Lecture 11: Gender Roles | Free Online Biblical Library

Lecture 11: Gender Roles

Course: Introduction to the New Testament: Romans to Revelation

Lecture: Gender Roles

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I. Introduction

At long last, we return to the passages scattered throughout Paul’s letters dealing with gender roles, both at home and in the church. Many of these issues are identical and I’ve come to discover that the amount of discussion they generate is quite sufficient in a straight forward survey of Paul’s letters in the order by which they appear. And it’s difficult to move on to the next passages in the various letters that are being surveyed. Of course, in this less interactive online fashion, we don’t have that same problem, but we need to consider these texts so that we can finally assess what they say.

Few people fail to realize the controversial nature of the interpretation of some of these texts. Also there is a great diversity of practice within the Christian church and even today within the more evangelical theological conservative wings of the Christian church. It isn’t this lecturer’s purpose to pretend that he has arrived at his final and best understanding of these texts. It is my opinion that anyone whoever in their Christian or scholarly lives declares unequivocally I have now learned all that God could ever teach me about the meaning or application of a given text. I refuse to rethink my views in the slightest or to allow myself to be challenged by others whose views are different from my own have reached a spiritual depth presumption and has so serious a spiritual problem that it isn’t exegesis that one needs to talk about but rather one’s understanding of how God works in a lifelong process of growth through a person’s Christian life. Therefore, all that I can do is to give you a progress report as of 2005 when these lectures are being put together. Of course, that’s true with everything that has been said so far. As already mentioned, I have waited until now to group these texts together into two different lectures. We must remember in regards to any controvertible issue, in regards to whatever is said, I could be wrong in my opinion. And furthermore, it is healthy for all of us to humbly consider this in light of these issues. We must understand that the divisions and divisiveness that surround and afflict believers when they become heated and combative and less than fully loving and courteous in their disagreements. Lastly, the lecturer doesn’t intend in any way to offend or exclude anyone or group, those who disagree with the following ideas and those whose views disagree with the lecturer’s. Be aware, that alternatives will be noted while being aware that additional information is provided in the accompanying textbook.

We will proceed to look briefly at each of these passages in both chronological and canonical sequence. Beginning with 1st Corinthians 11:2-16 we look at the vexed issue of head coverings or lack thereof on men and women and more apropos to the more timeless question the role of head ship. The PowerPoint slide that accompanies this lecture goes a little beyond the actual lecture and discussion and printed text to note the complete set of logical possibilities for relevant historical background in order to explain Paul’s prescriptions and proscriptions. With people in his audience and the Corinthian congregation from both Jewish and Greco-Roman backgrounds and him treating the issue of both men leaving their heads uncovered and women covering their heads and with the uncertainly reflected in the older additions of the NIV, somewhat unique among translations of Scripture, but also noted in all the major commentaries on 1st Corinthians that the head coverings could refer to an external covering, shawl or perhaps even a veil of some kind, though probably not full-faced. Or that these head coverings could simply refer to long hair or a full head of hair, appropriately managed, perhaps in a bun vs lack of long hair for men. With all of those observations and within some Greek context, overly long shoulder length hair was a sign of homosexual interest and behavior. Overly short and closely cropped hair in the Greco-Roman world was a sign of a more dominant or masculine feature in a lesbian relationship. Don’t forget that the word, ‘lesbian’ comes from the ancient Greek island off the mainland coast known as Lesbos.

II. Hair

In Jewish circles, it’s more difficult to know why long hair may not have been viewed as something good for men but that it must have reflected some cultural stand or situations specific or less timely practice just because one Godly form of Jewish men introduced and illustrated in Numbers 5 namely Samson, though his Godliness unfortunately came only in bits and pieces due to his rebellion. He was part of the group known as the Nazarites as opposed to the Nazarenes (the people from the city of Nazareth) and they, either for a temporary or permanent period of time refused to cut their hair. As far long hair for women of a Jewish background, it’s possible as James Hurley pointed out in some detail, that the penalty for the convicted adulteress of having to have her otherwise long hair as a badge of honor cut off, much like the wearing of the scarlet letter ‘A’ for the adulteress in Nathanial Hawthorn’s novel by the same name. This was a public reminder of this adulteress’s shame, though mercifully, at least in the Jewish context, it was allowed to grow back whereas in Hawthorn’s novel, it was never allowed to be removed. On the other hand, if head coverings are the main issue then it’s important that the male Roman priest regularly pulled their toga’s up over their heads and their hair. This was temporarily done during the scared portions of a pagan worship service in which they were communing with the gods or ministering scared rituals. That the veil and or a hair do, something like a modern bun wearing one’s hair up was the sign in various Greco-Roman subcultures of a married woman and thus unavailable wife or woman and contrary to this in certain cults, pagan priestesses, not only let their hair down if they were married but also waved it about regardless of their marital status in a full bodily waving it about in what they called worship.

III. Head Coverings

For the Jewish culture, it is difficult to know what might have made an artificial head covering, beyond one’s hair, something that was not allowed for men, particularly, at least from the fourth century, the rabbinic onward, where the skull cap or yarmulke came to be precisely what Jewish men were to wear at worship. We don’t know how old the tradition is, if it goes back to the first century or note. It could be that Paul wants to establish Christian men, even those from a Jewish background as appearing different in this way to worship so as to indicate their break from Judaism. Or perhaps, more probably, this may have even been the Jewish custom of the day which was later reversed in response to Christian appropriation of it as demonstratively happened in various other aspects of later rabbinic Jewish theology and ethics. But again, if we are honest, we must say that the answer is lost in antiquity. However, there is evidence that some sort of veil covering the hair and part of the forehead indicated in Jewish circles that a woman was married. After this seemingly exhausted survey, the student might be forgiven for asking, ‘so what?’ But as we point out in our printed notes, the results are significant, indeed. Every one of these cultural backgrounds demonstrates that the right or wrong, head covering, be it hair or something else, be it Jewish, Greek or Roman, be it men or women did in Paul’s world signify something about a person’s sexual faithfulness or infidelity and or religious faithfulness and or religious infidelity.

Now we can understand why it would be important for Paul, in the case of religion involving all people, their sexuality, particularly acute for married individuals to demonstrate that they were being faithful to their heads, the Greek word for head is kefali and whatever else it does or doesn’t mean, the printed notes point to the debate in a little more detail though this barely scratches the surface of the argument. What cannot be denied by any perspective, the husband is described as the kefali of his wife and he is not to be dishonored. God is the kefali of Christ, who is the kefali of man perhaps already thinking of just the husband, perhaps not. But there is no question that sexual infidelity by a spouse dishonors his or her partner and thus more particularly in what appears to have been the primary problem addressed in Corinth out of control women at worship, recalling the problem of spiritual gifts in 1st Corinthians 12-14. Paul can clearly say that the wife dishonoring her kefali through the appearance of sexual and or religious infidelity would have been quite wrong and that the husband and or any man’s dishonoring of his head, Christ; particularly here to religious infidelity or idolatry but obviously through sexual impropriety as well, dishonored his kefali. If these specific practices do not create such public dishonor in other times and cultures, then hair styles, head coverings become a matter of moral indifference. But, one must ask what forms of dress of decorum of personal and bodily appearance and decoration do send the wrong signal, both sexually and religiously on both sub cultures and guard against such public expressions, even in the name of Christian freedom, for the sake of sending the wrong message.

IV. I Corinthians 14:26-40: General Commands Regarding Worship

With that extensive background, we turn briefly to 1st Corinthians 14-26:40 making the hopefully fairly straight forward and non-controversial observation, nevertheless, one that is often forgotten, that particularly for the evangelical who believes in the non-contradictory nature of the Scripture. Whatever 1st Corinthians 14 means will not cancel out 1st Corinthians 11, in which we need to recall that women are permitted to speak in church publically in the significant ways of praying and prophesizing (11:5) as long as they don’t send the wrong sexual or religious signals in so doing. What then do we do with 14 and 33 through verse 38, the heart of which is 34, women should remain silent in the churches, not allowed to speak and must be in submission as the law says. The one thing we cannot do is take this to be a prohibition of all forms of women speaking in church even in the Corinthian congregation given chapter 11, much less in any other church in Paul’s day or any other day. But for those who protest that any or all of the various options we have surveyed in textbook are not at all straight forward, much less literal, it is important to reply that the only straight forward or literal interpretation is the one that fines that Paul contradicting himself in the space of three chapters, a perspective for the most part, we would not take apart from being forced into it after detailed study. Even for a non-inspired reasonable sane influential respected religious or philosophical leader in any time and place in the history of humanity.

Given that all kinds of texts throughout Scripture have implicit contextual limitations that can be derived even if not stated explicitly from the context of those passages; we should be encouraged to look for such explanations and our textbook notes a half dozen or so counted combinations of the most commonly held options. We simply limit our focus to what we believe the two most likely are, one representing a more complementarian perspective, one representing a more egalitarian perspective and note that it is even possible to create a combination of sorts of the two. As we surveyed the outline of 1st Corinthians and chapters 12-14, more particularly, we promised to return to this topic to encourage and hopefully intrigue our listeners by noting that this strange call to silent women in some ecclesiastical context comes intrusively right in the middle of Paul’s larger chapter on prophecy and tongues and more particularly in the segment of that chapter that is giving very specific commands, not to exclude either tongues or prophecy but to monitor them carefully so that hopefully the opportunity for abusing them are minimized. Paul’s commands concerning tongues occupy verses 27 and 28 with his instruction on the interpretation of tongues being his primary method of monitoring them so that they are not abused. Then he turns to prophecy in verse 29 with the need for evaluation of prophecy, a topic introduced already in verses preceding the section on ‘the silencing of women’, being the major way of monitoring and hopefully minimizing the gift of prophecy.

At the end, Paul obviously thinks that he was still on the topic of tongues and prophecy; both reappear in verses 39-40. An approach that would therefore see verses 33b through 38 as dealing with the evaluation of prophecy certainly fits the immediate context best. And as scholars like those such as James Hurley and Steven Clark and Wayne Gurdon and others have pointed out and expounded on in some detail, the ultimately evaluation of any spiritual gift, including prophecy, both in the ancient church and in the church in human history has devolved, certainly with input from the entire congregation which is probably though not demonstratively the best interpretation of 1st Corinthians 14:29b. Nevertheless, ultimately the leadership of any local church however, those configured in any ecclesiological structures of Christianity has the ultimate responsibility for pronouncing the legitimacy or illegitimacy and correct use or misuse of any apparent expression of an individual church members’ spiritual gifts. There is little debate, despite the appearance here and in the first century and indeed in the earliest centuries of church history more generally of surprisingly counter-cultural spiritual Christian women in leadership roles in the church that the vast majority of leaders particularly in ‘highest’ offices, those given the greatest authority and responsibility in various expressions of Christianity, were men and therefore, at least at Paul’s original meaning, i.e. first century meaning in writing to Corinth; it seems highly likely that he could understand the speaking, that women are forbidden in this context in Corinthians 14 to be that final decision making an evaluation of prophecy. This is what I am calling the strongest complementarian argument.

The strongest egalitarian argument, taking its cue from verse 35 perhaps more os than 34 has to do with the phenomenon of the women enquiring about something. Of course, one would ask questions in a discussion of a group of people, weighing in on the alleged correctness of prophecy, but asking one’s husband at home as the alternative to enquiring in church, unless those husbands were also church leaders, does suggest perhaps a broader context and the historical cultural background of many wives, where many women more generally lacking education in general or the access to religious education more particularly making it a problem in various religious communities of women asking questions during a public worship service in a way that requires very fundamental instructions where one could not stop the service to provide answers for those questions. And indeed in some religions, it was felt appropriate to provide in any context for women does make some good sense of the possible background of Paul’s proscriptions here. And yet at the same time as Don Carson has pointed out, it would be far more chauvinistic and be what he calls unbearably sexist even more than any of the largely abandoned highly traditional views of various areas of Christian history for Paul to have silenced all women and no men when at least a small minority of women did have access to education and a fairly large number of particularly Greek and Roman and to a certain degree Jewish men, the poorer they were, the more likely it would have been the case, were themselves uneducated.

Perhaps we can combine these two approaches and talk about women asking questions in the public portion of the valuation of prophesy in which case, we have a very modified or mild or to use the term of William Web, ‘ultra-soft’ without anything pejorative, being meant by that a form of complementarianism or hierarchical or even patriarchal perspective which may in fact do justice to a recurring pattern of such throughout both testaments as I have tried to demonstrate in a number of writings on the topic including my contribution of the newly revised volume as of 2005 in regards to the views of women in ministry edited by James Beck in which I contributed one of the two articles on a complementarian approach to women in ministry which are then pared with two egalitarian contributions as well.

We do need to comment briefly on Ephesians 5. Here, unlike the parallel passage in Colossians 3, we have a detailed portion of the house staffel (episodes) with detailed instructions for both wives and husbands but much lengthier instructions for husbands; not at all a coincidence, given the culture of the day in which much more detailed instructions concerning wives’ submission would have been the norm. There are a number of exegetical conundrums here, beginning already with the transitional role of verse 21 which we’ve pointed out can form one perspective and can be seen as continuation of the sentence that was begun in verse 18. This reflects yet one more parallel participle in the original language parallel to the implicit commands that being filled with the Spirit involves speaking and singing and thanksgiving and through the Spirit to the Lord, the Father in the name of Jesus Christ, but then also summiting to one another out of reverence to Christ. There are times and places where it is very appropriate for every Christian to summit to a wide variety of other Christian individuals who may be filling only a temporary authoritative role over them or a more long lasting and indeed, even lifelong authoritative role. But verse 21 may also be seen as a headline to the three components of husbands and wives, parents and children and masters and slaves, unpacked in 5:22 through 6:9. In this sense the commands for mutual submission doesn’t necessarily refer anymore widely than signaling that there are going to be three pairs of relationships or at least more than one example in which one group of Christians must refer and submit to another group of Christians and not the logical contradictory notice that everyone can submit to everyone else at all times or in all places or at the same time.

Is this submission to a kefali, to a head whether one focuses more on the nurturing or on the authority nature as best as one can determine what he or she believes kefali most like means elsewhere and in this immediate context? Is this submission, however mildly one wants to understand that term in given cultures, still, nevertheless carries a sense of placing oneself voluntarily in a subordinate position under another individual. There is no legitimate lexical way to avoid that connotation. Is this submission, something timeless for all marriages everywhere? The answer would seem to be yes because the analogy that is used with the both the commands with the wife and to the husband is the analogy of Christ’s relationship to the church, an analogy which is part of the new creation of the New Covenant of the church age of the New Testament age of the Gospel. And indeed, it is a relationship that will not even be superseded in eternity, even though we will become sinless, hallelujah; no relationships will ever be warped by sin in the life to come but as Christ’s bride, we will always throughout eternity be subordinate to Jesus and never his full equal, ontologically. This lecture therefore can find no legitimate hermeneutical way to avoid the conclusion that the role, relationships described here in marriage are timeless and forever normative. But, notice that the spelling out of what is involved in those relationships, says absolutely nothing about anyone may or may not do or should or should not do in the workplace, in the home, in the church, in society and anything beyond the mere nature of the role as being one of subordination and authority must be derived either from some other text of Scripture or acknowledged as traditional, not Biblical and therefore not legitimately enforced as a timeless requirement for marriages everywhere. Notice too that in the longer instructions to husbands, the commands that differentiate and distinguish the use of the use of the husband’s authority from most all religious options in Paul’s world and a large number of these options throughout history of the world, including various forms of professing Christianity, is that this authority is to be exercised as a servant authority, seeking what is in the best interest of the wife, not of the husband and thus is an authority of greater responsibility and not of greater privilege. Husbands love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, to make her holy without stain. Loving their wives as their own bodies, leaving father and mother and being united to the wife and the two becoming one flesh, surely that is by far the hardest thing Paul says here and in many parts of Scripture and the commands precisely because they are precisely normative that we must stress in the modern world not jettisoning commands to the wives that come before but stressing them, at least, in proportion to the amount of stress that Paul gives them, if not even more so in a Christian culture that has typically drastically under-stressed them.


V. 1 Timothy 2:11-15

1st Timothy 2:11-15, ‘A woman must learn quietly with all submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man. She must remain quiet. For Adam was formed first and then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman, because she was fully deceived, fell into transgression. But she will be delivered through childbearing, if she continues in faith and love and holiness with self-control.’

This crunch text is also one of the most difficult and controversial in Scripture. Verse 11 begins with a woman or wife with a command of ‘should learn’ which is the counter cultural one that would have jumped out at any first century reader in almost any educational context but particularly in a religious context. Of course women and one could add in another context where the need and balancing effect is quite different that men need to learn also. Not in silence, this is a different word here, a word that means decorum or respect and cooperative, deferring fashion, a virtual or submission. Men and women alike should learn in such fashion but in Ephesus in the first century, it says that a woman should learn. Hallelujah!

In verse 12, Paul goes on in regards to women teaching over a man. We don’t know for sure what the activity in question is in this circumstance. She must be quiet. At first glance, not to do either A or B or do neither A nor B is, typical in English, a way of saying don’t do either one of two separate things but the Greek construction as a most through survey of the parallel expressions in the New Testament by Philip Pain has very equivalently demonstrated, does not function in that way but demonstrates that the two practices described by the conjoined expression with the conjunction uda for ‘or and nor’, consistently mutually defines one practice that can be looked at from two overlapping and at times almost synonymous perspectives. In which case, Paul’s prohibition in 1st Timothy 2:12 must be to women not teaching in an alfintain type of way or not alfintaining in a teaching kind of way.

Andres Christin Burger has pointed out in such constructions, the two verbs in the infinitive either both refer to an activity in a given context is viewed positively or both to an activity that is viewed negatively. Wilshire has pointed out in an exhaustive study in all the known usages of this highly rare verb in ancient Greek manuscripts that have been preserved from any author on any topic from roughly the mid first century BC to the mid first century AD prior to the first century and particularly to the time of Paul. The expression was a largely negative one, meaning to domineer or exercise authority in a dominating fashion or even to exercise violence and in extreme cases, murder. After the first century and more particularly after the time of Paul, the word is used more in a positive way. It is found primarily among Christian authors who without exception would have known Paul and refers to the ordinary and even proper exercise of authority. What caused the change? And what did it mean after Paul’s day and did Paul use it in the way in which it was customarily meant to be used? And the most honest answer anyone can give, no matter how many people who read or hear who say something else is that we don’t have the evidence to know. It could be that Paul was the one to introduce a change in the customary meaning of the word and thus that later predominately Christian writers followed suit. In which case the options for domineering or negative use of authority are not likely to be what he meant and therefore isn’t likely the teaching in this context is negative or it is possible that Paul was still using in the negative fashion but because of Christian’s counter-cultural model of teaching, apart from domineering, based on other teachings of scripture including Jesus’ own servant ministry model, led to this term being used in later Christian circles in a more positive way. In which case, the teaching of false teaching and the authority is an inappropriate authority that Paul is ruling out due to the unique susceptibility to the possibility of women to the false teaching in Ephesus which other texts in the Pastoral Epistles explicitly suggest. We must leave the door open for both options even if we express personal preferences and even if we choose to fellowship with Christians having like-minded personal preferences.

It is this lecture’s personal conviction that the confluence of teaching and authority, be they positive or negative in verse 12, so strikingly corresponds to the distinctive teaching role in chapter three, verse 2 of the elder or overseer and of the unique final authority that the elder exercises in 5:17. That verse 12 is expressing in language which is clear to Timothy in the first century Ephesians that Paul is not permitted women to be elders. In which case, both terms are being used positively, teaching exercising authority. That still leaves open the question of what an elder is, in the contemporary church, given all of our changed terminologies and new terminologies for church leaders over the centuries. Many people who are called elders in Christian churches today do not simultaneously and consistently exercise both the public teaching ministry in the worship service which is the only context that existed in Paul’s world. Note that in the end of chapter 3; particularly verse 15, Sunday school would not be invented until the 17 hundreds, etc. And the exercise of the final authority, some elders in some churches teach without exercising authority, more often than not they exercise authority without being one of the primary teachers in the public worship service. Still other churches have people who function as elders with both roles without using the title.

But we also have to address the question, is this meant to be a timeless principle whoever is the elder? And for this lecturer, verse 13 suggests that the answer is yes, grounded in the way God created Adam and Eve; in this case in terms of their chronology. There are all kinds of problems with this approach; I address a few of them in the book and as many as I know of in my article and I could be wrong. But the reference back to creation is what we find elsewhere in Paul, not least to marriage which also involves both genders as a way of saying that this is a timeless way God has created people. But verse 14 appeals to something that happened in the fall which though I take an even more minority perspective here, this time disagreeing with my complementarian colleagues rather than my egalitarian colleagues, cannot as it seems to me to be a normative reason for prohibition. Those have to go back to creation and therefore, since we are talking about something the previous verse declares to normative must be a second rational at all for Paul’s commands but merely a reminder as he has just thought of the creation story, of what happened so quickly after the creation account in Genesis 1 – 2, the fall described in Genesis 3 as the setup for verse 15 in 1st Timothy 2, a reference to salvation, to redemption, particularly for the woman, for her unique role as a child bearer, as a gender, and then a requirement for individual women that they have and continue in faith and holiness with propriety from the time of the Gospel onwards, being explicitly in Christ. I leave the listener to search the Scripture to see if these things are true.

VI. Statements of Rationale

It does, however, raise the question which for the sake of time, I must largely leave the reader to investigate as to the use of rational, statements throughout the various epistles surveyed. In 1st Corinthians 11, there are explicit appeals back to creation when statements about the headship, glory or honor of man and woman, husband of wife are involved. There is a very difficult verse in verse 10, but probably to be interpreted along the lines of the Jewish conviction that angels watched over and were even invisibly involved in God’s people gathering for worship and therefore a timeless principle as well for verses 8 – 9. But a mitigating of the headship though not a doing away with it altogether, based on the nature of redemption in verses 11-12. If it did away with it altogether then what would be the point of even having those opening verses? But if it didn’t at least mitigate it, then what would be the point of saying that salvation had already begun to restore God’s original intention for humanity and indeed in some cases going beyond the original finite boundaries of humanity to be experienced fully only in the life to come. And then in the closing verses where it is very clear, Paul is speaking only of hair, a series of terms which are more widespread than the Corinthian congregation but less widespread for all people everywhere. The law in 1st Corinthians 14 for submission, not a specific law but the timeless principle for the entire Hebrew Scriptures, but a common practice for the specific restraints of speaking in whatever context we ultimately determine this command for silence was given.

Redemption for the commands in Ephesians 5 is already noted, creation, 1st Timothy 2:13 and apparently the fall and thus perhaps disqualifying 1st Timothy 2:14 from being a rational statement at all. But again I admit that is the most tentative because it is held by a few numbers of people.

VII. Concluding Comments

In conclusion, we need to learn to disagree in love and make room for multiple models. It seems to me that the disagreement, once enough to lead to persecution between Baptist and enfant Baptist views, enough to still create strong convictions and churches organized along the lines of those who believe in one model rather than the other. But mercifully in many contexts though not yet in all. This is helped by the growing understanding of the ability of evangelicals to cooperate for the sake of the Kingdom across denominational and theological lines when salvation is not at stake. These Issues should not keep us from fully supporting friends and leaders, men and women alike who have chosen a different model when it comes to gender roles in home and church. And always remembering that 1st Corinthians 12 is utterly clear building on Peter’s sermon at Pentecost in Acts 2, the quotation of Joel chapter 2 that the gifts of the Spirit which include the proclamation of God’s Word to prophesy which includes the missionary role of the apostle and teaching with no limits as to who can be taught or should be taught in the exercise of that gift even if Paul may later preclude certain offices and an office. Those spiritual gifts are given indiscriminately of gender and we must cultivate them and encourage our congregations to cultivate them to the fullest. The prophecy, as I am convinced from the research of people like David Hill and Anthony Pisalton and others does include the more carefully thought out preaching of what one believes is a message from God a particular audience as well more spontaneously given uteruses in the same category then permission, the assumption of taking for granite that women will so speak in 1st Corinthians 11 dare not be neglected. We do so to our own spiritual impoverishment and diminution of God’s work in the world but I could be wrong. And if you disagree with the approaches I’ve suggested here, you could be wrong and we each need to keep saying that and keep searching the Scriptures and keep loving one another as we continue to do God’s work in a disparate hurting world.

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