Buried Talents: Elders, Wives of One Husband? Part 2

The questions thus presented are:

1. Is the apparent prohibition of an woman being an elder evidenced in 1 Timothy and Titus, as well as early church history, a temporary cultural matter only or an eternal ordinance of God?

2. Are the qualifications described in 1 Timothy and Titus intended as laws or as merely indicative of to whom God has given the gift of leadership?

An affirmative answer to either question would permit many women gifted to lead to serve as elders.

1. Is the apparent prohibition of a woman being an elder evidenced in 1 Timothy and Titus, as well as early church history, a temporary cultural matter only or an eternal ordinance of God?

We have covered the ground surrounding culture versus an eternal command at length. The case has already been made, and there is no reason to go through the motions of restating it. Certainly, for the same reasons that women were not allowed to teach men in Ephesus, no women were going to be appointed elder by Timothy or Titus. The possibility is eliminated by the commands in 1 Timothy 2.

But we have shown that 1 Timothy 2:11-15 is culturally limited (just like most of the rest of the chapter). It is certainly reasonable to conclude that the qualifications listed in the Pastoral Letters are also limited based on cultural conditions insofar as they relate to the gender of the elders.

This cannot be proved or disproved by reference to the qualifications themselves. Rather, with the justification for the discrimination against women no longer applicable today, we must look to God’s eternal principles as they apply to men and women and husbands and wives. When in doubt, go with the larger, eternal principles. In the absence of the qualification lists in 1 Timothy and Titus, what principle would deny a congregation the right to appoint as elder a woman with the talent to serve as elder?

Some would argue that allowing a woman to serve as elder would prevent her from being submissive to her husband, if her husband were a member of the congregation — as he surely would be. But this argument represents a worldly view of the eldership that is all too common. Jesus explains things very differently:

(Mark 10:33-10:45) They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”

“What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.

They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”

“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”

“We can,” they answered.

Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”

When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Men, if we are called to leadership, then we are plainly taught that we may not “lord it over” the women and must instead become their “slaves.” Women elders would also become the slaves of all members, men and women alike. (The word translated “slave” really means slave, not servant.) An elder follows the example of Christ by becoming slave to all.

This is much the same lesson that Paul taught husbands in Ephesians 5. And when women ask to serve in any office, any office at all, they are not asking for power to exercise authority. They are asking for the opportunity to serve, using the gifts God gave them. They are asking to be suitable complements.

This is the spiritual understanding of being an elder or deacon. We must learn to think in spiritual terms — that is, in terms of service and gifts, not authority and laws.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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6 Responses to Buried Talents: Elders, Wives of One Husband? Part 2

  1. Alan says:

    Saying that women can be elders because there's no real authority is not a valid argument.

    Jesus did say that leaders are not to lord it over the church. But we also read in Heb 13:17 that the church is to submit to its leaders. And 1 Thess 5:12 speaks of those who are over (rule, preside) you in the Lord. The instruction about that authority is given to the membership, not to the leader. So the church is expected to submit, but the leader is not instructed to demand that submission. The authority is there, and refusal to submit is a violation of a command.

    Women can serve in the role of deacons without being given authority. The same cannot be said about the role of elder.

  2. Alan,
    Your explanation makes it seem as if the leaders are not to submit to the members, but the fact the remains that we should all submit to one another.

    That Hebrews emphasizes submission to leaders does not eliminate the need for all believers — whether leaders or not — to submit to one another.

    So, your explanation still does not provide for authority over one another.

  3. Alan says:


    I'll refrain from going over the same arguments I made earlier in this series. Suffice it to say that I strongly disagree. The passages I referenced above emphatically do establish the authority of leaders. I could point to many more but I will not do so here.

    Americans absolutely hate being under authority.

  4. Jay Guin says:

    Do elders have authority? Yes. Is it the sort of authority proscribed by 1 Tim 2:11-15? No.

    In 1 Tim 2, Paul prohibits usurping of authority — domineering (authenteo). Zodhiates translated authenteo as "exercise absolute authority" and "exercise authority as an autocrat."

    The kind of authority elders have is characterized by Jesus as being a slave (doulos) or servant (diakonos). And elders are barred from "lording over" or "exercising authority" over others.

    Intriguingly, "lording over" translates katakurieuo, which is used in Rev 17:14 as the second "lord" in "Lord of lords." It's simply the word used of those with secular power over another, whether or not exercised wisely. Jesus isn't banning bad lording over or bad exercise of authority. It's being lord (or exercising authority) that he bans.

    D. A. Carson, in his commentary on Matthew, comments,

    Jesus is not criticizing abuse of power in political structures – the verb never has that meaning … and should be translated "exercise lordship over," parallel to "exercise authority over" in the next line — but insists that the very structures themselves cannot be transferred to relationships among his followers.

    Lenski is to the same effect.

    Given the plain fact that any institution of any size requires leadership, Jesus can't mean that elders are utterly without authority. But it's an authority that exercised as we are taught in Rom 12 (per Hauerwas) —

    (Rom 12:10) Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.

  5. Alan says:

    With apologies to Mr Carson and Mr. Lenski, Jesus is pretty specific In Matt 20:25ff about what he is prohibiting. He says

    "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they who are great exercise authority over them."

    As Jesus said, the disciples were familiar with how the Romans exercised authority. Those in authority were served by those under them, enforced if necessary by the most severe punishment. Of course Jesus prohibited his disciples from doing that.

    The disciples were asking Jesus for high positions. Based on Jesus' response, it appears that they were motivated by their worldly concept of being on top and being served by those under them. Jesus corrected them, telling them the way to be great in the Kingdom is to serve.

    In 1 Tim 2:11-15, Paul prohibits women from usurping the authority of men. That presupposes that there is authority to be usurped. Commenting on the word in this context, Adam Clarke says:

    A woman should attempt nothing, either in public or private, that belongs to man as his peculiar function.

    Jay wrote:

    Given the plain fact that any institution of any size requires leadership, Jesus can’t mean that elders are utterly without authority. But it’s an authority that exercised as we are taught in Rom 12

    I'm very comfortable with a position that says elders have authority, but that it must be exercised in a particular way (regulated by all the other passages about love, serving, looking out for the interests of others, doing to others what you would have them do to you…) In other words, it must be Golden Rule leadership.

    But if members refuse to submit to their leaders, they are still disobeying a command of God. It is not optional.

  6. Dave says:

    Recently read John W. Smith's book, A Restoration Church and the Role of Women. Bro. Smith submits that male eldership follows from the order of creation.

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