Can a Woman Preach If Elders Affirm It?
Welcome back to a new week. Here’s a leadership question, Pastor John. Does 1 Timothy 2:12 leave open the possibility that women are permitted to preach in the weekly gathering of a local church as an extension of the male elders of the church or as an expression under their governing authority? For example, is the wife of a pastor free to preach in a Sunday gathering?
Well, I don’t want to assume that any of our listeners have all the biblical foundations in place for doing this kind of refined-application thinking. So let me put a few things in place and then I will specifically answer the question. Here is the text that we are talking about: 1 Timothy 2:11–14.
"Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor."
So let me work backward in that text toward my answer to the question. And I would remind the listeners that every one of these comments raises more questions. So there is a book, a little book, called 50 Crucial Questions About Manhood and Womanhood that Wayne Grudem and I did, and it is free online at Desiring God as a PDF. And if you have more questions, I hope they are answered there; at least some of them will be, I hope.
So Paul gives two reasons, and they are not the only ones for why he would limit the teaching and governing office of the church to spiritually qualified men.
Adam, Then Eve
Reason number one — verse 13: Adam was formed first, then Eve. This is shorthand for about eight to ten pointers in Genesis 1–3 that God intended the man to bear a unique responsibility — not sole responsibility, but unique and special responsibility for leadership in relation to women.
“God intended the man to bear a unique and special responsibility for leadership.”
That man was created first is one of those eight to ten pointers and, in a sense, symbolizes all the others. You are there first. You bear first responsibility to lead, to protect, especially when it comes to attacks from outside, which was just about to happen in chapter three, as Satan approaches the couple. Who will take up responsibility to be the protector and the spokesman here and give leadership in the face of this kind of opposition? So that is number one. Adam was formed first, and then Eve.
The second argument he gives is based on that order being ignored, namely, when Satan comes, and it appears that both Adam and Eve are present — that is pretty plain in the text in Genesis 3:6. Adam and Eve ignored that order, and Paul says, “Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.” What does that mean? There is a sense in which Adam was deceived. He did eat. In fact, when Paul treats the fall of man in Romans 5, he lays the guilt entirely on Adam, never even mentioning Eve as the guilty party here.
So my understanding is not that Paul is drawing attention to a woman’s greater gullibility, although in reality I would say men are more gullible in some things and women are more gullible in some things. Lots of studies have been done on the kinds of advertising that draw men in and the kind that draw women in. And we are all differently gullible.
So I don’t want to be naïve and say we are exactly the same in our gullibility, but I am not sure that is the focus of Paul here. The main point is the reason she was deceived is that the deceiver lured her and Adam to switch places that God had appointed.
It is as if the general and the colonel — the man and the woman — rode up to the enemy together, and the enemy utterly ignored the general, spoke directly to the colonel, and they both, the general and the colonel, let it happen.
Genesis 3:6 says that the man was with Eve while the enemy was talking to her: “She took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.” Satan’s first assault was on the order that God had appointed. And both Adam and Eve at that moment were duped. They let it happen.
When Paul says Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived, he is saying Satan undermined the order of creation and focused his deceptive words on Eve and made her the spokesman, not Adam, and she became the focus of the deception, not Adam. Adam failed in his leadership, and she was willing to take it up. And the result was the fall and all of its consequences.
Not About Competency
So from those two arguments in this text, Paul draws the conclusion in verse 12, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man.” In other words, there is an order of how men and women are to relate to each other. “Rather, she is to remain quiet.”
Those two words — teach and have authority — are the very two differences between a deacon and an elder in the local church as Paul describes them in the list of responsibilities in chapter three. Elders are to govern well, and they are to be apt to teach. The deacons aren’t supposed to be either of those. And, therefore, I take verse 12 to mean, “I don’t permit a woman to assume the role of an elder in the church, to act the role of an elder.” Whether you call them elders, it doesn’t matter. It is the acting of the role of the elder in the church, since they are the ones charged with the responsibility of authoritative teaching.
“Elders are the ones charged with the responsibility of authoritative teaching.”
And, of course, not all teaching is inappropriate for women. Titus 2:3: She is to teach the younger women, for example. But the kind of teaching that belongs to the eldership, namely, the teaching that carries authority over men, is what Paul thinks would compromise God’s order. That is the issue, not competency.
Don’t ever make the mistake of thinking, Oh, a woman is not permitted to do this kind of authoritative teaching because she is incompetent. That is not the issue. The issue is that it would compromise the way men and women are supposed to relate to each other.
So, Can a Woman Preach?
Okay, all that to put in place the question. Here is the question. Let me remind the listener: Does 1 Timothy 2:12 leave open the possibility that women are permitted to preach in the weekly gathering of the local church as an extension or under the governing authority of the male elders of the church?
My answer is no.
Neither of those qualifications — that is, an extension of or under the governing authority of — overrides the teaching of verse 12. Paul would say a female is not a proper extension of male leadership. That doesn’t make sense. That is a contradiction of male leadership, not an extension of male leadership.
A woman teaching men with authority — week in and week out or every other week or regularly in an adult Sunday school class or whatever — a woman teaching men with authority under the elders is not under the authority of the New Testament. She may be under the authority of the elders, but she is not under the authority of the New Testament, and neither would they be for putting her in that situation.
So I would conclude, no. It is inappropriate for churches to do that. God loves his church. He loves men and women. He loves to see all of us flourish in the use of our gifts. No man or woman should sit on the sidelines of Christian ministry. Let that be plain. No woman and no man sits on the sidelines in Christian ministry. The question is not whether all men and women should be active in ministry. They should. The only question is how.