Hermeneutics And Women In The Church -- By: Grant R. Osborne

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 20:4 (Dec 1977)
Article: Hermeneutics And Women In The Church
Author: Grant R. Osborne


Hermeneutics And Women In The Church

Grant R. Osborne*

There has been a vast proliferation of material regarding the position of women in Christian society. Four distinguishable positions may be identified: (1) Women are subordinate to men and cannot have positions of authority in the Church; (2) women are subordinate to men but may have positions of authority in the Church; (3) women are equal to men and should have positions of authority in the Church; and (4) women are equal to men and should not have positions of authority. Three NT passages specifically deal with this problem: 1 Cor 11:2–16, 14:34–36 and 1 Tim 2:8–15. Three others deal with the principle behind the issue by discussing the husband-wife relation: Eph 5:22–33, Col 3:18, 19 and 1 Pet 3:1–7.

I. The Hermeneutical Basis

It is the contention of this article that the determining factor in the discussion is hermeneutical and relates to one’s interpretation of all the command passages in Scripture. When the debate is finished, the conclusions depend on one’s approach to the above passages.1 We might delineate three different hermeneutical stances: (1) All the Biblical command passages are literal and normative and must be obeyed; (2) all the command passages are cultural and can only be reinterpreted with regard to problems today; and (3) both cultural and normative commands are found in Scripture, and we must decide which category an individual command fits before we apply it to this age. Examples of the first category would be some Plymouth Brethren or Mennonite sects, such as the Haldemann Mennonites, who celebrate foot washing and “holy kissing”2 at their communion services. The second group would be represented by Joseph Fletcher and his “situation ethics,” which argues that the only command is love and that each situation must be handled individually. Most evangelicals would fall into the third category.

We can readily dismiss the second category on the basis of inspiration. The Bible must be more than a relative collection of individual religious experiences. If it has any authority at all, it is relevant for today. But the first approach is more difficult to negate. However, there are some considerations that argue for a recognition of cultural

*Grant Osborne is assistant professor of New Testament at Trin...

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