At the November 2006 meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, Harold Hoehner presented a paper asking, "Can a Woman Be a Pastor-Teacher?" Hoehner argued that Eph 4:11 indicates that pastor-teacher is a spiritual gift and not an office in the church. This is consistent with what he had earlier written in his commentary on Ephesians, and his paper has now been published in Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (JETS).1
The main thrust of Hoehner's JETS essay "is to assert clearly that a woman can be a pastor-teacher because it is a gift and not an office." Hoehner then makes an astonishing statement: "By distinguishing between office and gift, 85-90% of the problems raised about women's ministry would be resolved." Suggesting that 1 Tim 2:12 applies to the context of a local church, Hoehner goes on to state that "women who have the gift of pastor-teacher could utilize their gifts in parachurch situations such as mission organizations, colleges, or seminaries."2
One major problem with the distinction between gift and office is that in Eph 4:11 Paul seems to be saying that Christ has given people as apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers. In other words, Paul's language does not seem to communicate the idea that the Lord gave apostleship as a gift, prophecy as a gift, evangelism as a gift, and the skill set of pastor-teacher as a gift. Rather, Paul states that Christ "gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastor-teachers" (Eph 4:11). The question would then be whether the Lord gave any people of the female gender to the church as pastor-teachers. Hoehner answers this question in the affirmative, but consideration of what the New Testament says elsewhere about pastors might lead to another conclusion—more on this below.
Hoehner's views, especially the suggestion that distinguishing between gift and office would resolve "85-90% of the problems raised about women's ministry," betray little concern for the deep significance of humanity's gendered state. If gender is only a superficial accident, then a distinction between gift and office might resolve artificial tensions. But the reality is that gender is at the core of who we are as human beings, and our distinct purpose as humans is directly related to the gender God has assigned to us. God put the man in the garden to work and keep it (Gen 2:15), and he put the woman in the garden to help the man (Gen 2:18). Paul interprets the Genesis account to mean that the woman was created for the man (1 Cor 11:9), and Paul appears to think these realities should influence how men and women conduct themselves (cf. 1 Cor 11:3-16). A questionable distinction between gift and office will have a hard time resolving any of the problems that arise when gendered people fail to understand what their gender entails, or worse, reject biblical teaching on the roles appropriate to their gender.
These considerations also speak against Hoehner's suggestion that women can be pastor-teachers over men outside the church context. First Timothy 2:12 is not some arbitrary, pharisaic piece of red-tape. The prohibition on women teaching men is grounded in the created order and in what took place at the fall (1 Tim 2:13-15). This prohibition is given because of what we were created to be and do as males and females. It is good for us. By heeding it we experience life, joy, and freedom.
One implication Hoehner draws from his questionable distinction between gift and office—that women can teach men in seminary settings—reduces 1 Tim 2:12 to an unnecessary legislation that does not reflect what people really need. In fact, if we read 1 Tim 2:12 the way Hoehner would have us read it, the order of creation in 1 Tim 2:13 becomes something we have to obey in church, but otherwise are free to ignore. In other words, it is a meaningless formality. But Paul does not indicate that his prohibition in 1 Tim 2:12 is a meaningless formality. He grounds the role distinctions between male and female on an appeal to the created order (see 1 Tim 2:13-15).
In his commentary on Ephesians, Hoehner writes,
Some may question the validity of women pastors or pastor-teachers, but it must be remembered that these are gifts and not offices. Surely, women who pastor-shepherd among women should cause no problem at all (Titus 2:3-4). But in fact, Priscilla, along with Aquila, taught Apollos the way of God more accurately (Acts 18:25-26) which would indicate that a woman may not be limited to teaching only women (Ephesians, 546).
Hoehner here suggests that women can do what Paul forbids them from doing in 1 Tim 2:12. On the basis of an example recorded in the narrative of Acts, Hoehner is prepared to disregard a prohibition in an epistle written so that its recipient will know how to conduct church life (1 Tim 3:14-15).
Aside from the hermeneutical issue of reading the narrative in a way that contradicts an apostolic prohibition, does this example "indicate that a woman may not be limited to teaching only women"? For all we know, this conversation with Priscilla, Aquila, and Apollos happened only once, whereas there are clear statements in the New Testament about gender roles that refer to the way life is to be conducted all the time (cf. 1 Cor 11:3-16; 14:29-35; 1 Tim 2:9-15, etc.). The incident with Priscilla, Aquila, and Apollos happened in private, and Luke doesn't tell us who did the instructing in Acts 18:25-26. Priscilla's husband may have done most—or even all—of the talking. The incident described in Acts 18:25-26 is a slight, fraying thread holding up the huge weight of Hoehner's conclusion that "a women may not be limited to teaching only women."
As for the distinction between gift and office, pastors and elders, there may be a word study fallacy in Hoehner's interpretation, which seems to limit its consideration of "pastors" to the noun that means "shepherd" rather than also considering the related verbal forms that refer to the act of shepherding. If the verbal forms are considered, the texts that indicate that "elders" are "to shepherd" incline the interpretation away from Hoehner's conclusion. Hoehner can only maintain that "pastor-teacher" is a spiritual gift and not an office if a pastor is not the same thing as an elder, since "elder" is an office in the church and not just a spiritual gift.
But are elders distinct from pastors? In Acts 20:17 Paul summons the "elders" of the church in Ephesus. He then tells them, "the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God" in Acts 20:28. The word "overseers" can also be rendered "bishops," and the infinitive "to shepherd" is the verbal form of the noun translated "pastor." Thus, in Acts 20, Paul tells the "elders" that they are "bishops/overseers," and he tells them that they are "to pastor."
Similarly, in 1 Pet 5:1-2, Peter exhorts the "elders" that they are to "shepherd the flock of God" by "exercising oversight." Here again, an elder is to do what a shepherd (pastor) does, shepherd, and he is to do what an overseer does, exercise oversight.
Hoehner's novel conclusion that "pastor-teacher" is a spiritual gift to the exclusion of it being an office can only be maintained by committing what looks like a word study fallacy of focusing on the noun, "pastor," to the exclusion of the cognate verbal forms, "to pastor," which are used to describe what elders do. Add to this the strong sense that in Eph 4:11 Paul is describing people as gifts rather than roles or skill-sets as gifts, the weak appeal to Priscilla and Aquila, the apparent lack of concern for the realities 1 Tim 2:12 reflects, and Hoehner's argument begins to look like special pleading for a middle way that will ultimately satisfy neither complementarians nor egalitarians. Neither egalitarians nor complementarians will appreciate the sacrifice of their fundamental concerns about gender roles on the altar of a technical distinction between gift and role that allows women to teach men as long as they do not do so in church.
1 Harold W. Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002), and "Can a Woman Be a Pastor-Teacher?," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 50, no. 4 (2007): 761-71.
2 Hoehner, "Can a Woman Be a Pastor-Teacher?," 771.