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Hermeneutic Principles

From Buried Talents, by Jay Guin


The biases we all have are particularly strong in this area. The relationship of men and women is very, very strongly influenced by culture, and it is very hard to avoid reading popular culture into our interpretation of the Bible.


I remember reading an article first published in the Gospel Advocate in the early part of this century written during the Women’s Suffrage Movement. The author was convinced that it would be sin for a woman to vote, because submissive women should not be allowed to decide things that may affect men. He then pointed out that a submissive wife would have to vote as her husband voted, and therefore giving the women the vote would only double the votes received by each candidate, but could never change the outcome! When was the last time you heard a sermon against women voting? Or instructing women to vote as their husbands vote? Has the Bible changed — or our culture? ...

Hermeneutic Principles
Women’s Service in the Church: The Biblical Basis

A Conference Paper for the Symposium, ‘Men, Women, and the Church’

St John’s College, Durham, September 4, 2004

by the Bishop of Durham, Dr. N. T. Wright

I have been asked to speak, not about the relation between the sexes in general, nor indeed about marriage, but about the ministry of women. That is a welcome limitation of my subject, and I’m going to limit it further, but I do want to set my remarks within a particular framework of biblical theology to do with Genesis 1. Many people have said, and I have often enough said it myself, that the creation of man and woman in their two genders is a vital part of what it means that humans are created in God’s image. I now regard that as a mistake. After all, not only the animal kingdom, as noted in Genesis itself, but also the plant kingdom, as noted by the reference to seed, have their male and female. The two-gender factor is not at all specific to human beings, but runs right through a fair amount of the rest of creation. This doesen’t mean it’s unimportant, indeed it means if anything it’s all the more important; being male and being female, and working out what that means, is something most of creation is called to do and be, and unless we are to collapse into a kind of gnosticism, where the way things are in creation is regarded as secondary and shabby over against what we are now to do with it, we have to recognise, respect and respond to this call of God to live in the world he has made and as the people he has made us. It’s just that we can’t use the argument that being male-plus-female is somehow what being God’s imagebearers actually means. ...

Women's Service in the Church
What Did Women Do in the Bible?

Adapted from Dr. Scott McKnight

Many people, when a discussion arises about women in church ministries, gravitate to Paul’s two famous statements — that women should be silent in the churches:

Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not be allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. (1 Corinthians 14:34–35, emphasis added)

A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. (1 Timothy 2:11–12, emphasis added)

Some people are for and some are against women serving in leadership ministries. And it seems that both kinds of people gravitate to these “prohibitive” texts. In some ways, this a bit like asking about marriage in the Bible and gravitating toward the divorce texts. Yes, these statements by Paul about silence are important and they need to be looked at carefully, but there are other important passages in the Bible that we need to look at as well. ...

What Did Women Do in the Bible?
An In-depth Look:

1 Corinthians 14:34-35 & 1 Timothy 2:8-15 in Context
Adapted from Dr. Thomas Robinson

1 CORINTHIANS 14:34-35

In 1 Corinthians 14:26-36 Paul was dealing with the highly participatory style of worship that the Corinthian church practiced. This manner of worship may well have been typical of the early congregations that valued the presence of the Spirit among them (perhaps in contrast to those that simply imitated the far more staid patterns of synagogue services).

Paul stated, “When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.” Paul specified “each one” (not “each one of the men” nor “each one of the male leaders”). He clearly assumed that all of the Corinthians were participating in bringing various contributions to the worship. Paul did not indicate that he particularly liked this way of building their worship service, but neither did Paul tell them to stop worshiping in this manner. He simply told them to judge all they do by the standard of “edification” or “upbuilding.” He wanted them to evaluate everything by whether it genuinely built up the community. What mattered was whether what was said or done had a truly positive effect on hearers to help them come to know Jesus Christ or grow in their Christian life. He gave no indication that who spoke was important. ...

In-Depth Look
Reimagining a Woman's Role in the Church

An Open Letter

by Frank Viola

What is my view on a woman's role in the church and how I understand the "limiting passages" that seem to restrict their ministry?

To be honest, I'm monumentally disinterested in adding more noise to the ill-fated gender brawl that rages in some Christian circles. It is for this reason that I've been loathe to write on the subject. Yet I keep meeting women who have been spiritually straight-jacketed by what I find to be a wooden interpretation of certain Biblical texts. Their stories have provoked me to treat on this hazardous minefield. And for their sake, as well as for the sake of all my beloved sisters in Christ, I regret not having done so sooner. 

With that said, I'm no ready to have my ears singed with the hand-wringing, nitpicking, nailbiting, and tooth-gnashing that may be generated by my response.

Reimagining a Woman's Role n the Church
For Further Reading


Osburn, Carroll D., ed. Essays on Women in Earliest Christianity. 2 vols. Joplin, Missouri:  College Press Publishing Company, 1993, 1995.

A selection of essays by over forty of the finest biblical scholars in the Churches of Christ, including professors from Harding, Abilene Christian,  Pepperdine, and David Lipscomb Universities.


Osburn, Carroll D. Women in the Church: Reclaiming the Ideal. Abilene, TX: ACU Press, 2001.

For those in Churches of Christ who are seeking to make sense of contemporary debate over the relevant texts; Osburn makes every effort to subscribe to only the most rigorous standards of biblical scholarship, and he insists that others do likewise.


Keener, Craig S. Paul, Women & Wives: Marriage and Women's Ministry in the Letters of Paul. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1992.

A responsible and comprehensive single-author coverage of the various applicable biblical texts and their social contexts. Keener reminds us that Paul is addressing the structures of his day, not mandating the same structures for all time. Consequently, Keener suggests we must understand the difference between what God put up with in less than ideal cultures and the ideal for which we should strive.


Silvey, Billie, ed. Trusting Women: The Way of Women in Churches of Christ. Orange, CA: New Leaf Books, 2002.

These are the personal stories of nineteen women in the Churches of Christ, each with their own viewpoints and understandings, who tell of their struggles to use their God-given gifts in various ministries; their stories highlight both the pain and the blessing as women’s voices are heard in increasingly public ways among Churches of Christ.


Pauls, Dale. “A Final Farewell to the Twelfth Century,” in The Transforming of a Tradition: Churches of Christ in the New Millennium, pp. 105-116. Edited by Leonard Allen & Lynn Anderson. Orange, CA: New Leaf Books, 2001.

Explores the notion that many of the understandings we have about faith and practice, including our attitudes toward men and women, are more indebted to the twelfth century than to the first; one twelfth-century construct with real staying power is the church’s primary understanding of its message and ministries in terms of law rather than gospel.


Allen, C. Leonard. Distant Voices:  Discovering a Forgotten Past for a Changing Church. Abilene, Texas:  ACU Press, 1993.

Reveals that our heritage in the Churches of Christ is broader, richer and more diverse than previously imagined, and that this diversity extends to how we have approached gender roles and expectations.


Hughes, Richard T. Reviving the Ancient Faith:  The Story of Churches of Christ in America. Grand Rapids:  Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1996.

This history of our religious heritage is valuable for several reasons connected to a consideration of gender matters. It reveals how indebted our traditional approach to Biblical interpretation has been to the eighteenth-century Enlightenment thought of John Locke and Scottish Common-Sense Realism --- the old hermeneutic once was new, and not so very long ago.

For Further Reading
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