Monday 11th January - The Ordination of Women into the Church

I thought I'd take a bit of a break from reading through the ream of notes on my desk to update the ol' neglected blog. It only seems fitting that after spending time with the likes of St Paul and N.T. Wright I talk about women in the Church.
Perhaps it is another way of revising -to test myself on what I know- or simply an opportunity (many seem to arise on this blog) to rant about something I know nothing about. Let's see.

Within the context of what I've learnt I will make the distinction between biblical complementarians and biblical egalitarians. Complementarians generally believe that women and men have different but complementary roles, whereas egalitarians believe that gender equality for church positions is a view endorsed by Scripture. Both attempt to discern women's function using the Bible, and in this case specifically St Paul's Epistles, as an authoritative source.

Christian feminist movements believe that St Paul was a misogynist who corrupted Jesus' egalitarian view, but such a belief has been deemed too simple an explanation by scholars. It must be said, regardless of whether you agree with me or not, that St Paul does not discriminate against women but provides a portrayal of a time that was predominantly patriarchal. His use of women in his letters (as will be examined later) is an attempt to make the teachings of Jesus clearer to the early church.

I'd never given much thought to why I believe the things I do, but for most of my life I've sat quite happily on the fence. But since making the effort to understand how the Church - and Christians in general - come to the conclusion of believing what they do (based on biblical authority) I can say quite confidently that I find myself agreeing with the Church on the admission of women into the priesthood.

Such a belief is not straightforward though; I don't agree with the biblical references from St Paul's Epistles used to support this view (found in Inter Insigniores) and yet am against the ordination of women to the Church. This may be because I do not consider the Bible as the sole authority on doctrines of the faith, that such a belief is part of a 2000 year old tradition that I don't fancy questioning, or just that I'm not a feminist and don't find it disconcerting that there are no women priests or bishops. But why should this matter when we have such a flourishing female monastic life, that has even caused many predominantly Catholic countries to be deemed matriarchal for their high value placed on women?

I may be against women as priests but that's not the main point of this post. What I do stress is further discussion on the support that scripture has for this doctrine, because at the moment I find it all quite inadequate. I'm probably being controversial by saying this, but the papal encyclical Inter Insigniores demonstrates (in the cases where St Paul has been used to support the debate) the common mistake of disregarding the importance of cultural context. Not clarifying whether something should be taken as being culturally specific or binding for all eternity makes interpretation of Scripture for the average layman difficult.

Here is an example of a quote I have trouble agreeing with:
However, the Apostle's forbidding of women to speak in the assemblies (1 Cor 14:34-35; 1 Ti, 2:12) is of a different nature, and exegetes define its meaning in this way: Paul in no way opposes the right, which he elsewhere recognises as possessed by women, to prophesy in the assembly (1 Cor 11:15); the prohibition solely concerns the official function of teaching in the Christian assembly.

There are two things I want to address here. Firstly, as Kenneth Bailey argues, 1 Cor. 14: 34-35 is not in reference to women being silent in assemblies, or in church or not being able to speak with authority in church but refers to a situation specific to 1st centrury Palestine. He says that it has been taken for granted that men and women would sit separate from each other in church and that for much of it, the women would not have been able to understand a word, and as a consequence begin to talk. Therefore, this passage from St Paul is not about women's roles in the church but on how one should conduct themselves in worship. It is about order and decency in the church's worship as N.T. Wright says. Thus women were used as an example to condemn the unacceptable behaviour of talking during worship. Secondly, neither of the Corinthian passages explicitly -or even implicitly for that matter- say anything concerning the official function of teaching in the Christian assembly. Taken literally or not, culturally specific or forever binding, I find the jump from the hair of women as a covering to forming a doctrine on a woman's official role in the Church absurd. (Other passages one can refer to include: 1 Cor. 11:4-12; 1 Cor. 14:33-40; Eph. 5:22)

Regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees on the admission of women to the ministerial priesthood, it is quite clear that St Paul was not a misogynist as seen in Gal. 3:23-29:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Men and women are thus not independent of Christ but equal beneath God. And as both complementarians and egalitarians will agree, women are gifted with the same abilities as men and ontologically they are equal to one another.


  1. something a former co-blogger wrote:

    fwiw :)

  2. Thank you for the link. After reading the article I'm still having difficulty understanding; but I will persevere in the hope that one day I will.