Bird’s eye view of Paul (20) Paul, Sex and Women

In his excellent book A Bird’s Eye View of Paul, Michael Bird has a discussion of ‘Paul, Sex and Women’ in his chapter on Paul’s ethics.

Here’s a good discussion starter …

A society that has rejected God will be driven to pursue power or pleasure, the fist or the phallus, Hitler or Hefner.

And he catches well the dual character of Christian sexual ethics. On the one hand, grace and welcome is there for all, whoever they are and whatever their sexual orientation or lifestyle. On the other hand everyone is called to experience the transforming presence of the Holy Spirit and be part of God’s redeemed humanity.

In other words, grace is not opposed to ethical transformation, indeed it leads to it.

On homosexuality the exegetical territory is so well mapped out that it is difficult to add to the conversation. Bird concludes that for Paul homosexual practice is sinful and out of line with God’s purpose for human sexuality – but it is no ‘worse’ than any form of heterosexual sin.

On women the relevant texts have also been exhaustively dissected  but with much less agreement. So where does Bird alight? Well, he doesn’t spell things out in detail, but he heads in a generally egalitarian direction:

I say generally, because when he says that several texts speak of the husband’s authority over the wife, he does not discuss what this actually means in practice. He also says that Paul ‘for most part shared the patriarchal perspective of the ancient world – again I’d like to know what is meant here – for much of the rest of the discussion is anything but traditional patriarchy.

Bird stresses how Paul qualifies patriarchy in his emphasis on mutual submission in Ephesians 5:21; mutual authority in 1 Cor 7:4;  and blows apart cultural norms of the ancient world in Galatians 3:28. This text neither supports an obliteration of gender roles nor can be reduced to simply ‘unity in salvation’ with no implications for challenging patriarchy. But it does, says Bird, gloriously demonstrate the ‘negation of the distinctions that have separated human beings from each other’ in how ALL are equal in Christ.

On women and teaching he points to the ‘clear evidence’ in the NT that women had a teaching ministry:

– Priscilla and Aquilla both taught Apollos

– women prophets were active in Corinth

– there were women who were heads of households and who exercised some form of leadership in house churches

– women like Lydia, Syntyche and Priscilla were Paul’s co-workers (synergos) in the gospel, a word used elsewhere of key leaders

– and of course there is Junia the female apostle of Romans 16:7.  The evidence here is increasingly accepted as unambiguous. Bird quotes a major study by Eldon Epp that ‘Contemporary Christians – lay people and clergy – must (and eventually will) face up to it’ [the fact that the Bible has a female apostle].

– the restrictions on women teaching in 1 Timothy 2:11-15 are due to a local heresy, not Paul laying down some sort of blanket prohibition for all time.

Which, to come back to the post the other day on Mark Driscoll, all casts huge doubt over any dogmatically held ‘male only teachers’ position – and all the baggage which often comes with it

Comments, as ever, welcome.

One thought on “Bird’s eye view of Paul (20) Paul, Sex and Women

  1. I did a paper over this issue while working on my masters, in large part to answer my own questions. A large section of my family was appalled that I would consider getting a degree in Biblical Literarure.

    I discovered all that you referenced, and some empirical evidence that suggests the only way to have a balanced church is one in which male and female voices can be heard. A largely male dominated church, at least in the US, becomes cold, analytical, and business like. A female dominated church becomes ruled by emotion and tends to lack foresight.

    However, when our best traits are allowed to shine with love and support from the other we make a great team.

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