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Women in the New Testament
Constance F. Parvey
The New Testament discloses to us that women were educated in the scripture and that they assumed leadership roles of sufficient magnitude to attract many women into Christian congregations. Their participation was, however, not without problems. Although attitudes toward women in the New Testament reflect both theologically and socially a first-century Jewish religious and cultural cast, Paul's theology of equivalence in Christ provided a vehicle for building a new religious and social basis for women-men relationships in the future. This radically new theology of women, however, became obscured in the later epistles. What Paul had understood as a kind of temporary status-quo ethics — in the context of the imminent end times — became translated two generations later into moral guidelines for keeping things as they are forever.
The later Church, when it lost the vision that the Kingdom was coming, also lost the theology that enabled it to live as though the Kingdom were at hand. As a consequence, it inherited two seemingly widely divergent messages: the theology of equivalence in Christ; the practice of women's subordination. In attempting to reconcile them, it maintained a status-quo ethics on the social level through the subordination of women, and it affirmed the vision of equivalence on the spiritual level by projecting it as an otherworldly reality. Throughout the history of the Church this has led to complex and confused theological arguments, with their consequent social distortions, the sum of which is that men belong to this world and do the work of the Church, while women belong to the next world and act in the Church only as hidden helpers and servants to men.
(Constance F. Parvey, « The Theology and Leadership of Women in the New Testament », in Rosemary Radford Ruether, Religion and Sexism: Images of Woman in the Jewish and Christian Traditions New York: Simon and Schuster, 1974, p. 146.)