My thesis is that the differences between men and women are, by creation design, fundamentally liturgical and only secondarily biological and psychological. To put it another way, my thesis is that the physical and psychological differences between men and women are grounded in their differing liturgical roles.

So writes James B. Jordan in a fascinating two-part Biblical Horizons essay from 2004, entitled ‘Liturgical Man, Liturgical Women’, which has recently been posted on the Theopolis Institute blog.

It’s been over two years since I last posted on the ordination of women, and Jordan’s essay covers some similar themes to my most recent post on the topic, but develops those themes much further.

In that post, I was exploring Genesis 2 and 3, and trying to make sense of the way Paul made use of those chapters in 1 Timothy 2. Jordan expresses the issue clearly:

When God created mankind, He first created a male, and then a female. Paul refers to this in a seemingly absurd argument in 1 Timothy 2:12-13, ‘But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise judgment over a man, but to remain quiet, because it was Adam who was formed first, then Eve.’ This is certainly an odd argument to modern ears.

First, Jordan considers what it means to ‘teach’ in this context. He concludes that,

When we look back at Genesis 2, it becomes apparent that ‘official teacher in the church as gathered for sacrament’ is what Paul has in mind here.

Adam was the liturgical teacher:

How, then, did Eve learn that the Tree of Knowledge was (temporarily) forbidden? The answer is that Adam told her. Adam was her teacher in liturgical matters. This does not mean that Adam was to be her teacher in all matters, nor does it mean that he would never be instructed by her. What it does mean is that God set up the world in the beginning so that in matters of worship the woman is taught by the man.

But Adam was also the liturgical leader:

Adam was told to guard the Garden, and told this before Eve was made. … Adam was to guard Eve’s worship. This is what he failed to do, as he stood by and refused to interrupt the serpent and protect Eve from eating of the forbidden fruit (Gen. 3:6 – ‘with her’ can only mean he was standing by during the conversation). Rather than teach, lead, and guard her properly, Adam allowed her to be deceived, tricked by the serpent, and by himself as well.

Putting those together:

Hence, Paul states that he does not allow a women to teach or exercise authority over a man, in worship, and he follows up this twin prohibition by saying that the man was created first (and hence was the teacher who had the earlier-imparted information) and that the women was deceived (2 Tim. 2:14, pointing to the fact that Adam had not exercised his authority as she fell into transgression).

What does this mean for church life today? Should women preach, for example? Jordan’s answer may be surprising, so fasten your seat-belt…

In the Garden, the meal was the primary focus. What Adam taught Eve was about the food of the Garden: not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge. That is, his preaching was sacramentally qualified, was in a sacramental setting. In sacramental worship, the sermon is not something separate from the Table and Meal, but is a message ‘at’ the Table. On other occasions, the preaching stands by itself, and is ‘prophetic,’ but not on this occasion. Prophetic or preaching services do not take place ‘in the Garden,’ ‘in the Temple,’ ‘in the sanctuary,’ but in the more general areas of life. In fact, it is hard to find a ‘preaching sermon’ in the Bible that does not take place in the public square. …

It is [only] during sacramental worship, during the Lord’s Day when the Church gathers for the Lord’s Supper, that the rule of men-only as ‘priests’ applies.

But in Christ there is no ‘male and female’, right? Indeed, but this is something we will experience in its fullness only in the final resurrection:

After the resurrection, Jesus Himself will be the sole Priest and will lead His Bride in worship. …

Because of the absence of Jesus Christ, in heaven until the end, the duality of the human race continues to be liturgically relevant. There must be those who represent Him and those who respond to Him. There must be leaders and there must be helpers. Until the transformation of our bodies, and until the time when we all stand in the physical presence of Jesus Christ, the Supreme Male, there must be liturgical men and liturgical women.

What are we to make of this?

Jordan has a great ability to make sense of the world of the Bible. But I do sometimes wonder whether he is looking so closely that he sees things that aren’t actually there. The essay is well worth reading in full, but there are some aspects I’m not yet sure about. Here are a couple.

First, Jordan makes the office of ‘elder’ in the New Testament more ‘priestly’ than the New Testament language seems to imply. Would it not be better to make sense of the role of New Testament office of ‘elder’ primarily by looking at the same office in the Old Testament (as Roger Beckwith does)? This might not affect the conclusions, but it seems to be the route we should take.

Second, there seems to be a tendency to see the Lord’s Supper everywhere. Now, I happen to find that idea quite attractive. But is it really warranted?

Having said that, I love the way Jordan seeks to immerse himself in the world of the Bible. We need more of that.