The apostle Paul wrote, "Let the women learn in silence with all subjection. I suffer not a woman to teach nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence" (1 Timothy 2:11,12).
For centuries, Christians have used this scripture to justify not allowing women to hold the priesthood, and history records that from the very beginning of the Christian faith, only men have been ordained as priests. However, today that is changing, even among those who teach that the Bible is our only source of divine guidance. And the reason for this change is said to be because customs and times have changed.
It is said that in ancient times women lived in a male dominated society and were therefore treated as second-class citizens who had little rights of their own. As such, they were denied many of the privileges afforded to men. For example, in the days of Jesus, a husband could divorce his wife, but a wife could not divorce her husband. Only men were allowed to enter within the walls of the temple while women were only permitted to go up to the outside wall but no further. Only men could attend the synagogue meetings on the Sabbath day, while women had to remain at home and learn the scriptures from their husband.
Because this was the custom of that time, it is said that is why Paul wrote what he did. It is argued that his remarks were only applicable for his day but are archaic and almost insulting to women by today's standards. In our modern world, we've come to realize that women have as much potential, energy, creativeness, and ability as any man. Whereas in ancient times it was nearly a crime for a woman to have her own business, today's women successfully compete in every field of endeavor that man engages in. Women even compete in every type of sport that men have, including the ruff and tumble games of football, boxing, and wrestling.
When it comes to spiritual matters, there is strong evidence that women are more naturally inclined to be loving, caring, compassionate, and faithful to those spiritual ideals that define godliness than many men. Their ability to understand the scriptures and to explain its message is just as good as any man.
They further point to the words of Peter who said that "God is no respecter of persons" (Acts 10:34) and the words of Paul who wrote "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28) to show that God does not discriminate against people. Therefore, they argue since God treats all people equally, it is against God's ways to discriminate against women by preventing them from doing what men are permitted to do.
Since it seems there is no logical reason why women should not be allowed to hold the priesthood or serve as a Pastor, it is said that the only reason why men would object to this is because it threatens their sense of male dominance and superiority. In other words, the reason why men object to women being ordained as ministers is based on prejudice rather than on intellectual honesty or biblical teachings.
There are those who point to the words of Peter who wrote, "But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light." (1 Peter 2:9) as evidence that all believers in Christ (which would include women) are priests. This doctrine, known as "the priesthood of believers," teaches that the role of a priest is "to "offer gifts and sacrifices" acceptable to God (Heb. 8:3) and since the Bible teaches that Christians are "to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 2:5) this is further proof that all believers hold the priesthood. Therefore it is argued that since Christian women are already priests by virtue of their acceptance of Christ, there is no justification for denying them the right to exercise their priesthood to the same extent that men do.
Interestingly, there is the opposite argument that arrives at the same conclusion. There is a school of thought that teaches Jesus is the only true High Priest who offered Himself once for our sins. It is argued that under the Law of Moses the priesthood existed only to perform sacrifices for sins as a symbol of the sacrifice Christ would make on the cross. But, once Christ had offered Himself, that ended the need for daily sacrifices, which likewise ended the need for priests. Under this line of reasoning, being a pastor in a church is not considered to be a priesthood office. It is just a calling from God to serve. Therefore, if the priesthood no longer exists in the church, then women cannot be denied the opportunity to become pastors on the basis that women cannot be given the priesthood.
However, as logical as all of these arguments may sound, the real issue at the heart of this controversy is completely over looked and lost in the emotionally charged debate. Those who argue that in ancient times women were denied the priesthood because of a male bias, use the customs of the Jews as their source of examples. However, they never speak about where the Jews got their customs from or why they followed them.
If the Jews had developed their laws, customs and traditions from neighboring nations, we might conclude that they were just brutish, backwards thinking, ignorant people who didn't understand the value that women could make to their society. But that was not the case. The entire basis for all they did was found in the law that God Himself gave to Moses. Therefore, it was God, not man, who determined the role men and women were to play in the society He created.
Every leader Israel had was a man chosen by God, beginning with Moses. The person who succeeded Moses was Joshua, who was likewise chosen by God. When the Israelite nation wanted a king, God revealed to Samuel, the prophet, that Saul should be that person. When Saul fell from God's grace, God chose a man by the name of David to replace him. God could have just as easily chosen a woman to rule over the nation of Israel but He didn't.
To say that God chose a man because it was the custom at that time is false for two reasons. The first is, that there were other nations who were ruled by queens. Most notable among them was the great and powerful nation of Egypt. Perhaps the most famous Egyptian ruling queen was Cleopatra, but throughout Egypt's long history, there were many such powerful female rulers. Therefore, one has to deny historical reality to say that God always chose a man to rule the nation of Israel because it was the custom of the day.
The second reason why this argument is false is because it assumes that God is afraid to issue laws that are not popular with other countries. In effect, it says that God allowed men to discriminate against women, knowing it was wrong, because He didn't want to upset the feelings of people living in neighboring countries. Yet, here again, history contradicts this argument because the Israelites were commanded to believe in only one God while the custom of nearly all other nations was to believe in many gods. Where it was the custom for pagan religions to practice sexual immorality as part of their worship, God taught the Israelites that sex was to be only between a husband and his wife. If the law of God differed with many of the customs, traditions, and practices of the people living at that time, then there is no reason why He should allow His chosen people to wrongfully violate the rights of women simply because that was the way things were done back then.
The priesthood was part of the law that God gave to Moses, and yet He specifically stated that only males were allowed to officiate in the temple. If we say that since God is no respecter of persons and that presumably means women should be allowed to do what men do, then it is almost impossible to justify why He didn't allow women to hold a priestly office. If we say it was done that way because of the customs of the time, history contradicts this argument because many of the pagan religions of that time did have women priests as part of their worship services. More than this, they even worshipped female gods. In that case, by deliberately excluding Israelite women from serving as priests, the law of Moses actually went against the customs of that time. If we say that such a custom was based on male prejudice, then we have to say that God is prejudice against women, since the Israelites were only obeying what God had commanded them to do.
Others argue that the law of Moses was done away with the coming of Christ, thereby changing the custom of allowing women to become priests. However, such an argument contradicts the idea that it was the custom of the time in which Paul lived that caused him to write that women were to remain silent in the church. If that custom was no longer being followed because Christ did away with the law of Moses, then it makes no sense for Paul to continue preaching such a doctrine.
But, the fact of the matter is that this was only the custom of the Jews. Both the Greeks and the Romans had numerous goddesses, each with their own set of priestesses who officiated for them. Since Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles, there was ample custom for him to draw upon to allow women to be priests in the Christian church, yet he still forbade such a practice.
And what about Jesus? He certainly was not above breaking with tradition if it was wrong, yet, of all of his followers, when He chose twelve of them to be called as apostles, there was not one woman named to the group, even though there were numerous women who were devout followers of His. When Jesus later sent out seventy more men, there is no mention of any woman being part of that group as well. It is inconceivable that Jesus accidentally overlooked calling even one woman to the ministry or that there wasn't one woman in eighty two men who was qualified to be a preacher along with them.
Even after His death, it was a man who was chosen to take the place of Judas Iscariot as an apostle, not to mention that the apostle Paul himself was also a man, not a woman. In fact, there is not one mention of a female bishop, elder, or deacon in the New Testament church. If we accept that the Bible was written under inspiration by God, then we must also accept that when Paul says that women are not to teach in the church, that such a statement is not merely his own personal opinion but reflects the will and word of God.
Then there was the tradition of the birthright. It was not given to the firstborn child, regardless of its gender, nor was it given to the most worthy or best qualified child. Instead, the law specifically stated it was to be passed down to the firstborn son. As such, women were denied the right from ever inheriting the birthright. By today's standard, this would certainly be considered a sexist act, but it was God, not man who instituted this practice.
However, the tradition of women being placed in a secondary position goes back much further than Moses. Abraham is considered by both Jews and Christians to be perhaps the greatest example of faithfulness to God's commandments as exemplified by his willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac. Although Ishmael was his firstborn son, the birthright was not given to him, because he wasn't born to the right mother. Instead, the birthright went to Isaac, who was actually his second born son. By today's standards, Abraham would be considered an overly domineering and chauvinistic polygamist who showed favoritism among his wives as well as his children. Yet, the scriptures record that he was a friend of God (James 2:23). If it was wrong for him to treat women as he did, then why didn't God command him to behave differently? It couldn't have been because God didn't want to violate the customs of the day.
But this tradition goes back much further than Abraham. From the time of Adam the Bible records that all the righteous families were patriarchal in nature. That is, every family was ruled over by a man, not a woman. In fact, there is not one godly matriarch listed in the entire Bible. Even Eve was commanded by God to be in subjection to her husband (Gen. 3:16), and both Paul and Peter reaffirmed this law in their day (Eph. 5:24; 1 Peter 3:1). Therefore, what the Bible shows us is that the custom of man being the head, instead of the woman, started with Adam in the garden of Eden by a commandment of God and has been reaffirmed by God throughout the centuries, including the one in which Paul lived.
But this should not be construed to mean that God considers women to be inferior to men. As pointed out earlier, there were women who traveled with Jesus and He always treated and spoke to them in respectful tones. The Christian church, especially the Catholic faith, reverences Mary, the mother of Jesus second only to Jesus Himself. It was Mary Magdalene, a woman, who first saw the resurrected Christ, even though Peter and John raced each other to see the empty tomb for themselves. The books of Ester and Ruth in the Old Testament give honor to these two women. The fact that they were included in the official cannon of scripture shows that the Jews did not consider women to be of no value in their society.
And there are many other righteous women mentioned in the Bible. In fact, Paul himself spoke of one when he wrote, "I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea" (Rom. 16:1). On several occasions he had high praise for a woman named Priscilla. The apostle John wrote a letter to someone called "the elect lady" (2 John 1:1). Yet despite the faithfulness of all of these women, not one of them was called to a leadership position in the church.
The question is not, "Why didn't the male leaders of the church call women to serve in the priesthood?" Rather, the real question that needs to be asked is, "Why didn't God call women to positions of leadership in His church?" After all, the male leaders were only doing what God had commanded them. Obviously, the answer has nothing to do with the ability of women, nor does the answer lay with God being prejudice.
The answer can be found in the words of Paul where he wrote concerning the priests of the temple, "There are priests that offer gifts according to the law, who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern shewed to thee in the mount" (Heb. 8:5). A little later in the same letter, Paul explained, "For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things" (Heb. 10:1).
Paul speaks about the priests as being a "shadow of heavenly things," about the temple being designed "according to the pattern [God] shewed to [Moses] in the mount," and that the law of Moses was "a shadow of good things to come" rather than it being "the very image of the things" that would actually come in the future.
A shadow is a two-dimensional outline of a three-dimensional object, and so is a pattern. Rather than being the real thing, shadows and patterns are simple representations of something more grand and complex. Paul states that the purpose of the priests in the temple were to act as a "shadow of heavenly things," meaning they were earthy symbols patterned after, or representing some heavenly reality. The same can be said of the temple itself as well as the law God gave to Moses. Therefore, the key to understanding why God gave us priests, temples, and laws is to understand the great symbolic meaning behind them.
Paul refers to Jesus as our "high priest who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens" (Heb. 8:1). As Paul has already explained, the purpose of priests is to "offer gifts [to God] according to the law." Jesus offered Himself as a sacrificial gift for ourselves, according to the law. Thus, the earthly priest is a representation or a symbol of our great High Priest Jesus Christ, according to God's word, which is His law. Since Jesus is a man, and a priest is a shadow of Christ, therefore, it is imperative that each priest be a man, not a woman, because otherwise it would be like seeing a woman's shadow and saying, "That's what a man looks like."
There may be those who will argue that a woman can be representative of Christ because of her Christ-like qualities, but such an argument is not scripturally based because the qualification for being a priest in ancient Israel was not based on a person's spirituality but on their lineage and their gender. For example, just because a husband may not wisely rule over their families, we don't say that the wife should therefore become the head of the family and be known by the title of "husband." In the same way, it is improper to replace a male "priest" - who is a representative of Christ - with a female "priest" simply because she is more spiritual than her male counterpart and still claim she is a shadow or pattern of Christ.
Paul taught that "the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ" (Gal. 3:24). But, in order for the law to do that, it is necessary that all things in the law be a shadow, or pattern, or type, or symbol of Christ. That's why under the law of Moses, it was required that a male animal without blemish was to be offered as a sacrifice because it was to represent or symbolize Christ's sacrifice for us. Therefore, to properly represent Christ, the animal had to be without blemish because Christ was without blemish or sin. In the same way, it would have been against the law of God for someone to have offered a female animal because it would not have been a correct representation of Christ.
In many of His parables, Jesus likened the kingdom of heaven to a wedding, where He is presented as the groom and His followers are likened to the bride. Paul wrote, "Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing." The family unit is patterned after or is a shadow of the Church of God, where Christ, the man, stands at the head. To place a woman as a ruler within the church would not be compatible with that pattern. That would be like saying that Jesus is the bride and His followers are the groom, yet He, the male bride, is still the head.
But the pattern is even more profound than that because the Bible speaks of our relationship to God in terms of us belonging to a family While there are those who believe that God is neither male nor female, Jesus taught us to pray to our Father, not our Mother which art in heaven. Jesus is called the Son of God, not the daughter of God. Throughout the scriptures, both old and new, God is always spoken of in terms of being a male. Although some may argue that such titles are merely arbitrary adjectives of speech that have no real significance, like referring to hurricanes as "she" and speaking of "Mother earth," yet the fact remains that when Jesus came to earth, He did so in the form of a man, not that of a woman.
There are those who object to the man being referred to as the "head of the home," especially in this age of equality of the sexes, but the reason why God has so ordained men to be the ruler of the family is because it is patterned after the family of God.
All of this helps us better understand Paul's words when he said, "I suffer not a woman to teach nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence." The reason why women are not to teach is because, according to the pattern of heavenly things, they are not "to usurp authority over the man." To do so would change the pattern of heavenly things and not be representative of God who exercises authority over us.
Some might point out that the word "usurp" means "to seize and hold by force," and then argue that anyone who is appointed or ordained as a priest is not "usurping" authority because they have been given the right to exercise that authority. However, nowhere in God's word has He given women the right to the priesthood, therefore, anyone who ordains a woman to the priesthood is exceeding their own authority by usurping God's authority. Interestingly, though, the word "usurp" does not appear in any of the newer, and supposedly more accurate translations, so such an argument is a moot point anyway.
But what about the word "teach?" As used in this context, it doesn't seem to indicate someone who is a Sunday School teacher, or some other type of classroom instructor because such a position does not exercise "authority over the man." However, a priesthood position does. In speaking about the church leaders, Paul told the saints, "Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God" (Heb. 13:7). Here, Paul is clearly equating teaching the word with those who rule. A little later on he added, "Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account" (Heb. 13:17). Rulers exercise authority over those whom they rule, and those under their rule are expected to obey them. A mere "teacher" does not rule nor are we expected to "obey them."
And who are they who rule over us in the church? The Greek word from which we translate our English word "bishop" is "episcopos," which is more accurately translated as "overseer." Although most Christian churches today do not have bishops, their equivalent is a pastor or minister, whose duty is to "oversee" those who belong to their congregation. As such, they exercise some sort of rule over both males and females. In other churches, a board of elders or deacons has the ruling authority, and, as Paul explained, the position of an Elder does have ruling authority within the church (1 Tim. 5:17). As such, they also are responsible for overseeing the members of their church.
Jesus taught that He was the good shepherd (John 10:11), and a church leader is likewise responsible for shepherding his flock as Christ would do. Whether or not we consider the position of bishop, pastor, minister, elder or deacon to be priesthood offices, they still represent God's authority over His people. The reason why God does not allow women to be made priests or to serve in leadership positions in the church is not because of any male bias or prejudice, nor does it have anything to do with their abilities. The only reason is because that would change the pattern of heaven. As such, it would not represent the true nature of God nor would it correctly point the way to Christ.
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