Ordination For Whom?

Paul Gardner

An examination of some of the biblical texts relevant to Women's Ordination

1. Introduction

This was originally an address given to a three-day conference at St. Helen's Bishopsgate, from 26 to 28 June, 1985. It is primarily an exegetical examination of some of the texts relating to the role of women in the church, although it begins on a broader level than that. The work tries to draw into one place exegetical material that may not often have been considered by many and which may not be immediately accessible to others. I must therefore immediately express my tremendous gratitude to those to whose exegetical work I am most indebted, notably Dr. James Hurley (Man and Woman in Biblical Perspective, IVP) and Dr Wayne Grudem (Prophecy in the N.T., American Univ. Press).

This subject is surely most controversial. What I have written below represents very much my personal views. They are not necessarily the views of all those in the Fellowship of Word and Spirit who have published this booklet. Also it is important to point out that in recent months quite a number of different groups and committees interested in this subject have bought copies of this article from the Fellowship and circulated them more widely. In as much as this may contribute to a very important discussion in the church today we have been happy for this to happen, but it does of course mean that neither I nor the Council of the Fellowship is thereby saying that we support the particular views or conclusions reached by those groups.

I shall be blamed for being too insensitive by some, too liberal by others, and too conservative by the rest. My subject is 'Ordination for Whom?', and it was the intention of the Summer Assembly that I particularly address the exegetical issues concerned with the highly topical subject of women's ordination. Some have expressed concern that it takes me a long time to reach the conclusions which they feel should be obvious to all. The purpose, however, is not simply to confirm prejudices or to reach 'standard' conclusions. The purpose is to look closely at the text of the Bible and to attempt to understand the full meaning of the word of God on this important subject.

2. Assumptions

In that it is not possible to deal with all the vast questions raised by the topic, you will find disappointing gaps. First, there are two bold assumptions which I have not space to defend here.

a) That in the church there is an 'office' of 'elder', sometimes called 'presbyter', sometimes called 'leader' or 'minister', and more often 'priest' in the Anglican Communion;

b) a high view of Scripture

I start from the belief that the Bible is God's infallible message to his people. It is self-authenticating and wholly trustworthy. Commitment to this Word will, and does, reveal continuously its complete trustworthiness. Such a commitment requires tremendous work. It is no 'head-in-the-sand' approach that some would have us believe. People who are committed to this view of Scripture are ultimately committed to the most penetrating and careful exegesis with all the tools which, by God's grace, are available to them. We, of all people, wish to know not just what the text says, but what it means for us to whom it remains God's Word across the centuries.

In The Ordination of Women to the Priesthood, (General Synod, 1972) the editors start at just this point: What is the authority of Scripture in the debate? Rightly, I believe, they define two positions: the first is the one outlined above, the second is one which they describe as 'more pluriform', in which it is said that the Bible supplies no infallible answers. But God does still use the Bible to speak his Word through it. God's view is thus made known to a believer by the operation of the Spirit in the heart today. The Bible is one witness (among others) to God who gives us freedom in Christ.

The sad thing about Anglican discussions is that the report stared in the right place and raised the right question - the authority of Scripture - but that this has been lost sight of in the gradual acquiescence, apparently by most of those involved in the debate, to the view that the second, more 'pluriform' understanding of Scripture is the right one. Even many evangelicals today have adopted basically this position, at least in practice. It is my hope that this paper will encourage afresh an examination of Scripture for guidance in this subject, and a reliance on the Holy Spirit to open our eyes to that which is, in places, open to differing interpretations. Thus, weighing Scripture with Scripture, may we come to a fuller understanding of God's will in this area.

3. Who are the elders ?

a) We go back to the assumption that we are talking here about those whom we ordain to the office of "elder". These persons are, I believe, the 'leaders' of Hebrews 13:7, the ones held up for all to imitate. They are contrasted with those who bring strange teachings in verse 9, and in verse 17 of the same passage they are the ones given by God 'to watch over souls as men who will have to give account'. It is more than likely that there were several such persons in each church.

This last point is borne out as we remember the appointment of presbuteroi (plural) in 'each church" by Paul and Barnabas (Acts 14:23). We get some fuller idea of their work in Acts 20:28ff., where these elders are to guard 'the flock over which the Holy Spirit has made you episkopoi, overseers. They are to be 'shepherds of the church of God'. Paul then committed them to God and his word of grace - for in their guarding the Word in the congregation they would overcome the wolves (verse 29).

b) The criteria given in the Pastoral epistles for appointment of elders are just the attributes you would expect of any Christian. But let us ask why? Hebrews 13 is again useful for there we find that the leaders were to be imitated by the congregation. Surely this is why Paul writes about the criteria of our life-style when appointing to the office of elder (1 Timothy 3:1-7). It is not just that they are like any other Christian; it is that any other Christian might be like them - not lovers of money, managing their households, having obedient children, having a good reputation with 'outsiders'.

The first answer to our question, 'Ordination for whom?' is this: It is limited to those who are living lives that are Christian, that are sufficiently recognisable as Christ-like to be held up as examples. In Titus 1:8 it is put like this: 'an elder must be upright, holy and disciplined'. But let us pause to ask whether the apostle is seeking the impossible? Well, as one who has been ordained I must be the first to answer 'yes'. And yet obviously Paul found such persons to appoint. The apostle no more expected perfect elders than he thought of himself as perfect when he said, "Imitate me as I imitate Christ' (1 Corinthians 11:1).

What is being demanded, surely, is open evidence that a person being appointed elder is living a life that is imitating Christ. Such persons do exist in our congregations. We see them and respect them. They are not perfect but they live lives more obviously attuned to the commands of God than do some others. Importantly, they live such lives in specific areas that are seen, not just by other Christians but by outsiders.

This of course raises all sorts of questions which we cannot dwell upon here, but let me put the 'cat among the pigeons' by suggesting some possible implications. Where a well-trained Christian meets all the above criteria, except that he gets drunk, we would probably all agree that he should not be an elder. But what do we say about an unmanageable family? Here is a sensitive area. As loving Christians we can surely forgive him that one weakness and still submit to his leadership!? And yet is that being faithful to what Paul is asking? The 'good reputation' (1 Timothy 3:7) must also be with outsiders. They do not forgive easily. They look on and see his children as being the worst in the crowd. Christ's church suffers.

c) Already we have a very severe limitation on the possible constituency of the office of 'elder/priest', but we must say more. We have omitted the characteristic of 'husband of one wife'. Now this might be a further limitation in a number of ways:

i) It may mean no divorcees.

ii) It may mean no second marriages after the death of the spouse. This is the most traditional view.

iii) It may mean that fidelity in marriage is required of the elder.

iv) It may be a statement against polygamy, but this is very unlikely.

v) It may mean that no one who has been divorced and has now remarried may be an elder.

Frankly, there are some arguments for each of these positions but iii) probably has the least exegetical difficulties and fits with the other demands in the sense that it is only what is required of all Christians.

So there is a further limitation on who may be ordained (whichever reading you take). Two more questions we are obliged to ask, however, are these: Is there a limitation of the office to i) married men, or ii) men only? Clearly the reference is to married men and it might be possible in this specific context, therefore, to limit eldership to married men. Does it therefore apply to men only, in the sense that Paul thereby leaves women out of his demands on the assumption that women cannot be ordained?

If I am right in saying that the main point here is faithfulness in marriage, then we need to be careful not to deduce too much. This, of course, applies to whichever interpretation of the particular phrase is taken. We need not deduce anything more than that faithfulness in marriage is demanded of all elders, or that no elders may be divorcees and so on. The reference to 'husband' here would simply be an encompassing generic male term for the 'spouse'.

So on this issue I doubt that there is any further limitation beyond a requirement that, if married, an elder should be faithful in that marriage.

d) One final requirement, however, sets this elder/priest out from among the people. In some sense Christ demands all the other criteria of eldership of all Christians, but one quality is not demanded of all: this person must be able or 'apt to teach' (1 Timothy 3:2). This is expounded at greater length in Titus 1:9, 'He must hold firm to the sure word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to confute those who contradict it', and (verse 11) "They must be silenced, since they are ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach'.

Here the elder or bishop1 is seen clearly to be the one who teaches the right things and looks after the church in protecting sound doctrine. They are the ones who also have the right to 'silence' the false teachers. A.T. Hanson may well be right in suggesting that this means that these elders are to excommunicate the false teachers.2

Once again the links with Hebrews are interesting. In Hebrews they are literally to watch over the souls, by taking care of what whole families are taught and in giving account. In Titus they are to give account (verse 7) in that an elder is seen to be God's steward in what he does.

So let me draw some tentative conclusions.

a) We have seen links between the ideas present in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, and those present in Hebrews 13. This suggests that we may be right in assuming that the 'leaders' of Hebrews 13:7,17,24 might also be called 'elders'.

b) More importantly, however, we have concluded that an elder is to be as all Christians are called to be: an imitator of Christ. Perhaps we have even been surprised by the 'normalness' of the demands.

c) We have noted, however, one important distinction: the elder must be 'apt to teach', and in this sense guards the congregation from false teaching and wolves, perhaps even having the right to excommunicate them.

We have now very severely limited the number of Christians who are likely to be ordained. There is no discussion so far of sexual differentiation - just two issues which exclude large numbers of Christians:

i) Are they seen to lead the life demanded of Christians, or not?

ii) Are they able to teach? Has the Spirit gifted them specifically to be teachers?

What a challenge that is to those who are "priests', "elders', or 'leaders'! But it is entirely in line with the severe warning of Christ about the dangers of leading one little one astray, and we can do that just as easily by how we live as we can by what we say. So let us then look to ourselves. How are our lives? How do we teach? Let us pray for grace upon grace to complete our awesome task to which we have been called.

4. Are Women 'apt to teach'?

'Apt to teach' is a limitation of an obvious nature on the persons who may be ordained. Does he or she show an ability to teach? That can be tested and assessed. But is it a more wide-ranging limitation as well? Many interpreters and teachers of the Bible down the ages have argued that - as it were by default - it is a radical limitation, for it excludes not just men and women who have no ability to teach and preach but, indeed, it excludes all

women, for women are not allowed to teach. Is this so? Let us say straight away that unless 'husband of one wife' means married men only, there is no obviously specific exclusion of women in the immediate texts of 1 Timothy 3:1-7 or Titus 1:5-16. But we must go wider in our search of Scriptures for we are to weigh Scripture with Scripture.

a) Are women prohibited from teaching? No - at least certainly not entirely. Titus 2:3 talks of the 'older women" (Presbutidas) as contrasted with 'older men' (Presbutas) in verse 2. These 'older women' are to be exhorted to 'teach what is good', but the context clearly defines the teaching as 'in order that the young women may be trained to love their husbands'. Teaching, yes, but the context does seem to be talking of a very specific teaching that is particularly appropriate to older women.3

Elsewhere, and we cannot go into any detailed examination of these cases, we find Priscilla involved directly in teaching Apollos the whole truth. Paul had many 'fellow-workers' and lists women among them. Women have churches in their homes (Acts 12:12; 1 Cor. 16:19; Col. 4:15). Women received gifts of the Spirit which included prophecy. Women took part vocally in worship. Euodia and Syntyche, who were quarrelling in the church at Philippi, are warmly commended for "having contended at my side in the cause of the Gospel, whose names are written in the book of life' (Phil. 4:3).

Were these women 'teachers' in the sense of 'elders' or 'priests'? Well, from the cases I have cited here, and from many others which you can find in the numerous books on the subject, we cannot say. The contexts do not talk of their authoritative teaching, or of their exercising authority within a congregation. However, in passing, what I believe we can say is that all male ministers in the modem church would do well to ask themselves why it is that, in the face of a Jewish culture that put women down, women had such a very high profile in the New Testament. Yet, in the face of our culture, where women have considerably more worth and dignity, they have a very low profile, if any at all, in our churches.

There are three key texts which form the basis of the arguments about a position of teaching responsibility and women, and we must now examine these briefly. What I have to say is not new and from the bibliography below you can see those to whom I am most indebted. But let us bear in mind that the issue is not particularly straight-forward. Even if we see clear injunctions against a woman teaching, or even speaking, we must then go on to ask: Is this a command that is culturally bound up with the church being addressed, or is it something the apostle would have applied equally to us?

5. 1 Corinthians 11:2-16

i) The passage is talking about head-coverings and authority. Whatever the issue with the angels may have been, verse 10 shows that the problem is authority.

ii) If the parallels Paul gives are true, and the meaning is 'source', then we virtually have an Arian heresy in which God is made the origin of Christ,

a) Paul deals in this section with congregational worship, and we must not lose sight of this context. His conclusion (verse 16) makes this abundantly clear: we have no other practice - nor do the churches of God'. The context and issue before Paul is conduct: that is, practice in worship. In fact this remains the main issue now through to the end of chapter 14. In our section Paul tackles an issue of head-coverings in church worship. There are many fascinating discussions in various books about the particular issue involved. Dr. J. Hurley has adequately defended a position that the issue is not 'veiling' with a 'veil', but a question of customs about hair-styles.4 Hurley's view of this passage is the one taken by the NIV in an alternative translation of these verses (given at the bottom of the text). But my concern here is with women's role in the congregation, not how they should dress!

b) Paul's case rests on the assumption that women are taking part in the worship, at the very least in praying and prophesying (verse5). It is obvious that if this is not an assumption, the whole argument is redundant. His argument proceeds with one of the most complicated 'puns' in the New Testament. The word 'head' is carefully used by Paul in a literal way, as in covering the head, and in a metaphorical sense: the man being the head of the woman, Christ the head of man.

c) Key to our understanding of this passage is how we interpret the metaphorical use of the word 'head'. The amount of literature written on this is massive. Mary Evans, in her book, Women in the Bible5 follows a common view that the word is not used in the Greek in the sense of 'chief, but rather in the sense of 'source or origin' just as one might talk of a source or head of a river. Roger Beckwith, in a chapter entitled "The Bearing of Holy Scripture' in an SPCK publication Man, Woman and Priesthood6 says that 'head' equals 'superior dignity and authority'. John Stott, in a chapter of his recent book, Issues Facing Christians Today7 follows the line taken by Mary Evans if I understand him correctly, but also argues that 'source' or 'origin' does not contradict the idea of leadership. He says: 'headship definitely implies some kind of authority.’ 8

Recently George Knight's book, Role and Relationships of Men and Women, has been republished.9 In an appendix, Dr.Wayne Grudem has looked at 2,336 examples of the use of kephale (head) in ancient Greek and has failed to find any example where 'head' means source or origin; rather in every case he argues that it mean authority, rank or ruler.

d) The whole idea of 'source' seems to have come from an article by S. Bedale in 1954.10 He gave little or no evidence for his suggestions, except that 'beginning' and 'head' are occasionally interchangeable in the Septuagint. However, even he argued conveniently omitted by many modem point? Well, if we accept Grudem's analysis as true, then we have good grounds for saying that the word indicates at least some form of authority.

Paul's use of the word elsewhere may point us towards a similar conclusion. Ephesians 1:22-23 is interesting, for here the authority of Christ is discussed and Christ is said to be the head of the church in the sense that he is over the church, for God has put all things under Christ's feet. The controversial passage of Ephesians 5:23, 24 probably refers back to 1:23 and uses 'head' in the same way, drawing a parallel of leadership authority between Christ as the head of the church and men as the head of the wife.

Colossians 1:15ff. may involve the idea of 'origin'. Christ is the first-born of all creation, and yet even here the idea of authority is present, perhaps precisely because he is the first-born and therefore has rights of leadership: 'for he is head of the body, the church - first-born from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent'.

So far then, it looks as if the headship spoken of in 1 Corinthians 11:3 is likely to imply some sort of authority in line with Paul's use of the word elsewhere, and with Grudem's concern. But there are indications that 'head over' is the right meaning from the text itself, and that Paul shows a pattern here in worship which he also shows to be true in marriage in Ephesians 5:

We could pursue this further, and there is much more to be said exegetically here. We ought to look at why Paul talks of a man's glory and a woman's glory in verses 7ff. Certainly it must be said that Paul does not have any intention here of denying Genesis 1 and 5, where women as well as men are clearly created in the image of God. As Professor Morna Hooker has rightly said, the concern here is not with 'image' but with 'glory'. (The glory that someone or something has, is the dignity it has by virtue of the role it fulfils; e.g. in 1 Corinthians 15 the sun has a different glory from the moon.)

i) The passage assumes that women pray and prophesy in the congregation.

ii) In the situation being addressed, there is a question of authority involved which is reflected in the headship of men. There is no specific mention of teaching here.

e) In brief, what I suggest is going on here is what has gone on through the Old Testament as well, which is that the relationship between men and women in marriage and in the congregation is a symbol that endures as long as this present age lasts. In the symbol, as Hurley puts it, a woman pictures - in her life in the congregation - the response of the church to god and to Christ by willing, loving, self-subjection ( Ephesians 5:31-33 makes the same point), while the man images God's relationship with his people. Both have different 'glories', therefore, according to their designated roles.

In spite of this difference in role, however, we must stress again that there is no suggestion of inferiority. There is a difference of function, in that one has one kind of authority and one another kind, but their basic equality in creation and in being in the image of God is further established in verses 11 and 12.

f) So I offer the following tentative conclusions from this passage, knowing all too well the inadequacies of my defence of these conclusions caused by constraints of time and space:

In that hair-styles do not indicate role or authority in our churches, perhaps we may be right in saying that this is irrelevant today. However, there is no indication that the 'orders' which Paul lays before us of God/Christ, Christ/man, man/woman, are not applicable today. Paul's theological stance there, and supported in verses 7-9, and 14, suggests that we should be looking for ways of showing the same truth in the twentieth century: that is, let us distinguish between men and women.

As Paul continues with his discussion of worship it is worth noting that in chapter 12 he insists that the whole body has received and contributes gifts, for 'to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good' (verse 7). In accordance with the prophecy in Joel, sons and daughters receive the Spirit.

6. 1 Corinthians 14

Chapter 14 builds on what has gone before and, I suggest, the lengthy examination of 'headship' was necessary in order to understand the whole context.

i) 1 Corinthians 14:34 is not contradicting 11:5. That is not so tentative!

ii) This passage does not offer a blanket limitation on women, forbidding all speaking in church.

iii) It is possible that the restriction concerned the weighing of prophecy.

iv) If this is the case then the authority discussion of all that has been said, is edifying for the body. This leadership, which in practice carries with it the teaching of the decision they make, is limited to men.

a) Again let us note that the congregation is the setting: 'If therefore, the whole church assembles ... ' (14:23). Verse 26 indicates that 'each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation'. The 'brethren' of verse 26 is generic and includes all those involved in worship. Yet verse 34 says: 'the women shall keep silence in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as even the law says'.

b) The first question we have to ask is this: are 11:5 and 14:34 contradicting each other? Some have said that 14:33 and 34 are a spurious text,11 but that is very doubtful. Some, like Roger Beckwith, have said that chapter 11 did not really give grounds for women teaching or speaking. In other words, Paul let it go by at that point because he was more interested in the subject of veils. Now he refuses to allow women even to question and hence certainly not to teach in public. I have to admit that I find this rather unlikely. Certainly chapter 11 had to do with veils, but the veil issue arises precisely because women are participating in worship services. The implication seems to be that, when properly dressed, men and women may pray and prophesy. Others have suggested that chapter 11 refers to informal meetings and chapter 14 to formal occasions, but again the context seems to make that very unlikely.

I assume that there is no contradiction: Firstly because of my view of Scripture; but also (like most commentators) because it is so unlikely that a genius of Paul's stature would have contradicted himself in so short a space of writing. So let us look at the context of the statement in chapter 14. It concludes by saying that all things be done in order. In verse 28, order demands that speakers in tongues be silenced if there is no interpretation. In verse 30 if one person stands up to prophesy, the one who is speaking should be silent, there is time for all to speak in order. Now in the light of this context, there has been a suggestion that therefore Paul is dealing with a problem of order in the way in which women speak. The problem here was over-talkative women and the need to bring order back into their ranks.

In an article in the Reformed Journal (1978), Kroeger argued that such a situation was particularly likely in Corinth, given the actions of certain groups of pagan women in their chattering behaviour in religious worship. One might add a variation on this possibility. Jewish synagogues are notorious for their chattering women. Anyone who has been to an orthodox synagogue will know that even today women can sometimes be seen up in balconies away from the men, and while the service goes on down below with the men taking part the women are chattering away about children and even eating and laughing. The chaos really is extraordinary. Some have therefore said that this is the sort of situation into which Paul wished to bring order, just as he did not wish to have three prophets all prophesying at the same time. However, in the second half of verse 33 Paul says that his principle, whatever it is, is applied in all the churches. So although it is possible that this silence is merely concerned with order among the women rather than the total exclusion of women, I doubt if Kroeger is offering an adequate explanation.

I admit to being cautious in offering any easy solution to this problem text and its relationship to what surrounds it. On the one hand I believe there are adequate exegetical grounds for insisting that women did speak in church (from 1 Corinthians 11). On the other hand at first sight, these verses in chapter 14 do appear to be a 'blanket' statement. Again it is James Hurley who, I believe, offers the most satisfactory explanation.

The structure of this passage is set, as we have seen, around the general topic of doing things for edification 'when you come together' presumably, that is, when the congregation gathers for worship. The first specific issue of this section is tongues (verse 27). The number is to be restricted and it must be for edification. The second issue is prophets (verse29). The number speaking is to be restricted, and words must be weighed to ensure edification (verses 29 and 31). Further explanatory comments are then given: Firstly, about prophets speaking, and secondly about the weighing of words. The first explanatory note from verses 30-33a shows how the ordering of the speaking is to take place. Verses 33b to 35 explain further that women are not to be involved in the 'weighing' process.

This way of looking at the text does have the major advantage of allowing verses 33a to 36 to be seen as an integral part of the section on prophecy which continues in verse 37. The use of the word "keep silence' in such an unqualified way is not so surprising as it seems at first. Paul allows the context to define the type of silence meant, as we saw that he did in verses 28 and 30. Presumably in neither of these cases does Paul mean that people involved are excluded from speaking for the whole of the rest of that service.

Paul appeals to the 'law' in verse 34 to support this silence and yet, quite clearly, women were not, nor were ever told to be silent in the Old Testament or Torah worship (Exodus 15:20-21; Psalms 148:12). However, there is considerable Old Testament evidence that men were the only ones who gave judgement within the home and the worshipping life of Israel. Women were never priests, whose job was to protect and teach the truth to the people and to decide where men and women were erring from the truth.

Again, then, I draw some tentative conclusions:

It is possible then, if ordination to eldership/priesthood concerns this particular aspect of authority and decision-making, that women are barred from the office. All this brings us back to 1 Timothy 2.

7. 1 Timothy 2

In 1 Timothy2:ll and 12 we read (RSV): 'Let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent.'

At last, we have a thoroughly specific link between women and teaching, and the job of teaching would appear to be proscribed for women. Let us then again come carefully to the text to see exactly what is being said. For remember that while some may want to take away from Scripture and discard the pieces they do not like, others of us may be guilty of just as great a sin in adding to Scripture, and so creating a new legalism.

Incidentally, it is absolutely essential for good exegesis, that we search-for the context and look carefully for the meanings of whole paragraphs rather than just individual words. It is not easy to do. We all make mistakes, but it is an essential task, for it is a recognition of the fact that God's Word given in its whole context is infallible, and not when taken out of context. Too often the evangelical sermon consists of looking at all the possible meanings of a particular word used, for instance, by Paul, and then applying each of those meanings in a different way to the people in the pews. God did not communicate like that. He communicated - infallibly, yes - but through people who actually meant something by what they said. Just like you and me, they did not mean five things at the same time. To take words and ideas out of context is one of the worst things we can do with the Word of God, and evangelicals are often guilty. It is a fact that the Bible says in prepositional form 'there is no God'. In context the proposition means something entirely different: "The fool says in his heart "There is no God'" (Psalms 14:1; 53:1).

a) Again the context here seems to be the worship situation of the congregation. Paul's instructions for prayer at the start of chapter 2 would appear to imply congregational prayers rather than individual prayers. The disappearance of the singular 'you' in this section supports the view, as does 'every place' of verse 8 which most commentators agree means every specific gathering for worship. The fact that Paul, having indicated how prayer is to be conducted and how women are to behave, then goes on to talk of the office of elder is a further indication that the setting is the local assembled church.

So, after being told how to dress and behave, verses 11 and 12 come as rather a bombshell. The silence invoked is often taken to refer to a total proscription on active vocal participation by women in worship.

b) Exegetically verses 11 and 12 must be taken together. Liddon in his commentary on this section shows the structure clearly, as do several others. The first part is positive, and I give it my own translation: 'A woman in quietness let her learn with all submission".

This is a command: 'Let a woman learn thus'. It is now a commonplace to point out that the word often translated 'silence' can mean and often does mean 'quietness' and 'hush', and is not the same word as that used in 1 Corinthians 14. Too much can be made of that, but it is worth noting that in Acts 22:2 one is more likely to have a greater 'quietness' than a greater 'silence'!

In 2 Thessalonians 3:12, which is the only other place in the New Testament where this word is used, it is most unlikely that people are being told to work in 'silence'. Rather it means that they should earn their own living quietly and without complaint.

We should not try to prove the meaning of a word in 1 Timothy 2 from its meaning in 2 Thessalonians. However, good exegesis ought to make us ask whether the context here in 1 Timothy demands that we translate hesuchia as 'silence', or whether 'quietness' makes more sense. I suggest that 'quietness' actually makes more sense in the context. Paul has been talking about leading a quiet or peaceable life in verse 2 (incidentally using the adjective hesuchion), and of prayer for those in authority. When roles are properly fulfilled, then life is lived peacefully. Surely he still has these ideas in mind when the issue is the role of women in worship. Yes, they are to learn, but in quietness and submission.

The second part is more negative (verse 12) and reads like this: 'and I do not allow women to teach or to teach or to have authority over men, but (they are) to be in quietness'.

So what is the specific issue in this situation in these two verses? Whether you believe the word means 'silence' or 'quietness', the issue is the same: how to behave in the teaching/learning situation. We may well want to say that women should not teach in worship services in the light of this verse. But I very much doubt whether it is legitimate to say therefore that women would be in complete silence in all aspects of worship. Equally I doubt whether this injunction can be extended beyond the context to say that no woman may ever teach adult men.

But let us return to the careful structure of Paul's thought in these verses. The first part shows that Paul wants quiet submissive learning, and the second carefully parallels just these two points. Quiet learning has as its counterpart that women should not teach, and submissive learning has as its counterpart in Paul's structure that women should not have authority over men. If we therefore learn directly from the whole thought-form and structure here (rather than taking one idea after another and universalising from each separately), I would offer the conclusion, shared with Hurley and others, that women are not to be authoritative teachers in the assembled congregation.

c) One other point of passing interest here is that Mary Evans reaches approximately the same conclusion on the meaning of the verse but argues about the word authentein: ('to have authority over'). She suggests, with other scholars, that it has a very negative connotation: 'a woman should not domineer over a man or use the authority which she can have, in a heavy-handed way'.

A recent article by George Knight in New Testament Studies, 1984, has I believe, conclusively shown that this word has no such negative connotation and that therefore this is a general statement about authority and cannot be limited, as Mary Evans would want, to particularly rough and domineering behaviour.

8. Ordination for Whom?

To draw together these various sections of exegesis is a difficult task, and to answer our original question is even more difficult. I believe, however, that we can say the following:

Not all people can be ordained just because they feel they are called by God. Time after time I hear it said that people simply 'know' that they are called to ordination: God has told them. Well we do have criteria by which to judge that calling. There may, of course, be ordination to other offices such as deacon and, in my view, a specific office for women (perhaps 'deaconess'), but the Bible limits ordination to eldership/priesthood in at least three ways:

a) To the outward appearance an elder must live a life that can be imitated by his flock not because, as some say, he is God to them, but simply because he is to live the normal Christian life and through his living show others how to do it. This in fact is very close to teaching.

b) The elder has to be able to teach. This is a matter of Spirit gifting to do the job properly.

c) In that an elder or priest must teach authoritatively, then this in effect means that eldership is limited to men. The reason for this limitation is not because women are inferior to men, but because God created men and women to exist in roles that would mirror his own relationship with his people. I suggest, incidentally, that the role relationship in the Bible can be seen only in two areas: marriage and the worshipping community. In as much as teaching by anyone in the congregation takes authority out of the hands of the elders, to that extent it is wrong.

d) Headship, authority, and submission are loaded words in our society, and we must be sensitive to this as we use them. If we think of 'headship' we think of a 'boss' or 'chief. Mary Evans uses the words synonymously. We are all guilty of seeing these things in terms of status. Men and women often aspire to eldership and priesthood because they want the status that goes with the job and, whatever we may say, there is status, particularly for Anglican clergy in our society.

If we see these ideas correctly in terms of living out a symbolic drama pointing beyond ourselves to God's relationship with us, his people, then we will appreciate that both players are equal in status - in standing before God.

Each, literally and figuratively, has a part to play which would be meaningless without the other half, a point made strongly by Paul.

9. Do we ordain Women?

To apply any of this to the current Anglican situation is very tricky as so many issues are involved, but the 'preacher' in me demands that I try to make some application.

Firstly, I would like to urge those of us who are ordained to ask ourselves whether we have for too long left both women and men, gifted by God, outside the functioning of our congregations because they have not just received exactly the same calling as we have. Perhaps in this respect the word 'minister' is not the most sensitive of words we can use of our calling. The whole of Christ's body is to minister and be involved in ministry. To equate that word with the biblical word 'elder' or 'presbyter' is more dangerous than we might imagine and if we use it in that way then we may be being very insensitive to our flocks, who are all called to minister in the service of the Lord. Where are the women contributing to our singing, our praying, even our prophesying (if such a gift continues!)? Instead of freeing women as Jesus and Paul seem to do, in practice we have restricted their activities even beyond Old Testament limitations.

Secondly, elders are to guard the souls of the flock and to build up each person through sound teaching into his or her proper and appropriate functioning position in the body of Christ.

So, is it any wonder that in Anglicanism women aspire to ordination as 'priest', when they are almost totally excluded from our worship except in some ill-defined, peculiarly Anglican, understanding of 'deaconess' or now 'deacon'?

The following statement appeared in the journal Churchman (1979) in an article by Joyce Baldwin. How I sympathise with these thoughts from one of our leading evangelical women, and yet notice how she is mixing the word 'ministry' with what she really means, which is ordination to the 'priesthood'. She was responding to an article in which the same words were used in the same rather insensitive way.

  • "That God has called women to work in his church is a matter of historic fact. Statistics are available. Like Paul's, our ministry is not from men nor through man, but through Christ Jesus and God the Father who raised him from the dead. The church has demonstrated at the November 1978 General Synod that it can continue to restrict that ministry, but it cannot quench it.... We shall therefore continue to get on with the work of ministry and trust that in time the structures of the church will be brought more realistically into line with the present situation!' (Joyce Baldwin)
  • Yet, if we are right in limiting the teaching authority to men - and I believe we are - then we must say 'no' to women taking the position of eldership. Just as many men cannot take that particular function because they would not mirror the life-style required, so women cannot take that particular function because they do not, under God's creative act, reflect the role assigned to husbands and elders.

De facto we have women elders already, since women preach on a regular basis in many of our churches. It is some measure of how all of us can distort biblical truth that we have women already holding a position of headship (as far as the biblical idea is concerned) and yet aspiring basically to be president at the sacrament - an area about which the Bible has virtually nothing to say! I pray that with the Spirit's help I may not have furthered the distortion.


Various questions were put to me when this paper was given originally. A few of the points made then are well made again.

1) I was asked to make clearer whether I felt that a woman could be a minister in an Anglican church and whether I would take the view which some do - that women may be ministers within a team but not in sole charge.

From my reading of Scripture, I feel that a woman should not take the position which involves regular preaching/teaching in the worship service. What matters here is the picture being portrayed in the roles of men and women, not whether they are capable of the job. Even a team minister is seen as the 'one in charge' of teaching and preaching and authority in the local congregation. Therefore, I feel that a woman should not have such a job in a team ministry.

Although the question of ordination in the Anglican church now relates largely to the sacraments (which is a sad distortion of the issues), the Anglican 'priest' is at least supposed to reflect the office of 'elder' in the New Testament. In as much as this is the case, I do not think women should be ordained to the 'priesthood'. The desperate need to rethink the whole question of the gifts that God has given women, and the use of these gifts in recognised ministry within the church is, I hope, obvious to all.

2) I was asked whether I believed a woman should ever preach. Again I think it is what is portrayed that really matters. I doubt that a woman should preach regularly in the worship services unless it is quite clear that a man is the elder or leader/priest 'in charge'. The occasional sermon by a woman may well be in order, subject to the consent of the man or men who are elders.

I am all too conscious of how easy it is to appear 'smug' when dealing with an issue like this. It is my prayer that what I have written will stimulate real thought and not simply activate prejudices on either side of the debate.

Paul Gardner was formerly lecturer in New Testament at Oak Hill College and is now vicar of St John's, Hartford, Northwich, Cheshire.


1In this section of Titus the Greek words presbuteros and episkpos are used interchangeably.

2 A.T. Hanson, The Pastoral Epistles in The New Century Bible (London: MMS 1982).

3 The NIV punctuation here is most misleading in putting a full stop at the end of verse 3. Such punctuation allows a broader interpretation of the teaching of verse 2 than the Greek warrants.

4 See Man and Woman in Biblical Perspective, IVP.

5 M. Evans Woman in the Bible (Exeter: Paternoster, 1983).

6 P. Moore (ed) Man, Woman and the Priesthood (London: SPCK, 1978).

7 J. Stott Issues Facing Christians Today (Basingstoke: Marshalls, 1984).

8 Ibid, p246.

9 G.W. Knight III Role Relationship of Men and Women (Chicago: Moody, 1985).

10 S Bedale "The Meaning of source in the Pauline Epistles", Journal of Theological Studies V, (1954), pp211-215.

11 This view has been resurrected on text critical grounds by G. Fee 1 Corinthians (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans,1987) p706-707. But compare B. Metzger A Textual Commentary on the Creek New Testament.(London:UBS, 1975).