The four Gospels in the Christian Scriptures (New Testament) -- and the 45 or so other Gospels that never became part of the official canon -- dealt primarily with the life of Jesus. The remaining hundreds of letters which were in circulation within the early Christian movement deal primarily with the development of Christianity after the execution of Christ circa 30 CE. Some of these, particularly some of Paul's letters, made it into the New Testament.
The latter epistles contain two mutually exclusive practices:
The promotion of Christ's revolutionary message, in which women and men (and prostitutes, and the hated tax collectors etc) were treated equally.
The rejection of Christ's message, in which women's roles are once more restricted as women were restored to their former inferior status as seen in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament).
Biblical references promoting gender equality:
John 1:12: All people, men and women, have the opportunity to become children of God - presumably without regard to gender, race, sexual orientation, nationality, etc.
Acts 2:1-21: At the time of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was described as entering both men and women. In Verse 17, Peter recites a saying of the prophet Joel that talks about sons and daughters; Verse 18 talks about men and women.
Acts 9:36: Paul refers to a woman (Tabitha in Aramaic, Dorcas in Greek, Gazelle in English) as a Christian disciple.
Acts 18:24-26 describes how a married couple, Priscilla and Aquila, both acted in the role of pastor to a man from Alexandria, called Apollos. Various translations of the Bible imply that they taught him in the synagogue (Amplified Bible, King James Version, Rheims, New American Standard, New American, New Revised Standard) However, the New International Version have an unusual translation of this passage. The NIV states that the teaching occurred in Priscilla's and Aquila's home.
Acts 21:9: Four young women are referred to as prophetesses.
Romans 16:1: Paul refers to Phoebe as a minister (diakonos) of the church at Cenchrea. Some translations say deaconess; others try to downgrade her position by mistranslating it as "servant" or "helper".
Romans 16:3: Paul refers to Priscilla as another of his "fellow workers in Christ Jesus" (NIV) Other translations refer to her as a "co-worker". But other translations attempt to downgrade her status by calling her a "helper". The original Greek word is "synergoi", which literally means "fellow worker" or "colleague." 4
Romans 16:7: Paul refers to a male apostle, Andronicus and a female apostle, Lunia, as "outstanding among the apostles" (NIV) The Amplified Bible translates this passage as "They are men held in high esteem among the apostles." The Revised Standard Version shows it as "they are men of note among the apostles." The reference to them both being men does not appear in the original Greek text. The word "men" was simply inserted by the translators, apparently because the translators' minds recoiled from the concept of a female apostle. Many translations, including the Amplified Bible, Rheims New Testament, New American Standard Bible, and the New International Version simply picked the letter "s" out of thin air. They converted the original "Junia" (a woman's name) into "Junias" (a man's name) in order to warp St. Paul's original writing by erasing all mention of a female apostle. Junia was first converted into a man only in the "13th century, when Aegidius of Rome (1245-1316 CE) referred to both Andronicus and Junia as "honorable men." 5
1 Corinthians 1:11: Chloe is mentioned as the owner of a house where Christian meetings were held. There is some ambiguity as to whether the women actually led the house churches. Similar passages mention, with the same ambiguity:
The mother of Mark in Acts 12:12, and
Lydia in Acts 16:14-5, and 40, and
Nympha in (Col 4:15).
1 Corinthians 12:4-7: This discusses gifts that the Holy Spirit gives to all believers, both men and women. The New International Version obscures this message; in Verse 6 is translated "all men", whereas other translations use the terms "all", "all persons", "in everyone", and "in all."
1 Corinthians 16:3: Paul refers to a married couple: Priscilla and Aquila as his fellow workers in Christ Jesus.
2 Corinthians 5:17: "Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation..." (NIV). Again "anyone" appears to mean both men and women.
Galatians 3:28: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (NIV) This is perhaps the most famous passage in the New Testament that assigns equal status to individuals of both genders (and all races, nationalities and slave status).
Philippians 4:2: Paul refers to two women, Euodia and Syntyche, as his coworkers who were active evangelists, spreading the gospel.
Philemon 2: Paul writes his letter to "Apphia, our sister" and two men as the three leaders of a house church.
1 Peter 4:10-11: This passages discusses all believers serving others with whatever gifts the Holy Spirit has given them, "faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms." (NIV) Presumably this would mean that some women are given the gift of being an effective pastor, and should be permitted to exercise that gift.
Biblical references promoting female inferiority:
1 Corinthians 11:3: "...Christ is the head of every man, and a husband the head of his wife, and the head of Christ is God. (NIV)". There is some debate among theologians about the translation of the Greek word "kephale" as "head." However that word is universally used in New Testament translations.
1 Corinthians 11:7-9:"For a man...is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman but woman for man. For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head." (NIV) This refers to the practice of women wearing hair covering as a sign of inferiority. This is not longer widely observed today.
1 Corinthians 14:34-35: "...women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says, If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church." (NIV)
This is a curious passage. It appears to prohibit all talking by women during services. But it contradicts verse 11:5, in which St. Paul states that women can actively pray and prophesy during services.
It is obvious that verses 14:33b to 36 are a later addition, added by an unknown counterfeiter with little talent at forgery. Bible scholar, Hans Conzelmann, comments on these three and a half verses: "Moreover, there are peculiarities of linguistic usage, and of thought. [within them]." 6 If they are removed, then Verse 33a merges well with Verse 37 in a seamless transition. Since they were a later forgery, they do not fulfill the basic requirement to be considered inerrant: they were not in the original manuscript written by Paul.
Ephesians 5:22-24: "Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife...wives should submit to their husbands in everything." (NIV)
1 Timothy; various passages: Conservative theologians date this "pastoral epistle" as having being written prior to 65 CE, and assign its authorship to Paul. Liberal theologians generally believe that it was written by an unknown author during the first half of the second century, a half-century or longer after St. Paul's execution. If the latter is true then the epistle's many passages reflecting female inferiority can be attributed to a gradual reinstatement of patriarchal authority by the early Church. Some of these passages are:
1 Timothy 2:11-15:"A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent..." (NIV) Some Biblical scholars believe that woman and man should be replaced by wife and husband in the above passage. This would mean that the passage would not refer to women teaching men in the church, but rather wives teaching their husbands within the home. 5
1 Timothy 3:2: "Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife..." (NIV) This would seem to imply that all overseers (bishops) must be male.
1 Timothy 3:8: "Deacons likewise, are to be men worthy of respect, sincere..." (NIV)
Titus 1:6: "An elder must be blameless, a husband of but one wife" (NIV). Women are apparently excluded from the position of elder or bishop.
Titus 2:4: "...train the younger women...to be subject to their husbands." There is no indication of equal power sharing in marriage.
1 Peter 3:7: Women are referred to as "the weaker vessel" in comparison to their husbands
Who wrote Ephesians, Colossians, etc?
The New Testament passages which downgrade the status of women are in books which appear to be have been written by Paul and Peter. Until modern times, Christian theologians universally accepted the two apostles as the true authors. That belief is still followed by almost all Fundamentalist and other Evangelical theologians. Since the authors identified themselves as Paul or Peter in their writings, and since all books in the Bible are considered free of error as originally written, then conservative Christians conclude that Paul and Peter must have authored the books.
However, most liberal theologians have concluded that many of the writings attributed to Paul and Peter were in fact written by anonymous authors, often long after Paul and Peter died. They base these conclusions on internal evidence, and references to the books by other Christian leaders. They believe that some of the anonymous books are:
Ephesians: This was perhaps written circa 95 CE, about 30 years after Paul's death.
Colossians: This was written, in part, to combat Gnostic thought which did not become a concern to the church until the early second century, many decades after Paul's execution.
2 Thessalonians: This was probably written circa 75 to 90 CE, at least one decade after St. Paul's death
1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus were written sometime during the first half of the second century - perhaps circa 130 CE.
Hebrews is impossible to date with any certainty. It is believed to have been written sometime between 60 and 96 CE.
1 Peter is obviously an early document, because the author refers to "elders" as the only level of church leadership. Deacons, deaconesses and bishops are not mentioned. Liberal theologians disagree about the authorship of this book.
2 Peter was written circa 125 to 150 CE.