Primer on why women’s ordination is unbiblical

[Gordon-Conwell Seminary] was well-known for its adherence to the inerrancy of Scripture, but precisely in those areas where our culture focused its attack on God’s Word and doctrine, our professors often seemed to fall all over themselves demonstrating their acceptance of whatever ideology the Academy currently found infatuating–and when my two brothers and I were enrolled in Gordon-Conwell, that ideology was feminism. -Tim Bayly

Many Bible-believing churches seem to be slowly tracing the frontprints of the mainline congregations last century (with seminaries leading the charge). Many in our churches think that the prohibition on women’s ordination is an old-fashioned relic, another domino soon to fall in the relentless march of Progress. Yes, this movement has its evangelists, but most people in the pews simply do not know the Biblical case against it. They don’t understand that men and women are equal in nature and in esteem before God, but not in role.

Here is why women should not be in leadership and authority roles over men within the church:

  1. The binding order of creation. 1Timothy 2:11-14: “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.” Note that Paul explicitly roots his reasoning in the order of creation and Eve’s punishment (Gen 2:7, 18, 21-22, 3:16). What was true thousands of years before the 1st century AD was still true and in force. It was not a confined to Corinth. This article starts at the beginning and is a good intro to exploring this further.
  2. Headship. cf. verses like Titus 2:3-5, 1Cor 11:9, Col 3:18-19, and Ephesians 5:22-23: “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church.” God created and named Adam. Woman was taken out of man to be his helper. Adam named the woman Eve. Although Eve committed the first sin, God recognized Adam’s headship by calling him to account first (Gen 3:9-11). As the head, Adam bore responsibility. In Adam’s fall we sinned all (Romans 5:15: ). As it says 1 Peter 3: “Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands… For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. … Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life…” Seriously folks, how much clearer does this need to be?
  3. The “Law” confirms it. 1Corinthians 14:34: “The women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.” The reasoning here is rooted in previous Old Testament revelation. It was not limited to Corinthian culture.
  4. Qualifications for elders. 1Timothy 3:2 says that overseers (elders) must be the “husband of one wife.” There is no mention of the opposite case. (Many churches see the offices of elder, bishop, and pastor as the same. Others believe a pastor or bishop has pre-eminence. But in either case the argument holds– in the first, because the office is the same, in the second because of the lesser-to-greater argument. No church I know of that ordained women as pastors has not allowed them to “lower” office first.)
  5. Scriptural practice confirms it. All of the authors of Scripture are male, all Old Covenant priests — hundreds are mentioned — were male (cf. Numbers 16), all of Israel’s monarchs except the usurper Athaliah were male, all the Apostles were male, etc. Worship is a ritual with the pastor proclaiming on behalf of the Bridegroom, to the Church, the Bride. As C.S.Lewis said: “Only one wearing the masculine uniform can (provisionally, and till the Parousia) represent the Lord of the Church; for we are all, corporately and individually, feminine to Him. We men make very bad priests. This is because we are insufficiently masculine. It is no cure to call in those who are not masculine at all. A given man may make a very bad husband; you cannot mend matters by trying to reverse the roles.”
  6. The witness of the Holy Spirit to the communion of saints. We have the nearly unanimous interpretation of the church in all ages, spanning multiple cultures for thousands of years. Is it not arrogant to assume that we have suddenly discovered new facets of Scripture that bypassed the meticulous and godly titans of the past? There has never been a female bishop of Rome or any of the great ancient sees, and all esteemed theologians up until modern times were men, from Irenaeus, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Athanasius, the Cappadocians, Ambrose, and Augustine to Aquinas, Wycliffe, Luther, and Calvin (“Not that he takes from [women] the charge of instructing their family, but only excludes them from the office of teaching, which God has committed to men only.” -Calvin). The views of the early church fathers were bluntly sampled by the great Scottish reformer John Knox (whose name still curiously adorns the PCUSA’s publishing company).
  7. Bad fruit. What trees bore the fruit of women in the pulpit? In the 19th century, there were the Quakers and some Wesleyans. There was Charles Finney, who encouraged women to speak in mixed assemblies. His baneful influence is well chronicled elsewhere. Finney founded Oberlin College, which produced the one-time Congregationalist Antoinette Brown, who who later was ordained Unitarian. The 20th century brought doctrinally-shaky Pentecostal movements. It saw mainline churches fall like bowling pins, denying miracles, Christ’s divinity, and of course the Gospel itself. After rotting sufficiently, all of them ordained women. Today, every church that I know of with an apostate national denom ordains women and fiercely guards it. Most are now busy considering homosexual ordination. (In some still-faithful churches we may be seeing the same pattern repeat itself: Today female deacons; in 10 years, elders; in 20, pastors. Do these re-evaluators really believe that they will end up in a different spot than the mainliners?)
  8. No Explicit Commands. There is not one passage of Scripture stating that women can be called to be pastors or where a woman is called to it. (cf. Timothy, Isaiah, etc.).

And here are the usual objections:

  1. “We are more progressive now.” This ubiquitous argument reeks of arrogance and historical ignorance. As Lewis said, “the modern conception of Progress… is simply a myth, supported by no evidence whatsoever… [It is] an illegitimate transition from the Darwinian theorem in biology to the modern myth of evolutionism or developmentalism or progress in general.” We see this attitude often in our irony-addicted pop culture that looks down its nose at things it hardly understands. Our environment has modern conveniences, so we laugh at ancients who rode a horse rather than a Honda, even though most of us have contributed little to technological progress (for example, I have no idea how to build a TV, much less invent it). And then there is the matter of our moral progress– Should not the denizens of a culture that has birthed conspicuous consumption, porno chic, and 40 million+ abortions pause before dismissing the morality of the past?
  2. “Paul’s prohibitions were only for his time.” This is the most insidious argument of all, for it can be used to invalidate any part of the Scripture; even the Gospel can be segmented as cultural. But as noted above, the Bible appeals to the Law and the order of creation, which predated Corinthian culture by thousands of years. R.C. Sproul: “In Creation, God makes a covenant not simply with Jews or with Christians, but with man qua man. As long as humans exist in a covenant relationship with the Creator, the laws of Creation remain intact. They are reaffirmed in both the old covenant and the new covenant. If anything transcends a cultural custom, it is a Creation ordinance. Thus, it is a dangerous business indeed to treat the matter of subordination in marriage and in the church as a mere local custom when it is clear that the New Testament mandates for these matters rest upon apostolic appeals to Creation. Such appeals make it crystal clear that these mandates were not intended to be regarded as local customs. That the church today often treats divine rules as mere customs reflects not so much the cultural conditioning of the Bible but the cultural conditioning of the modern church.”
  3. Galations 3:28: There is neither… male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” The context of this passage is about salvation, not church governance. Also, this general statement does not contradict the specific statements noted in 1Tim and 1Corinthians. Christian women and men will equally enjoy the benefits of salvation! So will children. However, just as children are not to be in authority over their parents, women are not to occupy teaching and authority roles in the church. It is a question of God-given roles.
  4. “What about Deborah?” Deborah is the only judge in Judges who has no military function. The others judges lead Israel into battle, but Deborah receives a word from the Lord that Barak is to do this (Judges 4:6-7). It’s clear that she was the exception, not the rule (she was the only female judge), arising at a time of anarchy. John Knox commented: “Deborah did rule Israel, and Huldah spoke prophecy in Judah; ergo [the argument goes], it is lawful for women to reign above realms and nations, or to teach in the presence of men. … For of [such] examples, as is before declared, we may establish no law; but we are always bound to the written law, and to the commandment expressed in the same. And the law written and pronounced by God forbids no less that any woman reign over man, than it forbids man to take plurality of wives, to marry two sisters living at once, to steal, to rob, to murder, or to lie. If any of these has been transgressed, and yet God has not imputed the same, it makes not the like fact or deed lawful unto us. For God (being free) may, for such causes as are approved by his inscrutable wisdom, dispense with the rigour of his law, and may use his creatures at his pleasure. But the same power is not permitted to man, whom he has made subject to his law, and not to the examples of fathers.” As it says in Isaiah 3:12: “My people! Infants are their oppressors, and women rule over them…”
  5. “How about Miriam, Huldah, Samson’s Mother, Hannah, etc?” To quote the 19th century Presbyterian pastor, R.L. Dabney: “First, the Old Testament, which contained, in seed, all the principles of the New Testament, allowed no regular church office to any woman. When a few women were employed as mouthpieces of God, it was in a purely extraordinary office, and in which they could offer supernatural evidence of their commission. No woman ever ministered at the altar, as either a priest or a Levite. No female elder was ever seen in a Hebrew congregation. No woman ever sat on the throne of the theocracy, except the pagan usurper and murderess, Athaliah.”
  6. “And Anna?” Anna was an old prophetess who worshipped in the temple before Christ’s ministry began. She was a devout woman, worthy of honor. but again there is no evidence that she held a ministerial role. Many think the word prophetess here is simply linked with praise. (Many traditional expositors do not deny the ability for women to teach at very special times, but it is not normative, as Scripture makes contextually clear throughout.)
  7. “And Priscilla?” Wife of Aquila, they ran a house church and together and rebuked the young Apollos. She has been called a “pastor” by feminists, but there is no evidence whatsoever of this in the brief mentions of her. It is mere speculation and wishful thinking.
  8. “How about Euodia, Phoebe, Junia, Syntyche, etc?” These are classic examples of taking brief mentions and running with them. Any speculation is overruled by more explicit Pauline commands and by the context of Scripture. (To give an idea of how short the mentions are, here are the passages in question– Romans 16:1-2: “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae, that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well.” Romans 16:7: “Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me.” Phillipians 4:2: “I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.”)
  9. “1Corinthians 11:5 condones women prophesying.” R.L. Dabney answers what he calls a “feeble attempt:” “…When we turn to the fourteenth chapter… we find the same apostle strictly forbidding public preaching in the churches to women, and enjoining silence. No honest reader of Scripture can infer that he meant by inference to allow the very thing which, in the same epistle and in the same part of it, he expressly prohibits. It is a criminal violence to represent him as thus contradicting himself.”
  10. “Archaeology shows evidence of women deacons, priests and bishops.” So, then why don’t the written words from the period support such a contention? Pick your patristic: All men. When we read the histories and writings, the women just are not there in a pastoral role.

Supporters of women’s ordination are right about one thing: the issue is cultural. However, the cultural problem is ours. We are a product of a worldly age, a product of a culture that sees homemaking as inferior to well-paying managerial jobs. And this is where we must renew our minds (Rom 12:2).

Friends, this is not an issue where crusty old farts need to lighten up, it is one where the proponents of women’s ordination need to submit to God’s unchanging wisdom, for He is wiser, more loving, and more merciful than we will ever be. And the emasculated men who have lamely allowed this to happen in our churches need to be men.

To close with Dabney:

The competent archeologist and historian know that it has always been the trait of Judaism to assign an honorable place to woman. Accordingly, we never find the apostle drawing a depreciated picture of woman; every allusion of his to the believing woman is full of reverent respect and honor. Among the Christian women who come into Paul’s history there is not one who is portrayed after this imagined pattern of childish ignorance and weakness… [A]ll appear in the narrative as bright examples of Christian intelligence, activity, dignity, and graciousness. It was not left for the pretentious Christianity of our century to begin the liberation of woman. As soon as Christianity conquered a household, it did its blessed work in lifting up the feebler and oppressed sex; and it is evident that Paul’s habitual conception of female Christian character in the churches in which he ministered was at least as favorable as his estimate of the male members. Thus the state of facts on which this argument rests had no place in Paul’s mind; he did not consider himself as legislating temporarily in view of the inferiority of the female Christian character of his day, for he did not think it was inferior.

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