Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Paul the Egalitarian

I knew Jesus was an egalitarian in the way he respected women in the first century's male-dominated society, but Paul? His infamous passages denigrating women made me shudder, along with every feminist on the planet. In my more moderate evangelical circles, we dealt with those passages as culturally conditioned anomalies of first century bias that were not applicable to our modern cultural context. But what if those passages were never in the original Greek text? That was something I never considered because the possibility was never allowed inside the narrow confines of the theologically-conservative churches I attended.

Well, you learn something new every day. In reading Bart Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, I learned just how reasonable the case is that the I Cor. 14:34-35 passage ("It is shameful for a woman to speak in church..." That one.) is bogus. What a breath of fresh air. But the real shocker for me is that my old friend Gordon Fee (not literally--I'm a long time fan of one of his books on how to interpret the Bible), put forth this case way back in 1987 in his commentary on I Corinthians! Where the hell was I? I didn't get the memo. Ehrman cited Fee in his book. I feel slighted. All these years Fee taught part of the Bible was altered and the evangelical church never bought it. And the Bible hasn't been revised (or footnoted as far as I know) in any modern translations to reflect it.

The case is strong. Take verses 33b to 35 out and read the passage and see how much more it makes sense. And, how suddenly Paul isn't contradicting his great line "...there is no male or female in Christ... all are one," or what he says elsewhere, or contradicting Jesus and his welcoming of women. Ehrman reveals how additions to texts were not uncommon by scribes who had theologically biased reasons to alter things. Some of them never made it into our modern Bibles but some did! Ehrman (and Garry Wills) also makes the case that Paul didn't write I Timothy. Guess where the other anti-feminist verse is attributed to Paul? You got it. I Timothy.


Andy Arnold said...

First, I appreciate the points made concerning Paul via Erhman. However, I think it is a leap to say that Jesus was "egalitarian." I am not sure we have any support for such, and we do know that there was not a woman among the 12 he chose to be designated an Apostle. By definition, I think this is discriminatory, although it is to be expected at the time and place Jesus lived, it should not be sugar-coated.

Michael said...

Thanks for comments. I think it depends on what culture one is in if something is discriminatory. E.g. In my experience in rural Africa, women are not accepted in certain roles, even by women themselves! I think first century Jewish culture prohibited Jesus from being an egalitarian the way 21st century westerners would define it. Sometimes people aren't ready to hear something until something else occurs. He welcomed women among his disciples, talked to them in public, honored them over the Pharisees, and appeared to them first upon his resurrection. All that was radical in his culture.

sina-hofu said...

Paul said this in 1 Cor4:Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries (plurials) of God.
Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.
But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judge not mine own self. For I know nothing by myself; yet am I hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord.

Heaven and Earth shall pass away, but the word of God remains the same!!
Also read:1Cor 4,6 -Ephesians 3,3.

God bless.


Julie Ferwerda said...

I love this post. I tried removing the suspect verses, and suddenly the passage actually makes sense!

As far as women disciples, Jesus had more than 12 disciples--He had 72. And some of them were women! Acts 1:12-14 shows evidence of this as well as some passages in the Gospel. I wholeheartedly agree that the "neither male nor female, Jew or Greek" is telling us that Jesus is definitely egalitarian. He seeks those with circumcised hearts.

Richard Fellows said...

Sorry to come to the conversation 3 years late.

I agree. Another example of a misogynist altering Paul's text is Rom 16:15 in P46. I discuss this here.

Women were prominent in the early church, but not in roles that required travel (even those traveling roles that did not involve teaching authority). Travel was dangerous, particularly for women. It therefore made sense for Jesus to appoint 12 men, so as not to expose women to danger and scandal. For these practical reasons, women travelled only in the company of male members of their households. The only exception that I know of is Thecla, who (we are told) suffered sexual harassment and traveled disguised as a man after that! The fact that the 12 and other traveling apostles were men is no argument against the egalitarianism of the early Christian movement.

Another point to ponder is that about half of the benefactors of the early Christians were women, even though men had most of the money in those days. This is in stark contrast with the ratio of female benefactors to male benefactors among ancient Jews and pagans.

I would suggest that it was the letters of disputed authorship that introduced sexism into Christianity.

Michael Camp said...

Richard, Only two and a half years, actually. I had never considered that travel issue, but it makes perfect sense. I hold the same theory two about the disputed authorship letters. Cheers!

Barb Orlowski, D.Min. said...

Hi Michael and All,

Glad you brought up this topic. It is interesting the timing for me, since I just heard an excellent presentation of a paper investigating the challenges of the 1 Cor. 14:34-35 passage.

I got this professor's permission to use his article for a reader friendly article for my ChurchExiters.com website.

Dr. Waldemar Kowalski teaches at Northeast U. I'll try to do justice to his study by giving a brief overview for your consideration.

If you are interested in my entire article with his points, send me an email at: info@churchexiters.com

Kowalski reminds that this paper’s task is to argue that the verses are not a textual or thematic intrusion. He also clearly states the thesis of this paper:
“Rather than focus on refuting the interpolation theory, it will be argued that vv. 34-35 are a continuation of Paul’s instruction on appropriate demeanor and practice in a charismatic worship service. This work will re-examine these passages to see whether the “obvious” meaning of the text, at least in the common English translations, is also the correct meaning of the text.”

In order to solve an interpretive puzzle, it requires that the reader go back an attempt to reconstruct the original situation. 1 Corinthians 14 is dedicated to the topic of:
Order in Congregational Worship.

In fact, this whole chapter is dedicated to: the correction of various disorders in charismatic congregational practice--including instructions in vv. 34-35.

It is noteworthy that three groups are told to be silent under specific circumstance, employing a single Greek verb for all three with identical inflection, varying only in that the third group is plural and the first two employ the singular form.

The NIV along with several other modern English translations renders the same Greek verb in three different ways:

• “keep quiet” (v. 28)
• “should stop” (v. 30)
• “remain silent” (v. 34)

Therefore, if the reader is to make sense of this passage, it is imperative that the correlation of these three groups within these parallel instructions is factored in.

While “women” can be an appropriate translation for the plural form, these particular women have husbands. These women are specifically "wives" in this context and are to interact with their own husbands.

The reader begins to see that all three of these groups are specifically commanded regarding silence rather than speech in a particular situation. It must be remembered that speech itself is NOT generally being forbidden.

In conclusion, Kowalski discerns that:
“The instruction to these wives in 1 Cor. 14:34-35 is therefore dealing with charismatic events not general behavior, and these verses belong in the general instructions of Corinthians 14.”

OK, there you have it. Not much room to add any more. Feel free to email me if you would like to read the entire study.