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.


Mr. Mcgranor said...

A position of State, and Church, are two different things.

Nicholas said...

The Kingdom of Israel is the Old Testament Church.

Jordan Cooper said...

Nicholas is exactly right. You can't talk about the Two Kingdoms distinction in the Old Testament in the same way that it exists now. In theocratic Israel, both church and state were one entity.

Mr. Mcgranor said...

The State is not ecclesiastical authority; as far as i am concerned. I know, that the Church is Israel; and the Church is Protestant.

Steve Martin said...

I know a few women pastors who are great at the job and are good and faithful stewards of God's Word.

And I know many more who are not. I also know a lot of male pastors who are lousy stewards of God's Word and who politicize everything.

"In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female."

At some point we have to trust in the Word and not whether the body from which that Word comes out of has the proper genitalia, or not.

Jordan Cooper said...


I understand that there are women pastors who teach well, and there are male pastors who don't. But that isn't the issue. It's an issue of whether or not God has instituted the role of pastoral ministry with one or both genders in mind. I think, based on the textual evidence, that the pastoral ministry was instituted for men.

That verse from Galatians is often used to support the idea of female ordination, but I don't think it has any such implication.

Jordan Cooper said...

Mr. McGranor, what do you mean that "the church is protestant?"

Steve Martin said...


I think it's a matter of trusting in the power of the Word, and it's authority to accomplish that which it will, in spite of a person's gender.

Personally, I believe it is a question of gifts. Some have the gift, and some do not.

But I do realize that the question will more than likely not be settled down here.

Thank you, friend.

Nicholas said...

It is not a question of whether or not a woman could do the job of pastor. The question is, who does the Scripture say can be a pastor? The Scriptures say NO to female pastors/elders, so the question is settled, as it has been for 2,000 years.

Steve Martin said...

The Scriptures also say no to uncovered heads for women.

We who do NOT have a Southern Baptist doctrine of the Word are bound to the infallible Word (through the prism of grace) and not the inerrant words on the page.

The finite contains the infinite, for us.

Anyway, I think we'll have to agree to disagree on this one.

J. Dean said...

Nicholas nails it on his last comment there: whether or not a woman has the ability to do something is irrelevant as to whether or not she is supposed to be in a role that is not intended for her as Scripture clearly spells out.

Reminds me of King Uzziah burning the incense at the altar; the problem wasn't that he couldn't physically handle the job, but that it was not his role to fulfill.

To be frank, it's really a shame to see professing Christians look at clear passages such as Paul's admonition against women teachers in I Timothy 2 and say "Well it doesn't REALLY mean that..." when the context doesn't permit it to be understood any other way. When you start saying that the Bible really doesn't mean what it really does mean, you've taken a step in the direction of heterodoxy by violating the authority and sufficiency of Scripture.

Jordan Cooper said...

You can't pit the principle that the finite contains in infinite against the doctrine of inerrancy. To argue that such a view of Scripture is "Southern Baptist" is wrong. The inerrancy of Scripture is a doctrine deeply embedded in the catholic tradition, from Justin Martyr to Johann Gerhard.

Steve Martin said...

Even Jesus was fully man, and yet fully God.

God uses earthen vessels. Ordinary bread and wine and water...the poor words of the sinner (preacher)...but yet He needs a perfect book, floated by parachute down from Heaven? Hardly.

Give God a bit of credit , will you.

Nope, this Lutheran does not hold to a Southern baptist doctrine of the Word.

If you need to that's fine. But NO ADD-On's to Christ, such as inerrant books, or "3rd uses of the law" are necessary.

Just sayin'.

Steve Martin said...

Do you think that Luther could have called the the Book of James "an epistle of straw" or could have said this;

“All upright sacred books agree on one thing, that they all collectively preach and promote Christ. Likewise, the true criterion for criticizing all books is to see whether they promote Christ or not, since all scripture manifests Christ. Whatever does not teach Christ is not apostolic, even if Peter and Paul should teach it. On the other hand, whatever preaches Christ is apostolic, even if Judas, Annas, Pilate, and Herod should do it!” (LW 35:396)

...if he believed that every jot and tittle of Scripture needed to be called inerrant?

I don't.

Jordan Cooper said...

As I said previously, calling it a "Southern Baptist doctrine of the word" is a straw man. The Lutheran Scholastic tradition developed the doctrine of inerrancy pretty thoroughly in the 17th-18th centuries. Look at Robert Preus' work on the subject. You can find these types of statements all throughout the church fathers as well. One does not need to buy into Warfield's version of inerrancy to acknowledge that all of Scripture is true.

What you argue for is essentially a pick and choose type of hermeneutic. Instead of arguing that Paul allowed for the ordination of women, you just say that Paul was wrong. If that's true, who is to say that Paul was right about homosexuality, the resurrection of Christ, the doctrine of justification? You can't just arbitrarily decide what is and isn't true.

The issues you bring up from Luther's writings have been answered time and time again. Luther calling James an epistle of straw doesn't have anything to do with his view of the truthfulness of Scripture. The question he poses is: is James really Scripture? If not, he could be wrong. If it was, he wouldn't have been wrong.

The second quote has often been used to argue that there is a canon within the canon. Or, in other words, only that which is gospel in Scripture is inspired. I would urge you to look at Paul Althaus' work on Martin Luther's theology where he admits, despite his disagreement with it, that Luther holds to inerrancy.

David Gray said...

It is interesting as well to see "Southern Baptist" used as a pejorative by people who more often than not are open rebels against Christ. They ordain women, normalize sodomy and aggressively promote an understanding of scripture which treats it like the menu from a Chinese restaurant.

Mr. Mcgranor said... without a husband. Be the best deaconess that you can, for God.

Nicholas said...

Steve Martin said...

"If you need to that's fine. But NO ADD-On's to Christ, such as inerrant books, or "3rd uses of the law" are necessary."

Not only is the rejection of inerrancy unorthodox (as Dr. Cooper pointed out), but the rejection of the Third Use of the Law is heretical as well. Rejection of the Third Use is neither Lutheran nor is it orthodox Christianity.