Coming to a settled position on gender roles and more specifically, women in ministry, is not the simple task that some make it out to be. Whether one falls to either the Complementarian or Egalitarian sides of the issue, there are profound implications for life within the Church and serious effects to be considered in relationships within the Body. Your decision on this issue does not have the same impact theologically as one on an essential doctrine does but it can have far reaching consequences for the life of a church, community, and household.
Deciding this issue responsibly requires that you explore, consider, and understand a vast array of knowledge. Your decision requires more than simple assent to a verse or group of verses within the Bible accepting a singular source as the final word on the subject. “You shall not murder.” is abundantly clear taken alone and there are few, if any, people within the Body of Christ who will argue against the clear meaning and application of this verse. The verses on which many have come to their conclusions regarding gender roles within the church (and sometimes life in whole) in Paul’s letters to the churches at Corinth and Ephesus are not as clear and require much more information be collected before one can arrive at a mature decision.
Properly deciphering the meaning of the key passages on this issue requires that you expend a good deal of energy in study of the Bible as a whole. The first thing that a person must do is place any verse or passage within the larger corpus of the entire Bible, Old Testament and New as well as the history of Christendom. You must devote yourself to developing sound interpretive principles that do not rely on someone else doing all of the work for you. Understanding these contested passages and doctrines requires, for example, that you develop a base of knowledge of the cultures that surround Israel and the early Church and the effect that each had on development of the writing produced there.
Many of the questions that arise during this study come from the grammar and meaning of words in the original language. To decide this issue on the basis of a single English language translation will not suffice. While it is not necessary that you become a linguistics expert, you should avail yourself of resources that can explain the word meanings and connotations that one finds in the Greek (and Hebrew depending on how deeply you want to invest in the topic) text. An interlinear text that matches your English translation is a good place to start.
There are many study skills that are not listed here that can help you come to a mature decision on the issue of gender roles beyond what I’ve mentioned here. The one attitude that can help the most in understanding your position is to recognize that this is not a simple topic with clear cut guidelines (despite what some will tell you.) It is complex and even those within the two camps can find disagreement on the details. As one of my seminary professors said, the more you learn the more complex the subject becomes.
The list that follows is not comprehensive by any stretch of the definition but it provides some helpful resources that you may want to add to your library as you become more interested in studying this issue. These are among my tools; if you know of a better alternative I would be interested in knowing about it.
The Greek New Testament is the starting point for language studies. The The Greek New Testament With Greek-english Dictionary is the standard.
An interlinear places multiple versions of the Bible side by side. I like the Zondervan Greek and English Interlinear New Testament (NASB/NIV) as it puts the Greek alongside my preferred NIV translation as well as the more literal NASB text.
A dictionary is an absolute necessity when studying languages. As we are aware, each dictionary can provide different insights into a word or word group and the Greek dictionaries are no exception. These tools are very expensive and you may hesitate to invest in more than one for your library. Between the three that are in view on my shelves right now, I recommend the “little” Kittel, the single volume edition of The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. A sound alternative is the Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Another helpful tool is the Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains, otherwise known as the Louw and Nida set.
Introduction and Background
There are countless volumes that provide cultural information about Israel and the later cultures that the Church would grow within but to be of help, I would suggest starting with Craig Keener’s volumes on the background to particular verses within the Bible. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament is a good first step that can lead your thinking to ask new questions about the cultural effects that are found in the words we read in the Bible.
Introductions to the Old and New testament provide valuable information about each book in the Bible, its context and knowledge about the author that is valuable in understanding the text within. Carson and Moo’s Introduction to the New Testament is a standard.
A valuable historical guide to the New Testament is Witherington’s New Testament History. You may not always agree with his conclusions but you cannot argue his scholarship.
Since Paul is often pointed to as the source or instigator of this issue, the Dictionary of Paul and His Letters is an important tool to have on hand when working through his corpus. Equally important in this series is the Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels so that the Pauline context does not become the only reference on issues.
An essential book for any kind of Bible study is a dictionary and my standard go-to is the New Bible Dictionary. I also use the New Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Do not settle for the dictionaries that purport to be for lay people and that are marketed inexpensively. They will often leave you looking for more and wishing you had invested in a more thorough tool in the first place.
It will also be helpful for you to be able to consult a variety of commentaries as you look at various books of the Bible. There are too many in my library to suggest them individually. What I would suggest you do if you must limit the number of resources is to identify one popular evangelical tool ( The NIV Application Commentary series comes immediately to mind), one more technical tool at a level you can utilize (the Interpretation or New International Greek Testament Commentary) and one less technical such as the Holman or Life Application series. I have concentrated on New Testament resources in this guide but there are equally important and useful Old Testament resources that are needed to understand the entire scope of the gender role issue; it did not start or end with Paul.
Did you notice that none of these resources was specific to the issue at hand? Read and study broadly!