Women elders?

Many people believe that women cannot be elders. They often base it on this Scripture:

It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do (1Tim 3:1 NASB). Many other versions say something similar.

There are two problems with this translation:

  1. Nowhere in the original Greek does it use the word “man.” In fact, according to Philip B. Payne, author of Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul’s Letters, nowhere in the descriptions of qualifications of elders and deacons in either Timothy or Titus is a masculine pronoun used. The New Living Translation has it more accurately–“If any person…”
  2. The word “office” or “position” is not in the original Greek either. It was added by the translators.

But, you may say, what about the fact that one of the qualifications for an elder is that he is to be the husband of one wife–a “one-woman-man”? The qualifications for a deacon also include that stipulation, and we know that Phoebe was a woman deacon, so this on its own cannot be taken to mean there should not be women elders. The exclusion was probably to prevent polygamy in the leadership of the church, not to prevent women, or indeed single males, from being either elders or deacons. Added to that, unlike many cultures where men can have more than one wife, I cannot think of a single culture where women had/have more than one husband.

Others may object, but there are no females named as overseers (Greek episkopos) in the New Testament. True. However, apart from Jesus, there are no named males entitled episkopos either. Yes, John and Peter both describe themselves as elders, (Greek presbuteros) but these do not identify them as having a specific local church function and can equally well be interpreted that they are older in age. Similarly, older women in Titus 2 are described as presbutera.

What about verse 11 that says “Likewise their wives…” (NKJV)  implying that the wives of elders and deacons have to be qualified too? The Greek word can be translated as either “wives” or “women.” A better translation would be “Similarly, the women…” This phrase occurs within the description of deacons.

Several inscriptions have been discovered that show that women were leaders in Jewish synagogs shortly after the time of Christ. There is similar archaeological evidence of women leadership in the early church.

What do you think?

10 thoughts on “Women elders?”

    1. My favorite book on the topic of women in the New Testament is Man and Woman: One in Christ by Philip B. Payne. It’s 500 pages of intense theological discussion that I refer to on numerous occasions.

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  1. Thank you SO much for the links to the articles. Especially the one about the synagogue. Was really encouraged at the debunking of women sitting in a segragated balcony or alcove in the earliest times. Not sure the burial inscriptions prove Jewish women were doing anything we could call similar ministry to what men were doing — but it is still interesting. As for Christian women, more evidence of what we already know happened!

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    1. It is interesting. I’ve also been really interested in recent archaeological discoveries about pools for baptizing people too.

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  2. I am a bit confused here Felicity. You quote a scripture that deals with OVERSEERS and then use it to start a discussion on ELDERS. Why?
    These are two entirely different things.
    Scripture makes it clear that an elder is the person, male or female, older by age and or by maturity.
    Thus nobody can ever be appointed to become an “elder”, any more than you were appointed to become a woman, or I appointed to become a man!
    In contrast, an overseer is an appointed/ordained position where someone “sees over” a particular work of the Lord. Overseership is something that the other believers ordain him for. To be appointed an “overseer” one must first be mature, in other words children and the unproven novice need not apply. An overseer can therefore only be taken from among the elders of the body, just as Titus1 makes clear.
    I have brought this point up in comments here several times in the past.
    Unfortunately a complete misreading of Titus1 is regularly used to justify the appointment of elders, when the words make it abundantly clear that he is merely appointing “overseers” from among the “elders”. And this interpretation ties in with all the other relevant scriptures.
    Until Titus is correctly recognised, it will continue to be falsely used to make eldership an exclusive appointed position, and reinforce the clergy laity divide.

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    1. Point well made.

      I think the confusion comes because of the similarities in the Titus/Timothy passages. In Titus, it’s easy to read that elders and overseers are synonymous. For example, the NLT doesn’t make a distinction between elder and overseer in that passage. The qualifications are very similar too.

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