Miscellaneous Issues




In this chapter we offer further comment on some of the interpretations we have seen suggested.


“God is masculine”

A mistaken view of the religions surrounding the Jews and the Christians was to see God as possessing sexuality. God is neither male nor female. Sexuality is a requirement for human reproduction, and pagan religion which saw God (or gods and goddesses) as having similar characteristics to human beings used to attribute sexuality to the divine. What then of the frequent reference in the Bible to God as “He”? This is metaphorical language, just as God is said to have a strong right arm, hands, breasts, eyes, ears. Since both men and women are made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27), image cannot refer to physical appearance but to something else, such as ability to think and reason and to engage in a spiritual relationship.


“Adam sinned deliberately to be with Eve”

It is suggested that Adam was willing to deliberately give up his own life to save his beloved spouse or at least to fall under the same curse in order to redeem her through God’s mercy. This is a fanciful reinterpretation of Genesis. It implies that Adam acted nobly, whereas the text demonstrates the opposite. When challenged by God he tries to deny his own responsibility, blaming his wife and then by implication blaming God Himself. Far from loving his wife he does the opposite.


“The priests had to be male because they represented God who is male.”

The priests according to Hebrews represented the people, not God, and people are both male and female. It was the priests’ human weakness, not their masculinity, that placed them in an appropriate position to do this.

For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. Because of this he is bound to offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people. (Hebrews 5:1-32)




“Important sacrifices are of male animals”

The suggestion is that God prefers male to female because important sacrifices are of male animals. No reason is given in the Law as to why male or female are chosen. From the point of view of agricultural production, male animals are less valuable than female, and sacrificing them therefore puts less strain on the economy. One bull only is needed to produce many calves. Perhaps we should therefore see God’s providential concern. But though the sacrifices on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16) are male (a bull, two rams, two male lambs) and similarly on other occasions (Numbers 28-29), the important sacrifice of the Red Heifer (Numbers 19) is of a female animal. A heifer is a cow. The ashes of the Red Heifer were essential for cleansing any person who touched a dead body, or any tent in which a person had died. It is not true, therefore, that important sacrifices are always of male animals. See also the sacrifice of a heifer in 1 Samuel 16:2. The relevance is described in Hebrews, and is nothing to do with any preference for male or female animals:

... if the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes of a heifer sanctifies for the purification of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify your conscience from dead works to serve the living God.                                    (Hebrews 9:13-14)


“Women are valued at less than men”

In Leviticus 27 different valuations are made for the purpose of giving money rather than animals or human beings or property to God. Women are given a lower valuation than men. No explanation is given, but in a male dominated society, a lower valuation is not surprising. The valuation may be related to how much physical labour could be expected. But is this relevant to us, or the subject of the work in the ecclesia of brothers and sisters?

You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.                                                           (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

There is no suggestion in the Bible that under the New Covenant a different price was paid according to gender.


“Few wise men, and even fewer women”

The preacher sought to be wise, but without success (Ecclesiastes 7:23-24). He reports little success amongst men, and even less amongst women.

One man among a thousand I found, but a woman among all these I have not found. Behold, this alone I found, that God made man upright, but they have sought out many devices.                                (Ecclesiastes 7:28-29)

Given the Bible’s comment about Solomon and his women (1 Kings 11:3), we should hardly dare to generalise from this to the nature of those who are “a new creation” in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17).


“God rebuked the nation because women ruled”


My people—children are their oppressors,

and women rule over them.  (Isaiah 3:12)

This verse is employed to argue that God rebuked the nation because “women ruled”. Therefore rule by women is unlawful.


Two comments should be made:

(a) The text is uncertain. Although several versions translate by the phrase “women rule over them”, other translations (including the Septuagint) say:

Moneylenders oppress my people, and their creditors cheat them. (GNB)

(b) If the reference to women is original, there is likely to be a specific context such as in the reign of king Ahaz. The Jerusalem Bible translates:

O my people, oppressed by a lad, ruled by women. (Isaiah 3:12)

A footnote says: “The ‘lad’ is possibly the young king Ahaz, at the start of his reign, 736.” The types of women who were exerting influence are described in verse 16:

... the daughters of Zion are haughty

and walk with outstretched necks,

glancing wantonly with their eyes,

mincing along as they go,

tinkling with their feet. (Isaiah 3:16)

Whichever of these two possibilities is the explanation of the first part of verse 12, the main point is made clear by the second part:

O, my people, your leaders mislead you,

and confuse the course of your paths.

It is the misleading by the leaders to which exception is being taken; not to the gender of the leaders. Mostly the leaders were men, and they ruled with disgraceful and culpable disregard for God’s standards. Micah, writing about the same time as Isaiah, said:


Hear, you heads of Jacob

and rulers of the house of Israel!

Is it not for you to know justice?—

you who hate the good and love the evil...

Hear this, you heads of the house of Jacob

and rulers of the house of Israel,

who abhor justice

and pervert all equity,

who build Zion with blood

and Jerusalem with wrong.

Its heads give judgment for a bribe,

its priests teach for hire,

its prophets divine for money...

Therefore because of you...

Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins....  (Micah 3:1, 3:9-12)

Male leaders often misled. The solution was not therefore to get rid of male leaders as such, but to get rid of misleading leaders.


“Speaking in the Spirit”

It is sometimes claimed that because prophesying is God speaking directly through the prophet or prophetess, they themselves in no way teach, explain the Word of God, or personally lead the people. Consequently, it is all right for women to prophesy because this does not conflict with the (supposed) God-given hierarchy that only men are to teach or lead. When, however, women are not speaking under the direct inspiration of God, the natural hierarchy applies and they should keep silent.

As we have indicated above, a hierarchy of this type is not taught in the Bible.

The fact that God spoke directly through the prophets or prophetesses does not mean that they personally played no part in the process as human beings. God said to Jeremiah:

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,

and before you were born I consecrated you;

I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”     (Jeremiah 1:5)

Jeremiah was not simply some anonymous person who acted like a machine to transmit words from God. Jeremiah was intimately involved as a person. He had to stand up and oppose the false prophets. He was attacked and persecuted, and found this very difficult:

Woe is me, my mother, that you bore me, a man of strife and contention to the whole land! I have not lent nor have I borrowed, yet all of them curse me.                                                               (Jeremiah 15:10)

The same can be observed with Elijah. He is described as a “man of God” because of his every obedience to God’s commands and because it is recognised that God truly speaks through him. He therefore is recognised as a powerful leader, guided by God to confront king Ahab and the prophets of Baal. 1 Kings 18 shows Elijah in action, clearly as a man involved on God’s behalf in the struggle against paganism. His own comment is:

“I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the people of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thy altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.”                                             (1 Kings 19:10)

They had to be moral people in themselves or their witness would have been worthless. Hence Jesus can comment:

“Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you.”         (Matthew 5:11-12)

The prophets and prophetesses were indeed people through whom God spoke directly; but they were also therefore leaders and people of influence.


The Nature of Prophecy in the New Testament

It is often assumed that prophecy in the New Testament should be understood in the same manner as that in the Old, that it involves a direct authoritative “Thus saith the LORD” pronouncement from God. On this basis it is then argued that when sisters prophesied, such as on the day of Pentecost or in ecclesial meetings as in 1 Corinthians 11, they were mouthpieces for God, were doing no teaching or interpretation of Scripture, and accordingly it was permissible for them to speak. But (it is argued) when prophecy no longer existed the appropriate position for sisters was to remain silent because only brothers could legitimately teach or expound Scripture.

This is a complicated subject which requires detailed and extensive examination. We make here only a few brief points:

It seems possible and necessary to distinguish at least two types of prophecy in the New Testament:

(a) That of prophets like Agabus, Paul, Barnabas, and Silas. What they said was regarded as authoritative (Acts 11:28, 13:1, 15:32, 21:10).

(b) The kind of prophesying mentioned in 1 Corinthians 11 which required examination and analysis and was not regarded as authoritative in the same sense as (a).

The evidence for this can be seen in Paul’s comment:

If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that what I am writing to you is a command of the Lord.

                                                                                    (1 Corinthians 14:37)

Paul’s teaching as an apostle is “a command of the Lord”, whereas the comments by those in Corinth who prophesied needed to be evaluated. In verse 29 Paul wrote:

Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said.

Further indication that prophesying in meetings did not involve a direct authoritative pronouncement from God is then given:

If a revelation is made to another sitting by, let the first be silent...

... the spirits of the prophets are subject to prophets. (14:30-32)       

The use by Paul of the word “revelation” might seem to contradict this conclusion. Surely a revelation is a direct authoritative commandment from God? Nevertheless, Paul says: “the spirits of the prophets are subject to prophets” – in other words, the prophets have control over what they say.

Writing to the Thessalonians Paul also indicates the need to judge what is said in the prophesies.

Do not quench the Spirit, do not despise prophesying, but test everything…                                                           (1 Thessalonians 5:19-21)


Questions for consideration are: What then was prophesying in the church at Corinth? Some versions translate prophesying as “speaking God’s message” (GNB). How different is this from exhortation today? How much was it a creative development of a theme, as happens today in discussions? How different was it from what happens when we pray and various themes (not premeditated) come into our prayers? What was the evaluation, and against what standard? – presumably whether the message was in accordance with the sound teaching they had already received from Paul and in accordance with Scripture. Was it therefore (in this sort of ecclesial situation) very different from what we do when we exhort?


“The church is the bride of Christ, and just as the church submits to Christ, a wife submits to her husband (Ephesians 5:21-33). This is a type (pattern) we must live out in ecclesial life, the sisters are submissive and remain silent, the brothers speak.”

In the analogy of the ecclesia as wife or bride of Jesus, we are all the bride/wife. There is no differentiation within the ecclesia, other than that we are all to be submissive to one another (Ephesians 5:21). It is a misuse of Paul’s analogy (as we explain on pages 58-59) to argue from it that sisters represent the ecclesia (and should be silent) and brothers represent Christ (and should speak).

Being submissive is active, not passive. It means putting one’s own interests below that of the other. When preparing food, if there are two bananas, one better than the other, if the wife is preparing the meal, she gives her husband the better one; if the husband is preparing it, he gives his wife the better one. In ecclesial activities, if organised according to this pattern, the church (brothers and sisters) do their best to put the requirements of Christ above their own personal self interest. Amongst other things, that means that the standards of Christ in the way he treated women should be followed by the church. And Jesus encourages women’s education and active involvement in his ecclesia, just as he encourages brothers. When sisters are told to be submissive in (1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-15) it is because they are not putting the interests of the ecclesia or their husbands first. In 1 Corinthians they are chattering and disruptively asking questions, and in 1 Timothy spiritually uneducated sisters are dominating the brothers. Christian submission means that they work at a level with their brothers, not over them. Brothers likewise should treat sisters at a level with them, not domineer over them by claims of any superior position in social status or brain power. A sister, therefore, who in humility encourages the ecclesia by wise words and Scriptural understanding, with the support and approval of her husband, is properly submitting to Christ and to her husband. (See also pages 58-59.)

And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.                                                                                        (Colossians 3:15-17)


“Sisters are equal to brothers but God assigns a different role”

If sisters are excluded from decision making in the ecclesia, excluded from speaking, reading and praying, then they are allotted an inferior position even if this is claimed not to be the case. The argument that God has made them for different roles is, in our view, an attempt to mask a belief in the inferiority of sisters by giving it apparent intellectual or spiritual respectability. It is similar to stating: “I do not believe that black people are inferior. I simply think that God has assigned to them the role of servants and to the white people the role of masters.” Sisters are of equal value with brothers in the sight of God and should have an equal opportunity to serve Christ in the ecclesia, each according to ability. This is the teaching of the Bible and where sisters’ position in the ecclesia is restricted in the New Testament it is because of cultural considerations and immediate problems, not because of basic principles running through the Bible.


“Men are given a special gift of logic in order to fulfil their God-given role as leaders in the ecclesia. Women are given a different gift of compassion and nurturing.”

Such statements cannot be verified by reference to Scripture. There is some truth in male/female differences, as indicated in modern understanding of how human brains develop (see pages 175-176). But there is considerable overlap between men and women, and compassion and nurturing are fully required of brothers as they are of sisters. Human logic is not lauded in the Bible, and the Scriptures do not advocate the possession of worldly wisdom as being adequate criteria for leadership in the ecclesia. Compassion is most often exhibited as a divine characteristic (the attitude of God or of Jesus), not as a feminine trait. Paul mentions varieties of gifts, including wisdom, knowledge, faith, but these are not assigned by gender, and he emphasizes that despite the diversity of spiritual gifts received by the members of the ecclesia, it is the same Spirit working in many members of the one body. Logic involves thinking, in which case it is expected of both male and female: “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought” (Romans 12:3).

All believers are expected to cultivate the “mind” of Christ, to be humble, compassionate, kind, lowly, meek, patient, understanding and forgiving. If these are thought to be feminine characteristics rather than masculine ones, we should look more closely at what the Bible teaches.

Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of other. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant....                                            (Philippians 2:3-7)

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.        

(Colossians 3:12-14)

The comment: “Man is for strength, judgment, and achievement. Woman is for grace, sympathy, and ministration” (see page 203) might be intended to compliment sisters, but arises from pagan values and ideas, and boosts male claims in a manner which is contrary to Scripture. Having been school teachers all our lives and worked with male and female colleagues and growing young people of both sexes, we consider the claims that men have skill and logic and women have compassion and nurturing to be generalisations which are not true to experience. Some individuals have skill and logic more than others, some have compassion and nurturing abilities more than others, but the divide is not a male/female divide; and the Bible teaches likewise.


“In understanding be men” (1 Corinthians 14:20)

This verse should not be used to suggest that brothers think in a better or superior way to sisters. The contrast is between being children and being grown up. The King James Version reads:

Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men.

Most modern translations say “mature or “adult”:

Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; be babes in evil, but in thinking be mature. (RSV)

Brothers and sisters, do not be children in your thinking; rather, be infants in evil, but in thinking be adults. (1 Corinthians 14:20, NRSV)


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