An Exegetical and Theological Case For Male-Only Pastors

Michael Clary

God’s Creation Order Design for Men and Women in the Church is Not Up for Debate

God’s design for human sexuality is more important and beautiful than we realize. Consider these two scriptures:

“[H]e who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’” (Matthew 19:4-5).

“This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:32).

These two Bible passages reveal a mind-blowing reality: from the very beginning, God made us male and female to tell a redemptive story of Christ and his bride, the church. Think of how incredible that truth is! When God put his hands in the dirt to create man and took a rib from Adam’s side to create woman, he was foreshadowing the “profound mystery” of Jesus’ self-sacrificial love for his own bride.

In other words, the “profound mystery” that Paul is referring to here is how God’s design for the sexes reveals beautiful realities about God’s steadfast love as it is applied in the covenant of marriage and the worship of the church. 

The sexual distinctions between men and women and their corresponding roles in the home and the church are baked into the creation order. Thus, when sexual relationships between men and women are rightly ordered according to God’s design, it sharpens the focus on glorious, eternal truths. Conversely, when sexual relationships are wrongly ordered, these wondrous gospel truths become more opaque. 

When understood rightly, Southern Baptists should realize that the debate about whether or not women can serve as pastors in the church, and the upcoming vote on the Law Amendment, is really a matter of the submission to—or the rejection of—God’s creation order design for men and women.

Ultimately, this isn’t a matter of mere “interpretative differences.” Rather, it is a weighty choice between humble obedience to God’s perfectly wise plan and sovereignly ordered roles for men and women or a rebellious rejection of it. 

What the Garden of Eden Has to Teach Us About the Church 

My purpose in this article is to focus on the church. Paul’s teachings in the NT about the church are grounded in the created order from Genesis 1-3, arguing that sexual dynamics matter in the church just as they do in the home. In particular, the principle of male eldership in the church is an extension of male headship in the home.

Here’s why. The Garden of Eden was like a “sanctuary-temple” where Adam played the dual role of priest and king. Eden’s liturgical setting is important because the garden and the church are “sacred spaces” designated for worship. That’s why Paul argued that the church should mirror God’s original design in the garden since Eden was a place of worship, too. Thus, Adam’s relationship to Eve was both (1) as a husband to his wife and (2) as an elder to his church.

I believe the best and clearest example of this teaching is 1 Timothy 2, where Paul addressed how men and women should conduct themselves when they are gathered for worship. I’d like to make six observations from this text. 

Six Lessons from 1 Timothy 2 

First, Paul’s concern in this text is how men and women conduct themselves when the church is gathered for worship. He says in 1 Timothy 2:8-10, “I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works.” The church gathering is where God’s people assemble to worship God, pray, receive communion, and hear instruction. Men are called to be humble and prayerful, resisting the vices of anger and arguing. Women are called to modesty and good works, resisting the vices of attention-seeking dress or demeanor. 

Second, Paul ensures that both men and women are given full access to learning sound Christian theology. 2 Timothy 2:11 says, “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness.” The words “quiet” and “submissive” grab a lot of attention, which overshadows the fact that this is an invitation for the women to learn Scripture and theology. This is important. Paul did not want women kept in the dark about what the Scriptures teach, but to learn Scripture and to fully participate in the life of the church. 

Paul wanted the women of the church, no less than the men, to be good theologians. This indicates an equality of status and intellect for women in the church that would have been unexpected in the ancient world. Nevertheless, Paul calls for women to learn differently than men; women are instructed to learn with a quiet and submissive demeanor. These commands for women mirror the role of Eve in the garden. Although Eve was equal to her husband, she was nevertheless submissive to him. Adam was her teacher because he was also her pastor.

Third, Paul prohibits women from teaching or exercising authority over men. 2 Timothy 2:12 says, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.” These words may unsettle or even shock modern ears, but Paul is promoting something good that corresponds to the creation order in the garden. Notice how verses 11 and 12 mirror each other by teaching parallel commands. It is good for a woman to learn the church’s theology and submit to its authority; it is not good for a woman to teach the church’s theology or exercise its authority. 

This is not because women are incapable of teaching in general or are intellectually inferior. It has nothing to do with her ability and everything to do with her design. God did not design women to fulfill this responsibility. Not even Eve, a perfect woman, was expected to do it. Just as she was not called to be the head over her natural family, Christian women are not called to lead men in the church. In her unfallen state, Eve would certainly have been a woman of extraordinary capability. Nevertheless, God’s design for her was to follow her husband’s lead. 

Fourth, Paul explicitly grounds his instruction in 1 Timothy 2 in the creation order. These were not cultural accommodations to a patriarchal society but a universal teaching about God’s design. Verse 13 says, “For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.” 

The context of Genesis is crucial. Paul’s commands are not arbitrary or based on human custom but are more deeply rooted in God’s ordering of creation: “Adam was formed first, then Eve.” The sequence of events in the Genesis 2 story is key. In verses 7-17, God commanded Adam not to eat of the forbidden tree before Eve was created. 

After Eve was created (vv. 18-23), she entered into the stewardship previously established between God and Adam. She was not given a separate command. She received and inherited the command given to Adam, and she became an essential part of fulfilling the command as Adam’s bride, helper, and queen. Eve is equal to Adam in dignity yet under him in authority.

Since God commanded Adam not to eat the fruit of the tree before Eve was created, he was responsible for teaching her the command and ensuring that she obeyed it. Adam’s authority to rule in the garden entailed a specific responsibility, under God’s authority, to teach the command God had given him. Thus, even though both sinned, God held Adam, not Eve, directly responsible (Rom 5:12). Adam failed in his masculine duty to safeguard the word he received from God. Paul instructs the church not to repeat his mistake. 

Fifth, authority in the church is directly linked to the responsibility to safeguard the truth of God’s Word. Later, Paul closes his letter to Timothy with a final reminder to “guard the deposit entrusted to you” (1 Tim 6:20). The same exhortation could have been given to Adam in the garden because he carried the same responsibility. 1 Timothy 2:14 says, “Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.” What does this mean? 

It might seem at first glance that Paul was insulting Eve for being gullible, which is not the best way to interpret this. Paul does not praise Adam for avoiding deception. After all, he ate the forbidden fruit just as she did. Rather, Paul criticizes Adam for failing to protect Eve from deception. How? Because Adam alone heard God’s command firsthand. Eve was not there to receive the command because she had not been created yet. 

Since Adam heard God’s command directly, he couldn’t be deceived. Thus, Satan deceived Eve, who wasn’t there, and her deception was enabled by Adam’s silence. Eve had only heard the command of Adam second-hand, which is a fact that Satan exploited. When Adam, “who was with her (Gen 3:6),” failed to correct Satan’s teaching, however, she believed the serpent and was deceived. Satan deceived her because Adam failed to teach her. They both sinned, but they sinned in different ways. Eve was deceived; Adam rebelled. Eve would not have been deceived if Adam had taught her properly. 

Sixth, Paul’s teaching prohibits women from doing two things: (1) holding the office of elder/pastor/overseer and (2) performing the authoritative function of elder/pastor/overseer. Adam’s authority and responsibility in the garden correspond to the authority and responsibility of elders. An elder’s authority is indicated by the office he occupies. An elder’s responsibility entails the range of duties that he must perform and for which he will give account to God (Heb 13:17). 

Although the authority of a church’s elders will be exercised differently in different churches, their authority is most explicitly expressed in its teaching and preaching ministry. Thus, both the official and unofficial authority of the church is to be carried out by biblically qualified men. Eve was certainly Adam’s equal, but she was not Adam’s leader, either in title or function. She was called to work alongside Adam, following his lead and helping him but not exercising authority over him. Paul is saying that the order of the church should mirror the order of the garden because that’s where God’s uncorrupted design can be seen.

In the fall, the order of the garden was inverted and overthrown. The serpent ruled Eve through deception, Eve ruled Adam through her influence, and Adam rebelled against God’s rule through passivity. Adam failed to rebuke the serpent and teach his wife. The serpent exploited Adam’s passivity and Eve’s vulnerability. Yet her vulnerability was no excuse. Having heard one version of God’s command from Adam and an alternate version from the serpent, she chose to listen to the serpent’s voice, not her husband. She broke rank and followed the serpent’s lead. 

Nevertheless, Adam was responsible for her, and God held him accountable for this failure. Therefore, Adam and Eve sinned differently in the fall. No one is innocent—all are guilty and condemned (Rom 3:23). Both failed, but they failed in different ways. 

Conclusion

God’s original design for men and women, which was rejected in the Garden, was redeemed at the cross and renewed in the structure and practice of the church. Qualified men are called to succeed where Adam failed—to teach God’s word and humbly enforce it with the church’s authority. This is what pastors do. Likewise, the women of the church are called to succeed where Eve failed—to learn and submit to the commands of God while trusting God to work through the flawed yet qualified men who are charged with leading them. 

Therefore, Paul’s argument in 1 Timothy 2 is that women should not hold the office of a pastor nor perform the teaching duties of a pastor, not because she is incapable, but because that’s not what she was made for. When Adam passively failed to lead Eve, he acted like less of a man. When Eve led Adam to eat, she acted like less of a woman. When a woman teaches or exercises authority over men in the church, she’s repeating the sin of Eve. When a man passively fails to lead his home, or when a church elder fails to guard the authoritative teaching functions of the church, he repeats the sin of Adam. 

Some men in the SBC, even some of our major leaders, have been trying to argue that the debate over the Law Amendment is simply a matter of interpretive differences. Nothing could be further from the truth. As we can see from Scripture, beginning in the Garden and running all the way through the New Testament, God’s design for male leadership in both the home and the church is baked into the creation order itself. To reject this is not simply to disagree with another brother’s interpretation but rather to reject God’s infinite wisdom, His good design, and His inscrutable creation order. 

Just like our first parents, Southern Baptists now have a binary choice in front of us as we gather in Indianapolis: Will we remember God’s good commands and obey them, or will we sinfully reject His rightful authority over the world and the church and seek to remake His creation in our own image? 

I pray that we choose wisely. 

This article is adapted from Michael Clary’s book, God’s Good Design: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Guide to Human Sexuality

  • Michael Clary

    Michael Clary is the Lead Pastor of Christ the King Church in Cincinnati, OH, co-founder of King’s Domain ministries, and author of God’s Good Design: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Guide to Human Sexuality. He graduated from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2008 with a Master of Divinity.