Lucy Peppiatt on 1 Cor. 11 and 14

Lucy Peppiatt’s Women and Worship at Corinth (Eugene: Cascade, 2015) is a very good book. I don’t say this because I agree with the conclusions, although I do; I don’t even say it because Lucy is a good friend and a former student of mine, although she is; I say it because her book is comprehensively researched and carefully argued, and that combination is what makes a book ‘good’ in the academic world I inhabit. Lucy treats three difficult texts in 1 Corinthians: 11:2-16; 14:20-25; and 14:34-36. She proposes that they may be best read by assuming that in each case Paul is in part quoting his opponents’ views back at them. For this argument, she draws gratefully on Douglas Campbell’s major recent work on Romans, and his extensive investigations into the nature of rhetorical arguments in the world in which Paul wrote his letters. I confess to remaining unconvinced by Doug’s arguments on Romans, but his research on rhetoric is solid, and Lucy’s deployment of it here seems – to me at least – far stronger. Why? Three reasons, roughly in order of significance: 1. the texts in question are self-contradictory unless we invoke some argument like this; 2. we know that Paul is quoting the Corinthians’ views back at them in other places in 1 Cor., which makes an extension of this principle plausible; 3. Lucy’s reconstruction of the basic theological argument of 1 Cor. – that it is cruciform, and God has reversed the standard power hierarchies of the world – make readings of the gender texts which suggest Paul is here reinforcing hierarchies implausible. Lucy’s research is thorough; I do not know if she has read every scholarly commentary on 1 Corinthians, but (admittedly as a non-specialist) I cannot think of one (in English, at least) that she has not read and interacted with; she works extensively with scholarly essays and journal articles also.  As she points out, the sort of ‘rhetorical’ conclusion she is offering here has been proposed before in relation to each of the three texts, but no-one has used Campbell’s work on rhetorical pointers to suggest that the three texts share common literary features which allow us to identify Corinthian quotations within them. Previous work argued that the logic could be sorted out here or there if we imagined an act of quotation; Lucy argues that there is textual evidence of an act of quotation in each case. Her case is not confined to identifying Corinthian quotations: she holds the three ‘headship’ clauses of 1 Cor 11:3 to be Paul’s own, and investigates carefully the (endlessly-debated) question of the meaning of kephale, for instance. That said, the rhetorical arguments are her real advance over earlier interpreters, or so it seems to me. Lucy gives us a reading of the texts that is centred on the cross, and the re-ordered society that the church should be under its crucified Head. In this society, ministry is based on gift and calling, not on gender, and the powerful gifts of God’s Spirit are normal and necessary for the building up of the Body. I am no New Testament scholar, and would not presume to judge the detailed points of the argument; but this reconstruction is theologically convincing, and fits well with the broader themes of the epistle, and of the Pauline corpus more generally, for me to be convinced by...

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John Chrysostom on 1 Cor. 11:3

One of the things that struck me in reading the Ware and Starke book was how much this sort of defence of complementarianism depends on 1 Cor. 11:3 – ‘But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God’ (NIV). Simply put, even if we could demonstrate an eternal functional subordination in the triune life, we would have no warrant to draw an analogy to gender relations apart from this single verse. But the verse cannot bear that weight: however we read it, ‘head’ is being used in (at least) two senses. Particularly if we are talking about things like authority, the Father-Son relation is just not the same as the Christ-human relation. That surely does not even need arguing… …but in case it does, here’s the argument, from St John Chrysostom’s Homily 26 on 1 Corinthians. Lucy Peppiatt put me on to the text in her (excellent) Women and Worship at Corinth (of which much more in a day or two…); I don’t know a modern English edition, so I have done a (fairly quick and dirty) translation of my own (from Migne, but I think his text is OK): ’The head of the woman is the man, and the head of Christ is God.’ Here the heretics attack us, contriving from these words to diminish the Son. But they trip over themselves! If the head of woman is man, and the head is of the same substance (‘homoousios’) as the body, and the head of Christ is God, then the Son is of the same substance (‘homoousios’) as the Father! They say that they are not trying to show here that the Son is of a different substance to the Father, but that he is subject to authority (‘archetas’ – does this argument sound familiar at all?) How should we respond? First, when we speak of the incarnate Son’s being subjected, we do not mean that the divine Son is subject – that’s just how we talk of the economy of salvation. But anyway, how are you going to prove the point from the passage? If they say the Father has authority over Christ as a husband does over his wife, then they have to say that as Christ rules over men, so the Father rules over the Son – the passage says ‘the head of every man is Christ’! Who would dream of saying such a thing? If the Father is as much greater than the Son as the Son is greater than us, this really diminishes the Son! So, we shouldn’t use the same arguments about our human existence and God’s divine existence, even if we use similar language. We have to recognise God’s transcendence – God is so great! If they don’t admit this, they end up with all sorts of absurdities – God is the head of Christ, and Christ is the head of man, and man of the woman; if we take ‘head’ in the same sense every time, then the Son will be as distant from the Father as we are from the Son – and the woman will be as far from us as we are from the divine Word, and what the Son is to the Father, we are to the Son, and the woman is to the man. Who could accept all that? If you understand the word ‘head’ differently speaking of men and women from the way you understand it speaking of Christ, then you have to understand it differently speaking of the Father and the Son too! (If you’ve not come across him, John was a great preacher in Antioch towards the end of the fourth century, and became archbishop of Constantinople; he is commemorated in the Orthodox calendar as one of the three great teachers of the church, along with Basil of Caesarea and Gregory of Nazianzus; to pre-empt the criticism that usually comes at this point, it is fairly certain that he does not say this stuff because he has been infected with feminism, or lost sight of the gospel through reading Germaine...

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Reflections on a new defence of ‘complementarianism’

I recently picked up a new book arguing in more detail than I have seen before the thesis that the doctrine of the Trinity, specifically the Father-Son relationship, gives warrant for what tends to get called a ‘complementarian’ understanding of gender relations – the idea that there is something inherent in human nature and intended by God in male authority and female submission. The book is: Bruce A. Ware and John B. Starke (eds), One God in Three Persons: Unity of Essence, Distinction of Persons, Implications for Life (Wheaton: Crossway, 2015). I did not expect to agree with the various authors: not only have I taken a fairly straightforward stand against ‘complementarianism’, I have argued even more forcefully that analogies from the triune relations to human interpersonal relations are always poor; a set of essays using the latter form of argument to defend the former conclusion is, well, not something I would have written a commendation for, even if they had been foolish enough to ask me… That said, reading books with which you disagree is much more important than reading books with which you agree; if they are well-argued and adequately researched, they sharpen you and force you to refine your thoughts; sometimes they even contribute to a change of mind, and, as I often tell students, the only way to prove you have a mind is to change it occasionally… * * * It is an edited volume; inevitably the essays vary in quality. The worst are genuinely bad. Unfortunately, the nadir is the opening essay, by Wayne Grudem, which in part lists a series of fairly central points in classical Trinitarian dogma (most egregiously, inseparable operations), and then claims each must be wrong by gesturing towards a few unexamined proof-texts. Now, of course, I accept the theoretical possibility of challenging the ecumenically-received doctrine on the basis of serious and careful exegesis; I am Baptist, evangelical, and Reformed, and hold to sola scriptura tenaciously. That said, ‘serious and careful exegesis’ involves rather more than quoting an English translation of a verse and asserting its meaning is obvious; further, I have the view, perhaps old-fashioned, that one ought to understand the faith before trying to overthrow it. The reader who perseveres beyond this infelicitous opening is rewarded, however. I confess to not keeping a close eye on the literature here, but I believe that these essays move forward the present state of the ‘complementarian’ argument in this area in significant ways, not all of them necessarily helpful to its supporters. There is some good historical work (in marked contrast to the opening essay): Robert Letham notes that the doctrine of eternal generation has come under some attack – from both sides of the gender debate – recently, and offers a robust historical and systematic defence, culminating in the claim ‘ the dogma of eternal generation is the cement holding together the doctrine of the Trinity’ (121); well, no – historically that is inseparable operations (see Gregory of Nyssa, Ad. Ablab.) – but I take the point. (Eternal generation is another basic point of trinitarian orthodoxy that Grudem has rejected, incidentally.) Mike Ovey’s chapter is curious but also instructive. It is again serious historical scholarship, investigating the status of the fourth-century debates in the mid-350s, around the time of the promulgation of the famous Blasphemy of Sirmium. Ovey examines three anti-Sirmium writers, Athanasius, Hilary, and Basil of Ancyra, and a number of symbolic documents of the period, including the Blasphemy itself; his claim is that in all these writers and documents, a basic submission of the Son to the Father is taught. This is more-or-less true (I think there is more to be said about Athanasius), but in danger of being misleading: the 350s are perhaps the most unsettled and unstable period of the whole fourth-century debate (which is saying something…). Hilary’s thought is rapidly developing through the decade and beyond; to treat De synodis as a mature and settled expression is just wrong. To give only the most obvious example, Ovey picks up on Hilary’s account of names, and particularly of what the name ‘Son’ means (147); Hilary repeatedly revises his theory of names – there are, for example, no less than three distinct doctrines visible in the De Trinitate (he announces a change of mind in Book VII, and visibly changes his view again in Book XII). The question of the divine names becomes vital in the final settlement of the Trinitarian controversies: in response to Eunomius’ heavily-platonised theory of names, Basil of Caesarea develops his account of theology as ‘epinoietic’, which is the decisive insight that allows the development of Cappadocian...

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Again, on conferences and statistics

Ian Paul, who I have never had the pleasure of meeting, but with whom I interact regularly online, posted some reflections occasioned by my blog post on his blog (I think it is better to describe it like that than as a ‘response’). I’m sorry to move back over here rather than responding directly there (not least because his blog is much more professional, much nicer-looking, and (I assume) much more widely read than mine), but this essay just got too long. Before I start, I should say that I respect Ian greatly, that we agree on most subjects (although he belongs to one of those strange sects that sprinkle infants…), and have made common cause together before now. Specifically, given the topic under discussion, Ian has been a committed and effective campaigner for female leadership in the church, and has done much good as such, for which I honour him. If we disagree, it is en famille. Ian’s first comment relates to a passing phrase I used ‘the Christian conference circuit’; I did not mean much by this, save that there are a certain number of (non-congregational) events in the UK to which a Christian speaker might be invited. It is not a closed shop; the ‘gatekeepers’ who invite people to various events are generally publicly identified and (in my – fairly extensive – experience) are always very proactive in seeking out potential new speakers. But, as with any area of life, there’s a learning curve; no-one goes straight to main stage. That was the extent of my reflection. I might blog again about this, as it seems to have touched a nerve with a few people, but for now I just want to stress that I really didn’t mean very much by it. The nub of Ian’s argument turns on some thoughts on parenting. I commented that ‘the hard yards on this road come when, if you have family, your children are young, and it is generally harder for a mother than a father to accept invitations to be away from home,’ and located this ‘generally harder’ in sociology; Ian wants to locate it in biology, or possibly psychology, and so argue that mothers need/want to spend more time with their children, and so will choose, often enough to skew speaker stats, not to do those ‘hard yards’. Now, I think my sociological argument is stronger than Ian’s biological/psychological one, but neither of us are experts there and we’re not going to solve that. So, for the sake of what follows, I will assume his point. Even with it, I suggest that (a) his conclusions do not follow and (b) even if they did there would be a gospel imperative to resist them. I see at least three logical problems. The first is this: Ian’s argument is clearly a degree argument, not an absolute difference argument (a degree argument: women tend to be shorter than men; an absolute difference argument: men have more Y chromosomes than women). A degree argument, even if it applies well to two classes as a whole, may not apply to particular subsets of those two classes. So: female netball internationals in fact tend to be taller than men. Ian applies a general claim about women to the specific subset of female leaders without arguing that the transference is plausible. It seems to me that it is not: his claim is something like ‘in general, maternal instincts will lead women to value their families higher than their professional development’. For his argument to hold, Ian needs to demonstrate that female Christian leaders are not, on average, sufficiently invested in their God-given vocation to nullify this general gender gap he claims to see. (This would not, of course, be to claim that female leaders are less invested in their families than women in general, but that – properly, given their calling by God – they are generally more committed to their ministry than, on average, other women are to their jobs.) Now, I don’t accept that there is a gender difference here, and my suspicion is that the reality, for female and male leaders, in church and without, is actually precisely the reverse. There is some evidence, for what such evidence is worth, that senior leaders in various fields are more, not less, invested in their families than less ‘successful’ people in those fields, and that holds true whether they are male or female. This chimes both with my experience of the senior people I know – in the church and in other fields – and with some Biblical material about the responsibilities of a Christian leader towards his/her children. Female or male, the leaders I respect most are (either single...

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On the reception of the 2014 gender stats for Christian conferences

In reviewing last year, I looked at a list of everything I had ‘delivered’: writing sent off for publication; teaching done; students submitted; talks given; … I find it helpful: it is too easy to remember the stuff I didn’t manage to do, of which there is always much, and focus on that. (For the first time I also had a heading for things I had intentionally stopped doing, which wasn’t a long list, but is something at which I intend to work harder.) One of the things that gave me most satisfaction to note was the public launch of Project 3:28, a small collective of people working towards gender justice in the church, who have come together to do some specific things. It came out of Natalie Collins‘s collation of statistics on the gender of speakers on UK conference platforms in 2013, which I blogged about here; a group of us got together to talk about whether we could do anything; Project 3:28 is the result. We’re working on several strands, but the first one went live yesterday: gender statistics for UK conference platforms in 2o14, again compiled by Natalie. The headline number was encouraging: in 2013, of the 431 speakers at conferences we counted, 24% were female; in 2014, we counted 1081 speakers, and 34% were female. Natalie tweeted from the project account (@project328) through the morning, posting award certificates for the five conferences with the best gender balance and the five with the most improved gender balance. We’ve not yet reviewed the reception as a team, but I think when we do we will be pleased. There was media coverage from Premier and Christian Today – hopefully the print sources will also notice us – and a fair amount of buzz on social media, most of it positive and encouraging. Of course there were a few negative lines, some of them rather silly. ‘Didn’t we know that already?’ some asked. No, we didn’t, not the precise numbers, or the year-on-year change, or the conferences that were doing better than most. ‘What a waste of money!’ opined several; I think it has cost us, between us, nearly £250 so far – a fair chunk of that the price of the meal where we first got together to plan, which was generously paid for by an all-male conference (via a speaker’s fee they gave to one of us…). Then we had the classic spurious alternative – ‘shouldn’t you be concentrating on … instead?’ Hey, we saw an issue that we thought we could do something about; that doesn’t mean we don’t care about other issues – and in every case I’ve so far seen mentioned, at least two of us have been actively & publicly involved in addressing the issue elsewhere (unlike, generally, the complainant). Finally – my favourite –  ‘A much simpler way would have just to read [sic] any literature advertising the event and play spot the female photo & name’; What did you think our research method was? Stealth photography in green rooms? DNA testing of skin residues left on microphones? Compulsory urine samples as speakers left the platforms?! One comment keeps coming back though: ‘don’t we want the best speakers?’ Yes. Yes we do; that’s most of the point. On the assumption (and it is an assumption, but it is one I believe to be well founded in Scripture) that God gives gifts to people regardless of gender, roughly half the ‘best’ speakers should be female, where ‘best’ = ‘most gifted’; if our platforms are 75% or 66% male, then we are not getting the ‘best’ speakers. The problem is, though, that ‘best’ means more than ‘most gifted’; it means also ‘most experienced’, and so we get a vicious feedback loop: we want the same names and faces on every platform, because they have learnt through long experience how to do it well, and because they are famous names and so draw the (paying) crowds. I’ve organised conferences; I can write that list in the UK evangelical scene – and it is indeed 70% male. But I can write another list of speakers who are just as – or even more – gifted, in many cases who I would much rather hear, who are slightly rawer, for lack of experience, and much less famous – and that list is majority female. We came together in the Project 3:28 collective knowing this; round the table when we first discussed ideas were some veterans of the UK conference scene: Wendy Beech-Ward, Paula Gooder, Krish Kandiah, Rachel Jordan, me, … This is why intentional action is needed. The conference circuit operates as its own breeding ground: you get brought in to assist at a...

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