The four Gospels in the Christian Scriptures (New Testament) -- and the 45 or
so other Gospels that never became part of
the official canon -- dealt primarily with the life of Jesus. The remaining
hundreds of letters which were in circulation within the early Christian
movement deal primarily with the development of Christianity after the
execution of Christ circa 30 CE. Some of these,
particularly some of Paul's letters, made it into the New Testament.
The latter epistles contain two mutually exclusive practices:
The promotion of Christ's revolutionary message, in which women and men (and
prostitutes, and the hated tax collectors etc) were treated equally.
The rejection of Christ's message, in which women's roles are once
more restricted as women were
restored to their former inferior status as seen in the Hebrew Scriptures
Biblical references promoting gender equality:
John 1:12: All people, men and women, have the opportunity to become
children of God - presumably without regard to gender, race, sexual orientation,
Acts 2:1-21: At the time of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was described as entering
both men and women. In Verse 17, Peter recites a saying of the prophet Joel that talks
about sons and daughters; Verse 18 talks about men and women.
Acts 9:36: Paul refers to a woman (Tabitha in Aramaic, Dorcas in Greek, Gazelle
in English) as a Christian disciple.
Acts 18:24-26 describes how a married couple, Priscilla and
Aquila, both acted in
the role of pastor to a man from Alexandria, called Apollos. Various translations of the
Bible imply that they taught him in the synagogue (Amplified Bible, King James Version,
Rheims, New American Standard, New American, New Revised Standard) However, the New
International Version have an unusual translation of this passage. The NIV states that the
teaching occurred in Priscilla's and Aquila's home.
Acts 21:9: Four young women are referred to as prophetesses.
Romans 16:1: Paul refers to Phoebe as a minister (diakonos) of the church at
Cenchrea. Some translations say deaconess; others try to downgrade her position by
mistranslating it as "servant" or "helper".
Romans 16:3: Paul refers to Priscilla as another of his "fellow workers
in Christ Jesus" (NIV) Other translations refer to her as a
"co-worker". But other translations attempt to downgrade her status by calling
her a "helper". The original Greek word is "synergoi", which literally
means "fellow worker" or "colleague." 4
Romans 16:7: Paul refers to a male apostle, Andronicus and a female apostle,
Lunia, as "outstanding among the apostles" (NIV) The Amplified Bible
translates this passage as "They are men held in high esteem among the
apostles." The Revised Standard Version shows it as "they are men of note
among the apostles." The reference to them both being men does not appear in the
original Greek text. The word "men" was simply inserted by the translators,
apparently because the translators' minds recoiled from the concept of a female apostle.
Many translations, including the Amplified Bible, Rheims New Testament, New American
Standard Bible, and the New International Version simply picked the letter "s"
out of thin air. They converted the original "Junia" (a woman's name) into
"Junias" (a man's name) in order to warp St. Paul's original writing by erasing
all mention of a female apostle. Junia was first converted into a man only in the "13th
century, when Aegidius of Rome (1245-1316 CE) referred to both Andronicus and Junia as
"honorable men." 5
1 Corinthians 1:11: Chloe is mentioned as the owner of a house where
Christian meetings were held. There is some ambiguity as to whether the women actually led
the house churches. Similar passages mention, with the same ambiguity:
The mother of Mark in Acts 12:12, and
Lydia in Acts 16:14-5, and 40, and
Nymphain (Col 4:15).
1 Corinthians 12:4-7: This discusses gifts that the Holy Spirit gives to all
believers, both men and women. The New International Version obscures this message; in
Verse 6 is translated "all men", whereas other translations use the terms
"all", "all persons", "in everyone", and "in
1 Corinthians 16:3: Paul refers to a married couple: Priscilla and Aquila as his
fellow workers in Christ Jesus.
2 Corinthians 5:17: "Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new
creation..." (NIV). Again "anyone" appears to mean both men and
Galatians 3:28: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor
female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (NIV) This is perhaps the most
famous passage in the New Testament that assigns equal status to individuals of both
genders (and all races, nationalities and slave status).
Philippians 4:2: Paul refers to two women, Euodia and
Syntyche, as his coworkers
who were active evangelists, spreading the gospel.
Philemon 2: Paul writes his letter to "Apphia, our sister" and
two men as the three leaders of a house church.
1 Peter 4:10-11: This passages discusses all believers serving others with
whatever gifts the Holy Spirit has given them, "faithfully administering God's
grace in its various forms." (NIV) Presumably this would mean that some women are
given the gift of being an effective pastor, and would have been expected exercise that
Biblical references promoting female inferiority:
1 Corinthians 11:3: "...Christ is the head of every man, and a husband
the head of his wife, and the head of Christ is God. (NIV)". There is some debate
among theologians about the translation of the Greek word "kephale" as "head."
However that word is universally used in New Testament translations.
1 Corinthians 11:7-9:"For a man...is the image and glory of God; but
woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither
was man created for woman but woman for man. For this reason, and because of the angels,
the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head." (NIV) This refers to
the practice of women wearing hair covering as a sign of inferiority. This is not longer
widely observed today.
1 Corinthians 14:34-35: "...women should remain silent in the churches.
They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says, If they want to
inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful
for a woman to speak in the church." (NIV) This is a curious passage. It appears
to prohibit all talking by women during services. But it contradicts verse 11:5,
in which St. Paul states that women can actively pray and prophesy during services.
Many theologians have concluded that verses 14:33b to 36 are a later addition, added by an
unknown counterfeiter with little talent at forgery. Bible scholar, Hans
comments on these three and a half verses: "Moreover, there are peculiarities of
linguistic usage, and of thought. [within them]." 6If they are removed, then
Verse 33a merges well with Verse 37 in a seamless transition. Since they were a later
forgery, they do not fulfill the basic requirement to be considered
inerrant: they were
not in the original manuscript written by Paul.
Ephesians 5:22-24:"Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For
the husband is the head of the wife...wives should submit to their husbands in
1 Timothy; various passages: Conservative theologians date this "pastoral
epistle" as having being written prior to 65 CE, and assign its authorship to Paul.
Liberal theologians generally believe that it was written by an unknown author during the
first half of the second century, a half-century or longer after St. Paul's execution. If
the latter is true then the epistle's many passages reflecting female inferiority can be
attributed to a gradual reinstatement of patriarchal authority by the early Church. Some
of these passages are:
1 Timothy 2:11-15:"A woman should learn in quietness and full submission.
I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be
silent..." (NIV) Some Biblical scholars believe that woman and
should be replaced by wife and husband in the above passage. This would
mean that the passage would not refer to women teaching men
in the church, but rather wives teaching their husbands within the home.
1 Timothy 3:2: "Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of
but one wife..." (NIV) This would seem to imply that all
overseers (bishops) must be male.
1 Timothy 3:8: "Deacons likewise, are to be men worthy of respect,
Titus 1:6: "An elder must be blameless, a husband of but one wife"
(NIV). Women are apparently excluded from the position of elder or bishop.
Titus 2:4: "...train the younger women...to be subject to their
husbands." There is no indication of equal power sharing in marriage.
1 Peter 3:7: Women are referred to as "the weaker vessel" in
comparison to their husbands
Who wrote Ephesians, Colossians, etc?
The New Testament passages which downgrade the status of women are in books which
appear to be have been written by Paul and Peter. Until modern times, Christian
theologians universally accepted the two apostles as the true authors. That belief is
still followed by almost all Fundamentalist and other Evangelical theologians. Since the
authors identified themselves as Paul or Peter in their writings, and since all books in the Bible are
considered free of error as originally written, then conservative Christians conclude that
Paul and Peter must have authored the books.
However, most liberal theologians have concluded that many of the writings attributed
to Paul and Peter were in fact written by anonymous authors, often long after Paul and
Peter died. They base these conclusions on internal evidence, and references to the books
by other Christian leaders. They believe that some of the anonymous books are:
Ephesians: This was perhaps written circa 95 CE, about 30 years after
Colossians: This was written, in part, to combat Gnostic thought which
did not become a concern to the church until the early second century, many decades after Paul's
2 Thessalonians: This was probably written circa 75 to 90 CE, at least
one decade after St. Paul's death
1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus were written sometime during the first
half of the second century - perhaps circa 130 CE.
Hebrews is impossible to date with any certainty. It is believed to
have been written sometime between 60 and 96 CE. Its author is unknown.
1 Peter is apparently an early document, because the author refers to
"elders" as the only level of church leadership. Deacons, deaconesses and
bishops are not mentioned. Liberal theologians disagree about the authorship of this book.
If we accept the interpretation of many liberal theologians, then some of the books
attributed to Peter and Paul were actually written much later by anonymous authors. Thus,
many of the anti-female passages attributed to Peter and Paul actually reflect the
policies of the developing church, as late as 150 CE - almost a century after Paul's
Other information related to the role of women:
See our essay "WOMEN CLERGY: PRIESTS, PASTORS,
MINISTERS, RABBIS" for additional information on:
Status of female ordination in various Christian denominations
Dates when various denominations started to ordain women
Female leaders mentioned in the Bible
Prohibition of women from positions of power by the early church
B.M. Metzger & M.D. Coogan, "The Oxford Companion to the Bible",
Oxford University Press, New York, NY, (1993), P. 806 to 818
Christians for Biblical Equality are an Evangelical Christian group that opposes the
vast majority of conservative Christian denominations by promoting gender equality. Their
essay: "Statement On Men, Women and Biblical Equality" is at: http://www.cbeinternational.org
Ben Witherington III, "Women in the Earliest Churches", Cambridge
University Press, (1988), Page 129
Hans Kung, "Christianity: Essence, History and Future", Continuum, New
York NY, (1995), P. 121