THE VITAL question concerning women's ministry in the Church hinges on one question: can a woman be appointed or ordained to the regular ministry of the Church which involves leadership and rule? Is a woman ever thoroughly equipped by God for the position of authority and rule in the Church? For the last 2,000 years, church tradition has said 'No'. The Church of Rome said 'No'. The Reformers who threw out everything that was not scriptural, said 'No'. The Eastern Orthodox churches said 'No'. And I believe they were right.
The answer from Scripture is clear and has been endorsed by the whole Church throughout the ages: only men can be admitted into the office of presbyter or bishops and to deny this is to deny the authority and sufficiency of Scripture.
Paul taught equality of sexes in Christ and then made them unequal by not allowing women to have a teaching, ruling role in the Church. He banned them from the office of presbyter and bishop. But does equality of the sexes in Christ mean unisex? Does it rule out all difference between men and women?
In the Old Testament we read that 'a woman shall not wear anything that pertains to a man, nor shall a man put on a woman's garment, for all who do so are an abomination to the Lord your God'(Deuteronomy 22:5). Men who put on the role of women and women who put on the role of men are an abomination to the Lord our God. Men should be men and women women. It is true, indeed, that spiritual privileges come to men and women alike, as they do to slaves and free men and to Jew and Greek. But if this means that there can be no subordination of women to men, then it follows also that there can be no subordination of men to men, which would contradict all scriptural principles of church organisation.
It is not that women cannot do the things that men can, but that, as in the home it is the man who is the head and ruler of the family congregation, which is an order instituted by God, so that order must be reflected in the family of his church congregation, which is also an order instituted by God.
Will God, then, organise the fellowship of the congregation in a way that destroys his ordering of the family? It may be that the desire of some women to be ordained to a leadership role in the Church reflects the home situation and the failure of man to fulfil his role of leadership and authority there.
Did Paul write as he was moved to by the cultural ideas of his time? 'It is common to represent women in biblical times as a suppressed group, oppressed, belittled and despised' says Noel Weeks. 'The attitude of Jesus to women is placed in contrast to this and then used as evidence that he was a social refomer intending to change the position of women, While one would like to see Jesus as such an enlightened reformer, a note of caution needs to be sounded.'
Much of the case that women had no rights rests on their relationship to their fathers or husbands. But sons also were expected to obey and to take care of their parents. Restrictive obligations placed on girls were also imposed on sons. The only difference was that, in the case of girls, fathers had the right to give them in marriage.
There is no teaching of Jesus attacking any discrimination against women. If women were despised in Jewish society as some would have us believe, and Jesus opposed this attitude, then it is all the more remarkable that we have such a lack of actual teaching on the subject.
The passage that is clearest of all and which is most relevant to us who have the full revelation of Scripture and do not look for any further revelations from the Spirit is 1 Timothy 2:11-14: 'And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man but to be in silence. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived fell into transgression.'
Paul's language not only qualifies teaching as an exercise of authority but by means of the 'or' before 'to have authority' also extends his prohibition to other exercises of formal authority. What Paul forbade women was having and exercising that sort of authority which church members ought to accept quietly and submissively.
Now if women are ordained into the office of ruling authority in the Church, what do we do with this passage of Scripture? Reject it? Say it is no longer relevant to our day and age? If we do it with this Scripture, why not other passages of Scripture? Had we better not heed the warning given in Revelation 22:19, 'And if anyone takes away from the book of this prophecy, God shall take his part from the Book of Life, from the Holy City, and from things written in this book'?
And on what does Paul base this denial of the presbyterate to women? On two facts related in Scripture. The first is that 'Adam was formed first, then Eve', and the second that 'Adam was not deceived but the woman being deceived fell into transgression.' He does no exegesis but simply states the facts. Therefore his teaching is not based on prejudice, nor is it rooted in the cultural ideas of the time.
He wrote as he was moved by the Holy Spirit, and the only explanation the Holy Spirit will give us through Paul is 'Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived fell into transgression.' But there are two things we learn from these bald statements of fact.
The first is that the early chapters of Genesis are part of history. The events recorded there actually happened. And the second is, we are left to study these chapters for ourselves. But we have not expounded the creation of Adam and Eve and the fall correctly unless we arrive at the same conclusion that Paul was moved to write for our learning, namely that women are to be submissive and not to teach or to have authority over men, because of man's priority in creation and woman's priority in the transgression.
And if the Church appoints women into the role of presbyter or bishop, a position for men only, then will it not become an abomination to the Lord? Take the example of Miriam (Numbers 12). She sought a position of equal authority with Moses and Aaron and God showed his displeasure by turning her into a leper. She led in the transgression and Aaron meekly followed. So, because Aaron did not exert his authority and prevent her from rebelling, he brought upon her a terrible punishment.