Does The Bible Permit A Woman To Preach?

Street Preacher

There has been much controversy recently over the idea of women preachers. Does the Bible permit a woman to preach? Can a woman be a pastor? Isn’t a preacher and a pastor the same thing? Actually, they are not the same but even famous, well educated, highly credentialed ministers and scholars typically fail to make this distinction. 

In the New Testament preaching and pastoring are not the same thing and it’s easy to see this once the facts are pointed out. Before we can answer the question of women preachers, we’ll first need to understand more about preaching and pastoring.

What does “preach” mean?

The Greek words most often translated into English as “preach” are kerusso and euaggelizo. The definition of kerusso is to make an official announcement, announce, make known, by an official herald or one who functions as such. The word euaggelizo means to bring good news, to announce glad tidings. As you can see, they are similar in meaning.

A preacher, therefore, is someone who proclaims good news. As it pertains to the Bible, this good news is about Jesus. This is probably no surprise to anyone, but it may surprise you who preachers in the Bible told the good news to. 

Preaching was directed to non-Christians

The word “preach” (or preached, preaching, etc.) occurs 138 times in the King James Version of the New Testament. In 98 of those instances, the text specifically says it was the gospel that was being proclaimed. In every case, the context reveals that those who heard the preaching were those who were not followers of Jesus! Don’t take my word for it; I encourage you to look up the references and see for yourself that followers of Jesus were not the target audience of the basic gospel message. Be sure to notice the context of each of the verses that I’ve linked to.

This makes sense if you think about it. Why would you proclaim the good news about Jesus to those who are already Christians? They’ve already heard and believed it. Once a person believed the good news and became a follower of Jesus it was time to move to the next phase of their discipling.

 If we commingle the roles of preacher and pastor we are being unbiblical in our thinking!

Of course, the good news about Jesus is the basis for all additional Christian doctrine. The gospel will definitely be referred to as additional truths are taught to those who are already Christians. However, the preaching of the basic gospel message was primarily directed at those who did not believe.

Didn’t Paul preach to Christians?

Out of the dozens of verses mentioning preaching, there are three which someone might argue had a Christian audience. Let’s see what those passages are and make some observations about them.

Paul preached until midnight?

And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight. (Acts 20:7 KJV)

If you read this verse in any modern translation you’ll notice that the word “preached” is not used. Instead, depending on your translation, it will use the words spoke, talked, discoursed, or something similar. The Greek word used is dialegomai which means to engage in speech interchange, converse, discuss, argue. You may notice that it is like the English word “dialog” and means exactly the same thing. Paul wasn’t preaching to them, he was having a discussion with them about spiritual matters. In short, the KJV translators should never have used the word “preached” in this verse.

Paul eager to preach to the Roman Christians?

So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. (Rom. 1:15 ESV)

The letter to the Romans was written to the Christians living in Rome. Since Paul said he was eager to preach to them, can’t we conclude that Paul would have been preaching to Christians? Probably not. 

The very next verse says that the gospel which Paul would preach at Rome was intended to result in salvation for those who would come to believe. Clearly, Christians in Rome were already saved believers. Paul’s target audience in Rome wasn’t Christians, but unbelievers. Therefore, the “you” in verse 15 refers to all unbelieving citizens of Rome, not the Christians in Rome. 

Paul preached to “brothers” in Thessalonica?

For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. (1 Th. 2:9 ESV)

At the time when Paul wrote his letter to the Thessalonians, they had already become believers. In the verse above, Paul is calling to memory how he conducted himself when he first met the Thessalonians – before they were believers. He reminds them that he worked to support himself so that he would not be a financial burden to them. 

We assume that only Christians would financially support those who preach the gospel. However, in those days traveling philosophers would wander the countryside attempting to make disciples expecting them to financially support their new teacher.

So many wandering religious and philosophical teachers travelled around the Roman world making what they could out of their hearers, that it was necessary for the missionaries to stress that their motives and methods were quite different from those of the less scrupulous of their rivals. The criticisms and the response to them made here can be paralleled in the writings of some of the ancient philosophers who felt that they too were being unjustly accused. Basically the missionaries were charged with exploiting their followers and living at their expense. All their appeals to the new converts were regarded as ways of deceiving them into paying the missionaries high respect—and high fees or presents.

New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, ed. D. A Carson et al.; Accordance electronic ed. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1994), paragraph 12.

Paul is making it clear that he didn’t operate the way of the wandering teachers of their day. He made no financial requests of the unbelievers he preached to. It is clear from 2 Cor 11:8 that Paul was willing to accept financial support from fellow Christians. The fact that he refused to ask for the financial support of the Thessalonians while he preached the gospel to them is evidence that they were not yet believers when he first met them.

What is the role of a Preacher?

Based on the word usage in the New Testament, preaching is proclaiming a message directed to the lost. A preacher then is one who tells those who are not believers the good news about Jesus. The term preacher is not really a title but a description – one who is a proclaimer of the good news.

What is the role of a Pastor?

A pastor is one who is charged by the Holy Spirit to care for the spiritual well being of a group of people who are already Christians (Acts 20:28). Likewise, the term pastor is not a title, but a description of what a man in that position does. The New Testament also uses the words shepherd, overseer, bishop, elder and steward to describe the exact same role. In short, a pastor teaches Christians who are under his care and makes sure that no wolves attack his flock to spiritually kill or lead them astray. 

Can a woman be a pastor?

The New Testament does not leave the door open for a woman to be a pastor. The qualifications given in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 leave us with no doubt that this role is exclusively filled by men.

“Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,” (1 Tim. 3:1–2 NIV)

“This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination.” (Titus 1:5–6 ESV)

The language in the passages above is clear, unmistakable and to the point. A pastor (aka overseer, elder, etc.) is to be a faithful husband of one wife. Since a woman cannot be a husband, women are excluded from this role.

Can a woman be a preacher?

A woman can be a preacher according to the biblical description of what a preacher is. A preacher, as noted above, is one who proclaims the good news to the lost. All disciples of both genders are commanded by God to share the gospel with the lost. The key thing we must keep in mind is that the terms preacher and pastor are not used interchangeably in the New Testament. They are not the same thing. They do not have the same duties. If we commingle the roles of preacher and pastor we are being unbiblical in our thinking!

Are you saying women should start speaking from the pulpit?

No, that is the role of a pastor. Preachers do not stand behind a pulpit teaching a congregation of Christians. It is the job of pastors to feed the flock. Preachers do not make spiritual decisions for a congregation and ask the church to follow their lead. That is what pastors do. Preachers are not charged with the duty of guarding the flock from false teachers. That is the duty of pastors.

A number of well known and respected ministers use the words preacher and pastor interchangeably and on this basis argue that women cannot preach. It is an understandable oversight. Due to our modern practices, biases, and misconceptions it is not even on our radar that the Bible makes a distinction. Thankfully, seeing the distinction is easy once a person has examined the relevant passages. 

Can one person fill both roles? 

Since a woman cannot be a pastor, she could not fill both roles. It is possible for a man to both preach to the lost and also shepherd a flock of people who are already Christians. Notwithstanding, this is not typically how it works out. Pastors most often minister to those who are already Christians. By the Bible’s definition, when he delivers a sermon to the church, he is not preaching because he is speaking to the saved. This is not a criticism, just an observation.

Conclusion

If a person lets the Bible speak for itself there is a very clear distinction between preaching to the lost and teaching aimed at the church. This has not gone unnoticed by Bible students. British New Testament scholar and theologian, Dr. C. H. Dodd, concluded that preaching was “the public proclamation [of the gospel] to the non-Christian world.”1

The popular notion that a preacher and a pastor are the same role is not supported by the Bible. A preacher is one whose ministry is directed to non-Christians in the hope that they will believe the message and become followers of Jesus. A pastor, on the other hand, is a man who teaches and cares for those who are already Christians. There is no scriptural prohibition against a woman being engaged in a ministry of publicly proclaiming the good news to the lost.


1HUGENBERGER, G. P. Bromiley, Geoffery W., ed. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (Revised). Accordance electronic edition, version 1.2. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979.