Biblical Requirements for Leadership

by Alison Rowan

Was all leadership in the Church exclusively male? Was there permission for and implementation of female leadership in the New Testament? Was teaching by women exclusive to the instruction of only other women? The following is a look at the Greek texts where leadership requirements are outlined in the pastoral epistles and Acts. I am using the New American Standard for the English translation.

Appointment of Deacons for the Church in Jerusalem, in Acts 6:3

"Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task.”

It clearly says 'men' to be selected as deacons for a very good reason. Here in the bastion of Jewish patriarchy, very soon after Christ’s death had rescinded the permission for patriarchy granted at the Fall, there was still, the cultural prejudice that favoured it. This is the Jewish of Jewish churches - some gentile proselytes too, but all converts from the very patriarchal society of Judaism. It was riddled with extra man-made traditions that even forbade the testimony of a woman to be given in court since they were deemed unreliable. Considering that the 12 'Apostles of the Lamb' had to be 'witnesses of his resurrection' (Acts 1:21-2), they had to be male, otherwise the listeners would reject the testimony of the gospel if heralded by a woman. Did you notice how Jesus rebuked the 11 for not only their unbelief, but also for the ‘hardness’ of their heart against the ones (women) who had given them the report? He was also grieved at the 'hardness ' of the hearts of the ones who had only brought the woman caught in the act of adultery ... there had to be a man involved too! The fear of man and Jewish tradition had such a strong hold that even Peter was not immediately free of it! (Gal 2:11-21)

So, in that culture and at that time, it would not have been possible to have women leading in Jerusalem, Samaria .... but to the ends of the earth was different. Also it is evident that the permissions were evolving as the church developed and expanded. This can be clearly seen when Paul addresses issues to a largely Gentile church at a much later time than that of Acts 6.

'Overseers' in 1 Tim 3: 1-7

 “1It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. 2An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. 4He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity 5(but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), 6and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. 7And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.”

v 1 ‘Man’ is 'tis', the genderless Greek word for 'someone’ who aspires to be a ...

v 2 has ‘aner’ = husband and ‘gunaike’ = wife. Please see below for marriage stipulation.

v 4 ‘He must be’ is absent. It is 'tou' = 'the' literally, ‘the own household well managing.’

v 5 ‘a man’ is 'tis’  and ‘his’ is ‘tou', literally 'if but anyone the own household to manage not knows...’

At all the other places where 'he' is in the text, it is by translator's choice of the third person singular (either he/she/it) to go with the VERB. There are no other gender specific PRONOUNS for the requirement of overseer. Paul surely had ample opportunity to stipulate “man” simply by the use of aner, but deliberately used “anyone”, tis.

Deacons in 1 Tim 3:8-13

 “8Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain, 9but holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 10These men must also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach. 11Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things. 12Deacons must be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households. 13For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a high standing and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.

“Men” in v 8 is only a translator’s choice, since the Greek of this passage has no pronouns requiring gender specification, but there are many adjectives which are plural and male. This is not surprising since convention dictates that mixed gender is also described as male. The only gender specific female plural adjectives are understandably describing the ‘women’, ie female deacons: seunas (serious) and pistas (faithful). Interestingly, the word describing sober is masculine (nephalious) - must be a particularly male problem! I say ‘female deacons’ because it can be understood that way for several reasons from the text.

First, it is purely the choice of the translators of especially the KIng James family of versions and is quite unjustified, to render ‘gunaikas’ as ‘their wives’, rather than ‘women’. There is much evidence to support this, since there is neither any article nor the word for ‘their’ in the Greek. When the 350 year old Royal Seal expired in 1961 and the Translators Notes for the KJV Bible were opened, many instances of male hierarchical prejudice were revealed. In discussing 1 Tim 3:11, one priest makes the comment, “If we allow women to be deacons, they will next be wanting to be priests”.

Secondly, a point of logic is that it is odd that there should be the requirement of a godly wife on the appointment of male deacons, whose tasks are practical, but not on the overseers, whose task is significantly more personal and pastoral. Surely a godly character and discretion would be more vital for the wives of overseers?

Thirdly, following the same pattern as the male deacons, ‘women’ is followed by a character requirement and only after character requirements of both sexes have been defined, comes the generalised marriage stipulation as faithful and monogamous (that is assuming the candidate is married).

Therefore, there seems to be no Biblical nor historical justification for excluding women from the diaconate. For further information and a study of Phoebe, a deacon of the church of Cenchre, please see the linked article. In it, I also propose that she was an appointed leader (prostatis) as an apostolic delegate to Rome, quite possibly as the carrier of the letter, but also with other “matters” to implement under Paul’s instruction, for which he writes to the Romans for their full cooperative assistance towards her.

There is ample evidence in the Bible that leadership in the wider Church, was not exclusively male. Lydia ran her own household, which in Acts 16:40 had become a household of faith, probably as a widow (Acts 16:15). I have proposed in this article that Lydia was the first woman overseer. We do see Priscilla in the dominant teaching role (her name is mentioned before Aquila more times than his before hers), Junia, Chloe and the two 'elect ladies' and their children in 2 John.  By studying the content of this letter, it is clear that it is written addressing church affairs, not domestic, so these are her ‘spiritual children’ - her flock not just a friend's family! For more supporting evidence, please read the following brief article: Women overseers in 2 John and Elsewhere

'Elder' in Titus 1;5-9

5 that you may appoint elders in every town as I directed you 6if any is above reproach, the husband of one wife, having children who believe, not accused of dissipation or rebellion. 7For the overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain, 8but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled, 9holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.

v 6 “Man” is 'tis' again and should read 'If anyone is above reproach ....' Then follows the same requirement for a faithful and monogamous marriage as in 1 Timothy.

This 'tis' is the only pronoun and it is non-gender specific.

Adjectives are again generically male.

The third person singular is at the translator’s choice as ‘he’ for the verb to teach in v 9

Paul’s emphasis, as always, is on character, not gender.

Concerning elders and their 'Ordination' in 1 Tim 5:17-25

I will omit v 23 since it is health advice but include 24-5 since it may be relevant to appointing people. I am making the assumption that these verses explain the warning in v22 about hasty ordination of unsuitable people.

 17The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. 18For the Scripture says, “YOU SHALL NOT MUZZLE THE OX WHILE HE IS THRESHING,” and “The laborer is worthy of his wages.” 19Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses. 20Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also will be fearful of sinning. 21I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of His chosen angels, to maintain these principles without bias, doing nothing in a spirit of partiality. 22Do not lay hands upon anyone too hastily and thereby share responsibility for the sins of others; keep yourself free from sin.

           24The sins of some men are quite evident, going before them to judgment; for others, their sins follow after. 25Likewise also, deeds that are good are quite evident, and those which are otherwise cannot be concealed.

v 20 ‘those’ sinning is from the non-gender specific ‘tis’, again.

v 22 'no man' is ‘medeni’ the dative case of medeis, 'not even one'. Again not gender specific.

v 22 'other men's'  is ‘allotriais’, 'in others' a feminine plural adjective describing harmartias, “sins.”

v 24 'some men' is ‘tinon anthropon'. 'Anthropos' is the generic term for 'mankind' - including women. It would be better translated as ‘some people’.

Leader in Rom 12:8

4For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, 5so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; 7if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; 8or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.”

In Rom 12:4-8, Paul describes the ministries to which the Head of the Body calls the members and gives them the grace (anointed enablement) to perform. The sole qualifications are that the minister be a member of the Body and has received grace to do it, regardless of gender. Rom 12:8 speaks of ”the one who leads (ho proistamenos) to do it with diligence or zeal”.  By God’s permission through Paul elsewhere, a woman is equally allowed to be ‘one who leads’.

Christ’s ministry gifts to the Church in Eph 4:7-12

For brevity, I will omit v 8-10 since they are a parenthesis and not relevant to this discussion.

7But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift.

11And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers,12for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.”

v 7: This is where Paul could have made a gender specification, but chose not to say ‘each man’ only, but rather ‘each one of us’, referring to the whole church or body. Since women are also ‘the saints’ (Rom 1:7) who are the Church or Body of Christ, it can be seen that there is no gender discrimination when apportioning charis, ‘grace’ to minister. Therefore there is no gender discrimination on the people gifted to perform those vital functions for the maturing of God’s people.

Other responsible positions

Paul instructs Timothy to appoint teachers in the Church in 2 Tim 2:2

“The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”

The NIV, more correctly translates the Greek phrase, ‘to faithful men’, pistois anthropois, as ‘to faithful people’, since anthropos is the generic word for humankind.

3If anyone advocates (teaches) a different doctrine and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, 4he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions,5and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain.” (1 Tim 6:3-5)

v 3 ‘Anyone’ is again, gender neutral ‘tis’. The implication, through cultural knowledge of the practice of Teaching in the First Century Church, anyone had been teaching anything in the public debates held in the School of Tyrannus, or in their household congregations (See Acts 20:20  - Paul taught the Ephesian church publicly and from house to house). But now Paul qualifies his instruction to Timothy (see 1 Tim 1:3) to regulate who was teaching by their character, not sex. There are six “unsound doctrines” referred to in the letter, including in chapter 2, as my research has taken me thus far, the teaching and practice of a demonically inspired Gnostic atrocity which was “responsible for the death of a man,” briefly explained in terms of enforced abortion.

v 4-6 ‘he’ is connected to the verb as the third person singular.

It is not just Paul who emphasises that there is no gender distinction, since Peter teaches the same to Jewish converts, traditionally highly patriarchal, but now all enjoying sonship, scattered among the Gentile cultures.  

EACH of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone (‘tis’) speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God.” (1 Pet 4:10-11)

So again, there is no unambiguous, direct male-only stipulation in any of the passages covering the recognition of overseers and deacons to serve in the local churches, neither is there a gender discrimination in any of the ministry gifts. In fact there are Sixteen NT Instances where Women Teach and Lead Men.

In the light of these facts, is it justified as some say, that women are only allowed to teach other women and children? This assertion has been drawn from Paul's instruction to Titus as his apostolic delegate to the newly formed church in Crete. He begins the second chapter, instructing Titus to say things according with sound doctrine, didaskalia, from didaskolos - a teacher, an instructor acknowledged for their mastery in their field of learning; in Scripture, a Bible teacher, competent in theology. Titus is to instruct the older women to behave appropriately in order for them to be kalodidaskolous, “teachers of good”. At this point the “audience” for their good teaching is not specified and need not be exclusively directed towards the younger women mentioned in v 4. It is only the KJV family of translations that render sophronizo, “to pass on moderation” as “teach”. Other translations say, urge, train, encourage the younger women to be lovers of (friends to) their husbands and children. This passage has actually no relation whatsoever to women didaskolos being restricted to the task of teaching only Sunday School children or women only groups. It addresses primarily the function of mentoring by good example, as should be the aspiration of every believer.

Consequently, it can be concluded that there is no Biblical exclusion of women from any of the ministry responsibilities. Indeed there is historical evidence for women ministers within the history of the church in the first century before Ignatius began imposing Hierarchy, which became increasingly more patristic. Throughout the revivals of succeeding centuries God’s Spirit powerfully anointed many leading women, notably among the Quakers, Methodists and Pentecostals. Indeed, there are today many women, who have been called and are also evidently anointed by God to serve the Lord’s Church faithfully and well in all its offices. This is not surprising since true ministry is through the Holy Spirit’s activity through the minister’s yielded spirit - not their gender-specific flesh. “God whom I serve in my spirit” (Rom 1:9.) “We are the true circumcision who serve by the Spirit of God, putting no confidence in the flesh” ( Phil 3:3)