Re: Science, Women, and Paul

From: george murphy (
Date: Sat May 18 2002 - 16:44:56 EDT

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         In the following please bear in mind that I have not said that your
    interpretation of the passages in question is flatly wrong. I do not, however,
    find it compelling and, in particular, think it much less convincing for I
    Cor.11:2-16 than for 14:34-36. In the latter case one can argue with some
    plausibility that Paul is quoting someone else and then reacting with
    v.36. But
    there is nothing in the former case to indicate that he is quoting
    views that he
    doesn't agree with starting at v.3, "But I want you to know..."
    (thelo de human
    eidenai...). The "I" here is the same as the "I" of v.2 - i.e., Paul. wrote:

    > Hello George,
    > You wrote: The sort of interpretation of Paul's statements about the role of
    > women in the church proposed below - basically, that Paul is citing the
    > arguments of others with whom he does not agree - has been made before.
    > I had heard this suggested before but had never seen all the relevant
    > passages and all the objections to such a way of understanding the scriptures
    > dealt with before. So I took it upon myself to take a closer look at the
    > whole matter. The conclusions I have reached on these issues are, I believe,
    > correct ones.
    > You wrote: Not everything that Paul (or any other biblical writer) says
    > should be seen as a regulation valid for all times and places. Some are
    > regulations for the good order of the church in particular situations. This
    > is, e.g., the way virtually all churches understand the statements of Paul in
    > I Cor.11 ...
    > "Virtually all churches" understand that Adam was literally the first man who
    > ever walked the earth. "Virtually all churches" understand that the flood of
    > Noah's day was global. Virtually all churches are wrong about some things
    > which some people think are quite important in the "times and places" we are
    > now living in. This includes the way women are now treated in most Christian
    > churches.

             You have missed my point here, which is not that the views of
    all churches" are necessarily correct. It is rather that the great majority of
    churches who do in fact (rightly or wrongly) think that Paul was
    calling for the
    veiling of women at worship in I Cor.11 neverthless have not seen that as a
    requirement binding upon the church for all times and places. Other examples
    could be cited. E.g., few churches teach that eating Blutwurst is sinful in
    spite of Acts 15:29. IF then these were rules for churches at
    particular times &
    places, there is at least the possibility that the prohibition of
    women speaking
    in church (assuming again that this was what Paul was saying) has the same
    character, & therefore cannot automatically be cited in proof that women can
    never preach &c.

    > You wrote: Paul is giving a rule about how women are to be dressed when they
    > speak publicly in the church!
    > Paul is giving no such rule at all. He is quoting false teachers whose
    > writings he was asked to critique.

             As I pointed out above, there is no indication in the text to support
    this view.

    > You wrote: That in itself suggests that the statement in chapter 14 that
    > women are to "remain silent" is intended to apply only to particular
    > situations.
    > As Paul would say, "WHAT?!" (1 Cor. 14:36) The evidence which I earlier
    > presented clearly shows that Paul made no such statement.

             As I said earlier, I think this interpretation of I Cor.14 has some
    plausibility, though it is not compelling. It does have the advantage of
    removing the apparent anomaly of Paul saying that women should be dressed in a
    certain way when they pray & prophesy in the church & then 3 chapters later
    saying that they shouldn't speak in the church at all.

    > You wrote: Other wise Paul wouldn't give detailed arguments in chapter 11 for
    > the proper dress of women when they _do_ speak.
    > He does no such thing in chapter 11. He first quotes the false teachers who
    > were demanding that women wear head coverings. He then said that he required
    > they do no such thing, and said their long hair was all the head coverings
    > they needed. (verse 15) He then said in the next verse, "If anyone wants to
    > be contentious about this, we have no other practice - nor do the churches of
    > God." It sounds to me like you are being contentious about it.

             It seems likely that some in the Corinthian church understood Christian
    liberty to mean that they didn't have to be concerned about restraints on their
    behavior at all - cf. the toleration of incest noted in chapter 5 and the
    behavior of some at the Lord's Supper in chapter 11. Paul is concerned to
    maintain some order, partly so as not to offer unnecessary offense to
    He does not say in chapter 11 that women cannot speak in the public assembly
    (which is really the main point) but that they should be dressed decently (for
    that culture) when they do so or (v.10) that they should have a sign that they
    have the authority (exousian) to pray publically.
             As far as your last sentence is concerned, I invite anyone else reading
    this exchange to judge whose language is contentious.

    > You wrote: It also should be remembered that Paul isn't the whole of
    > scripture. Arguments that woman are not to teach men must ignore, among
    > others, Deborah
    > (Jdg.4:4-10), Huldah (II Kg.22:14-20), Mary Magdalene (Jn.20:17-18) and the
    > daughters of Philip (Acts 21:9).
    > Of course, I agree with you. But what is your point? That the writings of
    > Paul contradicted the rest of the Bible? I don't think so.

             My point is what I said it was: Paul isn't the whole of
    scripture. And
    realizing that women have authoritative roles in other places in
    scripture lends
    further weight to the suggestion that the Pauline statements in
    question are not
    to be understood as universally binding. The question of contradiction arises
    only if one assumes that they are.
             No one - man, women, Jew, Greek, &c - has an absolute right
    to preach in
    the public assembly of the church. I can imagine a situation - e.g., a
    congregation which has just gone through a very serious and traumatic period of
    widespread sexual abuse by a male pastor - in which the bishop would
    say to that
    congregation "I will only approve the call of a woman pastor for this
    congregation at this time." But that would of course be a prudential decision
    applicable only to that congregation at that time, not a general principle.

    George L. Murphy

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