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.
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
“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?
not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
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.
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”
people—children are their oppressors,
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
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:
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:
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:
daughters of Zion are haughty
with outstretched necks,
wantonly with their eyes,
along as they go,
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:
people, your leaders mislead you,
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,
heads of Jacob
of the house of Israel!
Is it not
for you to know justice?—
hate the good and love the evil...
you heads of the house of Jacob
of the house of Israel,
pervert all equity,
Zion with blood
Jerusalem with wrong.
give judgment for a bribe,
priests teach for hire,
prophets divine for money...
because of you...
shall become a heap of ruins.... (Micah
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:
formed you in the womb I knew you,
you were born I consecrated you;
appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah
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
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:
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
They had to be moral people in themselves or their witness would
have been worthless. Hence Jesus can comment:
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:
thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that what I am
writing to you is a command of the Lord.
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:
revelation is made to another sitting by, let the first be silent...
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
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
“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
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.)
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
“Sisters are equal to brothers but God assigns a different
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
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.
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
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.
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:
be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in
understanding be men.
Most modern translations say “mature or “adult”:
do not be children in your thinking; be babes in evil, but in thinking be
and sisters, do not be children in your thinking; rather, be infants in evil,
but in thinking be adults. (1 Corinthians 14:20, NRSV)