One of the instruments God used to convince me that holding office in the church ought to follow calling rather than gender was an article written when I was four years old. I’m grateful for the pastor who gave me a copy of John Jefferson Davis’s insightful piece entitled, “Ordination of Women Reconsidered: Discussion of 1 Timothy 2:8-15.”
Davis gives three arguments in favor of the ordination of women to office in the church. The first has to do with the nature of ordination as understood in the Reformed tradition. Davis argues that the prohibition of women’s teaching contained here is not normative because of the historical context. In other words, Paul writes as the apostolic age is closing and the church is about to move to a period of time prior to the canonization of Scripture and prior to the classical doctrinal formulations found in the Ecumenical councils. Davis concludes that we should expect Paul’s counsel to err on the side of limitation given that the survival of Orthodoxy was not guaranteed from a human perspective.
The second has to do with Paul’s usage of creation narratives. Davis argues that Paul uses a single Old Testament passage to arrive at a variety of theological conclusions. He uses texts to arrive at applications that are church-specific. For example, in writing Romans Paul singles out Adam as the representative figure who brought sin upon humanity in the Fall (Romans 5:12-20). He also applies the creational-grounding of the headship principle as recognition of the mutual-dependence of men and women (I Corinthians 11:2-16). The deception of Eve is applied to all believers in the context of II Corinthians 11:3ff. These examples, claims Davis, show that Paul used the creation narratives in a context-specific rather than an absolutist way.
Paul’s hermeneutical approach is, Davis claims, analogous to his teaching on eating food sacrificed to idols. He writes, “While in principle the Gentile brethren could insist on their ‘creational rights’ to eat meat, Paul urges them to forebear in Christian love out of regard for the consciences of their Jewish brethren” (Davis, 3). Consequently we can determine that a creational right does not result in a blanket permission, and that a creationally endorsed prohibition does not necessarily imply prohibition under different circumstances: “…creational principles are to be applied in such a way as to further the redemptive ends of the unity of the church and growth in Christian maturity” (Davis, 3).
The third is Paul’s root concerns for the health of the churches. Davis summarizes these root concerns as follows: (1) the preservation of sound doctrine; (2) the unity and good order of the church; (3) the solidarity of the Christian family. In the context of I Timothy, Davis outlines examples of problems in all three of these areas. He concludes therefore, “If this reading of the historical circumstances surrounding the pastoral epistles is valid, then it could be argued that, given different conditions, Paul’s ‘root concerns’ could be maintained with polity forms differing from the one’s envisioned [in 1 Timothy]” (Davis, 3). As a result, each candidate for ordination, whether male or female, ought to be considered in light of these three root concerns. Quite simply, candidates should not be barred from ordination simply because of their gender as male or female.
Is Davis compelling to you?
Bibliographical information: Davis, John Jefferson. “Ordination of Women Reconsidered: Discussion of I Timothy 2:8-15.” Presbyterian Communiqué. November/December 1979.