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Posts Tagged ‘Galatians’

paul3In one of  his letters to the Corinthians, Paul refers the Christian community as those “on whom the ends of the ages has come” (1 Cor 10:11).  That is as good a summary of Paul’s idea of where the church sits in the grand scheme of things as one is likely to find.  While many of Paul’s Jewish contemporaries looked forward to a day when God would finally act to put an end to the present evil age and to renew, restore and rectify the Israel and the world, for Paul that long awaited, climactic act had already happened in the death and resurrection of Jesus and the in-breaking of the Spirit of God in the church.  The church, therefore, both then and now, exists in a time between the times.

As he says to the Galatians, our Lord Jesus Christ “gave Himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age,” such that Christians would be co-crucified with Him to and liberated from the (old) world and it’s arrangements, it’s “elementary principles,” that we would “walk by the Spirit,” bearing the fruit of the “new creation” (Gal 1:4; 4:3-7; 6:14-15).  The new creation is dawning amidst the people of God, but, nevertheless, the old “evil age” is still present.

Paul’s conception of the church as a people living in the overlap of and the tension between the present world that is passing away and the dawning new reality in Christ is a basic structure of his theological thought.  Christians are in some sense already part of the new reality.  “…[If] anyone is in Christ, there is new creation (w[ste ei; tij evn Cristw/|( kainh. kti,sij). The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Cor 5:17, my translation)  Nevertheless, the old looms large in Paul’s mind and he urges Christians to strive to transition as much as possible from the old reality to the new reality of which they are part.  Christians who, in some sense, already have died to sin and been made alive to righteousness to “walk in newness of life” must therefore “consider [themselves] dead to sin and alive to God in Christ,” must “present [their] members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification” (see Rom 6; cf. 7:6).  Christians must work to shrug off the old reality of the present evil age and to realize the dawning new eschatological reality of the age to come.  Christians must become what they, in some sense, already are.

Paul too participates in this transition from the old to new.  It is not the case that Paul became fully and entirely a man of the age to come immediately following Jesus’s taking ahold of him on the Damascus road.  Paul too had to struggle to walk in newness of life, to realize the dawning eschatological reality in his life.  Even writing towards the very end of his life, Paul is under no illusions about him having “arrived.”  He writes,

12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Paul recognized himself to be a work in progress and that the resurrection life of Christ, the new creation was still in the process of being worked out in him.  And Paul also, at times, recognized that the constraints of the old still inhibited his realization of the new in his intellectual life.  As he writes to the Corinthians, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; thenI shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Cor 13:12).  Paul makes no claim to have fully and perfectly synced-up his thought with the dawning eschatological reality. 

 

Eve Tempting Adam, the Creation of Eve and the Expulsion from Paradise Beyond

Hendrik de Clerck, Eve Tempting Adam, the Creation of Eve and the Expulsion from Paradise Beyond

Thus it really should come as no surprise to us if Paul’s thought reflects the conceptions, assumptions, prejudices and interpretations common to his time, specifically those about gender.  The ancient world in general and much of ancient Judaism in particular had a rather demeaning view of the nature and roles of women.  As Bart Ehrman helpfully summarizes, in the Hellenistic world women were viewed not as a different type of humans from men but rather as possessing lesser degrees of humanity than men.  For instance, the 1st century Jewish philosopher Philo writes,

 
…because a male is more complete, more dominant than the female, closer akin to causal activity, for the female is incomplete and in subjection and belongs to the category of the passive rather than the active. So too with the two ingredients which constitute our life principle, the rational and the irrational; the rational which belongs to the mind and reason is of the masculine gender, the irrational, the province of sense, is of the feminine… (Spec. leg. 1.200-201)
 

 

For progress is indeed nothing else than the giving up of the female gender by changing into the male, since the female gender is material, passive, corporeal, and sense-perceptible, while the male is active, rational, incorporeal and more akin to mind and thought (Questions in Exodus, 1:8)

This way of understanding femininity is shared also by the influential Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle and was common in antiquity.  Within Judaism this negative view of women was exacerbated by the tendency to blame Eve (and therefore women in general) for humanity’s fall from grace.

The woman, being imperfect and depraved by nature, but the man, as being the more excellent and perfect creature, was the first to set the example of blushing and of being ashamed, and indeed, of every good feeling and action made the beginning of sinning and prevaricating. (Philo, Questions and Answers on Genesis 1.43)

But the woman first became a betrayer to him. She gave, and persuaded him to sin in ignorance. (Sibylline Oracles 1.42-43)

 Adam said to Eve, “Why have you wrought destruction among us and brought upon us great wrath, which is death gaining rule over all our race?” (Apocalypse of Moses [Life of Adam and Eve] 14.2)

From a woman sin had its beginning, and because of her we all die. (Sirach 25.24)

It was thought that women were, as Philo said, “imperfect and depraved by nature” and, therefore, Eve’s being deceived was practically inevitable.  Thus women were to be relegated to more “suitable” subordinate social roles lest they cause any more trouble (see 1 Tim 2:12-14).

Paul never entirely escaped this misogynistic frame of thought.  Undoubtedly the activity of the Spirit that he observed in female Christians and perhaps the urgings of the Spirit he sensed within led him to revise his ideas about women and, in some ways, to lean towards a relatively egalitarian view of gender.  But in contrast to his theology of Jews and Gentiles, which clearly represents a Herculean intellectual effort on Paul’s part, Paul never seems to go all the way in tracing out the implications of his insight that “[there] is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”  In other words, Paul still evinces the prejudices of his day, the vestigial thought forms of the old world, the present evil age, in his deliberations on the nature and roles of women.

In an earlier post I alluded to the fact that in 1 Cor 11:7-9 Paul seems to be reading the creation narratives of Gen 1-2 in such a way as to make the man alone the image of God and woman to be a facsimile of the man.  The text reads:

7 For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. 8 For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. 9 Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10 That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. (1 Corinthians 11:7-10) 

For modern English readers of the Bible there is a sense that Paul could not possibly have so badly misread Genesis 1:27 as to deny woman equal status with man as the imago Dei.  We tend automatically to read the verse, “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”  But that is not literally how the text reads, and when the text is read word-for-word, without interpretive glosses it becomes slightly more ambiguous. 

Both the Hebrew text and the Septuagint text of Genesis 1:27a read “So God created the man (MT, ‘~d”a’h’¥-ta,; LXX, to.n a;nqrwpon) in his own image, in the image of God he created him,” employing masculine singular pronouns (MT, At=ao; LXX, auvto,n).  It would not be at all difficult for an ancient reader to interpret the verse thus, “So God first created the man, Adam, in his own image, in the image of God he created him; then male and female he created them, forming Eve from Adam.”  Such a reading would not only have been possible for a reader with a background knowledge of the creation narrative in Genesis 2, but for an ancient interpreter espousing the sorts of notions about women illustrated above such a reading would be quite plausible.  It is apparently just such a reading that informs Paul’s deliberations in 1 Corinthians 11:7.

Lucas Cranach, Adam and Eve, 1526, oil on panel, Courtauld Institute of Art Gallery, Samuel Courtauld Trust

Lucas Cranach, Adam and Eve, 1526, oil on panel, Courtauld Institute of Art Gallery, Samuel Courtauld Trust

It seems that here Paul’s theological thought and his reading of Scripture are profoundly shaped by the tension between the conceptions he has inherited from his ancient context which are structured along the lines of the old aeon on the one hand and the radically transforming vision of God’s emerging new creation on the other.  God’s endowing men and women alike with the same Spirit led Paul to lean in a counterculturally egalitarian direction, much as the endowment of Jew and Gentile alike with the same Spirit led him to redefine Israel so set both Jew and Gentile on equal footing before God.  But Paul does not go quite as far in his re-envisioning  the place of women in the emerging eschatological order as he does in re-envisioning the place of Gentiles.  But he has undoubtedly made a start.  The result is that on the matter of gender, Paul is simultaneously a man of antiquity and the present evil age on the one hand but also a man of the dawning age to come on the other; a man very much of his time and yet a man ahead of his time as well.

Thanks to Stephen Young for digging up several of the primary sources cited above.

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In my last post I sided with those NT scholars who argue that the key Pauline texts that curtail the preaching ministries of gifted women are not actually Pauline texts at all.  1 Timothy 2:11-15, with its demand that women neither teach nor have authority over men, is part of a corpus of letters written pseudonymously in Paul’s name several decades after the Apostle’s death.  In the case of 1 Corinthians 14:33-35, we have a scribal gloss inserted to square the policy of that letter with that of 1 Timothy!  In short, these texts tell us less about Paul’s understanding of gender roles than they tell us about the attitudes towards gender that emerged and came to predominate amongst second and third generation Christians.  To get a bead on what Paul actually thought about gender we are on much firmer ground if we go to the undisputed epistles.  There we find a picture very different from what we looked at in the last post.

In Paul’s letter to the Galatians he addresses a group churches in the Southern part of the Roman province of Galatia. 

The Temple of Augustus and Livia in Vienne, late 1st century BCE

The Temple of Augustus and Livia in Vienne, late 1st century BCE

Several of the cities in which these churches were situated, namely Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra, were Roman colonies.  Roman colonies were typically homes for retired Roman military and were places of intense patriotic and, indeed, religious devotion to Rome and to Caesar.  Archaeological evidence has shown that there was a temple devoted to the cult of Caesar Augustus in Antioch dating as far back as 2/1 BCE.  At least in this city, and likely elsewhere in Southern Galatia, Caesar-worship was a common fixture in Galatian religious and social life

While Jews enjoyed the state sanctioned protected status of being a religio licita, which permitted them to forego participation in the imperial cult, the Galatian christians were generally Gentile converts and, as such, did not share this protected status with their Jewish brethren.  Thus, the gentile Galatian Christians were under immense social pressure from without the Church to either participate in the imperial cult or to become Jews by being circumcized and keeping the Torah (see Gal 6:12).  Furthermore, an influential group of Jewish Christians, apparently based in Jerusalem and associated with James the brother of Jesus (2:12), were also pressuring the Galatian churches to maintain distinctions between Jews and Gentiles.

For the Apostle Paul, to continue to treat these distinctions as sacrosanct was a betrayal of the very gospel of Christ.  He argues that the Torah (or the “Law”) has run its course, its power being terminated and its curse exhausted in the death of the Messiah.  Thus, for Paul, to be united with Christ in His death and new, resurrected life is to have died through the Torah to the Torah such that its commands and distinctions no longer hold sway over you.  Instead, to the Christian, being united to Christ in His death and resurrection, means such distinctions matter not, what matters is the eschatological reality of the Spirit that fulfills and goes beyond the Torah, the “new creation.”

It is within this context that Paul writes,

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)

paul2It is jarring here that Paul is not content to simply strike through distinctions between Jews and Gentiles.  Rather, in his mind the gospel has implications reaching far beyond Jew-Gentile relations within the Church.  Rather, he says the gospel delegitimates a deeply entrenched economic and societal structure, namely slavery, and, for our purposes most importantly, gender distinctions.

We have to keep in mind that this is no hyperbolic throw-away line for Paul.  For him, the stakes here are as high as they get and each step of the argument of which 3:28 is the conclusion has been taken with the utmost deliberateness.  Nor is he articulating some sort of pie-in-the-sky ideal.  For Paul, the abolition of these distinctions have practical implications for the Church in the here and now.  In fact, the practical outworkings of the gospel are probably Paul’s chief concern as he is deeply concerned, not about what some of the Galatians think or say, but about what they are about to do, namely, be circumcised. 

Indeed, it must always be born in mind that for Paul, Peter’s decision to break off table-fellowship with Gentiles was out of step with the truth of the gospel (2:14).  The gospel entails not merely the guarantee of forgiveness of sins and a happy hereafter, but rather the radical rearrangement of our present world, the living out of what it means to be crucified to the old world and participants in the “new creation” that is presently dawning in the crucified and resurrected Christ.

women4Paul does not elaborate here on the practical implications of there being  “neither male nor female” amongst those who are one in Christ Jesus, but we can safely assume that there were some such implications.  As it was pointed out in the previous post, women clearly prophesied and publicly prayed in Paul’s churches (see 1 Cor 11:4-5).  Women apparently played key roles in Paul’s ministry (see especially the numerous women listed in Rom 16).  Some of them were the hosts and patrons of house churches (e.g., Prisca, Rom 16:3-5; Chloe, 1 Cor 1:11; ).  One, Junia, was notable amongst the apostles and was perhaps even an apostle herself (Rom 16:7).  Given this rather wide-angle picture of Paul’s ministry, it is difficult to believe that he would have pushed for an ecclesiastical glass-ceiling for Spiritually gifted women.  Indeed, much to the chagrin of the writer of 1 Timothy and of some later anonymous scribe, it seems highly likely that Paul allowed women to teach and have authority over men.

As I have already said, to begin to wrestle with Paul on questions of gender will require us to rethink nearly everything.  When we engage Paul on this matter we find ourselves confronted with a gospel of cosmic proportions, one that frees us from the present evil aeon (1:4), that crucifies the old world to us and us to the old world and ushers in a radically new creation (6:14-15) that abolishes the distinctions characteristic of the old world, including those pertaining to gender.  In short, at least as far as Paul is concerned, to treat questions of gender as peripheral is a grave mistake.  For Paul, matters of gender roles are as tightly bound up with the very heart of the gospel as are matters pertaining to the purpose of the Torah, justification, Jew-Gentile relations, and the cross itself.

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