A specious argument against ordaining women as pastors

In every place of worship, I want men to pray with holy hands lifted up to God, free from anger and controversy. And I want women to be modest in their appearance. They should wear decent and appropriate clothing and not draw attention to themselves by the way they fix their hair or by wearing gold or pearls or expensive clothes. For women who claim to be devoted to God should make themselves attractive by the good things they do. Women should learn quietly and submissively. I do not let women teach men or have authority over them. Let them listen quietly. For God made Adam first, and afterward he made Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived by Satan. The woman was deceived, and sin was the result. But women will be saved through childbearing, assuming they continue to live in faith, love, holiness, and modesty.

1 Timothy 2:8-15 (NLT)

An unjustified denial of women’s ordination as pastors

The interpretation of the above passage that has been adopted by the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) obscures Paul’s clear argument, leaving the synod without any warrant for its practice of forbidding women from being ordained as pastors. Here are the logical steps of Paul’s reasoning in 1 Timothy 2:11-15:

  1. Adam was created before Eve.
  2. Therefore, a woman may not have authority over a man.
  3. Therefore, a woman may not teach in the church.

Since the 1960s, the LCMS has with increasingly consistency argued in its adopted position papers that the conclusion (#3) follows from the first premise (#1) even while denying the second step (#2). Under the assumption that Paul made a valid argument, what should Step 2 be replaced with to make the logic valid? In other words, how would Step 3 follow from Step 1 without considering Step 2? That is exactly what is missing in the current LCMS exegesis.

Since the LCMS no longer has any credible rationale for its refusal to ordain women as pastors, its practice is left vulnerable to attack.

The argument from the masculinity of the Father and the Groom

Prof. William C. Weinrich attempted to fill the breach by proposing that since pastors represent Christ when they teach his word and since Christ was a man, the Son of the Father, it follows that it is fitting that only men serve as pastors (“‘It is not Given to Women to Teach’: A Lex in Search of a Ratio,” Concordia Theological Seminary Press, Ft. Wayne, 1993, esp. pp. 28-31). Other theologians bearing the Lutheran name also hold this “Christological view of the ministry” (John F. Brug, 2009, The Ministry of the Word, NPH, pp. 316-331). Weinrich explained, “In the context of the pastoral office a male pastor remains the apt representative of the Father’s grace whereby all, male and female alike, hear the words of Christ and become the Bride of the Groom” (pp. 29-30).

That is eerily recognizable as a version of the male-representative defense of the papacy’s uncategorically barring of women from the priesthood:

  • “The Church has recognised that only those who have received a calling to serve by acting in the person of Christ can be ordained. The priest, therefore, must be a man because he represents a man, the God-Man: Jesus Christ. By his ordination, a priest acts in the very person of Christ the Head, who is the Bridegroom of His Bride, the Church” (“Why not Women Priests”  — accessed 21 December 2014)
  • “The church is the bride of Christ, and presbyters and bishops represent Christ to the church; women cannot represent the bridegroom” (Arthur A. Vogel, “Christ, Revelation, and the Ordination of Women,” in Towards a New Theology of Ordination: Essays on the Ordination of Women — accessed 21 December 2014)
  • “John Paul II places the inherent differences between men and women within the context of ‘an order of love’ rather than ‘an order of creation’ . . . Why can’t we have spiritual fathers (priests) and spiritual mothers (priestesses)? The answer is one that feminists do not like to hear . . . namely, that the priest is an icon of Christ and acts in persona Christi at the altar and in the confessional. In 1976 the Vatican issued Inter Insignores or “Declaration on the Admission of Women to the Ministerial Priesthood.” As this document says, we cannot ignore the fact that Christ is a man. He is the bridegroom; the Church is his bride. This nuptial mystery is proclaimed throughout the Old and New Testaments. One must utterly disregard the importance of this symbolism for the economy of salvation in order to make an argument for women’s ordination. There are actions “in which Christ himself, the author of the Covenant, the Bridegroom and Head of the Church, is represented.” At these times, Christ’s role (this is the original sense of the word persona) must be taken by a man. This is especially true in the case of the Eucharist, when Christ is exercising his ministry of salvation” (Jennifer Ferrara, in “Ordaining Women: Two Views,” First Things, April 2003, accessed 22 December 2014).
  • “If Christ-by his free and sovereign choice, clearly attested to by the Gospel and by the Church’s constant Tradition-entrusted only to men the task of being an “icon” of his countenance as “shepherd” and “bridegroom” of the Church through the exercise of the ministerial priesthood, this in no way detracts from the role of women, or for that matter from the role of the other members of the Church who are not ordained to the sacred ministry, since all share equally in the dignity proper to the “common priesthood” based on Baptism” (“Letter of Pope John Paul II to Women,” John Paul II, Vatican, 29 June 1995, Libreria Editrice Vaticana — accessed 21 December 2014).

Doctrinal errors connected to the male-representative argument

Followed consistently, that line of reasoning—that the literal maleness of the pastor is necessary for adequately representing the male Christ—must conclude that all male believers are literally feminized in their relationship with Christ, as occurs to some extent in bridal mysticism. Such sublimated sexuality has no support from the biblical texts portraying certain aspects of God’s covenant with his people in terms of betrothal and marriage (e.g., Hosea 1-2; Ephesians 5:21ff). Rather, its roots lie in Augustine’s Caritas-synthesis of the Eros motif of ancient Platonism, gnosticism, and Origin with the Agapē motif of apostolic Christianity, Irenaeus, and the Lutheran Reformation (Anders Nygren, 1982, Agape and Eros, University of Chicago Press). Regardless of how widespread Caritas’s contempt of women has become, it has no place in the church of the Augsburg Confession.

Weinrich’s attempted solution creates another serious problem in its denial of the confessional Lutheran doctrine of church and ministry as opposed to the doctrine held by the papacy. According to Ephesians 4:11, pastors indeed represent Christ, serving as his gifts to the church, not as mere representatives of the church. The New Testament also teaches that they do so not because they are his exclusive representatives in the service of the word but rather because they are spokesmen of the church, which represents Christ in obedience to his commands to proclaim the gospel in word and sacrament. The church is the communion of all believers, not only pastors or even a confusing mix of pastors and laity, much less an organization. According to the Gospels and Peter’s first epistle, every believer, male or female, is a priest called to announce the good news of God’s saving deeds as a sent representative of Christ himself. One way believers do that is by choosing pastors from their midst to teach the gospel and administer the sacraments as their representative. Once called to the public ministry, the pastor continues to represent Christ as a priest, but now also as a representative of other priests, no longer only as an individual. In short, pastors publicly represent Christ through the church because it consists of the women as well as the men who represent Christ originally. Since Christ found it fitting that believing women represent him, delivering the gospel message in his name, Weinrich’s reasoning to the contrary is uncanny from the Lutheran perspective.

Thus, the male-representative argument of Weinrich and the papacy has unsettling connections to two grave errors: the semi-pagan Caritas synthesis and its historically related view of church and ministry.

Back to Paul’s simple argument

The reason Paul did not allow women to teach the congregation has nothing to do with the supposed unfitness of female teachers to represent the male Christ. Since Paul was not issuing a new ceremonial law or other legal regulation in 1 Timothy 2:11-15, his directive cannot be grasped without a clear understanding of his supporting argument.

The context and Greek grammar of v. 12 together suggest that “man” serves as the object not only of “to have authority over” but also of “to teach” (G. W. Knight, The Pastoral Epistles: A Commentary on the Greek Text, Kindle location 2487; T. R. Schreiner, “An Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:9-15,” Women in the Church: an Analysis and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15, Kindle location 2252). In that case, the clause may be accurately translated, “I do not permit a woman to teach a man or to have authority over a man,” as is made clear by the Complete Jewish Bible, the Easy-to-Read Version, the New Life Version, and the New Living Translation, quoted above. That Paul specifically prohibited teaching men as opposed to representing Christ is clear in the whole structure of the tightly connected argument, from the submissive learning of the women in v. 11 to the differences between Adam and Eve in vv. 13-15 (Mark Braun,1981, “An Exegesis Of I Timothy 2:11-15 And Its Relation To The CHE Statement: ‘The Role Of Man And Woman According To Holy Scripture’”). The problem with Paul’s argument is not a lack of clarity but rather the sharp conflict between its conclusion and values in current Western culture.

In conclusion, there is no need to search for a rationale for Paul’s statements on the roles of women, much less to find one in the assumed propriety of having male teachers as the sole representatives of a male Bridegroom. Believers already have the simple word of Scripture. Paul stated his rationale in plain language. It is not lost.


Constructive criticism from Rolf Preus and David Jay Webber is gratefully acknowledged.