Can Women be Elders? No, Why Not?


In attempt to provide a follow-up or three to my post from last Friday (“Leadership in the Church is Male,” found here.) I wanted to take some time to flesh out some of the arguments I made against women being elders in the church. Therefore, I thought it best to take a closer look at some of the points I have previously made. In order to do this I will begin by providing a survey of the Scriptures to determine if a model of male leadership is surveyorpresent or not. Thereafter, key texts of the New Testament will be examined to discern which of the two views – complementarian or egalitarian –  is able to derive support from Scripture; these texts will include 1 Timothy 2:11-12 and Galatians 3:28. In examining these texts the presumption will be that the plain meaning is the meaning; however, it will be the goal to present each view in turn. 1 I must warn you however, that this post is a bit longer than average but I believe it will be worth the read.

Male Leadership as a Model from Scripture

The first place to look to determine if male leadership among God’s people is normal and therefore normative is Scripture itself and not culture. It will be the purpose of today’s post to provide a survey of the Scriptures in order to see if male leadership is indeed normal. This task will be accomplished by providing examples from the Old Testament starting at Creation and then moving  forward through redemptive history to the ministry of our Lord, Jesus, and then on through the establishment of the Church in Acts and the ministry among the local assemblies in the New Testament Epistles.

Examples from the Old Testament

Hebrew OT“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Gen 1:1)2 This is not only the introduction to the Creation account it is the introduction of God in His Word, the Bible.  Therefore, it is the best place to start this survey as the creation of man(kind) is relayed to the reader twice. In Genesis 1:26-27 the reader is exposed to the fact that God determined to make mankind in His image and that they were to be male and female. From this account it is easy to see that as image bearers of the Creator both the male and the female are equally valuable in the eyes of God. Chapter two of Genesis provides the reader with a recapitulation of the creation account just given in chapter one filling in a few details along the way, such as, the order of creation between the man (Gen 2:7) and the woman (Gen 2: 18-22). Likewise, the purpose of creating the woman is revealed as being a helper suitable or compatible to him (Gen 2:18). Furthermore, it can be seen that the man had a particular responsibility in leading the woman in the given tasks and obedience to the given commands for when the two sin the woman receives a curse for her individual disobedience while the entire creation was cursed for the disobedience of the man (Gen 3:16-19).

After the Fall of mankind and the curse, the Lord selected a remnant in the family of Noah because he had found favor in the eyes of the Lord (Gen 6:8). The first actions Noah undertakes once he, his family, and the animals debark the Ark is to build an alter and thenNoah Altar offer sacrifices to the Lord (Gen 8:20). This action is indicative of not only the leader of the family but also demonstrates a priestly function and responsibility he exercises as the leader.

In Genesis 12 and following the selection of Abraham is detailed to include the leadership roles his sons Isaac and Jacob will play as well. The Lord makes a covenant with Abraham which includes a blessing for him, for his descendants, and for the nations (Gen 12:1-3). A part of the blessing for Abraham included a promise of a land for them as a nation.

The second book of the Pentateuch, Exodus, details the Lord’s selection of Moses to lead the people of Israel out of captivity in Egypt and into the land promised to Abraham. During the course of events Moses is advised by his father-in-law that he is being ineffective by trying to do everything himself (Ex 18:17-20). In order to alleviate the burden Jethro advises that Moses should “select out of all the people able men3 who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain; and you shall place these over them as leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens.” (Ex 18:21).

Moses’ successor as the leader of the people is Joshua (Deut 31:23; Joshua 1) in order to lead the people into the Land. However, even prior to this activity the Lord had made provision for a king to one day serve over Israel (Deut 17:14-20). However, prior to the time of the kings there was a time of judges who were commissioned by the Lord to lead Israel through certain periods of her history as is viewed in Judges and thereafter in the beginning of 1 Samuel. 4  Following the time of the judges, the people began to cry out for a king to be placed over them; however they were unconcerned with the qualities God had laid out in Deuteronomy 17 and Saul was anointed king over Israel (1 Sam 9:15ff). However, Saul sinned against the Lord when he usurped the authority of Lord by disobeying the order to destroy the Amalekites (1 Sam 15). Thereafter, David is anointed king over Israel and the Lord promises to provide a Son to sit on David’s throne forever (2 Sam 7:8-16; 1 Chron 17:1-15). Furthermore, the Old Testament is rounded out with the account of Job who served as priest for his family (Job 1:1-5), the actions of Ezra and Nehemiah in the return from exile, as well as the words of the ‘writing prophets’ all of whom were men. It should also be noted that when the Lord established a priesthood to serve Him in the tabernacle and eventually the Temple he restricted the service and office to men (Ex 28:1; Lev 8; Numbers 3-4). So it is easy to see that the Lord has established in the Old Testament a pattern of male leadership over the affairs of His people to include the responsibilities of ministering to the people on His behalf. Now it is wise to see if this pattern is continued in the pages of the New Testament.

Examples from the New Testament

The New Testament opens with the arrival of the promised Son of David which is detailedNew Testament in all four of the Gospels. Likewise, the reader is confronted with the ministry of John the Baptist, the last of the Old Testament prophets in the same Gospel accounts. Here the Christian and non-Christian alike are confronted with a Messiah who is male and that He selects as His first disciples men (Matt 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-20; Luke 5; John 1:35-51) and then out of these disciples He selects the twelve who will be Apostles (Luke 6:12-19). One author notes that it is “significant that Jesus chose and sent out 70 men and that there was no woman chosen to be among the 12 disciples.”5

Furthermore, it must be noted that when the time came to replace Judas the Apostles selected candidates from the men who had been witnesses to the entirety of Jesus’ earthly ministry (Acts 1:21-26)6; the Apostles, likewise, commissioned men to act as servants to the people in Acts 6. It should also be noted that when the Lord selected an Apostle to be sent to the Gentiles that He chose Paul, a man (Acts 9:1-19). The activity of Paul on his missionary journeys was to not only preach the Gospel but to establish churches and appoint elders to lead the people Acts 14:23) likewise the church at Jerusalem had acquired/appointed elders as well (Acts 15:4).7

Based upon this pattern of continued male leadership in the New Testament period and establishment of the Church as the People of God during this the present age it will be argued in the following sections that there are specific instructions given which not only promote the concept of male leadership but actually restrict women from certain roles within the church as an institution. However, before continuing it must be pointed out that nothing in the Old or New Testaments of Scripture can be rightly understood as condoning the subjugation, devaluation, mistreatment, or dehumanization of women. In fact just the opposite is true as the Bible teaches that women are equally created in the image of our God, equally saved by grace and faith in Jesus Christ, and equally spiritually gifted by the Holy Spirit.

Bat SignalSo make sure you keep visiting us here at to read what all the other fellas have to say and then in two weeks we will take a look at what Paul has to say about this in his first letter to Timothy.

  1. In the interest of full disclosure I am a complementarian believing that the office of elder is closed off to women by biblical warrant. Therefore, the majority of interaction between the two views will be to establish the propriety and correctness of the complementarian position.
  2. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, within the body of this paper taken from NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright© 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
  3. The word translated here as “men” is the plural form of the Hebrew word which is more generic in usage and is never translated as “Adam” and only rarely translated as “mankind.” Therefore, it is safe to assume that the idea being conveyed here is that Moses is to select males for the task at hand and not merely qualified persons.
  4. While it is true that Deborah is listed among the Judges of Israel (Judges 4-5) I am in agreement with Calvin when he writes; “If anyone bring forward , by way of objection, Deborah (Judges iv. 4) and others of the same class, of whom we read that they were at one time appointed by the command of God to govern the people, the answer is easy. Extraordinary acts done by God do not overturn the ordinary rules of government, by which he intended we should be bound.” John Calvin, Commentaries On the Epistles to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon, Calvin’s Commentaries (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2005), 21:67.
  5. Charles C. Ryrie, The Role of Women in the Church, 2nd ed. (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2011), 49.
  6. The word translated from the Greek text here is the plural, genitive form of the word normally translated as man or husband and not mankind. Furthermore this is the same root word used in Acts 6:3 when the people are directed to choose seven men from among them to assist the Apostles by serving the people.
  7. In both instances the word translated “elders” is the masculine plural form of the root word presbuteros.