An excerpt from a 1972 report to the USA Lutheran Churches considering women's ordination.

 The Ordination of Women

Condensed by Raymond Tiemeyer

A report distributed by authorization of the church body presidents (USA) as a contribution to further study based on materials produced through the division of theological studies of the Lutheran Council in the USA.

Chapter 1 is scripture against?

Woman was made only as an afterthought, and secondhand at that. She didn't even rate fresh dust - just a rib. Any man can spare a rib.

Though woman was made second, she was deceived first. Too gullible. She could never be trusted, expecially to teach in church.

This, of course, is a glib treatment of Gen 2 and 3. It is used here to show how serious arguments against the ordination of women do not begin. They come from a much deeper level of scripture interpretation, deep enough in fact to write off more shallow points of debate such as the first three to be given here.


The Weaker Sex

 Many have believed that woman is the weaker sex. In fact, they would say she is downright inferior. She is to be ruled by man because she is not capable of managing herself. "It is not the nature of the office of the ministry that excludes women, it is the nature of woman." Ordination would never "take"

Those in the Lutheran church who are against the ordination of women generally have not used this argument. When the representatives from the churches met in Dubuque to compare views on the question, some were strongly opposed to ordination, but not one argued that woman was by nature incapable of receiving God's charismatic gifts.

Neither did the representatives accept the God-is-male argument against female clergy.

God is Male

Incarnation is Male

God is Father and Jesus Christ is Son - the incarnation is male. The Bible has no time for goddesses. Jahweh has no consort. The male figure is a principle in understanding God. The Christ was not male just to be socially acceptable.

This is faulty logic, anyone could charge. It makes too much of an analogy. If carried to it's conclusion, women would be excluded even from membership in Christ's body, the Church. But, to the contrary, Christ came as the new man showing the new humanity of men and women in Christ. As a matter of fact, God's love can be described like "a mother's for her child" (Deut 32:11 et al)

The "God-is-male" contention was not only judged weak, it was rejected by all Lutherans who took part in the Council's study.

The Apostles Were Male

The Twelve

Jesus chose only males for his twelve. He must have intended the ministry to be all male, for surely he knew what he was doing

But can anyone be sure Jesus deliberately kept women out, or that he intended this selection to be a model for all time? If he did, no Gentile should be a minister, for Jesus chose only Jews. The requirement for being an apostle was to be a "witness to his resurrection" (Acts 1:22). Women were witnesses to his resurrection.

The apostles-were-male argument was also rejected by the study participants, because it is not a part of serious biblical theology.

Orders of Creation

Changeless of Changing

Gen. 2 and 3 is where the "orders of creation" argument usually begins. It says that woman's subordination to man is written into the very structure of the universe. The consultation had an intense discussion about this. Repeatedly they asked whether God had ordained an eternal, unchanging subordination of woman to man, or whether, instead, he is actually changing the orders of creation by his constant action in history.

It is easy to see how, until recent years, man believed that the natural order always stayed the same. An oak was always just like an oak, and a woman was always just like a woman. The Bible seems to assume this permanence. Under such a view, even when God acted in history as in Christ, he was only trying to restore the original perfection.

But it is now evident that the static view is not so certain. Mutations can be observed. New strains can be developed. Barbarians can become civilized. Slave peoples can manage their freedom. Patriarchal and matriarchal societies can become democratic. A Priscilla can teach a man like Apollos "more accurately" (Acts 18:26), with the help of an Aquila, of course.

Then too, on closer look, maybe the subordination of woman wasn't an order of creation after all, but an order of judgment! It is only after the fall that God says to Eve, "your husband ... shall rule over you" (Gen. 3:16). And maybe the orders of creation are all upstaged by the order of redemption.

The New Testament

Actually, though, the New Testament does little to erase the subordination argument. In fact, it substantiates it, telling women repeatedly to be silent and submissive. Yet, all the while it gives them a radical new freedom and recounts how they taught and prophesied in the early church.

Certain passages have been cited so convincingly through the years for the subordination of women and against their ordination that they must be examined in detail. Anyone who wants to be prepared for serious discussion on the subject should commit three of the citations to memory: 1 Cor.11 and 14 and 1 Tim.2


 1 Cor.11:2-16

2. I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delievered them to you. 3. But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a woman is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. 4 Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. 5 But any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled dishonors her head - it is the same as if her head were shaven. 6 For if a woman will not veil herself, then she should cut off her hair; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her wear a veil. 7 For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. 8 (For man was not made from woman, but woman from man.) 10 That is why a woman ought to have a veil on her head, because of the angels. 11 (Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; 12 for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God.) 13 Judge for yourselves; is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not nature itself teach you that for a man to wear long hair is degrading to him, 15 but if a woman has long hair, it is her pride? For her hair is given to her for a covering. 16 If any one is disposed to be contentious, we recognize no other practises, nor do the churches of God.


 Women were prophesying and praying in the church assemblies at Corinth! That is made clear in v5. And Paul does not stop them. He only stresses that they should wear headgear. Several reasons come to his mind:

  • Proper subordination of wives to husbands v3.
  • Woman was made for man, v8.
  • Social custom (shorn hair is a disgrace), v5.
  • Nature wants the woman's head covered as indicated by the long hair it gives her, v15.
  • Because of the angels, v10, whatever that means. The sense is obscure.
  • The practise in other churches, v16. This is the ecumenical argument.

 But Paul also opens the door here a bit. Men should now recognize that they depend on women, just as women depend on men. Woman is not always second - man must be born from woman (v12). Man and woman are interdependent in the Lord (v11). So women may continue to prophesy.

Freedoms Need Limits

But Paul takes pains to keep the new freedom from going too far. Traditions should not be broken needlessly. That would cause unnecessary offense.
  1 Cor.14:33b-36

As in all the churches of the saints, 34 the women should keep silence in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as even the law says. 35 If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. 36 What! Did the word of God originate with you, or are you the only ones it has reached?

Should this instruction be brushed aside as no more binding than Paul's tastes in clothes and hairstyles? If it is taken seriously, a contradiction must be resolved. How can it be that Paul allowed the Corinthian women both to pray and prophesy in the previous passage, while in this one he forbids them to speak in church?

  • It could be that these verses were added later. Some manuscripts have vv34 and 35 following 40; the verses do seem out of context as they are here; and it is odd to hear Paul saying, "as even the law says."
  • Maybe these are from two different letters, Paul having changed his mind in between.
  • Maybe he was thinking of public worship here, and of house meetings in Chapter 11.
  • He might have been giving permission to prophesy in Chapter 11, but stating his own preference against it here in 14.
  • His term for women in this text (v34) likely means "wives" rather than "all women"
  • He might just have been irked with the wives who had interrupted.

 What ever the explanation, the puzzle makes this passage, questionable grounds for prohibiting ordination.

The "ecumenical argument" does come through strongly though (v33b-unless 33b goes with 33a). The Corinthians had revelled in gifts of the spirit, especially prophecies. Too much to suit Paul. "Are you the only people God's word reached?" No, there are other congregations. Then do as they do, not just as you think.


 1 Tim. 2:11-14

11 Let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness. 12 I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 15 Yet woman will be saved through bearing children, if she continues in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.

Some think that a wave of emancipation was spreading through the young churches. These verses try to hold the line. Women were to remove the ornaments, replace the jewels with good deeds (vv9-10), stop teaching and holding authority over men. Reason? Order of creation; order of judgement.

Women could take satisfaction in a few things though. They could bear children and be saved if they continued in the virtues of faith, love, holiness, and modesty

The Timothy passage is "handled" in various ways:

  • By pointing out that if it is taken literally, women may not teach in church school or parochial school, direct choirs, or even pray or sing aloud.
  • By saying that this refers to the place of women in nature and society, not in the "order of salvation."
  • By reasoning that this should be read "evangelically," not "legally", especially in view of the fact that women did teach in the early church.
  • By re-emphasising that this refers to the relation of wife to husband, not all women to men.
 Headship Structures



Wives, be subject to your husbands as to the Lord. (cf 1 Peter 3:1 Likewise you wives, be submissive to your husbands...)

Some think that Ephesians was not written by Paul, but that is beside the point. The passage is typical of a code morality which shows up in several New Testament references. It is a catechetical form perhaps taken over from the culture of the day.

The greatest objection to the use of these verses as arguments is that they concern only the married woman, not all women.

Warning! Watch for shifts along the way here. The theme is subordination as an order of creation. That has not changed. It has been clearly set forth in passage after passage. But the discussion is looking at a variety of reasons for it. First it was because man was made ahead of woman and head over her. Then it was because the freedoms which were sweeping the Church had to have some traditional limits. Now, subordination is being considered because order is necessary in church and home. This latter is more precisely called "headship structures."



1 Tim. 3:1-5

1 The saying is sure: If any one aspires to the office of bishop, he desires a noble task. 2 Now a bishop must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, sensible, dignified, hospitable, an apt teacher, 3 no drunkard, not violent, but gentle, not quarrelsome, and no lover of money. 4 He must manage his own household well, keeping his own children submissive and respectful in every way; 5 for if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he care for God's church?

This famous passage is especially crucial to the discussion because it definitely connects the ruling of a family to the ruling of a church. All passages cited earlier were somewhat dismissed on the grounds that they referred only to husbands and wives, not to men and women in general, nor to ministers and laymen. This text, however, brings the argument of subordination back into full bloom.

But does this passage grow out of the orders of creation, or does it just come from the culture of the day? The Stoics liked to place family, city-state, and world in parallel. Paul may be reflecting their thought here. If so, can such orders be taken as eternal truth? Should they be the deciding factor for the Church's ministry? In a once-over-lightly reading the passage poses no problem, but read in detail it does: Must bishops (pastors) be married? Must they be fathers?...of submissive children? If these verses are saying that, the very design of nature demands that man be head, and the church must crusade for the subordination of women in all areas of society. But what then about vv8 and 11? Verse 8 says, "Deacons likewise must be serious." No problem. However, v11 says, "The women likewise must be serious, no slanderers, but temperate, faithful in all things." This seems directed at a class of women deacons who have some sort of ministry parallel to the deacons and bishops unless the women here were the wives of the deacons.

No, the chapter as a whole cannot be taken to require absolute subordination of women. Its style is too casual to be church by-laws. It can be paralleled in Hellenistic lists of qualifications for military generals.

All of this aside, the passage is speaking about the bishop's responsibility to be a leader who serves so faithfully he inspires respect and obedience. It is not talking of the responsibility of subordinates to be duly subordinate, but of leaders to be good leaders.

Rulership or Leadership Service

 This calls for another shift of attention. Headship was first being seen as the need for order. Now consider it as the need to make someone responsible for good pastoral care. Contrast the two. Is power conferred from above? A divine right? Or is it granted by those who are served? The consent of the governed? Is "authority" the right of the office, or is it earned only in the service the office performs?

At the inter-Lutheran consultation in Dubuque, this difference was sharply marked. Those who said headship was basically a divinely-given rulership power thought it would be violated if a woman were ordained. Those who said headship was basically leadership service (diakonia), thought a woman in the ranks would not destroy the order. This is a very important difference.

The Confessions

The Lutheran view of the ministry steers a tricky course between rulership and service. It does not make the pastor a special, sacred class of citizen; yet it calls for sufficient respect to make the office effective. The pastor stands with the people under God, yet also under God against the people as the voice of God's word.

The Reformers insisted that the office of the ministry be filled only by persons who are "rightly called" and ordained. The confessions even speak once of ordination as a sacrament. But this ministry is servant to the Word. "The ministry of the New Testament is not bound to places and persons, as the Levitical priesthood is, but is spread abroad through the whole world and exists wherever God gives his gifts, apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers. Nor is this ministry valid because of any individual's authority but because of the Word given by Christ." The German goes on to say, "The person adds nothing to this Word and office commanded by Christ. No matter who it is who preaches and teaches the Word, if there are hearts that hear and adhere to it, something will happen to them according as they hear and believe because Christ commanded such preaching." Such a ministry involves both the authority of the Word and the service to those addressed.

The current upheavals in society have much to do with the contrast beween rulership as authority and as service. young people hate "columns on courthouses". They want the institutions to earn respect solely on the basis of their record, not to induce it be awe-inspiring symbols. Institutions are not to hide unimpressive service behind impressive fronts. Responsible service needs no front. It can inspire respect on its own.

But can it? Does good service in and of itself inspire the respect it must have to function, or must it be supported by some pomp and circumstance, or some response conditioning, or some authority "from above"?

The freedoms which are sweeping society today are perhaps forcing authorities to serve with more sensitivity, but those gains might be lost if due respect for the authority does not then follow.

Which Way?

Should freedom and reform be further inflamed, or should such movements now be squelched? At this stage, would the effectiveness of the clergy be hurt more if the awe of their office were further diminished or if the new demands for credibility were eased off?

For some, the ordination of women would probably reduce the image of authority the office has enjoyed. But if authority is judged by duly dedicated service, then the admission of women might add to the respect. Luther held that women were more fervent in faith than men.

There are two more passages which illustrate the headship discussion:


 Heb. 13:7,17

7 remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God; consider the outcome of their life, and.... 17 Obey your leaders and submit to them; for they are keeping watch over your souls, as men will have to give account ... (cf v24, Greet all your leaders)

The theme in Hebrews is the pilgrimage of the people of God. There is no stress on hierarchy in it (Christ is the high priest). The leaders mentioned in this text are to be respected because they speak God's word and faithfully care for souls. The word for leaders in this use is vague, coming from the Greek political world. The term for "submit" is also not the same as the one used previously in Eph 5. Respect is due "the ministry", but the authority seems to come from example.

A few scholars think that a woman, Priscilla, helped write the epistle!


 1 Peter 5:1,5:

1 I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder ... 2 tend the flock of God ... 5 Likewise you that are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another

Many scholars see in v1 a technical use of the term "elders" (presbyteroi) as a "college of presbyters." In v5, however, the term (hypotagete prebyterois) seems to mean "elders" in the sense of older people in contrast to the younger (Beck translates, "You young people, be subject to those who are older.")

Like Heb 1 Peter has a "people of God" theme. Distinctions between clergy and laity are not stressed. It seems to be urging due submission to pastoral leaders, again, for they care they give.

Reverse Thrust Orders of creation, subordination, headship structures - several pages have been spent discussing this many-sided argument. The space is justified, though, because it was generally these principles which in the past caused the Church to decide against the ordination of women. And now these are the very points which are blunted by the arguments for ordination. In fact they are used as part of the basis to make the case in favor. Two examples have already been seen - that God's work continues in creation, and that headship is that service which is worthy of respect. The search for guidance now goes to other scripture concepts which might favour the ordination of women - image of God, new age, all-member-are-ministers, and women-ministered.