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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. At the outset of my paper I will disclose the three most prominent complementarian objections to an egalitarian interpretation: (1) the hierarchy Paul describes in v. 3 lays out a subordinating chain of command, (2) the word “authority” in verse 10 takes a passive meaning and thereby refers to the husband’s authority over the wife, and (3) that while women do not have to wear head coverings today they still need to pray and prophesy in a manner that is submissive to male leadership in the church.

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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of the delegates against a woman’s addressing a mixed assembly were found to be so strong, however, that the lady was withdrawn from the programme, and further public participation in the conference confined to its male constituency.

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Was Priscilla one of the most successful teachers, evangelists, and writers in the early church? A survey of Priscilla’s ministry in Rome, Corinth, and Ephesus reveals a woman whose abilities and life’s circumstances beg the question: Was it Priscilla who wrote Hebrews?

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Paul’s first word to women in this passage was corrective. He wrote, “Women should be silent in the churches. They are not 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.”

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This article originated as a paper that I presented at the Pacific Coast Region/Society of Biblical Literature meeting, New Testament Epistles and Apocalypse Section, at St. Mary’s College, Moraga, California, in March 2002. I wish to focus here on the distinctive theology of Hebrews and how it relates to gender equality.

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Introduction

My field of research is Adolf von Harnack’s hypothesis that Priscilla is the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews.1 I argue for the theory. There are two main objections to the Priscilla theory that I want to state and refute in order to assure its plausibility.

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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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First-century Corinth and its challenges were not so different from our own. Upwardly mobile Christians facing radically diverse ethnic, religious, economic and social conditions. The church divided over issues of leadership and authority, sexual morality, gender and worship, marriage and divorce. Sound familiar? Yet as Alan Johnson highlights in this excellent commentary, in the midst of this detailed, practical letter to a church in crisis Paul has penned one of the greatest paeans to love ever written.

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Despite his special pastoral relationship with the church in Corinth, Paul confronted numerous local and cultural problems needing to be addressed. Utilizing a range of ancient sources, Craig Keener explains these problems and how Paul's arguments would have been communicated to a first-century audience.

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