The Tip of an Iceberg

Holmes' book fails to show convincingly that the ordination of women is biblically prohibited and would lead to chaos.

Nancy Vyhmeister is editor, Andrews University Seminary Studies, Berrien Springs, Michigan.

Holmes is to be commended for his concern that "the authority of Scripture must remain supreme" for the Adventist Church (p. 47) and that culture must not be allowed to modify the gospel (p. 43). He correctly asserts: "Recognizing the full authority of the Bible requires full submission to its teachings" (p. 50). On the other hand, his book is seriously flawed in its thesis, presuppositions, and methodology.

The working hypothesis of Holmes' book is that "ecumenism, the historical-critical method of Bible interpretation, and the ordination of women" are related (p. 28). Consequently, he purports, the ordination of women is the "tip of the iceberg" and the first step toward rejection of biblical authority, as has happened in the Anglican, Lutheran, and is trying to happen in the Southern Baptist communions. Such a generalization is, at best, debatable.

Holmes' view of ministry tacitly undergirds his argumentation. Ministers perform a "priestly (servant) role" (p. 40), derived "from the person of Christ" (p. 101). In this priestly headship role, "the pastor of a Christian congregation represents the headship and fatherhood of God" (p. 42). Holmes ignores New Testament evidence for the priesthood of all believers (e.g.,2Cor.5:18;lPeter2:5,9).

Holmes accepts male headship and female submission as normative and biblical, part of God's creation plan, not only in the family, but in the "social and ecclesiastical structure that God has established" (p. 84). Not covering the head in 1 Corinthians was rebellion against this "basic principle" (pp. 137,138). Where are Paul's in junction to mutual subjection (Eph. 5:21) and Jesus' abasement and emptying (Phil. 2:3-8) as a pattern for human relations?

To his credit, Holmes contends that "the Word of God obligates Seventh-day Adventist Christians to join in the struggle to eliminate" abuses, including "unequal pay, sexual abuse and harassment, and the unfounded idea that men are superior and women inferior" (p. 84).

In one chapter (pp. 133-155), and with minimal reference to the Greek or the historical context, Holmes discusses the major Pauline texts on women. Of Gal. 3:26-28 he rightly affirms that it is "unequivocally spiritual" and not related to ordination or leadership roles (pp. 135-136).

In 1 Cor. 11:3-10 he finds instructions on the male headship-female submission model rather than directives regarding public worship. The scant three pages accorded to the interpretation of 1 Cor. 14:33-38 do not do justice to the richness of the text, nor take into account that Paul wanted women to learn (verse 35) and participate in the worship service (1 Cor. 11:5). In addition, Holmes does not explain the distinction between cultural elements no longer to be fol lowed, such as the wearing of a veil (verses 11:4-8), and supposedly permanent principles, such as a woman's submission and silence.

Holmes notes that Eph. 5:22-24 "speaks primarily about the relation ship between Christ and His church." He affirms that it "also establishes the universal principle of male headship and female submission in the marriage relationship" (p. 142). He then notes that because of this text, "being the presiding pastor of a congregation and being a woman are in contradiction" (p. 143). The family-relations emphasis of the verses is lost.

The explanation of 1 Tim. 2:11-14 is disconcerting. Paul, "exercising his apostolic authority" and speaking "based on revelational norms" (p. 145), says "I do not allow a woman to teach" (verse 12, NASB). Holmes then ex plains: "What is prohibited to women is teaching in the worship services as a part of the ecclesiastical office of pastor, which involves the exercise of spiritual authority." All female participation in worship must be on the "basis of the authority delegated by the male pastor who holds the ecclesiastical office and whose spiritual authority is derived from Christ" (p.145).

Finally, Holmes shows that 1 Tim. 3:1-4 refers to male elders, which he interprets to exclude any possibility of female elders. He does find, however, that the injunction for the man to be "husband of one wife" was an "ideal" not always met (p. 149). The same flexibility does not exist in the matter of female elders: "That the person exercising spiritual leadership over a congregation must be a man is a Bible principle established for all time and all ages" (p.148).

The exegetical treatment of 1 Tim. 2:11-14 would have profited from considering the general theme and historical context of the epistle, as indicated in the "Methods of Bible Study Committee Report" Holmes quotes approvingly in appendix B. Not only was Ephesus a center of mother-goddess worship, in which women were leading figures; it was also an early center of Gnosticism, which had esoteric teachings regarding women. From the epistle to Timothy we learn of the teaching of "strange doc trines" and speculation about "myths and endless genealogies" (1 Tim. 1:3,4, NASB). Women in the church were "gos sips and busybodies, talking about things not proper to mention" (1 Tim. 5:13, NASB). Timothy himself was advised to keep himself from "what is falsely called 'knowledge'" (1 Tim. 6:20, NASB). While being careful not to allow the context to dominate the text, one cannot understand the text apart from its context. A helpful book on the topic is: Richard Kroeger and Catherine Clark Kroeger, I Suffer Not a Woman (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992).

Holmes maintains a dual position. Women should not function as pastoral leaders nor be ordained because they are not called by God to leadership positions (p. 76), and Jesus did not appoint "one female apostle" (p. 77). On the other hand, quoting Ellen White, Holmes affirms that "God is calling women" to a special ministry, for which they should be ordained (p. 84). They may also preach (p. 83). They can even teach as long as "it is recognized that the authority is his [the male pastor's] to delegate in fulfillment of his headship role and her sub missive role" (p. 83) and they are not in leadership positions in which they exercise authority over men (p. 150).

If one follows the method of scriptural interpretation Holmes propounds in the first chapters, women should sit in silence and never teach or lead. Thus a major part of Adventist laity would be muzzled, and the church would lose many able leaders. To get around this dilemma, Holmes proposes that women always work under a man. Would per mission by the General Conference president suffice as male authority? In any case, Holmes' position is as unbiblical as the view that women should be ordained to pastoral leadership. Neither appears in the New Testament.

Holmes' book fails to show convincingly that the ordination of women is biblically prohibited and would lead to chaos. Perhaps the argumentation is unconvincing because the author's cherished presuppositions and conclusions supersede the analysis of the New Testament texts on the subject.

Clearly, further studies on the biblical pattern for ordination and its theological meaning are needed before the issue of women's ordination can be settled. Further, a biblical theology of ministry both lay and professional would provide a solid foundation for decisions on the issue.

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Nancy Vyhmeister is editor, Andrews University Seminary Studies, Berrien Springs, Michigan.

February 1995

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