In our present social environment, many are uncomfortable with the idea that men are to take the leadership in some things and women are not. Because of the influence of our culture, many in the church desire to reexamine long held positions regarding male leadership and come to a more gender-neutral position. Is the push for an expanded role for women in church leadership the result of the present cultural environment? Or, is the failure to have women leaders a result of past cultural prejudices? Our goal should be to recognize truth regardless of our cultural environment. Our desire should be that of the Psalmist: “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law” (Psalms 119:18). Applying the pattern of Scripture to the present may make us uncomfortable, but if we are to live under the control of Scripture we cannot be bound by the traditions of the past or influenced by the culture of the present.
According to the New Testament, elders of the church are to be men and not women. In addition to the masculine terms used for church elders, there are other indications in the qualifications that point to male leadership. For example, the elders are to be faithful to their wives (Titus 1:6; 1 Timothy 3:2), which is impossible for female elders. They are also to be leaders in the home (1 Timothy 3:4-5), which is in keeping with Paul’s instruction that the husband be “the head of the wife” (Ephesians 5:23).
To understand male spiritual leadership in the New Testament, one must first look at the creation of humankind in Genesis. In this creation account, many differences between male and female become apparent. Today, some of the differences between males and females are obvious—men are physically stronger than women and women can bear children and men cannot. Other differences are not quite as obvious. For example, the male was created first and put in charge of the garden (Genesis 2:15-22). There seems to be significance attached to the fact that Adam was created before Eve, and Paul uses this order of creation as one of his arguments to establish the principle of male leadership (1 Corinthians 11:8-9; 1 Timothy 2:13). Male-female equality in Christ is not incompatible with male leadership in the home and in the church: “Man and woman are equal in the sense that they bear God’s image equally…In the partnership of two spiritually equal human beings, man and woman, the man bears the primary responsibility to lead the partnership in a God-glorifying direction” (Raymond C. Ortlund, jr., “Male-Female Equality and Male Headship,” Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism, p. 95).
The man was given the following instructions regarding the garden: “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:16-17). The man, however, allowed the woman to lead him to violate these instructions: “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it” (Genesis 3:6). According to Paul, the sin of Eve is another reason for male leadership: “And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner” (1 Timothy 2:14). Notice the reversal of roles in that the man follows the spiritual leadership of the woman. This failure of leadership is noted by God in the explanation of Adam’s punishment: “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree…” (Genesis 3:17).
J B Myers