October 24, 2014

Theology of Ordination: Position No. 1

, Ph.D., associate director of the Biblical
Research Institute

Editor’s note: In the
interest of providing a better understanding of the three positions on women’s
ordination that emerged from a two-year study by the Theology of Ordination
Study Committee, or TOSC, the
Adventist Review
is publishing the notes that three Adventist theologians used to give 20-minute
presentations of each position to the church delegates of the Annual Council on
Oct. 14, 2014. Read 
Position No. 2 and Position No. 3.

Good morning! I have good
news for us this morning: There is far more that unites us than divides us …
even on the subject of women’s ordination.

  • Christ is the Head of the
    We all agree that Christ is the Head of the church, and that it belongs
    to Christ alone (Eph. 1:22; Col. 2:10).
  • The Great Commission is
    for all:
    We all agree that the Great Commission applies to every Christian,
    men, women, and children, and that the Spirit works through every believer
    around the world to accomplish that work.
  • Spiritual Gifts are
    We all agree that every believer receives one or more
    spiritual gifts, and so the gifts are gender-inclusive.
  • The Priesthood of All
    We all agree that all Christians are part of the priesthood of all
    believers and have direct access to God through prayer, and that pastors and
    elders are not priests.
  • Full Equality by Creation:
    We all agree that both men and women are fully equal because all human beings
    are created in the image of God.
  • Unity in Christ: We all
    agree that in Christ “There is
    neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither
    male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” and “heirs according to promise” (Gal. 3:28, 29).
  • The End-time Outpouring of
    God’s Spirit:
    We all believe in the
    end-time promise of Joel 2 in the Latter Rain: “I will pour out My Spirit on
    all mankind; and your sons and daughters will prophesy. … Even on the male and
    female servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days” (Joel 2:28-29).

Position No. 1
affirms all of these Biblical teachings. It is not in conflict with any of

In addition, the TOSC
“Consensus Statement” shows that more than 90 percent of the committee agreed
that the ordination of church leaders is biblical (“Study
Committee Votes Consensus Statement on ‘Theology of Ordination,’”
Adventist Review [Aug. 15, 2013], page
8). We can only summarize a few points here:

  • Ordination is a biblical practice, setting apart ministers
    who oversee the church when they meet the Scriptural qualifications.
  • The New Testament identifies two categories of ordained
    leaders: 1) elders, including “supervising” elders who oversee multiple
    congregations, and 2) deacons.
  • Some individuals are to be ordained for “global church

The Main Question

There was only one question
on which we had no consensus: “Do the biblical qualifications for the gospel
minister who oversees the church allow a woman to be ordained to this office?”

In answering this question,
we should not overlook the fact that two of the three groups found clear
evidence in Scripture for a biblical model of male leadership. Note this
statement from Position Summary No. 3:

We believe that there is
a biblical model of male ecclesiological leadership
that has validity across time and culture. — TOSC Report, p. 100 (emphasis original).

So, even on women’s
ordination there is a clear biblical answer.
It’s found in 1 Timothy (see “Is
‘Husband of One Wife’ in 1 Timothy 3:2 Gender-Specific?”

Gender-Inclusive vs. Gender-Exclusive

Unlike most of Paul’s
letters, 1 Timothy is not written to a particular church. Like Titus, it’s
written to a gospel minister. Its purpose is to give Timothy instructions on
church order: “I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the
household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support
of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15).

1. Gender-Inclusive (1 Tim.

When Paul wants to be gender-inclusive, he uses gender-inclusive
language as he does repeatedly in 1 Timothy 2 (Gk. pas, anthrōpos):

Prayer should
be offered for all people (v. 1);

God desires
all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth (v. 4).

Christ gave
Himself as a ransom for all (v. 6).

2. Gender-Specific (1 Tim. 2:8-15)

Paul also uses gender-specific language
to explain how men and women should relate to each other in the worship

Men are to take the lead in the
church’s worship and prayer (v. 8).

Women should dress modestly. They
should not try to usurp the established teaching authority of the minister who
oversees the church (vv. 9‑12).

Paul bases this teaching on Genesis 2 and 3, which we’ll come to in a
moment: “For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not
Adam who was deceived, but the woman
being deceived, fell into transgression” (vv. 13, 14).

3. Gender-Exclusive (1 Tim. 3:1-12)

Beginning in chapter 3 with the qualifications for church officers, Paul
uses even more specific, gender-exclusive language. He does not refer to just
“anyone” but says, according to the NASB preferred by Position No. 2. (TOSC Report, p. 69, n. 9), “If any man aspires to the office of
overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do” (v. 1).

Then he lists the qualifications for this office:

“An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one
wife …” (v. 2).

This is not just
gender-specific, it’s gender-exclusive, for several reasons:

  • It is a fixed requirement,
    appearing three times: here and in Titus 1:6 for overseers/elders, and for
    deacons in 1 Tim. 3:12.
  • Women assistants,
    sometimes called deaconesses, are referred to in v. 11 as a group separate from
    both elders and deacons, with a different list of qualifications, so they
    cannot be included in either one.
  • Paul uses the opposite
    phrase, “wife of one husband,” in 1 Tim. 5:9, referring to widows. That means
    Paul meant what he said.
  • If Paul had wanted to be
    gender-neutral, he could have combined these two phrases, “the overseer … must
    be the husband of one wife or the wife of one husband.” But Paul didn’t do
  • Paul deals, in order, with
    smaller and smaller groups: first “all” (gender-inclusive), then “men” and
    “women” (gender-specific), and finally “husband of one wife”

Note that the text says
“must”(Gk. dei).The wording is
as clear in Greek as it is in English. It’s as clear as the command to
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exod. 20:8).

Of course, this Biblical
command about ministers who oversee the church is not one of the Ten Commandments,
but it’s still a command. The command to abstain from unclean foods is not one
of the ten but it’s still a command. So is Jesus’ command to follow His example
in washing each other’s feet; and His command in connection with the Lord’s
Supper, “Do this in remembrance of Me” (1 Cor. 11:24) Or the Great Commission
to, “Go, and make disciples …” (Matt. 28:19). None of these are part of the Ten
Commandments, but they’re still commands. They’re not optional.

When Paul says “must,” it’s
very clear. He even chose the strongest possible command form in Greek to say

The fact that Paul uses the
creation order from Eden as the basis for the roles of men and women in the
church shows two things: (1) this is a theological issue, not just a practical
issue; and (2) these roles were God’s ideal before the fall and therefore
reflect God’s ideal for us today.

Studying the account of
creation and the Fall, we find that Paul and Genesis are in perfect harmony.
They do not contradict each other.

Order Leadership in Genesis

Genesis 1 describes the
creation of the first human beings in these words: “God created
man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He
created them” (Gen 1:27). Since both man
and woman are created in God’s image, both have equal value. Modern culture
wants us to think that equal means identical. But equality does not destroy our
uniqueness. Adam and Eve were alike in the ability to think and reason but
different in temperament and body. They were also created by God at different

It is no secret why Adam was
created first: because God gave him the primary leadership responsibility.

of Creation:

  • Man: to keep the
    garden (Gen. 2:15); told what to eat and what to avoid (Gen. 2:16-17)
  • Woman: given as
    man’s “helper” (Gen. 2:18).

of Creation:

  • Eve shares with
    Adam the divine dominion (Gen. 1:26)
  • He cannot lead
    without her because she is his helper (Gen. 2:18, 20)

In fact, the climax of this
second part of the creation account is not the creation of Eve but the creation
of the family. Just as the Sabbath forms the climax of the first half of the
creation account (Gen. 2:1-3), God’s marriage of the man and woman is the
pinnacle of the second half (Gen. 2:24; cf. Matt. 19:4-6).

3 relates the story of the Fall, and a reversal of the creation order
leadership principle.

Paul’s reasoning in 1
Timothy 2 and 3 takes us back to this foundational leadership principle based
on the creation order: “Adam was formed first, then Eve” (v. 13). By mentioning
the creation order, man first and then woman, Paul brings us back to Eden and shows that its ideal
leadership arrangement is valid in the church for all time.

Women Keeping Silent in Church

While 1 Timothy 3:2 is very
clear — that the minister who oversees the church “must be the husband of one
wife,” some say that if we’re going to take this text literally, then,
according to 1 Corinthians 14, women must keep silent in church.

Even with this passage, a
plain reading of the text applies. Let’s consider some important points about
this passage:

  • Unlike the Pastoral
    Epistles of Timothy and Titus, which were written to ministers serving many
    different areas, 1 Corinthians was written to a specific church in Corinth.
  • It was written primarily
    to address specific issues and questions that came up in Corinth.
  • 1 Corinthians 14 addresses
    the practices of three groups who were causing significant disruptions in the
    worship service at Corinth.
  • These disruptions were
    caused by men as well as women because (1) men were speaking in tongues without
    an interpreter (vv. 27-28); (2) men were prophesying without interpretation
    (vv. 29-33); and (3) women “kept asking questions” (Gk. eperōtatōsan) while people were speaking (vv. 34-35).
  • Paul commands all three
    groups to “keep silent” — using a very strong word in Greek (Gk. sigaō),
    a word he doesn’t use in 1 Timothy where he instructs women during the worship service
    to learn quietly (1 Tim. 2:11-12). We need to remember Paul is
    not talking about a Sabbath School class, but explaining how the Christians in
    Corinth can preserve reverence and decorum in worship.

Religious Offices in the Old
and New Testaments

Let’s return now to our main
question: can women also be ordained to serve as gospel ministers who oversee
the church?

To answer this question
fully, we must look at what the entire Bible says — briefly because of time.

While we see a variety of
female Bible characters who have important roles throughout Scripture (e.g.,
Miriam and Deborah in the Old Testament; Mary, Priscilla, Phoebe, Junia and
others in the New Testament), two key points stand out:

  • No woman was ever given a
    priestly role in the Old Testament.
  • And no woman in the New
    Testament ever functioned as an apostle or gospel minister overseeing the

Jesus, as the Head of God’s
church in both the Old and New Testaments, has made very clear by precept and
by practice who is to be ordained to this office.

the Old Testament, even though Israel was a priesthood of believers (Ex.
19:5-6), God commanded that priests
and Levites—all men—be set apart to
lead Israel in worship and religious instruction (Exod.40:12-16;29:9; Num.
8:10, 18-20; see Position No. 1,
21-22). For both the priests and the Levites, clear qualifications and rituals
were commanded for their ordination. These qualifications were not optional.

In the New Testament church,
Jesus ordained 12 men as apostles. They were His gospel ministers to oversee
the church and were commissioned to ordain other leaders from every nation,
kindred, tongue, and people (Matt. 28:19-20; Rev. 14:6).

The gender requirements were
not temporary. Even though Jesus and Paul emphasized that the gospel and even
leadership was open to the Gentiles, the gender requirement was never changed.
Paul refers to the creation order to show its applicability for all time.

Paul and Barnabas “ordained
elders in every church” and Paul likewise instructed Titus, “appoint elders in
every city as I commanded you” (Titus 1:5).

In actual fact, gender is
the fundamental qualification upon which the others are all built and “is a
clear, unambiguous requirement that gives no room for misinterpretation or
misunderstanding.” (Position No. 1, 13-14).

Some argue that if women can
work in full-time ministry, why shouldn’t we give them what some are asking
for? Why not ordain them? We cannot do that for one simple reason:

It is not ours to give as we
see fit, for God says that he is to be “the husband of one wife” (1 Tim. 3:2)
and that it is not permitted for a woman to usurp his authority as the gospel
minister who oversees the church (1 Tim. 2:11-12). The Bible is so plain on
this point in order that there would be no misunderstanding as to the
qualifications for ordination to the office of gospel ministry.

The Jerusalem Council of Acts 15

Now let’s briefly consider
the Jerusalem Council as recorded in Acts 15. As you know, some Jewish
Christians continued to believe in the temple, its services, and its laws,
meaning, in their view, that Gentile believers, in order to be saved, had to be
circumcised (Acts 15:1). Therefore, it was a theological issue that was at

  • Circumcision was
    not instituted in the Garden of Eden like the Sabbath, the family, and creation
    order leadership.
  • Circumcision
    began with Abraham, who was the father of the Hebrews.
  • Unlike the
    Sabbath and creation order leadership, which cannot be changed, circumcision is
    connected with the ceremonial law (Acts 15:5).
  • Like the
    ceremonial law, circumcision is a shadow pointing forward to the gift of the
    Spirit and the new birth symbolized by baptism. Peter indicates as much in his
    speech to the Jerusalem Council: God was “giving them [Gentiles] the Holy
    Spirit, just as He also did to us [Jews]; and He made no distinction between us
    and them, cleansing their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:8-9). Like the ceremonial
    law, circumcision was a “shadow of things to come” and came to an end with the
    death of Christ and God’s rending of the temple veil from top to bottom.
rsz screen shot 2014 10 23 at 83955 am

The Jerusalem Council
listened to all sides of the issue. However, because it was a theological
matter, their decision was based exclusively on the Old Testament Scriptures
and God’s revelation given three times to Peter in vision.

The Jerusalem Council did
not establish two different standards based on culture — one for Jewish
believers and another for Gentiles. The decision of the council was a decision
that pertained to all Christians everywhere — both Jewish and Gentile believers
in Christ. And because of that, the result was a unified church worldwide.

The Jerusalem Council did
not institutionalize a division in the church between Jews and Gentiles — just
the opposite. They reaffirmed that Christ’s death on the cross broke down the
wall between Jews and Gentiles: “For He Himself is our peace, who made
both groups into one and broke down
the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which
is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in
Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace” (Eph.
2:14, 15).

In other words, by its
decision the Jerusalem Council declared that there was no such thing as Jew or
Gentile anymore, and that all had to live by the same laws — the laws of the
kingdom of heaven, as one people, united in Christ.

The Jerusalem Council shows
us that when there is disagreement and dissension in the church — we are not to
look to our own culture for wisdom and guidance. Instead, God provides a
solution based on Scripture and divine revelation.


  • Because the issue we are facing today is theological
    and connected with the creation order, it is far greater than whether a woman
    should be ordained as a gospel minister overseeing the church. The question is
    whether Scripture or culture will guide the church.
  • As we have seen,
    Scripture, both Old and New Testaments, is clear, and if we compromise our
    faithfulness to Scripture on this point, we will have compromised our only
    basis of unity. As much as we appreciate diversity, it is Scripture, our Bible-based faith and practice, that holds us
    , not diversity. It is this Bible-based unity that will protect us
    from the scourges of pluralism. Our confidence in the unity
    of Scripture can only be maintained if we continue to interpret it in the way
    the Bible interprets itself. If we begin to interpret it differently in
    different places, there is nothing to keep the church from splintering over
    tithe, congregationalism, homosexuality, and other issues. Just as the Sabbath
    and marriage cannot be compromised without compromising the unity of the
    church, neither can the creation order leadership given in Genesis and affirmed
    by Paul, because it applies to self-sacrificing leadership in the church. That
    principle cannot be compromised without ultimately destroying the unity of the
    church. If we allow diversity here,
    it will divide us. It already has divided
    us to some extent. When Israel demanded a king, rejecting God’s kingship and
    His plan for leadership over them, Israel was divided, and ultimately Israel
    was destroyed.
  • The Jerusalem Council made its decision based on divine revelation.
    After deep, thorough Bible Study, we can reaffirm the Scriptural basis for the
    decisions of the GC sessions in 1990 and 1995.

Position No. 1 respectfully
and prayerfully recommends the following to the Seventh-day Adventist Church in
its Way
Forward Statement

  • Reaffirm and encourage, with public recognition and licensure, women whom God
    has called to gospel work;
  • Provide enhanced access to educational opportunities for women in gospel work
    and ensure fair and just treatment upon their placement in ministry;
  • Return to the biblical practice of electing and ordaining only men to the
    office of local elder throughout the world church, while providing for women to
    serve as un-ordained church leaders under certain circumstances;
  • Retain the scriptural practice of ordaining/commissioning only qualified men to
    the office of pastor/minister throughout the world church in harmony with the
    consistent example of Christ, the apostles, and the Adventist pioneers;
  • Promote the greater
    development of various lines of ministry for women, according to their
    spiritual gifts, including but not limited to personal and public evangelism,
    teaching, preaching, ministering to families, counseling, medical missionary work,
    and departmental leadership.

Related links

Presentation of Position No. 2

Presentation of Position No. 3

Adventist Review, Oct. 15, 2014: "Women’s Ordination Question Goes to GC Session"