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The Freedom Papers No. 1 Part 5
The recent work by Dr. Ann Nyland ‘who notes the comment by Dr. L.S Fried, the University of Michigan that the ‘careful and exhaustive study of contemporary Greek papyri and inscriptions renders other New Testament translations obsolete’. Nyland develops this thought in her introduction.
For centuries, the meanings of numerous New Testament words remained unknown, and translators simply made educated guesses. In the late 1880s and again in the mid-1970s, substantial amounts of papyri written in New Testament times were discovered. (No, these were nothing to do with the Dead Sea Scrolls!) These impacted our knowledge of word meaning in the New Testament to such a degree that scholars labelled the finds “sensational” and “dramatic.” Words found in the New Testament now appeared commonly in everyday private letters from ordinary people, contracts of marriage and divorce, tax papers, official decrees, birth and death notices, and business documents. Many mysteries of word meaning were solved. However, nearly every New Testament translation of today follows the traditional translations of words of the earlier versions. These were published centuries before the evidence from the papyri and inscriptions revealed to us the meanings of numerous New Testament words.
If we were brought up with the understanding that ‘head’ in the New Testament means ‘authority over’, which is the traditional interpretation, our initial reading of these scholars may disturb us. For some people, adherence to the traditional roles of men and women in the church and home is not only an intrinsic part of their very salvation but essential to their future economic and relational security,
Much of the church has been taught that for a woman not to be ‘under the authority’ of some man is to be in ‘rebellion’ and ‘out of the will of God’ and God’s blessings. Women who do not ‘obey’ are branded as ‘Jezebels’ and in some instances, the church is publicly warned to shun them.
Those of us who have questioned the seeming injustice and consequences of such teaching, feel relieved as we realise that this teaching is not true. We grasp we have been deceived. Instead, we recognise the equity and justice of God.
It is to our great disadvantage that the church ignores the research Mickelsen, Cervin and Nyland, shed on the interpretation of ‘kephale’. Many church leaders know these most recent findings and the twenty and more years of debate but have refused to bring it to the attention of the church. They ignore it, hoping it will go away. In the past, these men have sought to ‘protect’ the flock by blocking such teachings. 1 In reality, it is to secure and maintain their own position.
Today, the place of women in the economy of God is receiving top priority amongst biblical scholars. What began, more recently, as a trickle in the late 1970s, is now a mighty rushing torrent.
It is to our great disadvantage that the church ignores the research Mickelsen, Cervin and Nyland, shed on the interpretation of ‘kephale’. Many church leaders know these most recent findings and the twenty and more years of debate but have refused to bring it to the attention of the church.
For example, Mickelsen, Cervin, Nyland and others cited in Nyland’s notes do not stand alone. Some of the finest Christian leaders of the last century accepted scriptural equality between women and men and worked alongside them (as did the Apostle Paul) 2 to further the work of God.
- J. Gordon, as early as 1888 wrote an article refuting the subordination of women. Dwight L. Moody in 1877 invited women to assist him in his evangelistic work. Many Christian women were at the forefront of women’s suffrage. In 1876 Bible commentator Adam Clarke encouraged women to preach. It is notable that all great revivals included women and men working alongside one another. This spark of freedom and mutuality ignited revival fires.
Charles Finney and Oberlin College in America were committed to female reform. Oberlin became the first co-educational college in the world. A number of Oberlin graduates became some of the most important feminists of the period. Lucy Stone, the most well know of these is renowned for working out a marriage contract that provided equal legal and personal rights for herself and her husband. Also, among these graduates was Antoinette Brown, the first woman to be ordained and Sally Holly a famous anti-slavery lecturer. Finney was severely criticised for his stand but he was more interested in the glory of God that he was in the fears of men.
Leaders of that day recognised the magnitude of the harvest and received and encouraged women to take their rightful place in the church to function in their gifts. Susanna Wesley not only exercised spiritual leadership in her home but outside as well. She turned the Sunday family worship service into an evening service and 200 people regularly attended. When her husband returned home, he questioned the proprietary of a woman leading the services but he could not deny her success and so capitulated. The overwhelming success of the women preachers forced John Wesley to change his mind and allow women into the ranks of church leadership. Many women in his day were renowned preachers, itinerant workers and planted churches.
I have sought to highlight the work of scholars who are in the mainstream of translation work today where the issue of woman’s position in Christ is questioned. We have considered the work of the Mickelsen’s, The Head of the Epistles. We have noted Cervin’s critique of Grudem’s ‘proof’ that ‘kephale’ means ‘authority over’ or ‘leader’ and Grudem’s error Grudem in limiting his research to an inferior source. We note Cervin’s acknowledgement of the Mickelsen’s idea of ‘kephale’ as ‘source’ and that, in his opinion, St Paul’s use of the word in his ‘Christ is the head of the body’ metaphor is simply a reference to oneness. We have considered Nyland, whose thorough study notes the use of the word ‘kephale’ and refutes the idea that this means head in the sense of hierarchy but rather the root of the word meaning ‘source’. It therefore cannot be used to place woman under man’s authority.
Whether we take Mickelsen’s and Nyland’s view, that ‘head’ equals ‘source’ or Cervin’s concept of ‘oneness’, it is impossible for us any longer to accept that ‘kephale’ (head) means ‘authority over’ or ‘leader’ based upon the most up to date research presented here.
The way in which the bible is interpreted influences the way in which we think about God. This manifest itself in the way social issues are addressed or ignored. It colours the way important principles and the weightier matters of life are perceived and understood. Wrong teaching and implementation lead to an imbalance and results in injustice on a grand scale.
Wrong teaching in the church and home that elevates men to women, causes incalculable suffering: emotional, financial, spiritual and in some instances, verbal and physical abuse.
- In 1996, I challenged an AOG Pastor in Australia on the Complementarian’s teachings (read ‘inequality for women in the church and home’) after he had preached that women were to be subservient to men. He said they (AOG National Executive Board of which he was a member) knew about the egalitarian teaching but they decided women might take advantage of it and in view of that AOG does not plan to change! Another leader of the same denomination, one of the largest churches in Australia at the time, who also knew about Biblical Equality teaching told me that because some ‘elderly man on the National Executive Board’ does not want to change, they teach the Complementary view. It’s hypocrisy.
- Ephesians 1:20-23 (context 1:13-23): ‘kephale’ means ‘top or crown’. Paul presents an exalted picture of Christ and his authority over everything in creation: …when he raised him from the dead and made him sit at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come; and he has put all things under his feet and has made the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
The authority of Christ, established in verses 20-21, is extended to every extremity from the crown (head) to feet – including the church, which is his body.