Affirming the Ministry of Women in the Lutheran Church of Australia

BIBLICAL COMMANDS

By ordaining women is the church disregarding commands of Jesus and Paul?

The Lutheran church has always acknowledged that there are biblical commands that remain in force ‘for a time’ and ‘to avoid offence’ (Augsburg Confession 28), and then the commands lapse for a number of reasons.

Some examples of this include

  • Sabbath observance (Ex 20:8-11Ex 20:8-11
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    8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 You shall labor six days, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to Yahweh your God. You shall not do any work in it, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, your man-servant, nor your maid-servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates; 11 for in six days Yahweh made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day; therefore Yahweh blessed the Sabbath day, and made it holy.

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    ; Deut 5:12-15Deut 5:12-15
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    12 “Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as Yahweh your God commanded you. 13 Six days shall you labor, and do all your work; 14 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to Yahweh your God: in it you shall not do any work, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your man-servant, nor your maid-servant, nor your ox, nor your donkey, nor any of your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates; that your man-servant and your maid-servant may rest as well as you. 15 You shall remember that you were a servant in the land of Egypt, and Yahweh your God brought you out of there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm: therefore Yahweh your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.

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    ),
  • the requirement that women wear hats in church (1 Cor 11:2-161 Cor 11:2-16
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    2 Now I praise you, brothers, that you remember me in all things, and hold firm the traditions, even as I delivered them to you. 3 But I would have you know that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is the man, and the head of Christ is God. 4 Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonors his head. 5 But every woman praying or prophesying with her head unveiled dishonors her head. For it is one and the same thing as if she were shaved. 6 For if a woman is not covered, let her also be shorn. But if it is shameful for a woman to be shorn or shaved, let her be covered. 7 For a man indeed ought not to have his head covered, because he is the image and glory of God, but the woman is the glory of the man. 8 For man is not from woman, but woman from man; 9 for neither was man created for the woman, but woman for the man. 10 For this cause the woman ought to have authority on her head, because of the angels. 11 Nevertheless, neither is the woman independent of the man, nor the man independent of the woman, in the Lord. 12 For as woman came from man, so a man also comes through a woman; but all things are from God. 13 Judge for yourselves. Is it appropriate that a woman pray to God unveiled? 14 Doesn’t even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him? 15 But if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her, for her hair is given to her for a covering. 16 But if any man seems to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither do God’s assemblies.

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    ),
  • eating meat sacrificed to idols, or meat that has been strangled, or with its blood still in it (Acts 15:28Acts 15:28
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    28 For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay no greater burden on you than these necessary things:

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    ),
  • the instruction that only men should pray in public worship, and they should do so with holy hands uplifted (1 Tim 2:81 Tim 2:8
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    8 I desire therefore that the men in every place pray, lifting up holy hands without wrath and doubting.

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    ),
  • the prohibition on women wearing braided hair, gold, pearls, or expensive clothes (1 Tim 2:91 Tim 2:9
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    9 In the same way, that women also adorn themselves in decent clothing, with modesty and propriety; not just with braided hair, gold, pearls, or expensive clothing;

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    ).

Other commands have rarely been interpreted literally, but have been regarded as exaggerations for the sake of emphasis, or as metaphors to highlight the Christian lifestyle, for example Jesus’ command to:

The church regards other commands as non-negotiable and permanent. They are not exaggerations. They are not metaphors for something else. They include the commands to:

The obvious question to ask is:
By what criteria do we determine whether commands are temporary or permanent? Applied to the women’s ordination debate, how can we tell whether the commands that require women to remain silent in worship and in subordination may lapse after a time or must stay in force till Christ returns? The following questions allow the reader to determine whether Paul’s prohibitions on women speaking are (a) the words of Paul the apostle speaking authoritatively for the church of all times and all places, and hence always valid, or (b) the words of Paul the pastor addressing specific local congregational issues, and hence valid only for a time, but able to lapse when the prohibited behaviour no longer offends. The work we are doing here is called hermeneutics (biblical interpretation), which means asking first what the words say in their setting within the book of the Bible where they appear and in their historical setting, and secondly how the words apply today?

The command is always valid if it:

The two texts employed to prohibit women’s ordination in the LCA are 1 Corinthians 14:34-351 Corinthians 14:34-35
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34 let your wives keep silent in the assemblies, for it has not been permitted for them to speak; but let them be in subjection, as the law also says. 35 If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home, for it is shameful for a woman to chatter in the assembly.

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and 1 Timothy 2:11-141 Timothy 2:11-14
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11 Let a woman learn in quietness with all subjection. 12 But I don’t permit a woman to teach, nor to exercise authority over a man, but to be in quietness. 13 For Adam was first formed, then Eve. 14 Adam wasn’t deceived, but the woman, being deceived, has fallen into disobedience;

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(see Theses of Agreement VI.11). Clearly, at the time of union the LCA did not favour the notion that Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy were to be understood as pastoral directives for a specific occasion. However, we are at liberty to question that assumption. Regarding their status the Theses of Agreement say about themselves: ‘The Theses of Agreement are always under the authority of the Word of God, and therefore there must always be a readiness to submit them to the critical scrutiny of God’s Word and accordingly confirm them, or amend or repudiate them when further study of God’s Word shows them to be inadequate or in error’ (TA A26). TA VI.11 says the prohibition of women from the public office is an ‘apostolic rule’ that ‘is binding on all Christendom’. Those who support the ordination of women disagree. They have applied the tests of permanent applicability (above) to 1 Corinthians 14:35,351 Corinthians 14:35,35
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35 If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home, for it is shameful for a woman to chatter in the assembly. 35 If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home, for it is shameful for a woman to chatter in the assembly.

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and 1 Timothy 2:11-141 Timothy 2:11-14
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11 Let a woman learn in quietness with all subjection. 12 But I don’t permit a woman to teach, nor to exercise authority over a man, but to be in quietness. 13 For Adam was first formed, then Eve. 14 Adam wasn’t deceived, but the woman, being deceived, has fallen into disobedience;

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and concluded that the texts fail the test required to qualify as permanent apostolic prohibitions binding on all Christendom.

Neither text says that the prohibition lasts till the end of time.
The prohibition on women’s speaking in church hinders the spread of the gospel in a society which no longer tolerates discrimination against women.
The phrase ‘in all the churches’ (1 Cor 14:331 Cor 14:33
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33 for God is not a God of confusion, but of peace. As in all the assemblies of the saints,

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) cannot be said to apply unquestionably to Paul’s words about women being silent and submissive (vv 34,35). In several Greek manuscripts verses 34 and 35 appear at the end of the chapter, in which case ‘in all the churches’ deals with Paul’s regulations concerning tongues speaking and prophecy.

Similarly, the ‘command of the Lord’ Paul speaks of (v 37) appears more likely to apply to his insistence that those who are disrupting worship at Corinth (unruly tongues speakers, women interjectors) obey his regulations regarding who may speak and under what conditions.

The verb ‘to permit’, used in both texts (1 Cor 14:341 Cor 14:34
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34 let your wives keep silent in the assemblies, for it has not been permitted for them to speak; but let them be in subjection, as the law also says.

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, ‘they [women] are not permitted to speak’; 1 Tim 2:121 Tim 2:12
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12 But I don’t permit a woman to teach, nor to exercise authority over a man, but to be in quietness.

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, ‘I permit no woman to speak’), everywhere else in the NT applies only to temporary, or one-off, situations (see Matt 8:21; 19:8Matt 8:21; 19:8
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21 Another of his disciples said to him, “Lord, allow me first to go and bury my father.” 8 He said to them, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it has not been so.

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; Mark 5:13Mark 5:13
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13 At once Jesus gave them permission. The unclean spirits came out and entered into the pigs. The herd of about two thousand rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and they were drowned in the sea.

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; John 19:38John 19:38
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38 After these things, Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked of Pilate that he might take away Jesus’ body. Pilate gave him permission. He came therefore and took away his body.

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; Acts 21:39,40; 26:1; 27:3; 28:16Acts 21:39,40; 26:1; 27:3; 28:16
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39 But Paul said, “I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no insignificant city. I beg you, allow me to speak to the people.” 40 When he had given him permission, Paul, standing on the stairs, beckoned with his hand to the people. When there was a great silence, he spoke to them in the Hebrew language, saying, 26 1 Agrippa said to Paul, “You may speak for yourself.” Then Paul stretched out his hand, and made his defense. 3 The next day, we touched at Sidon. Julius treated Paul kindly, and gave him permission to go to his friends and refresh himself. 16 When we entered into Rome, the centurion delivered the prisoners to the captain of the guard, but Paul was allowed to stay by himself with the soldier who guarded him.

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; 1 Cor 16:71 Cor 16:7
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7 For I do not wish to see you now in passing, but I hope to stay a while with you, if the Lord permits.

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; Heb 6:3Heb 6:3
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3 This will we do, if God permits.

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). Its wider usage should govern the way it is understood in the two texts. Another word that indicates Paul is dealing with customs peculiar to his own day and time is the word ‘shameful’ (1 Cor 14:351 Cor 14:35
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35 If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home, for it is shameful for a woman to chatter in the assembly.

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). An outspoken woman in public was regarded as bringing disgrace to her husband.

One of the major problems Paul was addressing in his letters to Timothy was the inroads being made by a libertarian group in the church at Ephesus, where Timothy was pastor, in which group many women were included (1 Tim 2:91 Tim 2:9
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9 In the same way, that women also adorn themselves in decent clothing, with modesty and propriety; not just with braided hair, gold, pearls, or expensive clothing;

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-15; 4:7; 5:13-15; 2 Tim 3:6,72 Tim 3:6,7
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6 For of these are those who creep into houses, and take captive gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts, 7 always learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.

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). The bulk of the congregation were Jews formerly. Paul had enough trouble getting them to accept that women were allowed to study the scriptures (2:11) let alone move them to a point where they would accept women as teachers with authority over a man (2:12). The offence would be too great, the gospel’s free course hampered to a huge extent. ‘To the Jews,’ Paul said, ‘I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews’ (1 Cor 9:201 Cor 9:20
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20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain those who are under the law;

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).

Paul’s concern in both texts is evangelistic. He is intent on ensuring that worship is orderly and that positive community standards are maintained, so that people who come to church may be led to faith (1 Cor 14:22-251 Cor 14:22-25
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22 Therefore other languages are for a sign, not to those who believe, but to the unbelieving; but prophesying is for a sign, not to the unbelieving, but to those who believe. 23 If therefore the whole assembly is assembled together and all speak with other languages, and unlearned or unbelieving people come in, won’t they say that you are crazy? 24 But if all prophesy, and someone unbelieving or unlearned comes in, he is reproved by all, and he is judged by all. 25 And thus the secrets of his heart are revealed. So he will fall down on his face and worship God, declaring that God is among you indeed.

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) or be built up in the faith (1 Cor 14:3-5,141 Cor 14:3-5,14
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3 But he who prophesies speaks to men for their edification, exhortation, and consolation. 4 He who speaks in another language edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the assembly. 5 Now I desire to have you all speak with other languages, but rather that you would prophesy. For he is greater who prophesies than he who speaks with other languages, unless he interprets, that the assembly may be built up. 14 For if I pray in another language, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful.

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), so that finally everyone may be saved and ‘come to the knowledge of the truth’ (1 Tim 2:41 Tim 2:4
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4 who desires all people to be saved and come to full knowledge of the truth.

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). Those ends were met in Paul’s day by calling for women to be silent. In our day they will be met as their lips are unsealed in our public worship.

Peter Lockwood

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