Calling women ‘pastors’ ‘undermines’ New Testament teaching on church leadership, says John Piper from Christian Today
Theologian John Piper has claimed that it is “misleading and unwise and ill-founded” to apply the term ‘pastor’ to women leaders in the church.
He addressed the useage of the term in a recent episode of his podcast on his DesiringGod.org website, in which he sought to answer a question put to him by a Christian whose church is revising its definition of pastors to include women.
The church believes that as Ephesians 4:11 does not make any reference to gender, it is appropriate to also use the term ‘pastor’ in relation to lay women in ministering positions within churches.
However, the question to Piper was whether permitting this use of the term ‘pastor’ was in line with other parts of Scripture.
“My church is changing its view on the use of the word pastor to include women, saying Ephesians 4:11 is the only place in the Bible where the Greek word for pastor is ever used, and that it doesn’t have any specific qualifications there,” the question reads.
“Women could fill this role and still be under male headship and a male elder board, almost more like a deacon or deaconess who leads specific ministries in the church — like a pastor over worship, or a pastor over women’s ministry. But would this change in title be in line with other parts of Scripture?”
Piper, a complementarian whose interpretation won’t be shared by egalitarians, said: “My answer to the question is that it is misleading and unwise to use the English word pastor for women in ministry, and that the attempt to say that it is more biblical to use it is built on a misunderstanding of how language works, as well as the supposed use of the word pastor in the New Testament.”
He argued that one of the reasons for this was because while in English the term ‘pastor’ is interpreted as a “person with official leadership in the local church that ordinarily involves preaching and governing”, the original Greek of the New Testament doesn’t share this understanding.
Greek, he said, has only one word for shepherd and pastor – ‘poimēn’.
“It’s highly misleading to claim that in applying the word pastor to laypeople, we are recovering New Testament usage,” he said.