Kenneth E. Bailey

Kenneth E. Bailey Th.D, who passed away in 2016, was an author and lecturer in New Testament studies. He held graduate degrees in systematic theology and in Arabic language and literature. He was ordained in the Presbyterian Church in the USA and also served as Canon Theologian in the Episcopalian Diocese of Pittsburgh.

Dr Bailey lived and worked for forty years in the Middle East—in Egypt, Lebanon, Jerusalem, and Cyprus. The insight he gained into the region’s culture and customs, he brought into his study and teaching of the New Testament.

He has published numerous articles in academic journals and has written many books in English and in Arabic. His more recent English books include: Finding the Lost: Cultural Keys to Luke 15 (1992), Jacob & the Prodigal: How Jesus Retold Israel’s Story (2003), Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels (2008), Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes: Cultural Studies in 1 Corinthians (2011), and The Good Shepherd: A Thousand-Year Journey from Psalm 23 to the New Testament (2014).

Kenneth Bailey believed that the Bible correctly interpreted does not restrict women from being ministers. He observed that the New Testament gives evidence that “women appear in nearly all, if not all, levels of leadership in the NT Church.” A pdf of his paper Women in the New Testament: A Middle Eastern View is here. A short biography of Dr Bailey’s ministry is here.

In this post, I share a series of six 30-minute videos where Dr Bailey discusses the topic of women in the New Testament. The copyright date given on the last video is 1982, and while the videos have a quaint, dated look, the message has not dated.

I’ve provided a brief summary of each video and I’ve provided links to articles where I discuss certain points in more depth. I love many of Dr Bailey’s points, but there are a few interpretations of Bible verses that I see differently.

Video 1: Women in the Old Testament

In the first video, Dr Bailey asserts that women had a mostly high status in Israelite society and he speaks about feminine metaphors for God in the Hebrew scriptures. He mentions some women leaders, Deborah, Miriam and Huldah, and he mentions Wisdom as a feminine agent of God. He then speaks briefly about the collapse of the status of women in Jewish society during the intertestamental period, a collapse that is evident in the writings of Ben Sirach.

Video 2: Women Leaders in the New Testament

In video 2, Dr Bailey gives a brief overview of Genesis 1-3 in preparation for his discussion on women in the New Testament. He then notes that Jesus chose both men and women to be his disciples and that the Twelve functioned as symbols of the twelve tribes of the new Israel. Bailey shows that Phoebe was a minister or deacon, and that Junia was an apostle.

Video 3: Mary the Mother of Jesus

This is my favourite of the six videos. Dr Bailey explains that Mary has a central place in the New Testament where she is portrayed as a person of courage, of faith, of reflection, and of costly discipleship. (More on Mary here.)

Video 4: Women Prophets

In video 4, Dr Bailey briefly touches on women in the Gospels. For example, he highlights Martha’s Christological confession which is equivalent to Peter’s confession, and he points out that a considerable number of Jesus’ parables recorded in Luke’s Gospel are given in male-female pairs: one parable that men could relate to and a corresponding parable that women could relate to. I love how Bailey scolds Judas who had scolded Mary of Bethany and her precious act of anointing Jesus.

Dr Bailey then turns to 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 which is about men and women who were praying and prophesying in Corinthian assemblies. He explains that the Greek word kephalē (“head”) means “source” in 1 Corinthians 11:3. He also explains that the phrase, “neither was man created for woman, but woman for man” in 1 Corinthians 11:9 is mistranslated and that the Greek word dia should be translated “because of” and not “for.” (My articles on this passage are here.)

Video 5: Women in 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2

Video 5 begins with Dr Bailey mentioning that there was something about Paul’s message that appealed to leading Greek women. He then speaks about Lydia and the church at Philippi before discussing 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. His interpretation of these two verses in 1 Corinthians 14 has similarities with other interpretations I’ve heard from different people, but it’s not my preferred understanding of the situation Paul is addressing. (My articles on 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 are here.)

Dr Bailey then discusses 1 Timothy 2:11-15. There are some bits of his understanding of this passage that I agree with and other bits I disagree with. For instance, despite what Bailey asserts, there is no evidence that the cult of the Ephesian Artemis was ever run only by women, and there is no evidence that Artemis was a fertility goddess in Paul’s time, but she was a midwife. Like Bailey, however, I do believe that a woman (or women) was teaching against marriage and childbirth and that she was teaching a twisted version of Genesis chapters 2-3. And like Bailey, I believe “they” in 1 Timothy 2:15 CSB is referring to husband and wife. But I strongly disagree that the Greek verb sōzō refers to “prosperity.” In 1 Timothy 2:15 CSB, sōzō literally means “she will be saved.” Overall, I am in full agreement with Dr Bailey’s statement that Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 2:11-15 are against heresy, not against women. (My articles on 1 Timothy 2:11-15 are here.)

Video 6: Women in Titus and 1 Corinthians

Dr Bailey, states that Titus 2:3-5 does not mean that women may only teach other women. His explanation of this statement, however, overlooks the content of the teaching given in these verses. Titus 2:4-5 does not contain theology. Rather, the content is what older women, including pagan women, taught younger women in broader Greco-Roman society.

Dr Bailey spends a good chunk of the 30 minutes of this video discussing Paul’s theology of sexuality in 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 before he turns to Ephesians 5:21-33 at the 19.43 mark. Bailey believes that the mutual submission mentioned in Ephesians 5:21 is specifically about mutual submission between husbands and wives, and that the following verses are about how the wives and husbands express their mutual submission. Bailey gives the meaning of hypotassō (“submit”) in Ephesians 5:21 as “grant a leadership role to.” I disagree with his definition and he doesn’t clearly explain how husbands mutually “grant a leadership role to” their wives. Bailey mentions in passing that hypotassō can also mean “to defer.” This is more how I understand the word. The discussion on Ephesians 5:21-33 is interesting, and some important points are made. For example, Bailey is adamant that women do not have a particular obligation to be submissive to men.  But I’m not convinced of Bailey’s overall take of this passage. (My articles on Ephesians 5:22-33 are here.)

Kenneth Bailey understood the Middle Eastern culture and some of the limits it puts on women. Yet he saw that there were women ministers and leaders in New Testament churches and he appreciated that mutual submission in marriage is the ideal. It is telling that a Middle Eastern New Testament scholar has come to these conclusions.

More Videos

Should Women Teach in Church? is a series of short videos that look at Bible passages which are often used to limit the ministry of women in the church.

The Theology of Gender is an excellent resource of eleven 1.5-hour videoed lectures. Most of the lectures are presented by professor Ronald W. Pierce of Biola University.

Related Articles

Jesus on Gender Roles and Gendered Activities
Partnering Together: Paul’s Female Coworkers
A List of the 29 People in Romans 16:1-16
The Means of Ministry: Gifts, Grace, Faith … Gender?
A collection of articles on New Testament Women Church Leaders
The Household Codes are about Power, not Gender

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