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What Irritates Me About The Women’s Ordination Debate

What Irritates Me About the Women’s Ordination Debate

A few days ago I picked up a copy of an Adventist periodical and ran into an article on this whole “women’s ordination” thing. As I read the article I found myself horribly irritated. The article alluded to the following statements by Ellen White:

A great work can be done by presenting to the people the Bible just as it reads (2TT 129.2).

If men will take the Bible, just as it reads, they will make no mistake… (RH May 25, 1876, par. 40).

If men would but take the Bible as it reads… a work would be accomplished… (GC 598.3).

The language of the Bible should be explained according to its obvious meaning, unless a symbol or figure is employed (GC 598.3).

I could be wrong here, but I got the distinct impression that the point of the article was: If we all take the Bible just as it reads we will all agree that women should not be ordained. This is what I found irritating. While I do not disagree with the above quotes by Ellen, they are only half the story. And by highlighting this half of the story alone the article leaves the impression that students should disregard the cultural, literary, and historical context of the passages in question and just read them as they are. End of story. Yet nothing could lead us into error faster than taking the Bible as it reads without considering its cultural, historical, and literary context.

For the sake of clarity allow me to propose what would happen if we read the Bible “just as it reads” while ignoring the context.


If you are single forget about finding a wife.: 1 Corinthians 7:27

Don’t go to the doc if you are sick. Just pray.: James 5:14

Forget about women as pastors. They shouldn’t talk in church at all!: 1 Corinthians 14:34

Ladies: Don’t Make Yourself Look Nice: 1 Peter 3:3

Self-mutilation is acceptable if you want to overcome sin: Matthew 5:29, 30

If you and your family get attacked, don’t try and protect yourselves.: Matthew 5:39

If someone asks you for something you have, anyone, give it to him/her.: Matthew 5:42

Don’t pray in public (no saying grace at the restaurant!).: (Matthew 6:6)

Get rid of your savings account.: (Matthew 6:19)

Don’t make future plans.: Matthew 6:34

Hate Your Family: Luke 14:26

Give everything you own away. Don’t keep a thing!: Luke 14:33

Now of course, no one would accept this as a legitimate way of studying the Bible. Those who ignore the process of exegesis (which includes studying the cultural, literary, and historical context) often end up doing really dumb things like refusing to wear clothes with multiple fabrics because it says so in Leviticus or thinking that Jeremiah 10:1-10 is referring to a Christmas tree. Reading the Bible “just as it reads” often translates into superficial reading that leads to erroneous interpretations of scripture as opposed to a pure interpretation.

So was Ellen White wrong? Of course not. The context of her statements have to do with the Sabbath. In order to discredit the Sabbath many engage in Bible verse twisting – a process in which the plain teaching of scripture is twisted in the name of “exegesis”. It was to this that Ellen referred to when she wrote her statements. But to blindly apply this same counsel in every situation would lead us to adopt the ridiculous views shared above. In the same vein, there are people who twist the Bible to say that having multiple wives is OK, that Jesus is not God, that grace gives us a free licence to sin, and that slavery is not wrong. In this context, a plain reading of scripture is absolutely necessary (though such a plain reading would gain – not lose – from the exegetical process). But when it comes to issues that are not as clear, such as women’s ordination, it is foolish to assert that the entire debate can be settled by a “plain reading” of scripture. A thorough study of the cultural issues, historical perspectives, and literary intentions (among other things) needs to be studied and understood before we can make a claim about what is the true biblical position that God expects of his church today.

Sadly, there are some who equate exegesis with rationalizing and come to the conclusion that unless the text is read just as it is we are disobeying the Bible. But such is not the case. While Ellen White counseled us to take the Bible as it reads she also rebuked those who disregarded context. At the end of the day we may still disagree on our conclusions but lets refrain from pridefully asserting that we alone have the “plain reading of scripture”.


Note: This article was originally published on

photo credit: Marco Bijdevaate via photopin cc


Hello. My name is Kermit. I don't actually write for the Haystack. In fact, I have never eaten a haystack. I eat flies. I think those are unclean. And I date a pig too. Miss Piggy. She's nice.

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This Post Has 21 Comments
    1. That is the struggle how to reconcile the Word and society following the right Biblical principles. Jesus mastered it, he was the law incarnated, and it differed with the pharisaic behavior I often see in the church.

  1. [T]here are people who twist the Bible to say that having multiple wives is OK… and that slavery is not wrong.

    It doesn’t take twisting:

    If he takes an additional wife, he must not reduce the food, clothing, or marital rights of the first wife. –Exodus 21:10

    Household slaves, submit with all fear to your masters, not only to the good and gentle but also to the cruel. For it brings favor if, mindful of God’s will, someone endures grief from suffering unjustly. –1 Peter 2:18-19

    Can you provide one verse that condemns either practice?

      1. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan, and to be your God.“If your brother becomes poor beside you and sells himself to you, you shall not make him serve as a slave: he shall be with you as a hired worker and as a sojourner. He shall serve with you until the year of the jubilee. Then he shall go out from you, he and his children with him, and go back to his own clan and return to the possession of his fathers. For they are my servants, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt; they shall not be sold as slaves. You shall not rule over him ruthlessly but shall fear your God. As for your male and female slaves whom you may have: you may buy male and female slaves from among the nations that are around you. You may also buy from among the strangers who sojourn with you and their clans that are with you, who have been born in your land, and they may be your property. You may bequeath them to your sons after you to inherit as a possession forever. You may make slaves of them, but over your brothers the people of Israel you shall not rule, one over another ruthlessly.

        I don’t have to suggest what God approves or does not approve. He tells us.

        1. Well your comments make the point of my article perfectly dude. Slavery and polygamy where much different in the Bible than they are in the world, especially in the west. so to use those verses to condone modern slavery and polygamy is a perfect example of superficial reading that ignores the context. There are 27million slaves in the world today. Most are victims of human trafficking and are trapped in the world of forced labour and sex slavery. Are you telling me that God is OK with that because you have a text that seems to suggest he is? The historical context is important to understand before you try and apply it to today. Slavery in the Bible was not abusive forced labor. Those who engaged in this activity (Like the Egyptians) were judged by God. Scripture paints a clear picture of a God who cares for justice and equality – one who hates oppression and abuse. To say God judged Egypt in part for its cruel slavery of Israel only for God to tell Israel “I dont mind if you do it” is self-contradictory. The slavery the Bible speaks of was an economic slavery that did not include being treated like an animal (as the blacks were in the slavery of recent decades). Slaves where tied to serve their masters but not to be treated like garbage, and every 7th year on the year of Jubilee their debts could be pardoned and they could go free. The economic world was not then what it is now so some slaves chose to remain tied to their masters for their masters provided all their needs. Some even made a pledge to remain a slave forever. This is not the same as kidnapping someone and forcing them into slavery where they are treated like worthless labor machines. To condone this kind of slavery with the Bible by the superficial quoting of a text that is in context speaking of a much different practice is exactly what this article condemns.
          Same goes for polygamy. It was never part of Gods design. In ancient times women had no way of providing for themselves. without a husband most would either starve or be forced into prostitution. under these circumstances polygamy would prevent such suffering, but even then it always created intense domestic problems. Today, women dont need a man to survive. they can survive on their own. there is no reason whatsoever for a man today to have multiple wives other than lust. quoting the bible to condone these practices, esp. in the west, is a terrible violation of context.

          1. So, basically your argument is that to properly interpret scripture, one must interpret it through the lens of modern sensibilities.

            Apparently, you didn’t read the last verse I posted, as you claim that all slaves allowed to go free in the year of jubilee, when the verse clearly states that only Hebrew slaves were set free in the year of jubilee.

            It is also apparent that you didn’t read the verses in my first post, as you claim that “slavery in the Bible was not abusive” and “The slavery the Bible speaks of was an economic slavery that did not include being treated like an animal.” This argument clearly shows that you missed Peter’s claim that slaves ought to submit to cruel masters, because it pleases God when one, mindful of His will, suffers unjustly.

            So not only do you subjugate the religion of the Bible to the religion of progessivism, but you also respond to criticism without even bothering to read or understand your critic’s argument. Yet you are not far from truth. Your article shows that you are familiar with what the Bible says, although you refer to Bible teaching as “really dumb.”

            I can understand that the teachings of the Bible are hard sayings, but my question to you is this: If you only accept the Bible when you can make it agree with your progressivism, why bother with the Bible at all? Why bother with all the exegetical gymnastics required to argue that the Bible means precisely the opposite of what it says? If you will only accept the Bible where you can make it agree with your previously held progressivism, why not discard the troublesome text altogether?

        2. Marcos makes some good points. Slavery today is different from slavery of Biblical times AS and WHEN regulated by the Biblical conditions. This is not interpreting scripture through the “modern sensibilities,” but instead interpreting scripture through the appropriate lens of historical context. Responsible exegesis notes historical context, then compares that with what we have today, noting the differences. Circumstances change over time, and it would be unfair to say that slavery has always been exactly the same in nature.

          Some points to consider from the Biblical perspective, in considering the historical context in which it occurred:

          – Hebrew and foreign slaves lived far more pleasantly than was the case elsewhere. Harsh treatment prohibited: (Lev. 25:43).
          – To the master the slave was still “thy brother” (Philemon 1).
          – Slaves were released upon payment of the debt for which they were working: (Lev. 25:48–52).
          – Slaves were given things just and equally: (Col. 4:1),
          – The Law of Moses is opposed to slavery. (Lev. 25:39–42; Lev. 26:11–13).
          – Israelites commonly became “slaves” to their own race through poverty (Lev. 25:35, 39), and sometimes crime (Ex. 22:3).
          – Children at times sold in settlement of a debt (2 Kings 4:1–7).
          – Regardless, slaves were always set free at a specific date every seven years, even if they had been a slave for one year for example. (Lev. 25:40)
          – Owners of slaves were to furnish and give their slaves provisions liberally upon the slaves reaching the end of their servitude. (Deut. 15:12–15)

          Now, it is true that the policy regarding jubilee may have been different for foreign slaves as we see this in the case of the Gibeonites for example, but even then, the above regulations for humane treatment would have applied. One could hardly argue that this is in any way comparable to modern slavery.

          Peter’s claim that servants were to subjugate to cruel masters had nothing to do with masters who were following the above guidelines. Obviously slavery in Rome and other pagan countries were more cruel as the Biblical regulations were not heeded in those cases. Nevertheless, Peter encourages the best path of action possible for the common slave to survive in unfortunate circumstances. This should not be considered an endorsement of pagan slavery, even if pagan masters had converted to Christianity, so long as they remained cruel in opposition to the Levitical regulations.

          On the question of polygamy, the creation model should be our model as it best demonstrates God’s intention (Gen. 2:24). Furthermore, church leadership were forbidden from marrying more than one person by implication of the requirements for said positions (i.e. 1 Tim. 3:2).
          Exodus 21:10 is clearly conditional on “if” an individual went ahead and married multiple people. God is dealing with the results of people’s stubborn/willful decisions, not endorsing them. Matthew 19:8 provides a good explanation to understand how even when something was against God’s plan and revealed will, He would provide a means whereby situations could be worked with rather than cutting people off. The fact that virtually all the stories in the Bible associated with polygamy have negative consequences should more than settle this question.

          The problem is that we need to recognize that the Biblical accounts are of broken, corrupt people, just like us. Just because people did certain things then, is not an endorsement for them. For example: Just because Rahab lied to save the spies, doesn’t endorse dishonesty. Christ is our example, not broken, sinful people, though we can and should learn from their mistakes.

          1. ” Peter encourages the best path of action possible for the common slave to survive in unfortunate circumstances. This should not be considered an endorsement of pagan slavery, even if pagan masters had converted to Christianity, so long as they remained cruel in opposition to the Levitical regulations.”

            And yet Paul instructed Timothy to teach and preach, not that believers should not have slaves, but that believing slaves should not disrespect believing masters. (1 Tim 6:2)

    1. The texts you quote are NOT condoning multiple wives or slavery. However, at the time Exodus was written there WERE multiple wives…therefore the verse acknowledges this practice, and speaks out in behalf of the wives which find themselves in this position by admonishing the man to care for them both equally. This countered the practice of the nations around them, who would basically use the first (and often much older) as a servant when they moved on to the younger and more beautiful second wife. As with the first text, slavery was common when Peter wrote his advice. He did not advise Christians who were slaves to leave their masters. Though the apostles DID make it clear in their writings that in Christ ALL are made equal (which would make it a bit difficult to justify OWNING another human).

  2. Excellent article. Would you happen to have a copy of it in Spanish? We have a Facebook group called “Yo Apoyo la Ordenación de la Mujer en la Iglesia Advetista.”
    Could you share it there in Spanish? We will greatly appreciate it. blessings!!!

  3. Kade, I don’t believe that scripture is interpreted through modern sensibilities. I believe scripture is interpreted by understanding what it meant to the original author and hearer before interpreting what it means to me. this is why i need to understand what slavery looked like to the Hebrews before determining what it means to me. a proper understanding of the context allows us to determine what the author was intending to say without simply applying my own meaning to what he was saying. the issues you raise (slavery and polygamy) are such issues which require an understanding of the context before determining what they mean to us today. Black slave masters in the south excused their inhumane treatment of black slaves by quoting those same exact verses. And if you think that sex slavery, forced labor, race slavery, human trafficking/ kidnapping, and human ownership is an acceptable biblical practice then I honestly have little to say to you. Its easy to pull one or two texts from the bible to excuse these practices, but the bible is not a book of texts, it is a story of redemption and anyone who honestly reads the bible as it is intended to be read will not appeal to random texts to defend the inhumanity of our race. The slavery that the Hebrews engaged in was not the same as the slavery we see today. It was not cruel. it was not animalistic. it was not abusive. while Hebrew slaves were set free in the year of jubilee that does not mean foreign slaves were treated like garbage. Exodus 23:9 commands the Israelite’s to not oppress the foreigners. God is a god of human rights: love, respect, freedom, equality, justice, and mercy. the text with Paul is also out of context. he was speaking to slaves who had no choice but to be a slave. in their context they had two options: endure suffering for Christ or rebel and be killed. Paul recommended the first choice. it doesn’t mean he was giving blanket approval to the violation of human rights.

    1. ” the text with Paul is also out of context.”

      What text with Paul? While Paul did certainly address the issue (1 Tim 6:2, Eph 6:5, Col 3:22), I never mentioned him. Rather, I quoted Peter. This illustrates what I said before about you responding to my comments without bothering to read them.

      You say: “The slavery that the Hebrews engaged in was not the same as the slavery we see today. It was not cruel. it was not animalistic. it was not abusive.”

      The Bible says: ““When a man strikes his slave, male or female, with a rod and the slave dies under his hand, he shall be avenged. But if the slave survives a day or two, he is not to be avenged, for the slave is his money.” (Ex 21:20-21)

      I will repeat my original question which you have so pointedly ignored: Can you provide a single Bible verse that condemns either of these practices?

      1. Kade, my apologies for confusing Paul with Peter. I dont think it merits the accusation you have placed against me. I certainly am considering your point. Did you read the rest of Exodus 21? It is a series of instructions on how to govern Israelite society in the context of the world they lived in. Verses 24-25 say “eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.” Interestingly enough, Jesus disagrees with this very text in his sermon on the mount (matt 5) where his main point is that we are to love even our enemies. In that text Jesus has not contradicted exodus but has demonstrated that the contextual instructions contained in chapter 21 where not for all time but permissive to their time as God led the nation toward a more ideal society built on justice and equity.

        The question you ask cannot be answered. Neither can I show you a single verse that says you shouldnt use drugs but that doesnt make it OK. The reason why is because the Bible is not a book of rules for societal functioning – it is a story of redemption. That story points us toward Gods ideal without having to spell out a billion rules on what to do or not do. And that story is incompatible with what you are proposing. Slavery was never a part of Gods plan and while he made provision for it in order to meet people where they were Gods instructions always boiled back to love for one another, justice, equality, and an other-centered society in which everyone looks out for the good of the other instead of self. This is the direction God has been bringing humanity over the decades and is exemplified in the life of Jesus. To say that the modern slave trade is permissible because there is no text in scripture that says “no slavery” demonstrates a lack of serious Bible study. There doesnt need to be a text – the aim that scripture is pointing us to is to restore Eden and with it the principles of love, mercy, and justice. What you propose is that we stay stuck in an unjust society simply because God never said no slavery. You claim to have the biblical grounds for that but you dont. All you have are a few selected texts taken out of their historical and cultural context and applied evenly across time (see Erics comment below). What you dont have is the story of scripture – the goal to which it points us to. Without that story I can see why you will attempt to justify wickedness in the name of loyalty to scripture. But with that story you will see that the texts you point to are simply part of a much larger story that need to be understood properly (again see erics comment below).

        1. ” as God led the nation toward a more ideal society built on justice and equity.”

          Sounds like you are saying that the society built on direct verbal instructions of the Almighty Creator-God of the universe was less ideal than current modern society, because us enlightened modern progressives know more than the backwards God that spoke those rules.

          Remember, those who ask for a “god of justice” weary the Lord. (Mal 2:17)

          “What you dont [sic] have is the story of scripture”

          Ah, but I do. The story of scripture is the story of rebellion against authority. Lucifer in heaven. Adam and Eve in the garden. All of human history until we get to the point where every knee shall bow. The many commands in the new testament that slaves must submit to their masters are often in the same breath as the commands to wives to submit to husbands and children to submit to parents. All of these commands are thrown out by those who follow Satan’s rebellion against God-ordained authority. And, lest we forget, we are told that ALL authority is ordained by God, and whoever resists authority rebels against the ordinance of God, and shall receive damnation. (Rom 13:1-2)

  4. 1 Corinthians 11:3 But there is one thing I want you to know: The head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.
    -The plain scripture is plain about the leadership and direction of Jesus, man, woman, church. Do we have a problem with Jesus being the head of our lives? Does Jesus have a problem with God being the head of His life? So I guess we only have a problem with the third category? It is not about women aren’t able, it’s not about ability. It’s about Gods perfect design. Even the God head has to submit to the Fathers will…but they are equal. Since the church IS the extension of family… father, mother, and child…let’s not confuse ourselves with mixing roles and responsibilities that God himself has ordained. Otherwise, where is the line? Where is the line when families come to church and the roles and leadership and swapped and visa versa? Good article! Thank you!

  5. WOW! This is a great discussion!

    “The story of scripture is the story of rebellion against authority.” and “The plain scripture is plain about the leadership and direction of Jesus…”

    Seems that our fundamental beliefs and understanding of God’s character are the root of our diagreements. I disagree with this point of view of God’s authority and leadership. I believe the story of scripture is a lovestory, a story of redemption. Perhaps this is why our human heart strings are played with stories of adventure and fairytales. Although there are many christians who condone our dwelling on such things. I may even dare say it is the same original dispute Lucifer posed. Is God truly pure-selfless-love or does He DEMAND submission from His creation/subjects?

    If we see God as an authority in the way humans, influenced by sin, impose authority, then we have been decieved by the Lucifer philosophy. (I don’t mean this in condescention, EGW mentions that even heavenly angels sypathized with Lucifer up to the time of the curcifixion.) if we see the Trinity to be subjugated this way, we will try to impose and refect this. We reflect what we worship. Some see God as an allmighty authority that commands respect and see our rebellion as the cause of our current misery. Others see God as pure love personified, where respect is EVOKED by love, voluntarily and because of gratitude (not fear of damnation).

    I understand the trinity to be God’s relationship within Himself, and since God is love, He is a relationship of MUTUAL RESPECT AND SUBMISSION. This relationship has no “overhead”, boss, or ultimate word. That would be like saying that within us, the way we are, created in the image ourselves, our relationship within ourselves has an ultimate “ruler” that has the last word, like the heart-mind-soul relationship ought to always succumb to the rule of one of those. Marriage and family can be such a beautiful illustration of how beautiful this can be! Unfortunately, that also is affected by our point of view on God and His authority. But once we EXPERIENCE this, oh it is SO BEAUTIFUL!
    Sadly, not everyone sees this clearly. We have eyes but can’t see, ears but not hear…
    I pray that more of us get to understand the beauty of God, of the Trinity, may the Holy Spirit keep revealing Himself to us as we all strive to live right with God.

    Thank you Marcos for this, and may God keep blessing you all!!

    1. You are right that the Bible is a story of redemption, but what you miss is redemption would be unnecessary but for rebellion. You are right that it is a love-story, but it is only an amazing love-story because it is the story of the God who loved those in rebellion against Him.

  6. Kade, Marcos shares valuable insight in this statement – “it is a story of redemption.” God wants to free the human race from the burden and misery of sin, so Jesus comes as our rescuer. The perfect story to symbolize this is the story of Moses. God sends Moses to rescue the Hebrew nation from the oppression of Egypt. Once their freedom is secured, Moses finds that taking Israel out of Egypt is half the battle….now the “Egypt” must be taken out of Israel. And in this process, God chooses the “wean them off” route. God could have chosen to give the Hebrews the Sermon on the Mount talk, but they weren’t ready for that. God met them where they were at. They were barely ready for what He gave them in Exodus and Leviticus. Think of how pitiful the Hebrew mindset must have been that God had to tell them to refrain from having sex with beasts (Leviticus 18:23).

    So, since the Bible shows God’s process of redeeming an entire race, it would be best to avoid over-emphasizing specific verses, and instead, look at every text as a point along a journey of redemption.

    As far as your statement – “Sounds like you are saying that the society built on direct verbal instructions of the Almighty Creator-God of the universe was less ideal than current modern society, because us enlightened modern progressives know more than the backwards God that spoke those rules.” – here is a quote from Timothy Keller that I believe best reflects the Christian perspective on your statement.

    James 1: 17 says, “Every good and perfect gift comes down from above… from the Father of lights.” This means that no matter who performs it, every act of goodness, wisdom, justice, and beauty is empowered by God. God gives out good gifts of wisdom, talent, beauty, and skill “graciously”— that is, in a completely unmerited way. He casts them across all humanity, regardless of religious conviction, race, gender, or any other attribute to enrich, brighten, and preserve the world.”
    – Timothy Keller, THE REASON FOR GOD

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