Let me try to summarize an argument I’m hearing today. It goes like this: Since Paul’s statements about elders/bishops/overseers/deacons are clearly addressed to males, those “offices” or “roles” or “leadership positions” are designed by God to be for males only. Sometimes folks bring in what might be called a pattern of male leadership in the people of God to support this argument; others bring in the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father. I’m going to ignore these buttressing arguments because I believe the first one is a sweeping statement with plenty of exceptions and the second one bordering on Arianism. So, let me look briefly today at the basic argument (and keep within our budget of words). I will address the issue of women in ministry more completely in Blue Parakeet.
[I’ve lumped together “elders/bishops/overseers/deacons” because they are used differently today by different denominations. (Let’s not debate that issue today.)]
I begin with this: Yes, Paul addresses males when he speaks to the overseers [bishops] or elders or deacons. I’m not convinced we can simply equate “pastor” with these terms, but that does not matter for this post. He spoke to males.
Notice the text below where I italicize words that clearly imply these leaders are males. So, I agree that those to whom Paul was writing were males.
However, it is an inference to claim that only males can be elders or that all elders must be males. Why do I say this? Here’s why: Paul does not say “Elders must be males.” He assumes the elders to whom he writes are males, but he does not explicitly require that elders be males. Again: he assumes they are males, he says things that apply to males, but Paul does not explicitly say that elders must be males.
Now one point before I close this post and open it up for conversation: Be careful of turning 1 Timothy 3 into “rules” or “laws” for elders for all time. Why? First, the list here is not the identical list we find in Titus 1 (see this listing to see the point) and if they were “rules” or “laws” Paul would have given the same list. Furthermore, if you treat them as rules or laws for elders for all time, you must follow each and every one of them for all time and we know that many pastors/elders/deacons have children who don’t believe and who are rebellious, some are quarrelsome, some are not hospitable, and not all have a good reputation with outsiders. I know elders who can’t teach at all. These are not rules, but symptoms of virtues expected of leaders for Christians in the 1st Century.
Well, I’d be interested in your comments. Sadly, there are few issues today that provoke such extreme emotional responses as women in leadership, and by saying what I say about Paul not explicitly requiring that elders/overseers, etc., be males, some will want to take issue with me. I say, sure, but do so in a civil manner.
Does Paul require that overseers/elders be males? Or is it an inference from the text? Is it appropriate to use inferences as requirements?
1 Timothy 3
1 Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. 5 (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. 7 He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.
8 Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect [“men” is not in the text; ESV: “Deacons likewise must be dignified”; TNIV agrees with ESV], sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. 9 They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons.
11 In the same way, their wives are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything.
12 A deacon must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and his household well. 13 Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.
6 An elder must be blameless, the husband of but one wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. 7 Since an overseer is entrusted with God’s work, he must be blameless?not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. 8 Rather he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. 9 He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.