With all of the hubub over women’s ordination, study committees in each division, and a worldwide study committee, some times it is nice to look back at historical sources. It is easy to get so caught up in the controversy that it can be easy to lose perspective. I suspect that reflecting back on this time, it will be an incredible irony for future historians to reflect back on the history of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which was largely founded by a woman, and controversy nearly a century after her death about the ordination of women. Irony.
There are many key historical sources. The White Estate has shown how there are credentials that have “ordained” crossed out, others do not. The pivotal 1881 General Conference Session had a debate on the topic, but historians debate whether anything was truly resolved. The controversy goes on. Yet, with all of the debate, there are a few “key sources” that shed significant insight. They have been well-documented, but for those who may be unfamiliar, one of the sources I really find interesting is an editorial by J. N. Andrews in the Review and Herald (Jan. 2, 1879, pg. 4):
May Women Speak in Meeting?
There are two principal passages cited to prove that women should not take any part in speaking in religious meetings. These are 1 Cor. 14:34-36, and 1 Tim. 2:12. But a careful study of the books of Corinthians shows that the passage first referred to can have no such application.
The Corinthian church was in a state of great disorder. The first chapter shows that they were divided into parties in reference to the apostles themselves. The firth chapter shows that one had taken his father’s wife, and the others did not mourn over this act. The sixth chapter shows that they went to law with the world, and implies that they were guilty of violating the seventh commandment. The eleventh chapter shows that when they celebrated the Lord’s supper, the rich ate and drank until they were intoxicated, and the poor were waiting and suffering hunger.
Now it appears from the fourteenth chapter that when they were assembled in meeting, the women threw everything into confusion by talking among themselves, and acting with such indecorum as to be a matter of shame to them. So that what the apostle says to women in such a church as this, and in such a state of things, is not to be taken as directions to all Christian women in other churches and in other times, when and where such disorders do not exist.
As positive proof that he was not speaking against a woman’s participating in religious worship, we refer to 1 Cor. 11:5, where he says that every woman who prophesieth or prayeth with her head uncovered dishonreth her head. And in chapter fourteen, verse three, he says that he that prophesieth speaketh unto men, to edification, exhortation, and comfort. These two passages show that they (women) did speak to edification, exhortation, and comfort. It was not a shame for women to do this work. Therefore Paul did not refer to such acts when he said, “It is a shame for women to speak in the church.”
1 Tim. 2:12. We understand this text to give Paul’s general rule with regard to women as public teachers. But there are some exceptions to this general rule to be drawn even from Paul’s writings, and from other scriptures. It apperas from Phil. 4:3 that women labored with him in the gospel. Romans 16:1 shows that Phebe was a deaconess of the church at Cenchrea. See original.
Verse 3 shows that Priscilla, the wife of Aguila, was one of Paul’s helpers; and Acts 18:26 shows that she was capable of instructing Apollos. Tryphena and Tryphosa, Rom. 16:12, labored in the Lord; and Persis labored much in the Lord. Acts 21: 8, 9. Philip’s four daughters prophesied. In Luke 2, Anna the prophetess is mentioned. Verses 36-38. In the time of Jeremiah, Huldah was a prophetess consulted instead of Jeremiah himself. See 2 Chron. 34. In the fifth of Judges, Deborah is spoken of, and in the fifteenth of Exodus, Miriam.
Paul, in Romans 10:10, says, “With the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvaiton;” and this must apply to women equally with men.
[Photograph courtesy of the Center for Adventist Research, Andrews University]