A Window into the Past: Women, Greco-Roman Society, and the Pastorals (part VII : 1Timothy 2:9-15)

I don’t know what I was thinking running this skimpy post; it’s like I was being lazy and quick. But, going back through this portion, I see that more needs to be said and  teased out to give you, the reader, a better understanding into why Paul is saying some of these things and the meaning behind what he’s saying. So, let me try writing this post again…

For information about the difference between the letters to persons and the letters to churches, click here; the intro to that post will provide you with information I should’ve provided here.

1 Tim. 2:8-15

I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works. 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.

To note, Timothy is serving in Ephesus. For a brief history of the cultural situation of Ephesus, click here.

v.8 I’ve included verse 8 in this post even though it doesn’t particularly deal with women specifically. Verse 8 shows us that what follows in vv. 9-15 is part of a larger concern: behavior in the public worship assembly (Towner). When we forget that it’s part of a larger passage dealing with a bigger concept and ONLY focus on what Paul says to women, we will, in my opinion, forgo a richer reading of the text, we’ll miss out on Paul’s main concern and open ourselves up to seeing Paul strictly in a misogynistic light or we’ll create blanket statements/laws about women and what they should be wearing at all times.  “[T]his span of text  is not an addendum treating a separate topic; it occurs within the textual frame indicated by the key ethical term ‘propriety’ in vv. 9 and 15…and within the cultural frame of the expectations governing the behavior of women in public” (Towner 190). Why does Paul care so much about propriety of women (and men) withing the worship service? Let me quote Towner,

The point is this: the activities that combined to forma Christian worship meeting were essentially, therefore, public, and it is precisely the public nature of the activities addressed in 2:8-15 and the reactions of observing outsiders that concerned Paul (191

It may have been mentioned elsewhere in this series, but, nonetheless, it bears being repeated: the worship services typically occurred in houses, and in the common gathering area of the house which was visible (very visible) from the street. Outsiders could easily witness a Christian worship service. So, for Paul, any aspect of the worshipers or the worshiping that would have had deleterious effects on the proclamation of the Gospel was quashed as fast as possible through exhortation. So, when we isolate the passage on women from this overarching point, we will not only be subjecting ourselves and others to horrible eisegesis, but also losing out on the rather egalitarian and progressive trajectory of Paul’s teaching. We’ll take something that’s relatively descriptive and make it prescriptive <—that always causes problems!

So, on to the body of our text

vv. 9-10.  Interestingly enough (at least to me) is that our pericope starting at v.9 starts with the word: “likewise.” And, grammatically, is not really a new thought. Why is this interesting? I’ll tell you: it means that the verbal idea of the previous statement (in v.8) should be carried over into v.9.

The housecode transition marker, ‘likewise’…shifts attention to the second member of the pair. At the same time, it requires that the previous verb of command (‘I wish’), or possibly the larger verbal idea including ‘prayer,’ be carried over. IN the latter case, the assumption is that the unifying or thematic factor is ‘prayer,’ so that Paul is ultimately concerned with the manner and outward demeanor in which this activity is carried out in the worship meeting by both men and women (Towner 204).

It’s also important to note that both vv. 9 and 15 have contain the word that is translated as “propriety” or “self-control.” So, our passive (vv. 9-15) is bracketed by the exhortation for women to have “self-control,” as if the exhortation is not to give into the New Roman Woman’s pagan pull of fashions, fads, and fancies. As noted in an earlier post, one of the feminine virtues of the Greco-Roman woman was “self-control.”  Winter writes,

 

[v.]9…requires the wife to adorn herself with that great Roman feminine virtue of ‘chastity’ or ‘self-control’ that is often translated as ‘moderation’ … the Latin equivalent being prudential.  It was the cardinal virtue for women in the ancient world.  Phintys, in a treatise ‘on Woman’s Moderation’, wrote, ‘The virtue most appropriate to a woman is self-control … because the author argued that it enabled her to love and honour her husband.  This was the virtue that epitomized the discreet matron and was lauded on the tombstones of women (Winter 102).

Self-control provided a realm in which women, within the society, were to operate to their fullest; Paul’s intent is to provide a freedom from the entrapments of society. Towner offers,

The importance of ‘self-control’ in the present discussion can be seen from the way it brackets this parenesis to women…moreover, its currency in the secular discourse gives it double value for Paul, who with it calls Christian wives away from the popular [New Roman Woman] movement and to an expression of Christian life that is chracaterized by Spirit-inspired ‘self-control’ (206).

Winter offers his reader a portion of a letter from Seneca to his mother (A.D. 41-49), which provides a good example of the proper 1 Tim. 2 woman,

‘Unchastity, the greatest evil of our time, has never classed you with the great majority of women.  Jewels have not moved you, nor pearls…you have not been perverted by the imitation of worse kind of women that leads even the virtuous into pitfalls….You have never blushed for the number of children, as if it mocked your age….You never tried to conceal your pregnancy as through it was indecent, nor have you crushed the hope of children that were being nurtured in your body.  You have never defiled your face with paints and cosmetics.  Never have you fancied the kind of dress the exposed no greater nakedness by being removed.  Your only ornament, the kind of beauty that time does not tarnish, is the great honour of modesty (Winter 98).

Plutarch praises his wife who lived a ‘discreet’ life, “Your plainness of attire and sober style of living without exception amazed every philosopher who has shared our society and intimacy; neither is there any townsman of ours to whom you do not offer another spectacle—your own simplicity” (Winter 106-7).  Winter writes, “Seneca…bears witness to the great social pressure that these new mores [of the New Roman Woman] exerted on his mother and other modest wives in the time of Claudius” (Winter 99).  Commenting on the hetairai (Shameful Woman), Winter writes, “McGinn has documented the immodest dresses, outlandish hairstyles, and lavish jewellery including gold and pearls which distinguished the hetairai from the modest wives in first-century society….” (Winter 100).

To ensure that women would comprehend (and obey) how to dress and wear their hair, Roman Society, in response to the New Roman Woman, displayed statues, “…which epitomized the modest wife and were worn by members of the imperial family.  These statues were replicated through the Empire and represented ‘fashion icons’ to be copied by modest married women.  Juvenal confirms this when he asks, ‘What woman will not follow when an empress leads the way?’” (Winter 104).  Along with clothing and hair, jewelry was also to be worn in moderation, quoting Juvenal, Winter offers his reader, “There is nothing that a woman will not permit herself to do, nothing that she deems shameful, when she encircled her neck with green emeralds, and fastens huge pearls to her elongated ears….” (Winter 104).  Also, “The law of Syracusans had stipulated that ‘a woman should not wear gold or a flowery dress or have clothes with purple unless she accepted the name of a public hetairai.  Dalbly notes, ‘This Greek phrase, “dresses and gold” is the standard statement of the two accoutrements of a hetaira’” (Winter 105).

Braided hair (“plaiting and piling” hair on the top of the head (Townder 208)), gold and pearls, costly attire all speak to the fact that Paul is addressing the wealthier women in the church. Women of means often bucked the modest Imperial style wanting to show their wealth (Townder 208-9); they were also prone to (by having the means) adopting new fashions and trends, especially those of the New Roman woman. Braids aren’t bad, jewelry isn’t bad, dressing well isn’t bad, but the question that Paul is asking is: what are you trying to communicate and is that message hindering or supporting the proclamation of the gospel?

[Paul’s] critique is precise. It prohibits the kind the dress and adornment that would associate Christian women with the revolutionary ‘new woman’ already in evidence in the East. Were that connection to be made, the Church wold be open to allegations of endorsing this departure from traditional values (209).

And, rather than flashy, showy, ostentatious outer adornment, the Christian woman should adorn herself with good works. But before we all go running for the hills because of the words good works, let me offer this insight to calm our nerves: this adornment is the same adornment that brings praise to the Proverbs 31 woman. Oh no, now I’ve certainly sent you running for the hills. But wait! Look at this:

Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
    but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
Give her of the fruit of her hands,
    and let her works praise her in the gates. (Prov. 31:30-1)

That “fear of the Lord” there in v. 30, is none other but FAITH. Faith brings honor and praise to the noble woman of Proverbs 31. Thus, faith in our passage in 1 Tim 2, is also what (should be) the adorning characteristic of the Christian woman. It’s faith (in Jesus Christ) that will work itself out in good deeds done for others (Towner 210). So, you can not braid your hair, avoid gold and pearls, and dress in burlap, but if you lack faith you still lack the right adornment; all your works in modesty is for naught. “In Paul’s formulation of the concept the inner reality (knowledge of God, faith) and outer action come together in a life of service in accordance with God’s truth” (Towner 210). And when you are thinking about what type of “good works” faith produces in the life of the believer (regardless of gender), keep in mind the fruit of the spirit: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Gal 5:22-3). 

vv.11  Winter describes The Stoics view on the education of daughters as essential to the moral development that is inherent in learning, also “…[for] the embracing…of the cardinal virtues and the importance of avoiding the cardinal vices….” (Winter 112).  Submission would have been one of those core virtues taught to daughters.  Men were superior to women; therefore, women were inherently inferior to men and therefore in a subordinate position.  However, Paul’s call for submission is different and, as we find out, extremely counter-cultural.  “The sentence reads literally, ‘the wife in silence must learn in all subordination (“Gunay en haysuxia manthaneto en pasay hupotagay“)Had it meant to indicate that she was in a ‘subordinate position’ then the Greek would have been [en jupotagay, notice the missing “pasay“], as, for example in a third-century-A.D. papyrus” (Winter 114, inserted thought, mine). It’s important to notice that in this passage “submission” is not to her husband, but to what is being taught.

Towner points out that the terms “quietly” and “submissiveness” means

…quiet and attentive listening (in quietness) and complete (‘all’) acceptance o the authority of the teacher to teach and the willingness to embrace what was being taught. As applied here, both ‘quietness’ an d’subjection’ related to the teaching situation, not to life and relationships in general: together these stipulations describe the learner (wife or husband, woman or man) in contrast ot the teacher, and within a community authority structure (216)

This quiet and submitted posture is the posture we should all have when learning about the Gospel and what Jesus Christ has done for us. It’s not to say that all leaders/teachers are never to be doubted, but that someone who does have the authority to teach and is teaching what is true, that person should be listened to. On the flip side, no person in authority should demand to be heard because they are in authority or should they beat the sheep over the head with their authority. It’s a checks and balances relationship, in my opinion: when authority is abusive it should be disrespected, but not all authority should be disrespected and shunned.

v.12 Possibly one of the most troubling verses I encounter when looking at the housecodes in Paul’s writing. But, face it we must and we’ve no reason to run. Let’s take it concept by concept. First, “I do not permit a woman to teach.” Linguistically I’ve always liked reading this as Paul’s opinion emphasizing the “I.” But that’s bad form on my part. That would render the text as being unimportant, and important it is! What’s interesting, certainly, is that whenever Paul refers to something as doctrine, something that has been handed down and is irrefutable, he’ll say (something like): the saying is trustworthy and worthy of full acceptance. He uses this language earlier in 1 Tim to explain why Jesus came: to save sinners of whom he (Paul) is the foremost. That tenet of our faith is to be received without question or doubt. It. Is. So. But here, he doesn’t use a phrase like that, so this isn’t doctrine that’s been handed down or to be received without doubt. Towner says that the way Paul phrases this injunction one of two things, “…[it expresses] either a new command that does not rely on tradition or an ad hoc solution to a newly encountered situation” (217). But why is Paul restricting the teaching office? Let me quote Towner:

I would nonetheless suggest that three convergent forces lie behind Paul’s prohibition of women from teaching. First, whether owing directly or indirectly to the false teachers, some wealthy women had come under the influence of a too fully realized eschatology [1 Tim 6:20-21]. Second, they may well have been encouraged to step into the rollse of teacher by some element of the heresey. It can hardly be accidental that Paul encourages the domestic path of childbearing (v.15) while the false teachers prohibited marriage (4:3, sexual relations). Third, coincidentally adding momentum was their contact with the cultural trend of the new Roman woman (219-20)

Heresy just won’t fly with Paul. And any influence heresy might have or find way into the proclamation of the Gospel will call for a restriction of any type. An uneducated person, someone who doesn’t understand or know what they believe and why they believe it, will be fertile ground for heresy. And if that person is given the ability to teach others, that heresy will, like a deadly airborne virus, swiftly take others down with it. When Paul restricts women from the teaching office, it’s less to do with some inherent inability to teach on the woman’s part or some random concept that the Spirit only gives the teaching gift to men or somehow only men are tuned in to intricate concepts of theology. When Paul restricts women, specifically these women, it’s because they weren’t educated properly and had learning to do (thus the final request for them to learn in quietness repeated in v.12). Just like it wasn’t that Adam listened to his wife, but that he listened to what she said.  Women can teach and should teach, but only when they’ve been properly educated; and the same goes for men. A good teacher is one who is both called/gifted and trained.

Now, what about “or to exercise authority over a man”? Well, it’s really important to point out that the Greek word translated here as “excercise authority” is NOT the typical word Paul uses when speaking about authority (which is excousia). The word use here is authenteo and, according to Towner, carries with it a wide range of meanings. But, interestingly, the word carries with it a negative connotation. To keep this dialogue short, or, rather, to get to the point, the word is better understood as authority with the intent to dominate. These women may have assumed the teaching role and were domineering and disrespectful to men/their husbands. Gospel freedom never manifests itself in the movement of one gender dominating another. Gospel freedom does not now advocate for women to dominate men (payback’s a …. ) since men dominated women. Gospel freedom DOES bring us all into a right orientation toward each other in which is the working out of loving our neighbors as ourselves. So, for Paul, there’s NO ROOM for domination of any kind (cf. all of Eph. 5).

So, what do we take away from this verse? Paul is, once again, protecting the proclamation of the Gospel and if it means that some people are silenced (for a time being) then he would take that action to silence them. Was it forever? Was it to be turned into a command forever prohibiting women from teaching or assuming a role of authority over men? No, not in  my opinion or others’ on this very subject. It was situational.

v.13-14  You know what I said about v. 12 being the most troublesome to me? I take that back. These next three verses (or two and a half, if you will) cause me loads of grief. Why does Paul call on Gen 2 and Gen 3 to defend why women shouldn’t be teaching or having authority over  men? Towner offers one idea that Paul’s movement to use Gen 2 & 3 in his argument was to “combat a specific view or correct an interpretation of the creation account somehow linked with the false teaching” (228). He explains,

[Paul] may have been looking in two directions at once–toward heretical developments and cultural influences. Some wealthy wives/women either emerged as teachers, or were functioning in such a way in the church’s public assembly that they would be regards as teachers, and teaching in a way that abused authority and disrespected husbands/men. A heretical reading of the creation story somehow support their progressive, role-reversal inclinations. Paul’s response was to prohibit these wives from teaching and to refute the fallacious reading of Genesis (232-3)

This isn’t about women just being more inclined to being duped (this would indicate a fault in God’s creation of woman) but rather to her station and situation at the time: she was prone to believing false teaching because she was educated improperly. Just as, in Gen 3, a valid argument is that Eve’s misquote of the law suggests she wasn’t taught correctly by Adam. Women how are taught well and do know what they believe and why they believe, those women who grasp well and are gifted to communicate all that is the truth of God acting for us through Christ and His life, death, resurrection, and ascension, have every right to be teaching and leading (having authority not domination). Just as a man who is not well taught and doesn’t know what he believes or why he believes it shouldn’t be teaching and leading. Had those women been teaching the gospel, the doctrine of the justification of sinners, and exercising authority in a loving manner, I doubt Paul would’ve penned any of this. Something was awry and amiss and the Gospel was at stake, so Paul picked up his pen and wrote.

v.15 This verse is hard to comprehend.  What is Paul trying to communicate in his words?  Winter, quoting Kostenberger, suggests that the phrase translated here as “‘saving through’…‘should be understood as a reference to the woman’s escape or preservation from a danger by means of childbearing’” (qtd. in Winter 110).  Winter proceeds by discussing the grammatical construction, “The use of the article in ‘the childbearing’ together with the preposition dia. with the genitive suggest that it is through the process of childbearing that she is preserved.  The use of this construction indicates ‘throughout’ or ‘through the course of’ and is well attested in Classical and Koine Greek, and confirms that the phrase should be rendered ‘through the childbearing, i.e., the pregnancy’” (Winter 110). Winter proposes that since that society was so consumed with feminine beauty—referring to Seneca’s comments on the indulgent use of cosmetics (99)—that pregnancy was actually a stigma for those who were pregnant (99).  Referring to Seneca’s comments, Winter writes, “[Seneca] graphically describes steps taken by others to prevent [pregnancy from] happening” (99).

Was it possible to avoiding child bearing in the ancient Greco-Roman society?  Yes, it was possible to avoid pregnancy and also to have an abortion in ancient times (Winter 110).  Evidence of this practice is primarily seen in a quote from Ovid.

She who first began the practice of tearing out her tender progeny deserved to die in her own warfare.  Can it be that, to be free of the flaws of stretch marks, you have to scatter the tragic sans of carnage?  Why will you subject your womb to the weapons of abortion and five dread poisons to the unborn?  The tigress lurking in Armenia does not such thing, nor does the lioness dare destroy her young.  Yet tender girls do so—though not with impunity; often she who kills what is in  her womb dies herself (Winter 110).

Towner writes,

Willingness to become pregnant (and perhaps to see it through to childbirth) was apparently a very real concern. Whether or not the term teknogonia (‘childbearing, pregnancy’) is meant to typify the whole of the domestic life (bearing children and raising them), the appended phrase (v.15b) with its final reiteration of ‘self-control’ (cf. v.9) effectively widens the scope to include the respectable wife’s proper attention to household responsibilities. Bearing children will not be a means of earning salvation, and it is doubtful if ‘saving’ means simply physical safety through childbirth. Rather, Paul urges these Christian wives to re-engage fully in the respectable role of the mother, in rejection of heretical and secular trends, through which she may ‘work out her salvation (235).

I think both Winter and Towner have valid points. In the time that Paul is writing an abortion was no safe matter and was almost certain death. But, also the concept Towner offers is worth taking into consideration, specifically in terms of the proclamation of the Gospel. Looking at the way he does, all of this means that Gospel freedom (as mentioned above) does not mean I abandon those orientations and relations I have been given. As a woman and one attracted to men, I married a man, and we had kids. The gospel–the way I understand it–and the faith I have in Jesus Christ, move me toward my neighbor in love and service not away from them. For me, and my station in life, my closest and most important neighbors are my husband and children and from there the circles ripple outward eventually incorporating all of humanity. And while I do believe that Gospel radically changes and affects our daily lives, giving us immeasurable freedom through faith in Christ, I also know that the effects of Gen 3 still loom heavy in the atmosphere. There are things, people, situations that demand from me something that infringes on other things that I’d like to do or be doing  on my freedom to do those very things. Because I live in a fallen world, I can’t have my cake and eat it to. When I had kids, my academic work slowed; i had to sacrifice one, and the way I’m inclined to parent that meant my academic work took the hit. Most of my male peers have started and completed PhDs while I’m still working on part two of section of the rough draft of my dissertation. Sacrifice in the face of a broken and fallen world isn’t a bad, four-letter word, it’s love.

A Window into the Past: Women, Greco-Roman Society, and the Pastorals (part VI : Ephesians 5:15-33)

Ephesus in Brief

“‘Ephesian and Roman were no longer mutually exclusive categories,’ is significant for this study.  There was no substantial distinction between a major city of Asia Minor, Roman Corinth and Rome itself; such was the ready embracing of Romanization” (Ando qtd in Winter 97).  Ephesus was the “…urban hub and provincial capital of Asia”, which is now the western part of modern Turkey (Belleville 735).  Ephesus was the home to the “…temple of Artemis, the Anatolian goddess of fertility, acclaimed as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.  In fact, the city was named the temple warden of Artemis (Acts 19:35)” (Belleville 735).  The temple cult was an important aspect to the religious and economic properties of Ephesus, so much so that there was a two-hour-long chant praising Artemis of the Ephesians (Acts 19:28-36), and the belief that “…the city possessed Artemis’s image, supposedly fallen from Jupiter (acts 19:35)” (Belleville 735).  Towner writes, “Ephesus was famed for its cult and temple dedicated to the worship of Artemis, around which a good deal of the city’s commercial interests revolved.  It also had a large Jewish colony.  Ephesus presented the gospel with a formidable challenge in that it was a center of pagan worship” (Towner 21).

Belleville comments on the appeal of the Artemis cult on women,

Artemis, it was believed, was the child of Zeus and Leto, and the sister of Apollo.  Because of the severity of her mother’s labor, Artemis never married.  Instead she turned to a male consort for company.  This made Artemis and all her female adherents superior to men.  Artemis was also seen as the mother goddess, the author  of life, the nourishers of all creatures and the power of fertility in nature.  Maidens turned to her as the protector of their virginity, barren women sought her aid, and the women in labor turned to her for help (735).

In regards to the church in Ephesus, there was a multitude of false-teaching affecting the growing church.  Belleveille explains, “…[there were at] least five components to the false teaching.  Esoteric knowledge….Asceticism….Dualis[ism]….Jewish [influence by the Circumcision group]….[and] positing of mediators through which contact between a material creation and a spiritual God was accomplished.  Christ was held up as one of them…” (Belleville 735).

Eph. 5:15-33

vv.22-25. The women of Ephesus would not have been shocked to hear the command from Paul to submit to their husbands.  How could it have been shocking? It was commonly understood that women would submit to me. However,  as Liefeld points out, the shocking news “…was that such submission now (1) was to be done for the sake of the lord (v.22) and (2) was balanced by the love of the husband even to the point of self-sacrifice (v.25)” (142).  In other words, taking our queue from Ephesians 5:21 (“submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ”) submission is now mutual. The mutuality of submission would have been the shocking news, and not that wives should submit to their husbands. Paul’s language subverts the role of Patria Potesta in a subtle yet revolutionary way.

Leifeld comments,

It is striking that there is no command here for the husband to rule his wife.  His only instruction is to love and care for her.  The husband should not claim authority over his wife the way a Roman man used to.  In that system, which underwent changes during the period of the early empire, a woman used to be under the manus (‘hand’) of the father and at marriage came under the control of her husband (Liefeld 142).

Taking into account what has been written thus far about the Greco-Roman society and the role of the father, Paul’s language in this periscope provides three extremely counter-cultural statements.  The first statement is the concept of mutual submission (just referenced briefly above).  Following the flow of thought from the Greek text, the passive verb translated here as “submit” is from v.21; therefore the context is mutual submission and not only the submission of wives to husbands.

The second statement is enveloped in the phrase, “…as to the Lord.”  Paul is supplying the proper realm of submission for the wives; wives are not simply and blindly submitting to the authority of the Patria Potestas  they are submitting to the Lord, the one who has authority over the earth (Eph. 2)—the true King and Emperor of the world, the true Divine Son.   Paul’s use of the societal house-code, which required submission of wives to husbands, women to men, is not advocating the societal standards, but is placing this infant church in a realm that is to be submitted to the true authority that is in Christ Jesus.

The third statement is the command for husbands to love their wives (v.25).  As my friend Brian McVey commented, in a lecture on the use of Eros and Agape within Greek literature, and the understanding of these two terms, the command that Paul gives to the husbands would be to love their wives in way that was pouring out from them rather than loving something because of a need or lack within themselves (eros).  Marcus Barth contends that the use of agape in v.25 is the wedding together of Eros and Agape (which, as McVey pointed out, could be the understanding of hesed); that husbands were to love their wives in such a way would have been counter-cultural in the Greco-Roman society (621).  “For the first time in Ephesians the term ‘love’ (agapaō) includes the erotic relationship and sexual union by which a man and a woman become ‘one flesh” (M. Barth 621).

Also, it’s worth pointing out again (because I’ve said it before in this post here) the following about our passage:

Considering that in Ephesians 5. In v. 21 the verb translated as “submitting” is the verb that is pulled into the subsequent verse (v.22) when Paul turns his attention to wives: submit to your husbands. Then, after only three short thoughts, he turns to the husbands and addresses them in a rather lengthy discourse starting with an exhortation to lay down their lives for their wives. This is less of a change of subject and more of a addressing a different audience. Paul uses different language to say something similar to the husbands as he did to the wives.

But, the question remains, why change the language?

My thought about the “why” is this: Paul speaks to the women in terminology they would’ve existentially understood–the language they would’ve been familiar with but also because of the woman’s ability (and in the case of Paul’s age) one of her primary functions in bringing forth life into the world: a woman, having gone through the experience of pregnancy, labor, delivery, and caring for a helpless child, would have been well acquainted with the event of submission as a laying down of their life, of loving something/someone form the inside out that can give nothing back in return (agape). I’m not saying that Paul had this later aspect on the forefront of his mind, but it’s intriguing to me that he speaks nearly in shorthand to the wives. Thus, what he says to the women, is not radical: it’s nearly status quo; they would’ve nodded ” oh yes, we understand.” But what’s radical is what follows with his discussion to the men. The feeling in the transition from talking to the wives to the husbands is as if he paused and said to the husbands: all y’all best sit down for this; i’m about to blow your minds. And thus enters into a longer explanation of how the husbands are to love (agape) their wives and live out the “submitting one to another” aspect of 5.21. Both the act and the concept would have been so radical to the husbands, that Paul essentially has to spell it out for them and even then Paul loses his own mind and gets caught up–nearly raptured–in the mysteries he can’t even explain well enough. So, in short, my thoughts have been that Paul had to explain in detail (agape worked out in submission to another (the wife)) to the husbands because it was radical and foreign, and he could speak plainly and briefly to the women, because they would’ve understood (per the reasons mentioned above).

In regards to the use of “head” in this periscope, Liefeld writes,

The meaning of head in this context is…crucial….The Greek language did not assign as strong a leadership/authority meaning to kephalē as the Hebrew apparently did to ros and the Latin to caput.  Because of the strong connotation of caput, it was easy for the Latin Church fathers to interpret head in this passage strongly. The most common word for ‘head’ in Hebrew was rō’š.  When pre-Christian Jewish scholars translated the Old Testament into Greek (the Septuagint or LXX), they sometimes avoided the normal Greek word kephalē when the Hebrew rō’š meant rule or authority (as in the word leader) and used instead a stronger synonym such as archon.  If kephalē had the unambiguous, univocal meaning of rule or authority, this would not have been necessary” (Liefeld 144).

Therefore, it is best to not understand the use of kephalē in this periscope as “rule or authority”; but, referring back to 1 Cor. 11:3-16 (posted here), as “preeminent, foremost, and synecdoche for a representative whole” (Thisleton 821).

A Window into the Past: Women, Greco-Roman Society, and The Pastorals (pt. v:1 Cor 14:33b-35)

1 Cor. 14: 33b-35

vv.33b-35. Within two chapters Paul* has gone from allowing women to prophesy and pray in church as long as they wore a symbol of authority—a head covering—to saying that women should not speak in church.  What is the cultural situation behind Paul’s statement?  Keener observes that although “Women had made serious gains in terms of public speaking in Roman culture…some Romans and many Greeks still frowned on it, potentially introducing cultural conflict in the church again.  Some would consider women’s speech in gender-mixed company ‘shameful’ (14:35), just like public display of wives’ uncovered hair (11:5-6)” (118).  Keener suggests that Paul, who had submitted to ‘the law” before (1 Cor. 9:20) is doing so here in order to not cause offense, “Wifely submission remained an ideal in his day…especially in terms of behavior to avoid shaming ones husband (14;35; cf. 11:5-6) (Keener 118).

In Greek society, Greek women were “…discouraged from saying anything in public.  Plutarch says that the virtuous woman ‘ought to be modest and guarded about saying anything in the hearing of outsiders’ (Advice to Bride and Groom, 31); again, ‘a woman ought to do her talking either to her husband or through her husband’ (ibid., 32)” (Morris 197).  And, according to Morris, “The Jews regarded it as a sin to teach a woman, and the position was not much better elsewhere” (198).  As the Gospel was the message of true freedom and liberation for women, women of the ancient society would be learning in the setting of the church.  Since the majority of women were not as educated as men, it is plausible to assume that they were asking many questions.  Keener writes,

…many hearers resented questions considered rude, inappropriate, or unlearned; these risked slowing other learners down.  It is possible, although not certain, the women were more apt to ask unlearned questions.  Although Judean boys learned to recite the law growing up (m. ‘Abbot 5:21), the privilege was rarer among girls even in regions where some are attested.  Literate men may have outnumbered literate women five to one, and even among aristocratic Greeks and Romans, where education was most widely available, a woman’s education usually ended by her mid-teens (Keener 119).

On the same note, Keener observes that husbands though their wives incapable of understanding “intellectual ideas” (119).  Referring to Plutarch, Keener writes,

…Plutarch notes that he is exceptional in advising a groom that his bride can learn (but then adds his own sexist twist, arguing that women if left to themselves produce only base passions; Bride 48, Mor. 145BE)….Because of conversions often followed household (cf. 1:16; 16:15) most of the wives Paul addresses would in fact have husbands who had heard the teaching and prophecies (although clearly this was not always the case; 7:12-16; cf. 1 Pet 3:1) (119).

Therefore, Paul is not necessarily abiding by a subjugating law that does not allow women, specifically wives, to never speak in Church, but is constituting an orderliness to the gathering.  In light of his society and how that society had been treating women, Paul addressed the situation with seemliness and proper conduct, but in the freedom of Christ.

And, remember, what’s important here is this (and I’m quoting Sarah Ruden at length):

But whatever the exact standards of anyone involved here, modern readers tend to come at [this] passage in 1 Corinthians from the wrong angle. It would not have been remarkable that women were forbidden to speak among the Christians. It’s remarkable that they were speaking in the first place. It’s remarkable that they were even there, in an ekklesia, perhaps for all kinds of worship and deliberation, and that their questions needed answers, if not on the spot. Paul’s negativity–even his typical snapping about authority–is extremely modest against the polytheistic background (Paul Among the People, 81).

Women were THERE. Women were SPEAKING, ASKING questions, and being HEARD. Let’s not miss the gem here.

*I’m going with the tradition understanding that Paul wrote _all_ of Corinthians even this. I’m aware of the many arguments for and against Pauline authorship here (some considering it to be a gloss, added by a redactor later in time). 

A Window into the Past: Women, Greco-Roman Society, and The Pastorals (pt. iv:1 Cor 11:2-16)

Literary Context

The passage under examination follows Paul’s discourse on idolatry (8:1-11:1) and precedes his discussion about propriety and impropriety in the Lord’s Supper (11:17-34) (Hjort 60).  Brigitte Hjort recommends seeing the framing of 1 Cor. 11:2-16 as part of a cohesive discussion about idol worship and/or religious abuse specifically related to food and drink (8:1-11:34) (61, 63).  However, in chapter 12, Paul begins with his examination of the proper use of Spiritual gifts within the worship service concluding in chapter 14 (vv.26-40) with a discussion on “orderly worship” and the function of the different parts of the body (12:1-14:40).  It appears that the content of 1 Cor. 11:2-16 is more closely linked with what follows rather than what precedes, thus, this passage appears to be the introduction to Paul’s lengthy address on proper versus improper conduct during worship (Hays 181).

Head Coverings (11:2-16).

v.2.  Paul begins the pericope by praising the Corinthians for remembering him and for keeping the traditions that he gave to them (v.2).  The Greek word (Ἐπαινῶ) has a stronger connotation than the typical translation “I commend”.  epaino is often associated in Biblical Greek with praising God or honoring a person (Thiselton 809).  Thiselton writes, “In the context of an honor/shame culture some forceful attribution of honor (praise) is required…” (809).  Paul is using purposeful rhetoric to grab his audience’s attention.

Why is Paul praising the Corinthians?  Because they have kept the traditions (παραδόσεις) that he has handed down to them (παρέδωκα).  Thiselton explains that the active sense of parado,seij (from the verb paradi,dwmi) is “betrayal” and the passive sense is “tradition”, “that which is handed on, including teachings, creeds, narratives, catchesis” (810).  F.F. Bruce comments, “The traditions [paradoseis]…were the instructions, relating to matters of doctrine and practice alike, which [Paul] delivered to his churches on the authority of Christ” (102).  Likewise Thiselton, referring to Polycarp, Irenaeus, Clement, and Origen comments, “In early Christian literature the words soon come to denote an authoritative tradition of Christian teaching” (810).  But Bruce warns his reader that though “apostolic tradition” may find its roots “‘from the Lord’” paradoseis and kurios are not to be mistaken as synonymous (103); thus, “…the…‘tradition’ of which [Paul] goes on to emphasize [vv.3-16]…probably does not go back beyond his own teaching” (Bruce 103).  However, what follows is not to be discarded for Paul was one to have the mind of Christ (Bruce 103).

v.3.  After grabbing the Corinthians’ attention, Paul begins his discourse on head-coverings by giving three examples of the headship relationship (the “kephale-structure” (Bjort, 64)): Christ and man, husband and wife, and Christ and God.  Thiselton refers to the translation of this verse as one that “…has caused more personal agony and difficulty than any other in the epistle…” due to the ambiguousness of the meaning of the Greek word κεφαλὴ, (811)[2], and to the vagueness of Paul’s motives for starting his discussion about head coverings with the “kephale-structure”.  To better understand this verse, we will examine the Greek word translated as “head” (kephale) and the “kephale-structure”.

Some scholars argue for translation of kephale, as “source”; Leon Morris, Gordon Fee, and F.F. Bruce (et al) defend this position (see Thiselton 814).  Morris argues for “source” based off the assumption that “…the functions of the central nervous system were not known to the ancients, who held that we think with the midriff, the phrēn (JTS, n.s., v, 1954, pp. 211-215).  The head was not the controlling factor” (149; and Bruce 103).  Though “source” seems to mend the inherent difficulties within the passage under consideration, Thiselton points out that “…the paucity of lexicographical evidence remains a major obstacle to this translation” (820).  And, considering Paul’s argument in the rest of the passage is based on the theme of “glory” and “honor/shame”, “source” as a translation of kephale, does not contextually flow with Paul’s skillfully devised rhetoric and appears disconnected from Paul’s point.

Traditionally, the translation of kephale, has been “authority, supremacy, leadership,” a view supported by scholars such as Wayne Grudem, J. Fitzmeyer, and others (Thiselton 812-3).  Richard Hays writes, “…in view of the whole shape of the argument, the patriarchal implications of v.3 are undeniable” thus, the concept of “authority” is to be retained (184) and David Ewert writes, “…‘head’ is…used in the sense of ‘leader’, and…[that sense] is not absent here.  As Christ in his incarnation submitted to God, and man is subject to Christ…so the married woman is subject to her husband” (115).  Culturally, the Corinthians would have understood kefalh, to have the connotation of “authority” due to the Empire’s rhetoric of the paterfamilias.  Daniel Arichea writes, “The idea of ‘authority’ would reflect the structure of the household in Roman society, where there is an emphasis on the paterfamilias” (461).  Craig Keener agrees, “…ancient literature…applies [kephale,] often to ‘authority’ or to the ‘most honored [or prominent] part.’  Both ‘authority’ and ‘honored part’ fit Paul’s Christology (11:3) as well as the normal structure of the household in Paul’s’ environment” (1-2 Corinthians 92).  Is Paul touting the party line of the Roman Empire and its hierarchical structure of state and family or is he subverting the empire, subjecting it all to Christ?  If kephale, only means “authority” (or the like) in this pericope, then we may be left with a Christ that has restored everything but the relationship between man and woman.  Another issue I have with translating kephale as “authority” within this verse is that one would be prone to see the Trinity in terms of subordinationism.  If Paul is talking about hierarchy and authority within the “kephale-structure” of this verse, then God is “authority” over (i.e. greater than, super-ordinated over) the incarnated Christ thus the implication is that Christ is somehow inferior (subordinated) to God.  If Christ, in His incarnation, is not fully God (and fully man) then we are left in our sins and are without hope.  Referring to Chrysostom, Thiselton writes,

Chrysostom is aware that a parallel between men/women and God/Christ should not give ‘the heretics’ grounds for subordinationist Christology.  In certain respects head denotes a kind of primacy, but both God and Christ on one side and men and women on the other are the same mode of being. ‘For had Paul meant to speak of rule and subjection…he would not have brought forward the instance of a woman (or wife), but rather of a slave and a master….It is a wife (or woman) as free, as equal in honour; and the Son also, though He did become obedient to the Father, it was as the Son of God; it was God’….Chrysostom…reflects Paul’s notion that in the context of love between God and Christ, or between man and woman, obedience or response is chosen, not imposed… (819).

One must not confuse “submission” with “subjection”.  The Father did not force Christ to the cross, rather, Christ submitted Himself to the Father to death on a Cross (Phil. 2:8).  This submission was an oblation, was an offering of Himself to God in order to glorify God by atoning for the sins of humanity, thus restoring humanity to God.  As well, a wife’s submission to her husband is her oblation, her offering, a laying down of herself for the glory of her husband and not because he is her authority but because she glorifies him.

Thus, there is a third (and better) way to look at the word kephale.  It is possible that kephale translated as “head” contains the notion “that which is glorified”.  When looking at the relationships Paul uses in this verse (every man and Christ, woman and man, and Christ and God), one may notice that one part of the coupling is the person/being that is glorified and that the other is the agent by which the glorification occurs (i.e. woman glorifies man, man is glorified by woman).  However, the glorification is not a selfish desire by the one in detriment to the other.  It is just the opposite; there is mutual reciprocity with in the “kephale-structure” (Thiselton 804).  As one is glorified so is the other part (Thiselton 804).  Thiselton offers,

The Greek Fathers’ use of the term perichoresis well suggests the dialectic of distinctiveness, reciprocity, and oneness which Paul beings to unfold.…The God-Christ relation has nothing to do with self-glory or with affirmation of the self at the expense of the other…This shared love controls the use of freedom, and thereby each brings ‘glory to the other by assuming distinctive roles for a common purpose.  This is the context that gives currently to the widespread comment that ‘the relationship between man and woman is thus in some sense paralleled by that between God and Christ (804, emphasis Thiselton’s).

Keener writes, “Although some argue plausibly that ‘head’ figuratively functions as ‘source’ or ‘first part’…ancient literature also applies it…to the ‘most honored [or prominent] part….‘honored part’ fit[s] Paul’s Christology (11:3) as well as the normal structure of the household in Paul’s’ environment” (92).  Thisleton offers, “preeminent, foremost, and synecdoche for a representative whole” as the translation of kephale that

…has the merit of most clearly drawing interactively on the metaphorical conjunction between physiological head (which is far and away the most frequent, ‘normal’ meaning) and the notion of prominence, i.e., the most conspicuous or topmost manifestation of that for which the term also functions as synecdoche for the whole.  The public face is linked with responsibility and representation in the public domain, since head is both the part of a person which is most conspicuous and that by which they are most readily distinguished or recognized.  These aspects feature more frequently and prominently in first-century Greek texts than either the notions of ruler or source… (821, emphasis Thiselton’s).

Each of the secondary (not inferior) parts of the “kephale-structure[s]” reflect and glorify the primary parts as that which is conspicuous, the preeminent part, the part “by which they [the secondary aspects] are most readily distinguished or recognized.”  It is through God that one recognizes Jesus, it is through man that one recognizes woman, and it is through Jesus that one recognizes redeemed man.  Through the incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, God is glorified because Jesus was the perfect propitiation for our sins and creation is restored to God, through Jesus we know God.  Through the creation of woman (Gen 2:18-23) man is glorified and is man because of her creation and is able to commune with God; through woman we know man.  Through redeemed man Jesus is glorified—for it was the first man, Adam, brought to life by the intimate breath of God (Gen. 2:7), that was the prototype to the last Adam, Jesus, who would exhale that same breath on the cross, finally restoring the creature to the Creator (John 30:19); through redeemed man we see Jesus.  If kephale is translated in this way, one is made aware of the reciprocity and mutuality between the two parts of the relationships—God and Christ, man and woman, and Jesus and man—described by Paul in v.3.  And, in light of the honor/shame (and glory v. 7) argument that follows, this translation of kephale. fits well and adheres to Paul’s rhetoric.

vv.4-6.[3]  Paul continues his argument started in the previous verse (v.3) with a discussion on the propriety of men and women covering their heads while praying or prophesying.  It is important to notice here that Paul is using kephale in two different ways.  One way is in the literal sense “head” as in “The head of a man or beast” (Brown 157; Bruce 104); and, the second is in the way described in v.3 (see above) “head” as in the part that is glorified.

The primary difficulty of these verses (vv. 4-6) is the translation of the phrase κατὰ κεφαλῆς ἔχων.  Ralph Yeager explains, “exwn is intransitive.  There is no object expressed.  Kata literally means ‘down’ and kephale is a genitive which serves to accent the person or thing affected—thus, ‘having (something) down upon his head’” (6).  Is Paul referring to long hair or veils?  Alan Johnson writes,

…Paul, rather than referring to some external cloth covering on the head, is actually referring to the way their hair was worn or coiffured, differentiating in this manner males from females in worship leadership. The case for this view relies heavily on an abundance of archaeological evidence from the Mediterranean world of Paul’s day… (189).

Johnson refers to the culture of the Corinthians to defend his argument.  Hairstyles were socially used to differentiate gender identity; thus, men having long hair and women having short, blurred the “social boundaries between the sexes and act[ed] against nature (that is, culture)” (Johnson186-7).  “This [blurred social boundary] brought ‘shame’ on individuals and their corresponding ‘head.’  The problem Paul is addressing is the incurring of social shame through boundary-transgressing hairstyles…(Johnson 186-7).

Arguing from Greaco-Roman social history, Horsley adds to the argument for longhair,

…men normally had short hair and women long hair braided or otherwise wound up around their heads (thus portrayed on coins and statues)….It was also standard social custom for women as well as men to have their head uncovered, as can be seen in portraits of women, including Roman women in Corinth….Thus ‘down the head’ in verse 4 is best taken as a reference to long hair, which would have been considered disgraceful for a man, particularly when praying or prophesying (154; Hays 185).

Richard Hays comments, “For women to have loose hair in public, however, was conventionally seen as shameful, a sign associated either with prostitutes or…with women caught up in the ecstatic worship practices of the cults associated with Dionysis, Cybele, and Isis” (185-6).

Bruce, Morris, and Thiselton argue (or defend) that Paul is referring not to long hair but to a “veil”.  Bruce writes, “…what Paul has in mind is a veil which covers the whole head and in particular conceals all the hair…” (104).  Morris argues that though “long hair” would fit the scope of the later part of Paul’s argument, it ultimately runs into problems in relation to the terms “covered and uncovered” (150).  And, after a detailed survey of the argument (823-6), Thiselton writes, “We are forced to conclude that although [the] case is strong [for long hair], we cannot regard it as conclusive, while lexicography and the Roman background…suggests that with his head covered remains in the end more probably” (825).  Finally, Troy Martin uses v.15b as the key to understanding the passage and the translation of περιβολαίου (“testicle”) to explain that the Graeco-Roman period saw the hair on the woman’s head as a part of her genitalia and as an equivalent part to the male testicle, thus women should keep it covered up (83-4).

Considering Greco-Roman custom (discussed here and above), the context of the verse and Paul’s argument, I believe that Paul is Paul is referring to the way men and women keep their hair rather than to “veils” in these verses.

The point of vv4-6 is honor and shame, about propriety and impropriety within the worship context.  As Thiselton points out, a better title for the pericope would be, “‘Mutuality and Reciprocity: Self Respect, Respect for the Other, and Gender Identity in Public Worship” (825).  Johnson comments about the honor/shame code for women within the Greco-Roman culture,

…the ancient Mediterranean world had in place an elaborate honor-shame code governing the public and private behavior of men and women….A woman’s honor…was her shame, in the sense that her honor was her good reputation and chastity, which required her to have a sensitive consciousness of her sexual vulnerability.  She was to excel in the practice of sexual modesty, being discreet, shy, restrained, timid and subordinate to male authority (186-7).

Thiselton further elaborates on the honor/shame code within the Roman imperial period,

…it was men, rather than women, on whom a woman’s clothing most reflected.  Regulation was required when ‘men participated in status-seeking by means of the clothing of their women….The usual purpose of honouring women was to exalt the men to whom they were mothers, wives, or sisters.’  In this context language about glory, source, and reciprocity becomes important (802).

Honor/shame, glory, source and reciprocity are embedded, according to the above two scholars, within the community of Corinth.  It appears, from vv.4-6, that Paul is placating the current social honor/shame codes and keeping women in a situation that is inferior to men.  However, Thisleton provides insight into what Paul may be doing in these verses, “…Paul intends…to enact a rhetorical shock: do you really want to shame yourself, your family, and your God in such a way?  Or alternatively: are you really serious about no longer wanting to be honored as a women, or do you genuinely want to use ‘gospel freedom’ to eradicate all that relates to gender distinctiveness?…” (832, emphasis Thiselton’s).

vv.7-10.[4]  Paul furthers his argument about honor and shame with in the genders based off of a brief explanation of Gen 2:18-23 and concludes (in v.10) that a wife, because of the angels, should have a symbol of authority on her head.  V. 7 initiates Paul’s discussion about covered/uncovered heads by referring to man as the image and glory of God therefore he should not cover his head.  Paul continues in v.7b that woman is the glory of man and explains in vv. 8-9 why she is the glory of man.  There is a significantly troubling aspect to these verses (7-9): is Paul touting the hierarchical/patriarchical line by saying that since the woman does not reflect the image of God as man does, and was created from and for him she is inferior?  Bruce highlights the unparallel structure between the two parts of the v.7, “Paul does not deny that woman also bears the image of God; indeed, he implies that she does by carefully avoiding complete parallelism” (105). Thiselton adds, “If we give due care to the nuances and force of image and glory in the biblical writings…it becomes clear that the emphasis falls less on hierarchy…than on relationality” (833, emphasis Thiselton’s).

Man stands as the image and glory of God because he was the first of all creation (Gen 2:7), and it was with this created man that God formed His covenant, for God intimately breathed into him, bringing him to life like no other creature (Barth CD III/1 236).  Thiselton writes, “…man as male first comes onto the cosmic scene as the image which is to manifest God in his life and deeds, since authentic personhood entails living ‘for’ and ‘in relation to’ an Other, not as one centered upon the self” (834).  Karl Barth writes it beautifully,

…it is in the…free love that He has resolved in Himself from all eternity on His fellowship with man in the person of His own Son.  As this free love is revealed, i.e., made visible outside His own being, His hidden glory is revealed.  And this is creation to the extent that it makes the creature the exponent, sign and witness of the divine meaning and necessity (CD III/1 230).

It is Adam that God first creates and makes his covenant with (woman is not exempted from this covenant, for she is created from the one who the covenant was first formed).  However, Adam’s state of loneliness (Gen. 2:18), which is not good, prevents him from being in a relationship with and living for the “Other” who created him; thus woman is created to save Adam from loneliness and become man’s glory (Gen.21-22).  However, woman is only the glory but not the image of man, for if she were the image, it would have exacerbated Adam’s condition of loneliness for that other would not have been woman, but another man—it would have been himself.  Consequently, the intended relationship between God and His image, man, would have remained disrupted.  Woman had to be a different yet similar being to draw Adam out of his loneliness and into a relationship with God.  It is through the creation of woman that man becomes more man and through the relationship with man that woman becomes more woman.  The two beings are interdependent rather than hierarchical/patriarchical (as vv.11-12 will draw out).  According to Paul’s argument in vv.7-10, man who reflects the Glory and Image of God should not cover that Image or Glory; however, in worship, where God is the focus and not man, woman should cloak her glory, which is the glory of man, as to not draw attention away from the focus: Christ (1:18) (Morris 151; Keener 1-2 Corinthians 93).  Paul, through terms of glory and reflection, is speaking about honor and shame (Horsley 155).

The conclusion of Paul’s argument in vv.7-10 culminates in an awkward statement: “That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels” (v.10).  Primarily, it is Paul’s use of ἐξουσίαν (“authority”) in this verse that is troubling.  The secondary issue is the qualifier, “because of the angels.”  Yeager explains, “A variant reading has kalumma instead of exousian…[the prior indicates] that the passage means that the woman should wear upon her head a veil to symbolize her subjection to the superior authority of her husband, and to the Lord who ordained in creation that it should be so” (14).  However, Paul specifically used ἐξουσίαν to express a specific point.  Ewert illuminates that Paul is subverting the common understanding of women and authority; in light of the culture we should “…expect Paul to say the opposite, namely that she should be in submission to authority and wear the head covering as a symbol of her submission” rather than the covering (her hair) as a sign of her authority (117).  Hays writes, “The expression ‘to have authority’ in Greek always means, just as it does in English, to exercise authority, not to submit to it (187).  Morris agrees, “Far from being a symbol of woman’s subjection to man…her head-covering is what Paul calls it—authority: in prayer and prophecy she, like the man, is under the authority of God’” (M.D. Hooker qtd in Morris 152).  Jason BeDuhn comments that the combination of ἐξουσίαν and ὀφείλει is significant for Paul, “… ‘this does not imply external compulsion but obligation.’  Paul always employs opheilei with the sense of performing one’s duty and acting upon one’s own responsibility and commitment” (303).  Bruce writes,

Here, as elsewhere in this letter, ‘authority’ is probably to be understood in an active sense: the [covering] is not a sign of the woman’s submission to her husband’s authority…. it is a sign of her authority.  In the synagogue service a woman could play no significant part: her presence would not even suffice to make up the requisite quorum of ten (all ten must be males).  In Christ she received equality of status with man: she might pray or prophesy at meetings of the church and her [covering] was a sign of this new authority…” (106).

The woman is to take charge of her physical head.  Paul is transforming “…the symbolic connotations of the head covering: the bound hair becomes a fitting symbol of the self-control and orderliness that Paul desires for the community as a whole” (188).

διὰ τοὺς ἀγγέλους in v.10 has been cause for great speculation for translators and exegetes “since the era of Tertullian (c. AD 200)” (Thiselton 837).  Many explanations have been offered for Paul’s terminology; however, the most cogent explanation is made by Thiselton and Hays.  Thiselton writes, “Among the Jewish traditions which find their way into the NT, those in which angles are perceived as ‘guardians of order’ as well as ‘participants in the church’s praise to God’ prove the best clue to Paul’s meaning…this element is noted in the Qumran writings…[and] in Gal 3:19 Paul observes that the law was put into operation ‘through angels by a mediator,’…” (841, emphasis Thiselton’s; Hays 188; Ewert 118).

vv.11-12.  Though woman can have authority, Paul emphasizes that woman is not independent of man nor man independent of woman.  In light of the above discussion on vv. 3-10, there is no reason for Paul to change the subject in order to back track and explain the equality between the sexes.  However, one cannot dismiss that Paul’s use of the strong adverb πλὴν signifies that Paul is going to go in a different direction (Johnson 197).  It is true that Paul is changing the subject but for a different reason; Paul is drawing his audience back to the main point: you are not independent in yourselves for everything is from God.  Paul is restating his thesis of the letter: this is about Christ and the cross not about you.  In light of the placement of the pericope, in the beginning of the discussion of propriety and impropriety during worship, the Corinthians’ conduct is a reflection of God, of Christ to the community.  Thiselton writes,

…Paul insists that true human relationality entails otherness and indeed respect for the otherness of the other as a necessary basis for true reciprocity, mutuality, and relationality that constitutes what it is to be human.  Yet he adds that this in turn depends on how these roles are fulfilled in relation to God’s will as creator who ordered the world…and to God’s saving action through Christ as Lord of the church…” (843).

vv.13-15.  In case Paul’s scriptural arguments from v.3-12 have proved fruitless in proving his point, he calls the Corinthians to use their cultural experience to judge for themselves what is proper.  Paul’s rhetorical question (v.13) expects a “no, its not proper” answer (Yeager 17).  “Paul…appeals to the mores and values of the Greek world…a number of Greek sources inform us that Greek men did not grow their hair long.  For a man to wear his hair long would be to dishonor (atimia) his position as a male in society.  In the Hellenized world that cherished order, men were supposed to look like men” and women like women (Burton 278).

A translation of φύσις (v.14) may provide lexical help in understanding Paul’s point in vv. 13-15 for to argue from nature seems convoluted because both a man’s and a woman’s hair grows in nature.  Thiselton offers helpful insight to the word hay phusis, “…Paul may use φύσις  sometimes to denote the very ‘grain’ of the created order as a whole, or at other times (as here) to denote ‘how things are’ in more situation or society terms” (845; Johnson 199).  Thus, the better translation should be “the very nature of things” rather than “nature” (Johnson 199).  Paul is not appealing to nature but to the culture of the Corinthians, “Does not your own culture show you that this (vv. 14-15) is inappropriate?”  Paul’s concern in vv.14-15, then, is, as Thiselton states, “…simply to press the issue of gender differentiation and its expression through some semiotic code such as hair or dress.  Semiotic code depends on shared conventions, and social norms generally encourage gender differentiation” (846).

v.16.  To conclude his discussion, Paul arbitrarily closes with a warning that contention over this matter will not be tolerated, for there are no other practices not even in all of the churches of God.  The Corinthians had a natural tendency “to be a law to [themselves], without reference to Christian procedure elsewhere” (1 Cor. 14:36) (Bruce 108).  Hays writes, “…Even if they do not accept his other arguments, the Corinthians should conform their head-covering practice to those of the other churches, because they are called to be one with ‘all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (1:2)” (190).  The Corinthians are not only to be a unified body in Christ within their own congregation, but they are to be unified with the other churches of God.  Once again, Paul concludes his argument by bringing his audience back to the point of his letter: Christ and the Cross.

A Window into the Past: Women, Greco-Roman Society, and The Pastorals (pt. III:1 Cor 7:1-7)

1 Corinthians 7:1-7:

Principles for Marriage

Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

Now as a concession, not a command, I say this.I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another.

v.1.  Paul, in response to the questions of the Corinthians, writes, “‘It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.’”  Johnson writes about the expression translated as “not to touch a woman”, “…the expression…is not the equivalent of ‘not to marry.’ In Hebrew and Greek it is a euphemism for not to have sexual intercourse with woman (Gen 20:6; Prov 6:29)” (108).  Johnson continues by adding that the expression does not necessarily belong to Paul but is a Corinthian colloquialism: the Corinthians were rejecting sexual intercourse with their wives in order to achieve a more intimate relationship with Sophia (Johnson 108-9).  Bruce adds this scenario, “…[Paul is] deal[ing] with ascetics who, partly perhaps in reaction against the libertines, argued that sexual relations of every kind were to be deprecated, that Christians who were married should henceforth live as though they were unmarried, and those who were unmarried should remains so, even if they were already engaged to be married” (Bruce 66).

v.2.  Leon Morris writes, “Since fornication was so common at Corinth it was hard for the unmarried to remain chaste and hard for them to persuade others that they were, in fact, chaste” (Morris 102).  And Keener observes, “Paul may refute [the Corinthian’s] point about a man not ‘touching’ a woman…but if he is conceding it, he applies it to unmarried intercourse only (6:12-21); he goes on to demonstrate that married people must have intercourse (7:2-7).  Contrast ‘It is well,” kalon, with ‘It is not good,’ ou kalon, in Gen 2:18, a context Paul has just quoted in 6:16)” (62).  Paul’s Jewish background would have provided him with the understanding of the  value of marriage and childbearing; but this was not restricted to Paul and his contemporaries, but was manifest in August’s legislation, “…to replenish the Roman aristocracy two generations before Paul’s time.  Augustus’s laws reward with tax incentives widows and divorcees of childbearing age who remarried as quickly as possible” (Keener 63).  On the other hand, Keener also notes that “Some thinkers…believed that marriage proved a distraction from high pursuits (e.g., Cynics in Epictetus Diatr. 3.22.69-76).  Some radical philosophers (especially Cynics) therefore eschewed marriage, nevertheless condoning the release of sexual passions on prostitutes (cf. 6:12-21)” (Keener 63).  Paul may have been dealing with the same group of people who were causing trouble in 6 as in 7 (Keener 63).

v.3.  Morris writes, “Each partner in a marriage has rights and Paul calls on each to pay what is due….Paul does not stress the duty of either partner at the expense of the other, but puts them on a level, a noteworthy position in the male-dominated society of the time” (103).  What is most striking in Paul’s language is the idea of “giving” rather than “getting”; in a culture that was obsessed with getting somewhere weather socially or spiritually, this command to give is countercultural.  “Marriage is the giving of oneself to another” (Morris 103).  Essentially, marriage is not the getting from one what one wants or thinks they deserve.  Horsley observes,

The Therapeutics near Alexandria, described by Philo, provides a striking similar example of women and men who leave their spouses and become ‘elderly virgins.’ Their motivation for spurning the pleasures of the body, moreover, is their devotion to Sophia, whom they consider to be their spiritual life-mate.  This makes the comparison all the more compelling, considering the importance of Sophia to the Corinthian spirituals addressed in chapters 1-4 (Horsley 96).

vv.4-5. Keeping in mind the discussion above about the Roman woman being the property of the husband, the first half of this verse is very much within the constraints of Roman society at that time.  However, the later part introduced by “likewise” is the countercultural statement.  Johnson writes that neither one has the right to do with their body what they want, “…because the other has a rightful claim to sexual satisfaction.  This requires mutual submission (Eph 5:21)….the principal of mutual submission and mutual consent (v.5) is very important in minimizing abuse…Paul’s view of marriage [is a] profound union that entails a shared body, the two becoming ‘one flesh’ (Eph 5:31) (Johnson 110-1).  And Bruce adds, “By the marriage vow each relinquishes the exclusive right to his or her own body and gives the other a claim to it; the verb rule over is exousiazō, denoting the exercise of exousia (‘authority’)” (67).  Horsley proposes that Paul is responding to a Corinthian-ism, “‘[a woman had] authority over her own body’” (97).  Horsley writes, “After reversing that principle, Paul sweetens his denial of authority over her own body with the reciprocal wife’s authority over her husband’s body.  This is certainly a break with patriarchal marriage patterns, at least rhetorically” (Horsley 97).

About Paul’s use of “authority”, Horsley comments, “Among the Corinthians it could have been an expression of empowerment, whether in liberation from parochial taboos such as dietary restrictions (eating food offered to idols, in chaps. 8-10) or old-fashioned customs such as patriarchal property rights (the man ‘having’ his father’s wife, in chap. 5)” (97).

In v.5, Paul makes it clear that it is okay to abstain; however, abstention was only to be for prayer and only for an agreed amount of time.  After the abstention, husband and wife were to return to intimate sexual relations with each other to avoid Satan’s temptation and the Corinthian’s lack of self-control.  Horsley writes, “Permanent abstention from sexual relations is often associated with women in prophetic or other religious roles in other New Testament cases and in the general Hellenistic-Roman culture…” (Horsley 97).  Women were able to find their way out from under Patriarchal domination by submitting themselves to the pursuit of Sophia which involved, as discussed above, devoting all their energy to toward the intimate relationship with Sophia and away from their sexual relations with their husband.  Thistleton observes,

‘With prostitutes and mistresses abundantly available (recall 6:12-20) Corinthian men unable to have sex with their wives would often look elsewhere.’…from the papyri and from Plutarch the double standards of a degree of extramarital relationships in the case of men in the Roman world, in contrast to married women.  Paul’s moral and pastoral principle remains either (a) monogamy (with a full relationship for most of the time; cf. v. 5); or (b) celibacy; but not (c) irregular physical relationships.  Paul…[is]…offer[ing] an antidote to a Corinthian desire to change everything with their new-found status” (Blomberg qtd in Thisleton 503).

(Next: 1 Corinthians 11:2-16)

A Window into the Past: Women, Greco-Roman Society, and The Pastorals (pt. II)

A brief history of Corinth:

Corinth in Brief

Prior to the Roman conquering in 146 B.C., “Corinth had been a leading center of Greek power.…In 44 B.C.E, Caesar refounded Corinth as a Roman colony,” and during Paul’s day, Corinth was officially, according to architecture and inscription, Roman (Keener 6-7).  Alan Johnson writes, “…the city’s architecture looked Roman, it was governed by a Roman civic structure, and it was inhabited largely by Roman people—a small contingent of Caesar’s military veterans, many freedmen and women, and urban plebeians” (14).  F. F. Bruce adds, “…its citizens were Romans, probably freemen from Italy, but the population was augmented by Greeks and Levantines, including Jews” (Bruce 19).  “Evidence for the prominence of Roman, rather than Greek, patterns of culture in the most respected mores….[is the] clear example concern[ing] the wearing of hoods by women in public, especially in public worship, as well as the issue of head covering (just possibly an issue about hair) for men (1 Cor 11:2-16)….” (Thiselton 5).

In the first century, “…the city was a bustling commercial crossroads for Europe and Asia.  Ships from the west traveling from Italy through the Corinthian Gulf would head for the port of Lechaeum, Corinth’s eastern harbor.  Those from the east could harbor at Cenchreae, which faced eastward toward the Saronic gulf, which eventually led to the Aegean Se and Asia.  An ancient cargo roadway a few miles to the north connected the western sea lanes with the eastern across the isthmus at is narrowest point…” (Johnson 15).  In addition to being the primary harbor for ships, Corinth was also known for the manufacturing of goods (Johnson 15).  Keener notes, “Its location on the Isthmus had long involved Corinth in trade….Local banking, artisans, and finally the current provincial seat would have further augmented the city’s wealth” (7).

Bruce provides some insight into “Old Corinth” Prior to Roman conquering,

Old Corinth had been a by-word for licentiousness, and this hotch-potch of races would have hastened the process by which the new Corinth acquired an equally unsavoury reputation.  AM Hunter says that in the popular mind Corinth suggested ‘culture and courtesans… “Corinthian words” implied pretensions to philosophy and letters, and to ‘Corinthianize’ was popular Greek for ‘go to the devil’….[Corinth] acquired a reputation for luxury, and its name became proverbial for sexual license.  It was a centre of the worship of Aphrodite, whose temple stood on the summit of the Acrocointhus… (18).

Even after Rome conquered Corinth and turned it from Greek ways to Roman ways, Corinth was able regain its wealth (Bruce 18).  However, with the return of its wealth  “…the old reputation for sexual laxity also returned: the temple of Aphrodite was staffed by 1, 000 female slaves dedicated to her worship, who are said to have made the city a tourist attraction and enhanced its prosperity (Strabo, Geog. Viii. Vi. 20)” (Bruce 18-9).

Though there was a vast amount of wealth in Corinth, Horsley observes that there was a ‘gulf’ between the scant wealthy and powerful and the larger, poorer population (31).  He writes,

Despite this, or perhaps partly because of this, Greek society—and even more so Roman society—was obsessed with rank and status…. women were subordinated to and under the power of their husbands and masters.  In Corinth the lower strata must have been every bit as concerned with their status as the elite scrambling for provincial honors and imperial favor (Horsley 31).

Keener makes the point that “condescending below” one’s social classes “was considered shameful in terms of social intercourse” (8).

However, though there was a vast gap between the haves and the have-nots, Johnson proclaims that  growth between the classes was possible, “…at Corinth the culture allowed a rapid rise in social status for many people.  Power (to achieve goals), education, wealth, knowledge, religious and moral purity, family and ethnic group position, and local community status were prized goals in this highly status conscious society” (18).  “‘Corinth was a city where public boasting and self-promotion had become an art form.  The Corinthian people thus lived with an honor-shame cultural orientation, where public recognition was often more important than facts…’” (Witherington qtd. in Thiselton 13).

In fact, this status seeking tendency was not localized in the pagan society surrounding the budding churches in Corinth, Johnson observes,

Many characteristics of the cultural life of first-century Corinth were seeping into the life of the Christian community.  Instead of being transformed by Christian values and viewpoints, they were behaving like their counterparts in the pagan society around them.  Status seeking, self-promotion, a competitive drive for adulation and success, even use of the Christian church as a means of self-promotion and advancement are themes that reoccur though out the letter.  There was a spirit of self-satisfaction and boasting, a spirit of having arrived and not needing anything else (4:6-8).  Those without means were being marginalized, neglected and even humiliated in the church’s meetings (11;7-34; 12:21-26).  A wrong notion of Christian freedom, more like the ‘freedom’ of the surrounding culture, was prevailing in their relationships with each other and toward the wider culture (6:12; 8:9; 10:23) (Johnson 22-3).

It is not naïve to assume that there was a predominance of Greco-Roman ways and thoughts that were infiltrating the Corinthian churches and are the reasons why Paul treats those Corinthian questions in the manner in which he does (Morris 18).  “Only when Paul went to Corinth did he encounter a Hellenistic urban ethos that was both the product of and fully assimilated into the Roman imperial order” (Horsley 28).

It is typically understood by scholars that the Corinthians, as a society, were immensely concerned with Sophia, and the effects Sophia had on their social relations.  “Their strong enlightened consciousness freed them from the parochial prejudices of conventional moral codes.  Spiritual experiences in particular were given for the satisfaction, illumination, and personal fulfillment of the individual” (Horsley 37).  Horsley notes, “The Corinthian’s exalted spiritual status and immortality gained from their intimate relationship with Sophia had significant implications for mundane social relations.  On the one hand, for some Corinthians the all-important cultivation of their relationship with heavenly Sophia required devoting their energies to the spiritual life” (Horsley 37).  The intimacy with Sophia was not restricted to men, but was available to women, as well.  Intimacy with Sophia as described by Horsley above meant, “devoting their [men’s and women’s] energies to the spiritual life.”  Therefore, as Horsley comments, “…intimacy with Sophia meant avoidance of marital/sexual relations, and perhaps, by implication, liberation from confining subordination in a traditional patriarchal marriage for women” (Horsley 37).

Why Sarah?

I’ve always read the story of Sarah and the casting out of Hagar as Sarah being nagging, and, sometimes, just down right mean. I saw it as petty. But then, last summer, I was given an opportunity to preach on Gen 21, and during research and writing the sermon, I saw something new. Sarah wasn’t being mean, she was defending the promise (this is what Luther tells us). Rather than, “just get that servant girl and her son out of here!”, I saw, “…it’s about the promise…the promise, dear husband!”  But then there was another question: why Sarah? Why would she care about the promise so much as to protect and defend it? Why would she be the one to remember?

Here’s my answer:*

God is the God of the Promise

In Gen. 21:1 we read, “The Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as he had promised.” What was it that the Lord had promised both Sarah and Abraham? A Child—he would give them a child in their old age. We know this from Gen. 18:9-15,

“They said to him, “Where is Sarah your wife?” And he said, “She is in the tent.” The Lord said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent door behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years. The way of women had ceased to be with Sarah. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?” The Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.” But Sarah denied it, saying, “I did not laugh,” for she was afraid. He said, “No, but you did laugh.”

One of my favorite verses is Gen 18:15. She flat out denies that she laughed…and Moses records it. Moses, inspired to record such an interaction, leaves one of our stately matriarchs completely human.

According to a webMD article, “‘Laughter isn’t under our conscious control…We don’t choose to laugh in the same way we choose to speak…” Sarah’s proof of this. Sarah’s laugh is an immediate and subconscious response to over-hearing the promise of a son the Lord makes to Abraham—and she uncontrollably scoffs…in disbelief. We’ve all done this. (scoffed in disbelief)

So Sarah laughs because she doesn’t believe what the Lord was promising. According to her, she is too old to have a child. Moses tells us that the way of woman had ceased. In her words, “I am worn out…” What a way to describe yourself. The word translated as “worn-out” in Gen 18:12 can also be rendered “used-up” or “exhausted.” Synonyms for “worn-out” are “spent,” “stale,” “deteriorated,” “destroyed,” “used,” and “useless.”

In Sarah’s eyes, she was—in her advanced age—“useless” because she could no longer bare children—because that possibility had ceased for her.  She had been created to bring forth children and she didn’t; in her opinion, this failure rendered her “useless.” Years of longing, years of praying, years of begging and yearning produced nothing. No child. Years of suffering through hope delayed in light of the physical possibility to produce a child give way to the concrete evidence that that possibility is now over.

For Sarah, there was no longer any reason or evidence or proof to hope for such a thing—it was over; it was impossible. So she laughs, because the words of the Lord being spoken contradict plain fact and promote the impossible. She laughs in disbelief. (no way! You’ve got to be kidding! What?!). Now, if the Lord appeared to Daniel and said, “this time next year Lauren will have a son” there would be NO laughter and most like wailing and gnashing of teeth (why?!!?), because it’s possible. It could happen. What could happen carries significantly far less comedic value than what flat-out could NOT happen. But the God Sarah worshipped, the one that was speaking with Abraham at that moment is the God of the promise. For, as I’ve said a million times before (at least!) with God, His promises are future facts. What He says, happens (Let there be….and there was!).

I’ve spent a lot of time in a passage of scripture that isn’t part of our reading because I need to set the scene for when we come back to chapter 21 (our passage). I want to paint with vibrant and bold colors where Sarah was prior holding the child in her arms, prior to nursing this child, prior to, how Luther referred to Isaac, “the promise [which has] now been made flesh” (4).

“The Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as he had promised. And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him. Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore him, Isaac. And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. And Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me.” And she said, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age” (Gen 21:1-7)

 

The promise has now been made flesh. The long awaited yearned for child is here.  The Lord, who questioned why she had laughed in chapter 18, has now fulfilled His promise and has given her a tangible reason to laugh but this time rather than laughing out of scoffing disbelief, she laughs because of hope and joy fulfilled. Because of God’s promise—and His faithfulness to that promise—Sarah is no longer the cursed one (barrenness would have been seen as a curse (Luther 11)) but as the blessed-one.

Now, finally, our passage:

The child grew, and was weaned; and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac. So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.” The matter was very distressing to Abraham on account of his son. But God said to Abraham, “Do not be distressed because of the boy and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named for you. As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring” (Gen 21:8-13)

“But Sarah…” At some point Sarah notices and sees something. One day, Sarah looks upon the two boys her Isaac (the promise made flesh) and Ishmael (Abraham legitimate first born) and something dawns on her. And she speaks up. “Cast out this slave woman and her son” she says to Abraham. She continues, “for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.” While Ishmael had a promise made about him (Gen 17:20: “As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I have blessed him and will make him fruitful and multiply him greatly. He shall father twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation.”), it was not the promise, the promise of the established covenant; Sarah “makes a very fine distinction between her own son and Hagar’s” (Luther 20).

Luther writes about Sarah at this point, “It is her purpose to prevent Ishmael from coming into the inheritance together with Isaac” (20). Rather than allow both sons to be heirs, Sarah steps up and speaks out to protect the promise; Isaac would be the heir, and not Ishmael. According to Sarah, Hagar and her son, Ishmael had to go. Rather than being petty and possessive, Sarah is protecting the promise. And so is God, “But God said to Abraham, ‘Do not be distressed because of the boy and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named for you…” “[Sarah] is compelled by God’s command to undertake something contrary to her husband’s will” (Luther 23) [Abraham was very distressed]. Luther writes, “Abraham had not given such careful consideration to the promise. Therefore God repeats it…” (24).

Why does Sarah give more consideration to the promise than Abraham does? Why does Sarah seem to remember it more vividly than her husband? Luther makes the point that Sarah was alert and keen to the promise and Abraham wasn’t. (“But Sarah has her way and accomplishes what she had undertaken, for she looked more closely at the promise and understood it more clearly than Abraham did” (36)).

I’ll fill in the gaps. Why Sarah and not Abraham? Because, the woman, who has suffered from deferred hope and years upon years of longing for a child, when she holds that child that has been given to her by the very word of God and with that child there is a spoken promise, she remembers. She remembers it every day she looks into his eyes. The woman who suffers barrenness (infertility and loss) suffers the one-two punch of a broken and fallen world. Every month she is reminded of what hasn’t happened or what was and is now no longer. A woman who suffers in this way cannot hold the living, fleshy baby—the baby promised by the very word of God–and not think: God is faithful.  The Heir is born.

I have three children, but I’ve also lost three pregnancies. After our last loss, four years ago, I kept hearing “Nehemiah” a name of an old-testament minor prophet, a name which means “No more tears.” I went three years with that word and with the feeling that we weren’t finished yet, we weren’t finished having children. But month after month proved that we were finished, and the tears came every month. And then in January of 2014, there was hope. I was pregnant. In October, we held our daughter, a near 10lb pile of screaming baby, and I heard it again, “No more tears.” 9 months later, rocking her before a nap or nursing her at 2AM I hear it again and again, “No more tears.” Every time I look at her, I hear it. God is faithful. No more tears.

So, if it is so with me, how much more with Sarah? I was still (barely) at child-bearing age; but Sarah was 90. Every time Sarah looked at Isaac she remembered the promise. God had promised the impossible and had made the impossible possible, and she couldn’t forget it so she reminds her husband. “The Promise, dear husband, is with Isaac.” It is by the promise that rescue and salvation come and not through the flesh and bone of birth right. True heirs are heirs of the promise. “‘Through Isaac shall your descendants be named,’ not through Ishmael; that is, the people of God are not those who have the physical succession but those who have the promise and believe it” (Luther 33).

God is a God of the promise.

*this is the first part of the sermon that was not published yesterday (2.9.15) with the rest of the sermon that went up on http://www.mbird.com (read it here).

No More

Driving my husband to work, I heard something on a Christian radio station that he had set the car radio to. There’s a reason why I don’t listen to Christian radio (apart from my Pandora Waterdeep station), and what I heard this morning reinforced my desire NOT to listen to Christian radio. The statement was one of those statements that made me simultaneously deeply embarrassed and deeply angry; I slunk down in the driver’s seat a little bit and growled. Grrrr…

The nice thing was that my husband was as baffled and put-off by the statement as I was; solidarity in unity.

In a discussion of some books from the 60’s that were being considered as reasons why we are in the current cultural climate we are in terms of gender and gender relations and feminism, one of the personalities said: Look, in Galatians 3 we read there is neither Jew or Gentile man or woman; this here is speaking to complimentarianism, men and women are equal in image, dignity, worth, value but have different functions…

My husband and I looked at each other, “What did he just say?!”

We didn’t have an issue with the whole “equal but different”; I advocate for the same thing. While we both knew where he was going with his thoughts on “equal but different”, that wasn’t the idea that that made our jaws drop. What made our jaws drop was this: Galatians 3 is about complimentarianism. My husband’s astute response was: if anything, that passage lends itself more toward “egalitarianism” than “complimentarianism”. He’s right (my husband’s very smart). The passage in Galatians 3 where Paul says, “ There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female,for you are all one in Christ Jesus” certainly does lend itself more to “egalitarianism” than “complementarianism” in that that portion of scripture is part of the unity out of plurality, all one, heirs of Christ, discussion. No where there does Paul discuss the equal-but-differentness of the couplings. The radio personality was just wrong. Out of all the passages of scripture one could pick from to argue _for_ “complimentarianism”, that IS NOT one of them; it’s not even close to being one of them. The breaking down of the barriers between segregated classes, races, genders, is gone, according to Paul: in Christ all are ONE.

So why did my feather’s ruffle so much at the comment? Because of both what my husband pointed out and this: both the terms “complimentarian” and “egalitarian” are recent man made terms often imposed on the the bible to try to make sense of things, to group like to like, to make a statement. “I’m an egalitarian” should tell you, in short, that I hold certain things to be true about gender and the distinction and likeness therein; “I’m a complimentarian” tells you the something similar about the person: what they hold to be true about gender and gender relations. They are terms to deal with the radical freedom the Gospel brings to human beings and all of their relationships. To say, “I’m an egalitarian” says: men and women are equal ontologically speaking; “I’m a complimentarian” says: men and women are compliments ontologically speaking. But the terms are so ambiguous that you have radically different shades of each. For instance, take my own marriage: we are very progressive when it comes to women and men and the relationship between the two: we don’t believe that men are better leaders than women, we don’t believe that substantially speaking there’s a secret authority gene given to men, we don’t believe in gender stereo-types, we affirm strong women _and_ strong men, we affirm the good that the feminist movement brought, etc. But, I stay home with the kids and he goes to work; I take care of the house and meals, and he brings home the “bacon”; i love making our home a sanctuary for him and my children to come home to and he makes that possible. Using my own marriage as an example, you can see that our life disturbs the neat and clean lines a term like “egalitarian” would like to create. I’ve also seen “complimentarian” relationships look _just_ like mine. In my immediate circle of friends who claim “complimentarian” status, I’ve never seen the husband assert his “authority” over his wife; they always come to decisions the same way we do: by the power of the holy spirit, bringing unity where there is division. In my immediate circle of friends who claim “egalitarian” status, I’ve never seen a confusion of gender or a rejection of proper orientation of man toward woman and woman toward man. So, I’m left to ask:

Is there actually such a things as “complimentarian” and “egalitarian”?

And to ask further:

Is it even helpful to bifurcate Christianity with these terms?

My answers to both: no. In order for “complimentarian” and “egalitarian” to be true and real, something has to be asserted that just won’t ever be asserted between two people who _just_ love each other. And, when we are fighting on so many grounds to maintain the truth of the Gospel, do we need the minutia of “in-fighting” and trying to uphold man-made, ambiguous, and unhelpful terminology? I’d say we don’t.

Here’s how I see it, and I’ll end with this: the terminology is wrought with problems and should be dismissed completely. Rather than defining our marriages as “complimentarian” or “egalitarian”, why not: Christian? Gospel centered? Or, better yet, “I’m married to an amazing man/woman and I can’t believe they love me.”  We don’t need more boxes to fill and lines delineated; the body of Christ is unique in that it is unity OUT OF diversity, this applies to marriages, too. There are no two marriages that look the same, not all men like _one_ type of woman, and vice versa. Marriages, like the people that inhabit them, will look different and will sound different, but it will be the presence of the Holy Spirit, the tangible brokenness of each member, their individual and mutual need for Christ that will be the beautiful and pleasing aroma of unity and similarity.

A Window into the Past: Women, Greco-Roman Society, and The Pastorals (pt. I)

Hunker down and get comfortable…this is gonna be a long ride.

What I’m going to post over the next several weeks are portions of a paper I wrote while working on my MDiv (Master of Divinity, the first of two masters I have in theology and biblical studies). I’ll be upfront and honest about one thing: I didn’t perform as well on this paper as I typically did on papers; I received a B for it. The one reason I’ll offer for the lower grade was twofold: I not only exceeded the page limit by a whopping 19 pages (gah!) but I also didn’t have a thesis statement. In my opinion, I couldn’t have a concise, single statement that would coherently gather all 8 texts concerning the “house-codes” and women in the pastoral epistles while remaining true to each individual text in its own right. Was Paul merely saying the same thing over and over to different people? I’m not prone to affirm with a yes. While the language is similar, each context, having its own issues begs for nuanced responses. Paul’s approach in Crete (the book of Titus) manifests a different situation than, say, the one in Corinth.

But with that said, I don’t want to sound like I think that the text and Paul himself are barred down and locked in the past. Yes, both the cultural context and the “then” audience are important to understand for they do dictate a lot of our understanding of the text and what is going on. But, _you_ are now the audience, the hearers, and you play a vital role, too, not just in peering into the past, but receiving the words that have traveled from 50 AD to 2015, because the word moves through history, breaking through time and space barriers, longing to be heard, causing you to hear it and pulling you into to this grand story. You are now in that house church in Thessoloniki, caught up in the Gospel, the freedom it brings, the wonder and the excitement and you are now listening to a letter being read to you from St. Paul.

Now, to move on to the subject of this “series”…some things to cover before I continue:

1. I’ll be posting short segments, pieces really. I’d rather err in readability and digestibility and having more posts in a series, than trying to be efficient. Also, I suck at trying to be efficient in word economy especially with my own work–yes, I’m an editor, but I can’t edit my own work.

2. The paper was written in 2006. As I go, I’ll make some edits or expound where I can, but mostly I’ll be cutting and pasting from the document. It’s primarily exegesis and history; so, I don’t think I’ll have much to add or edit. But again, every thinker, writer, author, eventually disagrees with their historical counterpart one way or another…thinking to themselves: i can’t believe I wrote THAT?!?!

3.  Even though i exceeded the imposed page limit by 19 pages, this work is by no means a comprehensive work (though it sure felt like it at the time…). I’m also not an “expert” in the field of Greek antiquity, Paul, exegesis, or gender issues. I’m a thinker and I can do exegesis, and I can make educated deductions about things I read and apply them…but I’m not an expert.

So, with no further ado…here we go!

Let’s start with the views of women Greek and Roman antiquity:

The View of Women in Greece

Being a woman in ancient Greece was everything short of glamorous. Philo explains that women were strictly created for the indoor life, a life of seclusion (qtd. in Sly 196); she was not to be a too interested about the matters other than her own household, and “She should not shew herself off like a vagrant in the streets before the eyes of other men, except when she has to go to the temple (hieron), and even then she should…go… when most people have gone home (Spec. 3.171-174)” (qtd. in Sly 196-7).

Ancient Greek literature provides a perfect portrait of the typical male understanding of women during that time,

….women were considered more subject to those chaotic natural forces upon which humans depend, more passionate and less rational, and thus more volatile and potentially destructive unless subordinated to the controls of reason and culture. At the same time, women are lovely and alluring, shining with the pleasures of Eros and the charms of Aphrodite; they possess a power upon which men are dependent and to which they are intensely attracted. In short, the power of woman is the power of Eros, the creative and destructive force of nature both inside our souls and out in the world, a force terrible and beautiful—‘death and undecaying life,’ as Sophocles describes Aphrodite (Thornton 41).

Woman as the “force terrible and beautiful” was subject to the “controls of reason and culture” that were man’s; that which was incapable of being understood (woman) was confined (by man) to a status equal to that of a slave. Pandora, from Greek literature, embodies the above description of why women were not just relegated to an inferior position, but were, in a sense, feared,

Pandora is the first woman created….She is fashioned by Hephasitus, the craftsman god, as an ‘evil thing’ hidden in the semblance of ‘bashful minded.’ Athena teaches her the woman’s arts of needlework and weaving, while Aphrodite gave her sexual allure, the power to arouse ‘cruel longing and limb-devouring cares.’ And the trickster god Hermes provides her with a ‘bitch’s mind and a deceptive character’ and ‘lies and wily words.’ This ‘sheer trap’ is the ancestress of women, a ‘plague to men who eat bread’ (Thornton 41).

Using Pandora as an example, B.S. Thornton writes,

…her sexual power, both attractive and duplicitous, but also necessary for humanity in order to reproduce and have the children who will protect them from what Hesiod calls ‘deadly old age.’ Man’s dependence on nature and its procreative power animates this fear of women, for women seem to be more intimate with that ambiguous power, creative and destructive all at once (Thornton 41).

Helen provided another example of the “terribleness” of woman and her duplicitous nature, “The most famous woman from Greek myth, Helen, perhaps best exemplifies woman’ double character—her seductive allure and destructive capacity. Helen is not just the most beautiful woman, but the most sexually beautiful woman in the world…Terrible is the likeness of her face to immortal goddesses’” (Thornton 42-3).

Though Pandora and Helen embodied the reason for control over women because of their inherent “duplicitous” nature, there was, however, an alternative and a more preferred figure of woman from ancient Greek literature: Penelope. Penelope, from the “Odyssey”, was the archetypal wife, Thornton writes, “…the hallmark of Penelope’s character is the virtue that was most capable or reining in the power of Eros, the virtue most important for a wife to possess: rational self-control, the ability to restrain her appetites out of loyalty to her husband and her household” (Thornton 53).

Though scarce in advocates, there was another opinion of women.   Plato, in his “The Republic”, discusses the need for women who are the wives of the guards to be trained for warfare and schooled like the men,

Actually, they are to be not only wives, but guards themselves…the women of the guards are capable of making a creative contribution to building up the community, but…not… through family life. He is opposed to the prevailing view that they are meant by nature only to bear children, bring them up, and look after the household ….Now, if they are to do the same work as men, they should have the same upbringing …and education…Therefore the women of the ruling class must be schooled in ‘music’ and gymnastics just like the men, and also trained for war (Jaeger 244).

Though Plato is talking about a specific societal-class of women, his understanding that women would be a valuable asset to the guards if they were trained in a similar fashion is incredible; his contradiction to the normal role of women as strictly child bearers and homebodies is encouraging. Plato defends his argument is terms of “different equipment”,

A man who is not equipped to be a cobbler is not to do the same work as a man who is. But if one a man is bald and another has a fine head of hair, they might both (despite that particular difference in their equipment) be qualified to become cobblers. No doubt the natural difference between men and women influences their lives more profoundly than that, but still they may both be equally well equipped for the same vocation (Jaeger 245).

Though, Plato expresses that woman can be “equally well equipped for the same vocation,” he contends that man is still superior over woman in every area “…even in those which are declared to be woman’s province by those who maintain she is a domestic creature—cookery, baking, and weaving; but there is no one work which man or woman alone can do and which is impossible for the other sex” (Jaeger 245-6). According to Plato, though men and women can be equally trained, woman will fall short to man, even in her own sphere. Ultimately, Plato does not lag too far behind his contemporaries on the subject of women.

The View of Women in Rome

Roman women were cut from a different cloth than Greek women. Though they did not bear their own names—like we do in our culture, and bore the feminine version of their father’s name, (i.e., Julius/Julia, “If a man had more than one daughter, the second would be designated ‘Secunda’, the third ‘Tertia,’ and so on”) (Ball 197)— under the empire, they did have more social freedom than the Greek women. Albert Ball writes, “Because they weren’t bound to the house the way Greek women were, Roman women seem not to have been content to play mother and homemaker….By Augusts’ day, women reclined on couches at dinner beside their husbands instead of sitting by their feet or on chairs” (198). These somewhat ‘liberated’ women could run the family business when their husbands passed, (under the reign of Claudius) bought and sold property, and could remain single, but they could not vote (Ball 197). Around 44 B.C., Bruce Winter says that there was

…evidence of a ‘new’ type of woman…in certain circles in Rome. Both in ostensibly factual texts and in imaginative writing a new kind of woman appears precisely at the time of Cicero and Caesar: a woman in high position, who nevertheless claims for herself the indulgence in sexuality of a woman of pleasure. What could have given rise to such a change in the traditional behavior of married women? Wives still brought to marriage the all-important dowry but could now retain their own property. It was also possible for them to terminate the marriage, and receive back a portion of or the whole dowry” (Winter 21-2).

Therefore, it was not only financial independence that these Roman women experienced; they also experienced a small degree of social freedom (Winter 22).

Though Women were allowed these certain privileges in society, these liberties do not indicate a redeemed relationship with man. In fact, Ball writes that there were similarities between the men of Rome and Greece and their view of women, “Greek men considered women by nature intellectually inferior to men; the primary level of interaction between them was sexual….Roman men shared the Greeks’ opinion to a degree, so women never enjoyed political rights in Rome …” (197). In fact, “Greco-Roman women lived under the protection of their fathers until they were handed over to their husbands….Throughout their lives, they had the legal status of children…In Cicero’s words, ‘Our ancestors established the rule that all women, because of their weakness of intellect, should be under the power of guardians’ (Pro Murena 12.27)” (Ball 198).

On average, it is understood that because of the liberties of the Roman women, they were described as acting more aggressive then any other woman of their time and in history (Ball 198). In order to maintain societal control, “…Roman men, once the emperors rendered [women] politically impotent, could only try to salvage a few scraps of power by urging women to be subject to their husbands; ‘in no other way do woman and man become equal’ (Martial 8.12)…” (Ball 198-9). This inequality between the sexes, in spite of social liberties experienced by Roman women, is best understood in terms of the social laws of adultery, “The Greek and Romans did teach that one should not commit adultery, but not because the act violates a divine prohibition. It was views as a violation of property rights. Greek and Roman men didn’t want another man sleeping with their wives—who were their property—anymore than they wanted someone stealing their farm animals” (Ball 220).

The Roman (and Greek) family mirrored the relationship of the state to the emperor,

Within each family the father, as priest and patriarch, had patria potestas, absolute control of the lives and affairs of his wife and children…The law allowed him to inflict capital punishment on them or sell them into slavery, though such things hardly ever happened. He arranged his children’s marriages and planned his sons’ careers….The woman was expected to practice domestic crafts, manage the slaves, and behave herself with the utmost propriety (Ball 225).

Wayne Meeks advocates the same idea of the patria potestas within the Roman Family, and explains that “The traditional patria potestas of Rome had become less absolute from the time of the late republic on; the Hellenistic queens of the East and of Egypt had set a pattern of ‘masculine’ ambition and ruthlessness that women of the Julio-Claudian houses soon imitated” (Meeks 23). Craig Keener writes, ‘… ancient writers [thought] of families in…[the] general terms of rank and duty; ‘family’ was defined more by relationships of subordination than by blood relationship. The man in charge of the household was often even compared to a king, since the family was viewed as a microcosm of society” (Women and Wives 146). The influence of foreign queens, who behaved as men on the women of the Roman empire, was a primary factor in the call for wives to be in submission to their husbands, as the family unit was in submission to their head, the emperor.   Winter provides an example of the Response of the empire of Rome to the New Roman woman,

…‘the married women of the imperial family would provide her with examples of appropriate ways for a wife to behave. Works of the visual arts would show her how they dressed and how they wore their hair’. They were ‘models she should emulate, or exempla, to use the term that would come naturally to the mind of the Latin-speaking person’….A good example of traditional values is found in the statue of Regilla, the wife of the famous sophist of Athens, Herodes Atticus, around whom Philostratus wrote his Lives of the Sophists. The council of Corinth had erected a statue in her honour, and the inscription which contained the resolution of the Council read—This is a statue of Regilla…. ‘pre-eminent above others, who has attained the peak of every kind of virtue, whom she took as her husband, Herodes famous among the Hellens and furthermore a son (of Greece) greater than them all, the flower of Achaia (34-5).

Through the statues of empirical women showing how to behave and dress as a “proper” Roman woman, women of the time were exhorted (visually and verbally) to be virtuous and exemplary above all women, especially in comparison to the New Roman Woman. The ultimate desire in this propaganda was to preserve the status-quo; if one preserved the status-quo of the family, one preserved the status-quo of the state. Keener writes,

Maintaining the systems as it was had long been emphasized by ideologists of the state: ‘Preserve the present order, and do not desire any change, knowing that revolutions inevitably destroy states and lay waste homes of the people.’ Thus it was commonly believed that earlier Roman society had had much ‘higher’ morals, including much more sever discipline of unsubmissive wives (Keener Woman and Wives 144).

The State was determined to keep everything the way it was and to maintain the status-quo. With the influx of the New Roman Woman caused the women of the Greco-Roman society to seek change, therefore the Empire had to do something. The emphasis on the wives’ submission to the husband became the venue for maintaining the desired status-quo

Who is Woman?

Below is an entry I wrote for the Mockingbird Devotional (buy it here) on Gen 2:

Genesis 2:23                                                                                                                                        Lauren R. E. Larkin

This one at last is bone of my bones And flesh of my flesh…You surpass them all.

Who is woman? A question asked by men and women alike and that is applicable to all generations. A question I ask myself, as a woman. A question all too often defined by her form and function. But we cannot isolate her from man to answer the question, because the answer to who she is lies in her relation to him. And often the answer seems to be not really an answer at all. She is completely similar to him, yet utterly different; she is equal yet not interchangeable; she is of the same flesh and bone yet a different person completely; she is comfort and challenge.

There is no substitute suitable for woman to man.  Being “bone of [his] bones, flesh of [his] flesh” she is his perfect helper; and she is God’s first act of intervention on the behalf of man. The best answer I can give to “Who is Woman?” is: she is the first gift of Grace. She would not only alleviate man’s loneliness, drawing him up and out of himself toward another, but would also be the means by which God would consummate His relationship with him—with them as one. Without her, there is no relationship between God and man; without her, loneliness prevails and the Bridegroom is left standing at the altar.  Through her creation, God demonstrates to the whole of creation His love for this curved-in man who cannot help himself, who is stuck in his loneliness and isolation by bestowing to him this wonderful gift of Grace.

The word used in Gen 2:18, “Helper”, is the same word often used of God throughout the Old Testament. In her creation, in her name (“helper”), the themes of protecting, supporting, shielding, sustaining, delivering, comforting, giving hope, and blessing are ever present. As God gently nudges Adam awake, and brings her to the man, Adam is delivered out of loneliness into communion; he is given hope, comfort, and is blessed by her. She imputes to him that which is intrinsically hers and that which he lacks: glory; she is his glory (cf. 1 Cor. 11:2-16). Apart from her, the story ends too early.

Paul says in Ephesians 5:32 about the union of man and woman, “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”  The very characteristic demonstrated here in the creation of woman as man’s helper, will reverberate through the books of the Old Testament and into the ears, hearts, and minds of the New Testament audience as well as into our’s. We were, like Adam, isolated, lonely, hopeless, and helpless. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (Eph. 2:4-5).   In Jesus, through His life, death, resurrection, and ascension, God demonstrates Himself to be our true helper.  What is intrinsically His (righteousness), he imputes to us; we were estranged, yet He entered into the midst of it and called us and brought us into communion with Him at His expense.  We live because He, being merciful and taking pity on our estate, died.

As it was in the beginning, so it is now: like Adam, we’ve been saved by Grace