Dr. Harold Hoehner, distinguished professor of New Testament studies at Dallas Theological Seminary created a kerfluffle in some quarters with a paper he delivered at the November 2006 meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society. I have not seen the paper, but Dr. James Hamilton, assistant professor of Biblical Studies at the Houston campus of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary expresses dismay with Hoehner’s paper in a blog dated a short time after the ETS meeting. Noting that Hoehner’s view in the ETS paper is essentially the same as what he wrote in his commentary on Ephesians, Hamilton quotes from Hoehner’s commentary to summarize an idea in both the commentary and ETS paper:
Some may question the validity of women pastors or pastor-teachers, but it must be remembered that these are gifts and not offices. Surely, women who pastor-shepherd among women should cause no problem at all (Titus 2:3–4). But in fact, Priscilla, along with Aquila, taught Apollos the way of God more accurately (Acts 18:25–26) which would indicate that a woman may not be limited to teaching only women” (Ephesians, 546).
Hamilton then states the nubbin of his concern with Hoehner’s idea about women and the gift of pastor-teacher:
It is shocking to me that Dr. Hoehner here expressly affirms that women can do what Paul expressly forbids them from doing in 1 Timothy 2:12. On the basis of an example recorded in the narrative of Acts, Dr. Hoehner is prepared to overturn a direct apostolic prohibition.
Several issues are entangled here:
- Is pastor-teacher in Ephesians 4 a spiritual gifting, similar to other charismata?
- If so, is pastor-teacher a gift given to men only, or to men and women alike?
- If women can and do possess the spiritual gift of pastor-teacher, may such women so gifted serve as elders in the church?
Is Pastor-teacher a spiritual gift?
As a specific term, “pastor-teacher” appears in Ephesians 4:11, along with apostles, prophets, and evangelists. In these verses, it is the individuals who are said to be given by Christ, not gifts to individuals. The identification of these ministering persons (i.e. apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastor-teachers) with the charismata of 1 Corinthians 12 follows from the latter passage expressly mentioning prophecy in a list of charismata. From this fact, one might conclude that the other persons in Ephesians 4 possess corresponding charismata – namely the charism of apostleship, evangelism, and pastor-teaching.
Against this inference is the way Paul seems to speak to a related but different notion in 1 Corinthians 12 when he says that “God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, gifts of healings, … [etc.]” In fact, one commenter at Hamilton’s blog, Ray Van Neste, puts the point this way:
Even the labelling of the items in Eph 4 as “spiritual gifts” is suspect. This passage does not lists ‘gifts’ in the same way that Paul does in 1 cor for example. Eph 4 refers to people, not simply gifts. Paul says Christ has given these people (even ‘offices’) to the church. The background of the OT quote there supports this as well (particularly as argued by Gary Smith [JETS article several years back] and followed by O’Brien).
If “pastor-teacher” is not a gift, if it is not one of the things Paul is talking about in 1 Corinthians 12, then the question about “female pastors” becomes far less cogent. But, for the moment, let’s assume that pastor-teacher is indeed a charism of the Spirit and ask the next question:
Is the gift of pastor-teacher given to women as well as men?
In an absolute sense, we cannot say “yes” or “no,” for no statement of the New Testament expressly answers this question. Our speculation would draw on two related questions: (1) what would a gift of pastor-teacher look like in practice and (2) do we ever see women ministering in such a way?
The ministry of a pastor-teacher seems fairly straight-forward: to teach in such a way as to promote and secure the spiritual maturity of those to whom one ministers with this spiritual gifting. Hamilton cites several passages in the NT linking the notion of shepherding (in an ecclesiastical sense) to teaching, all of them rooted in Christ’s charge to Peter: “Feed my sheep.” Do women perform this function in the New Testament? Titus 2 comes immediately to mind (older women ministering to younger women) as well as Lois’ and Eunice’s rearing of Timothy in the Scriptures (1 Timothy 3:15, 2 Timothy 1:5).
Priscilla’s alleged teaching ministry to Apollos is simply that — alleged. Both Priscilla and Aquila are credited by Luke in Acts with a teaching ministry to Apollos, but nothing is known as to what – if anything – Priscilla had to do with teaching Apollos. Egalitarians would have us believe that Priscilla conducted Bible class while Aquila served tea. Even if this speculation were granted, it would hardly direct Apostolic prohibition of such a ministry, as one finds in 1 Timothy 2.
Still, the teaching-shepherding work of the church falls as much to women as motherhood falls to women, whether it be biological motherhood (Eunice), extended-family motherhood (Lois), or “spiritual” motherhood (cf. 1 Tim. 5:2). And if it is reasonable for women to do the work of pastor-teachers to others, it is no less reasonable to suppose the Holy Spirit would give a special gifting for this work to some of these women.
May women with a gift of pastor-teacher serve as elders in the church?
Hamilton says “no,” arguing that elder and shepherd are so closely identified in the NT passages that a prohibition against women serving as elders would necessarily extend to a ministry as a pastor-teacher. Again, if pastor-teacher is NOT a spiritual gifting on a par with the other expressly named spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12, then the question about women pastors does not arise. On the other hand, if one understands pastor-teacher as one of the charismata, this still does not force the conclusion that women may serve as elders, for that scope of ministry is expressly prohibited by Paul to women as far as men being the targets of such ministry.
The standard egalitarian claim goes like this: “If I am gifted for ministry X, then I am entitled to perform ministry X in the Church.” This claim – stated in this fashion – masks a further claim, namely that to perform ministry X one must be able to perform that ministry toward any and all persons in the Church. This is what Paul directly contradicts in 1 Timothy 2, where he prohibits women from teaching or exercising authority over men.
Does this mean that no woman may have a spiritual gift of teaching? Or a spiritual gift of pastor-teacher? Of course not. And, this was a point made by Charles Ryrie in a theology class in which I was enrolled at Dallas Seminary 30 years ago. If Paul restricts the scope of a woman’s teaching ministry, this does not mean she has no teaching ministry. If Paul restricts the scope of a woman’s ministry to rule over a certain domain, by excluding men from those domains Paul does not deprive her of all domains over which she may rule. Paul never said women may not teach or exercise authority. He said they may not teach men, that they may not exercise authority over men. This is the chief complaint of the egalitarian – that by circumscribing the scope of their teaching and ruling ministry, Paul has utterly denied women these ministries.
Fortunately for the Church, no one ever thought this way until the past 50 years or so. Instead, women have been ruling and teaching with vigor, perseverance, and fruitfulness for about 20 centuries. And, the Church is blessed by these women who taught and ruled their domains in accordance with the Law of Christ.
The source of the confusion
Much confusion, and much occasion for egalitarian duplicity, arises from the way Baptists equivocate with the word “pastor.” It is the standard term of art in their communion for what the Bible calls an elder, and what the Presbyterians call a teaching elder. Having settled on “pastor” as the name of the chief minister in their congregations, Baptists’ commendable compliance with Paul’s teaching in 1 Timothy 2 makes it difficult for them to speak of “pastoral ministry” being done by women. If they speak of female pastors, this registers in Baptist ears as if women were entitled to serve as the chief officer of the congregation. To avoid this notion, however, traditional Baptists speak with great reluctance about women as doing pastoral work, thus providing egalitarian agitators with occasion to malign Baptist compliance with Pauline teaching on how churches should be organized and how ministry should be done.
Christian communions which follow the Western catholic (note the small “c”) ecclesiology do not have this problem. Romans, Lutherans, and Anglicans have a bishop (NT episkopos, an overseer) as the chief ecclesiastical officer whose ministry is carried out by his vicars (representatives) who are called priests or presbyters. Local administrative ministry is vested in deacons (as the office was created in Acts).
The point: the terms used to designate these officers of the Church employ the same terms as the New Testament for those offices, leaving terms such as “pastor” and “pastor-teacher” to name ministries which are performed by officers and non-officers (i.e. laity). In this terminological universe (derived from the Bible) there is “room” to speak of women doing pastoral ministry or women possessing a gift of pastor-teacher without simultaneously saying that such women are (or ought to be) officers in the Church.