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The transmission of human life is a most serious role in which married people collaborate freely and responsibly with God the Creator. It has always been a source of great joy to them, even though it sometimes entails many difficulties and hardships.

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Why did He purposely make humans male and female Genesis ? Why did He create a helpmate for Adam Genesis ? We have to be careful not to confuse the two. Singleness is circumstantial.

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Can two sides in a debate - both composed of sincere, intelligent people - look at precisely the same set of evidence and reach precisely opposite verdicts?

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With the Church of England's first women bishops to be named soon following the final seal of approval for legislation allowing them, that is exactly the case. Supporters of women bishops say St Paul was part of an early Christian world in which some Church leaders were women. Opponents believe he forbade women to exercise power in church. As an authority on life in the earliest Christian communities, Paul is unsurpassed.

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He was a key figure in the first Churches spreading outside the Holy Land. His letters to early Christians were reverently collected to form a major part of the New Testament - though they are preoccupied with local disputes and organisational matters and often angry.

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Jimmy Dunn, former professor of divinity at Durham and author of the Cambridge companion to St Paul, and Dr Lee Gatiss, director of the evangelical Church Society, and opponent of women bishops, examine some of the texts. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says.

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Some observers question the validity of both these key "anti-women" texts. Many modern scholars think I Timothy is not by Paul, but by a later writer familiar with his thinking. Gatiss says the text has circulated with other epistles of Paul "since the very earliest days". He says "there is no external or manuscript evidence whatsoever to indicate that it is not a genuine letter by the person it claims to be from.

Its restrictions on women are "especially pertinent, as it is in a context where Paul is discussing the precise issue of leadership in the Church", he says. Dunn does not think I Timothy should be disregarded. But he thinks it may date from a second generation when the expected second coming of Jesus had not happened and the Church had to be "organised for an indeterminate future".

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No-one doubts that Paul wrote I Corinthians. But some commentators claim verse must have been added later, because it appears to contradict an earlier verse in the same letter which says women should have their he covered when they prophesy.

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Dunn does not go so far, but he insists that texts must be seen in their historical context: "I think Paul would have been appalled that so many of his letters set in particular situations… are being generalised 19 centuries later and people say, 'This is the rule for ever and a day'.

He says the Church in Corinth seems to have been "pretty chaotic The I Corinthians passage perhaps concerns "women who are too keen to take part and are asking questions and raising issues and so on, and the worship is being disrupted", Dunn says. Gatiss agrees that in the Bible "we expect to find historical details and cultural peculiarities and even teaching which applies to the immediate hearers but not to others". But, he says, "all our earliest manuscripts of I Corinthians support the versions of the text as they appear in the standard translations", and its message is clear.

Why are women in a list of important early Christians? Supporters of giving women power in the Church most frequently cite the letter to the Romans, Chapter In its list of nearly 30 active early Christians, at least eight are women.

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Some commentators stress the fact that one, Priscilla Prisca in the original Greekis named before her husband Aquila. Some have doubted Junia was a woman at all. As late as the s the New English Bible described her as Junias, a man. More recently, the dispute has been over whether the phrase means the pair were apostles themselves, or simply well known to them. Junia is one of the apostles, and among that group of apostles she is eminent," insists Dunn. She may be called an apostle. But this has too often been assumed to contradict the traditional reading of I Corinthians 14 and I Timothy 2 without proper logic or careful argumentation.

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Both sides in the debate say Bible passages must be taken in their historical context. Both say the obvious meaning of a passage should not be ignored because it does not seem to confirm our views. Both say there is a line to be drawn between what is for the occasion when it was written, and what is a message for all believers and all time.

But it is unlikely that either side will be able to convince the other of its own interpretations any time soon. This would not surprise Paul. Throughout his writings he wrestled with disputes among Christians. And often he advised that if someone insists on a principle another thinks unimportant, that person should go along with them, rather than alienate them.

Different message for different people?

To those not having the [Jewish] law I became like one not having the law BBC Religion and Ethics. The clearest passages? Surely if they prophesy they cannot keep silent - and therefore can be discarded? Another couple, Junia and Andronicus, are said to be "eminent among the apostles". Different message for different people? St Paul the Apostle.

Had been a persecutor of Christians before becoming a leader and teacher of Christian communities in Asia Minor, Greece and Rome Details of his life come from his letters, and the later Acts of the Apostles Acts says he was a tentmakerthat his Jewish name was Saul, and that he was a Roman citizen - his other name Paulos could be Roman Later tradition says he was martyred in the same place as St Peter Rome and on the same date 29 June - but not necessarily in the same year.

Perhaps in 67AD.

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All the Bible quotations here are taken from the New International Version. Related Topics. The Church of England.

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