I sat and watched this entire message, and took careful notes. Despite the articulate, caring, impassioned tone, this message reveals serious problems in its attempt to explain the Biblical text.
First of all, the speaker’s approach to Scripture is a glaring dismissal of the hermeneutic upheld in the “Methods of Bible Study” document, which another participant in this conversation has also denounced. Such statements as the following place the speaker in diametric opposition to orthodox Adventist scholarship in general and the writings of Ellen White in particular:
“When we spend our energy defending the text, we absolutely suffocate the story.”
“There is no such thing as a plain, simple reading of God’s Word.”
If this is true, the text of Scripture is suffocated indeed—through imprisonment in an ancient culture and the speculations of uninspired scholars. No one will tremble at the word of the Lord (Isa. 66:5) when such an approach is used. Transcendence is lost, and no objective measure of right and wrong can possibly exist with such a method of studying God’s Word.
The writings of Paul—which the speaker slams as “beating women” and “beating relationships” and “slaying the gospel”—are but one argument in the Biblical case for spiritual male headship. Most of the strongest passages upholding the primacy of the male gender in spiritual authority were left unaddressed—including, interestingly enough, First Timothy 2:12-13, despite its being read from the platform at the beginning.
The case for spiritual male headship is evident in the earliest chapters of Genesis. It is to Adam that the earliest instructions to humanity are given, regarding the care of the Garden and what to do about the two trees in its midst (Gen. 2:15-17). It is Adam who names the animals (verses 19-20), and Eve also—both before and after the fall (Gen. 2:23; 3:20). And it is on this basis that the male is commanded to leave father and mother and take the initiative in establishing the marriage relation (Gen. 2:24).
When Adam and Eve sinned, they do not become naked till Adam sins (Gen. 3:7). When they seek to hide from God’s presence (verse 8), it is to Adam—not Eve—that the Lord calls (verse 9). It is on this basis that the apostle Paul—with whose writings the speaker appears understandably uneasy—declares that it is through Adam, not Eve, that sin and death have entered the world, thus necessitating the coming of the Savior (Rom. 5:12-19; I Cor. 15:22). The Second Person of the Godhead came to earth not as the Second Eve, but as the Second Adam.
It is for this reason that headship roles in spiritual matters throughout Scripture have been given to men—from pre-Fall Eden to the patriarchs and priests of the Old Testament, on through the apostles, elders, and deacons of the New. Despite the speaker’s effort to bury this verse in some alien culture, Paul is entirely consistent with the Biblical message and narrative when he writes, “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” (I Cor. 11:3).
Did the speaker stop and consider what she was saying when she tries to explain “head” as meaning “source”? Is God the Father the “source” of God the Son? We know better than that, for Christ has existed from eternity with the Father (Micah 5:2). While the speaker attempts to dismiss a distinction in roles among the Members of the Godhead, she apparently has no trouble viewing the Father as the “source” of the Son. Exactly how, she does not explain. How then, may we ask, is Christ the “source” of the man?
The speaker insists that the word headship is not in the Bible, and that this supposedly is a relatively recent theory in Adventism. The word “trinity,” of course, isn’t in the Bible either, but the concept surely is. The same with spiritual male headship. And so far as Adventist history is concerned, Ellen White repeatedly spoke of “those standing at the head of the work.” And such pioneers as A.T. Jones, J.H. Waggoner, and others wrote in depth of the distinction of male and female roles so far as the life of the church is concerned.
The speaker contradicts herself quite obviously when, on the one hand, she insists we have to consider the tyrannical culture of the Roman world in which Paul wrote his counsel, which she claims cannot possibly be read the same way in our democratic contemporary society—yet, on the other hand, she insists she is not “caving in” to contemporary culture, the feminist movement, or the Western values of North America. (Many will find such counter observations more than slightly confusing!)
Regarding the silence of women enjoined in these verses, we need not seek cultural explanations for what the apostle is saying. All we need is to let Scripture explain itself. When Paul writes in First Timothy 2:12 that women are to be “in silence,” we need look only ten verses earlier to find Paul’s statement regarding our need to live a “quiet and peaceable life” relative to the civil authorities (verse 2). Paul isn’t telling believers to say nothing to civil authorities; sufficient examples abound in the New Testament of Paul and his colleagues saying a great deal. What Paul is describing is a spirit of yielding and submission. That is what he is enjoining upon women, relative to Biblical gender roles. We find the same principle at work in First Peter 3:4, where Peter urges women to submit to their husbands and to cultivate “the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit.”
When Paul speaks in First Thessalonians 4:11 of how believers should “study to be quiet,” he is not telling them to never talk. Rather, he is admonishing them to “do your own business.” Submission to a higher good is the issue here, and it is the same with the silence enjoined upon women, as the passage from First Timothy makes plain.
This isn’t about telling women to shut up. As the speaker has rightly noted, Paul speaks of women prophesying in church (I Cor. 11:5). Paul’s commands regarding silence are not about not talking. Rather, they are about submission to the original order of gender authority which began at creation (I Tim. 2:12-13) and which traces itself to the Godhead itself (I Cor. 11:3).
In sum, the speaker’s case for identical gender roles in ministry is saturated with higher-critical methodology so far as Scripture is concerned, along with a heavy focus on biography as theology. Experience, however, cannot be permitted to trump the written counsel of God. The Lord does not call contrary to His Word.
If this is the case for women’s ordination that those of the speaker’s persuasion plan to present in San Antonio, it will be a relatively easy matter for the world body to vote NO. Indeed, they will have no choice but to vote in the negative, as a positive vote would unleash an approach to God’s Word which would eviscerate its authority and open the gates to cultural diversions from the divine will. Indeed, the speaker’s reference to sexuality and relationship issues, and the tone taken in addressing them, leaves little doubt as to her evident flexibility on any number of contemporary issues and how the church should relate to them. Her approach would result in the fundamental compromise of Biblical authority and transcendence.
Whether she realizes it or not, she has made a most persuasive case for a NO vote at the pending General Conference session.