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Published Date: February 10, 2010

Published Date: February 10, 2010

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Paul’s Theological Axioms Should Guide Exegesis

It hurts to be misunderstood, but to be misrepresented in ways that contradict our deepest commitments is galling. Therefore, we must interpret Paul’s specific statements about women in the context of his theological axioms. Consequently, Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul’s Letters (described at begins by examining Paul’s backgrounds and crucial influences, his personal relationships with women colleagues in ministry, and his theological axioms.

Paul’s theology of man and woman is grounded in twelve theological axioms, each of which presupposes the equality of woman and man: creation in God’s image, the creation mandate and blessing, being in Christ, servant leadership, mutual submission in marriage, mutual submission in church life, the oneness of the body of Christ, the priesthood of all believers, gifts of the Spirit, liberty in Christ, inaugurated eschatology, and the equal status of male and female in Christ. These axioms provide the theological context for understanding each of Paul’s teachings about women.

Paul writes that all believers are created in God’s image (Col. 3:10; cf. 2 Cor. 3:18). In Colossians 2:10-11, he affirms that all Christians, female as well as male, “have this fullness [of the Godhead] in Christ…in whom you were also circumcised.” Paul depicts females as “circumcised,” and males as members of the bride of Christ (Eph. 5:22-27) because their gender is irrelevant to their status in the image of God and in Christ. Since humanity as male and female is in God’s image, God cannot be exclusively male. Indeed, God is spirit, not male or female. Accordingly, Paul’s reflections on the person and work of Jesus typically use the inclusive word anthropos (man/human; e.g., Rom. 5; Col. 3).

1 Timothy 6:17 affirms the creation mandate and blessing: “God richly provides us [male and female] with everything for our enjoyment.”

At the heart of Paul’s theology is the unity of redeemed humanity “in Christ,” in whom “there is no distinction” (Rom. 10:12-13; Eph. 2:14).

Christian leadership is humble service.

Mutual submission in the church and in marriage (Eph. 5:21; 1 Cor. 7:1-16 enumerates equal rights and privileges) presupposes the equal standing of men and women.

Hierarchy of status is antithetical to the oneness of the body (1 Cor. 12:25, “no division”).

The priesthood of all believers includes teaching (Col. 3:16; 1 Cor. 14:26).

Everyone is gifted (1 Cor. 12:11).

Liberty in Christ is antithetical to role restrictions in ministry (Gal. 5:1).

The new creation destroys the barrier, “the dividing wall of hostility” (Eph. 2:14), creating a “new self” (Eph. 4:22-24, Col. 3:11).

Paul’s argument against social inequality (Gal. 2:11-14) denies the distinction of male and female in Christ (Gal. 3:28). 1 Corinthians 11:11-12 affirms that woman is not separate from man in Christ, supporting their equal status and privileges, including prophecy.

Paul’s theological axioms undergird his teachings about man and woman. My book argues that all Paul’s statements about women are congruent with his theological axioms.