That Business about Women Keeping Silent in Church – What if Someone Else Added It In?

0800637712hI’m reading through Eldon Jay Epp’s book Junia: The First Woman Apostle, which has succeeded in blowing my mind, and we haven’t even gotten to Junia yet.

Epp starts the book by talking about textual criticism, the means by which scholars look at the oldest texts we have and study their language and variations, and the problems such criticism poses for exegetical certainty. For example, everyone here is familiar with 1 Corinthians 14:34-35:

34 the women should be quiet during the meeting. They are not allowed to talk. Instead, they need to get under control, just as the Law says. 35 If they want to learn something, they should ask their husbands at home. It is disgraceful for a woman to talk during the meeting.

Pretty clear, right? But let’s zoom out a little and see what we find when we include it in context:

31 You can all prophesy one at a time so that everyone can learn and be encouraged. 32 The spirits of prophets are under the control of the prophets. 33 God isn’t a God of disorder but of peace.

(Like in all the churches of God’s people, 34 the women should be quiet during the meeting. They are not allowed to talk. Instead, they need to get under control, just as the Law says. 35 If they want to learn something, they should ask their husbands at home. It is disgraceful for a woman to talk during the meeting. 36 Did the word of God originate with you? Has it come only to you?)

37 If anyone thinks that they are prophets or “spiritual people,” then let them recognize that what I’m writing to you is the Lord’s command. 38 If someone doesn’t recognize this, they aren’t recognized. 39 So then, brothers and sisters, use your ambition to try to get the gift of prophecy, but don’t prevent speaking in tongues. 40 Everything should be done with dignity and in proper order.

The parentheses, which Epp includes in his treatment of these paragraphs, kind of give it away: One of these paragraphs is not like the other two. You could read from verse 33a to verse 37 without any trouble, as if verses 33b-36 didn’t exist. That’s interesting enough, but by itself doesn’t prove that verses 33b-35 or 36 are later additions to the text.

But Epp goes on to point out that not every text of 1 Corinthians place verses 34-35 between 33 and 36; some place it after verse 40. So this text is a little more mobile than your typical Pauline text. Also, though every text of 1 Corinthians 14 we have includes this passage, at least two of our earliest versions (Codex Fuldensis, dated to 547, and Codex Vaticanus, dated to the 300s) include scribal notations also found with such passages as John’s story of the woman caught in adultery, a well known case of textual variation. As Epp puts it:

This combination of literary analysis and text-critical assessment has moved a sizable group of scholars to view the passage on “silent women” as a later intrusion into 1 Corinthians and most likely one never written by Paul. (19)

So what does this mean? What do we do if one of the key passages governing gender roles in conservative and fundamentalist churches turns out to be a later, non-Pauline addition? After all, it’s still in our Bibles, and – at least theoretically – Paul is not of greater importance than any other biblical writer (though we Protestants certainly seem to prefer him to, say, James).

But the point is not to simply dismiss pieces of the Bible we don’t like; the point is to recognize that the Bible itself – not any particular passage but the very nature of the texts we have – rejects our attempts to flatten it into a cut-and-paste set of rules for 21st century life and worship.

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Book Review: ‘How God Became King’ by N.T. Wright

How-God-Became-KingSomething is missing.

You know it – sense it, more accurately – but you can’t quite place it. You begin searching, but of course it’s hard to find what isn’t. More frustrating, you can’t even figure out the vocabulary to describe it. So you learn to live with that feeling, that itch you can’t scratch, that helpless notion of running into the same dead end over and over again. Over time, the itch subsides, the roaring distraction becomes a dull ache, and you move on.

Then along comes someone who clearly and succinctly describes not only what you’ve been missing, but how you can replace it.

That moment becomes a life-changing one, when everything begins making sense for the first time since … when? Ever?

For me, that moment came while reading N.T. Wright’s How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels (HarperOne, 2012).

For nearly two years, I’ve been studying toward a degree in history and theology. A few books along the way have proven monumental in reshaping my view of God, faith, science, politics, the nature of humanity and the nature of creation. But for all of that reassessment, much of it chronicled in this blog, something was missing.

That something was Jesus. More specifically, it was a deep understanding of who Jesus was and why he lived, died and rose again. I was attempting to renew my faith with an old understanding of Jesus, and it wasn’t working. What’s more, I didn’t even realize it fully until N.T. Wright came along.

Wright isn’t the first person to deconstruct the traditional evangelical view of how the gospels portray Jesus and his ministry; Scot McKnight’s King Jesus Gospel predates this book by a few months. For that matter, I’m sure this isn’t the first time the prolific Wright has addressed these topics in print. But it’s the first time for me to hear him do so – and for anyone to do so in such an accessible way.

By the end of How God Became King, the conclusion is inescapable: those of us raised with a traditional view of atonement and salvation – one in which Jesus comes so that we can say a prayer, “ask him into our hearts” and procure insurance against the fires of hell – have been sold a bill of goods. We have become unwitting accomplices to the cheapening of the life-changing message of Jesus, to the corruption by Western individualism of what the gospel writers understood to be the world-reshaping entrance of God’s kingdom in the person and ministry of Jesus, a kingdom that calls us to ensure the doing of God’s will on earth, as in heaven.

In other words, this Christianity thing isn’t about escaping hell and this world to go to heaven. It’s about bringing heaven to this world and abolishing hell forever.

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