Female Ordination – Did We Make the Right Choice? (Part 1 of 4)

Pondering Paul

This blog is part of my ZionBound series.  The full series can be read in post order here.

3marysSince the reorganization took place, I think its probably unlikely that any issue has created more division in the church than female ordination.  Section 156, the revelation that made female ordination possible, was presented to the church in 1984, by Prophet-President Wallace B. Smith, great-grandson of our founding prophet, Joseph Smith Jr.

April 2014 marks the 30th anniversary of the World Conference that sanctioned female ordination.  After thirty years, people are still divided.  New denominations have been organized, and many people have been born and raised in factions of the Restoration that claim descent from Joseph Smith III, but which reject the ordination of women. So the division continues.

Did we make the right choice?  The answer to that question is of course “yes”.  Yet, given the resistance to it exhibited by so many people, I have often wondered why so many members and former members of the church reject it.

A common objection I’ve been given for female ordination are two verses from the writings of Paul.  These passages are as follows:

“Let your women keep silence in the churches; for it is not permitted unto them to rule; but to be under obedience, as also saith the law.”  -1 Corinthians 14:34 (Inspired Version)

11 Let the women learn in silence with all subjection.
12 For I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. -1 Timothy 2:11, 12 (Inspired Version)

Let us explore each of the above passages, and as we do so, we would do well to remember the words of Nephi:

“For my soul delighteth in the scriptures, and my heart pondereth them, and writeth them for the learning and the profit of my children.”  –Second Book of Nephi, 3:19 (CofC 1908).

So, let us ponder, as Nephi counsels, the scriptures.  In First Corinthians, Paul states that women should keep silent in the churches, and further elaborates that it is not permitted for them to rule, but to be under obedience, as stipulated in the law.

In my opinion, using this scripture to justify the non-ordination of women is a violation of the principle of “sacramental truth”. If we do so, we are not being fully honest with ourselves.

You see, we do not enforce this scripture in an absolute sense.  If we did so, we would not permit women to speak or sing.  Now, it could be said that the directive to be silent is understood to mean “do not preside”, or something like that.

It is interesting to compare the verse as found in the KJV with that found in the Inspired Version:

“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.” (KJV)

In both versions, there are essentially four components.

From the King James Version:

1) Let your women keep silence in the churches:
2) for it is not permitted unto them to speak;
3) but they are commanded to be under obedience
4) as also saith the law.

From the Inspired Version:

1) Let your women keep silence in the churches;
2) for it is not permitted unto them to rule;
3) but to be under obedience,
4) as also saith the law.”

It could be argued that the change of the last word in component 2 of the KJV rendition, from “speak” to “rule” (as it appears in the IV), is a clear indication that what Paul was really talking about was a restriction of a woman’s role in the church, and not a prohibition of her talking or singing.

And yet, the colon in the KJV was changed to a semi-colon.  This suggests that the verse is meant to be understood as a directive to women to not speak, re-enforced by a further directive to not be in positions of leadership.

This of course than means that if we do wish to use this verse to prevent women from being ordained, we are, as noted above, not being honest with ourselves, since we are not fully enforcing it, since we are not choosing to compel women to remain silent in church.

However, we are still left with either a prohibition from speaking to rule, or from speaking whatsoever.

What is the motivation of this counsel?  Why does Paul tell us to let our women keep silent?

Another interesting change is the drop of the words “they are commanded” from the third component.  The KJV seems to suggest that the directive to keep silent is a divine commandment, yet the Inspired Version removes this portion of the verse.

The fourth component talks about “the law”.  What law?  Presumably, the law of Moses.  This is, normally, what is meant when someone in the ancient scriptures talks about the law.

However, the Law of Moses is made up of 613 individual laws, or commandments.  Not one of these states that women are to obey men.  Therefore, the law that Paul was speaking of must have been a secular law, rather than part of the Law of Moses.  This is reasonable, as, in order to properly manage an entire nation, it would seem needful that the elders of Israel would have to devise additional laws for their civilization, as it grew from 12 tribes wandering in a desert to an entire nation.  Furthermore, as Judah transformed into the Roman-conquered realm of Judea, it of course would have found itself subject to Imperial laws.

Here is something else to consider.  Who was Paul speaking to when he gave this counsel?  The members of the church in Corinth.  In Greece.  It seems clear that most of our books of scripture were intended to be read by as many people as possible, however, can we say the same for the epistles that Paul wrote?  I’m sure Paul does not object to other people reading his epistles, beyond the intended audience of each, but the fact remains, he wrote specific messages to different clusters of the church.

Some of the things that Paul wrote were spiritual truths.  Consider the following:

For ye are all the children of God by faith in Jesus Christ.  For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put  on Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female; for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. –Galatians 3:26-28 (Inspired Version).

This is a spiritual truth that would be applicable to all members of the church.  This is not something that we would say is only true for the Galatians.

However, 1st Corinthians 14:34 is not a spiritual principle but administrative guidance, and it is entirely possible, given that it appears in an epistle directed to a specific church community, that it was provided because of a local Corinthian law, violation of which may have been problematic for the church in that area.

paulIt seems most likely that Paul’s intent was to ensure that female members of the church were not in violation of a Roman law, or of a Jewish secular law, or a Corinthian law.  I’m sure that Paul was motivated by the following reasons: genuine desire to keep female members of the church from getting into trouble, and a desire to ensure that the authorities did not have an additional cause to take action against the church.

The real point of course is that the modern church is not subject to imperial law, Jewish law, Corinthian law, or, for that matter, the Law of Moses, which Christ rescinded when he visited the Nephites.

Therefore, the words of Paul to the Corinthians is a flawed means to oppose female ordination.

The second verse is, once again, as follows:

11 Let the women learn in silence with all subjection.
12 For I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. -1 Timothy 2:11,12 (Inspired Version)

First Timothy was written by Paul to provide counsel and guidance to Timothy while he labored in Ephesus, which is, interestingly, also in Greece.  Therefore, once again, the motivation behind Paul’s words may have been the result of local law and/or custom, along with a desire to keep both the women of the church, and the church community in Ephesus, as safe as possible.

However, it does look like Paul had another motive for saying what he said, for the chapter continues with these words:

13 For Adam was first formed, then Eve.
14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.

This strikes me as Paul’s personal position, and not the result of divine revelation.  It seems it is his way of rationalizing his prior statement.

Note that he states in verse 12, “For I suffer not a woman to teach…” He does not state “the Lord has said…” or some such statement.  This is Paul’s own view, based on his own convictions.

It is also worth noting that his own basis, the order of creation, etc., for saying what he did, seems a little muddled (which further suggests that this portion of his letter was entirely of himself).

To begin with, he says that because Adam was formed before Eve, women should learn in silence, and not rule, etc.  However, this seems like a rather flawed and petty reason to permanently suppress women, and as I outlined in a prior blog, God is not petty.  For every man who excels in leadership, there is also a woman who does likewise.  And if in a given community or organization, there is a woman who is a better leader than all available men, is it reasonable that she should be overlooked because Eve was created after Adam?

To be honest, that just seems absurd, and I doubt Paul was moved by God to write what he wrote.

We also have to acknowledge that Deborah ruled, as the fourth judge of Israel.  Therefore, Paul’s opinion actually clashes with a precedent already set.

Paul also says that Eve, but not Adam, was deceived.  This makes no sense.  Adam, not yet having tasted of the fruit, was innocent, therefore, he had no motivation to disobey God.  Therefore, he must have been deceived.  It is utterly implausible to suggest that Adam knew what he was doing, and just decided to disobey God simply for the fun of it.

Furthermore, the Bible states that Adam was with Eve when she was herself deceived:

“And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it became pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make her wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat; and gave also unto her husband with her, and he did eat.” –Genesis 3:11 (Inspired Version)

The ramifications of all the above are clear.  1st Timothy cannot be used as a reasonable and plausible method of opposing female ordination.

I can almost hear one particular objection to my perspectives: “Does the Bible not state that all scripture is of God?”

Yes and no.  Here is the verse you might be thinking of, as found in the King James Version:

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness”  -2 Timothy 3:17 (KJV)

However, here is the same verse as found in the Inspired Version:

“And all scripture given by inspiration of God, is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (Inspired Version)

The changes made between the KJV and the IV are very significant, and, given the nature and authority of the Inspired Version in the church, the simple fact is this: we cannot claim that all scripture is given by God.

Therefore, when we acknowledge this fact, and ponder Paul’s words as we’ve done above, we can clearly see that using them to oppose female ordination is flawed.

Jump to Part 2

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