Prove All Things:
A Response to Women in Ministry
Are Those Things So?—Part I:
A Summary and Evaluation of Key Biblical Arguments of
Women in Ministry
The Apostle Paul commended the Bereans for "receiving the word" and "searching the Scriptures" to see "whether those things were so" (Acts 17:11). Their example suggests that whenever influential scholars and leaders urge new beliefs and practices on the church, members who are committed to biblical fidelity should always ask, "Are those things so?"
The authors of Women in Ministry, the pro-ordination book from the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University, have proposed a new understanding of Scripture which would result in the church adopting a new belief and practice. They have submitted their volume as a "resource tool for decision making," correctly recognizing that the ordination of women as elders or pastors is a theological issue.1 As such, it is only through a correct understanding of Scripture determining "whether those things were so" that the church can legitimately depart from its 150-year-old practice of ordination.
One supporter of the book adds: "The ultimate purpose of Women in Ministry is to provide information for informed decision making, a clear indication that there is a decision to be made. In so doing, the book calls the church to do some serious Bible study. If the basis of our decision is going to be in our interpretation of Scripture, we must do it well." 2
The question before us is: Did the writers "do their work well"? The editor of Women in Ministry states in the prologue: "We believe that the biblical, theological, and historical perspectives elaborated in this book affirm women in pastoral leadership." 3 The author of one of the chapters who describes the volume as "the official view of the Seminary and the position of virtually all of its faculty" thinks that this work by twenty Andrews University scholars will "demonstrate that the Seminary faculty stands for sound Biblical and historical scholarship on this contemporary and controversial issue." 4
Similarly, some influential promoters of Women in Ministry are applauding it in Seventh-day Adventist publications as the product of "skillful exegesis of Scripture and careful examination of relevant E. G. White materials," 5 a volume that presents "a powerful argument" and "an impressive array of evidence" for the ordination of women, 6 and one which "brings together a wealth of material and deserves to be taken seriously. 7
To evaluate these claims, we must follow Paul's counsel to "prove all things [and] hold fast that which is good" (1 Thess 5:21). Like the Bereans, we must carefully examine Women in Ministry to see "whether those things were so."
Summary of This Analysis
Contrary to this chorus of claims by authors and reviewers, I am going to argue in this chapter and in its companion chapter later in the book that there is no evidence in the Bible, in the writings of Ellen G. White, or in the practice of the early Seventh-day Adventist church to support ordaining women as elders or pastors. Despite its authors' noble motives and laudable efforts, I will contend that Women in Ministry is constructed upon questionable assumptions and imaginative and speculative interpretations.
The editor alerts readers to this very possibility. She writes in the introduction, "The Seminary Ad Hoc Committee on Hermeneutics and Ordination prayerfully submits this book, not as the final answer to whether or not the Seventh-day Adventist Church should ordain its women in ministry, but rather as a resource tool for decision making. While recognizing that good decisions are based on hard facts, we are also cognizant of the fact that at times clear evidence may be lacking, thus making necessary the use of sanctified judgment and imagination to resolve questions and issues." 8
In evaluating the authors' "use of sanctified judgment and imagination to resolve questions and issues" regarding women's ordination as elders and pastors, my assessment of Women in Ministry will show that the book is based on: (1) ambiguity and vagueness, (2) straw-man arguments, (3) substantial leaps of logic, (4) arguments from silence, (5) speculative interpretations (6) Questionable Re-Interpretations of the Bible questionable re-interpretations of the Bible, (7) distorted biblical reasoning, (8) misleading and erroneous claims regarding Adventist history, (9) a seriously flawed concept of "Moral Imperative," and (10) a fanciful view of the Holy Spirit's leading. 9 The first seven of these will appear in this chapter; the remaining three I will take up in the companion chapter later in the book. At the close of that chapter, I will conclude by mentioning the implications arising from the book's mistaken conclusions.
1. Ambiguity and Vagueness
Several of the chapters in Women in Ministry are written in such a way as to be unclear about the issues that divide us. Authors repeatedly avoid a clear statement of what is at issue (the ordination of women as elders or pastors ) and use a phrase which may be intended to win more support (women in ministry or leadership). To illustrate this fuzziness, I will mention the use of expressions like "full equality," "equal partnership," and "women in leadership and public ministry."
(a) "Full Equality" and "Equal Partnership." One of the fundamental arguments underlying Women in Ministry is that at creation Adam and Eve were "fully equal," enjoying "total egalitarianism in marriage." According to the book's leading proponent of this view, prior to the Fall there was no role differentiation between male and female. Role distinctions came as the result of the Fall. Because today the relation between husband and wife, even in Christian homes, "does not quite approach total role interchangeableness," Christians should aspire to God's "ultimate ideal" of "full equality" in their homes. Thus, God's ideal for Christian homes "is still the partnership of equals that is set forth from the beginning." 10
To speak of "full equality" as the ideal for today without coming to terms with the nature and extent of this equality leaves the reader to wonder just how far believers in this view are willing to go. Some, no doubt, will take it to mean a partnership of identical roles, and others will probably understand it to mean a partnership with different roles of equal value. Thus the phrase "full and equal" could be hailed by radical feminists who reject the Bible's teaching that because of God's creation arrangement, He calls upon men today to bear the primary headship responsibility as leaders in their homes (e.g., 1 Cor 11:3, 8, 9; Eph 5:23-33; cf. 1 Tim 2:12, 13).
Even more, just as radical feminists seek "full equality" by getting rid of gender or sex roles in marriage and in the church, so also does gay theology seek to bring about "equality" between homosexuals and heterosexuals by obliterating sexual identity. Radical feminists and pro-gay advocates can also endorse the "full equality" or "total role interchangeableness" concepts as validations of their claim that there were no gender-based role distinctions at creation.
As far as I know, none of the authors of Women in Ministry have endorsed radical feminist and gay theology. Yet this kind of fuzziness or this lack of clarity is a common prelude to liberalism's revisionist theologies. I suggest that we should not speak of "full equality," "equal partnership" or even "shared responsibilities" without stating unambiguously that to act as "equal and joint partners" does not mean to act identically. Individuals in a relationship can be equal and yet have different roles. They can act "jointly" and yet not act identically; they may "share" duties, but not bear the same responsibilities. 11
This lack of clarity on "full equality" and "equal partnership" also overlooks the fact that Ellen G. White rejects the egalitarian model of "total role interchangeability." Despite the abuse of God's creation arrangement for role relations in the home, she writes that "heaven's ideal of this sacred [marriage] relation" is one in which the man is the head of the home. This kind of relationship is "what God designed it should be" ( Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, pp. 64, 65). And because "the husband is the head of the family, as Christ is the head of the church," she writes, "any course which the wife may pursue to lessen his influence and lead him to come down from that dignified, responsible position is displeasing to God" (Testimonies for the Church, 1:307).
At a time of rampant divorces, sometimes because each party seeks to be the "head," we need to be clear on what we mean by "total role interchangeableness" as God's ideal for the home. And at a time of increasing homosexual demands for marital rights, we need to say unambiguously that men were not created equal with women personally or even physically as candidates to be spouses of men. Failure to do so will open a welcome door for those who seek to nullify the biblical case for divinely-instituted role differences and a monogamous heterosexual relationship. Proponents of gay theology within Adventism have not lost sight of this fact. 12
What has been said about the vagueness of expressions like "full equality" and "joint leadership" also applies to using the expression "mutual submission" as though Ephesians 5:21 ("Submit to one another") means complete reciprocity ("wives submit to husbands and husbands submit to wives as if there were no role distinctions among you." ) 13
(b) " Women in Leadership" and " Women in Public Ministry." The book frequently refers to women serving in positions of "leadership" and "public ministry." For instance, it is claimed that in Bible times nothing barred women from holding "the highest offices of leadership, including authoritative teaching roles that constituted 'headship' over men," and that "in the late-nineteenth century, women were active in [the Seventh-day Adventist] church leadership and ministry," serving in "both leadership and ministerial positions in the early history of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination." 14 Or that "throughout both the Old and New Testaments women served not only in home and family administration but also in public and religious spheres. The roles of women in Scripture are varied and vigorous"; "the entire [biblical] canon can be seen to affirm women, whether in the home or in public ministry, or both." 15
What, exactly, is meant by "leadership" or "public ministry"? These terms are often not clearly defined in Women in Ministry. If they mean positions of genuine, significant responsibility in the church, then the implication that women in churches today should likewise be given roles in which they can exercise their spiritual gifts in significant ways is not biblically objectionable. In fact, this is what Seventh-day Adventists historically have believed and practiced.
If, however, "leadership" and "public ministry" mean women served in positions of ultimate responsibility as priests, apostles, and elders or pastors in Bible times and as elders or pastors in early Seventh-day Adventist history, then, as we shall later show, the authors of Women in Ministry do not sufficiently substantiate their claim.
My point is this: the basic issue is not "women in ministry" (a non-issue), but "women as ordained ministers-pastors; not women "in leadership" or "public ministry," but women as elders or pastors. Broad, undefined terms can be misleading.
2. "Straw Man" Arguments
A straw man is a set of arguments a writer claims his opponent believes so that he can attack them and gain an easy victory. Typically, straw men are presented as unavoidable and unacceptable alternatives to the writers' position. Two examples in Women in Ministry grow out of the suggestion that anyone who rejects women's ordination 1) views "women as inferior to men," or 2) wants "all women to be in submission to all men." 16 Let's look at these straw men.
(a) Male Superiority and Female Inferiority? When Women in Ministry concludes that male headship (and female submission) "is part of God's plan for fallen human beings rather than an original mandate for the sinless world," 17 it positions itself between liberal feminists (who reject any form of male headship and female submission before and after the Fall) and conservative opponents of women's ordination (who accept headship—submission, before and after the Fall).
Unlike liberal feminists, the authors of Women in Ministry believe in a "post-Fall" headship, a loving servant leadership of the husband. 18 (Conservatives opposed to women's ordination also hold to the same kind of loving servant headship, but they argue that headship was instituted by God at creation and reiterated at the Fall. 19 ) Women in Ministry rejects headship at creation, arguing instead for "total egalitarianism"—an alleged divine ideal of "full equality" which is void of functional role differentiations between male and female. 20
But in giving reasons for their rejection of headship before the Fall they resort to "straw man" arguments and misleading reasoning. For example, in the chapter that provides the exegetical and theological framework for the entire book, we read that "there is no hint of ontological or functional superiority-inferiority or headship-submission between male and female." 21 Does a belief in the biblical teaching of headship—submission before the Fall necessitate a belief in male superiority and female inferiority at creation? It doesn't, and to my knowledge, this view is not held by any credible Adventist scholar opposed to women's ordination. 22 The opponents I know believe that as human beings Adam and Eve were equal (that is, ontologically, neither one was superior or inferior to the other), but they were expected to do different things (that is, there was to be functional role differentiation).
The issue in the debate over women's ordination is not whether women were created equal to men (a non-issue), but rather whether God instituted a functional role differentiation between male and female when He created both of them equal. This is the real issue in the headship—submission debate. In my earlier work, Searching the Scriptures, I have offered several lines of evidence for headship before the Fall. 23
Regrettably, the authors did not interact with the biblical evidence. They set up and knocked down straw-man arguments about superiority and inferiority. And having shown that Adam and Eve were created equal, neither superior to the other in worth (ontological equality), the writers give the false impression that they have proved that our first parents were created without prescribed role distinctions (functional role differentiations).
If no headship-submission existed at creation, these authors in Women in Ministry will need to explain, for example, why Adam (not Eve) is repeatedly held responsible for the entrance of sin and death into the world even though it was Eve who sinned first (Rom 5:12-21; 1 Cor 15:21-22). Note that in Genesis 3, God also approached Adam (not Eve) first after sin, suggesting the reality of male headship before the Fall. 24
(b) "All Women Under All Men"? One writer in the book sees only three options in the discussion of women's relation to men: (1) Scripture instructs "all women to be under the authority of all men" (this is assumed to be the position of conservatives opposed to women's ordination); (2) "Women (when married) are [to be] under the headship of their husbands, but in the church men and women stand together in full equality under Christ" (the position of conservatives for women's ordination—the posture Women in Ministry wants to project); (3) or "the Apostle Paul contradicts himself on this issue in his various New Testament writings and thus should be ignored—or that his counsel is outdated in this modern era" (the liberal or radical feminist position from which the book wants to distance itself). 25
Writers of Women in Ministry must be commended for going to great lengths in distancing themselves from radical feminist and liberal hermeneutics. 26 It is an error, however, to give the impression that view #1 is the position of conservatives opposed to women's ordination. To my knowledge, the conservative Adventist scholars opposed to women's ordination do not argue that "all women must be in submission to all men." 27 Neither do they claim that headship gives "any male preponderance over all females," nor that it gives "males the right to rule over women." 28
What Adventist opponents of women's ordination hold is that biblical headship-leadership, in contrast to male domination, was instituted by God to govern the relationship of the man and woman, two spiritually-equal human beings, in both the home and the church. In this relation, it is the man who exercises primary responsibility for leading the home and church families in a God-glorifying direction (cf. 1 Cor 11:3; Eph 5:21-33), and God holds these men responsible when they abdicate their God-assigned responsibilities as husbands and elders or pastors.
In contrast to the view that "all women must be in submission to all men," Adventist opponents of women's ordination argue that in the home women must be in submission to their own husbands, and in the church they must be in submission to the elders or pastors, who are appointed by God to positions of headship.
This is why I say the authors created straw-man arguments when they attacked the shortcomings of ugly alternatives which are not held by their opponents (i.e, the suggestion that those who reject women's ordination want to "treat women as inferior to men," or view "all women to be in submission to all men"), thus giving the impression that there are no other credible alternatives when in truth there are.
3. Substantial Leaps of Logic
Several insightful and otherwise excellent chapters in Women in Ministry display substantial leaps of logic. In these instances the conclusions do not follow from the established premises. As examples of leaps of logic, I will discuss the claims about "the priesthood of all believers" and "slavery and women's ordination."
(a) "Priesthood of All Believers." A recurring claim in Women in Ministry is that the doctrine of "the priesthood of all believers" leads to an egalitarian (i.e., "equalitarian") model of the ordained ministry, in which gender plays no role. The author of the lead chapter writes:
"Males functioned as priests in the days of the biblical patriarchs as well as after God's covenant with Israel at Mount Sinai. With the move from Israel to the Christian church, however, a radical transformation occurred. A new priesthood is unfolded in the New Testament, that of all believers. The Christian church is a fellowship of believer priests. Such an ecclesiology, such an understanding of the nature and mission of the church, no longer poses roadblocks to women serving in any ministry. It in fact demands a partnership of men and women in all expressions of the ordained ministry. The recognition of the priesthood of all believers implies a church in which women and men work side by side in various functions and ministries, endowed with gifts distributed by the Holy Spirit according to his sovereign will (1 Cor 12:7-11)." 29
The claim that women can also function "in all expressions of the ordained ministry" (including the headship roles of elders or pastors) does not follow. The priesthood of all believers is not about particular church functions of men and women. Christians are part of a priesthood because every believer has direct access to God through Christ without any need for other intermediaries (cf. Heb 10:19-22). The New Testament doctrine of the "priesthood of all believers" (1 Pet 2:5, 9-12) also recognizes that the church is a worshiping community (a priestly people called to offer "spiritual sacrifices" of praise and prayer) and also a witnessing community (a missionary people called to declare the "praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light"). Every church member—whether man or woman—has been called to the soul-winning ministry of the church.
It does not follow that every church member may perform an identical function in the church. 30 The Bible itself establishes what the qualities of an elder or pastor should be (1 Tim 3:1-7). Among other things, the elder or pastor must be "the husband of one wife," one who "rules well his own house" (vv. 2, 4, 5; Titus 1:6). This gender-based qualification cannot be legitimately fulfilled by a woman. 31
Moreover, the apostle Peter makes it clear that the doctrine of "the priesthood of all believers" was not a new innovation "unfolded in the New Testament." Rather, it was based on an Old Testament concept (1 Pet 2:5, 9-12; cf. Ex 19:5-6). In the Old Testament, there was "the priesthood of all believers." God declared, "Ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation" (Ex 19:6). Yet, no women served as priests in the Old Testament. Not even all males served as priests, but only those from the tribe of Levi. 32 And whereas all priests were Levites, not all Levites were priests. Only the family of Aaron and his male descendants were assigned this responsibility (Ex 28:1, 41, 43; Num 3:10, 32; 20:28; 25:10-13).
If there was such a "radical transformation" of the Old Testament concept of "priesthood of all believers" as to demand "a partnership of men and women in all expressions of the ordained ministry," how is it that we cannot find a single unequivocal example of women serving as elders or overseers in the New Testament?
To claim, as many writers in Women in Ministry do, that the priesthood of all believers eliminates gender role distinctions requires a substantial leap of logic. It is not validated in the Old Testament or the New Testament. Pro-ordinationists can only sustain their reinterpretation of the concept by imposing on the Bible the feminist concept of "full equality," understood to mean the total obliteration of male-female role differentiation.
(b) Slavery and Women's Ordination. Another manifestation of a leap of logic is the claim that because the arguments of those opposed to women's ordination "parallel" those of nineteenth-century slave holders, and because slavery was later shown to be wrong, opposition to women's ordination must also be wrong. 33
For example, one writer puts in two parallel columns the arguments of those who favored slavery and of those who favor limiting ordination to men. He thus shows that proponents of both positions argue that: (1) their position is based on a high view of Scripture; (2) their view is established on divine creation; (3) Jesus set the precedent (He used a slavery analogy in Luke 17; He ordained only males); (4) the apostles approved Jesus' precedent; (5) there is divine blessing for upholding it; (6) there exists a slippery-slope argument (if you abandon it, it will jeopardize a divine arrangement). 34
It is puzzling that no committee member caught the fallacy in this kind of argument. Let me illustrate. Are we Adventists to suggest that because our arguments for the Sabbath parallel those used by slave holders (high view of Scripture, divine creation ordinance, the precedent set by Jesus and the apostles, etc.), our doctrine of the Sabbath must necessarily be wrong? Certainly not.
Thus, the fact that pro-slavery theologians argued their case in this manner does not make their case right. And the fact that anti-women's ordination scholars argue for the creation ordinance and the absence of Bible precedents does not make their case wrong. The rightness of a position should be judged on the merits of the issue, in the light of Scripture's witness. 35
"The headship principle is different from slavery in two major ways: (1) the headship principle was a creation ordinance, while slavery was never instituted by God; and (2) as a pre-Fall creation ordinance, the headship principle is morally right and therefore morally binding on all God's people, irrespective of the place and time in which they live; but slavery, as a post-fall distortion of God's will for humanity, is morally offensive and cannot be justified under biblical Christianity. (The book of Philemon shows this.)" 36
4. Arguments from Silence
These are instances in which the book's authors attempt to deduce some inferences from the silence of Scripture. Most of these deal with the "culture of the times" argument. Let me explain.
There is no record in the Bible of any ordination of women, such as priests in the Old Testament and apostles and elders or pastors in the New Testament. Women in Ministry argues that this lack of biblical precedent should be understood as a cultural accommodation to oppressive structures (race, gender, religion, etc.) in existence during Bible times. Thus, the authors claim, the failure of Jesus to ordain women as apostles and the New Testament church's failure to ordain women as elders and pastors were concessions that had to be made to accommodate the (supposedly) insensitive, male-chauvinistic or anti-women cultural practices of their times so as not to jeopardize their ministries prematurely.
In making this claim, proponents of women's ordination are simply arguing from silence. I will examine how Women in Ministry deals with the following examples: "Jesus and the ministry of women," "the apostolic church and women," "women leaders of the NT church," and "Junia as a female apostle." (The claim that Phoebe was a "female minister" will be taken up in a later section.)
(a) Jesus and the Ministry of Women. What does Women in Ministry have to say in response to the fact that Jesus did not ordain any woman among the twelve apostles? The authors offer two sets of arguments. First, "within the social restraints of his day, Paul and the early church (like Jesus) did not act precipitously." 37 Or as another writer states: "Custom here may have been so entrenched that Jesus simply stopped short of fully implementing a principle that he made explicit and emphatic [i.e., the inclusion of "women, Samaritans and Gentiles"]. . . . However, at this time this may have been an ideal awaiting its time of actualization." 38
Second, they argue that if opponents to women's ordination insist that Jesus' example of ordaining no women apostles should be followed, by the same logic, Gentiles should also be excluded from the category of apostles since Christ never ordained a Gentile. "While Jesus treated women and Gentiles in a way that was revolutionary for His day," argues one writer, "yet He did not ordain as one of His disciples either a Gentile or a woman. But this pattern was no more normative for the future roles of women in church leadership than for future roles of Gentiles." 39
These arguments are flawed. With respect to the argument that the "entrenched custom" of those times would not have permitted Christ and the early church to have acted "precipitously," we must point out that such a view, in effect, charges our Lord Jesus Christ with insensitivity or false accommodation to the "injustice" women suffered in His day. How could this be, when Scripture teaches that Jesus never yielded to sin (Heb 4:15)? "Sin" surely includes the sin of gender injustice. The Gospels tell us that Jesus never hesitated to correct his culture when issues of right and wrong were at stake. His treatment of women also contrasted sharply with that of the rabbis of His day. 40
On why Christ never ordained a Gentile, the Bible provides an answer. He chose twelve Jewish apostles because in God's divine wisdom, the church began among the Jews, and it was all Jewish at the beginning ("salvation is of the Jews" John 4:22; cf. Rom 3:1, 2; Acts 1:8). Seventh-day Adventists understand that the 70 weeks determined for the Jews (Dan 9:24ff) still had several years to run. There were no Gentile leaders in the church in Christ's day, but there were many qualified, spiritual women. The New Testament actually does report some Gentile apostles (2 Cor 1:19; 1 Thess 1:1; 2 Thess 1:1, Silvanus?), but not one female apostle (we'll look at Junia later). Thus, those who attempt to present a "Gentile" argument to counter the absence of women apostles among Christ's followers apparently fail to understand Christ's prophetic priority of beginning His mission with the house of Israel (cf. Matt 10:5-6).
If Jesus had wanted to demonstrate that women had full access to all leadership roles in the church, He could easily have chosen and ordained six men and their wives as apostles, since the wives of apostles frequently accompanied their husbands (1 Cor 9:5). But He did not. Christ could have chosen and ordained at least one of the women who were actively involved in His ministry, traveling to the places He was teaching, and supporting Him and His disciples with their own money (see Luke 8:1-3). But He did not. He could have ordained His own mother, since she already had heaven's certification as "highly favored" (Luke 1:28, 30). But He did not. He could have chosen and ordained Mary, just as He commissioned her to bear witness to His resurrection (Mark 16:9ff.; John 20:11ff.). But He did not. Christ could have ordained the Samaritan woman as an apostle, since she defied several "cultural" stigmas (a woman five times divorced, living unlawfully with a man, and a Samaritan) to become a powerful and successful evangelist (John 4). But He did not. Instead, after spending all night in prayer (Luke 6:12), Christ appointed twelve men as His apostles (Matt 10:2-4; Mark 3:13-19). Why?
Was it because He did not want to act "precipitously" in light of the "restraints of His day"? Was it because He lacked the courage to stand against gender injustice entrenched in His culture? Or was it because women were not capable or qualified? No. Jesus did not ordain even one woman as an apostle because He understood the headship principle He Himself had instituted at creation, and He submitted to its authority.
(b) The Apostolic Church and Women. One author in Women in Ministry writes: "While women may not have immediately received full and equal partnership with men in the ministry of the church, evidence of women in leadership roles in the early church is sufficient to demonstrate that they were not barred from positions of influence, leadership and even headship over men." 41
Here is a paradox. How may women not "immediately" have "received full and equal partnership with men in the ministry" and yet at the same time exercise "leadership and even headship over men"? It can only be one or the other. Either they served as leaders (elders-pastors) or they did not. By inserting the word "immediately" without telling us how much time elapsed before women allegedly received the "equal partnership," is the writer attempting to marry biblical faith with feminist egalitarianism? The New Testament shows that women were actively involved in soul-winning ministry but never served in the headship roles of elder or pastor.
Contrary to the suggestion that women could not "immediately" receive "full and equal partnership with men in the ministry," the New Testament writers note the active role of women in gospel ministry. We read about the significant contributions of Mary, Martha, Joanna, Susanna (Luke 8:2, 3; Acts 1:14), Tabitha (Acts 9:36), Lydia, Phoebe, Lois, Eunice, Priscilla, Tryphena, Tryposa, Persis, Euodia, Syntyche, and Junia (Acts 16:14, 15; 18:26; 21:8, 9; Rom 16:1-4, 6, 7, 12; Phil 4:3). Yet these women were not ordained to the role of apostle, elder or pastor, not because of any "social restraints" against which the early believers chose not to act "precipitously," but because the New Testament church understood that the creation arrangement of headship precluded women from exercising the leadership function of apostle, elder, or pastor in the worshiping community.
(c) Women Leaders of the New Testament Church? The above section shows some of the inconsistencies in Women in Ministry. On one hand, the authors argue that social restraints precluded women from "equal partnership with men in ministry." Yet they proceed to argue that New Testament evidence suggests that some women actually exercised "positions of influence, leadership and even headship over men." As evidence, an impressive roster of women is listed: Phoebe, Junia, women at Philippi, Euodia and Syntyche, etc. 42
One of the greatest weaknesses of the book is that while it helpfully provides an inventory of prominent women in the Bible (and in Seventh-day Adventist history), showing that women indeed functioned in spheres of genuine, significant responsibility in soul-winning ministry, Women in Ministry proves the exact opposite of what it sets out to demonstrate. Despite the significant ministry of these New Testament women, not one of them is ever described as apostle, elder or bishop, whether ordained or non-ordained (we'll look at Junia and Phoebe shortly).
How could the apostle Paul, having established his normative doctrine of headship (God's creational arrangement of functional role distinctions within the partnership of spiritual equals) proceed to violate it in his actual practice? Whenever in doubt, we should supplement our study of the descriptive components of the practice in Bible times (which mention women and the significant roles they played) with an analysis of the prescriptive teaching of Paul which formed the foundation of what he and the early church practiced. Otherwise, we may give the impression that Paul was merely operating with reference to culture rather than being guided by transcultural norms. But as passages such as Ephesians 5: 21ff., 1 Timothy 2:11ff., and 1 Corinthians 11 show, Paul did in fact establish general parameters (which he already found in the Old Testament creation accounts) for women's roles in the church. 43 In short, not only Paul's practice, but also the principles underlying the patterns of established churches should be part of the investigation. Paul's norms regarding women's roles in the church are foundational; questionable inferences about what may have been the case are not.
(d) Junia, A "Female Apostle"? Much is made in Women in Ministry about Junia being a "female apostle." 44 This claim is based on the apostle Paul's description of Andronicus and Junia as "my kinsmen, and my fellowprisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me" (Rom 16:7, KJV).
There are two problems in this text. First, does the name Junia have a feminine ending (proving Junia was a woman), or does it have a masculine ending (proving Junia was a man)? This is a grammatical problem arising from the Greek language. In Romans 16:7, the ending for the name of Junia in the Greek is -an, which would be the direct object (accusative) form both for men's names that end in -as (like Elias, Zacharias, Silas, Thomas, or Cephas) or women's names that end in -a (like Martha, Joanna, or Lydia). Therefore it is impossible to tell from the Greek ending alone whether the person described by the apostle Paul is Juni as (male) or Juni a (female). This explains the varied opinions among the church fathers. For example, whereas Origen (died a.d. 252) referred to the person as Junias, a man, Chrysostom (died a.d. 407) referred to this person as Junia, a woman. Church historian Epiphanius (died a.d. 403) sees the person as man. Thus, grammatically and historically, both genders are possible.
But let's assume that the person Paul refers to is a woman by the name Junia. Does Romans 16:7 require us to believe that Junia was a female apostle? This is the second problem confronting interpreters. The answer hinges on how one understands the phrase translated "among the apostles" ( en tois apostolois ). In the Greek the phrase is ambiguous. Does it mean that Andronicus and Junia were numbered among the apostles (as the NIV has it, "They are outstanding among the apostles,") or does it mean that their reputation was well known by the apostles (as the KJV puts it, they are "of note among the apostles")?
How do we resolve a problem in which both interpretations are allowed by the Greek? This is where one's hermeneutical principles of interpretation are revealed. The historic Adventist approach is to (1) interpret an obscure passage by a plain passage in Scripture, and (2) look for any applicable precedents in Scripture, noting that one Scripture will never contradict another.
On the basis of this "time-honored" Adventist approach, one should recognize five relevant facts: (1) Paul's doctrine of headship was established on the creation order (1 Tim 2; 1 Cor 11; Eph 5). (2) Jesus Himself ordained only males as apostles, pointing back to the Old Testament patriarchs as foundations of the "church in the wilderness" (Acts 7:38). (3) Every known apostle in the New Testament was a male—Paul and Barnabas (Acts 14:14, 4), Apollos (1 Cor 4:6, 9), Silvanus and Timothy (1 Thess 1:1; 2:6), Titus (2 Cor 8:23, Greek), Epaphroditus (Phil 2:25). (4) While women played significant roles in the early church's soul-winning ministry, none of them is known to have served as apostle, elder, or bishop. (5) The apostle Paul, who worked closely with these active women, taught that the headship function of elder or overseer could only be held by a person who, among other things, was the "husband of one wife" (1 Tim 3:2; Titus 1:6).
The above considerations lead me to the conclusion that the ambiguous phrase "among the apostles" ( en tois apostolois ) should be understood as "of note among the apostles" in the sense that Junia was well known by the apostles, not that she was numbered among them. No New Testament evidence supports the idea that the woman Junia mentioned in Romans 16:7 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. 45
Unlike the interpretation in Women in Ministry,46 this interpretation does not violate clear and plain biblical teaching on headship, the example of Jesus Christ in appointing only males as apostles, and the fact that all the known apostles mentioned in the New Testament are males.
My conclusion is that Junia, even if a woman, could not have been an apostle. Any assertion that Junia was a "female apostle" is speculative and arguably false.
5. Speculative Interpretations
One of the most serious methodological problems in Women in Ministry is the frequency of speculations and conjectures. Biblical certainties are downgraded into probabilities and probabilities into possibilities. Then possibilities are upgraded into probabilities and probabilities into certainties. This sounds like hard criticism. But let us look at the effort to construct a religious or cultural background to Paul's statements in 1 Corinthians 11, 14, and 1 Timothy 2:11-15, passages which contain such statements as "the head of the woman is the man," "every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoreth her head," "neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man," "let your women keep silence in the churches," and "I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man. . . . For Adam was first formed, then Eve."
(a) "Proto-Gnostic" Setting for 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy? Instead of accepting Paul's argument from Genesis 2, that Adam was created first and Eve later, as the basis for his teaching that the man occupies a position of headship in the home and in the church, Women in Ministry ventures numerous guesses for "the real reason" behind Paul's statements. These arguments are often propped up with expressions like "perhaps," "seems to," "likely," "apparently," "could be," and "might be."
I find it ironic that one author, who had earlier used some convoluted reasoning of his own to argue for a "female apostle," sees the apostle Paul doing the same here. In this scholar's opinion, "Paul's reasoning at several points in 1 Corinthians 14 is rather convoluted and calls for sophisticated exegesis." 47 Thus, some authors of Women in Ministry employ such "sophisticated exegesis" in their discussion of the life setting of 1 Corinthians 11 and 14 and 1 Timothy 2.
For example, in arguing that "any attempt to understand this passage [1 Cor 11 and 14] requires that we first know what was going on in Corinth in the early-to-mid 50s A.D.," one author speculates that Paul was dealing with "incipient gnosticism" or "proto-gnosticism." 48 The editor of the book also sees "incipient gnosticism," together with "the pagan worship of the mother goddess" and Judaism, as the religious background of 1 Timothy 2. 49 Gnosticism, we should note, was a second-century heresy that taught a dualistic (spirit-matter) world view, arguing that matter was bad and spirit good. Consequently, Gnostics held, the Genesis creation account and any teaching that is based on it are flawed, since the Genesis account involves the creation of matter. 50
On the basis of this alleged "proto-gnostic" background, the authors of Women in Ministry claim that Paul was dealing with false teaching introduced by "gnostic Christian" women in Corinth or Ephesus. The problem with this kind of interpretation is that it requires more source material than we have in order to be sure of the cultural surroundings at the time when Paul wrote.
The scholars of Women in Ministry see "incipient-" or "proto-gnosticism" as the background of Paul's writings (first century), yet they have to appeal to later sources (second- or third-century writings) to reconstruct the heresy they believe Paul is dealing with. This kind of methodology, called "anachronistic interpretation," is like Sunday keepers' attempts to interpret the meaning of the "Lord's day" in Revelation 1:10 (first-century writing) by the meaning the term assumed in the writings of early church fathers in the second or third centuries. We would make a similar methodological mistake if we were to define the word "gay" in Ellen White's writing by the meaning of the term today. Such methods are open to serious criticism. 51
But even if we suppose that Women in Ministry is correct and Paul was opposing an early form of gnosticism, "there is then not the slightest occasion, just because the false teachers who are being opposed are Gnostics, to link them up with the great Gnostic systems of the second century." 52 The appeals to Jewish parallels are also unpersuasive since these sources often postdate the New Testament writings.
(b) Speculative Interpretations of 1 Tim 2:11-15. Several of the authors of Women in Ministry argue that the traditional interpretation of 1 Timothy 2 has not taken into account what is "now known" to be "the initial situation" that Paul was addressing in Ephesus. Basing their positions partly on the "persuasive" work of a non-Adventist scholar, Sharon Gritz, the authors speculate that Paul's restriction on women's "teaching and having authority over men" (1 Tim 2:11ff) was due to the infiltration of the false teaching of the cult of the ArtemisMother Goddess, Artemis, in Ephesus. 53
But our book's scholars differ on how the questionable claims and assumptions of Gritz's "Mother Goddess" hypothesis help them to understand 1 Timothy 2. 54 For example, one writer who finds the speculation "persuasive" concludes, "Paul's concern in 1 Tim 2:8-15 is not that women might have authority over men in the church but that certain assertive women in the church who had been influenced by false teachers would teach error. For this reason, he charges them to 'be silent." 55
Another writer does not see the issue as a concern about "certain assertive women in church" but rather as "dealing with husband-wife relations" in worship settings. For him, Paul was "correcting a false syncretistic theology in Ephesus . . . [in which] wives were apparently domineering over their husbands in public church meetings." 56
The editor of the book speculates in a different direction. Believing the religious background in Ephesus to be "the pagan worship of the mother goddess," Judaism, and "incipient gnosticism," she challenges the "husband-wife relation" theory. 57 She argues that "the text itself [1 Tim 2] seems to be discussing attitudes [of women] in worship rather than the marriage relationship." 58 In her opinion, "Paul could be saying that he was currently not permitting women to teach [and "instigate violence"], because of a number of reasons, or even that he was not permitting women to teach until such a time as they had learned sufficiently." 59
Believing such conflicting speculations to be the new light that has eluded the Christian church throughout its history, one of the Women in Ministry authors asks: "One wonders what might have been the case if the Timothy passage had thus been understood throughout the history of the church"! 60
Fortunately, Seventh-day Adventists and the wider Christian church did not have to wait for this explanation to understand 1 Tim 2. If it is true that Paul wrote his epistle to restrain "certain assertive women in the church" or "wives domineering over their husbands in worship settings" or even some "unlearned" women who at that time were "instigating violence" because "they had not learned sufficiently," why is Paul's prohibition directed to all women? Since Paul's prohibition applies to all women, those who believe in these new theories need to show that all (or any ) Christian women at Ephesus were teaching these kinds of false theologies. Such evidence cannot be found.
What is taught in Scripture is that the people who were teaching false doctrine in Ephesus were not women, but men. Paul, for example, talks about Hymenaeus and Alexander (1 Tim 1:20) and Hymenaeus and Philetus (2 Tim 2:17-18), who were all men. Similarly Paul warns the Ephesian elders of men ( andres, from aner, a male) who will arise "speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them" (Acts 20:30). These false teachers are men, not women. Until someone shows from Scripture that all the Christian women at Ephesus—or even any of them—were teaching false doctrine, proponents of this new interpretation have no factual basis for it.
It is clear that some of the Ephesian women were being influenced by the false teaching (1 Tim 5:11-15; 2 Tim 3:5-9), but they were not the purveyors. It is also clear from Scripture that women were gossiping at Ephesus (1 Tim 5:13), but gossiping is not the same as teaching false doctrine. We all may know people who gossip but who don't teach false doctrine. Again, it is true that there were pagan religions in Ephesus where non-Christian men and women did a number of things not done by Christians (Acts 19:21-41). But to say that they did such things after becoming Christians is speculation without evidence.
How can one say that Paul's prohibition was a temporary restraint on the women of Ephesus until "such a time as they had learned sufficiently"? 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 Tim 2:12 RSV). On the contrary, 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 Tim 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 which commands that women not be allowed to "teach or to have authority over men," and which restricts the pastoral role of overseer to men—was addressed to the church at Ephesus (1 Tim 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, 11). The couple 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 Cor 16:19), it is likely that Priscilla was among those who received instruction from him.
Yet not even well-educated Priscilla, nor godly teachers Eunice and Lois, 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 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 Tim 2:13). 61 Adam carried the special right and responsibility of leadership which belonged to the "firstborn" in a family (cf. Col 1:15-18). 62
The editor of Women in Ministry offers another idea to prop up the gnostic heresy hypothesis. She argues that Paul's use of the conjunction "for" ( gar ) in 1 Timothy 2:12-13 does not mean that Paul is about to give the reason why women should not "teach and exercise authority over men"; instead, she claims, he uses the term to introduce examples of what happens when women falsely teach men. 63 This explanation is creative, but not convincing.
It is not convincing because in other places in his letter to Timothy, when Paul gives a command, the word "for" ( gar ) that follows almost invariably states the reason for the command (see 1 Tim 4:7, 8, 16; 5:4, 11, 15, 18; 2 Tim 1:6, 7; 2:7, 16; 3:5, 6; 4:3, 5, 6, 9-11, 15). In the same way, when he gives the command to women not to "teach or exercise authority over men" (1 Tim 2:11-12), he gives reasons in verses 13-14 why they should not do so ("for [i.e. because] Adam was created first, then Eve"). If the reason for the prohibition was to cite "an example of what happens when false teaching [by women] is propounded and accepted," we should have expected Paul to prohibit all men and all women "to teach and exercise authority over men," for the same bad results follow when men teach falsely.
We therefore conclude: "The suggestion that women were prohibited from teaching because they were mainly responsible for the false teaching finds no substantiation in the text. Even if some women were spreading the heresy (which is uncertain but possible), an explanation is still needed for why Paul proscribes only women from teaching. Since men are specifically named as purveyors of the heresy, would it not make more sense if Paul forbade all false teaching by both men and women? A prohibition against women alone seems to be reasonable only if all the women in Ephesus were duped by the false teaching. This latter state of affairs is quite unlikely, and the probable presence of PriscillaPriscilla in Ephesus (2 Tim. 4:19) also stands against it." 64
Even if we agree for the sake of argument that Paul was responding to "certain women" or "all women" in Ephesus, such a response to a specific situation does not nullify the universal principle he employs ("Adam was formed first, then Eve") to address that unique situation. If we claim that apostolic letters written to address specific "initial situations" are not applicable to the church today, then the rest of the New Testament would not be applicable to us either, since all the books of the New Testament were addressed to particular communities facing special circumstances.
6. Questionable Re-Interpretations of the Bible
By "questionable re-interpretations" I mean interpretations that are unwarranted and contradict Scripture. I will consider how Women in Ministry addresses some key questions on the biblical doctrine of male headship and female submission in both the home and the church. I will also examine the claims that there were "women priests" in the Old Testament, and that the prophetesses Miriam, Deborah, and Huldah exercised "headship-leadership over men."
Key Questions on Headship. Unlike liberal or radical feminists, the authors of Women in Ministry accept the biblical teaching of headship in the home. But they insist that this headship was instituted after the Fall and does not apply in the church. 65 Creation headship would strike a fatal blow to the egalitarian concept of ministry. If headship existed before the Fall, with no role interchangeability, the whole enterprise in Women in Ministry collapses.
We will focus on three major issues: (a) When did headship begin—at creation or after the Fall? (b) What is the nature of headship—does it call for gender-role distinctions or does it nullify them? (c) What is the extent of headship—is it for the home only or does it also extend to the church? In addressing these questions we will show that the interpretations found in Women in Ministry contradict the Bible.
(a) When Was Headship Instituted: At Creation of After the Fall? According to the author of chapter 13 of Women in Ministry, Genesis 2:24 provides the "ultimate ideal" or the "divine ideal" for husband-wife relations. This Bible text says, "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh." The author repeatedly refers to this passage as revealing "God's original plan for total equality," "full equality with no headship/submission," "equal partnership," and "total role interchangeableness." 66
In essence, our scholar's study of the creation account of Genesis 2 leads him to deny headship (functional role distinctions) before the Fall. This "equal partnership" or "total role interchangeableness" that was allegedly instituted before the Fall was also to be the ideal after the Fall. He argues that Genesis 2:24 was "clearly written to indicate its applicability to the post-Fall conditions. God's ideal for the nature of sexual relationship after the Fall is still the same as it was for Adam and Eve in the beginning—to 'become one flesh.' " 67
Observe that if we accept this kind of reasoning, we will also have to argue that New Testament passages (like Eph 5:22-33; Col 3:18, 19; 1 Pet 3:7; 1 Cor 11:3, 11, 12) which Adventists have historically understood as God's permanent arrangement for male-female role relations in the home are merely non-ideal accommodations exacted by the Bible writers; Christians who seek to reach the assumed egalitarian ideal may justifiably repudiate the biblical teaching of male headship/leadership and female submission/supporting role. More importantly, however, the author's denial of creation headship, postponing its origin to the "post-Fall conditions," contradicts Paul's explicit use of Genesis 2:24 in Ephesians 5.
Although our scholar correctly recognizes Ephesians 5:21-33 as "the fundamental New Testament passage dealing with husband-wife relations," 68 he does not take into account the use the inspired apostle himself makes of the verse from Genesis 2. In Ephesians 5, Paul makes it clear that he bases his teaching of headship on the nature of Christ's relation to the church, which he sees revealed as "mystery" in Genesis 2:24 and, thus, in creation itself. From this "mystery" he establishes a pattern of relationship between the husband as head (on the analogy of Christ) and derives the appropriateness of the husband's headship/leadership and the wife's submission/supporting role.
Paul's quotation of Genesis 2:24 in Ephesians 5:31, therefore, indicates that the headship-submission principle in the home ("husbands, love your wives" and "wives, submit to your husbands"), which Christ modeled for us, was established at creation, prior to the Fall. Thus, Women in Ministry 's claim that there was no headship before the Fall is directly negated by the apostle Paul's statement in Ephesians 5—"the fundamental New Testament passage dealing with husband-wife relations."
(b) Nature of Headship: Does It Nullify Gender Roles? Women in Ministry also argues that at creation, there was "total role interchangeableness," so that there were no functional role distinctions before the Fall. This assertion contradicts the Bible's own self-interpretation.
Not only does Paul ground his headship doctrine in Genesis 2, but he also sees male-female role distinctions in the creation account. The inspired apostle's reason given in 1 Timothy 2:13 for not permitting a woman to "teach or have authority over man"—"for Adam was formed first, then Eve"—reflects his understanding of the creation account in Genesis 2:4-25, where we find the narrative of Adam being formed before Eve. The apostle's use of the word "form" ( plasso , cf. Gen 2:7, 8, 15, 19) instead of "make" ( poieo , cf. Gen 1:26, 27) also indicates that the reference in 1 Timothy 2 is to Genesis 2, where we find that God "formed man of the dust of the ground" (v. 7). Thus, the apostle Paul understands the order in which Adam and Eve were created as having implications for role differences between male and female (cf. 1 Cor 11:3, 8-11).
"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." 69
As noted earlier, Ellen G. White rejected the egalitarian model of "total role interchangeability." Despite the abuse of God's creation arrangement for role relations in the home, she wrote that "heaven's ideal of this sacred [marriage] relation" is one in which the man is the constituted head of the home. This kind of relationship is "what God designed it should be." 70 And because "the husband is the head of the family, as Christ is the head of the church," she wrote, "any course which the wife may pursue to lessen his influence and lead him to come down from that dignified, responsible position is displeasing to God" (Testimonies for the Church, 1:307).
Thus, not only does Paul see Genesis 2 as an institution of the headship principle, but also his use of the passage in Ephesians 5 ("husbands love your wives, wives submit to your husbands") and 1 Timothy 2 ("I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over man, for Adam was formed first, then Eve") indicates that headship calls for gender role distinctions. Therefore, the concept of "total egalitarianism" or "total role interchangeableness" as God's original plan for the home directly contradicts the inspired apostle as well as conflicting with Ellen G. White.
(c) Extent of Headship: Home, Not Church? Women in Ministry also 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 worshiping 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" (Matt 18:20). Rightly understood, the worshiping household is a miniature model of the church. Even before Jesus Christ established the New Testament church (Matt 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" (Ex 19:6), the church existed in the homes, wherever "two or three . . . gathered in my name." 71
The numerous Bible references to the church as the family of God 72 suggest that the relationship of male and female in the church—"the household of God" (1 Tim 3:15 RSV)—is to be modeled after the home family, of which the Eden home was the prototype (Eph 5:22, 23; Col 3:18; 1 Pet 3:1-7; 1 Cor 11:3, 7-9; 14:34, 35; 1 Tim 2:11-3:5). The frequent correspondence between home and church found in Scripture (e.g., Acts 2:46; 5:42; 1 Cor 14:34, 35; cf. Phil 4:22) finds an echo in John Chrysostom's statement that "a household is a little church" and "a church is a large household." 73
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 which 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 Tim 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 Tim 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 Tim 3:15; Eph 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. 74 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?
(d) Women Priests in the Old Testament? I was astonished by one suggestion in Women in Ministry that women actually served as priests in the Old Testament. The reason given to support the suggestion amazed me even more! The suggestion is that in the Garden of Eden God ordained Eve as a priest alongside Adam. The author of this idea argues:
"Adam and Eve were, indeed, dressed as priests, with one difference, however: instead of the fine linen that characterizes the priestly garment (Ex 28:39), God chose animal skin. This specification not only implies the killing of an animal, the first sacrifice in history, but by the same token, confirms the identification of Adam and Eve as priests, for the skin of the atonement sacrifice was specifically set apart for the officiating priests (Lev 7:8). By bestowing on Adam and Eve the skin of the sin offering, a gift strictly reserved to priests, the Genesis story implicitly recognizes Eve as priest alongside Adam." 75
Thus our scholar reads Genesis through the lenses of pro-women's ordination and discovers Eve as a "female priest"! In the concluding paragraph of his chapter in Women in Ministry, he states: "Thus biblical identification of woman as priest in Eden and the redeemed community ["priesthood of all believers"] complements biblical approval of women's anointing as prophet and judge. In this context, and in reflection upon ordination to pastoral ministry, there is no case for women's exclusion." 76
If the clothing of Adam and Eve with animal skin meant that they were dressed as priests, does this mean that God congratulated them for sinning?
It is puzzling that this chapter was agreed upon by the Ad Hoc Committee that developed Women in Ministry. Perhaps it illustrates where the logic of the "egalitarian" model leads those seeking a biblical justification to ordain women as elders or pastors. 77 Since other chapters in the present volume challenge the biblical basis for this unbelievable claim, 78 I will concentrate more on the author's cultural arguments.
It seems that our scholar does not accept the biblical explanation that the headship principle instituted at creation is the reason why there is no evidence of female priests in the Old Testament. He has manufactured two reasons—namely God's "reaction to pagan syncretism and sexual perversions" and "the incompatibility of the sacrifice [women performing sacrifices in Israel], normally associated with death and sin, and the physiological nature of the woman traditionally associated in the Bible with life and messianic pregnancy"! In other words, "had it not been for these two factors, ancient Near Eastern cults and more decisively the sacrifices, women might well have been priests in Israel." 79
It is encouraging that at least one writer, the lead author in Women in Ministry, offers a gentle corrective to the speculative "female priest" theory when he observes that "males functioned as priests in the days of the biblical patriarchs as well as after God's covenant with Israel at Mount Sinai." 80 Indeed, the Bible teaches that only males served in the headship role of priest in the Old Testament. Prior to Sinai, the head of each household (male) and firstborn sons (males) performed this role. 81 At Sinai, however, this responsibility was assigned "as a gift to Aaron and his sons" (Num 8:19; cf. Num 3:9-13, 32, 45; 25:10-13). Ellen G. White summarized it this way:
"In the earliest times every man [male] was the priest of his own household. In the days of Abraham the priesthood was regarded as the birthright of the eldest son [male]. Now, instead of the first-born of all Israel, the Lord accepted the tribe of Levi for the work of the sanctuary. . . . The priesthood, however, was restricted to the family of Aaron. Aaron and his sons alone [males] were permitted to minister before the Lord" ( Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 350).
The absence of female priests in the Old Testament was not due to the culture of those times, since the ancient Near Eastern cultures would have allowed female priests, as was the case in the surrounding Canaanite religions. Also, the reason why Israelite women were prohibited from serving as priests was not that God did not want them to engage in the kind of immorality that the pagan priestesses engaged in (i.e., God's prohibition was not in "reaction to pagan syncretism and sexual perversions"). Such an argument, besides lacking basis in Scripture, implies that women are more prone to idolatry and sexual immorality than men—a sexist argument which is unproven. Finally, the absence of female priests in the Old Testament was not due to "the physiological nature of the woman traditionally associated in the Bible with life and messianic pregnancy," since it takes both men and women to give birth to human life, and since the anticipated "messianic pregnancy" that resulted in the "virgin birth" of Christ greatly limited the physical involvement of both earthly parents.
The reason for the absence of women priests in the Old Testament can best be explained by God's special divine arrangement at the beginning. The headship principle, instituted by God at creation and reiterated after the Fall, is the only biblically and theologically consistent explanation for why there were no women priests in ancient Israel. The questionable re-interpretations we have been considering contradict this teaching of Scripture.
(e) The Case of Miriam, Deborah, and Huldah. A brief response must also be made to the claim in Women in Ministry that women such as Eve, Sarah, Hagar, Shiphrah and Puah, Jochebed, Miriam, Ruth, Deborah, Hannah, the Shunammite woman, and Huldah occupied headship / leadership positions in the Old Testament. Of these, Miriam the prophetess-musician (Ex 15:20), 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), are often cited as exceptional "women leaders exercising headship over men." 82
On the above assumption, it is claimed that women today should be ordained as elders or pastors. In making this claim, however, Women in Ministry seems to confuse the issue of women exercising the leadership authority of elders or pastors with the legitimacy of women filling the messenger role of prophets. It also overlooks the fact that under the Old Testament theocracy, Israel was a nation governed by God and His law. In the Old Testament system, the leaders who were selected—prophets, priests, judges and kings—differed in how they were chosen and in the extent of their respective authority. The leadership role of prophet (likewise judge ) was not an elected office. God Himself chose and authoritatively commissioned (ordained) prophets (and judges) as His mouthpiece; they were not elected by the people as leaders to exercise administrative or executive authority. Thus, kings (and judges) and priests were all to be subject to the authority of God, whose prophets delivered His messages.
Similarly, in both the Old and New Testaments, God chose and commissioned (ordained) prophets without regard to gender (e.g., Miriam, Deborah, Huldah). On the other hand, the Bible teaches that elders and pastors are to be chosen and commissioned (ordained) by the church within guidelines stipulated in Scripture. One such criterion for the office of elder or pastor is that the one chosen must be "the husband of one wife" (1 Tim 3:2; Titus 1:6), an expression whose Greek construction emphasizes that the elder or pastor must be the kind of man who loves only one woman as his wife.
Elders and pastors (the Bible makes no distinction in their office) are to be subject to the authority of God's messages coming through His chosen prophets. As leaders of the church, elders and pastors are given administrative and leadership responsibility and authority that prophets are not. Church leaders are responsible to God for their reception of the prophetic message, but they are not under the administrative authority of the prophets.
We may see this difference clearly both in Scripture and in the experience of Ellen G. White. Elijah could give King Ahab God's message, but he did not have executive authority to make the king obey or to countermand Ahab's orders to have Elijah arrested (1 Kings 17:1-3, 18:7-10). Jeremiah proclaimed God's judgments with divine authority, for which he was imprisoned by priest, princes, and king (Jer 20:1, 2; 37:11-38:10). They had authority different from his. Even Deborah's authority as "prophetess [who was] judging Israel" illustrates how God-fearing women are to exercise their unique gifts and leadership in the context of the biblical teaching of headship. 83
In Seventh-day Adventist history, the closest parallel to the prophetic authority and unique leadership of Deborah is Ellen G. White. Though she never claimed to be a leader of the church, she did exercise her role as a messenger of the Lord. In the early 1870s, Mrs. White had authority to communicate God's plan for Seventh-day Adventist education, but she did not have authority to make the leaders follow it in founding Battle Creek College. Prophetic authority is not the same thing as the administrative responsibility of the chosen leadership. Mrs. White herself refused to be called the leader of the Seventh-day Adventist church, referring to herself as "a messenger with a message": "No one has ever heard me claim the position of leader of the denomination. . . . I am not to appear before the people as holding any other position than that of a messenger with a message" ( Testimonies for the Church, 8:236-237).
Our conclusion is that Miriam, Huldah and Deborah (like Ellen G. White) were prophets. But their authority as prophets should not be confused with exercising headship authority in the home (as husbands) and in the church (as elders or pastors). We can only do so by resorting to questionable re-interpretations of biblical teaching. Women in Ministry, therefore, misleads readers when it compares the headship authority of the elected leadership office in the church (elders or pastors) with the prophetic authority of the non-elected office of prophets and prophetesses.
7. Distorted Biblical Reasoning
Occasionally, Women in Ministry resorts to convoluted and sophisticated explanations to bolster an untenable position. As an example of this, we shall look at the claim that Phoebe was a "female minister."
(a) Phoebe: A "Female Minister"? In Romans 16:1-2, the apostle Paul writes: "I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant [ diakonos ] of the church which is at Cenchrea: That ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you: for she hath been a succourer of many, and of myself also" (KJV).
Based on the above description of Phoebe as a diakonos ("servant," KJV, NIV, NASB; or "deaconess," RSV), one of the authors of Women in Ministry claims that Phoebe functioned "as Paul's emissary, as did Titus and Timothy" and that her designation as "deacon" "does not imply the modern 'deaconess' but rather the same position as that of the church leaders designated in 1 Tim 3:8-10." 84 Another author maintains that Phoebe is an example of New Testament "women in church leadership-headship roles." 85
These writers do not offer any biblical proof for their assertions. They build their cases on the "able" studies provided by another Women in Ministry writer who concludes that Phoebe was a "female minister," and that "if there could be one female minister there could as well be many." 86
However, a careful study of the evidence presented by the book's leading proponent of the "female minister" theory indicates that it involves a convoluted handling of the biblical data and that it contradicts Ellen White's understanding. The following points capture the essential thrust of Women in Ministry 's arguments:
(1) The term diakonos, used for Phoebe in Romans 16:1, comes from the same root word ( diakonein ) used for the appointive ministry of the seven men in Acts 6. 87
(2) But this office of diakonos assigned to the seven men of Acts 6 is not that of deacons as "has often been assumed," even in Ellen G. White's book The Acts of the Apostles ! 88
(3) Instead, the kind of work for which the seven men of Acts were appointed is the same as "elder," the only appointive ministry originally known in the apostolic church. 89
(4) Only later did the one appointive ministry of diakonos (now re-defined by the author to mean "elder" or "minister") divide into two levels of "elder" and "deacon." 90 The alleged later "distinction between deacon and elder/bishop is hardened in the pastoral epistles, especially in 1 Tim 3:1-13." 91
(5) Phoebe occupied "the same position as the deacons of 1 Timothy 3," which our author claims was originally the same office as that of elder, or possibly that of apostle. 92
(6) Therefore, the designation of Phoebe as diakonos in Romans 16:1 "proves incontrovertibly that the early church had female diakonia" —i.e., female ministers. And "if there could be one female minister [Phoebe] there could as well be many." 93
In responding to this interpretation, we will briefly discuss the meaning of the term diakonos. We will note how Ellen G. White understood the function of the seven men of Acts 6 and what bearing it has on the "female minister" theory.
(b) Meaning of "Diakonos." 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 a "ministry" or "service" carried out on behalf of the church. Thus, services like preparation of a meal (Luke 10:40), serving a meal (Luke 22:27), providing financial and material support (Luke 8:1-3), the employment of any spiritual gift (1 Cor 12:5; 1 Pet 4:10), doing the work of a "deacon" by taking care of the needy (Acts 6:1-4), and providing spiritual oversight and leadership for the churches by serving as an elder (1 Tim 4:6) or apostle (Acts 1:25) are all termed "ministry" ( diakonia ). Because in this broad usage anything a person does to advance the work of the church is a ministry, the one who labors in this manner is a "minister" or "servant" ( diakonos ) of the Lord. 94
In its narrow and technical usage, 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 Tim 3:8-13; Phil 1:1). This deacon office, first occupied by the Seven men of Acts 6seven men of Acts 6, involved ministering to the poor, needy, and sick. But "although deacons were to care for the temporal affairs of the church, they were also to be actively involved in evangelistic work (Acts 6:8; 8:5-13, 26-40)." 95
Whether we apply the broad meaning or the narrow one, calling Phoebe a diakonos does not prove she was an apostle or a female minister. 96 Indeed, Paul explains why he calls her a deacon—because she is a "succourer [helper] of many" (Rom 16:2). As for the seven deacons, they certainly were not apostles; they were elected specifically to do work the apostles felt unable to do at that time. Until recently, Seventh-day Adventists have upheld the view that Romans 16:1-2 refers to Phoebe's valuable ministry of care and hospitality for church members. To change from this well-established view surely needs better evidence than what Women in Ministry provides. 97
Ellen G. White presents Phoebe not as a "female minister," but rather as an example of how we should "care for the interests of our brethren and sisters." Referring to Romans 16:1, 2, she states, "Phebe entertained the apostle, and she was in a marked manner an entertainer of strangers who needed care. Her example should be followed by the churches of today" (Testimonies for the Church, 6:343, 344).
(c) Ellen White on "the Seven Men" of Acts 6. The "female minister" theory proposal in Women in Ministry can only be sustained by proving that the seven men of Acts 6 were elders and not deacons. The leading proponent of this theory is wrong when he argues that because the title of chapter 9 ("The Seven Deacons") in Ellen White's The Acts of the Apostles may be the work of editors, it therefore does not show that she believed the seven men of Acts 6 were deacons. 98
During her lifetime, all editorial work on her books was submitted to Ellen G. White for approval before a book was published. We can safely conclude that she approved the chapter heading in The Acts of the Apostles, chapter 9. Also, contrary to what Women in Ministry says, in that very chapter (p. 91) Mrs. White does indeed refer to the seven men as "deacons" (not ministers or elders). Furthermore, elsewhere in the book she describes Philip as "one of the seven deacons" (p. 106); she also refers to Stephen as "the foremost of the seven deacons" ( Lift Him Up, p. 104). To claim that Acts 6 is describing seven elders and not seven deacons is to interpret the Bible differently from the way Ellen White interprets it. And to assert, as our author does, that Mrs. White describes these men only as "officers" and not "deacons" in the text is simply wrong.
(d) The History of the Appointive Ministry. Is there a biblical basis on which to speculate that the original appointive ministry in the New Testament church was that of elder, and that this office was later divided into two levels (elders and deacons) so that in the pastoral epistles the distinction between the two was "hardened"?
As Women in Ministry notes, the first leaders of the church were the twelve apostles specially chosen by Christ Himself (Matt 10:1-4; Mark 3:13-19; Luke 6:12-16). Like the twelve patriarchs or the leaders of the tribes of Israel, these twelve male apostles constituted the original ministry. We find that to them was entrusted the responsibility of general spiritual leadership of the churches, serving as overseers ( episkope, "office," a cognate of episkopos [bishop or elder], is applied to the apostolate in Acts 1:20) and ministering to believers' needs ( diakonia, "ministry," is their work in Acts 1:25; cf. the cognate diakonos, "deacon," "one who ministers").
But as the gospel work prospered, it was practically impossible for the apostles alone to perform all the functions of spiritual leadership and at the same time minister to members' physical needs. Led by the Holy Spirit, the original ministry of the twelve apostles was expanded to include chosen deacons ( diakonos ) and elders (Presbyteros presbyteros ) or bishops/overseers ( episkopos ). 99
Were the offices of elders and deacons really one office originally, later split into those two? Women in Ministry offers slim evidence for this, which we have reproduced in note 90 and will merely comment on here. (1) According to the leading proponent of the "female minister" theory, "The kind of work for which the seven were appointed in Acts 6 is said to be done by the elders in Acts 11:30." But the Bible text does not say this. It records only that the relief money for Judea was delivered to the elders, not that the elders personally conducted the distribution, as the seven did in Acts 6. As the representatives of the believers, the elders would be the appropriate ones to receive the gifts from the distant churches, regardless of who did the actual distribution. (2) The argument that the elders' method of appointment "resembles somewhat" the method for the seven appointed in Acts 6 is a weak basis for claiming that they were the same. Such partial resemblance does not indicate that the offices were identical. (3) Finally, our author argues that because Acts 15 mentions only the offices of apostle and elder in Jerusalem, the office of deacon was not in place by the time of the Jerusalem council. But this is an argument from silence regarding deacons. The kinds of decisions spoken of in Acts 15 may well have been considered the responsibility of the apostles and elders, and not the deacons, to make.
The three points above, together with the denial that Acts 6 instituted the office of deacon, are the bases upon which our Women in Ministry scholar constructs his theoretical history of the appointive ministry. But as we have shown, it does not follow from these points that "we must conclude" that the church had only one office of elder at the early stage and that this one office was later split into two (elder and deacon). The New Testament writers and Ellen G. White affirm that the apostles instituted the office of deacon at a very early stage in the history of the Christian church. And each of the deacons mentioned in Acts 6 was a male.
Inasmuch as the New Testament offices of apostles, elders, and deacons were a continuation and extension of the headship and leadership roles instituted at creation (and exercised by male priests in the Old Testament, and male apostles at the time of Christ), the spiritual qualification for these offices included gender specifications ("the husband of one wife," 1 Tim 3:2, 12; Titus 1:6). Though our author claims that this gender specification actually was generic, 100 such a claim overlooks the fact that in two passages in Acts where qualifications are set forth, one for apostle (Acts 1:21) and the other for the deacon office under consideration (Acts 6:3), the text uses the Greek word Aner aner, a male, instead of the generic anthropos, a person. The term anthropos could have been used here without grammatical difficulty if a person of either gender had been intended.
In light of the above facts from Scripture, the speculations about Phoebe in Women in Ministry cannot be sustained. Contrary to the authors' claims, Phoebe, being a "sister," could not have occupied "the same position as that of the church leaders designated in 1 Tim 3:8-10." Neither could she have been an example of New Testament "women in church leadership-headship roles."
(e) Phoebe's Commendation: A Ministerial Credential? The authors of Women in Ministry argue that Paul's commendation of Phoebe (as "a servant of the church") and his request on her behalf ("receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints") imply that Phoebe functioned "as Paul's emissary, as did Titus and Timothy," 101 or that this commendation is a kind of ministerial credential for Phoebe. Writes the leading proponent of the "female minister" theory:
"Paul requests that she [Phoebe] be given the same kind of reception as his other representatives, the same kind of support and respect that Paul enjoins for Titus and the other apostoloi [apostles] (Titus in 2 Cor 8:24; Timothy in 1 Cor 16:10). Such a letter of commendation was the only kind of credential that the early church could offer. If there could be one female minister there could as well be many." 102
The argument suffers from at least two serious interpretive fallacies. First, it disregards the context, namely Paul's commendations of and personal greetings to several individuals in Romans 16. Second, it is an instance of a procedure known technically as "illegitimate totality transfer," which supposes that the meaning of a word (e.g. diakonos ) or expression (e.g., Paul's commendation) in a given context is much broader than the context allows. In this way the sense of a word (e.g., diakonos ) or expression (commendation or request) and its reference (particular individuals, e.g., Phoebe, Titus, Timothy) are linked in an unwarranted fashion, giving the impression that the given word or expression means the same thing in any conceivable context.
Context really is the key for understanding the meaning of a word. While diakonos was indeed a church office, the most common meaning of the word was "servant." When the apostles call themselves diakonos, the translation as "minister" misses the point—they were specifying that, like Christ, they led by serving. They were not identifying themselves as "deacons" or "ministers." Any reference to the office of deacon can be determined only from the context. The Bible's stated fact of Phoebe's devoted service to the church, making herself the servant of all, does not mean that she held the office of "deacon." The context does not suggest that Paul is talking about a church office.
A fair reading of the New Testament shows all church office names were derived from common functions. Serving, then, did not make one a deacon; being elderly did not make one an elder; being sent ( apostolos ) did not make one an apostle like the Twelve; and being an aggelos (messenger) did not make one an angel, though the Greek words are the same. The context is crucial to a proper understanding of a word's meaning.
In light of our discussion in the preceding pages, the assertion that Phoebe functioned as "Paul's emissary, as did Titus and Timothy" and that Paul's letter was a "kind of credential" for one of many "female ministers" can be dismissed as a convoluted interpretation. On the contrary, when Paul commended Phoebe as "a servant [ diakonos ] of the church . . . [and] succourer of many, and of myself also" (Rom 16:1-2), he was speaking of her valuable personal ministry to members of the church as well as to himself.
We must conclude that Phoebe was not a female minister. Hence there is no basis for the statement, "if there could be one female minister there could as well be many." From the evidence given us in the New Testament, there weren't any. 103
These are some of the areas in which Seventh-day Adventists should carefully examine the assertions Women in Ministry makes regarding the interpretation of key Bible passages. Like the Bereans, we must ask, "Are those things so?" and be prepared truly to search the Scriptures to find out.
In "Are Those Things So?—Part II" later in this volume I will examine how Women in Ministry handles certain historical, ethical, and theological issues, and I will offer my conclusions regarding the book and the choices facing the Seventh-day Adventist church today.