Christians for Biblical Equality

Discipleship and active/passive gender distinctions in the Gospels

Are you a princess or a pirate? Earlier this year I was touring a children's play centre in Tasmania when one of my colleagues asked me this very penetrating question – well Megan, are you a princess or a pirate?

What a choice! If I were a child having my birthday party at this church-run venue, would I choose the beautiful, pink and silver princess room, taking for myself as party girl the glamorous and exalted role of the princess wearing her tiara, or would I choose a party on the pirate ship, playing the part of the cut-throat and adventurous Blue Beard, with my parrot on my shoulder, and wielding my swashbuckling sword?

To complicate matters, my choice was extended beyond just parties, because in the play area were two giant posters, listing affirming adjectives for boys and girls. He is… the first poster declared, courageous, strong, and honoured. She is… precious, beautiful, and loved.

Did that "she" describe me? On the one hand I certainly hoped so – as a person in Christ I know I am precious in God's sight and loved beyond my imagination. And yet, something didn't sit right, and not just with my all-girls private school education, I hoped. There seemed to be something amiss in the way that the boys were being encouraged in the name of Jesus to value their active, outward looking traits, and yet the girls… well, the girls were given more passive, inward-looking attributes to embrace. Beauty. Status. Value.


I first became aware very early on in my Christian life that women's ministry in the presence of men was controversial. As a new Christian in a Brethren assembly I found myself in the midst of a debate as to whether women could pray aloud in the morning meeting (communion) in the presence of men. The elders resolved eventually that they could not because of the Bible was against it. In particular, 1 Timothy 2:8 shows – so the argument ran - that Paul believes that only men (tous androus) should pray in the assembly: "I desire that in every place men should pray" (ESV). That was in the 1960s.

Many years later, in the 1980s, I was on mission with a team of theological students in Sydney. I asked one of the senior students, a woman, to speak evangelistically at a girl's high school. It seemed to make a lot of sense. But she was not only reluctant but became extremely anxious. I had a pastoral situation on my hands. I soon found out that she had been taught that it was against the bible for her to preach in the presence of any males on the team.

"Women, Leadership & the Church" – Jim Reiher (Acorn Press 2006)

The Appellate Tribunal has removed the barriers to the ordination of women as diocesan bishops – but, if we are to believe Archbishop Peter Jensen, many evangelical Christians in Sydney are disappointed. Should they be? Are Australian Anglicans departing from Scripture's teaching on authority in the church? Well, Jim Reiher has done a great job and given us a concise (121 pages), easily readable exploration of the Scriptures and what they have to say about women's leadership in the church and in the home.

Jim was until recently a lecturer in New Testament and Church History at Tabor College, Victoria. He starts by inviting the reader to be willing to let Scripture, reason and the guidance of the Spirit direct their thoughts and conclusions. He continues with an overview of the key Bible teachings on women in ministry and leadership and then carefully examines these passages, both in the Old Testament and the New Testament.

Six New Gospels: Margaret Hebblethwaite (Geoffrey Chapman. 1994)

Review by Jenny Davis

What if I'd been alive when Jesus was on earth and seen him with my own eyes? What if I'd chatted with him, listened to him, shared a joke over a meal, seen him when he was tired and lonely and shared a few complaints? What if I'd been able to see him with a woman's eye, to hear him through a woman's ear and interpret his sayings with a woman's mind? What if…?

Well, I wasn't there and the four accounts we have in the Bible are from the men. But Margaret Hebblethwaite has written a book that looks at Jesus through the eyes of six New Testament women and what a refreshing read it is. The title may sound heretical, but is in fact describing the contents – six new pictures of the Jesus of the four accepted New Testament Gospels. The views are not sensational, but neither are they "safe". They are certainly different, because all the women are different. Taken together, a fresh view of Jesus' whole life emerges.