The typical Adventist sermon on blasphemy notes that God alone can forgive sin; only He is divine. In addition to this standard definition, Paul exhorts “that they [the aged women] may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed” (Titus 2:3-5).
Thus the Bible brings to view another kind of blasphemy, one that turns the Word of God upside down in the family and in the church. This brand of blasphemy has become culturally acceptable in our postmodern world even among some who call themselves the people of God. But from Genesis to Revelation, the foundation of male spiritual authority and leadership was laid down by the Lord who changes not.
Spiritual Responsibility and Headship Given to Adam at Creation
Christ constantly turned the attention of His hearers to the beginning (Matthew 19:8). Emphasizing the relationship of the human family to the divine Godhead, Ellen White points out the headship of Adam in Eden: “Under God, Adam was to stand at the head of the earthly family, to maintain the principles of the heavenly family” (Testimonies, vol. 6, p. 236). The spiritual responsibility which is given to fathers is echoed in the second commandment: “visiting the iniquity of the fathers unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me, and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love Me and keep My commandments” (Exodus 20:5).
Before the world was made, there was headship even among the divinely equal heavenly Trio, as the Father called the council of heaven together and defended His Son against Lucifer’s accusations. The oneness of God was to be expressed in the oneness of the holy pair. In this most holy relationship between members of the Godhead, who each could rightfully claim equality, there has always been a special order of command in the roles of the Father, the Son and the Spirit, with the spiritual headship of the Father, the submission of the Son, and the Spirit carrying out the commands of both while revealing the character of the Godhead to the universe.
This oneness and equality, yet differentiation of roles, was emphasized by Paul: “For He [the Father] hath put all things under His [Christ’s] feet. But when He [the Father] saith all things are put under Him [Christ], it is manifest that He [the Father] is excepted, which did put all things under Him [Christ]. And when all things shall be subdued unto Him [Christ], then shall the Son also Himself be subject unto Him [the Father] that put all things under Him [Christ], that God may be all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:27, 28). Thus Scripture tells us that the Father is not put under the feet of Christ, but rather the Father puts all things under Christ as He honors the Son. The Father remains the Supreme Leader, with the Son submitting to His headship.
Our wise Creator prepared the first man for his leadership role in marriage. First God provided a garden home for man before giving him a wife. This order is reflected in the Tenth Commandment: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house; thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife” (Exodus 20:17). With this garden home, man was given his first task in the garden, “to dress it and to keep it” (Genesis 2:15). Along with sustenance from every tree and vine, the Lord also charged man not to eat of the one forbidden tree. As Elohim named and cared for the day and night, the heaven, earth, and the seas, so Adam named and took responsibility for all the living creatures, including woman.
Made in the image of God with dominion over the natural world, the holy pair were in harmony with each other and their Maker. “God made from the man a woman, to be a companion and helpmeet for him, to be one with him, to cheer, encourage, and bless him, he in his turn to be her strong helper” (Adventist Home, p. 99). The Word of God points out that Adam’s spiritual authority and leadership began in Eden, even in their sinless situation: “for Adam was first formed, then Eve” (1 Timothy 2:13). For this reason women are not to usurp authority over men in the home or in the church (1 Timothy 2:12). In the marriage ceremony performed by God Himself, she took Adam’s name as they became one (Genesis 5:2), becoming, so to speak, “Mrs. Adam,” even as all three in the divine Trio have the Yahweh name.
Even though his wife and then Adam fell into sin, and both were guilty, the Scripture pins the responsibility for this fall upon Adam alone, the head and spiritual leader of that first family and the first home church. This spiritual leadership and responsibility is repeated seven times with the phrase “one man” or “one” in Romans 5:12, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, one of the strongest emphases in the Bible. This same thought is echoed in the testimony of Jesus as expressed by Sister White:
She was perfectly happy in her Eden home by her husband’s side; but, like restless modern Eves, she was flattered that there was a higher sphere than that which God had assigned her. But in attempting to climb higher than her original position, she fell far below it. This will most assuredly be the result with the Eves of the present generation if they neglect to cheerfully take up their daily life duties in accordance with God’s plan (Testimonies, vol. 3, p. 483).
Spiritual Authority and Leadership of Men after the Fall
Even though the head of the human family fell into sin and failed in his responsibility to his God, his wife, and his posterity, the Lord did not remove Adam from his position of headship. The disharmony brought in by sin necessitated a stronger emphasis of the roles of the fallen pair, “Thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee” (Genesis 3:16). The reverence and respect due the husband is epitomized in Peter’s words, “Even as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord” (1 Peter 3:6). The apostle goes on to encourage the women of the New Testament church to be Sarah’s true daughters, and thus to have the same obedience, reverence, and respect for their husbands.
Sin also brought to view the plan of salvation, and like Christ, Adam became the priest of the family, as did Abel, Seth, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the generations that followed. Ellen White notes this important role:
In the beginning, the head of each family was considered ruler and priest of his own household. Afterward, as the race multiplied upon the earth, men of divine appointment performed this solemn worship of sacrifice for the people (Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 1, p. 53).
Thus the foundation for this order of priestly leadership in worship was laid by God Himself in the first home church after the Fall.
After the Exodus, following the godly advice of his father-in-law, “Moses chose able men out of all Israel, and made them heads over the people, rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens” (Exodus 18:25). The seventy elders, priests, Kohathites, Gershonites, and sons of Merari all filled special leadership roles.
When the Lord reminded Moses that it was time for him to die, he pleaded with his Maker, “Let Yahweh, the God of the spirits of all flesh, set a man over the congregation!” (Numbers 27:16), and the Lord heard and answered his prayer. This same Moses prophesied the coming of a Prophet, like unto him, the One who would ordain twelve men and give them charge of the apostolic church.
Have We Considered the Proverbs 31 Man?
The Proverbs 31 woman is virtuous and does her husband good all the days of her life. In all her decisions, her husband can trust her because she honors him. She always acts with his wishes in mind, and that is why “he shall have no need of spoil” (Proverbs 31:11). Note that the Bible also points out the spiritual headship and community leadership of the honorable Proverbs 31 man: “her husband is known in the gates, when he sitteth among the elders of the land” (Proverbs 31:23). This Proverbs 31 man is a man among men, held in honor among all the elders of the land.
When a husband acts foolishly as did Nabal, the wife must obey him only as “it is fit in the Lord” (Colossians 3:18). Abigail sets the example for godly women in this position, honoring her husband and family by pleading for their lives, while not excusing his sin. Bowing before David, this woman of God shows the hunted servant of Saul honor and respect. As a true daughter of Sarah, Abigail calls David “lord” fourteen times, even though he is not her husband (1 Samuel 25). Hence the Bible shows that the spiritual leadership of men, established by God in the relationships of the family and congregation, extends to all our social and spiritual relationships.
Spiritual Authority and Leadership of Men in the Early Church
The foundation for male spiritual leadership in the home church and sanctuary continued to underlay the first leadership appointments made by Christ Himself and later by the apostles.
The same principles of piety and justice that were to guide the rulers among God’s people in the time of Moses and of David, were also to be followed by those given the oversight of the newly organized church of God in the gospel dispensation. In the work of setting things in order in all the churches, and ordaining suitable men to act as officers, the apostles held to the high standards of leadership outlined in the Old Testament Scriptures (Acts of the Apostles, p. 95).
Note that seven men are chosen to serve as deacons, leaders of the church who cared for the worthy widows. Men with Christ-like characters, who ruled their families well, were ordained as elders to rule the churches of God. These men were called to pray for the sick (James 5:14). Even though they might rightly be called “lords” and represented the headship of Christ over His church, they were to be examples of the chief Shepherd, and not dictators over the flock (1 Peter 5:3, 4).
Called “chief men among the brethren” in Acts 15:22, three times Hebrews 13 emphasizes the spiritual rulership of these men ordained to govern as church leaders. “Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation”; “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy”; “Salute them that have the rule over you, and all the saints” (vss. 7, 17, 24). As we consider the Old Testament foundations of spiritual leadership, the words “rule,” “obey,” and “submit” remind us of the headship position of men in the home church unit and in the aggregate of these units, the church itself.
Spiritual Authority and Leadership of Men in the New Jerusalem
Based on the foundation of both Old and New Testament Scriptures, John describes the Holy City. The twenty-four elders are already around the throne, representing those of their flock who shall soon be resurrected. The twelve patriarchs of Jacob have their names inscribed on the gates, while the names of the twelve apostles are written on those beautiful layers of a dozen sparkling gemstones.
Linking the spiritual leadership of men from both the Old and New Testament periods, Jesus Himself promised His own beloved disciples another special honor: “Verily I say unto you, that ye which have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of His glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28). Enoch, Moses, and Elijah have been honored by God for thousands of years already. Those who have the heavenly Father’s name in their foreheads will not be envious, but rather feel privileged to live and work with these special leaders among men for the rest of eternity, but all praise will forever be given to Head of the church, the Son of God and the Son of man, the Lamb that was slain for the sins of the world!
Scriptural Cautions to Women
Take heed to the Old Testament gospel of Isaiah which records the words of Yahweh Himself: “As for My people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O My people, they which lead thee cause thee to err and destroy the way of thy paths” (Isaiah 3:12).
Before his death, Moses gave special admonitions under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit: Remember Amalek (Deuteronomy 25:17) and “Remember what Yahweh your God did unto Miriam by the way, after that ye were come forth out of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 24:9). Moses’ oldest sister, Miriam, a prophetess, and leader and teacher of the women, must have wanted even more (Exodus 15:20, 21). Ellen White writes: “Aaron had been mouth-piece for Moses, and Miriam was a teacher of the women. But now come whisperings between the brother and the sister in murmurings and jealousies against Moses, and they were guilty of disloyalty, not only to their leader appointed of God but God Himself” (Manuscript Releases 926, p. 31). Yahweh Himself rebuked her with these words to Moses: “If her father had but spit in her face, should she not but be ashamed seven days? Let her be shut out from the camp seven days, and after that let her be received in again” (Numbers 12:14). Her punishment was also a warning to those leaders who later attempted to usurp the God-ordained positions of Moses and the priests (Numbers 16; see Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 1, p. 296).
Remember Jezebel who controlled Ahab, much like some women of today. Remember Athaliah, the usurping queen of Israel, who sought to eliminate all male seed of the royal house. Remember the whorish woman who rides and controls the beast in Revelation 18 in comparison with the pure woman, totally dependent on the Son of God.
God is calling for women today who can teach other women “to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed” (Titus 2:4-6).
In contrast with Miriam’s usurpation, the prophetess Deborah, much like Ellen White, became a messenger in pronouncing judgements for the Lord, encouraging and rallying the male leadership of her day. Like Sister White, Deborah considered herself “a mother in Israel” (Judges 4:6-9; 5:7).
In writing to the “weaker” sex (1 Peter 3:7), White admonishes: “We women must remember that God has placed us subject to the husband. He is the head, and our judgement and views and reasonings must agree with his, if possible. If not, the preference in God’s Word is given to the husband where it is not a matter of conscience. We must yield to the head” (Testimonies on Sexual Behavior, p. 28). James referred to himself as Ellen’s “legal protector” (Ellen G. White Biography, vol. 1, p. 111). In line with Scriptural qualifications for an elder (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9), Ellen called her husband “Elder James White” as did all the Adventists of her day (Christian Experience and Teaching, p. 69). It was unthinkable in light of the Bible’s plain descriptions to apply this term to Ellen or any other woman.
Men Called to the Gospel Ministry
Today Jesus’ call for men in the gospel ministry—for male spiritual leadership in the church—continues unchanged by God. This call for men in the gospel ministry was repeated many times by Ellen White. Writing in harmony with biblical standards (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:6), she never called for women to be gospel ministers. Consider this small selection of her writings:
Let not our young men be deterred from entering the ministry. . . . It is not great and learned men that the ministry needs, it is not eloquent sermonizers. God calls for men who will give themselves to Him to be imbued with His Spirit (Counsels on Health, p. 558).
Too little attention has been given to the education of young men for the ministry. This was the primary object to be secured in the establishment of the college (Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 11).
Young men who design to enter the ministry cannot spend a number of years in obtaining an education (Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 27).
God has been moving upon the hearts of young men to devote themselves to the ministry (Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 85).
Young men who wish to prepare for the ministry are greatly benefited by attending our college; but advantages are still needed that they may be qualified to become acceptable speakers (Testimonies, vol. 4, p. 405).
The usefulness of young men who feel that they are called by God to preach, depends much upon the manner in which they enter upon their labors (Acts of the Apostles, p. 353).
If a minister of the gospel does not control his baser passions, if he fails to follow the example of the apostle and so dishonors his profession and faith as to even name the indulgence of sin, our sisters who profess godliness should not for an instant flatter themselves that sin or crime loses its sinfulness in the least because their minister dares to engage in it (Testimonies, vol. 2, p. 457).
Ministers’ Wives: A Special Role
Note that Ellen White never mentions the husband of a gospel minister, as that would not have been in harmony with Scripture. In numerous places, she speaks instead only of the wives of ministers. A few of these are offered below:
The wife of a minister of the gospel can be either a most successful helper and a great blessing to her husband or a hindrance to him in his work. It depends very much on the wife whether a minister will rise from day to day in his sphere of usefulness, or whether he will sink to the ordinary level (Adventist Home, p. 355).
I saw that the wives of the ministers should help their husbands in their labors and be exact and careful what influence they exert, for they are watched, and more is expected of them than of others. . . . An unsanctified wife is the greatest curse that a minister can have (Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 139).
As the minister and his wife faithfully do their duty in the home, restraining, correcting, advising, counseling, guiding, they are becoming better fitted to labor in the church and are multiplying agencies for the accomplishment of God’s work outside the home (Adventist Home, p. 359).
The minister’s wife, his children, and those who are employed as helpers in his family are best qualified to judge of his piety. A good man will be a blessing to his household. Wife, children, and helpers will all be the better for his religion (Adventist Home, p. 354).
When a man accepts the responsibilities of a minister, he claims to be a mouthpiece for God, to take the words from the mouth of God and give them to the people. How closely, then, he should keep at the side of the Great Shepherd; how humbly he should walk before God, keeping self out of sight and exalting Christ! And how important it is that the character of his wife be after the Bible pattern, and that his children be in subjection with all gravity! (Adventist Home, p. 354)
But if the minister’s wife can herself act a part in the work of educating others, she should consecrate her powers to God as a Christian worker. She should be a true helper to her husband, assisting him in his work, improving her intellect, and helping to give the message (Testimonies, vol. 6, p. 285).
Our ministers and their wives should be an example in plainness of dress (Child Guidance, p. 422).
Keep on the track of souls. . . . If the minister and his wife can jointly engage in this work, they should do so (Evangelism, p. 437).
The wife of a minister can do much if she will (Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 452).
When the wife of the minister accompanies her husband in his mission to save souls, it is a great sin for her to hinder him in his work by manifesting unhappy discontent (Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 450).
If a minister’s wife accompanies her husband in his travels, she should not go for her own special enjoyment, to visit and to be waited upon, but to labor with him. She should have a united interest with him to do good (Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 452).
Many Roles Available for Godly Women
But what about women in the Lord’s work? Ellen White offers some clarity on this issue:
The primary object of our college was to afford young men an opportunity to study for the ministry and to prepare young persons of both sexes to become workers in the various branches of the cause (Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 60).
The following list of gospel work available to women is by no means exhaustive.
HOUSE TO HOUSE LABOR: “Women, as well as men, are needed in the work that must be done. Those women who give themselves to the service of the Lord, who labor for the salvation of others by doing house-to-house work, which is as taxing as, and more taxing than standing before a congregation, should receive payment for their labor” (Daughters of God, p. 112).
MISSIONARY WORK: “We have but few missionaries. From home and abroad are coming many urgent calls for workers. Young men and women, the middle-aged, and in fact all who are able to engage in the Master’s service, should be putting their minds to the stretch in an effort to prepare to meet these calls” (Councils to Teachers, p. 209).
WOMEN’S MINISTRY: “Women can learn what needs to be done to reach other women. There are women who are especially adapted for the work of giving Bible readings, and they are very successful in presenting the word of God in its simplicity to others. They become a great blessing in reaching mothers and their daughters” (Medical Missionary, p. 140).
MEDICAL MISSIONARY WORK: “A special work is to be done there in qualifying young men and young women to be efficient medical missionary workers” (Loma Linda Messages, p. 182).
HOME DUTIES AND RAISING CHILDREN: “Young women think that it is menial to cook and do other kinds of housework; and, for this reason, many girls who marry and have the care of families have little idea of the duties devolving upon a wife and mother” (Adventist Home, p. 88).
VOLUNTEERS IN EVANGELISTIC WORK: “The Lord calls for volunteers who will take their stand firmly on His side . . . . The Lord calls upon those connected with our schools and sanitariums and publishing houses to teach the youth to do evangelistic work” (Councils to Teachers, p. 494).
LITERATURE WORK: “Our periodicals are to be distributed by men and women of all stations and walks in life” (Publishing Ministry, p. 57).
MIDWIVES AND PHYSICIANS: “Our institutions should be especially thorough in giving to women a training that will fit them to act as midwives. There should be in our sanitariums lady physicians who understand well their profession, and who can attend women at the time of childbirth. Light has been given me that women instead of men should take the responsibility in such cases” (Medical Missionary, p. 61).
WORKING WITH FAMILIES: “The Saviour will reflect upon these self-sacrificing women the light of His countenance, and this will give them a power that will exceed that of men. They can do in families a work that men cannot do, a work that reaches the inner life. They can come close to the hearts of those whom men cannot reach. Their work is needed. Discreet and humble women can do a good work in explaining the truth to the people in their homes” (Testimonies, vol. 9, p. 128).
Laboring Together in the Gospel
Ellen White compares and contrasts the work of women with that of men in the gospel ministry, but never equates the two. She fervently seeks for young men to answer the call to be gospel ministers, while enumerating other roles in gospel work suitable to both sexes. The role of ministers’ wives and the work of their husbands in ministry should be collaborative whenever possible. Sister White wrote much about women in the Lord’s work and ministers’ wives who labored as much as their husbands. In order to labor full-time for the Lord, some of these women paid others to care for their home and/or children. She helped to support many of these women financially, and emphatically stated that both men and women who work for God are to be paid as “the laborer is worthy of his hire” (Luke 10:7). As Paul tells us, “Help those women who labored with me in the gospel” (Philippians 4:3).
On the other hand, Ellen White also gave a warning to those who wished to adopt the principles of the first wave of feminism that was so prevalent in her day: “Those who feel called out to join the movement in favor of woman’s rights and the so-called dress reform might as well sever all connection with the third angel’s message. The spirit which attends the one cannot be in harmony with the other. The Scriptures are plain upon the relations and rights of men and women” (Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 421).
Today we see this same spirit of “women’s rights” seeking to control our church, even to the point of rebellion.
In answer to the feminist movement of her day, Ellen White wrote her own declaration of women’s rights, which is by no means exhaustive:
They may talk of woman’s elevated sphere and of her rights, while they themselves sink far below the true sphere of woman. God designed that women should become intelligent in the most essential duties of life. . . . It is the right of every daughter of Eve in our land to be thoroughly educated in household duties, having a knowledge of all the branches of practical life in domestic labor. She may preside in her family as queen in her domain, her household being her kingdom. She should be fully competent to direct her servants. It is woman’s right to be qualified to direct the expanding minds of her children. It is her right to have an understanding of her own and her children’s organisms, that she may know how to treat her children, and save them from the poisons of doctors’ drugs. . . . She may be an intelligent nurse and physician of her own dear children, instead of leaving their precious lives in the hands of stranger physicians, to be drugged to death. It is woman’s right to know how to regulate her own habits, and those of her children, in diet and dress, in exercise and in domestic duties, and employment in the open air in relation to life and health. . . . It is woman’s right to look after the interest of her husband, to have a care for his wardrobe, and to seek to make him happy. It is her right to improve her mind and manners, to be social, cheerful, and happy, shedding sunshine in her family, and making it a little heaven. And she may have an interest for more than ‘me and mine.’ She should consider that society has claims upon her (Health Reformer, June 1, 1873).
Modern culture is clamoring to turn the foundations of the Bible upside down. Nevertheless, both the Old and New Testament Scriptures speak to the headship of men, in the home, in the church, and in the New Jerusalem. May we not blaspheme the word of God by assuming undifferentiated and unbiblical gender roles, but rather let us seek to fashion our homes and churches after the divine heavenly model.
For Further Study
After joining the Adventist Church, Dr. C. Raymond Holmes watched from the sidelines as difficulties came into his former Lutheran Church over women’s ordination. His excellent book, The Tip of the Iceberg: Biblical Authority, Interpretation, and the Ordination of Women in Ministry, provides clear answers from the Bible, church history, the writings of Ellen White, and current events. “No statement by Ellen G. White has been found supporting the ordination of women to the headship role in congregational leadership or ecclesiastical authority” (p. 79).
Prove All Things, edited by Mercedes H. Dyer, provides thoughtful, Scriptural answers in 22 chapters written by professors and alumni of Andrews University. These authors conclusively demonstrate the biblical model of gender roles in the home and church as well as the fallacies found in the claims of those who promoted women’s ordination to the gospel ministry with the book Women in Ministry.
“He being dead, yet speaketh” (Hebrews 11:4). Read Gerhard Hasel’s article, “Hermeneutical Issues Relating to the Ordination of Women: Methodological Reflections on Key Passages.” Hasel points out, “Paul Jewett, one of the best-known promoters of women’s ordination, notes the impossibility of proving the ordination of women exegetically from the NT” (p. 21). For a link to this article and other resources, see: womenministrytruth.com/free-resources/other-insightful-works.aspx
BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE: Diane Kobor is a self-employed editor and pastor’s wife who currently serves in the Michigan Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. She loves biblical Hebrew and received a Master’s degree in Religion from the Seminary at Andrews University in 1996. Diane also has a BA degree in Elementary Education and a BS degree in Medical Technology.