For when I offered them this voice that you had given me
When I offered them these hands that you had strengthened
When I offered them these feet that you had guided
They gave me a box. (Kate Wallace, Junia Project)
Dispersed round about the New Testament, readers will find it difficult to not be confronted with seemingly straight-forward gender related statements that, as the author describes above, place the feminine side of humanity within a restricted box of confinement limiting their places of service within Christ’s Church.
Having spent the majority of my life within a specific denomination of Christianity, one with a very defined interpretation of these passages, it is a difficult thing for me to re-open my mind to the mounting challenges against traditional thoughts on these verses, for I try to keep in remembrance, history evidences that human nature is always questioning “Did God really say?”
With that acknowledged however, there are a growing number of persuading platforms for an egalitarian approach toward explaining that maybe Paul, as these verses are mostly from his letters, didn’t mean exactly what we assume he meant. A dabbling of these thoughts might be expressed in the following points.
1. Woman was created from the side of man to obviously walk with him, not behind. It is not until the fall that we hear the words, “he shall rule over you.” In Jesus’ kingdom, the curse is meant to be remedied.
2. Paul’s Corinthian letters are written as a series of responses to contentions this community had asked him to resolve. It is difficult to determine when he is quoting their questions and when he is giving them his answers. With a little effort it is not beyond reason to assign the gender statements to the questioners, and then as some suggest, the responses Paul gives take on a differing meaning.
3. Paul could have been singling out unlearned women who were disrupting the worship services when he penned words to the Corinthians and to Timothy. This thought is solidified by showing women are portrayed in Scripture as having leadership roles and in their teaching of both women and men.
4. Through most of history, it has predominantly been in the hands of men to determine the status of women. As earlier mentioned, this reality was established in the curse after the fall. Because of this, it is only fair to remember that until very recently it was men alone who translated the texts of Scripture. It is not far-reaching to suggest some gender-bias played its hand into the work.
Of course these are brief points with little explanation, but the resources for further examination exist. I think though that many will refrain from investigating for the same reasons as I did for so long a time.
We remain creatures of presuppositions and tradition.
The purpose of my parakeet series is not so much to stand with or even against either side, but to learn to be eager to lend an ear, to find value in dialogue, even when in disagreement, and to refuse to force anyone unwillingly into a box. I close by admitting that I am coming to appreciate some very different while viable approaches to certain texts that maybe aren’t so clear-cut after all.
For further reading consider, The Junia Project, The Blue Parakeet, Junia is not Alone, What Paul Really Said About Women, How I Changed My Mind About Women in Leadership, Because of the Angels, and a commentary (not only for this topic) I recommend highly by Kenneth Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes.