(1 Tim. 3:2) Does this passage preclude female eldership?

CLAIM: Paul says that an elder should be “the husband of one wife” (1 Tim. 3:2). How can a woman possibly be an elder, if this is the requirement?

RESPONSE: This qualification is not compelling elders to be married men. In fact, Paul himself was not married (1 Cor. 7:8), and yet, this didn’t disqualify him as a leader. Instead, the “husband of one wife” (mias gunaikos andros) literally means a “one-woman kind of man.”[1] The expression refers to a lifestyle of sexual purity (cf. 1 Tim. 5:9).

The Bible simply does not use gender neutral language. Earlier, Paul wrote, “God desires all men to be saved” (1 Tim. 2:4). Of course, no one would think that Paul had just men in mind, when reading this verse. In Athens, Paul led a group of people to faith in Christ. Luke writes, “Some men joined him and believed, among whom also [was] …a woman named Damaris” (Acts 17:34). Clearly, the term “men” can include women.

Of course, it’s certainly possible that Paul didn’t envision women elders. In his culture, it might not have been strategic to have women leaders, because they were looked down upon. However, this is different than saying that Paul was prohibiting women elders.

[1] Thomas D. Lea and Hayne P. Griffin, 1, 2 Timothy, Titus, vol. 34, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 109–110.