Some time ago I began a series on the notorious biblical passages that form part of the historical discussion about women in positions of leadership in the church. I expressed some reservations there about wading into the subject, because I don’t think many people are interested in what people who disagree with them have to say about this. So I included there some cautions about how I’m going to approach the subject, and specifically about the sorts of objections I’m not interested in. If you plan to read on, and especially if you plan to comment, it might be best to read that post first.
Then I began the series, starting with a look at a word St Paul uses to describe the relationship between men and women, while he is discussing men’s and women’s roles in the churches in Corinth and Ephesus. That word, which he applies to men, is kephalē (κεφαλή), and literally means “head.” In that blog post, I observed that kephalē in the New Testament does not mean “source,” which some say was Paul’s intended meaning, but rather it is used to mean a literal head, or else, when it is used metaphorically, it refers to “preeminence, priority, authority or superiority in some broad sense encompassing shades of these meanings.” That is what the raw data in the New Testament shows us.
This time I will turn to the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament widely used in early Christianity. You can check the observations I make by seeing for yourself how the word is used there. In the resource I have used for this analysis, kephalē occurs a few hundred times. I have read each of these instances (in English, confirming that kephalē is the word I am observing where this is not clear). I know, doing the groundwork is dry and boring. But you have to do it in order to have any right to tell people what the evidence shows. The approach I am taking here is observing how kephalē is used and describing these “groups” of meaning. Continue reading “Kephalē in the Septuagint”→
I backed out of writing this series about those biblical passages about women in ministry not too long ago. It wasn’t because the evidence is hard to find or interpret, but it was partly because I had so little hope of anybody listening. They’d agree, I assumed, if they already held an opinion that they saw me affirming, and they’d disagree if they saw me affirming a view they didn’t already hold. The evidence rarely seems to really matter on this issue. People will find a way – any way – to make it fit an ideology. What would be the point of writing about this? But here I am, venturing into that series.
After a cautionary introduction post on what I am about to do (which I insist you read before you read this blog post), this is the first of my blog explorations of the contentious biblical passages about men and women in the church. Any comments you make on this post or any posts in this series must conform to the guidelines I gave in that cautionary post. Talk about the evidence and the issue strictly defined by the blog post. That’s all I’m prepared to allow. Behave or I’ll kick you out. I’m deliberately being boring so as to discourage the elements that make this issue frustrating.
Why would I want to be boring? Here is why: You will probably have seen people who get caught up sharing exciting links on social media about scientific issues. Vaccines cause autism! The earth is flat! Homeopathy cures cancer! Climate change isn’t happening! Quoting what people have said, citing anecdotes, attributing evil motives, citing cultural or traditional pressure, complaining about vested interest – these are all the sorts of things that fly thick and fast in discussions about theories like these. What is less common is the boring approach of slowly, slowly, slowly checking every relevant piece of data. It is not sexy. It does not make for good Buzzfeed articles. But if you want to know what is true and what is false when it comes to the theories that should only be formed after the ponderous work has been done, this is how you do it. The boring way. I am going to write several blog posts about the meaning of one Greek word, kephalē. Fun times.
I’ve had this post sitting in draft for a few days as I pondered whether or not to post it. Obviously I decided to press that button.
A long time ago I announced that I was going to write a series of articles on the various New Testament passages tied up in the issue of the role of women in the church, specifically when it comes to ordination and preaching. Shortly thereafter the blog fell relatively silent. Plenty of people have been accessing the material that’s already here, which is great to see, but my output is negligible.
I won’t go into all the reasons this happened, because my life is my own (well, it’s God’s and self-ownership is a lie so I suppose I mean that some parts of my life are private) and I don’t intend to share it all. But one of the main reasons this series was not forthcoming is the same as one of the reasons why my writing output here plummeted. This blog post, which will hopefully signal the start of a bit more activity here, is about as close to a window on my psyche as you’re likely to get in writing. It’s partially a vent, and certainly not designed to persuade you of anything, nor is it an invitation to argue about whether or not what I say here is true. Here’s the reason:
Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:62
I’m about to write about what the Bible says about men, women, and the church, and I do so with a sense of weariness at what might follow.
I have come to truly, truly hate the conversation among Christians about what the Bible says about the sexes and their roles (or lack of specific roles) in the church. I don’t say that about many conversations. People put their hand to the plow of biblical exegesis and then look back. Actually that’s possibly too kind – people put their hand to the plow of biblical exegesis as a gesture because they know that Christians are supposed to do biblical exegesis, but they are looking back the whole time. They are looking over their shoulder, away from the text and at the values they already hold. They are looking away from the text and at the world, fearful that they will look backwards or insufficiently progressive in the eyes of others. They cannot, at least as far as I can tell, make any distinction between “this is what I, a Christian person with my values, believe and is important to me” and “this is what this piece of text, external to me and written by somebody else, means.”
The Bible might convey things that you find offensive.
As an individual Christian person with your own beliefs, values and priorities, you must be willing and able – not just with your lips but with your actions – to reconcile yourself to the fact that when you are interpreting a piece of text, even a piece of text in the Bible, you might not agree with it. The Bible might convey things that you find offensive. You need to be willing and able to shut up, keep your voice out of it, and let the text speak even when it violently rides roughshod over what you would have said if you had been the author. Even when it sounds bigoted in your opinion. Even when it’s embarrassing. Shut up and listen. Continue reading “THOSE Bible passages about women”→
Partly a product of social media, the way we talk about those with whom we disagree has changed a lot.
In particular, at the risk of sounding partisan, here is the way I see those who view themselves as “progressive” (what a terrible name to give yourself) engaging religious conservatism: Instead of talking to people about why they disagree and why they think people of a conservative bent should change their minds or behaviour, they talk about them to the world. When they do so they are not critically engaging with them (even if they tell us that this is what they are doing). Instead they are serving the social function of shaming them, not so that they will change their mind, but so that they will be afraid of speaking.
Many progressive Christians, if I have observed things correctly, think that they are the real followers of Jesus (who, we are told, was an inclusive, tolerant, liberal-minded progressive), while religious conservatives are more like the religious hypocrites from whom Jesus distanced himself. Sweeping generalisations are usually wrong if taken as hard and fast rules. This description is true of many religious conservatives, no doubt There are plenty of them, after all. But to a large extent it is self-flattering nonsense. While many progressives like to say that religious conservatives “pick and choose” which commands of Jesus they follow, sometimes it’s helpful to hold up a mirror to this outlook, if only because of its irrepressible self-confidence in being real, authentic, pure-as-the-driven-snow, Jesus-following Christianity, along with its current occupation of a position of social power, something Christians are justified in being suspicious of (let’s remember that it’s not just a worrying combination when it’s manifested in the religious right).
There are a couple of ways of reading the two creation stories in the early chapters of the book of Genesis. Actually there are probably quite a few ways, but I’m interested in two ways just now. I’ll call these two ways the “literal” way and the “didactic” way, as one of these ways treats the creation stories as primarily serving the function of recounting literal history just like modern historians do, and the other way treats the main function of the creation stories as teaching truths about God, God’s relationship to human beings and our place in the world, using the story as a medium of doing so.
In this instalment of the Nuts and Bolts series I thought I’d offer an outline of an issue that I was reminded of by some articles suggested to me recently. That issue is the Trinitarian notion of the subordination of the Son to the Father.
In one of these articles (by Ben Witherington), the writer denied that Christians ever believed in the eternal submission of Jesus the Son to his Father until 1977, when this “novel” suggestion was first made. I had to look twice to make sure I was reading it right! But there it was, this claim that simply flies in the face of historical fact. In context it was patently obvious that the goal of the article was not actually to explore or explain historical theology, but to make a claim for a position on a hot-button issue about gender and church (the claim was made that this doctrine was invented in 1977 to justify the oppression of women). The horse was before the cart, and theology in general was being re-read for the sake of a modern conflict. It’s the kind of thing that troubles me greatly, when people appear to approach an issue in theology with one eye looking back over their shoulder at a cultural issue where they feel obliged to come out on the “safe” side of an issue in the modern world, and the cultural pressure they are facing ends up controlling the theological outcome they reach. In light of the fact that such things go on all the time, I thought it would be a good idea to say a word or two to explain the historically orthodox view of the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father. Whether you believe it or not is another matter, as is the question of what implications you think it has, but all I really want to do here is to explain that it really is a historically orthodox perspective, and has very plausible biblical support.