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The Ordination of Women

Category Articles
Date March 16, 2007

Most church denominations today ordain women as pastors, elders, and deacons. The Presbyterian Church in America, the denomination to which I belong, is not one of them, and for this reason we, and a few other like minded ones, are increasingly held in disdain by people both within and without the professing church. Those denominations which refuse to ordain women are viewed, at best, as out of touch with reality or at worst as misogynists.

Why do we not ordain women? Is it because we think women to be inferior to men? Is it because we think women cannot lead, are too weak emotionally or spiritually to handle tough pastoral issues? These questions hardly deserve a response, for surely we believe women equal to men and there are some wonderful examples of women leaders today in the marketplace and political world who are doing an outstanding job.

No, there is only one reason we do not ordain women and that’s because God clearly, without equivocation, forbids it. Any honest exegesis of the New Testament must admit this. Paul, in his letter to Timothy, is instructing him on how he is to lead the church in Paul’s absence. He gives Timothy numerous mandates, and in I Timothy 2 he takes up the issue of who is to lead in public worship. In verse 8 he says that certain men, the context would suggest elders, are to lift up holy hands (unpolluted hands) in prayer, expressing utter dependence upon God for grace to lead the congregation, removing any taint of anger or reprehensible thought (our word dialogue) which could mislead the people of God.

Paul then takes up the issue of women in public worship. Keep in mind that Paul has nothing to say about women in the workplace or politics. He is limiting his remarks to public worship. He says four things about women in public worship, two positively stated, and two negatively stated.

Women are to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly. The Greek word for modesty has the idea of shying away from anything shameful. Thus women are to refrain from dress in public worship which could bring shameful thoughts to others who see such women in worship services. He goes on to say that they are not to braid their hair or wear gold, pearls, or costly garments. Philo, a Greek scholar who lived in the late first century A.D., said that harlots in that day wore their hair in elaborate braids, placing gold and pearls in their hair, wearing pearls on their ears, necks, and wrists. We also know that pearls in Paul’s day were worth three times what gold was worth. We also know that the very wealthy would spend 7000 denarii for dresses (one denarius equalled a day’s labour), and even the more middle class wore dresses which cost 800 denairi. Paul was concerned that elaborate dress in public worship was drawing attention away from Christ onto certain women. He also was concerned that those without the means to purchase such attire would feel excluded from the community of faith. In contrast, Paul says that the primary focus ought to be, not on a woman’s outward attire, but on her inner beauty made manifest in good works.

But then Paul makes what many consider a controversial statement. He commands women quietly to receive instruction in public worship with entire submissiveness. He is even more explicit in the next verse where he commands women not to teach men or to exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. He says something similar in 1 Corinthians 14:34, 35. Why would Paul say this, especially in light of Galatians 3:28 where he says that all are one in Christ, whether slave or free, Jew or Greek, male or female?

He gives two reasons for this, verses 13, 14. He goes back to creation, reminding us that God first created Adam, and some time later, He then created Eve. The clear meaning is that Eve was created in a subordinate position. Not an inferior or secondary position, but one subordinate to her husband. Paul writes the same thing, in connection with the Godhead, in 1 Corinthians 11:3, saying that Christ is the head of man, and man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ. Clearly Christ is in a subordinate position to the Father, but this in no way detracts from Jesus’ authority or identity. Likewise the woman. In other words, a woman ought to do what she was created to do, to serve her husband, to be in a subordinate position in the church (elsewhere he says the same thing about the family, Ephesians 5:22ff). As William Hendriksen put it, “A bird cannot live under water, a fish cannot live on land, and a woman ought not think she can lead in the church. She is not created by God for such work”.

Paul’s second reason for women not leading men in the church follows the first, “And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being quite deceived, fell into transgression.” God has ordained wives to be under the authority of their own husbands (not all men), an umbrella of protection, as Bill Gothard puts it. As long as a woman remains under the protection of her husband, all is well, but when she ventures out from that protection, as in the case of Eve, all manner of difficulty will come. Eve was deceived because she listened to the devil instead of her husband. Adam knew exactly what he was doing, and plunged the human race, therefore, into sin. It is also instructive that Paul lays the blame of original sin (Romans 5:12) not on Eve, but on Adam; again reminding us of man’s federal headship in the family. The buck stops with him. Anything that goes wrong in the family, whether with the children or wife, ultimately is done on his watch. He is accountable.

Paul goes on to say that women are preserved through child bearing. Obviously he does not mean literally saved, as though only those who bear children gain eternal salvation. We know salvation is by faith alone, through grace alone, through Christ alone. So what does he mean? He means that women who carry out their God-given responsibility (here he speaks of women in general, for not all marry or bear children) to live under the authority of their husbands reach fullness of life, Shalom, hit on all eight cylinders, experience the joy and peace for which God created them. In other words, women lead from the bottom up and men from the top down. Women do not need to be preachers, elders, or deacons to make a dramatic and eternal impact in Christ’s kingdom. They can do a powerful work through child rearing and older women teaching younger women.(Titus 2:3ff.)

Rev. Al Baker is pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in West Hartford, Connecticut, USA.

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