[U]ntil very recently (ca. 1980s), traditional readings [of Bible passages related to women] have assumed the ontological inferiority of women through the entire history of interpretation, and it is implausible to think that an interpreter can effectively shed the foundational assumptions of the traditional view and still coherently maintain the remainder of interpretations and applications virtually intact. (4)
[T]raditional readings of the texts have been used and are being used overtly in a social construction of a theology of power and control that privileges one group over another (males over females), and those readings are controlled by the privileged group (males). (4)
Cynthia Long Westfall’s Paul and Gender: Reclaiming the Apostle’s Vision for Men and Women in Christ brings forward insights from hermeneutics, linguistics, sociology, history, and insight into the ancient world to present a consistent reading of the Pauline corpus in regards to gender. Westfall contends that the traditional reading of the text must face the challenge that it does not consistently read the Pauline corpus, but rather tends to prioritize certain readings of texts over other texts, rather than trying to unify them. A lack of consistent methodology is also a problem, as hermeneutic method changes depending upon what the text is taken to defend (3). Moreover, traditional readings of the texts are “problematic,” she argues, for several reasons: first, the traditional readings of the texts “have not resulted in making sense of Paul’s Letters” (ibid); second, these readings of the texts are making a theology of power (4); third, the ontological basis for the traditional reading has largely been acknowledged as mistaken (see the first quote, above); fourth, both the individual and the group can make significant contributions to and impact on interpretation. For these reasons, Westfall suggests a return to the texts to see what they actually mean in context, again, drawing on linguistics, contemporary cultural studies, and many more disciplines.
Westfall organizes the book topically, looking at how various topics relate to Paul and gender. These topics are culture, stereotypes, creation, the Fall, eschatology, the body, calling, authority, and an extended look at 1 Timothy 2:11-15. By organizing the book largely around these important topics in Paul’s thought, Westfall avoids the somewhat common theme of books about sexuality in Christianity of looking at one proof text after another to come down on one side or the other. Instead, Westfall presents a cohesive, rational way for looking at the whole of the Pauline corpus, yes, through looking at individual texts, but also by uniting Paul’s thought and bringing in insights from various fields.
Time and again throughout Paul and Gender, I came upon a way of looking at things I hadn’t considered before. Westfall’s use of linguistics and deep knowledge of the cultural context of the New Testament leads to arguments and conclusions that are powerful and compelling. Some of her points seem obvious on reflection, but were points I have rarely if ever seen discussed in literature related to men and women in Christ. For example, regarding 1 Timothy 2:13, she notes that in Genesis, from which Paul is drawing his point, primogeniture is constantly reversed. That theme is one I had learned and put forward myself, but I hadn’t thought about how it could be applicable to understanding Paul’s use of Adam first/Eve next in 1 Timothy. Why is it that complementarians repeatedly make a bald assumption that primogeniture is seen by Paul as an inherent hierarchy between man and woman when Paul is specifically using an example from a book where primogeniture is consistently overthrown by God? Her extensive look at 1 Corinthians 11 helps to make it even more clear how difficult it is to adequately understand some of these texts as English speakers. Through conversation with many contemporary sources, she conclusively demonstrates that the notion of the man being “head” is not a hierarchy. Moreover, her reading of what is meant by calling woman the glory of man as well as her interpretation of why women should have a kind of covering over their heads is one that answers many, many questions for me as a reader. By showing what, culturally, was going on in Corinth and the church in general, she presents readings that explain the text rather than obscure it further–or turn it into a proof text for a specific position.
The greatest strength of Westfall’s approach is that it truly does present a unified look at the Pauline corpus. Rather than having to look at texts piecemeal and form a series of doctrinal theses therefrom, Westfall’s reading of the texts related to gender present a consistent, holistic view of Paul’s teaching on gender. It is a truly remarkable book that deserves careful reading. I spent several hours on the chapter on “culture” alone, finding many deep insights both in the main text and the footnotes. As a reader, I feel as though I have a much deeper and more complete understanding of Paul on these topics than I did before I read it.
With Paul and Gender, Cynthia Long Westfall has created one of the most profoundly exegetical and deep challenges to the complementarian reading of the Pauline Corpus in existence. Her breadth of knowledge of many different fields of studies is effectively utilized to present a cohesive, persuading reading of Paul regarding gender. May all who are interested in finding what the New Testament teaches on gender read this book.
Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.
Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)
The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.
God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. (1 Corinthians 12:28, ESV)
In this list, Paul ranked various gifts in the church in this way 1) Apostles 2) Prophets 3) Teachers (etc…)
P1. There are biblical examples of women prophets in both the Old and New Testaments. (eg. Judges 4:4; Exodus 15:20; Acts 21:9)
P2. In the ranked list, the spiritual gift of prophet is ranked above that of teacher, a role that we find biblical examples of women filling.
C1: We therefore find women in higher ranked roles than the role of teacher. Therefore, it is biblically correct for a woman to be a prophet.
P3. But women cannot teach because we believe the bible says so. 1 Timothy 2:12 states that a woman cannot have authority over a man, and teaching is having authority.
P3.1 But the role of prophet is higher-ranked than teaching.
P3.2 According to the Bible women have held the God ordained/blessed role of Prophet, and that is ranked higher in Paul’s list than teacher. Being a prophet is having authority; women had authority over men as prophet. But how can that be, if women are not to have authority over men?
C2: Women cannot both have authority over men as prophet, and not have authority over men as (lower ranking) teachers (law of non-contradiction). Woman cannot both have/not have authority. Ǝx: Wx [Ax & ~Ax] (there exists an x such that x is a woman [x has authority AND x does not have authority])
C3. It is incoherent to claim that a woman may not have teaching authority, because it has been shown that women can have the higher authority of prophet.
C4. Therefore women may teach.
I wrote this with significant help and insight, including major revisions and entire construction of multiple premises/conclusions (as well as all symbolic logic) from Alice Guinther.
Alice Guinther holds a BA in Philosophy from the University of Colorado Boulder, Where she is the department assistant for Journalism and Media Studies. She is a published artist and illustrator, and has a review published in Priscilla Papers.
Another round of Really Recommended Posts for you, dear readers! This week, we have a biblical scholar from the throw out pile, voting in Lent Madness, the problem of evil and Jesus’ response, textual criticism, and women in combat. Be sure to let the authors know what you thought, and let me know your responses as well!
The Biblical Scholar from the Throw-Out Box– “If [Katharine Bushnell] had been a man, every single contemporary Bible scholar writing on gender would have had to reckon with her findings. As it was, she was a woman, and her work was ignored.” Here’s a post on
Lent Madness– Vote for different theologians throughout history in brackets to determine the winner of this year’s Lent Madness. Who will wear the golden halo this year?
Jesus’ Answer to the Problem of Evil & the Unfairness of God– What did Jesus have to say about the problem of evil? Here is a post looking into this topic in ways that might make us uncomfortable.
Debunking Silly Statements in Greg Gilbert’s Debunking Silly Statements About the Bible: An Exercise in Biblical Transmission– Some clarifications about textual criticism are found in this post that addresses some common misunderstandings that Christian scholars hold about the field.
I hope I never bore you with my broad selections of posts! I think we have a super lineup here [groaner, I know] with posts on chivalry, the Jesus myth movement, old and young earth creationism, and a Super Bowl ad that is making waves.
Is Jesus a Myth? A Reply to Chris Sosa– A detailed, devastating response to Chris Sosa’s Jesus Mythicism. Historically, the Jesus myth movement is just absurd.
Chivalry, Agency, and Selfless Service– Does egalitarianism kill chivalry? What does chivalry say about agency? These and other questions are addressed in this fantastic post.
Ken Ham’s Biblical Evolution? I Have a book that says otherwise– An incisive critique of Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis on post-Flood animal diversification. Quote from the article- “I have a book before me that provides compelling evidence that Ken Ham’s view of Biblical evolution is wrong. That book is the Bible.”
What a Super Bowl Ad Reveals about our Abortion Culture– Russell Moore comments on the Super Bowl ad everyone is talking about–the one that “humanizes” the fetus.
7 Common Myths About Old Earth Creationism– Old Earth Creationism is often misunderstood and mischaracterized by its opponents on either side. Here are some clarifications on 7 common misunderstandings.
I hope you’ll enjoy this week’s roundup of posts from around the web. You can watch a video explaining egalitarian theology from Genesis, survey challenges your kids might encounter for their faith, learn about pro-life dialogue, discover theology in Star Trek: The Next Generation, and explore a cold time before a young earth could have existed. Let me know what you think of the posts, and be sure to let the authors know as well.
Egalitarian from the Start (Vide0)– this sermon is from Richard Davidson, author of the monumentally important study on sexuality in the Old Testament, Flame of Yahweh. He argues that, from the beginning of creation, egalitarianism is the ideal perspective.
17 Ways Your Kids Will Encounter Challenges to their Faith– Children will encounter a great number of challenges to their faith as they grow up. Simply being aware of the way children can be confronted by these challenges will help parents prepare to answer them and help their kids find answers.
Four Practical [Pro-Life] Dialogue Tips from My Conversation with Brent– Josh Brahm, an excellent pro-life speaker, offers some dialogue tips alongside a case study of an actual conversation he had with a pro-choice advocate.
Star Trek Theology- “Remember Me”– The Sci-Fi Christian, an excellent website and podcast, offers up this heaping helping of theological analysis of The Next Generation episode, “Remember Me.” It’s an episode I enjoy immensely, and I also enjoyed reading this post. Check it out.
A Holocene Cold Snap In the Year 2,200 B.C. (Before Creation)– Here is an analysis which challenges the Young Earth timeline, because it demonstrates that we can observe weather patterns from before dates set by groups like Answers in Genesis.
One of the biggest publishing phenomena of late, The Shack by Wm. Paul Young generated discussion among people all over the world, selling over 18 million copies. I have discussed that book elsewhere, and now I turn to Cross Roads, Young’s recently released novel. Please note that this will not be a review and I will not provide a summary of the plot. Instead, I am exploring the theological and philosophical themes that Young raises throughout Cross Roads. There will be Spoilers ahead.
The notion of crossroads is a major theme throughout the work, and Young utilizes the imagery to discuss free will metaphorically. Anthony Spencer (Tony), the main character, finds himself inside his mind, which is portrayed as a kind of land with various roads and places inside it. Initially, he begins exploring this land and finds himself coming to numerous forks in the road. He continues to find these forks and realizes that as he continues to make choices, “it occurred to Tony that the number of direction decisions was diminishing; options were significantly decreasing” (35). Young doesn’t expand on this much, but it seems like a vivid illustration of libertarian free will, wherein one’s choices in the past do indeed influence their choices in the future. As Tony makes choices on his path, he finds that the choices available to him decrease. The reason, it seems, is because his choices have started to form his world. It seems to me that this is a great way to show libertarian free will in literature.
A robust theology of church and salvation is something that I think is necessary for an adequate theology. I find one reason for this illustrated well by Young:
Church, thought Tony. He hadn’t set foot inside one of those since his last foster family had been religious. He and Jake [Tony’s brother] had been required to sit silently for what seemed like hours… He smiled to himself, remembering how he and Jake had schemed together and ‘gone forward’ one night at church, thinking it would win them points with the family, which it did. The attention their conversions garnered was initially rewarding, but it soon became clear that ‘asking Jesus into your heart’ dramatically increased expectations for strict obedience to a host of rules they hadn’t anticipated. He soon became a ‘backslider,’ in a category, he discovered, that was profoundly worse than being pagan in the first place. (124)
It seems clear to me that here the act of conversion has itself become a work, rather than a gift of grace. Tony’s concept of conversion at this point in the book is that of “asking Jesus into your heart.” Unsurprisingly, when he fails to perform other adequate works–obeying a set of rules. The problem with this theology should become clear immediately. By suggesting that Christianity is about “going forward” and publicly affirming a faith, this form of theology puts the believer in the position of affirming faith, rather than receiving it as a gift. When faith becomes a public work, it becomes the Law instead of the Gospel. When demands for works are made on faith, then faith itself becomes a work. Unfortunately, this kind of works-righteousness sneaks into theology at all levels, ever seeking a place to grow.
The problems with this theology are portrayed vividly in this illustration. The notion that people need to make a public declaration of faith leads to its abuse, as Tony and Jake attempted to do, but it also leads to difficulties for those who believe their declaration was itself true (unlike Tony and Jake, who simply did it to glorify themselves in the eyes of their foster parents). When someone makes their “decision for Christ,” their faith life becomes wrapped up in that decision. Their walk with God is contingent upon their continuing to make this decision. Unfortunately, this type of theology makes faith all about one’s own decisions, rather than Christ’s justification and the free gift of faith.
There are many church bodies who do not ordain women to the office of the ministry. That is, they hold beliefs that say women should not be spiritual leaders of men in the church. Young explores this issue when Pastor Skor shows up and challenges Maggie, one of the main characters, regarding her outburst during a church service. Pastor Skor takes Maggie’s outburst and disruptive behavior as a clue to him from God that he has been too lax in his instructing his congregation in the Bible. He makes an argument that women should not be leaders in church and should remain silent:
And we affirm the Word, which declares there is no longer male or female [Galatians 3:28], but… the Word is speaking of how God sees us, not about how we function in the church, and we must always remember that God is a God of order. It is vital that each person play their part, and as long as they stay within the roles that God has mandated, the church functions as it was meant to… (167)
The pastor goes on to quote 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 to support his position. Yet Young, through Clarence, an elder who is with the pastor to talk with Maggie, provides a counter-argument to this reasoning:
It is sarcasm… I believe that the apostle Paul was being sarcastic when he wrote what you read… He is quoting a letter that these folk sent him with questions, and he is in total disagreement with what they have written to him. (168-169)
Clarence defends this position by alluding to 1 Corinthians 14:36, apparently using the KJV: “What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?” Given the way this verse is worded, Clarence holds that verses 34-35 are a quote from a letter the Corinthians sent to Paul which Paul then responds to sarcastically by wondering whether the Corinthians think that God’s word came only to them.
Young’s offered interpretation seems possible, but perhaps not made explicit enough. It seems to me possible that Paul would have made it more clear that he was quoting another’s writing here. The KJV seems to support the interpretation given to 1 Cor 14:36 here, but other translations phrase it differently, in such a way that the verse seems to be more of a challenge to readers to dismiss what Paul is declaring in 34-35.
Of course, one could still argue that Young’s interpretation has great strength, noting that nowhere in the Bible do we see this command in the Scripture “as the law also says” and so we may infer that Paul is referencing an extra-biblical teaching and rebutting it. In fact, this seems to line up with Young’s argument perfectly because we can see that Paul would be citing a Judaizer’s teaching in the church in Corinth–who would hold that the silence of women is taught by the Law [Jewish extra-biblical law]–and then refuting this by noting that the word of God did not come from them alone (see Katharine Bushnell’s God’s Word to Women for an extended look at this argument). It seems to me that this does have some significant strength, thus empowering Young’s argument.
Therefore, it seems to me that Young offers a fairly decent egalitarian interpretation of the passage, though he could have given other arguments which would take into account the passage’s cultural context, in which women were speaking out of turn in worship. The core of the statement seems to me to be that the women in this specific context needed to learn from their husbands at home and remain silent in church so that they did not cause disruption.
The way the scenario plays out in the book is also difficult to evaluate because Maggie definitely was disrupting the church service and would have appeared at least slightly crazy to those around her. She was screaming about a demon speaking to her and was, in fact, mistaken about that. I think she can be forgiven for her extreme reaction given the strange situation in which she found herself, but the Corinthians passage is in context all about order in worship in general, and certainly people bursting in screaming about demons would be disorderly worship.
Thus, it seems to me that Young offers a possible interpretation of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, but he has made his case problematic by the narrative context in which he placed it. It is worth noting that this work will get people talking about the issue. Young has given a somewhat strong version of a lengthy egalitarian argument in the form of narrative.
Practical Ethics and Disability
Cabby, a boy with Down’s Syndrome, is featured prominently throughout the book. Young uses him as a foil to show that those with disabilities have much to contribute to modern society. Perhaps the most poignant way he does this is through the negative portrayal of Tony’s view of Cabby:
Tony had never known a ‘retarded’ person. He wasn’t sure if that is what you called them… His opinions on most nonbusiness matters may not have been founded on evidence or experience, but he was sure of them. People like Cabby were an unproductive drain on the resources of society; they were valuable only to their families. He believed they were tolerated because of liberal persuasions, not because such people had any intrinsic worth… It is easy to create a category of persons, like retarded or handicapped, and then pass judgment on the group as a whole. He wondered if that was not the heart of all prejudice. (108-109)
In contrast to Tony’s view, Cabby turns out to be insightful and delightful. He is shown to have positive value in a number of ways that go beyond his immediate family. He ultimately shows the practical usefulness of inherent human worth.
For Young, understanding God as relationship is central to the concept of deity. The concept of deity that is presented is that of Trinity. Much ink will be spilled, I feel certain, on whether or not Young portrays the persons of the Trinity correctly, just as there was in The Shack (see my own discussion here).
Young’s position seems to be largely unchanged from that in The Shack, and so much of the commentary will follow the same line. I think he does a very good job of exploring the inter-relational character of God and the temporal submission of Christ in the incarnation to God the Father. Some may see the primary difficulty with Young’s portrayal of God is that the Father makes very little appearance in the book, but near the end readers find out that is not the case. In fact, the Father is intricately involved in all aspects of God and the life portrayed in the novel.
Those who conceptualize God as inherently male will have a problem with the book, however. Unfortunately, some paganism has indeed hung on in the church, wherein some view God as a gendered being. In the Bible, however, we find that God is spirit and not a man. Thus, I think that Young’s use of gender with God may shock some but also underscores the fact that God is not a gendered being, and instead transcendent.
Young offers a short discussion of historical theology and God that seems to me to at least partially miss the mark. It is very brief, but I think it is worth discussing. Young puts the following commentary in the mouth of Jesus himself:
The Greeks, with their love for isolation [of deity] influence Augustine and later Aquinas… and a nonrelational religious Christianity is born. Along come the Reformers, like Luther and Calvin, who do their best to send the Greeks back outside the Holy of Holies, but they are barely in the grave before the Greeks are resuscitated and invited back to teach in their schools of religion. The tenacity of bad ideas is rather remarkable, don’t you think? (73)
There are a number of problems with this small passage. First, Augustine heavily influenced both Calvin and Luther. In fact, Calvin’s theology is tied very intricately to Augustine’s view of free will and original sin. Similarly, Luther’s view of original sin derives directly from Augustine’s exposition in City of God. Second, it seems unfair to view Aquinas as a kind of anti-relationalist when it comes to God’s nature. Aquinas very much emphasized the triunity of God, which was (and is!) an extremely important topic. To thus accuse Aquinas of undermining God’s relational-ness seems unfair. Finally, the notion that the influence of Greek philosophy on Christianity is somehow inherently bad seems a bit shortsighted. There are innumerable positive contributions that reflection on Greek thought has brought into the fold of Christianity. Among these are the very concept of free will that Young pushes in his book, along with a number of aspects of Trinitarian and Incarnational theology that Young seems to support. This may seem to be a nitpick, but it seems to me that if Young is going to use his book to make comments about historical theology, it is vastly important to get that historical development right.
Cross Roads is another thought-provoking work by Young. Those who read it will be forced to think about all the topics on which it touches, regardless of whether they agree with Young’s conclusions or not. As with The Shack, this book will almost certainly be widely read. Those who are interested in Christian theology and apologetics should consider the book a must-read simply for its cultural relevance. Ultimately, Young has authored another fictional work that will inspire conversations about theology on a wide scale.
The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.