Various Conclusions on the New Testament

Various Conclusions

on the New Testament


General Conclusion on Pauls Letters

There is a tendency for people to base their assessment of Paul’s teaching on the three passages: 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2. We have examined Paul’s letters in chronological order and conclude that these three passages are specific to specific contexts. Each contains difficulties of interpretation. Further, Paul elsewhere in describing the practice of ecclesias and in the teaching he gives does not specify different male/female roles in the ecclesia. Both brothers and sisters are shown to teach, pray, and encourage one another provided this is done by people who uphold proper Christian virtues.

However, since first century society was largely male-orientated, it seems likely that many of these activities were done by the brothers to a larger extent than by the sisters. Paul and Barnabas appointed elders in Asia Minor (Acts 14:23), and when Paul instructed Titus to appoint elders in every city in Crete, presumably they were masculine also. It would be difficult for anything to have been done otherwise in the male-dominated culture of the Roman empire, though there is evidence that deacons were male and female. But a new start had been made and the new equality in Christ within the ecclesia had set a pattern for the future even if it could only partially be realised in the first century.


General Conclusion on The New Testament from Hebrews to Revelation

These books confirm our findings elsewhere: the believers are addressed in general without male/female distinction and there is no differentiation of roles in exhortation and teaching. Elders (presbyteroi), however, are assumed to be masculine, though the masculine terminology may mask feminine involvement. Instructions are given that wives are to be subject to their husbands and husbands are to show proper consideration for their wives. The context is a growing Christian community within the pagan world. Specific relevant problems are therefore dealt with, such as domineering elders, and how slaves and masters should behave towards each other.


Is the Traditional Interpretation Biblical?

There is a long tradition of interpretation (inherited from centuries of Christendom) which interprets the role of sisters in a restrictive manner. This approach works as follows:

(a) 1 Corinthians 11 is quoted to show that women are to be submissive. (Marriage customs about veils are re-interpreted to mean hats, and the fact that women speak in 1 Corinthians 11 is disregarded.)

(b) 1 Corinthians 14 is cited to show again that women are to be submissive, and “they are to be silent” is chosen as an absolute command in itself. (The context clues about disorder or the encouragement to all to speak in verse 31 in this same chapter are differently interpreted.)

(c) 1 Timothy 2:11 is quoted as an absolute statement: women are to learn in silence, and not to teach or exercise authority over men.

The conclusion is thus chosen that women are to keep silent, permanently, and the wearing of hats is regarded as a Biblical sign of this.


But the overall context of the New Testament suggests we should choose a different understanding as follows:

(a) 1 Corinthians 11 shows that women were to wear veils when speaking so that their married status would be acknowledged.

(b) 1 Corinthians 14 approves of orderly speaking by men and women; when speaking leads to disorder, prophets and the women are told to be silent.

(c) The letters to Timothy and Titus indicate that women are to be quiet and receptive when learning, and are not to dominate over men; but once the women have been properly instructed in the faith and have become faithful people, they may teach. Women are to be teachers of good things. Teaching is not permitted if it involves a domineering authority (by female or male) or the promotion of unbiblical doctrine, but is a matter of sharing spiritual knowledge. Each one should seek to be a good servant of the Lord:

... the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to every one, an apt teacher, forbearing, correcting his opponents with gentleness.

                                                                                    (2 Timothy 2:24)

All should act in a gentle, Christ-like manner. All who have the ability from God to teach and to encourage others, should do so in all humility. And all should pray with an appropriately modest and devotional spirit.


How Do We Choose?

Which approach seems more in keeping with the attitudes shown by Jesus? Which is more in tune with the teaching that we are all one in Christ Jesus and that we must all submit to one another?

In the thoroughly male-dominated world of the first century, the Christian gospel brought a radical change to relationships. Nevertheless, there were limitations imposed by what was possible or advisable within the society in which the gospel spread. When examining the New Testament on the issue of the roles of brothers and sisters, as with slavery, this type of context needs to be taken into account. This means that we cannot arrive at God’s intention for today by a direct application of what happened in the first century. There is no justification for us to reintroduce slavery, for example. Nor should we seek to return to the male-orientated world of the Roman Empire.


The Spirit of the New Testament

What of the spirit of the New Testament? Is it in accord with the spirit of Jesus to say: “You have abilities from God, but you must not use them because you are a Gentile, a woman or a slave”? Jesus was opposed to the regulations which restricted people: “... my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” He preached a positive message: “... you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” and “You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (Mark 12:29-31); “So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets” (Matthew 7:12). Jesus said: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed...” (Luke 4:18); “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). Paul said: “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1); “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17).

To love God with all one’s heart soul strength and mind, to love one’s neighbour as one’s self, to do to others as we would wish them to do to us, is liberating not restricting. True freedom is freedom from sin and freedom for service. It is properly following the spirit of our Lord when we give to God in service the abilities we have “according to the grace given to us.” Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, to give an example. Paul asked us to follow his example also: “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, do; and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9).



Our examination of the books of the New Testament suggests a strong approval of the participation of sisters in an unusually prominent manner compared to the prevailing attitudes and values both of Judaism and paganism. Within the confines of what was possible, sisters were encouraged to play a full part in all aspects of ecclesial work. Where, as in the case of elders, it is assumed that they are masculine, this should be seen within the ancient context. There is no specific divine teaching that such positions of responsibility are per se inapplicable to sisters, and we would do well to seek to attain the general spirit of New Testament teaching that in Christ Jesus there is neither male nor female. This applies to all aspects of ecclesial life and activity. Occasional restrictions arose in New Testament times from specific problems in society’s expectations or in the outworking of ecclesial life. The background is often no longer clear. But now that in our society women do not labour under restrictions of the type that existed in the first century, it should be possible to realise the fundamental spirit of New Testament teaching in ecclesial life also. And that should be our aim: to apply appropriately Bible teaching for today.



Those who disagree with this analysis argue that the Bible makes a clear differentiation between the roles of brothers and sisters. It is sometimes said that while some passages in the New Testament may appear ambiguous, the issue is finally and clearly decided by the teaching of the Old Testament.

In examining the Old Testament we need to enquire precisely as to the original meaning of the text, consider some of the varying interpretations people have given, and compare observations and comments made in the New Testament on the Old.


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