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Living On The Edge: challenges to faith

September 1, 2013 Leave a comment

Today Christians in the Western world are typically living in a post-Christian society. Christian beliefs are met with skepticism, and people see little reason to believe. Christians are confronted with daily challenges to their faith, and often struggle to understand the relevance of Christianity to modern life.

The book ‘Living On The Edge: challenges to faith‘ (due to be printed in November 2013), addresses those concerns. For an overview of the book, click here.

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How did the early Christians baptize?

March 13, 2013 5 comments

The Challenge

In the 19th century many scholars denied that immersion was the original mode of baptism.[1] McKay and Rogers wrote influential interpretations of the archaeological evidence,[2] and Dale’s linguistic study became the standard lexical resource for the anti-immersion position.[3]

The Facts

The Greek word for baptism refers to dipping, plunging, or immersion in both the Septuagint and the New Testament.[4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] 

Major studies by Lothar Heiser (1986), Sandford La Sor (1987), Jean‐Charles Picard (1989), Malka Ben Pachat (1989), and Everett Ferguson (2009), all agree the archaeological and textual evidence indicates full immersion was the earliest normal Christian practice.[13] [14] [15] [16] [17] [18]

The earliest Christian record of baptism outside the New Testament,[19] [20] proves 1st century Christians normally baptized by immersion.[21] [22] [23] [24] [25] [26]

The scholarly consensus is that full immersion was the normal practice of the earliest Christians.[27] [28] [29] [30] [31] [32] [33]  [34]  [35] [36] [37] [38] [39] [40]

_____________________________

[1] Among many others, Thorn, ‘Modern Immersion Not Scripture Baptism’ (1831), Kerr, ‘A Treatise on the Mode of Baptism: showing the unfounded nature of the assumption, that immersion is the only proper mode of administering the ordinance and that pouring or sprinkling, is the most scriptural and significant, and by far the preferable mode of its administration’ (1844), Beckwith, ‘Immersion Not Baptism’ (1858), Kerr, ‘The Heavenly Father’s Teaching: a pedo‐Baptist’s reply to immersionists shewing that Baptism is not immersion, and that immersion is not Baptism, for they are direct opposites’ (1874), Bush, ‘Bible Baptism Never Immersion’ (1888).

[2] McKay, ‘Immersion Proved to be Not a Scriptural Mode of Baptism but a Romish Invention’ (1884), Rogers, ‘Baptism and Christian Archeology’ (1903).

[3] Dale, ‘Inquiry Into the Usage of Baptizo’ (1824‐1879).

[4] ‘In the Sept.: 2 Kgs. 5:13, 14 we have loúō (3068), to bathe and baptízomai. See also 28, 40;&version=ESV; Lev. 11:25, 28, 40, where plúnō (4150), to wash clothes by dipping, and loúō (3068), to bathe are used. In 19;&version=ESV; Num. 19:18, 19, báphō, to dip, and plúnō, to wash by dipping are used’, Zodhiates, ‘The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament’ (electronic ed. 2000).

[5] ‘In Mark 7:4 the verb wash in “except they wash” is baptízomai, to immerse. This indicates that the washing of the hands was done by immersing them in collected water. ‘, ibid.

[6] ‘The sevenfold dipping of Naaman (2 K. 5:14) perhaps suggests sacramental ideas and illustrates the importance of the Jordan. In the later Jewish period טבל (b. Ber., 2b of the bathing of priests; Joma, 3, 2ff. etc.)’, Kittel, Bromiley, & Friedrich (eds.), ‘Theological dictionary of the New Testament’, volume 1, p. 535 (electronic ed. 1964–c1976).

[7] ‘Βαπτίζω+ V 0‐1‐1‐0‐2=4 2 Kgs 5,14; Is 21,4; Jdt 12,7; Sir 34,25 M to dip oneself 2 Kgs 5,14; to wash Jdt 12,7′, Lust, Eynikel, & Hauspie (eds.), ‘A Greek‐English Lexicon of the Septuagint’ (rev. electronic ed. 2003).

[8]  ‘baptizō 77x pr. to dip, immerse;’, Mounce, ‘Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words’, pp. 1104‐1105 (2006).

[9] ‘In Gk. lit. gener. to put or go under water in a variety of senses, also fig., e.g. ‘soak’ Pla., Symp. 176b in wine)’, Arndt, Danker, & Bauer (eds.) ‘A Greek‐English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature’, p. 164 (3rd ed. 2000).

[10] ‘1. In the LXX baptō usually translates the OT Heb. ṭāḇal, dip (13 times; on 3 occasions baptō represents other vbs.). baptizō occurs only 4 times: in Isa. 21:4 it is used metaphorically of destruction, but in 2 Ki. 5:14 it is used in the mid. of Naaman’s sevenfold immersion in the Jordan (the only passages as equivalent for Heb. ṭāḇal).’, Brown, ‘New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology’, volume 1, p. 144 (1986).

[11] ‘Despite assertions to the contrary, it seems that baptizō, both in Jewish and Christian contexts, normally meant “immerse”, and that even when it became a technical term for baptism, the thought of immersion remains. The use of the term for cleansing vessels (as in Lev. 6:28 Aquila [cf. 6:21]; cf. baptismos in Mk. 7:4) does not prove the contrary, since vessels were normally cleansed by immersing them in water. The metaphorical uses of the term in the NT appear to take this for granted, e.g. the prophecy that the Messiah will baptise in Spirit and fire as a liquid (Matt. 3:11), the “baptism” of the Israelites in the cloud and the sea (1 Cor. 10:2), and in the idea of Jesus’ death as a baptism (Mk. 10:38f. baptisma; Lk. 12:50; cf. Ysebaert, op. cit., 41 ff.).’, ibid., p. 144.

[12] ‘Lexicographers universally agree that the primary meaning of baptizo G966 is ‘to dip’ or ‘to immerse”, and there is a similar consensus of scholarly opinion that both the baptism of John and of the apostles was by immersion’, Jewett, ‘Baptism’, in Murray (ed.), ‘Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible’, volume 1, p.466 (rev. ed. 2009).

[13] ‘The philological evidence is technical and inconclusive. But the archaeological and Mishnaic evidence seems to support the argument for immersion., Sanford La Sor, ‘Discovering What Jewish Miqva’ot Can Tell Us About Christian Baptism’, Biblical Archaeology Review, (13.01), 1987.

[14] ‘The conclusions of Lothar Heiser on the administration of baptism after examining the literary and pictorial evidence accord with mine: the water customarily reached the hips of the baptizand; after calling on the triune God, the priest bent the baptizand under so as to dip him in water over the head; in the cases of pouring in the Didache and in sickbed baptism the baptized did not stand in the font.’, Ferguson, Baptism in the Early Church: history, theology, and
liturgy in the first five centuries’, p. 860 (2009).

[15] ‘Either bending his knees, kneeling, or sitting, an adult could have been totally immersed as required in fonts from 1.30m to 60cm deep.’. ibid., p. 852.

[16] ‘The express statements in the literary sources, supported by other hints, the depictions in art, and the very presence of specially built baptismal fonts, along  with their size and shape, indicate that the normal procedure was for the administrator with his head on the baptizand’s head to bend the upper part of the body forward and dip the head under the water.’, ibid, pp. 857‐858.

[17] ‘The Christian literary sources, backed by secular word usage and Jewish religious immersions, give an overwhelming support for full immersion as the normal action. Exceptions in cases of lack of water and especially of sickbed baptism were made. Submersion was undoubtedly the case for the fourth and fifth centuries in the Greek East, and only slightly less certain for the Latin West.’, ibid., p. 891.

[18] ‘Later church practice in this regard led artists to the strange fantasy of Jesus standing waist deep in water while John poured water on his head (such pictures do not occur until medieval western times).’, ibid., p. 202.

[19] ‘It contains details of the church life of the earliest Christians, their preference for baptism by immersion, their fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays, the forms of their eucharistic prayers.’, Manion & Mudge, ‘The Routledge Companion to the Christian Church’, pp. 42–43 (2008).

[20] ‘In the Didache 7 (a.d. 100–160), the oldest baptismal manual extant, triple immersion is assumed,’ (Silva & Tenney (eds.), ‘The Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible, volume 1, pp. 494‐495. (rev. ed. 2009).

[21] ‘Baptism is by *immersion if possible” (Cross & Livingstone (eds.), ‘The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church’, p. 482 (3rd rev. ed. 2005).

[22] ‘One witnesses the fasting and the solemn rite of baptism, preferably by immersion in flowing water.’, Milavec, “Didache”, p. ix (2003).

[23] ‘According to the Didache (1st century), baptism should be done by a triple immersion in running water.’, Lacoste, ‘Encyclopedia of Christian Theology: G‐O’, p. 1607 (2005).

[24] ‘The argument of the section is clear: while adhering strictly to the preference for flowing water and baptism by immersion, necessary concessions are made to local circumstances.’, Draper, “The Didache In Modern Research”, p. 47 (1996).

[25] ‘As a rule, it involved immersion in running water (see Acts 8:38; Did. 7).’, Fahlbusch & Bromiley (eds.), ‘Encyclopedia of Christianity’., volume 1, p.184 (1990‐2003).

[26] ‘Baptism is by immersion in the threefold name, but sprinkling three times on the head is allowed in an emergency.’, Vokes, ‘Life and Order In An Early Church:The Didache’, in Haase (ed.), ‘Aufstieg Und Niedergang Der Romischen Welt’, volume 2, p. 221 (1993).

[27] ‘New Testament scholars generally agree that the early church baptized by immersion.’, Wiersbe, ‘Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines on the New Testament’, pp. 466‐467 (1997).

[28] ‘Most scholars agree that immersion was practiced in the NT, and it is likely that both of these texts allude to the practice, even though baptism is not the main point of either text.’, Schreiner, ‘Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ’, p. 81 (2007).

[29] ‘Furthermore, modern NT scholars generally concede, regardless of denominational affiliation, that Christian baptism in NT times was by immersion, as it was and still is in Judaism.’, Helyer, ‘Exploring Jewish Literature of the Second Temple Period’, p. 481 (2002).

[30] ‘The baptism commanded by Jesus in the making of disciples is an immersion in water. The topic formerly was warmly debated, but in these days there is general scholarly agreement. Several lines of evidence converge in support of the baptismal action as a dipping.’, Ferguson, ‘The Church of Christ: A Biblical Ecclesiology for Today’, p. 201 (1996).

[31] ‘It seems also that the profession was articulated in responses that the one being baptized made to the questions of the one baptizing during the baptismal rite, which in general was required to take place through total immersion, in total nudity, in running water.’, DiBerardino, ‘We Believe in One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church’, p. 88 (2009).

[32] ‘Baptism in the Bible was by immersion, that is, the person went fully under the waters,’, Lang, ‘Everyday Biblical Literacy: the essential guide to biblical allusions in art, literature, and life’, p. 47 (2007).

[33] ‘The earliest preference was for baptism in running streams or in the sea (Mark 1:9; Acts 8:36; Didache 7). Next in preference was total immersion in a fountain or bath‐sized tank (Tertullian, Baptism 4).’, Flinn, ‘Baptism’, in ‘Encyclopedia of Catholicism’, Encyclopedia of World Religions, p. 52 (2007).

[34] ‘Baptism was normally by immersion either in the river or in the bath‐house of a large house’, Dowley (ed.), ‘Eerdman’s Handbook to the History of Christianity’, p.10 (1977).

[35] ‘There is little doubt that early Christian baptism was adult baptism by immersion’, Grimes, ‘Deeply Into the Bone: Re‐Inventing Rites of Passage’, p. 50 (2002).

[36] ‘Our study has not attempted to demonstrate that affusion rather than immersion was the practice in New Testament times, since it is clear that immersion was the general rule;’, Marshall, ‘The Meaning of the Verb “Baptize”’, in Porter & Cross (eds.), ‘Dimensions of Baptism: Biblical and Theological Studies’, p. 23 (2002).

[37] ‘We can be fairly sure that early baptism was not normally by sprinkling. Other possible alternatives were pouring (affusion) and immersion. Probably immersion was the norm.’, Guy, ‘Introducing Early Christianity: A
Topical Survey of Its Life, Beliefs, and Practice, pp. 224‐225 (2004).

[38] ‘In the early days of the Church, total immersion, often in streams or rivers, seems to have been most commonly used (Mark 1:9; Acts 8:3).’, Tischler, ‘All Things in the Bible: A‐L’, p. 59 (2006).

[39] ‘Saunder and Louw comment, ‘Obviously the phrases “going down” and “coming up” are used to focus on the two processes involved in immersion.’ Clearly the evidence from such accounts favors strongly the notion that baptism was by immersion.’, Ware, ‘Believers’ Baptism View’, in Wright (ed.), ‘Baptism: Three Views’, p. 22 (2009).

[40] ‘Stander and Louw, Baptism in the Early Church, p. 25, argue similarly for understanding the prevailing practice of the early church to be that of immersion from several other citations of various church fathers and documents, included among them Aristides of Athens, Clement of Alexandria (p. 31), Tertullian (pp. 36‐37), Hippolytus (p. 42), and Basil the Great (who practiced tri‐immersion, p. 82).’, ibid., p. 22.

The crisis of absent men

May 14, 2011 6 comments

The Claim

A common complaint made by egalitarians is that ‘the church’ is forcing women to leave, and discouraging women from joining, due to ‘traditionalist’ views of the role of women. Although there is certainly evidence that women have on occasion been dissuaded from joining a church (or ecclesia), due to its position on this issue, or even from accepting Christianity, there is far more evidence that churches in countries which have made the greatest effort to be inclusive of women, are losing men at a significant rate.[1]

The Facts

Remarkably, church attendance by women has consistently been higher throughout history, even during those times when women were most marginalized. Historically, women have typically been more involved in religion than men regardless of social or theological environment.[2]

The marginalization of women therefore has historically had little to no impact on church attendance by women (and in some cases can be seen to have encouraged it), whereas modern churches face the challenge of seriously declining male attendance, despite the fact that men still occupy the majority of leadership positions in most mainstream Christian denominations.[3]

The most prominent examples of this problem are in the US and UK, where numerous studies have confirmed a significant gender gap in the churches,[4] which various organizations have attempted to address.[5]

This particular subject has not received the same enthusiastic call for action as issues such as the role of women in the congregation,[6] though it has been noted to various extents in the relevant scholarly literature for many years.[7] Many Christians remain unaware of the issue, and no worldwide campaigns are undertaken to increase awareness of the problem (some efforts to address the issue are in fact even resisted[8]), though literature addressing the subject specifically (both popular[9] and scholarly[10]), is gradually increasing.

It should be understood that there is evidence that this lack of involvement by men is not necessarily related directly to participation by women.[11] A congregation which increases the involvement of its women in various roles (including leadership), will not necessarily lose its men.[12] If we are to be serious and honest about addressing gender issues in our community, this is an issue which should not be ignored.

The problem is the more concerning given that no single cause for the decline has been discovered, indicating the issue is complex, and not susceptible to a simple solution. Significantly, this appears to be a uniquely Christian problem, not found in other religions:

‘Yet, as Murrow (2005a, 8 ) points out, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam all have at least as many male adherents as female ones. Podles (1999, ix) also notes that, within Christianity, the Orthodox Church has a general [sic] balance. The implication is clear: it is not that religion or spirituality per se are inimical to men. Rather, it must be specific forms and expressions of religion or spirituality that alienate men and deter their participation.’[13]

One contributing factor appears to be derogatory attitudes towards male spirituality, with men commonly encountering the belief that their religious experiences are of little value, and that they are less spiritual than women:

‘It is somewhat disturbing to note that, according to my survey, 13.2% of Christians agree with the statement that “men are less spiritual than women” (including 19.3% of men, who are repeatedly told that their forms of spirituality are not the real thing).’ [14]

Another clearly identified contributing factor has been the gradual feminization of Christian worship services, aimed at reflecting what women (supposedly), feel most comfortable with:

‘Perhaps the main focus of those who criticise the Church for having become feminised is that its worship is too ‘touchy-feely’, overemotional or over-personal. This has been derogatorily called ‘Jesus is my boyfriend’ (or, more provocatively, ‘girlfriend’) worship. As Murrow (2005a, 187) argues, “today’s praise music invites the worshipper to assume the feminine role” and praise music can resemble the Top 40 love songs.’ [15]

By way of example, Ducker provides the lyrics of three typical popular worship songs, with lyrics such as ‘Jesus, lover of my soul’, ‘But listen, my Lover/Is coming from heaven’s throne!’, and ‘I have felt Your touch,/More intimate than lovers’. [16] Noteworthy is the fact that even some popular Christian composers have started to consider that such lyrics are inappropriate.[17]

This feminization of church culture has had a negative impact on men, contributing to their absence. [18] As men are under considerable secular pressure to conform to unbiblical male role models, Ducker observes that the modern church must take steps to address the needs of men in the congregation:

It is a commonplace that masculinity is in crisis. Men are experiencing considerable confusion over their identity, in terms of who they are and what their roles are. As the end of the millennium approached, Roy McCloughry reported “a loss of definition and a confusion about what is expected of men… It is amazing how quickly men seem to have lost their confidence” (1994, 4).

However, such complaints were already familiar, having their origin in the turbulent changes in gender relations in the 1960s, and the ensuing ‘sex war’. By the mid-1980s Leanne Payne was able to note that this “growing cultural malady” was already epic in proportions” and equated to a full-blown “crisis in masculinity” (1985, 9). The Church’s response to this disruption to men’s identities, labelled “gender dysphoria” by Culbertson (2002, 221), has been both feeble and disappointing, yet this is a profoundly spiritual issue.’ [19]

The fact is that men are leaving their churches at a far greater rate than women.


[1] For the UK, Ducker notes ‘Using the limited data that we do have, we find that there is considerable convergence of estimates for the male proportion of those in Church, which typically fall within the range of 35% to 40% for the period 2005-2007. This proportion is lower than at any recent point of church history and is part of a trend going back at least as far as 1980, when approximately 44% of those in Church were males.6 There are signs that this trend is now stabilising’, ibid., pp.11-12 (2007)

[2] ‘It is found consistently that women are more religious than men both behaviorally and attitudinally (e.g., Argyle and Beit-Hallahmi, 1975; Scobie, 1975; Yinger, 1970), Gee, ‘Gender Differences in Church Attendance in Canada: the Role of Labor Force Participation’, Review of Religious Research (32.3.267), 1991

[3] ‘It would be interesting to see whether the gender of clergy is correlated to male/female attendance rates, and whether it is significant that two denominations that have had women ministers since the early 1970s (URC and Methodism) also have two of the lowest rates of male participation (35% and 36% respectively). Re-examining his most recent dataset, Christian Research’s Dr Peter Brierley 18 One topical example of this is the revision of ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ to ‘Onward Christian Pilgrims’ (see, for example, Hymns Old and New – new Anglican edition), has found that “where there is a female minister the percentage of men in their congregations is only 38%” compared to the “overall proportion of churchgoers [which is] 43%” (personal correspondence, 9 May 2007).’, Ducker,  ‘Disbanded Brothers – Has a ‘Feminised’ Church Alienated Men in the UK?’, pp.24-25 (2007)

[4] ‘The UKCH Religious Trends series has included occasional data on church attendance by gender (as well as analysis by age, denomination and churchmanship). No.5 in this series (2005/2006) provides evidence for two main trends: that women outnumber men in the UK’s churches, and that the proportion of men in church congregations is falling‘, Ducker,  ‘Disbanded Brothers – Has a ‘Feminised’ Church Alienated Men in the UK?’, p.10 (2007); also http://www.whychurch.org.uk/gendergap.php

[6] ‘there has been surprisingly little written on this topic in relation to the UK’, Ducker, ‘Disbanded Brothers – Has a ‘Feminised’ Church Alienated Men in the UK?’, p.2 (2007)

[7] As for example an article almost 50 years ago, ‘women, both in and out of the labor force, attend church more frequently than men’, Lazerwitz, ‘Some factors associated with variations in church attendance’, Social Forces, p. 310 (1961)

[8] ‘there is continued reluctance to organise men-only activities’, Ducker, ‘Disbanded Brothers – Has a ‘Feminised’ Church Alienated Men in the UK?’, p.22 (2007)

[9] Kunjufu, ‘Adam! Where Are You? Why Most Black Men Don’t Go to Church’ (1994), Podles, ‘The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity’ (1999), Murrow, ‘Why Men Hate Going to Church’ (2005)

[10] Lummis, ‘A Research Note: Real Men and Church Participation’, Review of Religious Research (45.4.404-414), 2004

[11] Note however the 2003 UK study by Heather Wraight, ‘Men and the Church’, which found ‘the most common response to the question what they “least liked about being a man in church” was “being outnumbered by women” and “being in a minority”’,  in Ducker, ‘Disbanded Brothers – Has a ‘Feminised’ Church Alienated Men in the UK?’, p.9 (2007)

[12] In a study of Episcopalian congregations in the US, Lummis notes ‘Survey results indicate that the presence of women in ordained or in lay church leadership does not significantly diminish men’s feelings of being appreciated by their congregations’, ‘A Research Note: Real Men and Church Participation’, Review of Religious Research (45.4.404-414), 2004

[13] Ducker, ‘Disbanded Brothers – Has a ‘Feminised’ Church Alienated Men in the UK?’, p.17 (2007)

[14] Ibid., p.17

[15] Ibid., p.20

[16] Ibid., pp.20-21

[17] ‘Significantly, Matt Redman, composer of several worship songs in this vein, recently admitted that he was “re-visiting a couple of things [that he had] written before” because they were too effeminate: “If a blokey bloke comes into church, is he going to connect with what’s going on? Some of the romantic imagery used in worship, the more I think about and study scripture, I’m not so sure about it… In the Bible you don’t have people coming up to Jesus saying, ‘You’re beautiful…’, even in Revelation before his throne… [One song ended with] ‘I’m so in love with you’… Maybe I should have written, ‘I’m so in awe of you.’ It’s a learning process.” (Interviewed by John Buckeridge in Christianity, March 2007, pp.12-13)’ , ibid., p.21

[18] ‘Instead of affirming men in their created, masculine identities, the Church has tended towards a general notion of spirituality that is unmistakably feminine. Thus, the desirable virtues of churchgoers are that they are ‘nice’, ‘friendly’, ‘polite’ and ‘well-behaved’. They should be contemplative, quietly prayerful, intuitive and able to express their ‘personal relationship’ with Jesus articulately and emotionally. Whilst these characteristics may well reflect a certain type of spirituality, it is not one that men will necessarily identify with and as such is further evidence of the feminisation of Church culture.’, ibid., p.26

[19] Ibid., p.26

Was the role of sisters in 1st century ecclesias revolutionary or restricted by society?

The Claim

Egalitarians typically claim that the roles available to 1st century Christian women were restricted by the prevailing Jewish and Roman attitudes.[1]

The Facts

Jewish and Roman 1st century society was far more flexible than egalitarians typically claim. Stoicism was widespread,[2] and even had an egalitarian influence on Roman law.[3] The Stoics were the most egalitarian of the 1st century Roman philosophical groups.[4] [5] [6] [7] [8]

Musonius Rufus is one 1st century example. [9] [10] Unlike Paul, Musonius Rufus did not make any call for women to be subject,[11] opposed explicitly a range of misogynist prejudices,[12] and challenged the view of any form of gendered division of tasks,[13] with a statement which has no Biblical parallel.[14]

Egalitarian views were also present in 1st century Jewish society; women enjoyed active religious participation,[15] [16] and some even held leadership positions.[17] [18] [19]

Among 1st century Jewish religious communities, the Essenes,[20] [21] and the Therapeutae[22] [23] are considered groups with egalitarian values and practices.

Voluntary Associations

Contrary to egalitarian claims, 1st century ecclesial organization and roles were neither revolutionary nor restricted by social attitudes. Ecclesias developed and operated in the same way as the contemporary Roman ‘voluntary associations’.[24] [25] [26] [27]

Even the very language of ecclesial fellowship is borrowed from these groups,[28] within which social norms could be transgressed without penalty[29] (though acknowledging the norms[30]). Slave and free mingled together,[31] and slaves could even be leaders.[32] Men and women fraternized without the restraints of social convention,[33] [34] and ethnic and family loyalties were set aside.[35]

The ecclesias therefore could have appointed women as leaders and elders or provided them with authoritative speaking roles without fear of social reprisal. The culture of the day empowered them, rather than restricting them. [36]

Where Is The Controversy?

Where is the evidence that the ecclesial roles of 1st century sisters were restricted or opposed by Jewish, Greek, or Roman attitudes? Why is no such controversy mentioned in the entire New Testament?


[1] ‘Texts in the New Testament that emphasize only the wife’s subordination are to be understood as reflecting the patriarchal social order of the times, a system that the church was concerned not to offend outwardly because it would hinder its gospel mission priority.’, Johnson, ‘A Christian Understanding Of Submission: A Nonhierarchical-Complementarian Viewpoint’, Priscilla Papers (17.4.20), 2003.

[2] Not merely restricted to the elite classes.

[3] ‘The overall development of Roman equity law was influenced by the Stoic natural law principle of the equality of the sexes’, Hill, ‘The First Wave of Feminism: Were the Stoics Feminists?’, History of Political Thought, (22.1), p. 20 (2001).

[4] ‘Perhaps they are better understood as failed proto-liberal feminists’, Hill, ‘The First Wave of Feminism: Were the Stoics Feminists?’, History of Political Thought, (22.1), p. 40 (2001).

[5] ‘when compared with the attitudes toward women that prevailed in the days in which these arguments were put forward, the arguments are, occasionally, downright astounding.’, Engel, ‘Women’s Role in the Home and the State: Stoic Theory Reconsidered’, Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, (101), p. 273 (2003).

[6] ‘Stoicism is the only ancient philosophy that provides a sufficiently egalitarian concept of human beings to suit a liberal ideology.’, Long, ‘Stoic Communitarianism And Normative Citizenship’, Social Philosophy & Policy Foundation, p. 242 (2007).

[7] ‘That Stoicism is fundamentally egalitarian and universalistic is well established.’, Hill, ‘The First Wave of Feminism: Were the Stoics Feminists?’, History of Political Thought, (22.1), p. 15 (2001).

[8] ‘The Stoics condemned discrimination against people based on class, gender, ethnicity or any other contingent facts about them.’, ibid., p. 17.

[9] ‘Musonius is probably the most enlightened Stoic in his attitude to women, sex and marriage.’, ibid., p. 27.

[10] ‘Musonius tells us that husbands who commit adultery are just as culpable as wives, and it is extremely objectionable for them to have sexual relations with their slave-girls.’, ibid., p. 28.

[11]  ‘There is no demand on his part for subordination of the woman‘, ibid., p. 28.

[12]  ‘C. Musonius Rufus challenged Roman prejudices about women head on.’, ibid., p. 32.

[13] ‘Musonius now questions the reasonableness of a gender-based division of labour in the first place, noting that, apart from the relatively insignificant differences in physical strength and personal bent, no other rationale stands up to close scrutiny as a relevant basis for discrimination’, ibid., p. 33.

[14] ‘[A]ll human tasks’, he says, ‘are a common obligation and are common for men and women, and none is necessarily appointed for either one exclusively.’, ibid., p. 33.

[15]  Hove, ‘Equality in Christ? Galatians 3:28 and the Gender Dispute’, p. 91 (1999).

[16] ‘Jewish women in Rome were active participants in the religious life of their communities, both at home and in the public religious life of the synagogue.’, Kraemer, ‘Jewish Women in Rome and Egypt’, in Juschka, ‘Feminism in the study of religion: a reader’, p. 227 (2001).

[17]Other women more clearly singled out for their roles as leaders in the synagogues, include Sara Oura, called presbutis, or elder… Gaudentia is called hierisa, the feminine equivalent of the Greek word for priest.’, ibid., p. 227.

[18] ‘The women called πρεσβύτερα appear to have been members of a synagogue council of elders.27’, Crawford, ‘Mothers, Sisters, and Elders: Titles for Women in Second Temple Jewish and Early Christian Communities’, The Dead Sea Scrolls as Background to Postbiblical Judaism and Early Christianity: Papers from an International Conference at St. Andrews in 2001, p.184 (2003).

[19] ‘Bernadette J. Brooten argues that ’the inscriptional evidence for Jewish women leaders means that one cannot declare it to be a departure from Judaism that early Christian women held leadership positions.’’, Hove, ‘Equality in Christ? Galatians 3:28 and the Gender Dispute’, p. 92 (1999).

[20] ‘the Essenes and the Therapeutai show evidence of influence by Hellenistic utopian thinking (including the egalitarian aspects of such thought)’, Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion (23.2), p. 46 (2007).

[21] Evans, ‘Ancient texts for New Testament studies: a guide to the background literature’, p. 86 (2005).

[22] ‘No barriers can be placed around the women Therapeutae that would exclude them from any functions in the community.’, Taylor, ‘The Women “Priests” of Philo’s De Vita Contemplativa; Reconstructing the Therapeutae‘, in ‘On the Cutting Edge: The Study of Women in Biblical Worlds: Essays in Honor of Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza’, p.118 (2003).

[23] ‘the division of labor between elders and juniors is emphatically not along gender lines’, ‘membership of this community was gender-inclusive, since women participated as both seniors and (implicitly) juniors’, Taylor & Davis, ‘The So-Called Therapeutae of “De Vita Contemplativa”: Identity and Character’, The Harvard Theological Review (91.1), pp. 23, 24 (1998).

[24] Sometimes called ‘private associations’, known in Latin as sodalitates, or collegia.

[25]It is in this larger cultural context that the early Christian associations emerge.  The cultural readiness and modeling of individuals gathering voluntarily to explore new identities and a sense of belonging within a religious frame allowed the early Christian groups to form.  The larger context of voluntary associations provided a cultural pattern in which nascent early Christian community could come into being.’, Nerney, Nerrny, & Taussig, ‘Re-imaging life together in America: a new gospel of community‘, p. 13 (2002).

[26] ‘In other words the notion of a diverse group coming together for the sake of a special sense and spirit of belonging was already going on in many different ways.  That early Christians did this fits the larger social momentum of the day.’, p. 13.

[27] ‘’Early Christian communities need to be seen then as a kind of voluntary association.  Their quick and strong development rides on the momentum of the larger Hellenistic momentum of the associations.  Their interest in social experimentation is in keeping with the way the associations developed.’, p. 13.

[28] ‘When the Greek literature of this time refers to a wide variety of voluntary associations, the terms often used are, in fact, koinoinia, or koine, meaning “community,” “that which is held in common,”, “friendship,” or “fellowship“.’, ibid., p. 12.

[29]Transgressive commensality, according to Donahue, is characterized by temporal, porous group boundaries in which there is “a relationship of exchange between parties of a different social or economic status” (2005:106).’ Ascough, Forms of Commensality in Greco-Roman Associations: draft paper for the SBL Greco-Roman Meals Consultation, p. 7 (2008).

[30] ‘According to Grignon (2001:30) transgressive commensality “plays upon oppositions between social groups and the borders which separate them.” Such borders, while recognized, are “temporarily and symbolically transgressed” and thus establish, in the context of a meal, a relation of exchange. Nevertheless, “it is by transgressing them that it contributes to recognizing and maintaining” social distinctions (2001:31).’, ibid., p. 19.

[31] ‘The mix of slaves and free in this protected environment was frequent.’, Nerney, Nerrny, & Taussig, ‘Re-imaging life together in America: a new gospel of community‘, p. 12 (2002).

[32] ‘Slaves could be leaders in such groups.’, ibid., p. 12.

[33] ‘Similarly men and women associated in these settings far more than in public.’, ibid., p. 12.

[34] ‘Both the joy and stress around this new mix of people and traditions evident in the Hellenistic literature indicates that the voluntary associations were places of social experimentation.’, ibid., p. 12.

[35] ‘the general family and ethnic loyalties of former times were breached in the associations’ acceptance of many different individuals.’ ibid., p. 12.

[36] ‘Whereas in the larger outside world, both Roman control and residual customs mitigated against mixing men and women, slave and free, foreign and religious practice; in the voluntary associations there was a lively atmosphere in which these mixes could be tried out and experienced without threat of larger social catastrophe or consequences‘, ibid., p. 12.

1 Corinthians 14:34-35: disorderly or chattering women?

The Claim

‘First, some interpreters have proposed that Paul is not really prohibiting women from praying and prophesying in the assembly. Rather, he is addressing a specific local problem at Corinth and restricting certain kinds of disruptive speech, such as chattering and asking questions (v. 35a).

(A variant on this explanation is Ben Witherington’s suggestion that the women thought of Christian prophets on the analogy of the Delphic Oracle, which prophesied in response to particular questions about the personal life of the seeker [Witherington, 287].)’[1]

The Facts

This suggestion is rejected strongly even by some egalitarian scholars:

The most commonly held view is that which sees the problem as some form of disruptive speech.9  Support is found in v. 35, that if the women wish to team anything, they should ask their own husbands at home.

Various scenarios are proposed: that the setting was something like the Jewish synagogue, with women on one side and men on the other and the women shouting out disruptive questions about what was being said in a prophecy or tongue; or that they were asking questions of men other than their own husbands; or that they were simply “chattering”10 so loudly that it had a disruptive effect.

The biggest difficulty with this view is that it assumes a “church service” of a more “orderly” sort than the rest of this argument presupposes. If the basic problem is with their “all speaking in tongues” in some way one may assume on the basis of 11:5 that this also included the women; furthermore, in such disarray how can mere “chatter” have a disruptive effect? The suggestion that the early house churches assumed a synagogue practice is pure speculation; it seems remote at best.’[2]

Egalitarian Richard Hays likewise rejects it:

‘The difficulty with this explanation is that it fails to reckon with the categorical declaration that it is “shameful” for women to speak in church at all (v. 35b) and with the clear statement that this rule is for “the churches” at large, not just for a particular problem at Corinth.’[3]

The typical argument (that the Greek word for ‘speak’ here is a word which actually means ‘chatter’), is rejected by lexical and textual commentators.[4] Egalitarian Marion Soards likewise rejects it:

‘Some suggest that he opposes only idle chatter or gossip. However, the verb to speak (Gk. lalein) is not, as some commentators suggest, equivalent with “to chatter.” The verb does not name an activity that is distinct from other sensible speech or prayer or prophecy. Through the rest of chapter 14 “to speak” clearly and consistently refers to inspired speech (see vv. 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 9, 11, 13, 18, 19, 21, 23, 27, 28, 29, 39). The vocabulary employed in these verses does not distinguish this reference from all other mentions of speaking in this and other chapters.’[5]

Egalitarian Gordon Fee also rejects the claim that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is a prohibition only on one kind of speech, such as disorderly speaking:

The first reason for the rule comes in the form of a prohibition: “They are not permitted to speak.”  What kind of speaking is intended depends on one’s view, both of authorship and, if authentic, of its place in the present argument. The only internal suggestion is that of v. 35, that they should ask questions at home if they wish to learn.

If authentic, this unqualified use of the verb seems to tell against the probability that only a single form of speech is prohibited.

Elsewhere Paul has said “speak in tongues” when that is in view, and when he means “discern” he says “discern,” not “speak”. Again, as with the opening “rule,” the plain sense of the sentence is an absolute prohibition of all speaking in the assembly.’[6]

The fanciful idea that men and women were separated in 1st century synagogues has long been refuted by archaeological evidence demonstrating that no such seating arrangements were made:

‘Nor did we find any evidence of a women’s gallery. By now it is widely accepted among scholars that synagogues from the early centuries of the Common Era did not have a separate women’s section.’[7]

Egalitarian Craig Keener is one of a number of egalitarians who points this out:

‘Others have suggested that the church services were segregated by gender like the synagogues, thus rendering any communication between the sexes disruptive; but this view is refuted both by the architecture of synagogues in this period (Brooten) and that of homes like that in which the Corinthian church met.’[8]


[1] Hays, ‘First Corinthians’, Interpretation, a Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, p. 247 (1997).

[2] Fee (egalitarian), ‘The First Epistle to the Corinthians‘, p. 703 (1987).

[3] Hays, ‘First Corinthians’, Interpretation, a Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, p. 247 (1997).

[4]The widespread notion that whereas 11:2–16 speaks of prophetic speech, the use of λαλεῖν refers to chatter in these verses ignores first-century lexicographical evidence and the context of discussion in 14:27–40.  Deluz writes: “Paul, then, is not forbidding women to undertake ‘ministry of the word’; he is forbidding them to indulge in feminine chatter which was becoming a considerable nuisance.”384 Moffatt asserts, “Keep quiet means even more than a prohibition of chattering. Worship is not to be turned into discussion groups.…”385  This view seems to have gained currency from Heinrici, who, together with Héring, cannot imagine Paul’s silencing “inspired” or “liturgical” speech, but can see him as calling to order “ordinary members of the congregation.”386 C. and R. Kroeger argue that Paul forbids either “chatter” or, at the other end of the spectrum, “frenzied shouting.”387 C. K. Barrett, however, soundly dismisses the faulty lexicography to which such interpretations of λαλεῖν often appeal. The meaning to chatter does occur in classical Greek of the earlier centuries, “but in the NT and in Paul the verb normally does not have this meaning, and it is used throughout chapter 14 (vv. 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 9, 11, 13, 18, 19, 21, 23, 27, 28, 29, 39) in the sense of inspired speech.”388  Fiorenza’s argument that 11:2–16 refers to women as such, but 14:33b–36 refers only to married women is also possible (especially since γυναῖκες may mean married women, or wives, as well as women) but remains speculative and not perhaps the most obvious explanation if no contradiction between 11:2–16 and 14:33b–36 arises from a contextual exegesis.389’, Thiselton (complementarian), ‘The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A commentary on the Greek text’, p. 1157 (2000).

[5] Soards, ‘1 Corinthians’, New International Bible Commentary, pp. 305-306 (1999).

[6] Fee (egalitarian), ‘The First Epistle to the Corinthians‘, pp. 706-707 (1987).

[7] Weiss, ‘The Sepphoris Synagogue Mosaic’, Biblical Archaeology Review (26.05), (2000).

[8] Keener, ‘Man and Woman’, in Hawthorne, Martin, & Reid, ‘Dictionary of Paul and his letters’, p. 590 (1993).

How Paul standardized practices throughout the Christian community

Correcting Error

When correcting errors, answering questions, or providing instructions, Paul consistently appeals to universal practice in order to ensure ecclesias become aligned with the practice which is mandatory for all ecclesias everywhere.[1]

* 1 Corinthians 7:1, 17, ‘Now with regard to the issues you wrote about… I give this sort of direction in all the churches.’: answering questions from the ecclesia[2] [3] [4] [5]

* 1 Corinthians 11:16, ‘we have no other practice, nor do the churches of God’: correction of the Corinthian lack of head coverings[6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12]

* 1 Corinthians 14:33, ‘As in all the churches of the saints’: correction of the speaking of women in the congregation[13] [14]  [15] [16] [17]

* 1 Timothy 3:14-15, ‘I am writing these instructions to you in case I am delayed, to let you know how people ought to conduct themselves in the household of God’: directing Timothy to understand how all ecclesias should be organized, a summary of the purpose of this entire letter[18] [19] [20] [21] [22] [23] [24]

Paul corrects these local situations in universal terms of the Scripturally ‘right way’ of doing things, not as temporary emergency measures applied to local circumstances.[25] [26] He aims to standardize practices throughout all the ecclesias, correcting local errors by ensuring they conform to universal practices.


[1] ‘Some interpreters understand Paul’s instructions to be intended for their original Ephesian context only, for the correction of abuses specific to that church. The weakness of this view is that Paul grounds his teaching not in the local situation, as he sometimes does (Titus 1:10–13), but in two primal human events: the creation of the man first, and then the woman (1 Tim. 2:13; cf. Gen. 2); and the deceiving of the woman, not the man (1 Tim. 2:14; cf. Gen. 3:1–7).’, Ortlund, ‘Man and Woman’, in Alexander & Rosner, ‘New Dictionary of Biblical Theology’ (electronic ed. 2001).

[2] ‘Moreover, Paul assures the Corinthians that they are not alone in this endeavor, for all the churches are called and directed in this same manner, even as Paul himself lives this way.’, Soards (egalitarian), ‘1 Corinthians’, New International Biblical Commentary, p. 154 (1999).

[3]He makes this rule on the strength of his apostolic authority and applies it in all the churches (see 4:17; 14:34; 16:1).’, Kistemaker, ‘Exposition of the First Epistle to the Corinthians’, Baker New Testament Commentary, volume 18, p. 230 (1993).

[4]This is my rule… : the Greek is literally “and this in all the churches I commanded” (TEV “teach”). …In some languages it may be more natural to translate “This is the rule that I teach in all the other churches as well as yours.”, Ellingworth, Hatton, & Ellingworth, ‘A Handbook on Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians’, UBS Handbook Series, p. 158 (rev. ed. 1995).

[5] ‘It may be taken as an encouragement: I am not simply saying this to you at Corinth; I say it widely wherever I preach and teach. Or it may (more probably) be understood as a reminder that this (possible) lack of realism or “eschatological perfectionism” is peculiar to this idiosyncratic interpretation of the gospel. Or (pace Wire and Castelli) to mean that Paul is not being personally authoritarian, but reflecting the “ordered” realism (τάσσω) of the wider church and its varied congregations.’, Thiselton (complementarian), ‘The First Epistle to the Corinthians’, New International Greek Testament Commentary, p. 550 (2000).

[6] ‘Paul concludes that if any want to contend this apostolic tradition, they need to take note that neither Paul nor the churches of God have any other practice.’, Carson, ‘New Bible Commentary: 21st century edition’ (4th rev. ed. 1994)

[7]Thus, he finishes his remarks on a weighty note: Should someone object to Paul’s arguments, teaching, or reasoning; then that person must realize that Paul’s position is a universal norm, for it is the practice … [of] the churches of God, and according to the practices of those churches, what was happening in Corinth was inappropriate.’, Soards (egalitarian), ‘1 Corinthians’, New International Biblical Commentary, p. 227 (1999).

[8] ‘But Paul has no intention of arguing the matter with anyone given to wordy battles (contentious, philoneikos, means someone who loves strife). Such people are capable of prolonging an argument indefinitely. In the face of such an attitude Paul points to universal Christian custom; Christians have no other practice. Exactly who he means by we is not clear; it may mean Paul himself, or the apostles generally, or those with him when he wrote the letter. But the nor do the churches of God shows that what he has outlined is the common practice throughout the churches.’, Morris, ‘1 Corinthians: An introduction and commentary’, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, volume 7, p. 153 (1985).

[9] ‘b. “We do not have such a custom, nor do the churches of God.” Paul refuses to be challenged on his teachings that are based on the Old Testament Scriptures. He knows that the rest of the apostles support him, and therefore he confidently writes the personal pronoun we. This is not the so-called editorial we, but an inclusive pronoun that embraces other leaders in the churches.’, Kistemaker, ‘Exposition of the First Epistle to the Corinthians’, Baker New Testament Commentary, volume 18, p. 383 (1993).

[10] ‘Phps has “we and the churches of God generally…,” meaning “most churches.” This last is the most likely solutionA good sample translation is: “neither I nor the churches of God generally….”’, Ellington, Hatton, & Ellington, ‘A Handbook on Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians’, UBS Handbook Series, p. 252 (1995).

[11] ‘Paul reserves one final argument for those unpersuaded by his former points. One philosophical group called the Skeptics rejected all arguments except an almost universally accepted one: the argument from custom—”that’s just not the way it’s done.”’, Keener (egalitarian), ‘The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament’ (1993).

[12] ‘It seems self-evident that the custom (συνήθειαν) to which Paul alludes concerns gender distinctions in public worship, which, as Murphy-O’Connor urged, are addressed both to men and to women equally. The custom is the acceptance of an equality of status in accordance with which woman may lead in public prayer or preaching (see below on prophecy) side by side with a recognition that gender differences must not be blurred but appreciated, valued, and expressed in appropriate ways in response to God’s unrevoked decree.’, Thiselton (complementarian), ‘The First Epistle to the Corinthians’, New International Greek Testament Commentary, p. 847 (2000).

[13]33–36 deals with an aspect of the role of wives in the church. Some commentators get round the problem by stating that this section is a later addition and not by Paul. But every manuscript includes this passage. Three points need to be noted in seeking to understand the passage, (i) Wives prayed and prophesied in Christian gatherings (see 11:5). This was a common practice in all the apostolic churches (33b). The context is crucial viz. the evaluation of prophecy (v 35). (ii) The law requires the acknowledgement of the distinctive roles of men and women (34), a reference to Gn. 2:20–24 or 3:16. Paul has already cited the former in 11:8–9. (iii) The wife is to seek the elucidation of points at home, which could well mean that it is her husband who has given the prophecy (35). While there is no absolute certainty, the present writer takes the view that wives, in this public gathering, are not to engage in the public weighing of prophecy which involved the interrogation of its content.’, Carson, ‘New Bible Commentary: 21st century edition’ (4th rev. ed. 1994).

[14] ‘The phrase does seem to fit less awkwardly with verse 34, so that one finds a reference to church custom and then an example of it in the mention of women’s silence.’, Soards (egalitarian), ‘1 Corinthians’, New International Biblical Commentary, p. 305 (1999).

[15]  ‘If As in all the congregations of the saints (cf. 4:17) goes with this verse, Paul is calling on the Corinthians to conform to accepted Christian practice.’, Morris, ‘1 Corinthians: An introduction and commentary’, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, volume 7, p. 192 (1985).

[16] ‘However, the expression churches reflects nuances: the first occurrence (“As in all the churches of the saints”) alludes to churches in general and the second (“let the women keep silent in the churches”) to worship services. Conversely, verse 33b is not the only place in his epistles where Paul exhibits a lack of exemplary style. We assume that he is concerned not about elegance but rather about providing the churches with rules to bolster unity and harmony (compare 4:17; 7:17; 11:16)—concerns that he has emphasized throughout the epistle.’, Kistemaker, ‘Exposition of the First Epistle to the Corinthians’, Baker New Testament Commentary, volume 18, p. 511 (1993).

[17] ‘One may say, for example, “This is what happens in all the churches of God’s people.”’, Ellingworth, Hatton, & Ellingworth, ‘A Handbook on Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians’, UBS Handbook Series, p. 324 (1995).

[18] ‘With these two images, family and temple, Paul expresses the two urgencies of this letter: his concern over proper behavior among believers vis-à-vis the false teachers, and the church as the people entrusted to uphold and proclaim the truth of the gospel.’, Fee (egalitarian), ‘1 and 2 Timothy, Titus’, New International Biblical Commentary, p. 92 (rev ed. 1988)

[19]These instructions is literally “these things,” which can be taken in a general sense as referring to the whole letter (as in TEV “as I write this letter”), or in a specific sense as referring to the instructions regarding the appointment of church leaders described in this chapter, which is what RSV seems to suggest. The first interpretation seems to be the more likely one and is recommended by this Handbook.’, Arichea (egalitarian), & Hatton, ‘A Handbook on Paul’s letters to Timothy and to Titus’, USB Handbook Series, p. 79 (1995).

[20] Paul’s prior admonitions to Timothy, especially in 3:1–13, thus serve a function analogous to the household codes of many ancient writers: providing a specific framework of wisdom for administrating the family unit and society.’, Keener (egalitarian), ‘The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament’ (1993).

[21] ‘The ἵνα clause then introduces the reason for Paul’s writing: so that Timothy and the church may know what is proper conduct for God’s household—with the implicit understanding that such knowledge will result in that kind of conduct.’, Knight (complementarian), ‘The Pastoral Epistles’, New International Greek Testament Commentary, p. 179 (1992).

[22]In emphasizing how important it is that people conduct themselves properly in the household of God, Paul has already pointed out that the church is the house of God,’, Mounce (complementarian), ‘Pastoral Epistles’, Word Biblical Commentary, volume 46, p. 221 (2002).

[23] ‘Here Paul breaks off his direct instructions to describe the nature of the church, putting his teaching into perspective.’, Carson, ‘New Bible Commentary: 21st century edition’ (4th rev. ed. 1994).

[24] ‘Paul authorizes Timothy to instruct the Ephesian church on ‘how one ought to behave in the household of God’ (1 Tim. 3:15). Included in his instructions are guidelines for men and women in church (ch. 2). Men are to pray without anger or argument (v. 8), and women are to adorn themselves with good works rather than with extravagant dress (vv. 9–10). Moreover, a woman is to ‘learn in silence with full submission’ (v. 11). Then Paul explains more fully what this silence with full submission entails: ‘I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man’ (v. 12).’, Ortlund, ‘Man and Woman’, in Alexander & Rosner, ‘New Dictionary of Biblical Theology’ (electronic ed. 2001).

[25] 1 Corinthians 11:16 If anyone intends to quarrel about this, we have no other practice, nor do the churches of God.

[26] 1 Corinthians 14: 34 the women should be silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak. Rather, let them be in submission, as in fact the law says.; 37 If anyone considers himself a prophet or spiritual person, he should acknowledge that what I write to you is the Lord’s command.
38 If someone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.

Benefits of complementarianism

April 22, 2011 5 comments

The Claim

The following quotation is taken from a review of a work typical of attacks on the complementarian position:

‘Accordingly, we note how Grady routinely suggests that the “traditional” or “hierarchical”5 view is so deeply prejudiced against women that it actually encourages abuse and other harmful effects.

Consider the following samples:

“. . . the church seems powerless to protect women because its misguided theology actually encourages abuse” (viii).

“This pagan, hierarchical view of marriage has resulted in a skyrocketing divorce rate among Bible-believing Christians, as well as a growing problem with domestic abuse that Christian leaders donʼt like to talk about” (xi-xii, italics added).

“This warped view has created a fragile foundation in many Christian homes, leading to strife, mistrust and, in some cases, abuse” (10, italics added).’[1]

The Facts

It is certainly true that traditional ‘hierarchical’ and complementarian views of the respective roles of men and women have been used to justify unScriptural abuse, and have been taught in such a way as to encourage such abuse, just as the Biblical teaching on slaves and servants has been historically abused.

However, readers of Grady’s claims may be wondering what evidence there actually is for his claims that the complementarian view of women in ‘the church’ has, in and of itself, caused ‘a skyrocketing divorce rate among Bible-believing Christians, as well as a growing problem with domestic abuse’.[2]

Strong Male Role Models

Egalitarian Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen notes that authoritative male role models and an involved fathering style (which complementarians encourage), are of demonstrable value to families.

‘In cultures and subcultures where fathers are absent or uninvolved in hands-on parenting, boys tend to define themselves in opposition to their mothers and other female caretakers, and to engage in misogynist, hypermasculine behaviors as a way to shore up a fragile gender identity.46

And girls who are not sufficiently affirmed as persons by available and nurturing fathers are at risk of becoming developmentally “stuck” in a mindset that sees their sexuality and reproductive potential as the only criteria of feminine success.47

The bottom line appears to be this: children of both sexes need to grow up with stable, nurturant and appropriately authoritative role models of both sexes to help develop a secure gender identity. 46’[3]

Interestingly, she notes that the absence of such authoritative male role models are a concern not only for boys raised in lesbian households, but also in home-schooling households where the mother is the primary point of contact for boys in the family:

‘This might be grounds for worrying not only about the development of misogyny in boys raised in lesbian households, but boys in conservative Christian home-schooling households, given that almost all such home-schooling is done by mothers. ’[4]

Van Leeuwen notes that studies of pre-industrial societies (with traditional pre-modern complementarian views, rather than modern egalitarian views), show that the involved and nurturing role of authoritative fathers has a demonstrably positive impact, notably reducing abuse of women, and actually contributing to their empowerment:

‘Scott Coltrane’s analysis of almost a hundred preindustrial societies (n. 42) shows that nurturant fathering of children also correlates strongly with reduced abuse of women and greater empowerment and voice for women in the cultures where involved fathering takes place.’[5]

Nurturing Fathers

‘University of Virginia sociologist Bradford Wilcox has shown that conservative Protestant fathers are more likely to report using corporal punishment than other groups, but also (in keeping with a “soft patriarchal” ideology) more likely to praise and hug their children and less likely to yell at them than other groups, both churched and unaffiliated.’[6]

Leeuwen notes the complementarian view of the role of the man in the family has been shown to have positive life outcomes for children:

‘He concludes that conservative Protestant fathers’ neotraditional parenting style seems to be closer to the authoritative style—characterized by moderately high levels of parental control and high levels of parental supportiveness—that has been linked to positive outcomes among children and adolescents.’[7]

Van Leeuwen concludes that claims of abuse leveled at complementarian parenting models have been exaggerated:

‘In any case, the accusations about authoritarian and abusive parenting by conservative Protestants appear overdrawn. The findings paint a more complex portrait of conservative Protestant fathering that reveals a hybrid of strict, puritanical and progressive, child-centered approaches to child rearing—all in keeping with the logic of “expressive traditionalism” guiding this subculture.60’[8]

Marital Harmony

Van Leeuwen’s balanced study does not ignore the incidence of abusive behaviour in some conservatively based marriages, but demonstrates that the data does not lead to the conclusions claimed by egalitarians such as Grady.

On the contrary, Van Leeuwen notes that spousal abuse among conservative Protestant husbands is strongly related to lack of involvement in their congregation, a mere nominal claim to be Christian, rather than related to complementarian views on men and women.

‘”These are men who have, say, a Southern Baptist affiliation, but who rarely darken the door of a church. They have … the highest rates of domestic violence of any group in the United States. They also have high divorce rates.

But evangelical and mainline Protestant men who attend church regularly are … much less likely to divorce than married men who do not attend church regularly.”61’[9]

The evidence demonstrates strongly that complementarian husbands and fathers (what Van Leeuwen refers to as a ‘traditionalist ideology of gender relations), are the least likely to commit domestic violence, as long as they are regular church attendees and genuinely involved in their congregation:

And conservative Protestant husbands and fathers (including those who espouse, among other things, a traditionalist ideology of gender relations) are—provided they attend church regularly—the group that is actually least likely to commit domestic violence.62’[10]

Summarizing the scholarly data Van Leeuwen demonstrates (contrary to the claims made by egalitarians such as Grady), that complementarian views are not demonstrably related to domestic abuse:

‘The upshot is that we have no evidence so far that a gender-traditionalist ideology—at least of the soft patriarchal variety—is a strong predictor of domestic physical abuse.’[11]


[1] Lister, ‘J. Lee Grady’s 25 Tough Questions About Women and the Church: A Review Article’, Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (9.1.102), (Spring 2004).

[2] Ibid., p. 102.

[3] Van Leeuwen, ‘Opposite Sexes or Neighbouring Sexes? What Do the Social Sciences Really Tell Us?’, in Husbands & Larsen, ‘Women, ministry and the Gospel: Exploring new paradigms’, p. 190 (2007).

[4] Ibid., p. 190.

[5] Ibid., p. 190.

[6] Ibid., p. 194.

[7] Ibid., p. 194.

[8] Ibid., p. 194.

[9] Ibid., pp. 194-195.

[10] Ibid., p. 195.

[11] Ibid., p. 195.