Are there women pastors in the New Testament?People sometimes ask me if I can name any woman who was called a pastor in the New Testament. The people who ask me this question are usually those who believe that only men can be pastors, and one of their claims to support their view is that that no woman is called a pastor in the NT.

I usually respond to their question by saying that no one—male or female—is called a pastor in the NT, no one, that is, except for Jesus Christ.

The Greek word for “pastor” (which is the very same Greek word for “shepherd”) usually occurs as a verb (poimanō) in the NT, rather than a noun (poimēn); being a pastor or a shepherd was primarily a function rather than an office in the very early church.

Furthermore, unlike the words “elder”, “apostle”, “prophet”, or “teacher”[1], the noun “pastor” (poimēn) is not used in the NT as a title attached to a specific individual except for Jesus Christ, in which case poimēn is typically translated as “shepherd”. Jesus is called the Good Shepherd (John 10:11,14), the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls (1 Pet. 2:25), the Chief Shepherd (1 Pet. 5:4), and the Great Shepherd (Heb. 13:20 cf. Matt. 2:6; 25:35; 26:31; Rev. 7:17; 12:5; 19:15).

The only time the word “pastor” is used as a noun and applied to ministers, other than Jesus, is in Ephesians 4:11. Here the word “pastor/shepherd” is grammatically linked with the word “teacher” indicating that one of the main functions of pastors is teaching. Importantly, no gender is specified in Ephesians 4:11 or in any other verses about ministry gifts.[2]

While many Christians may have pastoring abilities, the Bible speaks of pastoring as a leadership function (cf. John 21:15-17). The Jewish understanding of being a shepherd, or pastor, was one of leadership. Leaders are sometimes called “shepherds” in the Old Testament, especially in the book of Jeremiah.[3]

While I cannot name any woman, or any man for that matter, who is specifically called a pastor of a church in the NT, it is likely that Priscilla, Nympha, Euodia and Syntyche, the Chosen Lady, and other NT women, were female church leaders who functioned as pastors. [See links below for articles on some of these women.]


Endnotes

[1] Some NT verses which express the functions or titles, “elders”, “apostles”, “prophets” and “teachers”, of church leaders include Acts 11:27; 13:1; 14:14; 15:1ff; 21:10; Romans 16:7; 1 Corinthians 12:28-19; Ephesians 2:20; 3:5; 1 Peter 5:1-2; 2 John 1:1; 3 John 1:1; etc. Philip is called an “evangelist” in Acts 21:8 (cf. Eph. 4:11; 2 Tim. 4:5).

In reference to actual people in ministry, Paul used the word “coworker” most frequently.

“The designations most often given to Paul’s fellow workers are in descending order of frequency as follows: coworker (synergos), brother (adelphos) [or sister (adelphē) as in the cases of Phoebe and Apphia], minister (diakonos) and apostle (apostolos).”  E.E. Ellis, “Paul and his Coworkers” in Dictionary of Paul and his Letters, Editors: Gerald F. Hawthorne and Ralph Martin (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 183.

[2] Verses which mention Spiritual giftings: Acts 2:17-18; Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:7-11, 27-28; 14:26-33; Ephesians 4:11-12; Hebrews 2:4; 1 Peter 4:9-11.

[3] The frequent criticism of Jeremiah was that Israel’s shepherds (leaders) were careless and self absorbed: Jeremiah 2:8; 10:21; 12:10; 22:22; 23:1-4.

Update 2.12.11

I just found an article today by Philip B. Payne on the same subject as this post. Here is an excerpt:

Even if in the NT no women were identified by name as elders, overseers, or pastors, and many men were, this would not logically exclude women from those leadership positions any more than the actual lack of Gentile men identified by name as elders, overseers, or pastors in the NT excludes Gentile men from those leadership positions.

In fact, however, apart from Christ (Heb 13:20; 1 Pet 2:25; 5:4), no men or women overseers (ἐπίσκοπος) of a church or pastors (ποιμήν) of a church are named in the NT. John refers to himself in 2 John 1 and 3 John 1 as “the elder,” but nothing in either context associates this title with a local church or with administrative duties. The article indicates that this refers to something unique, which would not apply to local church administration. It probably identifies something like the last surviving elderly apostle and eyewitness of Christ. The only other NT association of ‘elder’ with any named person is Peter’s self-identification as a “fellow-elder (συνπρεβύτερος), a witness of Christ’s sufferings.”

The clearest NT identification of an individual with titles associated with senior local church leadership is not a man at all, but a woman: “Phoebe deacon . . . of the church in Cenchrea.


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