Monday, September 28, 2009

Luke's Gospel and the Roman Empire

Here is a little challenge, but, please note, if you take it up and reply with a comment, I am off-line for a few days, so publication of comments will not be till later in the week:

In Luke's Gospel (and in Luke-Acts as a whole) there is an obvious acknowledgment of the reality of the Roman empire woven through the undisguised story of a new movement, replete with a head called Kyrios, which grows from nothing in Galilee to something with a presence in most towns and cities of a significant portion of the empire, including Rome itself.

Is Luke's Gospel:

(a) an attack on the empire?

(b) an apology for the (non-threatening) kingdom of God?

(c) a presentation of an alternative kingdom to the empire? (In what sense is it an alternative? What are it's long-term ambitions?)

(d) none, some, or all of the above?

(I am working on a presentation on Preaching through Luke's Gospel in 2010).

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Translation within Scripture

Every so often controversy erupts about Bible translation - one is scattering its ashes through the blogosphere right now, sparked by news of another form of the NIV due in 2011, and fuelled in some quarters by strong criticism of those versions which get anthropos and aner wrong in respect of humanity/man/woman.

One footnote in all discussion about translation is acknowledgement that within Scripture itself translation takes place. An example I came across last night is in Luke 9:1-6 (a reading in the lectionary for this morning's eucharist at St Stephen's, Tahunanui).

In this famous paradigm for gospel mission, Jesus calls the Twelve together and gives them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases. He then sends them out with this task:

'to preach the kingdom of God and to heal'.

With a few more words of instruction they depart, and, according to verse 6,

'went through the villages, preaching the gospel (lit. "evangelizing") and healing everywhere'.

It seems that 'to preach the kingdom of God' is translated as 'to evangelize'!

In this translation lies considerable room for theological reflection and debate. Consider:

- is evangelism announcing the presence of the kingdom of God? (a point N. T. Wright emphasizes, and argues is the Pauline gospel considered in the New Perspective)

- is preaching the kingdom of God announcing the justification of sin through faith in the crucified Christ? (more or less what Paul the Apostle does, especially according to classic Reformation understanding)

- did Jesus preach a message different to Paul? (and Luke here is attempting to unify the two understandings in the context of his great history which spans the mission of Jesus and the mission of Paul)

- is there one message, one 'gospel of the kingdom' (Matthew 9:35) whose dimensions are bigger than many Christians can grasp, which is both a call to sinners to repent (Mark 6:12 // Luke 9:6) and an announcement of God's rule over the world (cf. Matthew 10:7 // Luke 9:2, 'the kingdom of heaven is at hand')?

On the last suggestion, Luke is a clever theologian and literary artist with his subtle, chiastic method of witnessing to the fullest compass of the gospel message!

Also in the last suggestion we note the possibility that Luke, who almost certainly knows Mark's gospel and possibly knows Matthew's gospel as well, is translating other versions of the same story of Jesus' commissioning the Twelve for mission ... and that reminds us of another famous translation in respect of 'the kingdom of God', when John in his Gospel translates it as 'eternal life'.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The plain reading of Scripture

A little dip of the toe into the deep waters of 'plain reading' of Scripture ...

I take the 'plain reading' of Scripture to be the reading which feels natural, obvious, and common sensical, one sign of which could be that, with nine others in the room, on most readings, 9/10 of the group understand the reading the same way as I do.

One feels bounds these days to state the obvious point prior to the obvious criticism being made: Yes, words such as 'natural', 'obvious', and 'common sense' are fraught with difficulty!

Applying this, I suggest that when we read Scripture today, some things about yesterday (i.e. the time when Scripture was written) yield a ready 'plain reading' for today. Thus when we read a passage such as Ephesians 6:5-9 we understand the passage to plainly speak to the situation of bosses and workers today (there being, at least in these parts and thereabouts, neither slaves nor masters). We certainly do not read the passage 'plainly' as either having no meaning for us in an era without slaves, and even less so, meaning there ought to be slaves and masters today.

But, if you run with my argument to this point, what might this mean for how we plainly read a Scripture close at hand, Ephesians 5:21-33. Do we, as we do with Ephesians 6:5-9, make any natural shifts in understanding because the social situation today for men and women is different to yesterday?

Of course there is an obvious difference between the two passages: we do not still have slaves and masters but we still have husbands and wives. Nevertheless, life has changed: even employees and employers in the post-slavery era applying Ephesians 6:5-9 will do so in a social environment which (say) gives workers more rights and employers more responsibilities than (say) pertained in 1859. In respect of marriage, men and women become husbands and wives in a different manner to (say) 1859. There is, for instance, a quite different set of understandings about the nature of 'property' in relation to the establishment of a marriage, including no remaining sense that a daughter is something to be 'given' away by her father. There are also differences in the way the law provides for husbands and wives to exert their respective wills in a marriage (e.g. wife-beating and forced sex is intolerable under the law today).

Is it then appropriate to understand the instruction "Wives, be subject to your husbands as to the Lord" differently to former times, just as we now understand "Slaves, give single-minded obedience to your earthly masters with fear and trembling, as if to Christ"?

Will stop there for now!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The evolution of Scripture

A post or so below I mused a little on the creationism versus evolution debate.

One aspect of that debate is the pitting of an "instantism" versus "incrementalism"; the former being the approach to Genesis 1 which says an awful lot of development of life stuff happened in seven days; the latter being the approach of evolutionary biology which says that life as we know it now is the result of a very, very long process of incremental development of life (with some instantaneous jolts such as (a) the original 'big bang', and (b) the effects of earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, meteorite collisions on life).

I sometimes wonder if a problem for creationists accepting incrementalism is a lack of understanding of God's patience!

But I also wonder if creationism arises in intellectual contexts which have little or no understanding of the evolution of Israel's Scripture. A God who dictates Scripture to Moses is compatible with a God who speaks life into instant being. But if God did not dictate Scripture to Moses, if God presided over a long, messy, complex, and somewhat incremental or (as theologians say) progressive revelation to Israel, then God might similarly have presided over a long, messy, complex and somewhat incremental development of life, i.e. evolution.

The Old Testament is widely agreed by scholars conservative and liberal and in between to be an extraordinarily complex set of writings, which include differing lines of theological commitments. Consider:

Genesis to Deuteronomy (the Pentateuch): its origins clearly lie in oral tradition, it has a strong association with Moses as a presiding genius over its writing, yet betrays various clues as to its multiple authorship and final editing during the years of the Babylonian Exile.

Isaiah: the most important book of the OT for the early Christians is written in at least two stages, most likely one before the Babylonian Exile and one after, and thus this book is likely the expression of a school of prophets rather than one lone prophet called Isaiah.

Deuteronomy to 2 Kings (at least) is guided and shaped by the theology of Deuteronomy, that obedience to the Sinai covenant will be blessed and disobedience will be cursed. The perspective of final compilation is that of the Exile: Israel is shattered by the hammer of the Babylonian Empire because of its disobedience. The sequence of post-Deuteronomy history books, Joshua - 2 Kings is often described as the Deuteronomic History.

1 & 2 Chronicles presents an alternative history of Israel, beginning with creation and ending with the restoration from Exile with the decree of Cyrus that the temple in Jerusalem may be rebuilt. Its perspective is shaped by the theology of the Jerusalem Temple: good marks are awarded to kings who honour and progress the worship of Israel in the Temple; the exile is a consequence of defiling the Temple, and its end is marked by the restoration of the Temple.

That the compilers of the Scripture of Israel did not understand this alternative history of Israel to contradict the Deuteronomic History follows from the inclusion of both in the Scripture. (A similar point can be made in respect of alternate creation stories in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2)!

But, in turn, this (brief) explanation of some aspects of the character and the development of the OT implies that God embraces messy, long development of Israel's theology, indeed of Israel's complementary theologies. In short God has presided over the evolution of Scripture.

Can we accept that the God of Scripture presided over the evolution of life?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Human Dignity and the Gospel

Archbishop Vincent Nichols (i.e. Dear Leader of English Roman Catholics) preaches:

"... The Father ceaselessly ‘sends out’ the Eternal Word, that expression of the very mystery of God, and does so in the utter, self-emptying love which is also the nature of the Godhead, the love which is the Holy Spirit. This giving out and receiving in of love, which is the very life of the Holy Trinity, is the first and unequivocal meaning of the word ‘missio’. God, of his infinite nature, is ‘missio’ and, of course, ‘communio’. These are the foundations of our use of this word, its most profound truth for us to keep in mind always.

The first outward expression or fruit of this inner ‘missio’ of the Godhead is, of course, the work of creation. St John tells us that all creation, every being, has its existence through the eternally spoken Word of God.

And so that this creation might indeed find its integral and full development or salvation, that Word become flesh in a particular and historical Incarnation. This ‘missio’ of the Eternal Word into our flesh and history gives all the defining characteristics of our sharing in that mission, in our work of ‘missio’ today. It is the full revelation of ‘integral human development’ and establishes for ever the need for the Gospel to be present as an essential part of human progress. Only in the Gospel is the full truth of our humanity told; only in the Gospel, which is Christ, does our humanity come to its true source and fulfilment, the mystery of God and God’s unequivocal love. ..."

The italics are mine, emphasizing the relationship between the gospel of Christ and the truth of human dignity. Inter alia Nichols makes the point that Hermeneutics is constrained in the service of the Gospel, the fullest revelation of the truth of God, which is simultaneously 'the full truth of our humanity': the goal of hermeneutics is human dignity.

The full text of the sermon is here. H/T Ruth Gledhill who makes an interesting point about the character of St Tony Blair's Catholicism!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Dawkins: There could be a god so why not start believing in him now and enjoy life?

OK Richard Dawkins does not quite say that, but Melanie Philips reports this about a recent debate she attended (h/t Stand Firm):

"This week’s debate, however, was different because from the off Dawkins moved it onto safer territory– and at the very beginning made a most startling admission. He said:

A serious case could be made for a deistic God.

This was surely remarkable. Here was the arch-apostle of atheism, whose whole case is based on the assertion that believing in a creator of the universe is no different from believing in fairies at the bottom of the garden, saying that a serious case can be made for the idea that the universe was brought into being by some kind of purposeful force. A creator. True, he was not saying he was now a deist; on the contrary, he still didn't believe in such a purposeful founding intelligence, and he was certainly still saying that belief in the personal God of the Bible was just like believing in fairies. Nevertheless, to acknowledge that ‘a serious case could be made for a deistic god’ is to undermine his previous categorical assertion that

...all life, all intelligence, all creativity and all ‘design’ anywhere in the universe is the direct or indirect product of Darwinian natural selection...Design cannot precede evolution and therefore cannot underlie the universe.

In Oxford on Tuesday night, however, virtually the first thing he said was that a serious case could be made for believing that it could."

You can read Melanie's whole article here.

Why post this here? Another great issue in 'hermeneutics and human dignity' is the issue of our interpretation of Genesis 1-3 in respect of 'creation', 'evolution', 'creationism', and 'theistic evolution' (a rumble of which is just nudging its way into my consciousness through an email exchange tonight ... raising the question whether a 'theistic evolutionist' is an 'apostate' ... so not an entirely abstract/academic issue)

Monday, September 7, 2009

Admiration and distance from the great men of theology

I admire great theologians from the past. Their greatness lies, in part at least, because they spoke words which still, across many centuries, have the power to inspire, challenge, and enlighten us. Augustine of Hippo, for example, illuminates both exegesis of Scripture and the thornier problems of philosophy. Tertullian stands as a man for our time with his intensely intelligent development of theology in a new language (Latin), in the face of immense challenges from the philosophers and hyper-spirituals of his day. Luther set in train a reflection on Romans which to this day has not exhausted the mysteries of that book, possibly the greatest book of theology ever written. Calvin, well, he was a master of theology, the systematizer of the Reformation, who in these early years of the twenty-first century is inspiring a great movement known as 'the New Calvinism'.

None were infallible. Some parts of Augustine's famous work, The City of God, just seem odd to me. Luther was just terrible about 'the Jews'. Tertullian was a bit odd about the relationship of philosophy and theology: what has Athens to do with Jerusalem? Quite a lot really; and Tertullian with his philosophical approach to theology (like Paul with his Hellenistic rhetorical skills) underlines that! Calvin: where to start? Just about every Calvin aficionado has to defend Calvin from the charge of joylessness, and severity.

Here is another reason to distance ourselves from the faults of these great men:

remember our history - a post by Jody Stowell

he [satan] had a deceitful conversation with the woman - no doubt starting with the inferior of the human pair so as to arrive at the whole by stages, supposing that the man would not be so easily gullible, and could not be trapped by a false move on his part, but only if he yielded to another's mistake.

and do you not know that you are each an eve? the sentence of God on this sex of yours lives in this age: the guilt must of necessity live too. you are the devil's gateway; you are the unsealer of that forbidden tree; you are the first deserter of the divine law; you are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. you destroyed so easily God's image, man. on account of your desert - that is, death - even the son of God had to die.

therefore satan, seeing that adam was the more excellent creature, did not dare attack him; for he was afraid that this attempt would fail. and i believe that if he had attacked adam first, adam would have gained the victory. he would have crushed the serpent with his foot and said: hold your tongue! the lord has commanded otherwise.

woman is more guilty than man, because she was seduced by satan, and so diverted her husband from obedience to God that she was an instrument of death leading all to perdition. it is necessary that women recognise this, and that she learn to what she is subjected; and not only against her husband. this is reason enough why today she is placed below and that she bears within her ignominy and shame.

Back to PRC: A challenge to modern exegetes of 1 Timothy 2:13-14: do you agree or disagree with the line of these four exegetes, that women are less excellent creatures than men?

In my understanding of current 'complementarian' v 'egalitarian' debates (referring to the general thrust of these around the blogosphere, not to any particular comments made on this blog in recent days), there is a very strong agreement between 'complementarians' and 'egalitarians' that men and women are ontologically equal and the dispute is whether men and women are role differentiated (women may not teach, exercise authority over a man) or not.

But this was not always so. The New Calvinists, for example, who are complementarian, follow a theological master who ranks women below men (as per the quote above).

From where does the change in recognition of the true status of women come? If from Scripture, where does that reading of Scripture come from compared to the reading more or less shared across many centuries by Tertullian to Calvin?

My suggestion is that "culture" - in this case the culture of vote-giving, education-providing, career-affirming 20th and 21st century Westernism - has changed the way we all read Scripture, at least reading Scripture so that we do not draw the conclusions these great theologians drew.

Perhaps if we understood better the role - the universal, pervasive role - of culture in reading the Bible, we could work better towards a common Christian understanding of women in ministry!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Calling Kiwi biblical bloggers

On a sidebar I am developing a bloglist of (mostly) Kiwi biblical bloggers.

If you are a Kiwi biblical blogger, or know of one, let me know and I will add you or your recommendation to the list.

I have one non-Kiwi blog, Biblioblog Top 50, 'cause that's a kind of guide to all the world's biblical bloggers!

So far I have Howard Pilgrim, Tim Bulkeley, Mark Keown, James Harding, and the Dunedin School (a collective of Dunedin/Otago Uni bloggers).

Follow up on Wright's Justification

I have now read Tom Wright's Justification: God's Plan and Paul's Vision, alerted to it, and its confrontation with John Piper's The Future of Justification, by Gerald Bray's Churchman editorial.

There is much to like in Wright's book, notably, its large vision of the single purpose of God ("God's-single-plan-through-Israel-for-the-world"), its comprehensive reckoning with the whole of Romans (offering an explanation for the chapters evangelicals are not so good at explaining, 2 and 9-11, as well as the much debated ones, 3-4, 5-6, and 8), and its generally inclusive approach to the 'old perspective' and 'new perspective' on Paul, illuminatingly offering Ephesians as the first Pauline writing to provide such combination. The style is brilliant - one of those rare theological books that reads like a thriller - hard to put down, easy to follow.

What's not to like? I would love to see a larger book, or a second volume, one which extended the thesis proposed here to engage with Roman Catholic doctrine of justification, and also with other NT material on justification. The former interests me because (not being well versed in "impartation") I would like to be clear whether Wright's critique of "imputation" is mutatis mutandis an affirmation of "impartation" or not; though in the same breath I need to say that Wright, as myself and others do, constantly attempts to transcend the medieval divide between impartation and imputation with emphasis on the Christian being the one who is "in Christ"; and, further, does not deny imputation so much as minimise its importance within the greater scheme of the true Pauline doctrine of justification.

But a more important "not to like" is that I am yet to be convinced that "righteousness", as Wright conceives it, is unambiguously "covenantal faithfulness". In the book itself Wright is convincing on this, but turn to Romans itself and take in a passage here and there, and "righteousness" seems often to be an antonym for "sin": righteousness is right living as much as it is right relationship (as I was taught in my old vicar Dick Carson's Youth Tea Bible study), where "right relationship" certainly coheres with "covenantal faithfulness". In other words, Wright who is ever alert to the need for "both ... and" rather than "either ... or" as he sets out Pauline theology as far as he is able according to Paul himself, may fall down at this, actually key point: righteousness is obedience to God's commands as well as faithfulness to God's covenant.

Enough for now, suffice to say in conclusion to this post - I may return later with further thoughts - Wright has my very great admiration for being thoroughly evangelical! For evangelical means going to Scripture, wrestling with Scripture, listening to Scripture, and testing all voices of theology with the light of Scripture. Wright does this. He seeks to be beholden to Scripture alone (in this case, to Paul himself and not to his interpreters, even though they be of the stature of Luther and Calvin).

The great challenge for his critics, and a point I think Bray misses in his editorial, is that Wright is only incidentally saying "X is wrong on doctrine of justification". Wright's main thrust is: "This is what Paul is saying justification is through the total of Paul's writing, and it is a little different to what some of his interpreters are saying he says when they work with less than all Paul's writings - I may be wrong, but if I am, you must show me with an explanation of the whole, and not a convenient part of Paul's body of work."

That is quite a challenge!

Response 2 to some issues raised earlier about WO

Request 1: If equality has nothing to do with the demands of women to be accepted for ordination, then please explain this further with respect to Genesis.

I am not sure the extent to which “equality” has something to do with the “demands” of women to be accepted for ordination because I have little or no experience of women “demanding” ordination. I can imagine that equality may figure in a range of conversations about the ordination of women such as (a) women and equal to men (pace Genesis 1) so, all things being equal with men applicants for ordination in respect of calling, gifts, abilities, women should be accepted for ordination, and (b) women should not be denied ordination on the grounds that they are women because women are equal to men in status as redeemed creatures of God (pace Genesis 1 and Galatians 3:28).

But, personally, I do not see how equality can determine an answer to questions about the ordination of women since (c) where there is opposition to the ordination of women it often if not always seems to involve this presupposition, “The (ontological) equality of men and women is not in question; what is in question is the role-suitability of women for the function of ordained ministry.” According to this presupposition a drive for “equality” has no bearing on the matter since the ordained role of priest or bishop is a role confined to men by virtue of the gender restriction on the original apostles and/or the representational aspect of the role – Jesus was a male (the ‘catholic’ argument), or a role not permitted to women – 1 Timothy 2:12 (the ‘evangelical’ argument).”

Question 1: women have an unquestioned role as ‘helpmeet’, a wide ranging role, one consistent with being ordained a deacon, but what is the scriptural justification for jumping from that to overseer and/or instructor?

The question of ordination of women to roles of priest and bishop when put in this form requires some careful calibration with the character of Anglican theologising.

Recall something I have said in a post below:
… a reminder, first, of Anglican approaches to interpreting Scripture. These I summarise as follows: (1) nothing repugnant to Scripture (2) anything consistent with Scripture (3) everything revisable according to Scripture.

(1) is a consistent principle of interpretation through all history of theology

(2) is the hard won result of arguments with Puritans, tested subsequent to the Elizabethan Settlement, never resiled from despite temptations to do so at different times in English history since E1, thus, for example, we subscribe to the orders of deacons, priests, and bishops, as consistent with Scripture though this is not required by Scripture

(3) is the principle of the Reformation, put into practice by the English Reformers, and subsequently has empowered Anglicans to consider proposed changes to faith and practice, including consideration of the ordination of women.

Anglicans, in other words, are prepared to accept church practices which are not “repugnant” to Scripture but which may not be “justified” by Scripture because (e.g.) Scripture simply offers insufficient material for a “scriptural justification”.
A trivial example is the lack of scriptural justification for placing flowers in church as part of church decoration; a substantive example is the lack of scriptural justification for holding annual synods. We do both because they contribute to the life of the body of Christ here on earth.

That there might not be explicit scriptural justification for women being in the roles of overseer and/or instructor need not restrain us from making appointments of women to these roles, providing we understand this as not repugnant to Scripture. The latter determination involves a range of assessments from the evidence of the New Testament for women being widely involved in the ministry and mission of the church to texts such as 1 Timothy 2:12-15. With respect to the former the general argument is that an extension of what we find explicitly in the New Testament (deacon, patron, co-labourers in the gospel, shared instruction by Prisca and Aquila) to roles of overseer and/or instructor is appropriate; with respect to the latter, I argue, that 1 Timothy 2:12 is not a universal prohibition on any woman at any time being appointed to the role of overseer and/or instructor.

Request 2: a scriptural defence of the importance/necessity/worth/integrity of the role of lay women

In my understanding of the New Testament’s narratives of ministry and mission, a wide range of ministry roles are commended explicitly or implicitly. These commended roles are held by men and by women, and they go well beyond the New Testament equivalents of our Anglican ordained roles of bishop, priest and deacon. The New Testament church seemingly could not function without this breadth of ministry. Nor can our modern church function without people taking up the many roles beyond the ‘clerical’ ones. Along such lines lies a scriptural defence of the important/necessity/worth/integrity of the role of lay women (and, of course, of lay men).

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Response 1 to issue raised earlier about WO

(With reference to some issues raised in a comment to a post below)

Argument 1: Jesus did not ordain women as pastors/teachers, or call women to teach and therefore have authority over men so Paul (in, e.g. 1 Tim 2:11-15) confirms that this is right and proper in respect of the order of the church, undergirded as it is by creation and the fall – so arguments about the meaning of ‘authentein’ are possibly irrelevant – including the fact that naming the animals was a role given to Adam and not to Eve. The consequential challenge is to demonstrate from either Genesis or Jesus that women are called to the role of teaching and having authority over men.

I do not think this can be responded to in an Anglican context without a reminder, first, of Anglican approaches to interpreting Scripture. These I summarise as follows: (1) nothing repugnant to Scripture (2) anything consistent with Scripture (3) everything revisable according to Scripture.

(1) is a consistent principle of interpretation through all history of theology.

(2) is the hard won result of arguments with Puritans, tested subsequent to the Elizabethan Settlement, never resiled from despite temptations to do so at different times in English history since E1, thus, for example, we subscribe to the orders of deacons, priests, and bishops, as consistent with Scripture though this is not required by Scripture.

(3) is the principle of the Reformation, put into practice by the English Reformers, and subsequently has empowered Anglicans to consider proposed changes to faith and practice, including consideration of the ordination of women.

To the argument: some minor points to begin with. When engaging with Genesis 1-3 (indeed 1-11) which are important chapters lying at the foundation of all theological reflection about humanity and our relationship to God, some things are theologically ‘clear’, some less so.

Thus at the end of Genesis 1, one of the theological implications of creation is made explicitly clear, namely, that we are made in God’s image, and that we are made ‘male and female’ in that imaging-in-creation, implying a fundamental ontological equality between men and women; and at the end of Genesis 2, another fundamental point is made, that we are made male and female for the purpose of marriage, and marriage is to be an exclusive lifelong commitment.

Less ‘clear’ is the theological lesson of Adam naming the animals. It’s reasonably clear (I suggest) that this signifies a superiority of humanity over the animal species. But can we be clear about other implications of this naming? To draw from that some difference in role between Adam and Eve would have implications beyond the roles of husband and wife, or men and women in ministry: naming animals is a kind of scientific role, should we conclude that women may not be scientists? This would be an absurd restriction on women-in-science, and an outrageous basis on which to make the restriction. Consequently we should look for something more substantive, and, better, much clearer from Genesis before we start drawing conclusions about Genesis providing a basis for restriction of women in teaching and in leadership roles.

The major points for consideration from the argument set out above, then, are these: (a) the (apparent) lack of ordination of women, by Jesus, to the roles of pastors/teachers, and/or Jesus calling women to teach and have authority over women, and (b) the implications of the story of creation and the fall in respect of the relationship between Adam and Eve for ministry roles for women (the connection made explicit by Paul in 1 Timothy 2:13-14).

(a) What did Jesus commission the apostles to do, was it a commission limited to their gender?

At the end of Matthew, Luke’s, and John’s Gospels, and at the beginning of Acts, there are narratives of commissioning of the disciples, mostly, but not exclusively with ‘the Twelve’ in view. But the commission – to baptise, to teach, to make disciples (say, from Matthew 28:20) - is not worked out in practice in terms of an exclusive ministry order of the apostles and of their explicitly ordained successors. Notably in Acts we find ad hoc arrangements being made, along with a broad cast of Christians carrying out the commission of Jesus. One ad hoc arrangement is the commissioning of deacons in Acts 6 because the workload for the apostles has become too great. (The initial deacons, incidentally, are male, but by Romans 16 we have at least one female deacon named). Another ad hoc arrangement is the way ministry leadership develops and incorporates other ministry leaders: Barnabas, for instance, sent to Antioch from Jerusalem (sounds like an ‘official’ extension of the commission of Jesus from Jerusalem based apostles), but then taking initiative to go up to Tarsus to find Saul/Paul to bring him back to Antioch (seems like an unofficial, but inspired thing to have done).

Without canvassing all that the New Testament says about ministry in the days of the apostles, I note two items from a more extensive list of things to consider:

(1) when the apostolic band (Paul, an apostle; Silas, a companion to the apostle; and Timothy, arguably, yes, a minister of the gospel ordained by Paul; plus, the ‘we’, read for the first time in 16:10, is suggestive of Luke, another companion of the apostle joining the band) reach Philippi, their first convert is Lydia, a woman, whose household (without mention of a husband) is baptized, and whose leadership is such that she ‘prevailed’ upon the band to stay. Looks like Lydia was the first leader of the church in Philippi!

(2) The reference to ‘apostles’ in Romans 16:7 which raises significant questions as to (a) the extent of ‘the apostles’ in those days, (b) whether women were numbered among those called ‘apostles’, since one reading of this verse (NOT fairly witnessed to by the ESV) is, “Greet Andonicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known among the apostles, and they were in Christ before me.” One reason why they might have been accounted as ‘among the apostles’ is that this couple are the ‘Joanna, wife of Chuza’ (i.e. ‘Joanna = Junia’, and ‘Chuza = Andronicus’, h/t Richard Bauckham) of Luke 8:3, Joanna being one of the disciples of Jesus.

In short, the complex, even messy evidence of the New Testament itself, undercuts any subsequent tendency towards a simple deduction that because none of the Twelve were women, therefore Jesus did not intend women to engage in the apostolic commission to teach and to lead the church.

(b) Given the supportive citation of the story of Adam and Eve in creation and the fall when Paul prohibits in 1 Timothy 2:12 and justifies it in 1 Timothy 2:13-14, what are the implications of the creation and the fall for ministry roles for men and for women?

In a number of ways, this simply takes us to the way we read 1 Timothy 2:12-15 and apply it to life today. Here goes again! The roles of women in the ministry of the early church of the days of the apostles does raise the question whether Paul was laying down in 1 Timothy 2:12 a blanket ban on all women teaching and leading men in mixed gender congregational settings; a ban on Phoebe, Prisca, Lydia, Junia, Euodia and Syntyche, to say nothing of the prophesying daughters of Philip the Evangelist undertaking any kind of teaching role or leading role in the mixed congregations of the early church. Imagine the prohibition in 1 Timothy 2:12 was not, in fact, in line with a general and, it should be said, somewhat draconian policy, given the esteemed women mentioned above circulating in the life of the early church (most notably, perhaps, Prisca/Priscilla). How might 1 Timothy 2:13-14 have been understood?

“For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.”

The first thing that would not have been understood is that women are inherently prone to being deceived and consequently untrustworthy of the role of teacher because this would make a nonsense of the entrusting of the role of teacher to women (re other women and children) in Titus 2:3-5. It would also make a nonsense of the role of Prisca/Priscilla as a teacher of the faith.

More likely is that 2:13-14 would have been understood in terms of the danger of women taking a stance, as Eve did, in which (a) they listen to the word of the devil and permit it to deny the word of God, (b) act upon that word and thus disobey the word of God, and (c) draw men along with them in their disobedience. In the particular context of the Ephesus of 1 Timothy, Paul’s prohibition may have had particularly in mind (i) the cultural context of female dominated religion, i.e. the cult of Artemis in Ephesians (ii) the pervasiveness of false teaching affecting the church, especially a false doctrine of marriage as something to be forbidden. To this false teaching, incidentally, 1 Timothy 2:15, with its affirmation of the goodness of childbirth (and intrinsically also of sex and marriage), may have been a rejoinder.

In other words, 1 Timothy 2:13-14 is invoked because of a specific problem at Ephesus (a problem not confined to Ephesus in the long history of the church), but the implication is that 1 Timothy 2:12 does not apply where women are faithful and obedient to the word of God, allowing the word of God to deny the word of the devil.

Consequently the story of the creation and the fall does not set out for all time a rule for the role of women in relation to men which precludes women from teaching or leading men. We might note, incidentally, that the role of women as ‘helper’ (Genesis 2:18, 20) is a general role of support and supply, of companionship and partnership in the enterprise of life. Nothing in Genesis 2, which ends with male and female as ‘one flesh’ and not as two people in distinct roles, implies a rule for all time about the specific role or roles of women in relation to men, least of all an implication about not teaching or leading men.

If it did then Deborah, Huldah, Priscilla, and Phoebe should have been roundly castigated in Scripture for their disobedience to that rule. But in fact we find the opposite: these women are honoured for the way in which they discharge their callings.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Not forgotten ...

... is my intention to respond to some challenging questions posed by Rosemary a few days ago ... but some urgent priorities on my desk need attending to ... and today is an Auckland day trip to Laidlaw College ...

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Reading Paul on the ordination of women

A respondent to my post below (see Rosemary's comment to the post) about an editorial of Gerald Bray in The Churchman raises several important points which I would like to respond to, not least because with the points comes a charge that I (and people reading Paul like me) are undermining the integrity with which Paul wrote.

Here are the important points:

"... if I’m not to trust the plain meaning of Paul on that matter, what other matter can I not trust him on? Salvation? Eternal Life? He wrote quite a bit about the necessity of people being able to trust in his integrity .. and yet you’re telling me that he’s not to be trusted in this particular case. The implication is that I can’t trust him on any other issue either ... [and], just continue to make sure you uphold the apparent justice issue, and continue to lack trust in Jesus actions and undermining the authority of Paul ..." That is, (1) what is the 'plain meaning' of Paul in 1 Timothy 2:11-15?

"... the devil has convinced us that we must hold upfront positions in order to be equal, we must seek leadership in order to be fulfilled. In fact that service can ONLY be seen in those roles." That is, (2) the church today is deceived into thinking that equality of women with men requires the ordination of women.

"... Rather downputting of so many women who don’t see their roles that way isn’t it Peter? But don’t concern yourself about them ..." That is, (3) the goal of ordaining women, and the continuing upholding of that goal is at the expense of women who do not seek ordination as a validation of the ministry they do have.

Here I will not attempt a long answer for which I can refer to some posts on Anglican Down Under I made some time ago, here, here, here, here and there. So, some brief responses:

(1) on the plain meaning of 1 Timothy 2:11-15, the question is whether any exegete understands the 'plain meaning' because there is vigorous scholarly debate over (a) the meaning of the word, authentein, in 2:12 (to have authority or to usurp authority), and (b) the meaning in 2:15 of 'being kept safe, or being saved through childbirth, or by bearing children, or by bearing The Child.' In my view the difficulties in 2:15 raise the serious question whether the prohibition in 2:12 is not only concerned with female usurpers of authority but also with the content of their teaching as doctrinally unsound because it involved denial of the inherent goodness of our sexuality (see also 1 Timothy 4:3).

My argument is that, in the light of the positive affirmations of women in ministry leadership elsewhere in Paul's writings, these uncertainties mean we cannot be confident that we understand the plain meaning of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 to be a universal prohibition for all time of all women who might be ordained to the priesthood or episcopacy (which ministries normally include teaching and leadership). I accept, of course, that many Christians believe they read Paul in 2:11-15 plainly and have excellent grounds for rejecting the ordination of women. This belief necessarily includes a confidence in understanding authentein and the tricky questions concerning salvation in 2:15 which I (and other esxegetes) do not share.

Incidentally I am not at all satisfied that engaging with Paul's writings by asking questions of it should incur charges of 'not trusting' him. Plenty of questioning of Paul goes on in the evangelical wing of the church, let alone within the whole church. Is it trusting or not trusting Paul, for example, to downplay or even deny the validity of speaking in tongues or exercising spiritual gifts such as words of knowledge (1 Corinthians 12, 14) as many evangelicals do?

(2)It is quite possible, indeed probable that in some places in the church people are deceived into thinking that equality of women with men requires the ordination of women. (Intriguingly this could mean that many Protestants have been deceived by the devil but all of the Roman and Eastern churches have withstood the devil's wiles!!) But arguments for the ordination of women do not require a linkage with 'equality'. Speaking personally (i.e. not trying to second guess the arguments of others) I support the ordination of women as a recognition of calling, gifts, and abilities of women the church discerns as able to fulfil the role of deacon, priest or bishop. In my view the church should not ordain women as a matter driven primarily by justice considerations but foremost as a matter of responding to the discernment of the will of God.

(3) I am well aware that in various parts of the church there is an unfortunate clericalism whereby the earthly glory and praise for ministry roles goes primarily to the ordained with lay ministers being ignored, taken for granted, or generally overlooked when ministry is commended - a clericalism which has simply extended its scope with the ordination of women. This post, for example, bears witness to that fact.

But I fail to see any necessary linkage between ordaining women and putting down the ministry of women who are not ordained. Speaking personally I make it my aim not to glorify ordained ministry, especially not in comparison to lay ministry. Speaking from the Diocese of Nelson where lay and ordained ministry, of men and of women, mingles side by side, and where lay and ordained ministers are welcomed and encouraged to participate in our annual Leadership Conference, I humbly assert that it is possible to affirm the ordination of women and to affirm the ministry of women who are not ordained, without anyone being put down.