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Although we may idealize the early church, most of us would not have enjoyed a visit to a worship service at Corinth. The impression which one was most likely to receive was that of chaos and delirious insanity.

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Women in the Church is a dangerous book which should not have been published because, while it appears to be scholarly, it actually teems with historical and theological errors and also emotional subjectivity. Alan G. Padgett has provided a critical rebuttal to Women in the Church in the Winter 1997 issue of Priscilla Papers. I refer readers to his technical refutation of the key themes of Women in the Church. I will highlight other problems with the book and critique its basic tone.

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We Lutherans all want to argue on the basis of God's revealed truth in the authoritative Scripture. Yet all of us come to this debate with our own personal history and agenda. My own history includes aversion to women in the public ministry as a result of experiences, first as a teenager, then as a student in Germany. More recently, I have developed a growing understanding of the just claims of Christian women who have been disempowered and marginalized in the church and a horror for what has been perpetrated in the name of male headship. A re-examination of the texts and another (this time happy) experience of having a woman as my pastor in the United States about a decade ago led me to abandon my previously held view that the ordination of women is not the Lord's will for his church today. I am now convinced to the contrary, although I do not like using the broad term feminist. My own personal pain is not only that close friends and relatives hold an opposing view, but that I fully understand that view as one who once held it (this is not said in any spirit of superiority).

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Nearly all nonegalitarian scholars will grant the relevance of context to some extent; everyone recognizes the usefulness of cultural background in biblical interpretation. However, the nonegalitarian approach to cultural context is simply not consistent.

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Ever since I set forth a more-or-less representative egalitarian interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 in Good News for Women, I have felt somewhat dissatisfied with this approach. Although I found it considerably less problematic than the traditionalist interpretation, still it left me with some nagging questions. 

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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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The battle over women leaders and the church continues to rage unabated in evangelical circles. At the center of the tempest sits 1 Tim. 2:11-15. Despite a broad spectrum of biblical and extra-biblical texts that highlight female leaders, 1 Tim. 2:11-15 continues to be perceived and treated as the great divide in the debate. Indeed for some, how one interprets this passage has become a litmus test for the label “evangelical” and even for salvation.

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The purpose of this essay is a simple one. I hope you will come away with a new understanding of one paragraph in Paul’s letters that deals with women and men in the church. The paragraph is 1 Cor. 11:2-16, a passage I have been studying and writing about for over twenty years.

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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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