, Ph.D., Walla Walla University
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, 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. 1 and Position No. 3.
Good morning. It is a privilege for me to address you on an
issue of great importance for our church — the question of the ordination of
women to the gospel ministry. How we move forward on this subject is not only
of the utmost importance for the unity of our church today, but I also believe
it is just as important to the spread of the Three Angels' Message in the days
To be honest, it is somewhat ironic that I am speaking to
you in favor of the ordination of women — for I have not always been an
advocate for this position.
In the earliest days of my ministry as a pastor, I was
uncomfortable with the ordination of women. I was hesitant for two basic
First, I was concerned because I associated the push for
women's ordination with those in the church who seemed, in my opinion, to have
a more liberal agenda for the church and less concern for the authority of
Scripture — a troubling pattern that seemed to already be at work in other
denominations. As such, I worried that ordaining women was more of a concession
to changing cultural norms than it was to the unchangeable norms of Scripture.
My second concern was that ordaining women also seemed
opposed to a straightforward or plain reading of Scripture. After all, there
were no women priests, no female apostles, and Paul said in 1 Timothy that a
woman should not teach or exercise authority over a man. Paul even appeared to
base his instructions on the established order of creation.
Over the last several years, my views have changed, however.
The reason I have changed my opinion is not because I have backed away from the
authority of Scripture, but because I believe I have read the Scriptures more
While I remain concerned about the growing influence of
cultural trends on the spiritual life of the church, I do not believe the
ordination of women to the gospel ministry is a concession to cultural
Like my colleagues whose position I represent this morning,
I believe that ordaining women is the right thing for us to do as a church for
three reasons: (1) It is consistent with what the Scripture teach about the
nature of the church in the New Testament; (2) It also affirms the way in which
God ordered society when He created men and women in the very beginning; and
(3) It is in harmony with what the Holy Spirit has already been doing in the
church through the ministry of Ellen White, through female pastors, and also
through the ministry of women who have been serving the church around the globe
as local church elders since 1975.
1. What does the Bible teach about the New Testament church?
When we turn to the church in the New Testament, we find an
expansion and reordering of God's plan to redeem the world. The recognition
that Jesus was, in fact, the promised Messiah, not just for the Jews, but also
for all the Gentiles radically and forever changed the way the early Christians
related to each other and also to the world. Over time the tribal, ethnic, and
gender restrictions contained in the Levitical law gave way to a fuller
understanding of the gospel that recognized in God's kingdom a true equality,
for in His kingdom there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor
free, and there is no male and female, for all are one in Christ Jesus (Gal.
3:28). And so, whereas only the male descendants of Levi functioned as priests
in God's temple in the Old Testament, the early church embraced the priesthood
of all believers — not just Jewish men from any tribe, nor even the addition of
male Gentiles, but also female believers. In the same way that the high
priestly ministry of Jesus was far greater than that of any Jewish priest, so
the spiritual ministry of men and women was also seen as greater than that of
only the sons of Levi.
2. Now you may ask, but does this mean that men and women
are the same in everything?
Absolutely not! Equality in Christ and the priesthood of all
believers does not mean that every man and woman perform the same roles or
Listen to the word of the Lord …
“Now there are varieties of gifts … and there are varieties
of service … and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who
empowers them all in everyone …”
“So we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually
members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given
to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in
our serving; the one who teaches, in teaching;the one who exhorts, in exhortation;
the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal …”
“All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who
apportions to each one individually as he wills.” (1 Cor. 12:4-6; Rom. 12:5-8;
1 Cor. 12:7).
Scripture is clear. The gifts of the Spirit and the
positions associated with them are not based on gender. They are based entirely
on the discretion of the Holy Spirit and are distributed freely to both men and
3. You may ask, “If the gifts of the Spirit are not based on
gender, why then does Paul say in 1 Timothy that a woman should not teach or
exercise authority over a man?”
Paul does prohibit the women in 1 Timothy from teaching, but
the reason is not because of their gender. The reason for his injunction is
because the believing women in Ephesus had become involved with the false
teachers who were destroying the work of God.
A plain reading of the entire passage, not just this single
verse, makes this clear. Listen to what Paul says to Timothy at the very
beginning of the letter.
"As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain
at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different
to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote
speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith" (1 Tim.
Timothy was to remain in Ephesus for one purpose — to
protect the church from certain individuals who were teaching a different
gospel. In addition to condemning the false teachers and their "irreverent
babble" in chapters 4 and 6, in chapter 5 Paul also connects the practice
of the women in the church with the spread of a false gospel when he describes
some of them as having "strayed after Satan" and he chastises others
for "going about from house to house...saying what they should not"
(1 Tim. 5:15, 13).
So when Paul says the women in Ephesus should not teach, he
does so as part of his overall concern to silence the individuals in the church
who were not teaching the truth. The women he prohibits are part of that group.
They needed to learn the true gospel before they were qualified to serve as
teachers. Paul's prohibition was, therefore, a temporary and local response to
the specific situation in Ephesus.
To claim that Paul's counsel prohibits all women at all
times from forever serving as teachers and leaders within the church disregards
a plain reading of all the other passages in the New Testament where Paul
affirms the role of women leading out in the church, women like Euodia and
Syntyche who Paul says "labored side by side" with him as colleagues
in proclaiming the "gospel" (Phil. 4:2, 3), or the woman Phoebe who
Paul identifies in Romans 16 as a deacon in the church of Cenchrae.
This is not to say that Paul's counsel in 1 Timothy doesn't
apply to us today. It does. Scripture always has a universal and timeless
application for the church. The application, however, has to be to a similar
situation within the church — in other words, to situations where false
teachers — whether women or men — need to be silenced because they are
undermining the proclamation of the gospel.
4. You may ask, "Why then does Paul support his
prohibition against the women in Ephesus from teaching by appealing to the
creation of Adam before Eve and identifying the woman as the one who was
deceived and became a transgressor."
Paul's reference to Eve was intended to serve as a vivid
warning to the women in Ephesus of the danger of listening to the false
teachers and being influenced by them. The story of Eve's involvement in the
fall illustrated in the strongest terms just how dangerous it was to listen to
false teachings. Paul also refers to the deception of Eve when warning against
false teachers in 2 Corinthians 11:3, 4.
5. But why then does Paul refer to the creation order?
The reason Paul emphasizes the creation order is because he
is trying to correct the manner in which the women in Ephesus were seeking to
carry out their teaching authority. When the Bible says a woman should not
teach or "exercise authority" the word translated as "exercise
authority" is not the typical word used for authority. It means "to
control," "to rule over," or to try to "dominate." It
indicates that the women in Ephesus were exercising authority in a domineering
manner that reflected negatively upon the men in the congregation and, in
particular, their husbands. Paul appeals to the creation account to remind them
that women were not created to domineer over men, but that in the same way that
Eve was created to be Adam's equal partner, the women in Ephesus should treat
men with the respect required of an equal.
Those who argue against women's ordination interpret this
passage just the opposite way — they claim it means that men have the authority
within the church to rule over women. But that sort of interpretation goes
against a plain reading of the way God ordered the relationship of men and
women in creation.
The Bible teaches in Genesis that God created men and women
as equals and that neither one of them was placed under the authority of the
We are told in Genesis that, "God created humankind in
His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female He created
them (Gen. 1:27). Outside of their biological differences, God did not
establish any stereotypical roles that constituted the “essence” of what it
meant to be a man or a woman. Instead, Adam and Eve were created as equals who
were united together in the same sort of mutual submission that is expressed in
the Godhead itself. Rather than assigning to them certain predetermined or
arbitrary roles based on their gender, God gave them the freedom to develop the
gifts He gave them to fulfill the various responsibilities associated with
them. And it was through the use of those abilities that God intended not only
Adam and Eve, but also every man and every woman to fulfill the divine charge
to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth and subdue it, and to exercise
dominion over all the other creatures (Gen. 1:27, 28).
The fact that Adam was created before the women does not
suggest that Adam had authority over her. The entire story of creation is a
movement from incompleteness to completeness. The creation of Adam first merely
indicates that the creation of humankind was not yet complete — God was still
at work. To argue that what is created first is superior would suggest that the
birds and the animals were superior to the human race. The equality of men and
women united together in mutual submission is most clearly represented in the
fact that God created Eve from Adam's side — not his head or foot — to show
that she was, as Ellen White says, to "stand by his side as an equal” (Patriarchs and Prophets, page 47). It is
this equality in the creation order that Paul refers to when rebuking the
domineering women in Ephesus.
Paul also appeals to the creation order in 1 Corinthians 11 when
addressing the behavior of the believing women in Corinth. Like the church in
Ephesus, the women in Corinth were acting in a way that was bringing dishonor
to their husbands — in their case, they had stopped wearing the traditional
head covering when leading out in public worship.
Although there was nothing intrinsically wrong with not
covering their heads, it was a problem culturally. A woman who did not cover
her head in public in the Greco-Roman world was seen as immodest, since
uncovered hair was often the sign of a prostitute. As such, these women were
bringing shame upon the reputation of their husbands, and also causing a
distraction during worship.
In appealing to these women to change their ways, Paul
argues that what they do with their literal head has huge implications for
their metaphorical head — that is their husbands. Paul argues that although the
woman was created as man's equal partner, the fact that the first woman was
created from Adam's side indicates that a wife brings glory and honor to her
husband because she is a reflection of him. The behavior of these women,
however, was doing just the opposite. Rather than shame their husbands, they
are to cover their heads to bring honor to them, and also to make sure that all
the honor and glory during worship is given to God, not to any man.
But it is important to note that Paul does not stop there.
He also says in 1 Cor. 11:11, 12, "Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not
independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is
now born of woman." In other words, the honor in marriage of which Paul
speaks is not a one-way street. Neither the husband nor the wife should do
anything that would undermine the reputation of the other or damage the
influence of the gospel.
A plain reading of the passage reveals that Paul is not
speaking about church leadership and authority, or ordination. He is talking
about the way women should relate to their husbands. The passage says nothing
about the headship of all men over all women. If anything, the passages affirms
not only the right of women to pray in public, but also to prophesy, which is a
form of teaching.
Like the creation account itself, Paul's references to the
creation order in 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Corinthians 11 leave open the possibility
for women to exercise authority and to hold positions of leadership within the
church. In fact, not only do we find examples of women exercising the spiritual
gift of leadership in the New Testament, but also in the Old Testament. We have
examples of Miriam, a noted prophet and leader along side her brothers Moses
and Aaron (Micah 6:4), the prophet Huldah (2 Kings 22:14-20; 2 Chron.
34:22-28), and Deborah, who functioned not only as a prophet, but also as a
judge exercising authority over both men and women. All of these examples
demonstrate that there is nothing morally or spiritually wrong with women
serving in leadership roles among God's people.
6. If that is the case, why then does Paul say that in order
to serve as an overseer or elder within the church that the individual must be
the husband of one wife? Doesn't that exclude women from serving in a
leadership role in the church?
No, I do not think it does. The phrase translated a
"husband of one wife" in Greek literally means a "one-woman
man." This expression not only applies to overseers and elders, but also
as one of the qualifications for deacons later in the chapter. While those who
argue against ordaining women see this verse as conclusive evidence that women
are to be excluded from exercising authority in the church, the earliest
Christians did not see it that way. While the expression is gender specific,
early Christians did not believe it was gender exclusive.
We can see this in the fact that although Paul says a deacon
must be a "one-woman man," women still served in the early church as
deacons. We know, for example, from Romans 16 that a woman named Phoebe served
the church in Cenchrae in the official capacity as a deacon — and we know of
many more women who served as deacons in the early church. What is significant
is that the requirement that a deacon be a "one-woman man" was not
seen as an obstacle to the ministry of female deacons. The earliest Christians
clearly understood the expression a "one- woman man" as a reference
to the importance of sexual purity, which was understood in a monogamous
relationship between a man and a woman. The passage no more excludes women from
ministry than it does single or childless men from serving the church as
Like the Bible, Ellen G. White also does not explicitly
ordination of women to ministry. In both what she said and what she did, Ellen
White encouraged women to study and develop their God-given gifts so they might
serve the church in positions of leadership. As a woman, Ellen White certainly
taught and exercised authority over both men and women.
In conclusion, I believe that the only position that is
truly consistent with Scripture, the doctrine of the church, and that truly
promotes the unity of the church is allowing for the ordination of women to the
gospel ministry. This view is not opposed to Scripture, nor does it have to be
rationalized as an accommodation or modification of a so-called universal
pattern of male headship over all women. There is no command forbidding it. It
is consistent with the teachings of the Bible and the fundamental beliefs of
Adventism. It promotes the mission and unity of the church, and it is in
harmony with the way in which the Spirit has guided this church thorough the
ministry of Ellen White, and with what the Holy Spirit has already been doing
in the church through the ministry of female pastors. On this basis, we would
recommend that the world church allow for the ordination of women to the gospel
ministry in those areas of the world church that are comfortable with it.
Adventist Review, Oct. 15, 2014: "Women’s Ordination Question Goes to GC Session"