Rev. Dr. Edgar Mayer – Toowoomba, April 2000
A Case For The Ordination of Women (1)
1. The Lutheran Church of Australia presently opposes the ordination of women and in the main cites two Scripture passages in support of this stance. The two texts in question are 1 Corinthians 14:33b-40 and 1 Timothy 2:11-15.
Theses of Agreement VI, 11: "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 prophibit a woman from being called into the office of the public ministry for the proclamation of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments ... "
2. The two Scripture passages (1 Corinthians 14:33b-40 and 1 Timothy 2:11-15) do not address themselves to the specific question of female clergy but in more far-reaching ways prohibit the speaking of women in worship services. If these texts still applied today, we would have to forbid more than just the speaking of women from pulpits.
"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. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church" (1 Corinthians 14:33b-35). According to this Scripture passage there must not be an appearance of gender equality which subverts and contradicts female submission. To uphold the hierarchial order, women have to acquiesce in the presence of males. For the same reason women must not even ask questions in the worship service. Women may only speak at home.
"A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing – if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety" (1 Timothy 2:11-15). According to this Scripture passage women have to submit to men and therefore must be silent. Women simply must not have authority over men and therefore must not teach them.
If we implemented what the two texts clearly impose, we would be forced to make adjustments. We would have to say that women may no longer offer meditations from the lectern, may no longer make announcements which include admonishments, may no longer serve as cantors, may no longer perform dramas which also exhort the male members of the congregation, ...
According to the two texts, 1 Corinthians 14:33b-40 and 1 Timothy 2:11-15, women were required to be silent at the public church assemblies in New Testament times. If we required the same of women today, they would certainly have to be silent in our main worship gatherings but what about the other public church meetings? Home and Bible study groups are public gatherings of the local church even though not all members attend. Do today's women have to be silent at those meetings as well? Following the logic of the two texts in question, we would have to answer in the affirmative. The general rule states that women have to submit to men, therefore acquiesce in the presence of males and not speak or teach. There is no reason to make exceptions for certain public church meetings only because not all members attend.
The text 1 Timothy 2:11-15 seems to hint at an order of creation which provides the rationale for male authority and female submission: "For Adam was formed first, then Eve." Since men were created first, they enjoy some sort of predominance over women. Thus the created order supports men holding more authoritative positions than women and assigns to them more powerful stations in life. Genesis 2:4-25 appears to be the primary text for this contention (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:7-10) and secondary passages, affirming male headship, are used to confirm it (cf. 1 Corinthian 11:3; Ephesians 5:23; Colossians 3:18; 1 Peter 3:1). However if we maintained an order of creation that asserted male dominance over silent women even today, we would have to assert more than just silence in churches. Since the creation story in Genesis seems to order the general relationship between men and women, women could reasonably be expected not only to be silent in churches but in all spheres of public life. If creation were ordered in such a way that speaking women undermine the authority of men, Christians could, for instance, never condone a female prime-minister who wielded power over men.
The text 1 Timothy 2:11-15 provides another reason for male authority and femal submission which also relates to the created arrangement of men and women. This passage confirms the widely held ancient view that women are the weaker sex when it comes to moral fortitude: "And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner." Women seem to be more vulnerable to temptations (cf. Titus 2:3; 1 Peter 3:7) and therefore the created order of male superiority provides some protection for them. Women do well to be silent in the presence of men since men are descendants of the one that was not deceived.
Excursus: In 1958 Krister Stendahl already argued vehemently that the demanded silence of women in 1 Corinthians 14:33b-40 and 1 Timothy 2:11-15 depended on a perceived order of creation that prohibited female equality in all spheres of life. I let him speak for himself:
" ... The Jewish milieu is usually described as patriarchal, and that correctly. Jewish tradition is rich in sayings which show how the structure of the synagogue and Jewish society is strongly masculine. All the way from circumcision to burial sites it is only the male who is an Israelite in the true sense of the word. Only he is committed to the Law and to the obligation of prayer. When the study of the Torah becomes the center of Jewish existence, this too is a male obligation and honor. The feminine ideal is in line with tradition's picture of Rabbi Akiba's wife, the student's and scholar's wife who sacrifices everything for her husband's studies, the mother who manages her own affairs subject to her husband. The wives of Jesus' married disciples probably qualified according to this pattern and Paul's saying about the value of remaining unmarried should indeed be seen as an expression of that same attitude, sharpened and conditioned by the drastic pressures of the impending eschaton: the Jewish obligation for a man to marry was broken through (1 Cor. 7:7, 29ff) ...
1 Timothy 2:11-15: 'Let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a trangressor. Yet woman will be saved through bearing children, if she continues in faith and love and holiness, with modesty' (R.S.V). This text is instructive in more than one way. In the first place it gives an unusually concrete and intelligible, essential reason for the subordination of women. This reason is grounded in the creation story (Gen. 2:18f.), and the decisive scriptural passage for the whole New Testament's instruction concerning the subordination of women (Gen. 3:16) is here connected with the story of the Fall in its entirety, with the fall of Eve and the pain of childbearing which is woman's lot and therefore the 'vocation' through which she will win salvation. Secondly, there is a conscious parallelism between subordination to man in the home grounded in the order of creation, and subordination in the congregation to 'teachers'. That this also is Paul's own understanding is clear from the similar argument in 1 Corinthians 11:3-16 where the subordination of women is manifested in the service of worship by the fact that she, who is not God's image but only that of man, must wear a veil. This is particularly important since the church's cult is a true cult before God himself, where the congregation worships in the presence of angels. The argumentation is supported by nature's own pointer in the same direction when Paul speaks about long hair as a 'veil'.
The relation between the subordination of woman and the order of creation is also the justification for Paul's well-known admonition in 1 Corinthians 14:34f.: 'As in all the churches of the saints, let the women keep silent in the meetings. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as also the Law says. If they want some information, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in assembly.' The words of the Law – and it is still Genesis 3:16 which is alluded to – are here applied to woman's activity in the congregation, and the reference to the fact that it is shameful for her to speak in the congregation intimates, as does 1 Corinthians 11, that she as a woman cannot appear 'uncovered', this time referring not to her head but to her words. Silence is the veil in the congregation. Paul's words: 'If any one thinks he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that what I am writing to you is a command of the Lord. [But] if any one does not recognize this, he is not recognized.' probably refer to the whole argument of chapter 14, but, of course, including the instruction about silence of the women in the gatherings of the church. The context (vs. 35) makes it clear that the silence here stands in contrast to 'asking questions,' not to preaching, teaching or prophesying. That being so, there is no tension between this passage and the clear reference in chapter 11 to the fact that women may prophesy. Paul's injunctions are based both on ecclesiastical order and tradition (see vs36) and on the Law (Gen. 1-3). And to his whole argument in chapter 14 about the role and practice of prophecy he adds, with a touch of humor, that those with access to the prophetic spirit will recognize all this as the commandment of the Lord. Such a reference to the prophets – suggested by the issue at hand – makes it reasonable to suppose that Paul does not have a specific commandment (Old Testament or Jesus logion) in mind ... " (Stendahl, Krister: The Bible and the Role of Women, Fortress Press 1966, 27-29).
Stendahl then considers the implications of Galatians 3:28 ("There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus") and writes: "It should not be such a strange idea for us that the full consequences of the new life in Christ are not immediately drawn and applied. Such an observation has nothing to do with what theologians contemptuously speak of as a claim to new and supplementary revelation. Few are those who want to or can find a developed doctrine of the Trinity in Paul; and it helps little in this connection to appeal from Paul to Jesus and the gospels. The New Testament and not least Paul himself see Jesus' time on earth as a prelude to that time when (the) Christ, slain and risen, is the Lord of the church and lets us live by the fruits of his deliverance, the Spirit being the decisive first fruits and down-payment on that full salvation which will be in the kingdom of God. Here is where the historicism of 'realistic interpretation' proves dangerous and misleading. If we are right in describing the statements of 1 Corinthians 11:11-12 and Galatians 3:28 as pointing beyond what is actually implemented in the New Testament church, then they must be allowed their freedom; and the tension which they constitute must not be absorbed or neutralized in a comprehensive and hence harmonized 'biblical view'.
If the actual stage of implementation in the first century becomes the standard for what is authoritative, then those elements which point toward future implementation become neutralized and absorbed in a static 'biblical view'. This is the pitfall of the 'realistic interpretation' and here its descriptive realism functions as an archaizing deep freeze. The mistake is simple enough once one sees it. It displays serious hermeneutical naivete, which earlier periods did not have. It does not see that the correct description of first-century Christianity is not automatically the authoritative and intended standard for the church through the ages. It has no means by which it can account for the ensuing centuries of church history as God's history. It becomes a nostalgic attempt to play 'First Century'. In our specific case, the tension between the new Christian element of 'not male and female' and the subordination of women in their 'weakness' is harmonized into a distinction between two dimensions, namely, 'before God' (coram deo) and 'among men in church and society'. The realistic interpreters are correct when they describe this tension, and they may sometimes guess correctly about how these elements could coexist – consciously or unconsciously – in the minds of Paul and others. But by making their description normative, they neutralize the power of the new and contribute to a permanent 'holding at minus x minutes' in the drama of the launching of the kingdom.
We know how a similar type of thinking operated in the question of slavery. Since the new 'neither slave nor free' had not worked itself into social practice within the time span of the New Testament canon, it appeared to many good Christians that the emancipation of slaves was against the Scriptures. The actual description of the first-century church, when treated as normative, gave them irrefutable biblical arguments for such a view.
When we argue against absorbing the pointers toward a future development into a static 'biblical view' of things, we could be criticized for Gnostic and Marcionite tendencies. And we would admit that such a critique has an element of truth. When Marcion and the Gnostics stressed what was new in Christ, their radicalism led them to affirm a discontinuity between the old and the new, between the Creator and Redeemer. This overstatement should, however, not blind us to the validity of their emphasis on the actual newness in Christ and in the church, even if the orthodox theologians, in their defense of the continuity, were compelled to stress the order of creation and the 'not-yet' aspect of this newness. This is the same fight which Paul carries on in his First Epistle to the Corinthians. His use of Christian eschatology is aimed against those who think that they have already transcended the world of death and human limitations. They are of the same kind as those who claim that 'resurrection has already taken place' (2 Tim 2:18). Paul's language about the cross as a present reality and the resurrection as a future reality (1 Cor 15:23, 51-52; cf. Rom. 8:17-24) is aimed at them. He finds that such spiritual snobbishness of the Corinthians leads to condescension and disregard for the brethren. But the question is whether the problem in the contemporary church is not in the opposite direction. There is a parallel. Early Christianity found it easy to affirm the divinity of Christ and difficult to retain the affirmation of his humanity. This was especially so with the Gnostics. To the Christian today it is definitely the other way round. So also is the tension between the new and the old, the order of creation and the order of salvation. It is not difficult for us to recognize that we are not yet in the kingdom. But we need badly the reminder of that which is new. We are not in danger of overstating that. We need help to see the forces toward renewal and re-creation. A mere repetition of Paul's reminder of the order of creation is not our most crying need. When Paul fought those who defended the old – as in Galatia – his bold vision of the new expressed itself most strongly, as in Galatians 3:28. When he discerned the overstatement of the new he spoke up for the old, as in Corinthians. Our problem is not to harmonize the two tendencies into a perfect system. It is – as always in truly Christian theology – to discern where the accent should lie now, the accent in the eschatological drama which we call the history of the church and the world" (Stendahl, Krister: The Bible and the Role of Women, Fortress Press 1966, 35-37).
Stendahl then considers the impact of the whole debate on the question of female emancipation: "By this time, some would probably like to remind us that the question at hand is about the ordination of women, while we have occupied ourselves at length only with the question of woman's position in general.
To that objection there is a simple and important answer. In all of the texts where the New Testament speaks about the role of women in the church, we have found that when a reason is given, it is always by reference to the subordinate position of woman in the order of creation. This applies to her place in the home, in society, and even in the church, i.e., when she is 'in Christ'. This is quite obviously the case in 1 Timothy 2:9-15; in 1 Corinthians 14 this holds equally true, with the explicit reference to the Law (vs. 34), in support of common practice in the churches. In 1 Corinthians 11 this recourse to the order of creation reaches its height in the argument about long hair as nature's veil (vss. 5-15), and it is this natural order which is to be reinforced in the presence of angels (vs. 10). Nowhere is there any trace of a reference to the ministry as a particular problem with a particular argument. This state of affairs is particularly striking in 1 Corinthians 11, where the issue is related to the cult, and the role of women as prophets is taken for granted. Nevertheless, Paul's admonition rests on the place of woman in creation. Nowhere do we find any reference to Jesus' choice of men as apostles or the exclusively male character of the first celebration of the Last Supper. It is reasonable to surmise that this same fundamental view of the subordination of women influenced the choice of apostles and the practice at the Last Supper – if such an obvious 'choice' needs explanation. The fact remains that no references to the male pattern of apostleship are made or are considered necessary when the role of women is at issue. When 1 Corinthians 11 describes man's superiority over woman as seen in the fact that he, as the image of Christ, does not need a veil or long hair to cover himself, this fact is not put in relation to any office where his capacity of representing Christ is stressed. The question of women's place in the cult and ministry and in the Christian home and in society is dealt with on the selfsame principle: the subordination in creation.
Thus there exists, from the point of view of the New Testament, a much more intimate relationship between the problem of emancipation and the question of ordination of women than has often been argued. It is difficult indeed to find biblical grounds for the view held by many that the question about ordination of women must be drastically separated from the question of emancipation. It seems to me almost impossible to assent – be it reluctantly or gladly – to the political emancipation of women. The only way in which that could be done would be by considering the church as the 'last bulwark' for 'biblical' thinking about creation. This would be a symbolic witness on the part of the church in the midst of a completely different, secular social order which one is forced to accept in society but which one really does not accept in one's heart ...
On further reflection such a pattern of thought will have to disappear. That is the drastic consequence of the often overlooked fact that the New Testament knows of no special argumentation about the ministry when it comes to the role of women in the church. The argumentation rests also here on her subordination in creation. There is of course the 'straight' path: one can maintain that every form of emancipation is foreign to the biblical view. It would then be the duty of the church to carry on a wholehearted crusade against emancipation while at the same time attempting to educate men not to abuse their superior position but to show love and understanding for their wives ... Such a view is consistent and honest. It is well in keeping with patterns of life and faith clearly given in the Bible. The question is not whether we are willing to take such a stand; the question is whether it is right. The question is whether it is truly biblical or whether it is merely an attempt to play 'First-Century Bible Land'.
The only alternative – so it seems to me – is to recognize the legal, economic, political, and professional emancipation of women, and that with joy and gratitude, as a great achievement ... It could be argued that such an attitude is quite in accordance with our obedience to the Bible, provided that those elements in its witness [cf. 1 Cor 11:11-12; Gal 3:28] which point beyond what was actualized in the first century are permitted their full and creative force.
If emancipation is right, then there is no valid 'biblical' reason not to ordain women. Ordination cannot be treated as a 'special' problem, since there is no indication that the New Testament sees it as such. It has often been maintained, and rightly so, that the ideology or dogma which underlies both the movements of emancipation and the demand for the ordination of women is a secularized philosophy of equality with roots in the Enlightenment or in Hellas or in the cult of Baal – in any case alien to the Bible. The roots of Western culture are too deep and entangled to be unraveled by a mere twist of the wrist, and it is not altogether impossible that the Christian contribution to emancipation as well as to other Western movements is stronger than either the church or its adversaries can or will see. But whatever the ideology is or is called, we must evaluate not only its rationale or professed motivations but also its fruits.
In the debate about ordination of women the majority of the opponents accept many of the results of emancipation. Such a situation is not new when it comes to the relation between the church and social and political change or natural science. We are well versed in the art of confessing the mistakes of our predecessors in the history of the church. But – so the argument goes – 'now it is a question about the church's own essence as it manifests itself in its offices and ministries. Such questions should be solved according to biblical principles, by the church itself, without the pressure of secularized opinion. And concerning these principles there can be only one view.' But it would be unfortunate if the present malaise, infected as it is by so much emotional reaction, were to mislead us into believing that the safest way to find the Christian truth would be to run counter to popular opinion. Sometimes that is true, sometimes not. The gate is narrow, but so was that of the Pharisees. The question is whether it is the right kind of narrowness; the echo of the words 'this people who do not know the Law are cursed' (John 7:49) does not belong in the church.
Nevertheless it is not by such speculative self-examination that the answer is to be found. And from the point of view of the New Testament it would appear difficult to find it through an analysis of the concept of the ministry in and of itself ...Thus the question about the ordination of women is not a question about offices but a question about the right relationship between man and woman in Christ, whether it applies to political office, civil service, career, home life, the ministry, or to the episcopate" (Stendahl, Krister: The Bible and the Role of Women, Fortress Press 1966, 38-43).
Stendahl's line of argumentation will resonate in the remainder of this paper.