And yet more reflections on the reflections on the reflections

Just two quick notes here today. First, a few have made comments about specific verses, offering different interpretations of what Paul is saying in various passages. I’ve even offered a higher level view of how I think Paul does theological reasoning in a kind of ad hoc way. And my hunch is that if we had 30 different people all give their opinions on what Paul is doing in the “gender” texts, we’d have 30 different interpretations. Some are undoubtedly better readings than others, but there is hardly consensus.

Often critics of my position charge that I’m making difficult what is simply stated on more than one occasion in Paul–women should be silent. The problem is, these texts are anything but simple. We’ve got practices obscure to us that are given very little explanation by Paul. He can assume the Corinthians know to what he is referring, but it’s not obvious to us. What is going on with the language about the “head” in 1 Cor 11? Why are women praying and prophesying in chapter 11 and then silenced in chapter 14? The word for “authority” in 1 Timothy 2 is a rare word, not the usual word for authority. What does Paul mean by it? The word that is translated often “silence” has a wider range of meanings and is not typically translated silence. How should we translate hasuchia? There is a significant textual variant in 1 Cor 14, which has led some scholars to conclude that it wasn’t part of the original letter. Regardless, where you place those words affects the interpretation of the text. So, for my friends who want it simple, you’ll have to look for other texts. What is the setting of 1 Cor 11, 14, 1 Tim 2? Is it worship? Is it a general principle?

My point is this: if you’re taking a dogmatic position on one of these texts, you’re way overconfident. This problem is not an exegetical one. We won’t solve it through word studies or even discourse analysis. But this is not to despair. While it is important to struggle with these texts, it is more important to ask how our understandings of God influence our understandings of gender. This is properly a theological issue. And I think you’re always on better ground when you’re seeking understanding of the living God than when you’re basing practice on biblical precedent.

Second, I perhaps overstated things a bit in my last post on the cultural. What I meant to communicate was summarized well by my friend Brian Stogner on my Facebook page, “research in human cognition would suggest it’s certainly possible to think without language. However, some kinds of thought may only be available with language. I’d also say that any perception (maybe not sensation) of reality is mediated by experience. Any concept (such as “transcendence”) is also experientially (perhaps “culturally” in the context of this discussion) mediated. Any experience that is interpreted has been mediated by experience/culture.” Or as Gadamer puts things, understanding requires prior understanding. Certainly by the time you’ve written something down, its been mediated by cultural factors such as language, worldview, etc. And there is no place that we can stand outside of our own cultural frameworks and read these texts. The point I was trying to make is that when Paul says “do not conform to the world” he can’t possibly simply mean don’t adapt to the cultural. This is simply unavoidable and the biblical writers themselves do it all the time and so do we. What Paul means by world is not the same thing we mean by culture. Are some of our adaptations “conforming to the world?” Yes. But are all? No.

OK, now I’m going to figure out who is teaching Intro to the Christian Faith in the Spring.


About Mark Love

I am the Director of the Resource Center for Missional Leadership at Rochester College. Part of my job includes directing a master's degree in missional leadership, a situated learning degree. I am married to Donna and have a son, Josh Love, who lives in Portland, OR. With Donna, I have also inherited three great daughters and three amazing granddaughters.
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8 Responses to And yet more reflections on the reflections on the reflections

  1. Rachel says:

    Your second paragraph is one of the biggest reasons why I don’t attempt to argue texts much anymore. There are so many different ways to interpret, and many of the dogmatic people with which I have discussed these issues will even deny use of interpretation at all. “It’s so simple,” they say. But if it were that simple and not subject to interpretation, then why are we not forcing women to ask their husbands questions at home? Why do we so often call out congregations with women preachers, deacons, etc., but ignore our own inconsistencies concerning head coverings, not enforcing the rule of asking husbands at home, braided hair, etc.? These questions were what first led me down the path to egalitarianism. And this particular issue changed the entire way I looked at Scripture.
    These led to deeper questions and word studies, such as the meaning of authentein (which you mentioned), the possibility of “head” as meaning “source,” why we limit the verses in Timothy to “church service,” etc. It’s a fascinating topic, but one that is pretty much off-limits in my neck of the woods. I have had to limit my discussion to anonymous online outlets in order to keep the peace.
    Being of the female gender, I appreciate men like you who work from within as an advocate and a voice for those who too often have none. Thankfully, I don’t feel particularly called to or gifted in ministry (I’m more of a quiet thinker/researcher), so this issue hasn’t been as big of a deal to me personally as it has been to many of my more talented sisters. I do have a career in which I am in a position of authority over men, however, so it does affect me in that way, and I have had people tell me (directly and indirectly) that I’m out of my place. I’m rambling, so I’ll stop. But thank you so much for writing this. I look forward to reading more.

    • Mark Love says:

      Rachel, thanks for following along. As a young whippersnapper minister I thought there was nothing I couldn’t solve through my keen intellect and Greek knowledge. These texts defeated me. And I’m too arrogant to think that the problem is lack of ability. So, maybe, just maybe, this isn’t how these texts are functioning. We had the same epiphany.

  2. Mark, First I want to say thank you. As a woman, preacher, mother of boys, and professional, I have been reaching your posts with interest and curiosity. While I am not within your tradition, we have some mutual friends who are/were, and I am grateful for the new friends I made, with your help, in the C of C. I am sure that there are women, both within your tradition and without, who are appreciative of your candor, commitment, dialogue and grace as you wrestle with these issues.

    Second, I wanted to point to the texts that are meaningful to me. I realize that traditions who do not allow women to preach and teach tend to look at the passages you mentioned in this post, first and foremost. However, as a woman called into ministry, I always looked more closely at Jesus and the Gospels. The stories of the Syro-Phoenican woman, who ‘teaches’ Jesus, what is “fair” (“even dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”), the stories of women who accompanied Jesus and provided for them out of their resources (Was this only in the kitchen?) and of Mary Magdalene, who is present at the empty tomb, and in the Gospel of John is the first to see Jesus and the first to share the Good News with her brothers the disciples. How is it that these can be so quickly overlooked because of Paul’s letters? And when we do turn to Paul, how is it that people continue to pass over Phoebe, a deacon commended by Paul, and who likely delivered and possibly read the letter to the church in Rome, or Prisca and Aquila and noted by Paul as “working with him in Christ Jesus,” or Junia, “prominent among the apostles.” (All in Romans 16) Consistently throughout the ages, people in power have overlooked the signs that for Jesus and for Paul, authority and gender was not a clear-cut issue.

    Lastly, I agree that we will never “solve” this issue by looking only at scripture. We also must look into the eyes of our children. The idea of telling a young girl, full of brightness and possibility, that they can do anything in the world professionally EXCEPT to preach or teach the Word of God, because she has “the wrong parts,” simply does not point to a God who loves them and created them as a beloved Child of God. Likewise, to imagine telling my sons that their body parts afford them the privilege of always being “over” any young girl or woman they might meet seems to be the root of some very dangerous behavior as well. I am deeply thankful that I grew up in a home and tradition which affirmed my gifts and calling from the very beginning, and I am deeply grateful to the God who called me and continues to inspire and affirm that calling. I am prayerful and hopeful for women in other traditions, including yours, that they might be similarly blessed and affirmed.

    As for you, brother in Christ, keep on conversing, the Church in all it’s forms, needs people like you to press towards the fullness of inclusion and participation, so that we might all freely serve the God who has blessed us richly with Grace and Love.

    • Mark Love says:

      I am so grateful for this response. Thank you. And of course, you are right to point to other texts. But the people who oppose gender inclusion camp out in these texts, so they tend to be discussed more, at least in our tribe.

      • Chuck Bronson says:

        Isn’t it true that the word for “deacon” in the NT is used more often in an informal/generic sense as simply “servant” than as an official or “officer” in the church? Isn’t it also true that the word “apostle” is also used informally/generically as “anyone sent” and not necessarily as one of “The Twelve” (even though Mathias made 13, and Paul made 14)? And is it not true that neither the gender of “Junia[s]” nor his/her identification as an “apostle” in Rom. 16:7 is without uncertainty? (for a good scholarly treatment of this double question, see:

        As for being “called into ministry,” in one sense every Christian, male and female, is called into the general ministry (Rom. 12, Eph. 4:12, 1 Pet. 2:12); but only “some” are specially endowed to serve “officially” as apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers (Eph. 4:11). When someone like “therevandtheboys” claims to have been called, presumably to be the preacher she calls herself, one must wonder, who “called” her and in what way does she mean she was “called”? Was there a vision and/or some other remarkable experience like Saul had on the road to Damascus, or what? How can she or anyone else be sure that his/her special calling is from God?

        Probably the most remarkable case in A.D. history of a female being so thoroughly convinced that she was called by God for a special purpose that she even convinced a whole army to follow her lead, and did some amazing things, was the French-Catholic teenager, Joan of Arc, who claimed to start having visions from God at age 12. But were France’s conflicts with England and the crowning of 14 year old King Charles VII in the 15th Century really such spiritually important matters to God that He had to “call” someone like her to do all that? And didn’t she end up kind of out of her mind and disgraced (not to mention captured by her enemies and burned to death? And didn’t all that she helped achieve kind of unravel within a short time thereafter? So what was all that all about? How does your calling compare to hers, or to Paul’s?

      • Mark Love says:

        Chuck, I’d point you to John Collins’ book on deacons, the most thorough look at the usage of the world in the Greco-Roman world.

        My view doesn’t ultimately rely on whether or not women served in some official capacity in the NT, though I think Phebe is just as official as Timothy, Sosthenes, Tychicus, and all who are referred to as deacons in the NT. given that Acts 6 calls no one deacon and that 1 Tim doesn’t tell us what these people do, it seems best to define that in relation to those who are actually called deacons, and they are all doing the same thing–publicly representing the Pauline mission. This has the happy coincidence of also fitting the predominant usage of the word in contemporary usage.

        How would a man today determine whether or not he is called to teach or preach? I would assume a woman would do the same thing. Maybe you don’t believe in calling that way. I do. And I think the same things that allowed me to determine my calling would be available to a woman as well. And couldn’t you also provide examples of men who felt called by God whose lives ended up indicating that they weren’t? If you could, I don’t see how Joan of Arc is helpful here. On the other hand, Ruth Tucker and Walter Liefelds book, Daughters of the Church (to name one source), has numerous stories throughout Scripture and church history of women who answered God’s call and served in remarkable ways that advanced the kingdom. I think anyone would be hard pressed to say that God didn’t use their efforts in remarkable ways.

        So, my questions would be, how do you assess fruit as you think about Gods presence in someone’s life? Isn’t it possible that someone could be “right” about Scripture and still not serve the interests of the Kingdom? Jesus seemed to think so. And he seemed to suggest fruit was a good criterion. Do you think it is impossible a priori that a woman preacher can’t bear Kingdom fruit through her ministry of preaching?Do you think God is displeased with her fruit?

        Also, do you believe slavery is wrong? What is your biblical justification for that? I’m guessing you’re requiring a biblical justification on gender matters that you don’t apply to slavery, though I could be wrong.

  3. Karen Sampson says:

    Thanks for this thoughtful discussion Mark! I am mindful of the CS Lewis quote, “It is no good asking for a simple religion. After all, real things aren’t simple. They look simple, but they’re not.” I choose real over simple. Though you are correct, it occasionally makes me nervous.

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