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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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Several years ago I got an idea for a biblical novel; placing myself in the world of Mary the mother of Jesus’, I would write in her voice — a diary spanning thirty years and titled Mary’s Journal.

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The current teaching about a husband being his wife’s “covering” is so popular that some people are surprised to find that is actually is based on a shaky inference from I Corinthians 11:2-16, a passage which is talking about a woman literally covering her hair during Christian worship. 

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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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In his presentation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Luke introduces certain individuals who responded appropriately to the revelation of God in Jesus. One such person was Mary of Nazareth. A closer look at a few familiar passages, the Annunciation and the Magnificat (Lk 1:26-56), reveals certain characteristics of biblical spirituality that are exemplified in Mary.

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Our Rector posed the question, “Of all the characters in the Bible, who would you like to interview concerning who this Christ is and why he came?” We pondered the question for a moment and before I could open my mouth to say “Mary,” a man in the group said: “Mary, his mother.”

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The New Testament is the earliest source for Mary. Galatians, possibly written around 57 AD, speaks of Jesus being “born of a woman” (Gal 4:4); that is our earliest reference to the mother of Christ. All the Gospels, probably written between 70 and 100 AD, testify to the existence of Mary.

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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 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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