The following essay was written by Trinity School for Ministry Professor of Missions Bishop Grant LeMarquand and myself at the request of the bishops of the ACNA in August 2018. The bishops asked us not to release the document publicly because they wanted to avoid “another round of a ‘T I T for T A T’ debate on the blogs.” Recently, the document was released along with an accompanying “Response” by the Anglican Diocese of the Living Word (ACNA) without notification to either Bishop Grant or myself. Given that the “blog debate” has already become a reality, there seems little point in holding onto the essay so it appears below. I also intend to respond to the “Response,” likely in more than one essay.
A Biblical and Theological Defense of the Case for Allowing Women to Continue to be Ordained as Presbyters in the Anglican Church of North America
The Rev Dr. Grant LeMarquand and Dr. William G. Witt
On September 7, 2017, the ACNA College of Bishops stated:
Having gratefully received and thoroughly considered the five-year study by the Theological Task Force on Holy Orders, we acknowledge that there are differing principles of ecclesiology and hermeneutics that are acceptable within Anglicanism that may lead to divergent conclusions regarding women’s ordination to the priesthood. However, we also acknowledge that this practice is a recent innovation to Apostolic Tradition and Catholic Order. We agree that there is insufficient scriptural warrant to accept women’s ordination to the priesthood as standard practice throughout the Province. However, we continue to acknowledge that individual dioceses have constitutional authority to ordain women to the priesthood.
Although it had been hoped that their statement would bring a certain amount of peace to the ACNA, which has been divided on the issue of women’s orders, in fact the statement generated much heat in the blogs. This paper may also generate some heat simply by virtue of its topic. This, however, is not its purpose. In producing this statement we have no desire to be contentious. Our desire is simply to uphold what we believe to be a biblical and godly practice.
The College of Bishops rightly stated that there are different hermeneutical principles being used by differing groups within the church. This paper, we hope, will make clear that we believe that there is a sufficient weight of evidence in scripture, no persuasive tradition against, and persuasive theological reasons to affirm, that women are called and gifted by God for ordained ministry in the church. The bishops also stated that the ordination of women is “a recent innovation.” We would argue that women were serving in ministry positions in the apostolic period. Ordaining women is “a recent innovation” only because the practice of ordaining women was lost to the church and has now been revived. At the same time, any appeal to the “tradition of the church” as an argument against ordaining women should honestly recognize the historical reasons why women were not ordained, and that recent arguments against the ordination of women do not reflect this historical position, but are themselves recent innovations. Further, the bishops stated that there is “insufficient scriptural warrant to accept women’s ordination to the priesthood as standard practice throughout the Province.” We take this statement to mean that it is not the opinion of the bishops that women’s ordination be imposed on all dioceses. We concur. If some bishops and dioceses are not convinced that women should be ordained, those bishops and dioceses should not be forced to do so.
The purpose of this paper, therefore, is not to attempt to coerce any diocese into the practice of ordaining women as presbyters. This statement acknowledges that the reasons given for not ordaining women are coherent (although we disagree with them) and that it has the weight of much (but certainly not all) of the history of the church on its side. What the signers of this paper contend is that the argument in favor of ordaining women is also coherent and that there are important arguments in its favor. Most of all, we contend that there is a substantial body of scriptural reasoning and theological argument in favor of ordaining women as priests. This statement will not present every argument which could be made: substantial arguments have been made elsewhere (see the short bibliography attached). Our statement is meant to be merely an outline of the major arguments, especially those from scripture. This scriptural witness leads us to believe that the ordination of godly women as leaders in Christ’s church should continue to be authorized in ACNA dioceses that have decided, or may in future decide, in favor of this policy.
Because this study is simply an outline of the pro-women’s ordination argument, there may be many questions raised which could be answered if there was room for more detail. We commend the bibliography attached as a collection of writings which may help those interested to gain further insight. We would remind any who may comment on this paper to remember that this subject is a sensitive one, both for those in favor of women priests and for those against. By all means, arguments can and should be raised, but arguments should be made against ideas, not people. There is no excuse for dismissing another person’s case without evidence. The use of arguments ad hominem (the logical fallacy which attacks the person rather than the position – a form of argumentation which, sadly, have become prevalent on the internet) should be resisted.
Women’s Ordination, Church Tradition, and Three Responses
As noted above, the ACNA bishops have stated that women’s ordination is a “recent innovation to Apostolic Tradition and Catholic Order.” While this claim is true as a historical statement, traditions are only as valid as the reasons on which they are based, and the reasons for the tradition against ordaining women are not difficult to trace. The church father John Chrysostom laid down the three basic reasons that continued to provide the historical warrants for opposition to the ordination of women in the church’s tradition: First, Chrysostom appealed to a basic division of labor that characterized all pre-industrial societies. The work of women is confined to the domestic sphere, while public life is reserved for men: “To woman is assigned the presidency of the household; to man all the business of state, the marketplace, the administration of government . . . She cannot handle state business well, but she can raise children correctly . . .” These differences are rooted in an intellectual superiority of men over women. It is the work of God’s wisdom that the man, who is “skilled at greater things,” is useless at “less important ones,” and these less important tasks are assigned to women. Second, as a consequence of the fall, women are forbidden to teach: “Why not? Because she taught Adam once and for all, and taught him badly. . . . she is subjected to the man and that . . . subjection is because of sin.” Third, women have a great tendency to sin, but also to incite to temptation: Bishops need to pay particular attention to the female sex “because of its propensity to sins,” and because “the eye, not only of the unchaste, but of the modest woman pierces and disturbs the mind.”
These three claims were repeatedly combined to provide the historical reason why women were excluded not only from church office, but from any positions of leadership over men whatsoever. Epiphanius of Salamis, who is considered to be the first church father to write against the ordination of women, wrote: “Women are unstable, prone to error, and mean-spirited.”
Anglican Divine Richard Hooker wrote of women that their “judgments are commonly weakest because of their sex.” In the marriage service, the practice of women being given to their husbands by their fathers “putteth women in mind of a duty whereunto the very imbecility of their nature and sex doth bind them, namely to be always directed, guided and ordered by others …” Hooker was opposed to women being “ministers in the Church of God,” for the traditional reason: “To make women teachers in the house of God were a gross absurdity, seeing the Apostle hath said, ‘I permit not a woman to teach.’”
In light of the above, three things should be noted about traditional opposition to the ordination of women: (1) The opposition is grounded in an ontological incapacity: women can not be ordained because they are considered to be less intelligent than men, emotionally unstable, and subject to temptation; (2) This restriction was not only a restriction against women’s ordination, but against any activity in which women would have had authority over men. In accordance with traditional pre-industrial divisions of labor, the roles of women were confined to the domestic sphere, while men worked in the public sphere; (3) Opposition was rooted primarily in issues of competence, and of lack of authority following from lack of competence, not sacramental theology. There are no traditional arguments against the ordination of women based on the inability of women to represent a male Christ when presiding at the Eucharist.With the rise of the Industrial Revolution in the modern West, a change took place in the traditional division of labor between the sexes. Because no longer tied for biological reasons to primarily domestic tasks, women came to work more and more outside the home, and there arose a corresponding concern for the rights and dignity of women, both inside and outside the church.
In line with this new recognition of the dignity and equality of women, around the middle of the twentieth century, a major shift took place in all mainline churches – Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, and Anglican – as churches came to recognize essential equality between men and women, including intellectual and moral equality. Historical claims about women’s inferiority and intellectual and moral incapacity for leadership disappeared. Women came to participate in church life in ways that they had not done before. For example, in the modern Roman Catholic Church, women are now allowed to teach in seminaries, to baptize, and (at least in theory) to perform any church function with the exception of presiding at the Eucharist. Among Anglicans, women now typically serve on vestries and serve as acolytes or altar servers.
Following this shift, three new theological positions appeared in recognition of the equality of women. First, there have been those who recognized that, since the historical reason for refusing to ordain women (inequality) no longer holds, it is permissible to admit women to ordination.
However, there also have been those who, despite the shift from affirming the inequality to the equality of women and men, continued to insist that women still could not be ordained, and the reasons for opposition break down along confessional lines.
Protestant opposition has focused on issues of authority, with preaching and teaching, and arguments focus on the exegesis of scripture. While strongly affirming the intellectual and moral equality of men and women, Protestant “complementarians” insist nonetheless that men and women have different “roles” to play in the church. All “roles” are available to men, but women are denied any “role” that would involve teaching or exercising authority over men. Protestant arguments appeal to biblical passages that seem to affirm (1) a hierarchical understanding of the relation between men and women; (2) forbid women to speak in church; (3) forbid women to teach.
Catholic opposition focuses rather on the tradition of the church, and issues of sacramental theology. In terms of biblical exegesis, the key issues concern the function of the Old Testament priesthood; the relation between Jesus and his apostles; the kinds of roles women exercised in the church both in the Bible, and in the history of the church. Theologically, the concern is not with women teaching or exercising authority, but with the role of the ordained priest in presiding at the Eucharist. The key argument is that women cannot be ordained because, in presiding at the Eucharist, only a male priest can act “in the person of Christ” (in persona Christi). An ordained woman cannot represent a male Christ.
It is important to recognize that all three positions represent “recent innovations” to the church’s historical tradition (not only the position that affirms the ordination of women), because all three positions affirm the church’s new position regarding the essential equality and dignity of women, but all three reject the church’s historical reasons for opposition to the ordination of women.
The Protestant position affirms the traditional hierarchical understanding of the relationship between men and women, and continues to base opposition on grounds of authority. Yet insofar as it affirms the essential moral and intellectual equality of men and women, the Protestant position is in conflict with the historical rationale for sexual hierarchy.
The Catholic position ironically is more in tension with the church’s previous tradition insofar as it bases opposition not in issues of hierarchy and authority, but sacramental theology. Although Catholics appeal to the church’s tradition, they do not endorse the historical rationale; one does not find arguments in the church fathers against the ordination of women based on a sexual typology in which a male priest resembles a male Christ. These are very recent arguments, and do not appear before the mid-twentieth century.
It is also important to recognize that although both Protestants and Catholics oppose women’s ordination, they do so for contrary reasons. Protestants are concerned about issues of authority, not sacramental theology. Catholics allow women to teach and exercise authority, but merely want to restrict liturgical presidency. Anglican identity has made room for both (low church) Evangelicals and (high church) Anglo-Catholics. Because there are those within both groups who oppose women’s ordination, one hears echoes of both Protestant and Catholic arguments against women’s ordination in Anglican circles. At the same time, it is important to remember that this mutual opposition to women’s ordination forms an uneasy alliance because the arguments embraced reflect different ecclesiologies.
Because there are two different kinds of arguments raised against women’s ordination, in what follows, we will make our case in a two-fold manner, first addressing those issues of biblical exegesis which are of key concern for Protestants, and then, the issues of sacramental theology that concern Catholics.
“So God created humanity in his own image; in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Gen 1:27)
These verses from the first Genesis creation story make it clear that God not only made human beings in his image, but that a major part of the concept of being in God’s image is that humans are male and female. Orthodox theology has always affirmed that God is not male but beyond gender. Only a humanity which is both male and female can adequately image God in his world.
Closely related to the statement that humanity, both male and female, is created in God’s image is the mandate given to humanity – the mandate to have authority over God’s creation, to rule as stewards of God’s world. We should note that the text of Genesis is clear that authority to rule is not given to the man alone but to both the man and the woman: “let them have dominion.” Women share with men in the task of ruling creation.
Some will argue (on the basis of the second creation story) that since the women was created second, and (according to Genesis 2:18-23) since she is called his “helper,” that some kind of leadership is given to the man, implying that an unequal relationship between the genders is built into creation itself. It is true that the Hebrew word (ezer) can sometimes imply a hierarchical relationship. This is certainly not always the case, however. At times the “helper” and the one helped are clearly perceived as equals, and in other texts, the “helper” is the superior partner.
It is also misleading to speak of the woman being created “second.” English translations create an ambiguity that does not appear in the original Hebrew. Unlike modern English, Hebrew makes a distinction between the word ha’adam (properly translated “the human being” or “humanity”) and the word translated “male human being.” Gen. 1:28 describes the creation of humanity or humankind (ha’adam) in the image of God as male and female. Gen. 2:4 describes (with a deliberate pun) the creation of a single human being (ha’adam), whom God creates by taking him from the earth (ha’adamah), an earth which he will later cultivate. The name “Adam” does not appear until Genesis 4:25 (or possibly 4:1), and is simply the Hebrew generic name for “human being” (without the article).
Many English translations translate all of these instances of ha’adam as “man,” but this is misleading if “man” is understood to mean “male human being.” The Hebrew word for “male human being” does not appear until Gen. 2:23, when sexuality first enters the picture as the Hebrew word for “man” (male human being) is introduced rather than the generic ha’adam as both man and woman are identified as such for the first time: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she call be called Woman (‘issa) because she was taken out of Man (‘is).” The woman is called “Woman” (‘issa) because she is taken from the “Man” (‘is), just as he was taken from the earth. The terms ‘is and ‘issa emphasize the likeness of the man and the woman, the only difference being the corresponding feminine ending for the word ‘issa. This does not mean that the first human being in Genesis was an androgyne, but rather that sexuality does not exist except when men and women live in communion with one another. Men exist as men and women as women only as companions of one another. Neither can be complete without the other.
The cry of recognition, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh,” also points to equality and companionship, not to hierarchy or subordination. Some have argued for a hierarchy of authority in that the man “names” the woman, as he had the animals (v. 20), but the man does not “name” the woman, but recognizes her as one like himself. The Hebrew word “call” by itself does not mean “naming.” The woman is not named until Gen. 3:20 (after the fall), when she is named “Eve,” the “mother of all living.” The focus of the creation narratives of Genesis 1 and 2 is on harmony, cooperation, and mutual likeness. There is no hint of hierarchy or subordination of any kind, or any suggestions that the man is to command or be in charge of the woman or she to obey him.
The third chapter of Genesis describes the entry of sin into the world through the human rebellion. Among the many implications of this story is that relations between the genders are damaged. Part of the curse involves an unbalanced hierarchy. The woman is told: “your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16) The hierarchy of genders which is so ingrained in most cultures of the world is not a part of the created order, but a part of the fallen state.
Israel’s story is embedded within the larger story of the world’s fallenness, and Israel shares in that sinful reality. Unequal gender relations characterize the life of Israel as well as its neighbors. In the midst of this situation, laws were given which protect women, especially widows, from the power of men. The laws of Israel are, in part, a revelation of God’s compassionate and merciful character.
But even in the context of patriarchal Israelite society not all leaders in Israel are men. Women fulfill a multiplicity of leadership roles in the Old Testament narratives. Worship leaders (like Miriam), prophets (like the woman of Tekoa), judges (like Deborah), faithful pray-ers (like Hannah), administrators (see Proverbs 31) are found throughout the Old Testament.
There are of course no women priests in the Old Testament. We must keep in mind, however, that in the Old Testament period there were no priests who were gentiles, or disabled or not from the tribe of Levi. Also significant are the Old Testament purity laws, which would have prohibited women from performing priestly functions for several days at least once a month, and for a significant period after child birth. Many Old Testament temple functions were also periodically scheduled, and women could not be depended on to be ritually pure on each occasion the function needed to be performed. Such concerns about ritual purity would not be relevant for New Testament Christians in light of the fulfillment of Old Testament ritual law by the priesthood of Jesus Christ. We cannot argue on the basis of the Old Testament priesthood being male, that ordination to ministry in the church ought to be restricted to males.
Ministry of Jesus
The story of the New Testament begins with willing participation of a woman, Mary, in the incarnation. Mary the willing servant is also a theologian. The Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), Mary’s song, is re-working of the Song of the Sea in Exodus 15 and Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel.
Another woman, Anna (Luke 2:36), is the first of a number of mentions of women prophets and preachers in the New Testament. Prominent among those who bear apostolic witness to Jesus are the women disciples named in Luke 8:1-3, women who share in the peripatetic ministry of Jesus.(Luke 8:1-3). Women are virtually the only followers of Jesus who witnessed his crucifixion and his burial. Each of the four gospels name women as the first witnesses of the risen Jesus. Mary Magdalene herself, according to John, used the phrase “I have seen the Lord” (John 20:18). Richard Bauckham’s comment is pertinent:
This is exactly what the other disciples later say to Thomas: “We have seen the Lord” ([John] 20:25). In Paul this is the defining content and terminology of the apostolic witness: “Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen the Lord?” (1 Cor 9:1).
The work of witness and proclamation by Mary and the other witnesses of Jesus ministry, death, burial and resurrection is apostolic work, apostolic work which continues past the first post-resurrection days into the post-Pentecost period.
The significance of these female disciples of Jesus is often missed or glossed over. They were with Jesus throughout his three years of ministry, they heard his teaching, witnessed his mighty acts and were full participants in the mission work which Jesus sent his disciples to do. All four of the gospel writers are careful to mention the presence of the women at these events.
The significance of these women disciples is well-illustrated in the story of Jesus in the home of Mary and Martha of Bethany where Mary “sat at the Lord’s feet” (Luke 10:39). The phrase “sitting at the feet” is code language for the behavior of a disciple who is learning from a Rabbi. The same phrase is used of Paul who “sat at the feet of Gamaliel” (Acts 22:5). Far from being the archetype of a submissive woman, Mary of Bethany is training as a disciple of a Rabbi in order to become a Rabbi herself. (To be a disciple is to take on an apprenticeship to be a Rabbi; one does not become a disciple merely for one’s own personal spiritual benefit.)
We learn from the letters of Paul (among other texts) that women had prominent positions in the early church. Several women, for example, are named in the greetings of Romans 16. This is significant since Paul’s practice is to greet the leaders of the congregation to whom he is writing. Phoebe is described as a deacon (v. 1) of the church of Cenchreae. It is difficult to assess exactly what the function of deacons was at this stage in the church’s history, but at least two of them, Stephen and Philip, have significant preaching ministries. As well as being a “deacon” Phoebe is also described as a “benefactor” (v. 2: prostatis). The RSV has the very weak translation of “helper” at this point. A benefactor, rather, is one who provides the material needs for a person or organization. Phoebe is the “patron” (or, rather, “matron”) of her church in the suburbs of Corinth. As such it would have been expected for her to preside at the community meal, which for Christians was the Eucharist. Certainly, other benefactors in the Greco-Roman world, who hosted organizations in their homes, would have been expected to host the meal.
It is sometimes argued against the notion that women held church office in the early church that no New Testament text specifically names a woman as holding the office of bishop or presbyter. While this is true, it is also the case that no New Testament text specifically names a man as holding these offices either. Apart from a single reference in 1 Peter 2:25 to Christ as the “bishop/overseer” of your souls, the New Testament nowhere identifies any man by name with these titles. Rather the terms are generally applied to groups, and never to specifically named individuals: presbyters/elders (Acts 11:30; 14:23; 15:2, 4, 6, 22, 23; 21:18; 1 Tim. 4:14; 5:17, 19; Tit. 1:5; James 5:14; 1 Pet. 5:1, 5; 2 John 1:1; 3 John 1:2), bishops/overseers (Acts 20:28; Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:1, 2; Tit. 1:7). The single exception is Phoebe, who is named as a “deacon.”
It is also significant that the requirements for overseers (bishops), elders (presbyters), and deacons in the pastoral epistles (1 Timothy 3:1-12; Titus 1:5-9) are moral requirements, not job descriptions. It cannot be coincidental that identical language is used to describe women throughout the pastoral epistles. Even the requirement that the bishop be a “one woman man” (1 Tim. 3:2) (“faithful to his wife,” NIV) is exactly parallel to the requirement that a widow be a “one man woman” (1 Tim. 5:9) (“faithful to her husband,” NIV). The concern here is clearly morally exclusive (no adulterers), not that the bishop must necessarily be a married male.
Finally, we note that in describing the candidate for overseer in 1 Tim. 3, the generic “whoever” (Greek, tis) is used: “Whoever(tis)aspires to be an overseer (bishop) desires a noble task” (1 Tim. 3:1). Despite misleading English translations, not a single male pronoun appears anywhere in the description in 1 Tim. 3:1-7. Nothing in the qualifications (again, “moral qualifications”) for the role of overseer (bishop), elder (presbyter), or deacon in the pastoral epistles would exclude a woman fulfilling these roles.
A crucial issue in the discussion concerns the extent to which ordained clergy resemble or represent Jesus Christ. Catholic opponents of women’s ordination argue that women cannot be ordained insofar as only a man can represent the male Jesus Christ in presiding at the Eucharist by acting “in the person of Christ” (in persona Christi), and so women cannot be ordained because they do not resemble a male Jesus Christ. Conversely, Protestant “complementarian” opponents argue that women cannot be ordained insofar as they do resemble Jesus Christ. The claim is that just as the eternal Son of God is equal but subordinate to the Father, so women are equal to, but nonetheless subordinate to men. (Whether such an eternal subordination of the Son to the Father is orthodox theology is questionable.)
Crucial to the apostle Paul’s own understanding of how Christians are to resemble Jesus Christ are two key passages. Philippians 2:6-11 is the “master story” of Paul’s cruciform spirituality, in which Paul identifies the love of Christ with a renouncing of status, a “self-emptying” that prefers others over self, being humbled even to the point of death. In the incarnation, the pre-existent Christ submitted himself to a fallen creation by taking on the form of a servant. This “master story” of Christ’s self-emptying serves as a paradigm for Christian service: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus . . .” (v. 5)
Paul applies this same notion of cruciform spirituality to his discussion of apostolic ministry in 2 Cor. 4:7-12. Ministers of Christ carry a treasure in jars of clay, carrying in their bodies the death of Jesus so that Jesus’ life is manifest in their bodies. This model of cruciform discipleship is the pattern for the manner in which all Christians (both lay and ordained) represent or resemble Jesus Christ.
This notion of cruciform spirituality is crucial for interpreting two passages that have become key for the discussion of relationships between men and women, and thus women’s ordination.
In Ephesians 5:1-6:9, Paul challenges traditional pagan and Jewish “household codes” which typically addressed male householders in their duties to exercise authority over their subordinates (wives, children, and slaves), in the light of cruciform spirituality. In contrast to “household codes” of antiquity, Ephesians 5 focuses on the mutual submission of all Christians to one another, and to the way in which both men and woman resemble Jesus Christ by “walking in love as Christ loved us” (Eph. 5:2; cf. 5:25), by “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ” (5:21; cf. 5:33).
The duty of each one of the household members is modified in light of Christ’s servanthood. Children obey their parents “in the Lord” (6:1). Slaves obey as “servants of Christ” (6:5-7). Fathers do not provoke their children, but “bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (6:4). Masters must recognize that they share a common Master with their slaves (6:9).
The common Christological pattern of 5:2 and the mutual submission of 5:21 are key to understanding what Paul says about the relationship between husbands and wives. The principle verbs addressed to husbands and wives are not specific duties, but are characteristic behaviors expected of all Christians. All Christians are to be filled with the Spirit (1) by singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs (5:19), (2) by giving thanks to God the Father (5:20), (3) by being subject to one another (5:21). (4) Husbands love their wives as Christ loved the church (5:25) in the same way that all Christians walk in love as Christ loved us and gave himself for us (5:2). (6) The submission asked of wives is simply the first example of the mutual submission that is expected of all Christians to one another in v. 21. In the same way that husbands are not to love their wives in a manner distinct from the way in which all Christians walk in Christ’s love, so wives are not uniquely to submit to husbands any more than only some Christians should sing psalms and hymns or give thanks to God the Father. (There is no imperative “submit” in v. 22 as many English translations suggest; rather, the verb is supplied from the participle from the previous verse, “submitting to one another” (hypotassomenoi allēlois). Significantly, at no point are wives told to “obey” their husbands, or husbands to “exercise authority” over their wives.)
While Ephesians 5 addresses issues of household management, 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 focuses on disruptive worship practices in the church. Scholars do not agree on the particular issue that Paul is addressing, whether women wearing a particular head covering within the context of worship or some kind of hair style (v. 5). There is general agreement on the following: (1) Men and women equally engaged in leading worship in the Corinthian church. Paul is not restricting the public role of women in worship, but insisting that worship practices should not create public scandal. (2) Men and women are not separate from one another, but rather interdependent. There is nothing in the context that indicates that the issue of contention concerned an issue of authority of men over women. Rather, although difficult to interpret (what about the “angels”?), the only verse in the passage that mentions authority (v. 10) actually refers to the woman’s own authority. The NIV correctly translates the passage: “It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels.” (3) If the first man (Adam) is the source of woman in the Genesis creation narrative, the woman is now the source of all men through childbirth, and God is the ultimate source of both man and woman, who equalizes their standing in Christ (v. 12). (4) That woman is man’s glory does not mean that she was created for his purposes or utilitarian ends, but that men and women both need and are mutually dependent on one another (v. 7). (5) Even in the new age of redemption in Christ, sexual and gender distinctions are maintained; however, that does not mean that one sex is subordinate to the other, but that both are interdependent on and need one another (vs. 11-12).
A key issue of contention for interpretation of both passages is Paul’s metaphorical use of the Greek word meaning “head” (kephalē) to describe the relationship between men and women in both of these passages. This metaphor is so central to the Protestant argument against women’s ordination that “complementarian” opponents of women’s ordination use the expression “male headship” to describe their position, even when discussing biblical passages where the word kephalē does not occur.
In modern English usage, the metaphor “head” is often used to describe someone who is in a position of authority, as in the “head” of a company, and “complementarians” assume that Paul’s use of “head” in these two passages refers to the authority of men over women. However, numerous biblical scholars challenge this assumption for the following reasons. First, they point out that when the Greek LXX translators of the Old Testament translated the Hebrew word for “head” (rosh) where it is used literally, they regularly used the Greek word kephalē; however, when used as a metaphor for “leader,” the translators use words like archōn instead, implying that native Greek speakers did not normally understand the metaphor “head” to mean “leader” or “authority.” (Out of approximately 180 times when the Hebrew Bible uses the word rosh as a metaphor for “leader or “chieftain,” the LXX translates it as kephalē only six times.)
For Paul, “head” (kephalē) and “origin” (archē) seem largely equivalent. Christ is the beginning or source of the church as his body, and also the one from whom it receives its nourishment. Christ is the “head (kephalē) of the body, the church; he is the beginning (archē), the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.” Paul refers to those who do not hold fast to the “head” (kephalē), “from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows together with a growth that is from God” (Colossians 1:18, 2:19). In Ephesians 4:15, Paul writes that “we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head (kephalē), into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” In the one passage in which Paul does associate Christ’s “headship” with authority, he contrasts Christ’s relationship with his body, the church, with those over whom he exercises authority: “And [God the Father] put all things under his feet and gave him as head (kephalē) over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Eph. 1:22).
This notion of “headship” as giving life to the body, and as a source of nourishment, seems to be the key to Paul’s understanding of Christ as “head” in Ephesians 5:23: “Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.” The context is that of mutual love and care, nourishment and protection. The head and body language focuses on the one-flesh union between Christ and the church as his body and the one-flesh union between the husband and wife (5:31). Christ acts as head of the church by nurturing the church, uniting the church, and bringing it together. Christ gives himself sacrificially to the church. Similarly, the husband is asked to be the “head” over his wife in exactly the same way that Paul is describing Christ’s headship over the church, in terms of sacrificial love: “In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, because we are members of his body” (5:28-30). The passage is not then about authority of husbands over wives, but about self-sacrificing love of husbands for their wives. At no point are husbands told to command their wives, or wives told to obey their husbands. Paul does not use such words as “authority” (exousia) or “lord” (kurios), when describing the relationship between husband and wife, but “head,” and the context makes clear that the model of the husband’s “headship” is Christ’s self-abasement and self-sacrificial cruciform love by which he gave himself up for the church.
Similarly, NT scholars argue that “head” in 1 Corinthians 11 means “source,” or “preeminent” or “honored source.” 1 Cor. 11:8 looks to the creation narrative, in which the woman was made from the man’s side, created as man’s partner or helper “fit for him” (cf. Gen. 2:20-23). Verse 12 focuses on man’s origin as now born of woman. Finally, “all things (or all persons) come from God.” Paul’s use of the “head” metaphor (v. 3) would then mean: (1) The origin of every man is Christ, that is, Christ is the origin of creation; cf. 8:6: There is “one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” (2) The origin of woman is man, not “her husband” (as in the ESV translation), but “the first man,” that is, woman (‘issa) is taken out of man (‘is) (Gen. 2:23). (3) The origin of Christ is God. That is, God the Father is the agent of the incarnation. The order reflects not a hierarchy of authority, but the chronology of salvation history: all things were created through Christ; the first man (Adam) is the “source” of the woman’s being; God the Father is the source of Christ’s incarnation. Paul’s reference to the woman being the “glory of man” (v. 7) points to the interdependence of man and woman. The woman is created to “honor” the one for whom she was created as a companion suitable for him, and should not engage in worship in a manner that would bring “shame” on her companion. That the point of the passage has to do with gender distinction and not gender subordination is evident in that in the original Greek, it is clear that the authority referred to in v. 10 is the woman’s own authority over her (physical) head, not male authority over her. Again, the passage is about interdependence and mutuality between man and woman, not a hierarchy of authority of men over women.
There are, of course, two New Testament texts which have been used to argue against women in holy orders, based on a command for women’s “silence” in the church or not exercising authority over or teaching men. It is our contention that these texts (1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:8-15) should be understood as implying that women who are not educated should learn before they become teachers.17
The Catholic Argument
As noted above, the Protestant argument against women’s ordination has focused on biblical exegesis concerning issues of authority, whether women should teach men, and whether they should preach from the pulpit. In contrast, the Catholic argument focuses rather on sacramental theology, specifically, whether a woman can preside at the celebration of the Eucharist.
The Catholic argument relies on four claims:
1) The Tradition of the Church: The ordination of women is an innovation; throughout its history, the church has never ordained women. To ordain women is to depart from the tradition of the church.
2) A Male Apostolate: Insofar as the Catholic position appeals to scripture, it appeals to the exclusively male priesthood of the Old Testament, and to the male apostolate of the New Testament. Although Jesus had women followers, Jesus called only men to belong to the circle of the Twelve Apostles. Since bishops are successors of the apostles, bishops (and other clergy) must be male. To ordain women is to abandon the biblical pattern for ministerial leadership.
3) The Role of the Presiding Minister: In presiding at the Eucharist, the ordained presbyter acts “in the person of” or “represents” the male Jesus Christ (in persona Christi). As the church which is the bride of Christ is symbolically female, so the presiding minister must be male in order symbolically to represent Jesus Christ as the groom and head of the church, which is his body. To ordain women is to distort the nuptial imagery of Christ as groom and the church as bride.
4) Although the Vatican’s own arguments were not based on an anthropology concerning differences between the sexes, some have argued against women’s ordination from a sexual typology based on the contrast between male transcendence and female immanence. As God the Father is the transcendent Creator, so only male priests can represent divine transcendence, while women represent the receptive faith of the church. The apostle Peter represents the active male role of clergy, while the virgin Mary represents the female receptive faith of the laity. To ordain women is to overthrow this male/female gender symbolism.
The Tradition of the Church
The issue of church tradition has already been addressed above. While it is true that there has been a tradition against ordaining women in the church, the historical rationale behind this practice was based on a perceived ontological incapacity: women were less intelligent than men, emotionally unstable, and more subject to temptation. Moreover, opposition was not to women’s ordination as such, but to women exercising any role of authority over men, whether in the church or elsewhere. The church fathers did not oppose the ordination of women based on liturgical concerns about sacramental representation, but rather concerns about female leadership. Insofar as modern Catholic opponents of women’s ordination appeal to church tradition while neither endorsing the historical reasons for opposition to women’s ordination (concerns about authority) nor their warrant (a perceived ontological inferiority of women), nor their scope of restriction (women were not excluded merely from ordination but from any position of leadership or authority), the position is selective at best. The modern Catholic appeal to tradition endorses a historical practice while disregarding its historical rationale
A Male Apostolate
Concerns about a male-only Old Testament priesthood have been addressed above. The Old Testament priesthood was restricted not only to males, but to Jewish descendants of the tribe of Levi. Moreover, Old Testament concerns about ritual “uncleanness” would necessarily have excluded women from the priesthood. The application of Old Testament restrictions to Christian clergy would exclude from ordination not only women, but also all non-Jewish clergy who are not linear descendants of Moses’ brother Aaron.
In a similar way, Jesus’ reasons for having chosen only male Apostles are evident from the New Testament texts. Jesus chose male Apostles for the same reason that he chose twelve Apostles and Jewish Apostles. Insofar as Jesus’ followers represent the new Israel, Jesus’ twelve Apostles typologically represent the twelve tribes of Israel, and, specifically, the twelve patriarchs (sons of Jacob/Israel) from whom the nation of Israel was descended. In the new age, the Apostles will have a special role in judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Matt. 19:28; Luke 22:30). The book of Revelation records that the New Jerusalem has twelve gates on which are written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel, and twelve foundations on which are written the names of the twelve Apostles of the Lamb (Rev. 21:12-14). Gentile inclusion in the church rests on the foundation of the (Jewish) twelve Apostles and on the (Hebrew) prophets (Eph. 2:11, 19-21). At his Last Supper, Jesus, present with his twelve Apostles, reconstituted the Passover as a meal of bread and wine in which he formed a new covenant. It is at this last meal where Jesus pronounced the role of the twelve in judging Israel (Luke 22:14-30; cf Jer. 31:31-34). The twelve had to be Jewish males, and not slaves, women, or Gentiles, in order to fulfill the symbolic function of their typological role.
Bishops and presbyters may be successors of the original twelve Apostles, but they are not themselves Apostles because they do not play the same exclusive role as eyewitnesses to the ministry and resurrection of Jesus (Matt. 12:28; Acts 1:8, 21-22; 1 Cor. 9:1), and they do not play the same role of typological fulfillment of OT themes. There is no more theological warrant for contemporary clergy to be symbolically male than for them to be Jewish or to be twelve in number.
Representatives of Christ
The historical understanding of the essential role of the ordained Clergy consists in a ministry of proclamation of the Word and duly administering the sacraments.
The church fathers largely repeat the three key themes of the New Testament writings concerning priesthood and sacrifice although there is little discussion of them for the first millennium: (1) Jesus Christ is both high priest and sacrifice; (2) there is a sacrificial context to Jesus’ Last Supper, and there are the beginnings of a notion of “eucharistic sacrifice” – not that the Eucharist is a “repetition” of Christ’s once-and-for-all sacrifice, but that, in the celebration of the Eucharist, the efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice is “remembered” in such a way that it is “made present” or re-enacted. In the words of Chrysostom, “it is not another sacrifice . . . but the same.” (3) The church fathers speak of the priesthood of all Christians, which they interpret in spiritual and moral terms; (4) Writers assume some kind of relationship between the priesthood of Christ, and the priesthood of ordained clergy. When the celebrant presides at the Eucharist, he is presiding over a “sacrificial” action. At the same time, in the earliest examples, the sacrificial action is not understood to be the liturgical rite itself, but the prayer of the celebrant and the community. Missing from the writings of the church fathers is any detailed discussion of a relationship between Christ’s priesthood and the priesthood of the ordained clergy.
During the early Middle Ages, Latin theologians taught that only the universal Catholic church was able to celebrate the Eucharist. The priest who presided at the Eucharist was understood to represent the whole church when he acted as the liturgical leader of the local church. Later, Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) was the key figure in the development of the notion that, in celebrating the Eucharist, the priest acts “in the person of Christ” (in persona Christi), as representing Christ to the church.
This understanding of the priest as consecrating the Eucharist when he recites the “words of institution” (and thus acts as a representative of Christ) came to dominate eucharistic theology in the Western Church following Aquinas’s formulation, not only in the Roman Catholic Church, but also at least implicitly in Protestant churches, as shown in those churches in which the Lord’s Supper consists of nothing more than the pastor reciting the narrative of the Last Supper.
This Western understanding of Eucharistic theology led to conflict in the fourteenth century over the Orthodox inclusion of the epiclesis, a prayer for the invocation of the Holy Spirit that occurs in Eastern eucharistic prayers following the account of the Last Supper, but was missing from the Western Latin mass, and demonstrated a fundamental difference in Western and Eastern understandings of the role of the ordained priest in celebrating the Eucharist. Theologically, the disagreement boils down to the question of whether the presiding minister acts in the person of Christ (in persona Christi) and thus represents Jesus Christ or, rather, when in invoking the Holy Spirit in the epiclesis, the presiding minister, praying on behalf of the congregation to invoke the Holy Spirit, represents the church, and thus acts in the person of the church (in persona ecclesiae).
Aquinas himself says nothing about the need for the ordained priest to be male in the context of the ordained priest acting in persona Christi. To the contrary, if the priest must be male in order to participate in Christ’s priesthood or to resemble Christ, then it would seem to follow that only males can be baptized because Aquinas locates the sacramental character of both baptism and the Eucharist (which makes worship possible) in a participation in the priesthood of Christ in which he insists that all the baptized participate.
Nevertheless, the Roman Catholic Church came to embrace a new argument against the ordination of women rooted in an in persona Christi sacramental theology that first appeared in the Vatican’s Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s Inter Insigniores (“Declaration on the Question of the Admission of Women to the Ministerial Priesthood”) with the approval of Pope Paul VI in 1976. The Congregation stated that the priest represents Christ, who acts through him when he says the “words of institution”: “[T]he priest, who alone has the power to perform [the Eucharist], then acts not only through the effective power conferred on him by Christ, but in persona Christi, taking the role of Christ, to the point of being his very image, when he pronounces the words of consecration.” The document drew the conclusion that only a male priest can represent Christ in this way because Jesus Christ is a male: “[W]hen Christ’s role in the Eucharist is to be expressed sacramentally, there would not be this ‘natural resemblance’ which must exist between Christ and his minister if the role of Christ were not taken by a man: in such a case it would be difficult to see in the minister the image of Christ. For Christ himself was and remains a man.”25
After Inter Insigniores, liturgical non-Roman Catholics (such as Orthodox and Anglo-Catholics) who opposed the ordination of women embraced this new position as well. This was especially surprising for the Orthodox, since the Western theology of eucharistic consecration on which the argument is based is at odds with the Orthodox theology of the epiclesis and the representative role of the priest as acting primarily as a representative of the church (in persona ecclesiae).
In response, we agree that if ordination is oriented toward the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments, then questions of sacramental theology must be addressed. However, concerns need to be raised about the unfortunate consequences following from a model of eucharistic theology that places its primary focus on the presiding minister acting “in the person of Christ” (in persona Christi) when he consecrates the eucharistic elements by speaking the “words of institution.” This leads to an understanding of ordained ministry in which the eucharistic celebrant’s role becomes that of enacting a drama by playing the part of Jesus Christ at the Last Supper, in which the presiding minister is isolated from the congregation, and in which the essential role of the congregation in the worship of the church is relegated to being observers of a drama. In addition, the resulting eucharistic theology is christomonist, separating the work of Christ not only from its ecclesial context, but from its salvation-historical and trinitarian context. The roles of the Holy Spirit and the church disappear. This theology also reflects a truncated notion of the eucharistic prayer, in which the structure of the prayer that surrounds the words of institution is reduced to something like liturgical window dressing. If all that is really important is the words of institution, then the rest of the liturgy is dispensable.
What implications might a more redemptive-historical, trinitarian understanding of eucharistic theology have for the ordination of women?
First, the celebration of the Eucharist should not be understood as the isolated act of the ordained minister over against the worshiping community. The eucharistic prayer is not a drama in which the priest acts the role of Christ by reciting the words of institution. Rather, the eucharistic prayer is the prayer of the entire church, in which the gathered community addresses God the Father, reminding him of his saving deeds in creation, the calling of Israel, and the saving incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The words of institution are at the center of this prayer and are a reminder of Christ’s promise to the church that he will be present whenever the “church breaks this bread” and “drinks this cup . . . in remembrance of me.” In the epiclesis, the Holy Spirit is invoked by the entire church to descend on bread and wine to enable Christ’s presence. The ordained minister has a special role, speaking the words of the eucharistic prayer on behalf of the church in a prayer that begins and ends with the words “we” and “us.” In praying the words of the eucharistic prayer, the presiding minister first represents the church and acts in persona ecclesiae.
Is there a sense in which we can also speak of the ordained minister acting in the person of, or as a representative of Christ? Indeed. The church shares in Christ’s priesthood by pointing away from itself to the saving, life, deeds, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The pattern for the church as a whole is the cruciform pattern of the suffering servant, and this is the pattern of ordained ministry as well. As the apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 4, “For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (vs. 5-7, NIV). The ordained minister represents Christ primarily in pointing away from him or herself, by pointing to the crucified and risen Christ. But the priest also represents Christ in that he or she shares in Christ’s suffering. Paul continues to write, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body” (vs. 8-10).
In Ephesians 5, Paul introduces his well-known analogy between marriage and Christ, identifying the church as the bride of Christ. As noted above, in this passage, Paul makes clear that the submission expected of wives to husbands is the same submission that is expected of all Christians to one another, and the model of behavior expected of all Christians is modeled after Christ’s own self-sacrificial giving, as exemplified in the paradigm passage of Philippians 2:5-11, in which Paul identifies the love of Christ with the “self-emptying” (kenosis) that prefers others over self, taking on the form of a servant that leads to the cross.
Could a woman lead the church in worship and act in persona Christi? One might better ask whether a man could lead the church in worship and act as the church’s representative in persona ecclesiae! As the presiding minister prays the eucharistic prayer, he or she places the words of the church in his or her own mouth. Modern eucharistic prayers all begin and end with the words “we” and “us,” as do the traditional words of the Eucharistic Prayer in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. Insofar as the New Testament identifies the church as the bride of Christ (Eph. 5:23-32; Rev. 22:17), it might seem more appropriate to ordain only women. Since the church contains both men and women, it is certainly appropriate for a female minister to pray those words on behalf of the church.
Insofar as Christ’s servant ministry is the pattern for all Christians, it is also the pattern for all ministry. Insofar as the role of the ordained minister is to point away from himself or herself and to point instead to Jesus Christ, it is not his or her sex that is significant because it is not his or her own person that counts, but the person of Jesus Christ. If a male priest can represent the female bride of Christ, then certainly a female priest can represent Christ himself in that the priestly role of ordained clergy is one of self-abnegation.
Male and Female Symbolism
Finally, we would claim that objections based on the symbolism of an anthropology of male transcendence and female immanence are an example of a foreign “natural theology” imposed artificially into a Christian setting, reflecting more pagan and Hellenistic notions of male/female relationships than a biblical understanding of sexuality. The Bible knows nothing of notions of male transcendence and female immanence.
Our primary concern is this statement is to assert that the ACNA should continue to allow the practice of ordaining women as presbyters, since the Bible itself portrays women in teaching, administrative, worship-leading and governing roles. The 39 Articles of Religion teach that whatsoever cannot be proved by scripture cannot be required (Article 6). We believe that it cannot be proved by scripture that women are to be excluded from the ordained ministry of the church.
At the same time, we have attempted to address liturgical and sacramental concerns about the representative role of ordained presbyters in leading liturgical worship. Nothing in a proper understanding of either OT or NT worship practices, of ordained clergy as successors of Jesus’ original twelve Apostles, of the tradition of the church, or a proper theology of eucharistic ministry, would exclude women from leading the church’s worship. Insofar as they preside at the church’s ministry of Word and Sacrament, ordained clergy act first as representatives of the church as the bride of Christ by praying on behalf of the church, but also represent Christ as the head of the body which is his church. Ordained clergy represent Christ not in their own persons (and certainly not in their sexuality), but by bearing witness to the cruciform pattern of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection. This is, of course, the model for all Christian discipleship (not simply clergy), to which all baptized Christians are called, both men and women. As it is for the church, so it is for the ordained minister. The ordained priest represents Christ by pointing away from his or her own identity to that of the crucified and risen Jesus Christ.
For further reference
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