Women’s Service in the Church (NT Wright) Pt. 2

Yesterday I posted quotes from the introductory remarks to N.T. Wright’s conference paper, “Women’s Service in the Church: The Biblical Basis,” for the Symposium, ‘Men, Women and the Church’ at St John’s College, Durham on September 4, 2004Today I’ll continue with some excerpts from his discussion of Galatians 3.28.

By the way, in the interests of forthrightness, I haven’t just come across Wright’s paper, but am rather revisiting it in light of recent discussions in my New Testament Theology class here at Beeson Divinity — in addition to the recent, unfortunate developments regarding women Bible faculty at my alma mater: Cedarville University (see Rachel Marie Stone, Scot McKnight, and Joel Watts). Similar things are happening at Juniperview University…which sounds oddly similar to where I went to school. Anyways…

Nota bene: My Emphases[My Additions.] 

“The first thing to say is fairly obvious but needs saying anyway. Galatians 3 is not about ministry. Nor is it the only word Paul says about being male and female, and instead of taking texts in a vacuum and then arranging them in a hierarchy, for instance by quoting this verse and then saying that it trumps every other verse in a kind of fight to be the senior bull in the herd (what a very masculine way of approaching exegesis, by the way!), we need to do justice to what Paul is actually saying at this point.” […]

“The point Paul is making overall in this passage is that God has one family, not two, […] This is not at all about how we relate to one another within this single family; it is about the fact, as we often say, that the ground is even at the foot of the cross.”

“First, a note about translation and exegesis. I notice that on one of your leaflets you adopt what is actually a mistranslation of this verse: neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female. That is precisely what Paul does not say; and as it’s what we expect he’s going to say, we should note quite carefully what he has said instead, since he presumably means to make a point by doing so, a point which is missed when the translation is flattened out as in that version. What he says is that there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, no ‘male and female’. I think the reason he says ‘no male and female’ rather than ‘neither male nor female’ is that he is actually quoting Genesis 1, and that we should understand the phrase ‘male and female’ in scare-quotes.

“So does Paul mean that in Christ the created order itself is undone? […] No. Paul is a theologian of new creation, and it is always the renewal and reaffirmation of the existing creation, never its denial, as not only Galatians 6.16 but also of course Romans 8 and 1 Corinthians 15 make so very clear. Indeed, Genesis 1—3 remains enormously important for Paul throughout his writings.

“What then is he saying? Remember that he is controverting in particular those who wanted to enforce Jewish regulations, and indeed Jewish ethnicity, upon Gentile converts. Remember the synagogue prayer in which the man who prays thanks God that he has not made him a Gentile, a slave or a woman – at which point the women in the congregation that [sic, “thank”?] God ‘that you have made me according to your will’. I think Paul is deliberately marking out the family of Abraham reformed in the Messiah as a people who cannot pray that prayer, since within this family these distinctions are now irrelevant.

“I think there is more. Remember that the presenting issue in Galatians is circumcision, male circumcision of course. We sometimes think of circumcision as a painful obstacle for converts, as indeed in some ways it was; but of course for those who embraced it it was a matter of pride and privilege. It not only marked out Jews from Gentiles; it marked them out in a way which automatically privileged males. By contrast, imagine the thrill of equality brought about by baptism, the identical rite for Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female. And that’s not all. Though this is somewhat more speculative, the story of Abraham’s family did of course privilege the male line of descent: Isaac, Jacob and so on. What we find in Paul, both in Galatians 4 and in Romans 9, is careful attention being paid – rather like Matthew 1, in fact, though from a different angle – to the women in the story. If those in Christ are the true family of Abraham, which is the point of the whole story, then the manner of this identity and unity takes a quantum leap beyond the way in which first-century Judaism construed them, bringing male and female together as surely and as equally as Jew and Gentile. What Paul seems to be doing in this passage, then, is ruling out any attempt to back up the continuing male privilege in the structuring and demarcating of Abraham’s family by an appeal to Genesis 1, as though someone were to say, ‘But of course the male line is what matters, and of course male circumcision is what counts, because God made male and female.’ No, says Paul, none of that counts when it comes to membership in the renewed people of Abraham.

But once we have grasped this point we must take a step back and reflect on what Paul has not done as well as what he has done. In regard to the Jew/Gentile distinction, Paul’s fierce and uncompromising insistence on equality in Christ does not at all mean that we need pay no attention to the distinctives between those of different cultural backgrounds when it comes to living together in the church. […] And this applies, I suggest, mutatis mutandis, to Paul’s treatment of men and women within the Christian family. The difference is irrelevant for membership status and membership badges. But it is still to be taken note of when it comes to pastoral practice. We do not become hermaphrodites or for that matter genderless, sexless beings when we are baptised. Paul would have been the first to reject the gnostic suggestion that the original creation was a secondary, poor shot at making a world and that we have to discover ways of transcending that which, according to Genesis 1, God called ‘very good’. […]”

What say you? 

If Wright is right in that Galatians 3.28 speaks of membership in God’s one family, what implications should that have in our behavior as male and female members? 

Going back to Wright’s previous mention of the potential and peril of terms like “egalitarian” and “complementary,” how can these terms come together in our understanding of this famous verse? 

How should the Gospel as God’s redemptive mission influence our views of gender? 

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