Women in the Church Women’s Headcoverings 1 Cor. 11:7-16

1 Corinthians 11:7-16

Man, the Glory of God, Woman, the Glory of Man.

Women’s Head Coverings in Corinth


This Corinthian passage has posed a challenge when it comes to interpreting it in light of what the Apostle Paul said in his other NT epistles. New Testament scholar, Gordon Fee, determined that: “this is a passage in which the apostle has been rather badly handled in the church.”* Many others would agree with this assessment. With this observation in mind, let us have a look at how Gordon Fee provides rich engagement with the text including how others have worked through the issues posed by this passage.

Beginning with Fee’s summary, we will briefly look at how he got to his conclusion. Fee also provides a stern warning to those who might jeopardize the intent of Paul’s aim in this passage:

“Although the paragraph begins with further arguments as to why women should be “covered,” Paul seems to leave that concern momentarily to affirm both that:

(1)  Women do have authority over their own heads (although that must be exercised in the context of not shaming their “head” and propriety) and

(2)  Even though in the new age the distinctions between male and female must be maintained, that does not mean that one is subordinate to the other.

To read the text as though it said the opposite of what vv. 10-12 seem clearly to say is to do Paul an injustice and possibly to put one in the position of disobeying the intent of God’s Word.”*

With that challenge and warning in view, the diligent student of Scripture can begin to examine more carefully Paul’s intent in this passage. The verses in this passage can be found printed out at the end of this article in the For Further Reflection section.


Looking Alittle Deeper

Paul looks at three areas of abuse in their assemblies:

  1. Concern about women’s head coverings or hairstyle when praying and prophesying (11:2-16),
  1. The abuse of the poor at the Lord’s Table (11:17-34), and 
  1. The abuse of speaking in tongues in the assembly (ch. 12 -14).

The 1 Cor. 11 passage has larger contextual questions and, even more, this passage is full of exegetical difficulties. Fee demonstrates the nature of these difficulties as well as the logic of Paul’s argument when the structure of this passage is illustrated. There is a simple comparison between the metaphorical usage of the word ‘HEAD’ and the literal use of the word ‘head’.

   2 Now I praise you

              because you remember me in all things,

                       and   even as I handed them on to you,

                                you keep the traditions.

  I.     3 But I want you to understand that—

                                            the HEAD of EVERY MAN is Christ,

                                    (and) THE MAN the HEAD of WOMAN,

                                    (and) God the HEAD of Christ.

            4 Every MAN                             shames his HEAD/head;

            praying or prophesying having down/against the head

            5 Every WOMAN

                  praying or prophesying uncovered as to the head

                           For it is one and the same thing

                                                 for her to be one who is shaved.

            6            For if a WOMAN will not be covered,

                                                      let her also             be shorn   

                But if it is disgraceful for her to be shorn or shaved,

                                                      let her                   be covered.


II.        7        For

On the one hand, MAN ought not to have the head covered,

                                being the image and glory of God;

On the other hand, THE WOMAN

                                                           is the glory of MAN:

8   [A]   For MAN is not from WOMAN

                                                     but WOMAN from MAN;

9   [B]    For also MAN was not created for WOMAN’s sake,                                                       but WOMAN for MAN’s

10   For this reason

        THE WOMAN ought to have authority over her (own)           head because of the angels.

         11 in any case (nonetheless)

                  [B’]   Neither WOMAN apart from    MAN,

                           nor             MAN   apart from WOMAN,

                                                                        in the Lord.

         12   [A’]   For just as the WOMAN (is) from     the MAN,

                            So also the   MAN   (is) through the WOMAN,

                                                but all things (are) from   God.

III.     13 Judge among yourselves:

             Is it fitting for a WOMAN to pray to God uncovered?

            Does not nature itself teach you that

14          On the one hand,

                              if a MAN grow long hair,

                                        it is a dishonor to him.

15          on the other hand,

                       if a WOMAN grow long hair,

                                it is a glory to her?

                       Because the hair is given to her

                                                           in the place of a covering.

16 Now if anyone seems to be contentious,

              We have no such custom,

              Nor do the churches of God.


The grammatical and structural signals point to a three-part division. By using sets of contrasts, there are distinct characteristics seen when reading about the man and the woman. In each instance, the argument seems aimed specifically at the woman. The problem has to do with her head being “uncovered” while praying and prophesying. These are made clear in verses 5-6 and 13.


Part 1   (vv. 3-6)

Argues from the metaphorical use of “head” that:

-The man would shame his “head” if he were to have (something) “hanging down the head”   and 

-The woman would shame her “head” if she were to prophesy “uncovered as to the head.” This shows an opposite.


Part 2    (vv. 7-12)

Although the argument here is more complex and full of surprises, it again seems to aim at the woman.

-The man ought not to have his head covered since his is God’s image and glory.


Part 3 

Paul takes up the issue one more time by appealing to their own sense of propriety.   Paul begins with a rhetorical question and ends with a word to anyone who would be “contentious” over this matter. That is, if they are contentious—the churches have no ‘such custom.”

The question is raised regarding what does it mean for the woman to pray and prophesy “uncovered as to the head”?

  1. The traditional view considered her to be discarding some kind of external covering. The difficulty with this view comes mostly from understanding v. 15 to say that a woman’s long hair is given to her instead of a peribolaion (lit. “a wraparound,” hence something like a shawl).
  1. It has been argued that the “covering” contended for in vv. 4-7 and 13 is actually the long hair of vv. 14-15, because some women were having their hair cut short. But, this is against the language and grammar of vv. 5-6—be shaved or shorn if they will not be “covered.”
  1. Some scholars have suggested “uncovered’ refers to “loosed hair.” That is, letting down one’s hair in public and thus experiencing shame.


While this may be an attractive solution in many ways, it still has its own set of difficulties:

a)  how the man’s not covering his head in v. 7 is the opposite of this;

b)  what to do with v. 15, which implies that long hair, not piled-up hair, serves in the place of a shawl;

c)  the fact that there is no sure first-century evidence that long hair in public would have been a disgrace of some kind.


Fee suggests that a modified form of the traditional view seems to have fewer difficulties. In either case, the woman’s action is considered shameful, and for that reason Paul is willing to offer theological justification for maintaining a custom.



So the question arises: Why were some women in Corinth apparently disregarding the customary mode of appearance? From church tradition, this passage provided a reasonable suggestion—that the problem had to do with some women who were being insubordinate to their husbands because of their new-found freedom in Christ. Interpreters regarded this passage as a way to “put women in their proper place” by insisting that they keep the traditional symbol of their subordination—which was the veil.

Fee suggests that it is much more likely that the problem is related to the overall historical situation in Corinth. It seems that some women were praying or prophesying or simply arguing for the right to do so without the customary “head covering.” Their concept of being “spiritual” (pneumatikos) was in play. They also may have had an “overrealized eschatology.” Fee clarifies:

“It seems difficult to understand Paul’s answer unless their spiritualized eschatology also involved some kind of break-down in the distinction between the sexes. Already they had arrived in the Spirit; they were already acting as those who would be “like the angels,” among whom sexual distinctions no longer existed. As part of their new “spirituality” they were disregarding some very customary distinctions between the sexes that would otherwise have been regarded as disgraceful. Paul feels strongly enough about the issue to speak to it, even if his argument lacks its customary vigor.”*


Paul Presents His Three Arguments

Paul proceeds to present his three arguments to them regarding how to appropriately look at this issue:

  1. An Argument from Culture and Shame (11:2-6)
  2. An Argument from Creation (11:7-12)
  3. An Argument from Propriety (11:13-16)


  1. An Argument from Culture and Shame (11:2-6)

Paul begins his argument by using the word “head” metaphorically to designate three kinds of relationships:

a)   Man and Christ

b)   Woman and Man

c)   Christ and God

The factor of shame for the actions of either the man or the woman is stressed.

“The metaphor in v. 3, which has traditionally been interpreted as defending the need for the woman to maintain her place of subordination to her “head,” namely her husband, is often seen as the point of the whole passage. More likely, however, this is simply an attempt on Paul’s part to remove the problem from the “head” literally by putting it into a broader context of relationships. In any case the literal problem came first, and Paul has used the word metaphorically at the beginning to set the literal problem into a larger theological framework.”

Though the Corinthians may be following the “traditions,” they may not be doing so in proper ways (11:2).

From 11:4, 5, we see the reference to “head”—used in three parts, each using the word “head” metaphorically to express a different relationship: man/Christ, woman/man, Christ/God. “What is not immediately clear, especially to the English reader, is the sense of the metaphor “head,” and thus the nature of the relationships that each of the clauses intends.”

Paul does not set out to prove this theological statement nor does he make it the main point of this section. What is important to him is the behavioral problem–having to do with women’s heads. This is seen in the fact and the form of this construct. Paul prods the Corinthian fellowship to go beyond individual freedom to a better focus of relational responsibility.

“The problem lay squarely on the women’s heads, but it was affecting male/female relationships in the present age.”

Even though the new age had been inaugurated, the behavior of the women in that society was bringing shame on the distinctions of the male/female relationship. This was not of benefit to anyone.

Regarding this section, Fee makes a significant observation. He highlights the fact that people have wrongly understood this passage to be a proof text for hierarchy. Yet, upon closer examination of this section, there is nothing that suggests this. Let us pay attention to what he exhorts:

“The metaphor itself is often understood to be hierarchical, setting up structures of authority. But nothing in the passage suggests as much; in fact, the only appearance of the word exousia (“authority”) refers to the woman’s own authority    (v. 10). Moreover, vv. 11-12 explicitly qualify vv. 8-9 so that they will not be understood in this way. Indeed, the metaphorical use of kephale (“head”) to mean “chief” or “the person of highest rank” is rare in Greek literature—so much so that even though the Hebrew word ros often carried this sense, the Greek translators of the LXX, who ordinarily used kephale to translate ros when the physical “head” was intended, almost never did so when “ruler” was intended, thus indicating that this metaphorical sense is an exceptional usage and not part of the ordinary range of meanings for the Greek word.”

The Corinthian understanding of the metaphor would have been that “head” means “source,” especially “source of life.” Paul confirms that man was the original source of the woman (v.12). Therefore, Paul’s concern is NOT hierarchical, that is, who has authority over whom, but rather relational, that is, one being the source of another’s being. This is further seen by the fact that Paul says nothing about man’s authority but that he is concerned with the woman being man’s glory–the one, without whom, he is not complete.

Anything that would blur that relationship in the Greek culture would bring shame on the woman’s “head.”

There is an interesting dilemma for the married woman in the Greek culture when it comes to the wearing of a suitable headcovering in public. Would the church gathering in one of the larger homes, be considered ‘public’ or not? Would their ecclesial gathering be considered being in a ‘home’ or being in ‘public’?

This would also be considered a ‘religious’ meeting where it would be in order for women to be able to prophesy, which would also include bringing a message from the heart of God, using the gift of tongues and interpreting that message in the language of those gathered.  Using the utterance gifts of the Spirit, as well as praying, were permitted spiritual activities for all present, including women.

The bottom line was that shame in the Greek culture needed to be addressed. If married women were not dressed in the way that their culture dictated, then it was wrong not to recognize that factor and then for the Christian women to comply when attending the gathering of the saints.

Paul’s summary was that if it is a disgrace for a woman either to have her hair cut short or to be shaved, which it was, then the end run was that: her head should be covered. This would not apply to her hair but would necessitate an external head covering. It seemed that some of the women did not sense the cultural shame of their own actions. Therefore, it was necessary for Paul to provide a corrective.

So, the question for today is: Should married women or women in general need to cover their heads when attending an assembled church? The brief answer is that Paul recognized that the issue was directly tied to the cultural shame of that society. This scarcely prevails in most cultures today.

Fee ponders the fact that “it would seem that in cultures where women’s heads are seldom covered, the enforcement of such in the church turns Paul’s point on its head.”

In addition, we simply do not know what the practice was that they were abusing. Thus, literal “obedience” to the text is often merely symbolic. Unfortunately, the symbol that tends to be reinforced is the subordination of women, which is hardly Paul’s point.


  1. An Argument from Creation (11:7-12) 

It a bit of a surprise for the reader to note, that it is Christ, and not God, who is designated as man’s “head.” “More difficult yet is what is said of the woman, who by way of contrast is called “man’s glory,” but with no mention of her being covered.” What follows explains why she is man’s glory (vv. 8-9).

“Then comes the truly surprising text (v. 10), which because of the verb “ought,” seems to correspond to v. 7a (over against “ought not”).” Instead of mentioning a covering, Paul argues that she should have authority over her “own” head because of the angels. Paul’s entire argument points to v. 10 as the crucial text. This is a very difficult text and scholars have guessed about it over the centuries. Yet, Paul has a rationale for his words and wants his explanation not to be misunderstood.

Fee confirms the point that the argument is quite involved and that it would pay to make the connection and not to miss it. What creates a problem here is Paul’s syntax.

In looking at Paul’s treatment of God’s image and God’s glory, in his reflections on the creation of man, he uses the term God’s ‘glory’. Obviously, this is a difficult term to define.

Fee summarizes his thoughts by stating: “By creating man in his own image God set his own glory in man. Man, therefore, exists to God’s praise and honor, and is to live in relationship to God so as to be his “glory.” What we are not told here is why being God’s glory means no covering; verse 4 indicates that it had to do with his not shaming Christ. But that, too, was left unexplained.”

Paul considers Gen. 2:23 and 18-20 which seems to affirm how man is the woman’s “head”—he is the source of her life. Since “the woman is from the man,” she is also his “glory” because “the woman was created for the man’s sake.”

The question posed is: “How does the woman’s ‘coming from the man’ and being created for his sake, make her his glory?”

The simple answer is that “She is thus man’s glory because she “came from man” and was created “for him.” She is not thereby subordinate to him, but necessary for him. She exists to his honor as the one who having come from man is the one companion suitable to him, so that he might be complete and that together they might form humanity.”

When the first man, Adam, sees the woman, he “glories” in her. Therefore, since man is the source of origin for woman, in Corinth, women in the church fellowship should not be uncovered when praying and/or prophesying. This would be a show of disrespect for one of the “visible expressions of differentiation” in that society and would bring shame on the man by trying to “dissolve the rightful male/ female relationship” that was there.

The key words: “author” and “angels” are very likely from the Corinthians . Verse 10 is “one of the truly difficult texts in this letter.” One crucial reason is the ad hoc character of the passage. There is only one side of the telephone conversation available with only these words as the clues.

Fee outlines the problems, being twofold: “finding a proper sense for exousia (“authority”), and determining the nuance of the preposition epi (“over” or “on”).” Fee shows the weaknesses in the traditional view, which he says “sees the context as referring to the subordination of women” and “tends to go one of two directions”:

(1)   Some take exousia in a passive sense. To “have authority over her head” means that she “has” someone else (in this case, her husband) function as authority “over” her. The “covering,” though not mentioned, is assumed to be the “sign” that this is so. . . . The difficulty with this view is that there is no known evidence either that exousia is ever taken in this passive sense or that the idiom “to have authority over” ever refers to an external authority different from the subject of the sentence.


(2)   Others take exousia as a metonym for “veil,” and epi as “on.” The difficulty with this “is to find an adequate explanation as to why Paul should have chosen this word as his metonym. Had Paul intended an external covering, he would surely have said that, since several such words are available to him.”


(3)   A third alternative is that some have thought that “the “authority” is to be understood as the woman’s new freedom to do what was formerly forbidden, namely to pray and prophesy along with the men.” That is, live up to her new found freedom in Christ. Though this sounds attractive, it is not adequately supported in the text.


(4)   This brings us to the possibility that the meaning “to have authority” is the sense of “freedom or right to choose.” Thus: “For this reason the woman ought to have the freedom over her head to do as she wishes.”


Since Fee assesses that “there is no evidence for a passive sense to this idiom, and that such a view basically came into existence for contextual reasons that do not seem to be in the text itself, solution (4) seems to be the best of the possibilities.

The next complexity is the phrase “because of the angels.” Over time, several solutions have been offered.  Fee affirms that Paul’s argument includes the fact that man should not be covered and that by implication that a woman should because she is man’s glory. Yet Fee suggests that this is not the whole story—since the woman is not independent of the man. In order that the woman properly exercise that freedom, she should continue the custom of being “covered.” That being said, there is still a lack of certainty since there is not enough information provided.

Fee observes that the structure of 1 Cor. 11:8-9 is a perfect double chiasm. (A chiasm is an X structure.)


     A      Not is man from woman,

              but     woman from man;

        B Not was created man for the sake of the woman,

              but                      woman for the sake of the man.


     B’   Neither woman without man,

              nor       man without woman,

                                                           in the Lord;

     A’     For just as the woman   from     the man,

                     so also the man       through   the woman,

                                and all things   from God.


From Paul’s teaching, Fee establishes that men and women are mutually dependent on each other:

“The qualifiers in the second sets (“in the Lord,” all things from God”) are what make the difference. While it is true that woman is man’s glory, having been created for his sake (v. 9), Paul now affirms that that does not mean that woman exists for man’s purposes, as though in some kind of subordinate position to his aims and will. To the contrary, God has so arranged things that “in the Lord” the one cannot exist without the other, not meaning of course that every Christian man and woman must be married, but that as believers man and woman are mutually dependent on each other.”

Fee goes on to say that the final qualifier, “and all things are from God,” which includes at least woman and man, puts the whole of vv. 7-9 into proper Pauline perspective that both man and woman, and not just man, are from God. At Creation, God made man from dust and made the woman from man, but after that, and as is now, both males and females come through the woman.

Again, it needs to be reiterated that this passage in 1 Cor. has been rather poorly handled in the church. Fee concludes this section by stating that Paul affirms both of the following:

(1)   That women do have authority over their own heads (although that must be exercised in the context of not shaming their “head” and propriety)     and

(2)   That even though in the new age the distinctions between male and female must be maintained, that does not mean that one is subordinate to the other. To read the text as though it said the opposite of what vv. 10-12 seem clearly to say is to do Paul an injustice and possibly to put one in the position of disobeying the intent of God’s Word.”


  1. An Argument from Propriety (11:13-16 )

Paul moved from “a concern over a woman’s being “covered” to a concern for her having “authority” over her head without being either independent of or subordinate to man.” This final paragraph now returns to Paul’s original argument of vv. 4-6.

“By appealing finally to their own sense of propriety, as “nature” by way of analogy helps them to see that, Paul brings to a close his argument over the “rightness” of women maintaining the “custom” of being covered. But Paul is never quite comfortable concluding an argument in this fashion. Hence he draws the whole together with a final appeal to what goes on in the “churches of God.” That he is dealing strictly with “custom” (church “custom,” to be sure) is not made plain, as is the fact that this argument, for all its various facets, falls short of a command as such.”

Fee notes that this is the third time that Paul has tried to correct Corinthian behavior by appealing to what is taught or practiced in the other churches. Although he has spent much effort on this issue, we can observe that it is not something which he has great passion for.

We can perceive that:

  1. Though Paul argues in this way, he does not give a commandment. This suggests that such a “church custom,” though important to the Corinthians, is not to be raised to Canon Law.

The very ‘customary” nature of the problem in that particular church makes it nearly impossible to transfer it to the multifaceted cultures in which the church finds itself today. This could be, if we knew exactly what the custom was to transfer—and we do not.

It is sensible to realize that in each culture there are likely to be modes of dress that are appropriate and those that are not.


  1. How Paul deals with this issue in comparison to how he takes on the abuses around the Lord’s Supper in the Corinthian church is noteworthy. Much more was at stake regarding their abusive practices of the Lord’s Supper.

To conclude, one notes that the “distinction between the sexes is to be maintained; the covering is to go back on, but for Paul it does not seem to be a life-and-death matter.”




To reiterate, Fee stresses that this passage has been badly handled in the church. This can be understood to mean that this passage has been unsatisfactorily, incompetently, and incorrectly dealt with in the church. By showing where there has been flawed exegesis and weak interpretive methods, these can be placed alongside a more precise handling of the passage for comparison. This should aid the enquirer to conclude the following points:

1.   Women do have authority over their own heads (although that must be exercised in the context of not shaming their “head” and propriety)   and

2.   Even though in the new age the distinctions between male and female must be maintained, that does not mean that one is subordinate to the other.

With careful study of a complex passage, a conscientious student of the Scriptures ought to have a reasonable understanding of these verses and be able to have answers for themselves and for others.

To conclude, in an interview with Gordon Fee by Julian Lukins in 2010, this interviewer finished their article with these words and a worthy admonition to the church from Dr. Gordon Fee:

“Clearly Fee loves the Word, noting that heresies are creeping into the church because of lack of theological understanding and misinterpretation of Scripture. What’s needed, he emphasizes, is Spirit-filled living and sound scriptural interpretation. “If I could say one thing to the American church,” he cautions, “it would be this:  Keep integrity with Scripture and spiritual experience.”**

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

*  All quotes have been taken from Gordon Fee’s book: The First Epistle to the Corinthians, p. 491 -524. Grand Rapids: William Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987.

** Julia Lukins is a writer based in Sequim, WA. This is an interview from Charisma Magazine, 9/1/2010. Link: http://www.charismamag.com/spirit/bible-study/11740-a-professor-with-spirit


* * * * *

For Further Reflection

1 Corinthians 11:3-16 from The Message

3-9   In a marriage relationship, there is authority from Christ to husband, and from husband to wife. The authority of Christ is the authority of God. Any man who speaks with God or about God in a way that shows a lack of respect for the authority of Christ, dishonors Christ. In the same way, a wife who speaks with God in a way that shows a lack of respect for the authority of her husband, dishonors her husband. Worse, she dishonors herself—an ugly sight, like a woman with her head shaved. This is basically the origin of these customs we have of women wearing head coverings in worship, while men take their hats off. By these symbolic acts, men and women, who far too often butt heads with each other, submit their “heads” to the Head: God.

10-12   Don’t, by the way, read too much into the differences here between men and women. Neither man nor woman can go it alone or claim priority. Man was created first, as a beautiful shining reflection of God—that is true. But the head on a woman’s body clearly outshines in beauty the head of her “head,” her husband. The first woman came from man, true—but ever since then, every man comes from a woman! And since virtually everything comes from God anyway, let’s quit going through these “who’s first” routines.

13-16   Don’t you agree there is something naturally powerful in the symbolism—a woman, her beautiful hair reminiscent of angels, praying in adoration; a man, his head bared in reverence, praying in submission? I hope you’re not going to be argumentative about this. All God’s churches see it this way; I don’t want you standing out as an exception.


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© 2014   Barb Orlowski, D.Min.


Divorce: When Does the Bible Permit Divorce?  


In an online discussion that a number of us were participating in, the topic of divorce came up and I was asked what I understood from the Scriptures. The question put to me was: “When does the Bible permit divorce?”

I spent some time looking up a few well-known Bible passages and further pondering this topic. This was an opportunity to put into writing some observations about these Bible passages and to formulate some ideas into a reasonable answer. This is not an indepth look at this topic but a suitable response for the context of that discussion. The article below is that earnest endeavor.

I believe that this overview gets at the basics and includes an objective towards raising awareness about the plight of women when it comes to harmful advice given by church leaders–which so often hinders rather than helps serious marriage dysfunction.

To tell someone that spiritual, sexual, physical, and/or mental abuse has to be tolerated because of marriage vows, is not a message from God. Many clergy advise wives to stick with the marriage and avoid divorce at all costs. Under these types of circumstances, this advice is harmful and should be disregarded.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~


“The following is an answer to your question: “When does the Bible permit divorce?”

We are familiar with these passages:  Mt. 5:31, 32; 19:1-13; Mk. 10:1-12.

To begin, in the Matt. 5 chapter, it is not hard to notice certain recurring phrases that are used many times by Jesus to make his point distinct among his Jewish countrymen:  “You have heard that it was said . . .” “But I tell you . . .”   Jesus gave clear explanatory teachings on what he felt was important to highlight–based on those Old Testament passages.

For example, Matt. 5:27:  “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’  But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

The Context:  Notice that in the Matthew 5 and 19 and Mark 10 passages that the question of divorce was in the context of the Pharisees coming to Jesus to ‘test him’ regarding the words of Moses and the law. They were determined when they probed him: Is it lawful—for a man—to divorce—his wife?

Jesus explained to those Pharisees what the main reason was behind Moses permitting a man to write a certificate of divorce to end his marriage:

“2 Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”

3 “What did Moses command you?” he replied.

4 They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.”

5 “It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied.”                                      Mark 10:2-5

This is similarly stated in Matt. 19:8, 9: “Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” Their pressing question revolved around: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for ‘any and every reason’?” That is where this confrontation centered.

Jesus was directing his words to the Jewish leaders, men, and husbands. He was addressing them, along with the people who Moses spoke to, about their own reasons to divorce their own wives. The “anyone who divorces his wife” refers specifically to ‘any man’ who divorces his wife. Any and every reason–was the pivotal issue. 

Considering Marriage Dysfunction Biblically

So, how should we look at divorce today? What should be our guiding principles for helping to minister to those who come to us with severe marriage dysfunction? Obviously, as Christians, our first priority is to grasp what the Scriptures say and to consider Christ’s words in particular.

My response would be to echo what Jesus taught: When the hardness of the hearts of men disables the marriage covenant by sexual and emotional infidelity and/or by physical, sexual, mental, financial, and emotional abuse, these are biblical grounds for divorce. These grounds for divorce allow for a legal dissolution of the marriage contract.

Such abusive men, many who claim to be ‘Christians,’ have by their words and actions dismantled and destroyed their marriage covenant and have created a horrific place for a wife and their children to survive, let alone live. The woman is no longer bound to such a man and such a marriage.

It would be easier to give a straight cut and traditional answer, encouraging women to stick with their husband and their marriage vows.  But, from being exposed to those who work with domestic violence victims and women who have had atrocities perpetrated against them, by their husbands, fiancés, or boyfriends, begs for these accounts of traumatized homelife to be heard and understood–by those in the church and by those who might minister directly to them.

There is suitable help available through lawyers, police, safe houses, welfare programs, and secular agencies while huge lacks can be found in the church.

Relationships are complex, yet there is a crucial need to avoid re-victimizing women by holding them hostage to an already shattered marriage, broken by their abusive spouse—and using the Bible to do it. We can do so much better.

That is my answer to your question: When does the Bible permit divorce?” 


The topic of marriage dysfunction and divorce is a huge one. There are no quick or easy answers. Using the Bible inappropriately in severe marriage situations is not only insensitive but does not reflect the heart of God who exhibits care and justice for those who are oppressed by unprincipled spouses in harmful situations.

There is a need for listening, care, and support for anyone experiencing marriage distress of any kind. Couples need to be ministered to on a case by case basis in order to help to guide both the husband and the wife in the best possible outcomes–for them as a couple and as individuals.

For women experiencing severe marriage dysfunction, it may be essential to remove her and any children from an unsafe home environment. There is much that church leaders and a supportive church can do to help those enduring ruptured marriages.

There is a need to forgo the insensitive ways of treating those who find that getting a divorce is the only reasonable solution for a couple’s relationship. There is a need to offer the help and support to both partners going through this distressing time in their lives. Suitable support can be part of the aid a nurturing church community can provide during and after a divorce has ended a marriage. It is important to realize that divorce can be the best and only solution for so many marriages and that new life can arise after the dissolution of a severely unhealthy marriage.


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For Further Reflection

The Lord promises wisdom for those who ask him. Marriage distress is one of those times. Men and women can look to the Lord for strength and wisdom at such a period in their lives.

This passage is taken from Proverbs 2:1-9, from The Message:

1-5 Good friend, take to heart what I’m telling you;
collect my counsels and guard them with your life.
Tune your ears to the world of Wisdom;
set your heart on a life of Understanding.
That’s right—if you make Insight your priority,
and won’t take no for an answer,
Searching for it like a prospector panning for gold,
like an adventurer on a treasure hunt,
Believe me, before you know it Fear-of-God will be yours;
you’ll have come upon the Knowledge of God.

6-8 And here’s why: God gives out Wisdom free,
is plainspoken in Knowledge and Understanding.
He’s a rich mine of Common Sense for those who live well,
a personal bodyguard to the candid and sincere.
He keeps his eye on all who live honestly,
and pays special attention to his loyally committed ones.

So now you can pick out what’s true and fair,
find all the good trails!

This same passage, Proverbs 2:1-9, from the New International Version:

My son, if you receive my words,
And treasure my commands within you,
So that you incline your ear to wisdom,
And apply your heart to understanding;
Yes, if you cry out for discernment,
And lift up your voice for understanding,
If you seek her as silver,
And search for her as for hidden treasures;
Then you will understand the fear of the Lord,
And find the knowledge of God.
For the Lord gives wisdom;
From His mouth come knowledge and understanding;
He stores up sound wisdom for the upright;
He is a shield to those who walk uprightly;
He guards the paths of justice,
And preserves the way of His saints.
Then you will understand righteousness and justice,
Equity and every good path.


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© 2014   Barb Orlowski, D.Min.


Spiritual Abuse and Hearing the Voices of Women in the Church


Being a woman in the Body of Christ can pose various challenges.  When it comes to spiritual abuse and women in the church, this issue just gets a lot more complex.  This article will allow a number of women to speak about their experience in the church, how they coped with spiritual abuse, and how they eventually recovered.               

So often, women have had to make the decision to leave something.  They have had to make the decision to leave their home church, to leave their denomination, and for some, to leave the institutional church altogether.  The woman’s issue in the church is serious and everyone needs to work to find solutions and to minister to women who have been wounded through senseless ways of ‘doing church.’

One pro-active thing that people can do is to listen to women’s voices and hear what they are saying.  Jesus led the way in honoring women.  The Apostle Paul valued the many contributions of women in the churches where he ministered. 

There is much that could be said about this topic, but for now, let us hear the voices of some women who have faced wounding by spiritual abuse in the places where they fellowshipped.  It is hard to fathom that in a place of worship, Word, and Christian fellowship that spiritual abuse would happen in the same location.  Unfortunately, that is the story of so many. 

The following are seven brief accounts of women and their church experiences.  Each of these stories highlights a different, but similar, aspect of disappointment and distress for women while in their home church.  These stories are representative of the countless stories that continue to be the experience of so many women.

  Speak, for we are listening  . . .

Hearing Women’s Voices

Story 1

“I came to a crisis of faith because I felt called to ministry, but “women couldn’t do that” in all the churches I was associated with at that point.  I thought, how could I follow a God who would set me up that way–by creating me with certain gifts, by calling me, and then not allowing me to live out my core sense of calling?  It really was a spiritual crisis for me.”


Story 2  

“I have mentioned my counselor . . . he was such a great minister.   The Lord gave me a ministry of intercession to help me when I couldn’t pray. (seriously!)    I wouldn’t keep my word to myself or bring myself to prayer or the Bible, but I WOULD keep my word to someone else.

I found people to pray for M-F and promised them I would pray and email them   to confirm it.  I would also send them anything the Lord gave me as I read and listened.  (That ministry has now grown to about 500 people each week and through it God has formed a sweet and humble spirit where a defensive and touchy one had been.)

I also was blessed with three women who have been my spiritual formation group.  

Finally, the reading and writing required for my D.Min. degree brought enormous healing and finally closure to things.  I have realized it wasn’t my fault.  God has even worked forgiveness into my heart for those who hurt us.”


Story 3

“I gave myself time to process and allowed myself to feel the emotions fully, I read a lot of books, anything I could find on the internet.  I built up a small group of friends who knew nothing about what had happened.  I occupied myself with activities that had nothing to do with church.

I made a list of the behavioral and doctrinal commands (whether taught or unspoken) and systematically and deliberately did them all (they were not sin, but were implicit rules in the church, like not being allowed to wear pants).  Eventually after 13 years I started speaking about my experiences within the church, which by this time I realized was cult-like.”


Story 4

“How did I process my feelings?  By this I am assuming you mean:  how did I come to understand them.  I was able to process my feelings by talking things through with my husband, my new pastor, (and my former pastor) and by finding others who were going through, or had gone through, similar experiences.       

I discovered Christians for Biblical Equality and the Priscilla Papers.   I read books by various authors including Katherine Clark-Kroeger, Faith Williams, and Craig Keener.  A book entitled Gender Matters, written by a group of professors from the King’s College in Briarcliff Manor, NY, also became important to me.  Most of the authors of this book (published in 1989) were friends and colleagues of my husband. 

I believe that God placed, and continues to place the right people on my path at just the right time.  God answers prayers.”


Story 5

“My main means of processing was in weekly sessions with a psychiatrist.  For a few months I also attended a Bible study for women who had difficulty with their image of God because of problems with previous authority figures –particularly male, run by a friend who was also the director of a safe house for battered women.  It was very, very helpful as it was a relatively safe place to honestly explore (vent!) how we really felt about God and then we contrasted that with what the Scripture actually said about the nature of God.”

“My new church was very affirming to me, both as a pastor and as a female.  I served as an associate alongside a female senior pastor who had never suffered such abuse, but was patient with me as I worked through my anger and sorrow and fear, and who reminded me that some people are just not worth the emotional expenditure.”


Story 6  

“First I interviewed the pastor, to see what his perspective on women’s leadership was.  (The denomination had mixed views.)  And he said, oh women can do anything here.  So I began to attend, and got involved in worship, in Bible study, in teaching, in outreach to students, and etc. 

About a year later, the church elders decided they had to “take a stand” about women’s roles.  They decided the church would explore the different views.  A male PhD in theology was invited to teach the “against” side, and I (27 yrs. old, informally discipled in Scripture) was invited to teach the “women can do anything” side.  Needless to say, I “lost” and found the experience crushing. 

Subsequently, I decided to join a denomination where women were ordained and that the national church had taken a position.   I found a local church in this denomination with a woman associate pastor.”


Story 7 

“I have a wider understanding of different interpretations and viewpoints, such as Paul’s instructions about women in the church–I now realize there are different beliefs about how these can be interpreted, about the local cultural settings, etc. 

I also am very aware of how Scripture can be misused and manipulated to control people.  I am conscious of how groups, particularly church leaders, use Scripture to justify their personal viewpoints and try to dominate people saying:  “We believe the scriptural view on this” when it is actually their narrow interpretations which they make fit their opinions. 

They arrogantly say they are right and use Scripture out of context and dismiss other churches with different viewpoints, which see the same Scripture in different ways.  I have been beaten over the head with Scripture used to dominate and control and have been told not to read any books that teach different views and doctrines.

One church leader, of a different church last year, told me I was very unusual, most people, especially women, simply accept what is taught, whereas I think about what is taught.  That was when he told me to either agree 100% with what their denomination taught or leave.  I left.”


In Response to my Question:  “Where are you at with Christ now?” these ladies responded this way:

“I am loved and cherished by Him and I feel it.  I used to feel like I was his “problem child.”  Now I know I am his Joseph and he’s made me a coat of many colors.  He revels in who I am.  His favor is on me, not his hand of wrath.”

“Abiding, loving, peaceful as the daughter of the King of Kings—a princess in His royal court, not the maid in the palace who can never rise above being called what I was before I was saved—a dirty rotten sinner deserving of Hell.”

“My home is in His bosom.”



Recognizing that men and women are not defined by gender in the Kingdom of God, but by gifting, is a place to start.

What is so encouraging is that many women have found a place of worship, service, and Christian fellowship as they have reflected on their past, processed their pain, and have trusted their destiny and calling to their Lord. 

Women have been greatly encouraged by their brothers and sisters in the faith to take faith steps and risks with God.  Women have persevered in discovering that they and their giftings could find a meaningful place in the Body of Christ. 

As the prophecy of the prophet Joel proclaimed the Promise of the Spirit, which plainly included women, we recognize that ancient promise still rings true today.  A growing number of women have discovered unique and satisfying places to serve.  They are also finding that serving Christ in these places was his idea all along.


“And afterward,

I will pour out my Spirit on all people.

Your sons and daughters will prophesy,

    your old men will dream dreams,

    your young men will see visions.

Even on my servants, both men and women,

    I will pour out my Spirit in those days.

                                                                                          Joel 2:28-29


~ ~ ~ ~ ~


It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

                                                                                                 Gal. 5:1


So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith,  for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you  are all one in Christ Jesus.  If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

                                                                                               Gal. 3: 26-29


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** If you have a story that you would like to share with me about your ministry experience in the church, whether good or bad, please feel free to contact me through my website email: 



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For Further Reflection

Read and reflect on the passages of Scripture that include women.  This is evident particularly in the accounts of the death, burial, and resurrection story of Jesus and the birth of the Church.

Suggested passages: 

Matthew 27:57-66; Matthew 28;  Mark 16.

Luke 23:50-56; Luke 24;  John 20;  Acts 1 – 2.



* * * * *




© 2014   Barb Orlowski, D.Min.


Women in the Church and 1.Timothy 2.Priesthood.

Women in the Church

Topic 1   Which Book Came First—Timothy or Romans?

Topic 2   Looking at Women from the Context of the Priesthood


The issue of what women can or cannot do in the church continues to rage on.  Christians for Biblical Equality have two good magazines to offer:  one is Priscilla Papers and the other one is Mutuality.  They have some excellent articles, a scholarly approach, and information to help the reader work through the challenges that seem to be ever present with ‘the woman issue’ in the church today.

The following are selected excerpts from two articles.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~



Topic 1   Which Book Came First–Timothy or Romans?   Having a Consistent NT Interpretive Approach

Title:   On Developing a Consistent Hermeneutical Approach to the Application of General Scriptures

by Cynthia Long Westfall, Ph.D.


Topic 2 Looking at Women from the Context of the Priesthood

Title:   Incarnation, Trinity, and the Ordination of Women to the Priesthood

by John Jefferson Davis, Ph.D.


Topic 1

Which Book Came First—Timothy or Romans?

Title:  On Developing a Consistent Hermeneutical Approach

to the Application of General Scriptures

by Cynthia Long Westfall, Ph.D.


What is 1 Tim 2:8-15 really about?  This is the primary passage that has been used to exclude women from teaching and leadership in the church.  However, a careful examination of the passage in its context shows that it is most likely addressing false teaching and myths about marriage and childbirth that were spreading from house to house.

In an article, authored by Cynthia Long Westfall, we pick up some intriguing facts.  Westfall begins her discussion by acknowledging that the 1 Corinthians passage on spiritual gifts reflects the Holy Spirit’s primary role in the distribution of the gifts.  The problem in the evangelical church is that it has had a dominant hermeneutical approach which inserts 1 Tim. 2:12 as an a priori assumption over the distribution of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

The result is that “women find that they hit unanticipated glass walls because they are dealing with embedded theologies that are far more restrictive and confusing than what is actually articulated or permitted.”  Westfall states clearly that in practice a veil is placed over Rom. 12:1-8 when a woman reads it.  The point is that anyone who studies Scripture, whether woman or man, needs to apply sound hermeneutical principles consistently when studying this passage.

“Inconsistencies in the hermeneutical approach applied in regard to women result in theological inconsistency and patterns of injustice.”

Three of Paul’s epistles act as a template for the believer’s function in the church:  1 Corinthians, Romans, and Ephesians. These letters were written around A.D. 55-60.  The Epistle to the Romans is the least occasional of Paul’s epistles and is the most systematic, with the most explanation and clarity.  Paul never visited the Christians in Rome.

“If there had been essential constraints on women in the exercise of spiritual gifts, this would have been the time for Paul to make such constraints clear.”

Romans provides a significant contrast with 1 Timothy in a number of ways:

  • Romans was written to a group in a place that Paul never visited.

  • 1 Timothy was a private, intimate letter to a member of his ministry team, which by nature assumes a very high level of shared information.  Key information for outsider interpretation is omitted because the recipient understands the context.

  • 1 Timothy is highly occasional, embedded in a particular context in Ephesus.  Paul was addressing a number of specific issues and problems caused by false teaching.

  • 1 Timothy was written as much as eight years after Romans was written.

  • The alleged interpretive grid in 1 Tim. 2:12 contains a number of significant interpretive problems.

  • When the eight-year span between these two letters is considered, the use of 1 Tim. 2:12 as an interpretive grid for Romans is anachronistic.


Interpreting the Scripture skillfully involves:

  1. Not basing a doctrine on one verse.

  1. Not basing a doctrine on a verse or passage with interpretive problems.

  1. Giving preference to the clearer passage.



  1. Rom. 12:1-8 is a unified thread and 12:9-21 is closely related.

  1. Parallel passages in 1 Cor. 12 and Eph. 4:11-15 elucidate Paul’s theology of spiritual gifts and can be used legitimately to interpret each other.

  1. Regardless of one’s translation theory, in the Greek, humas (you plural) and adelphoi (siblings/brothers and sisters) refer to both women and men.  This is made explicit and emphatic in 12:3—these instructions are addressed to every single one of the believers.


Rom. 12:1-2:  Priesthood of the believer, authenticity, and transformation

“The exhortations in 12:1-2 are couched in terms of worship, so that the believer is depicted as both the priest who serves and offers the sacrifice and the sacrifice that is being offered.  Worship in the Old Testament, including the sacrifice and the priesthood, is now being fulfilled with the inauguration of the new age.”

“One of the common arguments used to support the prohibition of women from the priesthood or pastorate is that Old Testament priests were male.  But here we have the priesthood of believers in a ministry/gift context, and there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female in the priesthood.  This is consistent with the argument in the book of Hebrews . . .”

Since Christ offered himself as the once-for-all sacrifice for sin, then all believers stand on the same ground before God.  Each believer now has the right, the authority, to follow Christ into the Holy of Holies functioning as priests.

“If the Old Testament teaching role actually belonged to the priests rather than the prophets, then the teaching role would be extended across the racial, social, and gender lines also.”

Every believer can share knowledge even though every believer may not have the gift of teaching.

All functions in ministry flow out of the concept of the priesthood of the believer.

  • “Every member of the church shares in the church’s ministry and mission.”

  • “Where there is a priesthood of all believers, there is no spiritual aristocracy or hierarchy.”

One’s theology of ministry will either include or exclude women from positions of authority.  Therefore, “arguments that exclude women from so-called positions of authority are based on an incorrect theology of ministry.”

In the book, How to Think Theologically, there is a helpful distinction between deliberative theology and embedded theology.

  • Deliberative theology is intentionally drawn from interpreting the Bible.  Scriptures are studied and developed into a coherent worldview.

  • Embedded theology is our autopilot—our unspoken, unwritten, unexamined rules by which we live.”

Westfall recounts that Christian women today have been “educated, tested, trained, certified, elected, and proven to function in an expanding variety of different roles and responsibility and leadership.”  She notes that an interesting statistic is that:  “women now make up 50 percent of the student body of some seminaries.”

Basically women’s “personalities, abilities, potential, and development are not inherently broken—they are an essential part of our authenticity.”

Westfall has been keenly observed that there is a reluctance to question or contradict a man’s call, even if he appears to lack the gifts and social skills deemed appropriate for ministry.  Yet, when a woman “determines her call by the same model, using the same criteria, if she comes to the same conclusion, she is told that her navigational system is broken.”

Women are told that utilizing emotion and experience is invalid in discovering their call–if they come up with the “wrong” conclusion.  This is ironic, because women follow the same procedures received directly from the unified witness, teaching, and example of men in the pulpit, adult Sunday schools, Bible classes, theologians, and writers of commentaries.

As a result, in practice, a man’s experience and emotions are treated as normative regarding his call to ministry, but a woman’s emotions and experience are treated as suspect.  Her findings can be cancelled out by being outside of wherever “they” draw the line of what the appropriate sphere of ministry is for women.  Westfall further notes that, historically, the line has been drawn in every conceivable place.

But, in the two passages that explicitly address the basis of the function of ministry, 1 Corinthians 12 and Roman 12, there are two primary determinants of gifts and function:  the realistic estimation of the individual and the Holy Spirit who gives gifts to every individual just as he determines (1 Cor. 12:11).  This would argue against the theology of “drawing a line” and creating a priori rules of how God works that cancel out the clear theology of these two passages in regard to women.”

Westfall zeroes in on the fact that there is a “hermeneutic of suspicion” that is pervasive among conservative evangelicals which has been used to interpret and judge a woman’s identity as well as her behavior.


Romans 12:6b-8:  Gifts given to meet the needs of the body

“When a man looks at Romans 12:6-8, he sees a non-exhaustive list of possibilities through which he may interpret himself and his calling.” . . . “Men are free to consider any gift as a possibility.  On the other hand, sometimes there is flat denial that a woman could be gifted in the majority of the gifts based on whether they involve authority, speaking, or passing judgment based on 1 Timothy 2:12.”

“Men are saying to gifted women, “I have no need of you,” which is a clear violation of Scripture (1 Cor. 12:21-26).  Consequently, women who show themselves to be gifted in areas other than service, showing mercy, giving, and faith are prey to being underutilized, misused, or even treated with hostility.  The principles governing the exercise of spiritual gifts are clear when applied to men, but they are not understood or applied with any rigor or consistency to women.”



“Women are not permitted to interpret or apply Romans 12:1-8 in the same way as the men who teach them and lead them by example.  In essence, they are not allowed to apply sound hermeneutical principles consistently.  A passage becomes something else—in some cases, the exact opposite principle is asserted based on gender considerations than the one which the passage espouses or illustrates.”

“A man can approach spiritual gifts as spiritual possibilities, but a woman may be unsure of what she is allowed to do.  She becomes immobilized.”

Westfall defines the problem as using 1 Tim. 2:12 as a hermeneutical grid when interpreting Rom. 12:1-8.  She affirms that the Roman church “could not have used it as an interpretive grid.”  Using one verse, which has interpretive problems, is unwise.  Preference should be given to the clearer passage in Romans over the less clear passage in 1 Timothy.

“If Paul was deeply troubled about Judaizers requiring circumcision, what would he think about the intentional restraint and immobilization of the Spirit’s gifts for ministry?  Pragmatically, the use of 1 Timothy 2:12 involves a sort of “hermeneutic imperialism” that cancels out the clear teaching of Romans 12:1-8.  The effects of this practice results in complex patterns of injustice.  Ultimately, it generates a different theology for women than for men.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~


From Priscilla Papers, Volume 24, Number 3, Summer, 2010.


* * * * *

Topic 2

Looking at Women from the Context of the Priesthood

Title:  Incarnation, Trinity, and the Ordination of Women to the Priesthood

by John Jefferson Davis, Ph.D.


From the Church’s Past

In an article by John Jefferson Davis, Ph.D., he takes a hard look at the culture wars around the topic of the ordination of women.  Davis observes:

“With regard to “culture wars,” cultural conservatives tend to see the ordination of women as symptomatic of a feminist movement that destabilizes the family and society generally; cultural progressives and egalitarians tend to see male-dominant readings of Scripture as increasing the dangers of domestic violence and abuse.”

Davis goes on to reminisce about how certain beliefs, that were held strongly in the church over time, were later reconsidered under duress of the evidence presented and were forced to painfully adjust accordingly:

“During the Galileo controversy, the Vatican could rightly point to a patristic and later church tradition that was solidly on the side of a geocentric understanding of biblical texts such as Psalm 19, Joshua 10:13, and Psalm 9:1, and yet, as history shows, the church was later to correct its earlier understanding of these texts in the light of new evidence and better hermeneutical principles.”

Davis concludes that this also may be the case with regard to traditional understandings of the biblical texts regarding the ordination of women.


The Maleness of the Priesthood

When it comes to the argument of the ordination of women beginning with the male gender of Jesus, an obviously valid point, there are a number of serious problems with proceeding with this line of argument.  Davis points out the following:

  1. This line of argument overlooks the fact that the nature of priesthood was fundamentally changed in the transition from the old to the New Covenant.  In the New Testament church, all believers are priests, offering the sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving to God. 

“you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”  1 Pet. 2:5, 9

 One does not have to look very far to realize that both male and female are now ‘priests’ in the New Testament usage of the term.  Believers are no longer dependent on a single human mediator, but have immediate access to the Father, by faith in Christ alone.  From Hebrews and Revelation, we note two verses: 

“let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.”                                      Heb. 10:22

“You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”                    Rev. 5:10

  1. The idea of the male priest as “icon of Christ” argument demonstrates a misunderstanding of the purpose of the incarnation.

Though Jesus became incarnate, as a male, the main point is that God took on a full and complete human nature.  This human nature fully represented both male and female.

The introduction to the Gospel of John states that:

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. . .”  (John 1:14).  It does not say:  “And the Word became a male.” 

The outstanding point with the incarnation was that Jesus was not only a male by gender, but more specifically, he was a Jewish, unmarried, physically unblemished, male.

When one reads the fine print in Lev. 21:17-21, it is also clear that in order to be ordained to the Levitical priesthood that the candidate could not be:  blind, lame, deformed, crippled, or have any eye defects.

Davis concludes that since it is unlikely that anyone would argue today that a priest, to be an “icon of Christ,” must be an unmarried Jewish male.  He points out that “such characteristics are circumstantial rather than essential characteristics of one who is to assume a full and complete human (not merely male) nature for the purpose of redeeming human nature, both men and women, and bringing them to God.”

Since both male and female are made in the image of God, according to the account in Genesis 1:17, both genders reflect the character of God.

Therefore, from the fact that God became incarnate as a Jewish man:

  1. It does not follow that Jews can be closer to God than Gentiles or that Jews are better “icons” of God than Gentiles.

  1. Nor does it follow that males are inherently better “icons”  of God than women.


The good news has always been that in the New Covenant these distinctions are overcome, according to Gal. 3:28:  “neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”—all have equal access to God and to God’s grace.


Davis drives home the point that:

  1. Maleness is not more similar to the divine essence than femaleness and

  1. The male language of the Trinity is a circumstantial (though not arbitrary) and not an essential characteristic of the Trinitarian revelation of Scripture.

How does human language describe some aspects of God?

  1. God is a spirit by nature and so is not literally a gendered being.

  1. The word “Father” is predicated on a human father.  Though God is like a human father in some respects, he is not just like or only like a human father, but infinitely greater than any human father.

  1. God is also described in Scripture in terms that are impersonal such as:  God is a Rock; a consuming fire; God is light, etc.

  1. The fundamental core assertion of the Triune name of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is the personal nature of God.



In a nutshell, Davis points out that since the Triune community is the basis of all human community then the use of “male” language of the Trinity is an analogical revelation of strength and power of God to create and redeem.

“The male language of God is power language that signifies that God is powerful to create and to save—that God is indeed the true God; there is no other.”


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From Priscilla Papers, Volume 24, Number 1, Winter, 2010.


* * * * *


With Special Thanks to Christians for Biblical Equality

for their ongoing ministry and excellent material on these topics.



Helpful Resources

In order to access further articles on the topic of biblical gender equality, please contact Christians for Biblical Equality.

  • Request information for:  Priscilla Papers or Mutuality.

  • Request CBE’s informative online newsletter called Arise.


Link:  www.cbeinternational.org


        * * * * *



For Further Reflection

1 Timothy 2:1-15 (NIV)

Instructions on Worship 

1 I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—

2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.

3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior,

4 who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus,

6 who gave himself as a ransom for all people.  This has now been witnessed to at the proper time.

7 And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I am telling the truth, I am not lying—and a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles.

8 Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing.

9 I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes,

10 but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.

11 A woman[a] should learn in quietness and full submission.

12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man;[b] she must be quiet.

13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve.

14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.

15 But women[c] will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.


a. 1 Timothy 2:11 Or wife; also in verse 12

b. 1 Timothy 2:12 Or over her husband

c. 1 Timothy 2:15 Greek she

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© 2013   Barb Orlowski, D.Min.

Spiritual Abuse and How It Can Lead to Other Abuses

Spiritual Abuse and How It Can Lead to Other Abuses


When looking at spiritual abuse, you often find that there is relationship with other abuses—spiritual, physical, emotional, verbal, and sexual. Where you find at least one abuse in action, you frequently find all the rest lurking nearby.  As the old saying goes:  “To be forewarned, is to be forearmed.”

This article briefly looks at how spiritual abuse specifically ties in with some of these other forms of abuse.  In order to understand the relationship with other abuses we must first define what spiritual abuse is.  Here is my brief definition:

“Spiritual abuse involves using one’s spiritual authority inappropriately and

thereby violating the sacred trust of a spiritual shepherd.

The misuse of ecclesiastical power to control and manipulate congregants, ultimately results in damage.”

It is, therefore, imperative to understand what spiritual abuse is in order to make an appropriate assessment.


Brief Facts About Spiritual Abuse

  1. What are some Faulty Perceptions about spiritual abuse and why people leave their home church?

Misperception 1.  Isn’t spiritual abuse what happens to people in cult groups?  If people get caught up in groups that don’t preach the Gospel clearly, then they are bound to get sucked into a faulty belief system and experience being spiritually abused.  That’s to be expected.

Misperception 2.  It is widely felt that people who leave church must be ‘backsliding’ or just too busy for God.  People who enjoy attending church find it hard to grasp that there are valid reasons why people have faced the inevitable decision to leave their home church.

Misperception 3.  Some people think that it is a perception problem—meaning that vulnerable people seem to perceive that they have been spiritually abused.  Besides, there is too much being made out of the term abuse today anyway.  It is just a matter of perception, they conclude–after some minor incident that has happened in the church.  It could just be a matter of communication or it may simply be a personality conflict with a leader, or whatever.

A Better Response.  It is important to be diligent in trying to help church leaders and congregants to understand some of the valid reasons why people have made the decision to leave their home church.


  1. How prevalent is spiritual abuse?

There are numerous incidences of spiritual abuse happening in Christian churches today—maybe more than most church or denominational leaders would like to admit.

Since many people think that spiritual abuse is only found in cults or cult-like groups, it is a shocking reality to be informed that:  spiritual abuse can be found in many Bible-believing churches with orthodox doctrinal statements.  It is, therefore, not so much what people believe, but how they practice what they believe that is the issue.

More Christians are beginning to recognize the harmful effects of this leadership behavior on individuals, couples, and families.

Ronald Enroth concludes that:

“It [spiritual abuse] is far more prevalent and much closer to the evangelical mainstream than many are willing to admit.”

From the number of websites that have developed that directly address spiritual abuse and sites that include specific articles on this topic, it adds up to a host of people who are trying to draw this occurrence to the attention of church leaders and congregants in mainstream Christianity.

Furthermore, confidential family counselors are engaged by those wounded, in order to help them to process the feelings of loss and devastation.  Caring pastors are sought out to provide comfort and support to those bruised by church leaders. Researchers are faced with the mounting statistics related to this dysfunctional issue in the church. Yes, these observations point to the fact that:

Spiritual abuse needs to come to the


of clergy and congregant attention.


  1. Why don’t we hear much about spiritual abuse?

If it is supposed that it is the individual or a couple who ARE the PROBLEM, then this matter can be dealt with privately, behind closed doors.  The individual takes the brunt of the situation, but the church leadership is never called into question and is seldom held accountable in any way.  The organization and its leadership are rarely included as a factor that might need to be considered in these concealed situations.

Many times, others in their church have no clue what has just happened or why these members are no longer attending. When a tale is spun about the cause of the situation being some kind of sin (that no one talks about) and church members are warned not to associate with these people, then the issue cannot be discerned as being spiritual abuse, but is considered a matter of ‘church discipline’–though very little information seems to be available.  The facts are hidden from view and the situation is now considered dealt with.

After an individual or couple have experienced harsh treatment by their clergy, they are usually so devastated that they can hardly grasp what exactly has happened to them.  Their usual posture is to go into seclusion and to try to process the extreme grief and confusion that they are experiencing.  Little support seems to be available to congregants by denominational overseers.  Overseers tend to favor church leaders, while those wounded in the church are left to suffer in silence without any hope of remedy.


Linking Other Abuses

Many have factored in the obvious connection of spiritual abuse with other abuses.  The reason behind the direct linkage of various abuses is related to the thinking patterns of certain groups and specifically the church leadership in groups that call themselves Christian.  In church cultures where shame and silence are upheld, women particularly, especially younger women, are the most vulnerable to abuse of various kinds. These abuses include:  verbal, emotional, physical, spiritual abuse, child sexual abuse, sexual abuse, and clergy sexual abuse.

People’s theology, that is, their belief system shapes their behavior.  How church leaders and congregants view church leadership effects their expectations of leaders.  Where there is a feeling of entitlement among leadership, because of position, there may arise opportunities for unscrupulous leaders to take advantage of people by their spiritual leadership position and followers are harmed.

In contexts where patriarchy is valued or where certain aberrant teachings abound, spiritual abuse is evident.

When a culture puts greater value on males, as being:

Central, Superior, and Deserving,

the converse is that females are of lesser value in that society:

Peripheral, Inferior, and Servants.


In patriarchy, men are viewed as divinely mandated or authorized to hold power over women and children.  So, a misuse of position in this case is actually spiritual abuse.  This kind of bullying by hiding behind spiritual authority can occur in homes, churches, and ministries–wherever God is brought into the picture (rightly or wrongly) as the source of the leadership authority.  Thus, to go against the man in authority is to go against God Himself.  This faulty perception of entitlement can be used to manipulate and even beguile the unwary.

In thinking about spiritual abuse and the connection with other abuses, the word ‘violation’ comes to mind.  Something has been violated in each of these cases.  In fact, a number of things have been violated:  violation of trust, violation of the person’s dignity, a violation of the image of God, a violation of personal value and expected care for the individual, and so forth.  Something that is sacred has been treated with a gross lack of respect.  The person’s body, mind, and spirit have been violated and defiled by abuse.

Just as spiritual abuse is usually ‘dealt with’ behind closed doors, so also in some churches, when domestic violence, sexual abuse, child sexual abuse, or clergy sexual abuse is identified by congregants as happening in the church, the first response is to keep these issues quiet. Whoever has brought the information forward is now marked and is usually cautioned not to divulge these facts to anyone.  Certain churches feel that they have a right to deal with human sin in-house and are not obligated to alert local authorities, though this is the law.

As stated above, spiritual abuse, emotional abuse, physical abuse, domestic violence, and sexual abuses are repeatedly treated the same way:  “The individual takes the brunt of the situation, but the church leadership is never called into question and is seldom held accountable in any way.  The church organization and its leadership are rarely included as a factor that might need to be considered in these concealed situations.”



It is extremely grievous that these forms of abuse are linked and are found in the Christian church today.  You would think that after all that the Church has learned from the Scriptures about living a godly and healthy spiritual lives and being in a spiritual fellowship with others, that there would be robust spiritual life that would be manifested in a healthy approach to all of life.  Evidence of the reign of God should be found among the people of God.  This, unfortunately, is not always the case.

There is much injury that has been done in the name of the Church and scores of God’s people have been severely harmed.  Since abuse is kept hidden, abuse can thrive.  It is when flawed beliefs and abusive practices have been identified and exposed that there is some hope that this scourge on the Christian Church will be remedied.  It will take every serious Christian to make a difference by raising the awareness about these issues and dealing in sensible ways with those who have been harmed.


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Websites Resources

Over time, the internet has proven extremely helpful in providing information and resources suitable for this need.

The following are a sample of websites that can be accessed.


*Abuse Resource Network


• The Abuse Resource Network strives to raise awareness about abuse and help to motivate and train the church to respond to abuse in a biblical way.

• The Abuse Resource Network has been formed to provide a comprehensive hub of information with resources to help people find answers to questions about their own abuse and to help church leaders, workers, and counselors to find and share resources–in order to help people to properly grieve, to come to terms with what happened, to progress towards healing, and to help to find closure.

• The Abuse Resource Network has also been designed to provide interactive resources for support and healing.


*Faith Trust Institute


FaithTrust Institute is a national, multifaith, multicultural training and education organization with global reach working to end sexual and domestic violence.

Founded in 1977, the FaithTrust Institute offers a wide range of services and resources, including training, consulting and educational materials.

We provide communities and advocates with the tools and knowledge they need to address the religious and cultural issues related to abuse. We work with many communities, including Asian and Pacific Islander, Buddhist, Jewish, Latino/a, Muslim, Black, Anglo, Indigenous, Protestant and Roman Catholic.


*Christians for Biblical Equality


Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE) is a non-profit organization of Christian men and women who believe that the Bible, properly interpreted, teaches the fundamental equality of men and women of all ethnic groups, all economic classes, and all age groups, based on the teachings of Scriptures such as Galatians 3:28:

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile,

neither slave nor free,

neither male nor female,

for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”


*PASCH Peace and Safety in the Christian Home


Peace and Safety in the Christian Home (PASCH) is a loose coalition of academics, professionals, clergy and lay people who are alarmed by domestic violence in the Christian home and are interested in solving the problem of abuse in the Christian home. Our goal is to increase peace and safety in the Christian home, and in the world it serves, by addressing and decreasing all forms of abuse.


*RAVE Religion and Violence e-Learning


The RAVE Mission Statement:

“There is no place like home;

when abuse strikes,

there is no home.”

RAVE seeks to enable religious leaders to respond to domestic violence in ways that are compassionate, practical, and informed by the latest research and best practices for professionals;

RAVE seeks to enable religious leaders to respond to domestic violence in ways that are compassionate, practical, and informed by the latest research and best practices for professionals;

RAVE seeks to walk alongside victims and survivors on their journeys toward healing and wholeness;

RAVE seeks to forge pathways between the Steeple and the Shelter;

RAVE seeks to hold abusers accountable for their actions, while offering hope for a transformed life.


*Speaking Truth in Love Ministries


Speaking Truth in Love Ministries addresses the difficult issues of Sexual Abuse and Domestic Violence within the Body of Christ.


*The Hope of Survivors


The Hope of Survivors provides support, hope, and healing for victims of pastoral sexual abuse.


*A Cry for Justice


Awakening the Evangelical Church to domestic violence       and abuse in its midst.


*SNAP—Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests


We are SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.  We are the largest, oldest and most active support group for women and men wounded by religious authority figures (priests, ministers, bishops, deacons, nuns and others). We are an independent and confidential organization, with no connections with the church or church officials.


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For Further Reflection

Learn to do right; seek justice.  Defend the oppressed.

Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.

                                                                       Isaiah 1:17


“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:

to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?

Is it not to share your food with the hungry

   and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—

when you see the naked, to clothe them,

  and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

Then your light will break forth like the dawn,

 and your healing will quickly appear;

then your righteousness will go before you,

   and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.

Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;

   you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,

   with the pointing finger and malicious talk,

and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry

   and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,

then your light will rise in the darkness,

   and your night will become like the noonday.

The Lord will guide you always;

   he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land

   and will strengthen your frame.

You will be like a well-watered garden,

   like a spring whose waters never fail.

Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins

   and will raise up the age-old foundations;

you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,

Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

                                                              Isaiah 58:6-12



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© 2013   Barb Orlowski, D.Min.