Prescription for a Pauline Headache


The Word of God proclaims, “women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.” 1 Corinthians 14: 34-35  (as quoted on Gotquestions.org)

“Greet Andronicus and Junias, my relatives who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.” – Romans 16:7

“…It ought to be said that from a biblical standpoint, there is no tolerance in Scripture for women leaders in the church, apart from women leading other women–older women teaching younger women and leading their children and so forth.” –John MacArthur

“About the injunction of the Apostle Paul that women should keep silent in church? Don’t go by one text only.” – Theresa of Avilla

This subject of a woman’s authority has been a thorny issue for the church for a very long time. Entire denominations have split over this. People’s lives are ruined over this. Which perhaps is understandable, if, as many Christians believe, Paul’s writings are The Word of God. Because if they are the words of God, how can God contradict himself so often?  And apparently contradict Jesus, too?

Paul’s words were used over the centuries to justify Antisemitism, authoritarianism, slavery, misogyny and sexual bigotry. He also wrote tender love poems memorized by people around the world.  Which Paul should we listen to? Or should we listen to him at all?

Now, I think there is an enormous amount of good stuff in Paul’s writings. There’s a lot we can learn from what he has to say and a lot (but not all) of his advice is well worth heeding (even though he is really not advising “us” who came 20 centuries later – Paul thought the end of the world was just around the corner). It’s even been said that Paul, and not Jesus, was the true founder of the Christian religion.

But a lot of what he says just doesn’t make sense to contemporary ears and a lot of today’s Christians have dismissed Paul as irrelevant or even dangerous to the faith.  I even considered doing so myself but then remembered that Paul’s work is the earliest known written account of the Christian faith, years before the earliest Gospel. If the Gospel writers were likely influenced by Paul then how can we ignore him? And then how do we reconcile him to the Gospel? This used to give me terrible headaches.

Unless I stopped trying to make this first-century square Jewish peg fit into our Western culture’s round holes I would always  bog down in his words. Instead of some iconoclastic mouthpiece for God I needed to see Paul as the man he was, when he was, and where he was. Paul needed to be put back into the scope of real history, freshly scrubbed of all the unfortunate doctrines and dogmas that his writings are the source of. I believe that many of Paul’s words are taken so far out of context that the resulting Christian theology is tragically flawed -so flawed that the world has suffered terribly for it. This theology has become the conventional Western Christian wisdom and, using circular reasoning, is now the distorted lens through which we view Paul – as well as Jesus.

That’s why I am excited about this upcoming series on Paul and Empire at the Oakland Mills Interfaith Center.  I’ve read a couple of Crossan and Borg’s books and they were mind opening; intelligent and scholarly – not written for seminarians, but in a way I could understand. I’ll admit it was hard for me at first because they so thoroughly skewered ‘truths’ that I once held to be sacred. But when I began to learn about Paul and Jesus’ “back stories”, the story of Israel under Roman domination, everything began to make sense. The now obvious parallels to our day and age began to emerge and I was able to understand better what Jesus meant by the ‘coming Kingdom of God’ and what my minor role might be (or how I might be standing in the way).

But more importantly, the headaches are gone.

(originally posted at Gounded and Rooted in Love )

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