Women in Ministry (with Portuguese Interpretation)

FIEL Conference for Pastors and Leaders | São Paulo, Brazil

Let me begin with several general statements that let you know where I stand.

Five General Statements on Men and Women

The first general statement would be all Christians — men and women — are ministers because it says in Ephesians 4:12 that pastors are “to equip the saints to do the work of the ministry.” So, every woman and every man is a minister.

The second general point would be ministry is the channeling of God’s grace through spiritual gifts for the upbuilding of the people and the ingathering of the elect. It says in 1 Peter 4:10, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” So, all women and all men have spiritual gifts. These gifts are a stewarding of grace for other people.

Third general statement: All spiritual gifts are given to both men and women. Saying this does not decide how those gifts should be used, however. For example, if a woman has the gift of teaching, that does not decide whether she should teach men and women. That’s another question.

Fourth general statement: My position is that the pastorate or the eldership is to be borne, or the responsibility of it is to be taken by men and not women. I think that is taught in 1 Timothy 2:12, and we’re going to come back to that in a moment and deal with it in detail.

The next general statement goes like this. The real action of the ministry is the ministry of the people, the saints to each other, as you use your spiritual gifts in small groups and in natural settings, ministering to each other. So many people think that the ministry is being a pastor or a deacon or a committee member, but that’s not correct. Those people exist to help free everybody else for ministry.

The last general statement — a list of reasons why I think there is a difference between men and women in who should have the eldership.

  1. I think this is what 1 Timothy 2:12 teaches.
  2. I think this fits with the general picture of biblical complementarity, the picture in Genesis, the picture in the ministry of Jesus, and the picture in the apostolic teaching.
  3. I have never seen any other texts that call this difference into question. I have considered many of the arguments on the other side, and none of them seem compelling to me.
  4. I think God loves us, and therefore, what he tells us to do in the church is good for us. It’s good for women and it’s good for men. I can’t decide what is good for me. God needs to decide that.

The Difficulty and Unpopularity of 1 Timothy 2:11–14

Let’s go now to 1 Timothy 2:11–14. This is probably the most unpopular text in America today. If an American pastor wants to be put out of his church, let him preach on this text.

It’s very difficult, and I am aware that there will be people here who strongly disagree with me. I don’t claim to have the last final word. I’m simply telling you what I believe the Bible teaches. Then you must apply it in your situation as God leads. Let’s read it now.

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.

Now, the way I would like to approach this text is to pick three keywords and discuss them. The word silence: “Let a woman learn in silence.” Secondly, the word teaching: “I permit no woman to teach,” and third, authority: “Or to have authority over men.” Let’s take those one at a time.

Understanding Silence

In 1 Timothy 2:11, it says, “Let a woman learn in silence.” Now, what does this silence mean? Does it mean she may not say a single word in the church, or is there a kind of silence that allows for some kind of speech but not others?

Notice first of all that it says she is to learn in silence. So the setting seems to be one of teaching and learning. I take it to refer to a worship service or a teaching setting.

Here’s the second thing to notice. The word for silence here occurs again in 1 Timothy 2:2. It’s the same Greek word, basically, hésuchios. But notice what it means in verse two. Paul says, “That we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”

Now, I think that gives you the tone and the meaning of the word silence. He says we are praying that our lives will be able to be lived in quietness, and I understand that in Portuguese as well as English, there’s a different connotation in quietness and silence. The word, I think, means quietness, not total silence.

Now, let’s see if that works in verse 12. There it says, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over men, but to be silent,” or “to be in quietness.” So what quietness is meant here? It seems to be the opposite of exercising authority over men. So perhaps the least we can say is this. Notice in 1 Timothy 2:11 that this quietness is to be in all submissiveness. So in verse 12, it’s the opposite of authority over man, and in verse 11, it’s an expression of submissiveness.

So in view of 1 Timothy 2:2 and in view of 1 Timothy 2:11–12, it seems to me that quietness means this: not speaking in a way that compromises the authority of man or calls the authority of the elders into question. So I doubt that it means total silence. I could be wrong, but that’s what I think. Now, we’ll come back to that in a moment.

Examining Teaching

Let’s look at the second word, teaching. In 1 Timothy 2:12, it says, “I permit no woman to teach.” Now, is that absolute? May women do no teaching at any time? Well, the way to answer that would be to look at other places in the teaching of Paul where women do teach.

For example, Titus 2:3–4. There you have the older women teaching the younger women. It says, “They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children.” So there’s at least one kind of teaching that women are doing.

Here’s the second text: 2 Timothy 3:14. Paul tells Timothy to remember who it was who taught him the Scriptures. Now, who was it that taught Timothy the Scriptures? We know from 2 Timothy 1:5 that it was his mother and grandmother. Their names were Lois and Eunice. His father was not a believer. We know that from Acts 16. So where the father is not a believer, a mother or a grandmother or a sister should teach the word to the children.

Here’s the third illustration of women teaching. In Acts 18:26, it says when Priscilla and Aquila heard Apollos, they took him and expounded or taught to him the way of God more accurately. So here’s a husband and a wife in an informal setting together instructing a man.

So, we have at least these three situations, older women teaching younger women, women teaching a child, and a woman with her husband informally instructing another man.

So when Paul says, “I do not permit a woman to teach,” what does he mean? I think we get a clue from its position next to the phrase: “and not have authority over men.” I think we should take the two phrases together: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over men.” So that probably what Paul means is something like this: “I don’t think women should teach when their teaching is part of an exercise of authority in the church.”

So the second phrase about authority influences the meaning of the first phrase. The reason I let the second phrase influence the meaning of the first one is because of those other passages that showed women were teaching in some settings. So it would not be true to say Paul means, “I forbid women to teach, absolutely.” Now, we’ll come back to that too.

Unpacking Authority

Let’s look at the third word, the word authority. What is the meaning of authority here? I think one of the insights that unlocks the meaning of this text goes like this.

There are two qualifications that distinguish an elder from a deacon. There are two aspects of the elder’s role that a deacon does not have. We can see what these are in the list of qualifications in 1 Timothy 3, and we can see what they are in 1 Timothy 5:17. Let me read that with you and point them out. It says,

Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. (1 Timothy 5:17)

The two things that distinguish an elder from a deacon is the role of presiding and the role of teaching in the church. It’s very interesting that in the list of qualifications, elders must be apt to teach but not deacons. Elders are called to administrate and give oversight, not deacons.

Now, the reason this is so important is that these are the very two things that a woman is forbidden to exercise in 1 Timothy 2:12. One, “I do not permit a woman to teach,” and two, “I do not permit a woman to have authority over men.” Those are the very two things that distinguish an elder from a deacon.

So here’s my conclusion. I think at least what Paul is saying is this, “I don’t believe or I don’t permit women to exercise the role of an elder.” What more than that it may mean we could discuss, but at least it seems to mean that.

The Nature of Authority and Leadership

Now, let’s talk for a minute about the nature of that authority and leadership that the elders are to have. It says in Luke 22:26, “Let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves.”

So the first thing we can say about the kind of authority an elder should have is that it should be a servant authority. Let the leader become as one who serves. Then Paul describes his own authority like this. He says, for example, in 2 Corinthians 10:8 and 13:10, “God gave me this authority in the church not for tearing down but for building up.” So the authority of leaders in the church is to build people up, not to tear them down.

A third observation about the leadership and the authority comes from 1 Peter 5:3, where Peter says, “Do not domineer over those in your charge but be examples to the flock.” So the authority of an elder is not to rise above and oppress people, but coming alongside and being the example for people. It’s very similar to the way a husband and a wife relate in marriage. To be a head in the home is to be a sacrificial loving leader, and to be an elder in the church is to be a sacrificial Christ-like loving leader.

Authority and Submission in the Church

So let me try to give two brief definitions of authority and submission in the church. We did this yesterday in the home. Let’s do it now in the church. Authority refers to the divine calling of men to take responsibility as elders for Christ-like servant leadership and teaching in the church.

Notice the emphasis again falls on bearing responsibility, not taking rights. In fact, James says, “Let not many of you become teachers” (James 3:1). It’s a frightening responsibility to be held accountable for the saints of God.

Here’s the definition, now, of submission. Submission refers to the divine calling of the rest of the church, both men and women, to honor and to affirm the leadership and teaching of the elders, and to be equipped by them for the hundreds of various ministries available to men and women in the service of Christ.

Now, that last point about hundreds of ministries is very important. I speak on this topic in schools around America. Thirty percent of the students in seminaries in America today are women. When I speak in those seminaries, many of them are very angry at me.

One of the things that they very often say goes like this, “Well, if you tell us we can’t be a pastor, what can we do?” which always strikes me as an amazing question. My response goes something like this. There are about six billion people in the world. Probably two-thirds of them have not been reached with the gospel. Probably 75 percent of those unreached people are women or children under 15. If you have a heart to save souls, if you have a heart to heal broken lives, if you have a heart to resist evil, if you have a heart to meet needs, the possibilities of ministry to these are unlimited. Take the women and the children, and do anything you want to bring them to Christ.

Now, that usually does not satisfy anybody because it feels like discrimination to say, “You may not be a pastor.” At that point, I just back off and say, “I’m just telling you what I think the Bible teaches.” The conclusion so far is that it’s God’s will that in the church that there be a company of humble, spiritual men who bear the primary responsibility for leadership and teaching in the church.

Biblical Reasons Why Women Should Not Be Elders

Now, more light will be shed on this if we go to the next two verses. In 1 Timothy 2:13–14, Paul gives two reasons why he thinks women should not be the elders in the church, and notice very carefully that the reasons are not based on culture. So many people say that the only reason we don’t have women pastors is because it’s a cultural thing, or they say it’s because of sin in the men, but notice here — notice that Paul’s arguments are not from culture, and they are before sin entered the world. Let’s take them one at a time and look at them carefully.

Order of Creation

In verse 13, the first argument goes like this: “Adam was formed first, then Eve.” Now, that’s given as a reason for why women are not permitted to exercise authority over men. Paul looks back before the fall and he says, “Adam was created first, Adam was put into the garden, he was taught the moral responsibility of how to relate to those trees — the tree of the knowledge of good and evil — and then God created woman as a partner and assistant to Adam in this garden.”

Now, Paul reads this and he says, “That means something.” Just as the man came first in creation, Paul thinks there should be a primary responsibility in relationship to woman. So his argument here is not from culture, it’s not from sin, it’s from the order of creation — who we were before sin ruined everything.

If God had wanted to make very plain in creation that men and women have the same roles, it seems like in 1 Timothy 2 he would have created man and woman simultaneously. At least the apostle Paul sees very great significance in the fact that the man was created first and the woman was created second. This does not at all call into question the equality of value in men and women.


Here’s argument number two in 1 Timothy 2:14: “And Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.” Now, what does this mean? Historically, many interpreters have said it means that women are more deceivable, and because they’re more vulnerable to deception, they should not have a role in teaching. Now, is that what this text means? Before I answer that question, let me insert a parenthesis.

When people ask me, “Do you think women are smarter than men or men are smarter than women? Do you think women are weaker or men are weaker? Do you think women are more easily frightened or men are more easily frightened?”

Here’s the way I answer: Women are weaker in some ways, and men are weaker in some ways, and women are smarter in some ways, and men are smarter in some ways, and women are more easily frightened in some kinds of situations, and men are more easily frightened in other kinds of situations, and it is very dangerous to put a negative value on those supposed weaknesses because every time a man or a woman has a weakness, God’s purpose is that it will draw out and highlight the strength of the opposite sex.

So I picture a graph or two columns. Over here, I list the strengths and the weaknesses of men, and over here, I list the characteristics, strengths, and weaknesses of women. If God gave big numbers to the strengths and little numbers to the weaknesses, and he added both columns up at the bottom, the sum at the bottom of both would be the same. If you took the woman’s strengths and weaknesses and laid it on top of the man’s strengths and weaknesses, there would be a perfect complementarity.

Now, I want men to be careful in thinking of their superior physical strength as a virtue. Six times more men than women are arrested for drug abuse. Six times more men than women are arrested for drug abuse. These statistics come from America. Ten times more men than women are arrested for drunkenness. Eighty-three percent of all serious crimes in America are committed by men. Twenty-five times more men than women are in prison. Virtually all sexual assault is committed by men.

So are we going to boast about our strength? What I’m pointing out is with every strength, there comes weaknesses, and in many weaknesses, there are strengths.

Now, let’s go back to 1 Timothy 2:14. Even if this verse means women are more deceivable, it may only mean they are more deceivable in certain kinds of situations. Even if it meant that, it does not call the equal value and worth of the woman into question, but I’m going to argue now in the remaining minutes that that’s not what this text means.

Argument Rooted in Creation

I invite you to turn with me to Genesis 3 because that is where Paul is taking his argument from. He’s arguing that the woman was deceived, and the man was not deceived. Therefore, women should not teach or have authority over men. So how does this argument work? Let’s make several observations from Genesis 3.

Observation number one comes from Genesis 3:1. It says, “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman.” Why did he address the woman? He’s very subtle. Is it because he knows she’s more vulnerable to deceit, or might it be that he knows she’s not supposed to be the leader here and he’s making her the leader? Is he pushing her into the role of the spokesman? Just keep that in mind for a moment.

Here’s observation number two. It comes from Genesis 3:6, and in Eben-Ezer’s Portuguese translation, it’s not there. I’ll read it in English, and he’ll point out what’s missing. “When the woman saw that the tree was good for food and it was a delight to the eyes and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate, and she gave also to her husband,” and now right here, the Hebrew has, “who was with her” or “with her and him.”

In other words, the Hebrew says he was there, not that he came there. The text never says that Adam arrived. The text assumes Adam has been there all along. Adam was there in Genesis 3:1 when Satan spoke to the woman, and he said nothing. He just listened.

Now, to show you that this is the case. Look at Genesis 3:17. God is bringing judgment upon the man. What did the man do wrong? Was the wrong simply that he ate the fruit, or was the wrong in the way he related to his wife? Here’s what it says, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you.”

Now, think of this. It does not say anywhere in Genesis 3 that she spoke to Adam. So what was he listening to? At least he was listening to the conversation that his wife had with the tempter, and he said nothing. This is a great tragedy.

The Danger of Forsaking God’s Order

Now, let’s try to sum up what Satan was doing here, and I commend this interpretation for your serious considerations. Satan came to the man and the woman. Satan knows the order that God has established. It’s a beautiful order. The man is to take special responsibility for leadership and protection, and the woman is to gladly affirm that leadership, and Satan hates that order. He hates man and woman. He wants to destroy life. He wants to destroy marriage, and he wants to destroy the church.

So what’s his plan? He looks at the man, the leader, and turns away from him, and he addresses the woman. In doing that, he is making fun of God’s order. He’s very subtle. He didn’t make a speech about how bad the order was. He just drew her into the role of spokesman and leader. The man at that moment fell. The fall happened before the fruit.

Had he been the loving leader he should have been, he would’ve said, “Now, wait a minute. We’re not going to talk to this serpent. The Lord loves us. He is withholding nothing good from us.” But what happened was they abandoned the order that God had established. When we abandon the order that God establishes, we become vulnerable to deceit.

So I don’t think the main point is that the woman is more deceivable, but that we humans become very deceivable when we forsake God’s order.

Paul’s Argument Summarized

Now, let’s go back to 1 Timothy 2:14. This is what I think Paul was thinking. Let me try to paraphrase his second argument in this way. It would go like this: Adam was not deceived, that is, Adam was not approached by the deceiver. He did not carry on direct dealings with the deceiver.

The text continues. But the woman was deceived and became a transgressor, that is, she’s the one who took up dealings with the deceiver, and she was led through direct involvement with the deceiver into transgression. But the point is not that the man is undeceivable and the woman is more deceivable. The point seems to be that when God’s order of male leadership and female submission is forsaken — both men and women become vulnerable to deception, and life as a loving God intended it to be collapses.

Marriage was destroyed in Genesis 3, and I think Paul is warning here that churches will be hurt if we don’t maintain this order.

So let me summarize where we’ve come. God intends for the primary responsibility for leadership and teaching in the church to be borne by men. By saying the man was created first and then the woman, and thus was given the responsibility of the life of the garden with the woman to help him carry through his responsibility.

The second argument is that when the order that God has established is abandoned the way Adam and Eve abandoned it at the point of temptation, the beauty of life as God meant it to be collapses.