Friday, January 25, 2013
Answering Arguments for Women in Ministry: the Old Testament
I was pointed to an article by one of my readers regarding the issue of women in ministry. This article (which can be found here)is an official document of the Evangelical Covenant church in defense of their allowance of female clergy. This is particularly interesting to me because I was raised in the Evangelical Covenant church, a small church body which has its roots in Swedish Pietism. Because this paper gives many of the common reasons that many use to argue for women in ministry, I have decided to respond to the major arguments utilized here.
The first part of the article presents evidence from the Old Testament that women were active in the ministry of Israel. Exodus 38:8 mentions women who minister, as does Exodus 15:20-21. The gift of prophecy was sometimes given to women, such as Deborah in Judges 4-5. The story of Deborah also demonstrates that a woman could be fit as a leader for the people of Israel. This is then placed in contradistinction to other ancient societies which did not allow women any place in leadership, assigning her a relatively insignificant role in society.
What these texts demonstrate is not an egalitarian perspective on gender, but simply that God loves and utilizes both sexes to accomplish his purpose. It is significant that the Biblical narrative places women in a higher role than did many other ancient societies. This shows that both men and women are created in the imago Dei; it does not mean that their roles are interchangeable.
The unique male role in spiritual leadership is demonstrate in several places and institutions throughout the Old Testament. The two primary roles which governed the faith and civil law of Israel were the priesthood and the monarchy. The priesthood is first seen with the story of Melchizedek in Genesis 14. This priest was a male, who Abraham offered tithes to. This priesthood was typological (Hebrews 5:6), pointing to Christ as the true high priest. There was then a priesthood instituted through the tribe of Levi. Aaron was instituted as the high priest at the time of the Exodus, and the priesthood continued through his male lineage. The priesthood, both Melchizedekian and Levitical, is an office instituted solely for men. One could argue that this was done solely for the purpose of cultural sensitivity, due to the fact that women were not respected in the Ancient Near East. However, this is negated by the fact that there were female priests in some ancient pagan religions.
Similarly, the monarchy was passed on through male lineage. Saul was appointed as king, later to be removed from the throne so that David would rule over Israel. The monarchy passed to Solomon, and then to his male descendants. There were no female kings. This is significant especially because the monarchy of the Old Covenant was, like the priesthood, typological. Christ, through his incarnation, death, and resurrection, fulfilled both the roles of priest and king. He did this because these were the two most important institutions in the life of the nation of Israel, and both were limited to males.
The role of prophet is also linked almost exclusively to men. As the paper demonstrates, there are certain examples of women who prophesied at times. There were even exceptional cases like with Deborah, who was a leader and prophet. However, the normal pattern is for a prophet to be male. Just take a look at the prophets who have written books which are included in Scripture: Joshua, Ezekiel, Daniel, Jeremiah, and all of the minor prophets. They were all men.
We can gather some important truths in the Old Testament regarding the role of women in the spiritual life of the church/Israel. First, women are an essential part of the life of Israel. God created both male and female in his image, giving them both inherent dignity. Women have exceptional skills and are utilized for God's purpose. However, women were not designed to be the spiritual leaders of Israel. The priests were men. The kings were men. The prophets were most often men. Of the three leadership roles prominent in Israel's worship life, two are tied exclusively to males, and the third is most often attached to a male figure. This does not mean that either sex has more worth, dignity, or ability than the other; it simply shows that God created both genders to compliment one another, with different tasks in both the world and the church.