Last edited on 19/May/2021
The Bible’s Answer
The Bible’s answer to this question is no. Women’s ordination, the practice of women being ordained as Christian pastors (called and ordained ministers), is not biblical (1 Corinthians 14:33–35; 1 Timothy 2:11–14). Historically, the Christian church in all its denominations has never ordained women as pastors for biblical reasons. Women’s ordination is a new phenomenon which began in the 20th century—primarily in Europe during World War II, when there was a shortage of pastors. From that time onwards, this unbiblical practice has not only stayed in certain denominations, but spread to many others, and has become increasingly popular nowadays due to the influence of secular social justice movements.
However, this is no reason to change church doctrines. The Bible alone is the standard for all Christian doctrines, not cultural trends (1 Corinthians 4:6; Acts 17:11; 2 Timothy 1:13). As Christians, we should let the Bible interpret how we view our culture, rather than let our culture interpret how we view the Bible (Acts 5:29). If we do the latter, then our doctrines will constantly change each time society changes, and we would never know the truth. This is very dangerous and could even affect our salvation if we are not careful (1 Timothy 1:18–20). Knowing this, then, how do we approach this topic biblically? What does the Bible say about the ordination of pastors and the pastoral ministry?
The Bible Forbids the Ordination of Women
The Bible gives us some instructions on how the New Testament church should be conducted and organised. It also sets out the different roles between men and women in the church. When talking about church worship in one of his letters, Paul wrote:
As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. (1 Corinthians 14:33–35, ESVUK)
A pastor has to be able to lead and teach the congregation to fulfil his primary duty. However, in this passage Paul clearly says that women are to keep silent during church worship and have a submissive role. These two roles are not reconcilable. In addition, Paul said that he is writing “a command of the Lord” here (1 Corinthians 14:37), so this is not simply an issue limited to the culture of that time; it is a timeless command for all generations. Another teaching concerning women in the context of church worship, which Paul wrote in his first letter to Timothy, a young pastor, is the following:
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. (1 Timothy 2:11–14)
Like the previous passage, here Paul also teaches that the role of women during church worship is one of submissiveness. They are not permitted to “teach” or “exercise authority” over men during church worship, which is something that pastors have to do. In addition, this commandment is also not simply related to the culture of the time, but is instead linked to the creation of the first man and woman, Adam and Eve; therefore, it still applies today.
According to Scripture, Adam was the head of Eve in their relationship because he named her (Genesis 2:18–24), just as today the husband is the head of the wife in marriage (1 Corinthians 11:3). This clearly demonstrates that men and women are different in role and function. However, the Bible affirms that men and women are equal in essence, because both were created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26–27). Women are therefore of equal value and worth as men are in God’s eyes, but this does not diminish the fact that their roles from men are distinct.
Women Do Not Fit the Requirements for Being Pastors
In 1 Timothy and Titus, Paul gives two lists of requirements that men must meet if they want to become pastors. Below is the one that is addressed to “overseers”, which is simply another word for “pastors”:
Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. (1 Timothy 3:2–7)
Here, we see that one of the requirements for someone to be a pastor is that he must be “the husband of one wife”. This disqualifies all men who are married to more than one woman from being pastors, in addition to all women, who cannot be husbands of one wife. In Paul’s other list, in which he refers to “elders” (which also means “pastors” in this context), Paul also teaches that they must be “the husband of one wife” (Titus 1:5–9), which is, again, something that a woman cannot be. Also note that in these lists, Paul is providing instructions for men only by his exclusive use of the masculine pronouns “he” and “his”.
The Lord Jesus’ Disciples
Another important point worth mentioning is Jesus’ choice of the Twelve apostles—his closest followers throughout his earthly ministry and those who became the first leaders and pastors of the church after his death, resurrection, and ascension to Heaven—all of whom were men:
In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God. And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles: Simon, whom he named Peter, and Andrew his brother, and James and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot, and Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor. (Luke 6:12–16)
The fact that our Lord himself only appointed men as apostles reflects the New Testament teaching that our Lord only appoints certain men in his church to be pastors to shepherd the flock. Furthermore, it is evident that Christ’s choice of the Twelve—along with Paul’s letters—set the pattern for the church, because throughout all of church history only men were ordained into the pastoral ministry in every church up until around the time of World War II and beyond.
In conclusion, women’s ordination is not a biblical practice, despite the fact that many churches are falling away from biblical truth by accepting it these days. The only driving force behind this popular new movement is the unbiblical belief that the church must change in order to conform to society—despite the fact that society is constantly changing and can promote ideas that are against Christianity (see 1 John 5:19 and James 4:4).
The important thing to remember is that we must interpret our culture based on the Bible’s teachings, not interpret the Bible’s teachings based on our culture. Otherwise, we could end up believing in anything, because if one doctrine is deliberately changed in favour of society, it then becomes so much easier to change others. The Bible warns us that many people will not care about sound doctrine and will instead believe in anything that suits their own interests:
For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. (2 Timothy 4:3–4)
The ordination of women is one of the many examples of the fulfilment of this passage. God has specified different roles for men and women, but not one of them is superior over the other, because he uses us all to build up his church (Ephesians 4:16–17). The office of a pastor is one of the many roles that God has assigned to his children, and it is for certain men who are called and ordained by him to preach the Word and shepherd his flock (1 Peter 5:1–3). Women’s ordination is not biblical and should be rejected.
All scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers unless specified otherwise.