Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

There are women pastors in the New testament Priscilla Phoebe Nympha

For the umpteenth time, I’ve been asked where in the New Testament it says that women were pastors. Someone, who I’ll refer to as Tee, wanted information. He said he wanted examples that are “rock solid,” where it says “point blank” something like “’Susan was a preacher and teacher’ in plain text.” In reply to Tee, I rehashed points and arguments that I’ve shared many times before in conversations and in articles.

I wasn’t intending on posting my reply as an article. However, after observing the online hoo-hah over the ordination of three female pastors at Saddleback Church on May 6, I’ve edited and expanded my reply to Tee and posted it here. (If you’re interested, you can see the original conversation on my Facebook page here.) There is a biblical case for female pastors.

Paul’s Ministry Terminology

The apostle Paul doesn’t identify anyone in his letters as a pastor, or as a local church elder or overseer. His favourite terms for fellow ministers are (in descending order): coworker, brother/ sister, diakonos (“minister/ deacon”), and apostolos (“apostle/ missionary”).[1] He also uses “labourer/ labour” words when referring to identified ministers. Paul uses these terms for men such as Timothy and Silas, and for women such as Prisca, Euodia, Syntyche, Phoebe, Junia, Persis, Apphia, etc.

Furthermore, Paul often uses several terms to describe one minister. He was flexible with ministry terminology. He didn’t use fixed titles, so there wasn’t, for example, Pastor Silas or Pastor Phoebe.

If we’re looking in the New Testament for individuals called “pastor,” we won’t find them. If, however, we look for people who functioned as pastors in local churches (which were mostly house churches), then we find women as well as men, and also couples (e.g., Nympha in Colossae, the Chosen Lady in Asia Minor).

The Example of the Ephesian Church

New Testament churches were not organised, and did not function, in much the same way as most of our churches today. And in the New Testament, it’s difficult to find identified, ordained ministers of local churches with titles.

The church in Ephesus, for example, had overseers (episkopoi; possibly patrons, hosts and leaders of house churches),[2] male and female ministers (diakonoi; unspecified ministers), male and female elders (presbyteroi; some elders taught), and enrolled widows (which quickly became a church order).[3] But none of the people with these ministries or roles is identified or named. None of them!

Apart from three apostate teachers, Hymenaeus, Alexander, and Philetus (1 Tim. 1:20; 2 Tim. 2:17), the only people identified as ministers associated with the Ephesian church are Timothy, who was in Ephesus for a limited time acting as Paul’s representative (cf. 2 Tim. 4:13, 21), Prisca and Aquila (2 Tim. 4:19), and the household of Onesiphorus (2 Tim. 1:16; 4:19).[4]

Prisca is arguably as clear an example of an NT church leader or pastor as you can get. I suggest one of the reasons she is not recognised by some as a church leader, apart from the fact that she is female, is because people don’t understand how Paul spoke about ministers and ministry, and they don’t understand how mid-first century churches operated and organised themselves.

Prisca in Ephesus, and later in Rome, was just as much a minister and leader as Stephanas in Corinth. In fact, she and her husband may have had more experience and more influence in ministry than Stephanas and his fellow ministers.

Preachers and Teachers

What about the terms “preacher” and “teacher”?

The only people called “preacher” (kērux) in the NT are Paul and Noah. The word “preacher” is used differently in the NT from how the word is used by many Christians today. This article, here, looks at “preaching” words, both nouns and verbs, in the NT. These words are typically used in the context of proclaiming the gospel message to people who haven’t heard it before.

The only people called “teacher” (didaskalos) in the context of the church are Paul (a few times) and the named leaders in Syrian Antioch who are referred to as “prophets and teachers”: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen, and Saul (as he was known then) (Acts 13:1). In 1 Tim 2:7 and in 2 Tim 1:11, Paul calls himself by three terms: preacher, apostle, and teacher.

“Teaching” verbs are used for various people in Acts including Peter and John, Paul and Barnabas, and Apollos who was corrected by Priscilla and Aquila. That Apollos (an eloquent and educated man who was teaching in Ephesus) was corrected by Priscilla and Aquila, and that this was recorded in a positive manner in Acts 18, surely tells us something about the significance of the ministry of this couple.

Paul uses “teaching” verbs occasionally in his letters for himself and Timothy, etc. And a “teaching” verb (as well as the noun “prophet”) is used in Revelation 2:20 for Jezebel of Thyatira. Her example shows that women were church leaders. However, she is an example of a bad leader and an errant teacher. (She was given time to repent of her immorality.)

It’s important to note that in his general instructions about ministry, Paul never says that the ministry of teacher/ teaching, or of pastor, is off-limits to women. See Romans 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 12:28, and Ephesians 4:11. And in 1 Corinthians 14:26 and Colossians 3:16, Paul encourages participation in ministry, including bringing a teaching.

Terminology and Authority

Tee wanted a clear statement such as “Susan was a preacher and teacher.” In fact, we do have a clear statement from Paul about a female minister. Among other things, he says that Phoebe was “diakonos of the church at Cenchrea” (Rom. 16:1-2). Unlike what some detractors say about the word diakonos, Paul typically used the word for Christian ministers, including himself: Phoebe was minister of the church at Cenchrea.[5]

The problem isn’t that there are no women in the NT who ministered as pastors, there are. The problem for some is that Paul, the other letter writers, and the author of Acts, use different terminology for ministers than what most of us are familiar with. And sometimes these authors don’t use any term for someone who is clearly a minister (e.g., the seven men in Acts 6 including Stephen, and Stephanas in 1 Cor. 16:15-18).

Furthermore, many Christians are stuck on the idea that women can’t be church leaders because of a faulty notion of authority. The authority to minister, however, is not an authority over fellow believers, but an authorisation and giftedness from God to function in a certain ministry. Genuine Christian ministry is not about exercising authority over people but about humbly serving them.

Final Thoughts

The church in Jerusalem seems to have been led by men, and also the church in Syrian Antioch. So some may choose to follow that “model.” But as we move north and west from Syria, the names of more and more women ministers pop up, especially in verses about churches in Macedonian and Roman cities. I have no doubt that Phoebe, Prisca, Nympha, and women like them, were influential leaders in their churches.

In one passage, Romans 16:1-16, Paul mentions ten women, seven of whom he describes in some way as ministers: Phoebe, Prisca, Mary, Junia, Tryphena, Tryphosa, and Persis. These women were not called pastors, just as no man in the NT is called a pastor of a church, but at least a few of these, and other NT women, functioned as pastors; they were responsible for the spiritual and physical wellbeing of members in their congregations. There is a biblical case for men and women as church leaders and pastors.

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[1] See 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] Episkopoi is sometimes translated as “bishops.” At this early stage of the church, however, these Ephesian episkopoi cannot have been bishops with oversight of several congregations in a city or parish.

[3] These ministry roles are mentioned in 1 Timothy 3 and 5.

[4] Paul also mentions his plan of sending Tychicus to Ephesus (Eph. 6:21; 2 Tim. 4:12).

[5] Paul was consistent with how he used the word diakonos. He typically used the word for an agent with a sacred commission. These diakonoi include Paul himself (Rom. 15:25; 1 Cor. 3:5; Eph. 3:7; Col. 1:23, etc), Timothy (1 Tim. 4:6), Epaphras (Col. 1:7), Tychicus (Eph. 6:21-22; Col. 4:7-9), Apollos (1 Cor. 3:5), Phoebe (Rom. 16:1), and even Jesus Christ (Rom. 15:8). The diakonos in Romans 13:4, though not a Christian minister, is also an agent of God with a sacred mission. Note also Paul’s description of false apostles as agents (diakonoi) of Satan with a diabolic commission (2 Cor 11:13-15). And in Galatians 2:17 Paul asks the rhetorical question if Jesus is a diakonos, acting as an agent, of sin. Paul is the only NT author to use the word diakonos for a Christian minister, and the citations I’ve given here, plus Philippians 1:1 and 1 Timothy 3:8-13, are every occurrence of diakonos in his letters. Not once does he the word for ordinary servants.

Image Credit

Photo (cropped) of Miren Artetxe Sarasola a Basque shepherdess. Photo taken by Dani Blanco. (Wikimedia) Image is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

Related Articles

The First-Century Church and the Ministry of Women
Did Priscilla Teach Apollos?
A List of the 29 People in Romans 16:1-16
Partnering Together: Paul’s Female Coworkers
Here are articles on whether women were eldersbishops/overseers, or deacons, or whether they preached in New Testament times.
Here are articles on various NT women who were ministers and church leaders.
And here are all my articles on 1 Timothy 2:12 (“I do not permit a woman to teach …”)

62 thoughts on “There are Women Pastors in the New Testament

  1. This is a very good and succinct summary. Imma gonna steal it, cause Imma gonna need it soon. 😉

    1. With proper citation, of course. 😉

      1. But of course — after all, it is particularly important that they know that this teaching comes from a woman. 😉

  2. Fantastic, as always, Marg!

    1. Thanks, James!

  3. “The authority to minister, however, is not an authority over fellow believers, but an authorisation and giftedness from God to function in a certain ministry. ”

    This succinctly cuts to the heart of the issue. I was raised in a denomination that firmly held that women couldn’t be ordained, yet the entire Sunday School was administered and almost entirely staffed by women.
    When we recognize the inconsistencies, we need to act on that.

    1. This also spoke to me – it literally sent a chill down my spine as I read it!
      As is often the case – the “thing” being debated isn’t really the key. Indeed this has a a lot to do with the inappropriate grasp of power by males.
      Thanks Marg for your amazing work!

      1. Thanks, Pat and Alex. I had a conversation two days ago that I cut short because the person kept insisting that ministry was about authority over people. There was no common ground. 🙁

        1. I so appreciate your thorough research on such important Biblical topics. AND you present it in such a loving way. I come from a family where women were put down, condescending to, and even used and abused. I’ve had to fight resentment and the urge to fight fire with fire. So your example in all of your writings is very encouraging.

  4. Excellent. I especially like that you mentioned how we misunderstand authority to minister as “authority over.” I am so happy others are pointing this important missing piece out. If you know of others doing it, please mention them. I only know of Eddie Hyatt in Pursuing Power.

    1. I’m certain I’ve seen many others mention this basic premise. I’ll pay more attention and look for specific references in my reading. I’ve written about authority in the church a few times. https://margmowczko.com/tag/authority/

    2. I mean, the idea of “serving” is right there in the word, “minister”!

      1. Yep. Ministry is service, service is ministry.

    3. Wade Burleson, a teaching pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid, Oklahoma, USA, has been teaching a series on Fraudulent Authority. He has previously published a book of the same title. A quote from his Notes for the first lesson: “ It’s never easy to resist a form of control that comes in the name of God, but Fraudulent Authority will help you consider whether or not the pastor or church leader with whom you serve wrongly believes he “rules over” you. There are a few basic principles which serve as the foundation for the study.
      Principle 1: There is only one head of the Church/churches, and all authority is His….”
      The videos of the lessons and a page or two of his Notes for each lesson are here: https://emmanuelenidarchive.org/fraudulent-authority/
      At least one more lesson remains to be posted, from last Wednesday.

      1. Thanks for this Bob!

        Authority in the church is something Wade and I have talked about previously. I have a video of him on my site here: https://margmowczko.com/wade-burleson-christian-leadership-hebrews-13/

  5. “Furthermore, many Christians are stuck on the idea that women can’t be church leaders because of a faulty notion of authority…Genuine Christian ministry is not about exercising authority over people but about humbly serving them.”

    This, a thousand times!

    I really appreciate your thorough work on the biblical texts. I get frustrated when I try to explain that our modern view of a ‘pastor’ isn’t in the Bible, but you’ve discussed it succinctly and clearly. Thank you. It’s a necessary and shareable article.

    1. It’s hard trying to explain quickly that first-century church life was different from church life today. One thing is the same, however; just like today, there was a variety of ways that congregations organised worship and ministry.

  6. Margaret, Thank you for your insights and your common sense. It is very hard to understand how certain Christians (1) can continue to insist upon imposing their spiritual, mental and social abuse; their gender injustice and their subjugation of Lutheran women to being second-class Christians and (2) can claim exemption from the requirements of our Government’s carefully, crafted Social and Sexual Anti-discrimination Legislation. Many of your Readers are very grateful to you, for persevering in your efforts to articulate and to promote human gender equality and equity; equal opportunity and basic human rights and dignity to all humans and including those who were born as females. Keep up your good work. It is still much needed!

    1. Thanks John!

  7. I always enjoy reading your insights.

    Do you think that authority to minister can sometimes imply authority over other believers if the ministry itself is in some way an authoritative position (like a leader or overseer)? Does anyone ever have authority of another believer?

    1. Hi Gareth, It’s a busy day. I’ll get back to you. In the meantime, you may want to look at this. https://margmowczko.com/authority-in-the-church/

      1. Thanks Marg, I have since read that post and many of the comments. Great discussion! It does make clearer.

        I wonder if there is a philosophy genius out there who can help tease-out the relationship between the two aspects of authority. I often have these ideas in my head but it is not until a brilliant mind states them plainly that I say “yeah, that’s what my brain was trying to think!”

        1. I do think there’s a blurry line sometimes. But it would be a great start if we can lose the unhealthy obsession with hierarchical authority (or, “authority over”) that many Christians have.

        2. The question for believers would be is there ANY godly meaning of authority that maps to what the church has promoted for 1800 years about “authority over”. Are we just reading our religious understanding back into scripture? Considering what God said about not setting a king over them and why,

          I don’t know how it is for Australians, but I have trouble figuring out why Americans have difficulty with this concept. We make a big deal about government officials being our employees and public servants and we should throw them out if they misbehave even though Paul says more about submitting to them than to church leaders. But in the church it’s absolute monarchy and oligarchy, and if you criticize someone who is abusing people God will smite you rather than the perpetrator! Absolute power corrupts absolutely and we see it every day.

  8. Jesus forbid apostles from exercising authority over others. They were to serve. I don’t see how anyone else can be more authoritative than them! We don’t do things in a Biblical way nowadays, so believers may be in organizations where one has positional and supervisory authority over another. But that doesn’t have to be equated with the creepy religious idea that someone has spiritual authority over you because they are ordained, or a pastor/elder, or male, or whatever. Jesus is your spiritual authority.

    1. Yes, Jesus gave his disciples authority to do things and he gave them authority over demons, but he didn’t give them authority over people.

      Jesus didn’t use words like “lead” or “govern” when giving instructions to the Twelve. He mostly used words like “serve” and “witness.” (More here.)

      “The authority to function as a Christian minister is the commission to serve as a slave.” (From here.)

  9. I find it interesting that you found I Timothy 2:7, but missed the 8 verses that make up the rest of the chapter. I find myself very curious regarding your interpretation of verses 11 and 12, which seem quite straightforward.

    I hadn’t seen the original Greek in Romans 16:2, which I found interesting and worth noting, but given Paul’s very clear context (which I notice you completely ignored in the majority of references, where it didn’t serve your points) and explicit statements on the roles of men and women towards each other, I find it highly likely that, as a deaconess, Pheobe’s service would have been primarily directed towards the women in her local church.

    1. Here are my articles on 1 Timothy 2:11-15, complete with context: https://margmowczko.com/category/1-timothy-212/

      It is highly unlikely Phoebe only ministered to women. Paul says that Phoebe’s ministry as prostatis was to many, including Paul himself.

      But you’re right that Phoebe wasn’t a deaconess. Paul doesn’t not use the word diakonissa (“deaconess”) for her. He calls her diakonos (“minister/ deacon”) of the church at Cenchrea. He doesn’t say she was diakonos of the women in Cenchrea.

      My articles on Phoebe are here: https://margmowczko.com/category/phoebe/ And I have a chapter about her in this book: https://www.mohrsiebeck.com/en/book/deacons-and-diakonia-in-early-christianity-9783161566462

      This is a blog post about women who functioned as pastors in New Testament churches, it is not a comprehensive essay, but what context do you think is missing in the article?

      Perhaps you’re not understanding the context of first-century church life where, especially in churches associated with the apostle Paul, men and women ministered according to their gifts, abilities, and resources, and only bad speech and behaviour are silenced and prohibited by Paul.

    2. Marg has elsewhere written fairly extensively on 1 Tim. 2. You may be interested in this page: https://margmowczko.com/category/1-timothy-212/

      As to Rom.16, I’m not sure what about the context, which includes a female apostle named Junia, would require that Phoebe minister mainly toward women, especially since the context is likely that of a “letter of commendation” citing her qualifications to carry, deliver, and explain (to everyone, not just women) the contents of the Epistle, and since her other title, “prostatis,” is a term that at least *can* indicate leadership, and is cognate to “proistemi,” “lead” or “leadership” in 12;8 of the same Epistle.

  10. I understand the context quite well, and regardless of how many essays or books you’ve written, there’s only so much you can twist a few words in a handful of verses. It’s pretty clear you’ve made up your mind about what the Bible says, though, regardless of the actual words on the page, and invested quite a bit of your career in perpetuating that belief. I’m not sure why I thought there might be room for an actual discussion with such blind commitment. Forgive my intrusion, I’ll leave you to… whatever you feel happy about believing, apparently.

    1. It looks like we’ve been talking about the biblical context of Romans 16 and Paul’s actual words. And I’m glad you understand this, TL. Though I notice you didn’t respond to the content of my or Norrin’s comments.

      Yes, there is room for discussion, especially constructive conversations. Isn’t that what we were doing? Though your last comment doesn’t feel like a discussion. Also, what career?!

      I responded to your first comment in good faith with my real name.

      Anyway, bye TL. I wish you well.

  11. Now then, there is the parade, and that was a nice a procession as I’ve ever read on the topic, but yet and still, there is the rain. In this case, a massive thunderstorm that can’t be explained away.

    “The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church. [NASB: 1995 update. (1995). (1 Co 14:34–35). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.]

    But these days, who needs the Law.

    1. Hi Dave, It’s interesting that you refer to the examples of women who were ministers in the church as “rain” and two verses where Paul prohibits problem speech from women in two churches as a “thunderstorm.” In real life, thankfully, there are usually few thunderstorms compared with occurrences of much-needed rain.

      Note that Paul addresses problem speech and problem behaviour of men and of women in 1 Corinthians 14:26-40 and 1 Timothy 2:8-15. No one is explaining these passages away. In fact, I highlight these passages many times.

    2. You’re right, Dave, for those of us who are part of the New Covenant, who *does* need the Law? It’s inextricably tied to the Obsolete Covenant, and Paul observed that life under the Law was a curse (Gal. 3), and that every decree, ordinance, and commandment had been nullified and even destroyed on the cross for those in Christ (Eph. 2, Col. 2).

      I’m curious, Dave: Where exactly does “the Law” say what “Paul” claims it says there in 1 Cor. 14:34?

      And given the emphatic phrasing, how did “Paul” in the space of just a few chapters, forget that he expected women to NOT be silent back in ch. 11?

  12. While I do agree women can be leaders in the church and as very valuable members of a congregation, there seems to be a constant fast and loose use of text and at times a jump in logic to promote female pastorialship which just isn’t there in the text.

    I thank you for writing this piece because I’ve been doing a lot of research to understand both sides of this theological disagreement and you’ve presented a case that’s worth studying. However I will say, as a new Christian, it’s concerning to see the text being used in such a fast and loose way such as to present the argument of Priscilla teaching Apollos while leaving out the context of her teaching alongside her husband (covering) and teaching in private (not pastoring or acting in a role as a bishop from what we can see).

    It also seemed interesting that the word bishop was never used directly in the article since we have a definition of bishop and elders from Paul available in Timothy and elsewhere. It seemed intentional but only God knows the reasoning for that so regardless this was well written however I firmly disagree with the conclusion because it just doesn’t align with the text. And as James says not all should be teachers so this is definitely a warning we all should accept with humility knowing God is Holy Holy Holy and if we know to do right and don’t do it we are in trouble. .

    God bless you Marg

    1. Hi Brandon, I agree that a “female pastorialship” isn’t in the biblical text. So why mention it? (“Male pastorialship” is also not in the New Testament.) I do not use the word, or refer to the concept of, pastorialship.
      That is your word and it may be your concern, but it’s not mine. My article is about the women who functioned as pastors in first-century churches, especially those associated with the apostle Paul.

      I’ve been careful with the terms I’ve used in the article, drawing attention to the terms Paul used in his letters.

      Prisca and Aquila are always mentioned together in the New Testament, usually with Prisca’s name mentioned first. I mentioned Aquila only once in the article because my focus was on women who functioned as pastors, not on male pastors such as Aquila.

      We don’t know how private or public Priscilla and Aquila’s correction of Apollos was. The Greek verb proslambanō used in Acts 18:26 can mean “receive into one’s home” (where Priscilla and Aquila’s church met) and “take along/ take aside.” Their correction was certainly known well enough for the story to be related to Luke who included it in Acts. More on this here: https://margmowczko.com/at-home-with-priscilla-and-aquila/
      And what does it matter if it was public or private? Luke doesn’t make an issue of it one way or the other.

      I have no doubt that Prisca and Aquila, who were clearly capable of correcting an eminent and educated visiting teacher, taught on many occasions, especially as they held church meetings in their own home and were recognised as being close friends of the apostle Paul. The three had lived, worked and travelled together. I’ve written more about Priscilla and Aquila teaching Apollos here: https://margmowczko.com/did-priscilla-teach-apollos/
      But again, the emphasis is on Prisca because no one has a problem with Aquila teaching Apollos, even though it is Priscilla’s name that is listed first in the oldest Greek texts of Acts 18:26.

      There’s no hint whatsoever that Prisca was under some kind of covering. The concept of “covering” is an odd doctrine that has arisen from a distortion of a couple of Bible verses. There is no verse in the New Testament that indicates a minister, male or female, needs some kind of “covering” from another person. Is this an example of a “fast and loose use of the text”?

      I mention overseers twice in the article. I have articles on overseers (episkopoi), sometimes translated as “bishop,” here: https://margmowczko.com/pauls-qualifications-for-church-leaders/
      And here: https://margmowczko.com/manage-household-1-timothy-34/

      I mention elders three times in the article. I have articles on elders here: https://margmowczko.com/women-elders-new-testament/
      And here: https://margmowczko.com/elders-in-new-testament/

      James gives an important warning that not all should be teachers. Paul, however, encouraged gifted and capable men and women to bring a teaching and to exercise other speaking ministries in church meetings, as long as it was done in an orderly and edifying manner (1 Cor. 14:26: Col. 3:16).

      All of Paul’s general instructions on ministry includes women (e.g., Rom. 12:6-7; 1 Cor. 12:1ff; Eph. 4:11). Paul only censured and put restrictions on unruly, unedifying, and bad ministry from both men and women.

      You may be interested in the thoughts of these men: https://margmowczko.com/prominent-biblical-scholars-on-women-in-ministry/ Do they play “fast and loose” with the biblical text?

      I also recommend this new article by Rev Dr Michael Bird: https://michaelfbird.substack.com/p/inerrancy-culture-wars-and-hermeneutics

  13. This a tired argument. There is no biblical case for female bishops or senior pastors. In 1 Tim 3:3, 4)”Paul is uses the word episkopoi: (bishop), “”office of overseer…the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.

    It is possible for women to be teachers, ministers and helpers( diakonoi) but not “leaders” or “bishops.”

    1. Rory, your response is lazy and flawed.

      There is nothing in the New Testament that states women were forbidden from overseeing, hosting, and caring for local churches. Rather there is evidence that some women, such as Prisca and Nympha, did just that.

      My articles on 1 Timothy 3 are here: https://margmowczko.com/category/1-timothy-3/

      What is tiring is being “corrected” by someone who hasn’t bothered to read or engage with the article and who arrogantly presumes they have superior knowledge.

      “Helpers” shows a poor understanding of Paul’s use of diakonoi.

      Diakonos is Paul’s word for a minister, an agent with a sacred commission. Here are all the diakonoi Paul identifies in his letters: Paul himself (Rom. 15:25; 1 Cor. 3:5; Eph. 3:7; Col. 1:23, etc), Timothy (1 Tim. 4:6), Epaphras (Col. 1:7), Tychicus (Eph. 6:21-22; Col. 4:7-9), Apollos (1 Cor. 3:5), Phoebe (Rom. 16:1), and even Jesus Christ (Rom. 15:8). More in footnote 5.

      Paul identifies no one as an episkopos (“overseer, supervisor, bishop”). Nevertheless, if we take our blinkers off, we see some men and women in the New Testament functioning as such.

      Rory, simply stating, “There is no biblical case for female bishops or senior pastors” doesn’t make it so. However, my article discusses first-century ministry, not anachronistic ideas and titles of church leadership. (See, for example, footnote 2.) And you haven’t even been bothered to point out which point is the supposedly “tired argument” and why it is incorrect in your view.

      1. I prefer the translation “guardian” which has no connotations of slave-master, and taps into the shepherd metaphor better. A shepherd’s primary duties are guarding against wolves, sheep wandering off and/or hurting themselves, and tending the wounded. These are all stereotypical mothering duties as well as fatherly ones.

        And I think scripture is pretty clear on there being a team of elders, not the ‘senior pastor” or “lone bishop” model. And the team of elders needs both women and men because there are both women and men in the church. The idea that the church can make up an anti-christ model like “senior pastor” which is nowhere in the NT, and implement it for 1700 years and that’s fine– in fact if you dare question it you will be excommunicated, but woman elders are anathema because they aren’t definitively mentioned! Double standard anyone?

        1. “I prefer the translation ‘guardian’ which has no connotations of slave-master, and taps into the shepherd metaphor better.”

          Or perhaps “one who watches over,” like the “overwatch” role in the military. That captures the same essence, while being a bit more literal.

      2. I’ve been meandering along for a bit, casting glances in your general vicinity, but not really “following.” Just maybe accompanying. Getting updates, and so on.
        HOWEVER: the fact that your post of May 9 is STILL generating comments, and that YOU are taking the time and energy to respond to those comments, is so impressive that I just signed up as a Patreon.
        Lowest level, of course; the one where you don’t get a tattoo.

        1. 😀 Thank you, Pat. Your support is much appreciated!

          I frequently reply to comments on older articles.

      3. Just a question to add to the discussion.

        Based on 1 Corinthians 11:3 which states
        “ But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.”


        Ephesians 5:24: “Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.”


        1 Timothy 3: 4-5: “[Bishop must be] One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)“


        Hebrews 13:11: “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.”

        If a woman has a husband, according to the scriptures mentioned amongst others, how can she pastor at church and have her husband submit to her, in the confines of the assembly, and it be seen as scriptural? If a wife is suppose to submit at all times, how can her husband submit to her sometimes?

        1. Hi John, Just as all Christians are to be humble, meek, and loving, all followers of Jesus are to be submissive to one another (Eph.5:21; 1 Pet.5:5 NKJV). Mutual submission is the ideal. I’ve written about this here.

          Here’s another scenario. Children are told to obey their parents (Eph. 6:1-3; Col. 3:20; cf. Mark 7:10). This means that a son is to obey his father and his mother. There are plenty of sons who are pastors where their parents are church members with no issue.

          In the first-century Greco-Roman world, all children—including, or especially, adult children—were expected to obey their parents. (Even pagan authors encouraged their adult male readers to obey their fathers and mothers.) In some cultures today, we still see that adult children are expected to be obedient to their parents. More on this here.

          The words “rule” and “ruleth” in the translations you’ve provided don’t convey the best sense of the Greek behind these words. In modern English, the verb “rule” can mean to exercise ultimate power, control, or authority over people. This is not how Jesus wanted his followers to be led and ministered to. (I’ve written about this here.

          Christian ministry is about serving others not ruling others.

          I’ve written about the word proistēmi used in 1 Timothy 3:4-5, as well as Romans 12:8; 1 Thessalonians 5:12; 1 Timothy 3:4, 5, 12; 5:17; Titus 3:8, 14 here.

          A different Greek word from 1 Timothy 3:4-5 is used in Hebrews 13:7, 17, and 24. “Those leading you” or simply “your leaders” (rather than, “them that have the rule over you”) is a better and perfectly reasonable translation of each occurrence of this word hēgeomai (and the following pronoun = “your”) in Hebrews 13.

          And here’s all my stuff on 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 which contains verse 3 that you quoted: https://margmowczko.com/category/1-corinthians-11-2-16/

        2. Hi John.

          1) Marg has written a fair amount on 1 Cor. 11, most recently just a few days ago here: https://margmowczko.com/1-corinthians-112-16-meaning/

          The relevant point for this discussion is that in context, it is unlikely “head” had anything to do with hierarchy or authority.

          2) At the very least, Eph. 5:24 cannot be as absolute as it sounds, else it would contradict 5:21, which teaches that every Christian is to submit to every other Christian — including husbands to wives.

          3) The CEB more accurately handles the Greek of 1 Tim. 3. Here are verses 1-5:

          1Tim 3:1 This saying is reliable: if anyone has a goal to be a supervisor in the church, they want a good thing.
          1Tim 3:2 So the church’s supervisor must be without fault. They should be faithful to their spouse, sober, modest, and honest. They should show hospitality and be skilled at teaching.
          1Tim 3:3 They shouldn’t be addicted to alcohol or a bully. Instead they should be gentle, peaceable, and not greedy.
          1Tim 3:4 They should manage their own household well—they should see that their children are obedient with complete respect,
          1Tim 3:5 because if they don’t know how to manage their own household, how can they take care of God’s church?

          It is worth noting that when pronouns and idiomatic expressions are translated accurately, overseers / supervisors can be of either sex.

          4) Heb. 13:11 is no problem, though of course those who are in the position of leadership should be mindful of Matt. 20:25. In general, shepherds are to be servant-leaders, not mini-kings.

          Your closing question turns entirely on the citation from Ephesians 5, and when the context of that citation is considered, the citation loses its force.

      4. I may have asked this before, but my Greek is a bit rusty.

        Is there *any* Greek phrase that can be rendered “spouse of one spouse” in a non-gendered way? Wouldn’t “man of one woman” be a generic way of saying this? Much like if you have a group of female friends: in Spanish that would be “amigas”. But if one man friend joins the group the word takes the masculine ending “amigos”. So, if I saw the word “amigos” I could *not* assume this was a group of male friends–it *could* include females.

        I am wondering if the same would be true with the phrase *man of one woman* (husband of one wife)–if it were a mixed group.

        1. Phil Payne supports your thought in the relevant chapters of his “Man and Woman — One in Christ.” More recently, Andrew Bartlett does likewise in “Men and Women in Christ.” Bartlett makes considerable use of Payne’s work, as well as his personal interactions with Payne.

          Specifically, assuming I recall correctly, “one-woman man” could refer either to males or be used inclusively, and one would look to other clues in the context to determine which was intended; in the context of 1 Tim. 3 and Tit. 1, all the nouns and pronouns referring to episkopos and presbuteros are neuter, which suggests one-woman man is used inclusively of both men and women. In 1 Tim. 5, the related term one-man woman is used for the case where women are specifically intended.

        2. Hi Darryl,

          Chrysostom, a native and educated Greek speaker, took μιᾶς γυναικὸς ἀνήρ (“one-woman man”) in 1 Timothy 3:12 as applying to male and female deacons: “This must be understood therefore to relate to deaconesses [women diakonoi]. For that order is necessary and useful and honourable in the Church” (Chrysostom, Homilies on 1 Timothy, Homily XI).

          As for other terminology, this is something I’ve looked into but I’m not 100% confident of my findings. Even the Greek word μονόγαμος (“monogamous person”) was used for men and not for women (that I can make out). And I can’t find evidence for this Greek word before the second century AD.

          See my reply to Dana here for more details: https://margmowczko.com/pauls-qualifications-for-church-leaders/#comment-62050

        3. Norrin Radd, The noun episkopos (“supervisor, overseer”) and adjective presbyteros (elder) are grammatically masculine, and if there were pronouns associated with these words in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, they would be masculine also. They wouldn’t be neuter.

          I don’t think there are any neuter pronouns in 1 Timothy 3:1-7. I know for sure there are no masculine personal pronouns in this passage (except for one in the Textus Receptus) because I’ve checked. But even if there were, the masculine grammatical gender doesn’t necessarily exclude women.

          This is part of footnote 2 from here: https://margmowczko.com/pauls-qualifications-for-church-leaders/

          “Even if there were masculine personal pronouns in the Greek of this passage, this still would not rule out the possibility that women can be overseers. There are a few grammatically masculine articles, adjectives and participles in 1 Timothy 3:1ff and Titus 1:6ff, but since the masculine gender is the default grammatical gender when speaking about groups consisting of men only and groups consisting of men and women, a case cannot be made that these passages exclude women. If we begin to argue that passages that use grammatically masculine participles, etc, exclude women, then women would be excluded from many of the New Testament scriptures which speak about salvation, including John 3:16.”

          1. Yep. Going from memory, I said “neuter,” which was going way too far. Payne and Bartlett say, as you do, “no masculine pronouns.”

    2. I’m curious — Can you point to anyone in the NT specifically called a “pastor” or “shepherd” (in the sense of church leadership) other than Jesus Himself? Same question for episkopos.

      Are you sure you didn’t confuse “diakonos” with “prostatis” when you said, “helper”? Phoebe held both titles. “Prostatis” in particular suggests some degree of leadership.

      1. I’m not sure that Rory will see your comment.

        It’s not unusual for overconfident people to leave half-baked comments and not check back for responses. It seems they think their comment is a fait accompli.

        1. I know. Wasn’t counting on a reply. Based on the depth of thought evident in his post, I figured he was probably a toss-a-firecracker-and-run sort.

          I replied just in case it turns out he’s interested in real interaction.

  14. I am so glad that I found you!

    1. Hi Cheryl. I’m glad you found me too. And thank you for sponsoring my work!

  15. Thank you, Marg! Well-written and reasoned. I have often found it interesting that so much has been made over the concepts of “Pastor”, “Lead Pastor”, “Preacher”, and “Clergy” when it is clear from reading the New Testament and the NT narratives the concepts attached to pastor, preacher, teacher, etc. have really little in common with the modern view of these roles.

    We have, in effect, created an entire authoritative template throughout the years and have read the Bible through this template: a template that is foreign to Paul. Even the concept of “preaching” (as you pointed out) is actually public proclamation of the gospel generally in the market-place (evangelistically) and not the gatherings. Paul’s “preaching until midnight” is a completely different word than what is typically translated “preaching”. It is the word from where we derive the English word “dialogue”. So, one could argue that Paul was involved in a give-and-take discussion in Troas rather than “authoritative preaching” (whatever *that* is!)!

    1. I agree, Darryl. There are a few words we use differently from how the authors of the New Testament used them and we make them fit with our own version of church rather than try to see how first-century churches functioned.

      And some authors, such as Luke, used several different words for disseminating the Christian message.

      The following is an incomplete list of words used in the New Testament to describe the transmission and teaching of the gospel and Christian doctrine:

      parrēsiazomai means “speak openly, boldly or freely”;
      peithō means “persuade”;
      martureō means “testify” or “bear witness”;
      legō or laleō simply means “speak,” “talk,” or “tell”;
      dialegomai means “discuss,” “reason,” or “dispute”;
      parakaleō means “exhort” or “encourage”;
      kēryssō means “proclaim” or “preach”;
      euaggelizomai means “proclaim the good news or gospel”;
      nouthetō means “admonish,” “warn,” or “exhort”;
      ektithēmi means “put forth” or “explain”;
      disdaskō means “teach”; etc.
      There are also verbs with an aggel– stem and with different prefixes (one occurrence in the New Testament with no prefix) that mean “report” or “announce,” etc.
      From here: https://margmowczko.com/did-priscilla-teach-apollos/

      1. Wow, Marg! How perfect! I have wanted such a list!

    2. It really is rather discomfiting to realize how much we assume, and how much of our own experiences we unconsciously eisegete into Scripture every time we read it.

  16. Well said!

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