Saturday, April 28, 2007

Some things aren't simple

I'm never sure whether to say that spirituality is a simple thing or not. I think it's simple in the sense that the kingdom belongs to children and makes the foolish wise. But I also think the Bible is not simple in that it's a Middle Eastern theological text of many genres. There is some poetry, some law, some philosophy, some legendary stories, and even some personal letters.

The primary texts used to explain the view Churches of Christ (and other churches, of course) have towards women's roles are letters from Paul to the church in Corinth and Timothy (I Corinthians 14:26-40 and I Timothy 2). I'm going to try to keep this as short as I can, because sometimes your point can get lost in too many words.

Let's look at these passages. The interpretation used here by people who believe women should remain silent is a very surface-level, literal one. People read this and think, "Well, it seems simple if you just read what it says." And it does seem that way. But If you look to even the surrounding verses, I think it becomes clear that it can't be interpreted simply.

Take the I Timothy passage. The related passage begins in verses 11-14 about quietness, submission, and authority, but then takes a somewhat strange detour in verse 15 stating that "women will be saved through childbearing". At that point I think it becomes clear that there is more to this passage than meets the eye. Because if we continue to read with that simplistic interpretation , then we must then deduct that the salvation of a woman depends upon whether or not she has children-- beyond that it seems as though she must physically bear the children to be saved.

One friend said that in reading this, he would rather be more stringent in following this passage (referencing raising hands in prayer and not "dressing to impress"), and I completely agree on those points. But I don't know anyone who would agree that only women who have physically given birth to a child will be saved. At the risk of pointing out the obvious, this would eliminate quite a few women from even the option of being saved-- pre-pubescent, unmarried, the infertile or those married to infertile men, etc etc. I am not trying to be crass or claiming to have some great understanding, but just trying to point out the flaw of the hermeneutic.

To briefly touch on the passage in I Corinthians 14, I think that if you look at the context, you'll see that the entire passage is relating to a worship service that I think most Christians would find pretty foreign today, complete with the speaking of tongues, multiple prophecies, revelations, and everyone leading their favorite song. :) Again, not claiming to have superior understanding, just pointing out the inconsistency of the interpretation.

I have a few more things to say about women's roles, and I'll get to them soon. But here are some great resources I think you should check out if you're interested.

Mike Cope, from Highland Church of Christ in Abilene, gave a great lesson on the subject of women's roles when their church announced that they were going to push towards gender justice in their church. His sermon is located here., Gender Justice and Churches of Christ is a great resource for people and churches looking to learn more about the importance of women being allowed to share their gifts.


PS-- Some people have told me they've tried to leave comments but they don't show up, and I really don't know why that's happening. Just don't want you to think I'm censoring you or anything. :)


stephen said...

Hi Anne,

I recognize the fact that my opinion probably isn't very popular among your blog readership, but I wanted to throw it out there anyway.

It's very tempting to disregard these passages, thinking that they applied to a particular situation a long time ago in a different culture, and are no longer relevant to modern Christians.

Here are the particular verses that make me think otherwise:

1. I Cor. 14:33 - "As in all congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches." Churches in Paul's time did not all have the same culture. There were Jewish churches, and many different cultures of gentile churches. If Paul thinks that "all congregations" should follow these directions, I see no reason to think that we're exempt because we live in a different culture.

2. I Tim. 2:13 - "For Adam was formed first..." The fact that Paul uses Adam and Eve (who lived thousands of years before him) as an example suggests that he thinks his directions are based on principles that are universal across time.

I know the "women will be saved through childbearing" passage is confusing, and it bothers me a little, but I think you might be throwing the baby out with the bathwater to disregard the entire passage.

ann said...

I just want to say that if I have ever given the impression that I think any part of the word of God is to be discarded or thrown out, then I have communicated myself poorly. My intention with the example of the childbirth stuff was only to say that it's not simple to interpret, not that it should be ignored or disregarded.

As for the "all the churches" phrase, in my version (TNIV) it actually appears in verse 33 (I think you meant 34), and it qualifies the phrase, "God is not a God of disorder, but of peace." I don't know much about Greek, or I'd give my own commentary. Anyway, I think it's a phrase that is at least a flexible in its placement and meaning.

As for the Adam and Eve reference, I really don't have a good answer for that particular point. Anyone else have any ideas?

Good questions! I appreciate your comment, Stephen! :)