Should women priests be ordained?

The resolution to this question is the business of each individual denomination claiming to be Christian. We do not intend interfering with the making of those decisions, but find it our responsibility to present clear guidelines from the Word of God. The very title of priest is not one of the New Testament positions in the early church. Servants, ministers, deacons, and overseers, for example are typical roles within the early church. The Old Testament on the other hand, speaks of many officiating priests. But these were all males, being the sons of Aaron from the tribe of Levi. (Leviticus 1:5, 8, 11). Even the officiating Levites from whom the priests were extracted, were all males. (Numbers 3:39).

MALE LEADERSHIP IN COMBINED WORSHIP Ė TRUE OR FALSE? Firstly we should note what Paul wrote in 1st Timothy 2:11-12, "Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence." To "Usurp authority "(Greek authentein) is to assert oneís own authority, instead of remaining subject to a higher one. This is the opposite from "learning in silence with all subjection," as women are instructed to do. The word "Silence" (Greek hesuchia) means giving calm subdued attention as in Acts 22:2 "And when they heard that he spake in the Hebrew tongue to them, they kept the more silence:" So for women to keep silence, it requires their calm subdued attention to what the men are teaching. This is in the context of combined gatherings, for 1 Tim 2:1-8 introduces the subject of communal prayer, involving "the offering of supplications, prayers, intercessions and the giving of thanks for all men." (mankind Greek anthropos). This theme is continued through to verse 8, which says, "I will therefore that men (Greek aner) pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting." Here and in verse 12 the Greek word for man is aner and means man as distinct from woman. So it is very clear that in mixed company women are to keep silence, whilst men teach the things of God and pray whenever the congregation of believers comes together.

ADAM FIRST FORMED THEN EVE provides the reason for Godís instruction to men and women. In 1st Timothy 2:13 Adam was given full responsibility for instructing Eve in Godís way. The instruction was first given personally to him before Eve was even formed. (Genesis 2:16). In addition, though both had sinned, Eve had been deceived and not Adam. However, the primary reason given was that the responsibility for both instruction and failure was given to Adam and not Eve. A sober thought for the men of Godís calling who have to accept similar responsibility for both instruction and failure, should that follow. So it is clear that God has not changed His order in New Testament times.

INSTRUCTIONS TO THE CORINTHIANS: It is not surprising then that earlier in the letter to Corinth in and between chapters 11 and 14, we have that protocol of God, Christ, man and woman emphasised. (1 Corinthians 11:3). This is developed further in the context of the church coming together into one place, mentioned five times between chapters 11 and 14. The women are instructed to keep silence when individual contributions are being made in worship. (chapter 14: 4-35). But there is no restriction given when singing or reciting Psalms or prayers as a community, with one combined voice.

In fact there were women with special spiritual gifts who were exercising them at their own discretion and needed to be instructed when these gifts should not be used and how they should be used. (chapter 11:4-6). The Apostle Paul had been directed by God to discipline the whole assembly, for they were making individual contributions without any sense of propriety or order. In fact they were babbling in tongues that no one understood, and they were also competing one with the other for attention.

It was a most disorderly display, and they all needed correction. This is done in chapter 14 verses 27-35 where there are three commands to silence and order in the church. First, it was not permitted to speak in tongues without an interpreter present. Instead, the 'would-be' speaker in tongues had to remain silent. (The Greek term used here is "siganto" Also, when one decided to prophesy, another desiring to do so was to hold his peace. ("siganto") again. This term is also applied to women in the following verses, and therefore indicates that they are not to be heard.

SHOULD WOMEN KEEP SILENCE IN COMBINED WORSHIP? In verse 34 the Apostle silences women generally within that same context of individual contribution. So "siganto" cannot mean complete silence in the two former verses only, and not in the third; for this passage continues to discipline the congregation, even those with special spiritual gifts. Here is the passage, v34, "Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. 35. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church." The word translated shame here can have the connotation of dishonesty, so carrying a stigma with it. This indicates that speaking in the assembly is clearly associated with a deliberate failure to submit to the words of Paul requiring obedience. Some try to avoid the obvious by saying it refers merely to babbling. But there is a special word for babbling (kenophonia) that is not used in this context. The Greek term for speak here is "Laleo" and is used with reference to Paul himself in verse 19, "Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue." It is used 18 times in this chapter and simply means to speak.

TO SUMMARISE: God was directing Paul to correct the problems in the Corinthian church and discipline those speaking in tongues to be silent unless there was an interpreter present. Others were not to join in when one was already prophesying, for all have the power to prophesy one by one. But women were forbidden this exercise in mixed community worship, in accordance with the law. It should be obvious then, that if women could not use their special gifts in the church then, how much more should that principle apply today, when women are assuming the cloth. Is their ordination today greater than that of the Spirit in the New Testament times when women were forbidden to exercise it freely?

ALL ARE ONE IN CHRIST JESUS: Seeing woman is today elevated from a perceived lower social position, one may object to our conclusions by appealing to the statement that "there is neither male nor female for we are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:28) But the same verse says, "there is neither bond nor free" yet a slave was still a slave to his owner in supervising his duties. Even a wife is today declared by the Scriptures to be subject to her husband. Yet has not God designated him to be "head of the wife, even as Christ is head of the church." (Ephesians 5:23). So even as the oneness of husband and wife does not delegate equal responsibilities, neither should it be claimed that oneness in Christ Jesus gives men and women in Christ equal responsibilities in the church. So with respect to the ordination of women, how can they claim equal responsibility with men?

 

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