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—by Dr. John W. Kleinig

Those who know me know that I am firmly opposed to the ordination of women. Yet many of them can’t understand why I am so adamant on this, since it seems such an unimportant issue and so contrary to common sense. How could I be so unreasonable? They are even more puzzled when they discover that I did not always have a strong conviction on this matter. I have therefore been asked why I have changed my mind on whether women may be pastors, and why this matters so much to me.kleinig

The answer is quite simple. Despite my conviction of the equality of women and men before God, close attention to God’s word has made me change my mind. And that with some difficulty as it has meant taking a culturally unfashionable stance! Yet I have done so joyfully because I am confident in God’s word and certain that many blessings flow from obedience to it. Since Christ has spoken on this matter I must listen and obey for the good of the church and its mission to our broken world. In that light I would like to spell out for you, as clearly and briefly as I can, why I am conscience bound to uphold the traditional teaching of the whole church on the ordination of women.

It was a long and somewhat arduous personal theological journey, an exercise first in listening to what people on both sides of the debate had to say for and against the ordination of women, and then to what Christ Himself and the apostle Paul have to say about it. I will not recount all the various steps on that journey but will only focus on the turning point for me in my reflection, the reason why I cannot go along with the ordination of women, the reason why that is now a matter of conscience for me.

I reached my firm position from a close study of 1 Corinthians 14:33b–38 and the weight of Paul’s conclusive pronouncement in 14:38. I would therefore like to explain why this verse is so significant for me and others like me who uphold the teaching of the LCA on the ordination of women.

In connection with his discussion on prophecy and speaking in tongues in Corinth, Paul argues that women are “not permitted to speak in the church,” the assembly of the congregation for the divine service (1 Corinthians 14:34). That does not just apply to the church in Corinth but to “all the churches of the saints” (14:33b). That speaking has to do with “God’s word” (14:36), the word that was used to assess prophesies and to determine their relevance to the congregation, the word that came to the church in Corinth from Christ through his apostles, the word that calls for repentance and brings the forgiveness of sins (cf. Luke 24:47). Paul goes on to explain that the prohibition of speaking by women is “a command of the Lord” (14:37). Then finally in 14:38 Paul declares: “If anyone does not recognize (this), he is not recognized.”

This final declaration is closely linked with the previous verse by the repetition of the conjunction “if” and by the contrast between “recognizing” the Lord’s command in verse 37 and “not recognizing” that command in verse 38. The close connection between these two verses explains why Paul does not add an object in the clause: “If anyone does not recognize.” That is implied from the previous verse. Thus the refusal of those who claim to be prophets and spiritual persons to “recognize” the Lord’s command means that they are “not recognized.” They have no authority to say what they say and do what they do. They act in their own capacity without his authorization.

Paul’s pronouncement in 1 Corinthians 14:38 applies to those who refuse to recognize that what Paul has just written in this letter is “the Lord’s command.” To what does this refer? The nearest “command” that Paul has given is to be found in 14:34, where he states that “it is not permitted for them (the women) to speak.” His use of the passive form here is rather surprising, for in 1 Timothy 2:12 he uses the active form: “I do not permit a woman to teach.” The passive indicates that he is not speaking by his own authority but about what someone else has commanded. The Lord Jesus does not allow women to be speakers in any of the churches; instead they are to be “silent” and “subordinate.” The sense of that is clear from the parallel passage in I Timothy 2:11–12 where Paul refers to quiet attentiveness instead of “silence” and teaching and exercising authority rather than “speaking.” The context of 14:38 backs up this interpretation since Paul connects this instruction with the origin and reception of God’s word in 14:36 and the recognition of the Lord’s command in 14:37.

While some commentators claim that it is hard to make sense of 14:37–38 in its immediate context, most of them agree that “he is not recognized” is a divine passive, for the passive voice is often used in the New Testament to refer to what God does. Any person who does not recognize Christ’s command that women are not permitted to speak in church, is, Paul declares, not recognized by God. Anyone who rejects that command does not have God’s backing, his approval for what they do. This, of course, also implies that the churches do not, and should not, recognize those who reject this command of the Lord. The question is when, why, and how are they unrecognized.

In his study on this passage the New Testament scholar Käsemann argues that this is a case of sacral law, a sentence of divine judgment. Paul does not just threaten divine retribution but actually pronounces God’s judgment on those who violate the Lord’s command. This sentence of judgment is couched by St. Paul in terms of the law of equivalent retribution. The rejection of the Lord’s command results in his rejection of those who reject it. We find another similar pronouncement of divine judgment in 1 Corinthians 3:17. There Paul says, “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him.”

In both these passages Paul exercises his apostolic authority as an ambassador of Christ to pronounce God’s judgment on certain people who are damaging the church in Corinth. Yet here in 1 Corinthians 14:38, he does not warn them about what could happen to them at the Last Judgment, for then he would have used the future tense. Instead, he uses the present tense to anticipate that sentence by announcing that they are already judged by God for what they are doing. This pronouncement is a speech act, a performative utterance which enacts what it says; it is an act of judgment, Paul’s exercise of the keys. It is obvious that Paul would not pronounce such a judgment for some trivial matter, like disruptive chatter or disorderly behavior, but only for a severe violation of God’s holy word.

What is meant by Paul’s pronouncement that those who do not recognize the Lord’s command are “not recognized”? This, ultimately, refers to the lack of divine recognition for their teaching and practice. Paul here is addressing those who “claim” to speak as “prophets” or to act as “spiritual persons.” Since they use their spiritual giftedness to reject the Lord’s command by claiming the right for women to speak God’s word in the divine service, their teaching on this issue is not recognized by the Lord. So too the ministry of women who claim the right to be teachers and preachers because they are prophets. Christ does not recognize them. They cannot be sure that their words and deeds are the words and deeds of the Holy Spirit. After all, the Spirit that speaks and acts through them cannot contradict the Spirit that inspired Christ and his apostles. So the risen Lord Jesus does not recognize and approve what they say on this issue and do in this capacity, either now or on the last day.

This understanding is consistent with Paul’s distinction between the judgment of a person and the judgment of a person’s work in 1 Corinthians 3:10–15. If those who work for Christ in the church use what is rejected by him as useless, their work will be undone, burnt like wood or hay or straw on the Day of Judgment, even though they themselves may still be saved as through fire. The fire of divine judgment will destroy everything that is contrary to Christ and rejected by him, everything that goes beyond what is written in the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 4:6). What’s more, if they, by their persistent disobedience to Christ and God’s word, destroy the congregation, which is God’s holy temple, they too will be destroyed (1 Corinthians 3:16–17). That, surely, is something that we should avoid at all costs!

So then, I have, rather gradually and with some initial hesitation, been persuaded that St. Paul exercises his authority as an apostle by his pronouncement in 1 Corinthians 14:38, a pronouncement that is also addressed to us. He speaks at the Lord’s command to the church in Corinth about what applies to “all the churches” (14:33); he uses the keys to “bind” by teaching that women are not permitted to be speakers in any of the churches and declaring that the Lord does not recognize the teaching of those who reject that command. I therefore conclude that the Lord Jesus recognizes those who teach and act according to his command in opposing the ordination of women. Since I am guided by his word, I can speak with the joyful confidence that comes from a good conscience and with the steady assurance that this pleases God (1 John 3:21–22). I can be sure that my teaching will promote the cause of the gospel and bring God’s blessing through it to many people. That ultimately is my passion as a pastor and a disciple of Christ.

This then is my story. This is why I adhere to the traditional teaching of the church on the exemption of women from the public ministry of God’s word. This is my confession of faith, which I do not make lightly, but with conviction that I will be held accountable for what I say before the judgment seat of Christ my Lord.


The Rev. Dr. John W. Kleinig is a retired lecturer from Australian Lutheran College and is now writing a commentary on Hebrews. For more information on Women’s Ordination and the state of the issue in the Lutheran Church of Australia, please visit

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17 Responses to Why I Changed My Mind

  1. North P. Sherrill says:

    God’s richest blessings to you Dr. Kleinig as you hold to the scriptural teaching concerning the office of the holy ministry. The Holy Spirit will uphold you in the truth as He has taught it to you from His Holy Word. Your brother in Christ, North.

  2. Rev. Howard Shane says:

    Praise God from whom all blessings flow! I applaud your conviction on the basis of Scripture and the courage to make it a public declaration.

  3. Lois says:

    You make it clear that this is not a matter to be taken lightly. So a Bible class is different than a divine service in this matter?

  4. Matt Anker says:

    Please note that there is an error in the address for the website referenced at the end of the article. While the link will take you to the correct site, the actual address is

  5. Rita Burfeind says:

    Great explanation from Scripture about not ordaining women. I too wondered about women leading Bible classes or participating in Bible class discussions.

  6. Pastor Mark W. Love says:

    Thank you Dr. Kleinig for naming this issue and things related to it as the Lord names them. It serves best to avoid agendas. Your words, “If those who work for Christ in the church use what is rejected by him as useless, their work will be undone …”, speaks a truth that puts the lie to the popular/theology of glory notions of what’s wrong with the church. Thanks so much!

  7. Michael N says:

    I like how Dr. Kleinig based his argument totally on Scripture, applying some straight-forward logic to show how this passage must be understood correctly. This is the right model for settling doctrinal controversies.

    It’s really strange that some in the LCA (and SELK) are seeing in “women’s ordination” such an attractive prize that they risk splitting these synods up over it. Did anything good come out of women’s ordination in the liberal North American and European churches that embraced it? Even looking at it from a human perspective, it makes me scratch my head.

  8. J Nieminen says:

    What comes to the substance of the matter, yes, but I looked up the word translated by “recognized” in Logos tools and it does not appear there is that meaning available:

    Louw Nida 28.13 ἀγνοέωa; ἄγνοια, ας f: to not have information about—‘to not know, to be unaware of, to be ignorant of, ignorance.’ ἀγνοέωa: οὐ θέλομεν δὲ ὑμᾶς ἀγνοεῖν, ἀδελφοί ‘I do not wish for you to be unaware, fellow believers’ 1 Th 4:13; οὐ γὰρ αὐτοῦ τὰ νοήματα ἀγνοοῦμεν ‘for we are not ignorant of what his plans are’ 2 Cor 2:11. ἄγνοια: οἶδα ὅτι κατὰ ἄγνοιαν ἐπράξατε ‘I know that what you did was because of your ignorance’ Ac 3:17; τοὺς μὲν οὖν χρόνους τῆς ἀγνοίας ὑπεριδὼν ὁ θεός ‘God has overlooked the times when people did not know’ Ac 17:30.


    Strong’s Greek #50 50 ἀγνοέω [agnoeo /ag·no·eh·o/] v. From 1 (as a negative particle) and 3539; TDNT 1:115; TDNTA 18; GK 51; 22 occurrences; AV translates as “be ignorant” seven times, “ignorant” four times, “know not” four times, “understand not” three times, “ignorantly” twice, and “unknown” twice. 1 to be ignorant, not to know. 2 not to understand, unknown. 3 to err or sin through mistake, to be wrong.

    • Jaime Nava says:

      J, ‘agnoeo’ is similar to our word ‘unknown’ (you can see the ‘gn’ and ‘kn’ related in each word. BDAG (Lexicon) offers ‘unrecognized’ as the second use of this word. Arndt & Gingrich also have ‘unrecognized’ as an option in their second use of the word as well. They compare it to Gal. 1:22.

  9. M. R. says:

    Many thanks for saying it as it is.

  10. Maxwell says:

    Does this mean that women are not to minister in a liturgical sense, or does this prohibition apply only in mixed gender groups? As for Bible studies we have the account of Aquila and Priscilla instructing Apollos.

  11. Hanna says:

    Interesting article, though I wonder how this fits in with what God says in Joel/Acts about ” in the last days he will pour out Sis Spirit on all people, your sons and daughters will prophesy” Fitting in with what you say here, does this mean that women can prophesy, but cannot speak about those prophesies in a divine service? What would be the proper venue for them to speak?

  12. Rev. Paul T. McCain says:

    I can never understand why there is so much interest in making sure laity have some soft of “chancel role” in the Divine Service, as if there is something so particularly “special” about doing “something” in the chancel. It is a new sort of monasticism by which the Royal Priesthood is made to seem of less “importance” than the slaves of Christ serving their Lord and THEM in the chancel during the Divine Service.

    All this fuss and bother over having a layperson “do something” during the Divine Service entirely misses the point that they are ALREADY DOING WHAT THEY ARE GIVEN TO DO during the Divine Service; namely, the highest calling possible: praising, praying and giving thanks to Almighty God.

    Let’s stop this foolishness about “liturgical ministry” in the chancel as some sort of sine qua non for lay people having some kind of “important” or “significant” or “meaningful” role in the Divine Service.

    • Wyldeirishman says:

      Seconded heartily. What else do I need besides corporate confession & absolution, the Word preached, and right reception of the Sacrament?

  13. Rev. Paul T. McCain says:

    The reality of woman’s ordination throughout the “mainline” is that it is a very visible manifestation of the deep rot that has set in, an irreversible rot of apostasy from the Christian faith. It is dangerous because the apostasy still dresses up and sounds a lot like historic Christianity, but it is, in fact, nothing of the sort.

    There is a wholescale abandoment of historic Christian doctrine, which is nothing other than, of course, the one, holy, catholic and apostolic faith. Everything must be redefined in order to accommodate the ordination of women and, of course, what follows without fail, the ordination of actively homosexual persons.

    For those who are interested in reading more of Dr. John Kleinig’s perceptive observations about the ordination of women, there are several essays by him in an essential book on all these issues:

    Women Pastors?

  14. Zipporah says:

    1 Cor 14 as a whole is about the orderliness of prophesying. The verse about women preaching is in there, but certainly not the point of the chapter, nor the command that verse 37 is referring to.

    36-38 NIV “Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? If anyone thinks they are a prophet or otherwise gifted by the Spirit, let them acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command. But if anyone ignores this, they will themselves be ignored. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.”

    The whole section is laying down rules for prophesying, and a warning that if they do not acknowledge these rules for orderliness, such that prophecies will be understandable and edifying to the larger group, they will be ignored.

    Proof texting a few of the verses from this chapter out of context of the rest of it is just bad comprehensive reading. Read the whole chapter (the letter as whole even) and pray about it.

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