That “Women” Question

Here is a post from Jesus Creed exploring how NT Wright supports women’s ordination from the Bible. No matter what your view on ordination of women to the pastoral ministry (I vote no), this example of biblical exegesis is a specific illustration of how not to do biblical interpretation. It is embarrassingly simplistic and a stretch that is beneath a serious interpreter of God’s Word. Wright is usually much better than this.

That “Women” Question (RJS)

Jan 30, 2014 @ 6:00 By  31 Comments

I’ve put up a two posts on N.T. (Tom) Wright’s  response to listener questions posed by Justin Brierley on the radio showUnbelievable. (The link to the show: NT Wright on Paul, Hell, Satan, Creation, Adam, Eve & more – Unbelievable? – 01 November 2013, or the entire Unbelievable audio feedwith more shows and more information on each show.) The first looked at his view onevolution and Adam (yes to both), and on Tuesday we moved on to look at what Wright had to say about miracles. Today I would like to consider a less controversial question (ha! If you believe that I have some …). This segment starts about 48:00 in the mp3 file.

Justin: An issue that often comes up in the context of Paul is women and what he says about male female relationships, Jews, Gentiles, slaves, free and so on. Lucy for instance wanted to ask this quick question. I’m sure you’ve tackled it a number of times … “What is your reading and therefore application of a passage like 1 Timothy 2 in particular with reference to v. 11?”  When it comes to these issues, what is your general understanding of what Paul’s getting at, what the whole thing is about?

This question gets to an issue which is at least as big a stumbling block to Christian faith in our Western world as the issues of evolution and creation, naturalism vs divine action. One of the biggest questions that always comes back to me as a Christian in the academy focuses on this issue. “How can I be a Christian given how poorly women are treated?” And, of course, 1 Timothy 2 is a key passage, perhaps the key passage. Verse 11 highlighted in the question above is translated in the NIV “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission.”  Wright responds to the question – and as always the transcript is flat, missing some of the meaning. Listen to the show if interested.

I don’t know if your listeners will have 1 Timothy 2 to hand, let alone in the Greek text. Part of the difficulty there is that Paul uses there some very unusual words which are difficult to translate.

Justin: Can you give us the words in English first?

It depends, because this is precisely what is at issue, the translation and I don’t have my own translation here in the studio with me. But I would say to anyone who wants to know what I really think is going on here, look at Paul for Everyone, The Pastoral Epistles which is the little commentary that I did on the Pastorals because I actually spend longer on that passage than on most other passages there for obvious reasons. Because the way it has been translated there does not do justice I think to the nuanced thing that Paul is saying. Paul is writing almost certainly to a situation in Ephesus where religion was basically a female thing. You have Diana, Artemis the great goddess, who only has female priests, that is deep in the Ephesian culture. And it is very natural therefore that if this seems to be like a new religion, this Christianity thing, that people in Ephesus might assume well basically let’s find the women to be the leaders. … And I think what is being said when Paul is talking about allowing women to study privately and given the leisure to study it doesn’t mean they should sit down, shut up, and go and make the tea, it means that they must have the leisure to be themselves students. But then he says, “I’m not saying that women should take over the show,” which is a cultural reference to what they might have assumed in that place. But that they have to be given space to learn and then we will all go ahead together.

… (At Justin’s question, Wright goes into the “to have authority” phrase. I’m going to jump over this bit.)

(51:00-53:35) Why is it in certain bits of our culture that people take that little verse from 1 Timothy 2 so seriously and they ignore large chunks of what is going on in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John? And this is really very serious as a critique of bits of our contemporary Christian culture. Why are we so fixated and nervous about this? When I talk about this issue I always start with John 20. This is not an accident that when Jesus is raised from the dead the first person who is commissioned to tell other people that he’s alive, that he’s the Lord, that he’s ascending to the Father, is Mary Magdalene. That, you know, John does nothing by accident. Jesus did nothing by accident for goodness sake. That’s the beginning of the announcement of the Christian gospel and it is given to Mary Magdalene. From that point, this is part of new creation. Everything’s different now guys. And what Paul is doing is navigating within a very interesting bit of pagan culture how that works and doesn’t work. “I don’t mean that the women should take over, and I don’t mean that the women should boss everyone else around. They must be given leisure to study, its not an either or, we’ve got to do this together.”

Justin: But in a sense, for millenia, the church did take a certain view on those kinds of passages, or whether it was just a cultural thing, I don’t but … it’s a relatively recent phenomenon that women have been ordained and so on.

It is and it isn’t. In the New Testament you have Junia who is an apostle in Romans 16. I know there’s been lots of debate about that but anyone listening who is worried about that, it is absolutely certain exegetically, linguistically, contextually, that in Romans 16Paul refers to Junia as an apostle. He also has entrusted Romans, the greatest letter ever written, to a lady called Phoebe who is a deacon in the church at Cenchreae. She’s an office bearer; she’s on her way on a business trip to Rome. Women were quite independent in that world. The idea that all women in the first century were sort of, you know, dumbed down little house fraus, that’s absolutely not the case. There are plenty of independent women of independent means. Phoebe therefore is the carrier of the letter to Rome and that almost certainly means, not only would she read it out, but that if they had questions they would ask her. It is highly likely that Phoebe was the first person in history to expound the letter to the Romans. Now when you get that in the text, and Junia as an apostle, and the other people in Romans 16 who are clearly in ministry, some as husband wife teams, some as independent men, some as independent women, then you know, I want to say lighten up guys, why are we so worried about this?    … ( a little more – suggesting, perhaps, that this is an issue where the Church in a few hundred years will wonder how we could have held a “men only” view, and then it was time for a station break.)

Wright’s last statement in response to the issue about women as bishops in the Church of England sums this up (he has more to say about the issue – but this is the bit relevant to this post).

(57:11-57:35) As I say, I make no bones about it, the basic foundation of all Christian ministry is the announcement that the crucified Jesus has been raised from the dead, and the first person who does that is Mary Magdalene. I rest my case; don’t need to go any further. It’s there in John 20. And from there on the idea of women in leadership ought to have been a natural. And as I say, we see it in Paul, let’s do it.


Shortest Commentary on Each Book of Bible-Tweets of Each Book’s Theme

At Faith and Theology.  I particularly like 1 Kings and 2 Kings.
Old Testament
Genesis: Under numberless stars an old man stands amazed; his wife cries out in the pain of childbirth, laughing.

Exodus: Barefoot on the hot sand, he stares into the flame and haggles with a god whose name he cannot say.

Leviticus: At the mountain they wait in love and terror, while holy words pass through them like a sword.

Numbers: Count the murmuring tribes, count their slain, count the wandering long years.

Deuteronomy: I love you, I love you. Not because you are so good or great, but because you are so lost and little.

Joshua: In the walled city a prostitute undresses to the music of trumpets and the sound of many feet.

Judges: As soothing as a therapist, she runs her fingers through his hair and says, “Now lie back and tell me everything.”

Ruth: He wakes in the night to find a woman, a foreigner, touching his feet. He rubs his eyes. He had been dreaming of kings.

1 Samuel:
Grief + God = Samuel
Israel – Eli + Samuel = Monarchy
Monarchy – Saul = David
David – Jonathan = 0

2 Samuel: Victory! A riot of joy! The victor covers his face: O Absalom, my son, my son.

1 Kings: So, you really want a monarchy huh? Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

2 Kings: I told you so.

1 Chronicles: And behold, in those days all the begetting was done by the menfolk.

2 Chronicles: If we build it, he will come.

Ezra: When we saw the Temple we thought we must be dreaming, or that all our lives had been a dream from which we had awoken.

Nehemiah: When he read the scroll it was as if, after a long dementia, I remembered my name and wept to hear it spoken.

Esther: The orphan queen is glorious at her feast. In her glittering eyes are sex and armies.

Job: He scrapes himself with broken pots, cursing his mother’s womb. In the distance, Leviathan circles silently in the deep.

Psalms: The invention of antiphony: when my heart broke in two, I taught both parts to sing.

Proverbs: What a fabulous woman! I’ll marry her! (She left her fingerprints all over me.)

Ecclesiastes: Life is an empty sink. Someone has pulled the plug and all the meaning has drained out of it. So enjoy yourself!

Song of Songs: With the turtledove singing above them in the apple tree, the lovers took off their clothes and made beautiful poems together.

Isaiah: When the four corners of creation are picked up like a tablecloth, all the crumbs will slide into the middle, into Zion.

Jeremiah: The Word is at the bottom of the well, burning like a naked flame in the mouth of the weeping prophet.

Lamentations: A Bear Crouches. Destruction Envelops. Flee God’s Holy Implacable Judgment! Killed! Lament! Mourn Nakedly! O Pray!

Ezekiel: Four flashing creatures, four wheels rimmed with eyes, one scroll, one Spirit, one Temple, one million creeping bones.

Daniel: I pray (each day) towards the city of the Son of Man; to him all kings (all things) shall bend like grass in the wind.

Hosea: She has given birth. Another son! Tenderly her humiliated husband gathers the little prophecy into his arms.

Joel: Through the cracks in our broken hearts the grasshoppers have come swarming in.

Amos: Hallelujah! The Lord is here! Run for your lives!

Obadiah: I made you as numerous as the stars. Watch now while I rub out every star and wrap the world in darkness.

Jonah: When the prophet disobeys, even the fish of the sea are against him. When Nineveh repents, even the animals fast and pray.

Micah: We call you a minor prophet. But you are mountains rising behind mountains; all the world’s wealth is minor next to you.

Nahum: Grinning from ear to ear, he sings a lament for the fall of Nineveh.

Habakkuk: He sings of joy in God’s salvation, his face wet with indignant tears.

Zephaniah: Cry out with horror, for I will sweep you from the earth. Cry out with joy, for I will sweep you into my arms.

Haggai: After the return from exile, the prophets spoke in prose. It took captivity to wring the poetry from their souls.

Zechariah: If only you could have lived to see the day he read your scroll, and loved it, and told his friends to fetch a donkey.

Malachi: You’ve got a new temple; now get new hearts to go with it, before the temple’s Lord appears and turns the tables on you.

Deutero-canonical writings

Tobit: In godless Nineveh one man keeps the faith alive, one cold grave at a time.

Judith: Ever noticed how men can lose their heads over the sight of a pretty woman?

Wisdom of Solomon: Surrounded by a harem of a thousand wives, Solomon yearns for his one true Bride.

Sirach: Adapt your life to Wisdom’s discipline, for her yoke is easy and her burden is light.

Baruch: A pocket-size edition of the whole shebang – the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings.

Letter of Jeremiah: Some advice about idols: if it can’t clean the birdshit off its own face, don’t worship it.

Song of the Three Jews: Inside the fiery furnace, the three boys were so cool that they struck up a tune to keep warm.

Susanna: A side-splitting tale.

Bel and the Dragon: Too much greasy food is really, really bad for you.

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 Esdras: It’s complicated.

2 Esdras: Our dead children are playing hide and seek. Soon God will find them and they will come out giggling from their graves.

Prayer of Manasseh: This part of our liturgy was written by an idolatrous king. In church, even the gargoyles have a place.

1 Maccabees: The false god’s broken altar is soaked in blood, for the Law has wielded a hammer.

2 Maccabees: It was God’s wrath that made us feast and sing among strange gods. Now wrath is kindled into an apocalypse of mercy.

New Testament

Matthew: We thought his teaching was a mirror of God’s Law, but we were wrong. The Law is the mirror, reflecting him.

Mark: Just as we were killing him, God whispered a secret. No one heard except the soldier who raised his bloodied hands in awe.

Luke: After careful research I have prepared an objective scholarly account of what happened. It all began with an angel…

John: Because we could not find the way to God, he used a spear to open a door in his side, and said, “Look, I am the way!”

Acts: Proof of the resurrection: the powers of this world submit to a handkerchief on which an apostle has blown his nose.

Romans: Adam lost it, Christ found it, the Spirit gives it, faith holds it, creation yearns for it, death yields to it.

1 Corinthians: When the last trump sounded we didn’t hear it. We were too busy arguing and bragging about our spirituality.

2 Corinthians: O how I love you, you darling scalawags, you dear sweet blockheaded scoundrels, you infuriating puppies!

Galatians: We felt insecure without our chains so we hired experts to repair them. Then Paul came back, wielding a sledgehammer.

Ephesians: When the human race had split apart, God (who loves to renovate) took wood and nails and fastened it back together.

Philippians: Even in chains, Paul is freer than wild horses. Even in prison, his joy is boundless as the skies.

Colossians: God assembled all the pieces of the universe as one huge jigsaw puzzle, a perfect picture of Christ.

1 Thessalonians: In Christ there is no night but only one eternal morning in which the living and the dead awake and embrace.

2 Thessalonians: When I told you, brothers, that he’s coming back soon, what I really meant was soonish.

1 Timothy: Dear Paul, Thanks for your letter & for all the advice. The part about wine: ok! The part about women: huh? Yours, Tim.

2 Timothy: The dying apostle writes his will: “To my dear son Timothy I leave all that I possess: my gospel and these chains.”

Titus: Don’t adapt the gospel to your life. Adapt your life to the pattern of the gospel.

Philemon: Then one day, for the first time in history, a slave and his master cried out in stunned recognition: “Brother!”

Hebrews: Look in the mirror to see the face; follow a shadow to find the thing; wade through blood to a place where bloodshed ceases.

James: Faith is a picture taken by the beggar at your door, not a selfie.

1 Peter: In the midst of a strange land all the strangers assembled in one place, and called it Home.

2 Peter: “Paul’s letters are hard to understand”: the calm judgment of a pseudonymous letter full of riddles and obscurities.

1 John: Love is the order of things; hatred is rebellion against reality.

2 John: Pure spiritual love is a delusion. Love has come among us in the flesh. It’s with our bodies that we walk in love’s way.

3 John: Oh my dear friend, I need to see you face to face to tell you what love means. Love can’t be sent by mail.

Jude: If ever the world is burned to ashes in a nuclear holocaust, let the last human being recite the epistle of Jude, and die.

Revelation: When she finally arrived at the wedding, she kissed him and said, “Sorry I’m late. The traffic was hell.”

“Families and Faith”

Here are some snippets from an article in the Wall Street Journal. After 40 years of ministry my conclusion is that there is significant mystery about faith transmission from one generation to another. The Calvinists have a quick answer – unconditional election. The rest of us have to struggle a bit longer for an explanation. It seems to me that the factor that has more explanatory power than any other is a genuine faith on the part of the father and his warm and caring relationship with the children. Where this is present, youth attachment to faith goes up exponentially. Religion as mother’s work, which is the case in most homes, doesn’t cut it with the kids. The fact is that our behaviors and relationships incubate incipient faith in children. All are individually responsible for their decisions, no matter their background. Romans 1 makes this abundantly clear. No confusion there. And parents need to understand that God has not stopped drawing their children just because, in their view, they botched the child-rearing years. And his drawing is powerful and continual.

Following are parts of the article Here is the link. WSJ is behind a pay wall, so you might not have access to it.

The authors of “Families and Faith”— Vern Bengtson, Norella Putney and Susan Harris, all professors at the University of Southern California—draw on a four-decade study of 350 families to reveal the ways in which faith is, and is not, passed down from generation to generation. Grandparents, it turns out, have more influence than you might think; they live longer lives these days, which means that their grandchildren know them longer, even—thanks to Skype and other marvels—when they live far away.

The authors found that, in the study, the religious affiliation of grandparents and grandchildren was the same about 43% of the time, and when it was, the nature of the affiliation—measured by intensity, participation, biblical literalism and civic religiosity—was similar, too. One Generation X woman told the researchers about going to Mass with her grandfather each week. “We sat in the same seats. It was really predictable. And most of what was going on in my family life just wasn’t really that predictable. . . . He didn’t just go to church or talk about it; he actually lived the tenets of the faith. . . . He was like a rock for me.”

Of course, parental influence is an even greater force. Of the study-participants old enough to have adult children, six in 10 had the same religious affiliation as their own parents. Remarkably, this ratio has barely changed since Mr. Bengtson, the lead researcher, began collecting data in 1970. Whether it will remain so steady is far from certain…

faith continuity depends, in part, on the relationships that parents have with their children independent of faith. The authors found, for instance, that a “warm” relationship with parents will make a child more likely to identify with the religion of their childhood when they reach maturity. “Setting a good example, teaching the right beliefs and practices, keeping strictly to the law,” the authors write, are not in themselves “sufficient for transmission.” What is also needed is “emotional bonding.” Meanwhile, too much zealotry can result in religious rebellion: The authors find evidence that converts to a faith, who are often more intense in their beliefs and more closely observant, were more likely to produce adult children who left it.

The authors’ research also suggests that, while religion in America is often considered the women’s realm (women are more likely to go to church, volunteer in religious activities and initiate religious ritual in the home), a father’s participation is far from superfluous. Among evangelicals the study showed a 25-point greater likelihood that a child will claim the same religion as his parents if he is emotionally close to his father. There is only a one-point difference for those who report being emotionally close to their mothers. Roughly the same general correlation exists for other religious groups.

If, as is often reported, the millennial generation is particularly close to its parents (calling and texting every day), what accounts for the spike in young people claiming no religious affiliation at all? The rise of the “nones,” write Mr. Bengtson and his co-authors, is primarily the result of parents who had little or no interest in religion themselves. “Nearly 6 out of 10 unaffiliated young adults,” they write, “come from families where their parents were also unaffiliated.”

Take the family of Ted, a labor-union leader who moved his family to California during the Depression. His son, Victor, now 78, says that his father was a nominal Catholic but really a “social democrat.” Victor “is not antireligious” today, but he claims no particular affiliation. His daughter, Dawn, had some exposure to religion through her mother and grandmother but gave up religion after she became involved in an abusive relationship. Dawn’s daughter, Gina, describes both herself and her husband as atheists. When viewed in this way, “the rise of the nones” does not seem to be a sudden phenomenon so much as a gradual evolution.

The sample analyzed in “Families and Faith” is not big enough to represent the country as a whole—it is important not to generalize from it too freely—but it does reveal some of the circuitry of religious transmission. It may often seem as if religion, in modern America, is a purely individual choice. But the authors’ research reminds us that family and faith are deeply entwined and that strengthening the bond of one may strengthen the continuity of the other.