Wednesday, March 27, 2013

John Locke's Egalitarianism

John Locke, whilst engaged in writing his notes on the Epistles of St. Paul, was at a meeting where two women preached. After hearing them, he became convinced of their commission to publish the gospel, and thereupon altered his notes on the 11th Ch. I Cor. in favor of women's preaching.

He says,
This about women seeming as difficult a passage as most in St. Paul's Epistles, I crave leave to premise some few considerations. It is plain that this covering the head in women is restrained to some peculiar actions which they performed in the assembly, expressed by the words praying, prophesying, which, whatever they signify, must have the same meaning applied to women in the 5th verse, that they have when applied to men in the 4th, &c. The next thing to be considered is, what is here to be understood by praying and prophesying. And that seems to me the performing of some public actions in the assembly, by some one person which was for that time peculiar to that person, and whilst it lasted, the rest of the assembly silently assisted. As to prophesying, the apostle in express words tells us, Ch. 14:3, 12 that it was speaking in the assembly. The same is evident as to praying, that the apostle means by it publicly with an audible voice, ch. 14:19.
In a letter to these two women, Rebecca Collier and Rachel Bracken, which accompanied a little testimony in his regard, he says,
I admire no converse like that of Christian freedom; and I fear no bondage like that of pride and prejudice. I now see that acquaintance by sight cannot reach the height of enjoyment, which acquaintance by knowledge arrives unto. Outward hearing may misguide us, but internal knowledge cannot err. . .Women, indeed, had the honor of first publishing the resurrection of the God of love--why not again the resurrection of the spirit of love? And let all the disciples of Christ rejoice therein, as doth your partner, John Locke.


See Elizabeth Ann Bartlett, "Sarah Grimke: Letters on the Equality of the Sexes and Other Essays" 91-92.


  1. First off, I thoroughly enjoy your blog - keep it up.

    Now onto the post... My biggest struggle right now is with how to interpret the Bible's application today. You could replace the issue of women preaching with homosexuality, divorce, slavery, or even the covering of heads. It seems to me that whenever a teaching becomes outdated culturally, then we decide to interpret the Bible's teaching on it differently. For example, our founding fathers had no problem with slavery and the Bible doesn't exactly condemn it (in fact you could argue it supports it). But then there is a cultural shift, and no one now would say the slavery is acceptable. The same would go for homosexuality, women preachers, theistic evolution, etc. People revise the meaning of the Bible based on what they believe NOW.

    My struggle is this: what is absolute in the Bible? Does it just boil down to believing the "gospel message" (Jesus died and rose again for our sins)? Or is there more?

    1. Thanks for your insightful comment and complement. :)

      "Now onto the post...the meaning of the Bible based on what they believe NOW."

      I think there are multiple ideas involved here so I will simply speak on my own terms and use women in ministry as the test case. For me, I had always assumed that the Bible prohibited women from being senior pastors and all that, and it wasn't until I was challenged to go back and actually read Scripture. One of the things I've noticed is that women are esteemed throughout Scripture, where you may have one prohibition of them being in senior leadership. On the other hand, you don't have any positive examples of homosexuals in Scripture, so attempting to reinterpret Scripture in light of such things suffers simply because there is no positive evidence. Appeals to Jesus not saying anything is irrelevant because arguments from silence don't really work.

      On the flip side, you do have women in senior leadership throughout Scripture (Junia, Deborah, etc) and you have a highly contextual and exegetically difficult passage in 1 Timothy that could be saying multiple things, not the least of which is that women will be saved through childbearing and the like. So, a lot of the more modern "examinations" are due to simply having more historical data to look back at, and seeing that we've simply missed such things because we haven't gone back to reach it in any great depth. I don't know if this helps, but I suspect a good conversation may come from this so I just throw it out there. :)

      "My struggle is this: what is absolute in the Bible? Does it just boil down to believing the "gospel message" (Jesus died and rose again for our sins)? Or is there more?"

      Yeah, that's a big question. I tend to think Scripture doesn't change and I don't think Scripture contradicts itself. What may change is that we've simply been wrong about a great deal of things simply because we are human and prone to misplacing our keys and forgetting to do laundry.

      Thanks for your wonderful comments. :)