One of the central arguments that is brought up in favour of women’s ordination (abbreviated as “WO”) in some Christian denominations concerns the topic of equality. Many proponents argue that to ordain women into the office of pastor is to promote equality, whereas to deny women from this is inequality, hence discrimination and sexism, which is sinful. The two main Bible passages that are brought up in favour of this view is Genesis 1:27—men and women are both made in God’s image—and Galatians 3:28—there is no male and female in Christ Jesus.
They argue that in the beginning, God created Adam and Eve as equals in every way, but that since the Fall of humanity into sin, women have been constantly suppressed by men in each generation and society, who exercised cruel dominance over them. When Christ came, his saving grace and redemption on the cross brought about a new creation, in which, through Baptism, women have been restored back to their rightful place as equals with men in every way. This new creation is more than restoration to the state of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, but is rather the incorporation into a new humanity in Christ, in which there are no social distinctions.
The Extent of Equality Needs to Be Defined
The first, and biggest, problem with this argument is the assertion that the question of whether women can be ordained as pastors concerns equality itself. This is because Christians who deny the ordination of women as pastors will argue that they do, in fact, believe that women are equal with men. Because God created both men and women in his image, he bestowed upon them an equal measure of value, dignity, and worth. So, gender equality itself is not the issue here, and never was. The real question is: in what ways are men and women equal? It’s on this specific point where we find disagreement between traditionalists (those who deny WO) and modernists (those who support WO). Thus, the argument concerns not equality itself, but the extent of equality.
A traditionalist will argue that women are equal with, or the same (because equal simply means same), as men in value, but not equal or the same in function. A modernist, on the other hand, will argue that women are equal with or the same as men in absolutely every way, or nearly every way, in both value and function. The question of this debate is where to draw the line of equality: do we draw it at value or function?
The major problem with the modernist position is that it reduces womanhood and manhood down to mere biological differences and nothing more. This is the position of Egalitarianism, which holds that women can do absolutely everything that men can do except when biology prevents it, and is the position of WO proponents. Essentially, according to the modernist position, the only difference between a man and a woman is that women are built to bear children, but men are not. In other words, womanhood is nothing more than an appearance, just like manhood.
To a traditionalist, this is an offensive view of womanhood, because it is far too shallow and simplistic. A traditionalist will argue that womanhood does not just consist of the woman’s body, but also her behaviour, character, roles, and functions. In other words, having a more supportive role is part of a woman’s very soul and essence, just as much as childbearing is. Gender roles and behaviour cannot be dismissed as mere social constructs, because they are part of the essence of womanhood and manhood.
To say otherwise not only harms the true essence of womanhood and manhood, but it could even lead to the false view that a woman is merely a more upgraded man, because she can bear children. Or, to the contrary, it could lead to the equally false view that a man is merely a more upgraded woman, because he can perform more physical tasks due to his greater muscle mass.
All this is to say that for someone to argue for women’s ordination, on the basis of equality, and then claim that their opponents promote inequality, is an abuse of the term equality. It is a misuse, because the term equality is quite broad in scope, but they take a narrow definition of it, and then accuse their opponents of denying equality, even though their opponents are only denying their narrow use of the term. Thus, this argument is actually a logical fallacy of equivocation: using a term with more than one meaning in a statement without specifying which meaning is intended.
The Extent of Equality in the Bible: Genesis 1:27 & Galatians 3:28
We have discussed the problems with the Egalitarian/modernist position, in that it reduces womanhood and manhood down to biological differences, as well as the fact that they apply a very narrow definition of the term equality, and use it to their advantage. But this does not, at this stage, prove it’s wrong. We need to look at Genesis 1:27 and Galatians 3:28 first, to see in what ways the Bible teaches that men and women are equal. Is it in value, dignity, and worth? Or is it in absolutely every way? Genesis 1:27 says:
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27, ESVUK)
Based upon this passage, we can conclude that men and women are unique in God’s creation, because unlike the animals, or even the angels, they alone are created in God’s image and likeness. Furthermore, we can conclude that since God created both the man and the woman in his image, that he values both equally, and shows no favouritism. But we cannot possibly conclude from this passage that this entails that women can perform absolutely every function that a man can perform, or vice versa. That is a huge case of eisegesis, in which someone reads into a passage something that’s simply not found there.
Some people argue that in the very next verse, because Adam and Eve both share in the leadership over the rest of creation (Gen 1:28), that this means that they share in the exact same functions. But again, that is another huge assumption that is simply not supported by the text, because the passage is about humans in relation to animals, not men in relation to women. It tells us that humanity has leadership over the animals, but does not tell us about leadership amongst humans themselves. In summary, Genesis 1:27 cannot be used to prove that men and women are the same in role and function; but we can reasonably say from this passage that they are the same in value, dignity, and worth.
The second passage, Galatians 3:28, is best understood by reading it in its context. It says:
24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. (Galatians 3:24–29)
To be “one” is to be united. When Paul says that in Christ there is no Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male and female, he is saying this because all Christians are united in their union with Christ, no matter who they are. Our ethnicity, social status, gender, and anything else about us that we have no control over, does not change the fact that if we are baptised and believe in Jesus, then we are equally children of God, equally united with Christ, equally offspring of Abraham, and equally heirs of the promise of eternal life. This is the plain meaning of Paul’s words when we take the context into account. There is no indication, whatsoever, that this indicates that women are absolutely the same as men in role and function.
If one takes verse 28 out of context, and forces a crudely literal interpretation on it, then one might not only conclude that women are the same as men in role because “there is no male and female”. They might also conclude that Jews and Greeks no longer exist, because “There is neither Jew nor Greek”, or that men and women no longer exist, because “there is no male and female”; we’re all “just Christians”. But this then erases the personal identity of each follower of Christ, which the Apostle here is not doing. In summary, Galatians 3:28 cannot be used to prove that women and men are equal in role and function; at most, we can use this passage to show that both men and women are equally heirs of the promise of eternal life through Christ.
The Extent of Equality in the Bible: 1 Corinthians 11:1–16; Ephesians 5:22–33; Colossians 3:18–25; 4:1; 1 Peter 3:1–7
Since we have shown that the key texts that WO proponents use to claim that women are the same as men in role and function don’t actually teach this, let’s examine if the Bible does, in fact, teach that men and women are different in role and function. St Paul says:
22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Saviour. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. (Ephesians 5:22–33)
As we can see from this, the Bible says that in marriage, the husband is the head of the wife. This already tells us that in role and function, men and women are not the same. In the family, husbands are supposed to take the leadership role, and wives the supportive role. Furthermore, the Bible says that the woman is to submit to her husband in everything, as the Church submits to Christ, and that the man is to love his wife more than his own life, as Christ loves the Church and gave his life for her. This is a clearly distinct set of instructions for both genders, meaning, again, that men and women are not the same in role and function.
It should be said that when we take this entire passage together, we see that the Christian wife’s submission to her Christian husband is not at all servile, because she is submitting to a man who loves her with Christ’s own self-sacrificial love. A man who leads with Christ’s love will not rule over his wife like a tyrant and a woman who follows with the Church’s respect for Christ will not despise her husband’s authority.
This is how the Apostle Paul paints the picture of a godly, functioning marriage: it is, by nature, complimentary. The husband and wife’s roles are different, but what one role lacks, the other makes up for it; this is the view of Complimentarianism, the view which traditionalists take, which is nothing more than the teaching of Ephesians 5. Paul’s teaching here is actually a reversal of the Fall’s consequences in relations between men and women, in which the wife’s “desire shall be for your husband”, that is, fueled by envy for his position as head, “and he shall rule over you”, that is, harshly like a tyrant (Gen 3:16). Ephesians 5 upholds the distinct roles between male and female, but forbids any abuse of either position. Another similar passage is given below:
18 Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. 19 Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. 20 Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. 21 Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. 22 Slaves, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. 25 For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality. 1 Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven. (Colossians 3:18–25; 4:1)
As we can see here, the Bible gives separate instructions for wives, husbands, children, fathers, slaves, all Christians in general, and masters. A woman’s role in marriage is to submit to her husband and a man’s is to love his wife and not be harsh with her. Because these roles are different, this again shows that women and men are not equal or the same in role or function.
There are other passages which teach that in the New Covenant, men and women are different in function. For example, in 1 Corinthians 11:3, Paul says that the head of a wife is her husband.
But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. (1 Corinthians 11:3)
Furthermore, in 1 Peter 3:1–7, the Apostle Peter instructs wives to submit to their husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, and to adopt a gentle and quiet spirit, which is pleasing to God, while he instructs husbands to live with understanding and honour toward their wives, because they are the physically weaker partners.
1 Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, 2 when they see your respectful and pure conduct. 3 Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewellery, or the clothing you wear— 4 but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. 5 For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, 6 as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.
7 Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honour to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered. (1 Peter 3:1–7)
All this demonstrates that according to the Bible in the New Testament, within the estate of marriage and the household, men and women have their own distinct functions. Therefore, while men and women are equal in value, they are not equal or the same in function. But, as passages like Genesis 1:27 and Galatians 3:28 declare, this difference of roles does not in any way diminish either gender’s value, which are both equal in God’s eyes.
We No Longer Follow the Commandments on Slavery (Or Head Coverings)
Some modernists may reply that we no longer follow the instructions on slaves obeying their masters, because those were specific to first-century Rome that had a system of slavery, which no longer applies to us today. In the same way, they say, we no longer need to obey the instructions on wives submitting to their husbands, because although this was culturally relevant in the first-century, it is not today.
There are some major problems with this argument, though. First, it’s wrong to say that we no longer follow the instructions on slaves obeying their masters, because the central principle behind Paul’s teaching here, namely, that we ought to serve those who are in authority over us with sincerity, applies for all times. It’s true that we no longer have slaves in Western societies, but that does not mean that the commandment now becomes irrelevant, or that we no longer need to follow its central principle. That would be like saying that the Lord Jesus’ command to wash each other’s feet in John 13 is irrelevant, because we usually don’t do that in Western societies. This is wrong, however, because we still ought to follow the central principle of John 13, which is to show each other hospitality.
A similar thing could be said about head coverings for women in 1 Corinthians 11:1–16: there is an eternal principle and a cultural principle. The “symbol of authority” that a woman wears on her head, which was a veil in Paul’s day (1Cor 11:10), may change from one place or era to the next, but the authority that the symbol points to, which is the man as the head of the woman (1Cor 11:3), does not. This is because headship is rooted in the creation of male and female (1Cor 11:7–9), whereas the artificial covering is rooted in human culture. Therefore, it’s wrong to say that we simply cast aside this commandment also, which would be sinful to do. To the contrary, we ought to continue to uphold the central principle behind it, which relates to human behaviour, even if we no longer practise—or have modified—the cultural component, which is the veil that represents it.
Second, this argument is highly misleading because marriage is very different from slavery. So, to use the example of slavery to explain why a passage on marriage is irrelevant or outdated is a huge case of category error. It’s similar to saying that an employee obeying his/her employer is on the same, or similar, level as a slave obeying his/her master, which is just as false and misleading as saying that a wife obeying her husband is on the same, or similar, level as slavery. Clearly, when we are dealing with two separate institutions that are very different in nature, we need to deal with the two on a separate basis, and not on a joint basis.
This is especially evident when we look at the way that Scripture speaks of marriage and slavery respectively. The Lord Jesus and St Paul praise marriage as a sacred institution of God (Eph 5:31–32) and exhort husbands and wives to stay together in this estate (Mt 19:6; 1Cor 7:10–11), whereas with regards to slavery, Paul actually encourages Christians to become free if they can, and leave the estate (1Cor 7:21). Furthermore, Paul also puts “enslavers”—those who kidnap people and sell them into slavery—in a category of evildoers who are: lawless, disobedient, ungodly, sinful, unholy, and profane (1Tim 1:9–10).
Third, this argument ignores or fails to acknowledge the fact that while Paul does break down social distinctions between masters and their slaves, he does not do so for marriage. For example, when Paul wrote to a Christian master, Philemon, about his run-away slave, Onesimus, who had converted to Christianity after escaping and meeting Paul in prison, Paul exhorted Philemon to receive him back not as a slave, but as a brother in Christ (Phm 15–16). In regards to marriage, on the other hand, both the Apostles Paul and Peter continue to uphold the social distinctions between husbands and wives in the estate of marriage, but in contrast to the culture, they prevent husbands from misusing their position as the head of the household against their wives and children (Eph 5:22–33; 1Pt 3:1–7).
Baptism into Christ Erases All Social Distinctions
Another argument that some modernists use, which is heavily reliant upon Galatians 3:28, is that Baptism incorporates us into Christ himself (Gal 3:27); it translates us from the old Adam, or old humanity, to the Last Adam, who is Christ, the new humanity (1Cor 15:22, 45). They would then say that this new humanity in Christ has no social distinctions at all.
This argument fails, however, because the conclusion does not follow from the premise. The premise, that Baptism incorporates us into Christ and a new humanity, is correct. The conclusion is not that all social distinctions break down in Christ, but that all are equally valuable in Christ’s eyes and co-heirs of eternal life (Gal 3:28; 1Pt 3:7). All of the above Bible passages that we observed on marriage and the family are given explicitly in the context of New Covenant, Christian marriage (e.g. Eph 5:31–32). That is, they are not describing what the old humanity looks like, but the new humanity in Christ, and they still maintain social distinctions. Thus, to argue that our new humanity in Christ breaks down all social distinctions is nothing more than a manipulation and misuse of terms and definitions.
In summary, the slavery and new humanity arguments are not sufficient to undermine the New Testament passages which uphold the distinctions of function between men and women in the estate of marriage. Ephesians 5:22–33, Colossians 3:18–25; 4:1, 1 Corinthians 11:3, and 1 Peter 3:1–7 demonstrate that according to the Bible in the New Testament, within the estate of marriage and the household, men and women have their own distinct functions. Therefore, while men and women are equal in value, they are not equal or the same in function.
The Implications of The Fact that in the New Covenant, Men and Women are Different in Function
The implications of the fact that men and women have separate and distinct roles and functions under the New Covenant, at least in the realm of marriage and the household, are significant. First of all, it means that Egalitarianism, which teaches that women can do everything that men can do except when biology prevents it, because there are no social distinctions between men and women, is false. Secondly, it means that the equality argument of the modernists, namely, that to deny women the opportunity of being ordained into the pastoral office is inequality, is not necessarily true, since the Bible teaches not an equality of function between men and women, but value.
After all, if men and women are equal in value, but different in function, then traditionalists denying women the chance of becoming pastors may not at all be a case of devaluing women on the basis of gender, but rather upholding her identity as a woman created in the image of God. And if denying women from entry into the pastoral office is, indeed, a case of upholding her identity as a woman, then according to the contrary, allowing her to become a pastor would not only be denigrating her womanhood, but would even be leading her into sin, which is a state of violation against God’s will, which dishonours both her and God. For this reason, if the traditionalist position is true, then it would be the modernists who are actually guilty of sin and sexism against women.
The Argument from 1 Timothy 2:11–15; 3:1–7
But, it could be true (for the sake of argument) that while men and women have distinct roles in the realm of the home and family, that this is not necessarily true in the realm of the Church. However, there are Bible passages which uphold the distinction of functions between men and women for the Church, also. One key example is 1 Timothy 2:11–15; 3:1–7, which says:
11 Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 15 Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control. 1 The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. (1 Timothy 2:11–15; 3:1–3)
In the Bible, the terms “overseer” (or bishop) and “elder” (or presbyter) are both used interchangeably to refer to the office of pastor (Ac 20:17, 28; Ti 1:5–9; 1Pt 5:1–3). It is significant that Paul places his prohibition against women teaching or exercising authority over men in the same section in which he provides qualifications on who can and cannot be a pastor. After all, according to Paul, an overseer must be “able to teach” (1Tim 3:2), since one of their main functions is serving as the spiritual teacher of the congregation, which is manifested in their preaching of the sermon during public worship. Another of their main functions is exercising authority over the congregation, manifested in their leading of public worship, as well as deciding who can or cannot receive Holy Communion.
It is also significant that when Paul gives his qualifications, one of the criteria is that an overseer must be a “husband of one wife”, which is directed specifically towards men, as opposed to simply specifying that an overseer must be “married to one spouse”, the latter of which would have been gender neutral. Paul does the same thing in Titus 1:5–6, in which he writes that an elder must be a “husband of one wife”. Furthermore, Paul says that he wrote all these instructions so that we may know how we ought to behave in the household of God, the Church, which means that Paul is speaking specifically about roles in the realm of the Church here (1Tim 3:14–15). When taken all together, this passage tells us that since women are not permitted to teach or exercise authority over men, in the direct context on who can and cannot be a pastor, and that a pastor must be able to teach, women, therefore, cannot perform the key functions of a pastor.
Paul’s Comments on Adam and Eve Are Influenced by His Patriarchal Society
A modernist may give some counterarguments to this. They might quote verses 13–14, “For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.” They may then point out that it was wrong for Paul to say that only Eve was deceived, not Adam, because they both ate from the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, and that Paul said this only because he was influenced by his Greco-Roman society, which had suspicions that falsehoods easily ensnare women. Therefore, they say, this command should not be followed today.
There are some major problems with this argument. The first, is that in order to fully embrace this argument as one’s own, they must deny biblical inerrancy—the biblical teaching that the Bible, in its entirety, is the Word of God, inspired by the Holy Spirit, and therefore free from all error (Jn 10:35; 1Th 2:13; 2Tim 3:16–17; 2Pt 1:19–21; 3:15–17). Of course, from a purely philosophical or secular standpoint, it could indeed be a “valid” argument to say that Paul was not uttering Spirit-inspired words here, but rather his own misplaced, patriarchal opinions. But then, the problem is, if the Bible is not the Word of God, but only contains the Word of God, who gets to decide which parts are the Word, and which parts are not? Evidently, the readers themselves.
At this point, the discussion breaks down, because traditionalists and modernists no longer have the same authority, but two competing authorities. The traditionalists will maintain that Paul’s words here are infallible, because the Bible is the Word of God, but the modernists will simply reply that Paul’s words here are not infallible, because it’s up to the individual or Church to decide what is the Word of God in the Bible and what’s not. Thus, it no longer becomes a discussion on women’s ordination, but rather the authority and status of Scripture itself.
The second major problem with this argument is that it assumes the worst about Paul, rather than the best. Of course, again—from a purely philosophical and secular perspective—one could assume that Paul said these words because he was writing his own biased, patriarchal opinions. However, one could also look at it from a more positive perspective, and give Paul the benefit of the doubt. This would involve considering the fact that perhaps Paul is actually making a perfectly valid and important point here, even if we may not see it at first (which would seem to be the more loving approach, at least to Paul).
When Paul says that Adam was not deceived, but Eve was, he seems to be making a reference to the order of temptation that occurs in Genesis 3, much in the same way that in the previous clause, he references the order of creation. The serpent sinned first by tempting and deceiving Eve; Eve then sinned by heeding the voice of the serpent, eating of the forbidden fruit, and giving some of it to Adam; then, Adam sinned by heeding the voice of Eve, and eating of the fruit (Gen 3:1–6). In light of Paul’s words, it is perfectly valid to believe that while Eve was deceived, or tricked, into eating the fruit, that Adam was not deceived, but nevertheless sinned by going along with Eve’s decision, despite knowing better. This does not necessarily mean that Eve was more at fault; after all, as her husband, it was Adam’s responsibility to protect his wife, which he failed to do here. Both were equally guilty of sinning in the eyes of God.
It’s also important to note that when Paul says that Eve became a “transgressor”, it does not mean that Adam did not become a transgressor; it simply means that Eve was deceived, not Adam, and that through being deceived, Eve became a transgressor. Elsewhere Paul confirms this, calling Adam a transgressor also (Rm 5:14). All this is to say that, sometimes, resolving biblical tensions is simply a matter of looking at things from a different, positive perspective, as opposed to a negative perspective, in which one simply denies biblical inerrancy, and dismisses the author’s words as mere un-inspired opinions.
Today’s Pastors Are Not the Same as the Elders & Overseers in Scripture
Other modernists respond by saying that the office of pastor today is not the same as the office of “overseer” and “elder” that Paul describes in the Pastoral Epistles. This objection is wrong for several reasons. Firstly, according to the Bible, elders/overseers refer to the spiritual leaders of the Church. We see this, for example, in Acts 15:6, where the apostles and elders were gathered together at the Jerusalem Council to discuss and make a spiritual judgement on whether or not keeping the Law of Moses was necessary for salvation. In the same way, pastors/priests of today simply refer to the spiritual leaders of the Church. Whatever name we may give this office, anyone who acts as the spiritual leader of a congregation is acting in the office of elder/overseer that Paul describes in the Pastoral Epistles.
Secondly, significant church confessions confirm the Bible’s teaching that pastors of today are elders/overseers as described in the Bible. For example, in the Book of Concord—the confessions of the Lutheran Church—the Power and Primacy of the Pope says, in paragraphs 60–62:
[In our Confession and the Apology we have in general recounted what we have had to say concerning ecclesiastical power. For] The Gospel assigns to those who preside over churches the command to teach the Gospel to remit sins, to administer the Sacraments and besides jurisdiction, namely, the command to excommunicate those whose crimes are known, and again to absolve those who repent.
And by the confession of all, even of the adversaries, it is clear that this power by divine right is common to all who preside over churches, whether they are called pastors, or elders, or bishops. And accordingly Jerome openly teaches in the apostolic letters that all who preside over churches are both bishops and elders, and cites from Titus 1:5f : For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest ordain elders in every city [and afterwards calls these persons bishops]. Then he adds: A bishop must be the husband of one wife. (Tr 60–62)
In addition, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, in paragraphs 1536 and 1575–76:
Holy Orders is the sacrament through which the mission entrusted by Christ to his apostles continues to be exercised in the Church until the end of time: thus it is the sacrament of apostolic ministry. It includes three degrees: episcopate, presbyterate, and diaconate. (CCC 1536)
Christ himself chose the apostles and gave them a share in his mission and authority. Raised to the Father’s right hand, he has not forsaken his flock but he keeps it under his constant protection through the apostles, and guides it still through these same pastors who continue his work today. Thus, it is Christ whose gift it is that some be apostles, others pastors. He continues to act through the bishops. Since the sacrament of Holy Orders is the sacrament of the apostolic ministry, it is for the bishops as the successors of the apostles to hand on the “gift of the Spirit,” the “apostolic line.” Validly ordained bishops, i.e., those who are in the line of apostolic succession, validly confer the three degrees of the sacrament of Holy Orders. (CCC 1575–76)
Moreover, the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer, in the preface to the chapter on “The Form and Manner of Making, Ordaining, and Consecrating of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons, According to the Order of The Church of England”, says:
It is evident unto all men diligently reading holy Scripture and ancient Authors, that from the Apostles’ time there have been these Orders of Ministers in Christ’s Church; Bishops, Priests, and Deacons. Which Offices were evermore had in such reverend Estimation, that no man might presume to execute any of them, except he were first called, tried, examined, and known to have such qualities as are requisite for the same; and also by publick Prayer, with Imposition of Hands, were approved and admitted thereunto by lawful Authority. And therefore, to the intent that these Orders may be continued, and reverently used and esteemed in the Church of England, no man shall be accounted or taken to be a lawful Bishop, Priest, or Deacon, in the Church of England, or suffered to execute any of the said Functions, except he be called, tried, examined, and admitted thereunto, according to the Form hereafter following, or hath had Episcopal Consecration, or Ordination.
Thus, the official position of the Lutheran, Catholic, and Anglican Church is that pastors of today bear the same office of spiritual leadership that Christ himself instituted in the New Testament. More evidence could be cited, but this will suffice. In sum, the Bible teaches that elders/overseers are the Church’s spiritual leaders, and tradition affirms this. Pastors of today are, therefore, elders/overseers, as described by the New Testament.
Paul Was Only Reacting to a Specific Situation
Another argument that a modernist might raise is that Paul forbade women from teaching and exercising authority over men in 1 Timothy 2:11–15 only in reaction to a specific incident that occurred in the first century, and that this command was not meant for all times. Therefore, they say, we no longer need to follow it. There is a fatal flaw in this argument, however: there is no evidence to back it up. There is nothing in the text itself which suggests that Paul is reacting to a specific incident here, nor is there any indication of this in any writing of the ancient Church. This is why if a modernist were asked what situation Paul was addressing, they couldn’t give a concrete answer, because the entire argument is built purely upon speculation, rather than facts or evidence.
If a traditionalist were to point this out, a modernist may reply in one of three ways. First, they may say that their speculation is actually supported by biblical themes or teachings. For example, they may say that Paul must have been talking only of a specific situation, because the Bible elevates the status of women. However, the conclusion does not necessarily follow from the premise. After all, as we have already proved with Bible passages on family and the home, women are equal with men in dignity, but different in function. So, Paul and the apostles can teach a difference of functions between men and women, all the while elevating women to an equal value with men in their status as children of God and co-heirs of eternal life. Therefore, Paul’s prohibition on women teaching and exercising authority over men in the Church (and by extension, Jesus’, who made Paul his apostle) can co-exist with the Bible’s elevated status of women.
Second, a modernist may say that it must be true that Paul was only addressing a specific situation, because traditionalists cannot prove that their claim is false. This, however, is an argument from ignorance—a logical fallacy. Of course a traditionalist cannot “prove” that it’s false (because we cannot go back in time and interview Paul)—but so what? This argument is like saying that it must be true that life is only a simulation, because it’s impossible to prove otherwise. Of course it’s impossible to prove otherwise, but that doesn’t make the argument good: it simply makes it meaningless to engage with. Therefore, because this argument lacks any evidence and depth of thought or reason, it can be simply dismissed just as easily, while traditionalists continue to offer evidence against it.
Third, a modernist may say that Paul must have been only addressing a specific situation because the Church was patriarchal, and under the influence of an unjust patriarchy, Paul was overreacting to a specific situation. However, this is nothing more than an appeal to novelty. That is, the argument is a logical fallacy, in which the arguer claims to know better than the people of the past, or would have reacted differently from them, simply because the people of the past weren’t fortunate enough to have been born in this era of supposed enlightenment. However, since we know that Paul actually honoured women by placing them as equals with men as co-heirs of eternal life (Gal 3:28), we know that this argument is false—not to mention that it seems to promote cultural elitism.
The Argument from 1 Corinthians 14:26–40
We have shown that in 1 Timothy 2:11–15; 3:1–7, the Bible teaches that men and women are distinct in function not only in the home, but also in the Church. It’s also worth examining one more passage which is crucial in this study, which is 1 Corinthians 14:26–40. This one is slightly more lengthy, but it’s worth getting the full context:
26 What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. 27 If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. 28 But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. 29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. 30 If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, 32 and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. 33 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.
As in all the churches of the saints, 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. 35 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.
36 Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached? 37 If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. 38 If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. 39 So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 40 But all things should be done decently and in order. (1 Corinthians 14:26–40)
As we can see from the phrase, “When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation” (1Cor 14:26), Paul is talking about public Church worship. So, again, this teaching falls within the realm of the Church. We also see from verses 26b, 33, and 40, that Paul’s main desire in this passage is that Church worship should be done decently and in order. Paul’s divine instructions here show how this is done. Furthermore, Paul’s instructions here seem to be addressed to church leaders (elders/overseers/pastors), which will be explained in a minute.
The hymn is rather self-explanatory, and refers to the songs that the congregation sings to worship God. The lesson refers to the Bible readings (1Tim 4:13). The revelation refers to the sermons that the elder/overseer/pastor preaches (2Tim 4:2). The liturgy of today has retained the hymn, lesson, and revelation, but usually doesn’t include the tongue or interpretation. This is because these spiritual gifts are considerably rare nowadays, so the Church has adapted accordingly. When giving the sermon or revelation, the elders could prophesy (or teach) one after the other. Two or three could speak per service, and the other prophets/elders weighed what was said (1Cor 14:29). The tongue and interpretation refer to elders with the gift of tongues speaking to the congregation in an unknown language, while elders with the gift of interpretation interpreted these words. Two or three could speak in tongues per service, so long as there was someone present to interpret them (1Cor 14:27–28).
There are two primary reasons why Paul appears to be referring to church leaders in this chapter. First, Paul’s emphasis on order in the Church (1Cor 14:40) makes it highly unlikely that just anyone could get up and prophesy/speak in tongues/interpret. The pastoral office that was established by Christ was already being used by the Church as early as the book of Acts, and it was the elders’/overseers’ responsibility to teach the congregation (Ac 14:23; 1Tim 4:11–16). Second, the Bible speaks of two different types of prophets. The first, refers to a person with the gift of prophesying into the future, that is, predicting future events (Ac 11:27–28). The second, refers to a person with the gift of prophesying for the present, by being able to expound the Word of God, which Paul clearly refers to here, since in this chapter he describes prophecy in terms that are explicitly connected with teaching the congregation (1Cor 14:3, 6, 24–25; cf. Ac 14:21–22; 1Tim 4:13; 2Tim 4:2).
Paul then says that in all the churches (assemblies/congregations) of the saints, the women should keep silent, and not speak but rather be in submission (1Cor 14:34). This does not seem to refer to absolute silence, but rather overall quietness. Verse 28 indicates this, since if no interpreter was present, an elder with the gift of tongues must keep silent (the same Greek word), but could still “speak to himself and to God” (1Cor 14:28). Paul says that this is a teaching of God’s Law (1Cor 14:34), so the charge for women to keep quiet is a divine command, and any violation of it is therefore shameful (1Cor 14:35b). Paul proceeds to defend this teaching, saying that it is a command of the Lord (1Cor 14:37)—a reiteration of the fact that it is from God’s Law (1Cor 14:34). Altogether, because God mandates that women keep quiet, rather than speak or teach, and be in submission, rather than authority, during public Church worship, this means that women cannot legitimately fulfil the office of pastor.
“As In All the Churches of the Saints” Could Be Connected to “For God Is Not a God of Confusion But of Peace”
One objection that a modernist might make to this is that linguistically, the phrase “As in all the churches of the saints” could immediately follow “For God is not a God of confusion but of peace”, so that the phrase instead reads as, “For God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints. The women should keep silent in the churches.” They say, therefore, that Paul’s command is not directed to all churches, just the church in Corinth.
While it’s true that the passage could be translated that way, the conclusion is not necessarily true. Even if the phrase were connected to God being a God of peace, the fact remains that Paul still says that “The women should keep silent in the churches.” Paul does not need to specify that this is for “all the churches of the saints” in order for his command to be timeless. After all, Paul does not provide this designation elsewhere for certain commandments in the letter, such as his commands on marriage, divorce, and remarriage, but these are still timeless (1Cor 7:10–15).
In addition, it’s significant that Paul says that the women are to keep silent in “the churches” plural (see also 1Cor 11:16), in contrast with how he begins the letter, addressing it to “the church” singular “of God that is in Corinth” (1Cor 1:1), indicating that its scope is wider than just the church in Corinth. Moreover, when Paul is only addressing specific congregations, he specifies what region they belong to, such as the “churches of Asia” (1Cor 16:19) or the “churches of Galatia” (1Cor 16:1). Paul does not do so for this passage, which again, indicates that it’s not just for the church in Corinth. Regardless of this, the fact that Paul gives us this command means that we ought to follow it, just as we ought to follow all the commandments of the Bible. Finally, this argument does not negate the fact that Paul attributes this teaching to the Law of God (1Cor 14:34), and all Christians are bound to follow God’s Law. This again gives further evidence that he’s not simply addressing the congregation in Corinth.
The Command for Women’s Silence Was Added in Later by a Scribe (Or Was Only Circumstantial)
Another argument that modernists might use is that while all ancient Bible manuscripts, without any exception, contain verses 34–35, in which Paul commands women to be silent, a small minority of them (about half the amount of the Western witnesses—one of the three major manuscript traditions) place these verses at the end of the pericope, after verse 40, where he says, “But all things should be done decently and in order.” They say that this difference in placement indicates that these verses were not originally part of Paul’s letter, but were added in later by a scribe.
Some will cite supporting evidence for this aimed at showing the apparent “contradictions” between Paul’s command for women’s silence here, and his earlier permissions for women. For example, Paul teaches the interdependence of all Christians in regards to spiritual gifts (1Cor 12), allows women to pray and prophesy (1Cor 11:4–5), and appeals authoritatively to the “Law”, which is different from his usual use of it to introduce a specific text or illustrate, rather than prescribe (e.g. 1Cor 9:8; 14:21). They say that these apparent contradictions, along with their different placement in certain manuscripts, indicate that a scribe wrote this command later on, rather than Paul.
Let’s discuss each point one by one. The claim that because there is a difference in placement of verses 34–35 in a minority of manuscripts indicates that they were added in later, is a weak argument. This is because it’s nothing more than speculation. It is, of course, interesting to think about why a minority of manuscripts place them at the end, while the vast majority put them in the middle. Some scholars speculate that Paul himself wrote verses 34–35 as an insertion, to save space on the manuscript, which would explain why the early scribes regarded it as authentic if it really were a marginal gloss. If the location of the insertion could not be determined for whatever reason (e.g. the ink was blurred), then the scribes could put it at the end of the subject, which would be after verse 40, as seen in the Western witnesses.,
In short, there could be many other reasons for why or how this happened and we will probably never know for sure. But to single out one conclusion that explicitly attacks the authenticity of the biblical text and disregard all other possibilities, purely on the basis of speculation, is both dishonest and disingenuous. It also ignores the fact that regardless of where the verses are placed, every ancient manuscript contains them nevertheless, which is already powerful evidence that they’re authentic. In light of this, the validity of their argument hinges entirely on the supporting evidence that they cite, which we will now address. Keep in mind that these arguments could also be used by modernists to support the claim that this passage was only circumstantial.
Men and Women Both Have Spiritual Gifts
First, Paul does indeed teach that the Holy Spirit provides each member of the Church, both men and women, with spiritual gifts in chapter 12 (1Cor 12:7–11). But Paul’s charge for women to keep silent during public worship does not contradict the fact that women can, and do, have spiritual gifts. Public worship is only one aspect of the Christian life among many; and even if women cannot specifically teach or exercise authority over men during the liturgy, they still have roles available to them during the liturgy, like Bible reading, singing, and praying.
Outside of public worship, women have many more roles available to them within or outside of the Church. In addition, the office of pastor is only one vocation among many for Christians—an office which the majority of Christians do not hold anyway. Paul is not denying women from their use of spiritual gifts in the Christian life; he is only giving a specific divine command on gender roles within the liturgy.
Women Can Pray and Prophesy
Second, Paul’s charge for women to keep silent during public worship does not contradict his allowance for them to pray or prophesy. As noted earlier, Paul’s command for women is not for absolute silence, but rather overall quietness, and a role of submission, rather than leadership. In addition, Paul’s comments on men and women praying and prophesying in chapter 11 are not specified to be in the context of public church worship (1Cor 11:1–5), unlike the next section that he introduces on Holy Communion (1Cor 11:17–22), or in this section in discussion (1Cor 14:26). This indicates that in 1 Corinthians 11:1–5, Paul likely has private acts in mind, or just the Christian life in general, as opposed to public worship specifically.
Christian women can exercise the gift of prophecy in many different ways. They can do so as mothers instructing their children in the faith, as laywomen giving devotions, as speakers at conferences, as evangelists, missionaries, Sunday school teachers, school or university teachers, and in some cases, seminary teachers. The one and only instance in which women cannot prophesy this way is during public Church worship (1Cor 14:26; 34–35; 1Tim 2:11–15).
Paul’s Use of the Law Here Is Different
The third point, that Paul’s use of the Law here is different from other places in the letter, is false. In 1 Corinthians 9:7–10, Paul appeals to the authority of the Law to teach that pastors who labour in preaching the Word should receive payment for their work. In 1 Corinthians 14:21–22, Paul appeals to the authority of the Law to teach that tongues are a sign for unbelievers, but prophecy for believers. Elsewhere, Paul uses the word “Scripture(s)” synonymously with the Law, to which he also appeals as a source of authority (Rm 10:11; 1Cor 15:3–4; 1Tim 5:18). In the same way, Paul appeals to the authority of the Law in 1 Corinthians 14:34 to explain why women should be quiet during public church worship.
There is nothing at all in the text to suggest that this command was only circumstantial. To the contrary, the fact that Paul calls it God’s Law means that it is timeless (1Cor 14:34). As we said earlier, the circumstantial argument—that it’s true because it cannot be “proven” false—is a meaningless claim with no thought or reason behind it, much like the claim that life is only a simulation. Therefore, traditionalists can simply dismiss it, while continuing to offer evidence to the contrary. In the above points, we have shown that there is no evidence to support the claim that verses 34–35 were added in later by a scribe. Therefore, there is no real reason why we should think it was. To the contrary, the fact that it’s in all ancient manuscripts, indicates that it’s genuine.
In this article, we have proved: that modernists who use the “equality argument” employ a very narrow definition of the term equality, despite its wider scope; that the Bible teaches that men and women are equal in value, but not function, which is clearly seen in the realms of the home and the Church; and that the central arguments that modernists raise against traditionalists are false. 1 Timothy 2:11–15; 3:1–7 and 1 Corinthians 14:26–40 do not allow for women to fulfill the office of pastor, and all the objections to this cannot survive against critical examination.
Hence, it is not inequality for traditionalists to deny a woman ordination into the pastoral office, contrary to what they are often accused of. It is actually an act of love, because they are obeying the Word of Christ, honouring her womanhood, and properly guiding her. To the contrary, it is sinful and sexist for modernists to encourage a woman to become ordained as a pastor, because they are disobeying the Word of Christ, dishonouring her womanhood, and leading her into violating God’s will, hence sin.
Women play a central role in the Church and their gifts should never be neglected. Sadly, it does happen sometimes that Christian women are under-utilised in the Church. But the solution is not to get women into doing something against God’s will, but rather encouraging them to use their gifts in biblical ways. Ultimately, this article was written for the sake of the truth, which is in the Lord Jesus Christ alone (Jn 8:31–32; 14:6; 18:37; Eph 4:21), and to protect women from all the unbiblical voices of society that would get them to sin and undermine who they are in Christ, under the pretence of “equality”.
- Book of Concord, “The Power and Primacy of the Pope,” ed. Paul T. McCain et al., Triglot Concordia: The Symbolical Books of the Evangelical Lutheran Church: German-Latin-English (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921), accessed August 25, 2023, https://bookofconcord.org/power-and-primacy/.
- Catechism of the Catholic Church, “ARTICLE 6: THE SACRAMENT OF HOLY ORDERS,” 2nd ed. English Translation, accessed August 25, 2023, http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc/p2s2c3a6.htm.
- The Book of Common Prayer, “Form and Manner of Making, Ordaining, and Consecrating of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons,” accessed August 25, 2023, https://www.churchofengland.org/prayer-and-worship/worship-texts-and-resources/book-common-prayer/form-and-manner-making-ordaining.
- “Examining the authenticity of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35…,” Help Me With Bible Study, accessed August 17, 2023, http://helpmewithbiblestudy.org/11Church/PublicExaminingAuthenticity1CorLowerCriticism.aspx.
- Wallace, Daniel B., “The Textual Problem of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35,” Bible.org, accessed August 17, 2023, https://bible.org/article/textual-problem-1-corinthians-1434-35.
Book of Concord. “The Power and Primacy of the Pope.” Edited and translated by Paul T. McCain et al. Triglot Concordia: The Symbolical Books of the Evangelical Lutheran Church: German-Latin-English. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921. Accessed August 25, 2023. https://bookofconcord.org/power-and-primacy/.
Catechism of the Catholic Church. “ARTICLE 6: THE SACRAMENT OF HOLY ORDERS.” 2nd ed. English Translation. Accessed August 17, 2023. http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc/p2s2c3a6.htm.
“Examining the authenticity of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35….” Help Me With Bible Study. Accessed August 17, 2023. http://helpmewithbiblestudy.org/11Church/PublicExaminingAuthenticity1CorLowerCriticism.aspx.
The Book of Common Prayer. “Form and Manner of Making, Ordaining, and Consecrating of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons.” Accessed August 25, 2023. https://www.churchofengland.org/prayer-and-worship/worship-texts-and-resources/book-common-prayer/form-and-manner-making-ordaining.
Wallace, Daniel B. “The Textual Problem of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35.” Bible.org. Accessed August 17, 2023. https://bible.org/article/textual-problem-1-corinthians-1434-35.