Sunday, 17 February 2008

Women and Paul

On Monday last we looked at some of those NT texts that tell women to pipe down in church, be subservient and generally know their place.
What struck me?
Actually how much those words have riled me (note my restraint in use of language there!). Not just the actual words, I guess, also the way they have been and continue to be used to restrain/limit/oppress women in their thoughts, words and actions. (don't worry - ranting over.)
We learnt that current scholarship suggests that probably none of those particular texts were written by Paul.
What struck me?
This makes so much more sense of Paul's statements about equality in Christ and recognition of and work alongside women prominent in the early church - alluded to in letters he did write. If we are trying to persuade ourselves that all were written by one author it is difficult to understand the inconsistency.
So, that lets Paul off the hook. How about the real authors of these texts? And what do we do with them? - the texts, not the authors obviously. And why did nobody tell me this before? Hmmm . . .
Whilst this particular issue is one I can get a little (!) het up about, I think the underlying issue of the contexts and motivations of writers of different bits of the bible and how greater understanding of those things (or not) informs how the bible is read, interpreted and used today is the important message for me and is v interesting.
NB did this as a post rather than a comment, mainly because couldn't manage to comment - how do I do that anybody?


mark said...

Sorry, rache, I hadn't enabled comments on the blog. All sorted now!

On Monday night, I found the comments like the one you have here: "Why has no one ever told me about this before?" really amusing. It felt like we were a little seditious group, unmasking all the half truths told us in pulpits etc. i found that quite exciting!

From my point of view, I am reassured by Paul - he's more than 'let off the hook', but sits within a Christian tradition I feel very comfortable with.

On the other hand, as you say, what do you do about the other texts? This bit I feel more uncomfortable with and it forces me to reappraise how I read the Bible more generally.

A few thoughts on those texts:
1. No amount of allowing for cultural difference can take away the misogynist nature of these texts. 1 Tim says that women are more easily deceived and roots that, not in any lack of education, but in the order of creation and therefore permenant.

2. I think the vast majority of people who reads this text today, do not accept the conclusion of the author. I think this is interesting. People come to the Bible with a prior commitment that no number of Bible texts seems to alter. People come to the Bible with a conviction that it is wrong to smash babies against rocks or a commitment that women are not more easily deceived. I think it is right to have such a prior commitment, so long as those assumptions are open to scrutiny and we are honest about them. I read the Bible with a prior commitment to the fact that God wants all human beings (male and female) to enter into their full humanity. I will even discard texts that do not fit with this. I think everyone does that, they are just not open about it.

3. This leaves open the question of the canon. I do not think it is most helpful to think of the canon as authoritative. This is not how it has been thought about historically by the church. It is simply the bookshelf deemed most useful for Christian guidance. It has always been negotiable and changable and different denominations have different texts. I think there is a major case for crossing out 1 cor. 14;33 from our Bibles and for taking Timothy and Titus out as not suitable for reading in churches. But, I doubt it will ever happen.

Anyway, there's my rant over.

rache said...

thanks Mark - helpful comments. One thing that strikes me is the importance of recognising our prior commitments and honestly examining what informs them. As you say, people are not always open about that, or - my experience - have a received understanding of how to use / respond to the bible that does not allow this to be acknowledged. Which I guess connects to your final point about the variations in the canon and how it has been thought of in church history. That historical perspective is particularly interesting to me, as it's something I know little of.
Ajnyway - more sedition I say! Tee hee