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"The Pulpit Paradox: Unveiling the Controversy and Conversations Surrounding Women in the Pastorate

This is a topic that is very popular right now. It has been popular for a long time! I have meditated on this topic often over the last 42 years. I recently came across a "tweet" on "X" that I found insightful. With his permission, I wanted to share this "tweet thread" with you. It was written by Doug Ponder. Although I cannot give my consent to everything that he has written, I feel that the value of his discussion related to women pastors is valuable and the expression of his thoughts is worthy of your consideration. I have recorded his words exactly as given (with a couple of grammatical corrections).


"Every semester, I get questions about the biblical use of 'pastor,' 'elder,' and 'overseer.'


"This is usually b/c a student's church is wondering whether women can serve as 'pastors' without being 'elders.'


"The short answer is 'no.'


"The long answer starts with this graphic.



"As the image above shows, the terms enjoy a significant level of overlap. Twice they are used synonymously in the very same paragraph: In Acts 20:28, Paul exhorts the elders of Miletus (20:17) to pastor (ποιμαίνειν) the flock of God (τῷ ποιμνίῳ) as overseers (ἐπισκόπους).


"Similarly, in 1 Pet. 5:1–3, the apostle exhorts the elders (πρεσβυτέρους) of the church, as a "fellow elder" with them (συμπρεσβύτερος), to pastor (ποιμάνατε) the flock (τὸ ποίμνιον) of God by exercising oversight (ἐπισκοποῦντες) as examples to the flock (τοῦ ποιμνίου).


"N.B. (This is an abbreviation for the Latin phrase nota bene, meaning “note well.” It is used to emphasize an important point. NB.) Some traditions distinguish b/t the pastor/elder and the bishop/overseer. The best of these admit the terms were originally synonymous, but they think we see development within the NT canon (e.g., Titus 1:5 or the singular "angel-messenger" of each church in Rev. 2–3).


"I'm not convinced the offices should be distinguished (which is one reason I'm not Anglican). Nevertheless, within these theological traditions every bishop is not less than an elder, but more (bishop : elder :: square : rectangle), such that some overlap still remains.


"Back to the main argument. The new kid on the block is the idea that 'pastor' and 'elder' should also be distinguished. As I said above, such a move is almost invariably considered as a way to appoint women as 'pastors' without ordaining them as 'elders/overseers.'


"This move is problematic for two reasons.


"1. First, the distinction lacks biblical support. The apostles carefully avoid the language of "pastoring" or 'shepherding' when they highlight the (vital) work that women do in the congregation (e.g., Titus 2:3–8; 1 Tim. 5:9–16).


"This is contrary to what we should expect if the apostles envisioned some kind of 'shepherdess' role. Evidently they didn't. Indeed, their careful avoidance of this language where we should expect to see it strengthens the boundary between laity and ordained P/E/O.


"This is the problem with those who want to talk about 'the task' (work) of 'pastoring' or 'shepherding' in the abstract: They equivocate by taking the verbs 'to pastor' or 'to shepherd' and divorce them from the context where *elders* are called to 'pastor the flock of God.'


"No one denies the verb meaning 'to pastor/shepherd' *can* be used in a more general way. Of course it can: the term referred to literal shepherding before it metaphorically referred to pastoring. The point is that the apostles use it for what the office of P/E/O does.


"If you look up the 11 occurrences of ποιμαίνω you'll see all of them refer to literal shepherding *or* to the work of pastoring done by apostles (John 21:16; 1 Cor. 9:7), elders/overseers (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:2, Jude 1:12), and Jesus (Rev. 7:17; 12:5; 19:15).


"That's it.


"So, again, those who want to say 'women can do the work of shepherding without being elders' are simply not using the word in the same way the apostles use the word. Intentionally or not, they are equivocating the term and thus obscuring its meaning.


"The same goes for the noun ποιμήν (shepherd/pastor). The word is used 18x to refer to literal shepherds (Luke 2:8), to Jesus (e.g., John 10), the "Shepherd and Overseer of your souls" (1 Pet. 2:25), or to an office in the church closely linked with teaching (Eph. 4:11).


"Contra (a prefix meaning “against,” “opposite,” “opposing”) Sam Storms (et al. [meaning 'and others']), I think Paul does indeed have offices in mind when he writes in Eph. 4:11, for he does not speak of activities but of *persons.* Compare with how Paul speaks of the gifts of prophecy (Rom. 12:6), teaching (Rom. 12:7), etc. See also 1 Cor. 12:28.


"Yet in Eph. 4:11 Paul does not speak of 'apostleship”'(cf. Rom. 1:5) but of 'apostles,' not of 'prophecy' (Rom. 12:6) but of 'prophets,' not of 'evangelism' but of 'evangelists,' and not of 'shepherding and teaching' but of 'shepherds and teachers.' This precision matters.


"N.B. Contra to the 'fivefold ministry' group, I do not think every office listed in Ephesians 4:11 is still operative today. Paul himself clearly says the apostles and prophets are part of the foundation of the church (Eph. 2:20), and foundations are only laid once.


"Similarly, the somewhat mysterious office of the Evangelist (Acts 21:8; 2 Tim. 4:5) is best explained as an office filled by close ministry companions of the apostles who were an extension of their authority. Since there are no more Apostles, there are no more Evangelists.


"That leaves only the office(s?) of 'the shepherds and teachers' [τοὺς δὲ ποιμένας καὶ διδασκάλους]. There is tremendous debate about the grammatical construction here, which means it should be the last place anyone tries to build their case for a non-elder pastor.


"The gist of the debate concerns whether Paul intends for us to see 'shepherds/pastors and teachers' as referring to one role (office) or two. If the former, it means something like 'the pastor-teachers.' If the latter, it means '(1) the pastors and (2) the teachers.'


"The fact that Paul groups the two nouns (pastors and teachers) together under a single article is significant. At a minimum, Dan Wallace shows that it establishes a very close relationship between the terms, such that the one is a subset of the other.


"I think there's a better answer: We should read Eph. 4:11 in light of 1 Tim. 5:17. There Paul distinguishes elders who 'rule' and 'those who labor in preaching and teaching.' IOW (in other words), while all elders must be able to teach (1 Tim. 3:2), not all do the regular work of teaching.


"Thus, 1 Tim. 5:17 gives us a natural explanation for why Paul would have referred to 'the pastors and teachers.' Namely, All pastors are 'pastors' who 'rule' (note how ποιμαίνω is translated in Rev. 2:27; 7:17; 12:5), but not all pastors teach (cf. 1 Tim. 5:17b; Jas. 3:1).


"Furthermore, the mention of 'the shepherds and teachers' comes at the end of a list of offices (see above), *precisely* at a point where the reader should have expected for 'elders' or 'overseers' to appear. This further suggests synonymity, as we have said throughout.


"To recap: There are two reasons why it is problematic to posit a distinction between an elder/overseer and a pastor. First, as we have seen, it lacks biblical support.


"2. Second, the thing people are trying to achieve will never satisfy those who are making the demand.


"The move to separate 'pastor' from 'elder/overseer' comes from a subset of complementarians who want female pastors without female elders. But this will never satisfy those who are demanding that it be done. This position is really just a waypoint for egalitarianism.


"Those with the eyes to see already know this, but for those who don't: Egalitarians insist that the differences b/t men & women do not constitute meaningful reasons for precluding women from serving in *every* role that a man may serve. IOW, the sexes are interchangeable.


"Many have written on the error of interchangeability, but perhaps none more ably than C. S. Lewis. See here: https://cbmw.org/2018/06/26/the-complementarian-argument-of-c-s-lewis/ and here: https://cbmw.org/2019/06/05/the-fallacy-of-interchangeability/ HT:


"Thus, those who want a new office of "non-elder pastors" not only fail to appreciate God's design, they also fail to understand the driving force behind egalitarianism. They think women pastors will appease the mobs. It won't, for any difference is perceived as inequality.


"In summary:

1. The terms "elder," "pastor," and "overseer" are indeed synonymous

2. Creating "non-elder women pastors" both patronizes the actual callings God gives to women and fails to appease the mobs you hope to stave off."



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