Ordination of women in the LCA - Yes or No?
Mission to Jews, and Women in the Churches
Consensus and dissent: an historical preface
The Theses on the Office of the Ministry, adopted in 1950 by the Joint Intersynodical Committees of the two Lutheran churches prior to union (1966), reflected a solid consensus. A woman could not be called into the office of the public ministry (Theses of Agreement VII, 11; DSTO 1989: A13). Scriptural support for this position was supplied by simple reference to 1 Corinthians 14:34,35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-14. Exegetical notes and theological argumentation were not necessary; there was no controversy on the matter.
This consensus was not broken by the debate still prior to union over the right of women to vote at congregational meetings (1966; see DSTO 1989: F1). Nor was the situation much altered twenty years ago in 1978 when the General Convention at Parramatta ruled that the right to act as delegates at conventions of the Church may be granted to men and women alike (The Role of Women in the Church; DSTO 1989: F2-3, 3). Considerable more theological argumentation was provided than in previous statements behind the relative brevity and even-handed tone of the 1978 statement lay a great deal of battle heat and dust! But the fundamental principle of subordination and reserve for women was not called into question. Consequently, official statements of the L.C.A. after 1978 centred only on the application of the principle of male authority and the subordination of women. Women could serve on boards and committees of the church (1984; DSTO 1989: F3), and as elders in the congregation (1989; DSTO 1997:, D1), but were debarred from serving as lay readers (1993; DSTO 1997: F1).
Basic assumptions on which earlier statements were based have been increasingly challenged and more thoroughly debated since the 1986 decision of the Commission on Theology and Inter-Church Relations to initiate a thorough study of the question whether women could be ordained. We have reached the point where original consensus has been replaced by dissent on a variety of exegetical and theological questions.
The purpose of these historical notes is to highlight two observations:
The second problem of the pro argument is how to deal with the clear import of 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2, viz. that women are to act in a submissive and reserved manner in public worship. The two main texts have the following in common: women/wives are to remain silent; they are to show submission; they are to be learners or questioners rather than leaders and teachers. One can argue about the integrity of the textual tradition and about semantics, but the general import of the texts is clear.
Various reasons have been offered to explain why we should not apply these texts in a literal way today. The proposition that Paul was a misogynist is hardly worth considering, and not only because it lacks proof. It also places Pauls apostolic authority in question.
Another solution, one we might call the cultural argument, comes in various forms. Its general thrust is that the early Christian movement arose in a male-dominated, patriarchal society. Strictures that applied to the conduct of women in society were simply taken over by the early church. Since our cultural and societal values place women on an equal footing with men (in theory if not in practice), the New Testament regulations about women speaking in public can no longer apply.
There are several defects in this argument. In the first place the concept of culture is too general. Which culture are we talking about: Greco-Roman or Jewish? Do we mean Palestinian-Jewish or Diaspora-Jewish? In the Greco-Roman world culture was not a consistently uniform reality. There was a difference between the status accorded to women in the West and East of the Roman Empire but even that is a generalisation! Nor can we make easy distinctions between Jewish faith and the cultural expression of that faith. The cultural argument by itself must logically finish with the inference, if not explicit claim, that it is our improved cultural values (the equality of women in our western societies) that determine how we read the old. Such a view is problematic.
It is hardly deniable that we read ancient texts through cultural glasses, but our situation does not determine the original meaning of texts two thousand years ago. A far more differentiated reading of the key texts is required. It is vital that we give proper attention to their historical setting and specific purpose. The thesis of this presentation is that the insistence on women keeping their reserve in public worship was part of Pauls mission policy that in no way invalidated or militated against his gospel principle of the equality of all baptised. To insist that the policy must remain in place in the twentieth century, even though the original mission situation no longer obtains, is to compromise the gospel principle. Here we can indicate the argument in no more than broad strokes.
It would be totally preposterous to read Paul as saying that the gospel immediately and automatically transforms the whole of society. It did not do so then, and does not do so now. Baptised Christians did not cease to be Jews or Gentiles, men and women, free people or slaves. Pauls immediate and main point is that people, no matter what their background and social position, are all one in Christ. The text proclaims the unity of all in Christ. Does it do more than that?
The implications to be drawn from Gal 3:28 have been much debated, especially in connection with the debate over the ordination of women. Some insist that Galatians l 3:28 states a faith reality not to be translated into social reality. More specifically, it is viewed as referring to an eschatological truth that will be realised only at the consummation.
When Paul looks at human relations within the family of the baptised he does not rest content with making faith statements about eschatological realities. He orders relationships in the light of the gospel, and in such a way as to show that equality of people in Christ is part of their unity in Christ. A few examples will suffice to illustrate the point:
That the gospel principle has practical ramifications for the way in which men and women relate to each other is clear from two other texts. In sexual relations between Christian partners, in the intimate expression of the union of a man and woman, there is no lording of one party over the other; neither party rules his or her own body (1 Cor 7:4). It is difficult not to read Pauls words on the background of Gen 3:16b: Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.
Pauls side comment in 1 Cor 11:11,12 that the Christian husband and wife are not independent of each other, but remain interdependent is highly significant precisely because it occurs within an argument for the clear distinction between men and women, husbands and wives. Even the creation argument cannot be used to argue for the priority of the one gender over the other, for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman.
It is just this last passage which raises the problem. How is it that Paul can enunciate what we have called the gospel principle, and in the same breath call for behaviour of women in public which suggests that they are under men in the sense that they are to reflect honour on their husbands? Some of the problems of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 can be solved by reading the text on the background of ancient concepts of shame and honour (see Malina: 25-48). But the most important question remains, How does principle relate to policy, that is, to the practical demands of the Pauline mission?
Pauline policy and practice
This is not the place to attempt anything like a summary of Pauls missionary policy and practice. The apostle was never burdened with the modern necessity of perpetually drawing up mission statements and strategies! His task came with his call; everything was now placed in the service of fulfilling that call. There could be no compromise over the gospel, but Paul seems to have been amazingly elastic when it came to how the gospel reached people. Even if people preached Christ out of false motives, including rivalry with Paul, he could still be happy. What does it matter? Just this, that Christ is proclaimed in every way, whether out of false motives or true; and in that I rejoice (Phil 1:18; NRSV). He could not only accept the work of others badly disposed towards him; he could also adapt himself to those who needed to hear the gospel, becoming a Jew to the Jews and a Gentile to the Gentiles (1 Cor 9:19-23). He could do this not because flexibility was itself a virtue, but because of his mission. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel. . . (1 Corinthians 9:22,23).
It is Pauls concern for the expediencies of mission that help to explain why he does not insist on a radical application of the gospel principle. At this point we need to be a bit more specific about the focus of the Pauline mission. Though he was called to be an apostle to the Gentiles, Paul never ceased to be also an apostle to the children of Israel (see Acts 9:15). That is certainly how Luke saw the Pauline mission: from beginning to end he made the Jewish synagogue and community his starting point (compare Acts 13:6 with 28:17).
Did Paul himself view his mission in the same way? Galatians 2:7,8 should not be pressed to mean that Peter could go only to Jews and Paul only to Gentiles. Pauls passionate concern for his fellow Jews, a concern reflected in Romans 9-11, meant that the gospel first had to be brought to them. It is not going too far to say that the Jewish synagogue was the seedbed of the church in the Greco-Roman world. The first Pauline converts were, in the main, either Jews or God-fearers from the synagogue. And the focus of the mission of these churches did not look away from the local Jewish communities once the church was founded.
The Jewish synagogues at Corinth and Ephesus figure prominently in the Lukan history of the Christian communities in those two cities (for Corinth see Acts 18:8,17; for Ephesus see 18:26 and 19:8). Despite this, Corinth has traditionally been seen as the prime example of a Gentile Christian community with little in the Corinthian correspondence to suggest a strong Jewish presence. Ephesus has been commonly regarded as the prime example of the success of the actual Pauline mission in confronting Greco-Roman paganismin this case, the cult of the Ephesian Artemis.
Both views can be challenged. It is wrong to suppose that the errors addressed in the Corinthian correspondence must have originated only in pagan Hellenism, that they could not also have appealed to even originated with hellenistic Jewish converts. Jewish Christians were present at Corinth, and with such non-Jewish names as Crispus (Acts 18:8; 1 Cor 1:14), Sosthenes (Acts 18:17; 1 Cor 1:1), Jason and Sosipater (Rom 16:21; cf Acts 17:5-9), Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18:2,18,26; 1 Cor 16:19; these two also have connections with Ephesus). This should alert us to the possibility that other Corinthian Christians mentioned in Acts 18, 1 Corinthians 1 and 16, as well as Romans 16 (see Gerd Theissen, The Social Setting of Pauline Christianity, 1982, 94,95) could have been Jews as well.
In the case of Ephesus, Rick Strelan (1996) has made a convincing case that Ephesus was not a success story for Pauls Gentile mission, as often maintained. The Artemis cult continued to flourish despite the small Jewish Christian community at Ephesus that survived as a Johannine rather than Pauline community.
We have looked at the origin of these two churches since they are the faith communities addressed in the key texts. Pauls appeal for consistency of practice in all the churches (1 Cor 14:33b) was surely motivated by his concern for the preservation of unity in the service of the churchs mission. Common practice suggests a common situation: the need to ensure that practice did not shock Jews or provide fuel for the customary Roman distrust of new and foreign cults (see Keener: 140-142). The texts themselves should be able to tell us whether Pauls ultimate concern was the preservation of a creational or liturgical order, or whether his concern was simply good order so as to avoid setting up skandala for both Jewish converts and potential Jewish and non-Jewish converts.
The specific focus of the key texts
The two key texts are not identical in form and content. First Corinthians 14:33b-38 cites the regulation, undergirds it with citations of authority, and anticipates the objections of charismatics who might want to dispute the apostles ruling. The rationale for the ruling is given in v 35b: For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. First Timothy 2:11,12 states the rule for the silence of women in apodictic manner. But here a more elaborate rationale for the practice is provided (vv 13,14).
Despite differences, there are three points that the two texts have in common. Women/wives are to remain silent; they are to show submissive behaviour (neither text actually speaks of them submitting themselves to men/husbands); they are to be questioners and learners. The best way of understanding these three points and the one lesson they develop is to recall synagogue practice. After the reading of Torah and Hafterah, these lections from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets could be discussed, but only by male members. Participation of a woman in the discussion was impossible as was any woman reading the sacred text in the synagogue or studying it in private at the feet of a rabbi. Thus the women/wives are to ask their husbands at home if they want explanations (1 Cor 14:35); they are to learn rather than teach (1 Tim 2:11,12). It is not difficult to understand how Jews or Jewish converts or would have found any other behaviour anything but shameful (1 Cor 14:35).
It may be that the two texts have another feature in common. The appeal to the law in 1 Corinthians 14:34 without further specification or quotation, has continually puzzled commentators. Is he referring to the Old Testament as a whole, to the Mosaic law, to one passage like Genesis 3:16, or to rabbinic law? That Paul is even referring to Jewish custom should not be too quickly dismissed. Billerbeck (468) points out that custom could count as Torah. It is reasonable to assume that Paul could refer to the the law without further specification because Jewish Christian would know what he meant.
The rationale for the silence of women in 1 Timothy 2:13,14 also causes problems with its reference to the Torah, the Genesis account. The argument for authority on the basis of temporal priority is a common Jewish argument, employed also in the New Testament (see, for example, John 1:15,30; 8:58; Gal 3:17; Heb 7:4-10). It is an argument that would make little sense to the non-Jewish mind. Likewise, the statement that Adam was not deceived cannot be taken purely at face value. It does make sense in the light of Jewish discussion over Eves guilt (see Keener: 114,115). A certain reading of the Genesis story is assumed, and that reading most reasonably belongs to the readers Jewish past. Specific injunction in a specific circumstance explains the use of a specific way of arguing.
Meeting some objections
Secondly, it might be objected that the above argument still sees culture as determinative for the behaviour of women in church. To this it must be asserted that the principle is Pauline, not drawn from the values of our present western society. Changes to the status of women in our society mean that the policy is no longer required (it would still most certainly be required in Islamic countries). For many especially women the insistence on the continuation of the practice is a skandalon, a cause of offense.
Finally, it is repeatedly pointed out that equality does not necessarily mean exercising the same functions. In any case, the equality of Christians applies to their life together in the general priesthood, not to the public office. Here again, a basic distinction must be made. True, equality does not mean common functions; but there is no equality without the possibility of holding common functions. Pastors come from nowhere else but from the general priesthood, just as politicians, including premiers and prime ministers, come from the citizenry. Citizens are not equal because they are all political leaders, but because they all can become such. To say that men and women are equal in the Body of Christ is not to say that all must have the same function. It is to assert that some can have the same function because what is determinative in assigning the function is only the call of the Lord and gifting for that function, not gender.
Keener, Craig S.
Lutheran Church of Australia
1997 Doctrinal Statements and Theological Opinions of the Lutheran Church of Australia, vol 2, Adelaide.
Malina, Bruce J.
Reumann, John H.P.