The Bible Supports the Ordination/Commissioning of Women as Pastors and Local Church Elders

Andrews University - April, 2010

1. Genesis 1 teaches us that male and female participate equally in the image of God. "So God created man [humankind] in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them" (Gen 1:27).

This basic passage gives no hint of a divine creation order. Here man and woman are fully equal, with no subordination of one to the other. We find that this description of the relationship between man and woman holds throughout Scripture and beyond. No inspired writer—not Moses, Jesus, Paul, or Ellen White—teaches the creation headship of man over woman. Nor has this position ever been accepted in historic Adventism.

Those who oppose the ordination of women ultimately base their argument on the creation headship of man over woman. Their case, however, rests on a fundamental misinterpretation of Gen 1-3.

2. Genesis 2 reinforces Genesis 1. In Gen 2 woman is the climax, the crowning work of creation. She is created from a rib from Adam's side, to show that she is "to stand by his side as an equal" (Gen 2:21- 22; PP 46). She is man's 'ēzer k'negdô ("helpmeet for him," Gen 2:18 KJV), which in the original does not denote a subordinate helper or assistant. Elsewhere in Scripture it is most often God Himself who is called 'ēzer ("helper") (Exod 18:4; Deut 33:7, 26; Ps 33:20; 70:5; 115:9, 10, 11). The phrase 'ēzer k'negdô in Gen 2 means no less than an equal counterpart, a "partner" (Gen 2:18, 22 NEB).

Contrary to popular argument, Adam does not name the woman (and thereby exercise authority over her) before the Fall in Gen 2:23. The "divine passives" in this verse imply in Hebrew thought that the designation "woman" comes from God, not from man (see Jacques Doukhan, The Genesis Creation Story [Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press, 1978], 46-47). Adam does not name Eve till after the Fall (Gen 3:20).

In short, Gen 2 contains no creation order subordinating woman to man or restricting her from entering into full and equal participation with man in any ministry to which God may call her. For further detailed analysis, see Richard Davidson, “Sexuality in the Beginning: Gen 1–2,” chap. 1 of Flame of Yahweh: Sexuality in the Old Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2007), 15–54.

3. Subjection or submission of wife to husband comes about only after the Fall. A subjection of Eve to Adam is mentioned in Gen 3. God says to Eve: "Your desire shall be to your husband and he shall rule over your" (Gen 3:16). But it is crucial to recognize that the subjection of Eve to Adam comes after the Fall. Furthermore, it is limited to the husband-wife relationship, and therefore does not involve a general subordination of women to men.

This is precisely the consistent interpretation of Ellen White (see especially PP 58-59, 1T 307-308, and 3T 484) and The SDA Bible Commentary. The servant headship of the husband prescribed in this passage can no more be broadened to men-women relationships in general than can the sexual desire of the wife be broadened to mean the sexual desire of all women for all men. For further detailed analysis, see Davidson, “Sexuality and the Fall: Genesis 3,” in Flame of Yahweh, pp. 55–80.

4. Paul's writings maintain the Eden model. Paul gives much instruction regarding the relationship between husbands and wives. As can be seen in particular by 1 Tim 2:14 (see also 1 Cor 14:34 and PP 58-59), it is ultimately in light of Gen 3:16 that he indicates the "head of a woman is her husband" (1 Cor 11:3) and calls upon wives to "be subject in everything to their husbands" (Eph 5:24). Such passages as 1 Cor 11:3-12, 1 Cor 14:34-35, and 1 Tim 2:11-12 all concern the issue of the submission of wives to their husbands and not of women to men in general.

Furthermore, in 1 Tim 2:13 Paul is not arguing for a creation headship of man over woman as has often been assumed. Rather, he is correcting a false syncretistic theology in Ephesus which claimed that woman was created first and man fell first, and therefore women are superior to men. Because of this false theology, wives were apparently domineering over their husbands in public church meetings. (For a careful analysis of the evidence for these conclusions, see Gordon P. Hugenberger,“Women in Church Office: Hermeneutics or Exegesis? A Survey of Approaches to 1 Tim 2:8–15, JETS 35 [1992]: 341–360; and Sharon Gritz, Paul, Woman Teachers, and the Mother Goddess at Ephesus: A Study of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 in Light of The Religious and Cultural Milieu of The First Century [Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1991].)

Paul's counsel for husbands and wives cannot be extended to the relationship of men and women in general. The apostle himself shows how the marriage relationship applies to the church. Husband headship in the home is not equated with male headship in the church. Rather, the Husband/Head of the church is Christ, and all the church--including males--are His "bride," equally submissive to Him (Eph 5:21-23).

5. In the Old Testament we see numerous women in leadership roles over men, thus confirming Genesis 1. Witness Deborah (Judges 4 and 5), one of the judges over the people of Israel-- women and men. Witness the leadership role of Miriam (Exod 15:20-21), Huldah (2 Kgs 22:13-14; 2 Chr 34:22-28), Esther, and others (e.g., Exod 38:8; 1 Sam 2:22; 2 Kings 8:1-6; Ps 68:11; Jer 31:22).

Although in OT Israel there did exist social inequalities for women, reflecting a perversion of the divine ideal set forth in Gen 1, yet nonetheless there are no legal restrictions barring women from positions of influence, leadership, and authority over men.

With regard to the priesthood, Adam and Eve were appointed priests in the Garden of Eden before the Fall, and reconfirmed as such after the Fall (see discussion and evidence in Davidson, Flame of Yahweh, 47–48, 57–58). God's original plan was that all Israel be a "kingdom of priests" (Exod 19:6). Because of Israel's sin, an alternate plan was given in which even most men were also excluded--except for one family in one tribe in Israel. Yet in the New Testament the Gospel restores God's original plan. Not a few male priests, but once more the "priesthood of all believers" (1 Pet 2:5, 9; Rev 1:6).

6. Jesus called His people back to the original plan regarding the role of women. In the NT Jesus Himself set the tone for the Gospel restoration by pointing His hearers to God's original plan "from the beginning" (Matt 19:8). He did not move precipitously, upsetting the very fabric of Jewish culture; He did not ordain women as His immediate disciples, just as He did not ordain Gentiles. But He pointed the way toward the Edenic ideal in His revolutionary treatment and exaltation of women (see John 4:7-30; Mark 5:25-34; Luke 8:1-3; Matt 15:21- 28; John 20:1-18, etc.).

7. The Gospel ideal is the return to the Eden model. Paul emphatically declared: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal 3:28). This is not merely a statement on equal access to salvation among various groups (cf. Gal 2:11-15; Eph 2:14-15). Rather, it specifically singles out those three relationships in which the Jews had perverted God's original plan of Gen 1 by making one group subordinate to another: (1) Jew-Gentile, (2) slave-master, and (3) male-female. By using the rare NT terms "male-female" (arsen-thēly) instead of "husband-wife" (anēr-gunē) Paul establishes a link with Gen 1:27 and thus shows how the Gospel calls us back to the divine ideal, which has no place for general subordination of females to males. Thus, Paul's choice of terminology upholds the equality of men and women in the church, without changing the position of the husband as head of the family.

Within the cultural restraints of his day, Paul and the early church (like Jesus) did not act precipitously. The subordination of Gentiles was difficult to root out (even in Peter! [Gal 2:11-14]). Slavery was not immediately abolished in the church (see Eph 6:5-9; Col 3:22; Phlm 12: 1 Tim 6:1). Likewise, women did not immediately receive full and equal participation with men in the ministry of the church. However, Phoebe is mentioned as a “deacon” (Rom 16:1) Junia was a female apostle (Rom 16:7), and the leaders of the church at Philippi were women (Phil 4:2–3). Priscilla assumed an authoritative teaching role over men (Acts 18), and the “Elect Lady” (2 John) may well have been a prominent church leader with a congregation under her care. (See discussion of these persons, with bibliography, in Davidson, Flame of Yahweh, 649–650.)

Paul's list of qualifications for elders framed in the masculine gender ("husband of one wife"--literally, "a one-wife husband"--[1 Tim 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9]) does not exclude women from serving as elders any more than the masculine gender throughout the Ten Commandments (Exod 20; see esp. vs. 17) exempts women from obedience. Rather, these passages are again upholding the Edenic ideal--the principle of monogamy (Gen 2:24).

God does not speak directly to the question of the ordination of women in the NT, just as He does not deal directly with the abolition of slavery, with vegetarianism, abstinence from alcohol, and many other issues based on principles set forth "from the beginning." But He has given clear Biblical principles to guide our decision-making.

In these last days, when the fullness of the everlasting Gospel is to be preached, God has called His church to return to His original blueprint for every area of our lives: our diet, our day of worship--and the three human relationships mentioned in Gal 3. Our church has already taken courageous stands against slavery and racial prejudice. God also calls us to return to the Edenic ideal for male-female relationships that allows women equal access to the gifts of the Spirit for ministry (Joel 2:28-30; Eph 4:11-13). ***** Richard Davidson is J. N. Andrews Professor of Old Testament Interpretation, and Chair, Old Testament Department, Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at
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Hello Professor Davidson,

Was wondering if you could point me to some books that further explore the role of women as Elders. I love your persspective here, and want to go deeper. Thanks!

I did not get past your first point because it is in error. "This basic passage gives no hint of a divine creation order"
Are you sure, Mr Davidson?

  1. What about the fact that he created Adam first, not at the same time (God is never arbitrary) Is there no order there?
  2. Bible denotes firstborn element with headship in book of Exodus and Numbers and these firstborn are to be the leaders of the home and the spiritual leaders
  3. Eve was created to be a helper
  4. Adam was created taller than eve PP 20

Even after the fall in Genesis 3 God says "He shall rule over thee"
and God holds Adam accountable for the sin that was brought through Eve

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rafael, does eve’s sentence of submission to adam after the fall, because of her leading role in it, not imply that that submission wasn’t there before the fall…in other words, if eve’s submission to adam was punishment for her role in the fall, which egw clearly explains, PP:58, how is this a punishment if it was there before she sinned…

Dear Mr. Davidson, with all due respect, this is false teaching and I will explain my point of view. In order to do do that first I’ll set clear a few things that we all agree upon without any doubt:

a. The Bible is the word inspired by God.
b. God never changes
c. God never contradictes Himself
d. If there is reasonable doubt about a new teaching, stick with Jesus’s and the Apostolic teaching.
e. We are to obey God rather than man
f. No circumstancial evidence can dismiss direct evidence

Paul clearly writes to the chucrh in Corinth saying “Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church.” (1 Corinthians 14:34-35) and to Timothy, who was in the church of Ephesus " Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence." (1 Timothy 2:11-12)

We can clearly see, as a direct evidence that Paul was giving the same instrunctions for two different churches, meaning two different cultures, which makes it quite clear that is for all of the churches.

Not only that, but Paul explains clearly why as he always does. It is not a male female thing. It is about the fall of man. Paul says “For ADAM WAS FORMED FIRST, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.” (1 Timothy 2:13-14). He is reffering to the consequences of the fall.
"To the woman He said:
‘I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception;
In pain you shall bring forth children;
Your desire shall be for your husband,
And he shall rule over you.’

Then to Adam He said, 'BECAUSE YOU HAVE HEEDED THE VOICE OF YOUR WIFE, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat of it’:
‘Cursed is the ground for your sake;
In toil you shall eat of it
All the days of your life.’"

Everything else coming out of the article above is nulified by those verses above for it is circumstancial evidence. The only story that somehow stands for this theology is the story of Debora, but in Judges 4 she clearly says that there will be no glory for Barak if she goes with him which does not take her out of the authority but also seems to put limits to it.

Man was formed first and the woman was created as a helper. There is a minor difference in DNA between men and women but it is clear that we are so differently built and we are so built for different purposes. For different tasks. Trying to force it in something that was not intended by God makes us (again) heretics, going aginst God’s will.

The Bible clearly says that God intended the woman to be a helper. The Bible clearly says that a man should love his wife like Christ loved the church and gave up himself for her, which means that men are to be prepared to show love up to the ultimate sacrifice. Women however have other commandments to fulfill. Any attemp to over rule those God given commandments are a heresy for they are not based on biblical grounds and they are clearly coming from destructive ideologies such as feminism in this case.

We can not bring heaven on Earth or restore anything, and I include Eden in that, untill Christ is coming. In doing so we are trying to be like God and we know who wanted to be like God: Satan. And if in the beginning was the word, and the word was God, going against His word is of the enemy. So this is all just an agenda driven theology, and it is not coming from God.

We should not be surprised for it is written:
“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; 4 and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.”

We need to repent of our sins, and turn to God, through faith in Jesus Christ. Trying to bring the world in the Church instead of bringing the Church to the world is not the way.