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Ordination of women in the LCA - Yes or No?

1 Corinthians 14:33b-38, 1 Timothy 2:11-14, and the Ordination of Women
Peter Kriewaldt, Geelong North, Vic

It goes without saying that Jesus elevated the status of women. He regarded them as equal members of the community and encouraged them to study the Scriptures. Jesus broke with Judaism, which did not allow women to learn God's word.

Therefore it is highly significant that Jesus entrusted the oversight of the church to men only, and that the apostles appointed only males leaders in the church. Indeed, Paul says that women are to be silent in the churches, not speak, be in submission, and not teach or have authority over the male leaders. Clement of Rome, writing in the first century, records that Jesus gave precise instructions to his apostles how only proven men should continue the office of the Ministry after the apostles died (1 Clement 42:1-4).

1 Corinthians 14:33b-38

It is not always easy to define the culture of any given place. But we do know that Corinth had a number of cults which included priestesses, eg the cults of Artemis, Demeter and Kore, Dionysos, Isis, and Aphrodite. So Paul's command for women to be silent runs counter to pagan culture in Corinth. He is not culturally conditioned. Therefore if it really was Jesus' will for women to become priests, Paul would have had a good opportunity for introducing them in this church. It is our contention that Paul explicitly prohibited women from becoming teachers in the Corinthian church.

First Corinthians 14 does not deal with the office of priest but rather imparts a ban on teaching by women. It is aimed at official and public activity as teacher, whereas teaching outside of this office seems thoroughly appropriate for women in the Pauline community. For this reason the passage has always been seen as a clear prohibition against women entering the priesthood. For sixty generations catholic Christian orthodoxy has interpreted 1 Corinthians 14 in this way. There are no biblical grounds for challenging or neutralising this understanding.

The integrity of this passage is certain. There is no manuscript evidence for the omission of these verses from chapter 14, though some manuscripts place them after v 40. A structural analysis shows that the section fits well into the context. The interpolation theory owes more to perceived difficulties of harmonisation than to actual textual problems.

Paul's setting has to do with the worship life of the church. Paul sets out to regulate speaking in tongues, the speaking of prophecy, and the speaking of women. In each case he says, ‘Yes, but’. . . Tongues — yes, but only two or three in one session, and none if no interpreter is present. Prophecy — yes, but only two or three in one session and the prophecy must be weighed by the congregation, or, more likely, the male leaders.

Speaking by women — yes, they may prophesy, but when the prophecy is discussed and debated they are to be silent, at least until they get home!

Paul says that his commands are followed in all the churches. Therefore the church at Corinth should follow suit. Even if 33b is to be read with 33a, nothing is lost, for `in the churches' also appears in v 34. Paul's injunctions are therefore meant for all the churches, regardless of their cultural background — Paul transcends culture.

33b -34 `As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says.'

Who is being addressed here? Married and unmarried women. Although Paul talks of wives in v 35, it would be ludicrous to limit his commands to wives. If wives are to be silent, so also those who are single — an a fortiori argument.

Women can prophesy. Prophecy is not preaching; it is speech directly inspired by God; the message is received through revelation (cf 14:30). Although instruction and learning are connected with prophecy, it is not an institution that is constantly ready for action; rather, it is dependent on the activity of the Spirit that is not at our disposal. It is quite different from preaching and official teaching of the apostolic word. Prophecy, then, is open also for women. Scripture refers to a number of women prophets. Indeed, at Pentecost, Peter said that the prophecy of Joel was now being fulfilled in that sons and daughters, men and women, will prophesy.

When were women to be silent? When the prophecy was being weighed and evaluated. Why did prophecy need to be evaluated? Because it didn't have the same authoritative status as that of the OT. Indeed, that is the reason why Paul elevates teaching above prophecy (cf 14:26 and the context of this passage which submits prophecy to testing by the teaching). The evaluation of prophecy probably involved a general discussion (1 Thess 5:19–22), which resulted in an authoritative judgment on its sense and application by the leaders of the congregation in the light of the apostolic tradition (Rev 19:10; cf Matt 7:15–27) and the analogy of faith (Rom 12:6). Through questioning, women began to take possession of the service of teacher.

Acts 20:7-12 shows that this kind of discussion was not restricted to the weighing of prophecies but was also associated with homilies given by teachers in the early church.

Thus women are to be silent. They are not allowed to speak in assessing prophecy, since this involves the teaching of Scripture according to the apostolic tradition.

`Speak' confirms that authoritative teaching is what is meant. `Speak' or lalein is a synonym for authoritative teaching (Matt 9:18; Acts 18:25; 2 Cor 2:17). Lalein also means the giving of a sermon.

It is thus authoritative teaching that women were not to give. It certainly doesn't mean chattering, or strident speaking. Lalein never means `to chatter, to interrupt'. Moreover it would be odd for Paul to appeal to church custom, the law, shame before God, and a command of Jesus to quieten chattering of all the women, for apparently they must have all been at it. It should be noted that this passage does not prevent women from teaching other women or children.

Paul says women `are not allowed to speak'. Or, `It is not permitted'. The use of the passive indicates that it is God himself who does not permit women to speak or teach.

There are four reasons why women are to be silent and are not to speak.

First, it is the ecumenical practice of all the churches. We have referred to that.

Secondly, women `must be in submission as the Law says'. The Law probably has to do with the whole Pentateuch, but especially Gen 2:18—25 (cf 1 Tim 2:11–12). The derivation of woman from man indicates that the woman is to submit to him. Submission is based on the order of creation and is not a result of the fall. It applies to both the family and the liturgical setting. It does not apply to government and business. Paul's point is that the order of creation, in which women are to submit, is not preserved if women become teachers in the public worship of the church.

Submission is a somewhat dirty word today. Yet it shouldn't be. For Paul says that Christ will be made subject (upotagesatai) or submissive to the Father at the end of time (1 Cor 15:28). So submission has nothing to do with inequality. Woman is equal to man, but is to be submissive.

But, some may say, what of Eph 5:21? Doesn't it talk of mutual submission? `Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ?' This could be a general command of Paul directed to all members of the church to show reverence and to defer to one another. Having said that, in v 22 it is wives who are to submit to husbands; it is never husbands who are to submit to wives.

At the same time one could argue that v 21 does not teach mutual submission at all, but only teaches that we should all be subject to those whom God has put in authority over us - such as husbands, parents or employers. Talk of reciprocal submission in Ephesians 5 is saying too much. Are parents to submit to children? It is much better to understand Eph 5:21 according to this paraphrase: ‘be subject to one another, that is, to some others, in the fear of Christ'.

The Greek verb for subjecting oneself, upotassesthai, always implies a relationship of submission to an authority. For example, Jesus submits to his parents (Lk 2:52); demons are subject to the disciples (Lk 10:17); citizens are subject to government authorities (Rom 13:1); Christ is to be subject to the Father (1 Cor 15:28). None of these relationships is ever reversed. That is, husbands are never told to be subject to wives, the government to citizens, masters to servants, disciples to demons etc. The word is never mutual in its force. It is always one directional in its reference to submission to an authority. So also in Eph 5:21. The submission Paul has in mind is submission to a higher authority, not mutual submission.

What then does it mean to `submit to one another'? It means to submit to some others, not everyone to everyone. There are many passage where `to one another' means `some others' (Rev 6:4; Gal 6:2; 1 Cor 11:33; Lk 2:15; 21:1; 24:32). For example, Rev 6:4 says, The rider of the red horse was given power `to make men slay one another'. This means that some would kill others. It could hardly be reciprocal! As if to say that those people being killed would mutually kill those who were killing them!

Eph 5:21 is thus saying, `those who are under authority (wives, children, slaves) should be subject to others among you (husbands, parents, masters) who have authority over them'.

35 `If they want to enquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.'

Wives should be silent, not speak, but be in submission. Hence they should leave their questions for later - outside of the liturgical assembly.

Why? We come now to the third reason Paul gives why women are to be silent and not speak. `It is disgraceful.' In the LXX (Greek OT) and the NT, shame has primarily a theological rather than a social meaning (in Eph 5:12, shame is what is unacceptable to God and society). So then, Paul is saying it is shameful to God for a woman to assume a teaching role in the church. For women to speak in the church is unacceptable to God.

36 `Did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached?’

Paul tells the church that it is not free to create God's word and apply it as it sees fit. The word originated with Jesus and was passed on to his apostles. It was this word that Paul was communicating to them. They dare not refuse it or disobey it. The word of God Paul now gives them included the command for women to be silent and not speak the authoritative teaching in the assembly.

37 `If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord's command.’

Fourthly, women are to be silent and not speak because anyone filled with the Spirit would have to admit that what Paul is saying is really a command of the Lord! Paul had access to Christ's commands outside of Scripture,(see eg Acts 20:35; 1 Thess 4:5; cf John 20:30; 21:25). One of these commands prohibited women from teaching in the churches.

This interpretation of the text, as already mentioned, has been consistently applied for sixty generations by the church. It is presumptuous for us living in the twentieth century to change or disobey the command of Christ. According to many of the church fathers, it is heretical and sectarian to do so.

38 `If he ignores this, he himself will be ignored.'

Paul warns the church against ignoring what he has written. If they disobey this word, they will be ignored or not recognised. This could mean that they won't be recognised by God as prophets and Spirit–filled people. Or it could even mean that God will ignore them on the day of judgment. It is a serious thing to disobey God's word.

There is some debate as to which word Paul is referring to here. Paul would hardly threaten the congregation with eternal punishment in hell for violation of his directives concerning tongues speakers: `only two or at most three, and each in turn'. Or his word concerning prophets: `If a revelation is made to another sitting by, let the first be silent'. Surely what Paul is defending is not merely such disciplinary norms, but rather the command of the Lord as it relates to the ban on women speaking the apostolic word in the liturgical setting.

1 Timothy 2:11-15

This letter was sent to Timothy in Ephesus, the economic, political and religious centre of Asia Minor. In that region the social position of women was well developed. There was a large number of female doctors there. In politics, women were thoroughly involved in leadership. Female philosophers were known to teach, probably appearing publicly in the same way as did Paul, who chose a lecture hall in Ephesus as a place of work.

In Paul's day the Greek and Roman world was awash with priestesses. In Crete, men, not women, were banned from the priesthood. In Ephesus, the Phrygian cult of Cybele, in which the mother goddess played the central role, was well established, along with its priestesses and priests. There were also the priestesses of Demeter and of the mystery cult of Isis, which had made equal rights for women its platform. Leading positions were held by women in the cult of Dionysus, in whose worship ceremonies all members had equal rights. Most characteristic of Ephesus, however, was the cult of Artemis. In it, priestesses had a higher position than priests.

Thus the social environment was anything but hostile to women priests; indeed, this question was very much in the air. That Paul took a strong stand against the culture of the day is most significant. He did not tailor his message or his commands to fit in with the milieu, even though this step may have brought easier passage for the gospel.

Paul was not even guided by the Jewish influence in Ephesus. Clear differences from Judaism are evident in 1 Timothy. Judaism banned women from learning; Paul made learning a duty for women. Paul also encouraged women to teach - other women and children; men could also be taught outside the worship setting (Acts 18:26; 2 Tim 4:19). Many other fields of service were given to women (1 Tim 5:10; Titus 2:3–5). Paul's only `no' had to do with official teaching in the liturgical assembly.

The setting for 1 Timothy 2 is public worship. It has to do with instructions for worship; `how people ought to conduct themselves in God's household, which is the church of the living God' (1 Tim 3:15). Paul uses the word dei, `must'. What he writes is a matter of necessity, divine obligation, meant for all the churches. Paul does not give his personal opinion. In 1 Timothy 2:7 he emphasises that, he has been appointed as an apostle by God to be a `teacher' of the Christian faith to the gentiles. He therefore speaks with apostolic authority in his instruction and prohibition in 2:11–12.

False teaching had invaded the church at Ephesus (1 Tim 1:3; 6:20). It had sowed dissension. One of its features led women to discard traditional roles. Those misled believed that marriage and male/female distinctions were no longer relevant to them. They were to disregard their appropriate roles, especially vis-a-vis their husbands (1 Tim 2:9-15; 5:13–14; Titus 2:3-5).

Paul addresses some of this false teaching in chapter 2, including how women are to relate to men in public worship. Paul seeks to right the balance by reasserting the importance of the created order and the ongoing significance of those role distinctions between men and women that he saw rooted in creation.

This passage strongly re-emphasises the message of 1 Corinthians 14:33b-38 that women are not to take a lead role in the worship service. It reads like a commentary of 1 Corinthians 14. Paul directs women to learn in the worship assembly with a quiet and submissive attitude rather than to teach or have authority over a man in that context. He gives two reasons for this directive. First, the pattern of male headship was established in creation and Paul wanted to see this principle affirmed in the church. Second, the principle of male headship was violated through the reversal of authority roles in the fall with devastating consequences, and Paul wanted the believers to avoid such a role reversal in the church.

In this pericope gyne must mean woman, not wife. Gynaikas (v 9) and gynaiksin (v 10) refer to female worshippers. Gyne (v 11) must also mean `woman' not `wife'. Furthermore, it is clear that Paul has Genesis 2-3 in mind in these verses (the creation and fall accounts). Following the Septuagint, when Paul means `wife' he uses gyne with a personal pronoun, and when he means`woman' he uses gyne without a pronoun. Gyne appears in this passage without a personal pronoun, so Paul must be speaking of women generally rather than wives specifically.

Unlike Jewish women, Christian women are to join in the public prayer of the church and to `learn' God's word as disciples of Christ. Their learning is to be characterised by two states of mind.

First, `in quietness'. This has to do with receptivity, peacefulness, harmony and respectful listening rather than total silence. Paul was concerned that women were not learning `in quietness'. They were endeavoring to teach the apostolic word. The false teaching which blurred role distinctions had led them where they were not permitted to go. There is no evidence that they were teaching falsely and, for this reason Paul ordered them to be quiet — as if to say that if they taught truly Paul would have no problems with that. Paul orders them to listen respectfully to the word.

Secondly, women are to learn in `full submission'. That is, they are to submit to Christ's word and those who teach it. Paul is not saying that women are to be submissive to all males. Submission does not deal with the question of equality or esteem or worth, or any possible lack of it. It has to do with an ordering or arranging of oneself — equal though the two subjects may be in essence, glory, worth, esteem — beneath (hypo) the other. The term describes relationships between two parties, perfect relationships. It has to do with the willing assumption of a relationship, under the motivation of Christ's gospel, which does not insist that one has a right, power or authority over the other.

In public worship some are called to teach, some are called to learn. Verse 11 suggests that Christian women will, under the gospel, willingly place themselves in the latter category - just as the majority of men have to, too.

12 `I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.'

 The Greek word order of the first part of the sentence is: `To teach to a woman I do not permit'. Paul's sense is this: Let the women learn with full submission; but (de) full submission means also that I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man. She must be silent.

Some think that when Paul says `I do not permit' this only has to do with his personal opinion rather than with a permanent command of the Lord. Therefore it is only a temporary instruction which applies to Ephesus. This is wishful thinking. Paul's letter bristles with apostolic authority (1:1, 3,18; 2:1,7,8,11,14; 4:6,11,16; 6:2c,13). This suggests that apostolic authority underlies and pervades this whole section in such a way as to make it unthinkable to propose that the use of `I do not permit' implies something less than a firm apostolic command.

What are women not permitted to do? They are not permitted to teach the apostolic doctrine or engage in the apostolic ministry of the word in the worship assembly. Women are certainly allowed to teach as we already mentioned, but not in the worship service of the church.

Nor are women permitted to exercise authority over a male teacher in the church. They are to be silent. The Greek of verse 12 makes it clear that it should be translated in this fashion: `I do not allow a woman to teach; and I do not allow a woman to exercise authority over a man'. Authentein (`exercise authority') is used only here in the NT. But in other Greek literature it almost invariably has to do with the concept of `authority'. Such authority is a positive concept and is in no way regarded as having any overtone of misuse of position or power, ie, to `domineer'.

Some have understood this verse to mean that women can teach if it is not done in a domineering way. The verse doesn't say that. Paul simply says, `I do not allow a woman to teach; and I do not allow a woman to exercise authority over a man.'

Paul appeals to the Scriptures in two ways to support his assertion that male teachers are the liturgical leaders of God's family and that women are to be submissive to such leaders.

13 `For Adam was formed first, then Eve.'

`For' (gar) provides the initial reason as to why women are to learn in full submission, not teach, not exercise authority over the male leaders and be silent. This reason is found in God's will as revealed through the priority of Adam's creation, (Gen 2:18). Adam was created first. ‘First’ is not merely first in time, but carries with it a position of leadership, authority and responsibility (1 Cor 12:28; 15:3; 1 Tim 1:15–16; 2:1). The priority of Adam established the divinely instituted role of Adam as the priestly head of the human family and of first born Israelite males as the heads of their families. As such they were teachers of their families. In worship they represented their families before God and represented him to their families. This role of Adam as the liturgical head of the human family was fulfilled by Christ (see Col 1:15–23) and is now exercised by him through the male teachers in God's family, the church.

Some commentators reject Paul's argument. They say that if priority means authority, then animals are our masters! That is really scraping the barrel!

In rooting these prohibitions in the circumstances of creation rather than in the circumstances of the fall, Paul shows that he does not consider these restrictions to be the product of the curse and presumably, therefore, to be phased out by redemption. And by citing creation rather than cultural circumstances as his basis for the prohibitions, Paul makes it clear that cultural issues do not provide the reason for his advice. His reason for the prohibitions of verse 12 is the created role relationship of man and woman, and we may justly conclude that these prohibitions are applicable until the return of Christ.

14 ‘And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.'

Paul's second appeal to Scripture concerns the fall. Paul does not assert that women alone are responsible for the fall, or that they are more susceptible to deception by Satan than men. But the woman ceased to be a disciple and became insubordinate by assuming authority in making the wrong decision and then pressing her decision onto the man. The man, who was meant to be leader and head, fell down on the job with eyes wide open. He deliberately and knowingly chose to listen to the woman and thereby sinned by following her teaching.

If women at the church in Ephesus proclaim their independence from the male leaders, refusing to learn `in quietness and full submission', seeking roles that have been given to men in the church, they will make the same mistake Eve made.

So today, Christian worship is to reflect the order established by God in creation, not followed in Eden, in which males have the responsibility for teaching God's word.

The Authority of these texts for today

Are these texts still in force today? Let's have a look at the evidence.

1) These texts give us commands of Jesus, (1 Cor 14:37). There is not hint that Jesus' commands are to be restricted to the early church. Certainly the church for sixty generations has believed them to be in force. Who gives us the right to tamper with Christ's commands? No one!

It is sometimes argued that the Holy Spirit and the apostles issued an edict concerning the requirements for Gentile believers (Acts 15:28–29), some of which requirements were not enforced for any length of time. The problem was that there was no clear word from Jesus to direct the church. So a different procedure to handle the question was used. Obviously the requirements concerning food, blood and meat had a limited application. Paul even says already in Romans 14 that all food is clean. But the requirement to abstain from sexual immorality was surely meant to be observed in the church of all ages! One can hardly use this passage to say that Paul's argument concerning the silence of women is time bound. There is no passage in Scripture which gives us the right to relax that command, as there is with some of the requirements in Acts 15.

2) Paul commands that his instructions be kept until Christ's coming, (1 Tim 6:14.

3) To reject these commands is to prove oneself unspiritual, (1 Cor 14:37).

4) Paul says that he delivers trustworthy sayings worthy of full acceptance (1 Tim 1:15; 3:1; 4:9). We have no right reject these sayings of Paul.

5) Paul's injunctions are not just for the church at Corinth, but for all the churches, (1 Cor 14:33; 1:2). They are also for the LCA.

6) If Jesus had wanted women for this office, he would not have permitted Paul to speak so strongly against them assuming spiritual leadership in the church.

7) The original order of creation with man as the head is continued throughout the whole OT and reiterated in the NT. What right have we to change God's order of creation? (Slavery is not a rejoinder, as slavery was never part of God's original creation order for human relationships.

 8) If Jesus wanted women to be priests, then:

a. the apostles failed to divine his intentions, or

b. they deliberately disobeyed Jesus to the extent that they twisted the words of Jesus, or

c. Christ erred in not declaring clearly to his apostles that this was his intention, for the apostles wrote against it.

9) The Montanist sect believed that the Holy Spirit had led them to ordain women. The church said, `No, this is not from the Holy Spirit or Jesus or the apostles’. Similarly, to ordain women today is not of the Holy Spirit or Jesus or the apostles.

10) Paul's commands fly in the face of the culture of his day with its priestesses. So Paul is not bound to culture.

11) Galatians 3:28 does not negate these passages. This text has to do with the baptismal identity of all believers as God's children in Christ Jesus. That is, Galatians 3:28 says that the basis for becoming a child of Abraham has nothing to do with race, gender or station in life, but with faith in Christ alone. It is not talking of roles or service in the church, or Ministry.

12) The Gospel does not abolish these prohibitions. The Gospel does not establish doctrine. It does not tell us that the bread is the body of Christ, or that Christ will return on the last day to judge the living and the dead. These teachings must be drawn from the relevant Scripture passages which talk about these subjects. So, too, whether women may become priests or not is not derived from the Gospel. We contend that Scripture clearly rules out the ordination of women. Men and women are one in Christ, but God has given them different roles in the church.

13) The Holy Spirit does not contradict himself. He has spoken to the church with one voice for almost 2,000 years and said that women are not to teach in the worship assembly. We have no right to reinterpret Scripture in such a way that we contradict the church's clear teaching of Scripture for all these years.

14) The church for sixty generations has said that these passages prohibit women from the ordained ministry. I believe that our Theses of Agreement have got it right:

"Though women prophets were used by the Spirit of God in the Old as well as in the New Testament, 1 Cor 14:34,35 and 1 Tim 2:11-14 prohibit a woman from being called into the office of the public ministry for the proclamation of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments. This apostolic rule is binding on all Christendom; hereby her rights as a member of the spiritual priesthood are in no wise impaired.’ (TA VI, 11).

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