Why Elders should be Men


We had been married for a few months and lived in Stanton, California. My family owned our house, and we got to use it one year for free. It was a great year; the one challenge was that we lived right off Beach Boulevard in a crime-heavy area. One night, we were awakened by noises at the front of our house. It was some men whispering. As my wife and I lay in bed, we were aware that there was a real possibility of a threat right outside our bedroom door. I got up without thinking and walked out to our dark living room. It was free of people, but I still heard two men talking. I opened the front door; two middle-aged homeless men were enjoying their liquor on our porch. It was jarring seeing them relaxing on our porch. I told them to leave, and they did. Gender and traditional gender roles are being challenged from every angle. But as far as I know, no able-bodied husband is sending his wife out to check on strange men’s voices in the dark front yard. Nearly every woman and child expects and believes that good men—most often brothers, husbands, and dads—will defend them from danger.

This is an essay about men and women and the elder office. The Bible has numerous examples of men and women leading, teaching, prophesying, and being encouraged to do so. It also, it seems, to purposefully exclude women from the elder office. I want to consider why Paul might make the elder office male-only. The answer is an important one. A generation ago, the reasons for female exclusion from the elder office included women’s irrationality, subpar intelligence, and over-emotionalism[1]. Today, these answers are exposed for what they are, misogyny.  Yet, it would be unwise to think that Paul was motivated by such impulses. Instead, Paul leaves wide open the ability of women to use all the gifts in every area of church life except one. It is this one exception that I want to consider. One of the Bible’s ontological themes is that masculinity means man is made, at least in part, to defend and protect others from danger, evil, and malice.

A Caveat

When I say that one of the primary purposes of masculinity is keeping and protecting, I am not saying that women are incapable or unwilling to undertake such tasks. The bible celebrates mothering power: “I will fall upon them like a bear robbed of her cubs; I will tear open their breast.” I know from experience the great lengths that a woman will go to protect her children (or any child for that matter). Women have and will lay down their lives for others, and this is beautiful and good. 

But we must admit that we live in a cultural moment that bristles at the idea that a man might be called and made to do something that a woman is not called to or made to do. This is largely because men have messed up and used their power to abuse and exclude. There is no excuse for this, and we need to grow up. Still, men and women are ontologically different. Only women can have babies, and men are stronger than women. I know this sounds out-of-date and backward but stick with this essay. All of us, liberal and conservative alike, deeply desire to see Christ-like men laying down their lives for others. Keep an open mind and heart; let’s see what God might do.

The Garden War

In the Genesis creation account, Adam is created first and given a unique vocation; he is to work the garden and keep it (Genesis 2:15)[2]. The Hebrew verb “keep,” שׁמר, means “to guard (from external violence), to preserve, maintain”[3]. The garden was placed in the east of Eden (Genesis 2:8). In the words of Kenneth A. Matthews, “a specially prepared habitat.” Outside of the garden, the land is uncultivated. It is a land of “thorns and thistles.” Inside the garden’s boundaries is a paradise prepared by God (Genesis 1:29). Adam is given a special responsibility to make sure that the garden remains whole.

This responsibility to keep is coupled with a verbal command: “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Ge 2:16–17). This tree could threaten the paradise God has given Adam and Eve. There is danger, and Adam must be alert. Adam is to keep the garden’s boundaries and act appropriately concerning the unique threat the tree poses. He is made to protect and defend.

Men are, on average stronger than women. Testosterone, a defining feature of the male body, enhances the threat response in men[4] positioning their bodies to react to danger aggressively. Men are built to defend, and there is an expectation that they do so. Sin might have tainted our physiology, but the basic system is God-given. When there is danger, we ask men to handle it. 

Recently in Ukraine, as Russia invaded, every able-bodied man was called to defend the country from the invading marauders. The women and children fled to neighboring countries. Families were divided, children were afraid, and men wept, but no one fought for equal rights. We see these men as noble because the need is dire. If a Ukrainian man skirted his responsibility to defend his country, his neighbors would shame him. We understand why he would flee and can sympathize, but he has somehow failed his primary work because he does not defend his home. Men protect and lay down their lives for others. This responsibility of men points to God’s ontological purposes for men. 

Adam and Eve have dominion equally; both are given creation as gifts (Genesis 1:28, 29). Within the garden, they subdue creation together[5]. Men and women act together in harmony when the boundaries are in place, and the garden is in order. What a man can do, so can the woman. But when the thief comes to destroy, Adam has the nature and call to fight and defend[6]. It is his responsibility. 

War of Words

The Christian gospel is rooted in language: God spoke a creation into being; our Savior was the Word made flesh. The poet is the person who uses words not primarily to convey information but to make a relationship, shape beauty, form truth.[7][8]

Before we go on, I am not advocating that all the guys at church get AR-15s and start patrolling the church parking lot. Instead, the fight men have been called to since the beginning is the cosmic war of words. Though we have forgotten the power of words, the Bible makes clear that words are power. 

Creation happened with words. God instructed and warned Adam with words. Adam used words to name the creatures. After the fall, God curses with words. Jesus is the Word, and his words delivered men and women from demons, gave sight to the blind, and raised the dead. It was with words that Satan tempted Jesus, and it was with words that Jesus repelled temptation. It was with words that Jesus was condemned to die. He is the slain Word of God. It was with words that the first disciples learned of Jesus’ resurrection. When the Spirit fell at Pentecost, it was through words that God displayed his power. Peter’s anointed words saw 3000 rescued from the claws of sin and death. One day Christ will declare with words, IT IS FINISHED.  In the biblical vision, words are means of power. 

Words play a central role in the creation and fall account. Violent words come from the serpent. Adam is with Eve as the serpent pounces. This would seem to be the moment for Adam, the defender; he is called to protect. Instead, he stands there as Eve is tempted (Genesis 3:6). He is impotent. The garden needed a warrior but got a wimp.

The words Adam was supposed to use were words that proclaim what is true; like Jesus, Adam could have rebuked Satan. He could have cried out for God to intervene. God was there too. In these two failures of words, we begin to see what godly men can do in their innate strength. Men are called to stand by the truth, protect the weak(er) and pray without ceasing. 

Interpreting 1 Timothy 2:12-14

In 1 Timothy 2:12-14, Paul uses the creation and fall argument to restrict woman’s authority. I want to suggest that his argument is the same as mine and is best understood that way. 

12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 

(1 Ti 2:12–13)

Here Paul uses the order of creation, Adam was created first, to argue that women’s authority is restricted. This is, of course about men and women in marriage[9]. I want to suggest a theological reason for Adam being created first that supersedes the progenitor argument[10]: Adam was created first because of a unique mission. He is to defend the garden and the expectation is that he will do this. The same emotional response that we feel when we saw Ukraine attacked should be felt when the serpent attacks. This attack is horrendous and violent; we expect from our depths for Adam to do something. We ask him, depend on him, to lay down his life. 

We know this is true because where Adam failed, Christ succeeded. He laid down his life and defeated the enemy: “he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil” Heb 2:14. He has done what is necessary to repel that dangerous serpent: “the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” Re 20:10. This is masculine love. Paul uses it to command husbands to love wives in the same way[11].

14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 15 Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control

(1 Ti 2:14–15).

This is war, and Eve was deceived; The passive use of ἐξαπατηθεῖσα means to be led astray unsuspectingly[12]. She was not prepared because she was not the one tasked to be ready. 

Nor could Eve stand against this verbal violence; it is not in her nature. Adam is called to withstand and repel the danger. Adam wasn’t deceived, but he failed to live up to his ontological calling. He was built for war but let his wife take the brunt of the attack. His muteness is his great failure.

Jesus exemplifies the point I am trying to make. In Luke 4, when the enemy temps Jesus, Satan uses the same game plan as in the garden. This time though, he is up against the great Son of Man. When his words of violence come to destroy Jesus, Jesus responds with the words of his Father. It is a battle, and Jesus wins. Jesus shows us what men ought to do when the enemy strikes. 

Altogether, Paul uses the same theological and ontological reasoning as I am using. He is immersed in the creation story and the failure of Adam. He also has his eyes on Jesus, who defeated the serpent. This failure and success fuel his vision of masculine authority.

Jesus and Paul

I want to lay out two more examples of this masculine ontology. First and foremost, as mentioned earlier, Jesus is the most outstanding example. Jesus is the groom of his bride, the church. He loved her so much that he “gave himself up for her”[13]. Jesus said that there is no greater love than this kind of love. Paul ties this kind of love to husband love in Ephesians 5. Jesus upon the cross gives us an idea of what a husband is supposed to look like; he also shows us the biblical vision for the elder. 

Paul writes, “For I think that God has exhibited us, apostles, as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men.” He lists his sacrifices to the church in Corinth as proof of his being a father to them. The sacrificial love of Paul put him in great danger. You would expect this if biblical masculinity is made for such sacrifice.

Together, we see that Jesus and Paul lived as protectors and defenders. Not just in a general sense but when it was dangerous—for them and others.  This responsibility is given to men in their families and the church. Their strength was found in proclaiming, living, and defending the truth. And both were mighty men of prayer. They were strong.

How Creation Helps Us Understand the Role of Elder

In Titus, men are seemingly given the exclusive work of the elder office. Notice that their work is in the domain of words:

“He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” Tt 1:9.

The words that these men are to use to instruct and rebuke are those that make up sound doctrine. The contours of sound doctrine are given in verses 10-16:

10 For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. 11 They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. 12 One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” 13 This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, 14 not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth. 15 To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. 16 They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work. 

The elders use the words to keep the church safe and repel dangers. There are dangerous teachings “upsetting whole families” in Paul’s churches. These teachers are deceivers and empty talkers like the serpent. This is dangerous and messy work; God’s house is being robbed. These wolves need to be silenced. They are to stand up for the truth and use the truth to correct and teach. 

Acts 20 and the role of elders

Before Paul began his trip to Jerusalem, he gathered the elders from Ephesus. He starts in verse 18, summarizing his ministry and the extraordinary lengths he went to plant the seed of the gospel among them. Now, as he departs, he gives these instructions:

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Acts 20:28–30.

I give this example to show how Paul couples the elder’s work with protecting the church from “fierce wolves.” The language of a flock in danger of wolves is violent. The wolves will not spare the flock. These wolves are dangerous. They are dangerous because they are “men speaking twisted things.” Do you see a theme here?

Paul is warning them that there is an existential threat to the family of God. This proximity of danger requires, as we have seen, masculine strength.  Paul uses language that should paint the same emotional response as what we have when we see Ukraine being invaded by the Russians. There is dangerous work to be done that requires masculine strength and presence.

The Weaker Vessel

In Peter’s epistle, he writes to husband and wives. In 3:7, he refers to women as “the weaker vessel.” Peter cannot be talking about the physical nature of women (it would be a change in subject). I want to suggest that the physical nature of men and women extends to their spiritual nature. I think something innate in the masculine soul can fend off danger in the same way that the feminine soul has the strength to produce and sustain life. These are physical realities and spiritual realities as well.

Summarizing the Elder’s Work

Elders’ have a responsibility like Adam, Jesus, and Paul to protect and keep safe their local church. This work is needed in the areas where there is tumult and danger in the body. In the case of Titus, there were specific threats to a particular church, and the elders needed to respond to those in a way that preserved the church. This will happen by defending the truth no matter the cost. This will occur by protecting others from the words of fierce wolves, and it will mean that the elders pray—the place of real power.

Conclusion

There is much to say about how women and men receive gifts from God to edify (Ephesians 4:11-12). This essay is about the one exception, the office of elders. Elders should be men because men have been made and called to defend against life-threatening threats and malice, spiritually speaking. Men are made to defend what is true. Men are made to protect the weaker from the words of fierce wolves. Men are created to fight on their knees in prayer. May God give us such men for such a time as this.


[1] https://www.crossway.org/articles/martin-luthers-controversial-view-of-women/

[2] I know this is an interpretative decision and that others read this specific text speaking to all humankind. I make this decision based upon the flow of the text. The writer moves between a man named Adam and also speaking about humankind. Adam was created first. This command seems given to him alone.

[3] “keep, v.”. OED Online. March 2022. Oxford University Press, May 03, 2022.

[4] https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/280915#Testosterone-has-profound-effect-on-brain-circuits-involved-in-human-aggression

[5] The story alludes to the life of Adam and Eve’s pre-fall life within the garden. This makes sense because the judgment was to be cast out of the garden.

[6] In contrast, the woman alone can create, harbor, and birth life. However equal Adam and Eve might be, She exclusively holds this responsibility.

[7] https://www.cbeinternational.org/resource/article/priscilla-papers-academic-journal/calvin-nature-and-women

[8] “The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction” by Eugene H. Peterson.

[9] Women being saved by childbirth, whatever it might mean, means she is married. Thus, this is the best read of this section.

[10] The progenitor argument is the idea that the first born male receives the inheritance. While somewhat compelling, Jesus was the firstborn, the second Adam. The riches for Christ came in his “laying down his life”. I think there is a direct connection between being first and the expectation of sacrifice. I see this connection as uniquely male.

[11] Ephesians 5:25

[12] A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed.

[13] Ephesians 5:25


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