The Bible and Gender: An Exposition of Selected Scriptures (Illumination Publishers 2020) is notable because it is authored by the International Churches of Christ Teachers Service Team, a group of 12 experienced ministers, about half of which have or are pursuing doctorates and a quarter of which are women.[1]   

The book’s stated goal is to help explain the meaning of scripture “in an attempt to create dialogue” and help Bible readers interpret passages on “the role of women in the ministry of the church.” It says it does not seek to define ICOC doctrine. 

I. Summary

The eight chapters of The Bible and Gender address nine passages relevant to Biblical teaching on women and four are briefly summarized here to illustrate.[2]

Genesis 1-3: In the Beginning …

Chapter 1 exegetes Genesis 1-3, discussing various Hebrew terms.  It describes God giving a divine command to woman and man (be “fruitful and multiply”), noting they “complement each other by design in gender-specific roles, and it is in the distinction of gender that humanity ensures its existence,” and explaining God gave rule over the earth to both. The chapter reasons nothing suggests ezer (often translated “helper”) in Genesis 2 implies “an inferior or subordinate status relative to the man.”  Instead, Eve is a “fitting counterpart.” 

In Genesis 3, both Adam and Eve are given the consequence of ‘itsavon (pain), she in childbirth, he in work, but Eve’s consequences, unlike the serpent and man, is not attached to a curse.  The consequence of sin for Eve expressed in Genesis 3:16 is hardship in being a companion in procreation and “her relationship with her husband will be unequal and difficult.”[3]

1 Corinthians 11: Heads, and Praying and Prophesying Women

Headship describes “heavenly hierarchy,” per chapter 2, with the order of creation giving “natural hierarchy with Adam as head of Eve.”  Because kephale meaning “head” in 1 Corinthians 11 (e.g., “kephale of a woman is the man”) is “congruent” with its references to head, hair, and authority and lexicons list “head,” the team chose to translate “kephale as ‘head’ …”

Chapter 2 also reasons 1 Cor 11 shows “women prayed and prophesied in the corporate worship.”[4]

1 Corinthians 14:34-35: Only a Very Specific Silence

Chapter 3 claims 1 Corinthians 14:33-40 (“Women should remain silent in the churches ….”) refers to silence “in the critique of the prophets” and to not acting disruptively and that women “sing, pray, and speak just as tongue speakers and prophets could sing, pray, and speak when it was their turn.”  

It says the order Paul urges in vv. 33-40 refers to women not violating “divine headship” of 1 Cor 11:3-10.  Its reflections include women “participate fully, limited only by a call to practice propriety in worship” and “order is paramount in Paul’s teaching regarding corporate worship to alleviate … conflict especially regarding gender-specific roles.”[5]

1 Timothy 2:8-15: “Different” Offices for Women

Chapter 6 (by 7 of the team) says “in every place” in 1 Tim 2:8 (want men “in every place to pray …”) could mean “every place of worship,” house churches, or everywhere, but asserts later “the context is the assembly of the church” and 2:12 refers to women not teaching “in the setting of corporate worship.”  

Citing women praying and prophesying in the church in 1 Corinthians, it reasons 1 Tim 2:12 seems a “more authorized and ecclesiastical type of teaching.”  Paul did not intend in 2:12 to “exclude women from using their gifts and abilities in the context of the corporate church meeting” and its principles relate to decorum and demeanor, so “[n]o woman, or man for that matter, should take it upon himself or herself to usurp authority or have a domineering manner.”

Paul teaches, however, that “men and women have different offices in the ministry.”[6]         

II. Strengths of the Book

The book’s strengths include devoting a chapter each to eight of the most-discussed pericopes (or pericope pairs) on gender, often with a phrase-by-phrase commentary on relevant verses.  The discussion is generally clear, accessible, and methodical. 

The chapter on Genesis 1-3 is particularly well done. 

Chapters are highly organized, and the book covers an impressive amount of substantive ground in a relatively short 144 pages. 

The book was written by what it calls “community theology,” a collaborative writing process in which any committee member could voice their opinion and every member of the team agreed that the final draft was ready.[7] The chapters contain many ideas. 

III.      Weaknesses

Weaknesses of The Bible and Gender include a tendency to make conclusory assertions about key points without accompanying evidence or reasoning.  In many cases, a sentence containing a proposition material to a controversy regarding gender appears as if it were dropped into a chapter at the last minute, with neither evidence nor reasoning accompanying the proposition.[8]  Chapters 2 (on headship) and 6 (on 1 Tim 2:12) stand out in this regard. 

In many cases throughout the book, authors fail to engage meaningfully with scholarship having a different view than their key assertions. 

Other weaknesses include the uneven scholarly quality of the chapters (compare chapter 1 with chapter 2, for example), a failure to address 1 Timothy 3 relative to elders and overseers, and ambiguity and contradiction in many chapters. 

That the book was written by a collaborative writing process in which any committee member could voice their opinion and every member of the team agreed that the final draft was ready to be released probably, on balance, is a strength, but it also likely resulted in some sentences or thoughts appearing “dropped in,” contradictory, underdeveloped, or disjointed. 

Another weakness is that the chapters vary on adhering to stated goals of the book (“not to define” doctrine or practice, “an attempt to create dialogue,” etc.), as several offer a conclusion on disputed points, often with relatively minimal discussion or evidence.[9]

IV. Stand-Out Weakness is its“Headship” and Kephale Analysis

One of the more important issues on the topic is the meaning of the Greek word kephale in 1 Corinthians, Ephesians, and elsewhere. The book’s analysis of kephale, though, stood out among analytical weaknesses of The Bible and Gender.

Chapter 2: Confused Kephale Analysis

Chapter 2 appears to view the choices regarding the meaning of kephale in 1 Cor 11:3 (e.g., “But I want you to realize … kephale of the woman is man….”) to be between (a) “head” as a metaphor for authority or (b) “source.”[10]  It is largely undisputed, though, that kephale is used as a metaphor here and that “head” is an appropriate translation.  The dispute is whether kephale or head has a meaning here in the metaphorical sense of (a) authority, as in head of a company or (b) source, origin, or representative, as is in the head of a river or the head of a line of children at school. 

In other words, the dispute is not whether “head” in 11:3 is an appropriate translation, but instead the dispute is over where in the semantic range the metaphorical meaning of head (kephale) resides.  Chapter 2 thus seems to mis-analyze the issue altogether (pitting “source” vs. “head” as the possible meaning instead of “source” vs. “authority,” for example). 

By doing so, Chapter 2 completely misses that the end of 1 Cor 11:3 “… the head of (kephale) Christ is God” indicates that kephale (head of) cannot have a meaning in the sense of authority, as scripture establishes Christ is God, not that Christ is under the authority of God. In other words, interpreting kephale as meaning authority over relative to “kephale of the woman is man” in 11:3 produces a heretical interpretation of the end of 11:3, that the authority over Christ is God instead of recognizing Christ is God.

Meanwhile, interpreting kephale (head) in the sense of “source,” “origin,” or “representative of” comports with scripture. That is, Chapter 2 also misses that scripture (see, e.g., John 1, Ephesians) establishes Christ’s source, origin, and what he represents is God and that Christ is the source, origin, and first representative of all things.

And it completely misses that the rest of 1 Cor 11 indicates Paul is emphasizing source, origin, representation, of man is woman and of woman is man and similar concepts. For example, 1 Cor 11:5-12, “… every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head … A man … is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man …. Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God. …” And when Paul mentions and means authority, he uses the normal word for authority, not kepahale. For example in verse 10 Paul says “It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels.”

Chapter 5: Kephale Out of Context

Chapter 5 takes steps toward a more complete analysis in this regard, citing some arguments for a meaning in the sense of source, but the chapter also places in opposition “source” / “origin” against “head.”  In a somewhat circular argument, it describes and emphasizes Jesus as the authority over the church. 

Neither Chapter 2 nor 5 engage substantively with scriptural descriptions and emphasis of Jesus as the source and origin of the church and all things (e.g., John 1; Ephesians 1:23; 4:15-16).  

This failure can be seen in Chapter 5 partially quoting scripture, rendering it out of context in a way that keeps the modern, capitalistic thought of “head” as authority front of mind.  For example, in finding Ephesians 1:22 “conclusive” to viewing kephale as indicative of authority or leader and in quoting Ephesians 4:15 as illustrative of such, chapter 4 quotes vv. 1:22 and 4:15.[11] 

But the chapter leaves out context, including even the next verses, both of which suggest that kephale in 1:22 and 4:15 means “head” in the sense of source, origin, and similar concepts. 

Verse 1:23 explains Christ’s body is the church and Christ fills that body (thus is the source and origin of the church, his body) and fills everything, giving insight into what kephale over or above all in 1:22 means.

Verse 4:16 explains it is “From [Jesus)], the whole body … grows and builds itself up in love,” giving insight into the source and origin (from Jesus) nature of kephale of 4:15 (“… we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the kephale ….”).

This failure to engage context might explain why the book sees authority in Ephesians 5:23-30.[12

Might Explain Why It Misses Implications of Husband and Wife as One

And it might explain why the book does not engage the view that Paul, in Ephesians, first establishes:

(a) Christ is the source and origin (kephale) of the church, as the church is Christ’s own body (e.g., Ephesians 1:22-23, 4:15-16; 2:14, 4:11-13; 5:23; see also Col. 2:19; John 1; John 17:20-23); and 

(b) Christ is the savior of his own body (5:23).

Then, Paul goes on to connect this to the husband-wife relationship, explaining in parallel to the above in Ephesians 5 that “as” or “in the same way”:

(a) a husband is kephale of his wife, as she is his own body and he is her own body, explaining they are “one flesh” (“own bodies,” “himself,” “own body,” “their body” (some translations, e.g., ESV, include “his own flesh”)) (5:23, 29-31); and

(b) a husband doing what he ought is the lover, nourisher, and cherisher of his own body, his wife.  (5:28-33)  

Authority is not in view in Ephesians 5. To the contrary, love, service, and sacrifice are emphasized.

Paul makes the source and origin of bodies — oneness, one flesh, same body, own flesh — key in his argument. Too often, people read “head” (kephale) in Ephesians in a modern, capitalistic, Western sense, as in head of a company, with power, with authority, when there is no such definition in the text, instead of reading it the sense in which Paul uses it, to discuss source, origin, same body, one flesh.

And too often people read Ephesians 5 by itself, rather than recognizing Ephesians is a letter, to be read from start to finish to understand it, and missing that Paul has already emphasized Jesus as the source and origin of the church.

Same Source and Origin, One Flesh, Not Authority

That is, by not engaging context, the book misses the view that Ephesians 5 does not encourage submission, sacrifice, and love due to authority over and of bodies, but instead due to the source and origin of bodies under consideration—of the bodies of the church, husbands, wives.

Husbands and wives are encouraged to submit to and love one another not because the husband has authority over the wife but because they are the source and origin of one another, they are one flesh, one body—the husband and wife’s source and origin is their oneness, their same body.

Paul emphasizes in Ephesians 5 via metaphors that the husband is the source and origin of his wife— using kephale—and that the wife is the source and origin of the husband, as she is his body, they are one—husband and wife as “one flesh.”

Indeed, Paul begins by stating that husbands and wives are to “[s]ubmit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” That is, they are to submit to one another — husbands to wives, wives to husbands — out of reverence for Christ, not out of who has authority.

Christ — Paul establishes earlier in the letter to the Ephesians (e.g., Ephesians 1:22-23, 4:15-16; 2:14, 4:11-13; 5:23) and scripture establishes elsewhere (e.g., Col. 2:19; John 1; John 17:20-23) — is the source and origin of the church.

And submission, Paul explains, is a two-way street: not just her to him, but him to her. (Eph 5:21)

She is to do so as she does to the Lord because her husband is the kephale, the source and origin of her — they are one body — as the church does so to Christ because he is the kephale, the source and origin, of the church — his body, a unity. (5:22-24; see also John 17:20-23) He is to do so as Jesus does to the church because they are one body, one flesh — his origin and source is her, also, as they are one. (See also 1 Cor 11:11-12)

The book’s failure to consider context relative to kephale — context of the whole book of Ephesians, for example — is a major weakness of The Bible and Gender.

V.        Conclusion: Recommended

I recommend The Bible and Gender to scholars and ministers in the International Churches of Christ, as this book will highly likely serve as a reference for anyone in the ICOC who engages meaningfully in practical discussions about the relevant scripture. 

The book has value beyond the ICOC, as it serves as an easy-to-read, basic outline of some of the main issues associated with many of the passages relevant to gender discussions, much of the scriptural analysis is verse-by-verse, parts of its scriptural analysis is well done, and it prompts thought in an accessible manner.  Thus, ministers outside the ICOC may find it useful as an outline and to prompt thoughts for further consideration. 

It is easily worth its price for its organized approach and stoking of thoughts.  Many scholars and ministers will appreciate the scholarly insight of the first chapter, on Genesis 1-3. 

I do not recommend the book as a reliable scriptural guide by itself, though, mainly due to the uneven nature of its scriptural analysis and the volume of unsupported assertions.  But for a spur to considering various issues, it is of considerable value. 

The Bible and Gender may be useful in the church-classroom setting as an outline, but not as a sole resource, given its weaknesses described above.   

While the bulk of this article discusses the primary weaknesses of The Bible and Gender, my criticism is meant to further God’s kingdom and all of our work in that regard. 

The authors should be appreciated for spending much time to provide their thoughts to us and for challenging us to think more about these issues.  I thank all of them for their work and for caring about the kingdom of God and Biblical teaching on women.


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Sources & Notes

This article is derived from a paper presented in September 2020 at the Stone-Campbell Journal Conference that reviewed three books on the subject of Biblical teaching on women. The review’s components largely follow the journal’s guidelines on book reviews (usually much shorter).

An article on the first of the three books was published in September, see Steve Gardner, “‘On Gender’ by Renee Sproles (Book Review),” Authentic Theology (September 18, 2020).

An article reviewing the second was published earlier this month, see Steve Gardner, “Women Serving God,” Authentic Theology (October 1, 2020).

For a discussion regarding scripture on this issue, see Steve Gardner, “20 Passages Asking Women to Speak, Teach, Lead, and Have Authority Over Men, In the Assembly  and Elsewhere,” Authentic Theology (September 3, 2018).

For a discussion regarding 1 Tim 3 and female elders, see Steve Gardner, “10 Churches of Christ Where Women Speak in the Assembly: Female Elders (Part 2),” AuthenticTheology.com (April 3, 2019).

[1] ICOC Teachers Service Team, The Bible and Gender: An Exposition of Selected Scriptures (Spring, Texas: Illumination Publishers, 2020).

[2] The Bible and Gender, pp. 3-5, 141-144; 4, 6-7; 3-140. Eight: Genesis 1-3, 1 Cor 11:1-16, 1 Cor 14:33-40, Gal 3:26-29, Col 3:18-19 and Eph 5:21-33, 1 Tim 2:8-15, Titus 2:3-5, and 1 Peter 3:1-7 

[3] Ibid., pp. 8-27; 11-12; 15; 17; 21 (citing Gen. 3:16-17); 24.

[4] Ibid., pp. 38-39; 39 n. 20; 47.

[5] Ibid., pp. 55; 56; 59.

[6] Ibid., pp. 3, 101; 108; 110; 113; 114; 114-116; 116.

[7] Ibid., pp. 4-5.

[8] Examples from two chapters: Chapter 2 makes several conclusory statements without offering proof or reasoning to support them, such as: “The role and order of the Trinity are similar to distinctive roles and order among humans.”; “Headship does not diminish women but rather describes the heavenly hierarchy described in” 1 Cor 11:1-16; “Adam was formed first and Eve second thus creating a natural hierarchy with Adam as head of Eve.”;  “Birth order defined privilege and responsibility in the ancient world.”; “Since the Trinity has an order of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the ordering of males and females is plausible.”; and “[H]eadship describes spiritual hierarchy, benevolent authority ….” Chapter 6 does the same, such as: “The setting is the public assembly of the church in Ephesus.”; “The same dynamic that we see in Ephesus must have existed in Corinth.”; “Clearly, those women in Timothy’s ministry were not permitted to hold ecclesiastical authority.” (this was after recognizing a “big question” is whether 2:12’s authority refers to usurping and seizing control or a more general sense, including in an ecclesiastical setting); and “Paul teaches that men and women have different offices in the ministry.”

[9] The Bible and Gender, pp. 4-5.  See, e.g., supra, footnote 59.

[10] Ibid., pp. 38-40.  Chapter 5 is labelled “Chapter Four” in the copy I have. Ibid., p. 79.

[11] Ibid., pp. 90-91; 92-94; 93.

[12] For an introduction to this, see Marg Mowcko’s writings on the subject. See, e.g., Liddel, Scott & Jones lexicon, one of the respected lexicons of Ancient Greek, “does not give “authority” or “leader” as meanings of kephalē. It does, however, give “source”, “origin” and “starting point” as possible meanings ….” See, e.g.https://margmowczko.com/lsj-definitions-of-kephale/>

Also see early church fathers, for example:

“Athanasius (296-373), bishop of Alexandria, quoted from the First Creed of Sirmium which states,

For the Son is the Head, namely the beginning of all: and God is the Head, namely the beginning of Christ . . .

John Chrysostom (c. 349 – 407) was adamant that “head” doesn’t mean “leader” in 1 Corinthians 11:3. He said that if we take “head” with the sense of governing, the passage won’t make sense and it will lead to false ideas about Jesus Christ, which is his primary concern. (Homily 26 on First Corinthians)

Cyril (376-444), Archbishop of Alexandria, in De Recta Fide ad Pulcheriam et Eudociam wrote:

… [Adam] became first head, which is source, … Since Christ was named the second Adam, he has been placed as head, which is source, of those who through Him have been formed anew …. Therefore he himself our source, which is head, has appeared as a human being. … Because head means source, he establishes the truth for those who are wavering in their mind that man is the head of woman, for she was taken out of him. Therefore as God according to his nature, the one Christ and Son and Lord has as his head the heavenly Fa­ther, having himself become our head because he is of the same stock according to the flesh.
(See Patrologia Graeca 76, pp. 1336-1420.)”

See https://margmowczko.com/kephale-and-male-headship-in-pauls-letters/

For additional discussion regarding kephale (“head”) in 1 Cor 11, see the Sources & Notes section of Steve Gardner, “Does Helper in Genesis 2:18 Imply Women Are to be Submissive and Subordinate to Men,” Authentic Theology (March 8, 2018).

**

This article I wrote reviews “The Bible and Gender” by the International Churches of Christ (ICOC) Teacher Service Team.

The book discusses several passages relevant to the discussion regarding Biblical teaching on women.

Its strengths include devoting a chapter each to eight of the most-discussed passages on the topic, often with a phrase-by-phrase commentary, and a high degree of organization.

Weaknesses of the book include often making conclusory assertions about key points, without accompanying evidence or reasoning.  Material assertions sometimes appear dropped into a chapter at the last minute, with neither evidence nor reasoning accompanying the proposition.

One of its main weaknesses, its discussion of kephale (head), is discussed in some detail in the article.

Those in the ICOC should pay particular attention to the book, as it is likely to feature in many discussions regarding gender within the ICOC for the foreseeable future.

Comments and questions welcome.

Pictures in text from Pixabay. Cover picture of The Bible and Gender cover (Illumination Publishers 2020).

Updated: Revised conclusion to include dropped phrase, edits and deletions for clarity.