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Female leadership in the Christian Scriptures (New Testament)

Quotations on, and introduction to, this topic

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bullet "...Paul mentioned 40 names in his letters...and talked about the big missionary enterprise of which there are dozens of people or participants... Of those 40 people, 16 are women. That's a considerable proportion of women involved in the Pauline missionary effort." Helmut Koestler 1

bullet " is not admissible to ordain women to the priesthood, for very fundamental reasons. These reasons include: the example recorded in the Sacred Scriptures of Christ choosing his Apostles only from among men; the constant practice of the Church, which has imitated Christ in choosing only men; and her living teaching authority which has consistently held that the exclusion of women from the priesthood is in accordance with God's plan for his Church." Pope Paul VI 2

bullet The evolution of Romans 16:7:

bullet "Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellowprisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me." (King James Version) Note: Junia, one of the early apostles, is referred to as female here as in the original Greek.

bullet "Greet Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners; they are men of note among the apostles and they were in Christ before me." (Revised Standard Version). The translators' minds recoil at the thought of a male apostle, so they change Junia's name to a non-existent male form. They added the word "men" to the original Greek to emphasize what they believed to be Junia's maleness.

bullet "Greet Andronicus and Junias, my relatives who were in prison with me; they are prominent among the apostles and they were in Christ before I was" (New Revised Standard Version). Junia still is given a nonexistent male name, but the translators no longer emphasize Junia's maleness.
bullet As of 2017, the Bible Gateway web site lists 59 translations of the Bible, of which 44 translate her name from the original Greek correctly as Junia, implying that Junia was female. These include KJ21, BRG, CSB, CEB, CJB, ERV, EHV, ESV, ESVUK, EXB, GNV, GW, GNT, HCSB, ISV, JUB, KJV, AKJV, LEB, MEV, MOUNCE, NOG, NABRE, NCV, NET, NIRV, NIV, NIVUK, NKJV, NLT, NMB, NRSV, NRSVA, NRSVACE, NRSVCE, NTE, OJB, TPT, RSV, RSVCE, TLV, WEB, WE, and WYC. Full names of the translations can be found on the Bible Gateway web site.

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As in so many religious beliefs, we see a major division between conservative and liberal Christians concerning female ordination:

bullet Many conservative Christian denominations allow only men to be ordained. A major support for this decision is  Paul's statement in 1 Timothy 2:11-15 in which the author did "not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent." Further, 1 Timothy 3:2 specifies that overseers and deacons must be men. Finally, 1 Corinthians 14:34b-35 states that women must be silent and in submission when in church. If they want to clarify some theological point, they should wait and approach their husband at home. Any of these statements would totally preclude women becoming ministers or pastors. Much of their opposition to equal treatment of women is derived from their concept of the inerrancy of the official canon of the Bible and of the b iblical doctrine of the Headship of Man. Most conservative Christians believe that such books as Timothy and Titus were written by Paul prior to his death circa 65 CE.

bullet Many liberal theologians note that:
bullet In the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), women's roles were highly restricted; they rarely held positions of power; they were often considered as property by their "owners" -- their fathers and husbands.

bullet Jesus violated 1st century customs in Palestine by generally treating men and women as equals. Of the dozen or so individuals who made up Jesus' inner circle, about half were women.

bullet Paul appears to have also treated women in the early Christian movement as equals, as co-workers, and as deserving of positions of authority, including the ministry.

bullet An equally valid translation of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 is "I do not permit a wife to teach or to have authority over her husband..." 3

bullet Through the use of Biblical criticism, liberal theologians have dated the books 1 Timothy and Titus to 100 to 150 CE. That is perhaps a half century after Paul's death. 1 Timothy 1:1, and Titus 1:1 declare that Paul was their author. Religious liberals consider the books to be clearly pseudonymous (written under an assumed name). The true author is unknown. Some theologians theorize that the books might have been written partly to counteract Paul's acceptance of women as equals, and to justify the church's gradual slide into a male-dominated institution.

Liberals would argue that the policies of Jesus and Paul in the area of gender equality are a higher moral standard than the oppression of women which is expressed in the Hebrew Scriptures and in some of the pseudonymous epistles. They believe that the present North American secular standard should be followed with respect to female ordination. They would prefer to abandon the restrictions on women that were implemented within Christendom, starting in the late 1st century CE.

Until the early years of the 20th century, very few Christian faith groups allowed women to be ordained. Since then, most of the liberal denominations have accepted female ministers and pastors. Mainline denominations followed. Very conservative denominations generally do not. The historical trend appears obvious - it may be just a matter of time before almost all denominations will remove their gender barrier, and finally match the rest of society. If they don't then they will have difficulty attracting new members and keeping old members.

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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:
  2. Pope Paul VI, "Response to the Letter of His Grace the Most Reverend Dr. F. D. Coggan, Archbishop of Canterbury, concerning the Ordination of Women to the Priesthood," 1975-NOV-30: AAS 68 (1976), Page 599.
  3. "Aquilla and Priscilla, Companions of the Apostle Paul," at:

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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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