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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.

Does the Greek word malakos refer to homosexual acts?

June 4, 2011 7 comments

The Claim

The Greek word malakoi (plural form of malakoi), is typically translated as referring to males practicing homosexual acts by standard English translations in 1 Corinthians 6:9.[1] [2] This is challenged by those seeking legitimization of homosexual behaviour within Christianity.[3] [4]

The Facts

Lexical evidence from Greek texts indicates the word was used to refer to the passive partner in a male homosexual act.[5] [6] [7] [8] The meaning of the word is not confined to male prostitutes,[9] or sexually exploited males.[10] [11] [12]

Lexical Sources

Standard Greek lexicons and dictionaries understand this word as a reference to the passive partner in a male homosexual act.[13] [14] [15] [16] [17] [18]

Scholarly Commentary

The majority of commentators and translators understand malakos to refer to the passive partner in a male homosexual act. [19] [20] [21]


[1] 1 Corinthians 6:9, ‘men who practice homosexuality’ (ESV), ‘men who have sexual relations with other men’ (NCV), ‘homosexual partners’ (NET).

[2] More ambiguously ‘is a pervert’ (CEV), ‘male prostitutes’ (NIV84), ‘men who are prostitutes’ (NIrV), ‘male prostitutes’ (NLT), ‘male prostitutes’ (TNIV); a standard Greek lexicon says (‘male prostitutes’ NRSV is too narrow a rendering; ‘sexual pervert’ REB is too broad)=Pol 5:3.—S. lit. s.v. ἀρσενοκοίτης. B. 1065. DELG. M-M.’, Arndt, Danker, & Bauer (eds.), ‘A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature’, p. 613 (3rd ed. 2000)..

[3] ‘Olsen insists that the μαλακοί in Paul’s time, “almost always referred in a negative, pejorative way to a widely despised group of people who functioned as effeminate ‘call boys’“ (Mark Olson, “Untangling the Web: A Look at What Scripture Does and Does Not Say about Homosexual Behavior,” Other Side, April 1984, 33–34). Scroggs affirms that, “the word in Paul’s list refers specifically to this category of person, the effeminate call-boy” (The New Testament and Homosexuality, 42).’, Malick, ‘The Condemnation of Homosexuality in 1 Corinthians 6:9’, Bibliotheca Sacra (150.600.482), 1993.

[4] ‘Though Scroggs is careful to note that μαλακός is not a technical term for “effeminate,” he relates the definition of “effeminate” exclusively to pederasty: “The use of malakos would almost certainly conjure up images of the effeminate call-boy, if the context otherwise suggested some form of pederasty.”’, ibid., p. 487.

[5] ‘A particularly significant expression of this usage may be found in a letter from Demophon, a wealthy Egyptian, to Ptolemaeus, a police official, concerning needed provisions for a coming festival.’, ibid., p. 487; Malick supplies the text ‘“Demophon to Ptolemaeus, greeting. Make every effort to send me the flute-player Petoüs with both the Phrygian flutes and the rest; and if any expense is necessary, pay it, and you shall recover it from me. Send me also Zenobius the effeminate [μαλακόν] with a drum and cymbals and castanets, for he is wanted by the women for the sacrifice; and let him wear as fine clothes as possible” (“Letter of Demophon to Ptolemaeus” [from mummy wrappings found in the necropolis of El-Hibeh about 245 B.C.], The Hibeh Papyri: Part I, no. 54, 200–201).’, ibid., p. 449.

[6] ‘ In classical Greek, μαλακός was also used to refer to boys and men who allowed themselves to be used homosexually.4 It was also applied to a man taking the female or passive role in homosexuality. Dionysius of Halicarnassus, who wrote Roman Antiquities around 7 B.C., described Aristodemus of Cumae as μαλακός because he had been “effeminate” (θηλυδρίας) as a child and had undergone the things associated with women.5 In classical literature the word μαλακός is sometimes applied to obviously gay persons. Lucian describes the blood of some priests he condemns for passive homosexual behavior as μαλακός.6 This cannot be dismissed as not indicating anything about the sexuality of the individuals in question. These were priests who spent their time seeking group sexual encounters. While there is some ambiguity with regard to μαλακός, it is not beyond reason to see the word representing the passive parties in homosexual intercourse. This is even more reasonable when it is in juxtaposition with ἀρσενοκοιτής which does imply an active homosexual role. It is interesting that in Aristotle’s Problems, a lengthy discussion of the origins of homosexual passivity, he employs the word μαλακός. In its general sense the word does mean “unrestrained,” but not without any particularly homosexual context.’, Ukleja, ‘The Bible and Homosexuality Part II: Homosexuality in the New Testament’, Bibliotheca Sacra.

[7] ‘In classical Greek, malakos is used of boys and men who allow themselves to be used homosexually and of those who play the part of the passive partner in homosexual intercourse.77 In Roman Antiquities, written about 7 B.C. by Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Aristodemus of Cumae is called malakos because he had been “effeminate” (thēludrias) as a child, having undergone things associated with women.78 Thus, while there is some ambiguity about malakos, there is evidence in supporting the view that it refers to the passive partner in homosexual intercourse. Moreover, this view is further supported by its use with arsenokoitēs, a term for the active member in such acts.’, Feinberg, Feinberg, & Huxley, ‘Ethics for a Brave New World’, pp. 200–201 (1996).

[8]This usage is well attested. Plato observes in Phaedrus that an older lover “will plainly court a beloved who is effeminate [malthakos].” Oi Malthakoi, a comedy of Cratinus, deals with effeminate men.151 There exists an Egyptian letter dating from roughly 145 B.C., in which malakos almost certainly refers to passive male homosexuality.’, Greenberg, ‘The Construction of Homosexuality’, p. 212 (1990).

[9] ‘When it is employed in reference to sexual relationships of men with men, however, it is also not a technical term for male call-boys in a pederastic setting. The term may mean effeminate with respect to boys or men who take the role of a woman in homosexual relationships.’, Malick, ‘The Condemnation of Homosexuality in 1 Corinthians 6:9’, Bibliotheca Sacra (150.600.490), 1993.

[10] ‘The other word used to designate same sex relations in 1 Corinthians 6:9 is malakoi. This word refers to the passive partner sexually, an effeminate male who plays the role of a female.’, Schreiner, ‘A New Testament Perspective on Homosexuality’, Themelios(31.3.70), April 2006.

[11] ‘Paul could have used the more technical term paiderastēs (a pederast) if he had intended to restrict his comments to exploitative sex. Furthermore, if the only problem in view were sex that exploits others, there would be no need for Paul to mention the passive partner as well since he is the one being oppressed, and not the oppressor.’, ibid., p. 71.

[12] ‘The terms malakoi and molles could be used broadly to refer to effeminate or unmanly men. But in specific contexts it could be used in ways similar to the more specific terms cinaedi  (lit., “butt-shakers”) and pathici (“those who undergo [penetration]”) to denote effeminate adult males who are biologically and/or psychologically disposed to desire penetration by men. For example, in Soranus’s work On Chronic Diseases (early 2nd century A.D.) the section on men who desire to be penetrated (4.9.131-37) is entitled “On the molles or subacti (subjugated or penetrated partners, pathics) whom the Greeks call malthakoi.” An Aristotelian text similarly refers to those who are anatomically inclined toward the receptive role as malakoi (Pseudo-Aristotle, Problems 4.26). Astrological texts that speak of males desirous of playing the penetrated female role also use the term malakoi (Ptolemy, Four Books 3.14 §172; Vettius Valens, Anthologies 2.37.54; 2.38.82; cf. Brooten, 126 n. 41, 260 n. 132). The complaint about such figures in the ancient world generally, and certainly by Philo, centers around their attempted erasure of the masculine stamp given them by God/nature, not their exploitation of others, age difference, or acts of prostitution.’, Gagnon, ‘Dale Martin and the Myth of Total Textual Indeterminacy’ (2007); http://www.robgagnon.net/DaleMartinResponse.htm.

[13]pert. to being passive in a same-sex relationship, effeminate esp. of catamites, of men and boys who are sodomized by other males in such a relationship, opp. ἀρσενοκοίτης (Dionys. Hal. 7, 2, 4; Dio Chrys. 49 [66], 25; Ptolem., Apotel. 3, 15, 10; Vett. Val. 113, 22; Diog. L. 7, 173; PHib 54, 11 [c. 245 B.C.] may have this mng.: a musician called Zenobius ὁ μαλακός [prob. with a sideline, according to Dssm., LO 131, 4—LAE 164, 4]. S. also a Macedon. ins in LDuchesne and CBayet, Mémoire sur une Mission au Mont Athos 1876 no. 66 p. 46; Plautus, Miles 668 cinaedus [Gk. κίναιδος] malacus; cp. the atttack on the morality of submissive homoeroticism Aeschin. 1, 188; DCohen, Greece and Rome 23, ’76, 181f) 1 Cor 6:9 (‘male prostitutes’ NRSV is too narrow a rendering; ‘sexual pervert’ REB is too broad)=Pol 5:3.—S. lit. s.v. ἀρσενοκοίτης. B. 1065. DELG. M-M.’, Arndt, Danker, & Bauer (eds.), ‘A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature’, p. 613 (3rd ed. 2000).

[14] ‘The vice catalog of 1 Cor 6:9 mentions the μαλακοί, soft people / weaklings, as reprehensible examples of passive homosexuality (cf. Rom 1:27; Lev 20:13; Ep. Arist. 152; Sib. Or. 3:184ff., 584ff.; see Billerbeck III, 70; H. Conzelmann, 1 Cor [Hermeneia] ad loc. [bibliography]).’, Balz & Schneider, ‘Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament’, volume 2, p. 381 (1990).

[15] ‘figuratively, in a bad sense of men effeminate, unmanly; substantivally ὁ μ. especially of a man or boy who submits his body to homosexual lewdness catamite, homosexual pervert (1C 6.9)’, Friberg, Friberg, & Miller, ‘Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament’, p. 252 (2000).

[16] ‘88.281 μαλακόςb, οῦ m: the passive male partner in homosexual intercourse—‘homosexual.’ For a context of μαλακόςb, see 1 Cor 6:9–10 in 88.280. As in Greek, a number of other languages also have entirely distinct terms for the active and passive roles in homosexual intercourse.’, Louw & Nida, ‘Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: Based on semantic domains’, volume 1, p. 771-772 (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition 1996).

[17] ‘μαλακός , ή, όν soft, fancy, luxurious; homosexual pervert (1 Cor 6:9)’, Newman, ‘A Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament’, p. 110 (1993).

[18] ‘3120. μαλακός malakós; fem. malakḗ, neut. malakón, adj. Soft to the touch, spoken of clothing made of soft materials, fine texture (Matt. 11:8; Luke 7:25). Figuratively it means effeminate or a person who allows himself to be sexually abused contrary to nature. Paul, in 1 Cor. 6:9, joins the malakoí, the effeminate, with arsenokoítai (733), homosexuals, Sodomites.’, Zodhiates, ‘The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament’ (electronic ed. 2000).

[19]Most translators render it as “effeminates” or “catamites,” implying receptive anal homosexuality – or use a less precise term like sodomite or homosexual.’, Greenberg, ‘The Construction of Homosexuality’, p. 212 (1990).

[20] ‘In the first (1946) edition of the RSV, Gk malakoí and arsenokoítai in 1 Cor. 6:9 were together rendered “homosexuals.” Boswell (p. 107) would translate these terms as “the wanton” and “male prostitutes” respectively. Such translations are linguistically possible but hardly necessary. Most commentators and translators continue to understand these terms as references to passive and active partners in male homosexual intercourse.’, Blandstra & Verhey, ‘Sex; Sexuality’, in Bromiley, ‘The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia’, volume 4, p. 437 (rev. ed. 1998)

[21]In general there is broad (but not unanimous) agreement that μαλακοί in 1 Cor 6:9–10 denotes “the passive … partner … in male homosexual relations” (Barrett),’, Thiselton, ‘The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A commentary on the Greek text’, New International Greek Testament Commentary, p. 449 (2000).

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

Does the Greek word arsenokoitēs refer to homosexuals?

The Claim

The Greek word arsenokoitai (plural form of arsenokoitēs), is typically translated as referring to practicing homosexuals by standard English translations in 1 Corinthians 6:9[1] and 1 Timothy 1:10.[2] This is challenged by those seeking legitimization of homosexual behaviour within Christianity.

* 1975: Bailey[3] agreed the word refers to males involved in homosexual acts,[4] but not generally to ‘homosexuals’[5]

* 1980: Boswell[6] claimed the word only designates male prostitutes[7] [8]

* 1983: Scroggs[9] interpreted the word as referring only to abusive pederasty[10] [11]

* 1996: Martin[12] argued the traditional interpretation is false etymology[13] [14] [15] [16]

Scholarly Commentary

Scobie[17] and Campbell argue against the restriction of the word to pederasty.[18] Hays, Scobie, and Malick point out that the meaning is identified by its derivation from the Greek translation of the Old Testament, where the component words refer to homosexual conduct.[19] [20] [21]

Wright identifies other compound verbs ending in –koitēs and referring to sexual activity.[22] Via agrees arsenokoitēs refers to homosexual activity.[23]

Standard Greek Lexicons

Standard Greek lexicons and dictionaries understand this word as a reference to homosexual behavior.[24] [25] [26] [27] [28] [29] [30]


[1] 1 Corinthians 6:9: ‘behaves like a homosexual’ (CEV), ‘men who practice homosexuality’ (ESV), ‘men who have sexual relations with other men’ (NCV), ‘practicing homosexuals’ (NET), ‘homosexual offenders’ (NIV84), ‘commit homosexual acts’ (NIrV), ‘practice homosexuality’ (NLT), ‘practicing homosexuals’ (TNIV).

[2] 1 Timothy 1:10: ‘live as homosexuals’ (CEV), ‘men who practice homosexuality’ (ESV), ‘who have sexual relations with people of the same sex’ (NCV), ‘practicing homosexuals’ (NET), ‘practice homosexuality’ (NLT), ‘practicing homosexuality’ (TNIV).

[3] Bailey, ‘Homosexuality and the Western Christian Tradition’ (1975).

[4] ‘He takes the term in 1 Cor 6:9 as denoting males who actively engage in homosexual acts, in contrast to μαλακοί (malakoi, “effeminate”), those who engage passively in such acts.’, De Young, ‘The Source and NT Meaning of Αρσενοκοιται, with Implications for Christian Ethics and Ministry’, Masters Seminary Journal (3.2.193), 1992.

[5]However, he insists that Paul knew nothing of “inversion as an inherited trait, or an inherent condition due to psychological or glandular causes, and consequently regards all homosexual practice as evidence of perversion” (38). Hence Bailey limits the term’s reference in Paul’s works to acts alone and laments modern translations of the term as “homosexuals.” Bailey wants to distinguish between “the homosexual condition (which is morally neutral) and homosexual practices” [italics in source].’, ibid., p. 193.

[6] Boswell, ‘Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality’ (1980).

[7] ‘In an extended discussion of the term (341–53), he cites “linguistic evidence and common sense” to support his conclusion that the word means “male sexual agents, i.e. active male prostitutes.” His argument is that the arseno- part of the word is adjectival, not the object of the koitai which refers to base sexual activity. Hence the term, according to Boswell, designates a male sexual person or male prostitute.’, De Young, ‘The Source and NT Meaning of Αρσενοκοιται, with Implications for Christian Ethics and Ministry’, Masters Seminary Journal (3.2.193-194), 1992.

[8] He nevertheless recognized his interpretation was marginal; ‘He acknowledges, however, that most interpret the composite term as active, meaning “those who sleep with, make their bed with, men.”’, ibid., p. 194.

[9] Scroggs, ‘The New Testament and Homosexuality’ (1983).

[10]Hence arsenokoitai does not refer to homosexuality in general, to female homosexuality, or to the generic model of pederasty. It certainly cannot refer to the modern gay model, he affirms (109). This is Scrogg’s interpretation of the term in 1 Tim 1:10 also. The combination of πόρνοι (pornoi, “fornicators”), arsenokoitai, and ἀνδραποδισταῖ (andrapodistai, “slave-dealers”) refers to “male prostitutes, males who lie [with them], and slave dealers [who procure them]” (120). It again refers to that specific form of pederasty “which consisted of the enslaving of boys as youths for sexual purposes, and the use of these boys by adult males” (121).’, De Young, ‘The Source and NT Meaning of Αρσενοκοιται, with Implications for Christian Ethics and Ministry’, Masters Seminary Journal (3.2.196-197), 1992.

[11]Consequently Paul “must have had, could only have had pederasty in mind” (122, italics in source). We cannot know what Paul would have said about the “contemporary model of adult/adult mutuality in same sex relationships” (122).’, ibid., p. 197.

[12] Martin, ‘Arsenokoites and Malakos: Meanings and Consequences’, in Brawley (ed.), ‘Biblical Ethics and Homosexuality: Listening to Scripture’ (1996).

[13]It is highly precarious to try to ascertain the meaning of a word by taking it apart, getting the meanings of its component parts, and then assuming, with no supporting evidence, that the meaning of the longer word is a simple combination of its component parts.’, Martin, ‘Arsenokoites and Malakos: Meanings and Consequences’, in Brawley (ed.), ‘Biblical ethics & homosexuality: listening to scripture’, p. 119 (1996).

[14] ‘Thus, all definitions of arsenokoitês that derive its meaning from its components are naive and indefensible.’,  ibid., p. 119.

[15] ‘It seems to have referred to some kind of economic exploitation by means of sex,’, ibid., p. 120.

[16] He also argued that no one knows what it means; ‘I am not claiming to know what arsenokoitês meant, I am claiming that no one knows what it meant.’, ibid., p. 123.

[17]There is no evidence that the term was restricted to pederasty; beyond doubt, the NT here repeats the Leviticus condemnation of all same-sex relations (cf. J.G. Taylor 1995: 6-7; Hays 1996: 382-83).’, Scobie, ‘The Ways of Our God: An approach to biblical theology’, p. 838 (2003).

[18] ‘In response, however, it must be pointed out, first, that arsenokoites is a broad term that cannot be confined to specific instances of homosexual activity such as male prostitution or pederasty. This is in keeping with the term’s Old Testament background where lying with a “male” (a very general term) is proscribed, relating to “every kind of male-male intercourse.”13 In fact, the Old Testament “bans every type of homosexual intercourse.” not just male prostitution or intercourse with youths.’, Campbell, ‘Marriage and Family in the Biblical World’, p. 243 (2003).

[19] ‘Although the word arsenokoitēs appears nowhere in Greek literature prior to Paul’s use of it, it is evidently a rendering into Greek of the standard rabbinic term for “one who lies with a male [as with a woman]” (Lev. 18:22; 20:13). (Despite recent challenges to this interpretation, the meaning is confirmed by the evidence of the Sybilline Oracles 2.73). Paul here repeats the standard Jewish condemnation of homosexual conduct.’, Hays, ‘First Corinthians’, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching & Preaching, p. 97 (1997).

[20]It clearly echoes the Greek of Lev 18:22 and 20:13 in the LXX (arsen = “male,” and koite = “bed”), so that arsenokoites literally means “one who goes to bed with a male” (cf. Malick 1993b: 482-87).’, Scobie, ‘The Ways of Our God: An approach to biblical theology’, p. 838 (2003).

[21] ‘It is significant that of all the terms available in the Greek language, Paul chose a compound from the Septuagint that in the broadest sense described men lying with men as they would lie with women.’, Malick, ‘The Condemnation of Homosexuality in 1 Corinthians 6:9’, Bibliotheca Sacra (150.600.484), 1996.

[22] ‘He points out that in all other similar compounds ending in -koites the first half specifies the object of the sleeping, or its scene or sphere. That is, the first part always functions in an adverbial sense.21 This is because koites has a verbal force, in most not all instances, arseno denotes the object.22 Hence, the compound word refers to those who sleep with males, and denotes “‘male homosexual activity’ without qualification.”’, Haas, ‘Hermeneutical Issues In The Use Of The Bible To Justify The Acceptance Of Homosexual Practice’ (1), 1999; other –koitēs/os cognates include doulokoitēs (sexual relations with slaves, doulos), mētrokoitēs (sexual relations with one’s mother, mētēr), and polukoitos (sexual relations with many people, polus).

[23] ‘True the meaning of a compound word does not necessarily add up to the sum of its parts (Martin 119). But in this case I believe the evidence suggests that it does.’, Via, ‘Homosexuality and the Bible: Two Views’, p. 13 (2003); Via acknowledges this despite supporting homosexual unions.

[24] ‘ἀρσενοκοίτης, ου, ὁ   arsenokoitēs   male homosexual* Referring to a male who engages in sexual activity with men or boys: 1 Cor 6:9; 1 Tim 1:10; Pol. Phil. 5:3; W. L. PETERSEN, “Can ἀρσενοκοῖται be translated by ‘Homosexuals’?” Vigiliae Christianae 40 (1986) 187-91. — D. F. WRIGHT, Translating ΑΡΣΕΝΟΚΟΙΤΑΙ,” Vigiliae Christianae 41 (1987) 396-98.’, Balz & Schneider, ‘Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament’, p. 158 (1990).

[25] ‘ἀρρενοκοίτης, ου, ὁ, sodomite, AP9.686, (Maced. iv/vi A.D., v. BCHsuppl. 8 no. 87); (ἀρσ-) 1Ep.Cor.6.9.’, Liddell, Scott, Jones, & McKenzie, ‘A Greek-English Lexicon’, p. 246 (rev. and augm. throughout, 19996).

[26] ‘ἀρσενοκοίτης, ου, ὁ    an adult male who practices sexual intercourse with another adult male or a boy homosexual, sodomite, pederast.’, Friberg, Friberg, & Miller, ‘Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament’, p. 76 (2000).

[27] ‘ἄρσην G781 (arsēn), male; θῆλυς G2559 (thēlys), female; ἀρσενοκοίτης G780 (arsenokoitēs), male homosexual, pederast, sodomite.’, Brown, ‘New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology’, volume 2, p. 562 (1986).

[28] ‘88.280 ἀρσενοκοίτης, ου m: a male partner in homosexual intercourse—‘homosexual.’’, Louw & Nida, ‘Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: Based on semantic domains’, volume 1, p. 771 (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition 1996).

[29] ‘733. ἀρσενοκοίτης arsenokoítēs; gen. arsenokoítou, masc. noun, from ársēn (730), a male, and koítē (2845), a bed. A man who lies in bed with another male, a homosexual (1 Cor. 6:9; 1 Tim. 1:10 [cf. Lev. 18:22; Rom. 1:27]).’, Zodhiates, ‘The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament’ (electronic ed. 2000).

[30]a male who engages in sexual activity w. a pers. of his own sex, pederast 1 Cor 6:9 (on the impropriety of RSV’s ‘homosexuals’ [altered to ‘sodomites’ NRSV] s. WPetersen, VigChr 40, ’86, 187–91; cp. DWright, ibid. 41, ’87, 396–98; REB’s rendering of μαλακοὶ οὔτε ἀρσενοκοῖται w. the single term ‘sexual pervert’ is lexically unacceptable), of one who assumes the dominant role in same-sex activity, opp. μαλακός (difft. DMartin, in Biblical Ethics and Homosexuality, ed. RBrawley, ’96, 117–36); 1 Ti 1:10; Pol 5:3. Cp. Ro 1:27. Romans forbade pederasty w. free boys in the Lex Scantinia, pre-Cicero (JBremmer, Arethusa 13, ’80, 288 and notes); Paul’s strictures against same-sex activity cannot be satisfactorily explained on the basis of alleged temple prostitution (on its rarity, but w. some evidence concerning women used for sacred prostitution at Corinth s. LWoodbury, TAPA 108, ’78, 290f, esp. note 18 [lit.]), or limited to contract w. boys for homoerotic service (s. Wright, VigChr 38, ’84, 125–53).’, Arndt, Danker, & Bauer (eds.), ‘A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature’, p. 135 (3rd ed. 2000).

Is 1 Timothy 2:11-12 a time limited text?

The Claim

Hugenberger (a moderate egalitarian/soft complementarian), notes the view of Spencer (a strong egalitarian), that Paul’s prohibition on women speaking in 1 Timothy 2:11-12 is time limited, a temporary prohibition until the women of the ecclesia have abandoned their heretical teaching:

‘In addition Spencer notes that rather than using the imperative mood or even an aorist or future indicative to express that prohibition, Paul quite significantly utilizes a present indicative, perhaps best rendered “But I am not presently allowing.”29 This temporary prohibition, then, is based solely on the regrettable similarity between the Ephesian women and Eve in that the women of Ephesus had been deceived and as such if allowed to teach would be in danger of promoting false doctrine.’[1]

Hugenberger then explains why this suggestion is improbable:

As attractive as this interpretation appears, serious objections have been raised against it in recent years.

First of all, some caution may need to be exercised against an overly simplistic picture of the Jewish or Greek cultural background at times assumed for our passage.32 For example, Eunice and Lois (2 Tim 1:5; 3:15) appear to have known the Scriptures better than might be inferred from the Jewish practice adduced by Spencer, although Spencer acknowledges the possibility that women could learn privately.

Most seriously, S. T. Foh has argued that the women of 1 Tim 2:9–15 do not appear to be one and the same as the false teachers elsewhere.

She notes that these women are treated in a radically different manner from the false teachers since they are urged to “continue in faith, love, holiness, and sobriety,” while the women mentioned in 2 Tim 3:6–7, for example, “can never arrive at a knowledge of the truth.”

Moreover, as Foh points out, there is no Scriptural warrant for the underlying assumption that Eve taught Adam to eat the forbidden fruit.’[2]

‘Finally, this view fails to explain why Paul stresses the temporal priority of Adam rather than merely mentioning Eve’s deception.’[3]

Egalitarian Commentary

Egalitarian Barron similarly exposes the weakness of this argument:

‘First, defenders of the traditional view have argued that Paul’s blanket statement, “I do not permit a woman to teach,” sounds universal.

If what he really meant was “I do not permit a woman to teach error,” and that he would have no objection to women teaching once they got their doctrine straight, why did he not say that? Kroeger received criticism even from a fellow egalitarian for failing to deal with this point.16 [original footnote reproduced in footnote [4] below]’[5]

Indeed, Barron rightly notes that the argument is incompatible with the common egalitarian claim that women were teaching in the ecclesias because they were sufficiently educated and doctrinally sound:

And egalitarians are in no position to interpret Paul’s dictum as a temporary prohibition, needed until women could surmount cultural obstacles to education—not when, out of the other side of their mouths, these egalitarians are championing women (one of whom, Priscilla, labored in Ephesus) who did fulfill a teaching or leadership role in the NT.17

Not all women of Paul’s day were intellectually impoverished or hopelessly contaminated by pagan practices, yet Paul seems to prohibit all women from teaching in Ephesus.

The egalitarians seem forced into the implausible claim that no woman in the Ephesian church was sufficiently orthodox and educated to teach.’[6]

Egalitarian Gordon Fee likewise dismisses the idea that the prohibition is temporary:

Despite protests to the contrary, the “rule” itself is expressed absolutely. That is, it is given without any form of qualification. Given the unqualified nature of the further prohibition that “the women”29 are not permitted to speak, it is very difficult to interpret this as meaning anything else than all forms of speaking out in public.’[7]

So also egalitarians Soderlund and Wright:

‘I Timothy 2:11-12 thus remains as the one apparently clear case of Paul’s imposing a ban on women’s ministry.’[8]


[1] Hugenberger, ‘Women In Church Office:  Hermeneutics Or Exegesis?  A Survey Of Approaches To 1 Tim 2:8-15’, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (35.3.349), (September 1992).

[2] Ibid., p. 349.

[3] Ibid., p. 350.

[4] ‘16. Liefeld, “Response to Kroeger” 245’

[5] Barron (egalitarian), ‘Putting Women In Their Place:   1 Timothy 2 And Evangelical Views Of Women  In Church Leadership ‘,Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (33.4.455), (December 1990).

[6] Ibid., pp. 455-456.

[7] Fee, ‘The First Epistle to the Corinthians’, p. 706 (1987).

[8] Soderlund & Wright, ‘Romans and the People of God’, p. 239 (1999).

Secular commentary on egalitarianism

The Claim

Some egalitarians claim that the egalitarian interpretation is uniquely positioned to convince unbelievers that the New Testament Christian community was egalitarian.[1]

The Facts

Although the complementarian case certainly receives criticism from general society, secular scholarship overwhelmingly supports the complementarian case and typically rejects egalitarian revisionism as ideologically motivated fiction. Ironically, it is often the egalitarian case which brings the Bible into disrepute with the non-believer.

Secular commentaries on early Christian history do not hold these views simply because they are driven by the desire to depict the Bible as negatively as possible, or because they assume the Bible is misogynist, patriarchal, and sexist. Many affirm that the Bible contains positive affirmation of women. But they are skeptical at best of egalitarian revisionist treatments of the Biblical texts, and of well established historical facts.

Alastair Campbell

Despite acknowledging the possibility of women as leaders of ecclesial meetings held in their households, historian Campbell’s overall response to egalitarian historical revisionism is negative.[2]

Instead, Campbell argues, modern Christians should simply accept that their position is different to that of the 1st century ecclesias, and acknowledge that they will necessarily abandon the apostolic teaching and example as a result of living in a different culture.[3]

Judith Lieu

Lieu is a respected academic commentator on early Christianity holding views sympathetic to egalitarian revisionism. Lieu is skeptical of such attempts firstly because of their origin.[4] She is also skeptical of them on the basis of their methodology.[5]

Lieu identifies the fact that such criticism of egalitarian revisionism is well established, and notes the methodological flaws typical to such revisionist efforts.[6]

She is unpersuaded by attempts to present Christ or Paul in an egalitarian light,[7] and unconvinced by the dramatic claims made by egalitarians for Galatians 3:28.[8]

Gerd Lüdemann

Lüdemann is unconvinced by egalitarian claims, and criticizes the revisionist work of the respected Biblical scholar Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza.[9] [10]

Also receiving sharp rebuke from Lüdemann are the egalitarian attempts to read into the text more than is there. [11]

Like other secular scholars, Lüdemann is unconvinced by egalitarian claims for Galatians 3:28.[12]

Lena Ksarjian

Lena Ksarjian is sympathetic to egalitarian and feminist efforts to re-interpret the Bible,[13] but does not find these efforts convincing.[14] Ksarjian is particularly critical of the claims made by Schüssler Fiorenza.[15]

Craig Martin

Craig Martin describes the flawed interpretive methods he used to use when he was an egalitarian Christian.[16]

He explains how, on the prior assumption that the New Testament taught egalitarianism, he used these methods was to interpret the text in a manner which was acceptable to his theology.[17] [18]


[1] ‘However, there is another apologetic mission that egalitarians are in a unique and opportune position to fulfill. This involves presenting the message of biblical equality to the unbelieving world in a persuasive manner, thus winning to Christ people who might never be touched by traditionalist approaches.’, Groothius (egalitarian), ‘Apologetics: The Egalitarian Imperative’, (2002)

[2] ‘Rather than striving to show that women played a more prominent part than our evidence suggests, or that the prohibitions of the Pastorals do not mean what they appear to say, it would be more honest to admit the facts and then, if so minded, set them aside. Again, rather than using the New Testament to establish a primitive, egalitarian innocence for the church, while discarding much of the New Testament in the process, those for whom the New Testament documents speak with authority would do better to take them as a whole and ask what we learn from the disciples of the apostles and the fact that they in their generation closed the door to women in leadership after Jesus and Paul had seemed to open it.’, Campbell, ‘The elders: Seniority within earliest Christianity’, p. 275 (2004).

[3] ‘They would say to us, I think: We did what we thought was right in our situation for the sake of the spread of the gospel (1 Cor 9:20–23). The spread of the gospel is still paramount, but your day is not ours. We refused to bring discredit on the gospel by an untimely and intemperate rush for freedom. See that you do not bring discredit on the same gospel by denying a freedom whose time has long come!’, ibid., p. 275.

[4]The politics of such a view are self-evident, for much study of the subject has developed within a context where women were struggling to establish a proper role for themselves within the contemporary church; to this end they have sought an egalitarian past to act as a model for present polity.’, Lieu, ‘Neither Jew nor Greek? constructing early Christianity’, p. 83 (2002).

[5] ‘While other enthusiastic assertions about the distinctiveness of early Christianity and/or of the teaching of Jesus have been somewhat tempered in recent years, this one, [better treatment of women by early Christianity than in early Judaism] for those same reasons, has continued to be repeated. It is the purpose of this discussion neither to prove nor to disprove that claim, something which with our evidence may not be possible, but rather to explore the rhetoric which surrounds it and to expose the hazards of the naive use of sources which often accompanies it.’, ibid., p. 83.

[6] ‘To do so is not totally new: a range of recent studies has shown that such wishful thinking about Jesus’ or Paul’s ‘liberalism’ is deeply flawed, resting on a naive use of the early Christian sources, particularly regarding Jesus, and on a, perhaps less naive, misuse of the Jewish sources, taking as descriptive of the first century, the prescriptive construction of a world by the second-century male scholarly elite we know as the rabbis.2 [original footnote reproduced in footnote [6]  below]’, ibid., p. 83.

[7] ‘This essay has already rejected any model which starts with ‘the good’ that Christianity or Judaism could offer women, for such models tend to personify Christianity, usually in the person of Jesus or Paul, when recent study suggests that both Jesus and Paul were ambiguous regarding this issue, and that any place women had in their movements was ancillary to their definition of those movements.’, ibid., p. 97.

[8] ‘The arguably pre-Pauline formula in Gal. 3:28, ‘In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, and not male and female’, has been celebrated with enthusiasm as the cornerstone of early Christian egalitarianism, particularly within feminist exegesis. Yet the rhetoric of Galatians remains unaffected by the last clause of that confession.’, ibid., p. 112

[9] ‘For all those seeking historical information and plausible historical reconstruction in Schüssler Fiorenza’s feminist-theological reconstruction of Christian origins, reading is a torment. With arbitrary exegesis she attempts to show that the early Christian movement opened up positions of leadership for women and therefore could be called egalitarian.’, Lüdemann, ‘Primitive Christianity : A survey of recent studies and some new proposals’, p. 87 (2003).

[10]Many textual analyses are very farfetched; those mentioned in the report could easily be supplemented.113 [original footnote reproduced in footnote [10]  below]  …The theological zeal behind this book is at least as absolutist as the patriarchalist exegesis of primitive Christianity and modernity which Schüssler Fiorenza attacks. It is hardly much use in moving forward constructive research into primitive Christianity.’, ibid., p. 87.

[11] ‘Scattered through the chapter there are again theses that serve to re-evaluate the role of the woman in early Christianity: Phoebe (Rom. 16:1–2) was not a deaconess commissioned for women’s work but a minister of the whole church of Cenchreae (170). That does not emerge from the wording. Three women, namely Lydia and her companions (cf. Acts 16:15), are said to have been founders and leaders of the church of Philippi, with whom ‘Paul had entered into a “communal partnership” (societas)’ (178). This thesis is derived solely from Acts. Finally Prisca—by means of an uncertain historical judgement—becomes the teacher of Apollos (179).’ , ibid., p. 87.

[12] ‘Ch. 6 is headed ‘Neither Male and Female. Galatians 3:28—Alternative Vision and Pauline Modification’ (205–41). Schüssler Fiorenza rightly regards the text as a pre-Pauline baptismal declaration. The text is ‘best understood as a communal Christian self-definition rather than a statement about the baptized individual’ (213).’, ibid., p. 87.

[13] Ibid.

[14]In conclusion, I am sympathetic with the feminist project. I do not believe that feminist scholars are engaging in some intellectual sleight of hand or are pulling a nonexistent rabbit out of a nonexistent hat. I do believe these scholars are well-intended. However, some of these intentions serve to promote patriarchy rather than help eliminate it.’, Ksarjian, ‘Trying to Prove that the Bible Is Pro-Woman How some feminists perpetuate patriarchy’, Free Inquiry Magazine, (19.1.1999)

[15] ‘’In Schüssler Fiorenza’s view, Galatians 3:28 is the “magna carta of Christian Feminism.”9 From the historical point of view, Schüssler Fiorenza’s interpretation is vulnerable.'[15]

‘In light of these complexities I do not see how Schüssler Fiorenza’s interpretations can withstand historical scrutiny.’, ibid.

[16] ‘Another example of selective privileging can be seen with the way in which Christian communities interpret the comments about the status of women in the Pauline and deuteroPauline letters. Some passages in these letters recommend measures that we would now consider to be sexist; other passages suggest Paul apparently supported women in leadership positions.’, Martin, ‘How to Read an Interpretation: Interpretive Strategies and the Maintenance of Authority’, The Bible and Critical Theory, p. 05.14 (5.1.2009).

[17] ‘This was exactly the position I took in my early undergraduate studies: reconciling my assumption of the inerrancy and authority of the Bible with my view of God as necessarily egalitarian required exhaustive mental gymnastics.’, ibid., p. 06.14.

[18] ‘I tended to privilege selectively the passages that appeared to support women in leadership positions, and then I read the passages that disparaged the role of women in light of those, often attempting to interpret the sexist passages as if they were not sexist. How could the apparently sexist passages be interpreted as not sexist? Sometimes with the simultaneous deployment of ventriloquism – ‘Paul really means something completely different than what he seems to say’ – and sometimes with the simultaneous use of disabling contextualization – ‘this comment was only applicable to the specific context in which Paul was writing, and doesn’t apply to other contexts.’’, ibid., p. 06.14.