Paul's General Teaching

(7) Paul’s

General Teaching


Paul was appointed “a preacher and apostle ... a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth” (1 Timothy 2:7). It is mainly from the writings of Paul and events from his journeys in Acts that we have illustrated the involvement, without male/female role-distinction, of brothers and sisters in the early ecclesias.

We now look at Paul’s teaching on this subject, going chronologically through his letters. The dates we give are conventional, as suggested in Bible reference books.


Galatians (c. 47 AD)

Paul frequently wrote his letters to correct a misunderstanding, and to give guidance and instruction on issues that were troubling the new believers.

This is particularly so with Galatians, the first of his letters.

He writes to combat a threat to the very Christianity which he preaches, given to him, as he indicates, directly by Jesus:

I would have you know ... the gospel which was preached by me is not man’s gospel ... it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ.                                                                                        (Galatians 1:11-12)

“O foolish Galatians!”, he addresses them (3:1). Why were they foolish? Because they were tempted, under pressure and persuasion, to revert to a form of Christianity which followed their former Judaism, without the difference which Jesus brought. “Having begun with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh? (3:3)”

Paul therefore reminds them of the true Christian message and its consequences.

Now before faith came, we were confined under the law, kept under restraint until faith should be revealed. So that the law was our custodian until Christ came, that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian; for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptised into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.             (Galatians 3:23-29)

Believers have come into a new relationship with God based not on the Law but on faith. They are in an honoured position now that they believe in Jesus as the Messiah. In declaring this, Paul on the one hand states that all, from whatever background, can be baptised into Christ and become heirs of what was promised to Abraham. “... as many of you as were baptised into Christ have put on Christ.... And if you are Christ’s, you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”

But Paul states much more than that.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

(Galatians 3:28)

If Paul only means that salvation is open to all, he says that in the surrounding sentences. Why, then, add this additional declaration?

Paul’s statement specifically picks up the position of his Judaising opponents, and shows how it is reversed in Christ.

To Jews, separation from Gentiles was of fundamental importance. Jews would not eat or associate with Gentiles (Acts 10: 28, Galatians 2:12).

To everyone it was part of the normal world-order that some people were free and others were slaves.

Women, to both Jews and Gentiles, were of lesser importance, occasionally valued in themselves, often despised.

Therefore, before Christ came, ethnicity, status, and gender created very real barriers in religious life. Jesus’ message turned accepted attitudes upside down, not just in theory but in practice.

Paul, when a traditional Jew, once prayed thanking God for not making him a Gentile, a slave or a woman. For these three categories, religious participation in Judaism was either impossible or restricted.

Now that the believers “have put on Christ”, there is “a new creation” (6:15), and these previous barriers are removed.

Not only therefore is there a new relationship with God and Jesus but with fellow believers. This leads to a better way of behaviour: new, Christ-like attitudes towards each other and towards everyone else too.

But not all agreed. The difference between Paul and the Judaisers is that Paul believed the new creation to be in force now. This is well illustrated by the conflict he mentions with Peter.

At first Peter accepted and practised the new position – as indicated by his vision in Acts.

 “Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every nation any one who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”

                                                                                    (Acts 10:34)

But suddenly Peter reverted. When Peter tried to observe distinctions between Jewish Christians and Gentile ones, Paul strongly objected:

But when Cephas [= Peter] came to Antioch I opposed him to his face ... for before certain men came from James, he ate with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party [i.e. the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem who insisted that the Gentile Christians follow the Jewish law].                                                                                                                       (Galatians 3:11-12)

Are Jews within the church to be considered differently from Gentiles? The answer is a resounding “No”, and Paul explains why:

In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love.                                       (Galatians 5:6)

... neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.                                                                       (Galatians 6:15)

And this gives the key to understanding the correct approach to the other divisions.

Was slavery a bar to service in the church, service equal to that of a freeman? Could a slave not pray, not prophesy, not teach, because he was a slave? Slaves because of the culture of the world had to remain in that position socially, but not as regards the ecclesia. Onesimus had to be returned because of Roman law, but he was sent back to Philemon by Paul “no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother” (Philemon 16).

And women? Were they as women to be under the previous restriction, allowed only partial involvement? Could a woman not pray, not prophesy, not teach, because she was a woman? Was a brother in Christ to thank God daily that he was not a sister in Christ? There is no hint of this in Paul. If we understand what he says in accordance with the context, Paul approves of equal service by sisters and by brothers. Life and service within the ecclesia, according to Paul, are not divided up by reference to whether male or female, nor whether slave or free, nor whether Jew or Gentile.

Society might still impose restrictions, and it did. But as far as life and service in the ecclesia was concerned, in Christ you are all one:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal. 3:28)

The ecclesia is a new creation (Galatians 6:15), the old order under the Law applies no more, and this is one of the great truths for which Paul stood.

Peace and mercy be upon all who walk by this rule. (Galatians 6:16)


Thessalonians (c. 50 AD)

Both letters are addressed to “the Church of the Thessalonians” (verse 1). At the end of the first letter (1 Thessalonians 5:27) Paul commands that it should be read to “all the brethren”, (i.e. to all the brothers and sisters).[1] Paul commends them to “encourage one another (parakaleo “exhort”) and build one another up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).

Then there is a distinction made between the leaders and the rest of the brothers and sisters. The majority are addressed first, and significantly both groups are addressed as “adelphoi”, “brothers and sisters.

But we beseech you, brethren, to respect those who labour (kopiao) among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish (noutheteo) you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work (ergon).                                                                                   (verses 12-13)

Then Paul appears to address the leaders themselves.

And we exhort you, brethren, admonish (noutheteo) the idlers, encourage (parakaleo) the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.                                                                     (verse 14)

In between, Paul encourages them to “be at peace among yourselves”. Then he reverts to addressing everybody.

See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit, do not despise prophesying, but test everything; hold fast what is good, abstain from every form of evil.

(1 Thessalonians 5:15-22)

These instructions are mostly to all the believers, but a distinction is there between those who lead and those who need to be guided and helped. Those who lead may have been appointed, or they may be in that position “because of their work” (verse 13), like the household of Stephanas in 1 Corinthians 16:15 who had “devoted themselves to the service of the saints”. The leadership roles are not specified, and no male/female division is shown, but the usual vocabulary can be observed: work (kopiao and ergon) for the spreading of the gospel and the building up of the ecclesia; admonition (noutheteo); encourage or exhort (parakaleo).

The instruction “do not despise prophesying” (1 Thessalonians 5:20) reminds us that prophesying is done by both brothers and sisters (Acts 2:17-18, Acts 21:9, 1 Corinthians 11-14).

At the end of the second letter Paul himself gives encouragement and admonition, and asks all the brothers and sisters to do the same.

... we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort (parakaleo) in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work in quietness (hesychia) and to earn their own living. Brethren, do not be weary in well-doing. If any one refuses to obey what we say in this letter, note that man, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. Do not look on him as an enemy, but warn (noutheteo) him as a brother.  (2 Thessalonians 3:11-15)          

The NRSV puts it clearly as applying to all:

... Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right. Take note of those who do not obey what we say in this letter; have nothing to do with them, so that they may be ashamed. Do not regard them as enemies, but warn (noutheteo) them as believers.

The word “quietness” hesychia is worth noting as it is a Christ-like characteristic for all brothers and sisters. It is used again in the passage about women learning in 1 Timothy 2, which we discuss on pages 84-85.


Philippians (c. 54 AD, or perhaps 61-63 AD)

In Philippi Paul founded the first ecclesia after his vision from God calling him to preach in Macedonia. He began by talking to the women at the riverside. Apparently there was no Jewish synagogue in Philippi, perhaps because there were too few men to establish one and the women did not count. The ecclesia first met in Lydia’s house (Acts 16:40) and according to Philippians 4:3 two sisters, Euodia and Syntyche, though unfortunately in disagreement at the time when Paul wrote, had worked hard with Paul, Clement and others. Paul’s letter to the Philippians is the first to mention bishops (episkopoi) and deacons (diakonoi). Both words are in the plural but no further explanation is given. Teaching about life in the ecclesia and life in Christ is to all the believers without distinction of roles:

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, do; and the God of peace will be with you.                       (Philippians 4:8-9)

Paul left an example, that as he had done, they should copy.

What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, do....

There is no hint that a major part of Paul’s work, preaching and teaching, was an example only to brothers and not to sisters.


Corinthians (c. 54-56 AD)

In Corinthians Paul gives instructions on a large number of issues which had become a problem. In 1 Corinthians chapters 1-6 he comments on matters which had been reported to him. From chapter 7 onwards he in addition replies to questions put to him in a letter from Corinth. Paul’s instructions are addressed to all the believers but in this letter, for the first time, there is some distinction made between brothers and sisters.

In 1 Corinthians 7 Paul gives instructions on marriage. In this he gives an equality between the couple in their sexual relationship, a direct application of the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12) in marriage.

The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not rule over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not rule over his own body, but the wife does.                                                       (1 Corinthians 7:3-4)

The reciprocal nature of the marriage relationship is continued throughout the chapter.

In 1 Corinthians 11 a distinction is made when Paul discusses headcovering.

I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a woman is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.

(1 Corinthians 11:3) 


In whatever manner the term “head” and the comments about headcovering are to be understood,[2] the mutual dependency of husband and wife (or man and woman)[3] in the new Christian relationship (“in the Lord”) is strongly asserted.

Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God.        (1 Corinthians 11:11-12)

From the point of view of the part played in ecclesial life, 1 Corinthians 11 does not show any distinction in role. There is no suggestion that because the husband is head of the wife, therefore the wife should not pray or prophesy in the meetings. Paul’s concern is not that sisters are usurping roles appropriate only to brothers. It is because sisters do follow the same roles as their husbands that Paul fears that the impression may be given that wives no longer honour their husbands if they do not wear veils to indicate their married status.

Paul does not define the meaning of “head” in this passage. It is evident, however, that headship does not mean that a husband is entitled to order his wife about. In Ephesians 4:16 and Colossians 2:19 he explains how Christ, as the head of the Church, is the one who provides for and cares for and nourishes it.

Both prayer and prophecy are public activities. Prophecy obviously involves speaking to the whole ecclesia as is described in chapter 14.

... he[4] who prophesies speaks to men [anthropoi “men and women”][5] for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation.

                                                                        (1 Cor. 14:3)

... those who prophesy speak to other people for their building up and encouragement and consolation.                (1 Corinthians 14:3, NRSV)

The word for “pray” (proseuchomai) is the normal word used for prayer, whether silent or spoken, throughout the New Testament. The close linkage with prophesying in 1 Corinthians 11 indicates that spoken prayer is intended at this point. Paul teaches, therefore, that both brothers and sisters should address the congregation in prophecy and prayer. This accords with the descriptions in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14 where there is no male/female distinction between the activities in the ecclesia at Corinth (1 Corinthians 12:27-28, and 14:26).

In 1 Corinthians 14:1 Paul encourages all members of the ecclesia to prophesy. He repeats this in verses 5, 23-25, and 31.

Make love your aim, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.... (verse 1)

Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy.... (verse 5)

If, therefore the whole church assembles and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are mad? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you. (vs. 23-25)

... you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged.... (verse 31, italics ours)

Provided that those who prophesy do so one by one, every member of the ecclesia is encouraged by Paul to prophesy: “I want you all to speak.” Prophecy is, in part, teaching, which is why Paul can say “... that all may learn.” Towards the end of this section comes the well-known passage which seems to make a distinction between brothers and sisters, a distinction not found in the other passages we have considered so far.

As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silence in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as even the law says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.[6]                                                     (1 Corinthians 14:34-35)

The contrast between these two verses and the rest of the teaching and practice in the New Testament ecclesias has provoked considerable discussion. In Chapter 8 (pages 61-71) we examine these verses more fully in their context. Meantime we continue working through Paul’s letters chronologically.


Be Subject to ... Every Fellow Worker

At the end of 1 Corinthians we find the same terms used about fellow workers as were used in Romans 16. Authority, in a good sense, is assigned to these people as is shown here. Paul asks that the believers in Corinth (“brethren”) should be subject to them.

Now, brethren [adelphoi = brothers and sisters], you know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service (diakonia) of the saints; I urge you to be subject to such men and to every fellow worker and labourer.                                                                                  (1 Corinthians 16:15-16)

There is no word for “men” in the Greek, and to insert it into the translation gives a misleadingly masculine impression. The NIV says:

I urge you, brothers, to submit to such as these and to everyone who joins in the work.

GNB says:

I beg you, my brothers, to follow the leadership of such people as these, and of anyone who works and serves with them.

Fellow workers as we saw in Romans can be male or female, and the manner in which they are described here once more indicates a range of activities (“service of the saints” – “service” is diakonia,[7] associated with “deacon” diakonos), without differentiation into male and female roles. Paul instructs the brothers and sisters to be subject not only to the household of Stefanas but to every fellow worker.[8]

Romans (c. 57 AD)

We have already referred in detail to Romans for the practice it demonstrates. Brothers and sisters were involved in all aspects of ecclesial work without any male/female distinction in roles. That this should be so was specifically taught by Paul.

Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them.                                                                         (Romans 12:6)

In the new life in Christ believers were one body with many members. Each was instructed by Paul to use the God-given gifts not with any sense of pride or self-importance but based on a humble and sober assessment.

The letter to the Romans was written later than 1 Corinthians. If Paul actually considered that sisters should not take a full part in every aspect of ecclesial work, it is strange that not only does he fail to clarify this in Romans, but gives every indication of the opposite both in the description of ecclesial activities in chapter 12 and in the account of fellow workers in chapter 16.

In chapter 15 Paul expresses confidence in the brothers and sisters in Rome and in their ability to teach each other:

I myself am satisfied about you, my brethren [= “brothers and sisters”], that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to instruct one another.                                             (Romans 15:14)

Instructing one another is a mutual activity, which Paul encourages in his next letter too.


Colossians and Philemon (c. 61 AD)

Colossians is interesting for our study because it teaches that all human divisions are transcended in Christ. It makes no role distinctions within the ecclesia, but demonstrates the continuing distinctions in family life and society.

The believers had been baptised into Christ, had put off their old nature and were now living with new standards where former distinctions no longer applied.

Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old nature with its practices and have put on the new nature, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free man, but Christ is all, and in all.   (Colossians 3:9-11)

It might be wondered why male and female are not mentioned in this list as they were in Galatians 3:28. Barbarians and Scythians have been added to the list, and Scythians were thought to be more barbarian than the barbarians! We suggest that the list covers differences particularly applicable to people in Colossae because it was taken for granted from the beginning that male/female distinctions were inapplicable within the ecclesia.

Colossians 3:12-17 refers to all the believers. It reminds them that they are all “one body” (verse 15) and encourages them to teach and admonish one another.

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as you teach (didaskein) and admonish (nouthetein) one another in all wisdom, and as you 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 3:16-17)[9]

The words “teach” (didaskein) and “admonish” (nouthetein)[10] are the same words as Paul used to describe his own work earlier in the same letter.

... Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning (nouthetein) every man (anthropos, i.e. “every person”) and teaching (didaskein) every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man (anthropos) mature in Christ. For this I toil (kopiao), striving with all the energy which he mightily inspires within me. 

                                                                        (Colossians 1:28-29)

When Paul instructed the believers at Colossae to “teach and admonish one another in all wisdom” he was referring to activity in a gathered group, a meeting: there are hymns and spiritual songs. This is not private one-to-one instruction. Again we observe that no distinctions are made or discernible in the instructions Paul gave regarding the ecclesial work of brothers and sisters.

In everyday life, however, but not in ecclesial life, distinctions remained. This was inevitable. Imagine the problems that would have been caused, not to mention the prompt clamp-down by the Roman authorities, if converted slaves had thereupon declared themselves to be free! Household relationships (wives and husbands, children, fathers, slaves, masters) were an important part of the fabric of society. The standards of Christ, the Golden Rule, could transform these relationships. The letter to Philemon, written at approximately the same date as Colossians, demonstrates how Paul put this into practice.


Ephesians (c. 61 AD)

As we have already observed, there is no male/female distinction in the varieties of ecclesial work. The principle is.

But grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.                                                                                   (Ephesians 4:7)

In Ephesians 5:21 there begins a section concerning husbands and wives.

Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Saviour. As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes it and cherishes it, as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.                                                                                                                  (Ephesians 5:21-30)

They are exhorted to a reciprocal caring for one another. Wives are to submit to husbands completely, and husbands are to love their wives completely. Remember that this is all under the introductory statement: “Be subject to one another”.[11] Several analogies are drawn in the way Jesus gave himself completely – even to death. The oneness of the marriage relationship is stressed by the quotation from Genesis.

“For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one.”                          (Ephesians 5:31)

Again, there is no suggestion of differences in roles within the ecclesia, the overriding principle being that of service to one another:

Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.

                                                                                    (Ephesians 5:21)

It is sometimes argued that the analogy in Ephesians 5:23-33 does show a differentiation in ecclesial roles. Paul writes:

This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.                                                                  (Ephesians 5:32)

Because Christ is head of the church, and the husband is head of the wife, it is argued that just as Christ sanctifies the church and cleanses it to make it holy and without blemish, so too husbands should teach their wives – for they need to be purified and cleansed. Therefore the wife’s role is to submit to this teaching from the husband and it is inappropriate for her to teach her husband in any way. Her role is to submit in everything. Thus brothers are to teach in the ecclesia, and sisters are to learn in silence.

This deduction is faulty because it misuses Paul’s analogy. Firstly, the church comprises one body, brothers and sisters together, and both are in need of purification. Secondly, being submissive to one another is enjoined on all in the ecclesia (5:21). By this, Paul means that each should do his or her utmost to serve the other members of the ecclesia.[12] Wives are to do this to their husbands, just as the church seeks to do its utmost for Christ, pleasing him by Godly behaviour. Husbands are to love their wives, doing their utmost to please and care for them, just as Christ loved the church by submitting to death.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her....                                                                    (Ephesians 5:25)

Paul continued by elaborating on Christ’s work for his church:

... that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.                                                      (Ephesians 5:26-27)

It is pushing the analogy further than is reasonable or than Paul seems to intend if we argue from verse 27 that husbands are in a special position to cleanse and purify wives. Paul explains precisely the meaning of his analogy in verses 28-29.

Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes it and cherishes it, as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.                                                 (Ephesians 5:28-30)

This is how husbands and wives should appropriately submit to each other and care for each other. It is a reciprocal relationship. This is how to build a successful marriage; this too is how to construct a successful ecclesia. It is therefore misusing these verses if we argue from them that only brothers should lead in the ecclesia, especially in view of the work ascribed to both brothers and sisters elsewhere in the New Testament. We discuss this further in Chapter 25 “The Husband is Head of the Wife” (pages 163-169).

In his concluding message, Paul again addresses all the believers.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armour of God… Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; above all taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.                                                (Ephesians 6:10-17)

The plain meaning behind this pictorial description is that believers should learn divine teaching, and put it into practice in promoting the gospel. They should stand up for truth, oppose error, and teach the word of God. These instructions are given to “the saints who are also faithful in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 1:1) – to all the brothers and sisters, not just to brothers.


Pauls Letters from 48 to the early 60s AD

We conclude, therefore, that the overall evidence of Paul’s letters from approximately 48 to the early 60s AD shows no male/female distinction in duties and activities carried out by members of the ecclesias. Nor is any distinction made between private occasions and ecclesial meetings. All members are encouraged to contribute, whether in teaching, prophesying, praying, exhorting or serving in any sphere of activity according to the grace given to them by God.

There are two sets of verses, however, which seem to reverse the whole of this analysis: 1 Corinthians 14:34-36, and 1 Timothy 2:11-12. How are these verses to be understood in a way which is compatible with the rest of Paul’s teaching and practice?



[1] As explained in Chapter 6 “Brothers and Sisters” in the New Testament, page 40.

[2] For further discussion on this, see our booklet: First Corinthians 11:2-16 – Headcovering in Bible Times and the Application Today. See also Chapter 25 “The Husband is Head of the Wife”, page 163.

[3] “man and woman” depending on interpretation and context. See page 94.

[4] Inclusive language, again, for general statements.

[5] anthropoi means “men and women” or “people” as explained on pages 94, 105-106.

[6] Church/churches = ecclesia/ecclesias = assembly/assemblies = meeting/meetings.

[7] The word diakonia refers either to practical work, like serving at tables, or to Christian service like preaching and teaching: “the ministry (diakonia) of the word (Acts 6:4); Paul’s preaching and teaching work is described in Acts 21 as “… his ministry (diakonia)”: “… he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry” (Acts 21:19). Associated words are diakoneo the verb, and diakonos, “servant” or “deacon”.

[8] See explanatory comments also on pages 33-35 on Paul’s fellow workers, and page 59 and Chapter 25 (pages 163-169) for further explanation of “submission”.


[9] This is the RSV translation of Colossians 3:16. There are two ways of translating this passage, as shown here first in NIV and then in TNIV. Compare:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.                                                                                                                (NIV – 1978)

Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.                                                                      (TNIV– 2004)

The difference between the translations in this passage is not a difference between word-for-word or dynamic equivalent translation. The difference is how the Greek text is punctuated. There is no punctuation in the original manuscripts, but all current texts now contain punctuation, inserted by the text editors as seems appropriate in their considered judgement. They will decide partly by how they think the words are most naturally grouped, and partly by comparisons with other passages.

Colossians and Ephesians have many similarities. If we compare Colossians 3:16 with Ephesians 5:18-20, it can be argued that Colossians would be better translated to say that speaking to each other (laleo, in Ephesians 5:19), teaching and admonishing one another (didasko and noutheteo in Colossians 3:16), occur in the singing of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (as in TNIV). But Paul has already used the same verbs (“warning” – noutheteo) and (“teach” – didasko) and the same phrase (“in all wisdom”) in Colossians 1:28, speaking of his own work to build up the ecclesia. Paul is not doing this by singing. There are good grounds, therefore, for considering that the RSV and NIV make better sense and fit more closely with Paul’s own work in 1:28. Accordingly, Paul instructs the believers to do the same as he: to teach (didaskein) and warn (nouthetein) one another “in all wisdom”. While this can de done to a limited extent by singing hymns, the instruction is prefaced by “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly”. That sounds like an obvious pre-condition for being able to teach and warn. Further, the nature of “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” as depicted in the Bible is more in terms of offering praise to God than in being equivalent to “teaching and admonishing one another”.

[10] Vine says:

“The difference between ‘admonish’ and ‘teach’ seems to be that, whereas the former has mainly in view the things that are wrong and call for warning, the latter has to do chiefly with the impartation of positive truth, cp. Col. 3:16; they were to let the word of Christ dwell richly in them, so that they might be able (1) to teach and admonish one another, and (2) to abound in the praises of God.”

(W.E.Vine, Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, page 31)


[11] It is important as a matter of accuracy not to separate verse 21 from verse 22. The verb “be subject” is in verse 21, and has to be carried over into verse 22, and continues as the background down to verse 33, or further.

[12] The verb “submit” or “be subject to” (hypotassomai) is formed from hypo which means “under” and tasso which means “arrange, put in order, place”.  Here the verb is passive, and means “put yourselves under”. All of ecclesial service (diakonia) is submission to one another. We don’t work for ourselves and our personal benefit; we work for the good of others. Christian submission is putting oneself at the service of others, and anyone who teaches, preaches, serves food, cleans the meeting hall, plays the organ, reads out notices, presides, prays on behalf of the ecclesia, paints the building, writes letters to the sick, visits those who are ill – anyone who does any of these things is carrying out the commandment: “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21).

 “Subjection” is a Latin-based word and it literally means “thrown underneath” i.e. cast under foot of a military conqueror. It is so used in 1 Corinthians 15:27, “For God has put all things in subjection (hypetaxen) under his feet.” This military connotation is not, of course, applicable in relationships within the ecclesia or within marriage. We are not being asked to treat each other as conquered victims!



previous page table of contents next page