by Many Hands
It can help to step back and do a fly-over of a whole problem; it can give renewed perspective. This we shall attempt. But let us remind ourselves at the first: those who are in Christ will see no inferiority in one another. God designed human roles and relationships so that they would be complementary and cooperative—not competitive. Our unity in Christ will echo the self-sacrifice of the Creator.
We are not arbitrary products, nor are maleness and femaleness random phenomenon. Men and women are not interchangeable. In the beginning God made neither inferior in value to the other. He designed for different roles. Equality does not mean identical roles (Genesis 1:26, 27; 2:18-25). After all, in the realm of tools, which is superior? A slotted (flathead) screwdriver, or a Phillips? It depends on the kind of fastener one is tightening or loosening. There are a myriad of needs, and the divine image is best expressed in not one but two genders with their Divinely-architected particularities.
God’s divine arrangement, followed with humble and unselfish hearts, provides for the happiness of His sons and His daughters. In what follows, gender roles are considered in home and church.
Why are these important issues? First, the selection of divinely-called “elders” or “bishops” or “overseers” (the terms are biblically interchangeable) for the church is necessary in order that God’s people successfully fulfill their ministry and mission. Unity is as indispensable to church organization today as in the the time of Israel or the Early Church.
The problems we now face as a church exist because in decades past this question was not addressed Scripturally. Policy was formed piecemeal; there was an attempt to appease all sides. The result was confusion and contradiction in practice.
How we resolve this controversy today will either strengthen us as a people of the Bible or serve as an open door for ideas with vast destructive effects. Many things “knock,” seeking legitimacy. There are doors which God has opened which no person should shut, which He has closed which no person should open. We have to learn the difference.
Other Christian communities have embarked on the road to Women’s Ordination long before us. Women’s Ordination is not a question still being sorted-out in a laboratory test tube somewhere; we can see where it leads in real-world outcomes. We can avoid similar outcomes by looking with renewed attention to the testimony of Scripture.
Ordered headship and creation order
The New Testament role of elder is rooted in Creation. In 1 Timothy 2:13, 14; 3:1-7, Paul declares this to be “a faithful saying”—permitting only males to be elders or bishops in the church. How is this justified? By the gender role distinction created by God before the Fall and reaffirmed after.
At creation, God made the head of His family male. And yet, some have objected. They say that this male headship or leadership was instituted only after the Fall. But what of child-bearing, cultivation, and male leadership? None of these came into being after the Fall. What then did the Fall do? It did not change God’s original divine plan for childbearing or cultivation or male headship, but it did bring pain and suffering to what God had made for the happiness of His children. We need to be careful about what the Fall did and did not bring.
Before the Fall Adam was first in order of the creation of man (Genesis 2:7, 8; 1 Timothy 2:14). Eve was created from Adam to be a “helper comparable to him”—not the other way around (Genesis 2:18). Adam was to fill a special position of responsibility and duty between God and Eve. This was true both before and after the Fall (Genesis 2:16, 17; 3:9).
Adam named the animals and after the Fall he gave his wife a new name (Genesis 2:23; 3:20). The wife is presented as dependent on man; not the other way around. “The man and his wife. . . were not ashamed” (Genesis 2:25). The male is also held responsible for the Fall (Genesis 3:9, 11).
Gender roles, selfish abuse, slavery and polygamy
Adam and Eve were not in conflict before the Fall. Their roles were different yet they experienced contentment, happiness, unity. This was no caste system. God created role distinctions for the happiness for both His daughters and sons. They were given to enhance cooperation and joy; not to diminish it.
It is abuse of these role distinctions, often embedded in human culture that has brought confusion and suffering. Some males have turned servant leadership in their homes into selfish “power-over” leadership. Some females have turned their equal value into demands for identical roles to men. Neither of these human reshapings reflects God’s ideal.
Some insist that role distinctions are sinful conditions like polygamy or slavery. While God allowed polygamy and slavery within the selfish cultures of man they were not instituted at Creation. He did institute laws putting limits on these selfish pursuits. We can see that there is a movement in Scripture leading toward the removal of those social evils. But this cannot be said about role distinctions instituted at Creation anymore that it can be about marriage or Sabbath. All that God created was good! He cannot be charged with creating evil when He created role differences.
The Priesthood of all Believers
Does the declaration in 1 Peter 2 that the Christian Church is a priesthood of all believers cancel the headship principle in church and family? When Paul declares in Galatians 3:28 that we are all one in Christ and there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male or female, is he contradicting what he said in 1 Timothy 2 and 3?
The Roman world was full of slaves conquered in war. Polygamy was rampant. Women were often viewed as property, or, at best, second class. Jews and Greeks valued education and each group thought its own ethnicity superior to the other (1 Corinthians 1:22-25). Sinful selfishness built these barriers. Paul declares that in Christ barriers that sin has built are to be broken down (Ephesians 2:13-16).
Peter begins the chapter asking believers to lay aside all malice. He then paints the picture of the Church as a royal priesthood of all believers in Christ. He closes by calling that priesthood to “proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” Both genders are included in giving that proclamation because all are priests.
A closer look at the ‘priesthood of all believers’ shows us that it came from the Old Testament. God Himself declared His plan for Israel. His people were be a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6). That kingdom, like the New Testament, included both sexes. Even though this “kingdom of priests” included both, there were still to be role distinctions. God made men the spiritual leaders/sanctuary priests, of the “kingdom of priests.” He set the order for the spiritual leadership of this “holy nation” to be male, just as at Creation.
Since He saved the firstborn of Israel during the Exodus He claimed them as His own. Later, He exchanged the firstborn males for the males of the tribe of Levi. From the males of Levi He set up a male priesthood from Aaron for spiritual leadership.
Was Aaron’s genetic line better than his sister Miriam’s? Miriam was a bright, gifted and Spirit-filled leader and honored by God as such. Many women were shepherds and doubtless could have handled the animal sacrifices. Why didn’t God ask that they draw lots, putting both men and women into the priesthood? If identical roles were intended for the Priesthood of Believers, why didn’t God start it that way when by mighty miracles He set up the nation? This doesn’t seem to make sense unless He was following an original plan He had instituted at Eden.
Hatred between Greeks and Jews, dominance over slaves or treating women as sub-equals are sinful barriers. These must come down in Christ. But role distinctions, instituted at Creation, and lived-out according to the divine plan, are enduring gifts for our happiness.
Twelve Apostles, Pentecost and establishment of the Church
Jesus had many followers including women who played major roles in His ministry. And yet, Jesus did not choose any women for the office of apostle. We also cannot help but notice that the 120 Spirit-filled men and women in the upper room failed to consider replacing Judas with a woman. Surely, in all that group there were talented, gifted, spirit-filled women.
While some think that these things can be written-off as the result merely of Jewish culture, none can escape the reality that it was Jesus who created the role distinctions within that culture. There is no question that male and female selfishness has injected pain and inequity. Nevertheless, from Creation, to Israel, to the setting up of His Church, Christ has been consistent in sustaining gender role distinctions.
Were these Spirit-filled women, who did not fill these apostolic roles, less valuable in the sight of Jesus than the Apostles? Were they inhibited from using the gifts of the Spirit because they did not fill an apostolic role? Of course not! But the gifts of the Spirit do not undo the divine arrangement of role distinctions.
Some have said that if we accept this model then all elders have to be Jewish men. Jesus did use Jewish men but then told them to “go into all the world” and make disciples. Gentile churches were led by ordained gentile elders. Paul told the gentile churches to imitate the churches in Judea. The model of early church male leadership is based on Genesis, long before a Jew existed. The headship principle is no more Jewish than marriage. Both were given to the human race at creation.
Does the Apostle Paul prohibit women from teaching or exercising the gifts of the Spirit? Paul was surrounded by men and women who helped him carry out his far-flung gospel work of raising up churches and organizing them for ministry. For example, Timothy and Titus, elders themselves, were sent forth to appoint elders to oversee the churches. And yet, there is no record of women being sent out to do this work. Were the women less valuable? In light of Galatians 3:28, we doubt Paul would say so. They simply functioned in different roles.
Paul was a profound student of Scripture. For him, the Church was the new Israel. It was the new royal priesthood with a new Temple—the Heavenly Sanctuary. It had a new High Priest—Christ Jesus. So, when it came to setting up elders and overseers of the Christian Church, Paul followed what was established at Creation and the institution of Israel and its earthly Sanctuary.
In 1 Timothy 2:12, the Apostle Paul is not ambiguous but clear. “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.” “I do not permit” is not being harsh. Just clear.
Does that mean that a woman cannot teach or minister in the church? After all, Scripture shows that the New Testament church saw both women prophets and teachers. Again, the Early Church practice, context and words are important. The context has to do with the headship office of elder.
The Greek word ‘silence’ is different from the ‘silence’ in 1 Corinthians 14:34. There, Paul was correcting worship irregularities. His meaning was, “quit talking.” But in 1 Timothy 2:12 he speaks of quietness or an attitude of quietness when it comes to respecting the teaching office of the elder.
Nearly all of the gifts of the Spirit had some element of teaching. Even the deacons were teachers and preachers. Paul, by using this word, does not prohibit either gender from fulfilling other leadership offices or exercising spiritual gifts within the church as long as they do so within divine order. Divine order is important both in 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2.
Why does Paul prohibit women from being “bishops”? He leaves no misunderstanding. In 1 Timothy 2:13, 14 he appeals to the Genesis creation—not to the pagan culture of his day. The man was created first. His role distinction was to be the servant leader. Paul applies that headship principle to these new churches, just as Jesus did when He set up Israel and the twelve Apostles.
There are some who say the Greek allows verse twelve to be translated, “I do not permit a wife to teach or to have authority over a husband. . .” Only a very few obscure versions translate thus. The reason is obvious. The context is concerned with the office of elder–not the husband-wife relationship. The translation “authority over a husband” does not fit the context. In the context, such a translation would be saying that the elder’s wife could not have authority over him. Does that mean that it is acceptable for the other women in the congregation to have authority over him?
But let’s suppose for the sake of discussion that this translation permits a woman to be placed in the position of elder. This translation would still say she could not have authority over her husband. But she would be in charge of a congregation? Such a reading is nonsensical—no doubt this is why most translators reject it.
The context is clear. First Timothy 2:13, 14 flows into and is connected to 1 Timothy 3:15. It is about the selection of the office of the elder in the church.
Nor can this passage be simply addressing a local problem with the pagan goddess of Ephesus. For later, Paul gives the same basic instruction to Titus when he sends him to appoint elders over the churches in Crete (Titus 1:5-9).
Culture, relevance and the authority of Scripture
The Church can only maintain its relevance if it is faithful to Scripture. It does not ignore the culture but rather seeks to engage it and offer something better. Biblical principles should always trump our sinful cultures. The church has never converted the world by embracing its culture. Instead, the sands of time are littered with the spiritual wrecks of those churches that thought they could convert the world by embracing its culture. There are no success stories here.
Gender wars are characteristic of our times. In Christ we should reject both thinking that women are inferior or that men are inferior. Christians must reject the concept, so prevalent in our western cultures, that position denotes value. Remember: we are all of equal value in Christ. Ministry is not about careers, but selfless service. The church is not a place for politics but for the family of Christ to minister the gospel to a fallen world.
The church is not corporate America. A mother raising her children is just as important to the mission of the church as the male elder. Both must carry out their leadership roles with humility and faithfulness if they would please Christ. Both are to be treated with equal respect and appreciation. Both are leaders—but in different roles. Of course, the world doesn’t recognize this, so it is not surprising that even in the church we struggle with these biblical concepts.
Conclusion—Spiritual gifts and Divine order
Human sexuality was not designed by God to divide us. Gender distinctions are to be celebrated by both men and women. The gifts of the Spirit, given to both sexes, are to function within God’s created distinctions. When the Spirit of God gave gifts in the early church, He was not at war with His own divine order; He intended role distinctions. Neither does the New Testament contradict itself. Paul does not plainly tell us who qualifies for the office of an elder only to expect us to draw an opposite conclusion from his instructions on spiritual gifts!
Subordination to unselfish servant leadership is not a negative word for either men or women. It should be our delight to serve the Lord and each other. A mother, who selflessly leads and serves her children, also asks them for subordination. So Christ Jesus, the greatest of all servant leaders, asks for subordination from His children. For order and peace in the church, Jesus calls for both sexes to be subordinate to the male elder’s leadership (Hebrews 13:17). That is never a blind subordination. Servant leadership, while under Christ, is also teachable and consults and inquires from the body it serves (1 Peter 5:1-4).
Even though this one office of elder is reserved by Scripture for a man, there are many offices and ministries that can and must be carried out by both sexes. Loving servant leadership will not prevent but encourage and provide for the exercise of spiritual gifts and talents by all members, both male and female. Wisdom will urge us to consider carefully the divine arrangement for order in the church. The temptation to fill a legitimate need in an illegitimate way, or to exercise a legitimate gift in a wrong way, is a powerful temptation for all of us—especially if culture is the medium.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church, with its Bible-centered basis of authority and high view of Scripture, and the benefit of being late to the table in the push for Women’s Ordination, has many advantages. We can also see the results in other Christian families. Those results have not been at all kind in those places. How strange it would be if, with our eyes wide open, we were to proceed in this direction. We would truly be without excuse. How much wiser to follow in the pathway marked out in God’s creation order, and avoid the trap door that is Women’s Ordination.