A New Hermeneutic by Pastor Steven Grabiner

A New Hermeneutic?

by Steven Grabiner  |  July 6, 2015

In just two days, the gathered delegates for the Seventh-day Adventist church will be making a decision regarding ordaining women to the pastoral ministry. I doubt that any view-changing contributions can be made at this point. However there is an issue that does need further clarification—the role hermeneutics play in this conversation. I hope to make a contribution to that clarity in this short article.

It has been suggested by individuals on both sides of this issue that different hermeneutical principles are being utilized resulting in very different conclusions. One group says: “Those who are faithful to the historical-grammatical hermeneutic will urge a ‘no’ vote to the motion.” Another group says: “Use a principle-based approach and vote ‘yes.'” I would like to pose this question: “Is it necessary to use a new hermeneutic to arrive at a ‘yes’ vote, or could someone be faithful to the historical-grammatical hermeneutical principles, and still come to the conclusion that a ‘yes’ vote is in order?” If the issue facing the church really is about the method used to interpret scripture, this is of grave concern. However, if the issue is more about members of the body of Christ coming to different conclusions using the same method, it reframes the conversation. The former is something to draw a line in the sand about. The latter can be approached with more Christian charity and acceptance of differences.

I believe that the statement that one must use a new hermeneutic to arrive at a “yes” vote is incorrect. Utilizing historical-grammatical principles, let us examine some key verses in this conversation and see where they lead. Rather than present answers, I will be asking questions that will demonstrate through the historical-grammatical method that one can arrive at the “yes” position without using a new hermeneutic. This doesn’t mean one should arrive at a “yes” vote, but rather that it is not necessarily an inappropriate conclusion based on faulty principles of interpretation.

I believe that the statement that one must use a new hermeneutic to arrive at a “yes” vote is incorrect.

Clearly one of the main discussion-informing texts in the present conversation is 1 Timothy 2:8-15. We often pass over the opening salvo of this passage, yet it helps illuminate the rest of the passage. So let’s consider it. After highlighting the importance of the gospel (v. 1-7) Paul calls for “men in every place to pray.” What does Paul here mean by the phrase, “in every place?” It is often assumed (and perhaps correctly) that Paul means every place of worship, or every church, and that the entire passage is set in the context of worship. Yet this is not necessarily the case, nor is it patently obvious. Paul uses the same expression to refer to the growth of the gospel beyond the confines of the place of worship (see 1 Thessalonians 1:8; 1 Corinthians 1:2; 2 Corinthians 2:14). How a person interprets this phrase, will impact the rest of the passage. A church setting will lead to one conclusion, while a broader setting will reframe the subsequent issue.

Another question that can be asked is, why does Paul reference “without wrath and dissension” in his appeal for prayer? Was there something happening in the church that Timothy pastored that warranted this? How a person interprets this phrase, will also impact the rest of the passage.

In verses 9 and 10 Paul turns to discuss the role of women, beginning with a call to modesty and godliness. Then—pay attention—he shifts from the role of women to a woman. Is this simply rhetorical? Or was Paul attempting to highlight a specific woman? Again, the conclusion one draws will impact the rest of the text.

In verse 11, Paul calls for a woman to receive instruction quietly and with submission. What does Paul mean by these expressions? First it is important to note that the word “quietly” does not here mean silence. Paul uses the word in verse 2 to describe the kind of life we should lead. Thus, in this passage at least, Paul is not enjoining silence, but a tranquil attitude toward life. Following this, he urges “all submission.” How should this be interpreted? All would agree that it does not mean all women should be submissive to all men. Is it referring to a church setting in which men should be taking the lead? Possibly, however by comparing this expression with Ephesians 5:24, we see that Paul enjoined the same command—“submission” in “all things”—in the context of the marriage relationship. Is it possible that Paul argues for submission within marriage here? My point is that this argument can go two ways, depending on the emphasis one places, despite the fact that the same hermeneutical principles are at work. If we compare Ephesians 5:22-31 with 1 Timothy, we notice several parallels. There is the idea of submission, a reference to creation, and an emphasis on the male leadership. If we compare these two passages with 1 Peter 3.1-7 we notice more parallels. There is the idea of modesty, submission, and male leadership. Is it possible that Paul is referring to something similar in 1 Timothy? Perhaps not, as he does not clarify the relationship between the man and the woman in that passage, as he does in Ephesians 5:22 (“your own husbands”). My point: where the interpreter places the emphasis (comparing scripture with scripture or identifying key words in the text) will impact interpretation even though the same hermeneutic is being used.

Paul is not appealing to culture, but to the origins of the human family.

The next verse is one of the most knotty in this conversation. Perhaps it is crystal clear to some, but there are several points that need addressing. Paul writes: “But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.” Here are some questions that need answering:

  1. When Paul uses the present tense “I do not allow…” does he mean I do not currently allow or I will never allow? This cannot be settled by an appeal to the Greek; interpreters answer the question both ways.
  2. What does he mean when he states that a woman cannot not teach? Both sides recognize there is a role for women to teach, and therefore neither perspective take it as an absolute restriction. To what kind of teaching is Paul then referring? Perhaps it is the teaching of an elder (1 Timothy 3:2), but that is not totally apparent from the text, particularly as false teaching is identified as a problem in Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3-4.)
  3. What does he mean that a woman cannot have authority over a man? It is argued that this refers to the leadership position in the church. But this too, while a possibility, is not immediately obvious from the text. In fact, this interpretation becomes less certain with further study. Probing the original language here, I learned that the word translated authority is used only once in the NT. But a stronger word may be needed to accurately capture the meaning. The Old Latin translation of the Greek expresses it this way: “I permit not a woman to teach, neither to dominate a man.” The Vulgate is similar: “I permit not a woman to teach, neither to domineer over a man.” The uncertain meaning of the word, at least casts some doubt that this is referring to the pastoral role in a local church.

In the next two verses Paul grounds his argument for the role of women in the creation story. All interpreters must take this seriously. Paul is not appealing to culture, but to the origins of the human family. However, by using the hermeneutic of comparing scripture with scripture certain questions arise. (As mentioned above, Paul links the creation account with a wife’s submission to her husband—Ephesians 5:31. Is something similar happening here? Perhaps not, although it is a possibility). It is argued that given Paul’s use of the creation story, this is evidence of a pre-fall subordination of the role of woman to man. However, this too is not patently obvious from a close reading of Paul. In 1 Corinthians 11:8-10, Paul argues from the creation account that a woman should have a sign of authority on her head. Both sides of the current discussion realize that the head covering was a cultural expression of a principle, a cultural expression that is no longer applicable. However, Paul grounds the use of this covering in the creation order, in a manner similar to 1 Timothy. Let me return to my central point: Utilizing the same hermeneutical principles, we can draw different conclusions. In 1 Corinthians 11:8-10 we commonly read a cultural command, while in 1 Timothy 2:13-14, we read an on-going principle. The hermeneutic is the same, but the conclusion is different.

Paul grounds the use of this covering in the creation order…

Perhaps one more illustration will suffice. It is often said that because only men constituted the OT priesthood, only men should lead churches. However this argument has a faulty premise. The NT does not compare church leadership to the OT priesthood (which has been superseded by Christ’s priesthood) but to the OT system of elders. Still, it could be argued that since only men were part of the elder system, thus only men should have the authoritative position in the church today. This is largely defensible, with one major caveat. In Deuteronomy 1:9-15, Moses recounts the initiating of the elder system in Israel. In verse 16, Moses describes these elders as judges. Thus there is a scriptural connection between the OT elders and the work of the judges. While these were predominately men, that they were not exclusively so is evident from the role of Deborah (Judges 4, 5).

My point in sharing these observations is not to urge a vote one way or another, but rather to emphasize that sincere Bible students using the same hermeneutical principles can come to different conclusions on this matter. Not all issues are spelled out for us. We should be wary of turning black and white into gray, but just as wary of turning gray into black and white. Ironically enough, some of those accusing others of using a wrong hermeneutic are drawing more exaction from the text than good hermeneutics warrant! We need humility. It is imperative that Christian charity and warmth be graciously extended to all participants in the conversation. “Christ-like love places the most favorable construction on the motives and acts of others” (Ellen White, The Acts of the Apostles, p. 319). As the church moves forward, let us learn to esteem others better than ourselves, even when we disagree.

Steven Grabiner Pastor
East Ridge Seventh-day Adventist Church
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  • Jennifer jill

    Thoughtful and deep!

  • Chris Webb

    Nice assessment. What I’m reading then is “it’s complicated”, right?

  • Ben Brown

    Wow! This is a game changer. A write up by the president of OCI, the largest self-supporting unbrella ministry in the world! This is a game changer! Wow…

  • Marvin Whittaker

    ‍ ‍ ‍ ‍ ‍ ‍ ‍ ‍Thanks, Pastor Grabiner! Many delegates are arguing about whether women should be ministers, but that argument is pointless because the vote is not going to decide that issue.

    ‍ ‍ ‍ ‍ ‍ ‍ ‍ ‍Women pastors were already fully authorized by the
    General Conference (as “commissioned” ministers) in 1990. They already
    perform the same functions and have the same leadership role in the
    local church as ordained ministers. They will continue to do so,
    regardless of the vote.

    ‍ ‍ ‍ ‍ ‍ ‍ ‍ ‍Women pastors already go through the same kind of
    consecration ceremony with a laying on of hands. The only real
    difference is the word (“commissioned” instead of “ordained”) that is
    printed on their certificate after the ceremony.

    ‍ ‍ ‍ ‍ ‍ ‍ ‍ ‍There is no point in debating whether women should be
    ministers, because that is not what the GC will vote on. The real issue now is whether the individual world
    divisions can choose to call these female pastors “ordained” instead of
    “commissioned.” It is a matter of semantics.

    ‍ ‍ ‍ ‍ ‍ ‍ ‍ ‍There is no logical (or theological) reason to continue
    to discriminate between these two terms, as George Knight explained on June 20. The Spirit of Prophecy uses the
    terms “commissioned” and “ordained” interchangeably. Ellen White made it clear that ministers receive “their commission
    from God Himself, and the ceremony of the laying on of hands added no new grace or virtual qualification.” It is
    simply a human recognition of God’s calling. (AA p. 161).

    ‍ ‍ ‍ ‍ ‍ ‍ ‍ ‍The General Conference Biblical Research Institute
    concluded 39 years ago: “If God has called a woman, and her ministry is
    fruitful, why should the church withhold its standard act of
    recognition?” (In other words, why label her “commissioned” instead of
    “ordained”?).

    ‍ ‍ ‍ ‍ ‍ ‍ ‍ ‍William G. Johnnson (retired Adventist Review editor) put
    it this way: “If God has given His stamp of approval to women in
    ministry [as seen by the General Conference policy of 1990], who are we
    to withhold official recognition?”

  • I appreciate the clarity of the post.
    You mention humility at the end of the blog. Do those that have voted to ordain women show humility by not waiting for the GC to vote? Do they lead the people to disrespect their leadership by moving forward on something that is not a salvation issue instead of waiting on God? Both sides need humility. Those against WO need to humbly pray that they present their position in humility. Those in favor of WO need to move at Gods speed and show patience.

  • James Rafferty

    An excellent article-praise God and thank you Steven Grabiner!

  • Scott Cronin

    This is indeed a multifaceted issue. In response to your question, I would personally submit that how the church moves forward in this is just as complicated as interpreting the biblical text. In our current policy there is no written prohibition of ordaining women. Also, one shocking thing I discovered was that the current policy delegates the choice of who to ordain to the Unions! Therefore, it can be asserted that the Unions who moved ahead with ordaining women were acting well within policy. So, they didn’t act in rebellion of policy, but rather they didn’t wait for everyone to feel comfortable and reach consensus on their decision.

  • Tim

    Thank you Pastor Steve, excellent point to be made, like your spirit.

  • David Wright

    Wow. The last time I saw slicing and dicing of scripture like this was years ago when I read Harold Camping’s refutation of the necessity of Sabbath-keeping. Unbelievable.

  • David Wright

    By the way, I really love you guys, but something’s gone wrong here.

  • Debra L. Morey Racz

    While the admonition to cover the head has been seen as cultural and no longer necessary, modest women in ministry have confided in me their personal convictions that they would wear a jacket, or a shawl to de-emphasize their very prominent female breasts. A veil in the synagogue worn long enough to reach above the waist would accomplish the same goal – distracting the male eye from the physical to the spiritual message being conveyed.
    Likewise, the monthly uncleaness experienced by fertile women could exclude them from services in the temple or synagogue. Pregnancy is a real issue, with nursing being a follow up concern for modesty, the long veil perhaps being another sheild she could use. The Angels are not subject to cultural issues, but Paul appeals to the use of the veil for the sake of the angels. The visual nature of the male brethren while we might wish it was a cultural thing of the past, appears to be a biological truth even in the present.
    Female students deprived of feminine hygiene supplies are reported as missing one week of school per month. While coping with mensturation is affected by cultural and economical issues, a fertile woman’s monthly cycle can affect her availability for ministry or education.
    Could it possibly be that God offers a protective place of worship to women because of their unique biological functions and needs? Be fruitful and multiply, is a very ignored mandate for mo because of their unique biological functions and needs? Be fruitful and multiply, is a very ignored mandate for many “modern” women.
    Appealing to the cultural irrevelevance of the head covering veil, has been used to suggest that other parts of the verse are no longer relevant. What if it is all relevant?

  • Dana Reedy

    Help me assess a related discovery. NKJV interlinear (Bible Study app from Olive Tree) indicates the word used for bishop (episkopes) in 1 Tim 3:1 is noun, genitive, singular, feminine. I’m only recently diving into Greek and so I don’t know what all that means (just enough to be dangerous) but I do understand “feminine.” Is the app leading me astray? Or is there another explanation?

  • Hi Scott, I’d like to ask you to please provide me with a link or a source that I can verify regarding the statement that Unions can ordain female pastors. When I look at the 1995 vote I read the following Fewer than one-third of the delegates voted in favor of the request from the North American Division of the Church which asked that divisions, not the Church as a whole, be allowed to make the decision on ordination. Of the 2,154 votes cast, 1,481 voted against the request, 673 voted for.

    From this statement it appears to say the church said no to the question at all levels. This is from a news adventist org article. Thank you in advance.

  • Tony Kimbley

    Feminine and masculine in language interpretation has nothing to do with gender

  • marilyn McNamara

    Have any of you looked at the charts from other churches and their loss of membership after voting to ordain women that Pastor Doug Bachelor posted a couple weeks ago? Have you listened to his two talks that were on Facebook? I urge you to before deleting this! I agree with him, because he uses the whole bible in his study instead of trying to change jots and titles. God Bless the vote is my prayer! You will have to let the Holy Spirit help you each to vote on an individual basis.

  • I think most of the answers to these questions are pretty obvious right there in the text. If in doubt take the simple, obvious meaning of the text and don’t question it. This clearly is a question of how we read the Bible and while that doesn’t give us excuses to mistreat our brothers on the other side of the argument, it does make it an important issue.

  • the Unions can decide who they ordain, but not by what criteria…

  • rogeliogutierrez

    Just a quick question for Light Bearers after reading this rather belated but interesting argument: When your co-director in “A Closer Look At Women’s Ordination” writes about 1 Timothy that “Paul is addressing a local situation” (Ty Gibson), what’s your position on Clinton Wahlen’s research that feminist evangelicals today specifically employ the “Ad Hoc Documents principle” in order “to limit the application of 1 Timothy 2:8-15 to the local situation” (TOSC’s “Is ‘Husband of One Wife’ in 1 Timothy 3:3 Gender-Specific?” p. 6)?

  • Jason Strack

    I agree with potsy4u. When I read the same qualifications twice in Timothy and Titus, it seems to me that it means what it says. This casting about and trying to make it say what it doesn’t seems dangerous to me. It doesn’t have to be complicated.

    I do appreciate the point of the article that you can arrive at different conclusions based on the same hermeneutic. It still seems to convoluted to me, but I understand you were making a point.

    I do agree that we should all approach each other in the love of Christ. Just because I don’t agree with you doesn’t mean I have to hate you or dislike you. I think when we approach another in an angry manner it often stems from thinking the other person is purposely trying to twist scripture and deceive people and we feel threatened and turn protective. (Or, we feel protective because it challenges our thinking and we don’t want to acknowledge there could be another way to look at it.)

    We think we know what someone else is thinking. What their motives are. This is a judgemental attitude. We should always think the best of someone. Lest we be judged.

    Jesus is coming soon! Hallelujah! Let’s set our eyes on Him and move on as He leads and guides to finish the commission and go home.

    Maranatha!

  • Kadian Lumbley

    Here is an interesting post from someone who believes that only men should be ordained as pastors and elders.

    Here’s what I don’t get. This has been voted on in the past…twice. And both times leaders and members came together and prayed about the matter and both times it was voted “No”.

    So why are we continuing to vote? How are we honoring God by telling Him, “You know, we really didn’t like Your first two answers, so lets try this again and see if You can get it right this time, Lord.”

    How fair would it be to vote three times (assuming this will be a “yes”), and then stop voting after that after some finally get what they want? Third time’s a charm? Why not keep voting every 5 years or so in case God changed His mind or in case we got it wrong the third time?

    If the third time is a “Yes” what would lead us to believe that is the correct answer from the Lord but the first two weren’t?? This is totally illogical.

    Oh I know! Howbout best two out of three? In that case, “No” has already won.

    There should have been one vote and the matter settled. Permanently.

    Do we believe that God didn’t answer our prayers correctly the first two times? Are we pushing God by doing it a third time? Are we simply praying and voting until some get what they want?

    If we voted twice with a “no” and the third is a “yes” then can we continue to vote in case God inspires us to stop ordaining women, since He apparently would have changed His mind from the first two votes?

    When they cast lots in the Bible did they keep doing it until those yelling the loudest got what they wanted, ignoring the fall of the lots the previous times? No. One lot was cast, that was the end of it.

  • Leo

    Those who vote for a YES to ordain women, are they absolutely sure they are making the right choice as if there very life depended on it? I for one would not feel that sure. Therefore I would vote on the side of safety and vote NO. A rule I learned in the military, If you are not sure about something then arr on the side of safety. My way of thinking as well as what inspiration says is to understand scripture’s plain obvious meaning. I have carefully considered both sides of this issue, and I have found that the side who wants to ordain women is very complicated and its hard to follow the reasoning. On the other hand the side who says NO to ordination Its easy to understand the reasoning because its more in harmony with what the bible is saying.

  • Leo

    It should be part of our fundamental beliefs that women are not to be ordained as Pastors, or Elders that’s the only way it would never come up again. This is what they should be voting on.

  • Tom Steadman

    Daryl, here is the link you requested: http:// equalordination. com/ rebellion/

  • Yaw

    Pastor… Good work.. However, I wish we will have the same tone of language when discussing issues pertaining to our fundamental beliefs. We have demonized Catholics, Pentecostals and other protestants as not sincere students of the bible. We see them as Babylonians because they don’t believe in our Sabbath, health and other teachings. We should also just let them be and know that it is all complicated. We can always come to two different conclusions..

  • Amie Regester

    Thanks for this analysis.

  • Amie Regester

    Hey, just a question on the rest of that verse…are we supposed to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth? What about when it’s full?

  • Amie Regester

    The only safe place to be is in the will of God 🙂

  • Mary Clemmons

    Today’s “No” vote did not change anything. It just kept the status quo. That means the unions still have the authority to choose women’s ordination. Six unions have already elected to ordain women. More will probably do so now. And they have the right to do so. EqualOrdination .com/ actual-significance/

  • Debra L. Morey Racz

    28 Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”The Muslim community in Coldwater Michigan who come from Yemen seem to have plenty of room they are very fruitful and multiply.

  • Debra L. Morey Racz

    Celibacy
    11 But He said to them, “All cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given: 12 For there are eunuchs who were born thus from their mother’s womb, and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He who is able to accept it, let him accept it. ” of course these persons would not be fruitful and multiply,and some could be like Paul with more time to minister.

  • Tom Thank you for the link. It would seem that allowing Unions to ordain women is an opinion that is an interpretation and while it may be legal is out of harmony with the GC votes.
    Those that continue to ordain women at the Union level are teaching disrespect to the world church body.
    The fact that the the fracture has already started is a sign of total disrespect to the world church as a body of believers. The following statement is from the Netherlands Union Conference and I quote.
    “The delegates of the Dutch churches voted at their Session in the autumn
    of 2012 to ordain women in an equal way to their male colleagues. The
    vote took effect in June 2013 and will remain in effect. The decision of
    the General Conference Session in San Antonio does not change this.”
    www adventist nl /2015/07/10/ verklaring-inzegening-vrouwen-in-nederland/

  • Leo

    Right you are Amie

  • Paul Chung

    I agree that you can come to a different conclusion based on the same hermeneutics… Second to the last paragraph you mentioned, “In verse 11, Moses describes these elders as judges.” The verse 11 actually reads, “May the Lord God of your fathers make you a thousand times more numerous than you are, and bless you las He has promised you!” No mention of elders as judges. Could you clarify?

  • givecake

    I’d second this. Pastor Doug gave a very good talk about this, using a huge amount of texts and significant references.

  • givecake

    Doug gave an excellent sermon on this issue.

    One of the best points, for me, was when he talked about Saul attempting to take the role of priest himself. God cut him off for this assumption that it was ok for him to adopt this role. This is a man, being told that he cannot take a role God has not set for him, and being punished accordingly. Yet he was king!

    This made it terribly clear for me. God has set us roles, even a role that could be considered lower than the one we have now (Ellen White says the mother has a more influential role than even a pastor does, in raising her child, which means she has a higher role in this respect) is set for those that God designs for, and not for us to choose and change. It is good to look into these matters though.