Miss Gioia

Thursday, July 16, 2009


Go Jimmy!


Monday, December 10, 2007


I discovered the Belief-o-Matic through the American Family blog. Turns out I fit best with Reformed Judaism. Whee!

Here are my top ten.

1. Reform Judaism (100%)
2. Orthodox Quaker (91%)
3. Orthodox Judaism (91%)
4. Liberal Quakers (89%)
5. Bahá'í Faith (89%)
6. Islam (85%)
7. Sikhism (80%)
8. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (76%)
9. Unitarian Universalism (73%)
10. Jainism (66%)

I absolutely adore the fact that my list includes Bahai, Islam, Sikhism and Jainism. I really am pretty happy with that.

Most excellent. What does the Belief-o-matic say about you?

EDITED: Perhaps it is important to note that I am not actually Jewish. But this does probably explain why I seem to have such a hard time finding a worship community that I feel comfortable with here.


Monday, June 18, 2007

Here We Go Again

I have alluded before to certain conversations that Chris and I have been having with the leadership of our church in Beijing. Most of those discussions have centered on the issue of women's role in leadership. We are decidedly egalitarians, while many people in our church are more complementarians – namely people who believe that men and women hold different and complementary roles. Simply put, they believe that women cannot teach men in church. To date, these discussions on leadership and teaching have resulted in more or less of a detente, in which we all recognize that 1) everyone disagrees and 2) the issue has not been decided in a formal, public manner.

This past week, however, the egalitarian vs. complementation debate raised its head again in a slightly different way. The guest speaker at our service spoke on Ephesians 5:22 to 25. His approach was decidedly complementarian, with a central argument that happy marriages are those in which women submit to their husbands, and husbands sacrifice themselves for their wives. My reaction is as follows: the true depth and meaning of Paul's passage cannot be fully understood by simply isolating these three verses and reading them in English. Obviously, these words were originally written in Greek, so English translations may lose or distort some of the original intent. They were also part of a larger message Paul was trying to convey to followers of the Way in Ephesus.

Before I begin, let me say that a while host of bible scholars have written excellent discourses on this particular passage that will put my writing to shame. I am most certainly not an expert, but I do bring the topic up because we HAVE to talk about this. So please, if you have any interest in this issue, I implore you to go read the experts. I will list a bibliography of links and references at the end of this blog entry.

The Passage in Question: Ephesians 5:22 to 25

Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the Church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. NIV
Note that I have bolded one English word in this passage: head. In ancient Greek, this word is written as “kephale.” Kephale deserves special attention in the examination of this particular passage.

Several authors, most notably Kreoger and Fee, have established that kephale is probably best interpreted as origin and source, not as ruler. A nice summary of the literature is presented here. This interpretation allows for us to see that Paul is not arguing for hierarchical ordering within families. Male is the source of female, just as God is the source of man. Men and husbands are not "ordered" above women and wives. To further quote Paul: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:28, NIV)

Grammatical Structure

It is really important to note that verse 22 is not a complete, stand-alone sentence at all (Fee 2002). In the original, this phrase is part of a longer sentence which begins with verse 18 and ends with verse 25. The NIV, which I quoted above, erroneously inserts a header entitled “Wives and Husbands” after verse 22. This breaks up the second part of the sentence from the first, and incorrectly separates the command given to women from the command expressed in verse 21, which is “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (emphasis added).

Paul is admonishing all members of the church community, male and female, to submit to one another in mutuality. Immediately after that, in the same sentence, he reiterates the point to wives. So the directive to wives comes as no surprise; Paul is restating a directive sent to the entire congregation – Submit to one another, even at home!

The next portion of the passage – really verses 25 to 33 – go much further in directing the husband. In effect, Paul is saying not only do you, men, have to engage in mutual submission at church (verse 22), but you must go even further at home. You must love your wife as your own body, as Christ does the church. You must love her so much that you will sacrifice everything for her, die for her. That must have been a surprising directive in a Roman society where men reigned supreme over women in all areas of social life.

The Passage in Context

One of the best discussions of the Roman social context for this passage that I have read to date is in Craig S. Keener's Paul, Women & Wives: Marriage and Women’s Ministry in the Letters of Paul, specifically in the chapter entitled “The Social Situation of Ephesians 5:18-33.” Keener very clearly summarizes the Artistolean foundations of the existing social hierarchy, which emphasized the male as dominant over female. He also makes a great point about the xenophobic fears in Roman society of foreign cults.

Keener's argument is that Paul is encouraging women to be respectful of their husbands, not only because it is the right thing to do, but also because it is socially expected. To behave otherwise could jeopardize the status of the followers of Christ in the eyes of the greater community. Paul “emphasized the wife's submission because it was an essential part of her witness in that culture” (p148).

In spite of all of this, however, Paul is not arguing that Christian women be subjugated under the authoritarian rule of their husbands as would be expected in contemporaneous Roman society. Keener concludes this particular chapter as follows.

A brief examination of Ephesians 5:21-3...places her submission squarely in the context of mutual submission, and qualifies her husband's position of authority as one of loving service. (Ibid)

When I was younger, I avoided this particular passage as I ignorantly thought that it was admonishing women to place themselves in subjugation to their husbands. I have been delighted to find that, contrary to my initial reading in English, Paul's writing in this passage is strikingly egalitarian. He calls men and women to mutual submission at home and in the church community. Most notably, he further calls husbands to sacrifice all that they are and have for their wife. I am not angered by this passage; I am empowered.

References Worth Reading

Keener, Craig S. Paul, Women & Wives: Marriage and Women’s Ministry in the Letters of Paul. Hendrickson Publishers: Massachusetts. 1992.

Malone, Mary T. Women and Christianity: The First Thousand Years. Orbis Books: New York. 2001.

English Bibles Blog

Christians for Biblical Equity
- Fee article on Ephesians 5:18-33
- Johnson article on Christian submission
- Kreoger article on "Kephale"




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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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Thinking About Today

Chris and I had the immense fortune to spend two weeks in Egypt last summer. I was impressed by many things during our visit there, but I was really intrigued by the Coptic Christian quarter of Cairo, in particular the Coptic museum. The museum had a few displays discussing Gnosticism, specifically the political battle between the Gnostics and other Christian groups that was waging during the time that both Timothy and Titus were written. The Gnostic scrolls which have given us so much scholarly insight into that period were discovered in caves outside of Cairo, hidden there by people who fled from Ephesus. When people who read ancient Greek have examined these scrolls, they have discovered numerous and sometimes shocking examples of the heretical teachings and writings that inspired Paul to write the very passages in question. First Timothy was explicitly written in opposition to heretics, most notably the Gnostics. A fuller understanding of culture helps us to reconcile seemingly contradictory writings by Paul in these books.

How wonderful it is that our God is complex and mighty, that he challenges us intellectually and culturally to think about his teachings in such a deep and difficult way.