WOMEN IN THE CHURCH
A Biblical Study on the Role of Women in the Church
FOREWORDS by Prof. Wayne Grudem and Prof. James B. Hurley
TWO ESSAYS by Rosalie Haffner Lee and William A. Fagal
by Prof. Wayne Grudem
This is an extremely valuable book for anyone interested in the
current debate over women's roles in the church. I think it will
clear up much of the confusion people feel over this issue today.
The entire book is a model of clarity and fairness. In each section
Dr.Bacchiocchi first sets out the various positions taken on some
passage of Scripture (with footnotes to a wealth of recent literature
from all perspectives). Then he takes the reader back to the Biblical
text to show reasons from Scripture to support his position.
Time and again I found myself saying, "Yes, yes!" as I read this
Dr.Bacchiocchi has a balanced discussion of the relationship
between equality and subordination in human relationships. He has a
very positive discussion of the important roles women played in the Old
Testament, in the ministry of Jesus, and in the New Testament church.
His discussion of Genesis 1?3 is sober and persuasive, as is his
discussion of Galatians 3:28. He rightly points out that the idea of
"mutual submission" which so many people see in Ephesians 5:21 cannot
be supported from the text.
Dr.Bacchiocchi also has a very sensitive treatment of the nuances of
headship and submission in marriage as taught in Paul's epistles.
His discussion of the "head covering" passage in 1 Corinthians 11 should
clarify the teaching of this passage for everyone who has puzzled
over it before. His discussion of 1 Timothy 2:11?15 is very helpful and
deals fairly with all opposing views. While some may think the passage
prohibits more than Dr. Bacchiocchi says, few should see it as prohibiting
anything less. Moreover, he consistently shows a sensitivity to God's
overall design for men and women throughout the flow of Biblical history,
and a maturity of judgment in coming to correct conclusions on the meaning
of Scripture. Finally, he sounds a needed warning about the serious harm
to the family and the church which inevitably follows when the Biblical
teachings on male headship in the family and the church are abandoned.
This is a critical issue for Christians today, and many people simply
don't know what they should believe. Over the past fifteen years, dozens
of feminist books and articles have challenged the plain meaning of Scripture.
We have been told that "submit" does not mean submit, that "have authority
over men" does not mean have authority over men, that "not permit" does not
mean not permit, that "head" does not mean leader or authority, that "teach"
does not mean teach, and so forth. Yet all these arguments, as Dr.Bacchiocchi
so plainly shows, have failed to be persuasive.
But this book never gets lost in academic technicalities. While the views of
other scholars are extensively cited for examples and illustrations, their
opinions are not used as proof for Dr.Bacchiocchi's own position, nor does
he appeal to obscure data accessible only to specialized scholars. His approach
rather does something far better and far more persuasive??it takes the ordinary
reader back to look more closely at the actual words of Scripture, so that
readers might check for themselves whether the Scripture supports what
Dr.Bacchiocchi is saying.
The value of this approach is that it encourages readers to be like the Bereans,
who "examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true" (Acts 17:11).
In a day when scholarly "experts" can be found on all sides of this question,
the only solution is for every Christian to return once again to Scripture itself,
to read it carefully, to ask God's help in understanding it, and to believe that God
has caused Scripture to be written in such a way that it can be understood by ordinary
believers, so that they can come to a right decision. This is what God's people had
to do long ago, when the Pharisees?? he Biblical "experts" of the 1st century??publicly
disagreed with Jesus, and later with Paul. The advantage of Dr.Bacchiocchi's book is
that it provides a very careful discussion of the issues but ultimately encourages
Christians to look again at the Scriptures and decide for themselves.
I am confident that many Christians who read this book will decide that it is time to
say to those holding a feminist viewpoint, "We have heard your evidence, we have
understood your arguments, and we have searched Scripture for ourselves to see if
these things were true. While we see many areas where we want to encourage greater
participation by women in the life of the church, nevertheless, we, like Dr.Bacchiocchi,
must conclude that when you say women can be elders and pastors, what you are saying
is simply not faithful to Scripture; it is not what Scripture teaches."
If this book brings many people to the point where they are willing to reach such
a conclusion??as I expect the book will do??then it will have performed a very valuable
function for the building up of the church in faithfulness to Scripture, all to the
glory of God.
Wayne Grudem, Ph. D. Professor of New Testament Trinity Evangelical Divinity
School Deerfield, Illinois
by Prof.James B. Hurley
The last few decades have witnessed a growing debate over the roles and
relationship of men and women in society and also in the church. The topic
is important for a variety of reasons. At a broad level, it deals with the
meaning and dignity of half of the world's population. Individually, it
touches our emotional life deeply and in ways which we barely understand.
From the point of view of the church, it raises some profound questions about
the relation of the Bible and culture which have impact far beyond our
questions about the role of women in the church.
The Christian church has historically taken the position that the Bible is
inspired revelation from God and is the rule for faith and practice. This
commitment has consequences. Human culture changes, attitudes and life
contexts are constantly being modified. Each generation must re?evaluate
traditional applications of Scripture's teaching to see if they are inadequate
in new social structures. The struggle of each generation is to remain
faithful to that which the Scripture teaches without treating interpretations and
applications which the church has made as though they were biblical teaching.
The question of the role of women in the church is a difficult area. The church
must be prepared to give answer to a hostile world for its views. Christians must
question in detail how much of our practice is what the Scripture requires and how
much is an application made in a previous historical context. If we are reactionary
and refuse to change, we may bind the church's conscience with the commandments
of men. If we move too far the other way we are in danger of setting aside the
commandments of God. The task is an important one. Dr.Samuele Bacchiocchi has earned
an international reputation for competent biblical scholarship. The high esteem
which many outside his own tradition have for his work is an eloquent testimony
to the quality of that work. In this book on the role of women in the church
Dr.Bacchiocchi offers his readers the fruit of his own biblical expertise and
the benefit of his thorough examination of recent works on the subject. Readers
without a theological training will benefit from the clarity of his presentation.
Readers with professional training will enjoy his insights into various passages
and will no doubt make use of the leads offered in the many footnotes included
in the text.
I am personally delighted to see this contribution to the current debate.
Its consistent effort to be fair and to be faithful to the biblical text should
earn it wide readership and an influential position even among those who do not
share its author's views.
James B. Hurley, Ph.D.
Professor of New Testament and of Marriage and Family Therapy Reformed Theological
Seminary, Jackson, Mississippi
At the beginning of 1986 I would never have imagined that I would have spent much of
that year researching and writing a book on the role of women in the church.
Besides teaching, I was already deeply involved in a major research project which I
was hoping to publish later that year. What then caused me to rearrange my priorities
and devote much of 1986 to researching and writing this book? Six major reasons
precipitated this decision.
REASONS FOR WRITING THIS BOOK
Deeply Felt Issue.
A first reason was my discovery of how deeply felt was the issue of women's ordination
not only outside but also inside the Seventh?day Adventist Church. I was made forcefully
aware of this fact through the publication of my article "Ministry or Ordination of Women?"
which appeared first on the March 12 issue of the Student Movement of Andrews University and
subsequently on the October issue of Ministry.
The flare of responses generated by this article revealed to me how deeply felt and divisive
was this issue even within the ranks of my own Seventh?day Adventist Church. This realization
convinced me that there was an urgent need for a comprehensive Biblical study that could
help the members of my church as well as the Christians of other faiths better understand
the unique role God intends women to fulfill in the church.
A second reason that precipitated my decision to write this book was a felt need to rectify
what I perceive to be some of the prevailing misconceptions in much of the literature I
have read. A common misconception, for example, is that the ordination of women as elders/pastors
is more of a cultural than a theological issue. In other words, it has to do more with the
cultural perception of the role of women in any given age than with Scriptural teachings.
Many argue that whatever the Bible teaches on this subject is irrelevant for today because
its teachings are hopelessly conditioned by the patriarchal mentality of the time.
Consequently, any decision on this matter must be derived not from Biblical teachings and
examples, but from the enlightened cultural values of our times. This perception is
reflected in the Symposium on the Role of Women in the Church, prepared and published
(1984) by the Biblical Research Institute of the General Conference of Seventh?day Adventists.
Of the 196 pages of this symposium only 15 pages are devoted to a most succinct analysis of
the three crucial Pauline passages (1 Tim 2:11?15; 1 Cor 11:3?16; 14:33?36).1
Another misconception which I felt needed to be rectified has to do with the nature of
church and the role of the pastor. Some view the church more as a functional, service
organization than as a community of believers, the family of God. Consequently, they
see the role of the pastor as being more of a functional administrator than of a "shepherd"
of the congregation. Since women can manage business and institutions as effectively as
men can, their appointment to the pastoral office is seen as a matter of justice in order
to bring the administration of the church in line with the equal employment opportunities
of secular institutions.
This view, I felt, needed to be corrected because, as this study will show, the New
Testament views elders and pastors, not merely as administrators, but as shepherds of
the flock, appointed to represent Christ to the people and the people to Christ. This dual
representative role requires, as we shall see in chapter 7, that the person appointed
to serve as elder or pastor be a man with specific moral and spiritual qualities.
Danger of Role Interchangeability.
A third reason which crystallized my decision to undertake this research was the felt
need to expose the dangers implicit in the role interchangeability model upon which
the ordination of women largely rests. According to this model there are no creational
role distinction between men and women and thus women can legitimately fulfill such
male roles as that of fathers in the home and of spiritual fathers, shepherds in
the church. The dangers of this model are both theological and practical.
Theologically, the role interchangeability model, which is strongly advocated by liberal
and evangelical feminists, encourages the blurring or elimination of the creational role
distinctions God assigned to men and women. This trend should be of special concern to
Seventh?day Adventists who are deeply committed to uphold the integrity of the doctrine
and order of creation.
Contrary to some churches which interpret the creation story as a mythological or allegorical
expression of an evolutionary process which extended over millions of years, the Seventy?day
Adventist Church accepts as factual the account of the six days of creation. The observance
of the seventh?day Sabbath is viewed as a perpetual memorial to the perfection of God's
If Seventh?day Adventists were to adopt the role interchangeability model, which violates
the creational role distinctions between men and women, I believe this would gradually erode
confidence in the validity of the doctrine of creation and of the Sabbath commandment itself.
Practically, the blurring or elimination of the creational role distinctions between men
and women accelerates the rate of divorce, the breakdown of the family, and the acceptance of
lesbianism or homosexuality as a legitimate optional life?style. It is noteworthy that some
of the denominations which decided years ago to ordain women have now set up study?groups to
explore the feasibility of ordaining homosexuals. 2 Ellen White warns against the danger of
seeking a "sphere" different from that assigned by God at creation. Referring to Eve she writes:
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 spere 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 duties in accordance with God's plan....
A neglect on the part of woman to follow God's plan in her creation, an effort to reach for
important positions which He has not qualified her to fill, leaves vacant the position
that she could fill to acceptance. In getting out of her sphere, she loses true womanly
dignity and nobility. 3
The Larger Question.
A fourth reason that gave a sense of urgency to this research was the awareness that
the question of women's ordination is symptomatic of a much larger question: it reflects
not only upon the different and yet complementary roles men and women are called to fulfill
in the home and in the church, but also upon the authority of Scripture as a whole for
defining beliefs and practices.
If the Biblical texts and teachings on the role of women in the church are, as some claim,
time?bound, culturally conditioned, androcentric (male?centered) in nature, and rabbinic in
origin, the same could be true of those Biblical texts and teachings regarding creation, the
incarnation, the Second Advent, the Lord's Supper, Sabbathkeeping, etc. Ultimately what is
at stake is the authority of Scripture. If any part presents false teachings, then its
normative authority is discredited.
Larger Role for Women.
A fifth reason that motivated me to give priority to this research was the recognition
of the urgent need for a larger participation of women in the supportive ministries of
the church. While Scripture, as this study will show, precludes the ordination of women
to serve as priests in the Old Testament and pastors or elders in the New Testament, it
provides ample support for their participation in the prophetic, liturgical and social
ministries of the church. The question is not, Should women be appointed to minister in
the church? but, To which ministry should women be appointed?
The Seventh?day Adventist Church has been greatly blessed through the years by the
outstanding contribution of many dedicated women who have served the church in many
capacities. In recent years, however, the number of women serving, for example, as
Bible Instructors has decreased considerably. Currently women represent less than 10% of
the ministerial personnel of most conferences in the North American Division of Seventh?day
Adventists. In fact, some conferences do not have a single woman among their ministerial
personnel. 4 This decrease should be of concern because the need for the ministry of
women in the Adventist Church is increasingly urgent today, for two major reasons.
First, the recent trend in church growth through a small?group, seminar?type of evangelism,
requires more than ever before professionally trained women who can lead out in discussion
groups and train lay persons on how to share Bible truths with others. Second, the growing
number of broken homes, single parents, drug?addicted young people, and abused children calls
for the special healing ministry that can best be given by trained and dedicated women.
An important purpose of this study is not only to ascertain the Biblical teachings on the
role of women in the church, but also to urge the implementation of such teachings by opening
up to women new forms of meaningful church ministry.
A sixth reason that precipitated my decision to write this book is the sincere desire to help
prevent in the Seventhday Adventist Church the kind of polarization, division and turmoil being
experienced at present by most of the churches which have adopted the policy of ordaining women.
In view of the impending decision on women's ordination to be taken at the 1990 General Conference,
I felt compelled to proceed immediately with a Biblical investigation of this sensitive subject.
I have reasons to hope that the Seventh?day Adventist Church will resist the pressure to ordain
women as pastors, while at the same time encouraging their larger participation in the supportive
ministries of the church. My hope rests especially on an awareness that the Adventist Church is
deeply committed to the normative authority of Scripture for defining her beliefs and practices.
When given the opportunity to understand the vital Biblical teachings on the distinctive and yet
complementary roles God assigned to men and women to fulfill in the home and in the church,
the vast majority of Adventists will vote in favor of the ministry of women in the church but
against their ordination as elders or pastors.
This conviction is based on the responses I received during this past year when invited to share
the highlights of this research at campmeetings, workers' meetings (pastors' meetings) and churches.
Everywhere there has been an overwhelming support for the Biblical principles presented in this study.
It is a most difficult task for me to acknowledge my indebtedness to the many persons who have
directly or indirectly contributed to the realization of this book. Indirectly, I feel indebted
to the many evangelical authors who have written on this subject, even though in some instances
I could not agree with their views. The reading of their books and articles has stimulated my
thinking and broaden my understanding of the subject.
Directly, I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to Dr. Daniel Augsburger, Dr.Richard Davidson,
Dr.C.Raymond Holmes, Mrs.Hedwig Jemison, and Dr.C.Mervyn Maxwell, each of whom went beyond the call
of duty by reading, correcting and reacting constructively to my manuscript.
Very special thanks go to Dr. Bert Beverly Beach, my former teacher in Italy who through the years
has been a kind of a spiritual father to our family. His willingness to take time in his most busy
schedule to improve the text and to make valuable suggestions, will long be remembered.
I also want to express my deep gratitude to Elder William Fagal, director of the White Estate
Branch Office at Andrews University, my neighbor and esteemed friend. Besides his helpful
reading of my manuscript, Elder Fagal has greatly enhanced the value of this book by contributing
the tenth chapter, "Ellen White and the Role of Women in the Church." His objective and critical
analysis of those E.G.White statements often cited regarding the ordination of women should put
to rest many misconceptions.
Particular thanks go to Rosalie Haffner Lee not only for reading and correcting the manuscript
but also for contributing the ninth chapter, "Is Ordination Needed to Women's Ministry?" I felt
that it would add some balance to this study on the role of women in the church, if at least one
chapter was written by a woman who is currently serving in the ministry of the Seventh?day
Adventist Church. Mrs. Lee was my first choice, not only because she is currently serving on the
pastoral staff of one of our largest churches, the Hinsdale Seventh?day Adventist Church in
Illinois, but also because she is an author and a parttime instructor at the North American
Evangelism Institute in Chicago. Her willingness to share her convictions??developed over many
years of dedicated and successful church ministry??is greatly appreciated.
Special acknowledgement is also due to my family??my wife Anna, and our three children, Loretta,
Daniel and Gianluca. Often they have expressed the hope that this might be my last book to write.
Without their love, patience and encouragement, this book would never have seen the light of day.
Author's of Forewords.
It may surprise the reader to see two forewords to this book. A word of explanation may be helpful.
Among the hundreds of authors I have read in the preparation of this book, two stand out as the
ones who have made the greatest contribution to the development of my thoughts, namely, Prof.Wayne
Grudem of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Prof.James B. Hurley of Reformed Theological
Seminary. Both of them are outstanding New Testament scholars who have earned their Ph.D. degrees
in New Testament at Cambridge University in England and both of them have written their doctoral
dissertations and several articles on subjects related to the role of women in the church.
Prof.Grudem's dissertation has been published in an expanded form by the University Press of
America as The Gift of Prophecy in 1 Corinthians (1982). In this work he also examines at great
length the two crucial passages, 1 Corinthians 11:2?16 and 14:33?36, providing a most perceptive
exegesis. Another outstanding piece of research is Prof. Grudem's article "Does Kephale Mean
'Source' or 'Authority Over' in Greek Literature? A Survey of 2,336 Examples," published both
in Trinity Journal (Spring 1985) and as an appendix in George W. Knight III's, The Role
Relationship of Men and Women. The importance of this study is indicated by the fact that
it was discussed at Breath length at a plenary session of the thirty?eighth annual meeting
of the Evangelical Theological Society, November 20?22, 1986, Tucker, Georgia. In that session
Prof. Grudem cogently and compellingly exposed the fallacies of those who wish to negate the
meaning of "authority over" in the "headship" texts of the New Testament.
Prof. James Hurley's dissertation has been published in a revised form by Zondervan as
Man and Woman in Biblical Perspective (1981). This book represents in my view one of the
clearest presentations of the Biblical teachings on the role relationships between men and women.
What I greatly admire about both Prof. Grudem and Prof. Hurley is not only their outstanding
scholarship, but also their commitment to respect the integrity of the Biblical text and the
normative authority of Scripture for defining Christian beliefs and practices.
In view of the great admiration I hold for both Prof.Grudem and Prof.Hurley, I sent a typeset
copy of this study to both of them on December 10, 1986 with the 'unreasonable' request for
them to read the manuscript and to write a foreword by January 10, 1987, that is, within
less than a month. Frankly, I did not hold much hope that on such a short notice and in
the midst of the Christmas season, either of the two professors would be able to fulfill
this request. Secretly, I was still hoping that at least one of them might be able to read
sufficiently of the manuscript to write a foreword to it.
What a pleasant surprise it was for me to receive by January 10 two most gracious forewords,
one from Prof.Grudem and the other from Prof.Hurley. Their willingness to take time away from
their families in the midst of their holiday celebrations to offer me this service, gives me
reasons to be eternally grateful to them.
These pages have been written with the earnest desire to help my Seventh?day Adventist fellow
believers and Christians of all faiths to better understand what Scripture teaches about the
distinct and yet complementary roles God has called men and women to fulfill in the home and
in the church. At a time when humanistic ideologies are promoting the blurring or elimination
of the creational gender role distinctions by advocating "unisex" and role interchangeability
instead, it is imperative for Christians to resist these pressures by upholding the Scriptural
principles which God has revealed for the well?being of our homes and churches. It is my fervent
hope that this book will inspire such a commitment through a fuller understanding and acceptance
of the Biblical teachings on the role of women in the church.
NOTES ON PREFACE
1. Symposium on the Role of Women in the Church, distributed by the Biblical Research Institute
Committee, General Conference of Seventh?day Adventists (Washington, D. C., 1984), pp.97?106
2. For references see p.107, note 27.
3. Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church (Mountain View, California: 1948), vol.3, pp.483?484.
4. I learned this fact on January 12, 1987 while speaking at the pastors of the Kentucky?Tennessee
Conference of Seventh?day Adventists. I was told that in their conference, as in several others
there are no women serving as ministerial personnel.
Few theological subjects have stirred up as much controversy in recent years as that of
the ordination of women to the office of elder, pastor or priest. There is hardly a
church which has not been affected by this controversy.
Churches which have adopted the policy of ordaining women are experiencing considerable
polarization within their ranks. In the Anglican Church, for example, the issue has been
so divisive that a new denomination has been born, the Anglican Catholic Church. The same
polarization is present in the American branch of the Anglican Church, namely, the
Episcopal Church. Rev. James Brice Clark sadly acknowledges that women's ordination
"has hurt the Episcopal Church. We have gained no new converts because of it. We have
lost conservative members. We have suffered schisms, with at least six new dissident
Episcopal Churches being formed." 1
In the Swedish Lutheran Church, notes Rev. Kerstin Berglund, herself a woman priest,
"the opposition [to women's ordination] has consolidated its stance. It is one of the
facts of life in the Church of Sweden." 2 Though the church still holds together,
she writes, "there is a wound, a pain, felt deeply by some, and hence felt by all
of us." 3 In the United Presbyterian Church conflicts over the ordination of women
"stretch Presbyterian unity to the breaking point." 4 The opponents have organized
themselves under the name of "Concerned United Prebyterians" and are threatening "to
withdraw from their denomination unless requested constitutional changes are made." 5
In the Southern Baptist Church their "SBC Women in Ministry" organization has broken
its silence, challenging the alledged discrimination of their church against ordained
The extent and intensity of the controversy is revealed especially through the flood of
books and articles which have recently been published on this issue. A selected bibliography,
compiled by Alan F. Johnson, Professor of New Testament at Wheaton College, lists over
430 entries. 7 The same author cites three additional and extensive bibliographies on the
same subject .8
FACTORS INFLUENCING CHANGE
Changing Lives of Women. The impetus to re?examine the role of women in the church
has come largely from two major factors: 1) the awareness of the changing lifespan
and social roles of women, 2) the influence of the feminist movement.
The average life expectancy of American women has changed rom about 45 years in
1900 to about 80 in 1986. This increased life span gives to a traditional wife and
mother another 30 to 40 years of life expectancy beyond child rearing years. What
is a woman to do with her time, her energy and her gifts? Some women are rightfully
seeking to serve within the church.
Moreover, in most Western countries more and more women are now working alongside
of men as company executives, doctors, lawyers, judges, and even professors of theology.
It is therefore understandable that the question has been raised: Why shouldn't women
function also as elders, pastors or priests within the church?
Influence of Feminist Movement
The encouragement for women to seek ordination has come especially from the Christian
feminist movement, which arose after the women's liberation movement had come to the
fore in the late 1960s. The connection between the two is recognized by Christian
feminists themselves. Sara Maitland, for example, writes: "The women's liberation
has authorized this personal voice in a particular and liberating way."9 Similarly,
Susannah Herzel notes: "Much of the rhetoric used in the debate on women's ordination
to the priesthood has been influenced by feminism and the psychological pressures which
that movement exerted."l0
In seeking for a Biblical answer to the question of women's ordination, many church
leaders and writers, whether they are aware of it or not, have been influenced by secular
feminist pressure. There has been a clear tendency to reinterpret the Bible in a way
consistent with the prevailing feminist views of the role of women in our society. 11
A fitting example is the change in the position of Swedish New Testament scholars.
In 1951, all but one of the New Testament teachers holding academic positions in Swedish
universities signed the following statement, in response to the efforts of the Swedish
government to introduce the ordination of women into the Church of Sweden:
We,the undersigned professors and lecturers in the field of New Testament exegesis at our
two universities, hereby declare as our definite opinion, based on careful investigation,
that ordination of women would be incompatible with New Testament thought and would
constitute disobedience to the Holy Scriptures. Both Jesus' choice of apostles and
Paul's words concerning the position of women in the congregation have significance of
principle, and are independent of circumstances and opinions conditioned by any
particular time in history. The current proposal that women should be admitted to
priesthood in the Church of Sweden must therefore be said to meet with grave exegetical
Thirty five years later, it would be difficult to find one New Testament professor in
Sweden who would endorse this statement. The explanation for this change is not
the discovery of new Biblical evidence, but rather, as Stephen B. Clark points out,
"the climate of opinion [which] has changed, influencing exegetes to come up with
opinions that are acceptable nowadays." 13
This is not by any means the only historical example of accommodations of Biblical
teachings to contemporary trends. There are plenty of examples in the past as well
as in the present. In early Christianity, for example, Hellenistic philosophy influenced
many Christians to adopt a dualistic view of the nature of man which, among other things,
led them to reject the incarnation of Christ (1 John 4:13). In recent years socio?political
ideologies have influenced such Christian accommodations as the theologies of revolution,
the justification for draft dodging, the christianization of Nazism, the social gospel
movement, and the evolutionist criticism of the Bible.
It is regrettable that all too often Christians have come to terms with current trends
by claiming them to be Christian, rather than by judging them by the authority of the
Word of God. There is a constant danger of slipping into the former course, but for those
who take the Bible as normative for their faith and practice there can be only one permissible
approach: to be guided by the principles revealed in the Scriptures.
THREE APPROACHES TO THE PROBLEM
A survey of the voluminous literature on the role of women in the church reveals three
major approaches to the subject, each of which is largely determined by its interpretation
of the Biblical material. I shall designate the three approaches as: (1) Liberal Feminist,
(2) Evangelical Feminist, (3) Biblical Feminist. 14
A brief description of each of these approaches will offer to the reader an overview of
Perhaps the best word to characterize "Liberal Feminists" is the term rejection. The heart
of their rejection is the authority or the applicability of the Scriptures or both. While
they continue to work with the Bible as a religious document they reject the Bible as the
only normative rule of faith and practice.
Most Liberal Feminists concede that Scripture teaches a different functional role between
men and women, but they argue that there is no need to take such teaching seriously.
Different authors offer different reasons for holding such a view. Biblical texts and
teachings are regarded as time?bound, culturally conditioned, androcentric (malecentered),
Liberal Feminists employ the historical?critical method for determining which texts can be
rightly used for developing a theology of female ordination and which texts are unacceptable.
In the final analysis Liberal Feminists find their ultimate authority in their own
interpretation rather than in the teachings of Scripture. By so doing they themselves
become victims of their own culturally conditioned interpretation.
Among the writers representing this stance are Rosemary Radford Ruether, Elisabath
Schiissler Fiorenza, Adela Yabro Collins, Mary Daly, Josephine Ford, Albertus Magnus
McGrath, Phyllis Trible and George Tavard. No attempt will be made in this study to
interact with Liberal Feminists since their rejection of the authority and applicability
of Scriptures offers no basis for any fruitful dialogue.
The second approach to the ordination of women is represented by "Evangelical Feminists."
The key term that best characterizes their approach is reinterpretation. For the most part
Evangelical Feminists writers respect the authority of Scripture, but they protest against
what they view as a misinterpretation of Bible texts by "Biblical Feminists." They believe
that the Bible does not teach that the male headship role at home carries over to the church.
For Evangelical Feminists the true Biblical picture is one of perfect equality between
male and female in all spheres of life. There are no "leaders," or "heads," and thus no church
offices from which a woman can be legitimately excluded. All ministries in the church are
equally open to men and women.
To sustain this equality position, Evangelical Feminists reinterpret those texts which speak
of a functional hierarchy between men and women and which exclude women from the office of
teaching as pastor or elder. For example they insist that the word "head" in 1 Corinthians 11:3
and Ephesians 5:23 means "source" or "origin" and thus it does not indicate any headship role
on the part of man or any subordination on the part of the woman. The purpose of Ephesians
5:21?33 is not to exhort the wife to be subordinate to her husband but rather to exhort
the husband to care for his wife.
The head coverings in 1 Corinthians 11 are simply a symbol of woman's authority and not of
her subordination. Paul's injunctions that "women should keep silence in the churches"
(1 Cor 14:34) and that they are not "to teach or have authority over men" (1 Tim 2:12),
are interpreted as "non?Pauline" interpolations, or as culturally conditioned, or as
representing the early stage of Paul's thought ("Paul in process") before he had worked
out the "equality theology" expressed in Galatians 3:28. The resounding affirmation of
the latter text, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there
is neither male nor female" (Gal 3:28), is seen as the great breakthrough, designed to
abolish all role differences, thus opening the way for the ordination of women.
Some of the representatives of the Evangelical Feminist approach are Gilbert
Bilezikian, Mary J. Evans, Letha Scanzomi and Nancy Hardesty, Paul K. Jewett,
Patricia Gundry, Virginia Mollenkott, and Aida Besancon Spencer. To these can be
added many other evangelical writers, including a few Seventh?day Adventist teachers.
Their major arguments will be examined at length in the course of this study.
The third approach to the ordination of women is represented by "Biblical Feminists."
Whereas the key term used to characterize Liberal Feminists was rejection, and the term
for Evangelical Feminists was reinterpretation, the term that best describes Biblical
Feminists is reaffirmation.. 13
Biblical Feminists reaffirm the teachings of the Bible regarding a divinely established
functional hierarchy that exists both in the home and in the church. They insist that
there are different functional roles between men and women. Such differences do not
imply superiority or inferiority but complementarity. Women are called to minister in
the church in a variety of roles, but are not eligible to function as elders/pastors
of the congregation. The reasons for their exclusion from such offices are not cultural
and time?bound but theological and timeless.
Among the large number of writers supporting this position, the followings may be
selected as representatives: Stephen Clark, Susan T. Foh, James B. Hurley, George W. Knight,
Wayne Grudem, Douglas J. Moo, and Charles Caldwell Ryrie.
METHOD AND OBJECTIVES
This book is written from a Biblical Feminist's perspective. I accept the Bible as
normative for defining Christian beliefs and practices. Because the words of the Bible
contain a divine message written by human authors who lived in specific historical
situations, every effort must be made to understand their meaning in their historical
context. My conviction is that an understanding of both the, historical and literary
context of relevant Biblical texts, is indispensable in establishing both their original
meaning and their present relevance. This conviction has influenced my examination of
texts and the discussion of the roles of women in the church.
This book has both a general and a specific objective. The general objective is to
ascertain the Biblical understanding of the role of women in the church. To accomplish
this a brief survey has been made in the first two chapters of the major roles women
have filled in the religious life of ancient Israel and of early Christianity. The final
chapter considers some of the vital ministries women can fulfill within the church today.
The specific objective is to examine the major reasons suggested by Scripture
for the exclusion of women from serving as priests in the Old Testament and as
pastors/elders/bishops in the New Testament. In spite of the voluminous literature
on this subject, there is no book which, to my knowledge, presents in a clear and orderly
fashion the arguments pro and con for the ordination of women. Most of the books I
have read fall broadly into two categories: either they deal with very specific exegetical,
historical and social questions, or they examine the general roles of men and women in
the various cultures of the ancient world during Bible times.
In this book I have attempted to deal primarily with the question of the ordination of women,
by limiting my analysis to the religious roles of women in the Bible. For the sake of
clarity I have presented each of the arguments for the exclusion of women from ordination
in a separate chapter, beginning with chapter 3. In these chapters the proordination
arguments of feminist authors are examined, not for the sake of polemic, but because
they seriously obscure important truths.
My concern is not to oppose the feminist pro?ordination program, whether inside or outside
the Seventh?day Adventist Church, but rather to make a positive statement concerning what
I perceive to be a vital Biblical principle, namely: men and women are equal before God by
virtue of creation and redemption. Yet God assigned distinctive and complementary roles
for men and women to fill in ther relation to each other. These roles are not nullified
but clarified by Christ's redemption and should be reflected in the church.
This book is written first of all for Seventhday Adventist lay?members, pastors,
church administrators, and theologians who are currently seeking for a fuller understanding
of the teaching of Scripture regarding the role of women in the church. The impetus for
this new investigation has come from the decision taken at the 1975 Spring meeting of the
General Conference to allow local churches to elect and ordain women as local elders.
This decision has paved the way for the ordination of women as pastors, a question scheduled
to be addressed at the 1990 General Conference.
In view of this impending resolution I felt compelled to reexamine the witness of Scripture
on this sensitive subject. It is my fervent hope that the findings of this research will
help my fellow Adventist members in formulating Biblical convictions and decisions
on this matter.
This book is also written with an ecumenical audience in mind. Many questions regarding
the ordination of women are approached differently in various churches. Catholics and
Orthodox, for example, focus a great deal on the sacramental and canonical aspects of
the priesthood. Yet many of the same arguments are used in every church. Moreover the
methods of Scriptural interpretation are not significantly different in the many churches.
Thus, much of the material in this book should be of interest to Christians of many
It is my sincere hope that this book will be received in the same spirit of Christian
love and respect in which it is offered. May the Spirit of God, whose ministry is to guide
us into all truth (John 16:13), make all who read these pages receptive and responsive
to the revealed will of God regarding the role of women in the church.
NOTES AND INTRODUCTION
1. James Brice Clark, "Women's Ordination," The Christian Century (September 26, 1986):
1078; Similarly, Rev. Richard J. Anderson, Director for Development and Stewardship of
the Anglican Church, notes that the situation "is to a large extent polarization,
confusion and turmoil" ("Where Do We Go from Here: Prospects for the 1976 Convention,"
in The Ordination of Women: Pro and Con, ed. Michael P. Hamilton and Nancy S. Montgomery
[New York, 1975], p.154).
2. Kerstin Berglund, "The Swedish Lutheran Church," in The Ordination of Women:
Pro and Con (n. 1), p.105.
3. Ibid., p.110.
4. John Maust, "Conflicts Stretch Presbyterian Unity to the Breaking Point,"
Christianity Today (September 2, 1979): 58.
5. Ibid., p.58
6. Susan Lockwood Wright, "SBC Women Ministers Break Their Silence," The Christian
Century (November 12, 1986): 998?999.
7. The bibliography compiled by Prof. Alan F. Johnson is published in Gilbert
Bilezikian's Beyond Sex Roles (Grand Rapids, 1985), pp.271?291.
8. C.E.Cerling, Jr., "An Annotated Bibliography of the New Testament
Teaching About Women," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 19 (1976):
210?215; David M. Scholer. Introductory Reading List for the Study of the Role
and Status of Women in the New Testament (David Scholer, 1981), pp.14; Kathleen
Storrie, "Contemporary Feminist Theology: A Selective Bibliography,"
TSF Bulletin 7 (May?June 1984): 13?15.
9. Sara Maitland, A Map of the New Country, Women and Christianity
(London, 1983), p.xi.
10. Susannah Herzel, "The Body is the Book," in Man, Woman and Priesthood,
ed. P. Moore (London, 1978), p.103.
11. A brief but perceptive analysis of the influence of the Women Liberation
Movement on the ordination of women is provided by Gervase E. Duffield,
"Feminism and the Church," in Why Not? Priesthood and the Ministry of Women, (n. 1),
12. Cited in Krister Stendahl, The Bible and the Role of Women
(Philadelphia, 1966), p.8.
13. Stephen B. Clark, Man and Woman in Christ (Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1980),
14. I am endebted for the use of these three terms to Prof. Carl B. Hoch's paper
"A Survey of Current Approaches to the Role of Women in the Church," presented at
The Midwest Section of the Evangelical Theological Society, on April 12, 1986.
To be continued