Sunday Morning Greek Blog

November 3, 2011

Qualifications of Male and Female Leaders in the Church (1 Timothy)

Filed under: 1 Timothy,Biblical Studies,Ecclesiology,Ephesians,Titus,Women in Leadership — Scott Stocking @ 11:32 pm

I would have to venture a guess that 1 Timothy 3 is a close second to Ephesians as a section of Scripture that to which I have devoted a significant amount of scholarly research through the years. In 1995, I presented my first professional paper at the Fellowship of Professors (now the Stone-Campbell Journal Conference) at St. Louis Christian College on 1 Timothy 3 and 5 and the leadership roles and qualifications Paul assigns to women in that passage. After reading through 1 Timothy 2 and 3 this weekend, I can see that, although my original paper was respectable, I have learned a great deal more about Greek structure, syntax, and semantics in the last 16 years that would greatly enhance my initial offering.

The appendix table at the end of this post catalogs significant word usage in 1 Timothy primarily, but also in the pastoral epistles generally, especially where gender and leadership roles not only are discussed, but intersect. A quick glance at the table demonstrates first and foremost the overlapping language applied to men and women, whether the regular saint or the recognized leader. At the very least, being a faithful Christian undoubtedly made one notable as leadership material.

Women in Leadership?

I’ve spent the last five days putting that table together, so let me cut to the chase here, since my main purpose is talking about women in leadership in the body of Christ. In 1 Timothy 3, Paul is addressing the leadership core Timothy was responsible for training. The passage mentions the “elder” (ἐπίσκοπος episkopos \eh PEE skaw pawss\, lit. “overseer” [one who holds the title]; note that the word is singular in this passage) and “deacons” or “ministers” (διάκονος diakonos \dee AH kaw nawss\ also “servant”), but it also mentions women. If you look at any Bible with footnotes, you will see there is some significant difference in how the translations understand the reference to “women” in 3:11. I have arranged the following verses (all from Logos versions of the respective Bibles) in the order I consider to be the most literal translation to the freest translation, highlighting the English word translated from γυνή (gynē \goo NAY\, “woman, wife”) and the respective versions’ footnotes under each verse:

‎‎‎‎AV    Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things.

‎‎ESV    Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things.

Wives likewise must or Women likewise must (i.e. no “Their”)

‎‎NASB95    Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things.

i.e. either deacons’ wives or deaconesses

NIV84    In the same way, their wives are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything.


‎‎NIV    In the same way, the women are to be worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything.

possibly deacons’ wives or women who are deacons

‎‎‎‎NLT    In the same way, their wives must be respected and must not slander others. They must exercise self-control and be faithful in everything they do.

or the women deacons; the Greek word can be translated women or wives

Message    No exceptions are to be made for women—same qualifications: serious, dependable, not sharp-tongued, not overfond of wine.

You can see right away where the issue lies with this passage: Are the “women” the wives of the leaders mentioned (if “wives” is intended, then “deacons’ wives” is more likely, given that “overseer” is singular in this passage) or any women in the church? In 1 Timothy 2:9–12, Paul seems to address “women” generally, not “wives” specifically. Is there any reason to think he would switch up in this passage? The difference in translations is obvious, but none of the translations are wrong per se in translating the word either “women” or “wives.” What concerns me as a scholar about the translation is the “gloss” (a word added presumably for clarification) of the plural possessive pronoun “their” in some of the versions. (You will notice that I italicized it in the verses, a common practice in more literal translations to indicate the word is not directly translated from a Greek word in the text.) Granted, this is a plausible translation, but not a necessary one. It is also highly interpretive. I’m not saying the Bible translation committees necessarily had agendas or were wrong to add the gloss, but it is something that the savvy Bible student should consider when studying this passage.

A Structure Word

Another word that reveals the structure of the passage is ὡσαύτως (hōsautōs \hoh SOW tohss\ “likewise”). The word is found 17 times in the NT, including four times in 1 Timothy, and implies not only a similarity of action, but a similarity of the subjects of those actions being compared. What is interesting is this word is found three verses earlier, in 1 Timothy 3:8: “Deacons likewise…” The question is, “Like what?” or “Like whom?” The obvious answer is like the elder in vs. 2. This point is even more obvious when one considers that there is no main verb in vv. 8 or 11: the verb is actually borrowed from vs. 2: “It is necessary for the elder [and deacons and women] to be….” The passage has a parallel structure signifying three leadership roles: elder, deacon, and women.

So what does that mean for the role of women specifically? I think it is important at this point to bring in a couple more passages of Scripture so we can have a broader view of the role of women in early church leadership. Titus 1–2 gives further instructions on elders (both the ἐπίσκοπος and the πρεσβῦτ- kind). The role of the “older women” (πρεσβῦτις presbytis \press BOO tihss\) was to teach the younger women to be more Christ-like. I think that is a perfect example of an appropriate role for female leaders in the church: teaching younger women. In 1 Timothy 5, Paul uses similar language to 1 Timothy 3 in describing the widows, especially those who are older, will probably not remarry, and have significant time to devote to serving the Lord and his people (see also 1 Corinthians 7:8, 34b). It would not surprise me to find that Paul’s reference to women leaders in 1 Timothy 3:11 included widows, especially since the larger context of the epistle supports that idea.


Now that I’ve put out there what is sure to be controversial among my more conservative readers, I want to backtrack a bit and talk about the first part of 1 Timothy 3. I mentioned above that the word for “elder” in v. 2 is singular. The passage actually uses a feminine form of the word for elder, which implies the office or the abstract concept of eldership, not necessarily the gender of the person holding the office. The question to ask is, Why is this term singular when “deacons” (v. 8) and “women” (v. 11) are plural? Don’t most churches have more than one elder?

A more literal rendering of ἐπίσκοπος may shed some light on the subject. The word is a compound of ἐπί (“over”) and σκοπός (“see, watch” e.g. “scope”), so some literally translate the word “overseer” (see for example 1 Peter 2:25, where Peter describes Jesus as “the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls”), and it eventually made its way into English as “bishop” (Gk episkopos > Latin episcopus > Old English bisceop [Merriam-Webster]), which is how some older English versions render the word. I have run in some circles where the concept of a lead pastor is frowned upon by leadership. One man should not have such authority over a congregation, so they say. But I think we find support for that concept in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1–2. Certainly any pastor should have the qualifications of an elder, and I would argue that the pastor should be considered a member of the eldership in whatever church he (or she!) serves. The job of an “overseer” (for I equate “overseer” with “senior” or “lead pastor”) is not to run the whole show alone, but to equip others for works of service to build up the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11–13). I am quite comfortable with the concept of a senior pastor when the duties and responsibilities of such are rightly understood and when such a person lives up to those responsibilities.

As a side note, when the words for elder are used in the plural (Acts 20:28, Philippians 1:1 for ἐπίσκοπος), I believe they refer to the group of those who lead individual house churches. Titus was instructed to appoint πρεσβυτέρους (plural form, 1:5), but then Paul immediately writes about the ἐπίσκοπος (singular, 1:7).


I think it is important that we have a proper understanding of Scripture, otherwise I wouldn’t write this blog. But it is equally important that we not force one view upon another. As I discussed in the 1 Corinthians post on tongues, love must come first in any doctrinal discussion. Teaching without love and compassion is little more than indoctrination. As a pastor, I wouldn’t impose the concept of women in leadership on a congregation that wasn’t ready for it, but I wouldn’t hesitate to teach the concept whenever the opportunity arose. And I would always make sure the leadership in any church I served understood what I believe about the subject without insisting that they all jump on board. I am presenting the evidence here: it’s up to others whether they choose to be convinced by my reasoning and studies.

If you have stories about how your congregation has handled the role of women in leadership, I would love for you to share them in the comments. Thank you for reading!


Scott Stocking

Appendix: Word Usage by Gender and Office in the Pastoral Epistles


Transliteration/ Pronunciation







ἡσύχιος hēsychios \hay SOO khee awss\ adjective: quiet 1 Ti 2:2 1 Ti 2:2;
1 Pe 3:4*
ἡσυχία, hēsychia
\–KHEE ah\
quietness 1 Ti 2:12(?);
2 Th 3:12e
1 Ti 2:11–12;
2 Th 3:12
εὐσέβειαf eusebeia \you SEH bay ah\ godliness 1 Ti 2:2, 3:16,
4:7–8g; 6:11c Ti 2:12 (εὐσεβῶς)
1 Ti 2:2, 3:16; Ti 2:12 (εὐσεβῶς)
4:7–8; 6:11c 1 Ti 5:4 (εὐσεβέω to widows);
θεοσέβεια theosebeia \theh aw–\ godliness 1 Ti 2:10*
σεμνότης semnotēs \sem NAW tayss\ dignity 1Ti 2:2, 3:4; Ti 2:7 1 Ti 3:4; Ti 2:2
σεμνός semnos
dignified 1 Ti 3:8;
Ti 2:2
1 Ti 3:11 1 Ti 3:8
κόσμιος* kosmios \KAWSS mee awss\ respectable; appropriate 1 Ti 3:2 1 Ti 2:9 1 Ti 3:2
κοσμέω kosmeō \–MEH oh\ I adorn 1 Ti 2:9,
1 Pe 3:5
Ti 2:10 (slaves)
πρέπει prepei \PREH pay\ verb: it is proper for 1 Ti 2:10 Ti 2:1 (sound doctrine)
ὑποταγή hypotagē \hoo paw tah GAY\ submission 1 Ti 2:11 1 Ti 3:4 (children)
ὑποτάσσω hypotassō
\–TAHSS soh\
I submit to 1 Co 14:34
ἐπιτρέπω epitrepō \eh pee TREH poh\ I permit 1 Co 14:34
αὐθεντέω* authenteō \ow then TEH oh\ I usurp authority 1 Ti 2:12
σωφροσύνη* sōphrosynē \soh fraw SOO nay\ sound judgment; moderation 1 Ti 2:9, 15
σωφρόνως* sōphronōs
\–FRAW nohss\
moderately Ti 2:12 Ti 2:12
σωφρονισμός* sōphronismos
\–nee SMOSS\
sound judgment; moderation 2 Ti 1:7h 2 Ti 1:7h
σώφρων* sōphrōn \–frohn\ adjective: moderate Ti 2:2 Ti 2:5 (younger) 1 Ti 3:2; Ti 1:8, 2:2
μιᾶς γυναικὸς ἄνδρα mias gynaikos andra “one-woman man” 1 Ti 3:2, 12 (plural); Ti 1:6
ἑνὸς ἀνδρὸς γυνή henos andros gynē “one-man woman” 1 Ti 5:9 1 Ti 5:9 (widows)
νηφάλιος* nēphalios \nay FAH lee awss\ temperate 1 Ti 3:2; Ti 2:2 1 Ti 3:11 1 Ti 3:2; Ti 2:2
προί̈στημι proistēmi \praw EESS tay mee\ I manage 1 Th 5:12;
1 Ti 3:4–5, 12;
Ti 3:8, 14
1 Th 5:12; Ti 3:8, 14 1 Ti 3:4–5; 5:17 1 Ti 3:12 1 Ti 5:14 (οἰκοδεσποτέω young widows manage home)
πάροινος* paroinos \PAH roy nawss\ addicted to wine 1 Ti 3:3;
Ti 1:7
μὴ οἴνῳ πολλῷ προσέχοντας mē oinō pollō prosechontas not given to much wine 1 Ti 3:8 1 Ti 3:8
διάβολος diabolos \dee AH baw lawss\ devil; slanderer 1 Ti 3:6–7 1 Ti 3:11;
Ti 2:3
1 Ti 3:6–7
ὡσαύτως hōsautōs \hoh SOW tohss\ adverb: likewise 1 Ti 2:9, 3:11 1 Ti 3:8 1 Ti 5:24 (bad & good deeds)
ἀνεπίλημπτος anepilēmptos \ah neh PEE laym ptawss\ blameless 1 Ti 3:2 1 Ti 5:7 1 Ti 3:2 1 Ti 5:7 (widows)

* Indicates that all occurrences of the word in the New Testament are listed here.

a Translated from ἀνήρ (anēr \ah NAYR\, “man, husband”; 1 Ti 2:8, 12; 3:2, 12; 5:9; Ti 1:6; 2:5); πρεσβύτης (presbytēs \press BOO tayss\, “old man, elder [holds title]”; Ti 2:2; and πρεσβύτερος (presbyteros \press BOO teh ross\, comparative adjective “older man, elder [holds title]”; 1 Ti 5:1–2, 17, 19; Ti 1:5; 1 Pet 5:1, 5). The generic word for “human” (ἄνθρωπος anthrōpos \AHN throw pawss\) is presumed to refer to both men and women unless context suggests otherwise.

b Translated from γυνή (gynē \goo NAY\, “woman, wife”; 1 Ti 2:9–12, 14; 3:2, 11–12; 5:9; Ti 1:6); πρεσβῦτις (presbytis \press BOO tihss\ “old woman, elder [holds title(??)]”; Ti 2:3).

c Translated from ἐπισκοπή (episkopē \eh pihss kaw PAY\, “office/function of elder”; 1 Ti 3:1); ἐπίσκοπος (episkopos \eh PIHSS kaw pawss\, “elder” [one who holds the title]; 1 Ti 3:2; Ti 1:7); πρεσβύτης; πρεσβῦτις; and (συμ*)πρεσβύτερος ([sym]presbyteros \[soom] press BOO teh ross\ comparative adjective “older man, [fellow] elder [holds title]”; 1 Ti 5:1–2, 17, 19; Ti 1:5; 1 Pet 5:1*, 5); πρεσβυτέριον (presbyterion press boo TEH ree awn\ noun “council of elders [holds title]”; 1 Ti 4:14).

d Transliterated from διάκονος (diakonos \dee AH kaw nawss\ “servant, deacon”; 1 Ti 3:8, 12; 4:6).

e Part of a command to the disruptive busybodies identified in 2 Th 3:11.

f Generic references or descriptions in 4:8 (1x); 6:3–6 (3x).

g Verb is second person singular, so presumably referring to Timothy only.

h A generalized statement in the midst of specific instructions to Timothy himself.

NOTE: Minor formatting issues were fixed on 11/4, along with clearing up a dangling modifier in the first paragraph.



  1. Well, Scott, I’ve given up. The role of women in church leadership was a dominant topic in my thinking for many years. But in more than three decades, there’s been no significant change. All I can say is, on the last day, God help all the so-called “leaders” who have undervalued and underutilized women. And maybe someday, I’ll get to the point where I can say, along with Jesus, “forgive them for they know not what they do.”

    Comment by Kristine Christlieb — November 4, 2011 @ 5:05 am | Reply

  2. Don’t give up. I know some great churches out there that have done an excellent job of incorporating women into leadership. I’m of a mind that women and men should serve equally in the church (i.e., equally submissive to Christ and mutually submissive to one another, as Eph 5:21 says), regardless of position. It’s not popular, but I’m convinced that’s what the Scriptures teach. I admire Texas’ conservative bent, but maybe the churches down there are still too conservative to accept this teaching?

    Comment by Scott Stocking — November 4, 2011 @ 6:31 am | Reply

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