Bishop Howell Davies shares with Credo Cymru some insights into basic biblical imagery
THE ISSUE BEFORE US is the ordination of women to the priesthood/episcopate and I trust that we shall dig down to some theological foundations – Biblical theological rather than Systematic Theological, however. But my approach will be as much a description of a personal odyssey with the subject as an attempt at a detailed scholarly study arising from wide reading. You see, I had some very strong opinions on the subject whilst at theological college (didn’t we all have those!) and, by way of an introduction and of establishing my credentials, I have brought copies of an article I wrote in the college students magazine in 1959. The magazine cost one shilling, but you can have these for free and, possibly, for a bit of a laugh at how chaps took issues like this one seriously even in those far-off day!
After ordination and a short curacy, my wife and I and young family went to East Africa and the issue of women’s ordination faded. After all we worked alongside devoted and very capable women missionaries who taught in schools, served in hospitals as doctors and nurses, evangelised and built up the churches through their teaching and example. Yet even the most ardent church-planter did not seek ordination: she sought it, rather, for the male leadership which came to the forefront in the new churches as they grew. Then in the seventies something of a change took place and women’s rights and the plea for their ordination within the churches began to be heard. When I went to Uganda to be Bishop of Karamoja in 1981 and took my place in the House of Bishops, Festo Kivengere was the foremost protagonist for women’s ordination. I questioned him about his understanding of the Pauline texts, but his only reply was that we needed to keep abreast of the times and that African women, even more than others, needed liberating. During the time of Ugandas appalling oppression by Idi Amin, Festo had been an exile based largely in the USA hosted by its Episcopal Protestant Church. In Karamoja itself our first graduate theologian was a lady. She was appointed a Reader and was certainly amongst the most able of our Bible expositors and she has since been ordained priest by my successor.
I returned to be Vicar of St. Jude’s, Wolverhampton, 1987 to 1993, and to the all-consuming task of a parish life which included ministering to large ethnic minority and refurbishing the church interior for mission. This meant that the women priests issue crept up on us in carpet slippers. The matter was hardly discussed at parish level, so complacent had I become about the issue and so preoccupied with what I deemed to be more urgent priorities. However, about a year before retirement a stark theological fact stared me in the face. I have a younger son who is now in the ordained ministry and his older brother has also applied to be considered. As we prayed and talked through their vocations (and although they never encountered this as a difficulty) it occurred to me that an applicant for ordination in the present climate of the Church of England (as it was then and mostly still is) could doubt major tenets of the Christian faith (e.g. the Virgin Birth and the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ) yet be accepted if he expressed no doubt about the ordination of women. And, of course, vice-versa: he could be rejected on the grounds of not accepting women’s ordination even though he affirm the historic creeds with absolutely no mental reservation. The former was and is the position of some of our bishops, including at that time, David Jenkins of Durham.
Thus I was shaken out of my complacency. If the vote in Synod gave approval to the ordination of women, many good men who sought entry to the ordained ministry of the Church of England would be shut out for reasons of political (in) correctness whilst many would be welcomed for their political correctness, but would bring with them into the ministry a whole ragbag of unorthodox beliefs which would most probably be encouraged at University and/or theological college! As the vote in Synod approached, recollecting George Careys statement in a Readers Digest [March 1991] interview whilst he was still Bishop of Bath and Wells gave little cause for optimism and indeed caused alarm to both Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals, if for different reasons! The idea that only a male can represent Christ at the altar is a most
serious heresy. The implications of that are devastating and destructive, because it means women feel totally excluded. Jesus included women amongst his followers; they shared in much of his ministry; they were witnesses to his resurrection. `There is neither male nor female. Saint Paul said, `for you arm all one in Christ Jesus. I hope to show later that this bland mis-application of Galatians 3:28 is one of the more grievous distortions of Scripture employed by Christian feminists. On the day of the vote itself I heard Archbishop Carey summing up before the division: If we do not vote for this measure we shall lose credibility with the Society in which we live (or words to that effect) My immediate reaction was that it was no first priority of the Church to prove itself credible to a Society that was getting so many things wrong and especially issues of gender and human sexuality.
So, at my personal eleventh hour shortly before 11 November 1992, I decided that, as best I could (coming to the end of a busy parish experience before going into retirement) I had to begin a study of the subject before us once again. Now, by study, I mean Bible study primarily, plus contemporary Bible-friendly authors, but also drawing on the wisdom of other ancient sources, particularly the creeds.
You see, whilst as an evangelical I accept the supreme authority of Holy Scripture in all matters of faith and practice, I was shocked that a large number of fellow-evangelicals accepted the ordination of women as inevitable because they interpreted Scripture by way of the new hermeneutic. I take it that that way of understanding Scripture lays greater stress on the Bibles diversity of content rather than its unity and that cultural and historical context plays a far greater part in comprehending what the original writer intended to say. Recent linguistic theory also reappraises accepted interpretation. Now context has always been important to anyone who seriously wanted to understand Scriptures, but what has been challenged so significantly has been the larger context cf. the Bible as a whole and its over- arching control in the interpretation of individual passages, so that, instead of coherence and unity receiving prominence, disparity is emphasised and a wider choice of interpretations offered. This approach characterises the Bishops Reports handling of the Scriptures referred to later.
Let me give you an example, which I feel is very relevant to the subject at issue. In Article 20 of the 39 Articles we have, if you like, the traditional way of interpreting Scripture. It is, in fact, the scriptural way because both Christ and His Apostles refer consistently to the Scripture as a unity, the Scripture says . . . etc. And Article 20 teaches, it is not lawful for the Church to ordain anything that is contrary to Gods Word written, neither may it expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another. Now this seems to me to happen most glaringly when the proponents of women’s ordination quote repeatedly from Galatians 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. To override with this one text all that is said elsewhere quite explicitly about order in the Church is not only to expound one place of Scripture that it be repugnant to another but to expound Paul likewise within the body of Scripture (e.g. I Timothy 2:1 -12 and NB II Peter 3:14-161) Paul becomes repugnant to Paul.
I plan to return to Galatians in a moment but, first, another text, with context, which seems to me quite beyond reduction or re- explanation by using any new hermeneutic technique. In I Corinthians 11:3 Paul writes, Now I want you to realise that the head of every man is Christ and the head of the woman is man and the head of Christ is God. Early in my study that seemed to me to be irrefutably a statement of revelation, quite apart from the context into which it is fed by the Apostle, but supportive of his general pastoral ruling. You will remember that the matter of praying or prophesying with head covered or uncovered follows; gender distinctions are made; vv 7-12 are underlaid by Genesis 2:18-24. And that statement the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man and the head of Christ is
God just will not go away, however you may resolve the cultural problems of the context. It is irreducible and irreversible. Man can never be the head of Christ; Christ can never be the head of God; woman can never be the head of man. Whether you believe kephale here means authoritative head or source head hardly matters, although both imply dependence and derivation and the weight of Scripture used seems to lay stress on authority.
But what has struck me so forcibly in this Apostolic pronouncement is its primal and beautiful melding together of Christian theology and anthropology. They flow into each other. Fruitful insight is gained into both the being of God and of humankind, the unity of each, the complexity of each: Genesis 1:26-28
Let US make man in OUR image, in OUR likeness, and let THEM rule… So God created MAN in HIS own image In the image of God HE created HIM; Male and Female HE created THEM
In both the divine resolve to create and the creation ditty arising from it singularity and plurality co-exist, apparently, within both the divine being and within the being of his creature man.
Mankind came from God a binary creation, with two complementary halves, male and female, both equal in being and in status, totally interdependent. Yet there was also profound differentiation as, indeed, there is in the blessed Holy Trinity. Stretching human language to its limits, the Athanasian Creed arrives at a reverend description, arising from Scripture revelation, cf. the inner being and function of the Trinity. Relevant to the subject in hand is …the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit is all one, the glory equal, the Majesty eternal. But
The Father is made of none; neither created nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone: not made nor created, but begotten. The Holy Spirit is of the Father and of the Son: neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.
Mysterious, awesome, worshipful: the nearest we can get in human language to describing the being and inner dynamism of our Triune God. Within the being of God there is glorious and majestic unity and equality. Yet there is differentiation too. Symmetry and asymmetry coexist. And characteristics fundamental to His Being are reflected in the created order of things: not least in the apex of His creation: mankind. The Son is sourced in the Father, the Spirit is sourced in the Father and in the Son. I Corinthians 11:3 arises from this, yet embraces mankind too:
God is head of Christ, Christ is head of the man, Man is head of the woman
The woman, completely equal with man in essence and in being, yet is sourced in man, and this is a point Paul makes several times in his epistles, in relation to church order and to family order. What a high and holy thing is this primal human relationship when seen in the light of the Trinity.
Returning to 1 Corinthians 11:316, we find Paul’s thought arising from Genesis 2 rather than 1. Genesis 1 emphasises the equality of man and woman made together in Gods image and something of their complementarity arises from the command Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it (v26) But it is in Genesis 2 that we have differentiation emphasised. We read the ancient description of how Adam was provided with a helper, Eve, and how he sang that first of love songs over her, Genesis 2:23. She was taken from his side, she was to be his helper, literally helper as his counterpart (and as helper describes God in 15 out of 19 times in the Old Testament, she had no grounds for complaint!) (Harper, Equal and Different, Hodder & Stoughton, 1994, p22.) And the basic unity of mankind is re-proclaimed every time a man and woman leave their parents and marry.
Now please note that Paul is using these basic creation texts, with their strong marital implications, to support his view of order in the church and in the home, culminating, perhaps, in the celebratory exhortations of Ephesians 5:22-33. Meanwhile, 1 Timothy 2:11-15 takes the argument a stage further – into Genesis 3 – but is also strictly within Paul’s view of the church as a praying, evangelistic community centred on the worship of God through the one Mediator vv 1-10. In vv 13-15 Paul’s reference is not simply to the created order to secure due order in the church at worship, but also to the Fall (or, better, first disobedience) And so to Genesis 3. Paul is explicit in Romans 5:12,18 and 1 Corinthians 15:22 that Adam was responsible for the first disobedience, as both generic and covenant head of humanity; but, within the binary unity of the race, it was she who listened to the serpent and took the forbidden fruit, contrary to Gods Word to them, ate it and gave some to Adam, who also ate. It seems clear that, whilst she was being chatted up by the serpent, who was under their authority, Adam was also present with her, v 6 and he took the fruit from her without question. Although Head and Source of Eve with final responsibility, he abdicated his headship role with fatal consequences, vv 2-7. Adam had no excuse, nor should he have blamed Eve (nor she the serpent!) when God called by for evening fellowship and found them in a state of extreme guilt.
We now find ourselves with a Biblical hermeneutic for perceiving Paul’s meaning in Galatians 3:26-29 and especially v 28. We notice that the language used is inclusive in the biblical sense: sons includes daughters by creation (unity is binary) and by covenant (more explicitly with baptism replacing circumcision) If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. The whole passage is about redemption. It is about rolling back the effects of the Fall and washing out the corruption in humankind caused by rebellion against God. And it happens through Christ and faith is Him; and in and through the baptised community, the Church. Gods reaction to sin has brought trouble upon man, woman, the animal creation and the environment (Genesis 3:11-19) even though the promise of redemption is also immediate, vv 15, 21. But the full extent of the need for redemption becomes clearer in the ensuing chapters, e.g. 4:19-24, where we have the polygamy of Lamech, with its boorish chauvinism; his violence in killing more men than Cain; and his poem addressed shamelessly to two sexual partners about the two deaths inflicted on others. Divisions in the race multiply, cultural differentiations take place and these are carried on through Noah and his family during and beyond the Flood. Babel follows after generations of further arrogance and degeneration; the confusion of languages and more racial distinctions after human kind is scattered in Judgment. Slavery became common in the ancient world. The early Hebrews accepted it, but with the Sinaitic introduction of the Law, some of its worst effects were mitigated. Even though slavery became a metaphor for Gods peoples relationship to him and later for Christians loyalty to Christ, yet it is never a prescriptive phenomenon of Scripture, but descriptive. Its origin is in human pride, arrogance and greed, as is polygamy.
Thus in the famous Galatian verse so beloved of feminists, from Dr. Carey down to rather vague members of (say) evangelical mission boards, Paul is far from describing order in the church, but, rather, how the accursed divisions in mankind (post Genesis 1 and 2) are healed in Christ, e.g. racial (neither Jew nor Greek), oppressive (neither slave nor free), sexist (neither male nor female): “you are all one in Christ Jesus. The disordered relationships in man-kind are re-ordered in Christ; what went wrong from Genesis 3 on is put right in Him. But order in the Church is consistently based on Creation, Genesis 1 and 2, with reference also to Genesis 3:1-7.
Further, Paul’s thinking in Galatians leads us naturally into the consideration of patriarchy, because he goes on to write, If you belong to Christ, you are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to promise. (Abram probably means the father in exalted, Abraham father
of a multitude). The covenant with Abraham cannot be overestimated, because by it, as by no other God prepared for and pre-figured the New Covenant. This is a recurring theme in Romans, Galatians, Hebrews etc., and is also basic to our understanding of the Gospels, cp. Luke’s and Matthews genealogies as well as, say, the Magnificat and Benedictus, see Luke 1:72-75. In Acts, Luke does not fail to draw attention to the patriarchal content to the apostolic Kerygma, Acts 3:13; 7:2-19; 13:16-19,26-33 e.g. Now feminists attack patriarchy as one of those aberrations of the human race that needs straightening out. Christians feminists believe that the New Testament has abrogated it as a means of governance in the church and, perhaps, even in the family. But both OT and NT uphold patriarchy, despite the personal failures of some patriarchs. Patriarchy flows naturally from all that we know of male headship within the binary nature of humankind. God called Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Israel) and the twelve sons of Jacob to form the nation of Israel, the church of the Old Covenant. Patriarchy reflects the Fatherhood of God, so emphasised by Christ and His Apostles and it explains why Jesus appointed Apostles from His male followers and did not replace them from amongst His more trustworthy, loyal and less cowardly female followers.
The twelve apostles, the foundation, with Christ Himself, of the new household of God (Ephesians 2:19,20) grew out of the nation household of Israel, itself founded upon the twelve patriarchs through the original covenant with Abraham. The imagery of the Book cf. Revelation is repeatedly that of the OT lighting up the New(!) in the setting of Gods great purposes for His People throughout history from the beginning to the end of time. Revelation 4:4 begins the description of the liturgical arrangements for the final consummation: Surrounding the throne (of God and of the Lamb) were twenty-four other thrones and seated on them were twenty-four elders (presbuteros) cp. I Peter 5:1). It was thus no cultural hiccup that males were appointed to the apostolate and that the apostles and their delegates (Timothy, Titus etc.) appointed only males to the prebyteral-episcopal office. Forbidden to hold public authority, yet women were called to serve the church as helpers. Maternal and sisterly gifts complement paternal and brotherly I Timothy 2:15; 5:l-16;3:11; and they may take a lead in teaching and caring in households, Acts 18:24-28; II Timothy 1:5; 3:15-17; (?)11 John, etc. We cannot but note the supreme example of Mary, the Mother of the Lord Jesus as she is portrayed in the Gospels, fulfilling with obedience and humility her part in Gods purposes of redemption and exemplifying his will for womanhood (cp. Galatians 4;4; Acts 1:12-26: I Timothy 2:9-15).
And so, to say that the appointment of women to the orders of bishop and presbyter in the Church of God is denied, because Christ and His Apostles did not make such appointments, is no mere argument from silence. The entire Word of God, from Genesis to Revelation portrays Male headship – patriarchy – as the only universal option for the church and accepted as such for nearly 2,000 years by the church worldwide. The Church of England rejected this teaching of Bible and tradition in 1992, and thereby deprived itself of a part of the universal church’s witness to cultures both ancient and modern amongst which it exists: that those cultures may be led back from disorderly regressions to the ways of sanity and good sense, nature and common sense; that they may see the church rejoicing in the fact that nature is not cancelled by grace but enhanced and lifted up by it:
Grace is something other and higher than nature, but it nevertheless joins up with nature, does not destroy it, but restores it rather. Grace flows on in the riverbed which has been dug out in the natural relationships of human life.
Now I want to conclude this study with a passage which seems to me to sum up most beautifully the spiritual substance of what we have been considering, if not the practical application. The primary concern of the apostle Paul in Ephesians 5:22-33 is instruction about the Christian household: wives, husbands, children and domestic servants are all addressed in the wider context, 5:21-6:9. The first ground
rule is mutual submission, v21. Even the Head submits to the ones over whom He is Head. Jesus said, I am among you as one who serves, Luke 22:27, and he washed the feet of his disciples. So all authority is a serving authority. But, then, following the grand presupposition of mutual submission within marriage, the wife is to submit to her husband as to the Lord, and his headship of her is reiterated along with that of Christs headship, this time of the Church. The two are analogous. The husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church. Nothing less than sacrificial love will suffice; love of wife will be like nourishing a man’s own body, as Christ the church. Then, once again, a quotation from Genesis 2:24 at v34 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This is a profound mystery, but I an talking about Christ and the Church. The mystical union that is betwixt Christ and His Church (B.C.P.) illumines holy matrimony, both are illumined by Adam and the creation and presentation of Eve to him to be his helper, and the unity that flows from them. Now this is a glorious concept which is both earth-earthy and mystical-mysterious. The perceptions of Christ and His church and of man and woman are so inextricably interwoven that gender and spirituality are seen to be intimately interrelated also. Gender terminology is at the root and in the warp and woof of things. God is male to his creation, which is female to Him; Yahweh was Israel’s true Bridegroom in the Old Covenant, Christ is the Church’s in the New. God is Father, Christ is Son, Head of His Church, she His Bride. There is no other realistic nor spiritual nor devotional way given to us to speak of what has been revealed. All other ways are reductionist at best, absurd or blasphemous at worst. Modern views of human sexuality, egalitarian, or role reversal, or sexual anonymity or ambiguity, just cannot intrude without lopsiding the way things are creatorially and redemptively. If you attempt to sanitise the language of the Bible and liturgy in an inclusive direction to cut out imagined sexism, you neutralize it – or, rather, neuter it, and those of whom it speaks become less human or less divine rather than more. Humans are either male or female. There is no gender scale with male and female at each end and all shades of relativity on a sliding scale between. By analogy, you cannot have a Father/Mother God who has a Son/Daughter who is a Bridegroom/Bride of His/Her people. This way the sustained analogies of the Bible, with their rich and meaningful metaphors, become a nonsense, an unreality not in any way corresponding with our experience of either nature or redemption as they really are.
Now this imagery from Ephesians 5 simply reinforces all that has been said about male headship in the church. The Church is Gods household and family. Christ is its head and He can be represented properly (naturally and spiritually) only by male headship in the churches here and now. It seems untenable to argue that Christ is first human and only contingently male and, therefore, a woman can be head of home or church and represent his humanity. Human and humanity are, to a large degree, abstract terms. Humanity was created in an essentially binary form; abnormality apart, you must be either a female human or a male human and the Son of God chose to be born of a woman, but Himself a male human. So the churches of God are to be led, pastored, and headed by men but assisted by women with equally important vocations but different. Mysterious, mystical, revealed, spiritual as well as natural order require it.
All this may seem a cop-out to feminists who seem to want the human mind and society re-engineered according to contemporary psycho- sociological theories – and the church along with it. But the Church’s vocation is entirely other than this. It has, from God, a sufficient revelation in Scripture. It should seek to structure its own order according to its principles and to share with an ailing society the natural and spiritual insights provided in the Bible for its true health. One has said, A true understanding of the universe is gained more from metaphor than from measurement and this is, perhaps, most true of the Church
Howell Davies was formerly Vicar of St. Jude’s Wolverhampton in the diocese of Birmingham. and Bishop of Karamoja in the province of Uganda. This paper was originally delivered at a meeting of Credo Cymru in St Mary’s, Bangor, North Wales.