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Women in the Church
Scriptural Principles and Ecclesial Practice


A Report of the
Commission on Theology and Church Relations
of the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod

September 1985

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In its 1977 report the synodical Task Force on Women alerted the membership of the church to the continuing need for utilizing the gifts of women in the service of the Christian community. This report stated:

The present study has reviewed basic Biblical principles and directives which speak of women in the church today with this responsibility and concern in mind.

The nature of the topic itself has drawn attention to questions of headship and subordination in the man/woman relationship as pertinent to the church's life as a worshipping and serving community. To consider these themes in this report is appropriate. Christian men and women will want to know what God's word teaches and humbly submit to His authority in such matters. However, they will be just as willing to receive the apostle's inspired teaching that "the body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body" (1 Cor. 12:12 NIV). Every Christian individual possesses gifts which contribute to the function of the body, and they ought to be joyfully and thankfully received. Thus, the Christian community will affirm the unique and differing gifts of women, seeking ways to enlist them more fully in the church's life and work. But God did not call His church into being and give gifts to His people so that they would be concerned about how they might become the greatest in the Kingdom. Since the life of every Christian is to be characterized by obedience and submission on some level, any demand for "rights" and "power" is inappropriate. The Commission believes that a more precise understanding of the Biblical teaching about the service of women in the church will move further reflection on the topic to its appropriate level-how all members of the church can serve our Lord and one another within the order He has established. On this level there is no thought inferiority or superiority, of rule and domination, but only of our Savior's words: "truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them." (John 13:16-17)


The Commission calls attention to the following selected reference works for background reading on the service of women in the church. Inclusion here does not imply endorsement by the Commission of the viewpoints expressed in them.

Brunner, Peter. The Ministry and the Ministry Of Women. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1971.
A study of the role of women with respect to the pastoral ministry. Brunner's conclusions are based on the headship structure mandated in the order of creation and whether in the specific office of pastor a woman can really stand in the place of Christ. Questions are included.

Clark, Stephen B. Man and Woman in Christ. Ann Arbor: Servant Books, 1980.
One of the most significant studies to be published in recent years. Clark's book contains a thorough examination of the Scriptural teaching and deals with the controversial issues of application. His material on scriptural teachings will probably be more helpful than his discussion of the social roles of men and women.

Evans, Mary J. Woman in the Bible. Downers Grove: Inter-varsity Press, 1983.
An interpretation of Biblical data bearing on women in the home, in the church, and in society. The book is a good example of the most recent thinking on these topics. While it tends to support women in the office of the public ministry, readers will find the exegetical attention to specific Biblical texts helpful.

Foh, Susan. Women and the Word of God. Grand Rapids, Baker Book House, 1979.
This is a response to "Biblical Feminism" and its view of Scriptural authority. The specific issues of deculturization and hermeneutics are addressed. Contending that some temporary churches waste the gifts of women, the author focuses on those areas in which women may more fully participate in the life of the church.

Hurley, James B. Man and Woman in Biblical Perspective. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981.
A major study of those passages in Scripture which speak to, the role of women in the church. Hurley stresses the specific societal and historical settings of the passages but also discusses their relevance to the present.

Ryrie, Charles C. The Role of Women in the Church Chicago: Moody Press, 1970.
A survey of the role of women in Christian history. Helpful reference book which indicates the views of Christian theologians throughout history and how the church reflected those views at various points in its past.

Scanzoni, Letha and Nancy Hardesty. All We're Meant To Be. Waco: Word Books, 1974.
A treatment by two "evangelical feminist" authors who seek to further the visibility of women in the churches by emphasizing the "revolutionary" character of Christ's ministry.

Zerbst, Fritz. The Office of Women in the Church. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1955.
A sound treatment of the Scriptural principles regarding the role of women in the church. The book is especially helpful in examining and understanding the relationship between the orders of creation and redemption. Zerbst views the decision to ordain women as an undermining of the order of creation.


[Notes to the Introduction]

[1] A call for increased participation of women in the corporate life of the church led to the appointment in 1973 of the Task Force on Women (1973 Res. 2-49 and 4-47). This Task Force continued its work through 1977 and submitted to the Synod detailed reports on ways in which women may more fully participate in the life of the church. The 1977 convention adopted three recommendations of the Task Force. One of the recommendations was that the responsibility for studying the issues relating to women in the church be assigned to the CTCR (Res. 3-06). In 1981 and again in 1983 the Synod asked the CTCR to give priority to this study. In 1984 the President of the Synod appointed the Commission on Women and asked it to devote itself to six tasks: 1) review material prepared by the previous task force and evaluate the extent to which the recommendations have been implemented in the Synod; 2) gather additional data on the current involvement of women in various aspects of synodical and congregational life; 3) review current emphasis and dimensions of the women s movement in society as these affect the church; 4) consult with the CTCR and advise it as it prepares a theological study on the service of women in the church; 5) recommend appropriate service and ministry opportunities for women at all levels of church life; and 6) explore the possibility of creating a network of forums on women's activity in the church through the districts of the Synod. Although work of the Commission on Women including a Synod-wide survey of the service of women has not yet been completed the CTCR has benefited from several consultations with the members of the Commission on Women. In the interest of sensitizing itself to the concerns of women in the Synod the CTCR has also shared preliminary drafts of this report with other groups and individuals of the Synod (Council of Presidents, seminary faculties, college presidents, the CTCR s Social Concerns Committee, and staff at the International Center).

[2] The Commission included a discussion of male-female relationships within the context of marriage as a major part of its 1981 study on "Human Sexuality: A Theological Perspective." Material from that study especially pertinent to the present report includes "Relational Purpose of Marriage" (pp. 13-17) and "Headship Within Marriage" (pp. 29-32).

[Notes to Section IA: The Old Testament]

[3] The term for "prophetess" is used for the false prophetess Noadiah in Neh. 6:14, and for Isaiah's wife in Isaiah 8:3. In the case of Isaiah's wife, the word likely means "the wife of a prophet." Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, 1962 ed., s.v. "Prophetess." Cf. George Buchanan Gray, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary of the Book of Isaiah, 3d ed. (Edinburgh: T&T. Clark, 1949), p. 144.

[4] Clarence Vos, Woman in Old Testament Worship (Delft: Judels and Brinkman, 1968 pp. 164-67.

[5] Mary J. Evans, Woman in the Bible (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1983), p. 32.

[Notes to Section IB: The Ministry of Jesus]

[6] See discussion on pages 10, 11.

[7] This is clear not only from the negative fact that no call or commission is reported to have been given them, but from the sentence structure itself of Luke 8: l-3. Three groups are distinguished, "Jesus," "the twelve with him," and "some women." These women do not relate to Jesus and to His ministry in exactly the same way as do the Twelve. The women "served" them from "their own resources." The service of the women is explicitly that of material support. Also the plural "them" indicates that the Twelve were, with Jesus, recipients of the women's administrations. This, too, shows that they stood as a distinct group apart from the Twelve, and not in possession of the selfsame service.

[8] Jesus' practice and teaching regarding women certainly differs from Rabbinic Judaism. He was not of the opinion that "there is no wisdom in women except with the distaff" (The Talmud, London: Soncino Press, 1938, Vol. 11, p. 311) or that a man should praise God "who hast not made me a heathen ... A woman... a brutish man" (Ibid., Vol. 2, p. 264). However, the tendency in contemporary feminist literature to see Jesus' dealings with women as completely revolutionary is overdrawn. He went beyond the norms of Pharisaic or scribal interpretation of God's teaching that were wrong. His revolution had to do with the nature of true righteousness and of the spiritual relationship of men and women alike before God, not with the obliteration of the differentiation between man and woman.

[Notes to Section IC: The Apostolic Church]

[9] Our discussion follows Stephen Clark, Man and Woman in Christ, (Servant Books: Ann Arbor; 1980), pp. 103-23; James Hurley, Man and Woman in Biblical Perspective (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), pp. 115-24; and Roger Gryson, The Ministry of Women in the Early Church (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1976), pp. 3-5.

[10] John refers to a woman of the church at Thyatira, Jezebel, as a prophetess (Rev. 2:20-24). Although he warns against her teachings, he does not say that a woman could not prophesy.

[11] The Didascalia Apostolorum, written in the first half of the third century, is the earliest full source for the role of deaconess. Deaconesses performed a great variety of services in the care of women, including burial and baptism of the women, the catechizing of women, and the caring for sick women at home. However, like the deacons they were not heads of the community but served in a role auxiliary to that of the bishop and elders.

[12] The term diakonos can be used to refer to both men and women. The Greek definite article that occurs with the word determines the gender.

[13] F. F. Bruce, The Pauline Circle (Flemington Markets, New South Wales, Australia: The Paternoster Press, 1985), p. 88.

[14] It is noteworthy that in Acts and Romans Priscilla is mentioned before her husband a possible indication that she was more prominent than her husband in the missionary work. F. Bruce, however, notes: "But in the secular society of the time, when one finds a wife named before her husband, the reason usually is that her social status was higher than his" (p. 45).

[15] The characterization of St. Paul as an enemy of women is an unfounded prejudice. Actually, there is more evidence for his friendships with women than for Jesus'. The basis for the view that Paul was "anti-feminist" is the fact that most of the Scriptural passages speak of a differentiation between men and women are in the Pauline epistles. However, love and admiration for women is not less than that of Jesus. See Clark's discussion of the Testament approach to women in his Man and Woman in Christ, pp. 235-54.

[Notes to Section IC: Excursus on the Service of Women in the Early Church]

[16] The most pertinent passages of the New Testament concerning the positive roles women could and did perform in the primitive church have been summarized in the previous discussion. The purpose of this brief excursus is to present representative evidence reflects early Christian and patristic attitudes towards the participation of women church's worship and life, and to do this within the context of developments in heterodox and heretical Christian groups.

[Notes to Section IIA: Male and Female]

[17] Mankind is also spoken of as created in the image of God in the broad sense; that is man and woman reflect from God a variety of attribute s such as self-consciousness, the capacity for self-transcendence, and rationality.

[18] Martin Luther; Luther's Works, American Edition 1 (St. Louis: (Concordia Publishing House, 1958), pp. 62-63.

[19] See Susan T. Foh, Woman and the Word of Gad (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1980), pp. 51-52.

[20] 1 Peter 3:7 speaks of the woman as "the weaker sex" (vessel). It is perhaps best to understand this primarily in the sense of physical weakness (cf. E. G. Selwyn, The Epistle of St. Peter [London: Macmillan and Co. LTD, 1964], p. 187), though Martin Franzmann's caution is appropriate: "In common parlance this phrase has come to have a derogatory sense. But it is human male pride that made it depreciatory, not Peter. He uses it to commend woman to man's love and care..." Concordia Self Study Commentary (St. Louis Concordia Publishing House, 1979), p. 262.

[Notes to Section IIB: Creation and Redemption]

[21] Emil Brunner, The Divine Imperative, trans. Olive Wyan (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1947), pp. 208-33.

[22] See, for example, Luther's Works, American Edition, vol. 13, p. 358, and vol. 41, p. 177.

[23] Franz Pieper, Christliche Dogmatik, 3 vols. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1924), 1:629. See English edition, Christian Dogmatics, 4 vols. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1950), 1:526.

[24] Werner Elert, Morphologie des Luthertums, 2 vols. (Munich: C.H. Beck Publishing Co. 1953), 2:37-49. See Elert's Das Christliche Ethos (Hamburg: Furche-Verlag, 1961) p. 37.

[25] The peculiarly Pauline meaning of "teaching" and "exercising authority" is treated in later sections of this document. See pp. 34-37.

[Notes to Section IIB: Excursus on Genesis 2-3]

[26] The creation of women from man's "rib" indicates the sameness of nature between man and woman. Karl Barth writes in his Church Dogmatics (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1985), vol. 3, 1, p. 296: "She is not himself but something of and from himself. He is related to her as to another part or member of his own body... With her special existence she something which he himself ought to fulfill in this special part or member but cannot, so that it awaits fulfillment in her existence. So close is she to him." In a 1525 sermon Luther spoke of what this would mean for the faithful husband: "He should not consider her a rag on which to wipe his feet; and, indeed, she was not created from a foot but from a rib in the center of man's body, so that the man is to regard her not otherwise than his own body and flesh ... you should ... not love her as much as you love your own body. Nay, nay, your wife you should love as your own body..." Quoted in Ewald M. Plass, This Is Luther (St. Concordia Publishing House, 1948), p. 257.

[27] Fritz Zerbst offers the following definition in The Office of Women in the Church (St. Louis Concordia Publishing House, 1955), p. 69: "Hypotage means subjection, hypotassein: to put in subjection, and hypotassesthai: to subject oneself, or, in the passive, to be subjected to be under obedience. For the idealistic culture of personality this group of words connotes that which is limiting or restricting, even degrading humiliating. In its original sense, however, 'to be in subjection' means to be placed in an order,' to be under definite tagmatta (arrangement of things in order, as in ranks, rows, or classes). This original sense it is which evidently and chiefly underlies the New Testament use of the term hypotage." The implications of this definition are explored on pages 30-32 of this report.

[28] Michael F. Stitzinger, "Genesis 1-3 and the Male/Female Role Relationship," Grace Theological Journal (Spring, 1981), pp. 30-33.

[29] It has been argued that the word ezer does not necessarily imply subordination in any way. Sixteen of the twenty-one uses of the word in the Old Testament refer to God as a superior helper to human beings. The remaining three refer to men helping other men. But ezer must be seen in context. The phrase says that God created woman to be a help for man; that is to say, the purpose of her creation was to be a help to the man. There is apparently some kind of subordination indicated by the phrase. See Stitzinger, p. 31.

[30] Clark, p. 28.

[31] David P. Kuske, "The Order of Creation," Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly (Winter, 1985), p. 31.

[32] Stitzinger, p. 38. See also Susan T. Foh, "What Is the Woman's Desire?" Westminister Theological Journal 37-38 (Fall 1974/Spring 1976), pp. 376-83.

[33] Krister Stendahl, The Bible and the Role of Women (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966), p. 37.

[34] David Tracy, "Christian Faith and Radical Equality," Theology Today (January 1978), pp. 370-77.

[35] Peter Brunner, The Ministry and the Ministry of Women (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1971). Similar to Brunner's position is that of George M. Knight in The New Testament Teaching on the Role Relationship of Male and Female (Grand Rapids: Book House, 1977).

[36] C.S. Lewis makes a similar point in his essay on "Priestesses in the Church?" when he writes, "The point is that unless 'equal' means 'interchangeable,' equality means nothing for the priesthood of women" (that is, for women in the pastoral office). God in the Dock, ed. Walter Hooper (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970) p. 238.

[37] Although it would be anachronistic to read present-day striving for equality into the words of Paul, it is obvious that a message such as his does remove the stigmata differences between Jew and Greek, slave and free, man and woman. As long as the gospel is a living power, differences in this world cannot become the basis for arrogance and oppression.

[38] Martin Luther, Luther's Works, American Edition 30 (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1967), p. 63.

[39] The Formula of Concord, Article 11, notes that the relationship between male and female was created before the Fall. Sins associated with this relationship need to be redeemed, but the relationship itself, since it is created by God, does not stand in need of redemption.

[Notes to Section IIC: Headship and Subordination]

[40] See the 1981 report of the CTCR on "Human Sexuality: A Theological Perspective," p. 256.

[41] The Commission recognizes that much could be said about how the headship/subordination relationship works itself out in marriage. However, it here limits its discussion of this concept to the service of women in the church.

[42] Brunner, p. 25.

[43] Zerbst, p. 32.

[44] Zerbst surmises that the people of Paul's day felt much more keenly than people of our day that the outward demeanor of a person is an expression of his inner life specifically of his religious convictions anal moral attitude (p. 40).

[45] Leon Morris, The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1958), p. 156;. See AC XXVIII, 53-56.

[46] Clark makes a discerning distinction between oppressive-subordination care-subordination, and unity-subordination. The latter, summarized here, is described as a relationship that is carried on for the sake of unity or a higher cause." Man and Woman in Christ, pp. 39-45.

[Notes to Section IID: The Exercize of Authority]

[47] The term which Paul uses for "silence" in 1 Tim. 2:2, 11-12 also occurs in Acts 11:18, 21:14, and 22:24, where total silence is not implied.

[48] Cf. George Stoeckhardt's discussion (originally published in 1897) in "Von dem Beruf der Lehrerinnen an christlichen Gemeindeschulen," Concordia Theological Monthly 5 (October, 1934), pp. 764-73. Stoeckhardt writes, "No, the apostle's words will hardly allow another interpretation than that he finds nothing objectionable in the public praying and prophesying in itself, if only it occurs with a covered head. But thereby he has not in the least limited or weakened what he writes in 1 Cor. 14 regarding the silence of women. Neither the praying nor the prophesying belongs to that speaking which he forbids for women directly in I Cor. 14:33-36. The women are not to teach in the assembly of the congregation. They are not to appear as teaching women, nor to instruct the men, nor to dispute publicly before and with men. This is, as we have recognized, the understanding of St. Paul in the latter passage quoted. Neither the praying nor the prophesying belongs in this category. Obviously the praying is not teaching or disputing" (p. 769).

[49] Bo Giertz, "Twenty Three Theses on The Holy Scriptures, The Woman, and the Office of the Ministry," The Springfielder (March 1970), p. 14. Priscilla, together with Aquila, took Apollos in and expounded (exethento) the way of God more accurately. Neither didaskein or any other closely related word is used (Acts 18:26).

[50] Hurley, pp. 200-201.

[51] The role of the deception of the woman in the teaching of Paul is viewed by many as an effort to exculpate Adam from guilt and picture women as naturally more subject to deception or prone to temptation than man. Such conclusions are unwarranted. They attempt to explain on the basis of the sexes what can be explained only on the basis of the order of creation which God established. There is no intimation that woman bears the primary responsibility for the fall. The point is simply that the woman was deceived. Being deceived was her role in the fall. See Zerbst, pp. 54-56.

[52] AC V and XIV speak of the "ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the sacraments" on behalf of the church. This office is distinguished from auxiliary offices, which have been created by the church to carry out certain functions of the divinely mandated office of the public ministry. See the CTCR's 1981 report on "The Ministry: Offices, Procedures, and Nomenclature," pp. 16-19.

[53] An expanded discussion of the functions of the office of the public ministry follows below on pp. 41, 42.

[Notes to Section IIIA: Applying Scriptural Principles]

[54] Hurley. p 246.

[Notes to Section IIIB: Women and the Pastoral Office]

[55] "The Ministry," pp. 22-23.

[56] Brunner; p. 35. Also, Zerbst, p. 121: "Whereas rule over the congregation is exercised through the proclamation of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments, the ordination of woman into this office is a practical invalidation of the proclamation concerning woman's subordination. The demands that the office be opened completely to women must be resisted, because they are essentially an attack upon the order of creation, which must be preserved."

[57] "The Ministry," p. 15.

[58] Ibid., pp. 13-14. As the Commission has stated in its document on "The Ministry," the office of the public ministry and its functions are called "public" "not because the functions are always discharge in public, but because they are performed on behalf of the church" (p. 13).

[59] In an emergency situation a congregation may request a lay leader to perform some functions of the office of the public ministry. The fact that in unusual circumstances one performs such functions does not mean that one holds the office. Luther's celebrated comment that if "no one were present ... then a women must step up and preach to the others, otherwise not," is not a basis for saying that a woman may occupy the office of the public ministry.

[60] Martin Luther; Large Catechism, I, 130.

[Notes to Section IIIC: Woman Suffrage]

[61] Whether congregations establish and maintain a constitutionally organized voters' assembly is neither commanded nor forbidden by Scripture. For those congregations with a voting assembly, the words of Francis Pieper are pertinent: "...the voting or balloting in the meetings of orthodox congregations has a different significance when it concerns Christian doctrine than when it concerns indifferent matters.) The only purpose of voting in matters or doctrine is to see whether all now understand the teaching of the divine Word and agree to it... In adiaphora a vote is taken to ascertain what the majority regards as the best. The natural order is that in adiaphora the minority yields to the majority and acquiesces, not because the majority has the right to rule, but for love's sake." Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, 3:430. Such votes have no ultimate authority.

[62] See discussion on pp. 32, 33.

[63] "Woman Suffrage in the Church," A Report of the CTCR, 1968, p. 3.

[64] The historical fact that in the past the Synod restricted woman suffrage does not mean that the 1969 report or the present one rests on a changed understanding of Scriptural authority or the principle of the subordination of women in the church. To a greater extent what is reflected is a changed understanding of the nature and function of the franchise as practiced in the contemporary congregation. See 1972 opinion of the CTCR on "Woman Suffrage," 1973 Convention Workbook, pp. 37-38.

[Notes to Section IIID: Additional Practical Applications]

[65] Quoted from the CTCR's 1983 report on "Theology and Practice of the Lord's Supper," p. 30.

[Notes to the Conclusion]

[66] Report of the Task Force on Women, 1977 Convention Workbook, p. 54.


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