Various Conclusions on the New Testament
on the New Testament
General Conclusion on Paul’s 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
(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
(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:
Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to every one, an apt teacher,
forbearing, correcting his opponents with gentleness.
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
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
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
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
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.
THE OLD TESTAMENT
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.