Tradition versus Scripture by pastor David Bissell (retired)

 Those who are against ordination of women have been maligning the NAD and men of stature in our church, suggesting that those in favor of women’s ordination (WO) do not believe in the Bible or that they have corrupted it in some fashion.  By implication, some who are being maligned are men like Dwight Nelson, David Asscherick, Martin Weber, Ty Gibson and large majority of NAD American pastors.  Those who slander them accuse them of a low view of Scripture and of caving in to culture.  As I understand it, nothing could be further from the truth.

It is true that there is a battle for the Bible going on in Adventism, but with WO it is not what it appears to be.  Rather than a battle over the validity of Scripture, it is a battle for a “traditional” understanding of Scripture and “traditional” culture versus Scripture itself.  It is a battle of HOW scripture should be interpreted.  Those against WO tend to cling to a rigid legalism and a “traditional” view of the topic.  I think we would do well to remember what Jesus said about “tradition.”  Those against WO view Scripture as a book of rules rather than a case book that reveals eternal principles.  They also tend to use proof text theology rather than a historical, grammatical, contextual study of the Word. With regard to this subject the issue is not the Bible versus culture in Adventism but the Bible versus “tradition”.  Rather than the NAD being unfaithful to the Word, they do not use Scripture in the same manner as Jehovah’s Witnesses.  JWs cherry pick Scripture to prove that Jesus is not God, all the while claiming they are being faithful to the Word.  Perish the thought that we would do the same.


Those who encourage WO are accused of caving in to the morality of the world as well, rather than being faithful to the Word.  But in reality, the issue is far more about defining that which is eternally moral versus that which is temporary and a result of sin.  This is one of the most important issues.  In essence, is it really moral to believe that women by nature are spiritually on a lower level than men?  If so was this God’s original purpose for women, or did some of the commands we find in Scripture reflect a temporary result because of the fall?  There should be no question about moral law.  Most of us agree on this.  As I understand it, some who argue against WO believe that women are a lower order of creation with men being the head and women unequal to men spiritually.  If we were to read the Bible as “traditionalists” would have us read it, this is how it appears to me that the following texts would be read.  I am not suggesting that those who are in favor of WO are flawless in our understanding.  We all have our blind sides.



1) Matthew 28:19-20: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, but ordained MEN ONLY can baptize them in the name of the Father, Son and of the Holy Spirit. 20) ordained MEN ONLY can teach them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”  In reality, this traditionalist view of scripture ADDS something that is not in the text, while claiming to be faithful to the intent of Scripture.


2) 1 Timothy 3:1-4:  “The saying is sure:” If a MAN ONLY aspires to the office of bishop, he desires a noble task.  2) Now a bishop must be A MARRIED MAN (an elder cannot be single because he must be a husband and an elder cannot be a woman because she is not a husband) above reproach, the husband of ONLY one wife (he cannot have been married to more than one woman, so if his wife died or he was divorced and remarried or had more than one wife, he is disqualified), temperate, sensible, dignified, hospitable, an apt teacher, 3) no drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and no lover of money.  It is interesting to note that ALL of the qualifications listed (other than “husband of one wife”) are character-oriented.  In my view, the “men only” idea is out of harmony with the intent of the text.  Some versions reflect the real intent by reading, “If ANYONE aspires to be a bishop (elder)”.  I do not believe this passage refers to gender qualifications but to character qualifications.


EITHER WAY:  The word ONLY is not in the biblical text.  It is ADDED in the minds of those who read it and interpret it as such.


Obviously, both of the ANTI ORDINATION BIBLE passages mentioned above add meanings to the text that are not there.  These kinds of additions and presuppositions are often the norm for those against WO.  So, in actual fact, the issue is not the text itself but the interpretation that has been read into the text.  I cannot accept unwarranted conclusions merely because they have been traditions of the church.  Nor can I accept an interpretation of Scripture that discriminates against women.  For too long we have used the Bible in an illegitimate manner to limit women playing an equal role with men in the salvation of the human family.  For anti-women’s ordination leaders, it seems more important WHO baptizes and teaches a person to believe the gospel and grow in faith than the fact that someone draws them to the Savior.  I believe it is time for our church to understand the real implications of the gospel and stop reading into Scripture what is not there for the sake of devaluing women as lesser individuals in God’s order of creation.  More than a century ago, people who believed in slavery used the Bible in a similar manner to keep people from experiencing true freedom.  If a woman has been called by God to a particular ministry, should not the church recognize that appointment?


For further study please see:



  • 27. July 2015 at 12:27

    very clearly that she was also a judge. And Deborah, a prseehtpos, the wife of Lapidoth, she judged Israel at that time. And she dwelt under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in mount Ephraim: and the children of Israel came up to her for judgment. Judges 4:4-5.This brings to mind Ellen White. Ellen White had the gift of prophecy but never referred to herself as a prophet. She, in fact, said that her work encompassed much more than that of a prophet. This is significant, since many today, ironically those who believe in her writings, want to limit her work to that of a prophet. At the very least, this shows us that God does not consider it a sin for women to be in spiritual leadership posts. Whether elected by people or called directly by God, women can be used in leadership. To make the critical issue whether a woman is selected by God (which makes her calling valid) as opposed to selected by people (in which case she does not have a valid calling) begs the question of how do we know whether someone is called by God? And, can there be cross-over can someone who is called by God also be selected by people and vice versa? Are only prophets called by God while pastors and others are not? Additionally, to be consistent, those who argue for the creation/pre-fall headship of men over women (something that cannot be concluded from a carful reading of Ellen White and the Bible) must also argue for men to be in headship not only in the home and church but also in every other area of life politics, the workplace, etc. This lack of consistency really is based on nothing other than culture. If we were living in Ellen White’s day many would be arguing that women could not vote or hold public office, etc. issues that Ellen White chose to remain silent on in her day much like Paul did on the slavery issue in his day (due to it being an issue that the society of his time was not ready to confront).


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