Women's Ordination: WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY? |
written by Kevin D. Paulson
One of the most contentious issues just now in the Seventh-day Adventist Church is the question of whether women should be ordained either to the gospel ministry or as elders of local congregations, possessing leadership roles identical to those of men.
Scripture tells us Eve was created from a rib, taken from Adam’s side (Gen. 2:21-22). Ellen White speaks of how this was to demonstrate that Adam and Eve were to stand side by side, fully respecting and honoring each other’s gifts and contributions Patriarchs and Prophets, page 46
But both Old and New Testament are clear that Adam’s and Eve’s roles, before as well as after the Fall, were not the same. Though equal in value and importance to the divine plan, Adam was still the head in the original relationship. It is Adam to whom the instructions are given by God regarding the care of the Garden, and concerning the two trees in its midst (Gen. 2:15-17). It is Adam who names the animals (verses 19-20), and it is Adam who names Eve, both before the Fall and after (Gen. 2:23; 3:20). It is on the basis of this order of gender authority that the male is authorized in this passage to take the initiative in leaving father and mother and cleaving to his wife in marriage (Gen. 2:24).
This headship principle helps explain why Adam and Eve did not become naked till Adam sinned (Gen. 3:7), and why, when they sought to hide from the divine presence soon thereafter, God called to Adam (verse 9), not to Eve, even though Eve had been the first one to sin. It is for this reason that in the New Testament, the one through whom sin and death entered the world is identified as Adam (Rom. 5:12-19; I Cor. 15:22).
To be equal in importance and value, though different in roles, is illustrated in the ideal husband-wife relationship. No one can say a father is more important than a mother in the home. Both are equally important. But their roles are obviously not the same. And God intended it this way.
Paul writes of this relationship in the book of Ephesians, and compares it to the relationship Jesus has with His church:
| Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.|
For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church; and He is the Saviour of the body.
Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands In every thing (Eph. 5:22-24).
But the apostle continues further to defining how this relationship is intended to work:
Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it (Eph. 5:25).
In other words, the husband is to act as Christ, demonstrating toward His wife the same self-sacrificing commitment and service seen in the ministry and condescension of Jesus Christ. There is no room in such a relationship for abuse, disrespect, or dictatorial demands, as we see so tragically often in today’s world. Such behavior is entirely out of character in the male-female relationship as God designed it
This is why Paul writes elsewhere, when instructing wives to submit to husbands: “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord” (Col. 3:18). This reminds us of another passage in Paul’s writings about children obeying parents: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” (Eph. 6:1). So in both cases the counsel is to obey “in the Lord”—that is, in harmony with God’s revealed will. All human authority, whether in the home or elsewhere, is to be subject to the written Word. This is the principle the apostles had in mind when standing before the Sanhedrin, when they declared, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
The home is the building block of the fellowship of faith. Strong churches are made of strong families. This was true in ancient Israel and in the New Testament church as well. This explains why the order of gender authority in the church is the same as what we find in the home. The apostle Paul writes:
|But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God. (I Cor. 11:3)|
We see here how the relationship of male and female in the church is comparable to the relationship of God the Father to God the Son. Though the Father and the Son are equal in eternity, power, and wisdom, their roles are clearly described in the Bible as different. It is through the Son that the Father created all things (John 1:1-3,14; Heb. 1:1-2), and it is the Father who sent the Son to be our Savior (John 3:16). We never read in the Bible that the Son sends the Father, or does things through the Father. In fact, the New Testament is clear that the Son will be subject to the Father throughout eternity. When the mother of James and John asked Jesus to place her two sons on His right and left in the kingdom of glory, Jesus responded as follows:
To sit on My right hand, and on My left, is not Mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of My Father. (Matt. 20:23).
The apostle Paul likewise observes: And when all things shall be subdued unto Him, then shall the Son also Himself be subject unto Him that put all things under Him, that God may be all in all. (I Cor. 15:28).
It is on the basis of this order, tracing back to the Godhead and the original creation of this earth, that the apostle Paul writes as follows regarding leadership roles in the church:
But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first firmed, then Eve ( 1 Timothy 2: 12-13 )
It should be noted that the silence here described is not a matter of never speaking, but rather, a spirit of submission. We see this earlier in this very chapter regarding the Christian’s duty in relation to civil authority, “that we may live a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty” (I Tim. 2:2). The apostle Peter notes this principle when speaking of women adorning themselves with “a meek and quiet spirit” (I Peter 3:4). It doesn’t mean women can’t talk. It simply refers to a submissive and yielding spirit.
It should be clarified in closing that spiritual male headship applies to spiritual leadership only—in the home and in the church. It does not concern leadership in business or secular politics. Christians are not called to establish an earthly theocracy that forcibly controls the choices of unbelievers, but rather, to mirror in their homes and religious communities those gender roles which illustrate the character and order exhibited by God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.
In view of the evidence cited above, any attempt to arrange gender roles in the faith community so as to make them identical and interchangeable, is contrary to the teachings of God’s Word.
Note: Kevin Paulson served as a member of the NAD TOSC Committee (2012 to 2014)
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