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Studies on Specific Passages

Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series on difficult Bible passages entitled “What to Say When…” Since the fall, women have suffered enormously under patriarchy. In the church, in the world, and in the home, women have always been subordinate to men, and as a result, they have been abused, oppressed, and silenced. Some say gender hierarchy is God’s perfect design—a pristine plan for women and men’s good and flourishing. They point to Genesis, arguing that God clearly intended patriarchy from the start. But the text tells a different story. If we look closer, it becomes clear that patriarchy was never God’s plan for humanity. Is Patriarchy God’s Will or the Consequence of Sin? Genesis 3:16 says, “in pain you will be... Read more
Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series on difficult Bible passages entitled “What to Say When…” “The Bible says wives should submit to husbands, because men are the head of women.” Sigh. Some of us have heard this overly simplistic and frankly convenient interpretation of Paul’s words in Ephesians 5:18-32. But are we taking the “household codes” seriously enough in their own context? Is there more to this passage than meets the eye? The Household Code and the Paterfamilias Ephesians 5:22-6:9 is often referred to simply as the “household code.” The household code was a literary form for rules about behavior in the household. They used very wealthy families as an idealized model. Everyone in these households... Read more
Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series on difficult Bible passages entitled “What to Say When…” 1 Timothy 2 is a tricky passage to interpret well. Verses 11-15 alone contain four biblical “buzz phrases” often employed by those who oppose women’s equality in the church. Paul writes:[1] 1. Women should learn in silence (2:11). 2. I do not permit a woman to teach or dominate a man (2:12). 3. The woman was deceived and became a sinner (2:14). 4. Women will be saved through childbearing (2:15). These troubling verses form, for many, the foundation of the case for women’s submission to men and against the legitimacy of women’s preaching and teaching in church and/or to men. Though it would appear those opposed to women... Read more
The second letter of John is addressed “to the elect lady and to her children.” But who is the “elect lady” of 2 John? Is she a mother with kids, or something more? A look at the apostle John’s use of the word “children” in 1 John can help us understand who the woman’s children are. Then, we can try to solve the mystery of who the woman is. We commonly recognize that the “children” of 1 John refer to Christian converts. The “fathers,” “young men,” and “dear children” in the second chapter may refer to literal ages, or to spiritual development. Regardless of their age, the apostle John considered himself a spiritual father to these “children.” The apostle Paul also used this language... Read more
My church recently learned the song, “Sound of Adoration,” written by Bryan Torwalt and performed by the band, Jesus Culture. It begins like this, “When we were lost ones, You were the Shepherd that carried us home. When we were prodigals, You ran to meet us with open arms.” The opening sentence refers to Jesus’s parable of the lost sheep, and the following line comes from his parable of the prodigal son. Most people understand the shepherd of the lost sheep to symbolize God. One of the most influential books on Jesus’s parables (by Joachim Jeremias) supports this claim, calling the shepherd “an image of God’s activity of love.” Bible readers, ancient and modern, have made this connection—after all, “The Lord is my shepher... Read more
I don’t really like reading the creation story. This is partly because I skip ahead to what is often described as the “sin story.” I don’t like being told that “the man shall rule over” me (Gen 3:16). To Christians who do not ascribe to gender equality, this verse is prescriptive. It's used to explain and justify the hierarchy of patriarchy. It's used to support male headship, and deny women full inclusion in the church as people of God. If this is your reaction to the first few chapters of Genesis too, I empathize! But it’s time we flipped the script. Egalitarians shouldn’t shy away from this passage. Correctly interpreted, Genesis 3 is a foundational text in a theology of equality.  What is it that you have done?... Read more
Bitches Bunnies Chicks Heifers Vixens Shrews Women Are you offended by anything in the above list? If so, why? Is it the mention of a certain derogatory term for women that also means “female dog”? Is it the implication that women are less than human and belong in the category of animals?  Without a doubt, this list is provocative. Many of you are probably wondering how it is connected to the subject of this article: male-headship theology. Allow me to explain. Before an individual or society can effectively discriminate against, exploit, disempower, abuse, and sometimes even kill another individual or people group, the oppressor must first establish superiority over the target. Oppression is generally justified by the “confirmed” inferiority of... Read more
Sometimes Paul gets a bad rap. The slave narratives are replete with sentiments from former slaves who loved Jesus but hated Paul, because slaveholders regularly quoted Ephesians 6:5, "Slaves, obey your masters." What the slaveholders didn't bother to quote was the rest of the passage, which goes on to say, "masters, do the same things to them" (6:9). That is, if slaves have to obey their masters, masters must also obey their slaves! Did anyone in the first century take Paul literally on that point? Probably not. But that doesn't change that what he actually said expressed one of the most radically antislavery sentiments of his day. He wasn't talking about violently overthrowing the institution; even the failed slave revolts of his era had never attempted... Read more
In my previous article, I opened by clarifying that I sincerely believe gender-inclusive Bible translation always matters. Nevertheless, it matters more in some places than in others. I described four examples where gender-inclusive Bible translation makes a real difference. Below I list three more, for a total of seven. 5. 1 Timothy 4:7a This example is of a different sort than the other six. It’s more specifically about being gender-sensitive, not merely gender-inclusive, in translation. 1 Timothy 4:7a says, “Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths” (ESV). The ESV is here to be commended for abandoning the phrase “old wives’ tales”—an antiquated expression which both the NRSV and the 2011 NIV retain! The Greek word is graōdēs. Th... Read more
As I begin, it’s essential that I emphasize that I believe gender-inclusive Bible translation matters much more frequently than seven times. In fact, I have often made the point that the King James Version and the pre-2011 New International Versions each include more than 1,000 occurrences of the words “man” and “men” which are not found in the Greek New Testament. When I demonstrate that vast numerical discrepancy, I am driving home the point that people who claim that the New Testament has a masculine feel, and claim that gender-inclusive translation tactics do damage to that masculine feel, are expressing a truth about certain English translations, not a truth about the Greek New Testament. That is to say, gender-inclusive translations such as the NRSV, NL... Read more

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