INTRODUCTION & ACTIONS ON WOMEN’S ORDINATION
The issue of women’s ordination is causing many people to dig deeper into the Bible, Ellen White, history and science and think carefully current policies concerning women as ordained pastors. Our SDA church has been a leader in many human rights, including racial equality and women’s equality in history and we already have commissioned female pastors in some countries and ordained female pastors in a couple such as China, which is far ahead of the west on this topic. The General Conference vote in 2015 in San Antonio didn’t change this. We are over 90% of the way to full equality. But full equality will give women full recognition as equal to men and will open doors in some countries where they are unfortunately [mostly] closed.
This conflict is good since it challenges us to study carefully and figure out which practice has God’s approval and is present truth for our time (1 Cor. 11:19). Is this a case that is comparable to advancing the cause of civil rights for minorities or is it a case of compromising unchanging doctrines in a way that will cause much harm as Darwinism has done? That pragmatic question is the key issue since we know that the purpose of God’s laws and godliness are given for our good (Psalms 119:45, James 1:25, 1 Timothy 4:8).
Dr. David Bissell, SDA pastor (and Bible teacher/professor for over 40 years), has written a short article of 7 compelling biblical reasons why everyone should prayerfully consider supporting women’s ordination. Several other articles and a book are available too (click the menu heading “Christian Issues” and see sub articles). The 1st 2 articles basically make these points:
- The purpose of all God’s laws/principles/patterns and godliness is for our good (Deut. 4:1-8, Deut. 30:15-20, James 1:25, 1 Tim. 4:8). That’s the gold standard. Some are temporary though and some are permanent. In Matt. 5:18, Jesus said that a law will never be cancelled until it’s purpose (pragmatic benefit) is achieved. This is the key to deciding whether a law/pattern/principle is temporary and can expire (sacrifices) or permanent (10 commandments).
- The Bible teaches the concept of “the priesthood of all believers” with Jesus as the head of the church (not any person), gives the Great Commission to all and that spiritual gifts are inclusive of both genders. We are all equal now in Christ now that Jesus has come. This should not be just a platitude, but a reality.
- God never banned ordaining women, but biblical/historical evidence shows sacred prostitution was common and women speaking in public was offensive in many cultures. These explain why God didn’t choose many women as top spiritual leaders in Israel(with exceptions like Deborah). These problems have disappeared, which explains why Ellen White supported women being pastors and ministers, both in word and in practice. Ordained female pastors like Hao Ya Jie (who leads the largest SDA church in the world with 7,000+ members) show that God’s Spirit has empowered women pastors as He did the Gentiles of old in Acts 10, causing major positive change in the church.
- Ellen White and science agree that women’s brains are different from men’s and that if women aren’t in leadership, the church suffers “great loss” in a number of ways. It’s time to move toward fuller equality.
Dr. Bissell’s article on 7 compelling is just below. Bryan Bissell’s book (with ~14 detailed reasons to consider) is here:
If after reading some and praying about these facts, you find it convincing, please share it with as many people as possible, especially delegates from your area. I also encourage you to sign your name to the petition here, http://unity2015.org/. You can also find some of the best research, articles and presentations by many pastors and theologians on both sides here:
LINK TO VOTE: http://unity2015.org/
God bless as we wrestle with this issue and keep us unified whether we all agree or not!
7 COMPELLING BIBLE REASONS TO
VOTE “YES” ON WOMEN’S ORDINATION
(by Dr. David Bissell)
(We prayerfully urge you to make this go viral to all SDA friends)
REASON #1 – THE BIBLE TEACHES THE PRIESTHOOD OF ALL BELIEVERS
There are many godly people on both sides of the issue of women’s ordination. As SDAs know, the vote on whether to allow each world division to decide “yes” or “no” on this issue comes up in a couple of weeks at GC. Those who are adamantly opposed believe that we who are in favor are caving in to culture rather than trusting in scripture. Nothing could be further from the truth for me. Here are 7 biblical reasons why I encourage you to vote “yes” on this important issue. Several important books have been written about this topic. Perhaps the plethora of scholarly opinions may have made it difficult for some to grasp. For many, the issues still remain unclear. Therefore, I hope to keep this simple, short, and scriptural.
For centuries Protestants have taught the “Priesthood of all believers”. Three NT passages of scripture emphasize this significant doctrine: In contrast with the Roman church, Protestants believe these texts apply to women as well as men. Do we really want to practice Roman theology?
1) 1 Peter 2:4-9: 5 “You also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture, “Behold, I lay in Zion A chief cornerstone, elect, precious, and he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame.” 7 Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient, “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone,” 8 and “A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.” They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed. 9 But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; When you unpack the context of this text several facts become apparent
- a) This passage is referring to those who “believe” on Jesus. (v.7) No Bible student should limit believers to men only!
- b) All, both men and women are built into a “spiritual house”. (v.5)This spiritual house is not limited to men.
- c) This passage speaks about the “elect.” The elect are both men and women.
- d) You are a “chosen generation, a holy nation” (v.9) includes women as well as men.
- e) You are his “special people” includes women. (v.9)
- f) “You have been chosen to proclaim his praises”. (v.9) This privilege is for ALL Christians, not just men.
- g) Finally, “you are a holy and royal priesthood” (v.5,) Every other phrase in this passage includes women. Therefore, the text requires that we recognize that women are also priests – a royal and holy priesthood.
Revelation 1:6: In the book of Revelation John adds his stamp of approval to this spiritual truth: “And [he – Jesus] has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” I know of no biblical scholar who believes this passage refers only to men. If this is the case, then men and women are kings and priests unto God.
Revelation 5:9-10: “You [Jesus] are worthy to take the scroll, And to open its seals; For You were slain, And have redeemed us to God by Your blood Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, 10 And have made us kings and priests to our God; And we shall reign on the earth.” This text applies to all the redeemed – not just men. Praise God, women are included in the priesthood and will reign with men as kings on earth. The idea that all, both men and women are considered priests leads to a second truth, which we will look at next.
REASON 2: THE NEW TESTAMENT TEACHES THAT JESUS IS OUR HIGH PRIEST – WE ARE NO LONGER GUIDED BY A LEVITICAL PRIESTHOOD.
The Old Covenant priesthood and all its regulations have all been fulfilled in Christ. He is now our High Priest. Under the New Covenant, all have access to the Father through Christ Jesus. All that applied to Old Testament priests no longer applies under the New Covenant. Paul is clear about this in the book of Hebrews.
Hebrews 10:19-23: “Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, 21 and having a High Priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.” Paul again stresses this wonderful truth that all have free access to the Father through the Spirit.
Ephesians 2:17-19 “And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. 18 For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father. 19 Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God”.
So, under the Old Covenant, we had male priests who were descendants of Levi. They were men only, and must be without blemish. They could not be married a second time even if they were widowed. Only men could enter the sanctuary of the Old Covenant. Their sacrifices could not cleanse or redeem our consciences. This typological priesthood has been superseded by a perfect Priest.
I know of no New Covenant scholar today who believes that we must continue the practices or abide by the regulations of the Levitical priesthood. The rules that applied to the Old Covenant priests no longer apply. All, including women, have access to the sanctuary. Praise God, Jesus’ blood frees us from the condemnation of the one who accuses the saints day and night. We can all enter the “holiest through Jesus.”
Rome teaches us that we must have male human priests to whom we confess and through whom the sacraments are administered. We no longer follow that tradition. We have a Superior Priest who is Jesus and a superior priesthood that includes all and it is not gender specific. It’s all about Jesus, not a male priesthood in the church.
REASON 3: THE GREAT COMMISSION OF MATTHEW 28 TO “GO, PREACH, TEACH AND BAPTIZE” APPLIES TO ALL HIS DISCIPLES. THIS MANDATE INCLUDES WOMEN
The third compelling reason is rooted in the gospel commission to Jesus’ disciples. We all know it well but have probably overlooked the obvious implications that are found in the text. Let’s zero in on it now. Matthew 28:18-20 “And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 ‘teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’ Amen.”
After telling the story of Jesus life, death and resurrection, Matthew concludes with this awesome picture. Because of Jesus’ victory over the powers of hell, He now has ultimate authority which He shares with all who are his disciples. There are those who limit this command to the twelve disciples of Jesus but as Adventists we are not in that camp. We believe this command grabs OUR attention and hearts. Because Jesus has the power and authority He shares His compelling mission with us. “Go!”, we are told, “Make disciples [teach all nations – KJV]!” “Baptize them!” so they will become my heritage in a dark world! Then “Teach them” to live meaningful, powerful lives, practicing my kind of life in a lost society!
We believe these four commands are the marching orders for all Christians and specifically all Seventh day Adventists. They are not limited to men only. They are for all followers of Jesus, including women. No valid reason within the text suggests that performing baptism is for “men only”. All four commands are tied together and cannot be separated by gender. Yet those who argue that women should have no authoritative, teaching responsibility or leadership, limit this command to baptize to men only. However Jesus’ compelling invitation is for all of Jesus’ disciples. It is inclusive of all. Therefore, women as well as men have the right and authority to baptize as well as teach.
REASON 4: SPIRITUAL GIFTS ARE INCLUSIVE OF WOMEN, NOT GENDER SPECIFIC
There are four major passages that underlie our next compelling reason. I will refer to three of them and quote the fourth. The first is in Joel 2. It is an eschatological promise of the outpouring of the Spirit upon all flesh. Your sons and daughters will prophecy. Your old men will dream dreams and your young men will see visions. Jesus’ Spirit will be poured out upon men and women alike. This promise is not gender specific. It applies to all who call on the name of the Lord. As Adventists we have referred to this text to validate the prophetic ministry of Ellen White. However, the text does not say that only one woman will be given the Spirit to prophecy. No, the outpouring is for all.
Romans 12 lists several gifts that are found in the body of Christ, such as teaching, exhortation, service, and giving. The text does not say, men only are to teach while women are to serve and give. No, the exercise of these gifts is not gender specific.
1 Corinthians 12-14 is the most extensive passage in scripture regarding spiritual gifts. These crucial Spirit endowed powers are distributed not by the will of men but by the Spirit himself. The exercise of these gifts is held together by the glue of love. Here are some of them: Faith, healing, tongues, leadership, prophecy, and teaching. The most important gift is love.
For those who are confused about the role of prophecy versus tongues Paul concludes that prophecy is a gift that he would desire all to have. It was not limited to men only. Again, we as Adventists use this section of scripture to bolster our belief that Ellen White was inspired by God and that she had the gift of prophecy. Nothing in this passage suggests that any of the gifts are gender specific. The Spirit gives as He wills, not as men direct. If God gifts women with one of these gifts, who are we to say that they are not to prophesy, teach or preach or pastor a church? Their authority comes from Christ primarily. A godly church will recognize the call of the Spirit and will not seek to stymie their ministry.
Finally, regarding spiritual gifts, I quote Paul’s message to the Ephesians.
Ephesians 4:11-13 “And He Himself [Jesus] gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ;”
I kept this passage for the last compelling text about spiritual gifts. I did so because Paul lists these teaching gifts as ones that are given to equip the saints, to protect them from doctrinal error, to edify the body of Christ until we are all united in Him. Where do we get the idea that any of these gifts should be limited to men only? I cannot help but believe that a preconceived bias against women pastors seems to be the basis for such a conjecture. Again, we use this passage to validate the prophetic ministry of Ellen White. We quote it hoping with the intent to note that “prophecy” is not discontinued any more than the role of pastor, teacher or evangelist. Yet some quote this passage as though it is gender specific!
If the gift of prophecy was manifest by one who is a woman, how can we limit any of these gifts to men only? What is true for one gift is true for all of them. Can women be evangelists? Can they be teachers? Can they edify the body of Christ? Or will we believe that teaching, prophecy, evangelism and preaching are for men only? If we are to believe those who follow past traditional thinking, we would of necessity limit any and all of these gifts to men. This cannot be!
In our call for unity, let us humble ourselves and allow the Spirit to move upon all of us not just men! I am not suggesting we disregard the convictions of those who are opposed to women’s ordination. If they do not want to practice it, fine, but I do not believe for the sake of unity that they should force their narrow interpretation of scripture upon those who do not share their convictions. The church and God are big enough to allow for differences of opinion.
REASON 5: THE GOLDEN RULE AND GALATIANS 3:27-29 ARE INCLUSIVE AND NOT EXCLUSIVE OR DISCRIMINATORY
Let’s cut to the chase and recognize that the real reason some do not want to allow for women’s ordination is because they do not believe women should be allowed to be pastors of a local church, administrators or conference presidents. Some are disturbed because one of our organizations on the west coast has elected a woman to be the president. The thought is, if we ordain or appoint women as “elders” or “in positions of authority” they may actually become a president, perish the thought! Who knows, they might even become the General Conference President! Is it really consistently biblical to deny positions of leadership to women? This is the real issue! Let us recognize a spade as a spade! Should women be denied significant influential roles because of their gender? Two major concepts in the Bible disallow for this kind of discrimination.
Galatians 3:27-28 “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Clearly, this passage broke down barriers between Jew and Gentile, slave and free and male and female. Some would say this is only a matter of eternal salvation, however “salvation” has practical implications. It is not merely a belief that women can be saved. The implications of the gospel mean that we do not practice discrimination based on race, religious heritage or gender.
We are all “one” in Christ. There are those among us who would like us all to unite on the principle of discrimination against women but I believe this is a very shaky ground for unity. To deny a leadership role to a woman based on gender alone is plain and simple discrimination. Shamefully, as a denomination we had to learn in the civil court that denying equal pay for equal work is and always will be discrimination and a denial of the gospel.
Let’s face it, there are those cultures that will discriminate against women by not allowing them to be educated, drive cars, or serve as leaders. Some even practice female circumcision to keep women in their place. There are those who may tend to vote against women’s ordination, because they are influenced by a cultural and traditional understanding of scripture. But we need to vote “yes”, because it is the right thing to do, not bowing to culture or “traditional” interpretations from the past.
Unfortunately, in the United States we used to treat women in the same manner as some other cultures do based on a misunderstanding of scripture. We had to grow up to understand the wider implications of the gospel to realize women could vote and actually own property without the signature of a man.
Finally, the golden rule (the ultimate guide for ethics) teaches us in Luke 6:31 “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Can you honestly say that it would right to deny a woman the pastoral role, merely because she is a woman? How many men would like to be excluded because they are men? What are the implications of accepting women as theology majors only to deny them a pastoral position based on gender?
REASON 6: JESUS IS THE HEAD OF THE CHURCH – LEADERSHIP AND GREATNESS COME THROUGH SERVICE NOT GENDER
During the time of Christ, the disciples had seen how Rome and Judaism operated. Position was important. Leaders lorded it over their subjects. To sit on the right or left hand of Jesus was the desired position. But Jesus pointed out that he who would be greatest among you must become least. The first was to become last. Servant leadership is the summum bonum of Christian leadership. One verse alone is sufficient reminder of Christ’s form of leadership and greatness.
Matthew 23:7-11 “They enjoy the attention they get on the streets, and they enjoy being called ‘Rabbi.’ 8 Don’t ever let anyone call you ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one teacher, and all of you are on the same level as brothers and sisters. 9 And don’t address anyone here on earth as ‘Father,’ for only God in heaven is your spiritual Father. 10 And don’t let anyone call you ‘Master,’ for there is only one master, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you must be a servant.”
Little commentary needs to be written about this. It’s obvious that in Jesus’ kingdom position and politics are not a part of his rule. The Pharisees and disciples thought it was about position and authority but in reality it was about service. He who would be great would be servant of all.
Regarding ordination or headship: It is a mistake to believe that ordination is about position, headship or domination by men. If this were the case, then deacons who are ordained would also be considered “leaders” or men in positions of authority. Ordination recognizes the call of God to a position of service or mission. It is NOT about being the head of the world church or of any specific church. The New Testament is clear in its theology that Christ is the Head of the church. No man or GC president is the head of the church. To press one’s own theology in opposition to overriding biblical principles is an illegitimate use of one’s position of service.
Being the head of the family is not about ruling over one’s wife either. It is about loving his wife as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. Headship is about service, NOT domination. Many men will try to assert their demands by quoting Ephesians 5 on submission, however, this is an illegitimate use of the text. First it is preceded by a command for all to submit to one another. Second, a man is to love his wife as himself. That means he will seek to serve her. His leadership is by godly example and not by being a dictator. Women are not to give up their individuality because they are married.
One scripture alone should be sufficient to remind us that no man or woman is the “head” of the church. Ephesians 1:22 “And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, 23 which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” As you vote as a delegate, remember that Christ and not a man is the head of the church.
Commissioning versus ordination is only a semantic wordage to pacify those who are opposed to allowing women to be God gifted leaders. Ordination by the church recognizes God’s call upon a person’s life and sets a person aside for a particular ministry. As such ordination does not imply a division between clergy and laity with paid clergy as the “head” of a church. Nor does it suggest male headship of the church. This kind of discrimination and posturing is an invention of the Roman Church.
It is true that Ephesians 5 teaches us how we are to submit to one another and that wives are to be subject to their husbands, but this does not mean that women are to be subject to men in general. If that were true, every woman would have hundreds or even thousands of heads. However, Christ is the head of the church, not men. Other men are not heads of women who are not married to them. This is not scriptural teaching.
REASON 7: OUR ACCEPTANCE OF ELLEN WHITE AS A PRIMARY LEADER AND AUTHORITY IN THE CHURCH SETS A PRECEDENT FOR WOMEN AS LEADERS AND TEACHERS
It is most baffling to me to see how those who are against women as leaders or as appointed (ordained) pastors are sometimes the most prominent promoters of Ellen White and her writings. Without doubt she has had a greater influence than any pastor in directions we have taken as a denomination. She was also regularly given ministerial credentials by the denomination and used them to get train discounts and other things. With little regard to those scriptures that deny teaching authority, or speaking in the church to women, those against women’s ordination support Ellen White as an authority on a similar par with scripture.
It is true that for the sake of a Christian culture (which allowed for slavery and discrimination against women) Ellen White never sought official recognition as a leading authority. Nevertheless Adventist understanding gives Ellen White a practical authority that is second only to scripture and she was a woman. Therefore, accepting her as an authority figure in Adventism sets a precedent for gifted women to serve in a capacity of leadership and influence.
I do not see how we can justify denying influence and leadership to gifted women when we promote Ellen White’s writings as an authority on the meaning of spiritual matters. Seldom has a woman in the history of the Christian church risen to such prominence. This precedence demands that we have a clear, consistent, overriding picture from scripture BEFORE we deny women the privilege of leadership roles.
Regarding Ellen White having an ordination certificate, as pictured above, I will make this disclaimer. There are supposedly 6 certificates floating around, one of which shows the word “ordination” stricken out. I certainly do not subscribe to her having “ordination” papers as certain proof that she was in fact ordained. I included the picture for your observation. You can draw your own conclusions. It is my understanding however, that it is undeniable that it was voted to give her ministerial credentials.
Someone smarter than I has said, “we are often right in what we affirm, but wrong in what we deny” I believe we are wrong in denying ordination and leadership to Godly women.
RESPONSE TO OBJECTIONS
Justice could not be done to this topic if I did not respond to some of the major objections. However, it is not my intention at this point to deal with all of the objections to women’s ordination. I will only comment on the major ones. Before we look at specific concerns we must consider a general principle of biblical interpretation.
First, “A text without a context is a pretext.” Protestant principles of interpretation require a historical, grammatical approach to help discern the meaning of scripture. Therefore to understand Paul we must look at the wider historical background of Judaism and Rome. A Jewish prayer of the day intoned, “thank God I am not a woman”. We could probably best understand the status of women by comparing stricter Islamic customs of our day with those of Bible times. Women were not allowed to testify in court; they could not go out in public; they were not allowed to talk to strangers; and along with children, they were not allowed to attend the synagogues and in general they were uneducated. As such they were second class citizens. In view of this, for a Christian woman to brashly speak out she would place herself at risk and generally be a poor witness for the gospel. Seriously, do those who are opposed to women’s ordination want us to go back to this kind of oppression?
Not only do we need to understand the wider cultural context of Paul, we need to understand the local situation. Ephesus forms the background of Paul’s remarks to Timothy. In chapter 1 we discover there was doctrinal controversy (vs.4, 6). Apparently, some of the problem in Ephesus was exacerbated by disorderly, quarrelsome women. This becomes obvious when you look at chapter 5 and discover that some younger women had become “idlers, gossips and busybodies” (5:13-15). ” Some had already strayed after Satan.” Corinth seems to have had similar problems. In view of this immediate context Paul responds asserting that women must be submissive (as opposed to belligerent and uncooperative). In other works, his comments are responses to local situations and not meant to be eternal moral laws. Obviously, when someone is out of line, you give counsel to meet that situation or condition.
Second, when we study the Bible we look for eternal principles. The Bible is primarily a “case book”, not a “rule book”. God’s character never changes but circumstances do. For example, although circumcision was “forever” in the Old Testament, it lost its significance in the New Testament. Only Levites could enter the sanctuary. Later in Judaism, only men had access to synagogues. In the New Testament, this no longer held true. Synagogues were often replaced by private homes and women became a part of the fellowship. Women wearing veils is another example of temporary “rules”. Regulations regarding the priesthood are no longer in vogue. We have an eternal Priest in Christ Jesus. Some laws were given for the sake of protecting women that were not eternal injunctions. The Old Covenant was meant to “lead us to Christ’ like a tutor educates children. When we grow up into Christ we no longer need these guidelines. So this is the real question! “Was Paul’s counsel based on an eternal moral principle”? Or “is it temporary”? The moral law has been expressed by Jesus as “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind and your neighbor as yourself.” These two principles are further detailed in the 10 commandments. Upon these two commands hang all the law and the prophets. If female inferiority was meant to be permanent forever, we would certainly find this in the 10 commandments. However, nowhere in the moral law do you find a belief that women are to be subject to men. Nowhere in these commands is there an injunction that disallows women from being ordained or serving as a pastor. Therefore, one should conclude that statements regarding women should be tempered by local situations or a general understanding of the customs and culture of the day. I do not believe Paul’s counsel was eternal in nature. Furthermore, some of the counsel in the Bible has come about because of sin but was not rooted and grounded in the eternal purposes of God.
OBJECTION 1: God’s eternal purpose for women has always been one of subjection and inferiority in role. It is a sin to change this original role relationship. Some of those who are opposed to women’s ordination believe that women have always been inferior in role to men. They believe that Eve was to be Adam’s helpmeet and therefore subject to him. However, Genesis 1:26 states clearly that men and women were created in God’s image. Both Adam and Eve were given dominion over the rest of creation. In addition, the Hebrew word for helpmeet is used for God himself on numerous occasions in the OT. He is our helpmeet, so this is not a term of subjection or inferiority. In fact, it could be argued that woman was the final, crowning work of God’s creation. One must also realize that the Old Testament reflects a stance that has occurred because of sin and does not necessarily prove how God designed it in the beginning. I find no where in scripture where God originally intended for women to be in subjection to men. In fact, Paul suggests that the reason a woman is to be subject to a man is because of the deception of Eve. In my opinion, because men are superior in physical strength to women, it is for their safety that they be subject to their husbands. Nothing quite further exacerbates the break up of a home than a belligerent, uncooperative woman.
OBJECTION 2: Women became subject to men after sin. This is how it should be.
Some say that because of sin, the order is now male headship with female submission. In fact, this is Paul’s argument in 1 Timothy 2. Because Eve was deceived, and Adam was not deceived, women must be subject to men. As such, Paul refers to the Genesis account. Without a doubt, sin brought a change in the relationship between the man and the woman. Notice the wording: Genesis 3:16 “To the woman He said: I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; In pain you shall bring forth children; Your desire shall be for your husband, And he shall rule over you.” Several changes are initially apparent.
1) Eve would experience greater pain in giving birth.
2) Her husband would rule over her. Note, this was a change from the original. Therefore, in the original, Adam was not to rule over her. This is additional evidence that God’s ideal in the beginning did NOT include men ruling over women. This occurred because of sin, not because of God’s original plan.
3) Eve’s desire would be toward her husband. The meaning of this is a bit unclear. Does this mean that she would be more dependent upon him? Or does it mean she would try to rule over him? Note the way the New Living Translation reads. “You will desire to control your husband, but he will rule over you.” This translation implies that the woman would seek to control the man but the reverse would be true. No matter what, a man ruling over a woman was not the original plan. Restoration from sin could also mean restoration to the original.
Another issue, not quite so apparent is whether this punishment experienced by women was “prescriptive” or “descriptive”. Dr. Jerold Arnold points out that this curse came about as a result of sin and was a description of what would happen because of sin, not what God designed or initiated. In other words, God did not actively bring about the pain in childbirth or men ruling over women. Both these were consequences of sin and not the purpose of God.
Objection 3: The role of pastor replaced the role of priests. Pastors are now the priest of the family and of the church. For that reason elders should not be women. The New Testament records that Jesus 12 disciples were men, not women. There is no evidence that any of Jesus 12 disciples were women.
First, the priesthood of the Old Covenant was replaced by a better priesthood. Jesus is our high priest and those who are in Him serve as priests and kings unto God. Old Covenant regulations regarding priests no long apply. Old Testament priests were of the tribe of Levi and were the only ones allowed into the sanctuary. Pastors today cannot fulfill the command to be Levites and women are now allowed in the sanctuary. There is little similarity between the Levitical priest and pastors.
Second, it is true that Jesus 12 disciples were men. However Jesus had other disciples that were female. Discipleship is not limited to men. An argument from silence does not prove that women were not to be elders.
In 1 Timothy 2:11-3:2 Paul says that women should learn in silence, not be permitted to teach. They should subject to men and the husband of one wife. Women cannot fulfill the last condition and they must remain in subjection. Therefore an elder cannot be a woman.
This verse is a key text for those who do not believe we should allow women’s ordination. So, let’s unpack the most important phrases one at a time. “Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. 12 And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. 15 Nevertheless she will be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control. 3:1 This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work. 2 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach;
1) Women are to be silent. How literally should we take this? Are there exceptions? If so, then the principle is not eternal. What does it mean? Should they say nothing about spiritual matters? If so, we are going to need a lot of changes in our churches. Furthermore, a consistent literal interpretation would exclude the counsels and writings of Ellen White. Or, was this written in light of the practice in Judaism that did not allow for women or children to be in the synagogue? Was it written in the light of the fact that women were considered uneducated and not to speak in Roman society? Could it have been written because of local women who were out of place and trying to dominate the spiritual agenda? It appears that this counsel would have value concerning any person who was out of line. I believe we need to be cautious in over literalizing this passage without regard to the context and culture of the day. It makes sense to me that this was Paul’s reaction to women who were out of line and should be respectful of those who were in authority. I think the NLT translates this passage well, “Let a woman learn in silence with all submission” In other words the principle is, “women should be respectful and cooperative.” For women who may try to rule over their husbands or men, this would particularly apply. If we accept the NLT rendering of Genesis 3:16 ie “woman would try to rule over man” this would be of particular value. The fall resulted in women seeking to control their husbands. However, women need to respect their husbands and men should love their wives.
2) I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man, but to be silent. Again, the key idea is that women should be respectful and learn in silence without arguing. This does not need to be taken to the extreme to mean that women are to be seen and not heard. If this is true, then Adventists are completely out of place in accepting Ellen White’s authority in the church. There are those with whom I have studied who use this passage as an argument against becoming Adventists. I believe Paul was dealing with the tendency of some women to try to dominate the spiritual direction in the church. In reality, today male pastors do not have the ultimate say in a local church either. We work through boards and committees and anyone who is disrespectful could be included in this counsel. Women are not to usurp authority. Parallel ideas of submission are found in Ephesians 5 and Colossians. Ephesians is preceded by the command, “be submissive to one another”. It could better be interpreted, “cooperate and live at peace with each other in the home and church.” If a woman’s tendency because of sin is to rule over a man, certainly this would apply.
3) An elder should be the husband of one wife. This suggests that only husbands can be elders because women are not husbands. Therefore women cannot be elders. But, to doggedly stick to a rigid interpretation of this passage leaves a lot to be desired. First, this counsel would exclude single men because they are not married. Some literalists have interpreted as such. They believe it should read, only husbands can be elders – single men are excluded. Second, this could mean an elder could be married only one time. If his wife died and he married again, he could not qualify as an elder because he had more than one wife. There are those who have interpreted this passage in that fashion. So, to them it would read, ” an elder must have been married only one time. If his wife died and he remarried he could not be an elder because he had more than one wife. Third, this passage has been used as a primary text against an elder having multiple wives. Unfortunately, those who have done so completely disregard the fact the Abraham, Jacob, David, Solomon and many others had more than one wife. I am not suggesting that multiple wives is recommended. I am saying that inspired writers and godly men in the Old Testament had more than one wife and they were not excluded from leadership. By far the best interpretation of this phrase should read like this, “an elder should be faithful to the woman he is married to” He should be a one woman man. In reality, this passage is talking about moral qualities and not gender issues. If a man is married, he needs to be faithful to his wife. This does not mean he must be single, or that as a widower he could not be married again.
So, are we dealing with eternal principles in this passage and are they clearly spelled out in other parts of scripture? Do these passages imply that women are inferior by nature or are we looking at cultural issues and Paul’s responses to illegitimate female spiritual intrusion? Looking at the background and realizing we have no moral law in the 10 commandments that specifies that women are not to be spiritual leaders, I do not see how we can take these verses out of context and superimpose them on society today. I believe we must allow eternal principles to override local or temporary situations. Even today, we need to protect the church from obnoxious women who are belligerent and uncooperative. I have yet to be convinced from scripture alone that God’s original purpose was for women to be inferior to men in matters of spirituality.
Ephesians 5:22-24 – Let’s talk about submission. Because Ephesians 5 is more complete than the parallel passage in Colossians 3:18 let’s look at Ephesians 5:22-24 “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. 24 Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.”
Let’s speak about historical context before we jump into the passage itself. Many of Paul’s writings were written to address certain problems within the church. We have already discussed the fact that in Rome and Judaism women had few rights. They were treated as second class citizens. We have already noted that according to one translation of Genesis 3:16 women would seek to control their husbands but the reverse would be true because of sin. In view of this repression there were some women who sought to break free. Some did not respect their husbands as they should. So Paul’s counsel was given to address this kind of situation.
Often commands are given to address particular needs. For instance, the 10 commandments are stated in a negative. Why? They were stated in that manner because there were those in Israel who were disobeying the law. A negative states clearly that which a person ought not to practice. We are all aware that the commandments could be stated positively. “Thou shalt not kill could be stated, honor and regard the live of another person. The point I am making here is that counsel is given to correct a certain condition. Before we look at the verses under discussion, let’s look at how this principle works in the verses preceding the ones upon which we will focus. Paul says we are to give thanks for everything. However, just before that he says, do not get drunk with wine but be filled with the Spirit. Obviously, some people had a problem with drinking. Hence the counsel! So let’s delve into the more important phrases in Ephesians 5.
1) Note the immediate verse preceding verse 21. It says, “be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Why give this counsel? If you read some of the other admonition in the book, you discover there was degrading speech, anger and bitterness and other social issues that existed in Ephesus. Is it not reasonable to think that there were those who were uncooperative and disrespectful who needed the advice to be “subject to one another”? The word for be subject is hypotasso in the Greek and means among other ideas to yield to someone’s admonition or advice. This counsel is given to all members, not just women. We are talking about an attitude of respect and cooperation. This is the same idea regarding women. In fact, the word hypotasso is not repeated in verse 22 in the Greek. The meaning from verse 21 is carried through in verse 22. So, what is true of verse 21 is also true of verse 22. If men are to be subject to one another, we need not conclude that this is talking about one person dominating another. We are talking about respect and cooperation between brothers and sisters in the church.
2) The text does not say, women are to submit to men in general. It says that wives are to be subject to their husbands as unto the Lord. This is not about male headship in the church. In fact, it says Christ is the head of the church. This is about wives respecting their husbands and cooperating with them rather than being belligerent. As one author has said, women have a problem respecting their husbands. A woman needs love and a man needs respect. Thus wives are to be subject to their husbands. Very little but fighting exist in a relationship between a husband and wife if the wife does not respect her husband and the husband does not love his wife. One might ask the question, why does not Paul say “wives love your husbands and husbands respect your wives”? Could it be that women have issues with respect and husbands have issues with love?
3) The husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church? This is our next phrase. What does it mean? One thing is for certain! It does not mean that wives are to lose their individuality because husbands are the head. In fact, if you want to be the head, you need to sacrifice yourself as Christ sacrificed himself for the church. Headship requires that one understands and responds to the needs of another with honor and compassion. It is not about men dominating women.
4) Just what does the idea “be subject to one another mean”? I am sure you are familiar with parallelism in the Greek and Hebrew. It occurs all through the Bible. An idea is stated and then followed by the same idea only repeated in another manner. An example can be found in the 23rd Psalm. David says, “surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. The phrases “all the days of my life” and the word “forever” mean the same. (As an aside, this is helpful when discussing the nature of the human soul) The words change but the meaning is the same. We know this is true because later in Psalm 27:4 David repeats the phrase…One thing I have asked from the Lord that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.
Now let’s look at the parallelism in Ephesians 5: 33. Paul has just carefully outlined the relationship between husbands and wives in verses 22-32. Wives are to be subject to their husbands and husbands are to love their wives. Now in verse 33 he summarizes what he meant in a single sentence. This sentence is parallel to his entire counsel. Here is how it reads. “Nevertheless let each individual among you also love his own wife even as himself; and let the wife see to it that she respect her husband.” The implication cannot be avoided. To be subject to or to submit to means to respect. A wife who respects her husband is being subject to him. So this is not about men taking advantage of or lording it over women because they are the head. In fact this very passage repeats the idea that Christ is the head of the church. It does not say that a man is the “head” of the church. In conclusion then, to submit to your husband means to respect him.
Finally, there are those who believe that allowing women to be ordained proceeds from an attitude of rebellion. For me, nothing could be further from the truth. I believe we must seek for unity and it is my utmost desire that this happen at GC. I hope with all my heart that a “win-win” understanding can prevail. On the other hand, I do not believe a group of leaders in the church should override the opinion of the majority. Nor do I believe that one culture should force its cultural understanding of scripture upon another. That is why I believe freedom must be given regarding this issue. Ellen White speaks about “kingly authority” being out of place in our midst. In reality, much of this discussion and disagreement comes from a cultural understanding of the meaning of scripture. For me, to disallow ordination or commissioning to women is discrimination. It does not allow for treating one as one would like to be treated. In the name of religion in the past we have denied equal rights to women and not paid them. farily I believe to disallow women from leading out in church we hamper the progress of the Advent message in a dark world. To me that is unconscionable. Just like Ellen White fought against slavery, even though there were those who thought scripture taught it, I believe we must stand for the overall emphasis in scripture. To do less would be “unloving” and I do not believe the gospel heads that direction. There are those who compare ordaining women with ordaining homosexuals. The two are unrelated. No one would say it is a sin to be a woman or to carry out one’s spiritual gift. On the other hand, the practice of homosexuality does not meet God’s ideal.
In summary, I have no interest in violating the moral principles that one finds in scripture. Those who are against women’s ordination are concerned about this possibility. I do not believe treating women equally with respect, allowing them to fulfill their God given gifts is a violation of scripture. Instead, by allowing women to be treated equally with regard to gifts, mission and priesthood, we are following the overriding implications of the gospel.
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I hope you will prayerfully consider whether to use selective cultural, traditional (remember what Jesus said about the “traditions of men”) interpretations of scripture when it comes to your vote or whether you will accept overriding eternal principles as your guide to vote.
God’s blessings and conviction to you as we vote to empower women to help us finish the Great Commission!
Dr. David Bissell