Concerning Women’s Ordination: Aquinas and the “Tradition Challenge”


Of all of the essays I have written on the topic of women’s ordination, the one that has received the most negative feedback has been the one entitled “Concerning Women’s Ordination: The Argument ‘From Tradition’ is not the ‘Traditional’ Argument.” In this essay, I argue that despite claims simply to be upholding the church’s historic tradition, both versions of the current arguments against women’s ordination used respectively by Roman Catholics and by Protestants are not traditional at all, but actually represent departures from the historical reasons that women were not ordained.

In that essay, I made the case (citing numerous historical examples) that historical opposition to women’s ordination is rooted in an ontology of inequality: women could not be ordained because they were less intelligent, emotionally unstable, and more subject to temptation than men. Moreover, the traditional argument was not simply an argument against the ordination of women, but against any leadership of men over women.

It seems fairly obvious why so many have reacted negatively to this essay. If I am correct, historical opposition to women’s ordination is not only based in a questionable major assumption, but is also directly contrary to a key claim of both the new Catholic and the new Protestant positions, that opposition to women’s ordination is not based on any kind or intellectual or moral inequality. Resistance to this essay led me to post something I called the “Tradition Challenge.” In that essay, I laid out the traditional position in three premises:

(A) Women are less intelligent, more emotionally unstable, and more subject to temptation than men.
(B) Ordination necessitates exercising authority over others, particularly teaching and speaking in an authoritative manner. Women cannot be ordained because they are necessarily subordinate to men, and therefore cannot execise authority in this manner. This is primarily an exclusion from women exercising any authority whatsoever over men, and only secondarily a specific exclusion from ordination.
(C) Proposition (B) is a direct corollary or consequence of Proposition (A). Women are necessarily subordinate to men, and cannot exercise authority over them because of an ontological incapacity located in a deficiency in reason, emotional instability, and susceptibility to temptation. Because of this ontological deficiency, they cannot exercise authority over or teach men, and so cannot be ordained.

To the contrary, both Evangelical “complementarians” and Catholic traditionalists affirm:

(A1) Women share an equal intellectual, moral, and spiritual capacity with men. They are not less intelligent, emotionally unstable, or more subject to temptation than men.

Protestant “complementarians” continue to affirm (B), but because they no longer affirm (A), must affirm the following rather than (C):

(C1) Although (A1), women still cannot be ordained because God has created different “gender roles” rooted in “male headship.”

The Catholic traditionalist affirms neither (A), (B), nor (C), but rather affirms (A1) plus:

(B1) The argument from authority no longer applies. Women can exercise any role of teaching, exercising authority, and speaking, and even preaching within the church. (There are no “gender roles” rooted in “headship.”)
(B2) The distinct function of ordination has to do with presiding at the sacraments. The presiding minister (the priest) represents Jesus Christ, that is, acts in the “person of Christ” (in persona Christi) when presiding at the sacraments. Because Jesus Christ is a male, only a male priest can represent a male Christ.
(C2) Because women do not resemble a male Christ, women cannot be ordained.

In order for Protestant “complementarians” and Catholic traditionalists to make the case that they are simply defending the traditional position, they would need to affirm (A), (B), and (C); however, they rather affirm (A1) (both), (C1) (Protestants), (B1), (B2) and (C2) (Catholics). In conclusion, not only do Protestant “complementarians” and Catholic traditionalists depart from the traditional reasons for opposition to women’s ordination, they do not even agree with each other in their reasons for doing so.

I concluded that essay with a challenge:

Provide an actual historical reference from the Christian tradition that corresponds to what I have called the Complementarian or Sacramentalist positions. It is not enough to provide some individual positive statement about women mentioned by a Patristic, Medieval, or Reformation author.

Rather, from a discussion that specifically deals with the issue of women’s ordination and opposes it, provide an example from a Patristic, Medieval, or Reformation author (or authors) that clearly endorses either (A1), (B), and (C1), or (A1), (B1), (B2), and (C2) as a coherent and integrated position. It is not enough to find individual quotations from an author that can be read to endorse any single one of the above propositions. Rather, in the same way that I have shown through detailed quotations that there is a sizeable body of Patristic, Medieval, and Reformation writers who endorse (A), (B), and (C) and bring them together to form a coherent argument against women’s ordination based on female ontological incapacity, an adequate demonstration that what I have called the (2) Protestant Complementarian or (3) Catholic Sacramentalist positions are not innovations to the tradition would have to substantiate with actual textual references that one or the other of these two was an actual position that was held by someone in the history of the church before the mid-twentieth century.

So far, there has been only one attempt to respond to the challenge, which I addressed in “Concerning Women’s Ordination: A Response to the ‘Ordination Challenge.’” I recently discovered what might be considered a kind of “response” to the original essay, but the author neither contacted me nor commented on my blog. The comment appeared after my “Tradition Challenge,” but the author seems unaware of it. The writer, who only identified himself (I assume the author is “he”) as post-Presby papist prowler, challenges my reading of Thomas Aquinas:

I only read the third article in the series, but I found it selective to the point of dishonesty. He claims that before the 20th century everyone thought women were intellectually inferior to men, yet ignores this from Aquinas:

Of course, no one likes to be accused of dishonesty. In my case, if I have misstated, I am more than willing to be corrected, especially regarding Thomas Aquinas, as I consider myself at least a “Peeping Thomist.” If it should turn out that Thomas Aquinas was a glaring exception to the standard argument, I would be thrilled. Unfortunately, the writer shows that he did not read me very well when he states that I claim that “before the 20the century everyone thought women were intellectually inferior to men.” In the essay, I actually stated: “It seems that Martin Luther may be an exception to the patristic and Medieval notion that women are inherently less rational and capable of leadership than men.” In another essay, I wrote: “There have been some exceptions. In his exegesis of Genesis, Martin Luther suggested that, apart from the fall, women would not have been subordinate to men. John Chrysostom, in his commentary on 1 Corinthians, stated that the subjection of women to men is a direct consequence of the fall . . .” Yet we need to be careful. “One swallow does not a summer make.” The same Chrysostom states that “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 . . .” and that God has assigned “greater tasks” to men and “lesser” ones to women. In other words, whatever might have been the case before the fall, Chrysostom seems to have believed that one of the consequences of the fall is that women are lacking in a certain kind of competence that would prohibit them from doing “greater tasks,” such as, presumably, ordained ministry.

post-Presby papist prowler accuses me of being “selective” because I ignore the following passage in Aquinas:

Therefore we must understand that when Scripture had said, “to the image of God He created him,” it added, “male and female He created them,” not to imply that the image of God came through the distinction of sex, but that the image of God belongs to both sexes, since it is in the mind, wherein there is no sexual distinction of sex, but that the image of God belongs to both sexes, since it is in the mind, wherein there is no sexual distinction. Wherefore the Apostle (Col. 3:10), after saying, “According to the image of Him that created him,” added, “Where there is neither male nor female.” ST 2

However, it would appear that I am not the one who is being selective. The section of my essay that covered Aquinas was only a few paragraphs long, and I began in an entirely positive manner – “Thomas could speak in almost glowing terms of the relations between men and women” – and followed with a citation in which Aquinas speaks of “the social union of man and woman,” writing that woman should not be subject to man’s contempt as his slave because she was created from his side (Summa Theologiae I did not include a citation from ST 1.93.6, although I did acknowledge that Aquinas “argues that women share equally in human nature with men.” I am happy to have it pointed out that Aquinas states that the image of God “is in the mind, wherein there is no sexual distinction.” At first reading, this would indeed seem to accord with (A1). However, what Aquinas writes in has to be read alongside what he writes in the previous question, which I cited: “At the same time, however, women are subject to men based on an economic subordination in which ‘the superior makes use of his subjects for their own benefit and good. . . . For good order would have been wanting in the human family if some were not governed by others wiser than themselves. So by such a kind of subjection woman is naturally subject to man, because in man the discretion of reason predominates.’” (S.T. 1.92.1). So whatever Aquinas means by stating that women equally share in the image of God, and that there is no sexual distinction “in the mind,” this does not prevent him from also stating that women are subject to men “for their own benefit and good,” because “in man [in contrast to woman] the discretion of reason predominates.”

post-Presby papist prowler then turns to Supplement to the Summa Theologiae, q. 39, which I had cited, and states:

Furthermore, Aquinas explicitly uses the sacramental argument:

Objection 1: It would seem that the female sex is no impediment to receiving Orders. For the office of prophet is greater than the office of priest, since a prophet stands midway between God and priests, just as the priest does between God and people. Now the office of prophet was sometimes granted to women, as may be gathered from 4 Kgs. 22:14. Therefore the office of priest also may be competent to them.

Reply to Objection 1: Prophecy is not a sacrament but a gift of God. Wherefore there it is not the signification, but only the thing which is necessary. And since in matters pertaining to the soul woman does not differ from man as to the thing (for sometimes a woman is found to be better than many men as regards the soul), it follows that she can receive the gift of prophecy and the like, but not the sacrament of Orders.

And he even said that women may exercise temporal power, and presumably over men given that his given example was Deborah:

And thereby appears the Reply to the Second and Third Objections. However, as to abbesses, it is said that they have not ordinary authority, but delegated as it were, on account of the danger of men and women living together. But Deborah exercised authority in temporal, not in priestly matters, even as now woman may have temporal power.

Again, however, it is post-Presby papist prowler who is being selective, and not myself. post-Presby papist prowler states that Aquinas uses the “sacramental” argument, but he does not state what Aquinas’s sacramental argument actually is. In his sed contra, Aquinas cites 1 Tim. 2:12, making clear that his concern is with authority of men over women (the traditional argument), and not whether a female priest can represent a male Christ (which is the current “sacramental” argument). Aquinas makes a standard sacramental distinction between a sign and the reality of the sign. In his reply to objection 1, he distinguishes between prophecy and a sacrament, distinguishing between I would call “charisma” and “orders.” Women can prophecy (exercise a charismatic gift) because they have the reality — “sometimes a woman is found to be better than many men as regards the soul” — but women cannot have the signification, i.e., the sign. What is the “sign”? Not resemblance to a male Christ, but authority. Thomas states the reason for his opposition to the ordination of women at the conclusion of his Respondeo, which I cited: “Accordingly, since it is not possible in the female sex to signify eminence of degree, for a woman is in the state of subjection, it follows that she cannot receive the sacrament of Order.”

What then about Aquinas’s references to “abbesses” and to the prophetess Deborah? Both cases actually make clear that Aquinas’s concerns are about women exercising authority over men in the church (the traditional argument) and not about sacramental representation of a male Christ (the new argument). Concerning abbesses, Aquinas writes that their authority is “delegated . . . on account of the danger of men and women living together,” delegated, that is, from a superior male authority, a male authority which would be preferable if there were no dangers of sexual temptation. Aquinas does seem to acknowledge concerning Deborah that women can exercise “temporal,” but not “priestly” power. This would indeed make his position different from those earlier writers like John Chrysostom or Thomas’s teacher Albertus Magnus or (later) Richard Hooker and John Knox, who quite explicitly draw a connection between an inability to exercise temporal authority and an inability to exercise ecclesial authority. I am pleased to acknowledge that difference. At the same time, Aquinas makes clear that his opposition to the ordination of women is nonetheless because “it is not possible in the female sex to signify eminence of degree,” specifically because a “woman is in the state of subjection.” Aquinas wrote this early in his career, but when he later wrote the Summa Theologiae, he made clear the reason for female subjection: “woman is naturally subject to man, because in man the discretion of reason predominates.”

It is apparent then that Aquinas’s reasons for opposition to the ordination of women are the traditional ones. He endorses (A), (B), and (C). But how is this consistent with what Aquinas wrote about women (like Deborah) exercising temporal power? I honestly cannot see that it is. If the necessary subjection of women to men provides the reason why women cannot be ordained (and Aquinas states that it is), then this should apply not only in the case of priestly ordination, but in temporal power as well. If subjection of women to men is not sufficient grounds for denying temporal power to women, “since in matters pertaining to the soul, woman does not differ from man . . . [and] sometimes a woman is found to be better than many men as regards the soul . . . ,” then it should not be grounds for denying ordination. Aquinas is simply inconsistent here, not to say incoherent.

Whether Aquinas is consistent or not, it is once again necessary to be reminded that his position is not the current Roman Catholic position. In my original essay, I had quoted Roman Catholic author Sarah Butler: “Because the contemporary magisterium has abandoned the view that women are unilaterally subject to men, it obviously does not supply this as the reason women cannot be priests.” It was, however, Aquinas’s reason.

Finally, this again make clear that the main argument of my original essay stands. In my “Tradition Challenge,” I had written: “from a discussion that specifically deals with the issue of women’s ordination and opposes it, provide an example from a Patristic, Medieval, or Reformation author (or authors) that clearly endorses either (A1), (B), and (C1), or (A1), (B1), (B2), and (C2) as a coherent and integrated position. It is not enough to find individual quotations from an author that can be read to endorse any single one of the above propositions.” At the most, post-Presby papist prowler has shown that Aquinas allowed that under certain circumstances, women could exercise charismatic gifts and some kind of temporal authority. I am happy to concede that in this one area, Aquinas differed from the vast majority of the earlier tradition. He did not affirm (B) in its totality. However, at the most, all that post-Presby papist prowler has done is to “find individual quotations . . . that can be read to endorse [one] of the above propositions.” Aquinas seems to have embraced a kind of incomplete (or rather inconsistent) version of (A1) and a slightly modified (B), which does not exclude women from occasionally exercising temporal authority. He continues to affirm (C). post-Presby papist prowler has not shown that Aquinas affirmed either “(A1), (B), and (C1), or (A1), (B1), (B2), and (C2) as a coherent and integrated position.”

My Response to the Response of Six Anglican Leaders to the ACNA Statement on Holy Orders

The following is my response to the Response to Holy Orders Task Force Report — Six Anglican Leaders Reflect on ACNA Statement, which I will refer to in what follows as the Response.

christ_in_the_house_of_martha_and_maryI begin by noting that there is nothing new introduced in the Response, but also that the Response contains a significant anomaly. The Response consists of arguments that have been used against women’s ordinations for the last several decades. However, the Response also combines (without acknowledgment or clarification) the two very different arguments against women’s ordination used by Protestant Evangelicals (Complementarians) and Sacramental Catholics (Liturgical symbolism). The Response presumes that the arguments can be combined, but it is questionable whether they are even compatible. (If one takes seriously Complementarian disinterest in sacramental concerns and Catholic rejections of Complementarian positions, the two approaches cancel each other out.)

The first half of the Response assumes the position defended by Evangelical opponents of women’s ordinations known as “Complementarians,” a group whose beginnings are no earlier than the 1970s and 1980s. Complementarianism is a view associated primarily with Baptist Calvinists Wayne Grudem and John Piper. Throughout, the Response simply repeats arguments used over and over again by Grudem and Piper. Unfortunately, the writers of the Response seem either unaware of or choose not to address the serious weaknesses in Complementarian arguments that have been pointed out repeatedly. The Response does not acknowledge that Complementarianism represents a uniquely Protestant approach. Complementarianism is primarily concerned with masculine authority: women cannot be ordained because they cannot speak publicly in a worship setting, cannot teach men, and cannot exercise authority over men. The Catholic argument against women’s ordination is a completely different argument connected to sacramental symbolism, and both modern Roman Catholics and the Orthodox have rejected complementarian arguments concerning authority. For Catholics, women can do all of the things complementarianism forbids: they can preach, they can teach, they can exercise authority over men; they just cannot celebrate the Eucharist. This point is crucial because it makes clear that the first half of the Response represents a one-sided Protestant approach that is at odds with the Catholic position.

On Complementarianism, see my essay “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Hierarchy and Hermeneutics.”

If the first half of the Response one-sidedly echoes Complementarianism, it is also unfortunate that throughout the Response quotes only from the ESV translation of the Bible, an intentionally Complementarian translation that at times misleadingly translates passages to force complementarian readings. That the authors do not acknowledge the differences between the ESV and other translations is unfortunate.

The Response presents what it calls “clear biblical testimonies to a male-only presbyterate.” Unfortunately, the passages to which it refers are anything but “clear” on that issue.

The Response begins with the two key proof texts to which Complementarians regularly appeal because they restrict women from speaking or teaching.

1) 1 Cor. 14:33-35.

The Response quotes the English translation of the ESV and claims that “this is not simply a local rule because [the text says] “As in all the churches of the saints . . .”

Unfortunately, the Response does not mention two significant textual problems.

First, a considerable number of biblical scholars make the case that this passage is an interpolation, not written by Paul at all. The Western mss. tradition places the passage after v. 40, while no non-Western mss. does so. The options are either that, at some unknown period, a copyist removed the passage from Paul’s original position and moved it elsewhere (for no apparent logical reason), or, alternatively, the passage was not in Paul’s original mss., but was inserted in the margin by a copyist. Later copyists inserted it into the text, but in different locations. It is easier to explain the origin as a gloss than to assume that a scribe later moved the passage from where Paul originally put it.

Second, assuming for argument’s sake that Paul did write the text, there was no punctuation when Paul wrote 1 Corinthians. Linguistically, it makes more sense to place the phrase “as in all the churches of the saints” with the preceding sentence, as in the KJV and the NIV: “For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.” The ESV creates an unnecessary redundancy. If Paul had already written, “as in all the churches,” why did he then need to write that “women should keep silent in the churches”? On the other hand, making the point that God is the author of peace, not of confusion “as in all the churches,” just makes sense. Paul is complaining throughout 1 Corinthians about disruptive worship practices. His statement about women is addressing another such disruptive practice. In being disruptive, the Corinthians are violating a practice of orderly worship that is normative in all the churches.

More important, the Response fails to address the question of what kind of speech Paul was prohibiting in 1 Cor. 14:33 ff. Everyone in the debate agrees that Paul was not advocating an absolute prohibition of women speaking because Paul allows women to prophesy in 1 Cor. 11, and even complementarians admit this. The context indicates that Paul is prohibiting some kind of disruptive speaking of women in a particular context in the Corinthian church, not all speaking. The issue of disagreement concerns what kind of speaking that was. Nothing in the context indicates that Paul was addressing a question concerning women holding church office or exercising authority. He is demanding that certain women (not all women) exercise some kind of silence in a particular worship setting (not everywhere and not at all times). There is nothing in the context that suggests that this is a universal prohibition against all women speaking in church under all circumstances.

See my essay, “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Speaking and Teaching.”

2) 1 Tim. 2:11-14

Here again, the Response simply follows the Complementarian argument by claiming that “Paul argues from creation – before the Fall and not after.” They then state that “male authority in the Church derives not from a fallen order but from the creation order.”

Again, the writers fail to acknowledge that this passage is beset with a number of interpretive difficulties. First, they presume that Paul is providing a warrant and not an example. That is, because Adam was formed first, therefore, women should not teach or exercise authority.

The Response necessarily assumes that the crucial word “because” (gar) is being used as a warrant in the sense of cause rather than a warrant in the sense of example. Gar can be used as a warrant, but it can also be a simple conjunction or used as an example. Elsewhere Paul always uses Adam and Eve as typological examples (2 Corinthians 11:3-4). That would seem to be what he is doing here: “Eve was deceived; do not be deceived as Eve was.”

Moreover, numerous scholars point out that Paul’s use of epitrepō should be translated “I am not permitting,” not “I do not permit.” Thus, Paul is referring to a present prohibition, not a permanent one.

Once more, the ESV misleadingly translates (authentein) as the neutral “to exercise authority over.” However, biblical scholars point out that the word has a stronger and primarily negative connotation. As NT scholar Ben Witherington notes, “I conclude that the author means that women are not permitted to ‘rule over,’ master,’ or ‘play the despot’ over men.”

A more careful reading indicates that Paul’s admonition addressed a specific historical situation, that he was concerned about the danger of particular women who were being deceived, that he referred to Eve not as a warrant against women teaching rooted in creation, but as a typological example of someone who had been deceived, and that he was in this context currently prohibiting women from teaching until they had been adequately informed – “Let them learn in quietness and full submission” (i.e., to what they were being taught; there is no reference to a submission to a person), and that women should not “usurp authority” or “play the despot” over men.

Again, see my essay, “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Speaking and Teaching.”

3) “Headship”

Further evidence that the Response is dependent on Complementarianism is indicated in the use of the word “headship” to describe their position. This is a term first introduced into the discussion by George W. Knight, III, The Role Relationship of Men and Women: New Testament Teaching (Philipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1977, 1985), after which it became a regular way for Complementarians to describe their position.

1 Cor. 11:7-16

The response misleadingly quotes the ESV translation of v. 10 – “That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head . . .” This is one of the ESV’s most egregious mistranslations. The words “symbol of” do not occur in the original Greek. 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.” That is, the authority referred to in the passage is not that of the man over the woman, but the woman’s own authority. This is the only reference to “authority” in the passage, and the ESV translation makes the passage say the opposite of what is actually in the text.

The point of the passage is not that the “man” is the “head of the family,” as the Response says later, but that man and woman are equally dependent on one another. The woman came from man in creation (the original Genesis story), but now all men come from women (through childbirth). So the woman (in the original creation account of Genesis) is made “from man” (1 Cor. 11:8), but all men are now born “from woman” (1 Cor. 11:12). The passage is not about male authority over women at all – again, the only reference to authority in the passage is to the woman’s own authority – but to mutuality between man and woman.

See my essay: “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Women in Worship and ‘Headship.’

4) Gen. 2

The Response states that “God commanded the man and not the woman . . . suggesting that the man is head of the family.”

This misses several key points in the exegesis of Genesis 2. First, God does not command the “man,” but the “human being,” ha adam, the generic Hebrew word for “human.” It is not until v. 23 that sexuality is introduced into the passage when the man (is) recognizes the woman (issa) as one like himself. Up until this point there is nothing in the Hebrew text to indicate that ha’adam is a male. At no point in the passage is there any evidence for male authority over the woman. The man does not command the woman; nor does she obey him. It is only after the fall that the woman is told that “your husband will rule over you” (Gen. 3:16).

In this context, the Response states that as Adam names the animals, so “God brought Adam to Eve to give her a name.” However, in the original Hebrew, it is clear that while ha’adam names the animals, he does not name the woman. The Hebrew formula for “naming” is absent. The man does not name the woman, but greets her with a cry of recognition: “This is woman (issa) because she was taken from man (is).” That the only difference between the man and the woman is the feminine ending makes clear that the man and woman are fundamentally the same. It is only after the fall into sin that the naming formula appears in reference to the woman when she is “named” Eve – the “mother of all living” (Gen. 3:20).

The Response states that the man “takes the lead in marriage” because he leaves his father. Rather, that the man leaves his father and mother and “holds fast to” (clings to) his wife confirms the reading of the rest of the passage that the woman was created to satisfy the man’s need for companionship. On a hierarchical reading, the woman would rather leave her parents to cling to her husband. The passage makes clear that it is the man who needs the woman; she is the “helper” who relieves his loneliness. There is no hierarchy here, and certainly no authority of the man over the woman, at least not until the fall into sin.

See my essay “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Beginning with Genesis.”

5) Ephesians 5

The Response regularly uses the words “head” and “headship” in the sense of “authority over” as in the “headship of the husband in the nuclear family” and “male headship in the family.” There is no reference to nor acknowledgment of the several decades’ controversy concerning the meaning of the metaphor kephalē (translated “head”) in Paul’s theology. Granted, the metaphor does mean “authority” in modern English, but the current scholarly consensus is that it almost certainly did not mean that for the apostle Paul. Paul is the first in the ancient world to use the metaphor of “head” to describe the relationship between husband and wife, and what he means by the metaphor can only be discerned by his own context. He nowhere uses the language of authority (exousia) to describe the relationship between husband and wife in Ephesians 5, but rather uses “head” language to speak of the husband’s love and nourishment for his wife. Nowhere in Ephesians 5 is the man told to command his wife, nor the wife to obey the husband.

[Grudem tries to argue from Greek parallels that kephalē always means “authority over.” Unfortunately, almost all of his references are chronologically later than the NT, and all are examples of a one-to-many military leadership. This misses the significance of the uniqueness of Paul’s use of the metaphor within the context of marriage, and that Paul certainly did not understand Christian marriage along the lines of a general’s rule over his many soldiers. In addition, as other NT scholars point out, there are numerous instances of the use of the Greek kephalē as a metaphor where it cannot possibly mean “authority over.”]

The Response cites the misleading ESV translation of Eph. 5:22: “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” However, there is no imperative “submit” in the original Greek. Rather, in v. 21, Paul uses a participial form to call for a mutual submission of all Christians to one another. The command in v. 22 is not a specific command for the wife to submit to her husband, but for the wife to engage in the same kind of submission to her husband that all Christians are expected to give to each other (and, accordingly, that her husband is expected to give to her). Similarly, the husband is commanded to “love his wife” in v. 25, but this, again, is simply an echo of the command given to all Christians in 5:2 to “walk in love as Christ loved us.”

There is nothing in Paul’s use of the metaphor kephalē in Ephesians 5 nor of the mutual submission demanded of all Christians in the same chapter to imply a hierarchy of authority between men and women, either in the home or in the church.

See my essay “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Mutual Submission.”

The passage refers to other passages, but these are discussed at length in my essay.

6) The Pastoral Epistles

The Response refers to the Pastoral Epistles concerning “instructions for the Church’s bishops/overseers and deacons.”

The Response incorrectly affirms that “all of the articles and pronouns designating the elders are masculine.” Although English translations of 1 Tim. 3 and Titus 1 regularly provide masculine pronouns, there are no masculine pronouns whatsoever in the original Greek text. Moreover, Paul uses the Greek word tis (anyone) to describe the overseer: “Whoever [tis] aspires to [the office of] overseer/bishop desires a good work.” Moreover, the requirements Paul lists are not a “job description,” but moral requirements. Paul lists the exact same requirements for the office of elder that he later lists for various women’s roles in the church.

Throughout the rest of the NT, references to those who hold church office are always in the plural, and not a single presbyter or overseer/ bishop is mentioned by name. Masculine pronouns are used in Acts 20 to refer to the Ephesian elders, but this is a matter of grammatical gender, not physical sex. (In NT Greek, any plural group that includes even a single male is referred to using masculine nouns and pronouns.) The Response acknowledges this, but states that “contexts strongly imply that Luke did not intend women to be included among the elders.” However, the only context to which the Response refers for justification is Jesus’ choice of male apostles. This misses the typological significance of Jesus’ choice of twelve male Jewish apostles, as well as key differences between the offices of presbyter and apostle. The elders in Ephesus were Gentile (not Jewish), presumably more in number than twelve, and were not eyewitnesses of Jesus’ resurrection. While the Ephesian elders might well have been all male, there is absolutely nothing in the passage itself to establish this one way or another.

The Response states “There is not one female priest or elder in either the Old or New Testament.” However, because no elder (presbyter) or overseer/bishop (episkopos) is mentioned by name in the NT, we could as easily state that “There is not one male priest or elder in the New Testament.” The only office holder in the NT who is mentioned specifically by name is the deacon Phoebe (Rom. 16:1). (The OT situation is irrelevant because we are discussing NT office, not OT priesthood.)

The Response claims that Phoebe was a diakonos or servant, and also that “Scripture . . . limits the diaconate to men” (appealing to 1 Tim. 3:8, 12). Context makes clear that diakonos refers to an office, not a “servant.” Paul uses the exact same terminology referring to Phoebe that he uses in reference to other deacons (Phil. 1:1, 1 Tim. 3:8,12) and he uses the masculine diakonos, not the feminine. It is also surprising that the Response claims that 1 Tim. 3:8, 12 “limits the diaconate to men,” while ignoring the reference to “women” in verse 11, which context makes clear almost certainly refers to female deacons. Again, the ESV translation of “their wives” is misleading. The Greek simply says “women” and the “likewise” (ōsautōs) indicates that these women have the same relationship to the office of deacon as do the men. They are not “wives” of deacons, but women deacons.

See my essays “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Women’s Ministry in the New Testament (Office)” and “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Women’s Ministry in the New Testament (Bishops, Presbyters, Deacons) or a Presbytera is not a ‘Priestess’ (Part 2).

7) Junia the Apostle (Rom. 16:7)

The Response suggests that “Junia” might well be the male “Junias,” but also quotes the unfortunate ESV translation “well known to the apostles.” It also suggests that “apostle” could mean “messenger.” No, no, and no.

Translators have gone back and forth over whether “Junia” was the male “Junias” (if she was an apostle) or “well known to the apostles” (if she was Junia). In recent decades, overwhelming historical research has made clear that Junia is a female name. There is no evidence for a single “Junias” in ancient literature, and so even complementarians (like the ESV) have had to acknowledge a female Junia. The ESV translation is unfortunately based on an essay by Burer and Wallace in New Testament Studies 47 (2001), arguing for the new translation “known to the apostles.” However, three independent definitive studies by Bauckham, Epp, and Belleville establish that Burer and Wallace’s essay used faulty methodology, including seriously mistranslating their primary reference source. Moreover, church fathers such as Chrysostom, who were native speakers of Greek, understood the passage to mean that Junia was a woman (not a man), and an apostle (not “known to the apostles”). Junia was a woman, she was herself an apostle (not known to the apostles), and she held the office of “apostle” (not merely a messenger).

See my essay “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Women’s Ministry in the New Testament (Office).”

8) The Response defends a recent argument used by Complementarians concerning the Trinity. Against the argument of the ACNA Task Force that the Complementarian claim of subordination within the Trinity is likely “heretical,” the Response affirms the historic position that the Trinity consists of three persons with one equal being. They also claim that the Son is eternally begotten, while the Spirit proceeds. They also deny that the Son sent the Father or that the Spirit sent the Son. The Response defends its position by referring to 1 Cor. 11:3 – “The head of Christ is God.”

It is not clear here whether the Response really understands the Complementarian position. The key distinction is that between an economic subordination and an eternal subordination of the Father to the Son. Certainly the entire Catholic tradition affirms that the Son is subordinate to the Father in terms of his economic mission. Moreover, the risen Christ sends the Spirit, but again, we’re talking about economic mission. Again, 1 Cor. 11:3 refers to the economy of salvation – it is not that the eternal Father is the head of the pre-existent Son, but that God (the Father) is the head of Christ (the incarnate Son).

To the contrary, the Complementarian position is that there is an eternal subordination of the Son to the Father so that the eternal pre-incarnate Son eternally obeys the Father, and the Father eternally commands the Son. This is not the historic position of the Catholic Church, and it is likely heretical. The historic patristic position (as found in figures such as Athanasius and Cyril of Alexandria) is that the incarnate Son is subordinate to the Father insofar as he is human (i.e., within the economy of salvation), not that the eternally proceeding Son is subordinate to the Father in the divine nature (i.e., within the immanent Trinity). The complementarian position is an innovation, and, at the least, implies that within the divine nature, the Father and the Son have two distinct wills. However, the historic doctrine is that the triune God is three persons, but one nature, and that will is assigned to nature, not person. If the Complementarian position is not heretical, it is at least incoherent. If the Triune God has only one will, the Father cannot eternally command the Son. If the eternal Father eternally commands the eternal Son, then there must be two distinct wills in the Trinity, and thus two Gods. If not Arianism, it is hard to see how this is not tritheism.

See my essay “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Women in Worship and ‘Headship.’

While the first half of the Response relies on Protestant complementarian arguments, the second half shifts (without acknowledgment) to Catholic sacramental objections. There is no hint of recognition that these approaches are not only different, but mutually at odds.

Arguments from Masculine Symbolism

The Response states that Jesus “could have appointed a woman as one of the Twelve, but he did not. To ordain a woman to headship in the Church, representing Christ at the Eucharist, suggests not only that Christ was wrong to choose only male apostles but also that God as wrong to have chosen His Son to become a man and not a woman.” Two claims are made here:

1) Jesus “could have appointed a woman” as an apostle. This misses the symbolic and typological symbolism of Jesus having chosen twelve Jewish male apostles. Typologically, the church is the new Israel and Jesus’ twelve apostles correspond to the original twelve sons (not daughters) of Jacob who were the ancestors of Israel’s twelve tribes. For reasons of typology, Jesus could not have “appointed a woman” to this role, but neither could he have appointed a man who was a Buddhist or a man who was Swedish. In terms of typological symbolism, masculinity has the exact same significance for apostleship as the number twelve and Jewishness. Moreover, the role of the twelve is unique. Not only did the twelve represent the (Jewish) twelve tribes of Israel. They were also companions of Jesus and eyewitnesses of his resurrection. After the NT period, church office holders may be successors of the apostles, but they are not apostles. That there were twelve male Jewish apostles  no more requires that subsequent Church office holders should  be male than they would be required to be twelve in number, Jewish, companions to the earthly Jesus, or eyewitnesses of his resurrection.

2) The function of the ordained minister is to “represent Christ at the Eucharist.” This is a modern and indeed a Roman Catholic claim. It does not appear before Pope Paul VI’s encylical Inter Insigniores, after which it was embraced by Orthodox and Anglo-Catholics as well.

This is not only a modern argument, but is contrary to the historic Orthodox (and Patristic) understanding of ordination. The historic position is not that the minister represents Christ (acts in persona Christi), but that he represents the church, i.e., the female Bride of Christ (acts in persona Ecclesiae). Orthodox clergy such as Bishop Kallistos Ware have pointed out that Inter Insignories is contrary to the historic Eastern Orthodox understanding; Roman Catholic liturgical theologians like Edward Kilmartin have pointed out that Inter Insigniores conflicts with the structure of the eucharistic prayer. In leading the eucharistic prayer, the priest is not an actor playing the role of Jesus Christ, but the leader of the liturgical celebration who is praying on behalf of the church (the bride of Christ). The eucharistic prayer begins and ends with the words “we” and “us.” Not only can a woman pray these words, but given that the presider prays on behalf of the church (the symbolically feminine bride of Christ), it might be more appropriate for a woman to do so.

Of course, there is a sense in which the Scriptures indicate that those who hold apostolic office resemble Christ – through self-abnegation (pointing away from the self to Christ) and through imitating Christ in suffering. Those holding church office represent Christ as “jars of clay” or “earthen vessels” who acknowledge that “this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us,” and “always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body” (2 Cor. 4:7-11). There is nothing gender specific about this way of “resembling Christ,” however. It is expected of all Christians (Phil. 2:1-11).

See my essays “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Women’s Ordination and the Priesthood of Christ (Biblical and Patristic Background)”  and “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Women’s Ordination and the Priesthood of Christ (in persona Christi).”

3) The Response notes correctly that God is portrayed in Scripture using male pronouns, that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are described using male language, that the Bible never refers to God as “mother” – to which the correct response is “yes.” There are, however, reasons for this male imagery that do not have anything to do with the issue of ordained ministry. Only if one presumes that ordained clergy are representations of a male deity rather than representatives or spokespersons is this masculine imagery relevant to the question of orders. The anti-iconic nature of Israel’s religion points against any notion that male office holders represent a male god.

The Response argues that the male Adam, not the female Eve, represents the human race, referring to Rom. 5. This argument misses the way in which typology functions in Paul’s writings. Paul could certainly use female typological symbols (Gal. 4). However, historically, Jesus was a male – he could not have been both male and female. Accordingly, it makes sense to refer to Jesus as the “second Adam” and not the “second Eve.” However, it is also significant that in making the Adam/Christ parallel, the apostle Paul uses the Greek word anthropos (human being) rather than the Greek word aner (male human being) to refer to both Jesus and Adam. If what was significant about Jesus and Adam was their masculinity, Paul could have made this clear by using the Greek word for male human being (aner). He did not.

For the above, see my essays “Concerning Women’s Ordination: The Argument From Symbolism Part 1 (God, Christ, Apostles)” and “Concerning Women’s Ordination: The Argument From Symbolism (Part 2: Transcendence, Immanence and Sexual Typology).”

4) The Response concludes with a discussion of a distinction between a “Petrine” charism and a “Marian” charism that is derived from the theology of Roman Catholic theologian Hans urs von Balthasar (not acknowledged). The distinction is based on a theory of a symbolic typology of the sexes, which modern Roman Catholic theology has rejected. Sara Butler, author of what might be the best modern summary of the Roman Catholic argument against women’s ordination is clear: “Undoubtedly, how one construes the difference between the sexes, and how much importance one accords to this difference, enters into speculation as to why the Lord chose men and not women. But it is imperative to grasp that this is not at the root of the magisterium’s judgment. The complementarity of the sexes does not appear among the ‘fundamental reasons’ given for the Church’s tradition.” [Sara Butler, The Catholic Priesthood and Women: A Guide to the Teaching of the Church (Mundelin, IL: Hillenbrand Books, 2007), 47.] The modern Roman Catholic argument against women’s ordination is based entirely on grounds of liturgical symbolism, not on a typology of the sexes.

At the same time, it is important to note a consistent theme in the differences between the “Petrine” and “Marian” charisms. The ministries associated with the Petrine charism mentioned in the Response all consist of the kinds of activities in which men would normally have engaged in pre-industrial societies: training, teaching, administering discipline, supervising. The ministries associated with the Marian charism are just the kinds of activities in which women normally would have engaged in pre-industrial societies: Women nurture adults and children. They witness to neighbors. They exercise hospitality. What makes these charisms distinctive is that they are necessarily tied to divisions of labor present in all pre-industrial societies. In pre-industrial societies, the activities of women are necessarily domestic and largely home-bound because of the need for large families; because women give birth to children and breast-feed, their activities necessarily take place near the home because they have to be able to take care of and watch over small children. In contrast, because men are not biologically tied to children in this manner, they (and they alone) are the ones whose tasks can largely take place outside the home: they are the politicians, the civic leaders, the soldiers, the sailors, the merchants, the builders.

The rise of industrial culture has changed these phenomena irrevocably. In post-industrial cultures, both men and women work outside the home. Many of the activities that were necessarily done in and about the home in pre-industrial cultures are now done by industry: farming, food and clothing production, medicine, education of children, elder care. Because they are no longer needed as a source of domestic labor, large numbers of children are not an economic necessity and family sizes become smaller. Because children are normally educated outside the home, and thus absent for much of the day, there is no longer a biological necessity for women’s activities to be restricted to the domestic sphere.

Given the biological basis of a division of labor in pre-industrial societies, it is, of course, no surprise that the writers of the Response can point to men who engaged in “Petrine” ministries and women who engaged in “Marian” ministries, both in the biblical period, and throughout the history of the pre-modern church. This is exactly how one would expect Christian men and women to have exercised their respective ministries in pre-industrial cultures where biological necessity limited the activities of women largely to the domestic sphere, while men, and men only, were able to work outside the home. However, the suggestion that men’s and women’s roles in the church should still be limited by a division of the sexes that is rooted in a connection between biological and economic necessities that no longer apply in the post-industrial world is not only short-sighted, but also likely impossible. Even if we could put the industrial genie back in the bottle, not even traditionalists would likely want to do so. (I note that the argument for a distinction between a Petrine charism and a Marian charism appeared on the internet. Presumably the writers would prefer not to go back to the pre-industrial economic conditions in which the traditional divisions between men’s and women’s economic tasks are based, in which women would stay home to give birth to and nurse large numbers of children, and there was no internet on which men could distribute essays about why women should not be ordained.)

See the discussion of changes introduced by industrialism in my essay “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Beginning with Genesis.”


As noted above, there is nothing new in the arguments presented by the Response. I was not surprised that I had already addressed each one of these objections in essays I have been writing in the last several years. I am disappointed, however, that the Response either seems unaware that each one of these objections has long been addressed (not just by me), or, alternatively, chose to ignore them.

The Response is problematic for the following reasons:

1) The Response uncritically combines two different kinds of arguments against women’s ordination (Evangelical Complementarian and Roman Catholic sacramentalist) without apparent awareness that these approaches are mutually at odds.

2) The Response uniformly relies on the Complementarian-leaning ESV with no acknowledgement that its translations are often tendentious.

3) The Response repeats Complementarian readings of standard proof texts without acknowledgment that Complementarian exegesis has been challenged repeatedly by some of the best contemporary biblical exegetes.

4) The Response endorses the new Complementarian understanding of the Trinity without acknowledgment of its departure from the historic Catholic doctrine.

5) The Response endorses the new Catholic argument based on sacramental resemblance between a male celebrant and a male Jesus Christ without acknowledgment that it is indeed a new argument and represents a distinctively Western Catholic eucharistic theology.

6) The Response appeals to a typology of male symbolism based on masculine metaphors for God, Jesus’ male sex, and the male sex of the apostles without asking the fundamental question of how this masculine imagery actually functions in the Scriptures. In addition, the argument simply assumes that the ordained minister functions symbolically as a representation rather than a representative.

7) The Response appeals to a notion of Petrine and Marian charisms that simply reflects the traditional division of labor in pre-industrial societies in such a way as to make pre-industrial models of the relationship between the sexes normative.


Concerning Women’s Ordination: A Response to the “Ordination Challenge”

The following presupposes some familiarity with two earlier essays: Concerning Women’s Ordination: The Argument “From Tradition” is not the “Traditional” Argument and Concerning Women’s Ordination: The “Tradition” Challenge

Melancholy A gentleman named Michael Joseph has responded to my “ordination” challenge.

1) C. S. Lewis once responded to an unsympathetic critic who had clearly gotten his views wrong: “[W]e all know too well how difficult it is to grasp or retain the substance of a book one finds antipathetic.” I suppose I should not be surprised if a response to my essay seems rather seriously to miss much of the point of my argument. A key point in the misreading seems to be the presumption that I assume that the Church Fathers were simply irremediable sexists and had nothing good to say about women. Accordingly, the author presumes it sufficient to point out that if Tertullian says some good things about women or that Chrysostom speaks positively about women in marriage, or if Augustine does not believe that “Eve is by nature more a sinner” that this somehow invalidates my argument.

A single paragraph in my earlier essay should set straight that misunderstanding:

In making this point, it is not my intention to embrace the kind of diatribe that one occasionally encounters in revisionist feminist scholarship that portrays the entire history of the church as nothing but an unmitigated practice of oppressive subjugation and patriarchal abuse of women. Such one-sided readings can find their counterparts in equally one-sided accounts of how Christianity remarkably improved the status of women in the pagan world, and was, on the whole, a remarkably good thing for women. Nonetheless, it is not difficult to trace a consistent pattern in the history of the church that explains why the church has not ordained women. Some selective examples follow. (These are typical, but not exhaustive.)

So no, I do not at all believe that pre-modern church tradition is simply uniformly negative toward women. To the contrary, I state concerning Aquinas:

Thomas could speak in almost glowing terms of the relations between men and women. Asking whether woman should have been made of the rib of man, he responds with an illustration that points to the partnership and companionship of men and women, an adapted form of which has been used in countless wedding services . . .

Moreover, in my recent challenge I state: “It is not enough to provide some individual positive statement about women mentioned by a Patristic, Medieval, or Reformation author.”

And indeed it is not. The same Aquinas who could speak so positively about Christian marriage could also write: “So by such a kind of subjection woman is naturally subject to man, because in man the discretion of reason predominates.”

The same Richard Hooker who could glowingly write about marriage – “The bond of wedlock hath been always more or less esteemed of as a thing religious and sacred.” (Laws 5.73.3) – could also write: “And for this cause they were in marriage delivered unto their husbands by others. Which custom retained hath still this use, that it 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 . . . .” (Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, Book 5, 43.5)

So much of what Mr. Joseph says is simply beside the point of my argument. Tertullian, Chryostom and others could simultaneously say very positive things about women in some respects, while simultaneously agreeing that women could not exercise church office for the very reasons I mentioned – that in comparison to men they are less intelligent, more emotionally unstable, and more subject to temptation. Mr. Joseph’s assumption seems to be that it is impossible for a single person to hold both opinions. Since the church fathers say many positive things about women, he assumes that they could not simultaneously believe that women are ontologically inferior in certain respects. I agree that there should be a logical inconsistency here, but the inconsistency is not on the part of the one recognizing the inconsistency.

And it is this presumption that makes up almost the whole of Mr. Joseph’s argument. Over and over he follows the pattern:

Witt quotes A affirming X which Witt interprets to mean Y.

However, X cannot possibly mean Y because A also says Z, and no one who says Z could also believe Y.

Therefore, Witt has to be mistaken when he says that A affirms X, and whatever it sounds like A is affirming, A cannot mean Y.

However, the argument fails if it is possible that A might possibly affirm both Y and Z simulanteously. That the simultaneous affirmation Y and Z seem incoherent from our point of view does not give us permission to conclude that no one could ever have thought differently.

And, of course, the key point of my argument concerning the new tradition concerning women’s ordination is that all sides now agree that it really does not make sense to affirm both Y and Z simulaneously. Since the church really wants to affirm Z, it quietly quit affirming Y.

2) Joseph makes things easier for himself, but also concedes a central point in my argument by restricting the allowed time of discussion to the “first five centuries” of church history. To my claim that “a sizeable body of Patristic, Medieval, and Reformation” authors was presented, he responds: “A sizable body of early church writing was certainly not presented,”and “Only nine quotes were provided . . . from the period from before 500 AD.”

However, it was never my intention to provide an exhaustive discussion and I certainly never intended to restrict myself to the patristic era. I did not claim to be presenting a sizeable body of any single period, but a sizeable body of selective writers from the entire history of the pre-modern church. My intention was to be both representative and comprehensive – to include writers who were patristic, Medieval, Reformation, Eastern , Catholic, Protestant. Given that this was a blog essay (not an entire book), it could not be exhaustive. I wrote:

Nonetheless, it is not difficult to trace a consistent pattern in the history of the church that explains why the church has not ordained women. Some selective examples follow. (These are typical, but not exhaustive.)

However, by restricting the discussion to the patristic era, Mr. Joseph actually makes a major concession. The later writers that Joseph excludes from the discussion necessarily have to be excluded since they so inarguably confirm my claim.

At the same time, however, Mr. Joseph (perhaps unwittingly) makes things more difficult for himself because he is trying to make a case for a theology of ordination for which there is no evidence in the patristic period. There is almost no discussion of such notions as clerical priesthood, eucharistic sacrifice, or priestly representation in the patristic period because there is very little discussion about the priesthood of Christ. As I write elsewhere, “What is missing from the writings of the church fathers is any detailed discussion of this relationship between Christ’s priesthood and the priesthood of the ordained clergy.”

If the discussion is to be kept to the first five centuries, it will be a very short discussion.

Now to the discussion of the specific texts:

3) Tertullian

Joseph tries to soften Tertullian’s claim concerning women being the “devil’s gateway” by claiming that Tertullian is simply following Scripture: “Is Tertullian not allowed to make this observation?” He then follows the pattern I mentioned above. Tertullian exhorts women to holiness. He calls them “fellow servants and sisters.” Then the key quote: “Tertullian’s tone dramatically shifts, doesn’t it!” That is, because Tertullian affirms Z, he could not possibly have meant Y when he said X. (Oh, yes, Tertullian also says some critical things about men, so it all evens out.)

However, what if Tertullian could affirm both Z and Y, whether we ourselves find that consistent or not?

I included Tertullian as affirming “Statements that women are more susceptible to temptation than men:” Tertullian does not simply warn women against following Eve’s example. He states that they too are Eve, and they are personally responsible for Eve’s sin, and thus share her guilt. Because Eve yielded to temptation, the women Tertullian addresses yield to temptation. Because they yield to temptation, they are “the devil’s gateway.” According to Tertullian, women (not men) are the “first deserter of the divine law.” And the women to whom Tertullian is speaking (not men) are those who persuaded “him (men) whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack.”

This goes beyond simply affirming the teaching of Scripture. Does Tertullian claim that women are more susceptible to temptation than men? Yes. (The devil was not valiant enough to attack the man because he would not have yielded.) Do women lead men into temptation? Again. Yes.

4) Epiphanius

Mr. Joseph selectively reads Epiphanius, whom I discussed at some length in my earlier essay. I acknowledged that Epiphanius refers positively to both the virgin Mary and the four daughters of Philip the Evangelist. But I then made the following points: 1) Epiphanius does not actually make any argument beyond appealing to historical precedent: Eve, Mary, and Philip’s daughters were not ordained. 2) At no point does Epiphanius make a connection between male ordination and the celebration of the sacraments. At no point does he suggest that the male apostles resemble a male Christ, or that there is a correlation between masculine priesthood and the eucharistic presidency.

Epiphanius does provide an explicit warrant against women’s ordination, however: “Women are unstable, prone to error, and mean-spirited.”

So what is the point of the appeal to Mary and Philip’s daughters? They provide a negative example against ordinary women. If Mary and Philip’s daughters were not ordained, then a fortiori we cannot ordain women who are “unstable, prone to error, and mean-spirited.”

5) I’m not sure what point Joseph is making in reference to the Augustine quote. In my challenge essay, I had included Augustine as an example of “Claims that women are subordinate to men.” In my original essay, I had written that Augustine was “typical” of the claim that even before sin, women had been subject to their husbands. This claim is certainly correct. Joseph asks “Is Augustine’s argument that Eve is by nature more a sinner?” Well, no. But I had affirmed no such thing.

6) Chrysostom

Joseph seems to have completely missed the point of my Chrysostom citation. Again, he follows his predictable pattern. Chrysostom says lots of good things about how men should love their wives. Joseph then makes much of a sentence I quoted that “the modest woman pierces and disturbs the mind.”

However, he completely ignores two more crucial quotes:

First that the bishop must have more care for the “female, [in the congregation], which needs more particular forethought, because of its propensity to sins.”

Second, Joseph insists that Chrysostom’s claim that women are more adept at household management while men are better at wordly affairs is simply an affirmation of what he calls a “complementarian” outlook. He misses, however, that in an agrarian society, management of worldly affairs would certainly have been associated with greater intelligence. To the extent that women could not be ordained because they presumably lack these skills, there would certainly be an understanding of not just difference but deficiency. Moreover, Joseph ignores Chrysostom’s explicit statement about why women cannot teach: “Why not? Because she taught Adam once and for all, and taught him badly. . . . Therefore let her descend from the professor’s chair! Those who know not how to teach, let them learn. . . .” This is not simply an affirmation of gentle love and complementarity. And, again, given that Chrysostom’s position is a kind of “complementarianism,” restrictions on women’s teaching “because they taught Adam badly” points to an ontological incapacity.

And, finally, even if Chrysostom’s argument is that women cannot be ordained because of different kind of intelligence related to household management, this corresponds to no contemporary argument against WO. Contemporary complementarians studiously avoid making those kinds of claims. Contemporary sacramentalist arguments are not interested in gender differences at all except insofar as they relate to an ability to resemble a male Christ.

7) The Obsession with Complementarianism

Joseph anachronistically describes the position of Chrysostom and others as “complementarianism” and “headship” and also refers positively to the organization CBMS and the Danvers Statement. In so doing, he ignores a crucial point of both of my earlier essays. The “complementarian” position has been explicitly repudiated by both the magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church. It is because of this explicit repudiation that new arguments have had to be embraced concerning masculine sacramental representation.

To the extent that Joseph repeatedly characterizes the church fathers as “complementarians,” he confirms my point. Insofar as the contemporary Catholic position repudiates complementarianism, it is at odds with the historic position.

At the same time, there is something odd about appealing to the church fathers to support what is actually a Protestant argument. However, even here, as I’ve again made clear, Tertullian, Chrysostom et al, do not simply affirm the contemporary complementarian argument. They do indeed claim that women are less intelligent, more subject to temptation, etc., which is contrary to the complementarian position. That they can also say nice things about women does not somehow undo this.

8) Apostolic Constitutions

Joseph claims that my quote from The Apostolic Constitutions is simply another example of “complementarianism.” However, the connection between the man being the “head” to the “unreasonableness” of the body (the woman) governing the head indicates not merely a subordination, but a subordination rooted in a difference in intelligence. According to AC, it is only “reasonable” that the “head” (the thinking and talking part) governs the body (the irrational part).

Joseph appeals to the Apostolic Constitutions speaking positively about women (there’s the standard argument again) and to the claim (as in Epiphanius) that Jesus did not ordain women. Actually, the claim is that Jesus was not baptized by his mother. (Of course, contrary to AC, the modern church does allow women to baptize.) But again, the historic argument is rooted in hierarchical authority of men over women, specifically including teaching. There is nothing here of the modern Catholic argument concerning sacramental resemblance to a male Christ, and, again, as noted above, the most straightforward reading has to do with rationality: it is not “rational” for the body to govern the “head.”

Joseph also makes the odd claim that because the Didascalia Apostolorum is essentially contained in the Apostolic Constitutions, it is “not really a separate quote.” However it says something about the transmission of a tradition that a distinct community takes up an earlier writing and incorporates it again as a new text. We would not argue that Luke’s gospel is not really a separate witness because Luke incorporates material from Mark’s gospel.

In the end, my reading of the texts still stands.

Some final observations. I stand by my claim that the new complementarian and sacramentalist arguments against WO represent new traditions insofar as they depart from the logic of the earlier tradition.

I find it ironic that I was challenged for providing insufficient patristic evidence for my argument – “A sizable body of early church writing was certainly not presented – and then Mr. Joseph concludes with a series of suggestions about early church history that are entirely speculative, and without any patristic textual evidence whatsoever. The advantage of my argument is that it is at least based on actual textual citations. It is also confirmed by the readings of other scholars who may not agree with my position concerning WO, but who acknowledge that a genuine change has taken place. Sara Butler, whom I cite as the preeminent advocate for the new Roman Catholic position, acknowledges that the position introduced by Pope Paul VI is not the historic position, and the the historic arguments are no longer considered tenable.

I also find it ironic that Joseph appeals to a Protestant “complementarian” reading of the patristic tradition to justify what is actually a “Catholic” position concerning the normativity of church tradition. He does not acknowlege that the Evangelical “complementarian” position is at odds with the new Catholic sacramental position. Both the Roman Catholic Church as well as the Orthodox Church have rejected complementarian understandings of the relationship between men and women, and are emphatically clear that they do not base their opposition to WO on complementarian grounds. So to the extent that Joseph affirms a complementarian reading of the patristic tradition, the more difficult it becomes to make the claim that the current Catholic position is not a departure from that tradition.

Finally, Joseph repeatedly makes reference to an “apostolic tradition” based more on speculation than textual evidence. He refers to a “mind of the early church” and an “apostolic consensus.” But we know that “mind” only from actual texts, which don’t say a whole lot about ordination, and even less about women’s ordination. Insofar as they address women’s ordination at all, they provide problematic arguments against it. Moreover, the primary concern in these patristic arguments has nothing to do with sacramental practice (the Catholic concern), but is entirely about authority of men over women. Insofar as the question is raised as to why women cannot exercise authority over men, there is a consistent answer – which I’ve documented, and which appears again and again in the later history of the church.

Joseph states that “Jesus Christ, the GodMan, apparently had compelling reason(s) to not clearly ordain women . . .” To the contrary, Jesus Christ did not ordain anyone. Jesus did call twelve Jewish male apostles, but the typologically symbolic reasons for that are obvious. Jesus could not have called women apostles for the same reason that he could not have called Chinese apostles or fifty-seven apostles. Although it can be argued that clergy are successors to the apostles, there is no more reason that they would have to be male than that they would have to Jewish or that their numbers would be restricted to twelve.

Finally, I note that Joseph responded to my challenge by addressing a different issue instead – that I was mistaken in my reading of certain of the church fathers. He did not make the case for explicit parallels to either the modern Complementarian nor the modern Catholic sacramentalist position. (Pointing out that the fathers say some nice things about women does not cancel out what they also say about why women cannot teach or exercise authority – which is the crucial patristic argument against WO). Interestingly, although his appeal to “tradition” presupposes a “Catholic” position, he argued instead that the patristic tradition actually has affinities with the Protestant Complementarian position. He quietly avoided discussing the issue of sacramental resemblance to a male Christ, but that would be an extremely hard argument to make insofar as the fathers simply do not make that argument.

Concerning Women’s Ordination: The “Tradition” Challenge

Joan of ArcRecently, I posted the following on Facebook in response to the recent ACNA College of Bishops Statement on Women’s Ordinaton:

As a member of the ACNA, I was a consultant to the ACNA Women’s Orders Task Force. When the ACNA was founded, it was decided that we would be a “large tent” representative of orthodox Anglicanism, extending hospitality to those Anglicans who could not affirm women’s orders, even though they held a minority opinion within worldwide Anglicanism. I am happy that the ACNA has continued to recognize that there is room for disagreement on this issue.

However, I am unhappy with this statement in particular, which does not tell the whole story: “However, we also acknowledge that this practice is a recent innovation to Apostolic Tradition and Catholic Order.”

Yes, the practice is recent, but so is the recognition that women are of equal moral, intellectual, and spiritual status with men. The historic argument against women’s ordination was that women lacked intelligence, were emotionally unstable, and were more subject to temptation than men. Given that the current arguments against WO are NOT this argument, the continuing opponents of WO are as much endorsing a “recent innovation” as those of us who favor it.

I accompanied the post with a link to this page:

Concerning Women’s Ordination: The Argument “From Tradition” is not the “Traditional” Argument.

I quickly discovered that posting this was a mistake, as I received responses like the following that made clear that people read my statement, but had not actually read my essay:

Who has made this “historic argument”?

To make matters worse, my statement was shared elsewhere without the link to my accompanying essay, where it received responses such as the following:

I would truly love for someone to post even one demonstration of the Early Church arguing specifically that women cannot be ordained due to their inferior intellectual, moral, or spiritual state, or even an inferior ontology. Just a quote from them that speaks for itself.

The substance would be giving a quote from the Early Church that shows – rather than assumes – that they argued from a view that women are inferior:
– not merely subordinate, but inferior, for assuming that subordinate implies inferior merely assumes what Witt needs to demonstrate,
– not merely that a writer or several made an observation or rebuke or rhetorical flourish against the female sex (for they did that against men, too)
Basically, just someone, provide something from the early church that clearly shows that they said, basically, “the mind of the Church is that women can’t be priests because women are without exception intellectually incapable/wanton/etc.”

Lots of words, lots of assertions, lots of analogies, lots of debate over whether the analogies are valid…. but no early church quotes, viz, no actual evidence.

I am tempted to respond by again referring back to my earlier essay, but that would be too easy. I’m more than willing to accept a challenge, and will raise the challenge with one of my own.

So first a response to the above challenge.

My argument consists of the following two assertions:


The historic argument against women’s ordination was that women lacked intelligence, were emotionally unstable, and were more subject to temptation than men.

This can be broken down as follows.

First is what I will call the “ontological deficiency” claim. Writers in the tradition claimed (all quotations are from my original essay):

(A) Women are less intelligent, more emotionally unstable, and more subject to temptation than men.

Claims that women are less intelligent than 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 . . .” John Chrysostom

“[T]he female is more prudent, that is, cleverer, than the male with respect to evil and perverse deeds, because the more nature departs from the one operation, the more it inclines to the other. In this way, the woman falls short in intellectual operations, which consist in the apprehension of the good and in knowledge of truth and flight from evil. . . . Therefore sense moves the female to every evil, just as intellect moves a man to every good.” Albert the Great

“For good order would have been wanting in the human family if some were not governed by others wiser than themselves. So by such a kind of subjection woman is naturally subject to man, because in man the discretion of reason predominates.” Thomas Aquinas

Their [women’s] “judgments are commonly weakest because of their sex.” Richard Hooker

“And for this cause they were in marriage delivered unto their husbands by others. Which custom retained hath still this use, that it 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 . . . .” Richard Hooker

Statements that women are emotionally unstable compared to men:

“[G]enerally, proverbially, and commonly it is affirmed that women are more mendacious and fragile, more diffident, more shameless, more deceptively eloquent, and, in brief, a woman is nothing but a devil fashioned into a human appearance . . .” Albert the Great

“Nature I say, doth paynt them furthe to be weake, fraile, impacient, feble and foolishe.” John Knox

Statements that women are more susceptible to temptation than men:

“And do you not know that you are (each) an Eve? The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives in this age: the guilt must of necessity live too. You are the devil’s gateway: you are the unsealer of that (forbidden) tree: you are the first deserter of the divine law: you are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack.” Tertullian

“For it is not possible for the Bishop, and one who is concerned with the whole flock, to have a care for the male portion of it, but to pass over the female, which needs more particular forethought, because of its propensity to sins.” John Chrysostom

“Therefore there is no faithfulness in a woman. . . . Moreover, an indication of this is that wise men almost never disclose their plans and their doings with their wives. For a woman is a flawed male and in comparison to the male, has the nature of defect and privation, and this is why naturally she mistrusts herself. And this is why whatever she cannot acquire on her own she strives to acquire through mendacity and diabolical deceptions.” Albert the Great

“Women are unstable, prone to error, and mean-spirited.” Epiphanius

Second is what I will call the “exclusion by nature of subordination” claim:

(B) Ordination necessitates exercising authority over others, particularly teaching and speaking in an authoritative manner. Women cannot be ordained because they are necessarily subordinate to men, and threfore cannot execise authority in this manner. This is primarily an exclusion from women exercising any authority whatsoever over men, and only secondarily a specific exclusion from ordination.

Claims that women are subordinate to men:

“Even before her sin, woman had been made to be ruled by her husband and to be submissive and subject to him. But . . . the servitude meant in [Genesis 3:16] denotes a condition similar to that of slavery rather than a bond of love.” Augustine

“For good order would have been wanting in the human family if some were not governed by others wiser than themselves. So by such a kind of subjection woman is naturally subject to man, because in man the discretion of reason predominates.” Thomas Aquinas

Eve “had previously been subject to her husband, but that was a liberal and gentle subjection. Now, however, she is cast into servitude.” John Calvin

“He [the man] will dominate you [the woman], that is, you will decide nothing by your private inclination but will act in everything by the inclination of your husband.” Heinrich Bullinger

“And for this cause they were in marriage delivered unto their husbands by others. Which custom retained hath still this use, that it 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 . . . .” Richard Hooker

“So, I say, that in her greatest perfection woman was created to be subiect to man.” John Knox

Claims that women cannot be ordained because they are in a state of subjection to men, and therefore cannot teach or exercise authority over men:

“It is neither right nor necessary that women should be teachers, and especially concerning the name of Christ and the redemption of his passion. . .” Didascalia apostolorum

“But if in the foregoing constitutions we have not permitted them to teach, how will any one allow them, contrary to nature, to perform the office of a priest?” Apostolic Constitutions

“Why not? Because she taught Adam once and for all, and taught him badly. . . . Therefore let her descend from the professor’s chair! Those who know not how to teach, let them learn. . . . If they don’t want to learn but rather want to teach, they destroy both themselves and those who learn from them. . . .” John Chrysostom

“Accordingly, since it is not possible in the female sex to signify eminence of degree, for a woman is in the state of subjection, it follows that she cannot receive the sacrament of Order.” Thomas Aquinas

“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.’” Richard Hooker

“I am assured that GOD hath revealed unto some in this our age, that it is more than a monster in nature that a Woman shall reign and have empire above Man.” John Knox

“The apostle taketh power frome all woman to speake in the assemblie. Ergo he permitteth no woman to rule aboue man.” John Knox

Third is what I will call the “inherent correlation” claim.

(C) Proposition (B) is a direct corollary or consequence of Proposition (A). Women are necessarily subordinate to men, and cannot exercise authority over them because of an ontological incapacity located in a deficiency in reason, emotional instability, and susceptibility to temptation. Because of this ontological deficiency, they cannot exercise authority over or teach men, and so cannot be ordained.

Claims that women cannot exercise authority over men because of an intellectual, emotional, or moral incapacity (which necessarily implies that they cannot be ordained):

“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 . . .” John Chrysostom

“Nature I say, doth paynt them furthe to be weake, fraile, impacient, feble and foolishe: and experience hath declared them to be vnconstant, variable, cruell and lacking the spirit of counsel and regiment. And these notable faultes haue men in all ages espied in that kinde, for the whiche not onlie they haue remoued women from rule and authoritie, but also some haue thoght that men subiect to the counsel or empire of their wyues were vn worthie of all publike office.” John Knox

Actual claims that women cannot be ordained because of such an incapacity:

“Never at any time has a woman been a priest. . . . And who but women are the teachers of this [that women can be ordained]? Women are unstable, prone to error, and mean-spirited.” Epiphanius

“For if the ‘man be the head of the woman,’ and he be originally ordained for the priesthood, it is not just to abrogate the order of the creation, and leave the principal to come to the extreme part of the body. For the woman is the body of the man, taken from his side, and subject to him, from whom she was separated for the procreation of children. For says He, ‘He shall rule over thee.” Apostolic Constitutions

“For ‘if the head of the wife be the man,’ it is not reasonable that the rest of the body should govern the head.” Apostolic Constitutions

“So by such a kind of subjection woman is naturally subject to man, because in man the discretion of reason predominates. . . . Accordingly, since it is not possible in the female sex to signify eminence of degree, for a woman is in the state of subjection, it follows that she cannot receive the sacrament of Order.” Thomas Aquinas

“Sir, a woman’s preaching is like a dog’s walking on his hinder legs. It is not done well; but you are surprized to find it done at all.” Boswell’s Johnson

“The apostle taketh power frome all woman to speake in the assemblie. Ergo he permitteth no woman to rule aboue man.” John Knox (compare with the above statement by Knox)

The above should be enough to make clear that there is a traditional understanding of why women cannot be ordained which can be expressed in terms of the inherent connection between propositions (A), (B), and (C). Any argument against women’s ordination that does not include all three propositions is not the traditional argument, but an innovation.

This leads to my second affirmation:

Given that the current arguments against WO are NOT this argument, the continuing opponents of WO are as much endorsing a “recent innovation” as those of us who favor it.

To elaborate this claim, there are three new positions concerning women’s ordination: (1) The Egalitarian position that women can and should be ordained; (2) The Protestant “Complementarian” position that women cannot be ordained. (3) The Catholic “Sacramental” argument that women cannot be ordained. All are innovations insofar as they reject some element of the traditional argument. This can be illustrated by the following propositions.

(A1) Women share an equal intellectual, moral, and spiritual capacity with men. They are not less intelligent, emotionally unstable, or more subject to temptation than men.

Egalitarians, Evangelical Complementarians, and Catholic Sacramentalists equally affirm (A1).

But (A1) is directly contrary to (A).

I have yet to find a contemporary opponent of WO who will acknowledge that (A) is inherent to the traditional position, but the above citations clearly demonstrate that it is.

The (1) Egalitarian position is that in light of (A1), there is no valid argument against WO, and therefore women should be ordained. The (2) Complementarian and (3) Sacramentalist positions argue that despite (A1), women should still not be ordained.

The (2) Protestant Complementarian affirms (A1), but also continues to affirm (B). However, because the Complementarian does not affirm (A), he (or she?) cannot affirm (C). Rather, the Complementarian affirms:

(C1) Although (A1), women still cannot be ordained because God has created different “gender roles” rooted in “male headship.”

For Complementarians, men can exercise any role in the church that women can fulfil, but women have the exclusive role of always being in submission to male authority. In a religious setting, women cannot teach, speak publicly where men might be present, or exercise authority over men.

Complementarians do affirm (B), but rather than affirm (A) and (C), they affirm (A1), and (C1), and are thus an innovation in relation to the previous tradition.

The (3) Catholic sacramentalist also affirms (A1), but differs from the (2) Complementarian in the following:

(B1) The argument from authority no longer applies. Women can exercise any role of teaching, exercising authority, and speaking, and even preaching within the church. (There are no “gender roles” rooted in “headship.”)

Rather, the sacramentalist affirms:

(B2) The distinct function of ordination has to do with presiding at the sacraments. The presiding minister (the priest) represents Jesus Christ, that is, acts in the “person of Christ” (in persona Christi) when presiding at the sacraments. Because Jesus Christ is a male, only a male priest can represent a male Christ.

(B1) and (B2) are decided departures from the historic traditional arguments against women’s ordination. To the best of my knowledge, no traditional theologian raises this sacramental argument against WO. It does not appear until the 20th century, first in essays like C.S. Lewis’s “On Priestesses,” but most definitively in Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Inter Insigniores. Non-Roman Catholics (Orthodox and Anglo-Catholics) borrow the argument from Roman Catholics.

(B1) and (B) are also in opposition. Complementarians continue to affirm (B), but Sacramentalists do not.

(C2) Because women do not resemble a male Christ, women cannot be ordained.

(There is a variation of the above argument that does not strictly follow the Roman Catholic position that the priest acts in persona Christi, but still appears to “male/female” symbolism. Because only a male priest can symbolize a male Christ, only males can be ordained. The substance of the argument is still the same.)

Thus, (1) Egalitarianism, (2) Evangelical Complementarianism, and (3) Catholic Sacramentalism equally represent innovations to the tradition.

In light of (A1), (1) Egalitarians are an innovation in advocating the ordination of women, but only in the sense of recognizing the implications of what Scripture teaches about the intellectual, moral, and spiritual equality of men and women. Women’s ordination is the logical consequence of a Christian doctrine of vocation.

In addition to (A1), the Egalitarian would affirm:

(B3) The primary call of the ordained minister is to service (Matt. 20:26-28; 1 Pet. 5:1-14). Insofar as the ordained minister has a representative function, the minister first represents the church as the body of Christ, and the (female) bride of Christ. Insofar as the minister represents Jesus Christ, the minister represents Christ as the head of the church which is his bride, but most significantly through cruciformity, by pointing away from him- or herself to the crucified and risen Christ, and through following Christ in suffering. The ordained minister represents Jesus Christ as a “jar of clay.” This sort of Christocentric representation is not gender-specific, not unique to men or women, to clergy or laity, but is at the heart of discipleship for all Christians (Eph. 5:1, 2; Phil. 2:1-11; 2 Cor. 4:5-12).

(C3) Insofar as the call to ministry is primarily a call to service, and the minister represents first the female Church (as the bride of Christ), and, second, Jesus Christ in terms of the cruciform pattern to which all Christians are called, ministry qualification is determined by Spirit-gifting and vocation, not by gender.

However, (2) Evangelical Complementarians and (3) Catholic sacramentalists are just as much positions of innovations as are Egalitarians. No one holds to the traditional position.

Rather than affirming (A), (B), (C), (2) Complementarians affirm (A1), (B), and (C1). Complementarians reject two of the original three indispensable premises of the traditional position.

Rather than affirming (A), (B), (C), (3) Catholic sacramentalists affirm (A1), (B1), (B2), and (C2). They reject all three of the original indispensable premises of the traditional position.

Moreover, the only position of agreement shared between (2) Complementarians and (3) Sacramentalists is (A1), not only a departure from the tradition, but also an agreement with (1) Egalitarians. Evangelical Complementarians continue to affirm only one of the original premises (B), while Catholic Sacramentalists affirm none, and Complementarians and Sacramentalists disagree not only with the tradition, but with each other concerning (B) (which Sacramentalists reject), (B1) and (B2) (which Complementarians reject), and (C1) and (C2), about which Complementarians and Sacramentalists disagree.

I think the above adequately addresses the original challenge. However, I conclude with a challenge of my own. I have argued that Evangelical Complementarians and Catholic Sacamentalist opponents to women’s ordination represent innovations to the historic tradition. Their advocates insist that they do not, and are simply following the historic tradition. My challenge:

Provide an actual historical reference from the Christian tradition that corresponds to what I have called the Complementarian or Sacramentalist positions. It is not enough to provide some individual positive statement about women mentioned by a Patristic, Medieval, or Reformation author.

Rather, from a discussion that specifically deals with the issue of women’s ordination and opposes it, provide an example from a Patristic, Medieval, or Reformation author (or authors) that clearly endorses either (A1), (B), and (C1), or (A1), (B1), (B2), and (C2) as a coherent and integrated position. It is not enough to find individual quotations from an author that can be read to endorse any single one of the above propositions. Rather, in the same way that I have shown through detailed quotations that there is a sizeable body of Patristic, Medieval, and Reformation writers who endorse (A), (B), and (C) and bring them together to form a coherent argument against women’s ordination based on female ontological incapacity, an adequate demonstration that what I have called the (2) Protestant Complementarian or (3) Catholic Sacramentalist positions are not innovations to the tradition would have to substantiate with actual textual references that one or the other of these two was an actual position that was held by someone in the history of the church before the mid-twentieth century.

I do not think that this challenge can be met, and so I stand by my initial claim: Given that the current arguments against WO are NOT this argument, the continuing opponents of WO are as much endorsing a “recent innovation” as those of us who favor it.

Concerning Women’s Ordination: Conclusion

In memory of Martha

For Tina, Amy, Hannah, Christina, Peg, Rebecca, Noel, Seretha, Connie, Ann, Meg, Lauren, Lilly, Becky, Mary Ellen, Christen, Tracey, Grace, Wendy, Gaea, Mary, Bonnie-Marie, and numerous other women colleagues, students (former and current), friends, and countless others I have forgotten to mention: May God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for his Bride the Church, bless you and your vocations, whether lay or ordained.

christ_in_the_house_of_martha_and_maryWhether women should be ordained to church office is an issue of both hermeneutics and doctrinal development. That is, how might the teaching of Scripture and the history of the church’s tradition faithfully be appropriated in a very different historical and cultural context from that in which the canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments were written? However, it is also a case of doctrinal amnesia. As documented in an earlier essay, the historical reason for opposition to women’s ordination is located in assumptions concerning ontological inferiority: women could not be ordained because they were considered to be less intelligent than men, emotionally unstable, and more susceptible to temptation.1

In the last several centuries, two changes led to abandonment of the church’s historical reason for opposition to women’s ordination. First, the rise of modern industrialization produced social and economic changes that meant that women were no longer confined to the domestic sphere, and it became common for women to work outside the home. Second, an expansion of the understanding of Christian liberty beyond freedom from sin to include freedom in one’s person (including social and economic freedom) provided theological warrant for the church’s endorsement of social movements such as representative democracy, the abolition of slavery, workers’ rights, social welfare, racial equality, universal suffrage, and equality of women in the work place.2 This theological endorsement of social liberty and equality is arguably a genuine development of doctrine.3

This notion of social liberty and equality means that in all mainline churches – Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, and Anglican – women are now recognized as having equal ontological status with men.4 Accordingly, the church has quietly abandoned the historical reasons for opposition to women’s ordination. No historic mainline church now claims that women are less intelligent, more emotionally unstable, or more subject to temptation than men. This recognition of women’s equality is something genuinely new, and, along with the notions of social liberty and equality, is also a genuine doctrinal development.

How did the churches respond to this new recognition of women’s equality? Some have argued that the new understanding leads logically to the ordination of women. If the historic reason for opposition to the ordination of women no longer obtains, then it follows that women should be ordained. That is the position represented in this series of essays. However, some have responded with new arguments against the ordination of women that are not recognized as new, combined with a theological amnesia or forgetfulness of the historical reason for opposition to women’s ordination.

Both Protestant and Catholic opponents of women’s ordination have put forward arguments that are connected with some traditional function of ordained ministry, whether exercising authority (in the case of Protestants) or presiding over liturgical worship and administering the sacraments (in the case of Catholics). These new arguments represent new theological positions that have been defended as if they were traditional, but are not. If historic Christian tradition had rejected women’s authority over men, it was because women were considered to be ontologically inferior to men, with the consequence that all female authority over men was rejected in every social sphere, not simply in the field of ordained ministry. To the contrary, the new Protestant opponents to women’s ordination endorse neither the historic position, nor its reasons. Complementarians claim emphatically that their opposition to women exercising authority in the church is not based on any understanding of female intellectual or moral inferiority; rather, subordination of women to men is based on a new notion of different gender “roles” presumably founded in creation, a new theology of male “headship” based on an interpretation of the metaphorical use of the Greek word kephalē in two of Paul’s epistles to mean “authority over,” and then read into the rest of the biblical canon in cases where the word does not actually appear, along with a problematic doctrine of ontological subordination within the Trinity. As noted in previous essays, although earlier Christian tradition would not have done so, Protestant “complementarians” allow women to teach theology or the Bible in secular universities, just not in the church. Presumably, they allow women to work in secular occupations where they might exercise authority over men. So where the earlier tradition restricted women’s authority over men in every sphere, the new complementarian position apparently does so only in the context of the church and the family.5

If the historic Catholic tradition rejected women priests, the church did not oppose women’s ordination for liturgical or sacramental reasons. Roman Catholic author Sara Butler has appealed to the church father Epiphanius for an argument that women cannot be ordained because Jesus Christ called only male apostles. But Epiphanius did not connect this opposition to liturgical celebration of the sacraments; he did not argue that women cannot preside at the Eucharist because they do not resemble a male Christ or male apostles. Rather, Epiphanius appealed to the usual historical argument; specifically, he claimed that women are foolish and easily tempted.6

Both complementarian and sacramental opponents of women’s ordination also appeal to Christology, but for different reasons. Women cannot be ordained because they both do and do not resemble Jesus Christ. For Protestant complementarians, (1) males resemble Christ in exercising authority in the same way that a male Christ exercises authority over the female church; (2) females resemble Christ in being subordinate to men in the same way that Jesus Christ the Son of God is subordinate to God the Father. Catholic opponents of women’s ordination characterize resembling Christ not in terms of exercising authority or in submission to authority, but in terms of sexual iconography. Only male priests can represent a male Jesus Christ in the celebration of the sacraments based on a literal physical resemblance between the male Christ and the male priest.

Protestant complementarians and Catholic sacramentalists appeal to Scripture to provide support for their positions, but in very different ways. Complementarians point to the creation narratives of Genesis 1 and 2, to Paul’s use of the word kephalē (“head”) to refer to men in relation to women in 1 Corinthians 11 and Ephesians 5, to Paul’s injunction that wives submit to their husbands in Ephesians 5, as well as to two of Paul’s injunctions against women speaking in church or teaching men. Catholic traditionalists point to the exclusively male priesthood of the Old Testament, and to Jesus having called only male apostles. In previous essays, I have addressed these arguments at length, arguing that complementarians misread the passages to which they appeal, and that there are reasons for the Old Testament male priesthood and Jesus having chosen male apostles that have nothing to do with whether women can rightly exercise church office. I have also argued that the narrative structure of the texts of the Old and New Testament provides the interpretive key to interpreting what the Scriptures say about men and women and their relationships, and that these narrative texts engage in a process of christological subversion that challenges traditional patriarchal notions of masculine hierarchy and privilege.

Given the weakness of Protestant complementarian and Catholic sacramentalist appeals to Scripture and tradition, I have argued that those who reject women’s ordination tend to buttress their arguments with appeals to notions or norms imported from outside the biblical text, in the light of which they then interpret the texts, imposing on the texts a theology of sexuality originating from outside the Scriptures. Certainly the cultural setting and historical background of both the Old and New Testaments is that of all traditional agricultural societies, in which some men exercise authority over other men and over all women; Protestant complementarians appeal to this structure as a normative pattern for contemporary relationships between men and women, but they do not acknowledge that the pattern is rooted in pre-industrial agricultural socio-economic structures that were common to all ancient societies, which no longer exist in post-industrial cultures, and in which women’s tasks are no longer confined to home and hearth for biological reasons having to do with child-rearing and breast-feeding. Complementarians also do not acknowledge the extent to which the New Testament patterns of cruciformity and mutual submission challenge and subvert the first-century Mediterranean honor/shame culture that provided the social setting and cultural justification for this hierarchy.7

In contrast, Catholic opponents of women’s ordination truly recognize that a shift has taken place. Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body advocates equality in marriage and mutual submission between husbands and wives; at least in theory, women can now exercise any role of authority within the church; they can teach; they can preach; they simply cannot preside over the Eucharist or ordain others to preside over the Eucharist. To justify this single exception of liturgical presidency, Catholic opponents also appeal to an extra-biblical norm in the light of which the texts are then re-interpreted. The norm in this case is a theology of the Eucharist and priestly ordination that first appeared in the writings of Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century – that in presiding at the Eucharist, the priest represents (or acts in the person of) Jesus Christ. However, the modern Catholic position interprets this understanding of priesthood in a manner that Aquinas did not – that the priest must literally resemble Jesus Christ in a physical manner; that only a male priest can represent a male Christ. This later theology of priesthood as male representation is then read back into Jesus’ choice of male apostles to provide the warrant for what is actually a later theology.8

Similarly, despite official Catholic rejection of male-female sexual symbolism as normative, at least some Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican opponents of women’s ordination appeal to an understanding of male-female symbolism in which they apply the masculine imagery of God as Father, Jesus Christ as a male, and male apostleship to demand a male priesthood; and the female imagery of the virgin Mary and the church as the bride of Christ, to a symbolically female laity – although lay people include both men and women. I have argued that this appeal to sexual symbolism is a case of “natural theology” that finds its origins not in Scripture, but in Hellenistic, intertestamental and post-New Testament oppositional understandings of the relationship between male and female, understandings of male-female relationality that are rather contrary to the personalist biblical understanding of man and woman as relationally oriented to one another because equally created in the image of the Triune God.9

A question could be raised at this point. If opponents to women’s ordination in historic mainline churches now recognize (and indeed affirm) that women are ontologically equal to men, are not less intelligent, not emotionally unstable, and are not more susceptible to temptation to men, and yet they still have refused to endorse the ordination of women, certainly there must be a reason for this besides logical incoherence. Perhaps the real reasons for opposition to women’s ordination are not rooted in inequality after all? Perhaps what I have referred to as “new” reasons for oppositions to women’s ordination are not actually new at all, but are rather the church’s articulation of the actual (albeit implicit) reasons that it had never ordained women, but simply had never needed to articulate until now because the issue had never before been raised seriously. Something like this is the argument that Sara Butler makes when she distinguishes between the historical “argument” (the ontological inferiority of women) and the church’s “fundamental reasons” (Christ’s choice of male apostles and the priest as a “sacramental sign” of Christ) for opposition to women’s ordination.10

In reply, given the theological inadequacy of the new “fundamental reasons” to oppose women’s ordination, I would suggest different explanations for this continuing opposition to women’s ordination in spite of recognition of women’s equality. First, I think, most of those who continue to be opposed to women’s ordination have failed to acknowledge that the current arguments against women’s ordination really are new positions. I referred to “doctrinal amnesia” at the beginning of this essay because continuing opponents have not recognized that historic opposition to women’s ordination was grounded in claims of ontological inferiority and inequality. Given the collapse of this historic reason for opposition, the affirmation of ontological equality between men and women really is a game-changer. It is not enough to presume that what are really entirely new arguments are simply minor adjustments, or, even more misleading, that they actually are the historic reasons – which they clearly are not – and that the old position can still hold apart from what actually were the historic reasons.

Second, it helps to consider how changes actually take place within a tradition. Here I appeal to standard discussions in the works of philosophers and theologians such as Thomas Kuhn, Michael Polanyi, Bernard Lonergan, Alasdair MacIntyre, and Helmut Thielicke.11 When confronted by radical changes in a new cultural context – such as the change from pre-industrial to industrial culture with an accompanying change from an understanding of male and female inequality based on inferiority to one of ontological equality – there are inevitably three responses: (1) reaction, resistance, opposition or entrenchment; as much as possible existing communities or social groups reject the new change. Theologically, this has been the response of “fundamentalism” or “conservativism” to modernity; (2) assimilation; the “progressive” response is to embrace the new change without question, and modify or even discard any previous understanding to accommodate the new. Theologically, this has been the response of “liberal” Protestantism and Catholic “modernism”; (3) Conversion and re-actualization: the adoption of a new intellectual paradigm (Kuhn) that is able to incorporate insights from new knowledge while better explaining what was previously known; conversion to a new intellectual, moral or spiritual horizon (Lonergan); creative engagement with the new situation in coordination with re-actualization of what was previously affirmed (Lonergan, MacIntyre, Thielicke). This is the approach of what I would call “critical orthodoxy.”

Reaction is not in all cases simply refusal or resistance, however. As Thomas Kuhn argued in his classic work on “paradigm shifts,” a conservative tradition can “accommodate” to change by making minor adjustments to the previous “paradigm” in an effort to maintain the earlier tradition. In Kuhn’s example, when it became impossible to fit new astronomical observations into the traditional geocentric model of the universe, traditional astronomers did not abandon the earlier position. Rather, small adjustments were made (the postulation of additional epicycles) to allow the old paradigm to accommodate the new data.

In the same way, the new Protestant complementarian notion of male “headship,” of different gender “roles” combined with what really is a new Trinitarian theology of eternal subordination of the Son to the Father, or the slight but unacknowledged alteration by Catholic traditionalists of Thomas Aquinas’s in persona Christi eucharistic theology to mean a physical resemblance between the priest and Christ, appear to be just such minor adjustments (something like theological epicycles) made in the hope of accommodating the newly acknowledged equality of women without having to make any drastic changes in the actual participation of women in the life of the church.

Confirmation of this reading of the situation is found in that opponents of women’s ordination also engage in a bit of exegetical sleight-of-hand; both complementarians and Catholic opponents read things into the biblical text that simply are not there. Complementarians (1) find in Genesis 1 and 2 a hierarchy of men over women before the fall into sin; (2) interpret Paul’s “headship” language to mean authority of men over women; (3) read Paul’s language of “mutual submission” in Ephesians 5 to mean a submission of women only to men; (4) read two notoriously difficult to interpret Pauline restrictions on women’s speaking in worship settings and teaching of men as universal and permanent prohibitions rather than as addressing specific historical situations. Catholic opponents of women’s ordination read into the biblical texts a symbolism concerning Jesus Christ’s masculinity and his choice of male apostles, and draw implications for eucharistic theology that had occurred to no one before the twentieth century.

Are Women Human?

How to respond?

First, the full implications of what really is a new understanding of the ontological equality of men and women needs to be taken seriously. Given what really is a new doctrinal development and a rejection by all parties of the historic reason for opposition to women’s ordination, minor adjustments are not adequate. The churches need to address the issue of whether they really do consider women to be of equal spiritual worth with men. I point readers not to contemporary writings by feminist theologians but to four essays written decades ago by Anglican mystery writer and lay apologist Dorothy Sayers.

In “Are Women Human?,” Sayers points to the changes that had already taken place as a result of the industrial revolution and their consequences for men’s and women’s roles in the work force. In reference to the kinds of domestic work that used to be done by women in pre-industrial cultures – spinning, dying, weaving, catering, brewing, preserving, pickling, estate management – Sayers writes:

Here are the women’s jobs – and what has become of them? They are all being handled by men. It is all very well to say that woman’s place is in the home – but modern civilization has taken all these pleasant and profitable activities out of the home, where the women looked after them, and handed them over to big industry, to be directed and organised by men at the head of large factories.12

Sayers notes the incoherence of insisting that women should continue to restrict their occupations to traditional domestic household functions when the pre-industrial household no longer exists:

It is perfectly idiotic to take away women’s traditional occupations and then complain because she looks for new ones. Every woman is a human being – one cannot repeat that too often – and a human being must have occupation, if he or she is not to become a nuisance to the world.13

More than half a century ago, Sayers had already pointed out that interpreting differences between men and women in terms of symbolic archetypes is a male rather than female obsession:

[I]t is very observable that whereas there has been from time immemorial an Enigma of Woman, there is no corresponding Enigma of Man. . . . [T]he entire mystique of sex is, in historic fact, of male invention. The exaltation of virginity, the worship of the dark Eros, the apotheosis of motherhood, are alike the work of man . . .14

Over against the abstractions of sexual archetypes of masculinity and femininity, Sayers offers the corrective of the concrete reality of actual men and women and the concrete good of personalist relationalism:

[T]he average woman of intelligence is fairly ready to believe in the value of a personal relationship, but the idea of a peculiar mana attached to femaleness as such, deriving as it does from primitive fertility-cults and nature-magic, is likely to strike her as either nonsensical or repellent.15

The most fundamental characteristic of women in comparison to men is that they are, first and foremost, human, and thus are more like men than they are like anything else:

But the fundamental thing is that women are more like men than anything else in the world. They are human beings. Vir is male and Femina is female: but Homo is male and female.

This is the equality claimed and the fact that is persistently evaded and denied. No matter what arguments are used, the discussion is vitiated from the start, because Man is always dealt with as both Homo and Vir, but Woman only as Femina.16

Accordingly, many of the stereotypical assumptions about similarities and differences between men and women are simply nonsensical. For example, there is the inscrutable mystery that men presume is at the center of femininity when they ask the perennial question, “What do women want?”17 Sayers writes:

I do not know that women, as women, want anything in particular, but as human beings they want, my good men, exactly what you want yourselves: interesting occupation, reasonable freedom for their pleasures, and a sufficient emotional outlet. What form the occupation, the pleasures and the emotion may take, depends entirely upon the individual.18

Closely tied to Sayers’s insistence on the basic human equality between men and women is another central theme in Sayers’s writing, that of a Christian theology of work. Drawing on Genesis 1:26-28, Sayers brings together the notion that humanity is created “in the image of God,” that humanity is created “male and female,” and what has been called the “cultural mandate” – that humanity is created to exercise stewardship over creation – to argue for a Christian “understanding of work.”19 Sayers states that “work is not, primarily, a thing one does to live, but the thing one lives to do,” that “good work” and not profit should be the primary point of work, that one should do work for which one is “fitted by nature,” that “[w]e should clamor to be engaged in work was worth doing, and in which we could take pride.” Finally, that work should be viewed as a vocation, and “that every maker and worker is called to serve God in his [or her] profession or trade – not outside it.”20

How is this notion of work connected with the affirmation that men and women are equally created in the image of God, and that, first and foremost, “woman are human”? Sayers acknowledges that there are some practical differences between men and women that make some work more suitable for most men than they are for most women: “[T]here is no harm in saying that women, as a class, have smaller bones then men, wear lighter clothing, have more hair on their heads and less on their faces . . . ,” but such comparisons only apply for particular cases: “Few women happen to be natural born mechanics; but if there is one, it is useless to try and argue her into being something different.”21 What is important is that the particular job should be done by the particular person who does it best:

If the women make better office-workers than men, they must have the office work. If any individual woman is able to make a first-class lawyer, doctor, architect or engineer, then she must be allowed to try her hand at it. Once lay down the rule that the job comes first and you throw that job open to every individual, man or woman, fat or thin, tall or short, ugly or beautiful, who is able to do that job better than the rest of the world.22

The point is not that every occupation or interest that used to be done by men should now be done by every woman. As a classics scholar, Sayers points out that not every woman wants to know about Aristotle anymore than every man wants to know about Aristotle, “but I, eccentric individual that I am, do want to know about Aristotle, and I submit that there is nothing in my bodily shape or bodily functions which need prevent me from knowing about him.”23

The implications for a theology of women’s ordination are, of course, obvious. The crucial question is whether there are any essential differences between men and women that are significant for exercising church office. Specifically, granted that there are obvious physical and social differences between men and women (only men can be fathers, sons, or brothers; only women can be mothers, daughters, or sisters), do any of these have anything to do with the capacity to speak or teach or exercise authority (Protestant complementarianism) or to preside over worship or celebrate the sacraments (Catholic objections), or exercise pastoral care for parishioners, that would indicate that certainly not every woman, but women with the specifically necessary callings and gifts could not perform these functions?24

Opponents of women’s ordination might well respond to the above question in two ways. First, it could be argued, while it is generally the case that those with the requisite skills are best suited for particular kinds of work, the ordained ministry is not simply “work,” but a vocation, a divine calling to be recognized by the church, and which must be distinguished from merely secular occupations. Problematic in this claim, however, is the recognition since the Reformation that all forms of work, if they are good work, should be considered as “vocations.” Sayers herself emphasizes this when she writes that any work worth doing is a vocation: “It is the business of the Church to recognize that the secular vocation, as such, is sacred.”25 But the converse is also true. If the secular vocation is sacred, the sacred vocation is also “good work,” and should be done by the person who is most able to do the work well. Given the choice, do opponents of women’s ordination really believe that it would be preferable to have a man who preaches poorly, presides at worship in a slovenly manner, and has poor pastoral skills (and the examples of these are far too many) over a woman who preaches well, presides reverently at worship, and exercises compassionate pastoral ministry, simply because he is a man and she a woman?

Second, the opponent of women’s ordination could well respond that nothing Sayers writes demands that women ought to pursue ordained ministry. Modern opponents of women’s ordination nonetheless insist that they recognize women’s lay ministries, and there is nothing to prevent a woman with skills in writing (such as Sayers), preaching, teaching, or pastoral care, to fulfill her vocation in a lay ministry. This argument is probably more credible if coming from Catholic opponents to women’s ordination who (at least in theory) restrict women’s ministry only from presiding at liturgical functions; however, it is still question-begging insofar as the very same argument could be made concerning men. It could be said of any man (as it is said of women), that the pastoral skills that are usually recognized as signs of vocation to ordained ministry could also be exercised in some form of lay ministry. So the question is not whether some (not all) women might pursue ordained ministry rather than some form of lay ministry, but rather whether anyone (male or female) should do so when vocational gifts could always be fulfilled in some kind of lay ministry instead? If one argues that, at least in some particular cases, some men should pursue ordained ministry, then ipso facto, the case is the same for some (not all) women.

Toward a Positive Theology of Non-Gendered Ordination

In much of what I have written in this series of essays, my arguments have been defensive, responding to objections to the ordination of women. In what follows, I would like to provide a short summary of a theological case in favor of the ordination of women, or, more specifically, an argument for a non-gendered approach to ordained ministry. Specifically, what is the purpose of ordained ministry within the church, and what would be the requirements for selecting certain persons for church office, whether men or women?

First, any positive argument that men and women are equally eligible for ordination to church office must say “no” to the “culture wars” of the last few decades, and to non-theological arguments concerning sexuality, and its relationship to ordained ministry. A properly biblical and systematic theology of sexuality is not hierarchical (as in complementarianism); neither, however, does it derive its understanding of sexuality from post-modern identity politics. Although certainly affirming an equality between men and women, a biblical and systematic theology of sexuality does not regard male and female sexuality as fluid or interchangeable, as does much contemporary sexual identity politics. Again, only men can be fathers, sons, and brothers; only women can be mothers, daughters, and sisters.

At the same time, an argument for the suitability of the ordination of both men and women is not interested in debates between patriarchy and post-modernity for either upholding or rejecting traditional cultural notions of masculinity and femininity. As Carrie Miles points out, traditional notions of male and female “personality” are rooted in pre-industrial divisions of labor between the sexes. In pre-industrial agricultural societies, successful males need to be physically strong, ambitious, intelligent, competitive, independent, and aggressive. Those who succeed will be those who subdue and master others. Correspondingly, in pre-industrial cultures, women compete not for the best jobs, but for the best husbands. Successful women will be physically attractive, nurturing, good household managers, accommodating, emotionally sensitive, patient, interested in children. These are, of course, traditional cultural understandings of what makes men masculine and women feminine. They also correspond economically to the descriptions of the consequences of sin for men and women in Genesis 3: the curse on the ground means that there is a scarcity of provisions, and men must work hard in order to survive. Women must turn to their husbands in that they are financially dependent, and husbands rule over their wives insofar as, in an agricultural economy, men necessarily have more power in the family relationship. (The very thing that makes women valuable – their ability to bear and nurse children – makes them economically dependent on their husbands.)26 Traditional male and female cultural stereotypes also correspond to the reward/punishment structures of traditional honor/shame cultures, a structure which, I have argued, was undermined by the principles of “christological subversion” and “mutual submission.”

In addition, however, insofar as traditional notions of masculinity and femininity are tied to the economics of pre-industrial cultures, they are increasingly irrelevant in a post-industrial culture. For most jobs, modern men do not necessarily have to be physically stronger or more aggressive in that they are no longer restricted to physical labor to make their livings. Modern women are no longer tied necessarily to work that keeps them physically close to children in that modern economic production is no longer home-based. Accordingly, even if it were desirable to maintain traditional stereotypical notions of maculinity and femininity, it would not be possible apart from a return to a pre-industrial economy that created the distinctions in the first place, a return which is culturally implausible, and which even traditionalists would likely not desire.

Second, a positive argument for a non-gendered account of ordained ministry should be grounded in a theology that is creational, Christocentric (cruciform), and Trinitarian (redemptive-historical and ecclesial). An egalitarian biblical theology of ordination is founded on a proper reading of (1) the account of the creation of humanity in the image of God as male and female in Genesis 1 and 2; (2) Jesus’ teaching on marriage and sexuality, along with his relationship to his female disciples; (3) Paul’s egalitarian theology of marriage and sexuality; (4) the practice and ministry of both men and women in the early church. Consequently, an egalitarian anthropology will be grounded in a Trinitarian Christocentric personalist ontology. In terms of symbolism, such a theology will be rooted in a reciprocal Trinitarian personalism, rather than a “binary” and hierarchical male/female symbolism; a personalist ontology will emphasize that relationality and mutual submission are crucial to what it means to be male or female. (Many of the details of the above argument have been made already in the preceding essays and will not be repeated at length here.)

Returning to Genesis

A personalist and relational Christian ontology will begin with a return to God’s intentions in creation prior to humanity’s fall into sin: There is a correlation between the creation of humanity in the image of God as male and female and trinitarian personalism; all human beings are created to know and love the triune God who has created humanity in his image. The relational orientation of men and women toward one another is a reflection of the eternal love between the Triune persons. The creation of human beings as male and female is a reflection of and participation through grace in the pericherotic relations of the Triune persons. Men and women are created to know and love God; but they are also made for one another, for mutuality, and relationality, and not for a subordination of one sex to another. To the contrary of complementarian hierarchicalism, the historic subordination of women to men characteristic of all pre-industrial cultures is a consequence of the fall into sin, and redemption entails a reversal of this subordination, a return to the equality, mutuality, and reciprocity between men and women intended by God in the original creation. Again, the creation mandate of Genesis 1:28 applies to both men and women, and this certainly has implications for a gender-neutral understanding of ordination to church office because the specific roles of ordained ministry parallel the demands of the creation mandate (or, rather, creation blessing, as Carrie Miles argues).27


The New Testament expands on the Old Testament by applying to Jesus Christ what Genesis says about the image of God. James 3:9 uses language much like that of Genesis, but other passages in the New Testament speak of Jesus Christ as the Son who is the “image of God” (Col. 1:15), of the “glory of Christ, who is the image of God,” (2 Cor. 4:4), as the one who pre-existed “in the “form of God,” but took on the “form of a servant,” (Phil. 2:6-7), as the “radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Heb. 1:3), and as the typological fulfillment of the “Son of Man” language in Psalm 8, “who was made for a little while lower than the angels” (Heb. 2:5-9; cf. Ps. 8:3-8). As the incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ is the perfect image of the Father. Also discussed previously, Romans 5 identifies Jesus Christ as the second Adam.28

Two passages in particular (already discussed at length) pick up on the male-female imagery of Genesis and apply it either to Jesus Christ and humanity or to Christ and the church (1 Cor. 11:3, 11-12, Ephesians 5: 21-23), speaking of Christ as the “head of every man” (1 Cor. 11:3) or “head of the church,” and the church both as Christ’s body and his bride (Eph. 5:23, 32). (The church fathers developed this bodily and nuptial imagery to suggest that just as the woman was taken from the side of Adam, so the church as the bride of Christ is taken from Christ’s bleeding side on the cross.)

Just as in Genesis 1, however, the focus of these two passages is on nurture and reciprocity, not authority. 1 Cor. 11 emphasizes that the woman is the “glory of man” and that, just as the woman was originally taken from the man, so now all men come to be through women. The only reference to “authority” in the passage is to the woman’s own authority (1 Cor. 11:10). Similarly, Ephesians 5 focuses on the mutual subordination 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) and by “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ” (5:21; cf. 5:33). (Also of significance is that neither passage specifically says anything about church office; 1 Cor. 11 is addressing disruptive worship practices; Ephesians 5 addresses worship insofar as all Christians are encouraged to address one another in “hymns and spiritual songs,” and the Christian family is to echo this mutual submission of all Christians to one another.)29

The New Testament insistence that it is Jesus Christ who is the true image of God leads to a modification of Old Testament anthropology. Accordingly, all Christians now image Jesus Christ as disciples who are “in Christ,” and in whom Christ dwells, who participate in Christ who is the image of God as they are joined to the risen Christ through the presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Unlike Moses, Christians “beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (1 Cor. 3:18).

At the same time, cruciformity is crucial to an understanding of Christian discipleship, of how Christians resemble or represent Jesus Christ; Three New Testament passages are crucial in this regard: Phil. 2:5-11 is the “master story” for Paul’s account of cruciform spirituality; as Christ “emptied himself” by taking on the form of a servant, so also Christians are to look not to their own interests, but to those of others. Ephesians 5 portrays the mutual submission of all Christians to one another, who “walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph. 5:2). 2 Cor. 4 describes the practice of Christian ministry as exemplified by the apostles, of those who carry a treasure in jars of clay, carrying in their bodies the death of Jesus so that Jesus’ life is manifest in their bodies (2 Cor. 4:7-12). This model of cruciform spirituality is the correct pattern for the manner in which the ordained minister does or does not represent or resemble Jesus Christ.30

Ironically, despite their different ways of insisting that the ordained minister must resemble Christ, both Protestant complementarians and Catholic sacamentalists miss the New Testament’s most crucial point regarding resemblance of Christians to Jesus Christ – what I have designated by the terms “Christological subversion” and “cruciformity.” For the New Testament, “resembling Jesus Christ” is consistently expressed in terms of cruciformity. Christians resemble Jesus Christ by pointing away from themselves to the crucified and risen Jesus Christ, and through sharing in his suffering. Resemblance to Jesus Christ through cruciform discipleship is expected of all Christians, and it is not gender-specific. All Christians resemble Jesus Christ through following the path of the cross. This is the model that the New Testament sets up for following Christ in Phil. 2:1-11. It is the model of mutual submission demanded of all Christians, men and women, parents and children, masters and servants, in Eph. 5:1-6:9. It is the model for apostleship in 2 Corinthians 4.

Against complementarianism, the New Testament does not speak of leadership simply in terms of authority of some over others; rather, the New Testament consistently challenges what Alan Padgett has called Type I submission. All Christians are called to represent Jesus Christ in terms of what Padgett calls Type II submission, the mutual submission of voluntarily taking on the role of servants in relation to one another.31 Neither the Old Testament nor the New Testament specifically rejected Mediterranean social institutions, yet Christological subversion consistently challenges those institutions. Leaders are not told simply to exercise authority or power over subordinates. Rather, as in Ephesians 5, mutual submission is the model of authority expected of all Christians. When Paul uses the word kephalē” (“head”) metaphorically in 1 Corinthians 11 and Ephesians 5, he does not use the metaphor to speak of authority, but rather of mutuality, nurture and self-sacrifice. Cruciformity is also the model provided for apostleship and pastoral leadership in 1 Cor. 4-6. The church’s office holders resemble Jesus Christ as those who carry a treasure in clay jars, who proclaim not themselves but Jesus Christ, who represent Christ by carrying in their bodies the death of Jesus (1 Cor. 4:7-12). This is a resemblance to Jesus Christ that is based neither on authority nor in sexuality.

Against Catholic sacramentalist arguments, how does Paul suggest that the church’s apostles resemble Christ? Not in terms of masculine sexual imagery, but rather by pointing away from themselves toward the crucified Jesus Christ, as does John the Baptist in Grunewald’s painting. The church’s office holders resemble Christ as earthen vessels, and through sharing in Christ’s suffering. Nothing in any of this New Testament imagery is gender-specific.

Word and Sacrament

What are the responsibilities of the ordained minister? Ecumenical consensus points to two main tasks: proclamation of the Word and administration of the sacraments.

Ministry of the Word

Historically, there are four primary ways in which the ordained minister is understood to exercise the ministry of the Word: authority, preaching (and teaching), the power of the keys, and pastoral care.32

Complementarians have focused on the exercise of authority as the primary function of the ordained minister, and everything else flows from that. The complementarian argument is that women cannot be ordained ministers because they cannot exercise authority over men, and, in consequence, cannot preach or teach either. (As noted above, the Catholic understanding of ordination no longer focuses on masculine authority in this way.)

Much of what I have written in this series of essays has challenged the notion of a permanently hierarchical top-down notion of authority in which some (namely men) always command, and others (women, children, and other subordinates) always obey in what Alan Padgett has referred to as “Type I” submission. However, nothing in what I have written rejects the notion of authority as such. Insofar as ordained ministry involves genuine leadership, it necessarily entails a kind of authority, yet an authority re-interpreted through the lenses of cruciformity and Christological subversion. Ordained clergy exercise authority by pointing away from themselves to the crucified Christ.

Recent authors have corrected both an authoritarian permanently hierarchical understanding of authority as well as the post-modern tendency to reject all authority as inherently oppressive.33 Post-modern culture is distrustful of authority, and in recent decades, much of the mainline church has been trying to downplay that part of the pastor’s (or priest’s) mission. One of the chief ways in which the twentieth-century church did that was by substituting different understandings of authority for the pastor’s authority. The ordained minister was no longer someone who points to Jesus Christ, but a therapist, a social worker, or the Chief Operating Officer of the congregation. At the same time, when people are uncertain about the source of their authority, they become frightened, and they fall back on their own personal authority. There are clergy who have no problem imagining themselves to be representatives of Christ, but the image they prefer is that of Christ enthroned in glory, the Christus Pantokrator.

To the contrary, in the 1st epistle of Peter, the apostle explains the proper type of ministerial leadership: “So I exhort the elders (presbyters) among you, as a fellow elder (presbyter) and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God among you, not by way of compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not lording (μηδ’ ὡς κατακυριεύοντες, mēd ōs katakurieuontes) it over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” (1 Peter 5:1-4, my translation). The presbyter is asked to shepherd the flock as one whose role is modeled on that of the Good Shepherd. The language of suffering (“witness of the sufferings of Christ”) is reminiscent of similar language in 2 Corinthians 4:7-12.

Lacking in the passage is any use of such terms as exousia, the normal Greek NT word for “authority”; to the contrary, the presbyter is specifically forbidden from exercising any domineering top-down authority. In 1 Peter, office-holders are called to exercise authority as did Jesus, who said “[W]hoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matt. 20:26-28). Verse 5 does indeed call on those who are younger to “submit” (ὑποτάγητε, hypotagēte) to the elders/presbyters (πρεσβυτέροις, presbyterois).” At the same time, however, the submission is not top-down hierarchical submission (Padgett’s “submission I”), but the mutual submission of all to each other: “But all of you (πάντες, pantes) be subject to one another (ἀλλήλοις, allēlois), and be clothed with humility: for God resists the proud, and gives grace to the humble.” (modernized KJV).

As the role of the Good Shepherd is to lay down his life for the sheep (John 10:11), so the ordained pastor follows the example of the One Shepherd. That kind of leadership is more difficult than being a social worker or a CEO. It demands more long-suffering than does top-down authority. Ordained clergy cannot act as shepherds unless they love the people they are called to serve, and unless they are willing to suffer. The pastor or priest does not then act on his or her own authority. Pastoral ministry is that of a shepherd who shares in the ministry of the One Shepherd. Any authority that ordained clergy have comes from beyond themselves. It is the authority to share with the Good Shepherd in laying down their lives for the sheep. Obviously such sacrificial authority is not gender-specific.

The second role of the presbyter is that of preaching or proclaiming the Word. The primary job of the preacher is to communicate the Word of God about Jesus Christ as contained in the Scriptures. The main point of such preaching is, once again, to point to Christ. The pastor’s sermons should focus on the Good Shepherd, who Jesus Christ is, and what Jesus did. Who is Jesus? He is the Son of God, the incarnate Word become flesh, the second person of the Trinity. What did Jesus do? He became human, he died for our sins, he rose from the dead, and he is coming again. As noted above, in the incarnation, Jesus Christ models a cruciform pattern of life that is the paradigm for all Christian discipleship. That is the gospel. That is what the pastor is to preach. The gospel is that Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose from the dead, and is coming again. The good news is about Jesus Christ, and his person and work, and that is what the preacher needs to come back to in his or her preaching, over and over. And if he or she does that, he or she will play the same role as does John the Baptist in Grunewald’s painting, and God will speak through his or her words. As the Anglican priest and poet George Herbert wrote:

Lord, how can man preach thy eternal word?
He is a brittle crazy glass
Yet in thy temple thou dost him afford
This glorious and transcendent place
To be a window, through thy grace.
(George Herbert, “The Windows”)

And again, to proclaim the word that Jesus Christ has died and risen is not something gender-specific. To the contrary, the gospels make clear that it was not men, but rather women, who first came to the empty tomb, who were the first witnesses that the crucified Jesus was no longer dead but risen. In his first sermon in the book of Acts (2:14-40), the apostle Peter makes clear that this proclamation of the resurrection of Jesus Christ is a fulfillment of a prophecy of the Old Testament prophet Joel. When God pours out his Spirit on all people, sons and daughters will prophecy; God will pour out his Spirit on his servants, both men and women (v. 17-18).

The next way in which the pastor acts as a shepherd is that of the “power of the keys.” The power of the keys is the ordained minister’s authority to proclaim Christ’s forgiveness to the repentant. Reformation Christians get uncomfortable here, but we need to be reminded that this is an authority that Christ has given to his church. The Anglican Reformer John Jewel stated:

Moreover, we say that Christ hath given to His ministers power to bind, to loose, to open, to shut. And that the office of loosing consisteth in this point: that the minister should . . . offer by the preaching of the Gospel the merits of Christ and full pardon, to such as have lowly and contrite hearts, and do unfeignedly repent themselves, pronouncing unto the same a sure and undoubted forgiveness of their sins, and hope of everlasting salvation.34

To be able to pronounce Christ’s forgiveness to repentant sinners is not in conflict with the Reformation understanding of justification by faith alone; it is a way of making forgiveness concrete and objective. Again, it is important to remember that the ordained minister does not proclaim forgiveness on the basis of his or her own authority. The pastor is a sinner, just like the person who comes for confession. As the prophet Isaiah says, we are all people of unclean lips, dwelling in the midst of a people of unclean lips (Is. 6:5). But One greater than a seraphim has touched our lips, and he has said, “Your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for” (Is. 6:7). It is because Jesus Christ has forgiven him or her that the presbyter can proclaim that Christ forgives others. In order to do this, clergy need to acknowledge their own sins, and they need to accept Christ’s forgiveness.

Finally, there is one last way in which the ordained minister acts as a shepherd of Jesus Christ. The minister is pastor and spiritual director. The words “pastor” and “pastoral” come from the Latin word that means “shepherd.” There is a uniquely pastoral dimension to ordained ministry. The traditional exhortations given to clergy at ordination speak to this responsibility. One of the responsibilities of the pastor is to get to know his or her parishioners, to spend time with them, to pray with them, to baptize them, to marry them, to bury them.

Administration of the Sacraments

If Protestant accounts of ordained ministry have focused on the pastor’s authority and proclamation of the word, Catholic accounts have focused on the role of the presbyter in administering the sacraments, specifically in presiding at the celebration of the Eucharist. As noted previously, Catholic arguments against the ordination of women often focus on the Catholic understanding of church office as a “sacramental priesthood.”

A theologically nuanced understanding of ordained ministry does not necessarily see these two models as opposed so much as complementary. The office of the presbyter includes both preaching and proclaiming the Word, but also presiding at the celebration of the Eucharist. At the same time, as with the Protestant understanding of ministry as the proclamation of the Word, so an understanding of ministry that emphasizes ordination as “priesthood” needs to recognize that New Testament office is not simply a repristination of the Old Testament sacrificial system; rather, as with proclamation of the Word, New Testament priesthood must be re-defined Christologically: Jesus Christ is not only the perfect image of God and the Good Shepherd; he is also the One High priest, who not only fulfills, but also transforms Old Testament worship. As Cyril of Alexandria emphasized, the church’s worship is not something of its own that the church offers to God, but a participation in the risen Jesus Christ’s vicarious worship of the Father through the Holy Spirit.35

The teleological end of Christian worship is the church’s union with the triune God as the church becomes the body of Christ united to the crucified and risen humanity of Jesus Christ its head through the agency of the Holy Spirit. Sacraments do not have an end in themselves, but exist as means of grace to enable this union between the crucified and risen Christ and the church. As they are united to the crucified and risen Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit in baptism (Rom. 5), all Christians reflect Christ’s image, and are conformed to it. So in Thomas Aquinas’s discussion of baptismal character, it is Jesus Christ who is the primary “character” or image of God (following Hebrews 1:3); all Christians participate in and resemble Christ’s character through baptism; it is this participation in Christ’s character through the act of baptismwhich brings one into the church that enables the priest/presbyter to represent Christ.36 In other words, the logic of Aquinas’s position is that in persona ecclesiae (in the person of the church) precedes in persona Christi (in the person of Christ). Or, at least, that representational symbolism is dynamic. All Christians resemble Jesus Christ insofar as Christ is the head of the church; the church represents Christ as sharing in Christ’s character through baptism. It is thus through their union with Christ in baptism that Christians are made one with his body, the church, and all Christians represent Christ.

Thus, the way in which the ordained minister acts in persona Christi when presiding at the church’s worship is neither unique, nor is it based on male sexuality. The eucharistic minister resembles Jesus Christ in first receiving the baptismal character shared by all Christians. It is thus not the Eucharist, but baptism, that is the originating sacrament of identification with Christ. In the church’s worship at the Eucharist, the presiding minister represents the church as having receiving the baptismal character that makes worship possible, and thus represents Jesus Christ who is the head of the church. In the eucharistic prayer, the celebrant first acts on behalf of the church as its representative (in persona ecclesiae). The eucharistic prayer is a prayer – it begins and ends with the words “we” – and, in this prayer, the priest represents Jesus Christ as first representing the church, which his bride. Thus there is a crucial significance to the epiclesis in the eucharistic prayer; in invoking the Holy Spirit to descend on bread and wine to make it the risen Christ’s body and blood, and on the gathered people to make them Christ’s body, the priest acts as a representative of the church as the body of Christ, and in this manner as a representative of Jesus Christ as the head of this body.

If we describe the church’s worship using the language of “eucharistic sacrifice,” it is necessary to affirm (as do all contemporary ecumenical agreements) that it is Jesus Christ who offers the sacrifice, not the presiding minister. It is Jesus Christ who makes himself present, not the celebrant. Moreover, as the patristic church taught, and as modern ecumenical agreements also emphasize, the Eucharist is not a new sacrifice, but simply the same sacrifice of the cross which is “re-presented.” Jesus Christ is not “sacrificed again”; rather, as the risen Jesus Christ becomes truly present through the invocation of the Holy Spirit, so Christ is present in the once-for-all atoning significance of his life, death, and resurrection. The eucharistic sacrifice does not depend, then, on the person of the ordained priest, but on the person of the crucified and risen Jesus Christ. The celebrant does not “offer” anything of him or herself; nor is the priest a “mediator” in the sense of being a substitute for Christ or an alter Christus.

In the eucharistic prayer, then, it is Jesus Christ who is the primary celebrant, not the ordained priest. Again, it must be emphasized that the eucharistic prayer is a prayer, not a drama. The presiding minister is praying on behalf of the entire congregation, not acting a drama or playing a role in a play. The “words of institution” recited in the eucharistic prayer are part of this prayer in which the presiding minister prays on behalf of, and acts as a representative of, the gathered community (in persona ecclesiae).

Of course, in a manner similar to the proclamation of the Word, the eucharistic minister represents Christ not only to the extent that he or she represents the church as Christ’s bride, but also, once again, in terms of cruciformity; in recalling Jesus Christ’s atoning sacrifice in the “Words of Institution” – “This is my body given for you; This is my blood shed for you” – the celebrant points away from him or herself and his or her own adequacies or accomplishments to the complete sufficiency of the Lord Jesus Christ – crucified, risen, and returning in glory – to redeem and sanctify the church. It is the crucified and risen Jesus Christ’s own sacrifice that is made present in the church’s worship, not that of the church’s ordained clergy. The worship of the church is a matter of the church pointing away from itself to Jesus Christ’s finished work, but it is also a participation in the risen Christ’s own worship on the church’s behalf. The structure of the eucharistic prayer makes clear that the presiding minister is praying on behalf of and as a representative of the gathered community of the church; insofar as the church is the bride of Christ (and is thus symbolically feminine), women most appropriately have the capacity to illustrate this by leading the church’s prayers, especially the eucharistic prayer.37

Concluding Reflections

What might be the implications of what really is the church’s new understanding of the equality of men and women, and of a gender-neutral understanding of ordination to church office?

First, a trinitarian understanding of personhood and a relational and reciprocal understanding of the relationship between men and women means not only that men and women are equals, but that their identity as male and female is established in relation to one another; man and women need one another and should be friends with one another. Thomas Aquinas transformed Aristotle’s notion of friendship from The Nichomachean Ethics in light of Jesus’ statement in John 15:15 – “I call you no more servants . . . but friends” – to suggest that charity as the highest theological virtue is friendship with Jesus, and friendshp with God. But charity is also friendship with fellow human beings, and grounds Aquinas’s understanding of ethics summarized in the Ten Commandments as love of God and love of neighbor.38 Certainly this has implications for the relationships between men and women in the church.

Karl Barth famously developed his understanding of the relationship between men and women in light of the two creation narratives in Genesis 1 and 2. Gen. 1:27 points to the interpersonal and relational nature of what it means to be created in the image of God; man as male and female indicates that the imago dei is fundamentally relational, and that the image of God is a reflection of the triune interpersonal relations of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That humanity is male and female means that humanity cannot be humanity alone, but only as male in relation to female and female in relation to male. There is no man or woman as such, but “only concretely masculine and feminine co-existence and co-operation in all things.” The creation narrative of Genesis 2 indicates that humanity means “fellow human”: “the encounter of man and woman as such is being in encounter and therefore the center of humanity . . .” The basic distinction and connection of I and Thou is thus “coincident with that of male and female.”39 So, for both Barth and Aquinas, the image of God is essentially personal and relational, grounded in the trinitarian relations of love between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Barth goes beyond Aquinas, however, in emphazing that it is precisely the mutual and complementary relationship between humanity as man and woman that is the ontological foundation of the personalistic and relational image of God in human beings.40

Second, the centrality of cruciformity as the paradigm for Christian discipleship, combined with Paul’s call for mutual submission, and both Paul’s and 1 Peter’s description of ministry, leads to a transformed understanding of Christian ministry and authority in terms of servanthood and mutual submission rather than top-down exercise of authority of some over others. That is, the New Testament challenges the first-century Mediterranean honor/shame culture exemplified in what Alan Padgett calls “Submission I,” and offers instead the paradigm of mutual submission (“Submission II”). For the New Testament, to exercise church office means to be a servant to one’s fellow servants. Again, there is nothing about mutual submission in love patterned on Christ’s cruciform self-sacrifice that is inherently gender-specific.

Third, Paul’s coordination of a theology of the Eucharist as participation (or communion) in the body of the crucified and risen Jesus Christ, combined with his imagery of the church as a diverse body of many members points to hospitality at the core of the church’s fellowship (koinonia) (Rom. 12:4-5; 1 Corinthians 12:12-31). Hospitality means not only welcoming the stranger who is outside the church, but, more specifically, welcoming one’s brother or sister inside the church. Neither men nor women can say to the other, “I have no need of you.” However, a hierarchical understanding of sexual “gender roles” leads necessarily to an antagonistic relationship between men and women. At least insofar as it comes to the question of the kinds of gifts that would normally indicate a call to ordained ministry, the refusal to ordain women is to say to another member of the body of Christ, “I have no need of you.”

A proper understanding of Christian community will lead necessarily to male repentance for failure to recognize the gifts and calling of women within the Christian congregation. It will also mean a willingness to listen to the voices of women in the church. In a TED Talk entitled “How to Speak Up For Yourself,” Adam Galinski points out that courage to speak depends on (1) moral conviction, (2) a position of power in tension with a fear of punishment, and, finally, (3) community support. When it comes to public speaking, even those with moral conviction will tend to be silent if fear of punishment is not balanced by both some kind of position of power and community support. Galinski points out that what appear to be differences between the sexes actually tend to reflect differences in power. When it comes to public speaking, women find themselves in a double bind. They lack the power to speak, but they are also are punished if they do speak.41

Galinski’s points are directly relevant to the question of women’s ordination in the church. Resistance to women’s ordination contributes to the double bind in which women find themselves in the church in that women are denied the moral authority to speak; they lack the power to speak to the church, they are punished if they speak, and they lack support of the community if they do speak.

But refusing to women the freedom to speak to the church is not only to deny to them the moral integrity of the word that they need to speak to the church, but also to deny to the Christian community the word it may need to hear from women. In my years teaching in a seminary, I have found that women as a whole are often better preachers than men as a whole. At the seminary where I teach, women graduates consistently win the “outstanding preaching” awards at graduation out of proportion to their actual numbers in the student body. There are likely numerous reasons for this. It is a truism that women tend to be more verbal than men and are thus perhaps better speakers. It is also likely, however, that those women who pursue ordination tend to be more determined than those men who do so. After all, only those women who are strongly convinced of their vocations tend to overcome community pressure against ordination; men are rewarded for a “vocation” for which women are punished. By denying women ordination, we deny them the ability to use a divinely given gift. But more than the harm done to women by refusing to allow them to speak is the harm done to the church. Denying to women the opportunity of ordination means that women cannot speak the Word of God to the church. The church needs to hear the word that women are called to speak.

This will also mean that the church needs to reconsider its theology of vocation to embrace an understanding of vocation based on “Spirit-gifting.”42 It helps here to recognize the difference between two different understandings of vocation, what might be called the difference between “Benedictine” and “Dominican” models of ministry. Historically, there has been a tension between Benedictine and Dominican understandings of vocation. Benedictines are cloistered monks, and the understanding of vocation among monks tends to be that it is assumed that one does not have a vocation until one proves otherwise. This is the case because the Benedictine model is that of a “religious” way of life that is primarily concerned with spiritual formation within the monastery. The monastic tradition is concerned to provide a safe setting in which people can form good habits and escape from temptation. It is only after one has been formed in the cloister that it is considered safe to enter once again into the outside world.

To the contrary, the Dominicans were not cloistered monks, but mendicant preachers, the Order of Preachers. The Dominican model of vocation is thus that of an “apostolate”; Dominicans exist in order to preach for the salvation of souls. The goal of Dominican spirituality is then, not primarily inward (spiritual formation), but outward – to be useful to others. This results in an entirely different understanding of vocation. The Medieval Dominican Humbert of Romans emphasized that preaching is too urgent to wait until people think that they are ready to do it. To the contrary, to avoid preaching until one thinks one is ready is a temptation to be avoided. The Dominican understanding of vocation is that if one has the gift of preaching, one must preach – one has the vocation to preach.43

I would suggest that the church’s understanding of vocation to ordained ministry has been too often based on the Benedictine model – the assumption that one does not have a vocation unless one proves otherwise, and in the case of women, the church always presumes otherwise. To the contrary, if particular women (not every woman) demonstrate the gifts in preaching, liturgical celebration, and pastoral skills that would (in the case of men) indicate a calling to ordained ministry, then the church should presume that these women have a call to ordained ministry until proven otherwise. The burden of proof is not on those who would argue for the ordination of women, but on those who would deny it.

Dorothy Sayers’s insistence on the connection between vocation and good work is again helpful The way that one knows that one has a vocation is if one has the gifts to do it. What does it say about our understanding of vocation when particular women have good theological minds, have the ability to speak well (preach good sermons), can lead worship reverently (have liturgical skills), have organizational skills ( the ability to exercise leadership), and can exercise pastoral sensitivity, yet we exclude them from ordination?

For complementarians, the refusal to consider the ordination of women indicates a false understanding of authority, one that roots authority in sex rather than in competence. For Catholics, insofar as they have allowed women to exercise all kinds of pastoral leadership except for administering the sacraments, this reduces the gifts and callings of women in the church to a kind of glorified “lay ministry.” Does allowing women to exercise every ministry in the church except that of presiding at celebration of the sacraments not itself indicate a kind of reduction of the office of ordained ministry to a kind of mechanical understanding of the relationship between the ordained minister and the sacraments?

Again, the adoption of a “Spirit-gifting” or Dominican understanding of vocation makes clear that the purpose of ordained ministry is not that of exercising power over others or of privilege. To the contrary, the point of ordained ministry is one of service. As Katherine-Greene McCreight has pointed out, the focus of orthodox “biblical feminists” in the church is not on gaining equal rights for women in the church, but on asking for an equal opportunity to serve within the church.44

Finally, I conclude with one last consideration concerning possible differences between men and women and how this might affect their vocations within the church. What I have written in this series of essays has focused primarily on similarities between men and women. As Dorothy Sayers emphasized, women are human, and women are more like men than they are like anything else. Of course, there are fundamental biological differences between men and women, and both the complementarity between women and men, and many of the social roles that men and women fulfill are rooted in these essentially biological differences – again, only men can be husbands, fathers, sons, and brothers; only women can be mothers, wives, daughters, and sisters. I have also argued (following Carrie Miles) that many of the so-called social and cultural differences between men and women in pre-industrial cultures are rooted in basic differences in biology that necessarily restrict women largely to domestic tasks in agricultural societies, but allow men more flexibility to work outside the home: men are physically stronger than women; women give birth and breast-feed infants.

However, we can still ask whether there are also psychological differences between men and women that might have relevance to the question of women’s ordination. Are men (broadly speaking) more rational and abstract? Are women (broadly speaking) more emotional and relational?45 Here, I would suggest that caution is in order. While such psychological differences may exist broadly speaking, there will always be exceptions; despite broad tendencies, some particular women will always be more rational, independent, and abstract in their thinking than some men, while some men will always be more emotional and relational than some women.46 However, even to recognize such differences (again, broadly speaking) between men and women is not an argument against women’s ordination, but for it. The relevant corrective here would again be the apostle Paul’s discussion of different gifts within the diversity of the church as the one body of Christ. If there are inherent psychological differences between some women and some men, this would indicate that those women would exercise pastoral ministry differently than those men, but they would do so in a complementary manner to serve the church in a manner in which those men could not. The church should not refuse the pastoral gifts of women because of possible intellectual, emotional, or psychological differences between women and men. To the contrary, the church needs the pastoral gifts of women in order to avoid one-sidely masculine church leadership.

1 “Concerning Women’s Ordination: The Argument ‘From Tradition’ is not the ‘Traditional’ Argument,”

2 See my earlier essays: “Non-theological Arguments Against the Ordination of Women,”; “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Beginning with Genesis,”

3 On the notion of development of doctrine, see John Henry Newman’s classic work, An Essay in the Development of Doctrine (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1994), along with the definitive Anglican response by J.B. Mozley, The Theory of Development: A Criticism of Dr. Newman’s Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (London, Oxford, and Cambridge: Rivingtons, 1878). Against Newman, Mozley argued for two different senses of the notion of development: (1) a simply explanatory process, in which an idea is said to be developed, but not altered; and (2) a development which is a positive increase in the substance of the thing developed, a fresh formation not contained in or growing out of the original subject matter. Mozley argued that the Nicene formula and the Athanasian Creed were examples of the first notion of development, not the second (144, 146, 149-153). In this series of essays I am arguing that the notions of “social liberty and equality” as a development of the notion of Christian liberty, and the ordination of women as a development from the church’s affirmation of the ontological equality of women are developments of the first kind. They do not add something new in the sense of something “different,” but something new in the sense of an explanatory process or drawing out of the logical implications of something inherent in the original subject matter of Christian faith.

4 “Equal” does not mean “identical.” Certainly there are clear differences between men and women; only men can be fathers, brothers, and sons; only women can be mothers, sisters, and daughters. Ontological equality in the sense in which I am using it affirms that women are of equal intellectual, moral, and spiritual status with men. Men and women are equally human, and mutually complementary, mutually created for relationship with one another and with the triune God as their Creator and Redeemer. More specifically, the notion of equality denies the historical claim that women are less intelligent, emotionally unstable, and more susceptible to temptation than men. Obvious physical differences between men and women mean that there are some tasks for which some men would be more suitable than some women; for example, most men are physically stronger than most women. However, there is nothing intrinsic to the differences between men and women that imply that men and women are not equally suited for most tasks. The specific tasks that would be excluded would obviously be those that are biologically determined. Again, only men can be fathers; only women can be mothers.

5 On the new “complementarian” Protestant argument against women’s ordination, see my earlier essay “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Hierarchy and Hermeneutics,”

6 On the new Catholic argument against the ordination of women, see my essay “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Women’s Ordination and the Priesthood of Christ (in persona Christi),” Sara Butler appeals to Epiphanius in The Catholic Priesthood and Women: A Guide to the Teaching of the Church (Chicago/Mundelein, Ill: Hillenbrand Books, 2006), 61, 63. Epiphanius’s statement can be found in The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis, Books II and III, trans. Frank Williams (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994), 79.7, 2,3; 3,1.

7 On these issues, see especially Carrie A. Miles, The Redemption of Love: Rescuing Marriage and Sexuality From the Economics of a Fallen World (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2006) and David deSilva, Honor, Patronage, Kinship and Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000).

8 See my essay “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Women’s Ordination and the Priesthood of Christ (in persona Christi).”

9 See my essays “Concerning Women’s Ordination: The Argument From Symbolism Part 1 (God, Christ, Apostles),”; “Concerning Women’s Ordination: The Argument From Symbolism (Part 2: Transcendence, Immanence and Sexual Typology),”

10 Butler, 46-51.

11 Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 2nd edition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962, 1970); Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962); Bernard Lonergan, Method in Theology (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1990); Alasdair MacIntyre, Whose Justice? Which Rationality? (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1988); Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry: Encyclopaedia, Geneology, and Tradition (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1990); Helmut Thielicke, The Evangelical Faith Volume One: Prolegomena, The Relation of Theology to Modern Thought Forms (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1974).

12 Dorothy L. Sayers, “Are Women Human?,” Are Women Human? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971), 24.

13 Sayers, “Are Women Human?,” 25.

14 Dorothy Sayers, “Introduction,” The Comedy of Dante Alighieri: Cantica II Purgatory, trans. Dorothy L. Sayers (New York, NY: Penguin Books, 1955, 1980), 33.

15 Sayers,” Purgatory, 38.

16 Dorothy Sayers, “The Human-Not-Quite-Human,” Are Women Human?, 37.

17 That this continues to be a male obsession is evident in the title of the film What Women Want (2000) released over fifty years after Sayers’s essays.

18 Sayers, “Are Women Human?,” 32.

19 See particularly Dorothy L. Sayers, The Mind of the Maker (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1979), and “Why Work?,”Creed or Chaos? (Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press, 1995).

20 Sayers, “Why Work?,” 72-78.

21 Sayers, “Are Women Human?,” 19, 29.

22 Sayers, “Are Women Human?,” 25.

23 Sayers, “Are Women Human?,” 21.

24 The question might well be raised “Where did Sayers herself stand on the question of women’s ordination?,” to which the answer is that she took an ambiguous stance. In 1948, C.S Lewis wrote Sayers a letter in which he asked her to speak out against the “innovation” of women’s ordination by “Chinese Anglicans” (actually Hong Kong. The first Anglican women were actually ordained in Hong Kong in 1944). Sayers responded that it would be “silly” and “inexpedient” to establish a new barrier between Anglicans and “Catholic Christendom.” At the same time, she rejected what would become the new Catholic argument against the ordination of women: “I can never find any logical or strictly theological reason against it. Insofar as the Priest represents Christ, it is obviously more dramatically appropriate that a man should be, so to speak, cast for the part. But if I were cornered and asked point-blank whether Christ Himself is the representative of male humanity or all humanity, I should be obliged to answer ‘of all humanity’; and to cite the authority of St. Augustine that woman is also made in the image of God . . .” In the end, she declined Lewis’s invitation: “The most I can do is to keep silence in any place where the daughters of the Philistines might overhear me.” The letters are cited in Barbara Reynolds, Dorothy L. Sayers: Her Life and Soul (NY: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1993), 358-359.

25 Sayers, “Why Work?,” 76.

26 Miles, 50-56.

27 “No gender-specific responsibilities are given in creation, nor does the text in any way imply that one sex will take a role different from the other. . . . Moreover, the imperatives in verse 28 are not commandments as often thought but gifts or blessings. . . . Genesis 1 portrays man and woman as the beneficiaries of great munificence. . . . Everything on earth was a gift to them, intended for their happiness. Even sexuality itself – humankind as male and female – was one of the blessings of creation.” Miles, 20. See my essay “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Beginning with Genesis,”

28 Stephen R. Holmes, “Image of God,” Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible, Kevin J. Vanhoozer, General Editor (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 318-319.

29 See my essays “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Mutual Submission,”; “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Women in Worship and “Headship,”’s-ordination-women-in-worship.

30 See especially Michael J. Gorman, Cruciformity: Paul’s Narrative Spirituality of the Cross (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001).

31 Alan Padgett, As Christ Submits to the Church (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011).

32 Much of what follows is based on a sermon I preached that appeared as “Icons of Christ: A Sermon Preached at an Ordination,” in The Living Church (September 9, 2012) 16-17, 36-41.

33 Yves R. Simon, A General Theory of Authority (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1962, 1980); Victor Lee Austin, Up with Authority: Why We Need Authority to Flourish as Human Beings (New York, NY: T & T Clark, 2010); David T. Koyzis, We Answer to Another: Authority, Office, and the Image of God (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2014).

Much confusion about authority arises insofar as authority is confused with coercion or the oppressive use of power. Rather, power is the ability to get something done. Authority is the delegated responsibility of an individual to act on behalf of a community or group to get something done. An Amish farmer who organizes a barn raising is exercising authority even though no coercion is involved.

34 John Jewel, Apology of the Church of England (London: Cassell & Co., 1888), Part II.

35 On Cyril, see Thomas F. Torrance, “The Mind of Christ in Worship: The Problem of Apollinarianism in the Liturgy,” Theology in Reconciliation: Essays towards Evangelical and Catholic Unity in East and West (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1975), 139-214.

36 Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae 3.62-63.

37 For the above, see especially Elisabeth Behr-Sigel, The Ministry of Women in the Church, trans. Fr. Steven Bigham (Redonda Beach, CA: Oakwood Publications, 1991); Elisabeth Behr-Sigel and Kallistos Ware, The Ordination of Women in the Orthodox Church (Geneva: WCC Publications, 2000); Edward Kilmartin, S.J. Christian Liturgy: Theology and Practice I. Systematic Theology of Liturgy (Kansas City: Sheed and Ward, 1988) and The Eucharist in the West: History and Theology (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1998, 2004); George R. Sumner, Being Salt: A Theology of an Ordered Church (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2007); Thomas F. Torrance, Royal Priesthood: A Theology of Ordained Ministry, 2nd Edition (London: T & T Clark, 1993, 2003); Theology in Reconciliation: Essays towards Evangelical and Catholic Unity in East and West (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1975),

38 Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles 4.54; Summa Theologiae 2-2.23.1; Jean-Pierre Torrell, “Charity as Friendship in St. Thomas Aquinas,” Christ and Spirituality in St. Thomas Aquinas, Bernard Blankenhorn, O.P., trans. (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2011), 45-64.

39 Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics Volume 3 – The Doctrine of Creation Part 2 – The Creature, G.W. Bromiley and T.F. Torrance, eds. (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1960), 286, 292, 293.

40 Paul K. Jewett’s early book Man as Male and Female: A Study in Sexual Relationships from a Theological Point of View (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975), is a development of this theme.

41 Adam Galinski, “How to Speak Up for Yourself,”

42 Gordon D. Fee, “The Priority of Spirit Gifting for Church Ministry,” Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy, Ronald W. Pierce and Rebecca Merrill Groothuis, eds. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 241-254.

43 On the difference between the monastic and the Dominican understanding of vocation, see Simon Tugwell, Ways of Imperfection:An Exploration of Christian Spirituality (Springfield, ILL: Templegate Publishers, 1985), 138-151; on Dominican spirituality, see Tugwell, Early Dominicans: Selected Writings (Mahway, NJ: Paulist Press, 1982); The Way of the Preacher (London: Dayton, Longman & Todd, 1979). Of course, while there were women Dominicans, there were no female Dominican priests or preachers. The reason for that would have been the traditional one based on female intellectual incapacity.

44 Kathryn Greene-McCreight, Feminist Reconstructions of Christian Doctrine: Narrative Analysis and Appraisal (New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 36-40.

45 For an earlier feminist argument that such differences exist, see Carol Gilligan, In A Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1982, 1993).

46 Dorothy Sayers was one such an example of a woman who tended to be more rational than emotional, and was thus not “typically female.”

A New Page: A Guide to My Essays on Women’s Ordination

Over on my “Pages” section, I have added a A Guide To My Essays About Women’s Ordination. This likely will prove helpful in navigating the forest.

Concerning Women’s Ordination: Women’s Ministry in the New Testament (Bishops, Presbyters, Deacons) or a Presbytera is not a “Priestess” (Part 2)

christ_in_the_house_of_martha_and_maryThis is the second of two essays on women’s ministry in the New Testament. In the previous essay, I addressed the question (1) “Did women exercise ministerial office in the New Testament period?”1 In this essay, I address the two additional questions: (2) How does the New Testament address the question of female bishops or presbyters? (3) What are the contemporary hermeneutical implications of what the New Testament says about women in office?

As noted in previous essays, the New Testament says very little about the actual practices associated with the more permanent ministries which I have called “office.” For example, the New Testament nowhere describes the ritual celebration of the Eucharist or indicates who presided at its celebration; nor does the New Testament ever use the word “priest” to refer to those who exercise office, both key concerns in Catholic discussions of ordained ministry. Although the New Testament nowhere identifies by name a woman who exercised the role of presbyter or bishop, it does not mention by name any man with these titles either.

In addition (as I also pointed out), the New Testament terminology for office is fluid, and a number of titles are used: “co-worker,” “apostle,” “deacon,” “teacher, “prophet,” “leader.” However, after the New Testament period, permanent ministry is particularly associated with the offices of overseer/bishop, elder/presbyter, and deacon. These offices are rarely mentioned in the New Testament. The book of Acts indicates that Paul and Barnabas appointed “elders” (πρεσβύτεροι, presbyteroi) “in each church” (Acts 14:23). As Paul concluded his third mission journey before returning to Jerusalem, he addressed the “elders” (πρεσβύτεροι, presbyteroi) of the church at Ephesus (Acts 20:17). Paul counsels them to keep watch over the flock over whom the Holy Spirit has made them “overseers” (ἐπίσκοποι, episkopoi) in order to shepherd the church of God (v. 28). In chapter 15, Acts mentions “the elders” in conjunction with “the apostles” (Acts 15:4, 6, 22, 23). In Phil. 1:1, Paul greets the “saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi,” along with the “overseers and deacons” (ἐπισκόποις καὶ διακόνοις, episkopois kai diakonois). This is the only letter in which Paul specifically addresses these office holders by title. Again, there is nothing in these passages to indicate the sex of these office holders, and the only person specifically identified as a deacon by Paul is the female deacon, Phoebe (Rom. 16:1).

The only New Testament description of qualifications for the offices of overseer/bishop, elder/presbyter, and deacon occur in the pastoral epistles (1 Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9); consequently, these are the crucial passages to examine in order to assess whether the New Testament addresses the question of female bishops or presbyters. Those who are opposed to women’s ordination appeal to these passages as crucial for deciding the issue. The Anglican Forward in Faith document Consecrated Women? states:

By the time of the Pastoral Epistles, an ordained ministry with full authority has developed, and with these we see, in some places, the first beginnings of monepiscopacy. We naturally stress the witness of the Scriptures that the ministry of presbyteroi and episkopoi is male. There is no evidence of, or endorsement for, the exercise of oversight or liturgical leadership by women: the opposite is the case.2

In a footnote, the document appeals for biblical support to 1 Corinthians 14:33-36 as “possibly a special prohibition by St Paul of female presidency of the Eucharist,”3 as well as “1 Timothy 3: Titus 1:5ff., etc.”4 Beyond the mere reference, there is no actual exegesis of either 1 Timothy 3 or Titus 1. That these passages provide warrant for a male-only presbyterate and episcopacy is assumed to be self-evident. The strong statement “the opposite is the case” referring to “no evidence of, or endorsement for, the exercise of oversight or liturgical leadership by women” is, again, simply asserted. There could, of course, be no evidence for the exercise of liturgical leadership by men either, since the New Testament says nothing whatsoever about who presided at liturgical celebration, whether male or female. In my previous essay, I argued that there is indeed strong evidence that women in the New Testament church, held “office,” and thus exercised some sort of ecclesial oversight. The Forward in Faith statement is thus mere assertion without substantiation.

On the other hand, the Evangelical Complementarian Wayne Grudem at least makes an attempt at an argument based on the observation that 1 Timothy 3:2 states that the office of overseer “should be filled by someone who is the ‘husband of one wife.’ . . . It is evident that only a man can be a husband. . . . anēr . . . is the Greek term that specifically designates a male human being. This means elders [sic] had to be men.”5 (Grudem’s argument will be addressed below.)

Job Descriptions or Moral Qualifications?

The pastoral epistles describe the qualifications for overseers/bishops, elders/presbyters, and deacons in two places. 1 Timothy 3:1-7 addresses qualifications for overseers (or bishops), 3:8-12 discusses deacons, and Titus 1:5-9 includes almost identical language concerning elders (or presbyters), who, in verse 7, are also referred to with the title of “overseer/bishop.” (Whether the offices of overseer/bishop and elder/presbyter are two distinct offices, or are rather simply different names for the same office is an issue of controversy that need not be addressed here.)6

The first thing to be noted is that these are not job descriptions, but moral qualifications for church office. New Testament scholar Ben Witherington notes that the focus is on “character description.” The main function of the passages is “to explain how a leader should behave, not what the leader’s full job description should look like.”7 The character description of the overseer/bishop contrasts five vices which the office holder should avoid with six virtues to pursue, in addition to demanding sexual fidelity in marriage. Paul is likely contrasting the moral behavior of overseers, elders, and male and female deacons with that of false teachers and unruly women described elsewhere in the pastoral epistles.8

Misleading Translation

So, first, the qualifications for church office in the pastoral epistles are moral qualifications, not job descriptions, and specifically not gender qualifications. Second, it is also important to note that the standard English translations of these passages are misleading, giving the impression that Paul is describing specifically male office holders. In describing the office of overseer/bishop, Paul uses the generic τις (tis), properly translated as “whoever” or “anyone.” Paul affirms that “whoever (τις, tis) aspires to the office of bishop (ἐπίσκοπος, episkopos) desires a noble task” (1 Tim. 3:1-2, NRSV). The same word is used in Titus 1:6: “If anyone (τίς, tis) is blameless/irreproachable . . .” As Philip Payne asks, “Would Paul encourage women to desire an office, as these words do, if it were prohibited to them?”9

Unfortunately, by their introduction of male pronouns where there are none in the original Greek text, modern English translations give the misleading impression that Paul is claiming that church leaders must be male. The complementarian-leaning ESV translation introduces the male pronouns “he” or “his” ten times in 1 Tim. 3:1-7, while even the “inclusive language” translations of the NRSV and the revised NIV have eight and ten masculine pronouns respectively. In actuality, the Greek texts of 1 Tim. 3:1-12 and Titus 1:5-9 do not contain a single male pronoun.10

A more literal (but admittedly awkward) translation of 1 Timothy 3:1-6 would read as follows:

Trustworthy is the saying: Whoever [tis] aspires to [the office of] overseer/bishop desires a good work. It is necessary therefore that the overseer/bishop be without approach, a “one woman man” [literal translation], temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, apt at teaching, not an excessive drinker, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not greedy; managing one’s own household well, having children in subjection with all gravity – but if someone [tis] does not know how to manage one’s own family, how would one care for God’s church? – not a recent convert, lest being puffed up, one become conceited and fall into the devil’s snare.

With the single exception of the three-word expression “one woman man” (to be discussed below), nothing in the passage would indicate that the person being discussed for the office of overseer/bishop would be either a man or a woman.

Also significant are the close parallels between the language that Paul uses to describe the qualifications for the office of overseer/bishop and the language he uses to describe women. The language is so close that it cannot be coincidental. There are numerous verbal or conceptual parallels between overseer requirements and passages regarding women. Almost half of these passages use nearly identical terminology; others use synonymous expressions, while others forbid identical characteristics.11 The following parallels are based on a chart created by Philip Payne12:

Overseer Description→Statements About Women→Pastoral Epistle Odds

1 Tim. 3:1 (καλοῦ ἔργου, kalou ergou “good work”)→ 5:10 (ἔργοις καλοῖς, ergois kalois “good works”)→8/14

3:2 (ἀνεπίλημπτον, anepilēmpton “irreproachable”)→ 5:7 (ἀνεπίλημπτοι, anepilēmptoi “irreproachable”)→3/14

3:2 (μιᾶς γυναικὸς ἄνδρα, mias gunaikos andra “one woman man”)→ 5:9 (ἑνὸς ἀνδρὸς γυνή, henos andros gunē “one man woman”)→4/14

3:2 (νηφάλιον, nēphalion “temperate”)→ 3:11 (νηφαλίους, nēphalious “temperate”)→3/14

3:2 (σώφρονα, sōphrona “sober”)→ 2:9, 15 (σωφροσύνης, sōphrosynēs “sobriety,” “propriety”)→6/14

3:2 (κόσμιον, kosmion “orderly”)→ 2:9 (κοσμίῳ, kosmiō “orderly”)→2/14

3:4 (σεμνότητος, semnotētos “gravity,” “respect”)→ 3:11 (σεμνάς, semnas “to be grave”)→6/14

3:6 (κρίμα, krima “judgment” to be avoided)→ 5:12 (κρίμα, krima “judgment” to be avoided)→2/14

3:7 (μαρτυρίαν καλὴν, marturian kalēn “good witness”)→ 5:10 (καλοῖς μαρτυρουμένη, kalois marturoumenē “witnessed” by “good” works) → 3/14

The repeated use of such identically-phrased language in reference to both the requirements for the office of overseer/bishop and in reference to women cannot be a coincidence. Payne calculates that the 36 lines of 1 Timothy explicitly about women (out of a total of 516 lines in the pastoral epistles) comes to approximately 1/14 of the pastoral epistles. The total number of times an expression appears in the pastoral epistles divided by 14 gives the odds of a random distribution in the pastoral epistles (the third column above). The probability of a random distribution of all these words and expressions occurring in the thirty-six lines of the pastoral epistles explicitly about women is the product of each of the separate odds for the appropriate columns, approximately six in one million.13 Regardless of the exact mathematical possibilities, the use of so much identical terminology both in the verses describing the requirements for the office of overseer/bishop and in the verses explicitly about women only makes sense if Paul deliberately described women using the identical vocabulary that he had used to describe overseers in 1 Timothy (as well as elders in Titus 1:6-9). Given that this is certainly the case, it cannot be that Paul understood the requirements for the office of overseer to exclude women – since they are the same requirements! Rather, Paul seems deliberately to use identical language to describe the moral qualifications of overseers/bishops and elders and the expectations for women in the church. As noted above, the requirements are moral qualifications, character descriptions, not job descriptions, and they are not gender-specific.

A “One Woman Man”

What then about the three-word expression μιᾶς γυναικὸς ἄνδρα, (mias gunaikos andra, literally “one woman man”) in verse two translated variously as “the husband of one wife” (KJV, ESV), “married only once” (NRSV), and “faithful to his wife” (NIV)? Does it mean (as Grudem claims) that office holders have to be male? There is disagreement about the meaning of the phrase “one woman man” and its female equivalent (1 Timothy 5:9). Both Grudem and Payne (who agree on almost nothing else) believe that it is an exclusion of polygamists (and likely adulterers).14 Witherington suggests that polygamy and polyrandry are probably unlikely, since these were rare practices in the Greco-Roman world. The emphasis is on the word “one,” not on “man” or “woman.”15 As noted above, the requirements of the office of overseer/bishop are primarily moral requirements: “[T]he strong sense in this passage is on being morally irreproachable. It is therefore far more likely that the phrase in question is dealing with behavior within marriage, which is, to say, being sexually faithful to one’s own wife, and so not engaging in any sort of extramarital infidelity.” A “one woman man,” indicates, then, someone who has been exclusively faithful to his wife. The close parallel to 5:9 (“one man woman”), which is nearly identical in language and form, indicates that both passages are dealing with the same issue – sexual fidelity in marriage.16

The passage does not imply that the person must necessarily be married and cannot be single. Nor do the following statements about managing one’s own household and one’s children imply that the overseer/bishop necessarily has children. Paul simply assumes as a matter of course that the person would be married with a family, as would have been normal in first-century Mediterranean culture.17 John Chrysostom’s Homily on 1 Tim 3:2 interprets the passage to mean not that there is a rule that the bishop must have a wife, but that he cannot have more than one.18 If the passage were to be pressed to imply a strict job description with minimum requirements, then the references to managing a household would mean that all bishops, presbyters, and deacons would need to be married home owners with at least two children old enough to be believers. If these were minimum requirements, then not even Paul, who was single and (since he exercised an itinerant ministry) did not own a home, would have qualified as an overseer or deacon.19

The phrase “one woman man” functions, then, as an exclusion (no adulterers), not as a minimum job requirement. Grudem recognizes correctly the exclusionary element when he acknowledges that the passage does not rule out single men as overseers,20 but he is inconsistent in then insisting that the passage implies that the overseer must necessarily be a male. Payne points out that if the requirement is morally exclusionary, it does not prohibit women any more than the requirement prohibits unmarried men or married men who do not own homes or have children:

Since “one woman man” is a set phrase that functions as an exclusion, any claim that a single word of it (“man”) also functions separately as a requirement must posit a double meaning. This is not warranted by the context. It is bad hermeneutics to isolate a single word (“man”) from a set phrase (“one woman man”) that functions as an exclusion (of polygamists and probably adulterous husbands) and to elevate that single word to the status of an independent requirement (that all overseers be men).21

The exclusion operates exactly in the same way that the parallel requirement in 1 Timothy 5:9 functions concerning widows, as a promotion of exclusive fidelity within marriage. Oddly, Grudem claims that the parallel in 5:9 concerning widows is “is not parallel, but precisely the opposite,” because “it assumes that the widow is a woman, and it assumes that the elder is a man!”22 To the contrary, a qualification for overseer that was “precisely the opposite” would read something like “a many man woman,” that is, an adulterer. Genesis 2:23 makes clear that woman is not the opposite of man, but like him as his “helper” or partner, “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” In both passages in 1 Timothy, the requirement is a moral restriction on both men and women that serves an identical function, the exclusion of adulterers and the promotion of fidelity in marriage.

Grudem makes a parallel argument based on Paul’s statement in verse 4 concerning household management: “. . . the New Testament sees a close relationship between male leadership in the home and male leadership in the church. Paul says that the candidate for the office of elder must manage his own household well.”23 The Forward in Faith document Consecrated Women? makes a similar claim: “The bishop’s duty is, as described, to be the paterfamilias of God’s assembly . . . There is an obvious, although not explicit, logic here relating this monistic paternal episcopal ministry to the unity of the one oikos of the Father. One God, one bishop, one flock of the redeemed.”24 Both confuse Paul’s accommodation to the normal social setting of the Mediterranean household with an endorsement of that setting as having a permanently normative status. Witherington points out that it is not surprising that there is significant overlap in what Paul writes about the overseer/bishop with the desirable character traits of non-ecclesial office holders in the contemporary Mediterranean culture. What is surprising, however, and should be given heavier weight is the way that Paul modifies common norms, especially sexual norms, within a “christological and apostolic paradigm.” In contrast to the ancient Mediterranean “shame/honor” culture, which I have discussed at length in other essays, is the focus on servanthood. The overseer, elder, or deacon, is called to be humble and serve others, not to domineer over them.25

In defending his claim that the passage implies male leadership, Grudem argues that Paul never uses the word προΐστημι (proistēmi) (1 Tim. 3:5) to speak of women managing or governing a household, but only men.26 However, as Payne points out, Paul does use the even stronger word οἰκοδεσποτεῖν (oikodespotein, “to be house despots”) to describe younger widows in 1 Tim. 5:14, who are to marry and manage their homes. Moreover, no NT passage explicitly applies proistēmi to men either. In Rom. 12:8, the word is used in a list of gifts that could apply to either men or women, and Rom. 12:6-8 (like 1 Timothy 3:1-13) contains no specifically male pronouns. On the other hand, the only time the noun form is used in the NT, it describes a woman, Phoebe, who,

in Rom. 16:2, is called a προστάτις (prostatis), a “leader” or “patron.”27

Women Deacons?

In 1 Timothy 3:8-13, Paul provides a list of the requirements for deacons, which are the same kinds of moral or character requirements as those for overseers/bishops. As are overseers, deacons are to be “grave/honorable/above reproach” (σεμνούς, semnous) (3:8; cf. 3:4), not heavy drinkers of wine, not greedy (cf. 3:3). Significantly, as with overseers/bishops, deacons are to be “one woman men” who manage their children and household well (3:12; cf. 3:2, 4). Important for this discussion is 1 Timothy 3:11, a short statement in the middle of the qualifications for deacons, which reads: “Similarly, women (γυναῖκας ὡσαύτως, gunaikas ōsautōs) [to be] grave/worthy of respect (σεμνάς, semnas), not slanderers (διαβόλους, diabolous), sober (νηφαλίους, nēphalious), faithful in all things (πιστὰς ἐν πᾶσιν, pistas en pasin)” (my translation). As in 3:8 (“Deacons, likewise . . .), the verse is introduced by the word “likewise” or “similarly” (ὡσαύτως, ōsautōs). This, along with the immediate context of the verse, indicates that the women discussed have some relationship to the office of deacon. Controversy concerns whether 1 Timothy 3:11 refers to female deacons or to deacons’ wives. Predictably, the complementarian-leaning ESV translates the passage: “Their wives likewise . . . ,” while the NRSV and the NIV play it safe with the literal “Women likewise . . .” and “In the same way, the women . . .” (In footnotes, the NRSV and the NIV both list “wives of deacons” and “women deacons” as possible translations.)

Context and vocabulary indicate “women deacons” as the preferable translation. Witherington points out that, grammatically, the sentence is dependent on 3:2 and the word “must” (δεῖ, dei). As 3:8 with its description of deacons is tied to 3:2 by the word “likewise,” so 3:11 is then tied to 3:8 by an additional appearance of the word “likewise.” The passage would, then, seem to be a continued discussion of church functionaries, women deacons, not wives of deacons. If it is deacons’ wives, it is difficult to imagine Paul not first having made similar comments about overseers’ wives.28

Payne provides additional grammatical and vocabulary indications that the passage must refer to women deacons. If Paul had intended to refer to “wives of deacons,” he would have added an expression such as “of deacons” or “their,” or “having wives” (cf. 3:4, “having children”). Because deacons had already been been referred to, there would have been no additional need to supply the word “deacons” when referring to women. The word “likewise/similarly” would have been sufficient as it exactly parallels “deacons, similarly” in verse 8. Each case of “similarly” indicates a church office provided by moral qualifications. Neither “deacons similarly” nor “women similarly” has a verb, but rather presuppose the continuation of “it is necessary for . . . to be” (δεῖ . . . εἶναι, dei . . . einai) from verse 2. The parallel verbal vocabulary and structure describing the qualifications for “deacons” and “women” also point to a description of office. Deacons (3:8) and women (deacons) (3:11) are required to be “worthy of respect” (σεμνούς, semnous; σεμνάς, semnas); “not double-tongued” (μὴ διλόγους, dilogous), “not slanderous: (μὴ διαβόλους, diabolous); “not addicted to much wine” (μὴ οἴνῳ πολλῷ προσέχοντας, mē oinō pollō prosexontas), “sober” (νηφαλίους, nēphalious); not “fond of dishonest gain” (αἰσχροκερδεῖς, aisxrokerdeis), “faithful in all things” (πιστὰς ἐν πᾶσιν, pistas en pasin).29

Finally, as pointed out in the previous essay, it is helpful to examine patristic interpretations of a passage, since the church fathers were native speakers of ancient Greek. As with the case of Phoebe being a deacon and Junia an apostle, so most patristic commentators interpret the passage to be referring to women deacons.30

Given then, that verse 11 almost certainly refers to female deacons, this would also cast light on the expression “one woman man,” which appears again in v. 12, describing deacons. If “one woman man” and “managing one’s household” as character qualifications for deacons in verse 12 does not exclude the female deacons described in verse 11, then the identical vocabulary used to describe overseers/bishops in 3:2, 4 and elders in Titus 1:6 cannot exclude female overseers or elders. (We would also know from Rom. 16:1 that the “one woman man” qualification would not exclude female deacons since Phoebe is described as a διάκονος, diakonos of the church of Cenchrae.)31

Some, however (particularly complementarians), will appeal to Paul’s prohibition of women teaching or holding authority over men in 1 Timothy 2:12. Would this not exclude women from exercising the office of overseer/bishop or elder/presbyter? I have already examined this passage at length, and I refer readers to that essay.32 Paul’s use of the present tense verb form οὐκ ἐπιτρέπω (ouk epitrepō) (“I am not permitting”) indicates that the exclusion is temporary, and is addressing a particular local situation involving false teachers. Paul’s prohibition in 1 Tim. 2:12 might have something to do with Paul’s not explicitly mentioning women overseers in 1 Tim. 3 in the same way that he had mentioned women deacons, but it would not be a permanent prohibition. If there is a tension in interpretation between 1 Tim. 2:12 and 1 Tim. 3, then 1 Tim. 2:12 should be interpreted in the light of 1 Tim. 3 and Titus 1:6 rather than the reverse. A controverted interpretation of a single verse in 1 Tim. 2:12 should not override the normal meaning of τις (tis) (“everyone,” “any one”) in both 1 Tim. 3:1 and Titus 1:6. Moreover, if 1 Tim. 2:12 overrides the normal meaning of “anyone” to imply a permanent exclusion of women from office in the church, then the silencing of members of the circumcision party in Titus 1:10-11 would imply a similar permanent exclusion.33

Finally, returning to a criticism raised in an earlier essay concerning the problem of “women priestesses,”34 an objection sometimes raised by “Catholic” opponents of women’s ordination is that an ordained woman would be a “priestess,” and the Christian church does not have “priestesses,” but “priests.” However, as should be evident from this essay, Paul does not use the language of “priest” (ἱερεύς, hiereus) to refer to church office, but overseer/bishop (episkopos), elder/presbyter (presbyteros), and deacon (diakonos). The historical origins of the English word “priest” are as a translation of presbyteros, the ordinary Greek word for “elder.” Paul does indeed use this word in reference to women in the pastoral epistles. In 1 Timothy 5:1, he writes “Do not rebuke an elder/older man (Πρεσβυτέρῳ, presbyterō), but exhort him as a father, younger men as brothers, and female elders/older women (πρεσβυτέρας, presbyteras) as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with all purity.” Within this context, Paul is probably not referring to church office, but simply using the ordinary Greek word that would have described older men and older women. However, the point is that the issue of the ordination of women to church office has nothing to do with women “priestesses.” An ordained woman would be a female overseer/bishop, a female elder/presbyter (presbytera), or a female deacon.

Hermeneutics and the Regulative Principle

Finally, I turn to the issue of hermeneutics: What are the contemporary hermeneutical implications of what the New Testament says about women in office? In an earlier essay, I addressed the issue of hermeneutics, and distinguished it from exegesis.35 In that essay, I followed some distinctions introduced by Anglican Divine Richard Hooker in his Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity over against Puritan objections to Anglican ecclesiology and liturgical practices. Specifically, the Puritans advocated a “regulative” principle of Biblical interpretation. Whatever was not specifically commanded in Scripture was prohibited. (Thus the Puritans rejected written liturgies, written prayers, lectionaries, liturgical calenders, vestments, hymn-singing that was not based on the Psalms, the exchange of wedding rings.) In contrast, Hooker embraced a permissive hermeneutic for the application of Scripture to contemporary practice. Whatever was not specifically forbidden by Scripture was allowed. Hooker also made helpful distinctions between natural law, revealed law, and positive law. Not all “positive laws” recorded in Scripture have permanent validity for all time and places. Particular positive laws in Scripture might have temporary application if their goal or purpose has been fulfilled; for example, the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament have been fulfilled by the atoning work of Jesus Christ. At the same time, the goal or purpose of a positive law must be discerned in assessing how that goal might be fulfilled in a different setting or time than its original setting in Scripture. The church has the freedom to formulate its own positive law that might differ in its specifics from the positive law contained in Scripture if the church law fulfills the same goal.36 Finally, Hooker made an extremely important observation concerning merely historical statements in Scripture which cannot simply be presumed to provide permanent warrant for later Christian practice: “When that which the word of God doth but deliver historically, we counter without any warrant as if it were legally meant, and so urge it further than we can prove it was intended, do we not add to the laws of God, and make them in number seem more than they are?”37

How then might Hooker’s hermeneutical principles be applied in light of what the New Testament says about church office, and particularly about what Paul wrote in the pastoral epistles? There is a serious danger, I think, in a hermeneutical misapplication of historical precedent in Scripture. Both Evangelical complementarian and “Catholic” objections to women’s ordination seem to presume that the first-century church’s historical practice concerning what is assumed to be exclusively male exercise of church office provides a permanent warrant for later church practice.

I have argued in my previous essay that there is good historical warrant for the exercise of church office by women in the NT church, and, in this essay, that nothing of what Paul writes about the requirements for the offices of overseer/bishop, elder/presbyter, or deacon would exclude women from those offices. Even if I am mistaken, however, if there were no evidence of women holding office in the NT church, and if Paul’s requirements for office as described in the pastoral epistles indicates that the offices of overseer/bishop, elder/presbyter, and deacon were held only by men, this in itself would not provide a necessary warrant for male-only leadership in later church practice.

The hermeneutical danger here is that against which Hooker warned, of confusing a merely historical practice with a warrant, of confusing the descriptive with the prescriptive. In the pastoral epistles, Paul was writing in and addressing the social setting of first-century Mediterranean culture. House churches were patterned along the lines of the Mediterranean household, and Paul would have assumed that the householder would be male, have children, and manage his household – although there would have been exceptions, such as Paul himself or “co-workers” of Paul, such as Priscilla and Aquila. At the same time, the requirements that Paul lists for the office of overseer, elder and deacon are moral; he provides no prescriptive job descriptions. Paul’s concern is that the overseer/elder be a good moral example both to the church and to the surrounding pagan culture, can manage the church well as he manages his own household, and is above reproach or scandal. However, nothing that Paul writes would exclude a woman from fulfilling the same functions. Indeed, that Paul refers to “anyone” (tis) when describing those eligible for these offices, uses no specifically male pronouns, and deliberately uses identical moral language to describe what he expects of women in his churches (including women deacons) that he demands of office-holders makes clear that there are no distinctive gender requirements for holding church office. There is nothing in what Paul writes in the pastoral epistles concerning the requirements for church office that would provide a theological warrant for excluding women from ordination, and, as Richard Hooker argued that the church in his own day had the freedom to use written liturgies, written prayers, lectionaries, liturgical calenders, vestments, hymn-singing that was not based on the Psalms, and exchange wedding rings (even though none of these were specifically commanded in Scripture), so the church in our own day, facing a vastly different cultural situation from the household culture of the first-century Mediterranean world, should be willing and indeed eager to ordain as office holders those women who meet the kinds of moral character requirements for office on which Paul insisted in his own day, and in whose lives the church discerns evidence of divine vocation to church ministry.

1 “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Women’s Ministry in the New Testament (Office),”

2 Jonathan Baker, ed. Consecrated Women? A Contribution to the Bishops Debate (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2004), 61.

3 I address this passage in my essay “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Speaking and Teaching,” Needless to say, this passage says nothing about “female presidency of the Eucharist” because it says nothing about the Eucharist.

4 Consecrated Women?, 61, n.

5 Wayne Grudem, Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth: An Analysis of More than One Hundred Disputed Questions (Sisters, OR: Multonomah Publishers, 2004), 80. Although Grudem refers to “elders” (presbyters), the text reads episkopos, that is “overseer” or “bishop.”

6 For a recent argument that they were distinct offices, see Alistair C. Stewart, The Original Bishops: Office in the First Christian Communities (Baker Academic, 2014).

7 Ben Witherington III, Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians Volume 1: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on Titus, 1-2 Timothy and 1-3 John (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 109, 243.

8 Witherington, 237, 241-242.

9 Philip B. Payne, Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul’s Letters (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009), 448.

10 Payne, 445-448.

11 Payne, 449.

12 Payne, 450.

13 Payne, 450-451.

14 Grudem, 80; Payne, 445-446.

15 Witherington, Letters, 109.

16 Payne, 451 note.

17 Witherington, Letters, 110, 237.

18 “ This he does not lay down as a rule, as if he must not be without one, but as prohibiting his having more than one.” John Chrysostom, “Homily X, 1 Tim.3:1-4,” Homilies on Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians, Timothy, Titus and Philemon: A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Philip Schaff, ed.(Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1994);

19 Payne, 446.

20 Grudem, 80.

21 Payne, 447; “If Grudem is permitted to dismemeber ‘one woman man’ and arbitrarily designate one word of it out of context as a new requirement, what is to keep one from isolating ‘one’s own house’ from ‘ruling one’s own house well’ (3:4-5) and designate home ownership as a new requirement for home owners?” Payne, 447

22 Grudem, 256.

23 Grudem, 80

24 Consecrated Women?, 166

25 Witherington, 114-115, 236.

26 Grudem, 263, n. 107

27 Payne, 452-453; See my previous essay, “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Women’s Ministry in the New Testament (Office)”;

28 Witherington, 241.

29 Payne, 454-459

30 So, for example, John Chrysostom’s homily on 1 Timothy 3:8-10: “Some have thought that this is said of women generally, but it is not so, for why should he introduce anything about women to interfere with his subject? He is speaking of those who hold the rank of Deaconesses.” “Homily 11, 1 Timothy 3:8-10,” A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 13, Saint Chrysostom: Homilies on Galatians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians, Timothy, Titus, and Philemon, Philipp Schaff, ed. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1994); However, there was no distinction between the office of “deacon” and “deaconess” in the New Testament period. Paul would have been referring to women deacons.

31 Payne, 448.

32 See my essay “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Speaking and Teaching”;

33 Payne, 453.

34 “Concerning Women’s Ordination: A Presbytera is not a “Priestess” (Part 1: Old Testament Priesthood)”;

35 “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Hierarchy and Hermeneutics,”

36 Significantly, Hooker considers Paul’s instruction to Timothy concerning widows (1 Tim. 5:9) as precisely such an alterable measure in Scripture; Sykes, 93.

37 Richard Hooker, The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, 2 vols. (London: J.M. Dent & Co., 1907), Book III. v. 1; cited in Stephen Sykes, “Richard Hooker and the Ordination of Women,” Unashamed Anglicanism (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 88.

Concerning Women’s Ordination: Women’s Ministry in the New Testament (Office)

Jesus and the Canaanite WomanIn previous essays in this series, I have addressed theological objections to the ordination of women, both Protestant and Catholic. In the next few essays, I will discuss the actual ministry of women in the New Testament, that is: What actual ministerial roles did women exercise during the New Testament period, and what might be the implications for current ecclesial practice? I will address three issues: (1) Did women exercise ministerial office in the New Testament period? (2) How does the New Testament address the question of female bishops or presbyters? (3) What are the contemporary hermeneutical implications of what the New Testament says about women in office? That is, what should be the church’s current practice in light of New Testament material concerning women in office? (Previous essays have already discussed the status of women in the Old Testament, women in the ministry of Jesus, women and Old Testament priesthood, and the theological implications of Jesus having called only male apostles.) In this essay, I will address the first question: Did women exercise ministerial office in the New Testament period?

New Testament Office

Roman Catholic theologian Francis Martin brings a helpful contribution to the discussion of the ministry of women in the New Testament by distinguishing between (1) charisms of service, (2) ministry, and (3) office. A charism of service is a particular endowment, given by the Holy Spirit, that enables a member of the Christian community to contribute to the life of that community. Examples of charisms of service would be prophecy, teaching, words of wisdom or knowledge, speaking, interpretation of tongues, helping others (1 Cor. 12:4-11,28, 14; 1 Peter 4:11). Ministry refers to divinely enabled activities that build up the Christian community and have a more permanent basis. More permanent ministerial gifts would include leadership, some forms of diaconal service, or itinerant preaching (Rom. 12:7-8; 1 Cor. 12:28). Office refers to a stable ministry which secures the permanence of apostolic teaching by providing for a continuing existence over space and time. Office works within the corporeal and historical nature of the church, and must be transmitted through some form of human activity (laying on of hands?). Office is particularly bound up with “remembering” the apostolic message, particularly the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The ministerial gifts that enable a person to exercise office include presiding over the faithful transmission of the gospel through word and sacrament in worship. Office is particularly associated with the ministry of presbyters and bishops.1

This is precisely the distinction that needs to be made to address the issue of women’s ministry and the ordination of women in the church. No one denies (not even Protestant complementarians) that women exercised what Martin calls “charisms of service” in the New Testament church and, presumably, may do so today as well. No one denies that women exercised some forms of more permanent ministry in the New Testament church, and may do so today – what we might today designate as “lay ministries” – although Protestant complementarians and Catholic sacramentalists disagree about what kind of permanent ministries might be allowed to women today. For Protestant complementarians, any permanent ministry involving the exercise of authority over or teaching of men would be excluded to women. For Catholic sacramentalists, women are allowed to exercise permanent ministries involving teaching and even the exercise of authority provided that they do not preside over the church’s celebration of the sacraments. For both Protestant complementarians and Catholic sacramentalists, the prohibition lies in the exercise of office; they disagree in their understanding of ordination to office to involve different tasks – whether authority and teaching or celebration of the sacraments.

Given the clear distinction between charisms of service and more permanent ongoing ministries, the crucial difference for the current discussion concerns that between more permanent ministries and “office.” Given that some women in the New Testament period exercised more permanent forms of ministry, were any of these positions of office? The question is not as straightforward as it might appear for the following reasons:

First, during the New Testament period, the distinction between charism, ministry, and office, is not always clear. Martin writes: “There was a period when the charisms, ministries and offices . . . were not differentiated, though they clearly existed and achieved differentiation and identifiability as the church grew.”2 Prophecy, for example, can be a charism of service, since Paul encourages all to “prophecy” (1 Cor. 15:5-19); when the church comes together, each is to have a “teaching” or “revelation” (1 Cor. 14:26). In distinction, other examples of prophecy seem to imply a kind of ongoing ministry (1 Cor. 14:32, 37; Rom. 12:8; Acts 11:27-28; 15:27-33; 21:9). Finally, “prophet” can also refer to someone who holds an office, that is, exercises some kind of supervisory role in the community (1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11). Similarly, “teaching” may refer to a transient charismatic gift (1 Cor. 12:8, 14:26), but it also can refer to a more stable permanent ministry (Rom. 12:7; Col. 3:16). In most cases, however, teaching refers to an authoritative function of the transmission of the gospel, an “office.” In the book of Acts, “teaching” is the task of apostles (Acts 2:42; 4:2, 18; 5:21, 25, 28; 5:42; 13:1, 15:35; 18:11; 20:20; 21:21, 28; 28:31). In the pastoral epistles, the term applies to Paul as an apostle (1 Tim. 2:7; 2 Tim.1:11). In Ephesians 4:11, “teacher” is listed as an office alongside apostle, prophet, evangelist, and shepherd. In a given case, then, it may not be clear whether the description of a particular task or title refers to a charism, a permanent ministry, or an “office.”

How then to distinguish between ministry and office? Martin acknowledges: “It is obvious that we are not going to find the reality of office existing in a clearly distinct form in the New Testament” – first, because of “fluidity of language” (the same term can be used in more than one way), and second, because many of the charisms and ministries of the New Testament church were later absorbed by office.3 Martin suggests two indications of the development of office in the New Testament. First is the assurance with which some New Testament figures teach or exercise authority. The apostle Paul would be a prime example. Second would be the exercise of leadership roles. In Acts, Luke refers to “elders” (presbyters) and “overseers” (bishops). Paul’s letters refer to “elders,” and “overseers” as well as “deacons.” In 1 Thess. 5:12, Paul refers to those who “labor among you” and are “over you in the Lord.” The book of Hebrews refers to “leaders” who preach the word and “keep watch over your souls” (Heb. 13:7, 17). At the same time, Martin acknowledges that New Testament terminology for office – apostle, overseer, leader, deacon, prophet, teacher, care-taker, laborer – is fluid and unfixed.4

Second, the New Testament simply does not address some of the characteristics essential to Martin’s definition of office. The New Testament says nothing about who presided at the celebration of the Lord’s Supper/Eucharist in the first century church or how the eucharistic service was structured. Concern for faithful historical transmission of the gospel through a formal activity of the church – in the specific manner of second century and historic Catholic discussions of apostolic succession – is not addressed in the New Testament because, when the New Testament documents were written, the apostles were still alive.

Finally, except for individuals identified specifically as apostles (either the original twelve, Paul, James the brother of Jesus) or the rare exceptions such as Timothy and Titus, who are assigned specific pastoral responsibilities (1 Tim. 1:3, 4:11-16, 5:1-25, 6:2,17-20; 2 Tim. 1:6, 14. 2:2, 14ff., 4:1-4; Titus 1:5-9, 2:1-10,15, 3:1-2:10), the New Testament does not unequivocally identify specific individuals as exercising the task of what Martin calls “office.” For example, opponents of women’s ordination sometimes object that the New Testament nowhere identifies any woman by name as a bishop/overseer or presbyter/elder. However, 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 either. 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).5

These ambiguities are precisely the problem with Martin’s concluding statement concerning the exercise of office by women in the New Testament: “The fact that even at the earliest level, when women were rightfully prominent and influential because of their gifts and services, there is no clear evidence that a woman was ever an office holder, is not an accident of the data, nor a patriarchal reading of it.”6 Given the acknowledged fluidity and ambiguity of the language applied to ministry and office in the New Testament, and, given that, with the exceptions of the apostles as well as Timothy and Titus – to whom roles of “office” are specifically assigned – there is “no clear evidence” that specific men were named as office holders either, the strong conclusion that Martin draws from the evidence concerning women holding office is not warranted.

Women Office Holders in the New Testament

Given the above ambiguities, any case that there were women office holders in the New Testament would have to be implied. Nonetheless, a careful examination of the evidence indicates that a strong case can be made that Paul’s letter to the Romans mentions three women who not only exercised what Martin calls permanent ministries, but also exercised ministries of church office.

Light can be shed on what Paul says about women in ministry by first looking at what he writes about ministry in general. Although Paul is clear that all members of the church have been given gifts of the Spirit for the common good (1 Cor. 12:7), Paul also acknowledges authority figures in the congregation. In Galatians 6:6, he speaks of local teachers. In 1 Cor. 12:28, he seems to indicate a hierarchical order: (1) apostles, (2) prophets, (3) teachers, (4) miracles workers and other charismatic gifts. Ben Witherington points to the following specific ministries in Paul’s writings: leader, administrator, or overseer (ἐπίσκοπος) (Rom. 12:8; 1 Cor. 12:28; Phil. 1:1); diakonos(διάκονος)(Phil. 1:1); fellow-worker (synergos, συνεργός). The leadership pattern in Paul’s churches is that of (1) apostles; (2) Paul’s “fellow-workers” – traveling companions who had authority over and were involved in several congregations; (3) local leaders. Those with greater financial resources could provide meeting places, patronage, protection, and lodging, which could lead to a kind of church leadership. At the same time, Paul’s approach to leadership was neither based on traditional social distinctions, nor, on the other hand, was it merely pragmatic or democratic. Paul’s primary criteria for leadership was that of service in building up the body of Christ. In this way, although Paul did not abolish social distinctions, he used them for the benefit of the church, and thus turned normal social categories upside down.7 (We have already seen this principle in discussions in previous essays concerning “Christological subversion,” “cruciformity,” and “mutual submission”).

In Romans 16, Paul concludes his letter with a series of greetings that reads something like a letter of recommendation. This would not have been unusual, since there were no methods of modern communication in the ancient world, and letters of recommendation were vital. People would often send letters along with travelers they knew, and in this case, Paul recommends Phoebe, who was likely the carrier of his letter, whom Paul commends to the church in Rome (Rom. 16:1).8 Paul names twenty-six people in the letter, the majority of whom seem to be Jewish Christians in Rome. The letter is addressed to the Gentile majority, however, whom Paul is encouraging to welcome these Jewish Christians and include them in fellowship. Paul does not directly greet his friends, co-workers and relatives whom he mentions in the list. Rather, by asking his Gentile audience to do it for him, Paul is likely hoping to effect some kind of reconciliation between Jewish and Gentile Christians in Rome.9

One of the most interesting characteristics of the list is the large number of women Paul mentions. Out of twenty-six persons mentioned, ten (including Phoebe, the letter-carrier), are women. In the list, Paul describes women as “deacons,” “patrons” or “leaders,” “apostles,” “co-workers,” “hard workers.” As James Dunn notes, “So far as this list is concerned, Paul attributes leading roles to more women than men in the churches addressed.”10

A Woman Deacon

Paul opens his series of greetings by introducing Phoebe, his letter carrier, to the church at Rome. The following is my own extremely literal translation: “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a deacon (οὖσαν διάκονον, ousan diakonon) of the church in Cenchrea, so that you may receive her in the Lord worthily of the saints, and may stand by her in whatever thing she may need, for indeed, she has been a patron/leader (προστάτις, prostatis) of many and of myself.” (Romans 16:1).

English translations from the mid-twentieth century are misleading.11 Translation of the key words diakonos and prostatis is more revealing of translator assumptions about women’s roles than illuminating of the passage’s meaning. The original NIV translates the passage to describe Phoebe as a “servant,” and requests Paul’s readers “to give her any help . . . for she has been a great help to many people . . .” The older RSV identifies Phoebe as a “deaconess,” but also translates prostatis as “helper.” The more recent ESV translates diakonos as “servant,” but includes “deaconess” in a footnote. ESV more correctly translates prostatis as “patron.” The more recent revised NIV and the NRSV recognize Phoebe as a “deacon,” but translate prostatis as “benefactor,” which is softer than “patron.”

It is correct that diakonos can be translated as “servant.”12 In Romans 13:4, the civil ruler is described as the “servant” (diakonos) of God. In the story of the wedding feast at Cana, Jesus tells the “servants” (diakonoi) to fill the jars with water – which becomes wine (John 2:5,7, 9). In Romans 15:8, Christ is described as a diakonos (servant or minister) to the Jewish people. Whether diakonos should be translated “servant” or as referring to a church office depends on context and exegesis. This is an exact parallel with the Greek word presbyteros (πρεσβύτερος), which is translated variously. In the book of Acts, presbyteroi sometimes refers to Jewish leaders (Acts 4:5, 8, 23: 6:12), in which case it is translated “elders,” and sometimes refers to church office (11:30, 14:23; 15:2,4,6,23, etc.), and, while often translated “elders,” could also be transliterated as “presbyters.” In the pastoral epistles, presbyteros generally refers to those holding church office (1 Timothy 4:14; 5:17,19; Titus 1:5), but can also refer literally to older men (1 Tim. 5:1), and even (with a feminine ending) to older women (1 Tim. 5:2).

There are several reasons why diakonos should be translated as “deacon” rather than “servant” in Romans 16:1, and should be understood as referring to an office. The noun diakonos is masculine in gender (not the expected feminine), and if Paul had meant “servant,” he would likely have used a verbal form such as “one who serves” (διακονέω, diakoneo) (Romans 15:25) or the general term “ministry” (διακονία, diakonia) (1 Cor. 16:15). The participle ousan (οὖσαν διάκονον, ousan diakonon, “being a deacon”) would seem to refer to an ongoing ministry. This, combined with the qualifier, “of the church in Cenchrae,” points to a recognized office in the church. The appropriate context for understanding the term should then be the parallels of Phil. 1:1 and 1 Tim. 3:8,12. Phoebe should not be called a “deaconness” because the gender of the noun is masculine, and “deaconess” was an office of women church workers that did not exist for another three hundred years.13 Accordingly, as Dunn notes, “Phoebe is the first recorded ‘deacon’ in the history of Christianity.”14 (Romans 16:1 and possibly 1 Timothy 3:1 are the only two places women are given the title διάκονος in the NT.15) N.T. Wright points out that attempts to make the term mean anything else than “deacon” fail. To translate the word as “servant,” merely pushes the problem back a further stage, “since that would either mean that Phoebe was a paid employee of the church (to do what?) or that there was an order of ministry, otherwise, unknown, called ‘servants.’”16 As Craig Keener, points out, “Most readers would probably assume that meaning [deacon] here if this passage did not refer to a woman and if it were translated the way it normally is in the New Testament.”17

At the same time that Paul’s greetings in Romans indicate that Phoebe was a deacon, the New Testament says little about what the office of deacon entailed. Many Christian churches understand the office of deacon in terms of the seven overseers of tables described in Acts 6; however, the title of diakonos is not applied to them, even though the work of both the apostles and the seven is described in terms of service or ministry (διακονία, diakonia) (Acts 6:1,2,4).18 Keener notes that the term generally means a “minister of the word.” Paul applies the term to himself as an apostle of the gospel (1 Cor. 3:5; 2 Cor. 3:6; 6:4; 11:23; Eph. 3:7; Col. 1:23, 25), and also uses it for colleagues in the gospel (Eph. 6:21; Col. 1:7; 4:7; 1 Thess. 3:2; 1 Tim. 4:6).19 Dunn suggests that it “points more to a recognized ministry . . . or position of responsibility within the congregation,” and that the office was “likely a ministry of hospitality.” 20

The second key word used to describe Phoebe is προστάτις (prostatis). Against translations of the word as “helper,” Dunn insists that the word should be given its “full weight,” and that it means “patron,” “protector,” or, alternatively, “leader” or “ruler.” The masculine equivalent of prostatis is well known as the role of a wealthy or influential individual as patron. The Latin equivalent is patronis. There is a Jewish synogogue inscription from Aphrodisias in the third century of a woman προστάτις of a synagogue.21

Other New Testament scholars suggest a meaning of “patron” or “sponsor.”22 In his earlier book, Witherington suggested that Phoebe was in charge of the charitable work of the church. The term likely means “helper” or “protector,” referring to personal care or hospitality that Phoebe had provided to Paul and others.23 In his commentary on Romans, Witherington suggests that prostatis refers to a person in charge of some kind of charitable work, which is consistent with being called a deacon. It may also mean helper, protector, a “perhaps even patroness.” Given that Paul had rejected patronage in Corinth, choosing to support himself by tent-making, his acceptance of it from Phoebe shows that he has great respect for and trust in her.24 Wright points out that the word “benefactor” means much more than the older NIV translation of “she has been of great help”: “[B]enefactors and patrons were a vital part of the culture, and this makes Phoebe someone to be reckoned with socially and financially as well as simply a sister in the Lord and a leader – of whatever sort – in her local church.”25

Philip Payne focuses rather on the notion that prostatis should be understood as “leader,” “chief,” or “executive office”: “Every meaning of every word in the NT related to the word Paul has chosen to describe Phoebe as a “leader” (προστάτις) that could apply to Rom. 16:2 refers to leadership.” (cf. Rom. 12:8). Payne argues that the linguistic evidence strongly favors the normal meaning of the term prostatis as “leader.” “Since her leadership was in the church it would entail spiritual oversight.” Given what Paul teaches about mutual submission, it should not be surprising that Paul includes himself under Phoebe’s leadership.26

Thus, Paul’s readers would have regarded Phoebe as a woman of significance who had used her wealth and influence not only as a leader of the church in Cenchrae, but as Paul’s patron and benefactor. Dunn suggests that the terms diakonis and prostatis may be linked. Phoebe was a “deacon” of the church because of her well-known patronage of foreign visitors, resident Jews and visiting Christians. Paul recognized himself as the beneficiary of both Phoebe’s patronage and his protection. Phoebe was a woman of “some stature,” a patron or protector of many, including Paul. She was a deacon and must have used her property and influence in the service of Christians in Cenchrae. She was traveling to Rome on business, and Paul took the opportunity of her travel to write the letter, and send it along with the commendation attached.27

A Woman Co-Worker and Teacher

The first people Paul asks to be greeted in Romans 16 are Prisca and Aquila: “Greet Prisca and Aquila, my co-workers (συνεργούς μου, synergous mou) in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I, but all the churches of the Gentiles, give thanks.” (Rom. 16:3-4, my translation). Both Prisca (Priscilla) and Aquila and Andronicus and Junia (mentioned later) seem to have beeen husband and wife “ministry teams.” There were places in the Greco-Roman world where only men or women could go, and a couple who ministered together could go places where one or the other could not go alone.28 From 1 Cor. 16:19 and Acts 18, it appears that they were some of Paul’s closest co-workers, and “two of the most important people in Paul’s missionary enterprise.”29 They seem to have been involved in a variety of activities, including providing hospitality for Paul, church planting, teaching and preaching. They were involved in a variety of churches, including Ephesus, Corinth, and Rome. According to Acts 18:2, they came to Corinth after the Jews were expelled from Rome. Paul lived with them in Corinth, and they worked together because they shared the same trade of tent-making (Acts 18:3). They traveled with Paul from Corinth to Ephesus (Acts 18:18-19). and stayed there for some time (1 Cor. 16:19). When Paul wrote his letter, they were now back in Rome. 2 Timothy 4:19 later places them again in Ephesus.30 They were likely well-to-do business people who could travel extensively. That they risked their necks for Paul may imply that they attempted to use their social status to protect him. That “all the churches of the Gentiles” are grateful suggests sponsorship, missionary leadership, or teaching.31 They seem to have regularly used their home as a meeting place for believers. Verse 5 refers to an assembly of Christians who meet in the home of Priscilla and Aquila. It would seem that Christian meetings were held in homes where the household owner or owners were Christians. Paul mentions other house churches in 1 Cor. 16:19 (Priscilla and Aquila again), Col. 4:15, and Philem 2.32

Paul always refers to Priscilla as “Prisca.” Luke adds the diminutive “Priscilla.”33 Four of the six times, her name comes first, which is “highly unusual in a patriarchal culture.” That she is mentioned first may be explained either because she was of higher social status, or because she was more prominent in the church. Linda Belleville points out that when reference to their occupation as tent-makers or to “their house” is mentioned, Aquila’s name comes first, but when ministry is mentioned (including the teaching of Apollos), Priscilla’s name is first. This would suggest that Priscilla had the dominant ministry and leadership skills.34

Paul refers to Priscilla and Aquila as “my co-workers” or “fellow-workers” (synergous mou). Paul’s most frequent term to describe those who helped him in ministry is synergos (συνεργός ), which he uses more frequently than terms such as apostle, brother, or servant. Paul uses it twelve of the thirteen times it occurs in the NT (cf. 3 John 8), and it is never used simply to refer to ordinary Christians (Rom. 16:3, 9, 21; 1 Cor. 3:9, 16:16; 2 Cor. 1:24, 8:23; Phil. 2:25; 4:3;1 Thess. 3:2; Philem. 24). A “co-worker” is an associate of Paul who works together with him as commissioned by God in the shared work of mission preaching. In 1 Cor. 16:16, 18, the Corinthians are asked to submit themselves to all who are synergounti and kopionti (those who are “fellow-workers” and “laborers”), so the term implies a leadership position.35 In Phil. 4:2-3, Paul describes two women (Euodias and Synteches) as “fellow-workers” who “struggled together with me in the gospel.” They are ranked alongside Clement (a man), and alongside Paul’s other “fellow-worker.” They are not simply devout women, then, but fellow ministers of the gospel. Witherington notes, “Paul certainly shows no qualms about having women as co-workers in a wide variety of roles.”36

In addition to being designated as “co-workers,” Priscilla and Aquila were teachers. Acts 18:1-3, 24-26 speaks of Priscilla and Aquila teaching Apollos. By mentioning her first, Luke implies that Priscilla is the primary instructor. “More accurately” means that Priscilla went beyond basic Christian teaching. Apollos already had a basic knowledge of Christian faith, and was “well versed” in Scripture. That the act took place in private is “probably not very significant . . . since there is no indication that Luke was trying to avoid having Priscilla teach Apollos in a worship context.”37 That Priscilla was present in Ephesus at the time the pastoral epistles were written (2 Tim. 4:19) is significant in light of the complementarian appeal to the prohibition of women teaching men in 1 Timothy 2:12. The passage cannot mean a permanent prohibition of women teaching men because Priscilla taught Apollos.38

A Woman Apostle

Certainly the most controversial among Paul’s greetings in Romans 16 is verse 7: “Greet Andronicus and Junia (’Ιουνίαν, Iounian), my relatives (τοὺς συγγενεῖς μου, tous suggeneis mou) and fellow-prisoners, who are well-known among the apostles (οἵτινές εἰσιν ἐπίσημοι ἐν τοῖς ἀποστόλοις, oitines eisin episēmoi ēn tois apostolois), and who were in Christ before me.” (Rom. 16:7, my translation). Similar to Prisca and Aquila, Andronicus and Junia appear to be another husband-wife ministry team. Despite their non-Jewish names, they were certainly Jewish and perhaps even close relatives of Paul, since Paul identifies them as “relatives” (τοὺς συγγενεῖς μου, tous suggeneis mou = “my relatives,” “kinsfolk”). They had been in prison with Paul, and, since they were “in Christ” before Paul, they were Christians from an early date. They are a man and a woman, either husband and wife, or possibly brother and sister. Described by Paul as “apostles,” they would have been witnesses to the resurrection (1 Cor. 9:1), who had a calling or commission to preach the gospel.39

The earliest patristic texts and translations of the Greek presuppose that the passage should be translated as I have done so here. That is, Junia is identified as a woman who is also a well-known apostle. Despite demeaning comments he had made elsewhere concerning women,40 John Chrysostom spoke highly of Junia: “To be an apostle is something great. But to be outstanding among the apostles . . . Indeed, how great the wisdom of this woman must have been that she was even deemed worthy of the title of apostle.”41 Commentators from the patristic era onward took Paul to mean that Andronicus and Junia were apostles. The Greek fathers were unanimous in understanding Junia to be a female apostle.42 The Latin fathers, as well as Latin translations, were also unanimous in recognizing that Junia was a woman who was notable among the apostles.43 Thus the Latin Vulgate reads: “Salutate Andronicum et Iuniam . . . qui sunt nobiles in apostolis.” Early English translations, such as the King James Version, also follow this pattern: “Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellow-prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.”

Two exceptions have been claimed to this universal patristic consensus. Origen, in Rufinus’s Latin translation of his commentary on Romans, refers to Junias (not Junia), as does Epiphanius (315-403).44 In both cases, however, the claim is problematic. The passage in Origen occurs in Rufinus’s later Latin translation (not Origen’s original Greek text, which no longer exists), and recent critical editions indicate a transcriptional error. “Junias” is a variant in two of three twelfth-century manuscripts, but earlier manuscripts have “Junia.” Eldon Jay Epp concludes: “In any event, this alleged exception can be dismissed as carrying little if any weight, and we can be confident that Origen read Rom 16:7 as ‘Junia. . . . [T]here can be no doubt that feminine forms were used by Origen in these passages.’”45

The reference in Epiphanius is also irrelevant. Epiphanius wrote that Junias was a man and a bishop, but that the unquestionably female Prisca was a male bishop as well! Moreover, it is unlikely that Epiphanius was actually the author of the cited text. The work was not ascribed to Epiphanius until the ninth century, and in only one existing thirteenth-century manuscript (out of nine). The others do not ascribe it to Epiphanius.46

Despite the unanimous consensus during the first millennium of Christianity, the patristic reading passed by the wayside. Two key questions were fundamental in the shift: First, is apostleship restricted by sexual identity? Second, are the two individuals well-known apostles, or merely known to the apostles? The key assumption behind the challenge lies in the assumption that a woman cannot be an apostle. Epp points to an interesting pattern. If the two individuals are identified as apostles, then Iounian becomes a man. However, if Junia is instead identified as a woman, then (because a woman could not be an apostle),the ending phrase is translated “well known to the apostles”: “[I]t is interesting to observe that, over time, the male ‘Junias’ and the female ‘Junia’ each has his or her alternating ‘dance partners’ . . .”47

The pattern appears in some recent discussions of the passage. Roman Catholic theologian Manfred Hauke acknowledged that Andronicus and Junia are “numbered among the ‘apostles’ here.” He was quick to point out, however, that the accusative Iounian can derive as well from the masculine Iounianos (Junianus) as from the female Iounia (Junia). However, women cannot be apostles: “The strict ‘bans on teaching’ in 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2 would not be easy to understand given the supposed existence of a female missionary preacher.”48 And so, Hauke concludes: “An ‘apostle Junia’ thus seems to fall into the category of modern myth . . .”49

Similarly, Evangelical complementarian Wayne Grudem claims that, in Greek, “this name could be either masculine or feminine,” and he appeals to modern translations that identify it as masculine. Grudem eventually acknowledges that the name is probably feminine, but concludes that any reading that Junia is a female apostle “carries little weight against the clear teaching of exclusive male eldership and male apostleship in the rest of the New Testament.”50 The Anglican Forward in Faith document Consecrated Women? claims that “we cannot be sure” whether Junia was a man or a woman because “Iounian could be the accusative of the masculine noun or it could be that of the feminine Iounia.” However, they also embrace the predicted pattern: “[T]hose who claim Junia as the first woman apostle stand on shaky ground. The disputed interpretation of one verse in one letter of St Paul can hardly call into question the clear witness of the Pauline corpus taken in its entirety.”51 The pattern is clear; if Junia is an apostle, then Junia must be Junias; if Junia is Junia, and not Junias, then she cannot be an apostle.

Given the unanimous patristic consensus, how did the female Junia become the male Junias? It was only in the Medieval period that scribes first introduced the form Junias – based on the conviction that a woman could not have been an apostle! Aegidius (or Giles) of Rome (ca 1243/47-1316) seems to have been the first to have identified Junia(s) as a male in the thirteenth century.52 Luther’s translation of the Bible into German also contributed to the view that Junia was not a woman, but a man named Junias.53 Beginning in the early twentieth century, lexicographers began to turn the female Junia into the male Junias by changing the accent. In Greek, the only difference between the female ’Ιουνίαν and the male Ἰουνιᾶν is between the feminine acute and the masculine circumflex accents. In the earlier uncial texts, there were no accents, and when accents were eventually added, the first editions of the Greek New Testament printed the female acute rather than the male circumflex accent, e.g., Erasmus’s Greek New Testament. The change from a feminine acute to a masculine circumflex first occurred in Nestle’s Greek New Testament in 1927, followed by other editions of the Greek New Testament, with the rationale usually given that it would have been unlikely for a woman to be among the apostles.54 Modern lexicons have assumed that the name is masculine without argument.55 So Arndt and Gingerich state: “The possibility, fr. a purely lexical point of view, that this is a woman’s name . . . is prob. ruled out by the context.”56 But the context says nothing that would indicate it is a man’s name!

In modern translations, the shift to “Junias” began with the New Testament of the English Revised Version (1881) and the American Standard Version (1901). (Interestingly, Westcott and Hort’s Greek New Testament [1881] still had the female ’Ιουνίαν.) The tendency toward masculine translations continued until around 1970. The RSV, for example, has “Greet Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners; they are men(!) of note among the apostles, and they were in Christ before me.”57 Richard Bauckham comments: “The history of the matter is a sad story of prejudice making bad translation.”58 In summary, the understanding of Iounian as feminine dominated the first millennium of Christianity, but then was arbitrarily changed from female “Junia” to male “Junias” without discussion or justification.59

What would be the argument or justification for understanding Iounian to be either Junia or Junias, feminine or masculine? Iunia is a Latin name, not a Greek one. When translated into Greek, the accent (as noted above) is the only determiner of the gender of the name in Greek: ’Ιουνίαν (acute) or ’Ιουνιᾶν (circumflex). The argument for a masculine name is that Iunias would be a shortened form or contraction of Iunianus. The problem is that there is “no empirical evidence whatsoever for the abbreviated form Iunias.” There are no occurrences in any Greek or Latin document of the New Testament period, and no evidence that Iunianus has ever been shortened to Iunias.60 Belleville also points out that Greek nicknames were shortened versions of longer names, but Latin nicknames were lengthened, not shortened. Also, when there was a final -i in the stem, it was omitted. The shortened form of Ιουνιανός would then be Ιουνᾶς (Iounas), not Ιουνιᾶς (Iounias). It was also not Paul’s habit to use nicknames. For example, he refers to Prisca, not Priscilla, and Silvanus, not Silas.61

What then, would be the case that Iounian is the accusative of the Latin female name Junia? In Roman society, women did not generally have a personal name, but were named after their family. For example, Gaius Iulius Caesar is masculine; his daughters were Iulia Major and Iulia Minor (Julia I and II), with “Iulius” being the nomen or family name. Iunius is a common Latin nomen; there are many men named “Iunius,” and consequently many women named “Iunia.” Latin names were transcribed into Greek with Latin masculine endings rendered as Greek names in -ος (-os), Latin feminine names in -a are rendered in -α (-a) or -η (ē). The names Iunius/Iunia would thus be Iounios/Iounia. The accusative would be Iounion/Iounian. Accordingly, Iounian would have to be a woman.62

Again, while there are examples of the male name “Iunius” and the female name “Iunia,” there is not a single example of the male name “Iunias.”63 As Bauckham points out, the evidence of name usage is the “only argument.” There would have to be “overwhelming reasons” to support a masculine reading over a feminine one, but given the wide prevalence of the name “Junia” and the complete lack of evidence for “Junias,” the conclusion points to the female name: “We certainly cannot presuppose, as such overwhelming reasons, that there could not have been a woman apostle or that Paul would not have recognized a woman apostle. This would be to beg the question.”64 All the evidence points to Junia being a woman, and none whatsoever for the male “Junias.” Consequently, in the last few decades, the majority of scholars have come to acknowledge that Junia was indeed a woman.

However, as noted above, there is a predictable pattern to the discussion. For much of twentieth century New Testament scholarship, it was assumed that, since Iounian was an apostle, and a woman could not be an apostle, then “Junias” had to be a man. With the new rising consensus, the shift has turned to the argument that the now-recognized female “Junia” could not have been an apostle. Michael R. Burer and Daniel B. Wallace made the case that, although Junia was indeed a woman, she was not an apostle. Rather, the Greek should be translated not as “outstanding among the apostles,” but “well known to the apostles.”65 Burer’s and Wallace’s article is cited as definitively settling the issue by opponents of women’s ordination.66 The complementarian-leaning ESV translates the passage “Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me.” There is no footnote providing even a hint that “to the apostles” might be translated “among the apostles.”

Two key distinctions are important for the discussion. Richard S. Cervin’s essay (cited above), distinguishes between an “inclusive” meaning (noteworthy among the apostles), and an “exclusive” meaning (noted by the apostles), and this distinction is followed by later writers.67 The second crucial issue concerns how we understand the meaning of ἐν (en) plus the dative case. Paul wrote ἐπίσημοι ἐν τοῖς ἀποστόλοις (episēmoi en tois apostolois). Burer and Wallace suggest that a noun in the genitive case is typically used with comparative adjectives; if Paul had meant that Adronicus and Junia were outstanding “among the apostles,” he would have used the genitive – τῶν ἀποστόλων (tōn apostolōn). If no comparison is suggested, however, he would have used en plus the dative – ἐν τοῖς ἀποστόλοις (en tois apostolois).68

After a comparative analysis of ancient texts, Burer and Wallace conclude that when a comparison is made, epismos is frequently put in the genitive case. So, in 3 Macc. 6:1, Eleazar was “prominent among the priests.”69 Also key to their discussion is a distinction between personal and impersonal comparisons. They acknowledge that when used with impersonal nouns, en is used comparatively. In Add. Esth. 16:22, a “notable day” is to be observed “among the festivals.”70 Crucial to their discussion is the pseudepigraphal Psalms of Solomon 2:6, which they translate as “they [the Jewish captives] were a spectacle among the Gentiles.” Burer and Wallace claim that this passage has “all the elements” for a comparison to Rom. 16:7: (a) people as the reference of the adjective “well known,” (b) followed by en plus the dative plural, (c) the dative plural refers to people. The first group is not part of the second; that is, the Jewish captives were not Gentiles. “That the parallels discovered conform to our working hypothesis at least gives warrant to seeing Andronicus’s and Junia’s fame as that which was among the apostles.” They claim: “[A]lthough the inclusive view is aided in some impersonal constructions that involve ἐν plus the dative, every instance of personal inclusiveness used a genitive rather than ἐν. On the other hand, every instance of ἐν plus personal nouns supported the exclusive view, with Pss. Sol. 2.6 providing a very close parallel to Rom 16.7.”71

The two authors conclude by examining a number of papyri and ancient inscriptions. Although they acknowledge that the data is “not plentiful,” they do claim that it points in a single direction: “ἐπίσημος followed by ἐν plus personal datives does not connote membership within the group, but simply that one is known by the group.”72 They conclude that Rom. 16:7 “almost certainly” should be translated “well known to the apostles.” Thus, Junia was known to the apostles, but she was not an apostle.73 (Despite this strong claim, they acknowledge that the data is not conclusive; in one case Lucianus “unmistakably” has an inclusive force for ἐν (en) plus the dative.)74

Shortly after its appearance, three New Testament scholars (Richard Bauckham, Linda Belleville and Eldon Jay Epp), responded critically to Burer’s and Wallace’s essay.75 Bauckham claims that “their evidence does not actually support [their] conclusion,” and that the essay has “serious defects”; its conclusion is “highly tendentious, even misleading.”76 Belleville writes that their analysis is “problematic in a number of respects.”77 Epp states that “even a cursory examination of [the evidence] presented raised significant doubts about the authors’ stated thesis . . .”78 As noted above, Burer and Wallace claim that “some impersonal constructions” of en plus the dative point to an inclusive sense, while “every instance” of personal use plus the genitive is inclusive, and “every instance” of en plus the dative is exclusive. However, as Bauckham points out, in each case there is only one text given as an example for each category: (Add Esth 16:22 [impersonal inclusive]; 3 Macc 6:1 [personal + genitive]; Pss. Sol. 2:6 [personal + dative]). “One” does not equal “some,” and certainly not “every case.”79

Burer and Wallace make much of Pss. Sol. 2:6, which is their sole evidence of a “very close parallel” to Rom. 16:7. Bauckham and Belleville point out that, unfortunately, Burer and Wallace incompletely and inaccurately cite the passage in claiming that epismō refers to the Jewish captives. A complete citation makes clear that epismō does not refer to the captives at all! Bauckham cites a translation by Sebastian Brock: “Her sons and daughters were in grievous captivity, their neck bears a seal-ring, a mark (epismō) among the nations.”80 Belleville translates the passage: “The sons and daughters (of Jerusalem) were in grievous captivity, their neck with a seal, with a slave-brand among the Gentiles.”81 Epismō refers then not to “sons and daughters,” but to “seal” or “seal-ring.” Since the essential element (people used as a referent) is not present at all, the passage is irrelevant to the evidence.82

Both Bauckham and Epp also question the distinction Burer and Wallace make between personal and impersonal “inclusive” uses. The five impersonal uses provided by the authors are all inclusive, and three of them (Add. Esth. 16:22; 1 Macc. 11:37, 14:48) have en plus the dative.83 Epp also points out that the single example of an inscription (TAM II west wall. Coll. 2.5) which they treat in detail is translated exclusively in a way that begs the question, since it could as easily be translated inclusively. Belleville argues that all of the Hellenistic inscriptions referred to by Burer and Wallace should actually be translated inclusively, and Epp agrees.84

Finally, Witherington points out that when patristic authors use “in” to mean “in the eyes of,” they actually include the specific words, or something like them. If Paul had meant that Andronicus and Junia were “known to the apostles,” he would not have used en, but rather hypo or a simple dative form.85 Against Burer’s and Wallace’s central thesis, Belleville insists that “Primary usage of ἐν and the plural dative (personal or otherwise) inside and outside the NT (with rare exception) is inclusive in/among and not exclusive ‘to’ . . . .” (She cites Matt. 2:6; Acts 4:34; 1 Peter 5:1 as examples.)86 Belleville concludes: “Despite their assertions to the contrary, [Burer and Wallace] fail to offer one clear biblical or extra-biblical Hellenistic example of an ‘exclusive’ sense of ἐπίσημος ἐν and a plural noun to mean ‘well known to.’ The authors themselves admit this early on, but then go on to conclude otherwise.”87 Epp concludes that the three evaluations by Bauckham, Belleville, and himself “should put to rest any notion that [Rom. 16:7] carried the sense of ‘well known to/esteemed by the apostles.’ Again, it is clear that Andronicus and Junia, in Paul’s description, were ‘outstanding apostles.’”88

Finally, more significant than the detailed grammatical debates is the unanimous agreement among the patristic interpreters of Romans 16:7 that the text identifies Andronicus and Junia as “among the apostles.” Bauckham writes that it is a “major error” to dismiss this evidence. Writers such as John Chrysostom and Origen were native educated Greek speakers: “If Burer and Wallace’s conclusion is right, then it is inexplicable that these Greek patristic interpreters would have read the Greek of Romans in the way they did.”89

There is one last escape for those who want to deny that Junia was a woman apostle. As with the case of “deacon,” which can also mean “servant,” the Greek word translated “apostle” can also mean “messenger”; in a manner similar to the way in which Phoebe was down-graded from a deacon to a “servant” of the church at Cenchrae, so there are those who insist that even if Junia was a woman and an “apostle,” this does not mean that Junia held a church office. Grudem claims that “apostle” could just as well mean “messenger”: “Since Andronicus and Junia(s) are otherwise unknown as apostles, even if someone wanted to translate ‘well known among,’ the sense ‘well known among the messengers’ would be more appropriate.”90 While the ESV does not have a footnote offering “well known among the apostles” as an alternative reading, the footnote to “apostles” does read “or messengers.”

The clue to how Paul is using the word “apostle” in this context is determined by how he uses it elsewhere. Paul would not have understand Andronica and Junia to be among the “twelve apostles,” whom Paul refers to as “the twelve” (1 Cor. 15:5). Paul does use the word “apostle” in a non-technical sense twice (2 Cor. 8:23; Phil. 2:25) to refer to messengers of the church. In these cases, Paul qualifies “apostle(s)” by referring to “apostles of the churches” (2 Cor. 8:23) or to “your apostle” (Phil. 2:25). Paul’s unqualified use of “the apostles” would indicate that he is using “apostle” as he does when he refers to himself as an apostle, to refer to an office which is larger than the office of the twelve, but includes those (like himself) to whom the risen Christ had revealed himself in a resurrection appearance, and who had been commissioned to preach the gospel. Given the extent to which Paul defends his apostleship, it is “highly unlikely that he would employ the term ‘apostle’ loosely when applying it to others.”91 Given that Paul claims that Andronicus and Junia were Christians before he was, it is possible that they were among those whom Paul mentions in 1 Cor. 15:7 as witnesses of the resurrection.92 If Andronicus and Junia were Christians before Paul, and “outstanding” among the apostles, they would likely have been members of the early Jerusalem church, and perhaps founders of the Christian community in Rome. Paul does not speak so highly of anyone else he mentions in Roman 16.93

Office Once More

At the beginning of this essay, I referred to a distinction made by Roman Catholic theologian Francis Martin between charism, on-going ministry, and office in the New Testament church. While acknowledging that women exercised ministries of both charism and on-going ministry in the New Testament period, Martin denied that there is any evidence that women ever held church office. In this essay, I have examined the apostle Paul’s references to three women who exercised church ministry in connection to the church in Rome and have tried to make the case that all three exercised some form of church office. Phoebe was both a deacon of the church at Cenchrae and a prostatis, a patron of Paul’s ministry who exercised some form of church leadership. Priscilla was a “co-worker” of Paul, the term that Paul applies to his closest associates, but also exercised the ministry of a teacher. Finally, Junia was an apostle, a witness to the risen Christ who exercised a ministry of gospel proclamation.

Granted that these women exercised some form of ongoing ministries in the early church, does it follow that these ministries were necessarily examples of church office? Martin claims otherwise. Concerning Phoebe he writes: “Thus the fact that Phoebe is called a diakonos . . . probably means that she is traveling as a representative of her community. . . . Although her influence was great and beneficial, there is no indication that she fulfilled what would later be recognized as an office.”94

As with Phoebe, Martin denies that there is any reason to suggest that the teaching ministry of either Priscilla or Aquila(!) implies any kind of office:

Given this usage of the term and the fluidity of vocabulary we have already seen, it is possible to say of Prisca (Priscilla) that she, along with her husband, was an outstanding proponent of the gospel, whose authority came from the grace of ministry she received, but not that she held some “official” position in the church at large. . . . [W]e see the prominence and influence of a ministry divinely conferred upon both a woman and a man. They are not, however, presented in a way that would lead one to classify either of them along with the “teachers” mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:28 and Ephesians 4:1, where the term implies office.95

Martin makes a similar claim concerning Junia:

I would conclude . . . that there are strict and loose senses of the term apostle. . . . [Paul] uses apostolos in both a strict and a loose sense. . . [C]alling Andronicus and Junia “apostles” in Romans 16:7 may approximate the use in 2 Corinthians 8:23, but it is far from the strong sense implied in Paul’s self-designation or in lists such as 1 Corinthians 12:28 and Ephesians 4:11.96

Concerning the term “co-worker,” applied to Priscilla, he writes: “[Co-workers] seems to be a title [Paul] reserves for those who have generously extended themselves for the sake of the gospel, but nothing more precise can be garnered from it.” Martin suggests that those who would conclude from the application of terms such as “co-worker” (or presumably “deacon” or “apostle”) to women such as Phoebe that they should be equated to “co-workers” such as Timothy and other leaders (1 Thessalonians 5:12 and 1 Corinthians 16:16) are reading the texts too narrowly: “Such a way of reasoning implies a rigidity of terminology foreign to the New Testament in general and Paul in particular.” Martin concludes that while these women had great ministerial gifts, “[t]here is, however, no address to a woman or quality attributed to a woman that would suggest that their leadership was of the type I have described as office.”97

Martin’s demurral is based on the fluidity of vocabulary concerning ministry in the New Testament. Prophecy and teaching can be examples of either charism, on-going ministry, or office. Moreover, we could add that the New Testament terms associated with office are simply ordinary descriptive labels that can have more than one meaning. A diakonos could be a “deacon,” but might only be a “servant.” A presbyteros could be a “presbyter,” but might just be an “older man.” An episkopos could be a “bishop,” but might only be an “overseer.” An apostolos could be an “apostle,” but might only be a “messenger.” A “co-worker” might be an office holder (such as Timothy), but might just be one of Paul’s traveling companions.

At the same time, granted the possible flexibility of vocabulary, it will not do simply to assume without argument that the same language applied to both men and women implies office in reference to men, but only “flexible vocabulary,” and not office, to women. To claim on the one hand, as Martin does, that no women are addressed or exercised leadership in such a manner as to imply that their ministry was a form of office, and then, on that basis to conclude that Paul’s applications of titles such as “deacon,” “co-worker” and “apostle” to these three women must be examples of flexible vocabulary and does not imply office is simply to beg the question. Paul’s description of these women is itself the evidence that these women did hold office. (Moreover, as noted at the beginning of this essay, since there are remarkably few men who are identified by name as holding office in the New Testament either, Martin’s criteria would eliminate all but a handful of men from being office holders as well.)

The strongest argument that these women exercised office is that Paul speaks of them in exactly the same way that he speaks of men of whom we would have no hesitation to attribute office. Linda Belleville states succinctly: “The language Paul uses for the ministries of these women is that which he uses for his own missionary labors and the labors of other colleagues . . .”98 It is precisely because of possible ambiguity of vocabulary that I have not simply asserted that these women held office, but argued that the language Paul uses in reference to them is exactly the kind of language he uses in describing men who held office. Phoebe is not simply described as a “servant,” but as a diakonos (masculine ending) of the church at Cenchyrae in a manner parallel to the language applied to deacons in Phil. 1:1 and 1 Tim. 3:8,12. The term “co-worker” (synergos) that Paul applies to Priscilla is used in exactly the same way that he applies it to male co-workers such as Titus (2 Cor. 8:23), Epaphroditus (Phil. 2:25), Clement (Phil. 4:3), Timothy (1 Thess. 3:2), Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke (Phil. 24), and, finally, Urbanus (Rom. 16:7) in the same chapter in which Paul speaks of Priscilla. Priscilla and Aquila are described as leaders of the church and teachers in exactly the same way that Paul describes his other “co-workers.” Moreover, 1 Corinthians 16:16, the passage in which Paul asks his readers to “submit” to his “co-workers,” and to which Martin appeals as the kind of office which could not be applied to someone like Priscilla says nothing about the sex of the “co-workers.” If the ministry-team of Priscilla and Aquila were a male ministry-team such as Paul and Barnabbas (Acts 15:22), Paul and Silas (Acts 15:40), or Barnabbas and Mark (Acts 15:39), it is difficult to imagine that anyone would suggest that their ministries should not be described as “office.”

Finally, as I have argued above, the evidence is overwhelming that Andronicus and Junia were not only a husband-wife ministry team, but also “outstanding apostles,” not simply “messengers.” Paul’s unqualified use of “the apostles” in reference to them indicates that he places their ministry in the same category as his own; they were witnesses to the risen Christ who had been commissioned to preach the gospel.

I conclude with a quotation from New Testament scholar Ben Witherington:

Paul’s specific commendation of seven of the nine women named in this chapter and his reference to Phoebe’s role as a deacon are extremely significant. While contemporary believers divide over ordination of women, women teaching men and the like, this chapter suggests that such objections, in general, would have puzzled Paul. . . . The conclusion then follows that Paul has no problem with women as teachers (Priscilla) or leaders, proclaimers, or missionaries of the Good News.99

Did women exercise ministries in the New Testament period that would later be designated as office? All of the evidence indicates that the answer is “Yes.”

1See Francis Martin, The Feminist Question: Feminist Theology in the Light of Christian Tradition (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 90-93, 108-109.

2Martin, 95.

3Martin, 109.

4Martin, 110-112.

5Philip B. Payne, Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul’s Letters (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009), 453. Payne specifically mentions the lack of specific reference to the names of male overseers (bishops), but the above list shows that this is true of the office of presbyter as well. The two exceptions would be 1 Peter 5:1 where the writer identifies himself as a “fellow elder” and 2 and 3 John where the writer identifies himself as “the elder.” Assuming (for argument’s sake), the traditional authorship of these letters, the apostolic authors Peter and John are identified as “presbyters,” but not explicitly named as such.

6Martin, 113.

7Ben Witherington III, Women in the Earliest Churches (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 107-111.

8James D. G. Dunn, Word Biblical Commentary Romans 9-16 (Dallas, TX: Word Books, 1988), 886; N.T. Wright, “The Letter to the Romans: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections,” The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 10 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002), 761.

9Ben Witherington III with Darlene Hyatt, Paul’s Letter to the Romans: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2004), 376, 379-380.

10Dunn, 900.

11Linda Belleville notes that English translations from the 1940’s to the 1980’s tended to “obscure” Paul’s descriptions of these women: “[W]omen can’t be leaders, so the language of leadership must be eliminated. Phoebe becomes a ‘servant’ and Paul’s ‘helper’ (instead of a deacon and Paul’s patron . . . ).” Linda Belleville, “Women Leaders in the Bible,” Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy, Ronald W. Pierce and Rebecca Merrill Groothuis, eds. (Downers Grove, IL: InerVarsity Press, 2004), 116. Craig Keener writes that the RSV “badly translates” prostatis as “helper.” Craig S. Keener, Paul, Women and Wives: Marriage and Women’s Ministry in the Letters of Paul (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1992, 2004), 240. Dunn writes that “The unwillingness of commentators to give προστάτις it most natural and obvious sense of ‘patron’ is most striking . . .” Dunn, 888.

12As complementarian Wayne Grudem is eager to point out. Grudem recognizes correctly that the key issue has to do with “office”: “The question is whether Paul has a church office in view (‘deacon’) or is simply honoring Phoebe for her service to the church . . .”Grudem, Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth: An Analysis of More than One Hundred Disputed Questions (Sisters, OR: Multonomah Publishers, 2004), 264.

13Dunn, 886; Payne, 61; Witherington, Romans, 382.

14Dunn, 887.

15Witherington, Women in the New Testament, 113; Pliny speaks of two female slaves who were called ministrae in Bithynia. Dunn, 887.

16Wright, Romans, 761-762.

17Keener, 239. This was noted as long ago as 1917 by B.H. Streeter, who asked, “Why is it that the translators, when interpreting it [diakonos] for men, use the word ministers, when for women, the word servant?” B.H. Streeter and Edith Picton Tubervill, Woman the Church (London: F. Fisher Unwin, 1917), 63; cited Keener, 239.

18Keener, 238.

19Keener, 239.

20Dunn, 886, 887.

21Dunn, 888.

22Keener, 240.

23Witherington, Women in the New Testament, 114.

24Witherington, Romans, 384.

25Wright, 762.

26Payne, 62-63.

27Lydia (Acts 17:12) would be another example of such a wealthy patron. Dunn, 889.

28Witherington, Romans, 381.

29Dunn, 891.

30Witherington, Romans, 385; Witherington, Women, 114; Dunn, 891; Payne, 64; Wright, 762; Keener, 240-241

31Dunn, 892.

32Witherington, Romans, 386; Dunn, 893.

33Payne, 64.

34Witherington, Romans, 385; Belleville, “Women Leaders,” 122.

35Witherington, Women, 111; Romans, 385; Dunn, 892.

36“In light of what we have learned about Paul’s συνεργοί, this text strongly suggests that the two women engaged in spreading the gospel with Paul.” Witherington, Women, 111-112; Witherington, Romans, 392-393; Payne, 67.

37Witherington, Women, 154.

38Grudem (179) dismisses the example of Priscilla as a teacher by distinguishing between public and private teaching, appealing to 1 Timothy 2:12 for warrant, but nothing in 1 Timothy 2:12 makes a distinction between private and public teaching. See my essay “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Speaking and Teaching,”

39Dunn, 893-894; Witherington, Women, 114; Romans, 387; Wright, 762.

40See my essay, “Concerning Women’s Ordination: The Argument ‘From Tradition’ is not the ‘Traditional’ Argument,”

41Ep. Ad Romanos 31.2; PG 60.669-760; cited by Eldon Jay Epp, Junia: The First Woman Apostle (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2005), 32.

42Richard Bauckham, Gospel Women: Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 166.

43Linda Belleville, “’Ιουνιαν . . . ἐπίσημοι ἐν τοῖς ἀποστόλοις: A Re-examination of Romans 16:7 in Light of Primary Source Materials,” New Testament Studies 51, 231-149; 236.

44Wayne Grudem and John Piper, eds. Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1991), 80; Grudem continues to make this claim in Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth, 225.

45Epp, 34; Belleville, “Re-examination,” 236.

46Bauckham, 166-167, note; Belleville, “Re-examination,” 235.

47Epp, 72.

48Manfred Hauke, Women in the Priesthood? A Systematic Analysis in the Light of the Order of Creation and Redemption, trans. David Kepp (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1988), 358.

49Hauke, 359.

50Grudem, Evangelical Feminism, 237

51Jonathan Baker, ed. Consecrated Women? A Contribution to the Bishops Debate (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2004), 66.

52Epp, 35; Bauckham, 167.

53Epp, 38.

54Belleville, “Re-examination,” 236-239. Hauke makes the rather embarrassing error of concluding that Iounian must be male because the word is masculine in form, with a circumflex accent (Hauke, 359). There would have been no accents when Paul wrote Rom. 16:7!

55Epp, 58.

56William Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957), 381.

57Epp, 67; “The assumption that only men could be apostles and that therefore the name must be male was thereafter dominant down to the 1970s.” Bauckham, 167.

58Bauckham, 166.

59Epp, 39.

60Richard S. Cervin, “A Note Regarding the Name ‘Junia(s)’ in Romans 16.7,” New Testament Studies 40(1994):464-470; 464-466; “But the simple fact is that the masculine form has been found nowhere else, and the name is more naturally taken as ’Ιουνίαν = Junia.” Patristic commentators take it for granted that it is Junia. “The assumption that it must be male is a striking indictment of male presumption . . .” Dunn, 894.

61Belleville, Re-examination, 239; “The simple fact is that Ἰουνιᾶς is absent from the Koine of the day. It does not appear in any inscription, letterhead, piece of writing, or epitaph . . . The accusative form in Greek would be masculine Ἰουνιον , or Ἰουναν – leaving no room for a Ἰουνιαν.” Belleville, “Re-examination,” 240. Hauke (359) points to “Silvanus” being shortened to “Silas” as an example of name shortening (Acts 15:40) similar to “Junias,” but Belleville points out correctly that Paul himself uses “Silvanus,” not “Silas” (2 Cor. 1:19; 1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Thes. 1:1).

62Cervin, 467-469.

63“Junias . . . cannot be documented in the Greco-Roman world . . . Hence I conclude, with a high degree of confidence, that to date a bona fide instance of Junias, whether in Greek or Latin, has not been found. . . .The clear result of this lengthy discussion of ‘Junias’ (masculine) is that, at least to date, this presumably male name is nowhere attested in the Greco-Roman world.” Epp, 33, 35, 43; “[T]he name Junias is not attested among the thousands of Greek names preserved from antiquity. Even examples of the names Junius and Junianus are rare.” Bauckham, 168; “The feminine ’Ιουνία . . . appears widely and frequently. . . ’Ιουνιᾶς does not appear even once.” Belleville, 241.

64Bauckham, 169; “The assumption that it must be male is a striking indictment of male presumption regarding the character and structure of earliest Christianity.” Dunn, 894.

65Michael H. Burer and Daniel B. Wallace, “Was Junia Really an Apostle? A Re-examination of Rom 16.7,” New Testament Studies 47 (2001) 76-91.

66Cited by Grudem, Evangelical Feminism, 224, and Consecrated Women?, 66.

67Cervin, 470.

68Burer and Wallace, 84.

69Burer and Wallace, 86

70Burer and Wallace, 86.

71Burer and Wallace, 87.

72Burer and Wallace, 88.

73Burer and Wallace, 90.

74Burer and Wallace, 89.

75Bauckham, Gospel Women; 172-179; Belleville, “Re-examination,” 242-248; Epp, 72-78.

76Bauckham, 174.

77Belleville, “Re-examination,” 242.

78Epp, 73.

79Bauckham, 174-175.

80Bauckham, 175-176.

81Belleville, “Re-Examination,” 247.

82Bauckham, 176.

83Bauckham, 178; Epp, 74.

84Belleville, “Re-examination,” 245; Epp, 75.

85Witherington, Romans, 390.

86Belleville, “Re-examination,” 243.

87Despite their claims to the contrary, their Hellenistic examples bear the inclusive, not the exclusive meaning. Belleville, Re-examination, 244-245.

88Epp, 78.

89Bauckham, 179; also Witherington, Romans, 390; Epp, 69.

90Grudem, 227.

91Epp, 70; Bauckham, 180; Witherington, Romans, 390;

92Dunn, 894. Another possibility, defended at length by Bauckham, is that Junia was the same person as the “Joanna” mentioned by Luke (Luke 8:3; 24:10). Bauckham, 181-186.

93Bauckham, 181.

94Martin, 100-101.

95Martin, 106-107.

96Martin, 100.

97Martin, 108.

98Belleville, “Re-examination,” 231.

Concerning Women’s Ordination: The Argument From Symbolism (Part 2: Transcendence, Immanence and Sexual Typology)

sun and moonThis is the second in a two-part series on Catholic objections to women’s ordination based on symbolism. In the first essay, I dealt with objections based on the doctrines of God and creation, the Old Testament priesthood, the incarnation, and the significance of a male apostolate. In this essay, I will discuss objections based on a theory of anthropological symbolism, specifically that men and women have unique symbolic roles based on inherent differences between the sexes: men represent externality, action, rationality, objectivity, and transcendence; women represent internality, receptivity, emotion, subjectivity and immanence.

The most prominent voice in this discussion is that of German theologian Manfred Hauke, whose book, Women in the Priesthood? was one of the first contributions to the discussion, and is certainly one of the lengthiest. The central argument of Hauke’s book is one of anthropological symbolism. As noted in the previous essay, Hauke insists that masculine and feminine symbolism transcends culture. He appeals to examples from ancient religion, modern biology, sociology and psychology. The book abounds with statements such as the following:

The dynamics of the male are expansive, outer directed and aimed at overcoming particular sorts of resistance. The dynamics of the female are more adaptive in nature, that is, more strongly adjusted to the demands of the existing situation. . . . The fact that women are guided more strongly by intuition and feeling also means that they are more open to concrete experience, whereas men always behave more critically. . . . Women are always dependent, in one way or the other, on the leadership of men, but men, without the intuition and assistance of women, are only half human. . . . The superiorities of men, to express things pointedly, lead to a position of authority, but the superiorities of women, to a position of subordination.1

According to Hauke, because masculinity is bound up with externality and transcendence, men are symbols of God. In contrast, the “accent of feminine symbolism falls . . . not on the representation of God, but on the depiction of creation . . . women are simultaneously representative of mankind . . .” Hauke states succinctly: “The basic axis of the symbolism of the sexes can thus be equated with the relationships man = God, woman = creation” (Hauke’s emphasis) – although he insists that this does not imply a lesser evaluation of women.2

As discussed in the previous essay, Hauke insists that the “symbolism of the sexes” is “reflected in Christ’s entire redemptive work, namely his masculine human nature.” Jesus’ teaching and miracles are “expressions of Jesus’ power, which corresponds to his masculine expansivity.”3 Hauke recognizes that the gospels describe Jesus in terms of graciousness and mercy, but “Jesus’ benevolence can be understood only through his omnipotence.”4 Jesus’ masculinity is also of central significance on the cross, where Jesus represents God with respect to humanity, but also the submission of humanity with respect to God. Hauke here appeals to a dynamic between transcendence and immanence he had discussed elsewhere. Transcendence includes immanence, but immanence cannot include transcendence.5

If Jesus represents both God and the masculine principle, the virgin Mary represents the feminine qualities of receptiveness and obedience. Mary is thus “the representative of creation as creation.” She also “represents mankind.”6 (Hauke’s emphasis). Most important, Mary is the representative of the church: “The Church appears, in the image of Mary, as having feminine traits . . .”7

Building on the above reflections about masculine and feminine symbolism, Hauke concludes the following:

The priest represents the Church, but “represents the Church insofar as he first represents Christ as the head of the Church.” (Significantly, a couple of paragraphs later, Hauke states that the priest “effectively represent[s] God,” and, in so doing, “also participates in Christ’s ‘headship.’”)8

In contrast to the masculine role of the priest, Hauke writes, every Christian “stands as a receiver before God and thus fulfills the bridal role.” Although all Christians can represent the bride, it is appropriate to restrict ordination only to men because only men can realize “an ontological approximation of Christ” in the indelible character of ordination. Because Jesus Christ’s “masculine identity” is soteriologically necessary, only a male can represent Christ in church office.9

Hauke’s book has continued to be influential, not only among some Roman Catholics, but also among some Anglicans opposed to women’s ordination.10 Whether there is direct influence or not, there are also Orthodox arguments against women’s ordination that appeal to similar symbolic logic. In what follows, I will first assess some of these arguments used by theologians of different “Catholic” traditions which presume some version of the anthropological case against women’s ordination. I will conclude with a more thorough evaluation of Hauke’s own approach. Before doing so, I think it important to point out an initial problem with Hauke’s approach.

Although Hauke (and others who take a similar approach) are examples of “Catholic” opposition to women’s ordination, the approach is inherently problematic in that it is one that the Roman Catholic magisterium has explicitly repudiated. Sara Butler, in what is perhaps the best summary of what I have called the “new Catholic argument” against women’s ordination – based on the assumption that the priest acts as a representative of the male Christ – acknowledges that “until quite recently Catholic theologians generally did explain the Church’s practice, at least in part, by appealing to the difference and the ‘hierarchical’ ordering of the sexes. They appealed as well to the Pauline texts that prohibited women’s public teaching in the Church and their exercise of authority over men (1 Corinthians 14:34; 1 Timothy 2:12).”11 However, Butler is clear that this is no longer the case. She writes:

Undoubtedly, how one construes the difference between the sexes, and how much importance one accords to this difference, enters into speculation as to why the Lord chose men and not women. But it is imperative to grasp that this is not at the root of the magisterium’s judgment. The complementarity of the sexes does not appear among the “fundamental reasons” given for the Church’s tradition (my emphasis).12

Butler’s heading for the beginning of this section reads: “The Magisterium’s Judgment is Not Based on a Theory of Christian Anthropology.”13 But such a “theory of Christian anthropology” is almost the entire basis for Hauke’s argument. Moreover, fundamental to Hauke’s argument is an exegesis of 1 Cor. 14:33-38 in which he argues that Paul’s prohibition against women’s speaking is the single most important biblical passage to consider in terms of the discussion of women’s ordination. Hauke writes: “[T]his ban on speaking . . . together with 1 Timothy 2:11-12, constitutes the most penetrating biblical evidence that can be brought against the ordination of women.”14 And later: “If my interpretation of 1 Corinthians 14 is correct, then it is not difficult to formulate the result: by force of divine law, only a baptized male can validly receive consecration to the priesthood.”15

Finally, Hauke also interprets Ephesians 5 to teach a hierarchical understanding of marriage, which he believes is crucial to his argument from symbolism:

Those who reject the “hierarchical structure of marriage” must, if they are consistent, trim back the symbolism of the Christ-Church relationship . . . For marriage as the most anthropologically central relation, also possesses the strongest powers of symbolic expressiveness for the religious sphere. If there were to be full equality between husband and wife, the relation of Christ to the Church would also be affected analogically . . .16

Hauke was happy to report at the time he wrote: “To my knowledge, such an attempt [i.e., to espouse full equality between husband and wife] has not yet been made.”17 Of course, within a few short years, such an attempt was indeed made – by Pope John Paul II, who, in his encyclical Mulieris Dignitatem, interpreted Ephesians 5 as teaching a complete equal dignity of man and woman in marriage, and a “mutal submission,” not only of the wife to the husband, but of the husband to the wife.18 It is important to recognize, then, that those “Catholic” opponents of women’s ordination who appeal to the kind of anthropological arguments Hauke uses are going against the grain of current Roman Catholic teaching in that the magisterium itself has found these arguments unsatisfactory. In addition, the Vatican no longer endorses the exegetical interpretations of the three controversial Pauline passages that are crucial to Hauke’s argument. The Vatican does not base its position concerning the ordination of women on the assumption that women cannot exercise authority over men or teach in an authoritative manner in the church.

Turning now to the specific arguments:

Arguments for Male Symbolic Priority

The proponents of arguments for masculinity as symbolically normative for the representation of humanity appeal to the same passages of Scripture that are central to Protestant complementarian arguments against women’s ordination. However, in contrast to the Protestant approach, they do not focus on the passages so much as teaching a hierarchy of command-and-obedience, but rather, as indicating normative masculine symbolism.

Orthodox theologian Thomas Hopko discusses the creation stories of Genesis, pointing out that Man (anthropos) is created first, and then woman is created from Man’s substance: “Man and woman belong together; they cannot be separated.” They are Man (anthropos) together, and so humankind is a “communal being.” Human beings are created in God’s image to know and love and to participate in the eternal knowledge and love of shared between God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit. God has made this possible in Jesus Christ, who is the New Adam, and the Church, which is the new Eve, personified in Mary, the mother of Christ.19

At the same time, Hopko asserts that “a certain priority is given to Adam who has the name of Man (anthropos) even when he is yet alone.” Hopko insists that “Adam the man is head of Eve the woman,” and appeals to 1 Cor. 11:3. He also appeals to Romans 5 where Paul describes Jesus as the “new and last Adam.” Drawing on the marriage symbolism of Ephesians, Hopko states that “Jesus is Adam, the Church is Eve. Jesus is the Husband, the Church is his wife. Jesus is the bridegroom, the Church is his friend and bride. Jesus is the head, the Church is his body.”20 Hopko concludes from this symbolism to an argument against women’s ordination: “As Jesus, the personal image of God the Father, is the head and husband of the Church, which is his body and bride, so the Christian man is the head and husband of his wife, and the presbyter/bishop the head and husband of his church. . . . The fatherhood, headship and husbandhood which belongs to believing men in Christ and the Church cannot be exercised by women, and cannot by exercised without them.” He concludes: “If what I have written here is right and true, women cannot be bishops and priests in the Orthodox view because it is not their divine calling and competence as women.”21

In a similar manner, the Anglican Forward in Faith Document Consecrated Women? appeals to Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 11:3,12; 15:21-23 to establish the symbolic priority of masculinity:

[A]s the Scriptures consistently portray Adam as both the created origin of the human race, male and female, and its representative, so Jesus, the new Adam, is simultaneously both head and representative of the new humanity redeemed in him. While the Old Testament texts nowhere use such terms as “headship”, they clearly establish a pattern in which the male can represent the whole human race in a manner in which the female cannot.22 (my emphasis).

I will not deal at length here with the exegetical claims because I have already discussed these passages in some depth, and I refer readers to those earlier essays. Concerning the figure of Adam in the creation passages of Genesis 1 and 2 as well as the parallel between Adam and Christ in Romans 5, what is significant about both Adam and Christ in both sets of passages is that they are human (anthropos), not that they are male. It is interesting to contrast the very different conclusions drawn by Orthodox theologian Elisabeth Behr-Sigel from a reading of the same passage:

In Romans, St. Paul says, “. . . the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of that one man [anthropos] Jesus Christ abounded for many [Rm 5:15]. In line with the contemporary Jewish interpretation, the whole of Romans 5 uses Adam as a name standing for the whole of humankind and not as a proper name applied to a masculine individual. Adam is the figure of “the one who was to come,” Jesus who is designated as the “New Adam” and brings together in his person the new humanity, the new community of which he is both the firstfruits and the head. And that Community is the Church where “there is neither male nor female,” where all baptized people, all men and women who through baptism “have put on Christ,” and “are all one in Christ Jesus” [Gal. 3:28].23

Both Hopko and Behr-Siegel agree that Adam is representative of “the whole of humankind” (Behr-Siegel); both affirm Paul’s typological parallel between Adam and Christ, recognizing Christ as the “new Adam” and the head of the church. However, Hopko points to the contrast between the male Christ and the female Church, and argues that Adam is representative of all humanity because he is male; Behr-Siegel points to the unity of the church, “in which there is neither male nor female,” and argues that Adam is representative, not because he is male, but because he is human. Ironically, both make their case by appealing to Paul’s use of the word anthropos to designate Adam.

In my previous essay “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Beginning with Genesis,”24 I argued that, in Hebrew, ha’adam (Adam) simply means “human being,” and that sexuality does not appear in Genesis 2:23, until the creation of the woman (‘issa = female human being) when ha’adam is first identified as “man” (‘is = male human being). Hopko is misleading here in using the ambiguous English word “Man” to claim that “man” was created before “woman,” since the English word translated “Man” (ha’adam) in Gen. 2:7 and following is not the word translated “man” (‘is) in 2:23. In Genesis, there is a certain sense in which man (male human being) and woman (female human being) are created simultaneously, since, again, ha’ adam (the human being) is not identified as male until the woman appears on the scene. (This is not to say that Adam is a hermaphrodite, but rather that it is only with the introduction of the woman that the text recognizes sexual differentiation.) Similarly, I argued, nothing in the Adam/Christ typology in Romans 5 suggests that either Adam or Christ are representative because of their sex. That Paul uses anthropos (human being) rather than aner (male human being) to refer both to Adam and to Christ indicates that what is significant about both is their humanity, not their sexuality. Paul writes that “sin came into the world through one human being (δι’ ‘ενός ’ανθρώπου), and death through sin,” and “the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one human being (του ‘ενός ’ανθρώπου) Jesus Christ abounded for many.” (Rom. 5:12,15b). Certainly, if Paul had intended to say that it was the masculinity of Adam and Jesus Christ that was soteriologically (or symbolically) significant, he would have referred to both using the word aner (male human being) rather than anthropos (human being). Of course, it makes sense that in making a typological comparison pointing to Jesus Christ, Paul would have used the male figure of Adam to pre-figure Jesus, since Jesus is himself a male. Certainly it also made sense for Paul to draw a parallel between Adam (whose name “Adam” means “human being”) as the first human being through whom sin originated, and Jesus Christ as the new creation of God (the second Adam or human being) through whom sin is destroyed.

As I also pointed out, however, the argument for the normative masculinity of Adam and Christ rather misses the point of how Paul uses typology. Paul was quite capable of using female typological symbolism. In Galatians 4, Paul uses the female figures of Hagar and Sarah as types representing the two covenants of Sinai, the old covenant (“present Jerusalem”) and the new covenant (“Jerusalem above”). Nothing in Paul’s typology suggests that either Hagar or Sarah are “representative” because of their sex. Moreover, that Paul uses female figures as typologically representative undercuts the claim that there is in Scripture a pattern in which male figures are representative of humanity, and female figures are not.

Similarly, in my essays “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Mutual Submission,” and “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Women in Worship and “Headship,”25 I dealt at length with the question of the meaning of Paul’s metaphor of “headship” in 1 Corinthians and Ephesians. Scholars point out that Paul’s use of “head” as a metaphor is unique, and its meaning can be discerned only from the immediate context. A careful reading of Paul’s argument in both 1 Corinthians and Ephesians indicates that he did not understand “head” to mean either hierarchy or authority (as in Protestant complementarianism), but neither is there any indication from the context that it means “symbolic representation” (as in the Catholic symbolic argument). In both Ephesians and 1 Corinthians, Paul corrects conflicts between the sexes in light of what I have called “Christological subversion.” Paul’s emphasis is mutuality and cruciformity, and neither male hierarchy nor masculine symbolism.

As with the argument from Jesus’ having chosen male apostles, the arguments for normative masculine symbolic representation are circular and anachronistic. They presume from the beginning an understanding concerning the priest acting as a visual representation of Jesus Christ that did not appear until Pope Paul VI’s Inter Insigniores. As I argued in my previous essay, “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Women’s Ordination and the Priesthood of Christ (in persona Christi),”26 the argument that the priest represents Christ in presiding at the Eucharist (acts in persona Christi) was first articulated by Thomas Aquinas. But Thomas did not claim that the priest needed to have a physical resemblance to Christ, nor did he use that argument as a reason for a male priesthood. (The physical resemblance argument did not appear until the twentieth century.) If we already know ahead of time that the priest must be male because he acts in persona Christi and that representation demands a masculine physical resemblance, then we may find ourselves reading the passages from Genesis, Romans, 1 Corinthians, and Ephesians in that light to suggest a normative male representative function in those passages, but apart from that prior assumption, there simply is no reason to do so. To read the passages in that sense is to engage in eisegesis rather than exegesis – to impose a reading on the text rather than to draw out the inherent meaning of the passage.

It is this understanding of Christological representation that is at the core of the symbolic argument against women’s ordination. So Hopko writes in a manner that sounds oddly Western (and indeed Roman Catholic) coming from the pen of an Orthodox theologian: “[T]he presbyter/bishop performs the good work of oversight and eldership . . . He presides at worship, holding the place of the Lord, repeating his words and imitating his actions. He presents the gifts at the eucharistic offering in the place of Jesus (my emphasis), the one great high priest of God’s priestly people . . .”27 It is this representative function that Hopko argues demands a parallel between the presbyter/bishop and the role of Christ. As Jesus Christ is the (male) head and husband of the Church, so the presbyter/bishop functions as the (male) husband and head of the local church: “[T]he headship which sacramentally actualizes the headship of Jesus himself may be exercised only by certain men.”28

Apart from the assumption that the priest must physically resemble Christ in order to preside at the Eucharist, however, there is nothing in Hopko’s argument that would require that a presbyter should be male. The roles of “oversight and eldership” of which he first speaks in discussing the office of presbyter/bishop could certainly be exercised by a woman. (The words translated “bishop” [ἐπίσκοπος, episkopos] and “elder/presbyter” [πρεσβύτερος, presbyteros] are simply the Greek words for “overseer” and “old person” with masculine endings; grammatical gender does not determine sex, and there have certainly been women “overseers” and older women of wisdom and experience who could fill these roles.) However, as Orthodox Bishop Kallistos Ware points out, the argument that the priest celebrates the Eucharist as a representative of Christ has never been the Orthodox position – in Orthodox theology, the priest acts primarily as a representative of the Church (in persona ecclesiae) and only secondarily of Christ – and those Orthodox who embrace the in persona Christi argument are adopting a Western Roman Catholic position.29

Male and Female Symbolism

What then about the bifurcated sexual symbolism that is key to Hauke’s argument and dominates his book? I would argue that Hauke’s use of sexual symbolism represents an unbaptized “natural theology” of sexuality, and ignores the principle of “christological subversion.” By “natural theology,” I mean an a priori argument that is derived apart from and prior to a reading of Scripture and in the light of which Scripture is then interpreted. (This would contrast to the methodology of “faith seeking understanding” that characterizes the use of reason and philosophy in theologians such as Augustine, Anselm, or Thomas Aquinas.) This “natural theology” has its roots in pagan understandings of fertility and sexuality rather than in a careful reading of the biblical texts. Note that chapters six to eight of Hauke’s book precede his discussion of Scripture, and he establishes his key arguments concerning masculine and female symbolism by appeals to Plato, Aristotle, non-Christian religions (such as Hinduism, the Chinese I Ching), secular sociology, and Jungian psychology, before any discussion of the Bible, and only then interprets the biblical texts in light of these symbolic gender distinctions between men and women.30

Hauke tends to read the Old and New Testaments in light of a transcendence/immanence schema first drawn from pagan religion and secular psychology and sociology rather than asking the question of how the Old and New Testaments might challenge traditional (and particularly pagan) understandings of the relationship between the sexes. For example, Hauke makes much of pagan distinctions between “sky father gods” and “earth mother godesses,” and of imagery of the “sun” (as masculine) and the “moon” (as feminine), of “sky” (as masculine) and “water,” “trees,” and “earth” (as feminine). Note, however, that there is no parallel in Hebrew or Christian religion to pagan notions of sky gods or earth mothers because, in the Bible’s creation narrative, the one God creates both heaven and earth: in the Bible, heaven and earth are creatures, not divinities, and the one God as Creator transcends both. As noted in my essay previous to this, Tikva Frymer-Kensky has pointed out that the God of the Bible is portrayed using male imagery, but Yahweh is not sexually male. Frymer-Kensky also points out that, in Israel, human beings are given many of the functions of pagan goddesses.31 In contrast to pagan religions, the Old Testament cult is rooted in historical events such as the Exodus, not nature fertility rites.

Frymer-Kensky also points to a significant difference between the way that pagan religions portray the relationship between the sexes and the way that the Bible does. In pagan religions, stories about gods and goddesses provide role models for human men and women; they not only provide “sacred examples,” but also “divine warrant” for society’s gender structures. In contrast, “[i]n the Bible, ideas about women and gender are conveyed in stories about human women.”32 Frymer-Kensky recognizes that the Hebrew Bible reflects throughout the gender-based hierarchical structures of ancient agrarian societies in general.33 Women are subordinate to men, and they have limited property rights. Society is divided along gender lines. Public activities such as government, temple and law, are male activities. Because of their biological role in bearing and caring for children, women’s social activities are largely confined to the household and family, and the Bible largely portrays women as having family-oriented goals – they are mothers and wives, sisters and daughters. Despite the differing social roles of men and women (rooted in the biology of childbirth and nurture in a pre-industrial society), however, the Bible portrays men and women in remarkably similar ways: “[B]eyond the realities of Israel’s social structure, the Bible presents a remarkably unified vision of humankind, for the stories show women as having the same inherent characteristics [as] men.” There is one major difference between men and women in that some men exercise power and women (as well as other men) do not – but throughout the Bible, women are portrayed in a manner similar to those men (such as younger sons) who also have no power. Frymer-Kensky’s discussion contains numerous examples of the behavior of women in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). She concludes:

When we survey the biblical record of the goals and strategies of women, a startling fact emerges. There is nothing distinctively “female” about the way that women are portrayed in the Bible, nothing particularly feminine about either their goals or their strategies. The goals of women are the same goals held by the biblical male characters and the authors of the stories. . . . The Bible presents no characteristics of human behavior as “female” or “male,” no division of attributes between the poles of “feminine” and “masculine,” no hint of distinctions of such polarities as male aggressivity-female receptivity, male innovation-female conservation, male out-thrusting-female containment, male subjecthood-female objecthood, male rationality-female emotionality, male product-female process, male achievement-female bonding, or any of the other polarities by which we are accustomed to think of gender distinctions. As far as the Bible presents humanity, gender is a matter of biology and social roles, it is not a question of basic nature or identity.34

In other words, the gender distinctions that are central to what we have called the “argument from symbolism” are simply not present in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). The most significant assumption concerning male-female symbolism in the Bible is that women are like men.

When and where then did notions of sexually bifurcated male-female symbolism enter Jewish (and later Christian) thought? In a chapter entitled “Gifts of the Greeks,” Frymer-Kensky points to a significant change in Jewish thought that took place after the conquest of Alexander the Great in 333 B.C.E. In contrast to the model found in the Hebrew Bible, the Greek social system was “very gender-segregated”: “Greek philosophy portrayed females as inherently and essentially different from men, and fundamentally less valued. The male-female distinction was one of the great polarities of the Greek dualistic system.” Males represented civilized humanity, while women were “untamed” and “animal-like.” and needed to be controlled by men.35 Greek mythology portrays relationships between men and women as a “battle of the sexes.” Misogny and anti-woman themes are prevalent in Greek literature. Both Plato and Aristotle understand women to be inferior and defective. The Greeks also glorified pederastic homophilia while reinforcing the separation of the sexes, the limitation of public life to men, and the confinement of women to the domestic sphere.36

Jewish writings written during the Hellenistic period began to reflect Greek influence. For example, the deutero-canonical Wisdom of Ben Sira (Sirach) states: “Better is the wickedness of a man than a woman who does good; and it is a woman who brings shame and disgrace.” (Sirach 42:4, RSV). Sirach blames the fall into sin on Eve rather than Adam: “From a woman sin had its beginning, and because of her we all die.” (Sirach 25:24). Sirach warns men of the dangers of beautiful women, and advises men against their attractions (Sirach 9:8-9). Later Jewish writings such as the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs and the Mishnah forbid men and women to be alone together. In the Talmud, the mere sight of a woman is enough to tempt even the greatest of men. In the Hellenistic period, Jewish women began to be separated and excluded from men, and completely excluded from public life. Women were separated from men in public worship, and discouraged from participation in community prayer. The Hellenistic Jewish philosopher Philo used “male” and “female” as philosophical opposites and developed a “symbolic misogyny” of the sexes. Frymer-Kensky writes: “The rabbinic system represents a dramatic change from the Bible in the conceptualization of women and sex. In place of the Bible’s portrayal of women and men as fundamentally similar, the rabbis express a gender-polarized view of humanity.”37

Frymer-Kensky suggests that the Church fathers, as heirs to both the Bible and Hellenism, also embraced this “gender-polarized and negative view of women.”38 Similarly, New Testament scholar Ben Witherington argues for a retreat from the more egalitarian understanding of the relationship between men and women in the New Testament to a hierarchical view rooted largely in a distrust of female sexuality. What Witherington calls a “deficient view of human sexuality” led to a heightened emphasis on asceticism accompanied by an exalting of celibacy and virginity. Christian marriage came to be seen as a “second best” in comparison to celibacy, and, insofar as women were defined by their sexuality, they fell under suspicion as being temptresses and sources of sin. To the extent that virginity became the highest ideal, women were given only two choices in the church; they could pursue some sort of celibate ministry in the church as deaconesses, virgins, or widows, or they could marry, in which case their role was restricted to that of wife and mother. Witherington summarizes the situation for women in the patristic period:

Nowhere do we hear of a healthy balance where both one’s human sexuality and spiritual gifts are affirmed. Certainly by the fourth century, life in the Church had become a clear either/or proposition with women in ministry being linked to a transcending or abandoning of any affirmation of their sexual identity.”39

Finally, I would point readers to my earlier essay in which I documented the tendency of Christians theologians as early as Origen to blame women for the fall into sin, to be dangerous sources of male temptation, and to be considered less intelligent, more subject to emotion, and more easily tempted than men.40

In light of the above, it is significant that the bifurcated male-female sexual symbolism that is so central to Hauke’s argument finds its roots not in the biblical account of men and women, but in the non-Christian Hellenistic world of Plato, Aristotle, and the Hellenized Judaism of Philo. There is an ironic parallel between this version of symbolic theology and the radical feminist theology that Hauke finds so objectionable. In both cases, there is an appeal outside of Christian faith for normative ideological principles in the light of which the Christian Scriptures are then re-interpreted. For feminist theology, the principle is “female liberation”; for the anti-women’s ordination version of “symbolic” theology, the principle is a sexual bifurcation that is rooted not in Scripture, but in pagan non-Christian understandings of the relation between the sexes.

A Trinitarian Corrective

In a previous essay on the priesthood of Christ, I noted the tendency of Western eucharistic theologies to be binitarian in focusing (almost) exclusively on the roles of the Father and the Son to the neglect of the Holy Spirit, and Christomonist not only in focusing exclusively on the role of Christ but “Apollinarian” in the sense of focusing exclusively on the deity of Christ to the neglect of his humanity, particularly of his human mind and will. Hauke’s theology shares in these characteristics.

Hauke’s male-female symbol system plays itself out in a contrast between God (as transcendent) and creation (as immanent), of the male as representing transcendence and the female as representing immanence, of the male as external and the female as internal, of the male as active and the female as receptive, of the male as substantive and the female as relational. Two key quotes are essential to Hauke’s argument:

The basic axis of the symbolism of the sexes can thus be equated with the relationships man = God, woman = creation” . . .”

“The relations Christ-Mary and Christ-Church are the points on which the symbolism of the sexes turns.”41

The schema can be illustrated as follows:

Transcendent (Male): God → Christ → Priest

Immanent (Female): Creation → Mary → Church → Laity

Hauke writes: “A personal image of God is always bound up with sexual references.”42 The male is symbolic of transcendence, and thus of God. According to Hauke:

The masculine nature, in particular, is more strongly directed toward mastery of the external world than is that of women. But this task of mastery appears as a specific consequence of being a likeness of God. . . [J]ust as women represent creation, so, in a special way, man represents God. . . . [M]asculine symbolism is more closely apposite to the personal image of God than is its feminine counterpart. . . . The mother embodies divine immanence, a multirelational embeddedness in the world. God’s personality, however, is bound up in a special way with transcendence.43

In contrast, Hauke associates immanence, receptivity, and creation with the female:

Receptivity, openness, readiness are the appropriate attitudes in the presence of the Creator. As we have seen, however, this receptivity is, to a higher degree, a characteristic of women. Consequently, the female human being is more likely to be suitably representative of the state of creaturely being before God. Woman is, in a sense, a likeness of creation. . . . As symbolic of human receptivity, women are simultaneously emblems of deep-rooted, personal, devotion to God, for precisely, in receiving, the soul simultaneously engages in a state of highest activity. 44

Because of their “eccentric symbolism,” which is “oriented toward sovereignty and power,” Hauke states that men are “not suited to representing adequately this attitude of open receptivity.”45

Trinitarian Personalism as a Corrective to Binary Contrast

The revival of trinitarian theology and of an associated trinitarian personalism has been one of the most characteristic developments of the last few decades. This has been an ecumenical project, shared by Roman Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants, and Anglicans. The Swiss Reformed theologian Karl Barth’s trinitarian theology was the major impetus in this development. In the area of sexuality, Barth advocated a trinitarian personalism and argued that the creation of humanity in the image of God as male and female echoed the trinitarian relations; to be created as a human being in the image of God means to be inherently oriented toward relation toward other persons as grounded in the inherent relationality of the sexes (man and woman) toward one another.46

Hauke’s book appeared just prior to the recent trinitarian revival, and he explicitly repudiates Barth’s theology of male-female sexuality as reflective of the trinitarian relations:

That man must be an essentially relational being because God is in relationship with himself cannot be derived in this way from the biblical text. . . . Barth seems to assume that relationship defines the essence of man in the same way that it grounds the three Persons of the Trinity. . . . if Barth equates the relationship of man and woman with their essences . . . then the independent natures of each are dissolved.47

Hauke rather assigns different aspects of personalism to men and to women: Where trinitarian personalism associates personhood with relationality common to both men and women, Hauke contrasts the personal nature of men and women. He insists that men are more representative of God’s personhood because personhood is primarily individual, while women, because they are more relational, are less so:

If the experience of a personal God presupposes the transcendence of the soul and of God himself, then it aligns itself with masculine symbolism. Women, of course, are persons just as much as are men, but their personhood is lived out more strongly through relationships; they are, to a special degree, relational beings. . . . Women are no less persons than are men, but the individual, self-dependent reality of the personal is just symbolized to a lesser degree in women.48

To the contrary, a trinitarian personalism would claim that Hauke’s dichotomy between the “individual” and the “relational” is a false contrast. Roman Catholic theologian W. Norris Clarke expresses the point well in the title of his essay “To Be is to Be Substance in Relation.”49 In a book considering the implications of Trinitarian personalism entitled Person and Being, Clarke argues that “drawing upon God’s own self-revelation in the doctrine of the Trinity (three Persons within one Divine Being) can here illumine the very nature of being, as well as of God . . .” The doctrine of the Trinity means that the “very inner life of God himself . . . is by its very nature self-communicative Love . . . ,” and that consequently, “self-communication is written into the very heart of all beings, as finite but positive images of their Source.”50

At the heart of Clarke’s argument is that all reality possesses both an “in-itself” and a “towards -the-other” dimension. Within the Triune Divine Being, substantiality and relationality are “primordial” and “necessary” in that God is three persons in one nature. All creatures manifest both relationality and substantiality in that they are all in some sense images of the God who is their creative Source: “All being, therefore, is, by its very nature as being, dyadic, with an ‘introverted,’ or in-itself dimension, as substance, and an ‘extraverted,’ or towards-others dimension, as related through action.”51 In terms of human personhood, Clarke argues that all persons must possess a “self-presence,” which enables them to meaningfully say “I” and engage in responsible action, but also a relationality toward the other as “Thou,” in which we respond to another self. It is only in relation to others that we can return to our self to achieve self-possession: “Thus, a personalized being must obey the basic dyadic ontological structure of all being, that is, presence in itself and presence to others.”52 To be a person, therefore, is “to be-in-communion,” and communication between persons entails both giving and receiving. Accordingly, Clarke insists that mutuality is essential to love, and that the “ontological value of receptivity” is “not a defect or inferiority but a positive perfection of being.”53 Self-communication and receptivity are thus “complementary and inseparable sides of the dynamic process of being itself,” and Clarke insists that in the Trinity itself, “receptivity is present in the Son and the Spirit at its most intense . . .” The Father is “subsistent Self-communication,” while the Son and Spirit are “subsistent Receptivity.”54

Crucial for the current discussion is that the distinctions between transcendence and immanence, between substance and relationality, between action and receptivity, which Hauke portrays as contrasting characteristics of men and women, and thus crucial to his distinction between masculine and feminine symbolism, should not be understood as contrastive, but rather complementary and dyadic, and as characteristic not of men and women respectively, but of all persons. Communication and personhood are impossible without both transcendence and immanence, action and receptivity, substantiality and relationity being present in both persons in the conversation. These are not male or female characteristics, but simply human and personal characteristics. Hauke’s male-female symbolism divides and assigns alternatively to the male and female sexes characteristic of persons as such which intrinsically belong together and which cannot be parceled out, and without which persons would not be persons, but isolated monads.

A Trinitarian Account of Transcendence and Immanence

Hauke’s theology is binary throughout, with transcendence (equated with masculinity) and immanence (equated with femininity) marking the primary distinction. This binary dichotomy is fundamental not only for his discussion of male and female human beings but for his discussion of the trinitarian persons as well. As noted above (and in the previous essay), Hauke points to transcendence as the primary identifying characteristic of both God the Father and God the Son. Hauke certainly acknowledges Jesus Christ’s humanity:

Jesus Christ is the representative of God . . . It is not only in his divinity but also in his human nature that Christ is a likeness and a representative of his Father . . . Certainly, God’s becoming man is the fundamental precondition for our redemption, which Christ effected representatively for women as well as men. . . . Jesus Christ, through his human nature, represented not only men in relation to God but also women. Just as the mother symbol is, in a sense, enclosed within the father symbol, so Jesus, too, embodies “feminine” values, such as kindness and mildness.55

However, the emphasis throughout is on Jesus’ transcendence and masculinity: “[A]ll of Christ’s tasks are inseparably bound up with his masculinely stamped human nauture . . .”56 The humanity of Christ does not play a significant role in Hauke’s discussion. What is important about Jesus is that he is God. So Hauke writes: “Thus Jesus’ benevolence can be understood only through his omnipotence,” and “The humbling of Jesus can only be understood, however, when in its enduring starting point is kept in view, namely, infinite divine power.” Even when Hauke speaks of Jesus as representative of humanity, Hauke says little or nothing about the significance of Jesus’ humanity as receptive, either to God or humanity: “Whereas Jesus’ love appears, with respect to sinners, as mercifulness, it takes on, with respect to his turning toward God, the aspects of righteousness.”57

Despite Hauke’s claim to be presenting orthodox Christology, the implicit logic of his position seems to be monophysite or perhaps Apollinarian. Is Jesus Christ omnipotent, possessing “infinite divine power” as human? This would seem to be a confusion or conflation of the incarnate Word’s divine and human natures. Significantly, Hauke never portrays Jesus Christ as receptive. That is always the role of the church, and, particularly of the church as female (to be discussed below).

Hauke does associate immanence with the mission of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity. Hauke identifies the Holy Spirit with the “feminine” characteristics of (1) immanence: “God’s immanence in nature and grace is thus attributed, in a special way, to the Holy Spirit, because he is himself the intradivine immanence in person.”; (2) relationality: “In themselves, the Divine Persons are, of course, substantial relationship. Still, to the Holy Spirit, we can attribute, in a special way, a mode of being that, although sustained by personal identity, is exhaustively constituted in and through relationality. . . . Now ‘relationality’ is characteristic to a greater degree of women than of men”; and (3) receptivity: “[T]he Holy Spirit is constituted only by receiving. In a certain sense, then, we can therefore, ‘designate’ him ‘as the feminine principle in the divinity . . . He is, in fact, the divinely receiving.’”58

If men resemble the male Christ, Hauke suggests that women resemble the Holy Spirit. He writes, “Woman is, in a certain respect, an image of the Holy Spirit” and “Thus, we find in the Holy Spirit certain characteristics that can link up with feminine symbolism, such as immanence, relationality, and above all his identity as receptive.”59 Hauke makes a specific connection between the symbolically feminine characteristics of the Holy Spirit and the church as the bride of Christ: “The relation Christ-Spirit corresponds to the relation husband-wife, but also to the relation Christ-Church.”60 Hauke is quick, however, to discourage any conclusions that might be drawn concerning the “feminine” symbolism of the Holy Spirit and women’s ordination: “[I]n contrast to a repraesentatio Christi, we will hardly encounter an explicit repraesentatio Spiritus Sanctus. . . .”61 But, of course, the counter-argument would not be that the presiding minister (whether man or woman) represents the Holy Spirit (repraesentatio Spiritus Sanctus), but rather that, as offering the eucharistic prayer on behalf of the congregation, the celebrant speaks in the person of the church (in persona ecclesiae), and thus represents the church, which (as the bride of Christ) is symbolically feminine.

The binary structure of Hauke’s schema can be again be laid out (with slight modification):

Transcendent (Male): God the Father → Jesus Christ → Men

Immanent (Female): God the Holy Spirit → Women → Church

What is significantly missing from Hauke’s schema (and what marks it as implicitly monophysite or Apollinarian) is the Chalcedonian dimension. A properly trinitarian and Chalcedonian account of transcendence and immanence could acknowledge what Hauke says about the transcendence of God the Father – given that creation is “attributed” to the Father – and the immanence of the Holy Spirit as the indwelling principle of grace and as the link between the church and the other two trinitarian persons. What is missing from Hauke’s scheme is the significance of the incarnation, the hypostatic union, and the full Chalcedonian definition. The hypostatic union means that Jesus Christ is a divine person with two complete natures, one divine and one human. It is thus Jesus Christ (who as God is Creator and as human is creature) who is the perfect meeting place between transcendence and immanence. As the second person of the Trinity, the Word of God is transcendent over all creation; in him, “all things were created. . . all things were created through him and for him . . . and in him all things hold together” (Col. 1:16-17; cf. John 1:1-3). But as human, Jesus Christ is also the “Word made flesh” (John 1:14); in Jesus Christ, “the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Col. 2:9). Although the pre-incarnate Son existed “in the form of God” (Phil. 2:6), he took on the “form of a servant,” existing in “human form” (Phil. 2:6-8). As the Chalcedonian formula states, Jesus Christ is “one and the same Son . . . truly God and truly human . . . of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood.” Accordingly, a genuinely trinitarian account of transcendence and immanence would have to modify Hauke’s schema in something like the following mnner:

Transcendent: (neither male nor female) God the Father

Fully Transcendent and Fully Immanent: The incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ

Immanent: God the Holy Spirit → Church (Both men and women)

As God incarnate, Jesus Christ is both fully transcendent and fully immanent. He is active, but also receptive, substantival, but also relational. If the Father represents transcendence, and the Spirit represents immanence, then the incarnate Son represents both transcendence and immanence. As noted above, the nature of the person is both communicating and receiving – active and recipient. The Son as God incarnate is both God speaking to humanity, and humanity responding to God. It is this emphasis on the humanity of Jesus Christ as being representative of humanity in responding to God that is missing in Hauke’s binary account.

A Christocentric and Trinitarian Account of Worship

One of the most important modern discussions of the theology of worship is found in Thomas F. Torrance’s essays “The Paschal Mystery of the Eucharist,” and “The Mind of Christ in Worship: The Problem of Apollinarianism in the Liturgy.”62 I have already discussed these essays at some length in my own previous essay “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Women’s Ordination and the Priesthood of Christ (in persona Christi),”63 so I will refer readers there for a full discussion rather than repeating at length what I have already written. Two key points are central, however. First, following Cyril of Alexandria, Torrance argued that a key theme for the theology of worship is the “vicarious humanity” of Christ and its significance for the church’s participation in Christ’s priesthood: “[T]he key to the understanding of the Eucharist is to be sought in the vicarious humanity of Jesus, the priesthood of the incarnate Son. Eternal God though he was, he condescended to be our brother . . .”64 A key theme in Cyril’s theology was that, in the incarnation, the Son of God assumed not simply a human body, but a complete human nature, including a human mind. During his earthly ministry, Jesus as human was anointed with the Holy Spirit and prayed to and worshiped God the Father. After his resurrection and ascension, the risen Jesus Christ permanently retained his human nature, including his human mind, and exercises his priesthood by interceding for the church and by offering worship to God the Father. The church’s own worship is a participation in the worship of the risen Christ.65 Torrance writes:

Jesus Christ ascended to the Father [is] the Mediator of our worship in mind and soul and body in union with him. It is as our Priest, with all his human condition in body, mind and soul which he took from us, with his human worship and prayer in which he assimilates our worship and prayer in his name, that he appears in the presence of his Father and fulfils his heavenly ministry as Priest over the House of God.66

Second, Torrance argued that this centrality of Christ’s vicarious humanity had been lost in much of the church’s worship after the patristic era, resulting in what he called “Apollinarianism in the liturgy.” One of the consequences of this loss was the substitution of various other mediators to make up for the loss of the humanity of Christ: “[T]he Church was thrown back upon itself to provide a priesthood which could stand in for Christ, and even mediate between the sinner and Christ . . . ”67

Paradoxically, although the subject of Hauke’s book is the “ordination of women,” there is very little in the way of a theology of liturgy in his book. What he does say confirms the concerns raised by Torrance. As noted above, Hauke says very little about the significance of the humanity of Christ, and nothing about the significance of Jesus’ human mind and will. In the closest thing to such a discussion, Hauke contrasts Jesus and Mary. Hauke states that Mary exercises faith, but Jesus does not:

Thus the way for the obedience of the “new Adam” is prepared by the “new Eve.” In this, the significance of Mary extends far beyond that of her predecessor. Nowhere in the New Testament does Jesus appear as a believer, because he does not first have to endorse his revelation but proclaims it himself as one who sees. In contrast, the Mother of God is, by virtue of her belief, the first and exemplary Christian.68

Hauke associates faith with dependence and receptivity, making it a primarily feminine quality: “Faith is always related to obedience, to subordination. Women, because of their biological constitution, possess in principle a greater readiness for this than do men.”69

Contrary to Hauke’s claim here, there has been considerable recent discussion concerning Jesus’ exercise of faith among recent New Testament scholars, with numerous advocates of the New Perspective on Paul arguing that Paul’s expression pistis Christou (Gal. 2:16) should be translated as the “faith of Christ” or the “faithfulness of Christ” rather than “faith in Christ.”70 Just as significant would be a passage such as Hebrews 5:7: “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.” Nowhere in Hauke’s book is there any discussion of the significance of Jesus’ own prayer to God or his own anointing as human with the Holy Spirit. For Hauke, the significance of Jesus’ mediatorial role is consistently that Jesus is on the side of God – that he represents God to human beings.

In discussing priesthood, Hauke ascribes to the priest as mediator that which the New Testament ascribes uniquely to Jesus Christ: “A ‘priest’ in the broadest sense of the world, is a mediator between God and man.” Hauke ascribes two functions to the priest: First, the “representation of the Divinity in relation to man. When the emphasis is on transcendence and the active workings of God . . . it seems appropriate to reserve the priesthood for men . . .” Second, the “public representation of man in relation to the Divinity. For this, too, men tend to be more suitable. As the representative of his community, a man steps, to to speak ‘outward’ into the presence of God . . .”71 Note that Hauke gives to the human priest the mediating role that the New Testament gives to Jesus Christ. Also, Hauke sees the priest as representing God (in the divine nature), rather than Jesus Christ in his humanity.

As noted in my previous essay “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Women’s Ordination and the Priesthood of Christ (in persona Christi),” the Roman Catholic theologian Yves Congar regretted the tendency of Roman Catholic theology to substitute the pope, the virgin Mary and the sacrament of the mass for the Holy Spirit.72 Certainly Hauke tends to associate Mary particularly with the Holy Spirit, but also ascribes to Mary the role of mediating the Holy Spirit that the New Testament gives to the risen Christ (John 14:16; 16:7). Hauke writes: “Mary can, therefore, be characterized as ‘the most perfect human personal image of the Holy Spirit’ . . . Mary does not replace the Holy Spirit, but mediates him through her intercession.”73 Hauke gives to Mary the role of representative of humanity that Torrance claims that patristic theologians such as Cyril gave to the vicarious humanity of Christ. In fact, Hauke specifically denies this representative role to Jesus’ humanity. Hauke writes:

In her receptiveness, Mary is thus, in a special measure, the representative of creation as creation. . . . she represents mankind. . . . The representation of mankind through Mary . . . is thus precisely not to be identified with the task of Jesus. . . . [T]hus the virginal conception of Jesus implies a priority of woman in the representation of creation and of mankind before God.74

It seems clear then that Hauke’s binary account is an example of the kind of Apollinarian liturgical theology to which Torrance objects. Hauke says nothing about the role of the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ in worship, either as receptive or as worshiping on behalf of humanity with his human mind and will. The mediatory role that church fathers such as Cyril applied to the risen Christ who exercises his priesthood as the crucified, ascended, and risen representative of humanity, Hauke applies to the virgin Mary instead.

Hauke consistently follows through with his binary male-female symbolism as he explains the roles of the apostle Peter and Mary in the church: “While Peter assumes the role of ‘head’ of the Church and proclaims the gospel at the Pentecost, Mary appears earlier as the ‘heart’ of those who plead in prayer for the descent of the Holy Spirit.”75 Hauke characterizes the church as Marian (and feminine) in being receptive, while ordained clergy, because they represent Christ, are “intermediaries” or “mediators” who play the masculine Petrine role:

[T]he Church is Marian in her basic structure and therefore exhibits, in contrast to Christ and his official representatives, typically feminine traits. . . . . [A]s members of the Church, the office bearers are, in the first instance, receptively and cooperatively active like all other believers. In their specific representation of Christ, they are also distinct from and in contrast to the Church, but only as “intermediaries” and “instruments”. They represent the Lord, from whom they themselves are different.76

In contrast to Hauke’s binary account of the roles of clergy and laity in the church, a personalistic trinitarian and christocentric account of worship takes full account of not only the reciprocity and mutuality of substance and relation as intrinsic to personhood as such, but also of the vicarious humanity of Christ as central to a theology of worship, and would include the following:

In God’s own nature, God is neither transcendent nor immanent, but trinitarian and relational. The divine persons are both active and receptive. God is active (as Father), receptive and active (as Son), and receptive (as the Holy Spirit).To be a person is thus to be both communicating and receiving, active and recipient.

In the act of creation, God has shared the love between the trinitarian persons with creatures. Created in the image of God, humanity as male and female reflects triune personalism. Both men and women are mutually active and receptive, oriented toward communion first with God, but second, with one another, and are more alike than different. Both men and women are created in the image of God; God has given the creation mandate equally to women and men (Gen. 1:27-28). The relation between male and female is complementary not in terms of gender roles but in terms of personal relationality. To be male or female is to be oriented toward and in mutual communication with the other. Neither man nor woman is complete without the other.

In terms of the relation between God and creation, the divine persons manifest transcendence and immanence in a trinitarian manner. Although creation is a task of all three persons of the Trinity, creation (and thus transcendence) is attributed primarily to the God the Father (“Our Father in heaven”). The world is created through the Son of God (the second person of the Trinity), who, as the Word Incarnate, is both fully divine and fully human, both Creator (transcendent) and creature (immanent). In the beginning of creation, the Holy Spirit “hovered over the waters” (Gen. 1:2) and, as indwelling the church (immanent), is the link between the church (redeemed creation) and the Triune God (Creator) as the Spirit unites redeemed men and women (creatures) to Christ’s risen humanity (creature) through the hypostatic union (Creator). Only Jesus Christ can properly represent God because only Jesus Christ is a divine person with a human nature. In terms of the symbolism of trascendence and immanence, if the Father represents transcendence, and the Spirit represents immanence, then the Son as incarnate represents both transcendence and immanence, God speaking to humanity, but also humanity responding to God.

Christian worship is a participation in the risen Jesus Christ’s worship through means of his vicarious humanity. Union with the risen Christ through the Holy Spirit is crucial. Christ both acts in the Eucharist, but also acts as worshiping the Father on behalf of the church.

Use of a binary contrasting male-female symbolism to define the nature of worship (as in Hauke) is an example of the loss of Jesus Christ’s vicarious humanity. On Hauke’s model, the male Christ represents God, but it is rather the role of the virgin Mary to take the place of Christ’s humanity in representing humanity. Accordingly, on Hauke’s model, the church does not participate in Jesus Christ’s vicarious human worship. Rather, Christ as God is set over against a human church. For Hauke, the priest as male represents Christ as God, and thus the priest becomes an intermediary. That is, it is the ordained male priest who fulfills Christ’s divine function in respect to the church. It is the virgin Mary as female who represents receptive humanity and the church. To the contrary, in a properly trinitarian and Christocentric theology, it is Jesus Christ in his vicarious humanity who represents both deity and humanity. Thus, the church’s Christian worship is participation in the risen Christ’s human worship. Our worship (including the priest’s) is participatory in the worship of the crucified and risen Christ and points away from anything we might add to the offering of Jesus Christ on our behalf.

How do ordained clergy and the church represent Christ? The human office holder (presbyter/bishop) does not represent God in the divine nature, but rather represents the incarnate Jesus Christ as an icon in pointing away from him- or herself to Jesus Christ’s finished work, and through sharing in suffering. The ordained priest is not Jesus Christ. The priest is an earthen vessel (2 Corinthians 4:7-12). As a baptized member of the redeemed community, the priest represents Christ only because he or she first represents the church of which Jesus Christ is the head.

In terms of the distinctive typological roles of the apostle Peter and Mary the mother of Jesus, If Peter represents the active apostolic role, and Mary represents receptive faith, then both roles are true of the entire church, since activity and receptivity are personal characteristics, not gender characteristics. Activity is not specifically masculine; nor is receptivity distinctively feminine; rather, to be a person is to be both active and receptive. As an apostle, Peter represents Jesus Christ not by being active or by physically resembling the male Jesus Christ, but by feeding Christ’s sheep, and by following in Jesus’ way to the cross, by pointing away from himself to the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ. The virgin Mary represents the church not in her femininity, not by herself being the perfect response to grace, but by being the theotokos, the human bearer of the God-man who is himself the perfect response to grace insofar as throughout his earthly ministry, Jesus followed in the leading of the Holy Spirit through whom he was conceived, and who anointed Jesus and indwelt him at his baptism in the Jordan River.

Finally, in terms of the symbolically representative role of the clergy, it is important to remember the difference between representation as imitation and the representative as a delegate. An ordained presbyter is a delegate, not an imitator or a mimic. The officeholder is not acting a part or playing a role in a play. In worship, the triune God addresses humanity and humanity responds with praise, thanksgiving, confession, and supplication; as leader of the church’s worship, the presbyter speaks both to the church on behalf of the triune God (as a delegate, not an imitator), but also responds from the church to God, addressing the church’s prayer on its behalf to God the Father through participation in the vicarious worship of the crucified and risen Jesus Christ (the Son of God) in the unity of the Holy Spirit. In doing so, the ordained clergy engage in an activity of communication and communion which is inherently both active and receptive, that is, an activity which is primarily personal, not primarily gendered. Theologically, there is no reason why both women as well as men should not perform this task.

1 Manfred Hauke, Women in the Priesthood? A Systematic Analysis of the Light of the Order of Creation and Redemption, trans. David Kipp (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 90, 93, 115.

2 Hauke, 175-197.

3 Hauke, 258.

4 Hauke, 260.

5 “In transcendence, the immanence of God is always implicit anyway, since transcendence is a concept that is first formed on the basis of God’s relationship to the world. The concept of immanence is thus, in a certain sense, included in that of transcendence, but the reverse does not apply.” Hauke, 143.

6 Hauke, 304.

7 Hauke, 319.

8 Hauke, 337.

9 Hauke, 334-339. See my previous essay “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Women’s Ordination and the Priesthood of Christ (in persona Christi)”; Among other things, I point out in this essay that Thomas Aquinas affirmed that all Christians (men and women) receive the indelible character of Christ in baptism, and that the character received in ordination builds on this character received in baptism. If a physical resemblance to Christ’s masculinity is necessary for the character of ordination, the same would have to be true for baptism as well – in which case women could not be baptized.

10 See the Anglican Forward in Faith document: Consecrated Women? A Contribution to the Women Bishops Debate, Jonathan Baker, ed.(Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2004), which cites Hauke several times.

11 Sara Butler, The Catholic Priesthood and Women: A Guide to the Teaching of the Church (Mundelin, IL: Hillenbrand Books, 2007), 46.

12 Butler, 47.

13 Butler, 46.

14 Hauke, 364.

15 Hauke, 476.

16 Hauke, 356.

17 Hauke, 356.

18; Butler, 34-38.

19 Thomas Hopko, “Presbyter/Bishop: A Masculine Ministry,” Women and the Priesthood, Thomas Hopko, ed., new edition (Crestood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1999), 143-144.

20 Hopko, 149. Similarly to Hopko, Hauke states concerning Genesis 2: “Initially, it is only the man who appears as the representative of being human . . .” Hauke, 201. Hauke also asserts that “it would be the case of reading modern liberal ideas into the biblical text if one were to assume that, for the Yahwist, any and every part of the subordination of women to men is a consequence of sin.” Hauke, 202. However, as my previous essay “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Beginning with Genesis,” makes clear, there is no evidence whatsoever for the subordination of woman in the Genesis account before the existence of sin;

21 Hopko, 158-159.

22 Consecrated Women?, 29-30.

23 Elisabeth Behr-Sigel, The Ministry of Women in the Church, trans. Fr. Steven Bigham (Redonda Beach, CA: Oakwood Publications, 1991), 56.




27 Hopko, 156.

28 Hopko, 157.

29 Elisabeth Behr-Sigel and Kallistos Ware, The Ordination of Women in the Orthodox Church (Geneva: WCC Publications, 2000), 49-50, 85. Again, see my essay ““Concerning Women’s Ordination: Women’s Ordination and the Priesthood of Christ (in persona Christi).”

30 Hauke, 85-197.

31 Tikva Frymer-Kensky, In the Wake of the Goddesses: Women, Culture and the Biblical Transformation of Pagan Myth (New York: Macmillan, Inc., 1992).

32 Frymer-Kensky, 118.

33 She writes, “The social system reflected in the Bible did not originate in Israel, nor is it substantially different in the Bible than elsewhere in the ancient Near East.” Frymer-Kensky, 120.

34 Frymer-Kensky, 140, 141.

35 Frymer-Kensky, 203.

36 Frymer-Kensky, 204-205.

37 Frymer-Kensky, 203-211.

38 Frymer-Kensky, 211.

39 Ben Witherington, Women in the Earliest Churches (Cambridge:Cambridge University Press, 1988), 205.

40 “Concerning Women’s Ordination: The Argument “From Tradition” is not the “Traditional” Argument”;

41 Hauke, 196, 473.

42 Hauke, 178.

43 Hauke, 200, 179.

44 Hauke, 186, 187.

45 Hauke, 187.

46 See especially Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics III.4, G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance,eds. (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1961).

47 Hauke, 78.

48 Hauke, 178.

49 W. Norris Clarke, S.J., Explorations in Metaphysics: Being-God-Person (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1995), 102-122.

50 W. Norris Clarke, S.J., Person and Being (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 1993,1998), 11,12.

51 Clarke, 15-16.

52 Clarke, 42, 66, 71.

53 Clarke, 84.

54 Clarke, 86, 87.

55 Hauke, 250, 267.

56 Hauke, 267.

57 Hauke, 260, 263, 265

58 Hauke, 285, 287, 289 (quoting M, J. Scheeben).

59 Hauke, 291, 296.

60 Hauke, 290.

61 Hauke, 296.

62 Theology in Reconciliation: Essays towards Evangelical and Catholic Unity in East and West (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1975), 82-214.


64 Torrance, “Paschal Mystery,” 110.

65 On Cyril’s Christology, see my essay “The Christology of Cyril of Alexandria and Its Contemporary Implications”;

66 Torrance, “Paschal Mystery,” 114.

67 Torrance, “Apollinarianism,” 203-204.

68 Hauke, 300.

69 Hauke, 299.

70 See my essay “Anglican Reflections on Justification by Faith”;

71 Hauke, 190-191.

72 Yves Congar, I Believe in the Holy Spirit, Volume 1: The Holy Spirit in the “Economy: Revelation and Experience of the Holy Spirit, trans. David Smith(NY: Crossroad Publishing Co., 1997), 160,162.

73 Hauke, 317.

74 Hauke, 304-305.

75 Hauke, 316.

76 Hauke, 325.

Concerning Women’s Ordination: The Argument From Symbolism Part 1 (God, Christ, Apostles)

TrinityIn the previous essay, I addressed what I consider the definitive Catholic objection to the ordination of women – that a priest/presbyter acts as a representative of Jesus Christ, and that a woman cannot be ordained because, since Christ is a male, a woman cannot represent a male Christ. In that essay, I focused on the liturgical version of that argument: in celebrating the Eucharist, the priest acts in persona Christi (in the person of Christ), and a woman cannot act in persona Christi.1 In the following two essays, I intend to address a slightly different version of the argument, based on male and female symbolism. The structure of the argument is the same – that a female priest cannot represent a male Christ – but the focus is on the symbolic dimensions of masculinity and femininity rather than the narrower issue of liturgical celebration.

What is a symbol? In his classic text, Symbolism and Belief, Edwyn Bevan defined a symbol as “something presented to the senses or the imagination – usually the senses – which stands for something else.” Bevan distinguished between two kinds of symbols: (1) “visible objects or sounds which stand for something of which we already have direct knowledge,” and which “are not intended to give us any information about the nature of the thing symbolized, but to remind us them,” and (2) symbols that “purport to give information about the things they symbolize, to convey knowledge of their nature, which those who see or hear the symbols have not had before or have not otherwise.” The symbols of the first kind have no resemblance to the thing symbolized; the connection is simply a matter of convention. (For example, there is no resemblance between a stop sign and the command to stop, and there is nothing about the word “stop” that is like the action of stopping.) The second kind of symbol “purport[s] to give information about the nature of something not otherwise known,” and “resemblance is essential.”2 Similarly, Manfred Hauke, one of the authors who embraces the symbolic argument against women’s ordination, refers to a symbol as that something that “finds its special expression . . . where two realities enter into sensibly apprehensible interconnection.” Hauke distinguishes a symbol from an “arbitrarily defined sign” (like a stop sign) in that a symbol is “suited in advance, by virtue of its inner structure, to entering into certain relationships, for example, ‘sun’ and ‘light’ in relationship to intellectual clarity.”3 (Thus, Bevan’s first definition of symbol corresponds to Hauke’s definition of “sign,” while his second definition of symbol corresponds to Hauke’s definition of symbol.)

The use of symbols is essential to religious language and practice insofar as religions need some visual or linguistic way to refer to non-visible realities. Bevan states that “in religion things are presented to the senses, or ideas presented to the mind, which purport, not to call to mind other things within the experience of the worshipper, but to convey to him knowledge of things beyond the range of any human experience.”4 Anglican apologist C.S. Lewis insisted that Christianity necessarily uses physical imagery (what we have called “symbol”) to refer to spiritual realities because “anyone who talks about things that cannot be seen, or touched, or heard of, or the like, must inevitably talk as if they could be seen or touched or heard . . .” According to Lewis, metaphorical (or symbolic) language is indispensable to Christian faith; language that says that one of the members of the Trinity “entered the universe” to become one of its own creatures is every bit as metaphorical (or symbolic) as “he came down from heaven.” The former only substitutes imagery of vertical for horizontal movement.5

There has been in the last half century an increased emphasis in theology on the importance of both symbol and narrative. Roman Catholic theologian Avery Dulles has written that symbols are “signs imbued with a plenitude or depth of meaning that surpasses the capacity of conceptual thinking and propositional speech. A symbol . . . is a perceptible sign that evokes a realization of that which surpasses ordinary objective cognition.”6 According to Dulles, the “Christian religion is a set of relationships with God mediated by the Christian symbols. These symbols are imbedded in the Bible and in the living tradition of the Christian community.”7 Dulles has suggested “symbolic mediation” as a helpful way to understand the notion of revelation, which “is always mediated through symbol – that is to say, through an externally perceived sign that works mysteriously on the human consciousness so as to suggest more than it can clearly describe or define.” Symbol is thus understood to be a third alternative to either a literalist propositionalism or the non-cognitive “experientialism” of much liberal theology. Although God is beyond description and definition, God’s reality is truly communicated through symbol.8

At the same time, I would add a partial corrective to the theological discussion of symbol from the field of narrative theology. It is the narrative content of the biblical texts that provides meaning to the symbols, and not vice versa. For example, a fundamental divide in modern theology concerns whether or not the person and work of Jesus Christ are constitutive of a salvation we can find nowhere else, or, rather, whether they are illustrative of some general principle or principles that can be found elsewhere as well. If we take the person and work of Jesus Christ as constitutive of our salvation, we will understand the stories and symbols of the gospels to form our own understandings and to challenge our preconceptions of God, Christ, and the world. So, for example, not only will we find the symbolism of the “Father” language that Jesus used to describe God to be informative, challenging, and even subversive of our own understanding of what it means to be a “father,” but we will find that it illuminates and challenges our preconceptions of what it means to be God, and to point in the direction of an ontological relationship between Jesus and his Father grounded in the eternally constitutive trinitarian relations between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Conversely, if we understand the person and work of Jesus to be primarily illustrative of other generally known truths, we will tend to view the symbols and narratives of the gospel as projections of a prior universally available religious experience, and thus correctable in ways that speak more adequately to contemporary religious expression.

Such an illustrative and projectionist understanding of symbol can be found in the writings of Liberal Protestant (or Catholic modernist) theologians such as feminist theologian Sallie McFague. McFague has argued that all religious language is fundamentally metaphorical, the projections of human experience to talk about the relation between the divine and the world: “[T]heology . . . is principally an elaboration of a few basic metaphors and models in an attempt to express the claim of Christianity in a powerful, comprehensive, and contemporary way. . . . the elaboration of key metaphors and models.”9 In contrast to Dulles’s account of “symbolic mediation,” McFague believes that what she calls “metaphors” do not actually tell us anything about God’s nature, but are simply projections of our limited religious experience. As the writers of Scripture used metaphors (or symbols) that spoke to their own needs, so we are free to use metaphors drawn from our own contemporary experience. McFague believes that many of the metaphors found in Scripture are outmoded because they are hierarchical and oppressive, and we would do better to embrace contemporary metaphors such as Mother, Lover, and Friend, and the earth as “God’s body.”10 McFague acknowledges that her understanding of metaphor (or symbol) is projectionist and does not actually tell us anything positive about God. The approach is functional and pragmatic, but some metaphors are more “illuminating” and “fruitful” than others.11

In summary, there has been in modern theology a significant emphasis on the value of symbol for communicating religious reality. Symbols which have some resemblance to that which they symbolize are distinguished from conventional signs which have no such resemblance. There is a significant division between those theologies which presume that religious symbols provide genuine participatory knowledge of transcendent reality (as in Dulles’s notion of “symbolic mediation”) and those liberal Protestant (or Catholic modernist) theologies that presume that all such use of symbols (or metaphors) is merely projectionist; they tell us nothing about God, but something about ourselves and our own religious experiences.

Symbol and Women’s Ordination

The significance of symbols for religious language and theology has thus been a major theme in much modern theology, including among theologians who affirm women’s ordination. What is distinctive about the symbolic argument against women’s ordination is the claim that the theology and practice of women’s ordination is in conflict with key symbols of Christian faith. In an early essay in this discussion entitled “Priestesses in the Church,” C.S. Lewis wrote:

One of the ends for which sex was created was to symbolize for us the hidden things of God. One of the functions of human marriage is to express the nature of the union between Christ and the Church. We have no authority to take the living and semitive figures which God has painted on the canvas of our nature and shift them about as if they were mere geometrical figures.

(Lewis asserted that the ordination of women would imply that we might as well pray to God as Mother as Father, that the incarnation might as well have taken a female as a male form, that the second person of the Trinity could as well be called Daughter as Son, and that the Church could be the bridegroom and Christ the bride.)12 Manfred Hauke has written, “[O]fficial priesthood for women would obscure the spiritual nature of the relationship Christ-Church and endanger the Christian image of God.”13 Sara Butler expresses her concerns:

By challenging the tradition that saw a permanent norm for the ministerial priesthood in Christ’s call of men, but not women, as apostles, the objections end up questioning the Lord’s intention with respect to the priesthood, the Church’s hierarchical constitution, and even its foundation. By calling into question the sacramental significance [my emphasis] of the complementarity of the sexes, the objections undermine not only the distinction between Christ and his Church . . . but also the biblical revelation that God created humanity male and female . . . The biblical doctrine that the difference between man and woman is willed by God, and with it the doctrine of Marriage as a sacrament, is thereby put in doubt.14

The following is a concise summary of the argument against women’s ordination based on symbolism. It is a synthetic and composite summary since variations of the argument are used by different authors representing different Christian traditions; however, as stated, forms of the argument appear in authors who are broadly “Catholic” in their approach, whether Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or Anglican.

(1) Throughout Scripture, God is portrayed as male, not as female. This is because maleness symbolizes transcendence. The biblical God is the creator who creates from nothing, and is distinct from creation. In contrast, goddess religions are religions of immanence which identify deity and the creation; to portray God as female leads to pantheism – as one finds in modern feminist theology.15

(2) The Old Testament priesthood was always an exclusively male office; this contrasts with pagan goddess religions, in which fertility religion is accompanied by cultic prostitution (priestesses). In the Hebrew religion, the priest represents God; a male priest represents the biblical God’s masculinity.16

(3) In the incarnation, the Son of God became incarnate as a male and identified the first person of the Trinity as his Father. That the Son of God became incarnate as a male has theological implications. In the incarnation, the male Jesus (who has no physical human father) represents the male (active transcendent) principle, while his mother Mary represents the (receptive immanent) female principle. Thus, Jesus could only have been male.17

(4) Although Jesus could have called anyone to be his apostles, significantly, he called only male apostles. Because bishops and priests are successors of the apostles, they must be male as were the original twelve apostles. If Jesus had intended that women could be ordained, he would certainly have called his mother Mary to be an apostle, but he did not. That Mary was not an apostle speaks negatively to the question of whether women can be ordained.18

(5) There is an anthropological appeal to sexual symbolism. Roman Catholic author Manfred Hauke is one of the earliest writers to use this argument, and does so at great length. Hauke argues that the symbols of masculinity and femininity transcend culture, and he appeals to precedent in both ancient religions, and modern biology, sociology, and psychology.19 According to Hauke, men are active and external (symbolizing transcendence), while women are receptive and internal (representing immanence): “The dynamics of the male are expansive, outer directed and aimed at overcoming particular sorts of resistance. The dynamics of the female are more adaptive to nature, that is, more strongly adaptive to the demands of the existing situation. . . .” Men tend toward more in the direction of “abstractive reason,” while women are “guided more strongly by intuition and feeling.”20 According to Hauke, this male-female symbolism (man as active/external/rational/overcoming/transcendent in contrast to woman as receptive/internal/intuitive/relational/feeling/immanent) is presumed throughout both Scripture and church tradition and is fundamental to the order of creation and redemption found therein (thus the subtitle of Hauke’s book).21

(6) The apostle Paul’s reading of Genesis 1-2 in Romans 5 is significant for Paul’s understanding of the male as symbolically normative. Although Eve sinned first, Paul speaks of Adam (a male) as representative of all humanity (both male and female); Christ (as male) is the second Adam. Since transcendence contains immanence, but immanence cannot contain transcendence, males (as transcendent) can represent both males and females (as Adam and Christ represent all humanity), but females (as exclusively immanent) can represent only females. Accordingly, a male priest can represent both a male Christ (the second Adam) and a female church, but a female priest could represent neither. A woman cannot represent Christ because Christ is male, but neither can a woman represent the church because the church is composed of both males and females, and a woman can represent only females.22

(7) In a manner similar to Protestant complementarians, Catholic opponents of women’s ordination appeal to Paul’s references in 1 Corinthians 11 and Ephesians 5 to Christ as “head” of the church, but rather than reading the argument in terms of male authority (as do Protestant complementarians), they argue rather that male “headship” indicates that only males have a representative (symbolic) role.23

(8) Based on symbolic speculation originated by Roman Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar, opponents to women’s ordination argue for the symbolic roles of the apostle Peter and the virgin Mary. Peter as an apostle and the rock on whom Christ builds his church represents the male principle; Mary as the virgin mother of Christ represents the female receptive principle. Peter was called to be an apostle, but Mary was not. As a male apostle, Peter represents the (male) clergy who are successors of the apostles; in contrast, Mary represents the laity (who are symbolically female) and the church.24

(9) The argument from liturgy builds on the marriage analogy found in Ephesians 5. In the Old Testament, God is portrayed as the (male) husband, of which the nation of Israel is the (female) bride. In the New Testament, (the male) Christ is portrayed (symbolically) as both the husband and head of the church, which is his body, and is (symbolically) feminine. The ordained priest (as male) represents both God and (the male) Christ; the laity (as both male and female) represent Mary and the church as the bride of Christ.25

(10) Finally, the ordained priest acts as father and head of the congregation (who are his family); as father, the priest must be male.26

How to respond to these arguments against women’s ordination based on symbolism, and, more specifically, the argument that male-female symbolism is inherent to the nature and structure of revelation and Christian faith, that the abandonment of this symbolism would be, in essence, an abandonment of Christian faith, and that the ordination of women would constitute just such an abandonment or reversal of essential Christian symbolism?

As a preliminary, it is unfortunate that writers such as Hauke (and others) identify advocacy of women’s ordination exclusively with the position of theologically-liberal feminist writers such as Rosemary Ruether, Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, Elizabeth Johnson, Mary Daly or Letty Russell. This liberal feminist theology tends to share the following characteristics:

First, as noted above, since these feminist theologians tend to believe that religious language is projectionist, they argue (as noted above with McFague) that we are as free to use feminine language in reference to God as masculine; indeed such language is preferable: they speak of the “divine feminine,” “God/ess” (Reuther), “She Who Is” (Johnson), God as “mother,” God as “Wisdom/Sophia” (1993 Re-Imagining Conference, Johnson, Schüssler Fiorenza). A statement by post-Christian feminist Mary Daly is frequently cited: “If God is male, then the male is God.”27

Second, coupled with this female deity language is an accompanying rejection of “dualism” and an embrace of an alternative theology of immanence or “panentheism” in which God and creation are in some sense identified;28 Hauke sets up this immanentist feminism as the single foil against which he writes his book.

Third, this feminist theology tends to view the Christian Scriptures as oppressive rather than salvific; advocates interpret the text in light of the assumed meaning of symbols as used outside the text rather than re-interpreting the symbols in light of the logic of the text’s narrative; thus, it is claimed that the notion of God as “Father” has its origins in a hierarchical patriarchy. The corresponding Roman Catholic equivalent to McFague’s projectionist hermeneutic is Schüssler Fiorenza’s “hermeneutic of suspicion,” which views the biblical writings as containing material that is inherently androcentric and oppressive to women.29

Fourth, given its projectionist understanding of symbol, feminist theology tends to think of the person and work of Christ as illustrative rather than constitutive of salvation; its Christology is adoptionist, and its notion of atonement is exemplarist. (The historic doctrine of the atonement is dismissed as divine “child abuse.”) Jesus Christ is not a Savior from sin, but an inspiration and example for feminist liberation. Jesus of Nazareth was not the Son of God incarnate, but someone in whom the divine feminine principle of Wisdom/Sophia was especially present. (If the relationship between God and creation is understood in a monist or panentheist fashion, then there cannot be anything unique about the incarnation. The difference between Jesus and other human beings can be no more than a matter of degree.)30

Fifth, there is a loss of the doctrine of the Trinity; if God is not Father, and Jesus is not his eternal Son, then language of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is inherently problematic. The substitution of non-Trinitarian language such as Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer or Parent, Lover, and Friend points to a unitarian understanding of deity.31

Finally, this liberal feminist theology tends to advocate “role-model” theology.” As illustrated in Mary Daly’s axiom “If God is male, then the male is God,” role-model theology presumes that religious communities formulate their understandings of “gods” or “goddesses” to express social values. Since a proper theology expresses proper social values, a theology that is committed to full equality of the sexes will not speak of God using masculine language.32

This liberal/modernist “immanentist” feminist theology needs to be distinguished from the biblical and Catholic egalitarian feminism of authors such as (among Catholics and Orthodox) Edward Kilmartin, Kallistos Ware and Elisabeth Behr-Siegel, and (among Protestants) Ben Witherington, Alan Padgett, N.T. Wright, Kathryn Greene-McCreight, or the Evangelical organization Christians for Biblical Equality. (Writing in 1986, Hauke refers to Behr-Siegel in two footnotes, praising, with unintentional irony, the Orthodox as a “bulwark in the defense of the male priesthood.”33 He makes no references to Kilmartin in his text. His discussion of Protestant theologians focuses almost exclusively on liberal Protestant feminists.)

Kathryn Greene-McCreight uses the expression “biblical feminism” to refer to this alternative position. In contrast to “mainstream feminist” theologians, “biblical feminists” proceed on the basis of a “hermeneutics of trust,” in which the Bible is understood to be primarily an “inspired witness to the grace of God in Jesus Christ,” a witness that is “not fundamentally dangerous but rather life-giving.” Biblical feminists “attempt to read all of reality through the lens of the biblical narrative, and not vice versa.” They take their clues not from the secular Enlightenment and the historically liberal theology that follows in the train of Friedrich Schleiermacher, but from a view of the church as the people of God. For biblical feminists, the main problem to be addressed is not that of sexist oppression, but of human sinfulness and the need for salvation. Where mainstream feminists focus on gaining equal rights for women in the church, biblical feminists ask for an equal opportunity to serve the church.34

By ignoring the alternative of an orthodox Catholic and Evangelical argument for women’s ordination, Hauke (and other opponents) portray the discussion in terms of a false dichotomy between a revisionist monist feminism that embraces “goddess” worship and the only orthodox Catholic (or Evangelical) position – one that rejects women’s ordination. To preserve the distinction between these two very different groups endorsing women’s ordination, in the rest of this essay I will use the terms “feminist theology” to refer to the views of “mainstream feminist” immanence theologians and “egalitarianism” to refer to the views of orthodox advocates of women’s ordination (Greene-McCreight’s “biblical feminists”), whether Catholic or Protestant.

To keep the discussion within reasonable length, I will present my response in two essays. In the first, I will focus on issues of symbolism connected with central creedal doctrines of God and creation, the incarnation, and, in Catholic theology, the closely related issue of the role of the apostles as successors to and representatives of Christ. These are the concerns at the center of the Vatican’s rejection of women’s ordination. In the second essay, I will focus on the anthropological concerns rising from the claim that men and women have different symbolic significance – specifically, that men represent transcendence and women represent immanence. These are not the Vatican’s reasons for rejecting women’s ordination, but they have been important for some Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican opponents.

Is God male?

One of the ironic commonalities uniting mainstream feminists and those who argue against women’s ordination from concerns about symbolism is a shared commitment to what I have called “role-model theology.” Feminist theologians assume that, since religion functions to construct divine models to be imitated by humans, the metaphor of God as Father must be rejected because it legitimates patriarchy.35 Conversely, anti-feminists such as Hauke argue that, since God is Father, not only must mainstream feminism be rejected, but the ordination of women must be rejected as well because a woman priest cannot adequately represent a God who is Father or the male Jesus Christ who is the Son of God. Both groups share the common assumption that the God of the Bible is a male whose function is to provide a gender-based model to be emulated; is this assumption correct?

Against role-model theology, it must first be strongly affirmed that the God of the Bible has no sexuality and is thus not a male. Rather, sexuality is part of creation, created by God as a fundamental feature of creation (Gen. 1 and 2). Human beings as male and female are equally created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27). Throughout Scripture, God is portrayed as other than creation, an otherness which is identified with God’s holiness. God is God and not human (Num. 23:19; Hosea 11:9; Isaiah 31:3; 40:18). Throughout Scripture, there is a consistent diatribe against idolatry, the basic offense of which is worshiping the creature as if it were the Creator (Rom. 1:25). In the covenant with Israel at Sinai, the biblical God speaks explicitly against the danger of identifying the divine with any form of sexuality: “Therefore watch yourselves very carefully. Since you saw no form on the day that the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, beware lest you act corruptly by making a carved image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female . . .” (Dt. 4:15-18).36

Christian tradition is equally emphatic that God has no sexuality. Athanasius, the great advocate of Nicene orthodoxy, wrote (concerning God’s fatherhood and Christ’s eternal sonship):

Accordingly, as in saying “offspring,” we have no human thoughts, and, though we know God to be a Father, we entertain no material ideas concerning Him, but while we listen to these illustrations and terms, we think suitably of God, for He is not as man, so in like manner, when we hear of “coessential,” we ought to transcend all sense . . . so as to know, that not by will, but in truth, is He genuine from the Father, as Life from Fountain, and Radiance from Light. Else why should we understand “offspring” and “son,” in no corporeal way, while we conceive of “coessential” as after the manner of bodies?37

Similarly, Hillary of Poitiers wrote concerning the Trinity: “[T]hat which is Divine and eternal must be one without distinction of sex . . . .” The theologian must not derive his or her conceptions of God from preconceptions, but from God’s own revelation: “[H]e must not measure the Divine nature by the limitations of his own, but gauge God’s assertions concerning Himself by the scale of His own glorious self-revelation.”38

Later, the Medieval Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas wrote that “it is absolutely true that God is not a body,” and “it is impossible that God should be a body.”39 The post-Reformation Anglican 39 Articles state: “There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts, or passions; of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; the Maker, and Preserver of all things both visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead there be three Persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.” If God has no bodily parts, God has no sexuality, and God is not male. Trinitarian language does not mean that a male God is the Father of a male Son.40

Given that the triune God is neither male nor female, any language or imagery used to describe God in sexual terms is necessarily symbolic or metaphorical. At the same time, it should be acknowledged that such biblical imagery is overwhelmingly masculine, including use of the personal pronoun “he.” Occasionally, it is suggested (even by more moderate feminists or by Evangelical egalitarians) that this masculine language is not the whole story and that “Scripture also contains a significant amount of feminine imagery for God.” Similarly, it is pointed out that, in the Wisdom literature of the Old Testament, wisdom, personified as a woman, is portrayed as an attribute of God.41

The argument is misleading, however. Roland Frye has pointed out the significant difference between how Scripture uses metaphor and simile in reference to God. A metaphor functions by identifying and naming; a simile functions by comparing two things as one to the other, by claiming that one thing resembles another. Scripture applies numerous masculine metaphors to God: in Psalm 23, the author addresses God: “The Lord is my shepherd.” In the New Testament, the same metaphor is applied to Christ: “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11), “Jesus the great shepherd of the sheep” (Heb. 13:20) (my emphasis). In both cases, the metaphor functions as a name or identification: God is the shepherd; Jesus is the good shepherd.

In contrast, a simile does not identify one thing with another, but notes a comparison between two different things. Isaiah 42:13 states, “The Lord goes out like a mighty man, like a man of war he stirs up his zeal.” Here God is compared to a warrior, but is not identified or named as one. In verse 14, a female simile appears: “now I will cry out like a woman in labor; I will gasp and pant.” In Isaiah 66:13, God states: “As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.” In both cases, God is compared to a mother, but not identified as a mother. Frye points out that while God is regularly identified or named in Scripture using metaphorical masculine language, figurative female language referring to God uses the comparative language of simile, not metaphor. God is compared to a mother, but God is never addressed or named as mother. Similarly, Frye points out that the wisdom figure of Proverbs is not a “female divinity” or a feminine hypostasis of the Old Testament God (the “Wisdom/Sophia” of feminist theologians), but rather a literary device – the personification of an abstract attribute (the divine wisdom by which God creates the world) in which we treat as a person that which is not actually a person.42

Given then that God has no sex, what do we make of the Bible’s dominant use of masculine metaphorical symbolic imagery to describe God? Is the Bible teaching that God is a male after all?

One of the most helpful discussions of the significance of male imagery in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) is that of Tikva Frymer-Kensky, in her book In the Wake of the Goddesses. According to Frymer-Kensky, the key factor that distinguishes Israel’s religion from that of the surrounding cultures (with their worship of both male gods and female goddesses) is Israel’s embrace of monotheism. For Israel, the one God absorbed all the powers that were shared among the numerous pagan divinities. There was no more interplay between numerous divine powers because Israel’s one God exercised power over all creation, including not only those powers assigned to male gods but also to female goddesses. Israel’s God alone was responsible for the weather, fertility of crops, sickness and health, childbirth. Humankind received more responsibility as well, as human beings now became responsible for the social activities that had formerly been assigned to gods and goddesses; human beings become responsible for knowledge and culture. Activities that had once been the responsibility of goddesses – storage, administration, wisdom, song – were now assigned to human beings. Because there is only one God, the biblical God does not have a consort. There is no Hebrew goddess; rather, the nation of Israel itself was personified as a female figure, and Israel (and the city of Zion) are elevated to the role of Yahweh’s bride. The image of Zion as the beloved bride “expresses a sense of the immanent presence of God and of God’s concern for Israel.” (In the New Testament, this nuptial imagery is taken up and transformed as Christ is identified as the bridegroom and “head” of the church, which is identified as his bride [Eph. 5]). Accordingly, Frymer-Kensky claims: “Throughout the Bible, in every aspect of biblical thought human beings gain in prominence in – and because of – the absence of goddesses.”43

Frymer-Kensky acknowledges that the Bible does indeed portray Israel’s God using masculine imagery. Yahweh is only referred to by the male pronoun (“he,” never “she”). The masculine qualities of God are, however, exclusively “social male-gender characteristics”: God is King, Shepherd, Lord. At the same time, although Yahweh takes over the functions of female goddesses, there is no element whatsoever of sexuality or sexual attraction in Israel’s understanding of God: “The monotheist God is not sexually a male.” God’s body parts are described anthropomorphically in the Bible (the “arm of the Lord,” the “right hand of God”); however, “God is not imagined below the waist.” Frymer-Kensky makes the point repeatedly. Although God is the “husband” of Israel, “God does not behave in sexual ways. . .” She writes: “God is not a sexual male . . . God is not imagined in erotic terms, and sexuality was simply not part of the divine order. God is not sexed, God does not model sexuality, and God does not bestow sexual power.”44

If the male imagery of the Bible is never sexualized, what then of the “fatherhood” of God? This masculine metaphor of God as “Father” seems to be the primary problematic concern of feminist theology, and, conversely, Hauke appeals primarily to the “Fatherhood of God” as establishing divine transcendence over against the immanence of feminist theology.45 Given its significance for the debate, it is important to note that the title of “Father” is applied to God only a handful of times in the Old Testament. In Deuteronomy 32:6 and Mal. 2:10, God is described as the “father” who created Israel. In Isaiah 64:7, God is addressed as “our Father,” whose work is compared to a potter: “[W]e are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.” In Jeremiah 31:9, God is described as “a father to Israel,” and Ephraim as “my firstborn.” (In Hosea 11:1, Israel is described as a “son,” although God is not specifically called “Father.”) In Psalm 103:13, there is a simile in which the Lord shows compassion “as a father” shows compassion to his children. There are also a handful of passages where God is described to have a special father-son relationship to Israel’s king (2 Sam. 7:14; Ps. 2:7, 89:26-28).46

The Old Testament uses other metaphors (such as judge, warrior, or king) to refer to God far more frequently than it does “father.” The distinctive feature of the “father” metaphor is its personal nature; the Old Testament’s use of “father” language points to God’s compassion and providential care for both Israel and the king. Certainly God is Creator of the entire universe; however, God is not described as “father” to the universe as a whole, but to Israel or the king.47

This rare use of “father” language contrasts with the practice of Israel’s neighbors, who regularly referred to their “gods” and “goddessess” as both “father” and “mother.” A likely reason for Israel’s reluctance to use either “father” or “mother” imagery for God had to do with the Hebrew desire to distinguish their God from pagan deities. Yahweh was to be identified neither with Baal, the god of fertility nor with El, the “father” of the gods.48

The rarity of “Father” language in the Old Testament contrasts with the New Testament, where “Father” is the regular way to refer to God, where “our Father” is the new way in which Christians address God in prayer. The fundamental reason for the difference lies in the example of Jesus, whose practice it was to address God as abba or “my Father,” and who understood himself in relationship to the Father as “the Son.” In the New Testament, this special relationship that obtained between Jesus and his Father becomes the basis for the self-understanding of the church: “Christians came to believe that one comes to the Father through Jesus the Son . . . because Jesus believed he had a special relationship with God the Father.”49 This relationship between Jesus as Son and God as his Father is found throughout the gospels. In the writings of Paul, the gift of the Holy Spirit to the church after the resurrection of Christ enables Christians to confess Jesus as Lord and to pray to God as the Father. For Paul, the distinctive understanding of God as Father comes through a distinctive relationship to Jesus Christ as the crucified and risen Son, in a union with the risen Christ made possible by the Holy Spirit. God cannot be known as Father apart from the trinitarian relationship between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.50

There are then two primary reasons that the Bible uses masculine imagery in reference to God; the first has to do with monotheism; as creator of the universe, the one God exercises all of the functions of both male gods and female goddesses in pagan religions, but this “masculine” symbolism is not understood at all in a sexual manner. Second, while there are anticipations of the notion of God as “father” in the Old Testament, it is the portrayal in the New Testament of Jesus Christ as the unique Son of God that leads to the new naming of God as the Father of Jesus Christ, and, by extension, of the church as adopted sons and daughters of the Father.

As noted above, however, there is an additional reason that theologians like Hauke give for the masculine imagery of God in the Bible: the notion that God is transcendent over creation: “[F]or a personal transcendent image of God . . . it is the masculine traits that occupy the foreground.”51 The argument is stated concisely in the Anglican Forward in Faith document Consecrated Women?:

What the Hebrew Scriptures so desperately want to convey about God is that he is set apart from the gods. God does not create from within himself; he does not bear and give birth to the creation. . . . . From the choices available from human experience, only the term Father and the relationship suggested by Fatherhood does justice to the action of the God of Israel. It is biological fathers who take the initiative in creating new life. They bring it to being not within, but outside, their own bodies.52

There is an initial plausibility to this claim. As noted above, feminist theologians who substitute female imagery for the Bible’s dominant male metaphors – identifying God as “mother” or using “goddess” language – are also immanentist and panentheist; for example, they refer to the earth as “God’s body.”53 (This contrasts with the New Testament’s imagery of the church, not the earth, as the body, not of God, but of Christ.) Old Testament scholar Elizabeth Achtemeier suggested that the “basic reason” for the Bible’s masculine language is that “the God of the Bible will not let himself be identified with creation . . . And it is that holiness, that otherness, that transcendence of the Creator, which also distinguishes biblical religion from all others.”54 Both Achtemeier and Frymer-Kensky point to Genesis 1 to indicate the uniqueness of Israel’s understanding of the God of creation.55

Insofar as feminist theologians advocate monist theologies that identify God (or the goddess) with creation, the criticism is justified.56 At the same time, however, caution is necessary concerning the simple equation “male = transcendent; female = immanent.” The Biblical account of creation does indeed emphasize God’s transcendence in contrast to theologies of panentheism/immanence.57 However, it is significant that the Bible does not emphasize male imagery to denote transcendence. The dominant imagery that the Bible uses in emphasizing God’s transcendence over creation is either God’s word (Gen. 1, Is. 43:1, 6-7; 45:18-19), divine unity (monotheism) (Is. 43:11; 44:6, 8; 45:18, 22-25; 46:9), the imagery of height itself (Is. 40:22; 44:24), or a combination of these images. Significantly, Bevan notes that the imagery of height to indicate “transcendence” is not translatable. Any attempt to explain the metaphor uses the metaphor, which simply serves to emphasize the distinction between God and creation.58 At the same time that the Bible associated God with height – God’s throne is in the heavens – God is not identified with the heavens or sky (as in pantheist Stoicism), but rather creates the heavens (Gen. 1:1).59

Significantly, the “Father” symbolism of the Bible is not associated with God’s creation of or transcendence over the world, but is always used personally and socially: God is not “father” of the world in creation, but is rather the “father” of Israel or the king in the Old Testament, but, more definitively, the Father of Jesus Christ in the New Testament. Jesus teaches his disciples to pray to “our Father in heaven,” but, again, the symbolism is personal. The Father is “our Father,” not the father of the universe. The Father in heaven is transcendent, but the transcendence is associated with “height” imagery (Our Father in heaven).

As noted above, the writers of the Scriptures seemed hesitant to use “father” language when speaking of God as Creator, and the reason is certainly as noted. The masculine metaphors applied to God have nothing to do with sexuality, but, more specifically, any understanding of God as parent of the universe, whether using either female “mother” imagery or male “father” imagery, would equally have pantheist implications. Significantly, the church fathers understood the implications of the distinction between “fatherhood” and “sonship” (on the one hand), and creation (on the other) in their formulations of the doctrines of incarnation and the Trinity. Against Arius’s heretical claim that the Son is a creature, Athanasius made a fundamental distinction between “begetting” and “creating.” If the Son is indeed the Son of the Father, then the Son must be of the same nature (homoousios) as the Father.60 So the Nicene Creed states that the Son is “begotten not made.” (As noted in the quotations from Athanasius and Hillary above, this Fatherhood of God and the eternal begetting of the Son by the Father, is non-sexual.) In contrast, God creates the world from nothing (ex nihilo). The universe is not a son of God, but a creature.

It would seem then, that Hauke (and other critics of feminist theology) are correct to emphasize the transcendence of God over against feminist immanence; however, in trying to tie the notion of transcendence to masculine imagery of God as Father, they violate Trinitarian logic, but also, in their own way, repeat the error of the feminist theology they intend to criticize. Both masculine “father” language and feminine “mother” imagery would be equally mistaken if used to describe God’s creation of the universe, because both would be equally monist. The “Father” imagery of Scripture is personal; it refers to God’s eternal relationship to the eternal Son in the Trinity, not to God’s creation of the universe.

Finally, a note of caution is necessary in the misuse of masculine metaphors to advance a theology that misses the significance of how the metaphors actually function. So-called “traditional readings” that use the masculine metaphors to legitimate traditional patriarchal structures can be as guilty of this as the feminist readings that reject the male imagery as oppressive. Both approaches tend to read the narratives as if the metaphor itself provided its own meaning. The error is to focus on the metaphor as such rather than the subject matter that the metaphor intends to illumine. When Christians call God “Father,” they are not referring to God as a generic “father” of creation, but as “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Attending to the narrative structure of the biblical texts, one finds that they subvert a patriarchal reading. The God described metaphorically as the husband of Israel does not divorce his unfaithful spouse, but loves her despite her infidelity and attempts to win her back (Hosea). The Father of Jesus Christ “did not spare his Son but gave him up for us all” (Rom. 8:32). The Son who existed in the “form of God,” did not hoard his prerogatives, but “emptied himself, taking the form of a servant,” humbling himself to the death on a cross (Phil. 2). The Spirit incorporates the church into the body of Christ, in which there is neither slave nor free, male nor female (Gal. 3:28). To read these masculine metaphors as “oppressive to women” is to take them out of context, but it would be an equal misreading to read them as endorsing male privilege or hierarchy or as providing a “role model” for male-only ordination.61

A Male Priesthood?

Hauke’s discussion of priesthood in the Old Testament is, at best, ambiguous. He points out that “women are totally excluded from the offices of priest and Levite.”62 He also acknowledges that there were occasionally women prophets. At the same time, he acknowledges that there may well have been cultural and practical reasons for this exclusion of women from the Old Testament priesthood: patriarchal conditions largely restricted the role of women to house and family with limited participation in public affairs; the domestic and maternal duties of women would often have prevented their participation in temple functions; women would not have been physically strong enough to participate in the sacrificial slaying of large animals; menstruation and child-bearing would often have made women ceremonially unclean and excluded from worship. Hauke also points to the so-called Canaanite fertility cult involving female prostitution by priestesses. The most significant argument he advances is that “a priest is not only a representative of the people but also God’s delegate . . .” Significantly, he recognizes that “these facts are not sufficient in themselves to prove that there was an internal necessity for the exclusion of women from Old Testament priestly office.”63

On the other hand, Hauke makes the following arguments against women priests based on anthropological symbolism. He defines a priest as “a mediator between God and man,” who functions as the “representation of the Divinity in relation to man.” Insofar as the emphasis is on “transcendence and the active workings of God,” it is appropriate to reserve the priesthood to men. The priest also has a “public representation of man in relation to the Divinity,” and for this also, men are more appropriate, as the male “steps outward” into the presence of God, and by virtue of his “more strongly developed capacities for abstract thought and energetic will” is more able to represent the common interest and lead a religious group in a “not subjective-emotive way.”64

Negatively, Hauke points to the “clear association of women with divine immanence,” and states that “priestesses play a special role in the service of female deities, and particularly of mother goddesses.” There is thus an “intimate connection” between the “image of God and that of the priest.”65 He writes: “To the sphere of liturgical symbolism . . . belongs the priest as representative of the community before God and of God vis-à-vis the community.”66

I have already dealt with the issue of women priestesses in the Old Testament at greater length in an essay entitled “Concerning Women’s Ordinaton: A Presbytera is not a Priestess (Part 1: Old Testament Priesthood).”67 I argued in that essay that the so-called “Canaanite fertility cult” is a myth. There were no “sacred prostitutes” in the ancient world. I also argued that the most plausible reason for the exclusion of women from the Old Testament priesthood is precisely one that Hauke acknowledges here – that Old Testament purity regulations would have prohibited women from participating in temple worship. Frymer-Kensky’s claim that the “religious dimension of sexuality disappears in biblical monotheism” provides the rationale. She states: “The priests, guardians of Israel’s ongoing contact with the Holy, had to be particularly careful to keep preserve (sic) the separation between Israel’s priestly functions and attributes of any hint of sexuality.” One of the purposes of the impurity provisions of Israel’s law was to keep both sexual activity and death separate from the sacred realm. Anyone who was ritually impure was not allowed to participate in the rites of the temple.68

As noted in my previous essay, the regular occasions when women would have been ritually impure would have provided sufficient reason for the exclusion of women from Israel’s priesthood. At the same time, as I argued in that essay, the situation of the New Testament church is different insofar as Christ’s redemption has fulfilled the purpose of Israel’s temple rituals so that there are no longer concerns about ritual purity.

More important for the discussion of symbolism is Hauke’s claim concerning the representational nature of priesthood, where he relies on general reflections concerning anthropology and symbolism rather than a careful reading of the biblical text. (I will address this male-transcendence female-immanence anthropology in the next essay.)69 The suggestion that a male priest represents a male divinity while a female priestess represents a female goddess might (or might not) have been correct in polytheistic religions, but any such notion of the priest acting as a representation (in the sense of image) of Israel’s God would have been prohibited by the anti-iconic nature of Israel’s religion summed up in the second commandment (Exodus 20:4-5). There were no images of Israel’s God in the temple, and the priest would not have been thought of as such an image. The priest did indeed act as a representative on the part of God to the people, and of the people to God, but here, Hauke (and others) fail to distinguish between a representative (in the sense of spokesperson or ambassador) and a representation (in the sense of an image or likeness). A spokesperson or ambassador can act as a representative (in the sense of speaking on behalf of) while not acting as a representation (in the sense of bearing a physical resemblance). Priests in the Old Testament were representatives, not representations.70

Moreover, any argument from Old Testament priesthood is also a red herring insofar as it addresses the wrong issue. The historic (Western Catholic) understanding of the priesthood is not that the priest represents God (in the divine nature), but rather, that the priest represents Christ (acts in persona Christi) in his incarnate humanity. That is the issue that needs to be addressed. (It is perhaps significant here that the historic Eastern understanding of icons allows for icons of Christ, but not of the Trinity. The icon called The Old Testament Trinity pictures not the divine persons in themselves but the three angels who appeared to Abraham (Gen. 18)).

A Male Incarnation?

As noted in previous essays, what I have called the new Catholic argument against the ordination of women first appeared in Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Inter Insigniores – the basic argument being that there must be a physical resemblance between the male priest who celebrates the Eucharist and Jesus Christ, who as God incarnate, became human as a male human being. The pope recognizes that, as the “firstborn of all humanity, of women as well as men,” the unity which Christ established makes no distinction between male and female (Gal. 3:28). “Nevertheless,” he continues, “the incarnation of the Word took place according to the male sex: this is indeed a question of fact, and this fact, while not implying any alleged natural superiority of man over woman, cannot be disassociated from the economy of salvation.” The symbolism to which the pope points is that of “nuptial mystery.” In the Old Testament, God is portrayed as the divine bridegroom to whom Israel is the bride. In the New Testament, Christ is the bridegroom and the church is his bride. As Eve was born from Adam’s side, so the church is born from Christ’s wounded side. (The pope appeals to the imagery of 2 Corinthians 11:2; Eph. 5:22, 23; John 3:29; Rev. 19:7, 9; Mark 2:19; Matt. 22:1-14.) He sums up the argument by appealing to the symbolism of the Eucharist:

That is why we can never ignore the fact that Christ is a man. And therefore, unless one is to disregard the importance of this symbolism for the economy of Revelation, it must be admitted that, in actions which demand the character of ordination and in which Christ himself, the author of the Covenant, the Bridegroom, the Head of the Church, is represented, exercising his ministry of salvation – which is in the highest degree the case of the Eucharist – his role (this is the original sense of the word persona) must be taken by a man. This does not stem from any personal superiority of the latter in the order of values, but only from a difference of fact on the level of functions and service.71

The essential argument here is one of liturgical and eucharistic theology, and I have addressed it at length in a previous essay.72 For the sake of this essay, the key concern has to do with the symbolic significance of the masculinity of Christ. The masculinity of Jesus Christ is the presupposition of the symbolism of the “nuptial mystery,” in which Christ is the bridegroom and the church is the bride.

The Anglican Forward in Faith document Consecrated Women? states that “[t]o turn the maleness of Christ into . . . a merely trivial detail is . . . seriously to damage the classical doctrine of the Incarnation and of the person of Christ.” There could be no incarnation in which the Godhead assumed humanity in a sexually undifferentiated manner. Since, the document claims, God is Father, and Christ “bears his image and likeness,” “the only possibility is for the Redeemer to be born as a male, including both sexes (male by virtue of his own humanity; female by virtue of the one from whom that human nature is derived, Mary . . . ).”73 The maleness of Christ generates an entire family of images, which are critical to the understanding of redemption: Christ the bridegroom, Christ the High Priest, Christ the Sacrifice for the sins of the world.74 The document asks whether God could have become incarnate as a woman: “[W]e believe that the answer must be ‘No.’” A divine daughter would have spoken of a “Mother in heaven,” and so could not have been the image of the Father.75

Hauke also endorses the symbolism of Bride-Bridegroom imagery as the starting point for his argument: “The Roman declaration on women in the priesthood thus goes to the heart of the symbolism of the sexes when it interprets the mystery of Christ and the Church in terms of the images of bridegroom and bride.”76 Hauke goes beyond this, however, by expressing his Christological argument, once again, in terms of an anthropological claim concerning male transcendence and female immanence. He reflects on the three Christological offices of prophet, priest, and king. As teacher, Jesus engages in a public forum, which is more suited to men than women. (According to Hauke, women are more effective in small groups and with children.) Teaching and miracles are an expression of Jesus’ power, “which corresponds to his masculine expansivity.” In Jesus’ kingly office, he acts as lawgiver and judge, and “bearers of authority are more often men than women.” Finally, in his priestly sacrifice (on the cross), Jesus represents God toward humanity and the community to God. As God’s gift to human beings, Christ manifests “a typically masculine dynamics.” As representative of the church, “public worship is marked by the eccentricity of the male.”77

As with concerns about divine transcendence over against immanentist or panentheist notions of deity, there is much in the above argument with which the Catholic or Evangelical egalitarian would sympathize. Certainly, if the Word as the second person of the Trinity became incarnate, the incarnation would have had to have taken place either as a male or female human being, and Jesus Christ is certainly a male human being – as he was a Jewish male who lived in first-century Judea, was born in Bethlehem to a Jewish maiden named Miriam, had twelve Jewish male apostles, and was crucified by a Roman governor named Pontius Pilate on a hill outside the Jewish city of Jerusalem. Jesus’ male humanity is one of the particularities inevitably connected with a redemption in history – what is sometimes called the scandal of particularity. Although there is no sexuality in the Divine Trinity itself, Jesus (as a human male who was born of a virgin mother) is rightly identified as the Son of the God who is his Father, not his mother.

Given that the Word had to become incarnate as either a male or a female, would it have been possible for God to have become incarnate as a woman? Interestingly, the Medieval Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas argued that “hypothetically, God could have assumed the female sex had he wished.”78 Significantly, the church fathers emphasized Christ’s humanness, but said little about his “maleness.” According to Orthodox bishop Kallistos Ware:

What matters for them is not the fact that he became male (ἀνήρ, vir) but the fact that he became human (ἄνθρωπος, homo) . . . It is indeed true that Christ at his incarnation became a male, but that is not what the creed is concerned to assert. The creed is referring to the salvation of the entire human race, men and women together, and so it says that Christ took the human nature that is common to us all, whether we are male or female.79

Along the same lines, in an essay entitled “Can a Male Savior Save Women?,” Jay Wesley Richards argues against feminist claims that a male savior cannot save women that dividing human nature along sexual lines would come into conflict with Cappadocian Christology. Sexuality is an accidental property of human nature. Every human being is necessarily either a male or a female, but if what is essential about humanity is human nature and not human sexuality, then we can meaningfully assert that the assumption of a human nature by the Logos in the male Jesus enables him to stand in for humanity as a whole. In assuming human nature, the Word does not assume a male human nature, but fully assumes human nature as a male in such a manner that all human beings (whether male or female) can be saved.80

That the Word became incarnate as a man was not necessary, but it was what Thomas Aquinas would have called “fitting.”81 Given then that it is not essential or necessary that in the incarnation the Word would have become incarnate as a male human being, why might it have been soteriologically fitting for Jesus Christ to be male? First, this makes sense in what I have referred to in a previous essay as the principle of “Christological subversion,” what New Testament scholar Michael Gorman has called “cruciformity,” or what Alan Padgett has called “submission II” (voluntary mutual submission).82 As Gorman has argued, the kenotic self-emptying of Phillipians 2 is the key to understanding Christ’s salvific mission. The first-century Mediterranean culture in which Jesus exercised his ministry was an honor/shame culture in which women were already necessarily in submission to men. Only a male Savior could challenge and defeat Mediterranean honor culture by voluntarily undergoing the humiliation of death by crucifixion and then conquering death through resurrection. Only a male Savior could meaningfully teach that salvation comes not through domination, but through voluntarily becoming a servant.

At the same time, the maleness of Jesus Christ allows for typological continuity between the Old Testament and the New Testament as the latter fulfills the former. Given that Jesus Christ is the Word of God incarnate, and God is portrayed using masculine metaphors in the Old Testament, it certainly makes symbolic sense for Jesus to be male. There really is a parallel between the nuptial imagery of Yahweh and Israel, and Christ as the bridegroom and the church as his bride. Egalitarians affirm this!

Once again, however, the clue to properly interpreting the metaphors of Scripture is provided by their narrative context. The narrative context of the parallel between the husband/Christ and bride/Church symbolic imagery of Ephesians 5:32 is provided by 5:1, where Paul instructs the members of the church to “walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God,” and verse 21, where all are asked to “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” The model enjoined on the church throughout the passage is the pattern of Christ-imitation for all (not men only), which Gorman calls “cruciformity.” Jesus Christ is the “head” of the church, which is his body, but he is the head who “loved the church and gave himself up for her” (v. 25). It is the narrative structure of the passage that defines what is meant for Christ to be bridegroom and the church to be bride. To read this passage as if its point was that ordained clergy should be male because Christ is male is to divorce the nuptial symbolism from its textual context to make a theological point that was nowhere in Paul’s mind, while simultaneously missing the point that Paul was actually making about the cruciform imitation of Christ which applies to all Christians – women as well as men. The “male-only” ordination argument simply misreads the passage.

Typologically, Christ’s three offices of prophet, priest, and king also make sense only if Jesus Christ is a Jewish male because Jesus as antitype fulfills the pattern of three Old Testament Jewish males: Moses, Aaron (or Melchizedek), and David. Again, however, the principle of Christological subversion comes into play as it is the New Testament narratives that give meaning to the typological symbols. As prophet, Jesus’ claims not to do away with the Mosaic law, but fulfills it (Matt. 5:17). At the same time, Jesus’ fulfillment of the law involves an “eschatological reversal” in which he shows favor to lost sinners rather than those who are considered “righteous.” Jesus subverted Jewish distinctions between “clean” and “unclean” by ministering to Gentiles (Mark 7: 24-30; Luke 1:7-10), by healing a Samaritan leper (Luke 17:11-19), and by asking for a drink of water from a Samaritan woman (John 4:7-9). He allowed a “sinful” woman (presumably a prostitute) to wash his feet (Luke 7:36-50). He refused to condemn a woman caught in adultery (John 8:11-11). Jesus should have been made ceremonially unclean by being touched by a menstruating woman and by touching a dead girl. Instead, he healed the woman and raised the dead girl to life (Mark 5:21-43).83 Jesus antagonized the religious leaders of his time by healing on the sabbath (Mark 3:1-16). His claim to forgive sins led to accusations of blasphemy (Mark 2:12-12). After his crucifixion and resurrection, early Christians realized the implications of Jesus’ fulfillment of Jewish law by welcoming Gentile members of the church without insisting on male circumcision or kosher diet (Acts 15:22-29).

That Christians believe that Jesus fulfilled the role of Old Testament priesthood is also subversive. Although not of the traditional priestly tribe of Levi, the New Testament proclaims that Jesus is the High Priest (of the order of Melchezidek rather than Aaron) who is simultaneously priest, victim, and temple, and it is through his death on the cross that Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament notion of priestly sacrifice by taking upon himself the sins of humanity.84

It is perhaps the office of king in which christological subversion is most evident. As the notice posted by Pontius Pilate over Jesus’ cross makes clear, it is Jesus the crucified peasant who is “king of the Jews.” This man who was condemned to death by the religious and political leaders of his time as a religious blasphemer, a law-breaker, and a political pretender, who died in the most humiliating and shameful manner imaginable in his culture, was proclaimed in his resurrection by the God of Israel who was his Father to be the divine judge who pardons rather than condemns the guilty.

Certainly it is symbolically and theologically significant that Jesus Christ was (and is) a male, but significant, among other things, precisely because, through his life and mission, Jesus radically challenged and subverted traditional honor/shame culture, and, with it, male privilege. As with the marriage symbolism of Ephesians, to conclude from the gospel narratives that the crucial point of Jesus’ masculinity is to provide a pattern for exclusively male ordination is to misread the texts.

Male Apostles

In my previous essay, “Women’s Ordination and the Priesthood of Christ (in persona Christi),” I addressed what I consider to be the fundamental (Catholic) theological argument against the ordination of women: in presiding at the Eucharist, the priest represents Christ by acting in persona Christi (in the person of Christ).85 Because a woman cannot represent a male Christ, women cannot preside at the celebration of the Eucharist. The argument concerning male apostles is the corresponding historical warrant supplied by Catholic opponents of women’s ordination. Male-only ordination is grounded in the example of Jesus who chose only men as apostles. Butler makes the following claims: (1) The fundamental reason that the church does not ordain women is based not on any notion of women’s inferiority, but on the “fact” of Jesus’ example. (2) Jesus chose twelve male apostles, and no women; in so doing, he expressed his will for the priesthood. (3) Bishops are successors of the apostles, and so, must themselves be males. (4) The unbroken tradition of the church confirms this practice of not ordaining women. She summarizes the argument succinctly:

This doctrine of priesthood, as we shall see, determines the judgment of the Catholic Church concerning the possibility of ordaining women. The answer to the question “Why?” is bound up with the belief that Holy Orders is a sacrament instituted by Christ, that his intention for the priesthood is known by way of the mission he gave the Twelve, and that this office is passed on in apostolic succesion. If the Church does not have the authority to change her tradition regarding this, it is because the ministry is a gift which the Lord “entrusted to the Apostles” and which she is bound to preserve.86

Again, she writes: “The fact that Jesus did not choose any women to belong to the Twelve, and that the apostles followed his example by handing on the apostolic charge only to men, was seen to be the fundamental reason.” As noted above, the argument first appears in Pope Paul VI’s Inter Insigniores: “Jesus Christ did not call any women to become part of the Twelve. . . . Even his Mother, who was so closely associated with the mystery of her Son, and whose incomparable role is emphasized by the Gospels of Luke and John, was not invested with the apostolic ministry.”87 Butler is clear that the heart of the argument in Inter Insigniores concerns the twelve apostles and their relation to the subsequent church:

This rather sober, ecclesiastical formulation directs attention to the vocation and symbolism of the Twelve, and its importance for the constiution of the Church. It is by way of Jesus’ choice of 12 men that we know his will for the apostolic ministry of bishops and priests. No other appeal is made.88

The argument thus stands and falls on the symbolic significance of Jesus having chosen only men to be his apostles. Everything else depends on it. Once again, the crucial weakness in the argument lies in a tendency to impose onto the text preconceived assumptions about what the symbols of the Scripture must mean rather than allowing the narrative structure of the texts to determine the meaning of the symbols. As with the case of Jesus’ masculinity, the reason his apostles had to be male is evident from the text itself. 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, Jesus gives his apostles 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 is present with his twelve disciples, and reconstitutes the passover as a meal of bread and wine in which he forms a new covenant. Significantly, it is at this last meal where Jesus pronounces the role of the twelve in judging Israel (Luke 22:14-30; cf Jer. 31:33-34).The twelve had to be free Jewish males, and not slaves, women or Gentiles, in order to fulfill the symbolic function of their typological role.89

Inter Insigniores emphasizes that “Jesus Christ did not call any women to become part of the Twelve.” Butler asserts that, given Jesus’ freedom in breaking from the cultural roles of his time, the way that he freely mingled with women, and his disregard for ritual purity laws, he could have called women apostles if he had wanted to: “If Jesus did not share the prejudices of his contemporaries, it would appear that he ‘could have’ entrusted the apostolic church to women if he had wished to, but freely chose to do otherwise.” She also mentions (with approval?) several times in her book the significance of the fact that Jesus did not call even his mother (the virgin Mary) to be one of his apostles or to exercise priestly ministry.90 However, that Jesus was free from the prejudices of his contemporaries does not mean that, in some kind of absolute freedom without regard either to cultural context or Jewish faith, he “could have” entrusted the apostolic ministry to women, anymore than he could have called someone who was Chinese or Buddhist to be an apostle. As a reviewer of Butler’s book points out, the demand of communication places limits on what one can say. If the twelve apostles were to play the symbolic role that Jesus assigned to them – as representatives of the New Israel and the twelve patriarchs – they had to be twelve free Jewish males.91

The question then of why Mary the virgin mother of Jesus was not called to be an apostle is fairly easily answered. As a Jewish woman, Mary could not have fulfilled the typological role fulfilled by the twelve. At the same time, pointing to Mary as a counter-example to women’s ordination is rather odd. It is asked why (if women could have been ordained), Mary was not ordained. Yet, apart from her significance as the mother of Jesus, Mary’s role either in the earthly mission of Jesus, or in the later New Testament church, seems to have been fairly limited. For instance, she did not play the kind of major role in the ministry of Jesus that was played by the sisters Mary and Martha of Bethany or by Mary Magadalene. After the resurrection of Jesus, Mary is mentioned by name only once in the book of Acts (Acts 1:14), and not at all in any of the epistles.92 Again, women like Lydia (Acts 16:11) or Priscilla (Acts 18:2, 18, 26; Rom. 16:3; 1 Cor. 16:19; 2 Tim. 4:19) or the numerous women Paul greets in some of his letters (Rom. 16) seemed to have played more significant roles in the early church than did the virgin Mary. It would seem that her single vocation in redemptive history was to be the mother of Jesus.

Significantly, Butler recognizes the typological symbolic significance of the twelve, but insists, following Ordinatio sacerdotalis, that “the symbolism of the Twelve is not limited to representing the 12 patriarchs of Israel, and that their vocation is not limited to judging the 12 tribes of Israel.” Her claim is that those who raise this objection “deny that the Lord’s choice of the Twelve . . . . reveals his will for the ordained ministry.” To the contrary, she writes, “The Church must consult the tradition, and the tradition sees in his example with respect to the Twelve an expression of his will for the ordained ministry.”93

The argument as Butler sets it out is circular, and thus begs the question. The structure of the argument is as follows:

(1) We know that in the post-New Testament church, the reasons for not ordaining women are theological, not cultural, and are grounded in Christ’s will, because Christ chose only male apostles.

(2) We know that masculinity is what is important about Christ’s choosing the apostles and not simply biblical typology (the number twelve and Jewishness) because in the post-apostolic church, no women were ordained (although Gentiles were).94

To express the argument succinctly:

(1) Christ’s choosing of male apostles is used to explain the practice of the post-apostolic church,
but then (in a circular manner),

(2) The practice of the apostolic church is used to explain Christ’s choosing of male apostles.

What we can actually affirm with certainty is the following:

(1) The primary reason that Jesus chose only male apostles is the same reason he chose only twelve apostles and only Jewish apostles – the fulfillment of Old Testament typology. Moreover, the twelve apostles had a distinctive role, which cannot be repeated. The apostles were companions of and witnesses to the mission of Jesus (Matt. 12:28; Acts 1:8, 21-22). The apostles were witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection (Acts 1:22, 1 Cor. 9:1). After his death, the role of Judas was replaced by Matthias, but after that, there were no more replacements. Bishops and presbyters may be successors to the apostles, but they are not themselves apostles.95

(2) We do not know whether the office of bishop and presbyter was based on the office of apostle, and if so, to what extent.96 We do not know whether the practice of the post-resurrection church concerning presbyters and bishops was based on the masculinity of the apostles because the New Testament never addresses the issue. The argument concerning the ordination of women based on the practice of the New Testament church after the resurrection of Jesus is thus necessarily an argument from silence. No writer of the New Testament ever says “women should be ordained,” but neither does any New Testament writer say, “women should not be ordained.” We can speculate about the actual practice of the New Testament church, but the data is limited. The New Testament says nothing about the actual practices of sacramental ministry that are so essential for Butler’s argument. The New Testament contains no descriptions of how the Eucharist was celebrated and who might have officiated. Because we do not know who presided at the Eucharist, we do not know whether women did so for the same reason we do not know whether men did so. (I will discuss the ministerial roles that women practiced in the New Testament church in a later essay.)97

Moreover, Butler cannot appeal to those New Testament passages used by Protestant complementarians to reject women’s ordination because the passages do not have to do with sacramental ministry, but rather with speaking and teaching, and Butler is clear that the Roman Catholic Church no longer considers these prohibitions to have anything to do with ordination. Women are allowed to speak and teach in Roman Catholic Churches; they just cannot preside at the Eucharist.98

Finally, the understanding of priesthood and sacrifice that is so essential to Butler’s argument is anachronistic. The early church did not understand a presbyter to be a priest or to exercise a sacrificial ministry in the sense that Butler imagines. Insofar as presbyteral ministry is “priestly,” it is Christ who celebrates and the sacrifice is Christ’s, not that of the presider.99

In the end, Butler has to appeal to post-biblical tradition to make her argument. What about this tradition, then? Butler points out that the early church did not object to the admission of Gentiles, but did object to the ordination of women.100 Again, however, in the case of the New Testament, this is an argument from silence. The New Testament neither approves of nor objects to women’s ordination because it does not address the issue. After the New Testament, we know the main reason that the tradition rejected women’s ordination – which Butler acknowledges in her book – was because women were considered to be ontologically inferior to men, less intelligent, more emotional, and more easily tempted.101

Butler is clear that the contemporary Catholic Church does not use this argument, so, in an attempt to save the argument from tradition, Butler appeals to an anti-Montanist work of the fourth-century bishop Epiphanius of Salamis, whom she refers to as the “first undisputed witness of paristic opposition to the priestly ordination of women.”102 Epiphanius does indeed argue against women’s ordination based on the fact that Jesus chose only male apostles, but his arguments are the unhelpful arguments that I have already addressed: (1) that there were no women priests in the Old Testament (Panarion 79.2,3); (2) that the virgin Mary was not a priest (79.3,1), and (3) that no woman was an apostle or priest in the New Testament (79.3,3-4). Butler states concerning Epiphanius: “Epiphanius bears witness, then, to the tradition that God’s will regarding the female priesthood is known by means of Christ’s choice of the Twelve. . . . The reason is not their ‘subject’ status or some unworthiness deriving from their sex; it is a dispensation of the Lord’s will.”103 To the contrary, Epiphanius does embrace the arguments that Butler would prefer to avoid. There is the appeal to women’s ontological inferiority: “Women are unstable, prone to error, and mean-spirited . . . so here the devil has seen fit to disgorge ridiculous teaching from the mouths of women.” (Panarion 79.1,6-7). There is also the prohibition of women teaching based on the Pauline passages: “[T]he Word of God does not allow a women ‘to speak’ in church either, or to ‘bear rule over a man.’” (Panarion 79.3,6).104 Perhaps Epiphanius is not so helpful after all.

The argument against women’s ordination based on the masculinity of the apostles is, as noted above, a circular argument: (1)The traditional argument against women’s ordination is acknowledged as inadequate insofar as it was based on the presumption of the ontological inferiority of women. Given that the original argument from tradition is insufficient, it becomes necessary to appeal to Scripture, namely the example of the male apostolate; However, (2) the argument from the male apostolate is also insufficient, as Butler acknowledges.105 Accordingly, (3) we must appeal beyond Scripture to tradition, and specifically to the rather isolated witness of one fourth-century bishop. However, when we examine the writings of this bishop, we find that he has little to offer in terms of actual argument beyond the mere assertion that Christ chose only male apostles (which no one denies), and, unfortunately, embraces the assumptions concerning women’s inferiority and prohibition of women’s teaching that have already been found insufficient. So we find ourselves back where we began.


In this essay, I have examined a key modern Catholic argument against the ordination of women based on symbolism. The argument is essentially an appeal to masculine imagery found in both Scripture and tradition.

First, it is noted that the dominant symbolic imagery used to portray God in the Scriptures is masculine. Specifically, the God of the Old Testament is a God, not a goddess, who is transcendent to and freely creates the world. God is not mother, and the world is not his body. In the New Testament, God is the Father (not mother) of Jesus Christ.

Second, the Old Testament priesthood was an exclusively male priesthood, and the primary reason for this is that priests are representatives of God. Only a male priest can represent a God who is portrayed using male imagery.

Third, in the incarnation, the Son of God became incarnate as a male Savior who addressed God as his Father (not his mother).

Fourth, Jesus Christ (the male Saviour) chose only male apostles to be his witnesses and representatives.

Fifth, insofar as contemporary priests are successors to the male apostles, they must also be males in order that they might function as successors of the male apostles and represent the male Jesus Christ.

In contrast to those mainstream feminist theologians who find this masculine imagery oppressive, those theologians whom I have designated as Catholic and Evangelical egalitarians (whom Greene-McCreight designates as “biblical feminists”) would not object to any of the masculine imagery to which the Catholic opponents of women’s ordination appeal in this argument. The Bible does indeed portray God using masculine imagery; the Old Testament priesthood was exclusively male; in Jesus Christ, the Son of God did indeed become incarnate as a male human being who addressed God as his Father; Jesus did indeed choose twelve male apostles, and, as successors to the apostles, contemporary clergy are indeed called to be representatives of Christ. None of this is denied. The key issue concerns the symbolic significance of this male imagery.

The old saying is that if the only tool one has is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail. In the symbolic argument against women’s ordination, it seems that the concern to reject the possibility of women’s ordination is the hammer that drives the tendency to turn every example of male imagery in the Bible and the Christian tradition into the nail that must be struck. In this essay, I have taken another look at this masculine imagery and specifically asked the question, “how does the narrative context of the biblical texts make sense of the imagery?,” rather than assuming ahead of time that, since we already know the meaning of masculine imagery, and since we already know the meaning of representation, it is a simple task to make a straightforward connection between masculine imagery and male-only church office.

In each case, the masculine imagery has a function, but it is not the function imagined by the opponents of women’s ordinaton. The God of the Bible is certainly portrayed using masculine imagery, but the purpose of this male symbolism has nothing to do with sexual modeling since God has no sex. Rather, in Israel, the one God takes on all of the tasks of both the pagan male gods and female goddesses. To call God “he,” means that God is a “person,” not that God is a male.

The Old Testament priesthood was indeed a male-only office, but the primary reason for a male priesthood had to do with the purity codes of the Old Testament law, a law that was fulfilled by Christ, and whose purity regulations were abrogated when Gentiles were admitted to the church.

Jesus Christ the Son of God did indeed become incarnate as a male human being. Only as a man could Jesus have fulfilled the Old Testament typological roles of prophet, priest, and king. At the same time, Jesus fulfilled these roles in a manner that was subversive and challenged traditional Mediterranean “shame culture.” Jesus fulfilled Old Testament law and promises by transforming them, and by calling both men and women to be his followers and to be servants of one another.

Jesus certainly called only twelve men to be his apostles. Again, only in calling twelve Jewish men could Jesus have both fulfilled and transformed the symbolism of Old Testament typology. That Jesus’ twelve apostles were males no more requires that their successors be males than that their successors be Jewish or twelve in number. More specifically, what it means to be a “representative” of Christ has nothing to do with male or female sexuality, and everything to do with what Michael Gorman has called “cruciformity.” The pattern of mutual submission to which all of Christ’s followers are called means following Jesus Christ in the pattern of his self-emptying in which, rather than holding tightly to his divine prerogatives, the Son of God humbled himself, took on the form of a servant and became obedient “even to death on a cross” (Phil. 2:1-11). To be a representative of Christ means to follow this pattern by taking up our own cross, to become servants of the Triune God, and servants of one another. Both men and women are called to this task. Those who are called to church office have the special task of serving the church in the ministry of word and sacrament. For Catholic and Evangelical egalitarians, the ordination of women to the office of word and sacrament is not a demand for “equal rights” in the church, but a request for an equal opportunity to serve in the church.

1 “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Women’s Ordination and the Priesthood of Christ (in persona Christi),”

2 Edwyn Bevan, Symbolism and Belief (Boston: Beacon Press, 1938, 1957), 11-13.

3 Manfred Hauke, Women in the Priesthood? A Systematic Analysis of the Light of the Order of Creation and Redemption, trans. David Kipp (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 121-122.

4 Bevan, 14.

5 C. S. Lewis, Miracles: A Preliminary Study (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1947, 1960) 73, 79.

6 Avery Dulles, The Craft of Theology: From Symbol to System (New York: Crossroad Publishing Co., 1992), 18.

7 Dulles, 19.

8 Avery Dulles, S.J., Models of Revelation (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1983), 131-173.

9 Sallie McFague, Models of God: Theology for an Ecological Nuclear Age (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1987), x-xi.

10 McFague, ix.

11 McFague, 192-193.

12 C.S. Lewis, “Priestesses in the Church,” God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, Walter Hooper, ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), 237-238.

13 Hauke, 479.

14 Sara Butler, The Catholic Priesthood and Women: A Guide to the Teaching of the Church (Mundelin, IL: Hillenbrand Books, 2007), 111.

15 Hauke, 65-72, 175-190, 216-243; Jonathan Baker, ed. Consecrated Women? A Contribution to the Women Bishops Debate (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2004), 18-19.

16 Hauke, 190-194.

17 Consecrated Women?, 22, 26-29; Hauke, 249-276, 297-325.

18 In the modern discussion, the argument first appears in Pope Paul VI’s Inter Insigniores.; Butler, 5, 50, 66-70, 72-76, 105; Hauke, 326-339.

19 Hauke, 85-204.

20 Hauke, 90, 92, 94.

21 Butler, 91, appeals to the nuptial imagery of “the husband’s initiative and the wife’s response as a paradigm of the initiative of divine grace and the human response” as parallel to the ordained priest as the Bridegroom and the “other baptized” as the Bride.

22 Hauke, 175-190; Thomas Hopko, “Presbyter/Bishop: A Masculine Ministry,” Women and the Priesthood, Thomas Hopko, ed., new edition (Crestood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1999), 143-147.

23 Butler, 82-92; Consecrated Women?, 29-31; Hopko, 144-145, 157-15.;

24 Consecrated Women​?, 40-43; Hauke, 318-325; See Hans urs von Balthasar, Mary for Today (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1988); The Office of Peter and the Structure of the Church (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986); Theo-Drama: Theological Dramatic Theory III. Dramatic Personae” Persons in Christ (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992), 283-360).

25 The imagery appears in Pope John Paul II’s encylical “Pastores Dabo Vobis”: “The priest is called to be the living image of Jesus Christ, the spouse of the Church. . . . in virtue of his configuration to Christ, the head and shepherd, the priest stands in this spousal relationship with regard to the community.”; Consecrated Women?, 34-47; Hauke, 330-339, Butler, 78-82, 88-92.

26 Hopko, 156-159, 164.

27 Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women’s Liberation (Boston: Beacon Press, 1973, 1985), 19. In the first paragraph of Beyond God the Father, Daly writes: “If God in ‘his’ heaven is a father ruling ‘his’ people, then it is in the ‘nature’ of things and according to divine plan and the order of the universe that society be male-dominated.” (13); Rosemary Reuther, Sexism and God Talk: Toward a Feminist Theology (Boston: Beacon Press, 1983, 1993); Elizabeth Johson, She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse (NY: Crossroad Publishing Co., 1992); Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, Jesus: Miriam’s Child, Sophia’s Prophet: Critical Issues in Feminist Christology (NY: Continuum Publishing Group, 1994, 2004).

28 McFague, 72, 129,

29 Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, “The Will to Choose or to Reject: Continuing Our Critical Work,” in Letty Russell, Feminist Interpretation of the Bible (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1985); Bread Not Stone: The Challenge of Feminist Biblical Interpretation (Boston; Beacon Press, 1995).

30 Johnson, 150-169. McFague, 64-65, 145.

31 McFague, 91, 181.

32 Garrett Green, “The Gender of God and the Theology of Metaphor,” Speaking the Christian God: The Holy Trinity and the Challenge of Feminism, Alvin F. Kimel, Jr., ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992), 48.

33 Hauke, 50n, 193n.

34 Kathryn Greene-McCreight, Feminist Reconstructions of Christian Doctrine: Narrative Analysis and Appraisal (New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 36-40.

35 Green, 52.

36 Elizabeth Achtemeier, “Exchanging God for ‘No Gods’: A Discussion of Female Language for God,” Speaking the Christian God, 4; Roland M. Frye, “Language for God and Feminist Language: Problems and Principles,” Speaking the Christian God, 20.

37 Athanasius, De Synodis 42. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, second series, vol. 4, Philip Schaff, ed. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers,1994);

38 Hillary of Poitiers, On the Trinity 1.4,18. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, second series, vol. 9, W. Sanday, ed. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers,1994);

39 Summa Theologiae 1.3. art. 1; Thomas Aquinas, The Summa Theologiae, trans. Fr. Laurence Shapcote, O.P. (Lander, Wy: The Aquinas Institute for the Study of Sacred Doctrine, 2012); Summa Theologica (New York: Benziger Bros, 1948; reprinted Chritsian Classics, 1981);;

40 Addressing the issue of the Son’s maleness, it is important to distinguish between the immanent and the economic Trinity, between the Son’s eternal generation and his temporal mission, as well as the two-fold principle of predication of the communicatio idiomatum. One of the implications of the hypostatic union is that the Son is a single divine person with two natures, one divine and one human. Because of the unity of person, two sets of predicates can be attributed to the Son, but the distinction of natures must also be maintained. As divine, the Son is eternal, but as human, the incarnate Son was born in Bethlehem at a particular time. Similarly, it is true that the Son as divine has no sexuality because God as God has no body; it is also true however that the Son as human is male because the Son became incarnate as the human male Jesus Christ.

41 Judy L. Brown, “God, Gender and Biblical Metaphor,” Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy, Ronald W. Pierce and Rebecca Merrill Groothius, eds. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 291-293.

42 Frye, 34-43.

43 Tikva Frymer-Kensky, In the Wake of the Goddesses: Women, Culture and the Biblical Transformation of Pagan Myth (New York: Macmillan, Inc., 1992), 83-117, 168-178.

44 Frymer-Kensky, 188-189.

45 Hauke begins his discussion of the biblical material with the subheading “GOD AS FATHER.,” 217. For reasons that will become clear, there is actually little in Hauke’s discussion concerning “God as Father” until he reaches the New Testament.

46 Ben Witherington III and Laura M. Ice, The Shadow of the Almighty: Father, Son and Spirit in Biblical Perspective (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 1-2.

47 Witherington and Ice, 2-3.

48 Witherington and Ice, 2-3.

49 Witherington and Ice, 20-21.

50 Witherington and Ice, 19-65; Wesley Hill, Paul and the Trinity: Persons, Relations and the Pauline Letters (Grand Rapids: Eerdans, 2015).

51 Hauke, 184.

52 Consecrated Women?, 18.

53 McFague, 69-77.

54 Achtemeier, 8.

55 Achtemeier, 10; Frymer-Kensky, 93.

56 See also David A. Scott, “Creation as Christ: A Problematic in Some Feminist Theology,” and Stephen M. Smith, “Worldview, Language, and Radical Feminism: An Evangelical Appraisal,” Speaking the Christian God, 237-275.

57 Bevan, 28-81.

58 Bevan, 28, 68.

59 Bevan, 44-48.

60 Athanasius, Contra Arianos, 2.4-5; “Oration Against the Arians (Orationes contra Arianos),” Athanasius: Select Works and Letters: Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Vol. 4, Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, eds.(Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1994).

61 Green, 59-60.

62 Hauke, 212.

63 Hauke, 209-215.

64 Hauke, 190-191.

65 Hauke, 192.

66 Hauke, 194.


68 Frymer-Kensky, 188-190.

69 “Concerning Women’s Ordination: The Argument From Symbolism (Part 2: Transcendence, Immanence and Sexual Typology),”

70 Hugh Montefiore, “The Theology of Priesthood,” Yes to Women Priests (Essex: Mayhew-McCrimmon, 1978), 3.

71 Paul VI, Declaration Inte Insigniores:On the Question of Admission of Women To The Ministerial Priesthood;

72 “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Women’s Ordination and the Priesthood of Christ (in persona Christi),”

73 Consecrated Women? 4.1.3; 4.1.5, 27.

74 Consecrated Women? 4.1.6, 28.

75 Consecrated Women?, Footnote 41, 27.

76 Hauke, 256.

77 Hauke, 263, 264.

78 Paul Gondreau, “The Humanity of Christ, the Incarnate Word,” The Theology of Thomas Aquinas, Rik van Nieuwenhove and Joseph Wawrykow, eds. (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2005), n. 275. The reference is to III Sent. d. 12 q. 3 art.1 sol. 2.

79 Elisabeth Behr-Sigel and Kallistos Ware, The Ordination of Women in the Orthodox Church (Geneva: WCC Publications, 2000), 87.

80 Jay Wesley Richards, “Can a Male Savior Save Women: Gregory of Nazianzus on the Logos’ Assumption of Human Nature,” Christian Scholar’s Review, 28(1) (Fall 1998): 42-57. Significantly, the authors of Consecrated Women? quote a letter from E.L. Mascall that states “It was male human nature the Son of God united to his divine person” and that “no female human nature was assumed by a divine person.” (28). To the contrary, there is no male human nature as such. If the Word united a male human nature to himself, but no female human nature was assumed, then the feminist theologians are correct – a male Savior who assumed a male human nature could not save women.

81 Adam Johnson, “A Fuller Account: The Role of ‘Fittingness’ in Thomas Aquinas’ Development of the Doctrine of the Atonement,” International Journal of Systematic Theology 12(3) July 2010.

82 Michael J. Gorman, Cruciformity: Paul’s Narrative Spirituality of the Cross (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001); Alan Padgett, As Christ Submits to the Church (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011), 38, 59. See my essays “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Disciples of Jesus,” and “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Mutual Submission,”

83 See my discussion in “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Disciples of Jesus,”

84 See my essay, “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Women’s Ordination and the Priesthood of Christ (Biblical and Patristic Background),”

85 “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Women’s Ordination and the Priesthood of Christ (in persona Christi),”

86 Butler, 4.


88 Butler, 76.

89 Aida Besonçon Spencer, “Jesus’ Treatment of Women in the Gospels,” Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy, Ronald W. Pierce and Rebecca Merrill Groothius, eds. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 135-136.

90 Butler, 63, 65, 67; Hauke also finds it significant that Jesus called only male apostles: “That no woman received the apostolic charge is particularly remarkable . . .” Hauke, 333.

91 Robert J. Egan, “Why Not? Scripture, History and Women’s Ordination,” Commonweal Magazine (April 3, 2008);

92 Gal. 4:4 states that Christ was “born of a woman,” but does not mention her name.

93 Butler, 94, 95.

94 Hauke also contrasts the role of women with Gentile converts: “[T]here was never any controversy about the pros and cons of admitting Gentile Christians to apostolic office . . .” Hauke, 334. By “apostolic office,” Hauke is referring to post-apostolic ordination, since there were no Gentile apostles.

95 Hauke insists that, “since their office remains necessary until Christ’s Second Coming, they transferred it, with laying on of hands, to their successors.” He insists that the task of an ordinary parish priest celebrating the Eucharist, “distinguishes itself in no way from that of Saint Peter or John.” Hauke, 335. This misses the significance of the radical distinction between the twelve apostles and contemporary clergy. No “ordinary parish priest” accompanied Jesus during the years of Jesus’ earthly ministry, or was a witness to Jesus’ resurrection. More significant for this argument, no modern Gentile parish priest could function in the typological role of the twelve necessarily Jewish apostles who typologically represented the new Israel.

96 “There is no evidence in the New Testament that Jesus made any connection between the Twelve and any established offices or continuing roles of leadership in the local communities like elders or overseers.” Egan, “Why not?”

97 “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Women’s Ministry in the New Testament (Office),”

98 Butler recognizes that previous Roman Catholic objections appealed to “Pauline texts that prohibited women’s public teaching in the Church and their exercise of authority over men . . .” However, “[b]ecause the contemporary magisterium has abandoned the view that women are unilaterally subject to men, it obviously does not supply this as the reason women cannot be priests.” Butler, 46, 47.

99 See my essay “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Women’s Ordination and the Priesthood of Christ (Biblical and Patristic Background)”;

100 Butler, 103.

101 See my essay, “Concerning Women’s Ordination: The Argument “From Tradition” is not the “Traditional” Argument”;

102 Butler, 61.

103 Butler, 63.

104 The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis, Books II and III, trans. Frank Williams (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994). For a selection of the relevent texts from Ephiphanius, see:

105 Butler acknowledges, citing Inter Insigniores: “In any event, ‘a purely historical exegesis of the texts cannot suffice’ to establish Christ’s will on the matter. The Church must consult the tradition, and the tradition sees in his example with respect to the Twelve an expression of his will for the ordained ministry.” Butler, 95.