess.

The note in the NIV Study Bible has a similar note:

3:11 their wives. The Greek for this phrase simply means “the women” and therefore could refer to (1) deacons’ wives, (2) deaconesses (see NIV text note) or (3) female deacons. However, the fact that deacons are referred to again in vv. 12-13 seems to rule out a separate office of deaconess, but many judge otherwise.

Regarding 1 Tim. 2:12, Ryrie succinctly states what I believe to be the correct position on this passage:

Women are not to assume the office of teacher in the church (see 1 Cor. 14:34). Women may teach as long as they do not usurp the place of leadership and authority of men in the church. Older women are specifically entrusted with teaching younger women (Titus 2:3-5). The injunction is based on the relationship of man and woman in the original creation (Gen. 2:18; 3:6).

The two main viewpoints on this verse can be seen in the NIV Study Bible’s notes on 2:12:

Some believe that Paul here prohibited teaching only by women not properly instructed, i.e., by the women at Ephesus. Such women tended to exercise authority over, i.e., to domineer, the men. Others maintain that Paul did not allow a woman to be an official teacher in the assembled church. This is indicated by the added restriction concerning exercising “authority over a man” (a male), i.e., functioning as an overseer. . .).

Related Topics: Issues in Church Leadership/Ministry