Recently I attended a meeting where the subject of Women’s Ordination came up for discussion. There I was, sitting in a church, listening to people’s views and opinions on this hot topic. What made this circumstance different was the fact that this meeting was being held in my childhood home church – the church I grew up in from age 2 until I left for college. This was the church I sat in with my family, in the 2nd row from the front, hearing sermons and singing praise songs. This was the church I grew up in, starting out as a restless toddler, growing into a gangly 11-year old, and then on to an awkward Junior-Higher, to a happy-go-lucky teenager, and finally maturing into a young woman. This was the church I was baptized in. This was the church I met Jesus in through our youth group. This was the church who helped sponsor me through academy and on mission trips as a highschool student. This was the church I was married in. And here I was, ironically sitting in the same row I had sat in for years as a child, hearing people’s view on women’s “true” role in ministry. It’s not like these types of conversations are new for me. But this time, with the nostalgia of my child-hood faith-experience surrounding me, it just felt a little more personal. And I have to admit that it hurt a bit to hear the applause of parts of the congregation when someone spoke against women in ministry. Even though I know it’s not the case, it felt like it was applause against me. It was surreal to sit there, in that same row, in my child-hood church, and hear the views from both sides, and know that they were, proverbially, referring to me.
Towards the end of my Senior year in college, the head of the Religion Department gave me a special homework assignment. At the time I didn’t understand why I was so “special” in having to do this extra research paper. But now I am so glad that I did. It has proved to be beneficial for me personally many times. They say that knowledge is power – and in my circumstance, because of my wise professor, this has been true for me.
I pulled out that paper that my professor made me write 14 years ago, and it encouraged me. But it also made me realize that we as a church don’t understand ordination. I have not said much about this topic for so long because I know that some people may hear me and put me in the box of being a “feminist” or a “liberal.” However, I have also come to the place that I feel it’s important to state what I believe and why I believe it. I’ve also met many young women who feel called by God, but become scared or discouraged to follow-through with that calling for fear of going against God’s will or the church’s opinion. It hurts to see the church fighting so much when we should be doing more with our time and talents to help those around us. And so, because of these reasons, I will be sharing my thoughts on this topic of ordination. I will be sharing what my research revealed to me years ago and what it still reveals to me. Following are the concepts from my research paper as well as other “findings” I’ve had since then. I will include it in a 3-part blog. This first part will be focusing on the Biblical side of things. The 2nd part will focus on the subject from the Spirit-of-Prophecy point of view. And finally, the 3rd part will look at the topic from the historical side of things. Here we go!
Women in Ministry – Biblical Truth or Mortal Opinion?
There are not very many topics that have been argued over or stressed through for over a 100 years than the topic of women pastors, or more particularly, the ordaining of women. It is the purpose of this research paper to take a look into the arguments concerning women’s ordination and see the historical, biblical, and spirit-of-prophecy points of view regarding this subject. It is not the purpose of this essay to flaunt feminism or victimization in regards to women’s ordination. Nor is it my intent to cause controversy in any way. Rather, it is the intentions of this research to find the will of God on this subject.
Popular Arguments – The Priest
One of the biggest arguments against the ordaining of women from a biblical perspective is that there were no female priests mentioned in the Old Testament. And this is quite true. There were, however, female judges (Judges 4:5), prophetesses (Judges 4:5), and a group of women known as the wise women of Israel (2 Samuel 20:16). In using good Bible hermeneutics, we must take the entire Bible into account when looking at a subject. Therefore, we must also look at the New Testament and its reference to priests and high priests. We all know that the priests and high priests in the Old Testament were a symbol or type for Christ, our true High Priest. We know this from many Biblical references such as (1) Hebrews 4:14 where it says “So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe.” (2) Hebrews 8:1, 6-13 which says,
“Here is the main point: We have a High Priest who sat down in the place of honor beside the throne of the majestic God in heaven…But now Jesus, our High Priest, has been given a ministry that is far superior to the old priesthood, for he is the one who mediates for us a far better covenant with God, based on better promises. If the first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no need for a second covenant to replace it. But when God found fault with the people, he said,
“The day is coming, says the Lord,
when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel and Judah.
This covenant will not be like the one
I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
and led them out of the land of Egypt…”
When God speaks of a “new” covenant, it means he has made the first one obsolete. It is now out of date and will soon disappear.”
So we see that Christ is the High Priest and under the New Covenant we don’t need human priests because we have the real One, Jesus Christ who ministers for us. In fact, under this New Covenant with Christ as the High Priest, we are all under Christ and all of us are now called “kings and priests” under this new Covenant. (“…and hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.” Revelation 1:5, 6; we are all made kings and priests because of the blood of the Lamb -Revelation 5:9, 10; and we ALL are called to be part of the royal priests and God’s holy nation – 1 Peter 1:9) .
Finally, in regards to the arguments of priests being a type (symbol) for pastors, we would have to take into account all the qualifications for a priest mentioned in the Old Testament. Not only is there a qualification for the priest to be male, but he also must be without any physical blemish, can’t have any broken bones, can’t have a hunchback, can’t marry a widow or a woman who is divorced, and has to be of the lineage of Aaron. (Leviticus 21:10-23; Exodus 29:9). If these qualifications are listed in the same context as being male, why are we not demanding that all of these qualifications be used when choosing pastors who are to be ordained? As good Bible scholars, we can’t pick and choose which qualifications we will respect and leave out others. When was the last time you heard of an ordination committee checking out to see if the candidate was not only male, but also from the genetic line of Aaron, and without any physical deformity? Obviously it doesn’t happen, because we know that Aaron and the high priests from the Old Testament were a symbol for Christ, who is the literal unblemished High Priest for our church. Therefore, the argument regarding priests is not a good argument to use for why women cannot be ordained.
In closing, Paul makes a strong statement in Galatians 3:28. Paul, who had been educated as a Pharisee, had most likely prayed the Pharisees prayer of “Lord, I am thankful that I was not born a Greek, or a slave, …or a woman.” However, after Paul’s conversion experience in coming to Christ and being under the New Covenant, he states his new ideology in Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Popular Arguments – The Husband as The Head
Now that Christ has come and He is our High Priest, who is the high priest of the Church? Many people answer that the pastor is. However, this is wrong. As we’ve already seen from Scripture, Christ is the High Priest of His church. But He’s also known as the Husband of His church. This brings up the next argument that is used as to why women cannot be pastors or be ordained.
There are those who use the argument of the difference between male and female roles. They argue that since man, or the husband, is the head of the home, women cannot be pastors of the church. There is a huge misinterpretation of Scripture used in this idea. In using the statement that because the husband is the head of the wife, only men can be the pastors or leaders of the church, there is an inference being made that the pastor is the head of the church. But this is blatantly wrong according to the Bible, as seen from the following references.
First of all, the Bible reference that many use for this line of thinking is from the popular passage of Ephesians 5 where we are admonished to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. The next verse then tells wives to submit to their husbands because the husband is the head of his wife. People who use this passage as proof that women should not be pastors are greatly mistaken, mostly because they stop right there in the passage. But that is not where the verse stops! Here is the entire passage in its context:
”For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For a husband is the head of his wife just as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church. As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything.” (Ephesians 5:22-24 Emphasis mine).
Right there in the context of this verse it blatantly states that Christ is the head of the church, not the woman or the man. Christ is the husband, and therefore we all are His bride. Here it is evident that the pastor is NOT the head of the Church. Christ is! Therefore there must be a distinction between the home and the church. The husband is the head of his home. But men are not the head of the church – nor are women. Only Christ is!
There are other references to Christ being the head of His church, as well as the Husband: (1) In Ephesians 4:15 it states “Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.” The context of this statement is after Paul is talking about gifts given to the church - ”Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:11, 12). (By the way, this is the only Biblical reference that uses the word “pastor” and it is in the same usage as the word “teacher.” Perhaps we have elevated the status of a pastor to a place that it was never meant to be elevated to, which, in turn, has put our eyes on a human being instead of on the true head of the church, Jesus Christ.) We also see similar texts that blatantly state Christ as the head of the Church in Colossians 1:18 and Colossians 2:10. (2) In Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 we see more detail in who we are as Christ’s body, under His headship. We are not the head – only Christ is. (3) We (the church, both men and women) are known as His bride. In 2 Corinthians 11:2 we are called to be a pure bride to one husband who is Christ. In Revelation 19:7 it talks about Jesus, the Lamb, coming to get His bride, the church, who has prepared herself for Him. This, once again, is referring to His Church, or Bride, which consists of both men and women. He is the husband, or the head. (4) In prophecy, we know that the Church of God is represented as a woman (Revelation 12:1). To deny this is to go against Scripture. Therefore, it is not hermenuenical to use this argument – man being the head of the woman – as a proof that only men can be pastors or leaders or ordained. Because as we see from Scripture, only Christ is the head of the church.
As we see what the Bible says, it’s clear that the church and the home are two completely different organizations. In the home we do have the different roles of wife and husband. And in the church we have the Head/Husband of the church being Christ, and we have the woman/bride of Christ being all of us, both men and women. And to have the clear picture of God’s character, which takes both men and women to reveal (we were both, with our different roles, made in the image of God – Genesis 1:27) we need both men and women as leaders in the church.
Popular Arguments – Who has Authority?
Another popular argument against women pastors and the ordination of women is the one that states that women are not to have authority over a man, or to teach, but are to learn in silence. The Scriptural reference that is used comes from 1 Timothy 2:11-15 which states:
“Women should learn quietly and submissively. I do not let women teach men or have authority over them. Let them listen quietly. For God made Adam first, and afterward he made Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived by Satan. The woman was deceived, and sin was the result. But women will be saved through childbearing, assuming they continue to live in faith, love, holiness, and modesty.”
At first this verse seems pretty blatant that women should not hold any type of leadership in the church. However, it is wise to remember context when studying any particular passage. One of the most important types of contextual studies is to look at primarily who the book, or in this case, the letter is written to, and what kinds of circumstances were abounding to that particular time and location. It’s also important to take all of Scripture into account when looking at a specific topic.
There are many ideas and interpretations in regards to this passage. One thing to note right away is the greek word for woman in this passage. The word is “gune”, which being interpreted means “woman – specifically a wife.” (Strong’s Concordance). It appears this is not referring to women in general, but specifically to wives. Could it be that Paul is referring to the marriage relationship, and particularly to a situation that was happening in the church he was writing the letter to? We must be very careful not to universalize a message that was meant for a particular situation, and make it for any and all situations.
There are many scholars who have said that Paul is referring to a distinct church situation pertaining to a special circumstance in regards to the place that this letter is written. This seems to carry much weight, especially due to the fact that elsewhere Paul mentions women in spiritual leadership roles with very strong support. Some of these references are in the following places: (1) In Philippians 4:3 Paul refers to 2 women who “worked hard with me in telling others the Good News. They worked along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are written in the Book of Life.” (2) In Romans 16, verse 1, Paul mentions Phoebe who is a deaconess in the church and who has been helpful to many; in verse 3 of the same chapter and book, Paul mentions Priscilla as one of his co-workers in the ministry of Christ. She is also mentioned in Acts 18:26 when she is mentioned as instructing Apollos in his preaching; in verse 7 of Romans 16, Paul mentions Junia, who is a highly respected female apostle who was a follower of Christ before he (Paul) was; in verse 12 we hear about Tryphena and Tryphosa, who labor for the Lord, as well as Persis, who worked hard as a leader for the Lord. (3) In Acts 21:8, 9 we hear about Philip the Evangelist’s 4 daughters who had the gift of prophecy. (4) In Luke 2:36-38 we learn of Anna the prophetess, who spoke (taught) everyone she came across about Jesus the Messiah. (5) In 2 Chronicles 34:22-28 we learn of Huldah who consulted (or taught/admonished) the people of God instead of Jeremiah. (6) As a creative side-note, in Matthew 28:5-10, the women are the ones who first notice the empty tomb of Jesus. They are instructed by an angel of God to“… go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and he is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there. Remember what I have told you.” As these women are going to tell the other disciples, they meet Jesus who also tells them, ““Don’t be afraid! Go tell my brothers to leave for Galilee, and they will see me there.” If it was against God’s will for women to speak and teach others, including men, why would an angel from heaven, and then Jesus Himself, tell them to do exactly that? This verse is a great references from the Bible that shows us that God is not a respecter of persons, but calls all to speak for Him. In fact, in Mark 16:14, Jesus later appeared to the rest of the disciples and rebuked them because they did not believe the testimony of the women.
So with this overwhelming evidence of women who were in positions of authority to teach others, mostly given from Paul’s other letters, it seems to reason that this passage from 1 Timothy 2 is referring to special case that was happening in that church. Otherwise it would appear that Paul is contradicting himself, especially since we have so many examples of women who were co-laborers and leaders in the early church.
As to the question of who has authority in the church, we seem to forget one of the greatest Bible verses of all time: Matthew 28: 18-20 which states,
“Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (emphasis added)
It is obvious, then, that the question of authority does not come from humans, be they men or women. It is blatantly clear that Christ has all authority, not only in heaven, but also in earth, and it is because of this authority that He commissions ALL OF US to go, make disciples of all nations, baptize, and teach. This command comes straight from the mouth of Jesus. He is the One with all authority. He is the Head of the Church. He is the Great High Priest. He is the Husband. And the ground is level at the foot of Him Who is lifted up. We, both men and women, are on level ground. And He is the only One to whom we raise our heads, our hands and our prayers to. He is the One with ALL AUTHORITY. For any human to claim to have this authority is to make ourself equal with Christ, and we know that to do that would be blasphemy.
“‘In the last days,’ God says,
‘I will pour out my Spirit upon all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy.
Your young men will see visions,
and your old men will dream dreams.”
This word, “prophecy”, in Hebrew is Naba, which means to “speak to others (dare we say preach/teach) by inspiration through predictions or simple discourse.” In the Greek translation from Acts 2, the Greek word used is Propheteuo, which means “to foretell events, divine, and/or speak under inspiration” (Strong’s Concordance). It’s very interesting that the Bible makes a blatant inclusive reference to women in these verses by mentioning “daughters”. Thus, we see once more, that God is inclusive and uses all of us, regardless of gender. Check out more a more in-depth look at this by clicking HERE.
After seeing what the Bible says, it gives overwhelming support and evidence that God is the One who “ordains” and commissions, not man. (By the way, there is no Biblical reference to “ordination” in the way we do it today…but that’s coming in a later post!) Perhaps it is high time that we stop looking at each other and bickering about who is the greatest, and instead recognize that the ground is level at the foot of the cross. The only One lifted up is Jesus Christ. And when our eyes are looking up at Him, we’ll start to put our energies towards being His body to a world in need of love, grace and healing. May we stop our bickering and remember that ALL AUTHORITY has already been given to Him, that He has commissioned ALL of us, and most importantly, He is the One who is to be praised.
(For an excellent breakdown of some verses regarding women in ministry, also check out this video from Ron Du Preez):