Amos and Micah Compared

About: this paper was presented to Dr. John Goldingay at Fuller Theological Seminary during my second year for a class on the Prophets. Paper below the jump.

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Amos and Micah share a great deal of similarities. Yet, they are different in several respects. Dealing with a small period of overlap within the 8th Century B.C., both books address issues of judgment as a result of wickedness. We will examine how the two books are similar, then we will examine how the two books are similar though different, and finally we will examine how the books are different altogether. To the similarities of Amos and Micah we now turn.

Amos and Micah are similar in seven areas. First, both books focus on the wealthy people who were oppressing the poor. Second, both books understand that the Lord desires justice and not sacrificial offerings. Third, both Amos and Micah understand that desolation was going to come upon the land as a result of the wickedness. Fourth, both books understand that the people would be made desperate. Fifth, the Lord in both identifies the various wicked deeds of the people and then holds them responsible for them. Sixth, the time following the exodus from Egypt is seen in both as ideal for Israel. Finally, both books determine that Israel will come out of punishment on top of the nations.

Both books focus on the wealthy people who were oppressing the poor. In Amos, the Lord charges Israel for profaning his name by oppressing the poor (2:7-8). He identifies one of their major transgressions was that the rich were oppressing the poor and needy (4:1). The Lord identified that the rich were those who were at ease and secure in their lives (6:1), and they were those who lived in luxury, sleeping on ivory beds, lounging on couches, eating lambs of the flock, and singing idle songs (6:4-5). In Micah, the Lord saw the wicked—those who plotted evil deeds on their beds and did their plans since they had the power to do it, and they were also those who coveted fields, homes, and inheritances and took them from their rightful owners (2:1-2). These wicked ones described seem to be rich. If this reference is not clear enough, then this next one will be of help to us. The wicked were prosperous ones who obtained prosperity through dishonest means (6:9-11). These wealthy ones were full of violence (6:12). The idea is that the wealthy ones were oppressive through force. Both Amos and Micah focus on the wealthy people who were unjust, corrupt, and oppressive towards the poor.

Amos and Micah understand that the Lord desires justice and not sacrificial offerings. In Micah, someone wonders if they could approach the Lord with burnt offerings and if they could please the Lord with ram and oil offerings (6:6-7). They wonder if they could offer up their firstborn for appeasement (6:7). But Micah responds, saying that the Lord has already told them what he desires and requires—to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with him (6:8). In Amos, the Lord despises the sacrifices and offerings of the people (4:4-5), and he charges them to seek and love good, hate evil, and establish justice (5:14-15). Again, the Lord says that he will not accept their offerings (5:22), but instead he wants justice and righteousness (5:24). Both books understand that the Lord desires justice and not sacrificial offerings.

Both Amos and Micah understand that desolation was going to come upon the land as a result of the wickedness. In Amos, several visions show the desolation of the land. The first one was a vision of locusts eating up the grass (7:1). The second one was a vision of fire eating up the land (7:4). The third one was a vision of a plumb line, and the Lord said as he held a plumb line that he would make the high places desolate (7:7-9). In Micah, the Lord says that he will strike Jerusalem down and make them desolate (6:13). The Lord was going to lay Samaria bare so that it would be fallow (1:6-7). Both books understand that the Lord would lay the land desolate because of the people’s wickedness.

Both books understand that the people would be made desperate. Micah seems to feel desperate like one without food at the end of summer (7:1). The Lord declared that they would eat and not be filled, they would save but would not have provisions, and they will work but not see the fruit of their labor (6:14-15). Micah comments that the faithful and upright are gone, only the violent remain, and the violent are also corrupt and oppress the weak (7:2-3). The idea seems to be representative of the familiar saying, “Desperate times call for desperate measures.” Micah even says that given the times, it is important to protect yourself (7:5-6). Amos has another vision in which he sees a basket of summer fruit (8:1). The Lord declares that there was going to much wailing and vast amounts of dead bodies (8:3). Furthermore, the Lord said there would be a famine, a drought of the word of the Lord (8:11-14). The people would be laid to waste, but they would also not hear the word of the Lord. Both Micah and Amos understand that the people would be made desperate.

Micah and Amos both show how the Lord identifies the various wicked deeds of the people and then holds them responsible for them. In Amos, the Lord charges Israel for selling people for goods (2:6). He charges them with profaning his name (2:7-8). He charges them for forsaking Him and for turning their backs on Him (2:9-12). He identifies their transgressions—oppressing the poor and needy and offering up unacceptable sacrifices, tithes, and offerings (4:2-5). The Lord identifies the rich and their deeds (6:1-5). And the Lord holds the people accountable for their ways by bringing exile (6:7). In Micah, the Lord charges Samaria for plotting evil deeds and doing it out of their power and for coveting fields and houses and taking them from their rightful owners (2:1-2). The Lord identifies how they became prosperous through dishonest means (6:9-11). He charges them with being full of violence, lies, and deceit (6:12). And the Lord holds them accountable for their ways by bringing exile (2:3) and destruction (6:13). Both books show the Lord as the one who identifies the wickedness of the people and judges them accordingly.

The time following the exodus from Egypt is seen in both books as the ideal condition for Israel. In Micah, the people plea for the Lord to return Israel, as the familiar saying has it, to “the good ol’ days” (7:14-15). They look at the time after they came out of Egypt, a time when they were in the wilderness, which was a time of renewal for the people and of utter dependence on the Lord. Earlier in the book, the Lord looks back to the same event as an explicit marker that He had chosen them to be His own people (6:4). It was a time of redemption. In Amos, the Lord marks Israel’s special condition as being the people that He had brought out of the land of Egypt and led into the wilderness for forty years (2:10). Later in the book, the Lord says that sacrifices were neither necessary nor desired during the time in the wilderness, nor are they desired now (5:25). The wilderness, that is, the time after the exodus from Egypt, was representative of what was ideal for Israel both in Micah and Amos.

Both books determine that Israel will come out of punishment on top of the nations. Amos concludes in the end that Israel will be restored. The Lord will rise up the booth of David and rebuilt the land, in order that the people may possess it and the nations (9:11-12). In Micah, Jerusalem will be the place that all the nations of the world will look to and travel to (7:11-13). It will also be the place from which the Lord will rule (4:3). The Lord will cause Jerusalem to prosper (4:11-13). He will rise up a new leader over Israel that will come out of Bethlehem in Judah (5:2). In the new age, Israel will be protected and will be victorious over all the nations (5:7-9). Amos and Micah both determine that Israel will come out of the punishment on top of the nations.

We have seen that both books are similar in more than a handful of ways. But Amos and Micah do share some similarities with their own distinctive touch in four areas. One, both books have judgment as the key theme. Two, both books proclaim exile as the result of the wickedness of the people. Three, both books demonstrate that the prophets received opposition. Last, both used Israel as a means for communicating to the nations. Although Amos and Micah share these similar areas, each of them has their own distinct uses. In this sense, we can say that they are similar though different.

Both Amos and Micah have judgment as the key theme. However, they are not quite the same in the way that judgment is portrayed. Judgment in Micah is primarily for Israel and Judah, and only by extension the rest of the nations (1:4-5). In Amos, judgment is coming to all the nations for their wickedness (1:3-2:16). Judgment is portrayed in Amos as destruction by fire (1:3-2:5). Israel is the only nation in Amos that is not punished with destruction by fire. Instead, the Lord decides to press and shame Israel (2:13-16). In Micah, judgment is portrayed as desolation and destruction (1:6-9). The similarity is evident; judgment is the key theme in both. The difference between the two books is the scope of judgment. Micah views judgment for Israel and Judah, while Amos views judgment for all the nations. In this way, they are similar though different.

Both books proclaim exile as the result of the wickedness of the people. However, they do not have precisely the same view about the exile. Micah seems to have the idea that the exile is most certainly going to happen (2:3) and that it is in the midst of happening (5:1). Yet, they would be rescued eventually from their exile (4:9-10). Amos seems to have the idea that the exile was dependent on the people. If only they would love good and hate evil, and if they would only seek God, then they would be saved (5:4, 6, 14-15). Amos also seems to have the idea that they would return from their exile (9:14-15). The similarity is plain: exile is a main punishment in both books. The difference between the two is the nature of the exile. Micah thought it was inevitable and nothing could stop it. Amos thought something could still be done. In this way, the books are similar though different.

Both books demonstrate that the prophets received opposition. However, the prophets respond to their criticisms in different ways. Amos is opposed by Amaziah (7:10-11). Amaziah charges Amos with conspiracy, and he tells Amos to leave and never again prophesy (7:10-13). Amos responds that he is not a prophet, but rather, a herdsman who was chosen by the Lord to speak (7:14-15). Then Amos reports the Lord’s judgment to Amaziah concerning him. He told Amaziah that his wife will become a prostitute, his sons and daughters will die by the sword, his land will be distributed out, he will die in exile and in shame, and Israel will go into exile because of his opposition to Amos (7:16-17). Micah is opposed by a preacher who tells him not to preach for disgrace would not come upon the people (2:6). Micah retorts back by saying that his words are helpful while the opposing preacher’s are not, for the preacher was the people’s enemy, saying that he (or she?) did not keep the peace, that he (or she?) drove women out and robbed their children (2:7-9). Micah summarizes the people that the opposing preacher represented by saying (possibly) that he should leave the people for it is not a place of rest and it is a place of folly (2:10-11). Amos and Micah are similar in the sense that they both received opposition as prophets. Yet, they are different in their responses. Micah retorts back and charges his accuser with being an enemy of the people, and then he seems reflect on the condition of his people. Amos responds by saying God chose him to speak and so his authority comes from the Lord, and the Lord will deal with Amaziah for his opposition. In this way, Amos and Micah are similar though different.

Both books used Israel as a means for communicating to the nations. Yet, they have different ways of using Israel to communicate to the nations. In Amos, Israel is stripped and plundered, and the nations, i.e., Ashdod and Egypt, are called to look at what was happening in Samaria (3:9-12). The Lord seems to be communicating to the nations when he tells Ashdod and Egypt to look upon the destruction and shame of Israel. What precisely is being communicated I am uncertain, but I would posit that the Lord is using Israel as an example for the nations, saying in effect that the rest of the nations should take what He was doing to Israel to heart, so that it would not happen to them. In Micah, the nations would look upon Israel and fall on their face in fear (7:16-17). It seems that Israel in this case is being used to communicate the glory of God, which would lead the nations to turn to the Lord in fear and respect. Both books demonstrate that Israel is a means for communication. However, Israel communicates in different ways. Amos uses Israel negatively to communicate to the nations; do not do as they do or you will become like them. Micah uses Israel positively to communicate to the nations; they are the result of God’s glory, so recognize the Lord for who he is. In this sense, Micah and Amos are similar though different.

We have seen how Micah and Amos are similar, and we have also seen how they are similar though different. Now we will see how they are each unique apart from each other. There are five areas in which Amos and Micah are different from each other. First, they are different in their post-exilic vision of a new age and a new ruler. Second, they are different in the way the Lord confronts Israel. Third, they are different in the reason for the Lord giving judgment. Fourth, they are different in their view of the Day of the Lord. Finally, they are different in view of the Lord’s rule.

Micah and Amos are different in their post-exilic vision of a new age and a new ruler. Micah has a vision of a new age and a new ruler, whereas Amos has no such vision. Micah has a vision of a new ruler of Israel that will come forth out of Bethlehem in Judah (5:2). This ruler will be “from ancient days” (5:2). The ruler will give the people over to oppressors, but when the exile is over he will reign (5:3). He will be the shepherd over the flock, that is, Israel (5:4). This ruler will stand in the strength of the Lord bringing security and peace (5:4-5). The new age would be a prosperous time for the people, and they would give all glory to the Lord (4:11-13). They would have leaders in the new age that would protect them from Assyrian invasion (5:5-6). And in the new age they would have victory over all the other nations (5:7-9). This vision of a new age and a new ruler is unique to Micah. Amos has no such vision.

Micah and Amos are different in the way they portray the Lord’s confrontation of the people. In Amos the Lord laments over Israel, but in Micah the Lord takes Israel to court. Amos highlights the relationship aspect between the Lord and Israel. The Lord said to Israel, “I know you, I will punish you” (3:2). He speaks in covenantal terms, saying that he tried to get their attention and draw them back to Him by taking away their food and bread, by not providing rain, by giving them blight and mildew, by wasting their gardens, by giving them a pestilence like what he did in Egypt, by killing their young men with the sword, by taking away their horses, and by overthrowing some of them like Sodom and Gomorrah (4:6-11). He is making a charge against Israel, but it is done in more covenantal and relational terms. However, the Lord takes Israel to court. He officially declares before all of creation that He made them His people when He brought them out of Egypt and slavery and saved them from Moab (6:4-5). He officially charges them before all of creation for forsaking him and taking on dishonest prosperity, violence, and deceit (6:9-12). Then he officially declares their judgment before all of creation, which was destruction and futility (6:13-16). Micah has no indication of a pursuit before judgment, whereas Amos does. The Lord, in Amos, attempted to get their attention before bringing judgment. This attempt is absent in Micah.

Micah and Amos give different reasons for the Lord’s judgment. In Amos, the Lord brings judgment on the earth as a result of the sins of the nations. In Micah, the Lord brings judgment on the earth as a result of the transgressions of Israel and Judah, and the nations would suffer by extension. Micah says that the judgment was against the whole earth as a result of the sins of Israel and Judah (1:4-5). But Amos identifies the wickedness of the nations, and the Lord deals with them accordingly. Damascus is given to destruction and exile for threshing Gilead (1:3-5). Gaza is given over to destruction and desolation for exiling communities to Edom (1:6-8). Tyre again is given to destruction for delivering communities to Edom (1:9-10). Edom is given to destruction for going after Israel with the sword (1:11-12). The Ammonites are given to destruction for ripping open pregnant women in Gilead (1:13-15). Moab is given to destruction for burning the king of Edom (2:1-3). Judah is given to destruction for rejecting the law of the Lord (2:4-5). Israel is given to pressing and shame for profaning the name of the Lord, selling people for goods, and oppressing the poor (2:6-16). Micah does not have the idea that the nations are being judged for their wickedness alone, but rather, that the nations are feeling the effects of the punishment of Israel and Judah for their evil deeds. Amos has the idea that the nations are being punished for their own wretchedness apart from Israel and Judah.

Micah and Amos are different in their view of the Day of the Lord. In Amos, the Day of the Lord is gloomy. But in Micah, the Day of the Lord is gloomy, yet it will usher in a new age. The Day of the Lord in Amos’ view was going to be a time of harsh judgment on the nations, including Israel (5:18-20). It would be dark and gloomy, and it would be frightening and scary (5:18-20). In Micah, “day” signals what the Lord would do in a similar way as “day of the Lord” functions in Amos. The Lord will remove the inheritance from the wicked (2:4-5). He will assemble the lame and those driven away and make them into a remnant and a strong nation, and he will reign over them (4:6-7). He will cut off their horses and chariots from them, he will cut their cities off, he will cut off their evil practices, and he will show them His vengeance (5:10-14). The walls of Jerusalem will be extended and built, and all of the nations between Assyria and Egypt, Egypt and the River (Euphrates?) would come to the Lord, and the earth will be desolate because of the wickedness of the inhabitants (7:11-13). The Day of the Lord in Micah, although not explicitly mentioned, is a time of judgment, destruction, and renewal. In Amos, it is only a gloomy and harsh judgment with no view of renewal on the horizon.

Micah and Amos are different in the way they view the Lord’s rule. Amos sees God ruling from the throne in the heavens, whereas Micah sees God setting up his throne on Zion and ruling the earth from there. Micah views God as ruling not from heaven but on earth (1:3). Micah envisions the Lord setting up his thrown upon Zion. From Zion the peoples will stream to him (4:1). From Zion the nations will come to worship him (4:2). Zion would be a place from which the Lord’s instruction would come forth and his word would come out from (4:2). Jerusalem being synonymous in understanding with Zion, the Lord will also judge the nations from Jerusalem (4:3). As a result of his ruling on earth and from his throne in Jerusalem and on Zion, there will be no war and there will be peace (4:3-4). Amos has a different way of talking about the Lord’s reign. He does open by saying that the Lord roars from Zion and speaks from Jerusalem (1:2), but he closes with God ruling from the heavens (9:6). The Lord builds his chambers in the heavens and his vault on the earth (9:6). All of creation, from heaven to earth, is the Lord’s place, and he reigns from any portion of it. Micah’s vision is different in the sense that it does not have the element of reigning from any portion of creation that Amos has.

As we have seen, Amos and Micah share a great deal of similarities, but they do have their differences. Amos and Micah share several features, such as the focus is on the wealthy who oppress the poor, the understanding that the Lord desires justice and not sacrificial offerings, and the understandings that the people would be made desperate and the land desolate. Amos and Micah are similar though different in several aspects, such as in the way they approach, use, or view judgment, exile, or opposition. Finally, we have seen how Amos and Micah are unique with respect to each other in several ways, such as Micah’s post-exilic vision of a new age and a new ruler, Amos’ description of the Lord’s attempt to gain the attention of Israel, Micah’s creation court scene, and Amos’ creation aspect of the Lord’s reign.


Someone Other Than Paul as the Author of the Pastoral Epistles: The arguments, rebuttals, and conclusion

About: this paper was delivered to Dr. Art Patzia at Fuller Theological Seminary during my second year for a class covering Acts through Revelation.

Does Paul in 1 Timothy 2 prohibit women from preaching at the pulpit? In answering this question, it is sometimes stated that Paul was not the author of the pastorals, which includes 1 Timothy, and as a result, the difficult statements therein have little or no binding authority. In the issue of authorship, Christians have split into opposing camps, sometimes declaring opponents to be uncommitted to the authority of Scripture. Indeed, there is a camp of scholars who do not believe that Paul wrote the Pastoral Epistles. For the other camp Paul is certainly the author. What are the arguments for and against Pauline authorship of the Pastoral Epistles? Although Paul is identified to be the author at the beginning of each of the Pastoral Epistles, some scholars look at other pieces of evidence from throughout the letters as a whole and determine that they are not genuinely from Paul but from someone else. Others find a way to explain how Paul is in fact the author of these epistles in keeping with the Pauline attribution at their beginnings. We will explore the various arguments against Pauline authorship and allow arguments in favor of Pauline authorship to interact with them. However, in the end we must ask ourselves what we can make of the situation by asking ourselves if the question of authorship is as important as we have made it out to be.

Someone Other Than Paul as the Author of the Pastoral Epistles

There are two kinds of arguments that maintain Paul was not the author or sole author of the Pastoral Epistles. The pseudonymous arguments maintain for various reasons that someone other than Paul wrote the pastorals using his name. The fragment theory argument maintains that there was a collection of personal correspondences of Paul that were used to create the pastorals. These fragments of the personal letters were augmented and adapted to a new letter to meet the needs of a particular situation. But Paul was not the direct author of the actual Pastoral Epistles as we know them today. Let us look at these two types of arguments that maintain someone other than Paul as the author of the Pastoral Epistles.


The Pseudonymous Arguments

As a whole, the pseudonymous hypothesis assumes several ideas dealing with accepted practices, stylistic differences, and historical features. First, pseudonymous hypotheses assume pseudonymity was an accepted practice during the late first and early second centuries. Second, it assumes stylistic differences can be attributed to different authors other than Paul. And third, it assumes historical features present in the pastorals are post-Pauline. These three ideas in general result in the argument that Paul did not write the Pastoral Epistles, but rather a pseudonymous writer who perhaps knew Paul wrote them instead.1 We will look closely at some of the popular arguments from the pseudonymous vein, such as those that focus on post-Pauline Gnosticism, the Pauline school of theology and literary style, Paul’s activities as reported in Acts, and other details and considerations.

Gnosticism is thought very strongly by many scholars to be the heresy addressed in the Pastoral Epistles. Gnosticism was a post-Pauline development. Therefore, these scholars argue that the pastorals were post-Pauline. In other words, Paul did not write them, because the heresy addressed did not come until after Paul’s death. Someone else wrote the pastorals and put Paul’s name to them, a practice known as pseudonymous writing.2 Many scholars who argue for this understanding suggest that the pastorals were written around the late first or early second centuries, in order to revive Pauline teaching and to provide the definitive method for denouncing Gnosticism.3 However, Gnosticism as a systematic religion came after Paul’s death, but its thoughts and ideas as an informal structure were present during the latter half of the First Century A.D.; it is likely that Paul was familiar with these informal ideas and to have addressed them when writing the pastorals.4 Furthermore, statements in the pastorals indicate the author was dealing with a prominent Jewish element of heresy. These statements refer to circumcision, Jewish myths, and law disputes, as in Titus 1:10, 14; 3:9. These require a broader understanding of Gnosticism as the heresy being addressed. There is plenty of evidence that indicates the heresy of the Pastoral Epistles was mixed. This Gnosticism apparently attached itself to some parts of Judaism, whereas the Gnosticism of the Second Century A.D. was opposed to the features of Judaism with one exception, the Jewish cosmology. If the Gnosticism addressed was an early one that was mixed with Judaism, much like what we find in Colossians, then an early date of authorship for the Pastoral Epistles is best. If the date was early, not only was it possible that Paul wrote the pastorals, but a pseudonymous author was very unlikely, since a different author would not have succeeded in writing them so close to Paul’s life and death.5

Some scholars arguing for the pseudonymity of the pastorals maintain that Paul had a theological school. Students at the schools of Pythagorus and Plato wrote letters in the names of their respective philosophers; with this fact in view, some scholars believe Paul could have had a school of his own and the students would have likely practiced writing in his name as did the students of Pythagorus and Plato.6 Paul and his close coworkers over time assembled into a group that discussed his theology. Following his death, members from this school could have written in the name of Paul, containing his theology while expressing it in a different style. Vocabulary and grammar could be different, for example. This practice would have been considered authoritative, for the new writer would have been revealing Paul’s thoughts and ideas; since he was Paul’s pupil and Paul was his teacher, he had the ability to do so.7 Therefore, the student from the school could write in the name of Paul, thus expressing Paul’s theology after Paul had died, and the writing would have been accepted as Paul’s own material. This practice would account for the stylistic differences evident in the pastorals and the accepted letters—those letters that are accepted to be genuinely Pauline. What are those differences?

There are many differences between the Pastoral Letters and the accepted letters, depending on the perspective from which the two categories are being examined. From a vocabulary perspective, word choice is quite different in the Pastoral Epistles compared to the accepted letters. The pastorals have a sum of 902 words. Of the 902 words, 54 of them are proper names. With the proper names aside, there are 848 words. Of the 848 words, 306 never occur in the accepted letters. About 36 percent of the vocabulary of the Pastoral Epistles does not exist in the Pauline vocabulary of the accepted letters. Furthermore, 175 words in the pastorals exist nowhere else in the entire New Testament. Only 50 words out of the 858 words occur in the accepted letters but nowhere else in the New Testament. From a content perspective, the Pastoral Epistles express the same general ideas but with different words and phrases than the accepted letters. From the perspective of favorite words, words that are clearly Paul’s and are distinctively his, the Pastoral Epistles do not use any of these key words. Words like “cross” or “crucify” occur 27 times in the accepted letters, but never in the pastorals. Neither do the words “son” or “adoption” occur in the pastorals, whereas they occur 46 times in the accepted letters. From a grammar or syntax perspective, the Pauline characteristic of particles that link sentences together in the Greek language are over abundant in the accepted letters while non-existent in the Pastoral Epistles.8 One other particularly convincing piece of evidence regarding literary style deals with the dating of particular vocabulary. There are a large number of words in the Pastoral Epistles that occur nowhere else in Paul but are characteristic of second century writings.9 Indeed, there are a large number of stylistic differences between the pastorals and the accepted letters of Paul.

These differences do not necessarily indicate that the author was a student of Paul’s who was writing pseudonymously. In other words, the stylistic differences do not require that a different author other than Paul was responsible for the Pastoral Epistles. There are a number of other factors that must be considered when attempting to arrive at a conclusion concerning these differences. Paul used an amanuensis in composing other letters, such as Romans, so it could be possible that he used at least one when writing the pastorals. The use of an amanuensis would certainly account for the stylistic differences between the Pastoral Epistles and the accepted letters. It should also be considered that most of the accepted letters were co-authored between Paul and Timothy. If we consider that the pastorals were written only by Paul, then the letter is certainly going to be different from the letters where Paul was not the sole author.10

And what about other reasons for differences? The differences in vocabulary, grammar, or style could simply be attributed to the fact that Paul was addressing different subject matter, which required different vocabulary. He also had a different audience from the audiences of the accepted letters. How does that affect our understanding of the differences? What of the fact that age and time could have caused the differences? Could Paul have changed his style over time? And what do we do with some of the criteria in the conclusions of the differences? The letters within the accepted letters could be denied acceptance according to the same criteria. For example, Paul’s use of “examine” occurs 10 times in 1 Corinthians, but nowhere else in Paul’s letters. Should 1 Corinthians be considered pseudonymous because it contains a keyword that does not exist elsewhere in Paul’s letters?11

Finally, there is no evidence for a school of theology. No Pauline school seems to have existed during or after the life of Paul, for none of the post-apostolic writers reference or appeal to such a school, namely, Clement of Rome, Papias, Ignatius, or Polycarp. If there was a school of theology, none of these writers knew of it or felt the need to write about it.12

For many scholars, Paul’s activities in the Pastoral Epistles do not align with the activities mentioned in the Pastoral Epistles, leading them to conclude that it was not Paul who wrote them, since they are supposedly telltale signs of pseudonymity. These scholars point out the factual discrepancies between 1 Timothy 1:3 and Acts 20:4-6, for example, where in the pastoral epistle Paul urged Timothy to stay in Ephesus as he urged him while he was on his way to Macedonia, but in Acts Timothy went on ahead to Troas where Paul eventually met up with him.13 Furthermore, the pastorals speak of missions and events that Acts do not report, such as a mission in Crete in Titus 1:5 and a winter in Nicopolis in Epirus in Titus 3:12.14

Those scholars wishing to harmonize these seemingly problematic facts argue that Paul was released from the imprisonment with which Acts closes. They argue that it seems possible that Paul thought release from prison was possible in Rome; it is possible even that Paul expected to be freed. They refer to Philippians 2:24, where Paul says that he trusts in the Lord he would come to see the Philippians, and Philemon 22, where Paul says that Philemon ought to prepare a lodging for him, since he would be coming soon. We do know that Paul wanted to go to Spain, which is clear from Romans 15:24, 28. The Muratorian Canon says that Luke omitted the journey of Paul from Rome to Spain. Both Chrysostom and Jerome in the fifth century were certain Paul reached Spain. Clement of Rome wrote about A.D. 90 that Paul preached both in the East and the West and instructed the whole world, starting in the East and having gone into the far reaches of the West. Although it is not certain that the far reaches of the West necessarily refer to Spain, it is at least a possibility. If it does, then it would indicate that Paul was set free as Eusebius reported in his history of the church and, for whatever reason, Acts is incomplete. If Acts did not give the full story, either because it was written before the rest of Paul’s story was completed or because the reason for writing did not require the full story, then there is no problem between Acts and the activities reported in the Pastoral Epistles. Acts could have been incomplete, selective, or both. The events in the pastorals do not necessarily contradict Acts.15

However, despite the words evidenced in the Muratorian Canon, Chrysostom, Jerome, and Clement of Rome, we still cannot be certain that Paul made a journey to Spain as he planned. There is no evidence in Spain itself that Paul made it there. Furthermore, no tradition regarding Paul’s journey to Spain originated from that location. We cannot know for certain that Paul made it to Spain, or if he was released from his imprisonment in Rome. As a result, the differences between the Pastoral Epistles and Acts are hard to reconcile.16

There are several other factors that lead scholars to maintain a pseudonymous argument, which include, but are not limited to, the following: Marcion’s omission in his own canon; ecclesiastical structure; and orthodoxy. These arguments suggest at the least Paul did not write the Pastoral Epistles. To these various issues we now turn.

Marcion, a Gnostic heretic, omitted the Pastoral Epistles from his New Testament canon. He believed that Paul did not write them. However, it is likely that much of the content of the pastorals did not suit well with Marcion, and he likely rejected its authority and did not give it a place in his canon. Statements dealing with the good value of the law and the rejection of knowledge in 1 Timothy 1:8; 6:20 would likely have offended him.17 He may have omitted it sure enough, but not necessarily because it was thought that Paul did not write the pastorals.

The Pastoral Epistles reflect a higher church structure than the rest of the accepted letters. The church structure contained in the pastorals comes from a much later development than was present during Paul’s time. However, the pastorals mention distinct classes in the Church, such as elders, deacons, and widows, but these classes were referred to quite early, including in the New Testament. The church structure mentioned in the pastorals does not indicate a post-Pauline date.18 But it can be argued that although Paul does mention such classes of church members elsewhere, as in Philippians 1:1 where he mentions bishops and deacons, he is nowhere else concerned with their duties. It is the duties that seem uncharacteristic of Paul in the pastorals, which leads some scholars to believe that Paul did not write them. Since the duties of the church leaders were the concern of the Didache and Ignatius in his letters, which were late First Century A.D. documents, these scholars argue that the Pastoral Epistles came from that same time and were not written by Paul.19

The Pastoral Epistles seem to be largely concerned with orthodoxy, that is, right belief or teaching. This concern seems to imply a post-Pauline date for authorship. Orthodoxy was a stage of theological development when doctrine was finalized and needed to be protected from being corrupted. However, it Paul had a concern for defending orthodoxy from the very beginning, such as the whole of Galatians or 1 Corinthians 15.20

The Fragments Theory Argument

According to this view, a common practice would have been to take something that was in fact Paul’s, fragments of his writings, and adapt it in written form to something else. We cannot, according to this theory, go as far to say that a disciple of Paul wrote the Pastoral Epistles because of the personal statements made regarding Paul in the letters. For example, a disciple of Paul would honor him and extol him, but would not claim Paul to be the foremost sinner as in 1 Timothy 1:15. Also, why would a disciple tell Timothy to drink a little wine for health reasons in 1 Timothy 5:23? Furthermore, the fourth chapter of 2 Timothy is so personal and intimate that it could not have been written by a disciple. As a result, Paul may not have written the Pastoral Epistles as we know them, but he did have his part in them.21

Instead, Paul would have likely had private correspondence with other people. Philemon is an example of private correspondence; it is unlikely that this letter is the only one of this nature. There very well could be fragments of Paul’s other correspondence letters in the hands of another Christian, who, seeing a particular need of the Church, applied them to a customized letter. Taking the fragments, the new author could have adapted and expounded on the fragments, making them ever relevant to the situation at hand. If this theory were correct, then it would account for the similarity in concepts between the Pastoral Epistles and the accepted letters, but also the differences in literary style.22

However, there is no unified agreement on which parts of the Pastoral Epistles are fragments of Paul’s personal correspondence letters. Additionally, it is not likely that any personal correspondence letters would have been preserved, since they would have not contained theological matters. And there are also questions. Why augment and adapt the letters? Why not simply copy the letters as they were and pass them around? Why did the new author write three letters? Why not one? This theory seems to produce too many unanswerable questions to be of any help.23



We have seen that there are two kinds of arguments against Paul as the author of the Pastoral Epistles. The first argument appeals to the practice of pseudonymous writing. Scholars who maintain that someone wrote the pastorals in Paul’s name to gain authority appeal to various factors, such as Gnosticism, a Pauline school of theology, literary or stylistic differences, historical discrepancies, Marcion’s omission in his canon, church structure, and orthodoxy. However, the opposing side has a rebuttal for each of these considerations. The Gnosticism present in the pastorals is of an early kind, so that the Gnosticism element itself does not necessarily require a late date. No post-apostolic writers make mention of any sort of school of theology. The use of an amanuensis would explain stylistic differences; Paul’s accepted letters were co-authored, but the pastorals were solely the work of Paul, which could also explain the differences in style. It is possible that Paul did make it to Spain and was freed from his Roman imprisonment, so that the pastorals pick up historically where Acts leaves off. Marcion could have purposefully omitted the pastorals due to their conflicting content with his theological agenda. The church structure terms were present early on for Paul and the other epistles in the New Testament and do not require understanding a later date for authorship. The concern for orthodoxy was also present early on and likewise does not require a later date.

The second argument appeals to a collection of personal letters that would have been used by a later writer to instruct the Church in a particular situation. However, this argument raises too many additional questions. Furthermore, there is no evidence for a collection of personal correspondences or the use of fragments from this collection.

Determining the authorship of the Pastoral Epistles is difficult. But the decision or conclusion cannot be made with certainty. The question is, what do we make of this uncertainty? Do we displace the pastorals from the New Testament canon? Are they less authoritative? Do they bear any authority at all? Of course they do. They were accepted early on and have been used to instruct the church ever since. We need to be careful to not allow the uncertainty of authorship divide and conquer us. Instead, we should unite on the issues that matter most, agree to disagree, and uphold the authority of Scripture as a whole, even when we cannot be fully assured of the authorship of each book or letter.


Achtemeier, Paul, Joel Green, and Marianne Thompson, eds. Introducing the New Testament: Its literature and theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2001.


Barclay, William. The Epistles to Timothy and Titus. Daily Bible Readings. Glasgow: The Church of Scotland, 1956.


Ellis, E. E. “Pastoral Letters,” in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters. Gerald Hawthorne, Ralph Martin, and Daniel Reid, eds. Downers Grove, Illinois, and Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press, 1993. 658-666.


Gundry, Robert. A Survey of the New Testament. 4th ed. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2003.


Patzia, Arthur. The Making of the New Testament: Origin, collection, text & canon. Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 1995.


Towner, Philip. 1-2 Timothy & Titus. The IVP New Testament Commentary Series. Grant Osborne, D. Stuart Briscoe, and Haddon Robinson, eds. Downers Grove, Illinois, and Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press, 1994.

1 Arthur Patzia, The Making of the New Testament: Origin, collection, text & canon (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 1995), 77.

2 William Barclay, The Epistles to Timothy and Titus, Daily Bible Readings (Glasgow: The Church of Scotland, 1956), xxiii.

3 Philip Towner, 1-2 Timothy & Titus, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series, Grant Osborne, D. Stuart Briscoe, and Haddon Robinson, eds. (Downers Grove, Illinois, and Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 15.

4 Barclay, The Epistles to Timothy and Titus, xxiii.

5 Robert Gundry, A Survey of the New Testament, 4th ed. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2003), 442.

6 E. E. Ellis, “Pastoral Letters,” in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, Gerald Hawthorne, Ralph Martin, and Daniel Reid, eds. (Downers Grove, Illinois, and Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 659.

7 Patzia, The Making of the New Testament, 77-8.

8 Barclay, The Epistles to Timothy and Titus, xxiii-iv.

9 Paul Achtemeier, Joel Green, and Marianne Thompson, eds., Introducing the New Testament: Its literature and theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2001), 461.

10 Towner, 1-2 Timothy & Titus, 34-5.

11 Gundry, A Survey of the New Testament, 441.

12 Ellis, “Pastoral Letters,” in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, 659.

13 Gundry, A Survey of the New Testament, 443.

14 Barclay, The Epistles to Timothy and Titus, xxiv.

15 Ibid., xxv-vii.

16 Ibid., xxvii.

17 Gundry, A Survey of the New Testament, 442.

18 Ibid., 442-43.

19 Achtemeier, Green, and Thompson, Introducing the New Testament, 462-63.

20 Gundry, A Survey of the New Testament, 443.

21 Barclay, The Epistles to Timothy and Titus, xxviii.

22 Ibid., xxviii-ix.

23 Gundry, A Survey of the New Testament, 440.

Contradictory or Not? A Brief Survey of One Scholarly Position on Paul’s Perspective on Women in Scripture

About: this paper was delivered to Dr. Art Patzia at Fuller Theological Seminary during my second year for a class covering Acts through Revelation.



Many people find Paul’s perspective on women to be very confusing. Paul seems to affirm a positive view of women, such as in Galatians 3:26-29, Romans 16, 1 Corinthians 7:1-7, 1 Timothy 5:3-16, and Titus 2:3-5, where he identifies women to be on the same level playing field as men. However, Paul also seems to have a negative view of women, such as in 1 Corinthians 11, 1 Corinthians 14, Ephesians 5, and 1 Timothy 2, where he subordinates women to men. Does Paul contradict himself? Some scholars have argued that there is no contradiction and that Paul does have a good perspective on women. We should look at the aforementioned negative texts and see how scholars who argue that Paul has a positive view of women and does not contradict himself make their case. We will look at what they argue and claim regarding each of the negative texts, and then we will summarize their methods. Before we look at the scholarly explanations of the seemingly negative texts, let us first look at the general feel of the positive texts, so that we will see the distinction between the two types that are often juxtaposed.

Looking at Scripture

Positive Texts

There are five positive texts that we should briefly summarize, which are Galatians 3:26-29, Romans 16, Titus 2:3-5, 1 Corinthians 7:1-7, and 1 Timothy 5:3-16. In Galatians 3:26-29, Paul argued as follows: in Christ, we are all equals; ethnic, social, and gender distinctions do not exist in Christ. The issue at hand is a present equality in Christ for every person so that gender distinctions do not exist.

In Romans 16, Phoebe is identified as a deacon and a benefactor (vv. 1-2), Prisca (or Priscilla), who is a coworker with Paul, is the object, along with her husband, of much gratitude among the Gentiles, and in fact she and her husband host a house church (vv. 3-5), Mary is said to work hard for the Roman church (v. 6), Junia is identified as a relative of Paul and as being prominent among the apostles (v. 7), Tryphaena, Tryphosa and Persis are identified as workers in the Lord (v. 12), Rufus’ mother is identified as a non-biological mother to Paul (v. 13), and Julia and Nereus’ sister are identified among a company of saints (v. 15). All of these people are women, and they are all considered to be prominent in some way or another in the church. It seems in this text that women were seen as coworkers and equals alongside men in Paul’s view. The next three passages give or affirm some sort of rights or privileges to women. In Titus 2:3-5, older women are charged with specific instructions for leadership for the specific purpose of teaching younger women. Here it seems women are specifically given a leadership role in ministry in this specific text, and although it is a leadership role over other women, it is a leadership role nonetheless. In 1 Corinthians 7:1-7, each man is urged to have his own wife and each wife should have her own husband (v. 2). The husband should give his wife her conjugal rights, and the wife to her husband (v. 3). The wife does not have authority over her body, and the husband does not have authority over his body (v. 4). Paul views marriage through a lens of equality, so that wives have the same rights as their husbands. In 1 Timothy 5:3-16, Paul affords provision for women by the church, women who are old widows and are true widows–those who meet specific qualifications. Paul shows concern for widows.

Therefore, the positive texts that we have looked at seem to demonstrate that Paul had a positive view of women. He was concerned for the care of widows. He upheld equality in terms of conjugal rights in marriage between the husband and wife. He made room for women to teach at least other women. He perceived women to be equal co-workers alongside himself and other men in service to the church and to the Lord. He taught that in Christ there is neither male nor female; in Christ there is no gender distinction. However, Paul elsewhere seems to contradict this positive view. We should now look at the seemingly negative texts and see how some scholars have treated these passages.

Negative Texts

There are four seemingly negative texts that we are going to look at, which are 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, 1 Corinthians 14:33-36, Ephesians 5:21-33, and 1 Timothy 2:8-15, respectively.

1 Corinthians 11:2-16

In 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, there are several pieces that point toward a negative view of women. We should summarize this text’s contents. Christ is the head of every man, and the husband is the head of his wife, and God is the head of Christ (v. 3). Disgrace comes upon the head of a man who prays with his head covered (v. 4). Disgrace also comes upon the head of a woman who prays with her head uncovered (v. 5). Man is the reflection and image of God, and women are the image and reflection of man (v. 7). Woman was made from man and woman was made for man (vv. 8-9). Woman should have authority on her head because of the angels (v. 10). In the Lord woman is not independent from man nor man independent of woman (v. 11). Woman came from man but so also man comes from woman through childbirth (v. 12). However, all things come from God (v. 12). It should be asked, “Is it proper for women to pray with their heads unveiled?” (v. 13). It should also be asked, “Does nature say men who cover their heads are a disgrace?” (v. 14). Finally, it should be asked, “Does nature say women who have long hair are glory?” (v. 15).

There are no less than six questions regarding 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. What does “head” mean? What does the relationship between Christ and man, husband and wife, and God and Christ mean in relation to “head”? What is the significance of head coverings? What does the image of God and image of man mean? What does “because of the angels” mean? What does it mean that man and woman are not independent of each other in the Lord? Perhaps these questions should be answered (or attempted to be answered) by considering the issue at hand.

Paul seems to be concerned with praying according to the social customs in public and seems to be addressing a specific issue that the Corinthians had inquired to him about. But it seems from this text that Paul perceived men to be the rulers of women. Is this Paul’s view? Linda Belleville says that it is not.

According to Belleville, 1 Corinthians 11 explains how women should pray or prophesy, but it does not question who or what one should pray.1 To be clear, her point is that Paul was not restricting wives from speaking in church worship, but rather he was prescribing how women generally ought to speak in church worship.2

In Belleville’s view, the issue in 1 Corinthians 11 is not concerning husbands and wives, but rather males and females; it has been suggested that since virtually all women were married during the First Century A.D., it can be assumed that “males” and “females” is understood to mean “husbands” and “wives,” but this proposal does not consider Paul’s care for widows, virgins, and the divorced earlier in 1 Corinthians.3

Belleville argues that Paul’s instructions were addressing a specific situation. During the First Century A.D., Asia Minor had fixed customs regarding gender attire. The words “shameful”, “proper”, and “disgraceful” in 1 Corinthians 11 demonstrate that Paul seems to be concerned with these social customs regarding gender attire. However, Paul’s appeal to Genesis 2 involves something more than inappropriate attire; women and men are taught by nature to wear their hair differently from each other. By addressing the issue of hair, gender distinctions are clearly at hand. Women were approved by Paul to pray or prophesy alongside men, but Paul was concerned with how they publicly performed prayer or prophecied.4

Belleville demonstrates that the attire in question in 1 Corinthians 11 is headgear. Is it hair? Is it a covering? Verses 14-15 seem to indicate that women ought to cover their heads with something else because of their long hair. The long hair is understood to be a covering provided by nature, but it is not the head covering itself. Also, in v. 6, Paul said that if a woman will not cover her head then she should cut off her hair, which assumed a different covering from her hair itself. Verse 10 also suggests that something other than the woman’s hair ought to be placed on her head, because there was no indication in the First Century A.D. that hair and authority were linked, but it was an accepted practice for female laity in Roman religions to place a cover on their heads before performing religious functions.5

Furthermore, Roman women did not wear head coverings in public, but religious laity and civic leaders did cover their heads in public by pulling their togas up far enough to cover their head. There was a leadership role for women in the First Century A.D. But there was still a necessity to keep distinctions between the sexes, even though both genders are equal in Christ.6

Head coverings are not the only piece of the text in question. Paul’s use of “head” is also a strong focus in modern scholarship and research concerning 1 Corinthians 11. Belleville argues that we can determine how Paul was using “head” by drawing on the language of vv. 7, 8, and 12, and we will find that he used it something along the lines of “glory.”7

In Belleville’s understanding, the problem for Paul was when a woman uncovered her head attention would be drawn to her masculine origin or “head,” so that attention was taken away from God. Women were to cover their heads so that God was the focus of everyone’s attention.8

Craig Keener argues along the same lines as Belleville. He is additionally helpful in terms of his treatment on head coverings. He notes the function and significance of a woman who revealed her hair in public for the Corinthian cultural setting. According to Keener, a wife who revealed her hair in public was tantamount to cheating on her husband, for a woman’s hair was perceived as a sexual object by men. This thought also explains why virgins and prostitutes uncovered their hair in public; they were seeking to draw attention to themselves, that is, they were attempting to attract men.9 At the very least, head coverings were typical of married women.10 Husbands wanted to preserve their rights to the beauty of their wives; head coverings helped to preserve such rights. When wives went into public without their heads covered, they were perceived as being immodest for publicly displaying their beauty, for the head and hair were seen as the most important part of a woman’s beauty.11

Keener is also helpful in his treatment of Paul’s phrase, “because of the angels.” Keener argues that the statement for a woman to have a covering over her head because of the angels was Paul’s way of saying that women did have authority over their heads but they needed to use their authority responsibly, that is, for propriety’s sake. Paul’s intention was to avoid contention by adhering to cultural customs.12

Keener’s argument that Paul was attempting to avoid conflict with cultural customs is supported by Walter Liefeld’s argument that Paul was instructing women in this way for evangelistic purposes. Liefeld links Paul’s discussion in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 to what we find in 1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1, because of the conjunction de that joins the two passages together. The earlier passage is concerned with actions for the sake of evangelism, and de in 1 Corinthians 11:2 links this new passage with the previously stated evangelistic purpose.13

Belleville, Keener and Liefeld, along with other scholars, argue that Paul was giving instructions based on a specific situation. According to these scholars, Paul did not prohibit women from speaking, but rather he instructed them for their situation how they were to speak when they were at church worship. They also emphasize Paul’s intentions for the instructions; they served an evangelistic function. Their arguments point out that Paul did not contradict himself, because he was not instructing the Corinthian women with timeless rules. Instead, he acknowledged their rights, but for the sake of the gospel, he asked them in their particular situation to give up their rights. For these scholars, there is no contradiction, because the positive texts have a timeless scope while 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 has a limited and specific scope.

1 Corinthians 14:33-36

In 1 Corinthians 14:33-36, Paul made a rather negative and harsh remark concerning women. The text reads that women should be silent as in all the churches of the saints (vv. 33-34). Women are not permitted to speak (v. 34). Women are to be subordinate as the law says (v. 34). If women desire to know anything, they need to ask their husbands at home (v. 35). It is shameful for a woman to speak in church (v. 35). This passage sounds like it is in contradiction with Romans 16 or Galatians 3. However, there are some questions that must be asked regarding this passage. What does Paul mean when he says, “As in all the churches of the saints?” What law did Paul refer to? What is the significance of the questions that Paul asks in v. 36? It does seem as though Paul was concerned about disorder in the church worship, and he did instruct women to be silent in the church. It seems as though Paul did have a negative view of women, especially when he restricted them from speaking in church worship. Is this accurate? Again, Belleville disagrees.

Belleville demonstrates that this passage is difficult enough to begin with, let alone the fact that it seems that Paul was contradicting himself. There is much to consider in terms of the difficulty of this passage. Paul did not specify to what or to whom women were to submit. Paul did not specify if the law was the Mosaic law, church law, or the law of the land. Paul did not specify what it was that the women desired to learn. Paul did not specify why it was disgraceful for women to speak in church worship.14

The phrase, “as in all the congregations of the saints,” adds to the difficulty of this passage. Does it go with the preceding words or the following words? If the phrase goes with the following words, then it approves the silence of the women in the church. If the phrase goes with what precedes it, then it approves orderly worship in the church.15

Belleville rightly argues that we need to come to terms with the use of “as” phrases in Paul’s writings in order to understand this phrase in 1 Corinthians 14. Did Paul use “as” phrases to conclude or begin a thought? He used them for both. How did Paul use “as” phrases in regards to church practice? In 1 Corinthians 4:17; 7:17; 11:16, similar “as” phrases conclude Paul’s arguments. Specifically concerning church practice, “as” phrases conclude arguments and instructions in 1 Corinthians. Therefore, 1 Corinthians 14:33 fits the mold. We should attach the present “as” phrase to the preceding words due to the pattern of “as” phrases in connection with church practices in 1 Corinthians. Furthermore, according to Belleville, if the “as” phrase goes with the following words, Paul would be repeating himself rather sloppily with the words “in the churches” said twice in the same sentence. Finally, the words, “let the women,” are a typically Pauline way of starting a new paragraph, such as in Ephesians 5:22 and Colossians 3:18. Given the use of “as” statements in 1 Corinthians in connection with church practice, given the use of the words “in the churches,” and given the use of the words “let the women,” we can be confident that “as in all the churches of the saints” belongs with the preceding words.16

Belleville points out the confusion behind the phrase “as the law says.” We simply do not know what law Paul was referring to. There is no Old Testament law that instructs women to submit to their husbands. Genesis 3:16 is not understood in this way, so we cannot attribute it as such. Jesus did not instruct women to submit to their husbands either. Paul did instruct women to submit to their husbands, but he did not equate his instructions with the law. Was it the law of the church or the law of the land? Greek and Jewish marital contracts did involve wifely obedience, but Roman contracts typically did not. Since the word “husband” is not present in this passage, we should consider it on a broader basis. We should start by looking at Paul’s use of “submit” elsewhere in his letters. “Submit” for Paul was virtually voluntary. Churches submit themselves to their leaders (1 Cor. 16:16), believers submit themselves to secular authority (Rom. 13:1), slaves are to submit themselves to their masters (Col. 3:22), and wives are to submit themselves to their husbands (Eph. 5:22; Col. 3:18; Titus 2:5). The context of 1 Corinthians 14, in addition to the typical use of “submit” throughout the rest of Paul’s letters, helps us to understand what Paul meant here in v. 34. Paul said that the spirits of the prophets were to submit to the prophets, so that when another prophet received a revelation, the first prophet was to sit and be silent; furthermore, those who spoke in tongues were to be silent when there was no one to interpret. Therefore, to be silent was to be in submission. The idea was to have control over the tongue for the purpose of preserving order. Tongues speakers, prophets and women were to be silent for the sake of orderly worship.17

Belleville argues that since we do not know of a Roman, Greek or Jewish law from the First Century A.D. that commanded women to submit, we must look for help elsewhere, and we can find it by focusing on what Paul meant by “silence.” We know that women are permitted and approved to pray and prophesy in the church, so what kind of silence is Paul talking about? There are four things we need to note. One, the context of 1 Corinthians 14:33-36 is about public worship. First Corinthians 14:23, 26 uses the words, “When you gather as a church,” which indicate that a public service is in mind. Two, the speaking that is being silenced is of a disruptive nature. Paul is focused on orderly worship and orderly speaking, so the silencing of speaking must be an effort to stop the kind that frustrates the orderly service. Three, the source of the disruptive speaking is married women. In 1 Corinthians 14:35, Paul tells the married women to ask their own husbands questions at home. Four, the women were disrupting out of a desire to learn. Inspired speech was not the issue; Paul was not instructing against the use of spiritual gifts. The women made the mistake of asking questions in the wrong place, and it is likely that they were asking the wrong people too, otherwise Paul would not have said, “ask your own husbands.” To ask another man a question and not one’s own husband would have been shameful for anyone in the Greco-Roman culture of the First Century A.D. Blurting out questions would have caused confusion, which would have hindered the church’s witness to outsiders. Furthermore, in pagan worship it was improper for women to blurt out questions, and public speaking was discouraged in that culture, so to have women asking questions during a worship service would have been disgraceful.18

Belleville argues further that women were in a position to ask questions. According to Belleville, women were not well-educated, which would give rise to questions. Formal instruction for women typically stopped around ages 12-16, depending on if the female was a Jew, Greek or Roman. Lower-class women were not in a position to pursue formal instruction as a career. Instead, women were in charge of raising children and managing the household, so there was hardly any time for them to learn.19

Belleville notes that Paul in fact affirmed the right for women to learn and be instructed in 1 Corinthians 14:33-36, but he instructed them to do it at home with their own husbands. He also affirmed the right for women to ask questions, but again, this was to be done at home with their own husbands. Also, bear in mind that it was not only women who were silenced, but it was also “long-winded prophets” and “unintelligible speakers.” Paul targeted anyone or anything that disrupted the edification of the church.20

Keener points out as Belleville does that Paul seems to be silencing questions. He is helpful in pointing out the significance of asking questions in a public format in the First Century A.D. It was possible for questions to lead to shame. In all ancient lecture settings, questions were permitted, except when the person who was asking the question was not sufficiently educated. When someone was not sufficiently educated, it was expected that he or she would keep silent.21 Furthermore, whispering during a lecture was perceived as rude.22 It may not have been acceptable for unlearned people to ask the speaker questions, but it neither was it acceptable for the unlearned people to ask the learned people around them during the speaker’s lecture. Both were seen as shameful. Paul seems to want to spare the women from such shame.

Keener concludes with a similar statement as Belleville. According to Keener, Paul instructs women to learn by asking their own husbands questions at home. In Paul’s view the husbands were responsible for educating their wives. He avoided breaking cultural customs of propriety by giving such instructions, but he was not against their learning, nor did he prohibit them from praying or prophesying in church worship. The issues here were not gender, but propriety, and not speaking, but learning.23

Belleville, Keener, and others, have argued that Paul was silencing women in a specific form of speech, and he was not silencing speech in its totality. They do reference back to 1 Corinthians 11 where Paul affirmed that women pray and prophecy in church worship, so he was not silencing all speech. They recognize that Paul’s instructions were given in order to meet a specific need, as they did in their treatments of 1 Corinthians 11. They emphasize that women were uneducated and would have been prone to asking questions. Given the possibility for questions to bring shame onto the uneducated women, Paul instructed them to learn by asking their husbands questions at home. Their arguments indicate that Paul did not contradict himself. He was writing his letter within the confines of a specific situation and was not laying down timeless guidelines. Therefore, Paul was not being negative or misogynistic. Rather, he was positively affirming women’s right to learn, but he made that right available in such a way that the women’s pursuit of their rights did not hinder the gospel.

Ephesians 5:21-33

In Ephesians 5:21-33, all the believers are told to be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ (v. 21). Wives are told to be subject to their husbands as they are to the Lord (v. 22). The husband is said to be the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church of whom he is its Savior (v. 23). As the church is subject to Christ, so also should wives be subject to their husbands (v. 24). Husbands are told to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (v. 25). Husbands are also told to love their wives as they love their own bodies, for whoever loves his wife loves himself (v. 28). The argument closes, saying that husbands should love their wives as themselves and wives should respect their husbands (v. 33). There are at least a couple of questions that arise from this passage. What did Paul mean when he said, “be subject to one another,” but then turned around and explicitly told the wives to be subject to their husbands and did not instruct the husbands to be subject to the wives? How are we to understand his statement that the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church? The issue seems to be that Paul was addressing how the Ephesians should be living as imitators of God, which includes submitting to each other. This submission seems to work out differently in Paul’s mind for husbands and wives. Submission for husbands is to love, and for wives is to respect. But it seems as though Paul negatively instructed women to submit to the leadership of their husbands. Is this what Paul was affirming? Belleville does not agree.

According to Belleville, wives are called to submit to their husbands, but it is important to note that they are called to submit, not to obey. Obedience is required of an inferior. In this context we find that slaves and children were instructed to obey their superiors. However, submission is a voluntary and humble acceptance of the wishes of an equal. The wives are free and responsible agents equal to their spouses. Furthermore, what the wives are instructed to do is no different from what all believers are called to do to one another. Paul instructed all of the Ephesians to submit to one another before he instructed the wives to submit to their husbands. The implication is that the instruction Paul gave to women was not negative, and it did not necessarily indicate a hierarchical subordination.24

Belleville argues that the instruction to the women has an evangelistic purpose. She says that there is good reason to accept that Paul’s instructions reflected the social customs of the First Century A.D., and so must be understood as an evangelistic tool in their cultural context. First, the instruction for the wives to submit is not grounded in the creation order of male and female. Paul quoted the creation order to stress mutuality in marriage, but he did not appeal to the creation order when instructing the wives to submit. In wanting not to discount the gospel, Paul wanted to appeal to the culture by following the social norm. Second, the instruction to the wives is not grounded by Paul in Scripture, as are the other instructions given to children and husbands. Instead, Paul stated that the wives should submit to their husbands because it was fitting (and he instructed slaves to obey their masters for the same reason). Again, Paul was attempting to appeal to the social norms of their culture. Third, Paul based his instructions on social reasons. Elsewhere in the New Testament, wives were instructed to submit to their husbands so that God’s word would not be discounted (Titus 2:5). Evangelism through social norms was the goal of the church. In order for the gospel to be credible, the Christians had to act in socially acceptable or inoffensive ways.25

Belleville looks at Paul’s use of “head” and the analogy here as a distinctive feature describing the relationship between the husband and wife. Focusing on the analogy of Christ and his relationship to the church, she argues that Christ is both savior and sustainer of the church. Neither nouns, “head” or “savior”, have the definite article, so the two are descriptive rather than definitive. “Head” in this instance refers to source, not chief ruler; likewise, “savior” refers to life-giving preservation. Christ sacrificed his life so that the church, which finds its source in Christ, could live. This sacrificial preservation is the model for which the husband ought to love his wife. As Christ cares for and tends to the church’s needs, so also must the husband provide for his wife. Paul continued on to say that such provision was really caring for oneself. The church is Christ’s body, and the wife is the husband’s body, because the two have become one flesh.26

Belleville rightly notes that Paul instructed the husband to love, not rule, his wife. Paul does not give any sort of ruling authority over the wife to the husband in this instance. Instead of instructing the husbands to rule over their wives, whom he had just instructed to submit to their husbands, he instructed them to love their wives. Furthermore, Paul instructed them three times to love their wives, once in v. 25, v. 28, and v. 33. The example of Christ excludes ruling over, because, after all, Christ came to serve. Similarly, Paul did not give any sort of decision-making rights to the husband in this instance. In Paul’s understanding, the heart, not the head, was what made decisions (1 Corinthians 7:37). It is important that he does not say the husband is the heart of the wife. The analogy of “head” only expresses source, which is made clear when Paul sited Genesis 2, identifying that the church is the Eve of the Second Adam, being bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh.27

Keener perceives Ephesians 5:21-33 in a similar way as Belleville, but he is helpful in pointing out some additional pieces of information. He affirms that Paul upheld traditional Roman family values, probably because the Romans did not like Eastern religions that put into question or attempted to challenge their social customs, and in some cases they discounted such religions.28 Whatever the reason, Paul used traditional categories of household codes, which were the codes for husbands and wives, parents and children, and masters and slaves, but he radically differed in his instruction when he told all the believers to mutually submit.29

Keener emphasizes that Paul’s language was radical. He instructed all believers to submit to each other. The instructions he gives men is not typical. Rulers of the house were generally instructed in how to rule, not how to love.30 Even the subordinates in Paul’s household code here in Ephesians, the wives, children and slaves, were to submit voluntarily, which was not the typical household code language. Paul, while working within particular cultural confines, instructed wives, children and slaves without calling into question the social practices and customs. According to Keener, Paul was giving specific instructions for specific situations.31

I. Howard Marshall points out an important connection between Ephesians 5:21 and 5:18.

Ephesians 5:18 is a command to be filled with the Spirit, and what follows is a set of participles that describe how believers should be filled. The last participle is found in 5:21. This participle identifies that submitting to one another is one of the ways believers are to be filled with the Spirit. This idea of submitting is made explicit to the wives in Ephesians 5:22, but the men, including husbands, were instructed to submit as well.32

Belleville, Keener, Marshall, and others argue that Paul was not negative but positive. Paul was arguing for women to choose to submit themselves to their husbands for evangelistic purposes. Again, they emphasize that Paul was meeting a particular situation with specific instructions. Their arguments demonstrate that Paul was not contradicting himself because his timeless principles were not being violated or reversed. In fact, they point out that Paul was unusual, because he did not instruct the men to rule, but to love, and for reasons that were not typical.

1 Timothy 2:8-15

In 1 Timothy 2:8-15, a negative view seems to be plainly in sight. Men are to pray in every place with their hands lifted up and without anger or argument (v. 8), while women are to dress modestly and decently, without braids, gold, pearls, or expensive clothes (v. 9). Instead, women are to dress with good works (v. 10). Women are to learn in silence in full submission (v. 11). Women are not permitted to teach or bear authority over a man (v. 12). Women are to keep silent (v. 12). Adam was formed first, and then Eve, but it was Eve who was deceived (vv. 13-14). This text raises no less than eight questions. What did Paul mean by “dress modestly”? Why would Paul say that women could not dress with braids, gold, pearls or expensive clothes? What did Paul mean by “dress with good works”? What did he mean by “learn in silence and in full submission”? Why did he not permit women to teach or bear authority? Why did he instruct women to keep silent? What was Paul’s purpose in referencing and discussing Adam and Eve? What did Paul mean when he said that women will be saved through childbearing? There are not a few questions to face, but everyone who argues that Paul does not contradict himself must deal with each of these questions. In this passage, Paul seems to be instructing men and women how to pray. It seems as though he was not allowing women to teach or be a leader over men. Is this so? Belleville does not think so.

Belleville understands that the primary purpose of 1 Timothy was to instruct leaders against false teaching.33 She argues that Paul was addressing a specific and problematic situation, which means he was not giving universal instruction. Furthermore, his instructions to the church in Ephesus were out of concern for their evangelistic witness. However, Paul did affirm women’s right to learn and be instructed. He instructed how it ought to be done by appealing to cultural customs, not apostolic authority or Scripture.34

With this agenda in mind, Belleville argues that the more difficult parts of 1 Timothy 2:8-15 are obscure but still relative to a specific temporary setting. Even the verb “to permit” is not a typical biblical prohibition. Given the use of this same verb elsewhere in the Bible, Belleville suggests that it is best to understand this particular prohibition to be a temporary restriction that is limited in scope.35

This limited restriction was twofold for Paul. Belleville argues that this twofold restriction contains two equal parts of the whole. One, women were not permitted to teach, and two, women were not permitted to bear authority over men. This twofold restriction is actually one and the same in Greek. What kind of teaching is not permitted? Belleville argues that we should understand the kind of teaching that is temporarily restricted by Paul by looking at the second part of the twofold restriction.36

Understanding of the verb authenteô, “bear authority,” is complicated. The verb is an hapax legomenon, and it is not a frequently used term outside of the New Testament. It is used outside of the New Testament in a negative way, such as “to domineer”, and its cognate forms can be translated as “murder.” Furthermore, if Paul was talking of the exercise of authority, as is found in the English translations, he would have used his normal term, exousia, or its cognate verb, exousiazô. Since he did not, we must question why. The verb form of our present text is rare, although the noun form is common. Predominantly, it was used of committing a crime or act of violence up to the Second Century A.D. It was also used in reference to taking matters into one’s own hands, to exercise mastery over, and to hold absolute control over someone or something. From the Second Century B.C. through the First Century A.D., the idea of exercising authority is not attested for this verb. If we are to take the verb in the sense of authority, then we have to take it in terms of holding control or mastery over another, which is how the Vulgate and early Latin versions understand the verb.37

Belleville appeals to Greek syntax to demonstrate that the two verbs are paired together in a specific way. The use of the neither/nor construction in Greek is important. It can be used to pair synonyms, antonyms, or closely related ideas. At other times it can be used to define a related purpose or goal, to move from the general to the particular, or to define a natural progression of related ideas. Since teaching and authentein are not synonyms, antonyms or closely related ideas, we can be sure that we are not dealing with such pairs. We do not have closely related ideas, unless we take the verb to mean “exercise authority”, which is not attested during the time leading up to and through the First Century A.D., nor do we have the movement from the general to the particular. What fits well is the neither/nor Greek construction defining a related purpose or a goal, where the goal of teaching is to dominate or get the upper hand.38

Belleville appeals to the structure of 1 Timothy 2:8-15, noting a parallelism in vv. 8-12. According to Belleville, men are addressed first; they are instructed to pray by lifting up holy hands and without anger. Women are addressed next; they should pray in appropriate attire and without attempting to teach a man in a dictatorial way. The first part of both is how they should pray in their appearance. The second part deals with the attitude, and it is a prohibition against anger and contention.39

Belleville suggests that there could be a possible influence from the cult of Artemis in the teachings of the false teachers. It is possible that within the false teaching the women were being encouraged to usurp authority as teachers over the men, since the cult believed that the female was superior to the male. However, this goes against the creation order, in which neither male nor female are to dominate the other. Paul appears to be correcting the false teaching and to be attempting to bring them back into mutual submission to each other.40

David Scholer focuses on 1 Timothy 2:15 as being not only the climax of the text (2:8-15), but also as the key to understanding the text as a whole. Verse 15 is linked with the preceding verses with the conjunction, de, and it depends on the previous verse to supply the subject for its opening verb. Paul said that women will be saved through childbirth, provided that they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety. This identifies that women were identified among the saved through fulfilling the social norms of the Greco-Roman culture during the First Century A.D. in terms of maternal and domestic roles expected of them. This concern for propriety exists earlier in the passage. In v. 9, Paul addressed women’s attire. His instruction was concerned with women’s domestic role according to the contemporary culture.41

Scholer looks at the structure of the entire passage and not just at the last verse. First Timothy 2:8 instructs men to pray with the proper posture and attitude. Prayer was the preceding theme from 2:1-7, and it is clear that the context is in the church. The instructions for women’s dress is unqualified, but it is similar to 2:15 in that it uses the social norm for decency so that God’s word is not discounted. Furthermore, we find that Paul’s instructions for women’s attire was not different from the Jewish and Greco-Roman cultural norms. In fact, rejecting outward appearance was part of wifely submission in the First Century A.D. A woman who adorned herself with gold, pearls, and expensive clothing was proclaiming sexual infidelity in that culture. Paul’s thought progression moved from women’s adornment to submission in vv. 9-12. Adornment and submission were two sides of the same coin in Paul’s culture. Therefore, the instructions given in vv. 11-12 must be understood in light of vv. 9-10.42

According to Scholer, 1 Timothy 2:11-12 comports well with the generally expected behavior of women in the First Century A.D. These verses focus on honorable behavior, as do vv. 9-10 and v. 15. In 1 Timothy 2:11-12, we have instructions being given to meet the needs of a particular situation. We can be sure that these verses are not a universal command because the immediate context of 2:9-15 and the larger context of 1 and 2 Timothy is dealing with the issue of false teaching. The false teaching in Ephesus had women as a particular focus and encouraged them to radically challenge appropriate social behavior. As a result, the situation merited Paul’s instructions in vv. 11-12. Furthermore, the climax of the immediate context, v. 15, indicates that the paragraph is situational, so what precedes it in the same paragraph must also be situational.43

After looking at 1 Timothy 2:8-12, Scholer turns to Paul’s allusions to Genesis 2-3 in 1 Timothy 2:13-14. Scholer reports that these allusions have been thought by some to clearly indicate, by an appeal to creation ordinances, women are inferior to men and are required to submit to their husbands and not teach or have authority. In other words, they look at the allusions as proof for universal application in 1 Tim. 2:8-15. However, alluding to Old Testament texts does not intrinsically give Paul’s instructions a universal intent. Furthermore, only v. 13 is part of the creation ordinance. What we find in v. 14 deals with the first sin, which is not to be confused with creation. Elsewhere, Paul looked before the sin of Eve to Genesis 1 to argue for the mutuality, not hierarchy, between man and woman (cf. Galatians 3:28).44

Scholer argues that Paul was selective in his use of Genesis 1-3 and Eve in 1 Timothy 2:13-14. However, Paul elsewhere attributed sin and death to Adam (cf. Rom. 5:12-14), and in another instance he used Eve to teach against false teaching. According to Scholer, the facts show that Paul used whatever best fit his points. Paul often used other arguments to support his own points. This passage is in keeping with the rest of Paul’s tendencies. Therefore, 1 Timothy 2:13-14 functions for Paul as an explanatory argument to support the points he made in vv. 9-12.45

Belleville, Scholer, and others argue that 1 Timothy 2:8-15 is not a timeless restriction. They emphasize that the letter was written for a specific need to a specific people in a specific location during a specific moment in time. They also argue by means of syntactical, lexical and form analysis to demonstrate that the teaching restricted is a kind of teaching that attempts to domineer or dominate. They demonstrate that Paul was not contradicting himself because his timeless teachings were not reversed in the specific instructions he gave for the situation he was dealing with. Paul still affirmed women’s participation in prayer alongside of men, but it was to be done in a culturally acceptable and fitting way. According to these scholars, this text is neither negative nor timeless.


Scholars like Belleville, Keener, Liefeld, Fee, Marshall, and Scholer appeal to the cultural setting and evangelical purpose of Paul when dealing with those seemingly negative and misogynistic passages of his letters. They typically demonstrate that Paul wrote letters for specific situations, and therefore his letters must be understood in light of those specific situations to which he wrote. Their basic argument suggests that whenever we can determine Paul’s instructions (or restrictions) to be tied to a specific setting, their literal (word-for-word or face value) understanding must be tied to the specific setting and not perceived to be a universal truth or timeless instruction. In their view, whenever Paul appeals to culture, so far as we can tell, we need to interpret those appeals for their cultural meaning and value.46 By following such a method, in their arguments these scholars have demonstrated that Paul neither contradicted himself nor possessed a misogynist view.

For these scholars, 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 has a high view of women, where Paul understands their rights and upholds them, but he asks them to give them up for the cause of the gospel. In 1 Corinthians 14:33-36, they argue, Paul was affirming the right of women to learn, but he was giving helpful instructions how they were to go about learning. These scholars argue that Ephesians 5:21-33 is an exhortation for wives to purposefully choose to submit to their husbands for the sake of the gospel. 1 Timothy 2:8-15, according to these scholars, instructs women to dress appropriately so that the gospel would not be discounted, and prohibits women from teaching in a domineering way. Therefore, in their view, Paul is seen to have a positive view of women. He was not a misogynist. In these passages, he upholds women’s rights, affirms their abilities, but pleads for them to take on specific instructions for the sake of the gospel. These passages further compliment the positive passages, such as Galatians 3:26-29, Romans 16, 1 Corinthians 7:1-7, and others previously mentioned. Paul did not contradict himself, and according to these scholars, he had a positive perspective of women.




Belleville, Linda. “Teaching and Usurping Authority: 1 Timothy 2:11-15.” Ronald Pierce, Rebecca Groothuis, and Gordon Fee, ed. Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity without hierarchy. Downers Grove, Illinois, and Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press and Apollos, 2005.


__________. Women Leaders and the Church: Three crucial questions. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000.


Fee, Gordon. “Praying and Prophesying in the Assemblies: 1 Corinthians 11:2-16.” Ronald Pierce, Rebecca Groothuis, and Gordon Fee, ed. Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity without hierarchy. Downers Grove, Illinois, and Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press and Apollos, 2005.


Keener, Craig. “Learning in the Assemblies: 1 Corinthians 14:34-35.” Ronald Pierce, Rebecca Groothuis, and Gordon Fee, ed. Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity without hierarchy. Downers Grove, Illinois, and Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press and Apollos, 2005.


__________. “Man and Woman.” Gerald Hawthorne, Ralph Martin, Daniel Reid, ed. Dictionary of Paul and His Letters. Downers Grove, Illinois, and Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press, 1993.


__________. Paul, Women and Wives: Marriage and women’s ministry in the letters of Paul. 7th printing. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2007.


Liefeld, Walter. “Women, Submission & Ministry in 1 Corinthians.” Alvera Mickelsen, ed. Women, Authority & the Bible. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1986.


Marshall, I. Howard. “Mutual Love and Submission in Marriage: Colossians 3:18-19 and Ephesians 5:21-33.” Ronald Pierce, Rebecca Groothuis, and Gordon Fee, ed. Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity without hierarchy. Downers Grove, Illinois, and Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press and Apollos, 2005.


Scholer, David. “1 Timothy 2:9-15 and the Place of Women in the Church’s Ministry.” Alvera Mickelsen, ed. Women, Authority & the Bible. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1986.


__________. “Women in Ministry.” Selected Articles on Hermeneutics and Women and Ministry in the New Testament. Pasadena: Fuller Theological Seminary, 2005.

1 Linda Belleville, Women Leaders and the Church: Three crucial questions (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000), 153-4.

2 Belleville, Women Leaders and the Church, 126.

3 Ibid., 126-7.

4 Ibid., 127. Cf. also Gordon Fee, “Praying and Prophesying in the Assemblies: 1 Corinthians 11:2-16,” ed. Ronald Pierce, Rebecca Groothius, and Gordon Fee, Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity without hierarchy (Downers Grove, Illinois, and Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press and Apollos, 2005), 143-5. Fee’s argument is similar to Belleville’s.

5 Ibid., 128.

6 Ibid., 129.

7 Ibid., 130. For a fuller treatment than the brief summary given here, cf. Belleville, and for a similar discussion and conclusion regarding Paul’s use of “head,” cf. Walter Liefeld, “Women, Submission & Ministry in 1 Corinthians,” ed. Alvera Mickelsen, Women, Authority & the Bible (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 139-41.

8 Ibid., 130-1.

9 Craig Keener, “Man and Woman,” ed. Gerald Hawthorne, Ralph Martin, Daniel Reid, Dictionary of Paul and His Letters (Downers Grove, Illinois, and Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 585. Cf. also Liefeld, “Women, Submission & Ministry in 1 Corinthians,” Women, Authority & the Bible, 141-3. Liefeld demonstrates that women who publicly revealed themselves brought disgrace upon themselves. He argues that Paul was attempting to prevent social criticism for the benefit of the gospel.

10 Craig Keener, Paul Women and Wives: marriage and women’s ministry in the letters of Paul, 7th printing (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2007), 25.

11 Keener, Paul Women and Wives, 29-30.

12 Keener, “Man and Woman,” Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, 586. Cf. also Fee, “Praying and Prophesying in the Assemblies: 1 Corinthians 11:2-16,” Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity without hierarchy, 155-8. Fee argues similarly, saying that Paul recognizes that the women have rights, but he instructs them to give them up at times for the sake of the gospel.

13 Liefeld, “Women, Submission and Ministry in 1 Corinthians,” Women, Authority & the Bible, 136.

14 Belleville, Women Leaders and the Church, 155.

15 Ibid., 157.

16 Ibid., 157-8.

17 Ibid., 158-9.

18 Ibid., 159-61. Cf. also David Scholer, “Women in Ministry,” Selected Articles on Hermeneutics and Women and Ministry in the New Testament (Pasadena: Fuller Theological Seminary, 2005), 102-3. Scholer’s discussion is similar to Belleville’s, but offers some more refuting points towards the opposition. For Keener’s point that Paul is in fact silencing a specific form of speech, regardless of what kind of speech it was that he was silencing, cf. “Man and Woman,” Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, 590.

19 Ibid., 161-2. Cf. also Craig Keener, “Learning in the Assemblies: 1 Corinthians 14:34-35,” ed. Ronald Pierce, Rebecca Groothuis, and Gordon Fee, Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity without hierarchy (Downers Grove, Illinois, and Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press and Apollos, 2005), 169.

20 Ibid., 162.

21 Keener, “Learning in the Assemblies: 1 Corinthians 14:34-35,” Discovering Biblical Equality, 165-6. Also, cf. Keener, Paul, Women and Wives, 82.

22 Keener, Paul, Women and Wives, 82.

23 Ibid., 170-1.

24 Belleville, Women Leaders and the Church, 118.

25 Ibid., 119-20.

26 Ibid., 125. Cf. also I. Howard Marshall, “Mutual Love and Submission in Marriage: Colossians 3:18-19 and Ephesians 5:21-33,” ed. ronald Pierce, Rebecca Groothuis, and Gordon Fee, Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity without hierarchy (Downers Grove, Illinois, and Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press and Apollos, 2005), 198-9.

27 Ibid., 125-6. Cf. also Marshall, “Mutual Love and Submission in Marriage: Colossians 3:18-19 and Ephesians 5:21-33,” Discovering Biblical Equality, 199. Marshall emphasizes the unusual support that the two analogies have to justify Paul’s instruction to the husbands to love their wives.

28 Keener, “Man and Woman,” Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, 587-8. Also, cf. Keener, Paul, Women and Wives, 140-1.

29 Ibid., 588.

30 Keener, Paul, Women and Wives, 167.

31 Keener, “Man and Woman,” Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, 588.

32 Marshall, “Mutual Love and Submission in Marriage: Colossians 3:18-19 and Ephesians 5:21-33,” Discovering Biblical Equality, 195-6.

33 Belleville, Women Leaders and the Church, 165.

34 Ibid., 168-70. Cf. also David Scholer, “1 Timothy 2:9-15 and the Place of Women in the Church’s Ministry,” ed. Alvera Mickelsen, Women, Authority & the Bible (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 199-200. His treatment agrees with Belleville’s.

35 Ibid., 172-3.

36 Ibid., 173-5.

37 Ibid., 175-6. Cf. also Linda Belleville, “Teaching and Usurping Authority: 1 Timothy 2:11-15,” ed. Ronald Pierce, Rebecca Groothuis, and Gordon Fee, Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity without hierarchy (Downers Grove, Illinois, and Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press and Apollos, 2005), 209-10. In this article, Belleville demonstrates by means of bullet lists the way the older and a few newer translations of 1 Timothy 2:12 render authentein, which is along the lines of “domineer.” On more information regarding authenteô, cf. Belleville,”Teaching and Usurping Authority: 1 Timothy 2:11-15,” Discovering Biblical Equality, 212-6. Cf. also Scholer, “1 Timothy 2:9-15 and the Place of Women in the Church’s Ministry,” Women, Authority & the Bible, 204-5, and Keener, “Man and Woman,” Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, 591.

38 Ibid., 176-7.

39 Ibid., 177.

40 Ibid., 177-9.

41 Scholer, “1 Timothy 2:9-15 and the Place of Women in the Church’s Ministry,” Women, Authority & the Bible, 196-8. Scholer notes that this concern is well-attested throughout the Pauline corpus.

42 Ibid., 200-2. Cf. also Keener, “Man and Woman,” Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, 590. Keener demonstrates the progression or development of Paul’s argument, ultimately emphasizing that both men and women were involved in contentious behavior. He reports that the women who were wearing the heads with their hair uncovered were possibly perceived by other women to be contentious and seductive, which led Paul to put an end to it.

43 Ibid., 202-4.

44 Ibid., 208. Cf. also Belleville, “Teaching and Usurping Authority: 1 Timothy 2:8-15,” Discovering Biblical Equality, 222. She points out that Eve was Adam’s partner and not his boss.

45 Ibid., 210-11.

46 It should be said that they would not argue that we should leave Paul’s instructions behind, back in the First Century A.D., but rather, that we should take Paul’s method for appealing to the cultural customs for evangelistic purposes and apply that to our specific situation today. Furthermore, they would also argue that we should take the principles behind his instructions and apply those to our lives today.

Psalm 63

About: this paper was delivered to Dr. Tony Petrotta at Fuller Theological Seminary during my second year for a class on the Exegesis of the Psalms.


Psalms is a wonderful prayer book. It is a collection of about 150 psalms in five sub-collections. Psalm 63 belongs to the second book within Psalms. It has been argued by some that Psalms was randomly assembled and created, but it seems that when considered as a whole there is a “rhyme and reason” to its order. The Psalms as a whole touch on a wide range of emotions. Indeed, there are several different kinds of psalms, such as praise, lament, imprecatory, royal, and ascent psalms. Praise psalms are those psalms that praise the Lord. Lament psalms express sorrow and pain. Imprecatory psalms seek divine retribution for wrong done. Royal psalms express the relationship between God and his chosen king. Songs of ascent psalms are those songs that were sung on the way up to Jerusalem. It seems that Psalm 63 follows in the footsteps of Psalms 1 and 2, and, although it is in general a praise psalm, it also has lament and royal elements.

Psalms 1 and 2 seem to be the thesis for the book of Psalms. Psalm 1 contains a strong wisdom motif in its worldview. It bears the idea that the righteous are those who delight in God and meditate on His law all throughout the day and on a daily basis. The wicked are contrasted with the righteous; they they do not last. Why? Because the Lord watches over the way of the righteous. Psalm 63 reflects this idea. The Lord is the help of the psalmist. In Psalm 1, the wicked perish. Psalm 63 bears this idea as well. Those who seek the life of the psalmist have death and misfortune.

Psalm 2 is a royal psalm. It bears the idea that the king is God’s chosen one, but he is conspired against by the other kings of the world. Psalm 63 has this idea of a king who is conspired against. But in Psalm 2, the Lord watches over His king and causes him to prosper. The same idea is in Psalm 63. The king is protected from lies and therefore he gives praise along with the people to whom it is due–God.

Psalms 1 and 2 set the tone for the whole book of Psalms, which is why Psalm 63 shares many similarities with them. Although not every psalm might have such a strong connection, the concepts are shared all throughout the book. It is as though the various psalms were assembled in a meaningful way, but they each interact and interpret each other. And what are the shared concepts? Psalms 1 and 2 instruct the readers to live under the rule and reign of God as they take refuge in him. The book of Psalms instruct the readers how to pray to, worship, and profess faith in God. Psalms teach the readers what it means to trust and live under God’s rule. Psalm 63 accomplishes just that. But even psalms like Psalm 137 accomplish the same goal. Psalm 137 instructs the reader how to grieve and seek revenge in trust of and submission to God’s rule. All of the psalms are theologically pertinent, and together they teach the reader how to approach God appropriately in prayer, worship, and life.

Since the Psalms are God’s instructions to those who follow him in submission to his reign and in trust and hope of his protection, we would do well to learn to pray them. The Psalms teach us how to pray in a variety of circumstances. Whether good or bad, God wants us to approach Him. But how? Sometimes we do not know how to come to God. The Psalms instruct us in all facets of life how to approach Him. The Psalms are able to teach us how to put trust in God and how to allow Him to be in control over our lives. When we approach the Psalms, we should be asking ourselves, “How does this psalm teach me to trust God? And how does this psalm teach me to submit to God’s rule?”

Exegesis of Psalm 63

Psalm 63:1

d¡Iw∂dVl rwñøm◊zIm – “a psalm of David.” This phrase could mean “a psalm to David.” This translation could mean two things. First, it could mean that the psalm is attributed to David as the author. Second, it could mean that the psalm is dedicated to David. But if the phrase should be rendered “a psalm of David,” then it would mean that David was the author. According to Amos Hakham, this psalm is likely reflecting on one of the times David was in the wilderness, which may or may not make David as the author. Jean Calvin took the psalm as David’s circumstantial vows. So which is it? Did David write it as Calvin thought or did someone else, which is a possibility as Hakham points out? The rest of the psalm will need to be considered in order to determine if David wrote it.

:há∂d…wh◊y r¶A;b√dImV;b w#øtwøyVhI;bŒ – “when he was in the wilderness of Judea.” These words have caused many scholars to see the psalm as a reflection upon David’s trips to the wilderness, thus connecting with 2 Samuel 16:14 or 1 Samuel 22-25. John Goldingay takes it as a connection with 2 Samuel 16:14 over and against 1 Samuel 22-25. But do these words have to be a geographical reference necessarily?

Robert Davidson suggests that the reference to the wilderness is a spiritual reference and not geographical. Since this psalm has been used in many different ways throughout the centuries, Davidson thinks that it must be a spiritual metaphor. If it were geographical, it would have been tied to a specific use. But the psalm has been diversely applied; a spiritual metaphor accounts for this diversity according to Davidson.

Was David the author? Was this psalm written by David concerning one of the times he was in the wilderness? Again, we will need to examine the rest of the psalm before we can determine if Davidic authorship is genuine, and if it was his own reflection on his time in the wilderness.

Psalm 63:2

yóîrDcVb ∞ÔKVl ;h∞AmD;k y#IvVpÅn —°ÔKVl hWDaVmDx D;Kñ®rQSjAvà≈a h#D;tAa y¶IlEa —My§IhølTa – “God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you, my flesh yearns for you.” D;Kñ®rQSjAvà≈a occurs only twice in this form throughout the entire Hebrew Bible. It is the piel imperfect first common singular form of the root rjv. What is the dot for? The dot in the end of the verb, located in the K, is a daghesh forte that strengthens the consonant. hWDaVmDx occurs only twice in this form throughout the entire Hebrew Bible. It is the qal perfect third feminine singular form of amx. h∞AmD;k is a hapax legomena (meaning, it only occurs once in this form in the entire Hebrew Bible). It is the qal perfect third masculine singular form from the root ;hmk. The dot in the beginning of the verb is a daghesh lene. It hardens the k.

The phrase “you are my God” is not consistently rendered in all of the commentators’ translations. Dahood, for example, has “my God, for you I long,” whereas Davidson has “you are my God.” The cantillation marks indicate that h#D;tAa belongs with y¶IlEa and not D;Kñ®rQSjAvà≈a. Dahood’s translation is interesting, but all things considered, it is also incorrect.

D;Kñ®rQSjAvà≈a is an important verb as it sets the tone for the rest of the phrase. It bears the idea of seeking with eagerness, as related to waiting for the dawn. Calvin translated it accordingly: “Early will I seek [you].” The word is regularly used for looking for the dawn, but in this context it is translated as “seek” with the idea of longing. The psalmist is saying that he longs for God. But this longing is in the imperfect form. The force of this form is incomplete action. In this case, the longing is continual and should be translated as a present form (“I seek”).

The phrase “my soul thirsts for you, my flesh yearns for you” is an additional expression of longing. According to Goldingay, “soul” refers to the being as a whole, specifically a being who longs and desires, while “flesh” refers to the physical being. Sometimes “soul” can be understood in connection with thirst as a reference to the seat of thirst. The psalmist is desiring God as a person desires water when thirsty. The psalmist is saying, “I am thirsty for you, God.” Furthermore, “yearn” is to be faint with longing. The physical psalmist is faint with desire for God.

This seeking motif is the psalmist’s way of expressing a holistic approach to adoration. The psalmist is basically saying, “I yearn for you with all my emotions and all my limbs.” This longing is quite expressive, and it seems to be an important theme for the psalm.

:Mˆy`Dm_yIlV;b P∞EyDo◊w h™D¥yIx_X®r`RaV;b – “in dry and weary land without water.” Syriac manuscripts have “as” instead of “in.” Symmachus’ Greek translation has “as.” This Greek text may be relying on the Syriac, or perhaps it was perceiving the V;b in the same way as the Syriac manuscripts. V;b can be translated as “as.” Therefore, the variants are explained by the V;b. The V;b is the more likely reading as it is more difficult than V;k, and it accounts for the “as” reading in Symmachus’ Greek translation as well.

This phrase is the reference that connects vv. 1 and 2. The question remains: is this a reference to a geographical location or is this a reference to a spiritual setting? Before we answer this question, we should consider the rest of this psalm.

Psalm 63:3

ÔKy¡ItyˆzSj v®dêO;qA;b NE;kœ – “So I saw you in the holy place.” The verb “I saw” is in the perfect form. The force of the perfect is completed action. Calvin took it as a completed action: “Thus in the sanctuary have I beheld [you].” But the perfect is not always completed action. Dahood took this phrase as a request: “So in your sanctuary may I gaze on you.” Which is it? A request or a reflection? Since the psalm later speaks of blessing God as a result of what had happened, the context suggests that this perfect form is completed action, not a request, and should be understood as a reflection. The psalmist is reflecting on his experience from when he saw God in the holy place or sanctuary.

:ÔKá®dwøbVk…w #ÔK◊ΩzUoŒ twñøa√rIl – “to see your might and your glory.” The psalmist was defining what he saw in the sanctuary when he said this phrase. twñøa√rIl is an infinitive construct stating attendant circumstance and should be translated as “beholding.” This phrase is a reference to the Temple where God’s power and glory are manifested. According to Davidson, this psalm was written in the context of corporate worship. This phrase does support his position. It should be noted that this position does imply that David was not the author of the psalm. David would not have written a psalm that reflected on a visit to the Temple, which was constructed after his life.

Psalm 63:4

:ÔK◊n…wájV;bAv◊y y¶AtDpVc MyGˆ¥yAj`Em ÔK√;dVsAjœ bwâøf_yI;k – “For your lovingkindness is better than life, my lips praise you.” ÔK◊n…wájV;bAv◊y is a hapax legomena. It is the piel imperfect third masculine plural form of jbv.

Here the psalmist continues his thoughts on the adoration of God. He reflects on the glory of God and how His lovingkindness is better than life. A couple of things should be stated about this phrase. First, “lovingkindness” does not entirely grasp the concept of the Hebrew word. dsj is a very important word in Hebrew. It bears the idea of lovingkindness, but it also bears the idea of community, faithfulness, loyalty, kindness, grace, and favor. In this case, the Brown-Driver-Briggs (BDB) lexicon translates dsj as “good.” This translation is insufficient. It lacks the distinct flavor of a very rich word. In order to help preserve the word’s meaning, we will leave it untranslated as we emphasize the rich depth of dsj.

Second, this phrase is difficult to understand. What does it mean that the Lord’s dsj is better than life? The word for life is a participle; the context requires that the verb stand as a noun. We have translated it as “life” and not “living.” The psalmist is comparing life with the Lord’s dsj. Since dsj is a rich term, it recalls back to mind the Lord’s faithfulness and tender-care for His chosen people, Israel. The psalmist is saying that the Lord’s faithfulness to His people is better than sustained life.

The phrase “my lips praise you” has an imperfect form for the verb. The force of the verb is incomplete action. Incomplete action does not necessarily mean that it bears the idea of future action; it could be present tense. In this case, the context suggests that the phrase is in response to the comparison already made. The lips praise as a result of the Lord’s incomparable dsj.

Psalm 63:5

y¡D¥yAjVb ∞ÔKVk®rDbSa N∞E;k – “So I bless you in my life.” Goldingay takes ∞ÔKVk®rDbSa as “I will worship you.” However, BDB supports “bless” instead of “worship.” Goldingay uses the future to translate the imperfect form here. But this is the only instance he seems to use the future. Everywhere else in his translation he uses the present. Why change here? The context suggests a present translation. The psalmist blesses the Lord because of His dsj.

:y`DÚpAk a¶DÚcRa ÔKVmIvV;bŒ – “in your name I lift up my hands.” The psalmist talks of lifting up his hands. The lifting of hands was an ancient custom, in which praying was done with hands pointed towards heaven. As Calvin noted, this is not a reference to praising the Lord, but rather, it is a reference to praying and vowing.

Psalm 63:6

y¡IvVpÅn o∞A;bVcI;t NRv®dÎw∑ bRl∞Ej wôømV;k – “As with fat and fatness my soul is satisfied.” Here we have figurative language, and it is difficult to translate. bRl∞Ej does mean “fat.” In this case, it is the “fat of beasts for food.” Its counterpart NRv®dÎw∑ also means “fat.” It may be a reference to “fatness” or “fertility.” These two words need to be understood together. Calvin translated them as “morrow and fatness.” His translation does not quite convey the meaning of these two words together. Goldingay translates them together in this way: “As with a rich feast.” Hakham takes these words together as a contrast with “thirst” from the beginning of the psalm, for the language calls to mind pleasant, rich, nutritious fluids. The language notes that the psalmist has found satisfaction. We can conclude that Goldingay’s translation is satisfactory, since the language gives the idea of being rich in nutrition.

:y`IÚp_lR;lAh◊y twGønÎn√rŒ y¶EtVpIc◊w – “and with joyful lips my mouth praises.” twGønÎn√rŒ is a hapax legomena. It is the feminine plural form of hÎnÎn√r.

The psalmist declares that he will praise God with his mouth. His lips are joyful. This phrase implies physical satisfaction that inspired songs of praise as at a sacrificial meal when songs are sung. This indicates that in the psalmist’s viewpoint closeness comes through the sacrificial system.

Psalm 63:7

y¡Do…wx◊y_lAo ÔKy¶I;t√rAk◊z_MIa – “When I remembered you upon my bed.” While MIa would normally be translated “if,” in this case it has the sense of “when” or “as often.” We could render y¡Do…wx◊y_lAo as “upon my couch,” but, given the context, “upon my bed” is a much more suitable translation.

:JK`D;b_h‰…gVhRa tw#ørUmVvAaV;bŒ – “in the night watch I meditate on you.” tw#ørUmVvAaV;bŒ is a hapax legomena. It has the preposition ;Vb prefix and it is the feminine plural form of h∂r…wmVvAa.

tw#ørUmVvAaV;bŒ is plural. Hakham suggests that it is a plural of emphasis, implying that the psalmist meditates on God for the entire night. h‰…gVhRa is the imperfect form, which has the force of incomplete action. It could be future, but it could be present. The verb itself has the idea of making noises. Whether it means to mutter, coo, plan, or ponder, it is clear that some sort of noise is indicated. Goldingay translates it in this way: “in the night watches I talk about you.” But Goldingay concedes that the talking “is the kind of quiet talking within oneself that one does in the night on one’s bed.” This audible sound is one that can only be heard by the one who is “talking.” It is not future action. It is current action that is not yet completed. It is ongoing.

Psalm 63:8

y¡I;l hDtâ∂r◊zRo Dty∞IyDh_y`I;k – “For you were a help to me.” hDtâ∂r◊zRo occurs only three times in this form throughout the entire Hebrew Bible. It has the directional h suffix and it is the feminine singular form of h∂r◊zRo.

The psalmist is meditating in the middle of the night on what the Lord was to him. The Lord was his help.

:N`E…nårSa ÔKy∞RpÎnV;k l™ExVb…w – “and in the shadow of your wings I will shout for joy.” l™ExVb…w occurs only three times in this form throughout the entire Hebrew Bible. It has two prefix additions. First, it has the conjunctive w. This letter is pronounced as a shureq (…w) in order to make the pronunciation easier between the w and the b. Second, it has the preposition ;Vb. It is the masculine singular construct form of lEx.

Commentators do not seem to agree on the meaning of “shadow of your wings.” Davidson suggests that it is a reference to the Temple cherubim in the Ark of the Covenant that symbolizes God’s presence with his people and his protection over them. Calvin took it as a reference to the Lord’s protection without any connection to the cherubim. What is particularly interesting is that Hakham, already noting that the Temple is in view earlier on in the psalm, does not see this phrase as a reference to the cherubim, the Ark of the Covenant, or the Temple, but instead, he sees it as a metaphor that compares trust in God to a fledgling bird who hides beneath its mother’s wings. Since the psalmist has said that God was a help to him, the idea of trust seems favorable. Then again, so does protection. But the metaphor of the mother bird has in view both trust in God and God’s protection, as do the cherubim, which themselves are a metaphor. The decision is difficult, but given that the context concerns the Temple, it is likely that Temple imagery is being alluded to here.

Psalm 63:9

ÔKyó®rSjAa y∞IvVpÅn hâ∂qVb∂;d – “My soul clung after you.” hâ∂qVb∂;d is an important word here. It reflects Deuteronomy 13:5, in which the people are to cleave to the Lord. This is the same word used of Ruth when she refused to be separated from Naomi (Ruth 1:4), and it is also used of a man clinging to his wife (Genesis 2:24). It is the perfect form, and as such the force of the verb is completed action. It should be translated “clung” or “has clung.” The word itself is figurative of loyalty and affection while keeping in close physical proximity. According to Davidson, the psalmist is essentially saying that God has a firm grip on him and will not let go. Davidson’s interpretation is good when the next phrase of the verse is considered. But this phrase itself seems to note loyalty to God and not the other way around. The psalmist is declaring that his soul has clung to God and will not let go. It is not until the next phrase that we find out that God also has a firm grip on the psalmist.

:ÔK`RnyIm◊y h¶DkVmD;t y#I;bŒ – “your right hand firmly grasped onto me.” In the former phrase, there was the idea of sticking or clinging. Did that idea come through in this new phrase? Goldingay does not have “firmly grasped,” but instead has “upheld.” Hakham also translates h¶DkVmD;t as “support.” Calvin translated it as “sustain,” which has the idea of supporting, and it also fits well with the sustenance motif from the beginning of the psalm. Dahood translated it as “grasp.” However, the majority of the commentators do not translate it in the way that Dahood did.

Yet, Dahood’s translation seems to be more desirable for a couple of reasons. First, Hebrew poetry likes balance. By translating h¶DkVmD;t as “grasp,” the two phrases become parallel with each other and attain balance. The psalmist would be reflecting on a reciprocal relationship with the Lord. As the psalmist clings to God, God firmly holds onto the psalmist. Second, by using “sustain,” or something like it, the construction of the phrase has to be ignored. y#I;bŒ is overlooked in order to use “sustain.” But y#I;bŒ seems to be rather significant, since it is in the beginning of the phrase when it would normally be found at the end of the clause. There seems to be a major problem with leaving y#I;bŒ out of the translation in order to use “support.” Dahood’s translation seems preferable.

Psalm 63:10

y¡IvVpÅn …wâvVqAb◊y hDawøvVlœ hD;m#Eh◊w – “But they seek to ruin my soul.” The conjunction ◊w marks off a stark contrast. The psalmist seeks the Lord. These men do not seek the Lord, but rather, they seek the psalmist’s life. “Seek” is not the same word here as in the beginning of the psalm. …wâvVqAb◊y is the piel imerfect form of vqb. In this context, vqb means “to seek to take one’s life.” As stated before, yIvVpÅn represents the person as a whole. The psalmist is saying that there are people who seek to destroy him, which stands in stark contrast to his own seeking.

:X®r`DaDh twñø¥yI;tVjAt`V;b …wa#øbÎyŒ – “they come to the lowest parts of the earth.” X®r`DaDh twñø¥yI;tVjAt`V;b is a hapax legomena. This construct chain occurs nowhere else in the Hebrew Bible. The first noun has the preposition ;Vb prefix and it is the feminine plural construct form of yI;tVjA;t. The second noun has the definite article Dh. The article has a qamets instead of a pathach due to compensatory lengthening, since the a cannot take a daghesh forte. The noun is the feminine singular absolute form of X®rRa.

Is the psalmist saying that the people who seek to destroy him will stop at nothing and will search for him even unto ends of the earth? Or is he stating something else? According to Dahood, the psalmist is making a reference to the netherworld. Goldingay suggests that it is a reference to Sheol. Tate sees this phrase as an indication that the enemies will die a premature death and enter the netherworld as the outcome of their efforts. However, the text does not indicate that they would die prematurely; it affirms only that their end result will be death. “The lowest parts of the earth” is figurative, but in what sense? Is it figurative simply for death or for the afterlife in Sheol? Evidence is inconclusive, so we will not consider it further. What we should consider is the translation of …wa#øbÎyŒ.

Is the imperfect verb …wa#øbÎyŒ stating a future event, or is it a request? The former would be translated “they will go,” and the latter would be translated “may they go.” Robert Alter translates it as a request. Martin Rozenberg and Bernard Zlotowitz translate it as a request, although they have “let them go” instead of “may they go.” Goldingay translates it neither as a future nor as a request, but rather, as a present: “But they . . . go.” In keeping with the balance of the verse, it seems that Goldingay has the more suitable translation. The first verb of the verse is also an imperfect, and it is translated as a present continuous action: “they seek” or “they are seeking.” Balance indicates that …wa#øbÎyŒ should be translated in a similar fashion.

Psalm 63:11

b®r¡Dj_yéd◊y_lAo …whñüryˆ…gÅy – “they poured him upon the power of a sword.” …whñüryˆ…gÅy is a hapax legomena. It has the third person masculine singular pronominal suffix …wh and it is the hifil perfect third masculine plural form of the root rgn. The n assimilates into the g as a daghesh forte, which is why it does not appear in this form.

This phrase is difficult to interpret for three reasons. First, what is a good translation of yéd◊y? Although “hand of” would be a literal translation of this dual construct noun, “power of” is preferable. The language is figurative, for a sword does not have hands. This word can be translated as “power” when it is used figuratively.

Second, who or what is being poured upon the sword? Tate suggests that it is the psalmist. The people seeking his life want to kill him, and so they want to pour him upon a sword. Rozenberg and Zlotowitz suggest that …whñüryˆ…gÅy is passive, translating it “May they be split apart by the sword.” In this case, the “who” are the ones seeking the psalmist’s life. But can the singular third person masculine pronominal suffix be collective? Goldingay suggests that the language is strictly metaphorical and is a reference to pouring water or blood onto the ground.

Third, in what sense is the imperfect being used? Is it future, is it a request, or is it a present verb? Goldingay takes it as present as a balance between vv. 10 and 11. Tate takes it as a future of possibility, translating it in this way: “Those who would hand over.”

Although it is difficult, we can at least come up with a working hypothesis and offer a good translation of the phrase. We have already noted that “power of” is a good translation of the figurative use of yéd◊y. It seems that the singular form of the suffix rules out water or blood being poured onto the ground, for both water and blood are plural forms in Hebrew. The suffix must be a reference to the psalmist. And what of the imperfect? It seems as though it is a present continuous form. The people seeking his life are handing him over to the sword, which is another way of saying that they are trying to kill him. The phrase stands parallel to the previous verse, and therefore the imperfects from v. 10 indicate that the imperfect here in v. 11 should be translated as a present.

:…wáyVhˆy My∞IlDoUv t™DnVm – “they are a portion for foxes.” The psalmist declares that the people seeking to destroy him are a portion for foxes. Foxes are those animals that eat the decaying flesh of dead animals. He is saying that their end is death, but their bodies are left for the animals to feed upon, which was considered an awful tragedy.

The imperfect form …wáyVhˆy here can be future, present, or a request. Goldingay translates it as a present. Tate translates it as a future. Alter translates it as a request. But, in keeping with the use of the balance of vv. 10 and 11, we should translate …wáyVhˆy as a present tense, “they are,” as Goldingay does.

Psalm 63:12

wóø;b o∞D;bVvˆ…nAh_lD;k lE;lAhVtˆy∑ My¶IhQølaE;b jºAmVcˆy JKRlR;mAh◊w – “but the king rejoices in God, all who swear to him praise.” My¶IhQølaE;b jºAmVcˆy is a hapax legomena. The first word is the qal imperfect, third masculine singular form of jmc. The second word has the preposition ;Vb prefix and it is the masculine plural form of MyIhølTa. o∞D;bVvˆ…nAh_lD;k is a hapax legomena. The first word in the chain is the preposition lD;k. The preposition is attached to the second word by a maqqef. The second word is a participle with the definite article prefix. The participle is the nifal masculine singular form of obv.

The psalmist is contrasting the king with the people who sought to ruin him. The imperfect, just as before, can be future, present, or a request. We will keep the balance of the previous verses, as does Goldingay, by translating the verb jºAmVcˆy as “he rejoices.” However, the imperfect is not the main problem at this point. The focus for the interpreter is on “swear.” Who is doing the swearing and to whom are they swearing?

The psalmist has shifted in this phrase to the third person. He refers to himself as “the king.” The first clause of this phrase stops before the hithpael verb lE;lAhVtˆy. Is “the king” still in view when the psalmist writes, “All who swear to him praise” (italics mine)? Are the people swearing to the king, or are they swearing to God? Goldingay suggests that it is the king who is sworn to. Hakham suggests that it is God who is sworn to. Since the king is the subject in the first clause of this phrase, it seems most suitable that the king is also the object of the second clause. It is as though the people are joining the king in praising and rejoicing. Goldingay suggests that the “in God” of the first first clause of this phrase is implicit in the second clause as the object of the praise, while “the king” carries over as the object of the swearing.

:r®q`Dv_yérVbwíød y∞IÚp r#EkD;sˆyŒ y¶I;k – “for the lips of the ones who speak falsely are shut up.” r#EkD;sˆyŒ is a hapax legomena. It is the nifal imperfect third masculine singular of rks.

The imperfect here is treated as a present in order to keep the balance of the verse. Goldingay uses the present to translate this imperfect, as does Alter. The people praise God because the lips of those who speak lies are shut closed. False speakers are stopped from speaking, and therefore the people have reason to rejoice. God is seen as the one who stops their lips from speaking lies, which is why he is praised by the king and his people.

Theological Implications of Psalm 63

How does Psalm 63 teach us to trust God, and how does it teach us to submit to his rule? Psalm 63 is in keeping with the theological tone of Psalms 1 and 2: God reigns and we should trust him. Before we answer these questions, however, we should consider whether or not David was the author of Psalm 63.

The language of Psalm 63 alludes to the sacrificial system of the Temple. As such, David is not likely the actual author. The words of verse 1 like are an attribution to David as a possible scenario of how this psalm could have been used or applied. The psalms have been used in a diverse way throughout the centuries, and Psalm 63 is no exception. It was used by the early Greek church for their introductory psalm for Sunday morning worship and by other church traditions for the Eucharist due to the “feast” motif. Scholars today question whether it was used for the great Jerusalem festival at the Temple before the exile, for a night vigil at the Temple, or for the king in some fashion or another. Time has demonstrated the flexibility of the psalm. It does not need to be tied down to a specific event to be understood or useful. The “wilderness” language itself is spiritually and theologically significant. It is under spiritually dry times that one finds renewal, much like the Hebrews did when they were in the wilderness after leaving Egypt. Those who find themselves in a similar situation can look to Psalm 63 without referencing David or his time in the wilderness. By understanding this psalm without attaching it to David, the wilderness language becomes much more meaningful. It is best to keep them separate.

Psalm 63 teaches us to trust in God’s support. The Lord’s support is clearly highlighted in the word dsj. The Lord is seen as faithful, gracious, and loving in this one word. His dsj is better than life itself. It represents His support by his mighty hand. It represents his protection. Trust in God comes when we reflect on His dsj–his support, protection, and help. The one who trusts in Him sincerely desires for Him. He or she longs to be satisfied by God, so much so that there is a physical passion and a spiritual thirst for Him. This search for satisfaction is highlighted through meditation throughout the night. John Chrysostom said of this psalm that we should at the very least remember God while on our beds and in the morning meditate on Him. It also involves intense and intentional sticking to God, which results in glorifying and worshipping God through songs of praise and rejoicing.

Psalm 63 teaches us also to submit to God’s rule by letting him be our protection. But if the Lord is our protection, then he is also the one who takes divine retribution on our behalf. As he keeps us safe, he also brings our enemies down and brings dread upon them. It involves relying on God as our help. He will help us by taking care of us and by dealing rightly with those who seek to do us harm.


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Rozenberg, Martin, and Zlotowitz, Bernard. The Book of Psalms: A new translation and commentary. Northvale, New Jersey, and Jerusalem: Jason Aronson Inc., 1999.

Tate, Marvin. Word Biblical Commentary: Psalms 51-100. 59 volumes. John Watts et al, eds. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1990.

Clinton McCann, Jr., A Theological Introduction to the Book of Psalms: The Psalms as torah (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1993), 48.

McCann, A Theological Introduction to the Book of Psalms, 49.

Amos Hakham, The Bible: Psalms with the Jerusalem Commentary, vol. 2 (Jerusalem: Mosad Harav Kook), 38.

Jean Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries: Joshua and the Psalms, vol. 2, translated by Henry Veveridge (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Associated Publishers and Authors, Inc), 579.

John Goldingay, Psalms, vol. 2, Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms, Tremper Longman III., ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 254-63.

Robert Davidson, The Vitality of Worship: A commentary on the book of Psalms (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Cambridge, U.K., and Edinburgh: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company and the Handsel Press Ltd, 1998), 198.

Mitchell Dahood, Psalms II: 51-100, the Anchor Bible (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1968), 98.

Davidson, The Vitality of Worship, 198.

Ibid., 199.

Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, 2:579.

Francis Brown, S. Driver, and Charles Briggs, The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon: With an appendix containing the biblical Aramaic (BDB), based on the lexicon of William Gesenius, as translated by Edward Robinson, and edited with constant reference to the thesaurus of Gesenius as completed by E. Rödiger, and with authorizes use of the German editions of Gesenius’ Handwörterbuch über das Alte Testament, reprint (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1906), 1007.

Goldingay, Psalms, 2:257.

BDB, 660.

Ibid., 484.

Hakham, The Bible, 2:38.

Marvin Tate, Word Biblical Commentary: Psalms 51-100, vol. 20, John Watts et al, eds. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1990), 124, referencing Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar (GKC), edited and enlarged by E. Kautzsch, revised by A. E. Cowley, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983), 119i.

Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, 2:579.

Dahood, Psalms II, 95.

GKC, 114o.

Hakham, The Bible, 2:39.

Davidson, The Vitality of Worship, 119.

BDB, 339.

Goldingay, Psalms, 2:258.


BDB, 139.

Hakham, The Bible, 2:40.

Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, 2:581.

BDB, 316.

Ibid., 206.

Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, 2:581.

Goldingay, Psalms, 2:259.

Hakham, The Bible, 2:40.


Goldingay, Psalms, 2:259.

Tate, Word Biblical Commentary, 20:124.

Hakham, The Bible, 2:40.

BDB, 211.

Goldingay, Psalms, 2:259.

Ibid., 260.

Davidson, The Vitality of Worship, 200.

Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, 2:582.

Hakham, The Bible, 2:41.


Davidson, The Vitality of Worship, 200.

BDB, 179.

Davidson, The Vitality of Worship, 200.

Goldingay, Psalms, 2:260.

Hakham, The Bible, 2:41.

Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, 2:581.

Dahood, Psalms II, 95.

Ibid., 100.

BDB, 134.

Dahood, Psalms II, 95.

Goldingay, Psalms, 2:261.

Tate, Word Biblical Commentary, 20:128.

Robert Alter, The Book of Psalms: A translation with commentary (New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2007), 217.

Martin Rozenberg and Bernard Zlotowitz, The Book of Psalms: A new translation and commentary (Northvale, New Jersey, and Jerusalem: Jason Aronson Inc., 1999), 376.

Goldingay, Psalms, 2:261.

William Holladay, A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, based upon the lexical work of Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1971), 128.

Tate, Word Biblical Commentary, 20:128.

Rozenberg and Zlotowitz, The Book of Psalms, 377.

Goldingay, Psalms, 2:262.

Ibid., 261.

Tate, Word Biblical Commentary, 20:123.

Ibid., 128.

Goldingay, Psalms, 2:261.

Tate, Word Biblical Commentary, 20:123.

Alter, The Book of Psalms, 217.

Goldingay, Psalms, 2:262.


Hakham, The Bible, 2:42.

Goldingay, Psalms, 2:262.

Goldingay, Psalms, 2:262.

Alter, The Book of Psalms, 218.

Goldingay, Psalms, 2:262.

Davidson, The Vitality of Worship, 198.

John Chrysostom, On the Epistle to the Hebrews, NPNF 1 14:437 (Buffalo: Christian Literature, 1887-1894), reprint (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1952-1956), reprint (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson, 1994), Querstin F. Wesselschmidt et al, eds. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Old Testament, vol. 8 (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2007), 55.

Goldingay, Psalms, 2:263.

Letter from Birmingham Jail: A reflection of the broader cultural context

About: this paper was delivered to Dr. Scott Lupo at Fuller Theological Seminary during my second year for a class on American Church History.


The voice of the African American community was muted for many years. Segregation suppressed the voice as it oppressed the community and stripped them of freedom. But when the likes of Martin Luther King Jr. rolled around, and when African Americans gained a new sense of dignity, they decided to stand up, or, in many cases, sit down, for their right to freedom.

King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail reflected the African American desire for freedom in the middle of the twentieth century. We will look at the African American Revolution—the events that led up to the arrests in Birmingham starting in the middle of the 1950s—and we will examine King’s letter, so that we might see how his letter reflected the broader cultural context and responded to inner struggles from within the church. To the African American Revolution we now turn.

The African American Revolution emerged in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Weary of waiting for the strategies of associations like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), African Americans took heart and with great courage protested for their freedom. They marched, picketed, went to jail, and suffered harm, pain and inhumane acts for their cause. Direct action, not indirect research, arguments, or politics, was their tool.1 But what precisely was it that they were fighting?

Jim Crow was a set of customs that marked African Americans off from whites. It would not only segregate African Americans, but it would also require them to live in a demeaning way. Not only would they be required to ride in separate railroad cars when taking the train, they would also have to move aside on sidewalks as whites passed them by. Failure to adhere to these customs resulted in insults, beatings or lynchings.2

Jim Crow caused unsuitable living conditions for African Americans. Colin Powell talked about not being permitted to use the bathroom at a gas station in Woodbridge, Virginia, on a trip from Massachusetts to North Carolina back in 1962 for a military training exercise. He said that he had to pull off to the side of the road so he and his wife could relieve themselves in the woods.3 Not only did Jim Crow create poor living conditions, but it also created a horrible public life for African Americans, too.

Laws were extensive and extreme when it came to segregation. There were laws for nearly every aspect of public life, strictly separating African Americans from whites “on streetcars, buses, and railroads; in schools; in waiting rooms, restaurants, hotels, boardinghouses, theaters, cemeteries, parks, courtrooms, public toilets, drinking fountains, and every other public space.”4 Some states went to extreme lengths to enforce segregation: “Oklahoma required separate telephone booths for the two races; Florida and North Carolina made it illegal to give white pupils textbooks that had previously been used by black students.”5 Jim Crow made life miserable economically as well.

African Americans were significantly poorer than whites. One of the main reasons for their poverty was because they were only offered the most menial positions, positions that whites would not take. African Americans were treated as second-class citizens who were only suitable for fieldwork, cooking, laundry, collecting garbage, and other similar tasks.6 Life was certainly hard for African Americans, especially so when the United States Supreme Court seemed to agree with segregation.

Before the twentieth century, the court system was unfavorable for African Americans. The Civil Rights Act of 1875, which prohibited discrimination in public accommodations, was overturned by the Supreme Court in 1883 and sanctioned laws of segregation.7 Furthermore, the Supreme Court ruled in 1896 that the states were required to provide for African Americans equal accommodations as that of the whites. This idea is simply stated, “Separate but equal.”8 Segregation was the reality for African Americans. But what did this reality mean for them?

With segregation as the reality, African Americans were practically considered second-class citizens. Although states were required to accommodate them, what was actually provided was far inferior than what was given to the whites. African Americans continually found themselves at a disadvantage.9

African Americans were disadvantaged by several factors, some of which we have already mentioned. African Americans suffered economic, public, and health disadvantages. But that is not all. Not only were African Americans struggling with poor public accommodations, they were also suffering from poor legal accommodations as well. Legal protection was nonexistent. In fact, it was corrupt. African Americans were being lynched, and those who were involved in the violent acts were protected by white supremacists who ruled the court system.10 However, the courts did not remain corrupt, and in the middle of the twentieth century, things began to change.

In 1955, the Supreme Court overruled the 1896 ruling regarding the “separate but equal” doctrine, saying that it contradicts the Fourteenth Amendment. This decision was motivated by the NAACP who’s subdivision for legal affairs presented their argument that education was not “separate but equal” for African Americans.11 At about this time, the African American community started to stand up, or, in several cases, sit down, for their freedom. One of the major victories was a boycott that started with the arrest of Rosa Parks.

In December of 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested for disturbing the peace. She had refused to move from her seat on a bus when her seat was redesignated “whites only.” The NAACP used this event as an opportunity to fight segregation in the transportation system. They developed the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) in order to spread word in the African American community about a planned boycott on the bus system. Martin Luther King Jr. was made the president of the MIA. This association was able to sustain the boycott for an entire year.12

What ought to be noted from this boycott was the attitude of the one the event started with—Rosa Parks. Contrary to popular thought, she was not physically tired. She was in her early forties. If she was tired, then she was tired of being mistreated. Rosa Parks was purposefully disobeying the bus driver in order to make a statement. She was tired of giving in to the outrageous laws. She decided to take a stand, or, more precisely, a seat.13 This sort of action was a nonviolent response to oppression. This idea was what the boycott was all about. Nonviolent response was still action, and it was the main tool that Martin Luther King Jr. was to use throughout the Civil Rights Movement. But he was not always a purely a supporter nonviolent direct action.

Prior to January of 1956, Martin Luther King was attracted to nonviolent resistance, but he still had his ties with violence. He kept a gun at home and had armed guards protect his house. He severed his violent ties when his wife and infant daughter became victims of violence on January 30, 1956. A stick of dynamite exploded on his front porch, but no one was hurt. However, when King arrived at home, he came to a situation in which the African Americans in the community were ready to go to battle with the whites. Realizing that they were outnumbered, King decided that the battle would have to be a nonviolent one for pragmatic reasons. Nonviolence would give them the moral high ground for battling in court, and it would help prevent needless loss of lives. He urged the community to love their enemies and “meet hate with love.”14 Nonviolence was much more to King than meeting hatred with love, however. He had deep philosophical reasons for utilizing it as opposed to violent reaction.

King’s goal for nonviolence was for reconciliation, not bitterness or humiliation. He wanted peace, not domination. He felt that violence was a reaction against circumstances that seek to humiliate one’s enemy. But King was not looking to destroy his enemy. He was looking to join with his enemy in community. In his eyes, nonviolence was the means for reaching this goal.15 But in the face of harsh adversity, would nonviolent action work?

The states of the south disregarded the rulings of the Supreme Court and heavily put nonviolent action to the test. In March of 1956, the southern states declared that the Supreme Court’s decision a year earlier was a breach of states’ rights. They justified keeping Jim Crow since it would help prevent rioting and violence.16 In the south, cruelty was there to stay. But there seemed to be some hope. The boycott in Montgomery and the Park’s case seemed to gain some ground.

In November of 1956, the Supreme Court ruled in Park’s case, ordering Alabama to desegregate the transportation system. Montgomery complied, and the MIA called off the strike. Other cities attempted the same tactic, and a few succeeded. Birmingham, however, was met with violent opposition by bombing the home of one of the ministers, Fred Shuttlesworth.17 Focus shifted from Montgomery to Albany, where King was not met with the same success.

In November of 1961, the African American community started a series of demonstrations in Albany, Georgia, in which Martin Luther King was involved. He was arrested along with many other African Americans, but since he had strong political support and connections, he was released under the promise that certain reforms would be made by the city officials. However, the city made no changes, and the demonstration had little effect.18

When the demonstrations in Albany did not help, King turned to Birmingham. In February of 1963, African Americans marched in protest, organized sit-ins, and urged for voter registration rights in Birmingham. Hundreds were arrested, including King.19

King was placed in solitary confinement. He had a narrow cell with a bunk bed, but no mattress. He was not given the opportunity to call his wife or attorney. A couple of days after being booked, two attorneys visited him briefly. The following day, King found out his bail had bee raised by his friend Harry Belafonte. Then the day after, he was finally able to contact his wife, whom had been working to contact the President. President Kennedy had opened up the case to the media so that the whole nation was focused on how King was being treated.20

During his time at the Birmingham jail, King wrote a letter. The letter was a response to eight white religious leaders who had written King a public letter through the newspaper. Just as African Americans were unwilling to tolerate injustice any longer, King also was unwilling to let them have the last word; he responded and defended his position against their statements.21 We will now look at the development and argument of the letter.

King saw himself as a prophet and as a missionary. He thought that he was delivering unwanted messages amidst an oppressive and violent people just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. had done in villages that were not their own. He thought that he was delivering good news and was spreading the gospel just as the Apostle Paul had done.22 Indeed, King was not welcomed by all. He was rejected by many, and he was even stabbed by an old African American woman before his time in Birmingham’s jail.23

King was aware that what happened in one area affected all the other areas. He stated, “Whatever affects one [community] directly, affects all [communities] indirectly.”24 If injustice existed in one community, then it threatened justice in all the other communities.25 For this reason, King felt it necessary to confront injustice in Birmingham by using nonviolent direct action, which had worked in Montgomery.

The religious leaders that wrote to King basically stated that they did not like the nonviolent demonstrations. King responded by critiquing them. They were concerned with the demonstrations, but they were not concerned about the circumstances that birthed the demonstrations.26 As was made plain earlier, injustice in the corrupt court system, failed protection in the communities, broken promises by government officials, and disappointments all around left the African American community in a disadvantage that left no alternative but to resort to nonviolent direct action.27

The nonviolent direct action was directed towards merchants. The African American community was going to force merchants to recognize the need for change by making their pocket books suffer.28 The bus boycott in Montgomery achieved this goal to a certain extent, although the victory was won in the courts instead, but the concept there was the same concept in Birmingham. King stated, “Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.”29 It was time for the African American community to receive the attention that they were due. This movement towards negotiation could only be achieved by pressure. Pressure and tension were necessary in order to bring the issue to the forefront.30 It was imperative that the issue be dealt with, because the condition of African Americans could no longer be ignored. They were not willing to wait any longer for the freedom that was due to them. King wrote about the atrocity of segregation, of how mothers and fathers were killed, sisters and brothers were drowned, and African Americans were denied the ability to access essentials for sustaining life.31 He was reflecting on the cruel code of Jim Crow, which we discussed earlier. Under these conditions and codes, King and the rest of the African American community could not wait. They had to take action.

The religious leaders were likely to have asked, “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” King told his congregation to obey the laws, but here he was getting arrested for disturbing the peace. If they did ask such a question, they already had their answer. King anticipated this question and dealt with it in the letter.

King saw a difference between just laws and unjust laws. Just laws are humanly constructed codes that align themselves with the moral law of God. Unjust laws are codes that fall out of line with the moral law. Any law that degrades the soul is unjust; segregation is unjust because it degrades the soul. Therefore, in his mind King had the right to urge the congregation to obey just laws and to disobey unjust laws.32

It ought to be mentioned that King used support for his arguments that were relevant for the eight religious leaders. The eight religious leaders were comprised of seven clergymen and a Jewish rabbi. King used Christian support, such as Augustine, Aquinas, Niebuhr, Tillich, and the martyrs of the early church. But King also used Jewish support such as from Shadrach, Meshack and Abednego, as well as from Martin Buber. The letter itself was written to these religious leaders, and he was using support from their own backgrounds for his argument.

King made clear that his major problem was not with these religious leaders only. His problem was also with white moderates who wanted peace and not justice. He saw white moderates as lukewarm, and he blamed them for blocking progress. White moderates were, in a sense, sweeping the issue under the rug while the African American community was exposing the tensions that were already present. White moderates hindered the issue from being exposed.33

King addressed the issue regarding the outcome of nonviolent direct action demonstrations. Often it resulted in violence. The eight religious leaders contended that it was not right to precipitate violence. King disagreed. He associated the situation with that of Jesus, saying that He was not condemned when he came to earth, which led to a violent uproar and ultimately to crucifixion. King is no more condemned than Jesus for taking part in nonviolent direct action that happens to lead, in some cases, to violence.34

King directed his focus back on white moderates. He criticized them for saying that time will eventually bring justice to the African American community. King asserted that time was not on anyone’s side, for time is neutral. He strongly stated that the people would have to repent for hateful worlds and also for silence. Both bad people and good people have harmed the African American community.35

In the letter, King identified how he wanted to come to a solution before extremists could do any real damage. Ironically, and to his surprise and disappointment, he was labeled an extremist. But he eventually warmed up to the label, thinking himself to be an extremist of love, not hate or violence, and of justice, not injustice.36

King recognized that injustice had to be fought with persistent and nonviolent direct action. But he was greatly disappointed by the inaction or laxity of the church. He argued that in effect the demonstrators acted as the True Church, for they were “God-intoxicated” in the same way that earlier Christians had brought an end to ancient evils like infanticide and gladiator games.37

King felt that the police department in Birmingham should not be commended as the eight religious leaders had lauded. King argued that it is immoral to use good to preserve injustice in the same way that it is immoral to use evil to preserve justice. The nonviolence of the police department was to preserve segregation, and for that reason it was immoral. King wondered why the religious leaders had not praised the demonstrators for their courage and willingness to suffer, or their discipline in the face of severe adversity. He was basically accusing the eight religious leaders of having their morals out of alignment and they were directly involved in the preservation of segregation through passivity. Instead of passively supporting segregation, they should have actively opposed segregation as Christians (and Jews). These leaders reflected the failure of the church as a whole. It was lax, and in its silence it supported segregation, which broke the hearts of many, including King.38

King’s letter was a good indicator of the times. People were divided over the issue of segregation. Some African Americans did oppose King, but for the most part, the community joined him in nonviolent action in an effort to be heard. It worked, and King’s letter was one of the first influential voices to be heard. It reflected the desire of the African American community for justice and action amidst injustice and passive reinforcement. It reflected the movement towards freedom down a difficult and painful road. King’s letter not only reflected the broader movement towards the road to freedom and the desires of the African American community, but it was well-argued as he reprimanded the eight religious leaders and the church as a whole for passively reinforcing segregation. Although his letter did not affect change immediately, it did help raise the voice of the African American community, so that the issue came to the forefront and the people were forced to address it. It could not be swept under the rug. Their voice was heard.





Ahlstrom, Sydney. A Religious History of the American People. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1972.


King, Martin Luther, Jr. “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” In African American Religious History: A documentary witness. 2nd ed. Milton Sernett, ed. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1999.


King, Martin Luther, Jr. I Have a Dream: Writings and speeches that changed the world. James Washington, ed. New York: HarperCollins Publisher, 1992.


Parks, Rosa. My Story. In Autobiography of a People: Three centuries of African American history told by those who lived it. Herb Boyd, ed. New York: Doubleday, 2000.


Patterson, Lillie. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Freedom Movement. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 1989.


Thernstrom, Stephan, and Thernstrom, Abigail. America in Black and White: One nation, indivisible. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997.


Winters, Paul, ed. The Civil Rights Movement. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, Inc., 2000.



1 Sydney Ahlstrom, A History of the American People (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1972), 1073.

2 Paul Winters, ed., The Civil Rights Movement (San Diego: Greenhaven Press, Inc., 2000), 14-15.

3 Stephan Thernstrom and Abigail Thernstrom, America in Black and White: One nation, indivisible (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997), 25.

4 Thernstrom and Thernstrom, America in Black and White, 31.

5 Ibid., 31.

6 Ibid., 34.

7 Winters, The Civil Rights Movement, 15-16.

8 Ibid., 16.

9 Ibid., 16-17.

10 Ibid., 17.

11 Ibid., 20.

12 Ibid., 22-23.

13 Rosa Parks, My Story, in Autobiography of a People: Three centuries of African American history told by those who lived it, Herb Boyd, ed. (New York: Doubleday, 2000), 370.

14 Thernstrom and Thernstrom, American in Black and White, 111.

15 Martin Luther King, Jr., I Have a Dream: Writings and speeches that changed the world, James Washington, ed. (New York: HarperCollins Publisher, 1992), 30-31.

16 Winters, The Civil Rights Movement, 21.

17 Ibid., 23.

18 Ibid., 28.

19 Ibid., 28-29.

20 Lillie Patterson, Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Freedom Movement (New York: Facts On File, Inc., 1989) 103.

21 Patterson, Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Freedom Movement, 106.

22 Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” in African American Religious History: A documentary witness, 2nd ed, Milton Sernett, ed. (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1999), 520.

23 Patterson, Martin Luther King Jr. and the Freedom Movement, 50-51.

24 King, “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” in African American Religious History, 520.

25 Ibid., 520.

26 Ibid., 521.

27 Ibid.

28 Ibid., 522.

29 Ibid.

30 Ibid.

31 Ibid., 523.

32 Ibid., 524-25.

33 Ibid., 526.

34 Ibid., 527.

35 Ibid., 528.

36 Ibid., 529.

37 Ibid., 531.

38 Ibid., 533.

Commentary of Ruth 4:1-4

About: this paper was delivered to Professor Dale Liid at Fuller Theological Seminary during my second year for the second quarter of the Biblical Hebrew class.


Ruth 4:1-4 describes the portion of Ruth where Boaz confronts the next-of-kin. In this text, Boaz publicly and officially declares to him to take charge of his responsibility, since he has not yet acted and fulfilled his duty. Let us examine the text in Hebrew, the original language with which the book of Ruth was written, starting with verse 1.

Boaz went to the city gate most likely during the conversation between Ruth and Naomi in Chapter 3 (these two events may in fact be simultaneous). Although it is not imperative to understanding the story, it might help in understanding the setting to know that the events may be happening at the same time. According to one commentator, Boaz was the head of the Sanhedrin; the Sanhedrin met at the city gate.1 Regardless if this is true, for the text itself does not say Boaz was the head of the Sanhedrin, official matters were dealt with at the city gate. Boaz is seeking to officially settle the issue with the next-of-kin. What was the issue?

The next-of-kin, or גֹאֵל in Hebrew, had not performed his duty. As גֹאֵל, he was to buy the land from Naomi, thus keeping it in the family. But this גֹאֵל had not even so much as indicated that he was going to fulfill his role. As a result, Boaz went to the gate to resolve the issue. After Boaz arrived at the gate, the text literally says, “And behold, the kinsman was passing by whom Boaz was speaking of.” It is as though God orchestrated the event. Boaz was speaking of the גֹאֵל at the gate, and while he was speaking, not as coincidence, he came passing by.2

Boaz took charge at the moment the גֹאֵל was passing by. He commanded him to turn and sit down. But he did not call him by name. The NRSV rendering, “friend,” is misleading. The Hebrew reads פְּלֹנִי אַלְמֹנִי. The meaning of this phrase has been lost.3 It is possible that it could be a name, but it is highly unlikely. It is possible that it could have an idea of concealment or secrecy behind it, but this is quite uncertain. It is probably best to take it to mean “So and so” (literally, “certain one–so and so”). Perhaps the reason for this convoluted phrase is the fact that in one copy of the Septuagint, one commentator says, the phrase is translated into Greek to mean “anonymous,” while in a different copy of the Septuagint, the phrase is translated to mean “secret.” It is plausible that this textual variant contributes to the obscure interpretation of the phrase for us today. Whatever the reason, the end result is we have lost the way the original audience heard, interpreted, and understood this phrase.4 One commentator likes the translation “John Doe.”5 However, this translation would lead a contemporary reader to believe that the person’s name is simply not known and so the anonymous name is applied to that person. However, we do not know if the situation merits this translation. Perhaps the real name was known to the original audience, and it was instead left out of the text and replaced with the anonymous phrase for dramatic effect (i.e., “unmentionable one”). In any case, it seems best to leave the translation as “So and so,” so that no confusion or incorrect interpretation might take place.

After commanding פְּלֹנִי אַלְמֹנִי to turn and sit, the text says he turned and sat down. In verse 2, Boaz then proceeded to get 10 elders to sit down at the gate. Ten men were necessary for a lawful assembly.6 One commentator says that 10 sages were required to be present for marriage ceremonies, and thus links the situation here in Ruth with a wedding.7 The text itself does not necessarily indicate that a wedding ceremony is occurring. To proclaim a wedding in this text is to interpret beyond the boundaries of the text. In other words, it makes more out of the story than is actually present. We need only to say that an official meeting is taking place, since the setting is at the city gate and ten elders of the city are present, which satisfy the requirements to have an official meeting.

After having assembled 10 elders at the gate, in verse 3 Boaz then speaks to פְּלֹנִי אַלְמֹנִי. He says that Naomi is selling the plot of land that belonged to Elimelech, their brother. What is difficult here is the Hebrew word מָכְרָה. It is Qal Perfect, which means it is rendered literally, “She sold.” Did Naomi already sell the land? Verse five prohibits a sale, since Boaz charges פְּלֹנִי אַלְמֹנִי to purchase the land, and there is no mention of a waiting period in accord with the law if it was previously sold.8 As in this case, the Qal Perfect can have a present meaning. In this case, the verb ought to be translated, “She is selling,” or, “She is going to sell.” One commentator argues that since the land itself was not sold, only the right to use the land could be purchased, she in fact was not selling the land but was surrendering her rights to the use of the land.9 This understanding seems logical enough, but the text does not strongly support it. Perhaps the text is literally, “She is going to sell,” but in the back of the minds of the audience it was understood that she was selling her rights to the land. In any case, a transaction is in view; it is the goods that are being purchased that are in dispute for this particular commentator. The Septuagint notes that the land was given to Naomi and does not have the idea of a purchase. This issue is not easily resolved. It seems as though the Septuagint translation wants to avoid Naomi selling land in any case, and so interprets it to mean that Naomi was given the plot of land Boaz was talking about. The Septuagint reading is very unlikely to be original, since it can be explained from the more difficult reading. It is somewhat problematic for a woman to be in charge of selling land. The Septuagint wants to avoid this problem and has strayed from the original reading. To sum up this situation, we can be certain that a transaction is in view, but all the specific details surrounding the transaction are uncertain.

Boaz continued speaking in verse 4. He literally said, “I said I will uncover your ears to say,” meaning, “I said I will reveal to you by saying.” Boaz is saying that he has set out to inform פְּלֹנִי אַלְמֹנִי of his duties. What were his duties? Boaz explicitly stated the duties, and he underscored the legal ramifications of his decisions, since they were at the gate with 10 elders. He said, “Buy the plot of land before the ones sitting down and before the elders of my people.” Boaz charges him to buy the land Naomi is selling, which is the responsibility of the next-of-kin. One commentator has argued that there are two groups present at the meeting, as indicated by the double use of נֶגֶב.10 Another commentator argues that this double use is a reiteration. The second use is in apposition to the first to note the same group. In other words, there is only one group present.11 Given the setting from verse 1, we should agree with the latter commentator and take the double use of נֶגֶב to be an appositional statement in reference to the same group. Boaz charges the גֹאֵל to purchase the land in the presence of the 10 elders he had assembled at the gate. He conditionally states, “If you will redeem, redeem.” In other words, “If you intend to act as kin, do it!” The second “redeem” is a command. He is firmly stating that if he intends to act as kin, he needs to do it promptly. But Boaz does not stop there. He continues his conditional statement, saying, “And if he will not redeem declare it to me.” Here we must stop to consider some important textual issues.

The text is written as “he will redeem.” However, many manuscript versions have “you will redeem.” It is odd to have the text in the third person while directly speaking to the גֹאֵל. It is problematic to have it in the third person. But it is precisely for this reason that we can say that “he will redeem” is the original text, for it explains the change in the other manuscripts into the second person (and not the other way around). If it was original, since it is difficult, later scribes would have changed it to the second person to make it easier and more in harmony with the context. Given this reason alongside of the fact that there are more manuscripts in support of the third person, the correct reading is “he will redeem.” It should also be noted that this verb is not passive, so any translation wishing to interpret it as “it will be redeemed” is not correct.12

If the גֹאֵל would not redeem the land, then Boaz requested that it be declared to him so that he would know, for there was no one else to redeem the land. But Boaz was next after the גֹאֵל he was confronting. The text reads, “and I will know,” but in the margins of the Hebrew Bible there is a marking indicating that the text should be audibly read as “and I may know.” The difference between the two is important. The former is incomplete, which is understood as an action to be done in the future. The imperfect makes the verb as a result of the declaration. The latter is causitive, which is understood to cause an action to be done. The cohortative makes the verb function as the purpose of the declaration. In this case, the text is written as imperfect, but it is understood by the scribes to be cohortative. In other words, although it is written as imperfect, and this is the original text, it is understood to be cohortative, so that it is not translated “and I will know,” but rather, “and I may know.”13

For the first time in the narrative, the גֹאֵל speaks. He said, “I will redeem.” However, he responds with the imperfect rather than the perfect. The perfect would be used if it were an official declaration, but since he responded with the imperfect, he was indicating that he was willing to perform the duty of the גֹאֵל, but at the same time he was leaving the option open for Boaz to take over.14

In the end, Boaz took the position of גֹאֵל and from his line came King David and eventually Jesus Christ. Boaz was not only a leader, but he was a valiant and noble leader. He helped, by the power and guidance of the Lord, to set things right for Naomi and Ruth, so that Naomi could override her previous declaration to be called Bitter (Mara) and instead be called Pleasant (Naomi). As for “So and so,” we do not know what became of him. We do know that Scripture has purposefully left as much as his name out.

In this text, we come to an important truth. We need to be led by God and to do what is right. Boaz was led by God to do what was right in relationship to his relatives. How often do we complain about having to go meet with relatives in our setting today? It should not be so. Family is important. The Bible places a strong emphasis on the importance of family, including relatives. God honors those who stand by the needs of their family. Boaz was honored by eventually having his lineage blessed with kingship; in addition, he was blessed when his lineage took on the Messiah, God’s chosen one. Therefore, we need to do what is right as God has instructed us to do, including with our family. If anyone has a relative in need, so long as it is possible, come to that relative’s aid. Lend them money without requiring a return. Loan them possessions. Tend to them when they are sick, or when they are near death. Do not forsake family; hold on to relatives.

A family had a grandmother who was a heavy smoker. She developed emphysema and needed an oxygen tank to help her breathe. Eventually, she developed lung cancer. She was in a terrible amount of pain. However, her family did not come to her aid. She was a bitter woman. For some reason or another, she treated her daughter-in-laws very terribly. Her grandchildren suffered psychologically from the verbal abuse that she shot at her sons’ wives. But her sons did not do what is honoring to the Lord. They did not aid their mother. She died bitterly. The story of Ruth demands that we do differently. If we ever find ourselves in that position, we should tend to our mothers even if they have dealt bitterly with us and with our wives. We need to spread the love of God to everyone, including those who hurt, and especially to our family. Just as Boaz acted, so also should we take leadership and honor God by coming to the aid of our family.









Gray, James. The Biblical Museum: A collection of notes, explanatory, homiletic, and illustrative, on the Holy Scriptures, especially designed for the use of ministers, bible-students, and Sunday school teachers. Vol. 3. New York: Anson D. F. Randolph & Company, year not found.


Broch, Yitzchak. Ruth: The book of Ruth in Hebrew and English with a Talmudic-Midrashic commentary. 2nd ed. Jerusalem and New York: Feldheim, 1983.


Bush, Frederic. Word Biblical Commentary: Ruth, Esther. David Hubbard, Glenn Barker, John Watts, eds. Vol. 9. Dallas, Texas: Word Books, 1996.


Campbell, Edward. Ruth: A new translation with introduction, notes, and commentary. The Anchor Bible. New York: Doubleday, 1975.


Zlatowitz, Meir. The Book of Ruth. 2nd ed. Brooklyn, New York: Mesorah Publications, Ltd., 1993.


1 Yitzchak Broch, Ruth: The book of Ruth in Hebrew and English with a Talmudic-Midrashic commentary, 2nd ed. (Jerusalem and New York: Feldheim, 1983), 90. Cf. also Meir Zlatowitz, The Book of Ruth, 2nd ed. (New York: Mesorah Publications, Ltd., 1993), 120.

2 Edward Campbell, Ruth: A new translation with introduction, notes, and commentary, The Anchor Bible (New York: Doubleday, 1975), 141. Cf. also Zlatowitz, The Book of Ruth, 120.

3 Campbell, Ruth, 143.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid., 141.

6 James Gray, The Biblical Museum: A collection of notes, explanatory, homiletic, and illustrative, on the Holy Scriptures, especially designed for the use of ministers, bible-students, and Sunday school teachers, vol. 3 (New York: Anson D. F. Randolph & Company, year not found), 180.

7 Broch, Ruth, 91.

8 Zlatowitz, The Book of Ruth, 123.

9 Frederic Bush, Ruth, Esther, Word Biblical Commentary, David Hubbard, Glenn Barker, John Watts, eds., vol. 9 (Dallas, Texas: Word Books, 1996), 200.

10 Campbell, Ruth, 145.

11 Bush, Ruth, Esther, 207.

12 Bush and Zlotowitz are ones who take the verb to be passive.

13 Bush, Ruth, Esther, 210.

14 Bush, Ruth, Esther, 210.

Why I’m Not Complementarian

About: this paper was submitted to Dr. David Nystrom at Fuller Theological Seminary during my first year for a class concerning Women, the Bible, and the Church.


Out of the two major competing positions dealing with women and ministry, one of them proves to be too problematic for me to uphold as a viable option for my own personal position on the issue. The two options are egalitarianism and complementarianism. Complementarianism, the position that generally denies women the right to participate in formal church leadership, desires to be true to the biblical texts by allowing them to speak out to the interpreter through responsible hermeneutics. Egalitarianism, the position that generally gives women the right to be involved in any form of church leadership, also seeks to be true to the authority of the text. The fact that complementarianism seeks to be true to the text does not indicate that egalitarianism does not. Both believe themselves to approach the Bible as the authority on the issue and they both desire to responsibly study the biblical texts. In order to responsibly study the biblical texts, the interpreter needs to take into consideration several hermeneutical factors such as, but not limited to, cultural influences, exegesis, and terms. Although the complementarian position admirably desires to be true to the biblical texts, it fails by inconsistently maintaining dialogue with relevant cultural contexts, by conveniently overlooking key exegetical insights, and by inadvertently embracing a faulty understanding of the church leadership depicted in the New Testament. As a result, out of the two major competing options presented, I do not agree with complementarianism and naturally lean towards egalitarianism.

Why I am not a Complementarian

The basic desire of the complementarian position is for interpreters to be responsible exegetes by allowing the text to speak for its self. This approach contains no less than three hermeneutical presuppositions. One presupposition maintains that the interpreter must consider the cultural contexts that are involved in the interpreting process. The interpreter must at least recognize that culture has a powerful influence in the interpretation process. Culture influences interpreters in a similar way that it influenced the biblical authors and audiences; we are culturally biased. Every interpreter’s understanding of the biblical texts is culturally confined socially, individually, ecclesiastically and theologically (Scholer 1986, 215). It is essential to consider the cultural influences when responsibly studying the Bible and to proceed cautiously with the highest level of sensitivity towards the historical-cultural settings involved (Scholer 1986, 215). It is also important to carefully recognize and consider the influences of the biblical authors, since they thought and lived according to particular cultural settings (Scholer 1986, 215). The Bible is equally culturally influenced, containing texts that were written for specific cultural-historical settings (Scholer 1986, 215). Therefore, in order to responsibly study the Bible, one must presuppose the recognition of and dialogue with the historical-cultural contexts and influences.

Another presupposition contends that the interpreter must study the texts in the original languages and be mindful of skewed lexical data. It is true that words in the biblical languages have disputed meanings. Other words have become translated in such a way that they lost the meaning for which they were originally penned (for example, Belleville’s treatment of proistêmi in Women Leaders and the Church, p. 139). It is important when responsibly studying Scripture that we are cautious of the data in lexicons, because some words have been culturally influenced over time to take on a particular English gloss that does not necessarily fit the original use of the word (Nystrom 2007, February 10). For this reason, the responsible exegete must presuppose the necessity to weigh the data carefully when studying the texts in the original languages and considering the possibility of having skewed lexical information.

One final presupposition present in the complementarian argument is the necessity for the interpreter to determine how the original audience would have interpreted it. This presupposition is tied in with the first, but it is much more narrowly defined. This presupposition identifies that it is irresponsible to interpret something that was written 2,000 years ago according to our cultural values, views and understandings. If an interpreter were to do that, then the text will lose its original meaning. However, the original meaning is essential; without it, the text simply would not matter. We need to know what the author intended and how the audience understood it. If we do not determine these things, then we will make the text mean whatever we want, becoming reckless and valueless because it is merely our understanding and not the understanding of God or the author (Caird 1980, 61). Therefore, it is essential that we retain the value of the text by seeking the original meaning as understood by the biblical author and audience.

Out of these three fundamental presuppositions, none of them are maintained well by the complementarian position. It suffers logically as the basic tenets of its central premise are not consistently adhered to. Now that we have arrived to a brief understanding of the logical impairment of complementarianism, we can now look at three of its hermeneutical failures.

True to the Text Versus Dialoguing with Cultural Contexts

The complementarian position desires to be true to the text, but it suffers from inconsistently maintaining dialogue with cultural contexts and influences, which is evident in its contradicting practical uses of cultural influences and its basing of arguments from silence without regard to cultural influences. As we have already noted, in order to be responsible exegetes, it is essential to consider and dialogue with all the relevant cultural contexts. However, because complementarianism lacks this essential dialogue, it suffers from inconsistency. Dan Doriani’s book, Women and Ministry: What the Bible teaches, a good representation of the complementarian position, proves this point quite well. (Although one book cannot represent a position like complementarianism entirely, this book does cover all the basics of the position and sums up the complementarian position quite nicely.) Doriani failed to recognize the cultural influences of the biblical authors, although he does recognize at least in part the cultural influences of the interpreters and the biblical audience. However, he is inconsistent in the way he recognizes them.

Doriani failed to thoroughly address the cultural issues involved in the story of Deborah in the Old Testament book of Judges (2003, 33-34). He did not explain the cultural significance present in the fact that the Israelites came to Deborah to have her judge them. This fact alone indicates through cultural practices that Deborah did have authority (Nystrom 2007, January 13). Doriani did not mention this fact at all, but rather he focused on his own interpretation and reading of the story that understood Deborah to be a private judge, since everyone came to her while she was “under a tree” (2003, 110). Conversely, Doriani attempted to thoroughly address the cultural contexts involved in the naming of the animals after creation in Genesis 2 (2003, 55). He readily points out that naming was understood in that culture to be an authoritative act (2003, 55). Doriani’s book suffered from an inconsistent use of cultural contexts.

In terms of cultural influences, Doriani made some conflicting points. First, when commenting on 1 Corinthians 11, Doriani said that Paul wants his Corinthian audience to maintain the customs of their culture (2003, 76). It sounds as if Doriani was affirming cultural influence, even if only as an evangelistic tool. However, Doriani did not allow culture to influence modern interpretations or readers in his comments on 1 Timothy 2 (2003, 98). It sounds like Doriani was adamantly opposed to cultural influence. The former seems to look upon cultural influence on a positive note, while the latter has a very negative one. Is that not inconsistent? Which one is it? Doriani recognized cultural influences, demands and ideals for our time as negative, but for some reason or another he did not recognize them as negative for Paul’s time. It is safe to say that Doriani would hesitate to argue that we should adopt the customs of our culture—women leading in authoritative positions—if only as an evangelistic tool, even though he has no problem saying that Paul would have argued for that to the Corinthians. Doriani’s book suffered from contradictory uses of cultural influences.

Doriani’s book also formed several arguments from silence to help prove his point that women were not given biblical authority to preach and teach as authoritative leaders. His points were already weak because they were arguments from silence, but they were even more devastated by the lack of consistent dialogue with cultural contexts. For instance, Doriani identified that because women were not ever commanded to go and preach the gospel, they do not have the authority to preach (2003, 124). However, this point does not say much. Why? If cultural influences were considered, it would have been realized that women were typically not mentioned at all during the first Century A.D. (Nystrom 2007, January 13). Therefore, it seems normal that women are not mentioned much throughout the New Testament and it ought to be expected for that time period. In other words, it is no wonder that we do not read stories of women doing all sorts of miracles, sermons and teaching, since no one else mentioned it outside of the New Testament either (Nystrom 2007, January 13). The fact remains that the authors of the Bible were also culturally biased just as we are. The problem is Doriani did not even mention this fact.

Other complementarians (if we can label them as such) throughout history have also based their position on similar arguments from silence. One source from history argued that if women were to teach, then Jesus would have commanded it, implying that because he did not, women are not allowed to teach (Didascalia apostolorum 3.6). Another source, Panarion, written by Epiphanius, also argued from silence, saying that women were not entrusted with the rite to administer baptism, because a woman did not baptize Jesus (79.2,3-4,1). Similarly, Epiphanius constructs another argument from silence, saying that Jesus chose twelve males to be his chosen apostles to spread the gospel throughout the world, so women have not been entrusted with this task and should not participate in it (Panarion 79.2,3-4,1).

To sum up Doriani and the others in the complementarian position, they fail hermeneutically, because they wanted to affirm cultural influence as a viable factor only when it supported what they wanted to say. When it did not give direct support to their position, they denied the influence of culture as a pertinent factor to hermeneutics. Complementarianism is inconsistent in maintaining dialogue with cultural contexts. It is inconsistent in maintaining cultural influences as a factor when interpreting the biblical texts, not only for us, but also for the composition of the writing of biblical authors and the understanding of the biblical audience. Although the complementarian position wants to be true to the text, it is not, because it suffers from inconsistent dialogue with, contradicting practical uses of, and basing arguments on silence without regard to cultural influences.

True to the Text Versus Overlooking Key Exegetical Insights

The complementarian position desires to be true to the text, but it suffers from conveniently overlooking key exegetical insights, such as particular words and significant phrases. Again, Doriani’s book demonstrated this point for us as a representative of the complementarian position. Two examples of many of the overlooked exegetical insights in his book are Doriani’s failure to recognize the use of ’adam in his treatment of Genesis 1-2 (2003, 54-59), and his failure to recognize the significance of “because of the angels” in relation to “in the Lord” in his comments on 1 Corinthians 11 (77-79). Doriani’s book and position were incomplete, because he does not thoroughly and consistently examine the original languages or consistently practice basic hermeneutics.

The Hebrew language uses ’adam and ’ish for man in Genesis 1-2. Doriani failed to recognize the Hebrew in his comments on this biblical passage (2003, 54-59). Although we do not know why he overlooked this material, we do know that his position was worse off because of it. Richard Hess pointed out two word plays involved in Genesis 1-2 (2005, 87). The first one is ’adam (human) and ’adamah (ground). The Hebrew words for man and ground are a word play, where the latter is the source from which the former came into existence. The second play on words is with ’ish (man) and ’ishah (woman). Although linguistically it is unintentional, the vocabulary is intentional; therefore, we still have a play on words when the author of the Genesis text used them (Hess 2005, 87). Woman and man here function in the same way as man and ground function earlier in the story, where the latter is the source for the former. Note the presence of the source language in the word plays. Would this language not be at least indirectly pertinent in the discussion of kephalê later on for Doriani? Apparently it was not, because he did not mention it at all in his book. Or perhaps it was problematic for his argument so he chose to exclude it. Either way, the fact is his treatment of Genesis 1-2 was not thorough enough, which left the reader wondering if maybe Doriani has missed something important, whether here or elsewhere in the biblical texts.

In commenting on 1 Corinthians 11:7-12 within a larger treatment of verses 3-16, Doriani argued that “because of the angels” should read “because of the messengers” in verse 10 (2003, 78). Doriani noted that a Roman visitor might be shocked to hear women speaking in the gatherings, because women were not allowed to speak in public, so Paul wanted women to show submission to men by covering their heads for the sake of the messengers (2003, 78). Additionally, further evidence for the lack thoroughness in his argument is that Doriani did not even treat verses 11-12 in his section called “11:7-12” (2003, 77). Is it not significant that Paul first wrote “because of the angels” followed by “Nevertheless, in the Lord”? Are these two phrases related, either as complementary or contrasting statements? Doriani’s treatment was insufficient to answer that question because he completely overlooked the second statement. Furthermore, Doriani’s treatment of the first statement was also insufficient because he failed to compare the use of the word angel here with its earlier occurrences in the letter.

However, Gordon Fee looked at this passage in light of the surrounding texts of the letter and does attempt to work through the difficult parts of the current text. Fee argued that Paul was possibly agreeing in principle with the likely Corinthian belief that they were like the angels, which is evidenced in 1 Corinthians 13:1 in which their speaking in tongues was perceived to be speaking the language of the angels (2005, 157). Paul refers to angels in 1 Corinthians 4:9 as his witnesses for his apostolic weaknesses, and he proclaims that the Corinthians will participate in the judgment of the angels in 1 Corinthians 6:2-3 (Fee 2005, 157). Fee wrote, “Within this scenario, our sentence [v. 10] could be yet another instance in the letter where Paul is reflecting their own point of view—in this case, of some Corinthian women” (2005, 157). In other words, Paul is affirming the Corinthian women’s viewpoint that due to their “angelic” status they have the authority to do what they please in regards to their own heads (Fee 2005, 157). The “nevertheless” qualifies this possibility, so that Paul continues to stand by what he has already said in 1 Corinthians 11:8-9, which states that woman is the glory of man, while not allowing that fact to be used for the subordination of women (Fee 2005, 157). Interpreting the present text in light of the surrounding texts keeps us from interpreting angels as messengers. The question is not what we can make of this possibility. The real question is, “What can Doriani make of this possibility”?

In sum, exegetically speaking, complementarianism cannot be fully relied upon, because it is selective and not thorough. Doriani is a prime example. He overlooked key exegetical insights and neglected fundamentally basic hermeneutical methods for whatever reason. The trustworthiness of Doriani’s treatment was therefore in jeopardy and his argument was skewed because it was based on unreliable interpretation. Although complementarianism wants to be true to the text, it fails hermeneutically for overlooking key exegetical insights and neglecting proper hermeneutics.

True to the Text Versus Misunderstanding New Testament Church Leadership

Before we examine the third hermeneutical failure of the complementarian position, we should quickly review what we have already seen. In terms of dialoguing with cultural contexts and overlooking key exegetical insights, complementarianism suffers hermeneutically. The first point is quite important as any interpreter must take cultural contexts and influences into consideration in order to best understand the meaning of the text. However, the second point is not so crucial as it only shows that the complementarian position is neither hermeneutically perfect nor completely reliable. If it were, then there would be no need for this paper and there would be no debate about the issue. In fact, Doriani’s book is not the example that suffered from overlooking exegetical insights. Linda Belleville’s book, Women Leaders and the Church: Three crucial questions, overlooks the same key phrases addressed above in her treatment of 1 Corinthians 11 (2000, 126-131). Overlooking exegetical insights is not a problem that is relative only to complementarianism. There are so many pieces of information to work through and so many exegetical insights to comment on that it is impossible to treat them all in a small section of a book. Therefore, this second point serves only to show that complementarianism is not perfect, because it must abandon its central premise at times for the sake of space; it fails to achieve what it seeks—to stay true to the text. However, this next point is of the utmost importance and is the most crucial highlight of the failures to the complementarian position.

The complementarian position is primarily based on a particular notion of New Testament church leadership. It believes that the New Testament upholds church “office” in that all pastoral positions are official and public leadership roles are designated by God who decided it was best to only make the positions available to males. Is this belief an accurate description of New Testament prescribed church leadership? Doriani, who represented the complementarian position regarding church leadership very well, argued for it as an accurate interpretation of the New Testament in his chapter on the gifts of the Spirit and women’s roles (2003, 101-114).

Doriani argued women can function in ministry and serve some ministry roles, but they cannot hold a ministry office (2003, 109). First, he perceived function to be a brief exercise of any spiritual function, so that women can temporarily perform spiritual functions as necessary (2003. 109). Second, he understood roles to be regular spiritual service that can be “customary, joyful, and effective” (2003, 109). Finally, Doriani contended that an office is a church recognized calling in which the church consecrates the person for formal leadership (2003, 110). Those who hold such offices, such as priests, monarchs and apostles, must be males who meet the necessary biblical criteria. Doriani concluded that women cannot hold such offices that are a “formal position” and “formally bestowed” (2003, 110). But what exactly was Doriani referring to as offices? He primarily referred to the leadership offices of elders and deacons, but even he admitted that it is possible for women to be deacons (2003, 127).

Elders were held with great leadership authority as the highest office in the church for Doriani (2003, 111). Doriani perceived the office of elders to be closed to women: women may not participate in church leadership as elders, but they can work alongside and aid the efforts of this office (2003, 111). Doriani appealed to the following facts within Scripture to show the exclusivity of male leadership: the law said Israel’s priests were supposed to be male; monarchs were supposed to be male; the twelve apostles Jesus chose were all male; Paul assumed that all elders were male; the first missionaries and church planters in Acts were all male; and all of the traveling companions Paul mentioned in his letters were male (2003, 23). Women may have served in ministry roles but not as official leaders (2003, 24). In fulfilling teaching as a ministry role, Doriani argued that women only taught privately (2003, 36). Public teaching was reserved for males as elders (2003, 174). Authoritative leadership is reserved for offices such as apostles and elders, who succeeded the apostles, but women cannot participate in either of these offices (2003, 84).

Is this kind of leadership really what the Bible prescribes? Belleville would disagree. In her book, Women Leaders and the Church: Three crucial questions, Belleville studied church leadership in detail, and her findings reveal the problems of the presupposed church leadership of Doriani and the complementarian position.

Belleville detailed five church leadership terms found in the New Testament: leader/guide; shepherd; overseer; elder; and deacon (2000, 138). First, Belleville examines the use of leader/guide in the New Testament. She looks at the characteristics of a leader/guide as depicted in 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 first. The word in Greek for leader/guide is proistêmi, and in this passage leaders are described as “those who ‘work hard,’ ‘admonish,’ and ‘go before’ (Belleville 2000, 138). A leader is one who participates in the “exhausting and tiring character of leadership” (2000, 138). A leader is one who corrects and redirects wrong behavior (2000, 138). A leader is also one who leads the way, protects or cares for by standing or going before someone (2000, 138). Paul uses these characterizations of a leader in Colossians 3:16, 1 Thessalonians 1:3 and Titus 3:8 to describe the work of the church, which indicates that “Paul is not talking about a leadership role that is distinctive in any way” (Belleville 2000, 138). Furthermore, the Greek word for leader, proistêmi, is often translated either as “over,” “above,” or in “charge of” in 1 Thessalonians 5:12 (2000, 139). In 1 Timothy 3:4-5 and 12 it is often translated as “to manage” or “to rule” (2000, 139). Belleville asked, “But does the term carry these commanding overtones?” (2000, 139).

In order to answer her question, Belleville examined how proistêmi is used throughout the rest of the New Testament. She determined that this word “clearly points to a leadership capacity of some sort,” but that it is a guiding leadership—not a ruling one (Belleville 2000, 139). Belleville determined this conclusion to be true based on three reasons: proistêmi is grouped together with the spiritual gifts that offer practical assistance to the needy; the noun form of proistêmi, prostatis, was used of those “who provided patronage and protection”; and the parallel words used alongside of proistêmi are of pastoral activities (2000, 139). Because she viewed this term as pastoral in nature, Belleville viewed any rendering that translates this word with an authoritative sense in mind as “less than desirable,” such as “to rule,” “to be in charge of,” or “to manage” (2000, 139). She rightly noted that this term is a qualification for overseers (1 Timothy 3:4-5) and deacons (1 Timothy 3:12), and it identifies one of the functions of the elders (1 Timothy 5:17), so that at the least it ought to cause us to question why we construct these leadership roles in a authoritative, ruling structure (2000, 139).

Second, Belleville demonstrated the use of shepherd in the New Testament. Local leaders are commanded to be “shepherds of God’s flock” (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2). Belleville looked at the role of a shepherd as “one who guides, protects, and cares for the flock” (2000, 140). Shepherding in the New Testament does not involve ruling authority, especially since Peter instructs the elders in Asia to not rule over the people in 1 Peter 5:3 (Belleville 2000, 140). Instead, shepherding requires being an example by leading the people in thought, word and deed (2000, 140). But a shepherd is also a teacher, as is evident in Ephesians 4:11, where the Greek syntax calls for pastors and teachers to be conceptually joined together (2000, 140). This joining means that shepherding is inseparable from teaching (2000, 140). Belleville noted that the shepherding leadership is used in reference to elders (2000, 140), and teaching leadership is also used in reference to elders as well as overseers (141). As a result, we determine that shepherds need to be able to teach so that they can fight off the predators that seek to harm the flock; metaphorically, we are speaking of false teachers who distort truth when we talk of predators, so it is therefore necessary that the shepherds be able to teach and refute false teaching in order to protect the flock (Belleville 2000, 141).

Third, Belleville explored the word overseer in the New Testament. Overseer is the first term mentioned here that is not only used to describe a leadership task but also a specific leadership group (Belleville 2000, 141). In Greek, overseer is episkopos, which is often translated as bishop, being traditionally defined as “a position of rule and authority” (2000, 141). However, Belleville noted that episkopos is descriptive of a pastoral function and is more properly rendered as overseer (2000, 141). An episkopos watches over and looks after those in one’s care; the term is used of God’s renewed concern for his people, of caring for those in need in society, including, but not limited to, the sick, prisoners, widows and orphans, and of the care that Paul and Barnabas gave to the new churches in Galatia (Belleville 2000, 141; Luke 7:16; Acts 15:14; Matthew 25:36, 43; James 1:27; Acts 15:36). Furthermore, the qualifications for overseers are that they must be hospitable and able to teach, above reproach, considerate, and well thought of by outsiders, family oriented, act respectably and with self-control, and they should not be recent converts (2000, 141-142; 1 Timothy 3:2-7). In weighing the textual witnesses, Belleville determined that overseers were omitted from 1 Peter 5:2 due to an apparent redundancy, so the term is actually synonymous with shepherds and should be in the text (2000, 197). Therefore, Belleville wrote, “Overseers are shepherds of God’s people. They are not appointed or elected by the congregation but put there by the Holy Spirit. Their job is to keep watch over and to pay close attention to the flock” (2000, 141). Because overseers and shepherds are synonymous, it is hard to see how they differ. Belleville proposed that overseer is indicative of a position of church leadership, while shepherd is indicative of the task of church leadership (2000, 141). She also noted, however, that the qualifications Paul listed for an overseer are not ones that we would associate with an office, especially because he does not give a job description (2000, 141). If we are to call overseers an office, then we have to define office as a common service, but there is no indication regarding the function of the overseers that we could call it a position of ruling authority (Belleville 2000, 142).

Fourth, Belleville looked at elder in the New Testament. Belleville admitted that elder might in fact be an office (2000, 143). This term is not portrayed as the responsibility of the congregation, and out of all leadership positions mentioned so far, it is the only one that is given by appointment (Belleville 2000, 143). Elder is actually consistently used in the plural form, indicating a corporate entity rather than a particular function (2000, 143). The Greek term for elder, presbyteros, is often used in the New Testament in reference to those of older age, and therefore highly valued and respected within the church community (Belleville 2000, 143). However, elders did not rule the church community, although they did play an official role in it (2000, 143). Belleville suggested that elders were at least to a certain extent guardians of the apostolic tradition, and beyond this guardianship they were summoned to pray and care for the sick, aid the weak, refute false teaching, commission for service, preach and teach, be shepherds and guides of the flock, and possibly even be the handlers of the money (2000, 144; Acts 20:17-18, 29-31, 35; 1 Timothy 4:14, 5:17; Titus 1:9; 1 Peter 5:1-2; James 5:14). This leadership role was pastoral in nature, so that although they were appointed into the office of elder they functioned in a practical way (Belleville 2000, 144).

The qualifications for elders reinforce their function (2000, 144). The elders were not given a job description; instead, they were to be hospitable, able to refute false teaching and adhere to sound doctrine, blameless, upright, holy, not overbearing or quick-tempered, to love the good, faithful to their spouse, have obedient and believing children, self-controlled and not given to excesses (Belleville 2000, 144). Elders were a “group whose responsibility was to care for the spiritual life of the local congregation” (2000, 144; emphasis mine). The job of the elders was to “shepherd God’s flock” (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2), and their function was to serve and shepherd, not rule (2000, 144). Ruling and authority are nowhere close to being connected with the elders in the New Testament (2000, 145). An elder seems to have a “wide range of functions that a number of leaders performed in the early church” (Belleville 2000, 145).

Finally, Belleville examined the use of deacon in the New Testament. Deacon comes from the Greek word, diakonos, which means servant. The verb form of the noun means “to serve” or “to wait on tables” (Belleville 2000, 145). The New Testament does not give us a job description for deacons (2000, 145). What is important is that the qualifications for deacons are spelled out, and these requirements are very close to the ones for those who are overseers and elders (2000, 146). There is a focus on the character and lifestyle on the deacon in the same way that there is for the overseers and elders (2000, 146). Deacons are to be above reproach, have strong family values, act respectably, have self-control, and adhere to sound doctrine (Belleville 2000, 146; 1 Timothy 3:8, 10-12). The difference in qualifications of deacons from the overseers or elders is that deacons must be “sincere” and tested over a period of time (2000, 146; 1 Timothy 3:8, 10-11). Belleville viewed these two qualifications as perfectly understandable given the nature of the role of the deacon if it included “some house-to-house visitation” (2000, 146). To the best of our knowledge, deacons were primarily responsible for caring for the material needs of the church (Belleville 2000, 146; Acts 6:1-4; 1 Peter 4:11).

Belleville noted that of the five church leadership terms presented only two have any ties to women. She showed that Phoebe was a leader (prostatis) and a deacon (2000, 147). However, she also showed that of the five terms, no men are singled out in those positions, with the one exception where Peter identifies himself to be an elder in 1 Peter 5:1 (2000, 147). Belleville suggested that the reason for the lack of identification is because we define deacon, elder and overseer differently than the New Testament (2000, 147). We place emphasis on position while the New Testament places emphasis on service (2000, 147). In other words, the way we currently define church leadership is not how the New Testament defines it. We have constructed church leadership after a different model than the New Testament—an authoritarian type based on management and ruling—when the New Testament looks at leadership as service.

Bearing this distinction in mind, the complementarian position faces some huge problems. The New Testament prescription for leadership does not involve a ruling office as complementarianism says it does. The argument that women cannot be in authoritative church leadership positions is very problematic in the light of the New Testament prescription for church leadership. Biblical church leadership is not about authority. However, complementarianism presupposes that church leadership is about authority and in that sense does not stay true to the text. Complementarianism suffers hermeneutically because it looks into the text that which does not belong there—authoritative church leadership. It is guilty of keeping women from participating in leadership on account of this unbiblical principle. Basically, its terms are flawed, because they are based on a non-biblical idea. Additionally, its argument is invalid because of its flawed terms. Doriani did not ever explicitly say that women cannot be involved in church ministry apart from the basis that they are not to be in positions of authority, and since the office of elders is a position of authority, they cannot serve in that office. However, since church leadership is not biblically based on authority, this argument is irrelevant. The complementarian position has irresponsibly allowed its cultural contexts to define how they understand leadership in the New Testament. Through irresponsible hermeneutics, complementarianism has inadvertently embraced a faulty understanding of New Testament church leadership.


I cannot hold the complementarian position because of these three hermeneutical failures. In order to be a responsible exegete, I have to consider the cultural contexts and influences even if I do not want to. I have to wade through, identify and examine all the exegetical insights, and I have to allow the Bible to inform me. I should not inform the Bible, nor should I be exegetically negligent of important insights, nor disregard cultural influences in the interpretation process. Complementarianism fails in these areas. Although it desires to be true to the texts, it fails hermeneutically in its treatment of cultural contexts, use of exegesis, and commanding influence of modern presuppositions over interpreting biblical texts. I simply cannot be a serious scholar or theologian and attempt to hold any view that suffers from irresponsible hermeneutics, especially when it claims that it does employ responsible hermeneutics. Therefore, I cannot hold a complementarian position regarding women, the Bible, and the church.

Instead, I hold an egalitarian position. This position seeks to consider the cultural influences involved in the interpretation process, both on the part of the interpreter and the biblical author. It additionally position seeks to be mindful of the lexical data available to us as we study the original languages and perform exegesis, and seeks to allow the text to speak for itself and not place our own constructs onto the text. In other words, I believe the egalitarian position is culturally, linguistically and textually sensitive, allowing the text to inform the interpreter, demonstrating care in the interpretive process, and by recognizing cultural biases. Given these factors, egalitarianism is more capable of staying true to the text than complementarianism. For this reason, I am not a complementarian, but rather an egalitarian.

Reference List

Belleville, Linda L. 2000. Women Leaders and the Church: Three crucial questions. Grand

Rapids: Baker Books.

Caird, G. B. 1980. The Language and Imagery of the Bible. Philadelphia: Westminster.

Quoted in David M. Scholer. “Unseasonable Thoughts on the State of Biblical

Hermeneutics: reflections of a New Testament exegete.” Selected Articles on

Hermeneutics and Women and Ministry in the New Testament. 15th ed. 7-13. Pasadena, California: School of Theology, Fuller Theological Seminary, 2005. Originally published in American Baptist Quarterly 2 (1983), 134-41.

Didascalia apostolorum 3.6. Quoted in Patricia Cox Miller, ed. Women in Early

Christianity: Translations from Greek texts, 31. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic

University of America Press, 2005.

Doriani, Dan. 2003. Women and Ministry: What the Bible teaches. Wheaton: Crossway Books.

Epiphanius, Panarion 79.2,3-4,1. Quoted in Patricia Cox Miller, ed. Women in Early

Christianity: Translations from Greek texts. 66-68. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic

University of America Press, 2005.

Fee, Gordon D. 2005. “Praying and Prophesying in the Assemblies: 1 Corinthians 11:2-16.”

Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity without hierarchy. 2nd ed. Ed. Ronald W. Pierce, Rebecca Merril Groothuis, and Gordon D. Fee, 142-160. Downers Grove, Illinois, and Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press and Apollos.

Hess, Richard S. 2005. “Equality With and Without Innocence: Genesis 1-3.”

Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity without hierarchy. 2nd ed. Ed. Ronald W. Pierce, Rebecca Merril Groothuis, and Gordon D. Fee, 79-95. Downers Grove, Illinois, and Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press and Apollos.

Nystrom, David. 2007. Women, the Bible, and the Church. Lecture Notes from January 13.

_______________. 2007. Women, the Bible, and the Church. Lecture Notes from February 10.

_______________. 2007. Women, the Bible, and the Church. Lecture Notes from February 24.

Scholer, David M. 1986. “1 Timothy 2:9-15 & the Place of Women in the Church’s Ministry.”

Women, Authority & the Bible. Ed. Alvera Mickelsen. Downers Grove:

InterVarsity Press, pp. 193-219.

_______________. 2005. “Unseasonable Thoughts on the State of Biblical Hermeneutics:

reflections of a New Testament exegete.” Selected Articles on Hermeneutics and Women

and Ministry in the New Testament. 15th ed. 7-13. Pasadena, California: School of

Theology, Fuller Theological Seminary. Originally published in American Baptist Quarterly 2 (1983), 134-41.

Belleview’s “Women Leaders and the Church”

About: this paper was submitted to Dr. David Nystrom at Fuller Theological Seminary during my first year for a class on Women, the Bible, and the Church.


Linda L. Belleville’s book, Women Leaders and the Church: three crucial questions, addresses the issue of women in church leadership through the importance of history and literary analysis. In her book, Belleville asks three questions. First, she asks, “In which ministries can women be involved?” Second, she asks, “What roles can women play in society?” Finally, she asks, “Can women hold positions of authority?” Belleville does well hermeneutically within her three crucial questions by taking into consideration the cultural influences of the biblical texts, the contextual understandings of the interpretations and translations of biblical texts, all of the relevant controversial biblical passages, and the biblical understanding of church leaders. After having gained a brief summary of the three crucial questions, we can look at how the four considerations affect Belleville’s book in a positive way.

One of the main questions raised in the issue of women leadership regards the ministries that women can be involved in. Belleville seeks first to tackle this question. She explores the history of the religious roles of women in Judaism, in Greek and Roman societies, and in the early church. Within these sections, we find that women were active as religious leaders throughout all of the aforementioned categories. At a minimum, we can say and accept that women did have a leadership role in the religious activities of the Jews and the early church.

Another main question that is raised deals with what roles women can play in society. Belleville tackles this question second, focusing on marriage, family and society at large. She explores the roles of women during the times of the New Testament, which does not exclude women outside of the early church, but rather, includes a study of women in Jewish, Greek and Roman societies as well. Belleville seeks to find a biblical perspective on the societal roles of women and focuses on several key biblical texts, including all of the following categories: Genesis 1-2; Genesis 3; Jesus’ teachings; apostolic teachings; and submission and headship in the New Testament. Belleville gives a fair treatment of these texts through historical and literary analysis, which makes this study both valuable and meaningful for answering the question, “What roles can women play in society?” As a result of her exegesis, we see through careful and responsible analysis that these texts, at the very least, reveal women to be equal to men.

One final question that arises in the issue of women in ministry addresses whether or not women can hold authoritative positions. Belleville saves this question for last. Of the three questions mentioned in the book, this last one has the most importance with the church, because it deals with how the church ought to function. In answering this question, Belleville begins by questioning our understanding of the word authority and our leadership structures for the church. She continues by looking at the language of women and leadership in the biblical texts followed by a detailed analysis of biblical passages that suggest some limits for women. Belleville truly gave a thorough and fair treatment in answering the question, “Can women hold authoritative positions?” Because of this treatment, we can not only walk away from the book and the relevant biblical passages with a good understanding of the exegesis of the passages, but we can also see that at a minimum women are just as able and just as permitted to lead the church as men.

Having had a good yet brief summary of the book, we can now critique Belleville’s Women Leaders and the Church: three crucial questions. When one allows the book to stand by itself and to read and critique it on its own merit, it is hard to find something negative about this book. In fact, the only constructive-critical remark that seems apparent is a few unsupported remarks. For example, on page 117, Belleville makes a remark about what Ephesians 6:4 means in regards to the father’s treatment of his child or children. She writes, “What he targets is the father’s apparent tendency to be too heavy-handed in the area of discipline” (2000). This remark is not expounded upon. Because it is not explained, we are left without any support for that remark. How did she arrive to this conclusion regarding the heavy-handedness in the discipline on the part of the father? Why did she come to this conclusion and not something else? Although this is a problem, it should be noted that it is a minor one that is not problematic to her argument. Such remarks are few throughout her book and therefore do not warrant a large caution against her writing or her methodology. In truth, Belleville’s book was put together so well that it can mostly only be praised. In fact, there are four very important features of her book that are to be applauded.

First, Women Leaders and the Church takes into consideration the cultural influences of the biblical texts. It is absolutely essential that we look at biblical texts alongside of their cultural settings. Culture influences people; people wrote the biblical texts; therefore, in order to best understand the biblical texts, even if not fully, we must take into consideration the cultural influences from their time. Belleville’s book addresses the culture from the time of Jesus and Paul, as well as before and after the times of the New Testament, and then it looks at Scripture in light of that information. We see this practice throughout the book, but we see it the most in the answer to the first question, “In which ministries can women be involved?” In her analysis of Jewish, Greek and Roman cultures, we find that women were in fact involved in various religions as leaders, and, when she addresses the leadership roles of women in the early church, she compares and contrasts them to those of the Jewish, Greek and Roman ones. However, past culture is not all that ought to be involved in hermeneutics, but also modern culture, which influences how we understand things today, including biblical texts.

Second, Belleville’s book takes into consideration the contextual understandings of modern interpretations and translations of biblical texts. In order to best understand the biblical texts, we must be responsible exegetes and do our best to keep our own understandings, views and theological lenses from reading something into the text. Although we cannot entirely keep our own cultural presuppositions from influencing how we interpret the biblical texts, we need to at least make an effort to protect the texts from our cultural understandings. Belleville does a great job of this very thing in her treatment of headship in the New Testament, which she treats very well in answering the question, “What roles can women play in society?” Belleville was as careful as she could possibly be to keep our modern cultural understandings of the definition and concept of headship from influencing how we understand the New Testament concept of headship. As a result, we learn that our understanding of headship differs greatly from what the New Testament portrays. Not only is it important that we take our own cultural influences into account in addition to the cultural influences of the biblical times, but it is equally important to compare Scripture with Scripture and to address not one passage but all the passages that pertain to the relevant issue.

Third, this book takes into consideration all of the relevant controversial passages and allows them to speak for themselves to the best of Belleville’s abilities. She does not focus on one biblical passage that goes against egalitarianism, explain it away and then end her argument there. Rather, she looks at the totality of the biblical corpus as best as she can in just three chapters and examines all the relevant and controversial biblical passages that are commonly and widely used in having men lead. She allows the texts to speak for themselves while looking at them in depth. The two most controversial passages, 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2, were given the most treatment, as should be expected, since they are widely used to deny and keep women from taking leadership positions. We can leave Belleville’s book with a good defense of the equality of women, because she presented a broad biblical treatment that deals with texts that are both supportive and seemingly non-supportive at first glance, leaving no room for accusations that her book ignores the totality of Scripture. Understanding the cultural influences and looking at the whole of the biblical texts is necessary, but Belleville does not stop there, for she also re-examines the biblical understanding of church leadership, which is absolutely necessary when talking about how church leadership ought to work.

Finally, Belleville takes into consideration the biblical understanding of church leaders through strong word analysis. In order to even talk about the structures of church leadership, we have to define our terms. Belleville does well to not only look at the leadership language of the New Testament—in Greek—but also how those words were used outside of the New Testament. Through her study, we find that leadership as understood in the New Testament is not how we traditionally think of leadership. Additionally, we find that the way we have our church structured is not how it is supposed to be. Church leaders are to be co-sufferers who serve alongside the rest of the church. We also find that the church leaders do not have official authority, but rather it is Jesus and the church that have authority and not the leaders of the church. Therefore, we leave the book with the knowledge that the hierarchical system that we have traditionally utilized for church leadership is vastly different from the vision of Jesus and Paul.

Belleville’s book, Women Leaders and the Church: three crucial questions, is quite valuable to the issue concerning women in leadership of the church. It is to be commended for defining leadership, addressing all the most relevant biblical texts and not ignoring the difficult ones, protecting against modern cultural influences and incorporating the cultural influences from around the times of the biblical texts within the three crucial questions regarding women and ministry, societal roles, and authority. Belleville demonstrates herself to be a responsible scholar in this book and enables us to talk intelligently about women in leadership in light of Scripture and history.



Belleville, Linda L. 2000. Women Leaders and the Church: three crucial questions. Grand

Rapids: Baker Books.

Doriani’s “Women and Ministry”

About: this paper was delivered to Dr. David Nystrom at Fuller Theological Seminary during my first year for a class on Women, the Bible, and the Church.


Dan Doriani’s book, Women and Ministry: what the Bible teaches, is not only a good book, but also a good representation of a complementarian or traditional interpretation of the Bible regarding church leadership and women.  The book is well-written and contains some very good analysis in terms of methodology.  Although Doriani produced a well-written book, demonstrated opposing views in a seemingly fair way, and at least gave women the ability to lead in some roles of the Church, he failed to do three crucial things: to address the influence of the Graeco-Roman culture on Paul and on Christians of the first century A.D. and following; to not identify the views and perceptions from the Graeco-Roman culture regarding women; and to indicate the leadership roles that women had during the house-church structure that existed prior to the institutionalization of the Church.  Before we come to terms with the book’s shortcomings, we must first gain a brief understanding of the content of the book.

If we had to break Women and Ministry down into constituent parts, it would be comprised of three parts.  The first section of the book is an argument for the traditional or complementarian  interpretation regarding women, which basically understands that women cannot be elders of a church and must submit to the authority of church leaders as well as their husbands.  This section is made up of eight chapters, in which males are seen as the ones who fulfill the role of leadership within the family and within the Church while women fulfill the role of the caretakers of the household as well as the Church.  The second section of the book is one chapter and it is a comparison of the egalitarian and complementarian views.  That chapter gives a seemingly fair treatment of both sides, but as would be expected the weight of the treatments is given to the complementarian viewpoint.  The third section of the book is the final chapter that deals with a history of women and ministry.  Doriani highlights the major historical thoughts, perspectives and practices regarding women in church leadership in this section, detailing the major influences from Chrysostom to Jerome to Luther and beyond.  These three sections combine to give a decent presentation of the complementarian view.

The constituent parts support Doriani’s idea that women can lead in the Church and can use their gifts in leadership roles, but they cannot have any authoritative positions over the Church as a whole or over men.  They are welcome to serve alongside of men and attend to the members of the Church, but they cannot oversee the Church.  It should be noted that Doriani does argue for women to be able to teach the Church, including men, but only when they are teaching children or, when teaching men, if teaching while under the direct authority of a man or of men.  Therefore, although Doriani is a complementarian, he does argue for women to be actively involved in serving the Church and even leading within the Church alongside men even though they may not oversee the Church.

Now that we have a brief understanding of the content of the book, we can now look at some positive and negative critiques of Women and Ministry.  The following list contains three key positive remarks of the book: one, it is well-written; two, it fairly demonstrates opposing views; and three, it at least gives women the ability to lead in some roles of the Church.

Doriani did a great job of putting this book together.  Overall, Women and Ministry is easy to read.  Sentence structures were simple and not overly complicated, and the chapters were broken down in such a way that the material was easy to work through, making this book quite pleasant to read.  However, easy reading does not indicate a good argument, although it helps in understanding the argument.  What is particularly notable about this book is that it fairly demonstrates opposing views in tandem with the view that is held by Doriani.

Doriani included material–arguments, counter-arguments, interpretations, etc.–from opposing views interspersed throughout the book.  He even included an entire chapter to the comparison between the main opposing view, egalitarianism, and complementarianism.  He clearly articulated the complementarian interpretation, as should be expected, but he also did a fair job of portraying how the egalitarian view regards the issue of women in church leadership.  Granted that it is not the complete and full view of the egalitarian that Doriani portrays, what he portrayed is sufficient enough to give a general understanding of the opposite view to complementarianism.  It was commendable of Doriani to at least wrestle with the opposing views and not just take a streamlined, one-sided approach to the issue at hand.  But this book is not commendable only for its fair treatment of both sides, for it is also commendable for its allowance and approval of women to partake in some forms, although not all, of church leadership.

Doriani nobly argued for women to participate alongside of men in servant leadership.  Although he would not argue for women to be a senior pastor of a church, Doriani made it quite clear even from a biblical standpoint that women should lead in the church to a certain level.  He sees them as able people who, having the same gifts of the Spirit as men, should be using their God-given gifts.  Doriani recognizes the need for women to use their gifts for the benefit of the Church and he urges them to do so.  Women are not simply a complement to men in theory for Doriani; rather, they are complements in practice, but if they do not put their gifts into practice alongside of men, then they have lost their complement.  For Doriani, it is absolutely essential that women be in church leadership with the exception of authoritative, elder or overseer leadership.

This book is commendable for its textual and compositional simplicity, demonstrative fairness of argumentation, and Church utilization of women.  However, the book is not perfect.  The following list is comprised of three key negative remarks concerning Women and Ministry: one, its failure to address the influence of the Graeco-Roman culture on Paul and the Christians from the first century A.D. and following; two, its failure to identify the views of women in the culture of Paul; and three, its failure to indicate the leadership roles of women from the house church structure that the early Christians had prior to the institutionalization of the Church.

Doriani recognizes cultural influences, demands and ideas for our time, but he does not recognize the cultural influences on Paul during his time, which would have impacted what Paul taught, preached and wrote.  The question at stake is if Doriani is being consistent.  On the one hand, he refutes the idea that our contemporary culture should influence how we operate in terms of roles, both in the home and in the Church (cf. 2003, 98).  However, on the other hand, he either fails to realize or chooses to ignore that the culture that Paul grew up and lived in would have influenced his thought process, his presuppositions, his values and his ideals, including, but not limited to, male and female roles.  As a result, Doriani argues that the biblical model as identified by Paul transcends culture and should be the model that we employ today as Christians despite what our contemporary culture says (cf. 2003, 94).  At the least we can say that Doriani is unintentionally inconsistent in this point.  Not only is Doriani inconsistent but his book is also inadequate.

Doriani recognizes that women were not looked upon very well in the Graeco-Roman culture, including in the Jewish culture that resided within the larger Graeco-Roman setting.  He notes that some rabbis exhorted men to steer clear of women, including their own wives, and others basically taught that talking to women was evil (2003, 41).  Although Doriani does well in recognizing that the common perception of women during the time of Paul and even of Jesus was not very good, he fails to address the fact that Paul would have been heavily influenced by this perception and that it would have affected his command for women to keep silent and have no authority over a man (1 Timothy 2).  He demonstrates that in his ministry Jesus called women to discipleship and ignored the common cultural perceptions (2003, 42).  However, he claims that it was not Jesus’ goal to liberate women from these perceptions and roles (2003, 42).  As a result, he argues that Jesus calls women to discipleship while still functioning within the culturally-defined gender roles (2003, 46).  If we cary out his logic all the way through, however, we would also have to accept the ideas that Jesus would have affirmed that women should have less legal rights as men and that he would have upheld the perception that women were “mentally and spiritually inferior to men” (2003, 41) as well.  According to Doriani’s own logic that the Bible forms the model society that Christians are to follow (cf. 2003, 37), we should be operating according to these perceptions today.  His treatment regarding the negative views of women is entirely inadequate for the task, and beyond that problem lies Doriani’s failure to address the fact that women were likely to have been leaders of house churches in the first century A.D. prior to the institutionalization of the Church.

Doriani did not rightly point out that women were co-leaders with men in house churches before the Church became a structured institution starting in the second century A.D.  He did well to show that women were not allowed to be authoritative Church leaders throughout the overwhelming majority of Church history, but he really did not give any good indication that women were house church leaders prior to the institutionalized Church.  If he had, it may have spoken against his argument, even if just slightly, which is probably why he did not address it.  Instead, he explained away any sort of possibility for women to be understood in the New Testament corpus as Church leaders, so that there would not be a need to identify that women and men led the Church in a house-church structure.  In this way, by not entirely giving the full picture, Doriani’s book is misleading.

Women and Ministry: what the Bible teaches is a simple and fair treatment of the complementarian view, which actually argues for women to be utilized in the Church, but it is still inconsistent, inadequate and misleading in the end.  Doriani put together a well-written book on women and ministry, fairly demonstrating not only his own view but also opposing views while giving women some room to lead within the Church under the authority of male leaders.  However, he fell short by failing to address the cultural influences on Paul from the first century A.D., by failing to identify the perspectives from the first century A.D. on women and completely interact with them, and by failing to indicate that women did have leadership roles in house churches in the first century A.D.  Although it is not a perfect book, Women and Ministry is a good portrayal of the complementarian view and is valuable for understanding the overall picture of women in Church leadership.















Doriani, Dan.  2003.  Women and Ministry: what the Bible teaches.  Wheaton: Crossway Books.

Miller’s “Women in Early Christianity”

About: this paper was submitted to Dr. David Nystrom at Fuller Theological Seminary during my first year for a class on Women, the Bible, and the Church.


If anyone would like to study about leadership and women from the first century A.D. through the fifth century A.D., coming to terms with the texts from that time period is absolutely essential. Patricia Cox Miller put together a book that gives such a student the opportunity to do just that, to become acquainted with the texts from the first through fifth centuries A.D. regarding leadership and women. Miller’s book, Women in Early Christianity: translations from Greek texts, is a collection of documents from the relevant time period that concern women from the male’s perspective, both positive and negative. Although Miller’s collection of texts concerning women from the first century A.D. and forward provides the reader with the ability to read about the various views concerning women and leadership, it fails to give any direction to the reader for dealing with the texts provided, and it does not provide any information to the crucial Jewish roots of Christianity regarding the Jewish perspective on women and women leadership from the same time period as the other texts. Before we proceed to critiquing this collection of texts concerning women, we must first grasp the heart of the content of the book by summarizing the sections of each chapter.

Miller’s book does not employ any texts written during the first through fifth centuries A.D. that were written by women, because such texts that were written by women during that era have not been preserved for us today in the same way that texts written by men have been preserved (2005, 1). Men wrote all the texts contained in Miller’s collection. These texts portray how men viewed women throughout the time period that we are looking at, what they expected of women, and what they thought was acceptable for a woman to do in terms of leadership. Miller notes in her introduction that the men that wrote about women during our selected time period were primarily interested in “women’s roles as teachers, prophets, martyrs, widows, deaconesses, ascetics, virgins, patrons, wives, mothers and sisters, and metaphors” (2005, 1). Therefore, such categories are what Miller has organized the texts into.

Miller does well to note that in the broader context of leadership within the first century A.D., women had a large role. Miller notes that it was not until the second century A.D. that the Church began to organize itself according to the male-oriented societies that it lived in (2005, 5). It was in this society that women were defined by their roles as wives and mothers while men were defined by their roles as public authorities and political figures (2005, 5). After she established that the Church did not become male-oriented like the culture around it until the second century A.D., Miller rightly shows that women did have a large leadership role in the first century A.D. with three main points. First, she points out that both women and men led house churches during the first century A.D. (2005, 6). Second, Miller points out that Paul supported women’s public prayers and prophecies so long as they were veiled (2005, 6). Third, she points out that there were women among Paul’s notable missionaries, even identifying one woman by the name of Junia as “foremost among the apostles” (2005, 6). However, in the end, the high view of women as ones who can lead lost out to the cultural view regarding women, so that as the Church began to structure itself, it patterned after its surrounding culture and the leadership roles of women heavily declined (2005, 7). Although women were no longer perceived as authoritative figures, they did have a role to fulfill in the Church. Women did have a part in the male-oriented and structured Church as widows and also as deaconesses (2005, 7).

Apart from leadership, Miller spends much of the space in the book regarding texts that focus on women and virtues that they ought to pursue, such as asceticism and virginity, and examples of women with such virtues. In particular, the virgin female captured the imagination of the Christian authors, since it was this kind of female that was believed to have the ability to overcome the perceived and understood disadvantages of the female gender (2005, 8). In addition to women, virtues and female exemplars, Miller also spends a good portion of space on marriage. She shows how the Christian understanding and practice of marriage had been primarily shaped by the surrounding culture of the Church, which in turn affected the role of women, for in the broader context of the Graeco-Roman culture that the Church resided in men functioned in the public sphere while women operated in the private (2005, 13). Finally, Miller addresses the various themes that women were used to depict. The texts concerning such images demonstrate how powerful the images of women were to the authors (2005, 14).

Miller’s choices for including the texts in this book concerning women within the topics of leadership, virtues, marriage and images combine to give the reader a good conglomerate of texts concerning women from the first through fifth centuries A.D. However, do these texts do anything else other than beg to be read? These texts do nothing more than beg to be read, because Miller neglects to provide any direction with what we can do with these texts, so all we can do is read them unless we know anything of anthropology, sociology or Graeco-Roman culture and history to make anything of the collection of texts.

The texts concerning leadership roles in the Church demonstrate that women were at one point in time in the history of the Church capable and authoritative leaders as teachers, prophets, widows and deaconesses in some fashion or another. However, the role of teacher became heretical for women to publicly partake in (2005, 17), as did the role of prophet (2005, 31). The arguments that do not allow such roles to be filled by women were based on poor logic. As is the general case of the majority of the provided texts, the argument against women in leadership is founded upon arguments from silence. In one of the an excerpts from Didascalia apostolorum, the argument against women leadership in the public sphere rests on the fact that Jesus himself did not specifically command that women should teach, and therefore women are not allowed to (2005, 31). Men used such arguments of silence to deny women leadership roles in the public domain. All women who held any authoritative public leadership role were declared to be heretics. The main text that Miller incorporates into her collection, which positively looks upon a woman as a good teacher, is written by a male regarding his sister (2005, 22-29). This text functions to show that women could be teachers in the family, but it says nothing of women being teachers in public. The only real role women could have in the end was that of a deaconess, and in that role women taught and served women, but never men, and furthermore, this role was challenged by some. Many more texts were included regarding the other topics, to which we will now address.

The texts that Miller included in her section regarding women and their behavior as either virgins or wives basically perceive women to be inherently shameful. A woman, for example, who exposes her throat while drinking from a cup is immodest (2005, 71). Again, she is shameful for using perfume (2005, 72-73). Because of the perception that women were shameful beings, the virtue of virginity and the virtue of chastity were perceived as the way by which women can overcome their shamefulness, and it was only the chaste virgin that would have some sort of role in the Church (2005, 192). However, John Chrysostom did have good perceptions of marriage as well as the ascetic life, so asceticism was not the only lifestyle aspired to (2005, 268-76). The thoughts and ideas regarding these virtues, chastity and virginity, were exemplified in several different stories of heroines and biographies of women, who become models that men directed women to for guidance on how to live.

Miller focuses on the use of metaphorical images of women to make particular theological points at the end of the book. The first theological image portrayed with a woman is the metaphorical depiction of Eve who represented disobedience (2005, 289). However, Mary, the mother of Jesus, was understood by some to be the reversal of Eve, and was thus the second theological image portrayed with a woman in the book (2005, 289). Furthermore, feminine imagery is used to depict God, the Church and even virtues (2005, 307).

The texts that Miller compiled into this book help give the reader a sense of the male-minded perspective regarding women from the first through fifth centuries A.D., but the book does not do anything more than that. We know from reading this text that women were held in much less esteem than men, except in family situations where siblings or mothers are looked upon with much adoration. We know from reading this text that women were thought to be rulers of the private domain only and never the public, so that teaching publicly became problematic for women. Yet, we do know that women did serve a role in the Church as deaconesses, and some, whether heretical or not, did teach. As a whole, however, this book does not offer anything else than that, because the book must have been designed for those who have had Graeco-Roman cultural-historical academic training. Without this particular background, the book is nothing more than a collection of texts that do not inspire any substantial conclusions for the reader regarding women in ministry, but it does give the essential sources and background texts that scholars reference when making such conclusions.

The book failed to include any texts regarding women from a Jewish, rabbinic background. Nothing from the Mishnah or Gemara was included. No comments from rabbis were given. The fact is that if we are to understand women in early Christianity, we must understand first where Christianity comes from, which is Judaism. Christians during our selected time period were widely influenced by Judaism. It is also safe to say that at least in part the Jews from the area that we now label as Palestine were influenced by the Roman culture that invaded them. Therefore, if we are to understand Christianity, we have to come to an understanding of both Roman culture of that time and Judaism, since they together form the basis of how Christians during that time period thought and understood how things should operate, including leadership roles and women within the Church. This book only provides one step of several to understanding women in early Christianity, because it neglects to give Jewish texts or Roman cultural background while only giving Greek texts.

Women in Early Christianity: translations from Greek texts does well to provide how the early Church viewed women both publicly and privately throughout the first through fifth centuries A.D. However, it failed to give any sense of direction for understanding women in early Christianity and what impact that should have on us today. What are we to make of these texts? Miller does not say. On top of that, only Greek texts are provided. Nothing representing the Jewish influences was in the book, which is sad, because we cannot forget that Jesus and Paul were Jews who were raised and taught as Jews, so the Jewish understanding regarding women is necessary for understanding how the early Christians perceived them. Despite the lack of direction for making use of the material provided and the absence of documents concerning the Jewish perspective, the book provides good information for understanding the various views regarding women and leadership that were held from the first century A.D. and forward. At the very least, we can leave the text with some indication of the views of the early Church regarding women throughout the selected period in history, which serves to give us a start to the subject of women in early Christianity and beginning a search for coming to some conclusions regarding this subject.


Miller, Patricia. 2005. Women In Early Christianity: translations from Greek texts.

Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press.