Published: 1 August 2022

What Does The Bible Say About Women Pastors?

women pastors

Is the practice of appointing women pastors biblical? Paul said, “Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task” (1 Tim. 3:1 NIV). There are many who desire the job, but desiring the task is not the only requirement. Paul gives a list of traits in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9 that those who desire the job must possess.

The Bible authorizes women to do much more in the church than church leaders have allowed them to do. Women have traditionally been prevented from teaching men because of a misunderstanding of 1 Cor 14:34-35 and 1 Tim 2:11-14. However, these passages do not mean what some think they mean. In fact, the Bible does not prohibit women from teaching men

Similarly, many Christians believe that women have no biblical authority to preach. People conclude this because they do not know the difference between preaching and pastoring (I have already written about these topics, so please follow the links above for background). As a matter of fact, the Bible not only allows Christian women to preach, it obligates them to do so! If God permits women to teach and preach, then He surely allows them to be a pastor, right? No, this is not right. The Bible is very clear that women may not be pastors.

What Scripture excludes women pastors?

Can women develop and possess the traits listed in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9? Almost. Women are capable of achieving every quality listed in these passages except for one. 

Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, (1 Tim. 3:2 ESV)

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 1:6 ESV)

In spite of what our modern, morally bankrupt, society would have us believe, it is impossible for a woman to be the husband of one wife. This requirement, and this requirement alone, is the reason that women cannot legitimately serve as a pastor. 

A one woman man

The Greek phrase our English Bibles translates as “the husband of one wife” literally reads “a one woman man.” There are four interpretations of what it means to be a one woman man. 

  1. Must be married.
  2. Not polygamous.
  3. Faithful to his wife.
  4. Not remarried or divorced.

Surely the first three are true to the meaning of “a one woman man.” The fourth is debatable and is a topic for another post. Regarding #1, 1 Timothy 3:4-5 clearly states that a potential overseer (pastor) must have demonstrated that he has the skills and wisdom necessary to manage the church. He demonstrates this ability through the proper management of his family. He cannot do this unless he has a family. Therefore, being married, monogamous, and faithful are all components of being a one-woman man. 

Being the husband of one wife is a simple and explicitly stated requirement for being an overseer. We cannot evade it or sidestep it while dealing honestly with the text. The wording is there, it means exactly what it says, and we cannot ignore it.

Why doesn’t God permit women pastors?

Why has God decreed that women pastors are not an option? Most people turn to 1 Cor 14:34-35 and 1 Tim 2:11-14 for an answer to this question. When these two passages are properly interpreted we find that they don’t really shed any light on why God permits only men to be pastors.

We could speculate endlessly about why God has authorized only married men to be pastors, but in the end all of our guesses would only be speculation. God sometimes expects us to trust Him without giving us an explanation. Trust is a major component of faith. 

Some may say that it is unfair that women may not serve as pastors. Some may indeed feel this way, but we should remember that not all men may serve as pastors either. 


Those who want to find a loophole to allow women to serve as pastors usually attempt to undermine 1 Timothy 2:2 and Titus 1:6 using three arguments: culture, giftedness, and gender equality under the New Covenant.

Ancient culture

Some people argue that the culture of Paul’s day was male dominated and therefore his instructions should be read in that context. There are indeed many cultural accommodations in the Bible. For example, at one time it was a cultural expectation for married women to keep their head covered. In 1 Cor 11, Paul commanded that women shouldn’t violate the expectations of the culture by uncovering their hair. “Presumably women who felt able to uncover their heads were considered immodest, unchaste, and therefore by definition un-Roman.” “Failing to cover a woman’s head was dishonoring to her husband.”1 The head covering was clearly a component of ancient Roman and Greek culture. The point was that wives must not bring reproach upon themselves and their husbands. This honor and respect is still required today, we just don’t expect it to be shown by wearing a head covering.

Likewise, the New Testament tells us to greet one another with a holy kiss (Rom. 16:16; 1 Cor. 16:20; 2 Cor. 13:12; 1 Th. 5:26). “The kiss was a common form of greeting in the ancient world generally and in Judaism in particular.”2 We greet one another with hand shakes today. The point is that Christians are to greet one another warmly. Culture dictates how we perform that greeting.

Culture no longer patriarchal

So, the argument goes that since the world’s culture in Paul’s day was patriarchal, and modern Western culture is not, we must now allow women to serve as pastors. To make this claim is to assume that God based His instruction in 1 Timothy 2:2 and Titus 1:6 upon ancient culture. It’s easy to see how the head covering, kisses as a form of greeting, and other similar customs were based on culture. Was there a similar cultural accommodation resulting in the exclusion of women pastors? Based on the latitude God granted to Christian women in the early church, it seem that the prohibition was not culturally motivated.

The fact that God permitted women to participate in church affairs in the first century AD was countercultural, even revolutionary. For his day, Paul was very permissive by including women in church affairs. Paul “has no qualms about women praying and prophesying in gatherings of male and female followers of Jesus Christ.”3 In fact, we know of at least one woman who was a deacon in the church.

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. (Rom. 16:1 NIV) 

Paul was countercultural

In the churches which Paul worked with, he encouraged female workers.

“We should note Paul’s references to a number of women who held leadership roles in his churches. In Romans 16 he commends nine women. He encourages two female coworkers, Euodia and Syntyche (Phil. 4:2), to agree with each other. Lydia established a house church in her home (Acts 16:15, 40). Paul’s good friend Priscilla taught Apollos (Acts 18:26). Paul’s churches, then, had men and women leading, teaching, and making decisions in the church.”4  (emphasis added)

Paul wasn’t afraid to buck tradition. If he (and by extension, the Holy Spirit) had intended for the church to have women pastors he would not have been timid about saying so. Paul was plain and direct about exclusively male pastors. He was not simply accommodating the culture by excluding women from serving as overseers.


In the letter of 1 Corinthians, Paul discusses spiritual gifts which the Holy Spirit has bestowed upon each person in the church. Teaching is one of the gifts mentioned:

And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. (1 Cor. 12:28 ESV)

What about women who God gifted to teach? Those who argue in favor of women pastors cry out that we dare not suppress women’s God given gifts. Therefore we must allow women to shepherd God’s people. It is true that the church must allow women to exercise their God given gifts and talents. It is also true that being gifted to teach is a quality that overseers must possess (1 Tim 3:2). However, a woman does not have to be a pastor in order to teach.

Those who understand 1 Cor 14:34-35 and 1 Tim 2:11-14 to say that women cannot teach men have erred in their interpretation of these two passages. Due to tradition and questionable translations, Paul’s teaching in these two passages is more nuanced than at first appears. These passages simply aren’t teaching what is traditionally ascribed to them. Please follow the links above where I have already written about these passages.

Simply put, while God has excluded women from serving as pastors, He has not forbidden them to teach. Biblically speaking, women are completely free to exercise their God given gift of teaching. It is not necessary for them to be a pastor to teach.

Gender equality under the New Covenant

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal. 3:28 ESV)

This verse is often lifted out of context in order to proof text authority for women pastors. The argument is that since God has done away with gender inequality, women can serve in any capacity that a man can, including being a pastor. Let’s reveal a bit more of this verse’s context:

26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. (Gal. 3:26–29 ESV)

This passage is about the equal standing of all Christians before God

“[T]he notion that the gospel has undone the division between Jew and Gentile (cf. Eph. 2:11-18) lies behind everything that Paul is saying in this letter. In v 28, however, the apostle gives expression to that truth in powerful fashion, stressing that other divisions as well (slave/free, male/female) have no bearing on our standing before God.”5

In Christ, all are sons; social status, ethnicity, nor gender get in the way of our relationship with God. Verse 28 has no relevance to the question of women pastors.


Some may say that it is unfair that women may not serve as pastors. Some may indeed feel this way, but we should remember that not all men may serve as pastors either. Many men simply don’t possess all the necessary traits. Is it unfair that unqualified men may not serve? 

The Scriptures do not appear to tell us why God wants only men to be pastors. Whatever His reasons, He no doubt has our best interests at heart. Let’s be content to trust in God’s wisdom for the church.


  1. Arnold, Clinton E., ed. Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary. Vol 3, Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2002. 157-158.
  2. Ibid., 93.
  3. Still, Todd D.; Longenecker, Bruce W.. Thinking through Paul (p. 126). Zondervan Academic. Kindle Edition.
  4. Burge, Gary M.; Cohick, Lynn H.; Green, Gene L.. The New Testament in Antiquity (p. 369). Zondervan Academic. Kindle Edition.
  5. Silva, Moisés, Galatians. Edited by D. A Carson, R. T France, J. A. Motyer, and Gordon J. Wenham. New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition. Accordance electronic ed. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1994.