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:
have you know ... the gospel which was preached by me is not man’s gospel ...
it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ. (Galatians
“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.
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
neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male
nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
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
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.”
But suddenly Peter reverted. When Peter tried to observe
distinctions between Jewish Christians and Gentile ones, Paul strongly
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
Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith
working through love. (Galatians
neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new
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:
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
mercy be upon all who walk by this rule. (Galatians
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). 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.
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
Then Paul appears to address the leaders themselves.
exhort you, brethren, admonish (noutheteo)
the idlers, encourage (parakaleo) the
fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. (verse
In between, Paul encourages them to “be at peace among
yourselves”. Then he reverts to addressing everybody.
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.
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.
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:
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
Paul left an example, that as he had done, they should copy.
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.
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
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, the mutual dependency of husband and wife (or man and woman) in the new Christian relationship (“in the Lord”) is strongly
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
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
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 who
prophesies speaks to men [anthropoi
“men and women”] for their
upbuilding and encouragement and consolation.
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.
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)
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)
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. (1
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
“Be Subject to
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.
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
There is no word for “men” in the Greek, and to insert it into the
translation gives a misleadingly masculine impression. The NIV says:
you, brothers, to submit to such as these and to everyone who joins in the
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, 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.
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.
gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them. (Romans
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
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
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.
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)
The words “teach” (didaskein)
and “admonish” (nouthetein) are the same words as Paul used to describe his own work earlier
in the same letter.
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
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
was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. (Ephesians
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
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”. 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.
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:
to one another out of reverence for Christ.
It is sometimes argued that the analogy in Ephesians 5:23-33 does show a differentiation in ecclesial
roles. Paul writes:
mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the
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
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.
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:
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
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.
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
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.
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.
Paul’s 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?
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”.
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
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
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”.
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
Expository Dictionary of New Testament
Words, page 31)
“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!