For Zion’s Sake I Will Not Be Silent: How About You?

Having been a Jewish Yeshua believer for 50 years, and even living in California, you might be surprised to discover that I have never been a “prophecy freak,” not at all. I’ve never been preoccupied with the Rapture, the end of the world, Gog and Magog, Armageddon, the Antichrist, the identity of 666, the Common Market and the Book of Revelation, the Trilateral Commission and the Bilderberg Group, the Illuminati or any of that stuff. Any minimal interest I now have in matters of prophecy is a late, reluctant, and cautious development. And the leading edge of that interest is something found in the twelfth chapter of Book of Zechariah, something that sounds to me like tomorrow’s news:

1The oracle of the word of the Lord concerning Israel: Thus declares the Lord, who stretched out the heavens and founded the earth and formed the spirit of man within him: 2 “Behold, I am about to make Jerusalem a cup of staggering to all the surrounding peoples. The siege of Jerusalem will also be against Judah. 3 On that day I will make Jerusalem a heavy stone for all the peoples. All who lift it will surely hurt themselves. And all the nations of the earth will gather against it.

My private and tentative opinion is that it is not difficult at all to imagine “all the nations of the earth” gathered against Jerusalem, with her being a cup of staggering to all the nations around her. Which of us cannot imagine the United Nations sending an expeditionary force up against Jerusalem, perhaps to force “those stubborn Jews” to relinquish their hold on Jerusalem, because this issue has become a major focus of international unrest, perhaps exacerbated by chaos in member countries of OPEC, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.

What astounds me is that the Book of Zechariah was written 2500 years ago. Yet when referring to a seemingly insignificant little state in the Middle East, and how events surrounding this state will be pivotal in the end of world history, we find that Zechariah seems like tomorrow’s news, echoing dynamics already evident in the world around us.

Many people would not find it remarkable that I am interested in developments in Israel. After all, I am a Jew. But my interest goes beyond that.  I am also an avid student of Scripture, and the more I read it, the more impressed I am with the central role the people and land of Israel play in God’s dealings, past, present and future.

But another reason also drives my growing sense of urgency to master biblical, contemporary, and historical material concerning the Jewish State, and that is the need to defend this state and the right of the Jewish people to a state of their own within recognized and defensible borders. This urgency is energized by seeing public opinion turn sharply against her, seeing propaganda accepted as fact, and the Christian theological establishment politicized and turned against those whom they derisively term “Christian Zionists,” as if those who hold for a biblical justification for a Jewish state are naive, unsophisticated yahoos, promulgating a defective theology in the name of Christ.

Make no mistake: I don’t believe Israel can do no wrong. But I do believe that we who love her could and should do a better job of defending her.  I intend to make some small contribution to the effort through the material I report here from time to time, some of it biblical, some of it reports on books I have been reading, some of it thoughts about the events of the day, as I seek to equip myself, and perhaps others, for the task of defending a people and country loved by God, and despised by many others.

I hope you will join me here,  finding ways to protect the reputation of the only Jewish state in the world, termed racist by Muslim nations, of which there are 56 in the world, with some of them one hundred percent Muslim. We never hear these nations called racist, but even the United Nations makes that accusation about the one and only Jewish state.

Sounds like Zechariah chapter 12 to me.

For Zion’s sake I will not be silent. How about you?


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Saying Kaddish: A Good Thing for All of Us

Today is the first of Ellul, the last of the Hebrew months which leads up to Rosh HaShana, the Jewish New Year. This is a month of introspection, so that, for example, this morning, in synagogues around the world, the shofar was blown, a ram’s horn mournfully reminding us that the New Year is approaching, of which the first ten days are called the Days of Awe, leading up to the Day of Atonement.  This is a time of sobering personal reflection.

Especially for me.

Both of my parents, of Blessed Memory, died in Ellul, five years less one day apart in the common calendar, although in the Hebrew calendar sometimes they are wider apart.  For me, Ellul is the cruelest month.

So in synagogue this week-end I said kaddish for my mother, and next weekend, kaddish for my father. I have watched many others say kaddish in synagogue for lost loved ones, while I, together with the rest of the congregation, responded with “b’rich hu” (Blessed be He), “y’hei sh’mei rabbah m’vorach l’olam ul’almei olmayah” (“May His Great name be blessed in the world now and forever”), and “amen” (“So be it” or “It is so”). Now it is my turn to be supported in my grief by the community of my people. The Mourner’s Kaddish is a prayer of praise to God in the darkest of times, and the responses by the congregants are audible evidences that they stand with those who mourn, weeping with those who weep, mindful that all of us face the abyss of our own mortality, comforted by a tradition and a God that have known and spoken the truth to us all along, the truth of mortality, the truth of grief, and the truth that God is worthy of praise even when life is so hard.

The Jewish tradition is uncommonly wise and realistic. My people have so much experience facing the hard realities of life, and a long history of time and again being up against a reality where the only way through is trusting yet again in God’s merciful intervention and the ultimate triumph of His goodness and purpose.  The tradition knows a lot about mourning, cradling mourners in a web of rituals: sitting shiva, seven days of mourning when the family is not allowed to do anything for themselves but when the community draws near to do that needs doing, burning yahrzeit candles in memory of the departed, and specified times set aside for saying this prayer of praise to God, the Mourner’s Kaddish, in the presence of one’s people.

I think it would do all of us well this month to think of various relationships and situations in our lives for which we need to mourn, while salting our mourning with praise of God–saying kaddish.  As I like to put it, “God is good even when life is bad.”  It is healthy and necessary to come to terms with loss, with our own finitude, with the fact that we cannot always have what we want, cannot hold on to certain things, and really shouldn’t hold on to others.  It might be helpful to explain to one or more trusted friends what situations or relationships you wish to say kaddish over this year, that they might support you in your process, and add their voice in support of your own as you say kaddish with your friend or friends as audience.

Life is full of losses, but it is also full of lessons in the losing, and with other provisions which, like the Mourner’s Kaddish being recited in community, swaddle and comfort us in our grief.  As I said, it is important to mourn . . . it’s the sane and therapeutic thing to do. But while mourning, one ought never forget that God is good, and His provisions are good, even when life is bad. As evidence of that goodness, it helps me to remind myself that not only did I lose my parents in Ellul . . . it was also the month in which I was born. The LORD both gives and takes away . . . blessed be the Name of the LORD.

The Psalmist put it this way: “Weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning.”  The Book of Lamentations puts it this way, “This I call to mind and therefore I have hope, the steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end: Great is your faithfulness.”

I suggest you might want to take some time to count your losses during the month of Ellul. Some of those losses were even good for you: you lost things you never should have clung to, or which were no longer serving a helpful purpose in your life.  Some losses were hard, perhaps they are still hard, and you just can’t identify any loving purpose in the whole mess. But always remember the steadfast love of the LORD: You have known it in the past, and it’s coming around again, because his mercies are new every morning.

And let us say, “Amen.”

Here are the words to the Mourner’s Kaddish, slightly amended.

Glorified and sanctified be God’s great name throughout the world which He has created according to His will. May He establish His kingdom in your lifetime and during your days, and within the life of the entire House of Israel, speedily and soon; and say, Amen.

May His great name be blessed forever and to all eternity.

Blessed and praised, glorified and exalted, extolled and honored, adored and lauded be the name of the Holy One, blessed be He, beyond all the blessings and hymns, praises and consolations that are ever spoken in the world; and say, Amen.

May there be abundant peace from heaven, and life, for us, for all Israel, and all who dwell on the earth, and say, Amen.

He who creates peace in His celestial heights, may He create peace for us,  for all Israel, and all who dwell on the earth; and say, Amen.

This picture is of Tzvi Regev saying kaddish over the coffin of his 25 year old son, Eldad, who was captured and killed by terrorists, with his remains eventually returned in a prisoner swap. See the community standing with him respectfully supporting him in his grief.
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You Go to My Head: Women and Headship in the Writings of Paul

This is going to be the last of my posts on women in leadership. The series has been interesting, but has gone a bit long.  The next series may go even longer . . . but I think it has greater staying power!  But you’ll have to wait to hear about that one. For today, let’s talk about the term kephale (head) in the writings of Paul, and how this term is a point of great controversy.

There is indeed quite a bit written on this subject. often dogmatic and heated. In order to understand the various camps and arguments on this issue, rather than giving a poor summary of the relevant articles in this brief blog posting, I instead will refer you to a variety of sources which will reward your investigation in getting a picture of the arguments gathered around this word, often used to support a position of male headship which some would view as patriarchy or the traditional view, while others, insisting on the dignity of both female and male roles, opt for a complemenntarian view where the roles complement but do not duplicate each other, while others opt for an egalitarian view where all roles are open to either men or women.

For a rundown of the traditional, or some would say, patriarchal view, see Paul Tanner’s article. Other treatments of the traditional view are those by Graham Beynon and David Miller.

The best known champion of the complementarian view is Wayne Grudem. He argues that men and women have different and complementary roles holding that the kephale passages mean than man “has authority over” women, while also arguing that there is no evidence in the ancient literature for the interpretation “source,” for kephale, which is the translation egalitarians prefer. Find his seminal article here.

Some view the egalitarian view to be a concession to modern feminism.  That sounds credible, but not everything that sounds credible is true!  David Scholer, perhaps the most prominent and beloved of egalitarian scholars, points out that the first article arguing for a feminist interpretation of Paul’s texts about women is Margaret Fell, writing in 1666!  He points out as well that in the 19th century no less than thirty six treatments were generated arguing for an egalitarian role for women in the Church. While I am not arguing that this makes the egalitarian position true or preferable, I am arguing that those who dismiss this position as a concession to trendy feminism simply substitute their prejudices for the facts of the matter.

I was pleased to meet David Scholer when I was at Fuller Seminary.  He was a warm, godly, jovial man whose wife Jeannette and daughter Agatha, like himself, exuded a sort of holy joy (there is another daughter whom I never met, whom I am sure is likewise graced). Scholer argued his case for the enfranchisement of women with characteristic warmth, humility, and scholarly acumen.  Of his many articles on the subject, a comprehensive one may be found here. This was written shortly before his untimely death from cancer on August 22, 2008 at aged 70. Although the entire article repays reading, and I strongly commend it, in keeping with today’s subject, do a search within the article for his excellent three pages or so on the debate about kephale, as to whether the word means “authority” or “headship” so that men have a God- given authority or headship over women, or whether the word means instead “source,” that men are the source of women, as Christ is the source of the Church, and should therefore be treated with honor.

Grudem argues strongly against the meaning “source,” but many argue against him, including especially Richard S. Cervin, “Does Kephale Mean ‘Source’ or ‘Authority’ in Greek Literature? A Rebuttal,” Trinity Journal 10 NS (1989), pp. 85-112 which you may read here. Others who also argue against his position include Gordon Fee, Berkeley and Alvera Micklesen, Gilbert Bilezikian, and online,  a lovely treatment  by Laurie Fassulo, “What About the World Kephale (‘Head’) in the New Testament?,” which you may read here. For a comparison of Cervin’s and Grudem’s approaches see here. And for an excellent list of scholarly blog discussions which challenge Grudem’s very strongly defended complementarian position, see this.

There are many other articles findable on the web, such as a critique of  Grudem’s approach and that of his fellow traveler, John Piper, by Jim Reiher, and another list of egalitarian articles to be found here.

Obviously, both the passion and extent of this discussion precludes by imagining I could give a comprehensive and authoritative treatment here. Instead, I have opted to direct you elsewhere. If this discussion matters to you, happy hunting!






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Was the Trouble at Ephesus Woman Trouble?

Paul’s First Letter to Timothy, together with his Second Letter to him and the Letter to Titus are collectively called the “Pastoral Epistles.” These were written by the apostle to his protégés serving congregations in Ephesus (Timothy) and Crete (Titus) in order to address crises in their respective congregations. In 1 Tim 1:7; 2 Tim 3:2-7 and Titus 1:10-11, we learn about treacherous teachers who had infiltrated these congregations, creating unrest, conflict and social disorder. He refers to them as “Certain persons (who) have wandered away into vain discussion,  desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions” (1Tim 1:6-7).  Apparently these teachers were using the Torah as a pretext for strange teachings they were peddling.  He further states that these teachers are “those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim 3:6-7), telling Titus these are ” insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach.”  The picture he paints is of divisive outsiders teaching high sounding doctrines to vulnerable women who had just begun to enjoy significant social status in the communities of the Newer Covenant.  The teaching they had heard and followed was fundamentally subversive of family order “upsetting whole families.”

It is into such a context that Paul writes these words to Timothy, serving as the leader of the congregation in Ephesus:

Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control (1 Tim 2:11-15).

A word in the Greek of this text and another in 1 Corinthians serve as pivots for controversies concerning the nature and limits of women’s authority and ministry in the communities of the Newer Covenant. In 2 Timothy chapter two the word is authentein, often translated as “exercise authority over.” The other term, found in 1 Cor 11:3, is kephale, often translated as “head” in the sense of “hierarchical authority”  In today’s posting we will deal with authentein and Ephesian context, and next time we will complement that by treating kephale in Corinth.

The term authentein is another hapax legomenon, a term appearing only once in the Newer Testament and not at all in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Older Testament. This immediately creates a problem for interpreters, because words are defined by usage, and if one has only one reference to a term, one must employ much guess work to discern what exactly the term means and what are its connotations. While the NIV and RSV translate the term as “have authority over” and the NASB as “exercise authority over,” the New English Bible adds a different, and as we shall see, most likely appropriate note by translating the term as “domineer over.”  This latter translation seems nearest the bulls-eye once one considers how the term authentein is used in the Apocrypha, that body of literature written roughly during the four hundred years between the Testaments.

In Wisdom of Solomon, 12:6, we read of “these parents who murder helpless lives/babes.” In ancient literature, the term underlying “murderers of helpless babes” is our term authentein. It is elsewhere used of a suicide, or a member of a murderer’s family. The verb behind authentein has the connotation of  exercising will power over someone, and also relates to violence, as to murder. In other words, authentein is used in the context of destructive autonomy. It has the nuance of absolute power exercised in a destructive manner, in self-motivated actions. Its semantic field is similar to the term “patria postestas,” a term applied to a Roman father who holds absolute power to discipline and stand in judgment over his slaves, children and spouse, to administer punishment even to the death. He has boundless power limited only by custom or tradition.

This kind of dominating behavior is at total variance with the ethic taught by Yeshua, when he said in Mark 10:42-45 that:

You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But sit shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Yeshua’s ethic is 180 degrees in opposition to that of the Roman world. Paul operates and writes out of the same kind of ethic when he states:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people,  for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.  This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of yGod our Savior (1 Tim 2:1-3).

The text speaking of a “quiet life” is heysuchion bion employing the same term as in 2:11 where Paul speaks of women learning in silence (or quietly) in all submission. It does not have the connotation of women “shutting up,” but rather of maintaining a certain dignified social order (as is also mentioned in 1 Tim 2:1-3).  It was to the issue of a disrupted social order that Paul was writing.

This term heysuchos is use as well in 2 Thess 3:12, “we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.” Here again the issue is not one of being quiet, as in not making any noise or sound, but rather of maintaining appropriate social order. Again, Paul uses the word in 1 Thess 4:

9 Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God yto love one another, 10 for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to ado this more and more, 11 and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and dto work with your hands, as we instructed you, 12 so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.

It needs no proof by this point to note that Paul uses this term of maintaining appropriate social order rather than of not opening one’s mouth. It involves the opposite of authentein–that is, it means to subordinate one’s urges in deference to societal norms.

As for the women not being allowed to teach, the problem was not with women teaching per se, but rather with the content and attitude of their teaching, as influenced by false teachers who apparently were insisting that the rules–and roles–had changed now that the age to come had arrived. We read something of their teaching in 2 Tim 2:12, when Paul says, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority (authentein) over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet (en heysuchia)” he is speaking of women not presuming to domineer over men, thinking they know better, on the basis of teachings and doctrines they have heard, but instead to remain in a quieted and submissive role, respectful of their husbands. Furthermore, in 1 Tim 3:2 we read of those who are “lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents,” also people whose attitudes and conduct undermines the social order, in the context of family life.  Paul’s Letter to Titus bears this out further in the third chapter saying,  “For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach” (Titus 3:10-11). Again, we see that the churches were being troubled by false teachers and teachings subverting the social order in families.

From Paul’s Pastoral Epistles it seems that these disruptive false teachings involved a rejection of marriage, regarded as being a hindrance to enlightened spirituality. This is why Paul admonished younger widows to “marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander” (1 Tim 5:14). Why would these young women be resistant to the idea of marriage and need such an admonition? Likely it was because false teachers had been speaking against marriage because the Age to Come had arrived and all the old rules and roles were changing.  Some married women  had ceased cohabiting with their husbands for the same reason and under analogous teachings (cf. also 1 Cor 7:10), and apparently such “enlightened” women were tending to lord it over their husbands, because they were so sure they had spiritually arrived, as citizens of the Age to Come.

Such women, newly enfranchised in the Newer Testament Church, were yet immature in knowledge, and therefore susceptible to lying teachers, as Eve had been susceptible to the Serpent because of limitations placed upon her by her own lack of knowledge, having not heard from God directly about the command not to eat of the tree in the midst of the garden. These women were in an analogous position to Eve, who knew less of God’s revelation than her husband, Adam (see also 2 Cor 11:3). Against the background of this comparative paucity of scriptural knowledge,  these patterns of false teaching, and a climate of inflated super-spirituality, Paul called for order in the families and congregation at Ephesus. Countermanding the subversion of family order, he takes pains to extol marital harmony, calling women back to the institution, which false teachers had apparently portrayed as spiritually dangerous. On the contrary, Paul says of woman, “she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.” Women are not spiritually contaminated by marital sex and childbearing, which are both holy estates,  but rather by a lack of faith, love, holiness and self-control.

Calling for order in the disrupted courts of the Church in Ephesus, Paul says this: “I would have younger widows marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander” (1 Tim 5:14). This is not a recipe for domination over women, nor for their subjugation or loss of dignity. Rather it constitutes a restoration to familial order of a context where error and misguided zeal threatened the entire fabric of society, beginning with the family.

What does this mean for us then? Shouldn’t we restore order to our own interpretation of scripture by always remembering to bear in mind the contexts in which passages are written and interpreted?  When one fails to bear in mind that Paul was writing to a crisis situation, one might easily draw wrong and excessive interpretations and applications of these heated texts.  And if you think that hasn’t happened, you haven’t been paying attention!

The foregoing blog posting, like the previous one, is based on an article by Scott S. Bartchy,  “Power, Submission, and Sexual Identity Among the Early Christians” in C. Robert Wetzel, ed., Essays on New Testament Christianity (Standard Publishing, 1978), 50-80.



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Was the Trouble at Corinth Woman Trouble?

Last posting we considered Scott Bartchy’s wise suggestion that we evaluate NT and Pauline texts according to three categories, descriptive texts, which merely describe what was going on in his context, normative texts which are meant to establish the nature and boundaries of beliefs and behaviors proper to the Newer Covenant, and problem texts, meant to handle and correct dangerous or deviant beliefs or behavior.

Today’s posting also relies heavily upon his article, supplemented with insights of my own. As we continue considering leadership roles appropriate to women, today we turn to examining the first of those problem texts, this one found in 1 Cor 14:34-45, where we read: “As in all the congregations of the saints, 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).

As translated here, and without a consideration of context, these are indeed harsh words!  How are we to understand and apply them in our day and age?

It is important to realize that women in the apostolic congregations were accorded a status and liberty previously unheard of.  In a context where a new heady status is granted, and freedoms long denied are opened up, errors in degree or judgment are likely to occur.  Accordingly, Paul’s letter needs to be seen as corrective, and not as setting norms applied everywhere (and yes, the text seems to say otherwise, but stay tuned!)

To rightly interpret this text it is crucial to note that the women in the Corinthian congregation are not the only group singled out with an admonition to keep silent: they are really the third such group. In 1 Cor 14:23, it is tongues speakers who are told to keep silent, (unless there is an interpretation). In verse 30, prophets are told to keep silent while another prophet is speaking. In both of these cases, the same verb, sigao, is used, as it is also in the case with women in verse 34-35.  In all three cases, the problem being addressed is the same: maintaining decorum in congregational meetings among people who are newly intoxicated with the influx of the Spirit of  the Age that had come upon them and with their assumptions about its attendant consequences.

It is crucial to think about this, to pay attention to the context in which the words about women keeping silence are given. Let me explain what I mean. Yesterday I spoke with a gifted woman teacher/preacher who has taught and preached in hundreds of contexts, who told me of one pastor who graduated from the same seminary as she, who denied her an opportunity in his church saying, “God forbids women to preach.” For him it is a settled, open and shut issue based on this text.

There are some who adopt a mentality best described in this cliché: “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.”  O really? First of all, the Bible “says” nothing. If you hold your Bible up to your ear and listen carefully, what will you hear? Nothing!  And that is true even if your Bible is The Amplified Version! The Bible must be interpreted, understood, and then applied correctly from the biblical context to our own, after we have carefully determined if and how our situation is or is not comparable to that addressed in the text. The very foundation of correct interpretation is due attention to the context in which particular texts appear. The statement in 1 Cor 14:34-35 has a context, a corrective context, to a degree, a crisis context. It can only be rightly interpreted when this is kept in mind, while also paying attention to other contextual factors such as how different yet overlapping groups of people, and not simply women, are all similarly admonished to “keep silent/be silent.” Why is this? A good question! It needs to be answered!

Paul states the underlying principle he is getting at when he says in verses 26 and 31, “Let all things be done for edification (building up) . . . For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.”  Clearly he is seeking to correct a disrupted and disruptive situation.

Consider some other aspects of the context.  First, we cannot even be sure that the disruptive women he is correcting are all Christians. We know from verse 22 of this same chapter, as well as from 7:12-16 that the faith perimeters of these assemblies were permeable, that both Christian and non-Christian people might be in attendance.  Second, translations can obscure that Paul is not establishing parameters for an institution known as “the church,” something grossly anachronistic for his context, as his groups met in homes, and often more as havurot attached to synagogue communities. There were no “churches” as we know them, no pews, no paid clergy, etc! Paul uses the term ekklesia 46 times in his writings, 22 of them in 1 Corinthians!  Since the fifth century B.C.E, the term was widely used in the Greek world for something like the modern Town Meeting.  Lothar Coenen, writing in Colin Brown’s International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, tells us “It was the assembly of full citizens, functionally rooted in the constitution of the democracy, an assembly in which fundamental political and judicial decisions was taken. . . . Every citizen had the right to speak and to propose matters for discussion, but a proposition could only be dealt with if there was an expert opinion on the matter.”

An ekklesia was fundamentally a public meeting informed by the foregoing ethos. Even though the word is often translated as “church,” in chapters 11-14 of First Corinthians, Paul is speaking about conduct at meetings held among Yeshua believers. And anyone who reads First Corinthians will soon note that these meetings in Corinth had grown chaotic. This is what Paul was seeking to correct.

One may easily read betwen the lines and see that Paul was concerned for the public reputation of the fledgling Corinthian Yeshua-believing meetings. He was concerned about violations of cultural norms. As a window to those norms, consider advice concerning newlyweds coming from the First Century philosopher, Plutarch:

Not only the arm of the virtuous woman, but her speech as well ought to be not for the public . . . since it is an exposure of herself . . . a woman ought to do her talking either to her husband or through her husband.

Perhaps thinking of Orthodox Muslims, or, to a degree, Orthodox Jews will help here.  A naked arm is seen as a form of shameful self-exposure. Orthodox Jewish women wear long sleeves for this reason, as well as hems near the ankles.  And of course, Orthodox women are similarly circumspect, if not more so. This is concept of appropriate piety which the women in the Corinthian congregation were contravening.  Note too that Plutarch adds that  even public speech may be seen as a form of indecorous self-exposure by married women.

Against such a cultural background in the general culture surrounding the Corinthian congregation, we can understand differently the hullabaloo in Paul’s letter over women in the assembly praying with heads uncovered (11:5-7 ff).  As a people who thought the Age to Come had fully arrived so that prevailing norms of decorum no longer applied, the Corinthian congregation was exhibiting all sorts of disorder.  The discarding of norms for women’s proper dress was just ONE manifestation of this. The chaos of communal simultaneous tongues-speaking was another (14:23). The conduct of women interrupting the public meeting, apparently out of some sense of entitlement to do so, was another. While it is true that in the Age of the Spirit, women are not to be seen as either subjugated or second class, Paul is at pains to instruct the assembly to achieve a balance whereby public norms are respected while newness is in evidence: women should pray with their heads covered (a sign of modesty and also of respect for their husbands), and men should not have long hair (both of which Paul assumes as self evident truths,  what Aristotle called “commonplaces,” things already assumed to be true by one’s audience which one can use as an illustration, as here in First Corinthians.

Briefly then, what are some guidelines we might employ in applying the instructions of this Corinthian context to our own?

  • Remember that Paul is addressing conduct in group/public meetings, not pronouncing Great Ecclesiological Verities.
  • Translational matters are crucial. For example, the phrase “as in all the churches, (or better, public meetings)” has a different connotation if verse 33 is left intact. See what the phrase “as in all the other churches” applies to for example in the New Living Translation, and then see the meaning of the paragraph that follows:

29Let two or three prophesy, and let the others evaluate what is said. 30But if someone is prophesying and another person receives a revelation from the Lord, the one who is speaking must stop. 31In this way, all who prophesy will have a turn to speak, one after the other, so that everyone will learn and be encouraged. 32Remember that people who prophesy are in control of their spirit and can wait their turn. 33For God is not a God of disorder but of peace, as in all the other churches.

34Women should be silent during the church meetings. It is not proper for them to speak. They should be submissive, just as the law says. If they have any questions to ask, let them ask their husbands at home, for it is improper for women to speak in church meetings.

In this translation it is far easier to recognize that the issue of women’s silence in church meetings was a local corrective manner. However, many translation splice the end of verse 33 onto the beginning of the next paragraph, which makes the admonition for silence to be a global directive about “a women’s place.”

For another helpful translation, see David Stern’s Complete Jewish Bible.

  • The issue of what exactly is “the law” spoken of in verse 34 needs to be considered. The New Living translation puts the word in lower case letters, whereas other put spell it as “Law,” indicating the Torah.  But what if Paul is speaking of “law” in another sense, as he does in many contexts?
  • The “submission” of women spoken of here is in the context of some women having thrown off commonly accepted norms and restraints in a manner which reflected poorly on themselves, on the assembly of believers, and their husbands. This must be interpreted and applied in context. In our context, what forms of behavior might rightly be analogous?  And how ought it best be handled?
  • Realize that the New Covenantal communities were rightly and decidedly female emancipatory (see the previous posting on descriptive and normative texts to see how fully this is so). Therefore, if we wish to be faithful to the Newer Covenant Scriptures, are our communities appropriately emancipatory of women? It is an important question to ask and answer.

We will have more to say about the Corinthian context in our next posting, when we look more intensely at the chaotic forces at work in the Newer Covenantal communities at that time.  You will discover how everything becomes clearer when we consider the context. In our next text we will also visit 1 Timothy 2:11-15 (see also vv,. 8-10), which is the hottest hot-button issue on the role of women in New Covenantal communities.  Come on back!





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Not All Texts Are Created Equal

Scott Bartchy wrote an article in 1978 which we should all read in 2012.  The title is “Power, Submission, and Sexual Identity Among the Early Christians,”  found in Essays on New Testament Christianity, ed. C. Robert Wetzel (Cincinnati: Standard Publishing, 1978), pp.50-80. Because he is not simply a textual scholar, but someone who also comes to the text with a sensitivity to the cultural and communal issues involved, Bartchy helps us to step back and see the forest of which we have been seeing only trees.

He introduces his treatment by highlighting how each of us has a distorted viewpoint conditioned by our own context and experience, and assumptions we imbibed with our mother’s milk. Like fish living in water without realizing they do so, we live in cultural environments that distort what we see, without knowing this to be the case. As an example he mentions slavery in the Newer Testament, which we tend to conflate with our impressions of the American slavery experience. Because we bring to the subject such prior assumptions, we fail to even note how we miss the fact that Roman era slaves were not owned property, and in fact, some Roman slaves had slaves of their own.  Slaves in ancient Rome had freedom of assembly, knowing that their period of enslavement was finite with a planned ending point. Many Roman slaves were highly skilled, well-educated, and held positions of great authority and trust. Against such a background, we ought to more positively view Paul’s various references to slavery which fall short of blanket denunciation. Slaves in ancient Rome had more the connotation of being foreign workers than of being abused chattel, and a verdict that Paul failed to denounce the institution needs to be reconsidered.

Bartchy’s point is that we likewise misread Paul on gender issues. The biggest problem is that we think we know and understand, while we don’t. We tend to harbor assumptions of male dominance and female subservience, unaware of how our instincts about appropriate role differentiation for women and men have been shaped by our childhood experiences and societal patterning, for which we subconsciously seek confirmation, thus skewing our interpretations of Scripture.

Although not as widespread a phenomenon now as when he wrote it in 1978, Bartchy comments how in our society, and not ours alone, men tend to default to various levels of machismo, while women learn to feign subservience, being sometimes reduced to employing manipulations of various kinds to assert power.

Bartchy explores the key question:

“What is a normal human being, and therefore a normal male and normal female?” And more to his point, how have these understandings been modified through the coming, the teaching, and the impact of Yeshua the Messiah?  Treating this consideration as foundation for all else, Bartchy affirms that Yeshua questioned the conceits of male dominance, as demonstrated by his dismissing the assumptions of hierarchical (male) leadership (the “rulers of the gentiles” lording it over their subordinates, Mk 10:42-44), while substituting self-sacrificial servanthood (Mk 10:45). See also the Pauline admonition for husbands to love their wives in a self-sacrificing manner (Eph 5:25-33).

So how do we discern and winnow what Scripture says about gender norms in light of the coming of Yeshua? Bartchy suggests that the available texts fall into three categories which we do well to differentiate:

  1. Descriptive texts describe the way things were in the apostolic communities, the ways women behaved in the apostolic communities, without making any comment for or against these activit ies ;
  2. Normative texts declare “the way things are to be/ought to be” in this post-Yeshua context, without seeking to correct any particular problem or misunderstanding;
  3. Problem texts deal with/correct problems in the congregation of God’s people, caused by women misunderstanding the nature and limits of freedom among Yeshua’s people.

Let’s examine how this works out.

Descriptive Texts – The Way Things Were in Apostolic Communities

Example #1  – Women presented matter of factly presented as witnesses or as evangelists (See Matt 28:9-10; Mk 16:7, 9-11; Luke 24:10-11; John 20:14-18; John 4:39). While the societal standards of the surrounding cultures precluded this, women were matter of factly presente in these texts serving as witnesses, or evangelists.

Example #2 –  Women prophesy or pray in public meetings (See 1 Cor 11:4-5). Although Paul will address excesses that accompanied the practice, he treats the practice as normal.  See also Phillips seven daughters, all matter of factly identified as prophets (Acts 21:8-9). This is of course the outworking of the Joel text quoted on the Day of Pentecost (Joel 2:28-29) which specified both sons and daughters prophesying when God would pour out his Spirit on both male and female servants.

Example #4 –  Paul identifies Euodia and Syntyche as fellow workers with him (synergoi), women of stature who need to reconcile with one another (Phil 4:2-3). Again, their co-laboring status with Paul is treated as normal.

Example #5 –  As treated with some detail in a previous blog, in Romans 16:2-3, Paul introduces Phoebe as one who serves in the cause of the gospel, and as a prostatis.  The verbal form of this noun is used by Paul of an overseer who manages his family well (1 Tim 3:5), of elders who rule well (1 Tim 5:17), and of overseers (1 Thess 5:12). The noun form, while not used in the Newer Testament, is used in the Septuagint (LXX) to mean deputy, overseer, or officer (See 1 Chr 27:31; 29:6; 2 Chr 24:11).  In keeping with Greco-Roman culture, we may therefore take protatis to refer to a leader, a presiding officer, a ruler, a guardian, an administrator, someone who stands before or protects someone else.

Paul says that Phoebe “has been a prostatis of many and of myself as well” (Rom 16:2).  The English Standard Bible translates this term as “patron.”  How did she help many and Paul as well? Perhaps financially, or perhaps she stood before him and protected him with the Roman authorities or synagogue officials. Whatever the case, she is a formidable woman, even entrusted with transporting Paul’s letter from Corinth to Rome, where, as I noted elsewhere, she would have been expected to interpret his intent in the letter.  And all of this grand status is treated as a mere matter of narrative, without saying in any way that she was an exception to the rule. Paul seemed more comfortable with women in leadership than many of our contemporaries!

Example #6 – Priscilla and Aquila. As mentioned elsewhere, the names of this couple are four times listed in this order (Acts 18:18, 26; Rom 16:3; 2 Tim 4:19). The woman’s name coming first was highly unusual in the surrounding culture, but not a matter of comment for the Apostles. It is a subliminal testimony to her status. The names Priscilla and Aquila are Latinized names, likely indicating them to be well-educated. They were protegees of Paul, teachers of Apollos, good models of a couple serving in mutuality in the cause of Gospel.  The testimony of these passages concerning Priscilla’s role is all the more powerful due to its matter of fact character.  All should keep this powerful testimony in mind when interpreting problem passages like 1 Tim 2:8-15.

Example $ 7 – Junia, who is apparently a woman who with her husband is termed an “apostle ” by Paul. (See my earlier blog on Junia).

All these are matter of fact descriptive passages, with no special axe to grind. Yet what these passages have to say about women’s leadership roles is most significant. Apparently women holding general leadership roles was a fact of daily life in the apostolic communities. However, we tend to miss or minimize such passages due to our presuppositions.

Normative Texts –  The Way Things Ought to Be

Bartchy picks four texts, and my personal jury is out as to whether I buy all of his points, even though some are convincing.

Text #1 – Acts 2:17-18 (See Joel 2:28-29). We know that the Yeshua believers who were “all gathered in one place” awaiting the coming of the Spirit included women as well as me.  Keeping that in mind, we should realize that the “they (who were) all filled with the Holy Spirit and  began to speak in other tongues” included women.  Similarly, “these people (who) are not drunk as you suppose ” must also include women.Any other conclusion is prejudicial and not according to the evidence.  All of this is the way things ought to be because Peter’s sermon highlights the cross gender and cross class nature of the gift of the Spirit. This is one of the key characteristics of the “last days (in which) . . . God declares  . . . I will out out my Spirit on all flesh” (2:17).

Text $2 –  Galatians 3:28.  Bartchy views this to be a corrective response to prevailing patterns, including synagogue prayers which gave thanks to God who has not made one a Gentile, a slave or a woman.  All three of these categories are covered in the Galatians text. According to Bartchy, Paul rejects pride in maleness, in race, or in legal status, while affirming that neither ethnic, social, or legal status markers are valid. In keeping with an earlier posting about Michelle Eisenbaum, I disagree.  Paul continues to see a differentiation in these categories, seeing as different and not the same, yet as equal through the work of Christ.  Equality is not the same things as sameness. Males/females, Jewish/Gentles, free persons/slaves remain different while becoming equal in Messiah.

Text #3 –  1 Cor 7:1-7 ff. Bartchy sees in this text a Pauline emphasis on marital mutuality, with neither women nor men being sovereign over their own bodies so as to deprive their mate of sexual access.  However, such partners may agree to abstain for a time. In this, Bartchy sees a counter-cultural mutuality in decision-making. The term in Greek for this mutual agreement is symphonou, which comes down to us as the word symphony, highlighting the harmony and coordination of the endeavor.  In this context then, Paul rejects patriarchalism.

Text #4 –  Bartchy sees here another testimony to the mutuality of woman and man. “Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God.” In context, the people in Corinth imagined they had so spiritually “arrived” that normal strictures on sexuality and gender issues were transcended. Against this narcissistic fantasy, Paul again asserts a norm: mutuality and cooperation between the sexes.

For Paul, such norms are intrinsic to the Age of the Spirit.

Next posting we will pick up with the problem passages. But let’s not forget the foundation laid here. And above all, let’s learn to distinguish which passages are simply descriptive, which are norm-setting, and which are corrective of abuses. Paying heed to such distinctions is intrinsic to not becoming confused.

Be lucid out there!  See you soon.


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Gender Roles and Defining Key Questions

So far in our discussion, I have presented some blog postings favoring what might be termed “Leadership Liberation”  for women in our congregations, liberation from time-honored restrictions and to a broader sphere of leadership responsibility. I have also presented postings decrying the de-masculinization of our congregations, and arguing for their re-masculinization: how can we better attract, shape, and keep men in our contexts?  I encourage you all to read and/or review this series so far to see that I have endeavored to keep some sort of balance in handling these issues.

In this process I have been thinking about similarities in our circles between a concern for proper gender roles and a concern for proper roles for Jew and Gentile. For me, the two areas  shed light on each other in this way: We ought not to consider the  issue of  relaxing/eliminating boundaries about women’s eldership and ordination apart from realizing the other side of the issue: our failure to better attract, shape and keep Jewish men in our ranks.  Any single woman in the Messianic Jewish movement who is considering marriage will tell you that there are not enough men among us, and she is right. So the allegation that we are in danger of feminizing the movement by relaxing strictures on women’s leadership roles must not be considered apart from facing our failure to attract, shape, and hold men, especially Jewish men.  I have addressed that failure already in a number of previous blogs.

Similarly, in the Jew/Gentile debates that happen in and around our movement, we ought not to discuss the “gentilization” of our movement without also addressing our failure to attract, win, shape, and keep Jews in our congregations. (And we would need to discuss as well whether the phenomena are related: a real hot button issue!)

To put things briefly then, the other side of the coin “too many women/too many women in leadership” is “too few men/too few men in leadership.”  And the other side of the coin “too many gentiles” is “too few Jews.” I will be discussing these issues further in the days ahead, because frankly, these are key issues which, in my view, need to be considered in light of each other without neglecting other considerations such as  honoring appropriate halachic norms and what it means to be a synagogue rather than a Jewish church. In all these discussions, the issue of how well or how poorly we are attracting, holding, and shaping Jews in our congregations, and especially Jewish men, is crucial. Frankly, I think that if we have Jewish men, we won’t have to look for Jewish women will we? I have a sneaking suspicion they will just happen to show up!

The next posting will be “Not All Texts Are Created Equal.” It will outline three kinds of Newer Testamental texts on gender roles, urging that we not confuse one kind with another in forming our opinions and policies. This will further our goal of clarifying our thinking, a big goal around here.  Look for this one within 24 hours!

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The Case For . . . and Against . . . Junia, the Woman Apostle

Recently we have been looking at Romans 16, where Paul refers to 29 people in his circles, of whom ten are women . . . or is it nine? The answer to this question rests on the identity of Junia, who is mentioned in verse 7: “Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to (or is it among?) the apostles, and they were in Messiah before me.”

Three related questions are nested here:

  1. Who is Junia– is this a woman, is it a man? And related to that,
  2. Is this/her name really Junia (generally, a woman’s name) or Junias (an assumed man’s name)?
  3. Are Andronicus and Junia outstanding among the apostles, as part of their number and therefore, apostles themselves? Or are they rather people who have a good reputation among the apostles?

In dealing with our first two questions, translators take all kinds of approaches to identifying Junia, her/his actual name, and gender. It seems clear that decisions in these matters are at least sometimes skewed by the presuppositions and doctrinal commitments of translators. For example, although the manuscript evidence strongly favors the name “Junia” (a woman) over “Junias” (a man), the NASB translators, apparently thinking, “Well, we know it can’t be a woman!) translate it this way: “Greet Andronicus and Junias (a male’s name), my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners, who are outstanding among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.” But signalling that this is not the only possible reading, they say in a footnote, “Or Junia (fem).”

In their flip-flopping translations, the NIV (New International Version) translation team expose the tensions involved in this text.  In its original version (1973, 1981), the NIV says, “Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was,” choosing the feminine spelling of the name. But by their 1984 version, they changed their minds and translation, so that it now reads, “Greet Andronicus and Junias (the male version of the name) my relatives who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.”  What we have here then is either Junia/Junias going through a sex change, or translators, perhaps due to political and polemical pressures, going through a mind change!

David Scholer and Craig Keener are two scholars who favor the female identity of this character, whom them name “Junia.” To be fair, Scholer points out that the name “Junia” is written as “Junian” when it is, as here, the direct object of a verb, and that the name “Junias” would have the same spelling under that condition. But this still leaves us wondering what the actual name is, when unchanged by grammatical considerations in a morphological language like Greek (one where the shape of the word changes according to its grammatical function). Scholer points out that “Junia” is attested to as a woman’s name in the first century. Indeed, the male name “Junias” which some favor, saying it is a diminutive form of the name “Junianus”  is nowhere attested to in the ancient evidence.  Others point out that there are at least 250 places where we may find “Junia” used in ancient sources as a woman’s name!

Scholer also reminds us that the first commentator to suggest Junia as a man’s name was Aegidius of Rome who lived in the 13th and 14th centuries, some thirteen hundred years after the text was written!  And St. John Chrysostom, who was generally negative about women, freely and with amazement acknowledged that this is a woman’s name. And his opinion on the matter is a thousand years earlier, and closer to the events, than that of Aegidius of Rome!

Craig Keener provides yet more detail, pointing out that  “Andronicus” is a Greek that was sometimes used by Diaspora Jews, and “Junia” a Latin name also used by Jews. Since both are said to be Paul’s kinsmen/relatives, even if we doubt they were close relatives, it is clear they were Jews.

Having addressed and perhaps settled the first two questions, whether Junia is a woman, and whether the name of this person is indeed Junia, a woman’s name. we turn to the third question: Are Andronicus and Junias outstanding among the apostles, as part of their number and therefore, apostles themselves? Or are they rather people who have a good reputation among the apostles?

Craig Keener speaks to the issue.

It is . . . unnatural to read the text as merely claiming that they had a high reputation with “the apostles.” Since they were imprisoned with him, Paul knows them well enough to recommend them without appealing to the other apostles, whose judgment he never cites on such matters, and the Greek is most naturally read as claiming they were apostles. . . .

If Junia is a woman apostle traveling with Andronicus, a male apostle, certain scandal would result if they were not brother and sister or husband and wife. Since most apsotles, unlike Paul, were married (1 Cor 9:5), the early church was probably right when it understood them as a husband-wife apostolic team.

To read further on this and related matters, see especially Craig S. Keener, Paul, Women and Wives: Marriage and Women’s Ministry in the Letters of Paul (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1992), and Richard Bauckham, Gospel Women: Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002). These are two outstanding scholars who, even when  departing from the certitudes with which we have grown comfortable, cannot be honestly ignored.

And for a movement as impacted by Christianity as the Messianic Jewish movement is, this kind of scholarship has direct implications for our assumptions and discussion concerning the role of women in our ranks.




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Women in Paul’s Context: They Didn’t Just Make the Coffee

How shall we move toward rightly interpreting the Pauline passages commonly bandied about when discussing, and arguing about Paul’s teaching on the roles and conduct appropriate to women in the assemblies of God’s people?

A good place to start is by examining how Paul refers to and relates to the women in his ministry context. An excellent place to begin that study is the 16th chapter of the Letter to the Romans.

In this concluding chapter of the letter, Paul refers to 29 people whom he commends, introduces, greets, or to whom he sends greetings. Of the 29 people he mentions, ten are women.  One is mentioned elsewhere in his writings and/of the New Testament (Phoebe and Priscilla), two are unnamed (Nereus’s sister, and Rufus’ mother), and one is merely greeted, Julia.  But what interests us most is what he says about these women, their roles, holy labors, and stature.

Of four of these women he says they “worked very hard.” The Greek root is kopiao. This is a term Paul uses especially for the work of good news/besorah/gospel. Frequently he uses it of his own work (1 Cor 4:12; 15:10; Ga; 4:11; Phil 2:16; Col 2:29; 1Tim 4:10; Cf. Acts 20:35). He uses the term also of other men and women involved in such work, people of authority and stature. In 1 Cor 16:15-16 he uses the household of Stephanus as an example of every fellow workers and laborer (koponti, from kopiao). In 1 Thess 5:12, he admonishes his hearers to “respect those who labor (kopiontas) among you and over you in the Lord and admonish you and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work.” (See also 1 Tim 5:17).  Clearly then, this term for spiritual laborers, used here of Mary, Tryphanea, Persis and Tryphosa, four women, as it is also used in Philippians of Euodia and Syntyche (4:2-3), is a term connoting hard labor in service to the good news of Yeshua and the well-being of his people. And please note, Paul uses no temporizing language in applying this dignified term, perhaps most closely related to our word “ministry,” to women.

Paul refers also to Priscilla and Aquila, a husband and wife team from Rome, tent makers like Paul, whom he met in Corinth (from where he is now writing) and who are living in Rome again, and where a group of Yeshua-believers meet in their home. These people are doers! The couple is mentioned six times in the Apostolic Witness (New Testament), and four of those six times Priscilla is named first (“Priscilla and Aquila”). This prior mention of the woman’s name is most unusual for that time and place, and leads us to believe that she was the more magnetic and resonant of the two. Paul speaks of her as a synergos, a fellow worker with him.  This is a term he uses also of Urbanus, Epaphras, Timothy, Demas and Luke, himself and Apollos, Clement, other unnamed persons, and Titus.  Here he uses it of Priscilla (called by the diminutive “Prisca”), again, without temporizing language.

Priscilla and Aquila are quite interwoven with Paul’s labors and travels. When they were in Ephesus on one occasion, ” a Jewish man named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent speaker with a thorough knowledge of the Tanakh. This man had been informed about the Way of the Lord, and with great spiritual fervor he spoke and taught accurately the facts about Yeshua, but he knew only the immersion of Yochanan. He began to speak out boldly in the synagogue; but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the Way of God in fuller detail” (Acts 1:24-26).  Are we to assume that on this occasion, Aquila did all the teaching, and Priscilla just made the coffee?  Hardly! Yet there are some who take a hard-line position that a woman may not/must not teach a man spiritual things under any circumstances. That interpretation of Pauline practice doesn’t seem to align with what we are reading here, and that misalignment is the point of this blog posting!  Read on.

Another woman of power named in this chapter is Phoebe, the courier of this letter from Paul in Corinth to the community in Rome. Apparently she was a business woman whose business affairs brought her to this central city.  Paul begins by introducing her in glowing terms. This is important because as the one delivering his letter, she was more than a mail carrier. No, she would be expected to explain to the recipients anything Paul wanted them to know about the letter, and even to help them understand exactly what he was getting at. She may even have read the letter aloud to them. This is a position of influence and trust. She is also mentioned as a servant of the church in Cenchrea, a port of Corinth.  This term (diakonos) is often translated “deaconess” when applied to Phoebe, but this is misleading. The term sounds weaker than deacon, and besides, a better translation here is “servant” as the term “deacon” is often linked to the role of a bishop, and Paul is not making that kind of claim about Phoebe (See 1 Tim 3:8, 12; Phil 1:1). Paul uses the term diakonos of servants or ministers of the good news. He uses the term of Yeshua (Romans 15:8), of Apollos (1 Cor 3:5), and also of Epaphras, Timothy, Tychicus, and himself. He uses the term of those active in teaching or preaching, trusted leaders among the people of God.

Paul uses another term of Phoebe, prostatis. This is the only time this noun is used in the Apostolic Witness, so scholars have trouble deciding exactly what it means. It has been translated as “good friend,” “helper,” “one who looked after,” “great help,” or even “patron.” In secular Greek it is a somewhat strong term. The verb related to this noun is used only by Paul in the Apostolic Witness, applied to leaders (see Rom 12:8; 1 Thess 5:12, 1 Tim 3:4, 5, 12) and to others who follow their example (Titus 3:8, 14).

Again, Phoebe is a formidable woman, of exemplary character and positional prestige. There is nothing temporizing said her about her roles or station. She is, like Priscilla and other women mentioned here, a force to be reckoned with.

Indeed, one of the women in this chapter is even called an apostle!  And to that we will turn next time!

Meanwhile, ask and answer this question:

How does the data in this study compare or contrast with the roles and station of women  as normally assumed in your worshiping congregation?

Were there any surprises here?

If so, what further study or discussion needs to be done? Further actions?


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A Jewish Feminist on Paul the Misogynist . . . Or Not

Pamela Eisenbaum is a Jewish Professor of New Testament who I am sure astonished her audience at Temple Emanu-El in New York City when she addressed them by answering this two-part question: “Is Paul the Father of Misogyny and Antisemitism.”  Dr Eisenbaum, avowedly a Feminist and non-Christian answered “Nay” in both respects.  Today we will focus on the misogyny component of her presentation.  This is germane to our current discussion because, well, let’s face it, lots of people assume that Paul was somewhat negative about women.

Eisenbaum begins by referencing what she terms “the old Paul,” the way he has long been regarded: an ex-Jew, and a manipulator of gullible Gentiles, who made Jesus into a god, repackaging Yeshua faith for a vulnerable idolatrous market. This is, by the way, the Paul I heard of from family members in my youth, and for many, the only Paul they know. This is a Torah-dumping Paul who is bad news for the Jews. Eisenbaum then references and identifies with the New Perspective on Paul (NPP) which views the Apostle within Jewish life and in a first century context where the Torah was the standard which Jews sought to line up with in response to their having been “by grace” chosen by God (a view termed “covenant nomism”). For this kind of Judaism and this kind of Paul, Torah is good for the Jews. And NPP proponents remind us that Christianity as a religious and communal category did not yet exist in Paul’s day.  Yeshua believers and their faith were all assumed to exist within a diverse Judaism.

Feminists lay claim to Paul as an early proto-feminist, taking as their watchword the familiar words of Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Messiah Yeshua.” For Modern liberal commentators, there are three categories here which Paul says no longer apply: “Male/female, bond/free, Jew/Gentile.” But the question which needs to be asked is whether Paul is saying there is no longer any difference between these categorical pairs, or is he not rather saying there is no longer any barrier between the members of these pairs.  Eisenbaum is convinced that the latter is the case.

She discusses the views of Daniel Boyarin (who since 1996 has been Professor of Talmudic Culture, Departments of Near Eastern Studies and Rhetoric at U.C. Berkeley).  In handling Galatians 3:28, Boyarin views our common humanity as transcending corporeality and ethnicity, that we are in essence spiritual being who happen to be temporarily manifest in a physical state. We are spirit, not flesh, and for Boyarin’s Paul, spirit is a better category. Boyarin sees Paul as believing that in Christ all of creation is moving toward a spiritual universality, where the relationship between Jew and Gentile and that between male and female will be normalized through eliminating all distinctions. He postulates that for Paul, “equality” means “sameness.”

Eisenbaum disagrees. For Paul the first member of each of Paul’s pairs is the preferable status: male and female, free or slave, Jew or gentile. For Paul the most desirable state is to be a free Jewish male, therefore obligated to observe all the fhe commandments.  Whereas for Boyarin, “eqality” means “sameness,” Eisenbaum’s Paul preserves distinctions while introducing equality for females, slaves, and gentiles in respect to free Jewish males.

For Paul, the problem is not Torah, and the barriers it places between Jews and gentiles. Rather, the problem is she status of Gentiles: How shall it be equalized with that of Jews?  Eisenbaum shows how Paul accomplishes this through postulating that in Yeshua, relationships are transformed while differences remain. For Paul, this human difference is a matter of natural, creational order. Paul emphasizes this in at least three texts. In 1 Cor 11:13-16, women and men should wear their hair long and short respectively because this is hei phusis autei, “the nature of things,” and Jews are ioudaioi phusei, Jews by nature.  In the former case, male and female are by nature different, and this difference should be honored and manifested.  In the latter case, Jews and Gentiles are by nature different, with different callings appropriate to each.

Paul gives full expression to this creational differentiation in 1 Cor 7:17-20 when he states, this:

17 Only let each person live the life the Lord has assigned him and live it in the condition he was in when God called him. This is the rule I lay down in all the congregations. 18 Was someone already circumcised when he was called? Then he should not try to remove the marks of his circumcision. Was someone uncircumcised when he was called? He shouldn’t undergo b’rit-milah. 19 Being circumcised means nothing, and being uncircumcised means nothing; what does mean something is keeping God’s commandments. 20 Each person should remain in the condition he was in when he was called. 21 Were you a slave when you were called? Well, don’t let it bother you; although if you can gain your freedom, take advantage of the opportunity.

“The life the Lord has assigned,” “The condition [in which one was] was called” should be maintained, and what matters most is not what that condition is but obeying the commandments particular to that position.  A Jew should obey God in keeping with his/her Jewish status, a Gentile in keeping with his/her Gentile status, and even a slave should obey God in that position, although if possible, he or she should get free. The same goes for males and females.  The bottom line is obeying the commandments appropriate to one’s status, which status Paul sees as “the life the Lord has assigned.”

What change then comes about due to God’s work in Messiah Yeshua? Paul teaches that with the coming of Messiah, we have entered a new era which opens up a new kind of relationship and therefore a reordering of priorities. Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female remain as categories, but in Messiah a new family has been created.  Jews, Gentiles, bond, free, male, female are all part of this family where all live in reconciled peace through being one family, or in modern terms, one blended family. Eisenbaum clarifies matters for us.

The standard liberal interpretation of Gal. 3:28 — that Paul wanted to break down barriers or erase human differences — is not a helpful way to understand Paul’s vision. “Neither Jew nor Greek” ought not be read as Paul’s attempt to transcend ethnic and cultural difference so that we might all live in one equal but homogenous society. Paul does not think in terms of “society” or “community,” at least not as we moderns do anyway. The alternative metaphor I would like to put forth for describing Paul’s vision in Gal. 3:28 is the building of family. Actually it is God’s family, but it is a family nonetheless. While people, both ancient and modern, think of families as biologically related groups of people who are, in fact, alike or at least similar, families generally are made up of people who are by some measure different.  Families sustain themselves or grow larger by having children, to be sure, but conventional social wisdom usually first requires that two people not currently related (or at least not closely related) marry. Although marital custom varies widely from one culture to another, anthropologists have long noted the taboo against marrying members of one’s immediate family.

Because commentators tend to think Paul uses family terminology metaphorically, they do not see it as significant and often overlook some important details, including one very important detail present in Gal. 3:28. Older English translations, . . . tend to translate the verse as follows: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female. . .” The NRSV provides the more literal translation, the significance of which resides in the last phrase, “no longer male and female.” This phrase is awkward in both Greek and English because of the switch from the disjunctive “neither/nor” to the conjunctive “and.” Because of this mismatching and the fact that Paul does not normally use the words “male” (arsen) and “female” (thelu), it seems that the last clause constitutes a not-so-subtle allusion to God’s creation of the first human beings in Genesis 1. The Genesis text from which the phrase is taken reads as follows:
So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply. . .” (Gen. 1:27-28) . . . .

Since the final pair of the saying in Gal. 3:28, “male and female,” constitutes an allusion to the story of creation in Genesis, “male and female” serves as the paradigm through which we may interpret the other two pairs. In other words, what Paul means by “no longer Jew or Greek” ought to be interpreted in terms of what he means by “male and female.” And since the latter refers to the Genesis passage cited above, it is reasonable to think that Paul envisions the same sort of family inauguration for “Jew or Greek” as he does for “male and female.” Although Paul speaks in the negative (“no longer male and female”) his point is not to deny the reality or importance of sexual differentiation, neither is it to negate the practice of marriage. Rather, Paul uses the negative formulations to express how different kinds of people can be brought together into a unity. It is not two identical creatures who come together to create family, but two different ones. “Male and female” means difference is required at a fundamental level for the construction of family. Of course, part of the point is that although men and women are different, they are interdependent. . . .

In Genesis 17, God promised Abraham that he would be the father of many nations. But in Paul’s time, Abraham was known as the patriarch of the Jews only. Like many of the Jews of Paul’s day, Paul sometimes understood scriptural texts as adumbrations of later events. Since God had promised to make Abraham the father of many nations, at some point that promise had to be fulfilled, otherwise the promises of God would have failed. Paul, believing he lived at the dawn of a new age (see, for example, Romans 8:18-25), understood the coming of Christ as the ritual event that allowed for members of other nations to become part of Abraham’s family.

So what’s the point when it comes to our discussion of male and female, and especially women’s roles in the worshipping community? First, yes, women remain creationally different from men, as do Gentiles remain different from Jews. Second, even though the difference remains, inequality does not, just as Jews and Gentiles remain different but are no longer unequal in the Body of Messiah.  Therefore, again, women remain differerent, but are to be regarded as equal to men.

It is in discovering how to negotiate this tension between difference and equality that our discussion will continue.  We will do that by looking both at Paul’s practice and then at Paul’s texts.  Stay tuned!

Meanwhile, for you information junkies, here is the full text of Eisenbaum’s excellent article. Enjoy!

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