N.T. Wright on Why Women SHOULD be in Pastoral Roles

N.T. Wright on Why Women SHOULD be in Pastoral Roles August 6, 2012

Early in my undergrad studies, I came to the realization that I had never wrestled with the issue of whether or not women should be pastors. At the church I worked at during this season, we did have one woman on staff called a “Pastor to Children and Women.” But, I had never been part of a church where women regularly preached or even functioned as lead pastors.

I now, after much study and prayer, believe that women are to be liberated for ministry! In fact, part of the reason I chose my denominational family, the Brethren in Christ, is because they ordain women as pastors and bishops without reservation.
When we tell women “No” we hold back the potential for the reign of God to surprise us in beautiful ways.

One helpful resource during this time of reflection was NT Wright’s Women’s Service in the Church: The Biblical Basis. He says:

I believe we have seriously misread the relevant passages in the New Testament, no doubt not least through a long process of assumption, tradition, and all kinds of post-biblical and sub-biblical attitudes that have crept in to Christianity. Just as I think we need radically to change our traditional pictures of the afterlife, away from the mediaeval models and back to the biblical ones, so we need radically to change our traditional pictures both of what men and women are and how they relate to one another within the church and indeed of what the Bible says on this subject. I do wonder, sometimes, if those who present radical challenges to Christianity have been all the more eager to make out that the Bible says certain things about women, as an excuse for claiming that Christianity in general is a wicked thing and we ought to abandon it. Of course, there have been plenty of Christians who have given outsiders plenty of chances to make that sort of comment. But perhaps in our generation we have an opportunity to take a large step back in the right direction.

The article is the best introduction to the subject of women in ministry that I have come across. I hope it serves as a resource for you.

Consider also these two videos as well:

For this video, you may need to turn up the volume on your computer as the sound quality is not as good!

Finally, I would invite you to look at my series: Liberating Women for Ministry.

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  • Absolutely, Yes! In every respect. I wrote a brief statement a few weeks ago on this same topic, where I referenced two short video clips from Ben Witherington. Here is the link for those interested in learning a little more about this important —  http://jeffkclarke.com/2012/07/09/women-in-ministry-absolutely/

    Thanks, Kurt!

  • Guest

    One thing to keep in mind: for Anglicans (like +Wright), there are two different questions: 1.) what is the role of women in “pastoral” positions in the church and 2.) what is the role of women in the priesthood. Pastoral roles and priesthood overlap, but are not the same. Wright is maintaining that there is no difference in either, while many Anglicans have no issue with women in leadership or pastoral roles that are outside the priesthood, but differ specifically on the eucharistic ministry. Also, I have tried to be convinced by the passage you referenced many times, but it doesn’t get around the main arguments from Tradition and Scripture, it simply offers a plausible conjecture (without, I might add, much support) for a potential view of what Paul meant in that specific passage. However, I find the Traditionalists argument to be much more forceful, and so explaining one piece of Scripture in context doesn’t really get at the heart of the matter. Of course, I am as Catholic as one can get without actually being a communicant in a Roman church, so Tradition has a tendency to color my views more than your typical evangelical. 

    • Guest

      I should rephrase that slightly. What I mean is, I think +Wright gives a nice plausible alternative understanding of the Scriptures involved, but wholesale acceptance of his argument (potentially) requires a view of Tradition that is opposed to what many Anglicans (and Catholics and Orthodox) hold. I would like to see a wider study done among the bishops of the Church rather than the piecemeal acceptance or rejection that we currently have. 

    • As an Anabaptist, so from a completely different tradition entirely, I would suggest that the very notion of priesthood–except for the priesthood of all believers–is antithetical to the New Covenant and should have been well and truly dismissed (more accurately, fulfilled) with the old.  As priests, all of us have a certain Eucharistic character to our ministry to each other, or none of us do.  We have, as St. Paul testifies in 1 Timothy, only one mediator.

  • Jordan Bradford

    The Assemblies of God has always allowed women in ministry, and I really like this article that explains why: http://enrichmentjournal.ag.org/200102/008_exploring.cfm

  • Gil T

    As much as I agree with N.T. Wright on the matter of the fuller reality of the royal priesthood of believers (my prefered biblical phrase) it is the pitiful, albeit off the cuff, reasons he offers. The two reasons he cites are as familiar as they are shallow and unnecessary.
    I will disagree with him on his referral for us to read I Timothy 2 as well as the commentary he recommends. We’ve being reading the best source all along. We’ve just continued to fail to draw any connection between Paul’s writings, five (six if Titus is included) of which were written to churches and mission workers in Asia.
    Artemis was to the Gentiles in Ephesus and Asia what Yahwhe was to the Jews in Jerusalem and Judea. Yet, despite the vital introduction of Artemis and Acts we remain oblivious to Paul’s allussion ad references to her in his writings AND how the cult of Artemis factored in his writings and especially I Timothy 2.

  • Bo Eberle

    This is a simple question of “are you a misogynist or aren’t you?” 

    • With respect,  @9a2b2f3554d34cda48c013ca96855ed5:disqus , not at all.  There are plenty of folks who disagree with the ordination of women who are not misogynist.  I’m closer in perspective to Kurt and Tom Wright than I am to their opponents, but painting the “other side” with such a condemning brush is neither accurate nor helpful.

  • I have read much about this subject, and cried many tears, as a woman called.

    This is the best explanation of the error of  male-supremacy within the  church, (started by the Judaisers, from whom Paul in his letters, warned the fledgling church against) that I have ever come across

  • Guest

    Genuine question from a complementarian (far from a misogynist, Bo). For women who work in full time ministry (or any job), what about the family? Do you all advocate daycare? Daycare seems like an abdication of a God-given responsibility IMHO. I’d love to hear thoughts!

    • Bo Eberle

      That’s right my friend, and the “separate but equal” folks pre-civil rights weren’t racists at all. Women are not inferior to men, they just can do the same cool stuff we can! Right on!

    • Bo Eberle

      And why would you need daycare if the father opts to stay at home while the mother earns a living?

      • Guest

        You wouldn’t in that case, but I never hear egalitarian folk advocating for stay at home dads.

    • Hi. I’m curious what your scriptural justification is for the aforementioned “God-given responsibility.”  How would daycare in any way be abdicating responsibility? I think the major mistake of many complementarians is that they have substituted Victorian ideals for Christian ones (the “angel in the home” is a notion that occurred after the industrial revolution–when men all of a sudden LEFT HOME to go to work; in agrarian days, men and women worked TOGETHER at home on the farm–and even then it was something only upper middle class people could afford–many women and children went to work in the factories during this time). 

      I work as a therapist and the reality is that whether or not people choose the daycare or stay at home route it should be an individual decision. Let’s face it, some people are happier when they have a job, and some people are happier staying at home with their kids–and all the research shows that daycare is not what psychologically damages children; but depressed mothers and fathers DO. And people get depressed when they feel like they are stuck and have no options (i.e. I MUST be a stay at home mom because that’s what God wants…talk about pressure!!). What if the church freed families to be more flexible in how they chose to care for their children? 

      Also, on a sidenote, well staffed daycares can be extraordinarily beneficial for children–enhanced immunity, social skills training, and exposure to other adults. There are many churches out there that offer excellent care by people who love children and feel called to their work. Many of the workers have education in early childhood development. How can entrusting the care of your children to people who love and care for your children be an abdication of responsibility? Seems pretty responsible to me…

      • Guest

        Thanks for the comment! Here are a few passages I am thinking of:

        –Ephesians 6:4 “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”  –Titus 2:3-5 “Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.”  –1 Timothy 2:15 “Yet she [i.e. women] will be saved through childbearing–if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.” 

        I think that if a mom works outside the home, her home must be the priority (“working at home” in Titus 2:5).

        I would love to hear your thoughts about 1 Tim 2:15, that women will be saved through childbearing. What do you think this verse means?

        I think very few choices should be “individual decisions.” For Christians, are called to intimate community. I am also not too worried about what makes people “happy” but what makes God “happy” – that is, what his word teaches.

        I totally believe there are well staffed daycare’s out there, but I bet 99/100 kids would rather be with their parents than a well educated daycare worker.

        Let me know what you think about those verses.


  • Oh look another Christian White-knight mangina. I’m pretty sure the Bible is rather clear about a woman’s role in church. I just can’t remember what it says… Can anyone remind me?

    • Wright

      Yeah, it says that when they prophesy in the church, they should have head coverings because of the angels.

      Though that may not be the one you had in mind.

      • Yeah…*when*, not *if.*

        • Wright


    • Read the article and you will “remember” 😉

  • KateHanch

    Kurt, I appreciate you showing NT Wright’s defense of women in ministry. We do need more men advocating for women in ministry.  I wish you would have included specific female voices/experiences in this posting as well, but perhaps that would be too long.  

    In addition to scriptural arguments, I think that we must realize how our language affects our theology, including the language of Scripture. For instance, referring to God solely as “he” in Scripture and liturgy makes us uncomfortable with the idea of God possessing feminine attributes, and can contribute to whom we select as church leaders. The language of the bible, like the language of today, is inherently anthropomorphic, which means it’s human, and cannot fully understand and express God’s character. There is not a pronoun in any language that can describe God. Thus, the use of God as “he” remains inadequate. A sense of humility toward God and toward others can open us up to women in all forms of ministry.

    I’ve written a couple of articles on the subject of women in ministry in Ethics Daily. Granted, they are Baptist-specific…



  • I completely agree.  What troubles me is how frequently the advocates of women in ministry appeal, not to Biblical sources, but to generic notions of equality and (all too often) the “progress” of society.  This is part of why I’ve often been ambivalent about the actual applications of inviting women into ministry…not because it’s unbiblical, but because the advocates/practitioners sometimes seem unconcerned with Biblical foundations in this and other causes.

    This leads me to the strange position that I heartily approve of women in teaching and leadership roles, but find myself uninterested in,  or even repulsed by most of the groups that have actually implemented them.

    • Great points… we must commit ourselves to the way of scripture and its trajectory, not merely the political correctness winds of so called progress.
      Kurt Willems
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    • Dan! Thank you for so elegantly putting words into my mouth. That is exactly how I feel.

    • And if we do nothing but appeal to the changing culture, we aren’t meeting those against women in leadership “head-on” and our arguments don’t carry any weight.

  • AndrewF

    You seem to imply that ministry = ordination…? Do you mean to imply that?

    • I’m saying that the role of leadership, which looks different depending on one’s tradition, is for women and men alike. There is no distinction. Therefore, in those denom’s that ordain ministers… women should be included in that process without any biblical reservations…
      Kurt Willems
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      • Thanks for the clarification. I still think it’s a mistake, however, to conflate leadership with ordination, that is, I don’t think we can say that ordination is merely a particular tradition’s view of leadership. There are many expressions of ministry and leadership that do not equate to ordained office.

        The ordained offices carry with them particular responsibilities, and moreover, a kind of representational ‘imaging’ role, which when seen in the broader scriptural discussion, seem to leave no room for gender-interchangeability. See this 3-part essay from Alistair Roberts, in which he raises a whole bunch of issues, and a meta-narrative perspective, which I’ve never seen dealt with.

  • Thanks for the resource link Kurt.

  • Disableme

    Great article I have been recommending it Kurt.


  • David

    Funny how I could substitute the word homosexual for women and make the same argument, except Tom Wright doesn’t agree with that. Even though as he argues much of society looks at us and think we’re backwards on both subjects.

  • LoveThatMatters.org

    Are there any female pastors in the Bible? Thanks from Love That Matters LTMM.org

  • lovethatmatters.org

    In the bible one woman anointed Jesus’ head and another woman washed the feet of Jesus with her tears then anointed them with oil. (Matt 26:7 and Luke 7:37) Both of these women served the Lord with humility as should all believers. LoveThatmatters.org

  • Bart

    Could it be that Wright is wrong about a lot of things or does he understand the word Apostate?