We are very pleased to publish this expanded edition of Priscilla Papers in celebration of the journal’s twentieth anniversary. During the last twenty years, its biblical scholarship on equality in the church, home, and world has reached hundreds of college and seminary libraries and the homes of thousands of lay people, pastors, and ministry leaders around the world.
The history of Priscilla Papers
Priscilla Papers is actually older than its publisher, Christians for Biblical Equality. The journal began as part of the vision of Catherine Kroeger, the first president of CBE. In order to address the critical need for more accurate and faithful interpretations of the Bible regarding gender, she and her husband, Richard, began a study center in their home. In the winter of 1987, they published the first issue of Priscilla Papers, edited by their daughter, Elizabeth. Christians for Biblical Equality began in late 1987 and was incorporated on January 2, 1988.
Gretchen Gaebelein Hull, who had been an editor for a large publishing house and a leader in her church in New York, began editing Priscilla Papers in 1989. Her father and grandfather were known for their biblical scholarship. Under her leadership and skill, the journal grew in breadth of content and in circulation.
Carol Thiessen became editor in 2000. Carol had been on the editorial staff of Christianity Today for many years. Her term was cut short when she became ill with a deadly cancer and passed to the presence of the Lord in 2003.
CBE staff member Victoria Peterson-Hilleque served as acting editor until William Spencer became editor in 2004. His wife, Aída, is the editorial consultant. Both Bill and Aída are authors, pastors, and professors. The gifted editorial and design team they have assembled will launch Priscilla Papers into its third decade.
Each of these editors has made distinctive contributions to Priscilla Papers as its reputation and influence have grown around the world. Subscriptions to Priscilla Papers and CBE’s magazine, Mutuality, are included with CBE membership. Back issues and non-member subscriptions are also available for purchase (see p. 62 for membership and subscription forms).
Christians for Biblical Equality is an evangelical nonprofit organization committed to articulating and promoting the biblical basis for gift-based rather than gender-based ministry in the church, home, and world. Along with membership services, an online bookstore, chapter meetings, and international conferences, CBE publications play a key role in spreading the message of biblical equality and justice.
CBE publications uphold a high view of Scripture and offer both popular and scholarly resources from different cultures and evangelical denominations. In the last three years, Priscilla Papers journal and Mutuality magazine have received nine Evangelical Press Association awards in the categories of biblical exposition, critical review, first-person narrative, and poetry. Subscriptions to CBE’s free electronic journal, E-Quality, have surpassed our print publications and continue to grow. The CBE Scroll (blog.cbeinternational.org), CBE’s first web log, was launched in 2005 and has sparked insightful discussions of current events related to evangelicals and gender.
The development of these publications over the last two decades has involved much hard work and prayer by CBE’s staff and consultants. Their dedication, plus the support of CBE members and friends, the work of faithful volunteers, and the contributions of gifted authors and artists, have all helped spread the important message of biblical equality and justice through CBE’s publications.
The context of our twentieth anniversary issue
Evangelicals are currently divided over the question of women’s status in the church and home. Competing interpretations of the Bible are at the heart of this issue. Both views believe that their position is firmly grounded on the clear teaching of Scripture.
Some evangelicals believe that the Bible gives “headship” to men. They claim that in creation God appointed man to lead in the church and home, and that all the apostolic exhortations to women to be subordinate and keep silent in church are predicated on this transcultural social order given at creation.
Other evangelicals believe that complementary equality is the biblical ideal. God has made us men and women, yet we have equal dignity and the same potential for leadership. The apostolic exhortations to women and slaves to be subordinate simply reflect the cultural norms of that day, and were never intended to establish permanent hierarchies based on gender, ethnicity, or class.
Both views turn to the Bible to prove their cases. Both interpretations have the support of biblical scholars of the highest caliber. Both are convinced they are right. How do we judge in such battles over biblical interpretation?
It is unhelpful to accuse fellow evangelicals of denying the authority of the Bible, or of rejecting biblical inerrancy. Both views affirm the authority of Scripture. What divides us is the interpretation of Scripture. We may agree we have inerrant Scriptures (an idea that needs some unpacking), but not that we have inerrant interpretations. Fallen human beings always hear imperfectly what God is saying and all too often get it wrong.
The great Reformed theologians Robert Dabney, John Henry Thornwell, and Charles Hodge are classic examples of evangelicals with the very highest view of Scripture who got their interpretation of the Bible wrong. They used verses in the Bible to support the institution of slavery, and were able to biblically defend their position against Christians who supported the emancipation of slaves.
How could these renowned theologians make such a terrible mistake? Self-interest blinded them from grasping the biblical truth that all men and women are created in the image of God, and thus of equal dignity and worth. They failed to see that any devaluing of another human being is an offense against God. Tragically, they began with the premise that God had appointed white men to rule in perpetuity over black men and all women, and they proceeded to find texts to support what they already believed. As a result, the Bible was used to support behavior that was cruel, unjust, and self-serving.
It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that evangelicals today who devote so much time and energy to arguing for the permanent subordination of women by digging deeper into two or three texts are making exactly the same mistake that evangelical theologians made one hundred and fifty years ago. History is repeating itself. They have their proof texts but they have missed what the Bible puts first (cf. Gen. 1:27-28) and what the ministries of Jesus and Paul endorse—the complementary coequality of men and women.
Interpretations of the Bible that support the preeminence of the interpreter and permanently subordinate those in some way different than the interpreter should raise our suspicions. Our overall grasp of the Christian faith, which is grounded in a God who loves us and is willing to become a servant for our salvation, should tell us there is something wrong with such self-justifying interpretations, no matter how many texts are quoted to support them. The God revealed in Jesus Christ wants us to be servants and not overlords, to seek the advancement of others and not ourselves, to work for justice and not oppression.
The contents of our twentieth anniversary issue
Nineteenth-century evangelical abolitionists successfully reached out to Christians who wrestled with conflicting interpretations of the Bible’s teaching on slavery. For the last twenty years, Priscilla Papers has been reaching out to Christians who wrestle with conflicting interpretations of the Bible’s teaching on women’s place in the church and home.
By offering biblical, theological, and historical support for the equality of men and women, this twentieth anniversary edition exemplifies the kind of evangelical scholarship published in Priscilla Papers. We pray the scholarship presented here will inspire much thought and respectful dialogue.
N. T. Wright, Mark Reasoner, and Alan Johnson offer helpful analyses of New Testament passages that have been used to support women’s subordination to men. They propose accurate and faithful interpretations of these texts that do not contradict examples of women leaders endorsed by Jesus and Paul.
Elaine Heath and Roberta Hestenes offer theological support and practical applications for mutuality in marriage and women’s leadership. Charles Knowles proposes a theology of right relationships based on the Great Commandment, and Phillip Cary calls evangelicals to rejoin the Great Tradition of the Nicene understanding of Trinitarian relations.
Kevin Giles explores evangelical responses to women’s emancipation since the 1970s and Mimi Haddad shows that the roots for the egalitarian interpretation of Scripture run deep in our evangelical heritage.
We are pleased to conclude this special issue with a review of a new edition of a classic egalitarian text, Gilbert Bilezikian’s Beyond Sex Roles. Chelsea DeArmond’s poem about Jesus and the woman at the well in John 4 challenges us all to follow the Samaritan woman’s example and trust Jesus to satisfy our thirst for truth.
There is a sense in which every issue of Priscilla Papers over the last twenty years is evidence that evangelicals do not need to compromise their commitment to biblical authority in order to support the equality of men and women in the church and home. Our hope and prayer is that God will continue to use Priscilla Papers to free Christians to minister out of their giftedness in their churches and homes, and to answer God’s call wherever it may lead.