, Ph.D., associate director of the Biblical
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.
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:
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?”).
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):
be offered for all people (v. 1);
all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth (v. 4).
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:
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.
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.
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
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.
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
Let’s return now to our main
question: can women also be ordained to serve as gospel ministers who oversee
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:
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.
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
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.
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.
Position No. 1 respectfully
and prayerfully recommends the following to the Seventh-day Adventist Church in
Adventist Review, Oct. 15, 2014: "Women’s Ordination Question Goes to GC Session"