Question: "Can women serve as elders in the church?"

Answer: There are two primary viewpoints on the question of whether women can serve as elders in the church. The egalitarian view holds that women can serve as elders as long as they fulfill the requirements as outlined in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. The complementarian view affirms the opposite and states that women are not allowed to serve in the capacity of elder within the church of Jesus Christ.

The most extensive passage that discusses the qualifications for elders is 1 Timothy 3:1-7: “The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil” (ESV).

Some argue, based on the presence of exclusively masculine pronouns (he and his) in the passage that only men can serve as elders. It is true that in most English translations, the pronouns he, his, and him occur numerous times in 1 Timothy 3:1–7. The problem with this is that in the original Greek of 1 Timothy 3:1–7, there are no masculine pronouns. In English translations of 1 Timothy 3:1–7, pronouns are added for the purposes of sentence structure. Why do Bible translators typically use masculine pronouns in 1 Timothy 3:1–7? Because there is one primary masculine noun, man, in verse 2, and it is modified by several masculine adjectives and participles in verses 2–7. In the original Greek text, the phrase husband of one wife or, more accurately, one-woman man is the only explicit reference to gender in 1 Timothy 3:1–7. Another passage, Titus 1:5–9, also gives the qualifications for elders and is structured similarly.

All of the qualifications for elders are directly linked to “husband/man” in 1 Timothy 3:2. A woman cannot be a “one woman man,” biblically speaking. If Paul intended to include women in the elder qualifications, he could have structured the passage differently. He could have said “faithfully married to one spouse” or something similar. The consistent use of masculine terminology argues strongly for the office of elder/overseer being restricted to men. As with other issues in this debate, the question of women serving as elders is not a matter of chauvinism. In no sense is this a matter of men being superior to women. Rather, God restricts the office of elder to men because that is how He has structured the church to function. Godly men are to serve as servant leaders, with women serving in crucially important supporting roles.