Should a woman hold an office in a church?

Some people view the controversy over women’s leadership in church as simply a collision between two view-points—one that espouses women’s liberation of one form or another, and the other, die-hard male chauvinism. But that’s a simplistic approach to the very controversial issue of women’s ordination.

In 1 Timothy 2:12, the apostle Paul sets forth the qualifications for church leadership, and he makes the statement, “I will not allow a woman to have authority over a man or to teach.” Now notice, he doesn’t say, “I will not allow a woman to be a pastor,” nor does he say, “I will not allow a woman to be ordained to ministry.” He says, “I will not allow a woman to have authority over men or to teach.” Therein lies the problem. The verb Paul uses in this passage that is translated “authority” occurs only once in the entire New Testament in this particular context. Because this word is only used once in the New Testament and rarely shows up in other Greek literature of that period that survives today, we’re not exactly sure what that word means. Even so, we struggle to be obedient to the guidelines and the restrictions for church government that are set forth in the New Testament.

I would say that Paul prohibits a woman from having some kind of authority. As I study the patterns of that in the New Testament, I think that what Paul is saying is that women can be involved in all kinds of functions of ministry in the church but that the role of juridical authority or of governing authority is not to be held by women. I would add that the overwhelming majority of New Testament scholars through the years have agreed with the position I have just stated. I know that in certain denominations, ordination means that a person has been given governing authority in the church. If the apostle prohibits that and if he prohibits it for all generations, then obviously the practice today or yesterday or tomorrow would be inconsistent with the apostolic authority and would therefore be inconsistent with the authority of Christ.

© 1996 by R.C. Sproul. Used by permission of Tyndale.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. ©1982 by Thomas Nelson.
Used by permission. All rights reserved.