Thursday, August 08, 2019

Paul and women in Corinth


Did I mention how much Jo and I are appreciating Lucy Peppiatt’s teaching this week?

Today, 1 Corinthians 11, a troubling passage that on the surface appears to be frankly contradictory, and damaging towards women—and has certainly been taught in a way that is damaging to women. Lucy argues cogently, persuasively, and graciously that what we see here is a conversation between the people who were causing trouble in Corinth, and Paul, with Paul quoting their arguments (written in a letter to him, since lost to us) and then refuting their claims. The original Greek has no quotation marks, but translators supply them in just this manner in many other places in Paul’s letter. Lucy brings to bear the bigger context, of Paul’s values as well as of Scripture taken as a whole, to demonstrate that Paul is consistently smashing the hierarchies that patrol and police an honour-shame culture. Here is a man who was (doubly) at the top of the social pile, as both a Roman citizen and a Jewish male, who, having had an utterly transforming encounter with Jesus, chose to side with those society placed at the bottom of the pile, slaves, women, women slaves...

[What follows is not a summary of what Lucy said, but my own personal response.]

It grieves me deeply when I hear church leaders present a false Paul to maintain the very hierarchies he felt the Jesus-event profoundly dismantled. I will challenge it again and again and again, until my dying breath if necessary.

But it also grieves me deeply when, in response, I hear church leaders speak of Paul as a misogynist, or, at best, as enlightened for his times but bound by his culture. This is also, and just as much, a false Paul.

Paul is the first to really work through what it looks like in practice for a community to be shaped by Jesus. Like Jesus, Paul smashes those aspects of his culture that are bound by honour-shame, embracing shame, embracing and honouring those who are wounded by shame—shame being such a pernicious thing. The letters of Paul are as much a gift to us from Jesus as are the Gospels. When we create another hierarchy, one that says “Jesus is good, Paul is bad,” we are still to experienced the this-changes-everything transformation Paul experienced in encountering Jesus.

I am not suggesting that Paul had already attained perfection, but that the transformation Jesus brings is intended to be, can be, life-changing, and not just a little bit better than where we were before we met him. This was good news for Paul, for others through Paul; and can be for, and through, us.

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