Sunday, May 17, 2009

Women in Pauline Letters and Why It Matters

On the face of it, my recent talk on women in Pauline letters was pretty straightforward.

Concentrating on the genuine Pauline letters, and particularly on the women mentioned in Romans 16, I also prepared a handout on Ephesians 5:22: "Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord" emphasizing that the verb "submit" is an inference from the preceding verse and absent from the Greek text.

After noting that Phoebe is a diakonos and an epistates, deacon and benefactor, I moved on to v.7:
"Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives who were in prison with me; they are prominent among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was." The history of interpretation of this verse is quite fascinating. In antiquity, Junia was understood to be a woman. But in the 14th Century, interpreters proposed that the accusative form Junias should be understood as masculine and that these figures were two men. Something of this translation is evident in the KJV translation, "kinsmen." Only in the 20th Century has the recovery of Junia as a woman been undertaken.

Pausing for questions, a hand was raised from the front row. It's owner happened to be a man. "Isn't it possible that there is a prominent group including women and another group of apostles?" Astonishing, I thought. And I replied, "No! The translation infers that there is a group of apostles amongst which are prominent figures including Andronicus and Junia." This was not well received and remonstrations followed. So I thought about a response that would stipulate the heart of the matter. "Do you think there were women apostles in early Christian communities?" Clearly, my interrogator did not think so.

By this time, other hands were waving indicating enthusiasm for joining this partisan discussion. Their owners noted Mary Magdalene, apostle to the apostles. What about other Pauline letters asked a query from another man at the back of the room? There aren't any other women in any of Paul's other letters, are there. Remarking that our exchanges show that these texts have a dynamic resonance felt today, on we went to Ephesians 5.

When I went to leave for the airport via a car service, my first interrogator followed my host and me up the stairs and out of the door to the car all the time insisting that I pay attention to things he wanted to say and other sources I should read. "No," I said firmly, turning to say goodbye to my host, "I am leaving for the airport and I have no time." And as I left, I could see out of the car window that he was interrogating my host.

Even as I rejoice that this particular struggle is mostly over in our church and I thank God for the witness of women bishops, priests and deacons, I wondered if there was a better response I might have made.

2 comments:

Country Parson said...

Good grief! Where the heck were you?

Ari_1965 said...

It sounds to me like you did the best you could with that particular situation. Many of us would like to believe that there is always common ground, always room for someone's mind to be changed. But if Person A is male, was taught from Sunday School up that all the apostles were also male, and views any divergence from that story to be nothing more than a bunch of post-modern women trying to twist facts around to suit themselves, you can throw all the arguments, facts and theories to the contrary at him and they will bounce off like he's made of solid Kryptonite.