The fourth book of the Bible has something to teach us about an argument for female pastors.
With so much noise recently regarding the idea of who can and cannot serve as elders/pastors (I think of the controversy regarding the removal of Saddleback Church from the SBC), Christians would do well to look to the only infallible source of truth–the Scriptures–on this important issue. Many rightfully seek out the texts that clearly outline who can serve in this office. Passages such as 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 continue to serve as immovable pillars of truth–asserting that only qualified men can serve in this office.
However, there are still many who attempt to make biblical arguments in favor of women being able to serve as elders/pastors–some of which may seem quite convincing at first glance. Christians would do well to not only know what the Bible clearly affirms in this area, but also be equipped to deal with arguments that undermine its teaching.
During the time of God leading His people out of the Promised Land, a man named Korah rose up and–along with others–staged an assault on Moses and Aaron’s leadership and priestly office.
Much can and ought to be said about this critical event in the book of Numbers–often referred to as “Korah’s Rebellion.” For our purposes, however, we will focus simply on Korah’s argument and relate it to the claims many in our day make in favor of female elders/pastors.
Here is the critical text: “They [Korah and the rebels] assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron and said to them, ‘You have gone too far! For all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?’” (Numbers 16:3).
Korah’s argument in its context can be summarized as follows:
- Moses and Aaron are set apart as holy and enjoy special, priestly privileges.
- All Israel is called to be holy–not just Moses and Aaron.
- Therefore, everyone in Israel should be able to have the same priestly privileges that Moses and Aaron have.
On the surface, this line of reasoning may seem bulletproof. A closer look, however, tells us otherwise. Like many falsehoods, there exists a kernel of truth wrapped up in a claim that is ultimately fallacious. Korah’s statement that “all in the congregation are holy,” for instance, is not wrong. In fact, it is true that the Lord called every one of His people to holiness–not just the priests (see Exodus 19:6 and Leviticus 11:44-45).
So then–why is Korah’s argument wrong?
Here is the key issue: the general call of God upon all His people to ethical holiness does not nullify the special call of God upon the specific individuals who are set apart as priests (see Hebrews 5:1-4).
In short: one true thing does not make another true thing obsolete.
Korah’s error is not that he misquoted a command of God–it’s that he elevated that command (everyone is called to be holy) at the expense of another command (only those appointed by the Lord can be priests). If you read the rest of Numbers 16, you will quickly discover God’s less-than-positive opinion of what Korah tried to do.
What does this have to do with female pastors?
Among several other arguments, the individuals who advocate for female elders/pastors will reference an often-quoted verse to try and support their claim. You may have heard it:
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
The argument goes something like this: because we are all one in Christ, there are no more distinctions at all. Specifically, because there is no more “male and female,” this means that a woman can and should do anything that formerly only a man could do–including being a pastor.
If there was ever a verse dragged kicking and screaming out of context, it is this one. And unfortunately, this argument follows the same reasoning used by Korah.
The setting of Galatians 3:28 is found in Galatians 3:10-29, in which Paul outlines the promises of God, the purposes of the law, the coming of Christ, and the adoption of believers into God’s family through faith in Christ.
With this context in view, it is clear that the statement in Galatians 3:28 is about unity–unity that is found within the body of Christ for those who have been adopted by God as children of His promises. There are no more hierarchical divisions based on things like ethnicity or socio-economic status. There are no more sinful distinctions of one group thinking themselves superior to another group. There is unity in the gospel–there is unity in Christ. It is truly a beautiful passage.
However, this statement of unity within the church does not nullify the other statements made in Scripture. For instance 1 Timothy 3:2 (that an elder may only be a qualified man) is just as God-breathed and authoritative as Galatians 3:28 (that there is unity within the body of Christ).
Proponents of female elders who use Galatians 3:28 as an argument follow in the footsteps of Korah. They elevate one truth (there is unity in the body of Christ) at the expense of another truth (only qualified men can be elders).
As we saw with Korah, one true thing does not make another true thing obsolete. Unity does not nullify all distinctions made in Scripture. If it did, we would see no difference in the call of God on a husband as compared to a wife–yet we do (Ephesians 5:22-33). We would see no difference in the command upon a child versus a father–yet we do (Ephesians 6:1-4). And would see no distinction made on who can serve as an elder/pastor–yet we do (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:6).
God’s Word Governs God’s Church
The rise in arguments favoring female pastors no doubt come from a variety of sources–many of which are not within the scope of this short article. Regarding the Galatians 3:28 argument, however, Christians cannot let the misuse of Scripture cause them to be tossed to and fro by the wind and waves of culture. Scripture–God’s breathed-out Word–could not be clearer on the truth that only qualified men can serve as pastors. We are speaking of a God-ordained office in God’s blood-bought church, and although our modern age may cry out with disdain at the idea of only men serving as elders–culture does not dictate God’s church. His Word does. Believers must remain firmly rooted in the Word and be readily equipped to deal with all forms of falsehood.