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Female leadership in the Christian Scriptures (New Testament)

Arguments from biblical silences; forgeries

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Arguments from silences in the Bible:

One can often learn from what the Bible does not say. For example:

bulletA common belief among conservative Christians is that God instituted the headship principle (male in leadership; female in a supporting role) at the time of creation. This is shown in the following ways:

bullet God created Adam before Eve; he was the firstborn of the human race and thus had special responsibilities.

bullet God told Adam about the restriction on eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. This gave him the responsibility of teaching Eve to avoid the tree.

bulletAfter they ate the fruit, God addressed Adam first, holding him accountable for the disobedience.

bulletGod cursed Eve, saying that Adam shall rule over her.

"The headship principle was instituted by God at creation, re-iterated after the fall, and upheld as a model of male-female Christian relationships in the home and church." 1 Since there is no Biblical passage canceling the headship principle, many feel it is still in force. Thus, women should not be in a position of authority over men.


bulletThe lists of Jesus' disciples in the Christian Scriptures indicate that he selected only men. Many liberals attribute this to the strong prejudice in 1st century Palestine against women. The public might not have listened to Jesus' message if he had female disciples. Conservatives point out that Jesus violated social custom on numerous occasions.

"Christ was not afraid to break social customs when they conflicted with Scripture. Against custom, he ministered to Gentiles, spoke to a Samaritan woman, and ate with tax collectors and sinners. He condemned the social injustices of His day when He spoke out against divorce and remarriage...when He drove from the temple those who were profaning it and exploiting others...; and when He criticized religious leaders to their faces for their hypocrisy. Christ's own life, as well as the thrust of His Sermon on the Mount, reveals that our Lord would not bow to any cultural pressure when moral issues were at stake." 2

So, he must have had some other reason to select an all-male group of disciples, perhaps the headship principle mentioned above. Some consider the lack of female disciples to be a strong argument against female leadership in the modern church.


bulletFollowing Judas' death by suicide, the 11 surviving disciples nominated two of Jesus' followers as candidates to replace Judas. They were selected from a group of men and women, yet neither candidate was a woman. They had every opportunity to select a woman and start to balance the group along gender lines. But they did not; they considered only men as possible replacements.

bulletSome theologians claim that the various women that Paul refers to as apostles, disciples, co-workers, deacons etc were in fact merely helpers. Thus, they believe that there were no women in positions of authority in the early church. If this is true, then it would be a strong argument against ordaining women today.

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Forged and counterfeit writings in the Bible:

We are using these terms with reference to today's value systems. For example, if someone wrote in 1998 an essay in the form of an encyclical by Pope John XXIII, and attempted to pass it off as an unknown work of the Pope, then we would consider it a forgery or counterfeit. If someone write today a speech in the style of George Washington and tried to publish it as if it were written by the first President, we would also consider it a forgery.

But things were a little different in the 1st and 2nd century CE. It was quite an accepted practice at that time for followers of a great philosopher or religious thinker to write material which emulated their leader. They passed it off as if that leader wrote it. However, even in those early days, passages designed to negate the earlier teachings of Paul (as in 1 Corinthians 14:33b-35) would not normally have been considered accepted practice.

We use the term forger and counterfeiter to emphasize that the passages were written by person or persons unknown.

There were dozens of gospels, large numbers epistles, and even a few books on the style of Revelation that were considered religious texts by various movements within the early Christian church. When some of these were selected to form the official canon of the Christian Scriptures (New Testament), the main criteria was whether the book was written by an apostle or someone very close to an apostle. The canon was regarded as inerrant, as inspired by God.

From the perspective of history, liberal and mainline theologians now believe that many books were not written by the authors that they claim to be written by. For example, they suggest that the author of Ephesians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus are unknown, while Colossions is only probably by Paul. They believe that most were written long after Paul's execution. This puts their legitimacy in question. They also believe that unknown persons later inserted their own writings into some of their books. If these beliefs are valid, then those passages cannot be considered inerrant because they were not in the original manuscripts.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Dr. Helmut Koester, "The role of women in the Christian churches of Paul's day." This is a series of excerpts from his speech titled "St. Paul: His Mission to the Greek Cities & His Competitors," given to the Foundation for Biblical Research, Charlestown, NH, on 1997-SEP-13. It is available at: http://www.bibletexts.com/
  2. Samuel Koranteng-Pipim, "Biblical Obstacles to Women's Ordination," at: http://www2.andrews.edu/

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Copyright © 1999 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2011-SEP-05
Author: Bruce A. Robinson
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