A Biblical Look at the Ordination of Women

by Greg Loren Durand and Jeffrey Todd McCormack

    Is the ordination of women to the Gospel ministry biblical? This is certainly one question which seems to have sparked considerable debate in the modern Church.

While "all things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all,"(1) the biblical prohibition against the ordination of women to the offices of elder or pastor is certainly not one of them. Rather, it is one of the clearest and easiest understood teachings to be gleaned from the Scriptures. God was very clear in His commands regarding this matter when He stated through the Apostle Paul:

Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church (1 Corinthians 14:34-35).

Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression (1 Timothy 2:11-14).

This clear prohibition has been dismissed in many modern churches, such as the Christian Reformed Church and many others which have opted to disregard God's Word and ordain their women to the Gospel ministry. And yet, such women cannot even meet the most basic of qualifications for this office which God has set forth in His infallible Word. According to the Apostle Paul: "This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife...." (1 Timothy 3:1-2) This teaching is reinforced in Titus 1:5-6: "...[O]rdain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee: If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly." We see, in both passages in which the qualifications of a bishop or presbyter are listed, that the candidate must be "the husband of one wife." These offices are clearly open to men only since a woman obviously cannot fulfill this most basic qualification.

Many claim that these verses are cultural and are therefore not applicable to our society. However, to say such a thing is treading on ver dangerous doctrinal ground. Although there are indeed passages of Scripture that are bound to the culture of the ancient biblical people, and thus have ceased to be directly applicable to our own day, this is not to say that the underlying principles have also passed away. For example, at one time the ceremonial Law of Moses required that the Jews not wear clothing of mixed threads. This commandment obviously no longer applies to Christians under the New Covenant, but its underlying principle of segregation of unlike things clearly does. One example of this enduring principle is found in 2 Corinthians 6:14 where Christians are commanded not to be "unequally yoked with unbelievers."

However, the words of the Apostle Paul regarding the qualifications for Church office cannot be approached in this same manner. First of all, he was not writing under the Old Covenant, but was writing to Christians under the New Covenant. Therefore, the commandments which he gave cannot be relegated to the category of Old Testament shadows, but must be understood and obeyed as the very commandments of our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, speaking by His Spirit through one of His inspired Apostles.

Secondly, the external commandment cannot, in this case, be separated from its underlying principle, as was the case with the ceremonial laws. Paul's declaration that he would not "suffer a woman to teach or to usurp authority over a man" is directly tied in 1 Timothy 2:13-14 to both the creation order and the historic Fall of our first parents in the Garden of Eden. The subjection of women to male authority is well established throughout Scripture (Genesis 3:16; Ephesians5:22-24) and the serpent's beguiling of Eve obviously still effects us to this day. Therefore, we must conclude that the prohibition against women elders also remains applicable today.

Before attempting to apply the "cultural relevance" argument to any biblical teaching, we must be very careful to honestly evaluate what the Bible as a whole is saying on the subject. We must also carefully examine our own hearts to see if we havean attitude of rebellion against the revealed will of God in Scripture and are sinfully looking for a way to ignore its commands. Again, let us heed the words of the Apostle: "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works" (2 Timothy 3:16).

It is important to note that the Apostle declared that all Scripture "is profitable," not merely those isolated texts which may be employed to support our personal belief system. We cannot pick and choose when it comes to obedience to God's Word; it is an "all or nothing" affair.

It is tragic how a generation of professing Christians can be so blind to the clear teaching of Scripture, and would rather hearken to the liberal agenda of the modern feminist movement than adhere to God's clear commandments. The Bible is clear in its denunciation of such people as these: "They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate" (Titus 1:16).


1. Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter I:7.

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All quoted Scripture has been taken from the Authorised (King James) Version of the Holy Bible, unless otherwise indicated.

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