"An Exact Transcription of God’s Very Words": A Review of Batchelor and Hall's "Strange Fire"

(system) #1

In order to understand how Doug Batchelor and Dwight Hall approach ordination in their book, "Strange Fire: Understanding the Hot Topic of Women's Ordination," it is first useful, I think, to try and define the hermeneutical principles they appear to use when they claim biblical support for not ordaining women. Their primary assumption appears to be that the way things are presented in the Bible, to their minutest detail, is exactly the way God wanted the Biblical writers to write them. On the surface this does not sound like a belief in verbal inspiration, i.e. God dictated and the Bible writers wrote what He said, word for word, but in essence the authors assumption seems to lead to the same conclusion. This leads the authors to completely ignore the potential effects of the patriarchal nature of the culture and society in which the Bible was written. In fact, the authors actively ridicule the hermeneutical approach that would interpret the Old Testament through the lens of patriarchy, and instead they conclude that God established that very patriarchy.

By way of example, the authors say the following:

We also need to understand that God—not man, tradition, culture, or even sin itself—instituted the roles of men and women in the beginning. Genesis 2:18 says, “And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone: I will make him an help meet for him.” Later, after sin entered the picture, God also established a system of authority to maintain harmony in the family, the church, and society. It is a system in which man would lead. “Unto the woman He said ... thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee” (Genesis 3:16). The word “rule” means “to govern or have dominion.”

Then, lest the reader misunderstand the point, the authors say this:

It is important not to rush past this pivotal verse, as some have argued that the passages regarding man’s leadership role simply reflect the biases of a male-dominant culture. When Adam and Eve were created, it was not a male-dominated culture. It was one and one, 50-50. The deciding vote, if you will, was not from any human being; it did not come from Moses, King David, Peter, John, or even Paul. It is God’s own voice that spoke the command in Genesis 3:16.”

Clearly, the authors consider these words in Genesis to be an exact transcription of God’s very words. Even if we consider Moses the author of Genesis, as some conservative theologians try to maintain, this would have to mean that God either dictated these words to Moses, or gave it to him in some sort of vision. Since the writer of Genesis never tells us how this story was transmitted to him, and most theologians consider Genesis a compilation of materials originally from oral tradition, this represents the most narrow interpretation of these verses.

Even if we presume these are God’s actual words, there are still many questions that remain. Did God intend these words to apply only to Eve and not to woman-kind in general? Was He addressing woman-kind within that cultural context? Did God intend this to be for all time for all women? If the answer to the last question is yes, then how could women like Deborah and Huldah have held roles that clearly put them in authority above men.

The fact that so few women in the OT era held these kinds of positions speaks more to the default level of patriarchal repression than it does to God forbidding women serving in roles where they had authority over men. If it was simply against God’s order for women to serve in such a capacity, than surely God would have prevented Deborah from becoming a judge, and would have never considered using women as prophets. Maybe it is not so much God’s prohibition against females as it is the patriarchal system that prevented God from using more women as He might otherwise have done. The OT is replete with examples of how men limited God’s ability to do what He had hoped to do with Israel. Just imagine what more God could have done with Israel had they been more egalitarian.

Another dubious hermeneutical approach by the authors is to equate our modern process of ordination with some Biblical equivalent. Fortunately the authors recognize that ordination was never practiced in the Bible, so to get around that problem they equate the roles of modern day pastor with that of OT era priests. Here is how the authors make their case:

Even though the Lord has chosen some women to serve as prophets through the ages, He never hinted that a woman should be ordained as a priest. Pastors and elders, of course, are roughly the New Testament equivalent to the Old Testament priests. Pastors and elders lead out in communion, which is the New Testament equivalent of offering a sacrifice—a role that was performed by a man. And while many priests were prophets, no women prophets were priests. Amram and Jochebed had three children—Miriam, Aaron, and Moses (Exodus 7:1; 5:20). All three were prophets, but only the men served as priests.

First of all, to say that these two offices are “roughly” equivalent is, to put it mildly, an overstatement. Priests were at the center of the cultic worship system of the OT. They were acting as the people’s intercessors with God. The modern pastoral role is more that of a rabbi, who is more of a teacher and spiritual advisor. The Protestant church, including SDAs, do not have a cultic based system, and no one stands as an intercessor between the individual and God except Christ Himself. So, to point out that there was never a documented female priest in the OT hardly constitutes an argument against the ordination of female pastors. To even equate Communion with the cultic temple service of animal sacrifice is inaccurate. Communion is a commemorative service, not a sacrificial service, and has no implied sacrificial benefit of the sort promised to OT Israelites when they sacrificed an animal in the temple.

I think it is fair to say that if one were to view the hierarchy of positions within the Christian church, the place of prophet is greater than that of pastor, and if God has been freely willing to choose a woman as a prophet, who are we to bar Him from freely choosing women as pastors and elders. It follows that if women can be pastors and elders, then ordination, which is a modern way of publicly recognizing that God has called a person to such a position, should also be freely dispensed. To bar women from being ordained simply because they are female is essentially giving God, and our fellow believers, the message that we really don’t believe God can call women to be pastors and elders.

Sometimes the exegetical approach used by the authors defies reason. Here is a prime example:

The word translated “servant” is the Greek word diakonos (dee-ak’-on-os). It literally means “to run on errands; an attendant, a waiter at tables or in other serving duties.” The word in the masculine gender, diakoneo(s) (dee-ak-on-eh’-o), appears in the New Testament about 68 times and is translated as “serve, minister, administer.” Every time but five, the word refers to the office of a deacon that can be held only by men (1 Timothy 3:8–13; Acts 6:1–7). I bring this up because some say that Phebe held the office of a deacon. She did not. She was a servant, a helper around the church, and she succored (assisted, helped, or was hospitable to) many such as Paul.”

As far as I can make out from this line of reasoning, what they are trying to say is that since deacons are, by definition, male, Phoebe (who is female) cannot therefore be a deacon, even though the same word is used to describe her as is used to describe male deacons. I wonder how many Greek scholars would buy that one?

Beyond the doubtful hermeneutical and exegetical arguments, the authors use a variety of simplistic analogies to caution against women’s ordination. Here are a few examples which I think speak for themselves:

“In this unit, we find a basic truth, seen not only in God’s Word but also in His creation: men are fathers, and women are mothers. They are not only distinct sexually, but many other aspects of their natures are different as well. I believe these differences should be apparent, maintained, and even emphasized. Men should never try to be women, and women should never try to be men.”

“Some suggest that because there are generally more women than men in the church, leadership roles should be divided according to those percentages. But by using this reasoning, it would follow that in a family with three children, kids would be entitled to the larger share of leadership!”

“Over the years, I’ve learned that God is really very smart that way. When He says, “This is good, and this is bad,” or “This is the best course to follow,” He actually knows what He is talking about! When He made us male and female, He actually knew what He was doing! I’m sure I don’t understand all the reasons He did what He did; maybe I can see a few of them, but even that’s not necessary. Sometimes the difference between a blessing and a curse isn’t what we understand, it’s just what we do with what we’re told. I may not understand all the reasons for eating some things and leaving other things alone [The authors are referring here to God’s injunction against eating pork. God said don’t eat it, end of story.], but God does, and He’s told me which is best for me.”

If you find the above examples offensive, so do I. If the issue were not so important these arguments might even be humorous, but the authors see these as rock solid arguments.

The last major way they try to make their case is by the age-old slippery slope argument, which goes something like this. If we allow women to be ordained, the next thing you know we will start throwing out other doctrines and we will probably decide to let gays into the church, oh my! As an example of this line of reasoning the authors include the following extensive quote from "New Feminist Christianity: Many Voices, Many Views," ed. Mary E. Hunt and Diann L. Neu (SkyLight Paths Publishing, 2010):

“When, in 1973, a group of socially conscious evangelicals from all over the country came together in Chicago for a gathering called Evangelicals for Social Action (ESA), in which they would discuss a progressive approach to social justice and peace issues, Nancy [Hardesty] made sure that the issue of gender equity was included. At a follow-up ESA gathering in 1974, one of the break-out discussion groups or “caucuses” at the gathering was the women’s caucus, thus laying the foundation of what later became the Evangelical Women’s Caucus (EWC). ...

“Like their counterparts in society in general and in mainstream manifestations of Christian feminism, evangelical feminists began organizing. The Evangelical Women’s Caucus had numerous chapters in various states, held biennial conferences, and published a newsletter. In 1986, after the group had adopted several resolutions, including one that affirmed civil rights for gay and lesbian persons, a large group of members broke away and formed Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE) to dissociate themselves from what they considered an unbiblical endorsement of homosexuality. From that time forward, there were two major evangelical egalitarian organizations. In 1990, as EWC was attracting a more theologically diverse membership of both Protestants and Roman Catholics and was increasingly known for its inclusiveness, it added another E to its name and became the Evangelical & Ecumenical Women’s Caucus (EEWC).

“Both EEWC and CBE have been engaged in scholarship and activism within and outside the larger evangelical world of churches, academic institutions, and parachurch organizations, presenting an alternative to the traditionalist insistence that the only true biblical view is male dominance and female subordination. Each group has produced periodicals, books, and online resources presenting a message of biblical egalitarianism. The two groups, while not abandoning their evangelical roots, overlap in some respects but also differ in their respective audiences, with CBE’s outreach concentrated more directly on the moderate evangelical community (taking great care to remain within certain theological and socially conservative boundaries), whereas EEWC has a more expansive outreach, offering a safe and welcoming place to those who have felt emotionally and spiritually abused by conservative churches (both Protestant and Catholic), or have been marginalized because of their gender identity or sexual orientation, or have been ready to give up on Christianity because of its teachings on women, or whose general doubts and theological questioning have not been welcome elsewhere.”

Then the authors add their own take on this:

Once the Evangelical Women’s Caucus had accepted the position that there were no distinctions to be maintained between men and women, it was a simple logical step to affirm “civil rights for gay and lesbian persons.” Though not explicitly stated here, the EWC’s position also included full acceptance of these same groups by the church. Over the years since 1986, both organizations have continued to maintain their basic positions.”

Regardless whether this slippery slope exists, this is never a good argument for not doing what is right. If women’s ordination is acceptable or not is an entirely separate issue from gay and lesbian rights. The only similarity is that both involve human rights. The church may sometime decide to grant gays and lesbians basic civil rights, but that has nothing to do with this issue.

The book ends with the argument that gave the book its title. After recounting the sin of Nadab and Abihu in using “strange fire” in their censers the authors conclude with this unflattering comparison between the issue of women’s ordination and “strange fire”:

"This lesson we should never forget. God says what He means and means what He says. He does not make mistakes. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He has set up a system since creation. It is not good enough for us to imagine that—as long as we love Him and have been honored by Him— He will accept our reinterpretation of things.

God has pronounced a curse upon those who depart from His commandments, and put no difference between common and holy things. He declares by the prophet: “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness!... Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight! ... which justify the wicked for reward, and take away the righteousness of the righteous from him! ... They have cast away the law of the Lord of hosts, and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.” Isaiah 5:20–24. Let no one deceive himself with the belief that a part of God’s commandments are nonessential, or that He will accept a substitute for that which He has required (pg. 360).

"When God sets up something as holy and good and when we change it ever so slightly it becomes dangerous and finally deadly. God in His infinite wisdom set up an order—a divine order—that was established from the beginning—before sin. Divine order is organization that makes our lives possible, peaceful, and everlasting. When we take God’s divine order and change it, no matter what our intentions are it will bring disorganization, chaos and finally death."

Bryan Ness is Professor of Biology at Pacific Union College.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6444

(Pagophilus) #2

If you read the Bible in a straightforward way it certainly does appear that patriarchy was given by God. Man has corrupted it, no doubt, and abused it, but God intended for the father to be the head of the household, and for the firstborn son to have a special role in the family.

We once had a (female) minister preach a sermon and tell us that patriarchy is wrong and must be eliminated. She also used the example of Zelophehad’s daughters as an example of removing an unjust law, when that is not the case. It simply allowed them to inherit their father’s land, but since inheritance was still through the male line (unless there was no male heir or husband), they had to marry within the same tribe for the land to stay with that tribe. There’s nothing there against the supposed injustice of patriarchy. (I believe she was buttering up the congregation for women’s ordination, which she believes is coming soon.) It was a very self-centred sermon in other ways.

Whilst I have no problems with women in ministry (only with women ordained to leadership positions), I have to admit I have not yet seen a female minister who was truly a biblically-solid preacher. I have heard the occasional woman who does preach solidly, but these have no formal ministerial/theological qualifications.

(Mercy triumphs over judgment. James 2:13) #3

That was indeed a correction to patriarchy which is more fully addressed in the NT. We Christians are all “heirs according to the promise”:
Galatians 3:26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.

(George Tichy) #4

Thanks for this valuable review.
There is no doubt that discrimination against women is the true “strange fire” that is being spread throughout the church. Its flames are burning, consuming great part of a civility that should be a strong mark of any Church that pretends to be Christian.

(Dee Roberts) #5

Thanks Brian for the review of this book.

Although I am not surprised by the book and the view the authors take, it is interesting to see is it put down in writing. They are clearly out of the SDA scholarly, theological main stream on several things as portrayed in the article. I think is it fair to say they take a divergent position on very well established SDA doctrine on inspiration of the bible.

(Thomas J Zwemer) #6

The entire thesis is discredited by the reference to the Aaron priesthood. that was a type as was the entire sanctuary scheme. Christ is now our a High Oriest making the priesthood of all believers. We each can come boldly to the throne of a grace. The kenosis of Christ is the model of the servant leader.

the book should find its place among the trash in S.F. The vetting process is not to be gender related. it should be based upon, education, experience, and rightly dividing the word of Truth. It should be Gospel oriented. A narrative style such as the parables of Jesus. Is the most compelling mode. Tom Z

(Kevin Paulson) #7

The present book review, and the book to which it responds, offer further evidence of the yawning gap in contemporary Adventism over how seriously we take the pronouncements of the Bible. Women’s ordination, as one author aptly noted years ago, is but the “tip of the iceberg.” This article by Bryan Ness, together with more recent comments of Bryan’s on the gay issue, offer increasingly substantial evidence that this divide cannot be bridged, and that the two perspectives now in conflict among us cannot peacefully co-exist with each other.

Sadly, Ness tries to denigrate the authority of the book of Genesis by his apparent acceptance—at least in some form—of the notorious “documentary hypothesis” so far as the Pentateuch is concerned. Weakening the authority of Scripture is increasingly becoming essential to making the case for women’s ordination, as well as for the church accepting practicing homosexuals into its fellowship.

The clearer this point becomes in the consciousness of the church, the more the two issues will be seen in tandem—along with acceptance of evolution—which will make all three issues toxic, and thus more likely to be rejected by the world church next year. For this much, at least, faithful Adventists can be grateful to Bryan Ness for this review.

The basic problem with this book review is that again it fails to take the core of the Biblical evidence into consideration. Ness makes no mention of Genesis 3, and how it demonstrates Adam’s pre-Fall headship. Only when Adam sinned did the spiritual consequences of sin fall upon our first parents (Gen. 3:7). And when “Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord” (verse 8), it is to Adam—not Eve—that the Lord calls (verse 9). This is especially significant as some apologists for women’s ordination have tried to equate the name “Adam” with some generic identification for both genders. Genesis 3:8-9 does not permit this.

God’s call to Adam in Genesis 3:9 is also noteworthy because Eve was the first to sin. If their roles were identical, with no headship, this makes no sense. Neither would the New Testament make sense, as Adam is the one person identified in Romans 5:12-19 and First Corinthians 15:22 as being responsible for the introduction of sin into the world, and thus the need for Christ to come as a Savior. Christ came as the Second Adam, not the Second Eve. Once again affirming the original headship model.

It matters not whether ordination in today’s church is an exact mirror of the setting apart of leaders in either Testament. Arguing over words is really pointless here. The bottom line is that in both Old and New Testaments, the principal leaders were consistently male. The patriarchs, the priests, the apostles, and the elders were all men. And these men were set apart through the laying on of hands, the investiture we today call ordination.

Regarding the word for deacon, or servant, in the New Testament, this is really easy to explain. Phoebe was indeed a “servant” of the church, but this doesn’t mean she functioned in the same role as a male deacon. We often speak in today’s vernacular, for example, of people in every line having a ministry for God. Bryan Ness has such a ministry as a biology teacher. But that doesn’t necessarily make him an ordained minister. Phoebe, therefore, can be very much a servant of the church, without having a role identical to that of a male deacon.

There’s nothing either offensive or humorous about the fact that men and women are different. Fathers and mothers have equally important and indispensable roles in the government of an ideal family. But this doesn’t mean their roles are the same. They are not.

Without question, the words of Genesis—and all of Scripture—are an exact transcription of God’s will. The words are not dictated, to be sure; Ellen White is clear that “the Bible writers were God’s penmen, not His pen” (1SM 21). But the ideas were clearly the Lord’s, and not humanity’s. And the order of gender authority found throughout Holy Scripture is underscored by direct inspired pronouncements in both Testaments, from Adam’s primacy in the origin of the human sin problem (Gen. 3:7,9; Rom. 5:12-19; I Cor. 15:22) to Paul’s definitive statements on gender order and authority within the body of Christ (I Cor. 11:3; I Tim. 2:12-13).

Ness’s review, unfortunately, does not consider this very decisive evidence from the Word of God.

(George Tichy) #8

Anything, literally anything, to defend the continuation of the abominable discrimination of women!!!
And the worst is mixing it with the Word of God!

(Randle Patrick) #9

A Muslim soulmate for like minded SdA’s::


(George Tichy) #10

Misery likes misery…

(Tihomir Odorcic) #11

My sympathy for the reader of the book. Anyway thanks for stressing the main ideas in it. It is very clear that this was a typical “rape of hermeneutics”. But it isn’t new for me. All my life I was exposed to similar sermons and explanations.

(Tihomir Odorcic) #12

Pago, very nice from you that you are speaking for yourself. Let it stay there.

(Marianne Faust) #13

what I don’t understand is why these authors are taken so seriously, since they are so far away from SDA theology. Of course, SDA theology can change, receive more light,… but to use non-SDA theology to prove that women cannot guide or teach men and at the same time using the female founder of SDA as guidance…that is worse than strange.

(Kevin Paulson) #14

Maybe one reason they’re taken so seriously, Marianne, is because they are effective soul winners. People in the church who bring multitudes to Christ generally have a great deal of credibility when they speak about Biblical issues.

Regarding the use of non-SDA authors to prove the case against women’s ordination, I am frankly troubled by that tendency myself, much as I agree with Doug’s and Dwight’s conclusions on this issue. But you don’t notice me using such sources when I address this topic. I believe the Bible is quite sufficient to establish the case for distinct gender roles in both the family and the church.

(Tom Loop) #15

Could someone tell me if this book is for sale in the ABC bookstores? I decided to check out the book myself, and when I saw it was only 64 pages, I thought I would order it, since it’s a short read. So far I see that Remnant Publications is the one trumpeting this book. Let me see noooow, Remnant publications is the bunch that printed that little primmer “Mysticism” that was stealthfully passed out at the end of the last meeting at campmeeting last July.
Remnant publications also had the bright idea of the blanket mailing of Great Controversy to SF. Now this!!!
I have great respect for both Doug Batchelor and Dwight Nelson, but I really have to read this book myself before i will have much to say. I don’t trust Remnant Publications for an honest unbiased assessment. If the book “Strange Fire” is as bad as this blog suggests and what Remnants review of it suggests then I see some real problems here. I don’t even like the cover.
Did Batchelor and Nelson actually endorse this book, or is it a skewed compilation of some things they have said about WO. Me smells something rotten in Denmark here.

(Kevin Paulson) #16

Tom, I think it was Dwight Hall, not Dwight Nelson, who wrote this book in company with Doug Batchelor. Hall and Nelson share the same first name, but not the same perspective on women’s ordination.

(Thomas J Zwemer) #17

The is one of the finest examples of a published work based solely on eisegesis. To fit a predetermined thesis. I would like to know who published it. Probably one located in or near Cairo Tom Z

(Bille) #18

This is the age of the supremacy of TV Celebrity over Serious Scholar. Yes, it is worse than strange… but it demonstrates the power of publicity… especially when it is augmented by world-wide Television exposure of an uneducated person… .thus “one of the masses”… with great chutzpa and the kind of absolute authoritative manner that Batchelor his associates project.

It becomes even MORE “worse than strange” when one considers the wide array of SDA scholars who have taken positions that are completely contradictory to those of Batchelor and Hall… and Bohr and Damsteegt. With Damsteegt the sole Seminary voice in the face of the recent Statement against male headship that came from the Andrews Seminary… and with Angel Rodriguez (as well as a majority of the TOSC members) directly opposing every one of the points that are being made by those who oppose the ordination of women to gospel ministry this whole campaign against ordaining women passes far beyond “worse than strange” and enters the realm of incredible… and beyond…

The passage that comes to mind that might well fit here is the one where Paul explains that "we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against… … … "

(George Tichy) #19

How much more demeaning can a statement be?
Well, maybe you haven’t seen any female minister preaching, in which case your statement would be more understandable.

(George Tichy) #20

I honestly can’t understand the psychological landscape of a person who works to “win souls” and at the same time is a discriminator against “female souls.” It sounds like an oxymoron. Or it is mere hypocrisy?