This is a re-formatted version of one of my prior blogs, originally posted in four separate entries. This is a one page version. If you would prefer to read it as originally posted, view the first part here.
Part 1 – Pondering Paul
This blog is part of my ZionBound series. The full series can be read in post order here.
Since 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.
It 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.
Part 2 – Scriptural Basis
Since the verses from Paul cannot be used to oppose female ordination, what other reasons might someone use to do so?
Well, I have often been told that there is no scriptural basis for female ordination. However, the lack of a scriptural basis in no way invalidates the validity of female ordination. At least, not within the Restoration movement, which teaches us that God still reveals his will to the world.
Come to think of it, we do not need a scriptural basis, given that there is no scripture that states that women cannot be ordained. Previously, we reviewed the two verses of Paul often quoted to defend a male only priesthood. However, as we have seen, using these two verses is flawed, and problematic. They do not, as some seem to believe, authoritatively invalidate female priesthood. When we take the time to explore them both, and apply reason to each, we see that they do not support male only priesthood in the modern church whatsoever.
We must add to that the fact that there isn’t any verse in ancient scripture which states that women cannot be ordained. All we seem to have are personal opinions based on rather sketchy interpretations of scripture, rooted in rather dubious views of scriptural context of the verses in question.
So, we don’t actually need a scriptural basis, and we don’t need modern revelation to sanction female ordination. However, we have the latter (which of course becomes the former).
Granted, opponents of Section 156 reject it as a scriptural basis whilst maintaining that there is no scriptural support in ancient scripture. Yet, I’m not sure it is accurate to say that there is no scriptural basis or precedent for female priesthood in our ancient scriptures.
Deborah was the fourth judge of Israel. While that does not mean she was a member of the priesthood, it does prove that women did have positions of leadership and authority. There were also several female prophets. It seems totally implausible to me that God would permanently forbid women to be ordained, but would be willing to deliver prophetic messages to his people through various women.
And what did the female prophets do with their messages? The whole point of a prophet is to share with the community what God had revealed. Some prophets did so by writing down their words. But, it seems that many, including some of the female prophets listed in scripture, did not do so. How than did they share with the people what God had revealed to them? Quite probably, by talking to some sort of gathering of people. In other words, they very likely engaged in a form of preaching.
So, while it may be true that there are no clear, indisputable examples of women serving in the priesthood of Israel or of the church, in ancient scripture, we can say that there is a basis for the eventual ordination of women, as we know that women did, on occasion, have positions of leadership, and also were blessed with spiritual gifts, and very likely preached.
Paul himself delves into this. Consider the following:
1 I commend unto you Phoebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea;
2 That ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you; for she hath been a succorer of many, and of myself also.
3 Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my helpers in Christ Jesus;
4 Who have for my life laid down their own necks; unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles.
7 Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellow prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.
12 Salute Tryphena and Tryphosa, who labor in the Lord. Salute the beloved Persis, which labored much in the Lord.
13 Salute Rufus chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine.
14 Salute Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermas, Patrobas, Hermes, and the brethren that are with them.
15 Salute Philologus, and Julia, Nereus, and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints which are with them.
16 Salute one another with a holy salutation. The churches of Christ salute you.
Phoebe is described as a “servant of the church”.
Priscilla is described, along with her husband Aquila, as a helper “in Christ Jesus” She is generally viewed as a missionary, and some scholars feel that she was one of the Seventy. Her name is mentioned six times, always with her husband, and on three occasions, her name is listed first.
Given the culture and era in which the books of the New Testament were written, it would have been quite easy for the authors to have simply ignored Priscilla. However, her inclusion in the work of the Lord was deliberate and noted multiple times.
One such verse regarding Priscilla is particularly interesting:
“And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue; whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly.” –Romans 18:26 (Inspired Version)
Again, the author could have simply ignored Priscilla. In fact, he probably would have, had she not contributed anything. Yet, it seems clear that she did, and the author was moved to make note of it.
This is not some sort of trivial reference. Priscilla was engaged in a form of preaching; and she was teaching. In fact, it states here, in the Inspired Version, that she was expounding (about God).
Section 17 of the Doctrine and Covenants states repeatedly that one of the duties of the priesthood is to expound. They are also called to teach and preach.
Therefore, it seems clear that Priscilla was performing some of the duties of the priesthood, exhibiting leadership and providing instruction.
Instead of having a problem with this, Paul seems perfectly OK with her conduct, which further suggests that his counsel in First Corinthians and First Timothy was intended to have a limited scope.
Also of interest is Section 42, which offers the following:
“Again I say unto you that it shall not be given to anyone to go forth to preach my gospel, or to build up my church, except he be ordained by some one who has authority”
Here we see that preaching and building up the church are the domain of priesthood only. Yet, Priscilla functioned as a missionary. This implies that she was in fact a member of the priesthood.
Verse 7 states that Junia was “of note among the apostles”. While I personally don’t interpret this as “prominent among” but rather as “well known to”, the praise is significant. Again, we see a woman who Paul (and, if we accept his words), the other apostles deemed to be, in a positive manner, a noteworthy member of the church.
Verse 12 introduces us to Tryphena, who is listed before her male associate, and we are told that she labors “in the Lord”.
Verse 15 has Paul asking his audience to “salute” several people, including two women, Julia and the sister of Nereus.
From all of these references, it should be clear that women served in the ancient church in vital roles including as preachers and missionaries, performing functions assigned to, and even reserved for, members of the priesthood. It is therefore a denial of God’s truth to cling to a position that ancient scripture does not, to any degree support the possibility of female priesthood members.
We can also find a scriptural basis in Section 24 of the Doctrine & Covenants. Although this revelation does not mention priesthood, and while we have no record of an ordination having taking place, this revelation strongly suggests that Emma Smith was called to the priesthood.
Part 3 – The Role of Women
A third common objection to female priesthood members in the church is the role of women. In other words, some people feel that women should not be ordained because serving in the priesthood would run contrary to, or somehow conflict with, their roles that they inherently have, simply by virtue of being female.
This objection is, quite simply, insane.
While it is true that first world societies once greatly limited what women could do, those day are mostly long gone. Women can vote. They can drive. They can be doctors, lawyers, etc. How can we possibly let women do all these things, despite their inherent female roles, but then use the latter as a reason to say that they can’t be members of the priesthood?
Think of it this way. If we can support a woman being a family doctor, would we object to a woman being a dentist? If we support a woman being a police officer, would we object to a female pro golfer?
We cannot say that it is ok for a woman to have a career, and then pull the rug out from under her and say “you can’t be in the priesthood – that would take away from your duties and/or responsibilities as a woman.”
We also need to ask, just what are these duties and/or responsibilities that women have that priesthood would impair? The answer is always the same: raising children.
Women, according to some, should not be in the priesthood because being in the priesthood would interfere with them raising their children properly. But they can have jobs and careers.
Of course, my position might be countered by saying that a career is ok, because that is one role, in addition to motherhood, which is therefore manageable. But, add priesthood on top of a career, and the woman has even less time to provide to her children.
But what about fathers? Aren’t fathers expected to be good fathers? Are they not also expected to do their part in raising children? They are out there working every day, and they are serving in the priesthood, attending meetings at night, visiting the sick, traveling to stake conferences, etc. If its ok for fathers to do so, why not mothers?
What about mothers who don’t have a career? Would they not then have ample time to be mothers and priesthood at the same time? What of women who can’t have children? What of mothers who have already performed their sacred duties with distinction, and now have an empty nest? What about couples who decide not to have children?
How can we possibly have a blanket statement that says women cannot be ordained because they are supposed to be mothers, when we consider all of the above factors?
Another consideration is Paul’s perspective on marriage. Paul seems to suggest that unmarried people both male and female, will be able to devote themselves more fully to the Lord, than those who marry. His stance implies that for those who are able to resist temptation, it is more desirable to remain unattached, and devote oneself more fully to the Lord.
Obviously, Paul would not regard childbirth outside of marriage as an appropriate objective, therefore, since he seems to advocate remaining single and devoted more fully to God as preferable to getting married, it would seem that the former is a higher calling and more sacred function than motherhood.
I can hear the rebuttal: “But, if a woman does fall in love, and decides to get married and have children, then her motherhood should not be distracted by ministry”. But you cannot forbid all women from joining the priesthood for the sake of those women who opt to have children, especially considering that remaining childless & unmarried, devoted to God, seems to be a higher calling.
The real factor in this area is of course that the objection is simply an opinion: “You can’t be ordained as that would take away from your role as a mother”.
There is no scripture that states that a woman cannot be ordained because such would diminish her role as a mother. Again, as noted above, there are so many cases where this would not apply and be ridiculously unfair (infertile women, empty nesters, etc.) – but, even more important, the objection is just an opinion, which is not a very sound basis for establishing a doctrinal position, especially when such an opinion casts God as unjust.
The opinion is of course flawed. When we take the time to consider, and ponder (as Nephi counsels us), the scriptures, and note the aforementioned female missionaries, who are we to object? If women in the Bible could travel from place to place, be missionaries, be church leaders, etc. etc., how can we possibly object to female priesthood on the basis that ordaining them would somehow clash with their femalehood?
Part 4 – “Disjunctive Revelation”
Another objection I have sometimes come across, regarding female ordination, is something called “disjunctive revelation”. This is a fancy term that has apparently been invented by those who left the church in the wake of Section 156, in an attempt to give their positions some sort of credibility.
(using Google, I did a search on this term, for the exact phrase, and found that there were only three pages of results, all of which were tied to the Restoration movement – but I digress)
So what is meant by the term disjunctive revelation? Well, simply put, it is a revelation viewed as being in contradiction with a prior revelation, which renders the more recent revelation false (not of God). Another way to look at it would be to say that each new revelation must be in complete harmony with all previously accepted revelations in order to be regarded as authentic (divine). The “new” cannot contradict with any of the “old”.
The problem with this concept is that there is no basis for it, and it defies reason, logic, common sense and is just not plausible. The Lord is perfectly free to make adjustments to “the rules” as He deems fit.
Objectors tend to feel “but you can’t have two revelations say opposing things about a given issue, with both being true…one must be false”.
However, this totally ignores the most basic fundamental principle of creation: things change. It also ignores the fact that God does thing according to his own purposes.
In the Book of Mormon, God directed Lehi, his wife, his children, his friend Ishmael, and Ishmael’s family to leave Jerusalem, and to flee into the wilderness. This was not a popular choice with some of them, and no doubt it required some prep. work, and some effort to actually accomplish.
But, eventually, the group found themselves camping out in the wilderness, beyond the comforts and familiarity of their city. Why did they go? Why did they undertake this ordeal? Because God revealed to them that this was His will.
Later, God revealed more of his will to them. He directed some of them to return to the city. Did Lehi and his companions regard this instruction as a disjunctive revelation? Did Nephi say to his father Lehi “but you told us that God directed us to leave the city – therefore, this new revelation, calling for some of us to go back to the city, must be false”. Naturally, he said no such thing.
What was God’s will? In the first case, God’s revelation to Lehi indicated that God’s will was for all of them to leave the city. Then, it would seem that it was His will for some of them to return. A contradiction. How can both revelations that Lehi received be true?
They are both true because they represent different divine purposes. Clearly, God had a reason for taking Lehi and Ismael and their combined families out of the city, and of course he had a reason for sending some of them back.
The contradiction only exists if we read scripture in an isolated format, without context. For example, if we read scripture in this manner:
Verse 1: And God told Lehi and his family to flee the city.
Verse 2 And God told Lehi to send his sons back to the city.
We might scratch our heads and say “well that does not seem to make a lot of sense”
But, when we explore the context of seemingly contradictory scriptures, and understand the purpose of why the original scripture was provided, and honestly seek to do the same with latter revelations, we may just come to recognize hat there really is no issue.
The reality is, God has made many changes, as we can see in my prior blog God’s Changes – we accept these changes, therefore, we can accept other changes – especially when there really is no prior scripture that legitimately opposes female ordination.
On this latter point, some people might cite some of the “revelations” circulated by people other than the prophet-president of the church. However, church law has, since the era of Joseph Smith Jr., indicated that revelations to the church can only be received through the prophet-president. An individual may receive a personal revelation, providing guidance for the wellbeing of his family, but any revelation that seems intended to offer commentary on church doctrine, and/or with the intent of being shared with others, must be rejected as false.
Regretfully, it seems that the only real reason that people have to object to female ordination is simply the fact that they don’t want it to be, for what are most likely chauvinistic reasons, valid; and this quite simply violates the principle of “sacramental truth”.