Wednesday, 4 June 2008

On the Ordination of Women Part IV(i): Headship

Headship is used as an argument against the ordination of women. The essence of the headship argument is that women are not to have authority over men, and should be submissive because that is what the Bible says. This is a pretty thin argument, especially given how much weight some attach to it.

There are only two passages that speak directly of headship, and neither of them use it to prevent the ministry of women. In 1Cor 11:2-16 Paul uses the idea that man (or husband) is the head of woman (or wife) to enforce the practice of women (wives) wearing veils when they pray or prophesy in church. This is not about ministerial authority in the church. Indeed, upon reading the passage again we can see that Paul's intention is to safeguard and affirm the right of women to pray and prophesy in the church, and highlights the interdependence of men and women in the Lord. (See also 1Cor 7:3-5) If this passage is seen to be important in the debate it seems to me it could only be used to require appropriate head wear on the part of women priests (seems like an argument for the consecration of women bishops!, or perhaps only those women priests who are married (and whose husbands are present).

As an aside, it is said by opponents of the ordination of women that the headship of men over women cannot be a cultural accretion because it is based by Paul on the order of creation. So, for example, in vv 8-9 Paul uses the second story of creation in Gen 2:21ff to explain the need for women/wives to wear hats in church. But most of us would think that the wearing of hats is a cultural accretion that can be shed. So the argument that headship is more than a cultural expression because it is grounded in other parts of Scripture needs to be approached with discernment.

Also notice that in 1Cor 11 headship is first about origin. God is the origin/head of Christ, man is the origin/head of woman. (Again, Gen 2:21ff is in the background.) If Paul's purpose were to enforce a rigid order of ministerial authority, or intended that this passage might be a bulwark of such a notion, he is making a strange argument. He mentions the descending order of origin, but then says that , 'in the Lord', men and women are not independent, and that men come from women, and that in any event, all come from God. (vv11-12) His purpose is to safeguard the right of women to prophesy and pray at church, and is ensuring that the origin-authority nexus is not overdone.

And what authority are we talking about? Whatever it is, it is not ministerial authority, and whatever the theology, the submission of women/wives is achieved with a hat.


  1. Hi Warren,

    I'm having a bit of trouble following all your argument here.

    I think your trying to say that the passages that are used to argue that women should be subordinate are actually about safeguarding ministerial roles for women in the Church. That because of the culture in Corinth (that women with no hair were prostitutes) that Paul was saying that women sure ensure that their heads were covered, so that they were respected as leaders rather than potentially viewed as sexual objects.

    That Paul sees men and women as equal in Christ and that neither are independent 'in the Lord'.

    Is this the basic thrust of your arguement?

  2. Yes. My major point is that it is all a bit overdone with the headship thing. Seems headship is meant to carry a lot for some in their theology, and I struggle to really see it. I think it is funny that those who love the whole headship thing are usually those claiming to really take the Bible seriously and would excoriate anyone who would be reading into the text. And I reckon there is some eisegesis at work in the conservative reading of headship. My main point is that whatever is happening in the headship passages it is not about preventing ministry of women, and what ever the authority thing is about is dealt with by wearing a hat. hence the importance of consecrating women!

  3. as I understand it the issue is not about "who's the boss?" per se but about authority to teach.
    The Corinthians passage doesn't really address it and what knots the knickers of certain evangelicals is the pastoral epistles
    eg.1 Timothy 2:12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.
    Literalism demands that such instructions be implemented literally, and indeed Abp Jensen's point about most things is that "God runs the church through the Bible" (see here for example:

    I think the language is interesting...God runs the Church
    If the Bible said that only vegetarians were allowed to preach, then that would settle it I suspect, for Jensenites!
    The fact that these sort of issues are applied only partially, and seemingly with an uncritical selectivity, doesn't appear to bother them.