Should women be preaching?

December 25th, 2019 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 39 comments

My question is very frequently asked in Christian circles and the answer is split. I must know what your response would be. 

The question is very simple. Are women allowed to pastor and preach? Yes or No? Please explain in detail and reference from verses. I appreciate all of your work. I look forward to your response!

Anthony

Dear Anthony,

We hope you enjoyed anticipating our response because we are pretty sure you are not going to enjoy our answer. 

If you have followed our teachings for a while, you will know that while we treasure Scripture, we find simplistically seeking substantiating verses to be rather meaningless. Partially this is because one can easily find many seemingly incompatible verses that appear to contradict one another. That is why we peruse and base our answers upon the ancient Jewish wisdom on the Bible that has been handed down for thousands of years rather than doing no more than simply reading the words themselves. So, as to your last demand, we can probably find verses making the case both for and against women pastoring and preaching, but they wouldn’t be so helpful.  

We also cannot answer with a clear-cut yes or no. How simple life would be if we could tackle life’s challenges in that way! We can answer only very few questions with no more than a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and none of life’s most challenging and most important questions fall into that category. 

Our transmission of wisdom through the ages, from the Garden of Eden until the present, reveals that a vital part of God’s plan includes a clear distinction between men and women and a partnership between the two called marriage. As such, we don’t dismiss concerns about women pastoring and preaching as automatically misogynistic, out-of-touch with reality or ridiculous.  We aren’t surprised that attempts at social engineering and forcing people to treat men and women as identical have failed so conspicuously. Notably, for the question you raise, when women take over roles in churches or synagogues, men frequently become less involved. We don’t see this exodus of men as proof that they have not been socialized and trained properly to respect women but rather as a consequence of a deeply embedded and immutable part of human nature.  

At the same time, God created people to be dynamic rather than fossilized. As societies evolve, certain things do change. For example, there was a time when it was sufficient for boys to receive only the education that allowed them to follow in the same life work as their fathers. The Industrial Revolution among other advances necessitated thinking outside those boundaries. Similarly, lessons about girls’ education from the 1400s do not provide helpful examples for us to follow.  

We should note that the only question we’re examining concerns women pastoring and preaching to men. The idea of women teaching other women is relayed by ancient Jewish wisdom as far back as the matriarch Sarah, continues expressly through Miriam the prophetess and has always been a vital part of the community.  

When it comes to women teaching men, it is imperative to ask whether or not this is in line with God’s wishes. However, the answers will vary according to time and place. Just as taking the life of another human being is both forbidden and demanded depending on the circumstances, what public function women serve does depend on circumstances. We can only choose to do our best to understand God’s wishes and to choose a faith community that, as we understand it, aligns with those wishes. You must do the same. There is nothing that you or I can say or any verses we can find that will unequivocally prove that we are either right or wrong. Often, that becomes clear over time, but we need to live our lives today. 

We personally know of female faith leaders in both Judaism and Christianity who have done and continue to do amazing public work in the community, teaching both men and women.  This evidence does not necessarily make it right for everyone, every community or every situation. Sometimes things are right in exceptional circumstances that would not be correct in all circumstances. We advise you to establish for yourself a relationship with a faith leader whose spiritual judgment you feel comfortable following.  

Sorry to disappoint you, 

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

 

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39 comments

Byron Barrett says:

Thank you for all the work you do answering these questions. Whilst your answers are enlightening, I often learn more from the wise, measured manner with which you approach these matters and edify all us readers.

Bless you both.

Mark says:

I heartily agree. You expressed what I was thinking better than I could.

Susan Lapin says:

Byron, as you can see from other comments, we didn’t make everyone happy, so thanks for commenting.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Thanks Byron–
We really do take the responsibility of responding most seriously. Whilst we were leading a S. Californian synagogue in years past, we were known for never answering questions from non-members. It is so grueling to answer complex life questions correctly that we only accepted questions from those for whom we felt a responsibility.
Cordially
RDL

Tom Pollins says:

This feels like warm butter! Lol

Susan Lapin says:

Tom, au contraire. Warm butter tells people what they want to hear. Anthony wanted a yes or no and proof that would stand up to any contrary opinion.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Ah, C’mon Tom,
You really know how to hurt a guy! You must never have received a warm butter massage if our response felt like one! No, not at all. We didn’t deliver the desired simple yes/no answer. We were full of uncomfortable nuance. But at the same time, it wasn’t hard to discern where our views lay.
Thanks for reading and writing,
Cordially
RDL

Jim Lynch says:

LOL! I think I need a warm butter massage?

Vanessa Ward says:

Well said, find a faith leader whose spiritual judgment you feel comfortable following

Susan Lapin says:

Vanessa, in today’s instant communication world it is too easy to seek answers to questions one at a time from wherever will validate our thoughts. It is harder to accept authority from one direction.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Thanks Vanessa-
In fact, in ancient Jewish wisdom, we don’t ask a rabbi, “Show us your disciples”. Instead we first ask, “Who is YOUR rabbi?” We want to verify the credibility of the transmission.
Cordially
RDL

Glenn Gilbert says:

Wonderful response Rabbi, thank you!

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Thanks Glenn,
We appreciate your comment though, of course in actuality there can never be a wonderful response since we can only deliver an answer from ancient Jewish wisdom’s take on the Hebrew Scripture. So we do our best. Is the answer wonderful? We’re happy when you think so and we totally understand those who disagree with us (see some other comments around here 🙂 )
Cordially
RDL

Marcus page jr says:

Very very disappointing Rabbi… That was a politically correct answer to avoid offending women. There are definitely examples of righteous women being leaders or righteous examples such as Rahab, Miriam, Deborah, Esther and Ruth but you never see them usurping the authority of the men around them. (Well Miriam did offend concerning Moses’s marriage and the fallout was a near disaster)

As far as the New Testament the answer to this question is clearly answered in scripture written by the Apostle Paul.

1 Timothy 2:12-14
12   But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.
13   For Adam was first formed, then Eve.
14   And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.

Susan Lapin says:

Marcus, as in most things, for every woman (or man or minority or majority of all stripes) one offends one and pleases another. We are a pretty split society. Clearly, as Jews we are not led by the quotes you give. Anthony asked his question to us, rather than to a Christian leader whose answer might well have been based on the verses you quote. There may be different meanings of what the word “pastor” means in the church that are unfamiliar to us.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear Marcus,
Both Susan Lapin and I write these together so when you address your comment to me, I deduce that you are entirely satisfied with my wife’s contribution and disappointed only with mine. You know how to hurt a guy!
Cordially
RDL

Kimberly Utley says:

I would urge you to genuinely seek out the true context of these verses. As well as what was mentioned in Rabbi Lapin’s response, there are verses and instances in the New Testament which would contradict the quoted verses. Context is crucial in understanding.
I’m a Christian female who has battled over this question myself and my God-ordained role as a woman. Also, and I mean this in a gentle and kind way, if you are not pleased with the answer…resolve in yourself that, because you are a man, that is not an answer you will be accountable to answer for. Therefore, stressing over a “command” or lack of which does not directly concern you may be unproductive. Further, if it is something you are uncomfortable with you can simply choose not to listen to a female preacher/minister.

Blessings
Faith

Loren Bailor says:

My Wife and I have done an interesting study on the people of Corinth at the time Paul wrote this letter. Corinth would have been to us an unimaginable cesspool of human debauchery with women at the top of the authority structure there. So Paul’s comments were for a specific people at a specific time in history remember context is king.
Wisdom is always referred to as female in the old testament. Am I right?

Susan Lapin says:

Loren, every noun in Hebrew is masculine of feminine. That doesn’t mean that it is unique to women or men. Wisdom – chochmah – is a feminine noun as is war – milchamah. We have written about some of these words over the years in Thought Tools and in our book, Buried Treasure. One thing to note in many nouns classified as female is that the concept ‘gives birth’ to more of the same. So wisdom begets wisdom and war can beget war. (One example is how World War I led into World War II.) It does not mean that women are wiser than men or more inclined to war than men.

Tricia Abbott says:

Thank you for explaining the “birthing” concept. That makes a lot click! And, Wow, you all are getting some heat over this. People get Very testy over this topic! Your teaching is Such a blessing. It makes me understand the “New Testament ” so much more. Thank you, thank you. Blessings to you and your husband.

Susan Lapin says:

We enjoy lively discussion, Tricia, though we admit to sometimes being surprised at what gets a passionate reaction.

Heather says:

My neighbor and I were just discussing this very thing last week. We reached the same sort of leanings-but-not-definitive-conclusions as you, I think.

A) Men seem to need male leadership more than women need to e in those roles, generally.

B) Some women seem extraordinarily gifted in leadership and teaching, and God must have a purpose for those giftings, and not necessarily always for teaching and leading solely women and children, though these things are honorable and worthy of men and women’s talent.

C) Pastoring a congregation sometimes seems analogous to fathering a congregation, and so maybe women lead pastors sometimes don’t feel right because they are not “fatherly”…?

D) I can respect people who have come to different conclusions on this topic, even though on a gut level I tend to prefer men in lead pastor roles, even though I’m an opinionated woman who likes being in leadership. Mutual respect in any circumstance seems more important to me.

Susan Lapin says:

Heather, you actually used a phrase that illuminates something for us. That is “lead pastor.” As outsiders to the Christian scene we do know of women teachers on TV and similar formats and we also know of couples who pastor churches together. However, the husband is the lead pastor as we understand your phrase.

Esther says:

I think males should be leaders in rabbinical roles. Seeing a female pr two rabbis, they are great but they do have roles as mothers and wives too – which does demand both time and dedication. Basically it’s a lot of work I think for a woman, plus controlling the other priorities. Diversity does matter, but a male rabbi assumes a different role.

Susan Lapin says:

Esther, we were not answering a question about rabbis. While both rabbis and pastors teach, there are many ways in which the roles they serve are not analogous.

Matt says:

Yes, but should they?

Doesn’t society suffer when women try to have it all – career and family? Generally, career means fewer children or no children. Ultimately, women having careers is not sustainable due to low fertility. It may take a hundred or more years to play out, but eventually immigration or war will put an end to cultures with low fertility.

“Demography is destiny,” Auguste Comte.

Susan Lapin says:

Matt, I think that this is a different issue than the one under discussion. I agree that when society devalues marriage and motherhood it ends up hurting a culture, but I don’t think that is what this letter is about.

Gus says:

Wow, a lot of male authority showing here. And I agree with male authority as long as it is Gods way.
But back to women pastors or rabbis. In todays environment and times all the proof really needed is look at who put the women pastors or the word I prefer is ministers, in the position they are in. And if you were to do that you would see that it was only God that could of done it.
I believe this actually came from ancient Jewish wisdom if I’m not mistaken, where God sat down with each of us and gave us our mission in life here on earth before we were born.
Many men and women both were on opposite paths when God intervened and put them back on the path they were suppose to be on. Of course this does not happen to most of us.
But when it happens to those that are in the role they are because God intervened is no accident.
And if you ask how do you know, well just check out the miracles and support to Israel they are doing, all in the name and glory of God.
I certainly agree with Rabbi Lapin and Susan. There is not just one truth or wrong in most anything.
It is not for us to judge. But if it is of God’s way, who am I to say differently.
We have to be very careful of the words we use. It is not easy to be in the position of Rabbi Lapin and Susan. You both have the world of my respect in what you are doing. Many do not realize the power of words and what they can do in a world and time of which we live in.
Blessing

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear Gus–
Female rabbis is another matter–We know enough of how Judaism works and how the rabbinate works to know that women rabbis don’t work. That said, rabbis wives traditionally play a huge role in the operation of a congregation or community. Although we appear at many churches every year, we obviously know less about their operation than we do synagogues. Nonetheless, we have repeatedly seen many instances of the wives of pastors playing the same huge roles played by rabbis’ wives. Now, about a woman being a lead-pastor…we just don’t know whether that works properly or not. We have been told of New Testament verses that seem to rule it out but we do not know exactly what they mean and clearly many fervent believers accept female pastors. As we wrote, this was a tough one to be unequivocal about.
Cordially
RDL

Nancy says:

Rabbi and Susan,

I searched the term “preaching” and retrieved Oxford’s definition:
the delivery of a sermon…to an assembled group of people, and
the giving of moral advice in a pompously self-righteous way.

The fact is apparent that women are teaching anyway you slice it and , in my opinion, I believe the question would be better posed as, “should we be listening?’ After all, who would propose it should be outlawed? ‘

The body of your answers that question more than adequately.

Your friend always,
Nancy

Susan Lapin says:

Nancy, we have been discussing whether we and our readers all have the same definition of the word “preaching.” I can’t say I agree with the second part of the Oxford definition you brought, but I have a feeling we aren’t all talking about the same thing as your definition shows. Thanks for the support.

Vienna says:

Rabbi and Mrs. Lapin,
That was not a simple question. I don’t think it was fair either since it deals with a Southern United States Christian denominational issue, and from the New Testament at that. There wasn’t even a scripture reference to give you a base from which to search.

David says:

I read the original question and the original response. Then I read the comments and responses. I do appreciate the measured response that was provided by the Lapin’s. That said, I am not Jewish, and I do not agree with all they write. I am a Christian, and I don’t agree with all that is said there either. I truly believe that each of us needs to search our hearts, investigate what the scripture says, listen to what others say/teach, then proceed down our chosen path in our context, endeavoring to follow God as best we are able.

As was also said, if you search through the scriptures, you can likely find ones that can support most any position. I cannot find it now, but I thought that John, in the new testament, also said that men should not marry. If all were to follow that teaching the human race would cease to exist. Thus, saying that women have no place in teaching a congregation (regardless of the ‘defined’ role) is nonsensical.

“Should women be preachers” is not a salvation issue, for me. Should women be leaders (in a church or in a business)? Yes, if that is what they feel called to do, and in the church context if there are others that believe they are preaching appropriate messages. I am not able to judge if God approves or disapproves of their role.

Families need both mothers and fathers. If either gets too caught up in their work, then the family will suffer. Churches need both males and females, and officially or not, they will likely be in some form of leadership/teaching role. If you lose one of the two, then I feel the congregation will suffer. Just as in households that only have one parent, the family suffers. Suffering does not mean failure, but it does mean it isn’t as good as it could be.

I know both male and female pastors (and leaders, related to church or not) that are great in their role, and those that are not.

We need to read with discernment, we need to understand the times, we need to understand the focus and context and overall point that the writer of those words was trying to convey. We need to put it in the context of the bigger picture and fit it into our personal context. Then we need to make up our minds, and live our lives accordingly.

I’ll likely not change your mind, nor you mine, but we can be open and polite in our interactions with others, understanding that their context is not the same as ours, thus their decision/beliefs will also not be fully aligned.

Blessings

Janice Aldridge says:

Thank you Rabi Lapin!

This is probably the best explanation! Even those who use New Testament only, should look at whole stories to make their case instead of just verses.

Too often we try to make every person and every situation the same, when we shouldn’t!

Linda says:

I agree with your response. As a woman who is fairly independent minded (to my mother’s dismay at times), I believe that it is the man’s role to teach. Women can teach some things, but I think the leader’s role should default to the men. I am a Christian, and I believe God set things up a certain way for a reason. I don’t always understand it completely, but I trust that this is the way it is supposed to be.

Susan Lapin says:

We feel the same way, Linda.

Janice says:

Wow, talk about not running away from the difficult questions! You proved that you are not just handpicking the “easy, straightforward “ questions. Thank you Rabbi and Susan for your excellent response and ministry. Blessings to you both.

Susan Lapin says:

Thank you, Janice. This is clearly an issue that arouses strong passions.

Hobbs says:

wow, what a punt! disappointing! While I don’t know the Hebrew of the OT or the Greek of the NT, God’s view is clear and consistent. Even the layout of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem is clear (separate areas for Jewish women, Jewish men, Gentiles & the hierarchy – Priests). In the NT, God’s view and the apostolic teaching is clear as well. While I don’t have ALL the archeological results of digging up historical evidence of the OT and NT God is clear, the New Testament is clear and the Apostle’s doctrine is clear that women are to NEVER rule or teach over men or mixed genders.

One of the reasons the Feminists will likely explode and communicate all kinds of (likely) unGodly and unchristian behaviors is that the INTACT [husband+wife+offspring] NUCLEAR FAMILY was the rule in the culture and time periods under discussion in the OT and NT. A Wife were to ask their husband for advice; older women were to teach younger women. Deacons (and deaconesses) were not teachers in local congregations, they were servants and had responsibilities for tending to orphans and widows, for instance. Elders (plural) were always evident in New Testament congregations, and 100% were male from my understanding and study of all canonized scripture. Of course, many vocal women (and scores of Beta Males) will disagree, yet in a one and one meeting with me it will be clearly evident their understanding of OT and NT scripture is sadly lacking about 100% of the time. They pick and choose their politically correct memes and wage war against sound doctrine and scripture.

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