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An unfortunate history of misinterpretation and abuse has surrounded 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. It has been taken out of context and used to suppress women’s involvement in the ministry of the church. The egalitarian interpretation, however, finally perceives this verse, not as a tool of oppression, but as one with a helpful cross-cultural message. 

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First Corinthians presents Christian women with a time to speak, not a time to be silent.

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The occasion for writing the following article is this: at a recent summer convention [probably 1893] a young lady missionary had been appointed to give an account of her work at one of the public sessions. The scruples of certain of the delegates against a woman’s addressing a mixed assembly were found to be so strong, however, that the lady was withdrawn from the programme, and further public participation in the conference confined to its male constituency.

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Many evangelicals do not know how to read the very texts they claim establish their distinctive identity. Far from viewing the biblical texts too reverently typical evangelical approaches fail to respect the text enough.

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Paul and the Leadership of Women: Irreconcilable or Inextricable? The Historical Context of Ephesians and Corinthians

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What did Paul mean when he told the women to keep silent? If he was indeed saying that women should not minister publicly, he was contradicting what he said earlier when he gave instructions for women’s dress code while prophesying!

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Should women “be silent”? Yes, just like the men. Should women be prepared to minister with “a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation”? Yes, just like the men.

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"Although the people living in the Greco-Roman world might not have been able to imagine a world in which slavery does not exist, Paul’s churches leave the hierarchy of slavery behind as part of the world that is passing away, along with ethnic division and gender hierarchy. Paul removes the power differential from Philemon and Onesimus’s relationship (in their church), and he replaces that differential with koinōnia by asking Philemon to receive Onesimus as if he were Paul."

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This article is an attempt to solve one specific problem: the proper translation of the word exousia in 1 Corinthians 11:10 (“For this reason the woman ought to have exousia over her head, because of the angels”). The translation of this word has been given much attention, because it is crucial for understanding the passage (11:2-16).

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Since the middle of the twentieth century there has been an ongoing, sometimes acrimonious debate over the meaning of “head” (Greek, kephalē) in Paul’s letters, especially 1 Corinthians 11:3 and Ephesians 5:23. This article is an attempt to review the most significant scholarly literature that has emerged in the debate and to summarize each without critique. 

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