Women’s Ordination and the Bible

Assemblies of God theologian Jeremiah Gibbs has an interesting post explaining why he feels women’s ordination is Biblical and those who reject it are not Biblical. Of course, I’d like to give a brief and respectful reply hoping I have represented his position fairly.

One of the many flaws in the women’s ordination debate in the church is that both sides have their own little “clobber texts” they use to prove their side and claim their side Biblical. I’m not certain there’s really a “convincing” argument in existence in favor of the all-male priesthood. Orthodox theologians tend to lean on tradition, western theologians tend to use reason, Catholic theologians have a tendency to use both.

It is not my purpose to lay out the full Biblical debate here but to examine the function of holy orders and the “clobber texts” used against those who would pose serious objections to the ordination of women. First off, holy orders, as defined as a sacrament by Catholic, Eastern, and Anglican churches generally refers to the three-fold ministry of deacon, presbyter (often times translated as priest), and bishop. In the Russian Orthodox Church, there appear to be minor orders as well. I don’t see many objections to making catechists and deaconesses a part of these minor orders either so I suppose I would be a “supporter” of women’s ordination though perhaps not in the way that Jeremiah Gibbs would be satisfied with.

According to one Orthodox source, the bishops are the ultimate teaching authority of the church. Thus, it is the bishop alone who gets to be the final authority on a doctrinal matter whereas the laity are guardians of the doctrine (Ware, The Orthodox Church, 251). For Catholics, the sacerdotal priesthood (which is not to be confused with the priesthood of all the baptized believers) is entirely a eucharistic ministry.

In other words, many of these “clobber texts” used in support of women’s ordination ultimately say nothing about whether women should be ordained. Let’s take a look at some of the “clobber texts” Gibbs uses.

Acts 18:24-26 – Now a Jew named Apol′los, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, well versed in the scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue; but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him and expounded to him the way of God more accurately.

Gibbs’s argument is that “every other time that Luke or Paul refer to them (Acts 18:18 and 26, Rom. 16:3, II Tim. 4:19), Priscilla is mentioned first, especially in cases where their ministry is the point of discussion”. I’m not certain how much can be inferred about this text. It is possible that Priscilla was a catechist. I know that Mother is getting married herself to a priest so I would introduce them in the order of “Mother and Father” not to indicate their respective presumed “gender roles” but because I have more of an intimate connection with Mother than I do Father. Inferencing something out of this is going to be quite difficult I admit. I don’t see it saying anything about women’s ordination but apparently Gibbs does.

Romans 16:1 – I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deaconess of the church at Cen′chre-ae,

I admit, I’m using the RSV-Catholic Edition. The case of women deacons is a tricky one. You’ll find that there are Catholics and Orthodox who support female deacons and Catholics and Orthodox who don’t. There isn’t really a specific doctrine on this so most churches would find his argument regarding Phoebe to be convincing. My own church does not allow women deacons. I am aware that Fr. Brown rejects the notion of translating this verse as “deaconess” (The Critical Meaning of the Bible, 141). Some would suggest that since “deacon” was also a title applied to the wife of a deacon, that Phoebe might have been just the wife of a said deacon. But there seems to be no clear cut evidence either way and so I rest that “no evidence is no evidence”. Move on to the next “clobber text”.

Romans 16:7 – Greet Androni′cus and Ju′nias, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners; they are men of note among the apostles, and they were in Christ before me.

Admittedly, I disagree with the RSV-CE’s translation of this verse. I think it is quite conclusive that Junia is either an apostle or at least equal to the apostles. St. John Chrysostom keeps this argument in Homily 31 on the Romans so it seems wise to agree with him here though the Archbishop was no supporter of women’s ordination (On the Priesthood, 2.2). That said, there seems to be a distinction between the Pauline apostleship and the Lukan apostleship. According to Paul’s view, “apostles were those who were sent out by the risen Jesus to proclaim the gospel, even at the price of suffering and persecution” (The Critical Meaning of the Bible, 133). Brown suggests based on 2 Cor. 13:2 that an apostle in the Pauline mission field can punish without needing consultation (133). I disagree with this though and Brown also mentions that the Pauline apostleship may not necessarily be uniform (134).

Contrast to the twelve apostles of the Lukan order which are to sit up on thrones judging the whole of Israel (Matt. 19:28, Luke 22:28-30) and were given power to bind and loose (Matt. 18:18) (127-129). Albeit their extent of supervision cannot necessarily be determined and they probably weren’t bishops, they seem to be precursors to bishops. They were the highest of the Apostolic order so it seems to safe to suggest that their Apostleship was one of a much higher ranking than that of the others. They were the Twelve, really. Nobody else was a member of this group.

Gibbs says: “There is also lots of evidence of female prophets throughout the New Testament (Luke 2:36-38, Acts 21:9, I Cor. 11:5, Acts 2:17-18).” I quote C.S. Lewis: “Sometimes the priest turns his back on us and faces the East — he speaks to God for us: sometimes he faces us and speaks to us for God. We have no objection to a woman doing the first: the whole difficulty is about the second.” (Priestesses in the Church?)

And he further also says: “Nor can you daff it aside by saying that local and temporary conditions condemned women to silence and private life. There were female preachers. One man had four daughters who all ‘prophesied,’ i.e. preached. There were prophetesses even in the old Testament times. Prophetesses, not priestesses.” (Priestesses in the Church?)

The difficulty is not a women prophetess, the difficulty is a women priest.

Gibbs says: “Mary Magdalene was the first apostle of the resurrection (Mark 16:9-10). Mary is encouraged to “sit at the feet” of Jesus, a clear indication that she is being encouraged to learn from the Rabbi, which was prohibited in much of Second Temple Judaism (Luke 10:38-42). The first apostle to the Samaritans is also a woman (John 4).”
I reply: Actually, none of these women are actually “listed” as apostles. Even so, they are not a part of the Twelve who form the precursor to the issue of ordination in the Church. The Mother of God, though she nourished the Twelve, was never a part of the Twelve. You would think that if Jesus was trying to communicate a message about women’s ordination he would have at least included his own mom as part of the Twelve! This, I think is a weak point for those in favor of women’s ordination.

Gibbs says: “The texts that I have surveyed in this post do not require any “scholarly” expertise to interpret well, however.”
I agree. But then there are key issues about the nature of ordination that need to be discussed and I don’t think that vetoing women to be ordained necessarily does away with their roles in the Church. If you look at much of Church history, most of the doctrine has been developed and influenced by men. Not women. The tradition for some reason militates against it. Then again, why do these verses need no scholarly interpretation and other verses do? This is all very confusing for me.

About Emperor Thomas I

Catholic monarch of the New Roman Coalition. Consecrated to the Apostle Thomas, the Holy Martyr Sigismund, and the Holy Martyr Olaf II.
This entry was posted in Bible, Feminism, History, Religious. Bookmark the permalink.

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