To address the elephant that inevitably crowds its way into any discussion concerning the competing views of leadership within the church, I will start by saying that I in no way condone the subjugation, devaluation, mistreatment, or dehumanization of women. I believe 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. However, as I hold to the position in this discussion normally referred to as Complementarianism, I do believe that even as all of these things are true so also is it true that God created men and women differently in order that they fulfill different roles within creation. And it is this difference of roles that I desire to address in this short post; more specifically I wish to address the complementarian view that leadership within the church is restricted to men. I intend to address this issue through a cursory look at the qualifications of elders found in 1 Timothy and Titus, the prohibition against women exercising authority over men in the church found in 1 Timothy, and I would like to follow these arguments with the actions of men and women commanded in Ephesians in light of Galatians 3. Further, please understand it is not my intention to present an answer to every objection to my position nor to exhaustively represent my on stance in this matter.
Even though it is not the purpose of this short article to provide an in depth exegetical study of the relevant passages, no presentation of either argument is complete without at least some explanation of key issues of grammar within the passages dealing with qualifications of leaders. In both 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 are found mutually supporting lists containing the qualifications one must meet in order to be considered for leadership within the church. In each of these lists the context appears to be addressing qualifications which can only be fulfilled by men. Both of these lists name being “the husband of one wife” as being a character qualification for being an elder (leader). This phrase is literally in the Greek language “a one woman man.” In this case it means little that the term translated as husband can also be translated as man depending upon context. However, what does matter is that Paul is definitely speaking of a male in this area of leadership qualification, for only a man (male) can be rightly referred to as a husband. Furthermore, in 1 Timothy 3:4 Paul uses a masculine participle when addressing the leadership candidate’s need to keep children under control. This is significant because in the Greek language Paul had a feminine form of the participle at his disposal had he intended to address a mother’s vice a father’s responsibility in this area. Though I believe that a thorough exegesis of these passages alone would be enough to establish that the leadership of the church is to be male, it is not all that has been said on the subject.
Elsewhere in 1 Timothy, Paul not only provides the qualifications for those aspiring to positions of leadership within the church, he also provides a very important prohibition concerning women. Specifically, in 1 Timothy 2:11-12 Paul very explicitly prohibits women from exercising authority over men and from being in a position to teach men. As a matter of fact, Paul outlines quite the opposite behavior in verse eleven, “A woman must receive instruction with entire submissiveness.” the link between these two verses is the conjunction ‘but’ which is used to transition from what women are to do, ‘receive instruction submissively,’ with two areas in which they are to demonstrate this submission. Or in other words, women are to learn in full submission which includes not teaching men nor exercising authority over men. It is a common argument of those holding the egalitarian view that this prohibition of teaching and exercising authority over men is restricted in time and space to only those in the church of Ephesus who received this letter to Timothy. However, other passages within the Epistle indicate that Paul is addressing behavior which is normative for the church throughout history. Paul states that he is writing in order that Timothy will know how people ought to conduct themselves in the household of God (1 Tim 3:15), and later in chapter 4 Timothy is to prescribe and teach these things, what things? The things Paul is writing to him in order that he might be instructed and then in turn instruct others, namely the contents of the Epistle. At this point it is important to note that the only skill required in the lists of qualifications of elders is the ability to teach. Therefore, I propose that if the only skill required is a skill women are prohibited from exercising over men, then women are necessarily excluded from this role within the church body which is comprised of men and women.
The final area I would like to examine to demonstrate that men and women are called to different roles within human relationships and therefore it is neither unbiblical nor unloving to restrict leadership in the church to men is marriage. In Ephesians 5, Paul lays out two different actions for wives and husbands. Wives are to submit to their husbands in everything (Eph 5:22-24) and husbands are to love their wives sacrificially (Eph 5:25-33). These activities are echoed in Colossians 3 and 1 Peter 3. But it must be asked if men and women are given particular instruction concerning their roles of husband and wife does this negate the declarations made by Paul in Galatians 3:26-29? I propose that the answer is no, but instead it shows that qualitatively men and women have equal standing before the Lord. However, it likewise does not negate the fact that God has created them both male and female (Gen 1:27). Instead I believe that this is an affirmation that God views all within the church with equal love, and yet has mandated that functionally we fulfill different roles within the family and the church as men and women.
I firmly believe that the Bible lays out a pattern of male leadership both within the family and the church. Furthermore, I do not believe that this pattern is intended to demean women nor is it to be used to infer that men are of greater value before God. I do however believe that when we as Christians follow the model provided in Scripture, God is glorified and we benefit.