Re: Science, Women, and Paul

From: george murphy (
Date: Sat May 18 2002 - 21:22:27 EDT

  • Next message: "Re: Science, Women, and Paul" wrote:

    > Hi George.
    > First off, I didn't mean to call you "contentious," as in hard to get along
    > with. That was not what I meant. I had quoted Paul as saying, "If anyone
    > wants to be contentious about this [women's hair being all the head covering
    > they need], we have no other practice - nor do the churches of God." I then
    > said, "It sounds to me like you are being contentious about it." In other
    > words, that you were contending Paul's words that made it plain that women
    > were at that time wrongly being asked to wear head coverings. For Paul had
    > just said, "Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God
    > with her head uncovered? ... LONG HAIR is given to her AS a covering." (1
    > Cor. 11:13,15)

             I.e., I am being "contentious" only if it is clear that Paul meant what
    you think it meant. It isn't - see the following for further details.

    > You wrote: 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 ..
    > Someday you and I will have to ask Paul about this matter. Until then the
    > actual meaning of these passages of scripture will be as unclear as many
    > others for many Bible readers. They are, however, now quite clear to me.
    > You wrote: and, in particular, think it much less convincing for I
    > Cor.11:2-16 than for 14:34-36. ... there is nothing in the former case to
    > indicate that he is quoting views that he doesn't agree with starting at v.3,
    > Of course there is. As I wrote earlier, the contents of the next several
    > verses, 11-16, clearly show them to be Paul's rebuttal to the false teaching
    > he had just referenced. For the words in these verses clearly rebut the
    > arguments advanced in verses 3-10. Thus they can only be understood as being
    > Paul's own explanation of the true Christian position on this issue, the
    > position which Paul was really promoting.

             If Paul wanted to "rebut" vv.3-10 he would have said "No, women don't
    have to be veiled at worship" or something equally clear. His argument in the
    whole passage is not just a single sequence of propositions but
    several different
    arguments adduced to make his point. The fact that women already
    have long hair
    would indeed seem to indicate that further covering is otiose but that simply
    isn't the way Paul is arguing here. It is rather that nature shows that women
    should have their heads covered so they should cover them - redundancy or no.
             But Paul also is at pains to point out that there is some reciprocity
    between men and women in creation - it isn't just a matter of men
    always first &
    women always second (v.12).

    > You wrote: 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.
    > The Greek at the beginning of verse two, "thelo de human eidenai," simply
    > reads, "want but you know." There is no "I" there or at in verse 2. The Greek
    > is without pronouns. The pronouns must be assumed by the reader. You are
    > merely assuming that the pronouns should be understood as being the same in
    > both cases. I believe your assumption is an incorrect one.

             I am making no assumption. No pronoun "I" is needed because
    the omega in
    thelo is the standard first person singular active ending - just as it is in
    epaino in verse 2. The implied ego of thelo in v.3 is the same as
    that of epaino
    (& mou) in v.2 - i.e., Paul. This shows very clearly that there is
    no change of
    speaker between the two verses and that your argument as it pertains to this
    passage fails.

    > You wrote: You have missed my point here, which is not that the views of
    > "virtually
    > 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 nevertheless have not seen that as a
    > requirement binding upon the church for all times and places.
    > That seems to me to be a distinction without a difference. For if Paul said
    > it was permissible for churches at one time to require such thing from women
    > then it is permissible for churches to do so now. You seem to say Paul
    > instituted such practices to cater to the prejudices of the time. But the
    > fact of the matter is many people today have the same attitudes toward women
    > as they did in Paul's day. So if treating women as second class citizens then
    > was allowable in Christian churches to cater to improper human attitudes then
    > doing so today is also proper. Such an argument would also condone making
    > blacks sit in the back of churches and forbidding them to teach in churches
    > in the southern USA 40 years ago. After all, such treatment of blacks was
    > common outside the church, so why not in it? I say treating our brothers and
    > sisters in Christ in a less respectful way due to their skin color, social
    > status or gender has never been viewed as acceptable behavior by Jesus Christ
    > in Christian churches.

              The writings of Paul & the whole Bible simply don't give us
    answers on issues like the role of women, race, and slavery. I appreciate your
    desire to remove possible arguments against equality for women but don't think
    that should be done by trying to make Paul say something he just
    doesn't say. It
    is much better to look at the whole of Paul's writings and the whole of
    scripture. Galatians 3:28 is of critical importance, for here Paul is clearly
    stating what should be a general truth about life in Christ & is not giving
    regulations for specific congregations. As F.F. Bruce says about this verse in
    his Galatians commentary: "Paul states the basic principle here: if
    restrictions on it are found elsewhere in the Pauline corpus, as in I
    f. ... or I Tim.2:11, f , they are to be understood in relation to
    Gal.3:28, and
    not vice versa."

             This subject really needs a longer discussion of the idea of
    in ethics and theology than is possible here. I will be glad to send to anyone
    interested an article of mine in The Bride of Christ from a couple of
    years ago,
    "The Trajectory of Creation and the Ordination of Women."

    > You wrote: 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, ...
    > The words found in Acts 15:29 were not "rules for churches at particular
    > times & places." They were merely helpful suggestions given to new Gentile
    > converts to Christianity, on an individual basis, on how they could avoid
    > upsetting Jewish Christians. The last words of verse 29 makes this clear.
    > They say, "You will do well to avoid these things." Acts 15:19, 20 says, "It
    > is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the
    > Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling
    > them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the
    > meat of strangled animals and from blood." It is plain then that the letter
    > that resulted from that decision, which verse 29 is a part of, was not
    > written as a binding decree imposed upon Christians. We know this because
    > Paul later said that early Christians were, in fact, free to eat food
    > sacrificed to idols (one of the things Christians were advised to "abstain
    > from" in Acts 15:29) so long as doing so did not stumble their brothers. (1
    > Cor. 8:4,7-9) We also know this because Paul said that for Christians, "All
    > things are lawful but all things are not beneficial." (1 Cor. 6:12)

             The whole question of the relationship between the decree of the
    apostolic council reported in Acts 15 and Paul's letters is rather difficult
    because Paul never makes any reference to this decree. It is quite surprisng,
    e.g., that he never refers to the fact that such a council did _not_
    require the
    circumcision of Gentiles when he's dealing with that issue in Galatians.
             In any case, Acts 15:29 is not simply "helpful suggestion". In
    particular, the requirement to abstain from blood was understood to be part of
    God's covenant with Noah, and thus binding on all people - in distinction from
    the regulations of torah which were only binding on Israel.

    > You wrote: Paul is concerned to maintain some order, partly so as not to
    > offer unnecessary offense to outsiders. 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 publicly.
    > Again, I say the evidence clearly indicates that Paul himself never said any
    > such thing and strongly opposed those who did.
    > You wrote: 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.
    > I disagree. If Paul made rules that he required Christian congregations to
    > follow which treated women with less respect than women were treated in Old
    > Testament times not only is that a contradiction to Old Testament scripture,
    > but it is a contradiction to Christianity itself. For Christians have never
    > been under any laws but those Christ himself instituted, to love God and love
    > our neighbor as ourselves. He also said we are to "give Caesar's things to
    > Caesar." And, of course, we can and do make rules for ourselves to live by
    > and often agree to live by various rules set up by others in organizations we
    > freely chose to join. But the idea that Paul once created a set of Christian
    > laws or church rules of order concerning the treatment and conduct of women
    > in the first century is, to me, ridiculous.

            Scripture is not presented to us as a set of propositions like
    Euclid. It
    is a record of witnesses to God's revelation and the way in which the
    of revelation tried, with greater or less wisdom and faithfulness, to live out
    its implications in the situations in which they found themselves ~3000-~2000
    years ago.
             Again let me emphasize that my fundamental argument is
    against the way in
    which you are trying to interpret I Cor.11:2-16. It just doesn't work. OTOH I
    think the same type of interpretation has some plausibility in the case of

    > You wrote: No one - man, women, Jew, Greek, &c - has an absolute right to
    > preach in
    > the public assembly of the church.
    > You are right about that. For the Bible and Paul left it up to each body of
    > Christians to decide who among us who was willing to serve our spiritual
    > needs would best suit those needs. That is why Paul would have never made
    > rules, such as those he condemned which banned women teachers, interfering
    > with the freedom Christ gave to each individual Christian congregation to
    > decide for itself who would best serve its need to be taught God's word.

             Unfortunately your attempt to avoid discrimination on the basis of race
    or gender falls apart here for if it is indeed up to "each body of
    Christians" to
    decide then there will be many "individual Christian congregations" which will
    refuse to call women, blacks &c as pastors. It is the whole church, not just
    individual congregations, that needs to be involved.


    George L. Murphy
    "The Science-Theology Interface"

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