Does the Bible Support Women's Ordination? Part 2

Crucial Issues for Women's Ordination

What are the crucial issues in the decision the church faces regarding ordaining women as elders or pastors? This section will outline seven major issues emerging from the central question. In each case it will first distinguish the real issue from the false issues that often cloud our perceptions and keep us from dealing with the core of the matter. It will then set forth the questions lying at the heart of the issue. 16

1. Ordination   

What the Issue Is Not: Performing Biblically Legitimate Tasks. The issue of whether to ordain women as elders and pastors should not be confused with whether or not they are permitted to perform legitimate tasks in church. Several Greek words in the New Testament are translated "ordain" (KJV); they convey such meanings as to "choose," "appoint," or "set apart." 17 Based on these Greek words in the New Testament, we understand ordination to be the act of the church in choosing, appointing, and setting apart through the laying on of hands certain individuals to perform specific functions on behalf of the church. 

By ordination, elders and ministers are authoritatively commissioned to declare the Gospel of salvation. 18 Through ordination, setting one apart by the laying on of hands, the church authorizes elders or pastors to counteract false teaching and teachers (1 Timothy 1:3; 4:1; Titus 1:9, 10) and to safeguard the sound doctrine that has been entrusted to the church's keeping.19 As official representatives of the church, ordained elders organize churches, serving as spiritual leaders to ensure the spiritual well-being of the church (cf. Acts 6). 20

Ellen G. White also captured the Biblical meaning and importance of ordination: "The Biblical background of the rite indicates that it was an acknowledged form of designation to an appointed office and a recognition of one's authority in that office" ( The Acts of the Apostles , p. 162). 

Concerning Paul and Barnabas, Ellen White wrote: "Before being sent forth as missionaries to the heathen world, these apostles [Barnabas and Paul] were solemnly dedicated to God by fasting and prayer and the laying on of hands. Thus they were authorized by the church, not only to teach the truth, but to perform the rite of baptism and to organize churches, being invested with full ecclesiastical authority." "God foresaw the difficulties that His servants would be called to meet, and, in order that their work should be above challenge, He instructed the church by revelation to set them apart publicly to the work of the ministry. Their ordination was a public recognition of their divine appointment to bear to the Gentiles the glad tidings of the Gospel" The Acts of the Apostles , p. 161, emphasis added). 

God foresaw the difficulties that His servants would be called to meet, and, in order that their work should be above challenge, He instructed the church by revelation to set them apart publicly to the work of the ministry. Their ordination was a public recognition of their divine appointment to bear to the Gentiles the glad tidings of the Gospel (ibid., p. 161, emphasis added). 

The understanding that ordination, setting one apart by the laying on of hands, is the church's recognition and authoritative commissioning of individuals to perform certain functions for the church suggests that, within the guidelines set by Scripture, both men and women may be set apart by the laying on of hands to perform certain functions. 

Women who are willing to consecrate some of their time to the service of the Lord should be appointed to visit the sick, look after the young, and minister to the necessities of the poor. They should be set apart to this work by prayer and laying on of hands. In some cases they will need to counsel with the church officers or the minister; but if they are devoted women, maintaining a vital connection with God, they will be a power for good in the church. (Ellen G. White, The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, July 9, 1895, p. 434.) 

Though this statement has often been taken out of context and misused to claim Ellen White's support for ordaining women as elders or pastors of the church, 21 it does illustrate the legitimacy of the church to recognize and commission chosen individuals through an act of consecration/dedication ("laying on of hands") to perform designated functions. Within the guidelines of Scripture, the church may do this for both men and women. 

What the Issue Is. Since both male and female, through an act of dedication (the laying on of hands), can be commissioned to perform certain specific functions , the debate over women's ordination is not whether women can or cannot be ordained in this sense. The Bible, confirmed by the Spirit of Prophecy, suggests that both men and women may be commissioned to do certain assigned tasks on behalf of the church. 

The key issue to be addressed is whether, among the varied ministries of the church, women may legitimately be commissioned through ordination to perform the leadership functions of elders or pastors. These include the authoritative teaching functions of the elder or pastor, organizing churches, baptizing believers, and spiritually overseeing the flock. 

In short, the issue in the Adventist debate over women's ordination is not about ordination per se, but ordination to what function . Specifically, can the church commission (ordain) a person (e.g., a woman) to the headship/leadership office of husband or father (in the home) or elder or pastor (in the church)? The issue is not about women in ministry, but rather women in what kind of soulwinning ministry. The issue is not whether women can perform the headship responsibilities of husbands or elders/pastors, but rather whether the Bible permits them to do so. 

2. Equality of Women and Men   

What the Issue Is Not: Equality of Being, Worth, or Status. The question of whether or not to ordain women as elders and pastors should not be confused with whether women and men are equal. Equality of being and worth (ontological equality) is a clear Biblical teaching, affirming that all human beings—male and female—have equal standing before God as created beings, as sinners in need of salvation through Christ, and as people called to the same destiny. The Scriptural evidence for this equality is that (1) both "male and female" were created "in the image of God" (Genesis 1:27; Matthew 19:4; Mark 10:6); (2) both have been redeemed by Jesus Christ, so that "in Christ" there is neither "male nor female" (Galatians 3:28); and (3) both are "joint heirs of the grace of life" (1 Peter 3:7, RSV). 

Nowhere does the Bible relegate women to second-class status or make men superior and women inferior. To say otherwise is to misrepresent Biblical teaching and affront the loving character of the God Who created Eve to be Adam's "help meet for him," a partner "fitting" or "suitable" to him. Ellen White was unequivocal: "When God created Eve, He designed that she should possess neither inferiority nor superiority to the man, but that in all things she should be his equal" ( Testimonies for the Church , vol. 3, p. 484). Within this equality, just as gender differences between men and women indicate that they were created to complement one another, so also this complementary nature indicates a functional distinction between them. 

The issue of women's ordination is, therefore, not a question of whether women and men are equal. The Bible, confirmed by the Spirit of Prophecy, has already settled that issue. Women and men are equal; neither is inferior to the other. 

What the Issue Is. The real issue in the debate is whether the equality of male and female does away with functional differences . While maintaining equality of being, has the Bible assigned a headship/leadership role to the man and a supportive role to the woman? If so, were these complementary roles established before or after the Fall? Are these roles applicable only to the home, or are they also valid in the church? What Bible principles govern the male-female relationship? 

3. Women in Ministry   

What the Issue Is Not: God's Call for Women in Ministry. The issue of whether or not to ordain women as elders and pastors should not be confused with whether women can be in ministry. The Bible clearly teaches that women have been called to the work of ministry as surely as have men. 

In the Old Testament, women participated in the study and teaching of the law (Nehemiah 8:2; Proverbs 1:8; Deuteronomy 13:6-11), in offering prayers and vows to God (1 Samuel 1:10; Numbers 30:9; Genesis 25:22; 30:6, 22; 2 Kings 4:9, 10, 20-37), in ministering "at the entrance to the tent of meeting" (1 Samuel 2:22), in singing at the worship of the Temple service (Ezra 2:65), and in engaging in the prophetic ministry of exhortation and guidance (Exodus 15:20; 2 Kings 22:14-20; 2 Chronicles 34:22-28; Judges 4:4-14). Of this latter group, especially prominent are Deborah, "a prophetess . . . [who] was judging [NIV, "leading"] Israel at that time" (Judges 4:4), and Huldah, the prophetess to whom Josiah the king and Hilkiah the high priest looked for spiritual guidance (2 Kings 22). 22

The New Testament portrays women fulfilling vital roles in ministry. Besides Mary and Martha, a number of other women, including Joanna and Susanna, supported Jesus with their own means (Luke 8:2, 3). Tabitha ministered to the needy (Acts 9:36). Other women, including Lydia , Phoebe, Lois, and Eunice, distinguished themselves in fulfilling the mission of the church (Acts 16:14, 15; 21:8, 9; Romans 16:1-4, 12). 

Of these, many were Paul's co-workers in ministry. Priscilla apparently was well educated and an apt instructor in the new faith (Romans 16:3; Acts 18:26); Paul calls Phoebe "a servant of the church" and a "succorer of many, and of myself also" (Romans 16:1, 2); 23 Mary, Tryphena, Tryposa, and Persis all "worked very hard in the Lord" (Romans 16:6, 12); Euodia and Syntyche were women "who have contended at my side in the cause of the Gospel" (Philippians 4:3, RSV); and Junia, who suffered imprisonment with Paul, received commendation as someone "of note among the apostles" (Romans 16:7). 24

Ellen White strongly encouraged women in ministry. "There are women who should labor in the Gospel ministry. In many respects they would do more good than the ministers who neglect to visit the flock of God" ( Evangelism , p. 472). "The Lord has a work for women as well as for men. . . . The Saviour will reflect upon these self-sacrificing women the light of His countenance, and will give them a power that exceeds 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 labor is needed" (ibid., pp. 464, 465, emphasis added). Seventh-day Adventist history and current practice illustrate the Biblical truth that indeed women have a role in ministry. 

The issue of women's ordination is, therefore, not a question of whether women can labor in the ministry. The Bible, confirmed by the Spirit of Prophecy, has already settled that issue: Women may labor in the Gospel ministry. 

What the Issue Is. The real issue in the debate is whether Scripture permits women in ministry to perform the oversight/leadership roles that ordained elders and pastors are called upon to exercise . Does the Bible teach that women in ministry may be ordained as elders and pastors? 

4. Women as Elders But Not Pastors?   

What the Issue Is Not: Difference of Office. The issue of women's ordination to the Gospel ministry should not be confused with whether women may function as ordained elders but not as pastors. It is clear from the Bible that (1) those who are permitted to perform the oversight/leadership functions of the ministerial office are elders or pastors; and that (2) the New Testament makes no essential distinction between the two offices. 

The Greek terms for elder/presbyter ( presbuteros ) and overseer/bishop 

episkopos ) are used interchangeably in the New Testament (Acts 20:17, 28; Titus 1:5-7; 1 Peter 5:1-3). The same qualifications are required of both of these offices (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9). Both perform the same work of shepherding the flock (Acts 20:17, 28; 1 Peter 5:1-4; 1 Thessalonians 5:12). 

Thus we may conclude with Lyman Coleman that "if presbyters [elders] and bishops [overseers] are known by the same names—if they are required to possess the same qualifications, and if they do actually discharge the same duties, then what higher evidence can we expect or desire of their equality and identity? 25 Even though today we divide some of the responsibilities between elders and pastors (overseers), they are essentially the same office. 26

What the Issue Is. Since the Bible makes no distinction between the offices of elder and pastor, it is Scripturally inconsistent to ordain women as elders but not as pastors. Ordaining women as elders and pastors is either Biblical or un-Biblical. The key issue, therefore, is whether the Bible anywhere permits women to exercise the leadership or headship roles of elders and pastors 

5. The Holy Spirit's Leading   

What the Issue Is Not: Spiritual Gifts. The question of women's ordination should not be confused with whether the Holy Spirit can call and empower women with gifts for ministry. The Old Testament predicted an outpouring of the Spirit on both "your sons and your daughters" (Joel 2:28). The New Testament teaches that the Holy Spirit calls and empowers both men and women with various spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12; Romans 12:3-8; Ephesians 4:7-13). While God Himself directly chose and commissioned prophets, He has instructed that the commissioning or ordination of elders and pastors is to be carried out by the church (Romans 10:14, 15; Titus 1:5; Acts 14:23). 27

Spiritual gifts are given by the Holy Spirit, but they are also regulated by the Holy Scriptures. 28 The same Holy Spirit Who calls and empowers men and women with gifts for ministry also apportions gifts to each "as He wills" (1 Corinthians 12:11; Hebrews 2:4). This same Holy Spirit inspired the apostle Paul to give instructions regarding the qualifications for elders and pastors. In addition to the two criteria emphasized in 2 Timothy 2:2— faithfulness and ability to teach—the inspired Word also teaches that those aspiring to the leadership role of elder or pastor must possess the qualities listed in 1 Timothy 3:1-6 and Titus 1:5-9. One of these is that the elder or pastor should be "the husband of one wife" (1 Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:6). 

The Greek word translated "husband" is aner andros, a specific word always used for a human male as distinguished from a female. 29 If we believe that the apostle Paul was inspired when he twice wrote that an elder or pastor should be a male (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:6), this particular qualification for the office raises some crucial questions. 

What the Issue Is. When the apostle Paul restricted the office of elder or pastor to males, was he influenced by his culture, or was he guided by the Spirit? Assuming the latter, one may ask, "Since it was the Spirit of God That inspired the Bible, [and since] it is impossible that the teaching of the Spirit should ever be contrary to that of the Word" ( The Great Controversy , p. vii), can the Spirit call a woman to the leadership role of elder or pastor when He has apparently instructed through His written Word that this office can only be filled by males? 

In other words, can the Holy Spirit contradict Himself by calling a female to an office from which she is excluded by the same Spirit's instruction in the written Word? Furthermore, can the church legitimately commission women to perform tasks that the Holy Spirit does not authorize? Should the church remain within the bounds set by the Holy Spirit in the written Word, or should the church, according to its own wisdom and discretion, legislate for itself policies that contradict Scripture? 

6. Women's "Silence" and "Teaching"   

What the Issue Is Not: Muzzling Women. The issue of whether to ordain women as elders and pastors should not be confused with whether or not they are permitted to speak in church. When the Bible urges women to "keep silence" in church (1 Corinthians 14:34), it does not mean that women cannot pray, prophesy, preach, evangelize, or teach in the church. 

In the same letter to the Corinthians in which Paul told women to keep silence in the church, he indicated that women may pray and prophesy, provided they are dressed appropriately (1 Corinthians 11:2-16). And he said that the one who prophesies speaks "edification, and exhortation, and comfort" (14:3). Also, just like the command in the same chapter that those who speak in tongues should "keep silence in the church" if no interpreter is present (1 Corinthians 14:28), the instruction that women should "keep silence in the churches" suggests that Paul wants women to exercise their gift to speak within certain appropriate guidelines. 

Further, the same Paul who urged women "to learn in silence" (1 Timothy 2:11) and who did not permit women to "teach or to have authority over men" (1 Timothy 2:12, RSV) apparently approved the "teaching" ministry of Priscilla and Aquila in their instruction of Apollos (Acts 18:26). Paul also required women to do a certain kind of teaching: "Bid the older women . . . to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children" (Titus 2:3-5, RSV). 

These texts should alert the Bible student that the prohibition of women "to teach or to have authority over men" does not forbid to women every form of teaching. Unlike other terms used in the New Testament to communicate the idea of teaching, the Greek word didasko used in this passage carries the force of authoritative teaching entrusted to a person—particularly someone in the leadership role in the church (cf. 1 Timothy 3:2; 4:11; 6:2; 2 Timothy 2:2). 30

In light of the wider context of Paul's pastoral epistles to Timothy and Titus, as well as the immediate context that links this form of teaching with exercising "authority over men," we may conclude that Paul is here prohibiting women from the kind of teaching done in the capacity of a leader of the church. 31 In other words, the apostle Paul is not forbidding all teaching to women, but only the kind of "teaching" in the church that gives women a position of authority over men. 

What the Issue Is. Since the Bible indicates that women in ministry may engage in some forms of teaching, including teaching other women (Titus 2:3-5) and even men (Acts 18:26; cf. Colossians 3:16), the real issue is not whether women may speak or teach (e.g., preaching, public evangelism, teaching Sabbath School , etc.). The issue is, May women legitimately carry out the kind of teaching in the church that places them in a position of authority over men — as is the case with the authoritative teaching entrusted to the elder/pastor (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:9, 10)? 

7. Qualification or Capability of Women   

What the Issue Is Not: Ability, Education, or Skill. The question of whether to ordain women as elders and pastors should not be confused with whether women are professionally capable or qualified to teach or hold leadership/headship positions. The apostle Paul did not cite a lack of education, formal training, or teaching skills as the reason why women should not "teach or have authority over men" (1 Timothy 2:12, RSV). The very fact that he prohibited women from a certain kind of teaching implies that some women already possessed the ability to teach. 

For example, Paul instructed older women to "teach what is good. Then they can train the younger women" (Titus 2:3, 4, NIV). He also commended the teaching that Eunice and Lois provided for Timothy (2 Timothy 1:5; 3:14, 15). Evidently Priscilla was well educated and a capable teacher, since she "expounded to" Apollos, an "eloquent man" who was already "instructed in the way of the Lord" (Acts 18:24-26). 

Significantly, Paul's epistle to Timothy (the very epistle that prohibits women to "teach or to have authority over men," and that restricts the pastoral role of overseer to men), was addressed to the church at Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3), the home church of Priscilla and Aquila . Prior to writing this epistle, Paul had already stayed at the home of Priscilla and Aquila in Corinth for eighteen months (Acts 18:2, 3, 11). They later accompanied Paul to Ephesus (Acts 18:18-21). When Paul stayed in Ephesus for another three years, "teaching the whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:27, 31; cf. 1 Corinthians 16:19), likely Priscilla was among those who received instruction from him. 

The Bible also mentions the upscale businesswoman Lydia (Acts 16:14, 15, 40), evidently someone whose abilities in commerce and administration by selling costly goods put her in touch with nobility and royalty. Yet not even well-educated Priscilla, nor successful, professional Lydia , nor any other accomplished woman, was permitted to "teach or to have authority over men." 

The reason why women were forbidden to "teach or to have authority over men" was not because of inadequate education or a lack of ability to teach. Paul instead pointed to the Creation order, stating that "Adam was formed first, then Eve" (1 Timothy 2:13). Adam carried the special right and responsibility of leadership that belonged to the "firstborn" in a family (cf. Colossians 1:15-18). 32

What the Issue Is. The issue of women's ordination is not whether qualified, capable women can teach or be leaders, but whether women in the church are willing to exercise their teaching and leadership gifts within the Biblical structure, under the headship of men called upon to exercise the official teaching authority of elder or pastor . Ultimately, the issue boils down to whether Christians will accept Paul's instruction and its theological foundation (the Creation order) as worthy of trust. 

8. Biblical Headship   

What the Issue Is Not: Male Supremacy/Power. The Biblical headship role of the male elder or pastor should not be confused with "patriarchalism" or male supremacy, control, or domination. Neither should the submissive role of women be viewed as male imposition of "power over" women or as a "put-down" of women. 

The Bible teaches that within the partnership of male and female equality, male headship charges the man to exercise a Christlike spiritual leadership in both the home and church families, while female submission calls upon the woman to lovingly support/assist the man in his leadership function. 

The Bible describes the nature of male headship not as domination, control, or the wielding of "power," but rather as leadership in self-giving love (Ephesians 5:25); leadership in sacrificial service (1 Peter 3:7; cf. Mark 10:42-44); leadership in sound management or governorship (1 Timothy 3:4, 5); leadership in ensuring the well-being of the home; leadership that provides for the family (1 Timothy 5:8); and leadership in discipline and instruction (Deuteronomy 6:7; Ephesians 6:4) —that is, leadership as "lawmaker and priest" ( The Adventist Home, p. 212). 33This kind of male headship, which is best exemplified by Christ (Ephesians 5), can only be demonstrated by those who are "in the Lord" (1 Corinthians 11:11). 

The supporting role of the female does not mean that the woman must yield her individuality or conscience to the man, or that she is to maintain a blind devotion to him. The woman is to understand that "there is One Who stands higher than the husband to the wife; it is her Redeemer, and her submission to her husband is to be rendered as God directed—‘as it is fit in the Lord'" ( The Adventist Home , p. 116). 

The woman practices true Biblical submission by showing a loving respect (Ephesians 5:33; cf. Titus 2:4) and by lovingly accepting her divinely ordained role as a helper corresponding to the husband (Genesis 2:18; Ephesians 5:21-33; Colossians 3:18; 1 Peter 3:1-7). This role is not servile but is one requiring intelligent, willing cooperation toward the objective of a strong family—home or church—that glorifies God. Of this submission, Jesus provides a model for women, just as He does for men (Philippians 2:5-11; Ephesians 5:23-25; 1 Corinthians 11:3). Only the converted, that is, those who are "in the Lord," can truly reflect this spirit of submission (1 Corinthians 11:11). 

What the Issue Is. Since Biblical headship is the loving exercise of male leadership within the partnership of male and female equality in the family (home and church), the real issue in the women's ordination debate is whether or not the Bible permits women to perform the Biblical headship functions of the ordained elder or pastor. In other words, does the "neither male nor female" principle (Galatians 3:28) of equality before God nullify the headship principle, which affirms role distinctions between the sexes? 

Conclusion. For each of the questions raised about the key issues in the ordination of women, we must seek the answers by searching the Scriptures The next section will show that God has assigned different roles for both men and women, and that Scripture raises major obstacles to ordaining women as elders or pastors. 

Role Differentiation Between Men and Women 

Proponents of women's ordination fail to realize the importance that the Bible attaches to the headship principle as a necessary condition for spiritual oversight functions in both the home and the church. Consequently, today they are pushing for "women elders" and "women pastors," "women clergy," and "women in spiritual leadership." 

And yet in the Bible, headship is a representative and spiritual leadership role that was assigned to males only. Thus, in the Old Testament headship was first assigned to firstborn males in the home. The home was the earliest church, and spiritual leadership for the home church was assigned to firstborn males. Later, as God constituted the nation Israel as His "church in the wilderness" (Acts 7:38), this headship role was given to males of the tribe of Levi who alone could serve as priests. During the New Testament times, the spiritual leadership role was given to apostles and elders of the church. 34

The headship principle, which originated at Creation, assigns different roles to men and women. This principle is the Biblically consistent explanation for the absence of Biblical precedent for ordaining women, not only as priests in the Old Testament but also as apostles and elders/pastors in the New Testament. The headship principle, not an accommodation to culture, is also the basis for the specific prohibitions against women having "authority over men" (1 Timothy 2:11-15; 3:2; Titus 1:6; 1 Corinthians 14:34, 35). 

Instituted at Creation. The Bible teaches that the male headship/leadership role and the female supporting/cooperative role were instituted at Creation. As part of God's arrangement before the Fall of Adam and Eve, this Creation ordinance describes the relationship for which men and women were fitted by nature. Male headship/leadership, in contrast to male domination, suggests that in the relationship of the man and woman, two spiritually equal human beings, it is the man who exercises primary responsibility for leading the family in a God-glorifying direction (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:3; Ephesians 5:21-33). This divine arrangement resulted in complete harmony between our first parents before the entrance of sin. 

Four Biblical evidences establish this headship principle at Creation. 

First, God expressed His intended arrangement for the family relationship by creating Adam first, then Eve. Therefore, Paul writes, "I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve" (1 Timothy 2:12, 13, NIV). As the wider context of the book of Genesis suggests, the divine priority of having Adam "formed first, then Eve" had an important theological significance. The sequence established Adam as the "firstborn" in the human family, a position that gave him the special responsibility of leadership in the family — whether home or church. 35

If God indeed fashioned Eve later than Adam, for a purpose for which another male human being was not suited, then it is not difficult to argue that, in principle, there are things for which the woman may be suited for which the man is not, and vice versa. This observation appears to provide some substantiation for the kinds of functional distinctions between men and women in the Creator's purpose that have traditionally been held. 36

Second, God gave to Adam the directions for the first pair regarding custody of the garden and the dangers of the forbidden tree (Genesis 2:16, 17). This charge to Adam called him to spiritual leadership. When Satan addressed Eve rather than Adam regarding the forbidden tree, the tempter's object was to undermine the divine arrangement by deceiving Eve into assuming primary headship responsibility (see 1 Timothy 2:14). Had Eve been created first and then Adam, and had she been charged with the responsibility of leadership, Satan might well have attacked the headship principle by approaching Adam. 

Third, God instructed that in marriage it is the man who must act, leaving dependence on father and mother to be united with his wife (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:4, 5), and that in the marriage relationship the woman's role is to complement the man in his duties (Genesis 2:18, 23, 24). In this instruction, God charged the man with the responsibility of lovingly providing for and protecting the woman (cf. Ephesians 5:25, 28-31; 1 Peter 3:7; 1 Timothy 3:4; Titus 1:6). 

Fourth, events after the Fall (but before God pronounced judgment) confirm that Adam's headship was already in place. Although Eve first disobeyed, it was only after Adam had joined in the rebellion that the eyes of both of them were opened (Genesis 3:4-7). More significantly, after the Fall God first addressed Adam, holding him accountable for eating the forbidden fruit: "Where art thou? . . . Hast thou eaten of the tree . . . ?" (Genesis 3:9-12; cf. 3:17: "Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree. . ."). It appears inexplicable for God, Who in His omniscience already knew what had happened, to act in this way if Adam had not been given headship in the Eden relationship. 

Consequently, despite the fact that the woman initiated the rebellion, it is Adam (not Eve, nor even both of them) who is blamed for our Fall (Romans 5:12-21; 1 Corinthians 15:21, 22), which suggests that as the spiritual head in the partnership of their equal relationship, Adam was the representative of the family. 

These facts indicate that even before the Fall, God had established the principle of male headship/leadership. He instituted this principle not as an indication of superiority of Adam over Eve, nor was it for dominance or oppression, but for God-glorifying responsibility. 37

Thus when Paul writes that "the Head of every man is Christ, the head of a woman is her husband, and the Head of Christ is God" (1 Corinthians 11:3, RSV), and that women should not "have authority over men" because "Adam was formed first" (1 Timothy 2:12-15, RSV), he is not concocting an arbitrary "proof text" to justify his alleged concession to Hellenistic or Jewish cultural prejudices against women. As an inspired writer, the apostle Paul fully understood the theological truth of the headship principle as a divine arrangement instituted before the Fall and which remains permanently valid for the Christian. 

Headship: For the Home and the Church. The pro-ordination book Women in Ministry argues that while the headship principle (erroneously believed to have originated at the Fall) is relevant today, the principle is only valid for the home situation and not for the church family. There are at least three major reasons against this view. 

First, the Bible teaches that the church is not just another social institution; it is a worshipping community—a group of people who relate to God through a faith relationship in Christ. Thus the church, in both Old and New Testaments, exists whenever and wherever "two or three have gathered in My [Christ's] name" (Matthew 18:20). Rightly understood, the worshipping household is a miniature model of the church. Even before Jesus Christ established the New Testament church (Matthew 16:18, 19), the church was already in existence in Old Testament times. Israel , with its priests and ceremonial system of worship, was "the church in the wilderness" (Acts 7:38). But long before the Exodus brought Israel the opportunity to be "a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation" (Exodus 19:6), the church existed in the homes, wherever "two or three . . . gathered in My name." 38

The numerous Bible references to the church as the family of God 39 suggest that the relationship of male and female in the church—"the household of God" (1 Timothy 3:15, RSV)—is to be modeled after the home family , of which the Eden home was the prototype (Ephesians 5:22, 23; Colossians 3:18; 1 Peter 3:1-7; 1 Corinthians 11:3, 7-9; 14:34, 35; 1 Timothy 2:11-3:5). The frequent correspondence between home and church found in Scripture (e.g., Acts 2:46; 5:42; 1 Corinthians 14:34, 35; cf. Philippians 4:22) finds an echo in John Chrysostom's statement that "a household is a little church" and "a church is a large household." 40

Second, the Bible makes the success of male headship in the home a necessary qualification for one to be elder or overseer in the church. Thus, since only males can legitimately be heads of their homes (as husbands and fathers), according to Scripture, they alone can serve in the headship office of the church (as elders or overseers). For example, the Pastoral Epistles of Paul to Timothy and Titus, the very books that describe the qualities of an elder-pastor, view the church as the family of God, thus establishing the family structure as the model for church structure: "If a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he care for God's church?" (1 Timothy 3:4, 5, RSV; cf. Titus 1:6). This is why the Bible teaches that the elder or overseer must be "the husband of one wife" (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:6). 

Third, it is logically and practically inconsistent to propose that God made the husband the spiritual head at home (a smaller family unit), and his wife the spiritual head of the church (a larger family unit). The "total egalitarian" model would create serious conflicts and confusion, yet God is not the author of confusion. Therefore, He is not the author of the idea that women should be the spiritual heads in the church. 

The description of the church as "the household of God" (1 Timothy 3:15; Ephesians 2:19) and the patterning of church authority after the headship arrangement in the home reveal the high estimation God places on the home family. Writes Ellen White: "In the home the foundation is laid for the prosperity of the church. The influences that rule in the home life are carried into the church life; therefore, church duties should first begin in the home" (Ellen G. White, My Life Today , p. 284). "Every family in the home life should be a church, a beautiful symbol of the church of God in Heaven" ( Child Guidance, p. 480). 

Not only is authority in the church patterned after the home, but the home government is patterned after the church. Ellen G. White wrote, 

The rules and regulations of the home life must be in strict accordance with a 'Thus saith the Lord.' The rules God has given for the government of His church are the rules parents are to follow in the church in the home. It is God's design that there shall be perfect order in the families on Earth, preparatory to their union with the family in Heaven. Upon the discipline and training received in the home depends the usefulness of men and women in the church and in the world. ( Signs of the Times , Sept. 25, 1901.) 

Is it possible that those who wish to drive a wedge between the patterns of authority in the church and in the home do not understand the true nature of male headship and the complementary female supportive role? 

One thing is undeniable. The egalitarian interpretations of the Genesis 2 Creation account, positing "total role interchangeableness" or "full equality with no headship-submission" as God's divine ideal for the family, contradict the apostle Paul's own interpretation of the Genesis passage. Are those who propose that women should be ordained as elders or pastors better interpreters of Scripture than the inspired apostle? 

Conclusion. The authors of Women in Ministry may be well-intentioned in their desire to offer a Biblical justification for women's ordination. But their attempt to reinterpret Scripture's doctrine of headship to allow for feminism's full equality or "total role interchangeableness" is woefully inadequate, if not totally baseless. The fact that different writers of the Seminary book offer conflicting and Biblically questionable opinions on the subject is evidence enough to alert any serious Bible student to the risks of imposing secular ideologies on the Bible. 

One scholar who has offered a devastating critique of the view of Women in Ministry on headship and equality warns of the danger: "The Biblical model of different yet complementary roles for men and women in the home and in the church may well be a scandal to liberal and evangelical feminists bent on promoting the egalitarian, partnership paradigm. Nonetheless, Christians committed to the authority and wisdom of the Scriptures cannot ignore or reject a most fundamental Biblical principle. Blurring or eliminating the role distinctions God assigned to men and women in the home and in the church is not only contrary to His creational design but also accelerates the breakdown of the family, church structure, and society." 41

In this respect, the speculative and questionable interpretations in Women in Ministry are only the tip of the feminist iceberg. 42 As we pointed out in an earlier chapter on "Feminism's 'New Light' on Galatians 3:28," feminism's efforts at obliterating gender role distinctions have opened the way for other un-Biblical teachings and practices, including lesbianism. 

Even a well-known evangelical theologian inclined toward the ordination of women, acknowledges that "it cannot be denied that the women's liberation movement, for all its solid gains, has done much to blur the distinctions between the sexes and that many women who have entered the ministry appear committed to the eradication of these distinctions." This trend, as he observes, "is in no small way responsible for accelerating divorce and the breakdown of the family." He warns that "the fact that some clergywomen today in the mainline Protestant denominations are championing the cause of lesbianism (and a few are even practicing a lesbian lifestyle) should give the church pause in its rush to promote women's liberation." 43

"Such things," argues an Adventist scholar, "ought likewise to give us pause in the rush to promote women's ordination, one facet of the women's liberation movement." 44



16. This section is adapted from my Searching the Scriptures , pp. 25-34. 

17. For example, Jesus "ordained ( poieo ) twelve" (Mark 3:14); Paul himself was "ordained ( tithemi ) a preacher and an apostle" (1 Timothy 2:7; cf. 4:14; 5:22); Titus was urged to "ordain ( kathistemi ) elders in every city" (Titus 1:5). Each of these three Greek words carries the sense of "appoint," "place," or "establish." Another word used in the New Testament for the act of ordination is cheirotoneo , which can mean "to stretch forth the hand" or "elect" or "appoint." Thus Paul and Barnabas "ordained them elders in every church" (Acts 14:23); and when Titus was appointed by the churches to travel with Paul to Jerusalem , we are told that he was "chosen of the churches" (2 Corinthians 8:19). The compound form of the word, procheirotoneo, appears in Acts 10:41, where it describes God's prior appointment of the apostles. 

18. In Romans 10:14, 15, having stated that faith comes through the hearing of the Word proclaimed by the preacher, Paul asked rhetorically, "How shall they preach except they be sent ?" The church has to send or commission someone to proclaim the message authoritatively. Again, writing to Timothy, Paul declared, "The things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also" (2 Timothy 2:2). A person possessing ability to teach, who is faithful to Christ, and who meets the qualifications of 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9 may be commissioned authoritatively to perform the duties of elder or pastor. This was the practice in the New Testament church. Apart from the twelve apostles who were chosen and ordained by Christ Himself, elders of the church apparently ordained all others. For a person to be an elder or minister, then, the church must express its approval by recognizing and commissioning that individual for the ministerial task. Even Paul had to be ordained by the church after he received his call from Christ (Acts 13:1-3). 

19. In his Pastoral Epistles, Paul frequently referred to the "sound words" (1 Timothy 6:3; 2 Timothy 1:13; cf. 2 Timothy 2:15), or "the faith" (1 Timothy 3:9; 4:1, 6; 5:8; 6:10, 12, 21; 2 Timothy 3:8; 4:7; Titus 1:13; 2:2), or "that which has been entrusted" (1 Timothy 6:20; 2 Timothy 1:12, 14), and "sound teaching/doctrine" (1 Timothy 6:20; 2 Timothy 4:3; Titus 1:9; 2:1; cf. 1 Timothy 4:6, 16; 6:1, 3; 2 Timothy 2:2; Titus 2:10). 

20. Our Seventh-day Adventist Minister's Manual (1997) rightly recognizes that "Seventh-day Adventists do not believe that ordination is sacramental in the sense of conferring some indelible character or special powers or the ability to formulate right doctrine. It adds ‘no new grace or virtual qualification'" (p. 85). Ordination, an act of commission, acknowledges God's call, sets the individual apart, and appoints that person to serve the church in a special capacity. Ordination endorses the individuals thus set apart as authorized representatives of the church. By this act, the church delegates its authority to its ministers to proclaim the Gospel publicly, to administer its ordinances, to organize new congregations, and, within the parameters established by God's Word, to give direction to the believers (Matthew 16:19; Hebrews 13:17) (see Minister's Manual , pages 84, 85). By means of ordination, "the church sets its seal upon the work of God performed through its ministers and their lay associates. In ordination, the church publicly invokes God's blessing upon the persons He has chosen and devoted to this special work of ministry" (ibid., p. 85). 

21. Evidence that this statement may not be applied to ordination of women as pastors or elders may be found within the passage itself. (1) This is a part-time ministry, not a calling to a lifework. "Women who are willing to consecrate some of their time. . . ." (2) The work is not that of a minister or a church officer. "In some cases they will need to counsel with the church officers or the minister." Evidently this work is not that of an elder or minister. (3) It was a ministry different from what we were already doing. The portion quoted here is followed immediately by, "This is another means of strengthening and building up the church. We need to branch out more in our methods of labor." (4) It appears in an article entitled, "The Duty of the Minister and the People," which called upon ministers to allow and encourage the church members to use their talents for the Lord. The last sentence of the quoted paragraph reflects this thrust: "Place the burdens upon men and women of the church, that they may grow by reason of the exercise, and thus become effective agents in the hand of the Lord for the enlightenment of those who sit in darkness." This is the only statement from Mrs. White addressing laying on of hands for women. The statement and its context clearly indicate that these women were being dedicated to a specific lay ministry. 

22. Under the Old Testament theocracy, Israel was a nation governed by God and His law. In this system, the chosen leaders were prophets, priests, and judges/kings. Unlike the New Testament office of elder/pastor, the Old Testament leadership role of prophet (likewise judge ) was not an elected office. God Himself chose and commissioned prophets (and judges) as His most authoritative mouthpieces; the people did not elect them. Thus, in the Old Testament, kings (and judges) and priests were all subject to the authority of prophets. The leadership roles of Deborah and Huldah as prophets should not be confused with that of elders or pastors, who occupy the elected leadership office in the church. While prophets in both the Old and New Testaments were chosen and ordained by God Himself, elders and pastors are chosen and ordained by church members within the guidelines set by Scripture and are subject to the leadership authority of God's chosen prophets. 

In Seventh-day Adventist history, the closest parallel to the leadership of Deborah is Ellen G. White. Though she never claimed to be a leader of the church ( Testimonies for the Church , vol. 8, pp. 236, 237) and was never ordained by the denomination, she did exercise leadership authority by virtue of her role as a messenger of the Lord. A number of women who worked for the church during the late 1800s and early 1900s were issued ministerial licenses. Ellen White was the only woman to be granted the credentials of an ordained minister (sometimes with the word "ordained" neatly struck out), though she was never ordained and did not perform the functions of an ordained minister. (See William Fagal's discussion of the question, "Was Ellen White Ordained?" in his "Ellen White and the Role of Women in the Church," available from the Ellen G. White Estate.) 

23. Paul commends Phoebe as "our sister, which is a servant [ diakonos ] of the church which is at Cenchrea," and he urges the church to "assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you: for she hath been a succorer of many, and of myself also." Although the term diakonos can refer to the office of a "deacon" (1 Timothy 3:8-13), the description of Phoebe as a "servant" (KJV) or "deaconess" (RSV) of the church should not be confused with the office of "deacon." In the New Testament the term diakonos, like the related terms diakonia and diakoneo, has both a broad and a narrow meaning. In its broad sense it conveys the idea of "ministry" or "service" carried out on behalf of the church; in this usage, anything a person does to advance the work of the church is a ministry, and the one who labors in this manner is a "minister" or "servant" ( diakonos ) of the Lord (Matthew 20:26; 23:11; Mark 9:35; 10:43; John 12:26; Romans 13:4; 15:8; 1 Corinthians 3:5; 2 Corinthians 3:6; 6:4; 11:23; Galatians 2:17; Ephesians 3:7; 6:21; Colossians 1:7, 23, 25; 4:7; 1 Timothy 4:6). In its narrow usage, however, diakonos refers to the office of a "deacon," which among other things can only be occupied by one who is a "husband of one wife" (1 Timothy 3:8-13; Philippians 1:1). Because Phoebe was a "sister" (Romans 16:1), she could not have served in the male office of a "deacon." Thus, when Paul described her as "a servant [ diakonos ] of the church," he was speaking of Phoebe's valuable ministry to members of the church as well as to himself. 

24. Paul described Andronicus and Junia as "my kinsmen, and my fellow prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, and who also were in Christ before me" (Romans 16:7). Although there is an ambiguity in the Greek construction, "who are of note among the apostles" (KJV), or as the NIV has it, "They are outstanding among the apostles," no New Testament evidence supports the idea that the woman Junia mentioned here was an apostle, nor is there any New Testament evidence that the man Andronicus mentioned in the same text was an apostle. The most plausible and Biblically consistent understanding is that both Andronicus and Junia were well known and appreciated by the apostles as Christian converts prior to Paul's own conversion. (See the answer to question #38 in John Piper and Wayne Grudem, "An Overview of Central Concerns: Questions and Answers," in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism , ed. John Piper and Wayne Grudem [Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 1991], pp. 79-81). 

25. Lyman Coleman, The Apostolical and Primitive Church (Boston: Gould, Kendall and Lincoln, 1844), p. 196. 

26. The New Testament uses the English term "pastor" only once, in Ephesians 4:11. The same Greek word is translated "shepherd" elsewhere in the New Testament. As a shepherd, the pastor has the care and oversight of the flock. For the convenience of using our contemporary terms, in this study we have frequently used "pastor" as a substitute for "bishop" or "overseer." The book of 1 Peter brings all the terms together: pastor (shepherd), elder (presbyter), and bishop (overseer). "For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd ( poimen, pastor) and Bishop ( episkopos, overseer) of your souls" (1 Peter 2:25). "The elders ( presbuteros ) which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder . . . : Feed ( poimano, to tend as a shepherd) the flock of God, taking the oversight ( episkopeo ) thereof. . . . And when the Chief Shepherd ( archipoimen ) shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away" (1 Peter 5:1-4). The elders are commissioned to stand as overseers, functioning as pastors/shepherds to the flock. Though we may divide some of the responsibilities today, these functions belong basically to one office.

27. See n. 17, above. 

28. For example, in 1 Corinthians 14:28-30, people with the gift of tongues were told not to use it in public when there was no one to interpret, and prophets were told to stop prophesying when others had a revelation. We conclude that if women have gifts of teaching, administration, or evangelism, God wants them to exercise these gifts within the guidelines given in Scripture. 

29. The Greek phrase, mias gunaikos andra, literally means a "man [male] of one woman," or "one-woman man [male]." When used of the marriage relation it may be translated "husband of one wife" (KJV) or "husband of but one wife" (NIV). Thus, the phrase is calling for "monogamous fidelity." An elder must be "faithful to his one wife" (NEB). For a helpful grammatical analysis of this text, see Kenneth S. Wuest, The Pastoral Epistles in the Greek New Testament for the English Reader (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1952), p. 53. 

30. The New Testament uses different terms to communicate the idea of teaching: (1) katecheo, from which we get "catechize," means "to tell about something" (Acts 21:21, 24) or "to give instruction about the faith" (Galatians 6:6; 1 Corinthians 14:19; Acts 18:25; cf. Luke 1:4); (2) ektithemi means to explain something to another (Acts 18:26; 28:23; 11:4); (3) dianoigo literally means to "open," used for the explanation or interpretation of Bible truth (Luke 24:32; Acts 17:3); and (4) didasko, used by Paul in 1 Timothy 2:12 in his prohibition of women to "teach." Unlike the other terms, didasko is a special word used for authoritative teaching. For example, it refers to the kind of teaching carried out by Christ (Matthew 7:28, 29; Mark 1:22; 6:2), the Holy Spirit (John 14:26; 1 John 2:27), John the Baptist (Luke 3:12), the apostles or prophets (2 Thessalonians 2:15; Acts 5:25; 28:31; Ephesians 4:21; Colossians 2:7; Mark 6:3), elders/pastors (Ephesians 4:11), those who were called "teachers" (Luke 2:46; Acts 13:1; 1 Corinthians 12:28, 29; Ephesians 4:11; James 3:1; cf. Hebrews 5:12), and (negatively) those who carried out unauthorized teaching (Titus 1:11; Acts 15:1; Romans 2:21; cf. Acts 18:24-26). The meaning of didasko as authoritative teaching sheds some light on the nature of the "teaching" called forth in the Gospel commission (Matthew 28:20; cf. Colossians 3:16). 

31. For a detailed discussion of this issue, see Robert L. Saucy, "Women's Prohibition to Teach Men: An Investigation into Its Meaning and Contemporary Application," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 37/1 (March 1994) :79-97. 

32. Paul's description of Christ in Colossians 1:15-18, RSV as "the firstborn of all creation," "the head of the body, the church" suggests His preeminent authority. His headship and authority are tied in with His being the "firstborn." Paul's use of "firstborn" language to express the headship and authority of Christ suggests that he attached the same meaning to Adam's being "first formed." If this is the case, it indicates that Paul saw in the priority of Adam's creation the establishment of his right and responsibility as the head of the first home, the first church. This may explain why Adam is presented as the one who brought death into the world, and Christ, the second Adam, as the One Who brought life (Romans 5:12-21). 

33. See Samuele Bacchiocchi, The Marriage Covenant (Berrien Springs, Mich.: Biblical Perspectives, pp. 120-161.

34. For the intimate relationship between apostles and elders in the New Testament church, see P. Gerard Damsteegt’s article “Have Adventists Abandoned the Biblical Model of Leadership for the Local Church?” in Samuel Koranteng-Pipim, Here We Stand: Evaluating New Trends in the Church (Berrien Springs, Mich.: ADVENTISTS AFFIRM, 2005). 

35. Some people try to dismiss the “Creation order” principle by claiming that such reasoning would place animals in headship over both men and women, since the animals were created first. Their dispute, clearly, is against the Bible, because Paul cited the Creation order as the basis for his counsel (1 Timothy 2:13). But the argument also fails to recognize the “firstborn” element in the issue. “When the Hebrews gave a special responsibility to the ‘firstborn,’ it never entered their minds that this responsibility would be nullified if the father happened to own cattle before he had sons. In other words, when Moses wrote Genesis, he knew that the first readers would not lump animals and humans together as equal candidates for the responsibilities of the ‘firstborn.’” See Question #39 of John Piper and Wayne Grudem, “An Overview of Central Concerns: Questions and Answers,” in John Piper and Wayne Grudem, eds., Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 1991), p. 81. 

36. Harold O.J. Brown, “The New Testament Against Itself: 1 Timothy 2:9-15 and the ‘Breakthrough’ of Galatians 3:28,” in Women in the Church: A Fresh Analysis of 1 Timothy 2:9-15, p. 202. For more on this, see Samuele Bacchiocchi’s evaluation of Davidson’s chapter in Prove All Things. 

37. Over the centuries, some scholars have justified the headship principle with arguments that mistakenly assign superiority to the man and inferiority to the woman. Richard Davidson summarized these arguments: “(a) man is created first and woman last ([Genesis] 2:7, 22), and the first is superior and the last is subordinate or inferior; (b) woman is formed for the sake of man—to be his ‘helpmate’ or assistant to cure man’s loneliness (vv. 18-20); (c) woman comes out of man (vv. 21, 22), which implies a derivative and subordinate position; (d) woman is created from man’s rib (vv. 21, 22), which indicates her dependence upon him for life; and (e) the man names the woman (v. 23), which indicates his power and authority over her” (Richard M. Davidson, “The Theology of Sexuality in the Beginning: Genesis 1-2,” Andrews University Seminary Studies 26/1 [1988] :14, emphasis added). 

38. “God had a church when Adam and Eve and Abel accepted and hailed with joy the good news that Jesus was their Redeemer. These realized as fully then as we realize now the promise of the presence of God in their midst. Wherever Enoch found one or two who were willing to hear the message he had for them, Jesus joined with them in their worship of God. In Enoch’s day there were some among the wicked inhabitants of Earth who believed. The Lord never yet has left His faithful few without His presence nor the world without a witness” (Ellen G. White, The Upward Look, p. 228). 

39. For the various expressions used in the Bible to refer to the church as God’s family, see Vern Poythress, “The Church as Family: Why Male Leadership in the Family Requires Male Leadership in the Church,” in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism, eds. John Piper and Wayne Grudem (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 1991), pp. 233-236. 

40. Chrysostom (a.d. 347-407), Homily XX on Ephesians, cited by Stephen B. Clark, Man and Woman in Christ (Ann Arbor: Servant Books, 1980), p. 134. 

41. Samuele Bacchiocchi, “Headship, Submission, and Equality in Scripture,” in Prove All Things, p. 105. 

42. For more on this, see C. Raymond Holmes, The Tip of an Iceberg: Biblical Authority, Biblical Interpretation, and the Ordination of Women in Ministry (Wakefield, Mich.: Adventists Affirm and Pointer Publications, 1994), pp. 87-155. 

43. Donald G. Bloesch, Is the Bible Sexist?: Beyond Feminism and Patriarchalism (Westchester, Ill.: Crossway 1982), p. 56.

Does the Bible Support Women's Ordination? Part 1

Does the Bible Support Women's Ordination? Part 3