Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Jesus Couldn’t Be a Priest But a Woman Can Be a Preacher?

     Jesus’ actions and words demonstrate the kind of servant he was. “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work" (John 4:34).1 “I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me” (John 5:30). “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me” (John 6:38). “He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who seeks the glory of the One who sent Him is true, and no unrighteousness is in Him” (John 7:18). “And He who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him” (John 8:29). “O My Father … not as I will but as You will .... Your will be done” (Matt. 26:39-42).
     The Lord Jesus Christ truly had the heart of a servant, humbly and wholly committed to the will of his Father. He was always ready to deny himself, make sacrifices, and go to extreme lengths to fulfill his heavenly purpose. Jesus never compromised or disobeyed (Phil. 2:8). His primary aim was to submit to the divine will, and he never said or did anything that was contrary to it (Heb. 4:15).
Jesus Couldn’t Be a Priest
     During his earthly ministry Jesus served his Father in many different ways, but never as priest. Why not? In the environment in which he lived, what greater honor could there have been than to serve as a recognized leader of God's people, religious teacher, spiritual mentor, worship facilitator, and designated link between frail humans and the heavenly throne? Surely Jesus was gifted enough and possessed the necessary talents, integrity, and attributes to do a stellar job. Moreover, in view of the comparatively inferior alternatives, who better to hold the distinguished position of high priest?
     But Jesus never served as priest or high priest on earth, and there is no indication that he ever aspired to do so. And it had nothing to do with whether or not he was capable of performing priestly duties, or whether he or others may have desired it. The bottom line is, the law of God did not allow it. “For He [Jesus] of whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no man has officiated at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord arose from Judah, of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood” (Heb. 7:13-14).
     Jesus was not permitted to serve as an Israelite priest on earth because of something beyond his control, namely his status at birth. The divine will had decreed that priests were to be appointed from the tribe of Levi through the family of Aaron (Lev. 8:5 ff.; cf. Heb. 7:5), therefore Jesus (of Judah) was not qualified. From a human perspective with no consideration of biblical precepts, Jesus was more than qualified. But there was no divine authorization for a person of the tribe of Judah (even Jesus!) to serve as priest.
     It’s not that Jesus was incapable of being a priest or fulfilling priestly functions. There had been others who were not of Levi who had attempted to do priestly things (cf. 1 Sam. 13:9-14),2 but in so doing the law of God was violated. Jesus could not be a priest because his faithfulness to God would not allow him to defiantly venture down that disobedient path.
Can a Woman Be a Preacher?
     There are no doubt many gifted women who are fully capable of doing the work of a preacher (in its customarily understood sense). The real question is, does the divine will permit them to engage in this avenue of leadership-service?
     “Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence” (1 Timothy 2:11-12). Now in all fairness, before we rip this passage from its context and apply it to the modern-day issue of female preachers, we need to consider what the inspired writer was seeking to convey to his original audience, how they would have understood the message in the context in which it was written, and then determine how it applies to our current situation.3
     We have been told that there are multiple reasons this passage does not say what we think it says to the 21st-century church. Some claim that the apostle Paul did not actually pen these words, therefore we can’t take the biased admonition of a misogynistic pseudepigrapher as authoritative (cf. J. Veitch, Faith for a New Age 165-66).4 For those who are not willing to go this far, a more popular assertion is that Paul’s directives are culturally limited and therefore no longer applicable in modern, western societies (cf. G. Rogers, The Bible Culturally Speaking 196-214). At the risk of being summarily dismissed as “unscholarly” or as a “patternistic traditionalist,” when I remove the distorted lenses of 21st-century westernized thinking, I honestly have trouble reaching the same conclusions as my pro-female-preaching associates.
An Examination of the Text
     Before giving instructions to Christian women in 1 Timothy 2:9-15, the chapter begins with emphasis on prayer, particularly the content of prayer, with special focus in v. 8 on the ones praying.5 The apostle specifically instructs “the men” [tous andras], viz. adult males, to pray “in every place” [en panti topō], i.e. not just any place indiscriminately but contextually wherever Christian men and women assemble for prayer. This appears to be in reference to the men leading public prayers, contrasted with what is expected of the women (v. 9).
     The directive continues, “in like manner also, the women …” (v. 9a), in contrast to what is expected of “the men” (v. 8). “Let a woman learn [manthanō] …” (v. 11a), which is the opposite of teaching (v. 12).6 The word translated “silence” in vv. 11-12 is hēsuchía and has reference to a quiet, gentle disposition (cf. 2 Thess. 3:12), while “submission” [hupotassō] means to willingly sub-order oneself (v. 11b; cf. 1 Cor. 14:34; Eph. 5:21-22, 24; Col. 3:18; Tit. 2:5).
     “And I [Paul] do not permit a woman to teach [didaskein] …” (v. 12). This is not a total prohibition (cf. Tit. 2:3-5) but is qualified.7 The instruction continues with oude, meaning “and not, nor, not even,” then authentein, meaning “to have authority, domineer” (BAGD 121). The object is andros (genitive of anēr), i.e. “of a man, over a man” (adult male). If authentein further explains or qualifies didaskein, the point is that a woman is not permitted to teach a man authoritatively, or to domineer/exercise authority over him by way of teaching.   
     The natural question to ask is, why is this proscription given? Is it because women are inferior? Is it because they are incapable of effective teaching? Is it because this particular cultural environment or unique situation dictated it?8 Let’s allow Paul himself to explain. The God-breathed explanation (gar = “for”) is that “Adam was formed first, then Eve” (v. 13). The stated reason is not local or temporary social convention; the pronouncement here is rooted in the unchangeable order of creation.9 Woman was created to complement man, not the reverse order (Gen. 2:18; 1 Cor. 11:3, 8-9).
     What if I don’t fully understand Paul’s explanation? What if I don’t agree with his reasoning? What if his teaching is adverse to ancient or modern cultural sensibilities? No matter how many alternative rationales are proposed, this biblical directive and the reason behind it are unchanging. Failure to comply while affirming allegiance to Christ is to either dismiss the Bible as our authoritative standard or view Paul’s teachings as inferior to other parts of scripture or claim that subjective leadings and feelings carry more weight than the objective (politically-incorrect) instructions of God’s sacred word.
Concluding Observations
     There are other relevant passages to consider, which we hope to address in future articles, as well as positive roles for women in the Lord’s work. But for now, let’s just ponder Christ-like servant-hood.
     While Jesus was fully capable of doing the job of a priest during his earthly ministry, he did not. The law of God would not allow it. Interestingly, this was not by means of explicit prohibition; there was none. Rather, Jesus could not function as priest with divine approval because of the prohibitive silence of scripture: “Moses spoke nothing” concerning it (Heb. 7:13-14). In other words, there was no divine sanction or biblical authorization for Jesus to have served as a Levitial priest. He was not qualified simply due to his status at birth. And because of his resolute allegiance to the Father’s will, there is no indication that he was ever discontent with his heavenly-appointed role void of priestly responsibilities.
     Whether or not a woman (gifted or otherwise) is capable of doing the work of a gospel preacher, does she possess the attitude of Jesus? None of us can judge sincerity or intentions, but we can observe actions. Not only is there no biblical authority or divine sanction for female church leaders, there are actually explicit prohibitions against it (1 Cor. 14:34-35; 1 Tim. 2:9-15).10 A godly woman with a Christ-like spirit will not decry her gender assignment at birth or bemoan the special role she has been designated, nor will she seek to be in an authoritative/leadership position in the church that has been delegated to others. To exhibit the mind of Christ and to follow his perfect example is to utilize one’s unique situation, within prescribed scriptural boundaries, to the glory of God.
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 Unless otherwise noted, all scripture quotations are from the NKJV.
     2 In 1 Samuel 13, Saul (a Benjamite) offered a burnt offering that only a Levitical priest was authorized to do. When Samuel asked, “What have you done?” (v. 11), Saul replied, “I felt compelled …” (v. 12, emp. added). Notice that subjective feeling trumped the expressed will of God, which prompted the following response: “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God, which He commanded you” (v. 13).
     3 See Biblical Interpretation: Asking the Right QuestionsThe context: “To Timothy … in Ephesus” (1:1-3a) around AD 62-64. Timothy is admonished to teach truth and stand against falsehood (1:3b-20), with specific instructions concerning public prayer (2:1-8), the demeanor of women (2:9-15), qualifications of elders and deacons (3:1-13), conduct in the church (3:14-16), dealing with false teaching (4:1-16), instructions concerning various members (5:1–6:2), and miscellaneous exhortations (6:3-21).
     4 For a response, see K. L. Moore, A Critical Introduction to the New Testament 177-80; also Biblical Authorship: Challenging Anti-Conservative Presuppositions (Part 1).
     5 Paul’s statement, “I desire” [boulomai], means “to will, decree, appoint” (cf. 5:14; 1 Cor. 12:11; Tit. 3:8) on the basis of reason rather than emotion. See BAGD 146; H. K. Moulton, Analytical Greek Lexicon Revised 72; K. Wuest, Word Studies 45. On the concept of men “lifting up holy hands,” see Lifting Up Holy Hands.
     6 While the Greek third person imperative is typically rendered, “Let him/her,” this should not be equated with the permissive idea in English. “Its force is more akin to he must, however, or periphrastically, I command him to …” (D. B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics 486). That a Christian woman is even permitted to “learn is revolutionary considering the patriarchal environment that discouraged the education of women (D. McNamara, FHU University's Scholars' Day, 26 Oct. 2018). Further, women are to adorn themselves en katastolē kosmiō … (v. 9b), lit. in respectable deportment. Reading this passage through first-century Ephesian glasses makes sense of the culturally-relevant “braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing” (v. 9c), but please note that the stated reason for the subsequent female-teaching prohibition goes beyond local custom (vv. 12-15). See K. L. Moore’s “Divine Regulations and Cultural Conventions,” in Getting to Know the Bible 69-73.
     7 K. Wuest, citing Dana and Mantey (Manual Grammar of the Greek NT 199), observes that the present imperative “to teach” here carries the force of “teacher,” thus Paul is not allowing a woman to be a teacher of men (Word Studies 48-49).
     8 G. Rogers alleges that the reason is “not because there was anything inherently wrong with women teaching men, but because of the unique situation (which we do not fully understand) here in Ephesus” (The Bible Culturally Speaking 210). Others are more confident in their explanation, affirming that the unique situation in Ephesus involved cult prostitution (cf. S. H. Gritz, Paul, Women Teachers 39-40), but there is no historical justification for this baseless assertion (see esp. S. M. Baugh, “Cult Prostitution” 443-60).
     9 D. B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics 525. The secondary reason given is the following: “And Adam was not deceived [hapatáō], but the woman being deceived [exapatáō], fell into transgression” (v. 14). The verb hapatáō, used passively here of Adam, means to “deceive, cheat, mislead,” whereas exapatáō, used passively of Eve, is an intensified form meaning “thoroughly deceived.” The woman gegonen (perfect tense of ginomai), lit. “stands in a position of having become” thoroughly deceived; i.e. she was in the past and continues to be in the present [recognized as one] thoroughly deceived. Note that the pronominal reference to “she” in v. 15 (lit. “she will be saved through the childbearing”) has “the woman” (v. 14) as its nearest antecedent, identified as “Eve” in v. 13.   
     10 For responses to commonly raised objections, see Questions Concerning Woman's Role. The oft-cited biblical examples of women serving the Lord (e.g. Luke 2:36-38; John 4:28-29; 20:1-2; Acts 2:17-18; 21:9; Rom. 16:1-3, 6, 7, 12; Phil. 4:2-3) are a far (anachronistic) cry from the modern concept of female preachers. On the role of prophetesses in the early church, see Female Head-coverings (Part 2).

Works Cited:
BAGD: Bauer, Walter, W. F. Arndt, F. W. Gingrich, and F. W. Danker. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 2nd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979.
Baugh, S. M. “Cult Prostitution in New Testament Ephesus: A Reappraisal,” in Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 42:3 (1999): 443-60, <Link>. 
Gritz, Sharon Hodgin. Paul, Women Teachers, and the Mother Goddess at Ephesus: A Study of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 in Light of the Religious and Cultural Milieu of the First Century. Lanham; New York; London: University Press of America, 1991.
Moore, Kevin L. A Critical Introduction to the New Testament: Study and Lecture Notes. Henderson, TN: Hester, 2009.
---. Getting to Know the Bible: A Concise Introduction and Study Guide. Winona, MS: Choate, 2002.
Moulton, Harold K., ed. The Analytical Greek Lexicon Revised. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978.
Rogers, Glenn. The Bible Culturally Speaking: the Role of Culture in the Production, Presentation and Interpretation of God’s Word. By the author: Mission and Ministry Resources, 2004.
Veitch, James. Faith For a New Age: the Story of Christianity in the first half of the Second Century. Vol. 4 of The New Testament in modern translation arranged in chronological order. Hibiscus Coast, NZ: Colcom, 1994.
Wallace, Daniel B. Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996.
Wuest, Kenneth. Word Studies: The Pastoral Epistles in the Greek New Testament for the English Reader. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982.

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Videos: Dr. Richard Oster's exegesis of Gal. 3:28 <Link>.

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  1. Hi Kevin, I appreciate your article, but feel you gave too little explanation of the priesthood of Jesus. While it's true Jesus could not be a priest according to the law, He was the great High Priest after the order of Melchizedek. Hebrews 4:14-5:10 makes this clear. So, though technically correct as far as the Mosaical Law, your title and lack of information in the content may take away from your argument concerning women preachers.

  2. Thank you Josiah for your thoughtful observation. I agree; I barely scratched the surface of Jesus' priestly role. But the example of Jesus in the article is simply for illustrative purposes and is thus limited to his physical presence on earth. Perhaps in a future article we can tackle his current heavenly role as our great High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek.