Does The New Testament Name Only Men As Local Church Officers? -- By: Philip B. Payne

Journal: Priscilla Papers
Volume: PP 26:3 (Summer 2012)
Article: Does The New Testament Name Only Men As Local Church Officers?
Author: Philip B. Payne

Does The New Testament Name Only Men As Local Church Officers?

Philip B. Payne

Philip Barton Payne is well known for his studies of New Testament textual criticism, the parables of Jesus, and the man-and-woman teachings of Paul. He has held New Testament teaching positions at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Bethel Theological Seminary, and Fuller Theological Seminary.

Even if the New Testament identified by name many men and no women as local church officers—in particular, elders, overseers, or pastors—this would not logically exclude women from local church leadership. After all, the New Testament does not name any Gentile men with those titles either. Does this exclude them from those leadership positions?

However, apart from Jesus Christ (Heb 13:20; 1 Pet 2:25; 5:4), the New Testament does not identify any man or woman by name as an overseer (episkopos) or pastor (poimēn, literally, “shepherd”). John refers to himself in 2 John 1 and 3 John 1 as “the elder,” but nothing in either context associates this title with a local church or with administrative duties. The article (ho, “the”) indicates that this title refers to something unique, which would not apply to local church administration. It probably identifies something like the last surviving elderly apostle and eyewitness of Christ. The only other New Testament association of “elder” with any named person is Peter’s self-identification in 1 Peter 5:1 as “the fellow-elder (sumpresbyteros) and witness of Christ’s sufferings and the glory that is to be revealed.” This “was the essential qualification of an Apostle in the strict sense,”1 identifying Peter not as the leader of a local church, but of “the whole church.”2

The only person named with an explicit title of local church leadership is not a man at all, but a woman: “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is deacon of the church in Cenchrea. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been a leader of many, including myself also” (Rom 16:1-2).

“Deacon,” as in the NIV 2011, is the best translation of diakonos here. The same title was used for a pagan religious office and could apply to women.

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