Deborah: Her Crucial Role in the Discussion

Deborah: Her Crucial Role in the Discussion January 17, 2012

From CBE:

This piece is by Dr. Nijay Gupta (MDiv , Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, PhD, University of Durham) is an author and assistant professor of biblical studies at Seattle Pacific Seminary. In his free time, Dr. Gupta spends time with his family, traveling, and eating good food.

This article previously appeared on the blog of the Center for Biblical and Theological Education at Seattle Pacific University (

* * * * * *

When it comes to the issue of whether woman can and should be in leadership (and/or teaching positions) in the church, there are two obvious views—either the Bible says they can and should, or it demands that they can’t andshouldn’t. For many people, the matter simply comes down to quoting verses from the Bible. “The Bible clearly says…” (Can I make a suggestion? Let’s stop beginning debates this way!)

Why is Deborah so ignored in our churches?

For some, you simply need to turn to the apostle Paul. Doesn’t he write, “I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man” (1 Tim. 2:12)? What does this tell us? It seems to say that women have been given a general command to refrain from seeking positions of authority and instruction in the church. What is the rationale? Paul continues, “For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor” (1 Tim. 2:13-14). Now, if Paul were simply trying to communicate that he universally does not permit women to teach and have authority, and that he still values and supports women in general, it would be odd to use this kind of rationale. It seems like Paul is saying that because Eve was deceived (having something to do with being created second), she is unqualified to teach because her intelligence, wisdom, or shrewdness (call it whatever you will) does not reach the same height as Adam’s. (I am going to argue that this is rubbish, but I am trying to go along with a certain reading of this text for a reason.)

Does Paul intend to say that women should not teach because they lack a certain kind of intellectual capacity suitable for that task?

I think that, based on what seems to be going on in the context of the letter, there is a particular reason why Paul makes this command. The mentioning of Eve is not a way of making the teaching universalized based on gender, but to point out that Eve was hasty in responding to the snake, when Adam was clearly better informed of the situation (which has nothing to do with his gender, but everything to do with the fact that he probably received the commands and prohibitions about the trees before Eve was created and, thus, should have responded to the serpent, not Eve, because he had first-hand knowledge). So, given the false teaching Paul is concerned about in the Ephesian churches, he is discouraging women who want to usurp power from men, because they need to get their facts straight before acting on second-hand information. (My goal is not to get into the nettle of what 1 Timothy 2:12-15 is about, but to use it as an entry point into a discussion of women and their capacity to lead in the church. However, for a good approach to this matter from a conservative scholar who does not think it prohibits women from teaching in the church, see Ben Witherington’s Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians, pp. 228ff.)

What can we say, then, about the intelligence and leadership capabilities of women according to Scripture? Some would have us put women in their rightful place so that creation-established balance can be maintained. Here is where I think Deborah makes all the difference.

In a time and place where women were not considered to be suitable for leadership (the Ancient Near East in the time of Israel’s settling into the land of Canaan), with Deborah we have a woman who was already serving as leader and judge over Israel (Judg. 4:4). Could this have been a badthing? Could it be that Deborah shouldn’t have been the national judge? Perhaps, but the “Song of Deborah” (Judg. 5) seems to affirm the leadership of Deborah (see 5:7; also 5:12). She is hailed as “motherly protector in Israel” (5:7). Did Israel worry about a woman leading the nation in this way? If women were considered more gullible, why would God take this kind of risk?

What is more, she served as a competent adjudicator of civil matters as “the Israelites went up to her to have their disputes decided” (4:5). Who else before this time in Israel had such a role? We do not know for sure, but the language used of Deborah strongly resembles the imagery of Moses in Exodus 18:13.

Now, someone might say that Deborah was not a real “judge” because she didn’t lead in battle, but Barak did. However, Deborah was the one that “summoned” Barak in the first place and she went with Barak. She formed a partnership and they worked together. Some scholars reason that this shouldn’t have happened either. My friend Daniel Kirk (who does affirm women in church leadership, but finds the character Deborah insignificant on this subject) makes this argument:

“The fight into which she (Deborah) ends up leading the people is a fight that should have been waged by Barak. When he is too afraid to go out and fight, she says she will go with him. But in consequence of, literally, hiding behind the skirts of Deborah, Barak will not gain honor from his victory: ‘for YHWH will hand Sisera over to a woman'” (Judg. 4:9).

While I admire Kirk’s attention to detail, I think that there is one key point he is missing: the “Song of Deborah” (again Judg. 5) gives us a healthy interpretive lens through which to view the events of Judges 4—and I don’t think we get any sense that Deborah was butting into Barak’s business. In fact, the fact that both Deborah and Barak sing this song implies (to me) that their partnership did the trick. Even if Barak had a lack of faith (by asking Deborah along), that doesn’t say anything about the appropriateness or quality of Deborah’s leadership.

Kirk makes another argument—the shrewdness and wisdom of women in Joshua and Judges is meant to shame the downfall of the Israelite men, not to make an argument in favor of gender equality. I think Kirk is right. In fact, I agree with Old Testament scholar Daniel Block who writes,

“The biblical author was obviously interested in women’s affairs and achievements, but in the final analysis Deborah and Jael are not heroic figures because of their revisionist challenges to prevailing social structures; they are heroines because of what they accomplish as agents of the divine agenda, which in this instance has less to do with overthrowing oppressive patriarchs than the role they play in Yahweh’s overthrowing oppressive Canaanites.”

I don’t think Judges promotes gender equality as a primary point. However, Deborah makes all the difference by implication. She is a reliable prophet (who speaks from the wisdom of God), and a trustworthy teacher—as the Song of Deborah proves. In a sense, she becomes one of the “authors” of Scripture (with her teaching inscribed into Judg. 5), and by implication an authoritative evangelist through her testimony.

I have met women who have said that when they got up to preach, men (and sometimes other women) got up and walked out, offended by a “woman leader” in the church. I wonder how the Israelites felt about Deborah. Did anyone walk out on her? Did anyone condemn her for speaking on behalf of God? Did anyone encourage her to take more interest in her domestic duties? We don’t know. What we do know is that it was the Lord’s will to use her as a leader of God’s people to deliver them (with Barak’s help as general). Judges does not offer a command to promote women, but it only takes one example like Deborah to show that women are just as capable in leadership as men. Leadership did not suppress Deborah’s femininity, but gave her an important setting to be “motherly protector” (5:7).


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  • Thank you for this excellent post on Deborah. I’ve been teaching a workshop on the biblical basis for women in leadership at the Northwest Ministry Conference in Redmond, Washington for the past 6 years {and am scheduled to do it again this coming March). Deborah is always part of the discussion. The fact that God chose her in a patriarchal culture and time in history seems very significant in the discussion about women’s roles in the church. Though there only is one “Deborah” in Scripture she was used and chosen by God to accomplish his purposes. She led and taught. Nowhere in the text is there any sense of condemnation or disapproval by God of her actions. Though culturally not the norm, having a woman leader and teacher was acceptable by God for his people.

    At another workshop about women in ministry I attended, the lecturer mentioned that rather than starting with Paul and seeing his teaching as restricting women, we need to look at Jesus and his view of women. His approach to women was radical. He included them, taught them and sent them. Paul continued this trajectory that Jesus started…even though that’s sometimes hard to see for us today.

    Obviously God is for women. After all, they are created in his image…also.

  • An excellent and timely post, thank you

  • What does Deborah teach us about the role of women in the church and the home?

    Not much.

    Deborah is a prophetess and a successful military leader in a national context. She was not an elder in the church. While she was identified as the wife of Lapidoth, we don’t know much about their home life.

    Deborah is invoked based on some leadership qualities described in a completely unrelated context. I don’t invoke the complementarian argument to refuse to work under a woman where I am employed. I don’t invoke it if a woman is an elected official in my state or nation. Paul is speaking very specifically and very clearly about the role of men and women in the church and the home and to try to use Deborah to override what he wrote is like trying to invoke Ulysses S. Grant as a model for servant leadership in the church. Grant might have been a great general but I don’t think you want him as an elder in the church. Different context, different skill set.

    This is a classic example of trying to use an example of an unrelated event to overturn clear and explicit teaching. If you don’t want to follow what Paul taught just say so or chalk it up to the culture of the day. Trying to draw Deborah out as some sort of trump card is frankly silly.

  • RJS


    I’ve heard this argument before. It wasn’t as common 30 or 60 or 100 or 200 years ago because society still allowed the fiction that women were incompetent to leadership roles in general, and because women in some very nuanced ways ‘belonged’ to their husbands. The argument was that women were unsuited and did extend to all spheres.

    I find your form of argument relegating Paul’s prescriptions to church rather unconvincing and inconsistent. I know many hold it.

  • Diane

    Deborah was a wise leader; I’d also hold up Abigail, who managed, through wise, decisive action to prevent David from slaughtering her village. I would argue that the much-maligned Bathsheba also exercised leadership in establishing a long-lasting political partnership with Nathan. However, all of this will mean nothing to those who argue against women’s leadership in the church, as all of this happened outside the church, in the same way that Sarah Palin possibly becoming President didn’t open, in some minds, a parallel path for women to head churches. I am sorry for that attitude and hope it will change to become open to women’s full participation in church leadership.

  • Diane

    Arthur posted while I was writing my post. There you have it.

  • Diane


    I would argue that the NT shows and approves women teaching. The Syro-Phon. woman teaches Jesus, and he honors her for that. Mary Magdalene teaches the apostles that Jesus had risen. The Virgin Mary’s Magnificat (ie, Mary) instructs people in the church all the time.

  • Jeremy

    When I read about Deborah or Abigail I see events described with not a lot of interpretation offered (within scripture). The primary aim seems to be to simply describe what happened. There are implications to be gleaned, to be sure, but they are not made clear by scripture itself. When I read Paul, the language is much more prescriptive and the it’s clear intention is to be instructive rather than just a record of what happened.

    Where does the issue of “descriptive” text vs. “prescriptive” text come into play with this issue?

  • This post does a great job of digging into the biblical story of Deborah. I’ve been thinking lately that it can’t be likely that Paul would knowingly say women were unfit to serve as religious leaders or prophets if he knew about Deborah and Huldah. It’s interesting because we’re generally OK with situational commands in scripture for other topics, but with women in ministry, we actually have some great proof that Paul was making a situational command.

    I’ve been working at the Deborah story from the NT to the OT just to test things out: If Paul was making an absolute command that women are inherently unfit to lead in a spiritual capacity, then we have a real problem when we look back and find God appointing women as prophets and judges. In essence, we put Paul at odds with God if Paul made absolute statements against women teaching men. In fact, such a reading creates more textual problems than it solves.

    And by the way… At my blog I’m hosting a weekly series of guest posts by women in ministry that is dedicated to telling their stories for readers who are done with having this debate.

  • Jeremy, I think the key in this story is that the story of Deborah describes God appointing a woman as a national/spiritual leader. So when we read that God had no trouble working through a woman in those capacities, we need to ask: why would God inspire Paul to later write that women can’t?

  • T


    The reason that it’s relevant is this: some argue that Paul, when referencing Eve in the quoted passage, is saying that women, by their *created nature*, are not qualified to teach or lead or have authority. I, for one, think there is a great deal of overlap in the NT “elder” and the OT judge, but even if you don’t, the issue is about how we should read Paul’s argument about women “teaching or having authority over a man” when Deborah did both. The author of the post is saying that if we read Paul’s argument to say that women, by a feature of their created gender, are too easily corrupted or led astray to lead, then what do we say about God’s choice of Deborah? The implication is that we may be reading Paul wrongly, especially considering his intimacy with the OT, and his encouragement for women to prophesy.

  • John W Frye

    Arthur (#3),
    By your comment I think many of us know where you’re coming from in terms of interpreting 1 Tim. 2:11 ff. No problem there. This is the nature of the case on this topic. What bothers me is that you walk into this conversation like a flat-footed Philistine, simply trampling on those who hold another view than yours. As you must know, there is very serious evangelical biblical scholarship that does not reach the same interpretation as yours on 1 Tim. 2:11 ff. regarding the ministry of women in the church.

    Jeremy (#8), you raise a kind of either/or with the categories “descriptive” and “prescriptive.” If “descriptive” then we can assume there no compelling reason to apply them today. If “prescriptive,” then we are bound by them in all places/churches at all times. Paul’s words in 1 Tim 2: 11ff (in context of the whole letter) are definitely prescriptive to the situation prevailing in the Ephesian church *at the time.* Understanding something as prescriptive not make it automatically timeless. So, the teaching is not prescriptive for every church in every age. It is *ad hoc* apostolic direction from Paul to Timothy about solving a specific teaching problem in 1st century Ephesus.

  • John W Frye

    Sorry for the grammatical errors in comment #12. -JF

  • Jeremy

    Ed, that’s true, but it doesn’t address why God worked through Deborah the way he did. I don’t know that the telling of this story necessarily carries an inherent approval. In fact, many believe that the significance of the story of Deborah is in showing just how far the men of Israel were falling short of their calling (the same could be said of Abigail, in a sense).

    It just seems to me that it would make more sense to interpret Deborah in light of the clear and explicit teach of Paul rather than interpreting Paul’s clear statements in light of the implied implications of Deborah.

  • Bob Smallman

    I recall Barton Payne — hardly a shill for leftwing evangelicalism — saying in a class on the OT Historical Books (40 years ago) that for him Deborah’s role settled the issue of women in leadership.

  • Jeremy, I’ve heard that perspective a lot and even tried that view out for myself for a season. The trick is that God was speaking through Deborah. If it was “wrong” for a woman to lead or prophecy, why would God “sin” just to make a point that the men of Israel were falling short? If Paul’s teaching is clear and simple, then God was violating an absolute command that he would later pass on to Paul through the Spirit. So Deborah and Huldah the prophet had to be approved by God in order for their stories to make sense. There are plenty of instances in Hebrew narrative of the author stating whether someone did or did not follow God. So we have both the absence of condemnation from the author and a clear story about God choosing to use a woman. Whatever you think God’s motives were, you can’t escape the tension you create by making Paul’s commands about women an absolute ban on their leadership and religious roles.

  • T


    But when we say “clear teachings of Paul” here’s what I always think of, which may take a bit of imagination if you’re not in a church that knowingly practices the gift of prophecy: Paul encouraged women (along with Peter quoting Joel) to prophesy in their gatherings–so long as they didn’t use their (new?) participation as an excuse to show disrespect to their husbands (head coverings). Now, again, for folks who don’t knowingly practice the gift of prophecy today, it can be tough to imagine anyone prophesying let alone women doing so in a gathering of the church. But that is exactly what Paul encouraged in his churches. How many churches who attempt to implement this “clear” teaching of Paul allow let alone encourage women to do anything that approximates the level of significance (authority?) of women prophesying in a gathering of believers? If we put ourselves in the churches of Paul, even if we somehow believe God later stopped doing some gifts, how clear is this teaching of Paul about women prophesying, but being silent? To say that Paul is so clear on this point that we aren’t aided by biblical examples to better know his mind is not fair to what’s actually written, neither the teachings and the examples.

  • Resi Arriot

    When Paul says 1Tim 2:8, “I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing” why don’t those against women in leadership see that as “prescriptive”??

    Could be they are just a bit selective about what’s “prescriptive”…

  • Jeremy

    Ed, I don’t think God is bound to the order he establishes for us in the same way we are. In other words, I don’t think there’s case to be made that God sinned by doing what he did (whatever you’re belief about Paul’s statement). Also, I don’t think it is wrong for women to lead in a civil context or for a women to prophesy. Like “T” said, Paul encourages the latter. In that sense, Deborah still fits within Paul’s apparent paradigm. I don’t know that Deborah being a prophet or a leader in Israel is even a perfect parallel to a women in the pastorate.

    All that said, I’m certainly open to viewing Paul’s statements in their context and interpreting accordingly. But, nonetheless, his statements are pretty clear and so it seems to me the burden of proof would be on those attempting to mitigate his instructions.

    T, my church actually does practice the gift of prophecy and women play a HUGE role in that. Reconciling that with his admonition that women be silent in church certainly requires that we take some contextual issues into account. The fact that there are such clear and opposing statements makes this necessary. But are there equally clear and opposing statements to 1 Tim 2? Appealing to Deborah here is not all that helpful in my mind. It may be some kind of evidence, but I don’t think it carries the same kind of weight as the opposing statements in the prophesy/silent issue.

  • Robert A

    This is what I don’t get about the egalitarian camp (I’m a semi-complimentarian): they stretch to the limits to find reasonable examples of female leadership in the Bible (Junia anyone?) and then apply a hermeneutic that on any other ground they would challenge.

    Deborah is a great example of a woman in a leadership role. I love having women in leadership roles. We need women in leadership roles. The only problem is that Deborah wasn’t a pastor.

    If you want to make an argument for women in ministry (honestly I think it can be made) don’t work on the fringes and draw in unnecessary examples…get to the meat of the thing.

    FTR, this summer I’m doing a series on what we can learn from women in the Bible (not called that) using examples of Deborah, Ruth, Esther, etc.

  • Good luck with that can of worms you’re opening, Jeremy! I’ve said my bit and will leave it there.
    Blessings to you.

  • T


    First, awesome! I’m thrilled that you’re in a church that encourages practice of prophecy for men and women. Let me add that such a practice changes the discussion in positive ways. The most notable is what we mean by a women using “authority” over a man or anyone else. Of course, to talk about Christian leadership or teaching or prophecy as *essentially* about having authority over others is off-center at best. Nevertheless, when anyone prophesies (or teaches) in the church, there is of course the hope and expectation, by definition, that such message is “authorized” by God. As such, even though we encourage everyone to “weigh what is said” and test it against scripture, the potential for a given prophetic message (or teaching) to have authority in a person’s life is hard to overstate. My point is this: the congregation essentially receives teaching and the prophetic with the same attempt at discernment and the same tests, and both can be authoritative. More directly is this: Paul cannot encourage women to prophesy in the general congregation and simultaneously not ever want them to say anything authoritative. If prophecy is legit (which individuals and communities discern), it carries authority.

    Now, I know that’s not the end of the discussion by any means, but my experience is that most folks interpret Paul’s ban on women “authority” or “teaching” men in such a way that her prophesying would be nonsensical. You (not trying to put words in your mouth) seem to say that a woman should be able to speak with authority in the church, via prophesy, even when men are present. Am I hearing you right?

  • Jon G

    Not saying anything about whether or not women should lead, but does it bother anyone that using the fact that Deborah DID lead doesn’t say anything at all about whether Deborah SHOULD HAVE led? The patriarchs also were polygamists…does that mean the SHOULD have had multiple wives?

    I’m just playing Devil’s advocate here. I don’t really have a dog in this fight, I just don’t like confusing what occurs in Scripture for what God wants to occur (which He may have very well endorsed Deborah – I don’t know…I’d have to go back and read about her). It’s a slippery slope though…

  • @20 Robert A

    Deborah is a great example of a woman in a leadership role. I love having women in leadership roles. We need women in leadership roles. The only problem is that Deborah wasn’t a pastor.

    Correct me if I am wrong, but the office of Pastor only existed after the Church was formed after Pentecost. So, no she couldn’t have been a Pastor. IMHO, what she does show is that female leadership is a possibility even in an overtly patriarchal culture.

  • T

    Jon G,

    There are several parts of Deborah’s story that make it hard to argue that her leadership, either as a judge or a prophet, was counter to God’s will. She is not criticized in the story in any way, and the stories of the judges don’t hesitate to criticize their subjects or portray them in a bad light. In Deborah’s case, the story does nothing but praise her and portray her as faithful and a true prophet of God.

  • Jon G

    T, just to push back a bit, couldn’t you say the same thing about the patriarchs committing polygamy? The Bible doesn’t explicitly criticize them either. Abraham is highly praised for his faithfulness…

    Look, I’m not saying God didn’t appoint/approve of Deborah. I just think people are taking liberties with the text. Maybe it is obvious that Deborah was approved of by God, but I think to use it in this discussion leaves one’s arguments open to easy attacks.

  • Jeremy


    I think the distinction I would make is that the receiver of the prophetic word (man or woman) is not accountable to the giver in the same way that they are to their pastoral authority. Whatever authority is present in the word itself doesn’t come from the person in such a way that I am then accountable to them with regards to that word (or anything else, for that matter). So while I agree that there is a type of authority involved, it’s of a completely different kind such that the exhortation for women to prophesy in church is not at all in conflict with a thoroughly complementarian view of church leadership.

  • T


    On polygamy, I’m actually one of those folks who would argue that the Bible does not condemn it as strongly as we do. That said, Jacob had to be tricked into polygamy, and wasn’t happy about it. Abraham’s relations with Hagar are also not praised and he is eventually commanded to send her away. So . . . to answer your question, no, we can’t say the same thing about polygamy as Deborah’s service as a prophet and judge. To argue they enjoy the same level of approval is, to be charitable, thin.

    But another point needs to be made. The common interpretation of Paul’s reference to Eve says that women aren’t merely chosen arbitrarily not to lead (similar to how societies pick a side of the road to drive upon), but that Paul supposedly forbids women to lead because they are created in such a way as to make them incapable of doing it well. So, Deborah is not significant only a positive role model in the scriptures, but also because she makes the interpretation of Paul that women are constitutionally wrong for leadership seem questionable.

  • P.

    As Jeremy himself said, you need to look at context when considering the “clear teachings” of Paul and women in leadership. The context of the day was that women were forbidden to learn, or at least strongly discouraged from doing so. They couldn’t even testify in court. So, someone who was rather ingnorant would not be suitable for leadership. But, there’s always a “but,” Paul did say that women must learn – a very powerful pro-female statment.

    I totally agree with Scott on Deborah and the position of women in leadership. I don’t know if this will change any minds, though, because people against women in leadership usually have a view of women already formed and then read the Bible through that view.

  • @ Steve D #24 –

    I agree with you, to a point, that having a female Israelite leader doesn’t necessarily force the validity or prohibition of females in the Church’s pastoral office (at least as far as I can see). But, I do think that given the full Biblical witness, the only respectable position which remains IS one where if women can’t hold pastoral office, it is simply a matter of that office not being intended to them for some reason (much like being a priest was assigned to the Levites. ie: it wasn’t due to their ability or capacity as different from any other Israelite). The idea that women lack something or are a certain way which prohibits them, due to their being female, falls flat.

    The problem, then, seems to be WHAT to do with 1 Tim. 2:13-14, as that would seem to be how one would have to read it if taking it at face value. (This seems to be the point this article is stressing.) In other words, this passage seems to force people to a) women in pastoral office, and that in context, what Paul seems to be saying on the face of it, isn’t what he’s meaning, or b) there is actually something inferior about women, such that they shouldn’t hold pastoral office.

    Note: I need some new terms, as I hate egalitarian and complementarian. Certainly, we’re designed in many complementary ways, so that in general, I think roles exist. (Having said that, I’m a stay at home dad. They roles are general design tendency best-fits, not absolutes.) On the other side of the coin, I don’t think our being equal necessarily forces the position that women have a right to pastoral office. If God said no, we could still be equal without any kind of conflict.

    So, I think 1 Tim. 2:12-15 is a tough verse for the pro-women-in-ministry people, but equally or more problematic for those opposed. (Unless you’re willing to say women are inferior, which then runs into problems with other passages.)

  • Diane

    Let me try this: A huge swathe of Christendom believes women should be allowed to lead as pastors and elders. This is not necessarily an Enlightenment thought: many “radical” groups, such as the early Brethren and Quakers, allowed women pastoral roles. Today, many women are convinced God has called them to lead churches as the pastor. What if they are right? What if–possibly–the complementarian interpretation of Timothy is wrong? Shouldn’t we give women the opportunity to lead? What is the Church as a whole losing if we are stifling people God has called?

  • Sue

    There is no prohibition on women filling a pastoral role. Authenteo, used in 1 Tim 2:12 was a word synonymous with the word used in 1 Peter 5:3. “not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock” Men can’t do it and women can’t do it either.

    There is no verse in the Bible which says women cannot be elders or fill a pastoral role, and to make 1 Tim 2:12 into that verse, means that the original Greek has been completely abandoned as the word of God.

  • Elaine

    “Whatever authority is present in the word itself doesn’t come from the person in such a way that I am then accountable to them with regards to that word (or anything else, for that matter). So while I agree that there is a type of authority involved, it’s of a completely different kind such that the exhortation for women to prophesy in church is not at all in conflict with a thoroughly complementarian view of church leadership.”-


    I am curious to know where you find this particular distinction in Scripture?

  • Jeremy

    Elaine, when it comes to prophecy we are encouraged to not despise the prophecy itself. Nowhere that I can see is any sort of inherent personal authority granted to the giver of the word over the receiver of the word. To the extent that the prophecy reflects the mind of the Lord (as confirmed by scripture, pastoral covering, and other relationships) the receiver is accountable to the Lord.

    Basically, my answer is that I don’t see that kind of prophetic authority established anywhere and the burden would be on those who would argue for it to show that it exists.

    On the other hand, pastoral authority is well established and laid out (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet 5:1-4; Titus 1:7-9; et. al.)

    Others, I don’t see a complementarian reading of scripture as implying that there is anything “inferior” about women at all. Like Steve said, there’s nothing that necessarily gives roles any correlation to value. The way I see it is that shepherding/pastoring is very much related to fathering. “Mothering” is certainly necessary in the church, but it looks different and does not carry the same kind of authority, although it is in no way inferior as far as it’s value. A mother could call herself a father and act like a father, but there are still some things a mother will never be able to impart to her children that a father can (and vise-versa!). Again, value, or even ability, doesn’t come into play here. Rather God ordered things according to his purpose and just because we can recognize that a woman can “do” all the things a man can do in a pastoral role does not mean we can see the whole picture.

  • Jeremy

    Er, that’s *vice*-versa…

  • Sue

    Although one may think of women mothering and men fathering, the application is that men are allowed to undertake any task, if they wish, while women are restricted. There is a list of restrictions for women, and none for men.

  • E.A.B

    Jeremy, I believe your statement “Nowhere that I can see is any sort of inherent personal authority granted to the giver of the word over the receiver of the word” can be said of pastors as well. Nothing in the verses you cited gives “overseers” any inherent personal authority over others. In fact, Jesus himself said that we are not to exercise authority over others as the gentile rulers do, but instead become the slave of all. Rather the verses (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet 5:1-4; Titus 1:7-9) are exhortations to the shepherds as to how they themselves should behave. The only place that I can see where you might get “inherent personal authority” from these passages is by conflating a human being’s authority (the overseer or shepherd) with the Chief Shepherd’s authority in 1Pet.5. But authority isn’t mentioned in that passage at all. Instead, all of these passages cited above describe the overseer’s work as “being examples,” “encouraging,” “refuting,” “teaching sound doctrine,” and in the case of Acts 20, the illustration is of one who feeds, nurtures and if necessary lays down their life. I can’t find anything that shows that pastors have an inherent personal authority.

    In the case of both prophets and overseers, God confers authority on them to complete their task or calling. They both are authorized and given power to do their job. And frankly, we should be discerning with both prophets and pastors. When we recognize God’s anointing/calling on a person, we honor God by respecting the calling.

  • @ Sue #36 –

    That isn’t true, there are restrictions placed on men as well. The argument I was making, is that if pastoral office is is simply something God has not assigned women to, then so be it.** (For example, God said only Levites could be priests.) There is no injustice done. The problem, IMO, is when the argument starts leading to the position that women can’t or shouldn’t because they are in some way inferior. Which, is what 1 Tim. 2:13-14 seems to say at face value (which is why I don’t think that is a proper reading of that passage).

    **Note: That isn’t my position. I’m arguing for women in pastoral office. I’m just trying to show what I think the valid position would need to be on the other side of the fence to not be in gross error.

  • Sue


    There doesn’t seem to be a passage that says women cannot be elders or pastors. 1 Tim. 2:12 says that women should not domineer/usurp. There is no other passage that I can think of that says pastors must be male. There was a good word for male in Greek, but I don’t remember it being used in any discussion of leadership in the New Testament.

  • Diane

    As for complementarianism being defined as “equality with separation of function,” any time you have one group in the “separate but equal” equation repeatedly saying they are not equal–let’s face it, they’re not equal. We should at least drop the idea that complementarianism, as now structured, is a version of equality. De facto, it’s not. Authority equals power. Vesting church authority in men and denying those positions of authority to women, simply for being women, is by definition giving men more power.

  • Diane

    I also did a seminary paper on Timothy 2:12 and there is certainly a debate about what the original Greek means and a large body of opinion that believes, putting this statement in context with the rest of his writings, that “Paul” (who almost certainly didn’t write Timothy) is being descriptive about a particular situation, not proscriptively meaning to silence women for the rest of eternity.

  • Elaine


    That is what I see as well.

    It’s not a person’s own personal authority obtained from God. Paul didn’t take authority over people, but rather authority over error and false doctrine. It is the authority of God’s Word. The authority is God’s.

    The watchman protecting the “sheep” was told to identify false doctrine and to speak God’s word.(Titus 1:9)

    The “sheep” were to voluntarily submit to the protection for the very reason that the watchman on the wall did not have personal power over them. If the church did not listen to the warning, there is nothing that the overseer could do to force them.

    “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 speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God.” 1Peter 4:10,11

  • Dean

    It seems like one of the major points of Judges has been neglected. The point of Judges was that each generation was worse than the one before it. Even the leaders become less and less qualified, spirit led. We end up with Samson, a Nazorite, walking through a grape vineyard killing things with his bare hands breaking all kinds of vows he was supposed to be making to the Lord. A case can be made that Deborah’s leadership was the result of the nation of Israel’s progression down the spiraled road where they did whatever they wanted in God’s eyes. Yes, God was raising up leaders, under the pretense that each generation was gradually getting better thus the leaders reflected the nation.