Christian Doctrines, Egalitarianism, theology

“The New Testament and the Ordination of Women” by Henry P. Hamann, part 1 in “Women Pastors?” edited by Matthew C. Harrison and John T. Pless

I grew up as a member of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, a church body which rejects the ordination of women to the role of pastor. The publishing branch of that denomination, Concordia Publishing House, put out a book entitled Women Pastors? The Ordination of Women in Biblical Lutheran Perspective edited by Matthew C. Harrison (who is the current President of the LCMS) and John T. Pless. I have decided to take the book on, chapter-by-chapter, for two reasons. 1) I am frequently asked why I support women pastors by friends, family, and people online who do not share my position, and I hope to show that the best arguments my former denomination can bring forward against women pastors fail. 2) I believe the position of the LCMS and other groups like it is deeply mistaken on this, and so it warrants interaction to show that they are wrong. I will, as I said, be tackling this book chapter-by-chapter, sometimes dividing chapters into multiple posts. Finally, I should note I am reviewing the first edition published in 2008. I have been informed that at least some changes were made shortly thereafter, including in particular the section on the Trinity which is, in the edition I own, disturbingly mistaken. I will continue with the edition I have at hand because, frankly, I don’t have a lot of money to use to get another edition. Yes, I’m aware the picture I used is for the third edition.

The New Testament and the Ordination of Women by Henry P. Hamann

Hamann begins with a quote from the Lutheran Church of Australia’s Theses of Agreement: “Though women prophets were used by the Spirit of God… 1 Cor. 14:34-35 and 1 Tim. 2:11-14 prohibit a woman from being called into the office of the public ministry for the proclamation of the Word and the administration of the Sacrament…” (13). Already, I am left wondering what Hamann and the Lutheran Church of Australia thinks prophets are/were. Anyway, Hamann goes on to state, interestingly, that these words were “formulated in the early 1950s,” a time, he apparently thinks, at which point “agitation about and for female ordination had hardly begun” (13). It is possible Hamann simply means within the specific branch of American Lutheranism he inhabits, but he doesn’t say that. In any case, women were ordained in the United States in the 1800s across multiple denominations. Looking into church history, it is easy to find women ordained throughout time.

That introduction aside, I’d like to simply focus on the meat of Hamann’s argument, which is, one would think, the exegesis of passages of Scripture. One would then be mistaken. Rather, Hamann’s focus is rather 4-ish theses, which he does little more than provide proof texts for rather than deep exegesis. We will look at them individually.

Section 1

Hamann’s first thesis is “The New Testament gives no support at all for the ordination of women” (14, emphasis removed). Such a thesis is indeed a universal negative that is doubly affirmed. It’s not just no support; Hamann suggests there is no support at all. How does he arrive at this thesis? First, he defines ordination “as authorization and commissioning to do the work of a pastor or minister of the church, a task involving control and pastoral care of a congregation, the public independent teaching of the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and the public carrying out of the task of announcing the absolution or, on occasion, the retention of sins” (14). I can hardly wonder why Hamann is then able to claim the NT doesn’t support the ordination of women: after all, there is nowhere in the New Testament where anyone is ordained thusly. But Hamann is quick to add, “Offices exactly corresponding to this definition cannot be shown to have existed in the New Testament…” (ibid). The understatement here is palpable. Hamann would be unable to come up with a single instance of any such office anywhere in the New Testament whatsoever. So he sustains his argument by punting it, pointing to Acts 20:28 instead as a “direction like that [of his view of ordination]” (ibid).

Thesis 1, then, is flatlined from the beginning because the author himself admits he can’t even affirm his own definition of ordination is found in the New Testament… only that it might have a “direction” pointed towards his definition. But Hamann doesn’t actually exegete any texts to support that his definition of ordination is the way the New Testament was pointing. He simply assumes it, and believes his readers will go along. Of course, he later states “No woman appears in the NT as carrying out an independent pastoral charge, as defined above.” Well of course not, because his definition by his own admission doesn’t appear in the NT.

Where Hamann does interact with the NT texts that are brought up to show that his initial claim is false, he is either ignorant of or ignoring serious studies that contradict his conclusion. For example, regarding Junia, who appears in Romans 16:7 as an apostle who is a woman, he states simply “A number of editors… get the name ‘Junia’; however, there seems little likelihood that they can be right, and the masculine ‘Junias’ of the RSV is the right translation…” (14). What basis does he have for saying there is little likelihood that those unnamed and uncited editors (who cannot therefore be looked up to see what their arguments are) to be right? The English translation, the RSV, uses Junias. Never mind that the NRSV has Junia in the text, should we really be looking at English translations as our basis for making an exegetical point about the translation of a contested word in the text? Absolutely not. As multiple studies have shown, the name Junias does not exist in the ancient world, and is therefore an invention of editors, unlke the name “Junia.” Eldon Jay Epp, in Junia: The First Woman Apostle notes, quoting Bernadette Brooten:

To date not a single Greek or Latin inscription, not a single reference in ancient literature has been cited by any of the proponents of the Junias hypothesis. My own search for an attestation has also proved fruitless. This means that we do not have a single shred of evidence that the name Junias ever existed. (44)

Think about that for a moment. Hamann is willing to dismiss those who translate the name as Junia, which is what the Greek seems to state, because he prefers the masculine Junias for theological purposes. But the name Junias has not “a single shred of evidence” of ever having existed in the ancient world. Hamann, however, doesn’t interact with serious studies of the name Junia. Instead, he simply asserts that because an English translation of his choosing uses Junias, that doubt is cast upon those who believe Junia is the proper reading. Such is apparently the best exegetical support he can find. To be frank, it may very well be, because, again, the invention of Junia as male is just that: an invention, and one that can be demonstrated by studying the Greek and contemporary sources. Moreover, even the Nestle Aland Greek New Testament uses “Junia” rather than having the alleged name Junias or its supposed longer root name.

Hamann believes, however, that the formidable challenge of Junia can be simply dismissed (despite our demonstration that it cannot). He does, however, believe that Galatians 3:28 might provide a stronger argument against his thesis. In dealing with the text, however, he simply says that “the declaration of [v. 28]… has to do with the oneness of all those who are in Christ, infants included… Believing and baptized women do not suddenly cease to be women” (15). Apparently, for Hamann, oneness in Christ means that women are still women (okay so far, I suppose) and that apparently means women cannot be pastors. But how does that actually follow from the Galatians text? It doesn’t, though as we will see below, Hamann, like many complementarians, simply imports his interpretation of other passages (specifically 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 2 Timothy 2:11-14) into Galatians 3:28. Galatians 3:28 gives no indication of role differentiation in the body of Christ between men and women. But complementarians like Hamann must have it there, so they get it from outside the text–indeed from an entirely different letter–and bring it to the text. This isn’t exegesis, it is a theological assumption layered onto the text.

Given that Junia provides a direct contradiction of Hamann’s point, and that Hamann himself admits that his definition of ordination isn’t actually found in the New Testament, and that Galatians 3:28 is simply dismissed, I believe it is fair to say that his first thesis fails.

Section II

Hamann next states his second thesis: “there is specific NT prohibition of the ordination of women” (16). The first problem with this thesis is that his definition of ordination, as he stated and admitted above, is unsustainable from the biblical text. So because his definition of ordination, as he himself says, “cannot be shown to have existed in the New Testament,” (14) it would be impossible to use the New Testament to exclude anyone from such a position. Nevertheless, he presses on. For the sake of engagement, we will hereafter simply assume that Hamann’s definition of ordination is wrong and simply let ordination mean pastoral office.

Hamann of course cites the two texts thought by many to exclude women from the pastoral ministry, 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-14. Now, 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is perhaps an interpolation, which would immediately exclude it from any meaningful discussion of the biblical text. But supposing it is original to the text, Hamann and others’ interpretation still faces difficulties. After all, in the very same letter, Paul writes about women praying (1 Corinthians 11), but the passage being pressed tells women to be silent. This apparent contradiction can only be resolved in a few ways, and it should be unsurprising that excluding women from the office of the ministry is not one of the consistent ways to do this. First, as already noted, it could simply be that the 14:34-35 is an interpolation, so the apparent contradiction which seems fairly strong simply didn’t exist in the original text. Second, Paul could be concerned, as he is in the rest of this section, with orderliness in worship. Thus, women, who were often uneducated in the ancient world, may have been interrupting worship with questions, and so are instead being told to go ask their husbands at home the questions they have instead of interrupting. Third, the passage could be part of the method of quotation-refutation: Paul is quoting the Corinthians their own position so that he may refute it with what follows (see here for a lengthy defense of this position). If any of these is correct, then Hamann’s use of the text fails.

But think if Hamann is correct. If he is, then Paul is clearly stating here that women must be silent in churches. Do women stay silent in your church? If you’re in the LCMS, or a different complementarian body, are women allowed to read from Scripture; do they sing the hymns; do they respond in prayer; do they say “amen”? All of these would be women not being silent. But the verse itself says “the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says” (ESV). I don’t see anything there about allowing women to sing, give praise, respond, or pray! So any churches which allow these things are contradicting their own literal reading of the text. This demonstrates another difficulty with such a reading: even those who affirm what they say are a literal reading cannot follow the text. Moreover, it would mean Paul contradicts himself. So 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 cannot be used to exclude women from the pastoral ministry.

1 Timothy 2:11-14 is an interesting selection, because Hamann leaves off verse 15, which in almost every version I know of is interpreted as a continuation of the clause in verse 14. Why Hamann leaves it off is up for speculation, though I can’t help but thinking it is because it is an extremely difficult verse and his interpretation is already strained. Anyway, here Hamann enters perhaps the most exegetical portion of his essay as he argues that the speech being used is authoritative teaching (17-18). What is interesting is that these verses can easily be affirmed by those who are for women in the ministry as their literal meaning-women not speaking authoritatively. Why? Because cultural context is important. Craig Keener, an eminent New Testament scholar, notes that there are 4 ways of dealing with 1 Timothy 2 here:

(1) Read all other Pauline passages in light of a not-very- literal interpretation of this one (so most traditional interpreters);

(2) Read this passage as applying to a specific situation (so most evangelical egalitarian interpreters);

(3) Argue that Paul moved from an egalitarian to a nonegalitarian position; or

(4) Deny that Paul actually wrote 1 Timothy (the view of many scholars, though not of most evangelical scholars).

Keener goes on to note that Paul frequently addresses specific situations in his letters, and argues that this passage is one of those times. He cites numerous reasons why this would be the case. In this same letter, Paul notes that some have been deceived by silly myths (4:7)- it is entirely possible that women were among those deceived and so are being silenced to stop the spread of heretical or pagan ideas in the church–a plausible, temporal tactic to stop false teaching until it can be corrected or rebutted. What’s interesting is Hamann himself admits that this is the cultural context of the letter, stating that “women were quite prominent in heathen cults” (19). That’s exactly the point, and the cultural context is important, but generally ignored, as far as interpreting the text is concerned, by Hamann. Most importantly, though, it is worth saying that once again complementarians fail to read this passage in the literal way they wish, because they always qualify it in some sense. Even if this is a direct command from Paul, Keener notes, we do not follow all of his direct commands, such as drinking wine to help with stomach ailments (5:23). But why not? Selective readings of the text is the easiest way to answer this.

Hamann does attempt to argue that the notion of “authority” in this passage is that of teaching authority, but his position places him against many, many biblical scholars. Instead, the concept of authority restricted in this passage seems to be that of authority taken up wrongly. Yet even if Hamann is correct, his interpretation, as already shown, is strained at best.

Now, we’ve seen that Hamann’s reading of these passages fail because they cannot be reconciled with the rest of Pauline teaching or because they are inconsistently literal. If one reading of a biblical text allows for a consistent reading that can be applied to all situations, that one ought to be preferred. Thus, the egalitarian reading is to be preferred, and Hamann has failed to demonstrate his second thesis.

We will examine the rest of the chapter in my next post on the book.


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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick is a Lutheran, feminist, Christ-follower. A Science Fiction snob, Bonhoeffer fan, Paleontology fanboy and RPG nerd.

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