Miss Gioia

Saturday, April 14, 2007

A Road Well Traveled

A wood carving of St. George slaying the dragon, found in the Coptic quarter of old Cairo

Someone wrote to me this week saying that "The Bible clearly states that women cannot be Elders." Now, I come from a Protestant Church and tradition that believes the opposite, so I was a bit taken aback by this statement. All this week, I have been studying to see if this could possibly be true. My reading and discovery has shown me, at least, that the Bible is not clear on this issue, not clear at all.

Peter himself says that Paul, whose writings are often used as reasons to deny women positions of leadership in the Church, is difficult to understand.

His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures to their own destruction. (NIV, 2 Peter 3:16)

So what have I learned this week? Here is a sampling.

- Many people point to Paul's listing of the qualifications for Elders in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:6-9 as evidence that God meant this office for males only. When you read the text in English, it may appear to be so, as the language appears to be male. However, we have to delve back into the original Greek to see if that was indeed so. I don't read Greek, so I am at a severe disadvantage here. But people who do read Greek note that words that are often translated as "man" in some versions of English Bibles are more appropriately translated as "people" or "anyone" in the original language. The same is true for other Greek words signifying office, as Suzanne McCarthy notes here.

Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer (footnoted as 'Traditionally bishop'), he desires a noble task. (NIV, 1 Timothy 3:1)

Some Bible editions translate the word ei tis, which is provided as "anyone" in the NIV verse above, as "man." Not so.

- When Jesus was in Bethany at Simon's house, he was anointed by a woman, Mary, with perfume. When the disciples (specifically Judas in John's accounting) rebuked Mary for this act, saying that it was wasteful, Jesus rebuked Judas saying, She is preparing me for burial.

It is important to recognize that Mary's anointing of Jesus was a priestly act. Everyone present at the anointing and first century Christians reading the accounting of the story later would have recognized it as such. If Jesus did not believe that women should perform priestly acts, then he would have rebuked Mary. Instead he rebuked the disciples. This story is so important that it is told in three out of the four Gospels, in all but Luke. (Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9, and John 12:3-8)

-During the time of Christ's crucifixion and resurrection, the women were ever present. According to Matthew 27:55-56, they were watching from a distance, having followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. The 12 disciples were in hiding, in fear of political persecution. Why, then, were the women not hiding even though they had also been publicly associated with Jesus? Why were they allowed to approach the tomb even though Pilate has expressly ordered it secured so that the disciples would not steal the body (Matthew 27:64)? The simple answer is that women were not considered a threat, as they were not allowed to hold leadership roles in that society and would not have been viewed as capable of doing anything consequential.

Here is the interesting part: soon after Jesus' death and resurrection the situation is quite different. When Saul (later Paul) is searching for followers of the Way, he specifically seeks out and is persecuting both men AND women (Acts 9:2). So why would Saul care to find and arrest female followers of Jesus? Because they were now free to speak and teach of him, spreading the Word alongside men. That made them equally dangerous in Saul's eyes. There was a shift in women's place in the religious community that directly resulted from Jesus' coming.

I am not a theologian, so I am not prepared to enter into scholarly debate on these issues. Going back to the original topic at hand, though, I feel that I am pretty confident in saying that the Bible does NOT clearly say that women cannot be Elders. If you are interested in this topic, I encourage you to read the work of many, many people who have thought about this from a scholarly perspective.

Here are some easily accessible writings related to this issue that I found to be particularly eloquent.

Junia: The Apostle, by Suzanne McCarthy
The Scholarly and Fundamentalist Approaches to the Bible, by Peter Kirk
Presbuteras, by Kevin Knox

I have also ordered a tremendous number of books on Amazon on the writings of Paul, women in the early Church, and other related topics. It takes a billion years for books to reach me here in Beijing (not really, but a while), so it may be some time before I can read through them. If I discover any other resources, I'll be sure to post them here.

Thanks for listening.

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Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

I am glad that you enjoyed the Junia posts. You might enjoy reading The Jesus Creed blog.

Are you familiar with the story of Li Tim Oi?

April 17, 2007 11:38 AM  
Blogger codepoke said...

Just noticed your link to my thoughts. It's been 4 months, hopefully the books have arrived by now. :-)

May the Lord bless your search.

August 17, 2007 11:51 AM  

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