The formally ordained spiritual leaders of the local church or congregation are called its elders or presbyters, pastors or shepherds, or overseers or bishops, and they are one and the same. (Compare Acts 20:17 with 20:28; 1 Timothy 3:2 with 5:17; Titus 1 with 5 and 7; 1 Peter 5:1 with 5:2.) The common practice today is to have one pastor and a group of elders (often mistakenly called deacons) under his authority. This is not the biblical practice. A search of the Brit HaChadashah (New Testament) will reveal that all elders worked as a plurality, though they may have operated in different capacities.
Elders must minimally meet the qualifications for deacons (1 Timothy 3:8-12) as the deacons are the helpers of the elders. Above and beyond that, they must meet the qualifications laid out specifically for elders (1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9). The qualifications noted in both passages are very similar. Titus 1:5-9 reads, 5. For this cause I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed you, 6. if anyone is blameless, husband of one wife, having believing children, not accused of loose behavior, or disobedient. 7. For an overseer must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not full of passion, not given to wine, not quarrelsome, not greedy for ill gain; 8. but hospitable, a lover of good, discreet, just, holy, temperate, 9. holding fast the faithful Word according to the doctrine, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and to convict those who contradict [sound doctrine].
1. Introduction Scripture declares that the elders in a local congregation must be men. We will first look at those scriptures, then the underlying theological principles that are cited in these and related passages, and then consider whether the way the principles were applied in the early congregations must be applied the same way today.
2. The Scriptures 1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:6 each states that an elder must be the husband of one wife. In addition, 1 Timothy 3:4-5 states that he must be 4. ruling his own house well, having children in subjection with all honor. 5. (For if a man does not know to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the congregation of God?) Consistent with these scriptures, whenever the gender of an elder is indicated, and there are many such passages, it is invariably male. Nevertheless, various interpretations based on linguistic, cultural, circumstantial and, perhaps, other considerations, have arisen that allow the eldership of women. I have therefore made every effort to deal with the issue as extensively, carefully, honestly, and fairly as I could.
3. The Underlying Theological Principles The underlying principles that are given for the headship of the man in the home and the congregation are the same, and are all theological, meaning that they must apply in all homes and congregations everywhere throughout the Church Age. One's cultural orientation and circumstance must always bow to theological principles. This will become clearer as we proceed; and as we proceed, we will be careful to separate the theological principles from the manner in which they were applied to eldership in the early congregations, and how they are to be applied today. It must also be stated that, although other applications of the principles will be noted, the issue of men and/or women in eldership is the only application that we will pin to the ground in this study.
The key principle is that of subjection. The Greek words used are hupotage and hupotasso.According to Strong's Concordance, hupotage means:subordination. According to Young's Analytical Concordance, it means: subjection, submission. Hupotage appears in 1 Timothy 2:11-12 in the context of the need for women to refrain from teaching men, to refrain from exercising authority over them, and to maintain silence in the congregation. According to Strong, hupotasso means: be under obedience... be in subjection to, submit self unto. According to Young, it means: ... put in subjection unto, put under.... It is used in 1 Corinthians 14:34 in the context of the requirement of silence for women in the congregation. It is also used in Ephesians 5:22, Colossians 3:18, Titus 2:5 and 1 Peter 3:1, all in the context of the need for wives to submit to their husbands' leadership in the marriage. The principle of the subjection of women to the men in the local congregation may also be found in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, which deals with the requirement of women, perhaps only married women (mbs 106, p. 42. See endnotes), to wear a headcovering in honor of male headship. The passages dealing directly with congregational eldership are consistent with these, and must logically be viewed as relevant to the general requirement of the subjection of the women to the men.
The specific fundamental underlying theological reasons that are given for the necessity of the subjection of the woman to the man are these, which I have listed in a logical order: 1.1 Corinthians 11:8: For the man is not of the woman, but the woman of the man. 2. 1 Timothy 2:13: For Adam was first formed, then Eve. 3.1 Corinthians 11:9: Nor was the man created for the woman, but the woman for the man. 4. 1 Timothy 2:14: And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. 5. Ephesians 5:23: For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Messiah is the head of the church, and He is the Savior of the body. 6. . 1 Corinthians 11:3:...the head of every man is Messiah; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Messiah is God. Three levels of headship are mentioned here: God is the head of Messiah, Messiah is the head of the man, and the man is the head of the woman. The apostle's implication is that the principle of headship of the man over the woman begins with God the Father and cascades down the chain from God the Father to Messiah to the man to the woman. 7.1 Corinthians 11:7: For a man... is the image and glory of God. But the woman is the glory of the man. Six of the seven passages appear in the context of the subjection of women to men in the local congregation. The exception is Ephesians 5:23, which speaks of the subjection of wives to husbands; but even here Paul uses the relationship to illustrate the relationship of the universal body of Christ, the bride, to her heavenly Groom, the Chief Shepherd (Pastor) of the church (1 Peter 5:4). Paul explained, I speak concerning Christ and His church (Ephesians 5:32). In the context of the issue at hand, one must note that God ordained that our Chief Pastor, Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus the Messiah) be born male, not female.
4. How May the Theological Principles Be Applied Today? In view of the timeless theological principles cited by Paul, one must conclude that the women are to be in subjection to the men in all congregations. That being the case, is it possible in any culture or circumstance for a woman to be in subjection to the men if she is an elder over them with the authority to sit on the decision making counsel and to exhort, admonish and discipline them? How can it be? It is a logical impossibility. An elder must be the husband of one wife (1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:6), a man (1 Timothy 3:5); and although Ephesians 5:21 exhorts both husband and wife to submit [hupotasso] to one another in love, the very next verse makes it plain that the primary way that a wife is to love her husband is to be in subjection [hupotasso] to his leadership.
All things considered, this writer cannot help but conclude that, in order to preserve the requirement for the subjection of women to men in the church or congregation throughout the Church Age no matter what the culture or circumstance, men must be in the positions of spiritual headship over the women, and no woman may be in spiritual headship over a man.
5. Pastors' Wives as Pastors and Women Assistant Pastors Some say that, if a man is a pastor, and his wife is in subjection to him, then the requirement for subjection has been met and she can therefore be a pastor. But this is not logical. She is still a pastor, and the men in the congregation would still need to be in subjection to her and, as we have seen, this must not be allowed. The principle applies to women as assistant pastors, as well. An assistant pastor is still a pastor.
An even stranger form of "logic" may be found today. In many churches, particularly charismatic churches, when a man becomes a pastor, his wife is automatically crowned pastor as well, and functions as one! Not only is she is not a man, but neither is she scrutinized as closely as her husband as to character, background, strategy and capability. Where in the Word is such a practice to be found?! It is an absurdity and an insult to the Word of God, treating it not with reverence, but frivolity.
6. An Afterword Love must reign in the local congregation, but it will reign in proportion to the degree to which its leaders and members honor the guidelines of Scripture. As a wife must lovingly submit to her husband's leadership in the marriage, so must women lovingly submit to exclusive male eldership in the congregation. Those who would force the issue of female eldership face a wall of biblical evidence that resists them. Those pastors who would force the issue to prevent a mass exodus from their congregations, or for any other reason, have their priorities wrong. All who would force the issue are not trusting the Lord, will do spiritual damage to themselves and all others affected, and will need to answer to the Lord. In regard to the judgment of the saints at the Judgment Seat of Messiah, Paul warned, I have laid a foundation, and another builds upon it. But let every man take heed how he builds upon it (1 Corinthians 3:10).