Saturday, August 29, 2009

Undermining creationism, supporting women's ordination

I have never thought of this argument before, in respect of engaging with creationism as an interpretation of Genesis 1 in which each 'day' is literally 'twenty-four hours':

"In particular, it is impossible to be dogmatic about a twenty-four hour creation day when the sun and moon were brought into being on the fourth of them—how was the ‘day’ measured before that?"

This blow comes from an editorial by Gerald Bray in The Churchman - an editorial tackling a number of controversies within Anglican evangelicalism. To be fair to the breadth of the concerns of Gerald Bray in this particular context he also aims his sharp mind against the ordination of women:

"Within the church itself, the ordination of women is clearly against the teaching of the New Testament, particularly if it leads to giving them authority over men in the church (as it must do if they are to be appointed bishops.) Others may take a different view, but the Apostle Paul cites both creation and the fall as grounds for this prohibition (1 Tim. 2:11-15) and we are not free to dispute his judgement in the matter. Unpopular as it is, we must be prepared to take a stand on a matter of clear biblical principle, even if we get into trouble with our peers and contemporaries for doing so."

What I find disagreeable here is the easy assumption that not being 'free to dispute [Paul's] judgement in the matter' is the end of the matter. This is wrong-headed. The crucial judgement in the matter is the supposition that 1 Timothy 2:11-15 is a universal application through all time to all church contexts. We are free to question that supposition (for it is our judgement of the application of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 and not Paul's) and, if we think we have some answers to the questions we pose the passage, to dispute supposition by arguing that there are circumstances in which women, like men, may be validly ordered and authorised for the ministry of leadership of congregations, parishes, and dioceses. In doing so there is no need to dispute Paul's own judgement in 1 Timothy 2:11-15 (i.e. that a particular circumstance required his prohibition).

Just as Bray astutely observes that on a close reading of Genesis 1 there is a contradiction between the use of 'day' as a literal measure of time passing when the basis of time passing, the presence of the sun and the moon has not yet occurred, so we may astutely observe on a close reading of the New Testament that there is a contradiction between 1 Timothy 2:11-15 understood as a universal prohibition and the evidence of the ministerial authority of women according to Romans 16 and other passages.


  1. I wish I could say with Rachel .. thank you Peter, but I can’t. You will note that Gerald says it’s clearly against the teaching of the New Testament, so it’s not just the teaching of Paul he is thinking of. But he does mention Paul. So tell me Peter, if I’m not to trust the plain meaning of Paul on that matter, what other matter can I not trust him on? Salvation? Eternal Life? He wrote quite a bit about the necessity of people being able to trust in his integrity .. and yet you’re telling me that he’s not to be trusted in this particular case. The implication is that I can’t trust him on any other issue either.

    It’s really not at all surprising to me that Jesus didn’t choose any females to lead or teach His church. Why oh why can’t we be overwhelmingly satisfied that our ministry is so well defined, that we don’t have to take on that responsibility, that He trusts us with so much.

    No, instead the devil has convinced us that we must hold upfront positions in order to be equal, we must seek leadership in order to be fulfilled. In fact that service can ONLY be seen in those roles. Rather downputting of so many women who don’t see their roles that way isn’t it Peter? But don’t concern yourself about them .. no, just continue to make sure you uphold the apparent justice issue, and continue to lack trust in Jesus actions and undermining the authority of Paul.

  2. Hi Rosemary
    You raise several important issues so I'll respond with a full post!