Monday, April 13, 2015

Women: No Talkin' In Church

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was 1 Corinthians 14:33b-36:

Today is one of those days in which saying after the scripture reading is done, “this is the word of God,” leaves many people a little bit queasy.  This is one of the passages we find in the Bible with which many in the church don’t want to have to deal or even admit is there.  So, for example, this passage is not included in the lectionary, which are the recommended readings for each Sunday of the year.  But we don’t have to go very far in order to to find churches that still use this, and other passages to justify women not only leadership positions in the church but most especially ordination.

The girls and I were recently at the famous Irish restaurant McDonalds, and the guy at the next booth was talking on his phone with someone about the terrible decision that the church was considering at their next general church gathering, about the possibility of allowing women to be ordained.  And to this gentleman not only was this an abomination, but it was the work of Lucifer himself to try and bring down the church.  Now based on what he was saying I was able to find out that he was a member of the 7th day Adventists, and the great irony is that the 7th day Adventists was cofounded by a woman.  So although we don’t talk about these passages much, if at all, in the mainline churches, we ignore them and others like them at our own peril, and at the peril of the greater church.

Now today’s sermon is going to be a little different than what I normally try to do which is to try and make the scripture applicable, so that we might learn something from it and live that out in our lives.  I know that I do not always accomplish that goal, but that is what I at least try to do most of the time.  I’m not going to do that today, so if you want to hear some good illustrations, be uplifted and look at how to apply the scripture to your life, please come back next week, because today I am going to try and unpack this passage, to provide some background and some perspective on this passage, and then next week we’ll look at possible interpretations and how we can learn from these passages.  A good place to start is with the simple understand that there are some things in scripture with which we are going to disagree, and to recognize the lens through which we read scripture has as much to do with our understanding of scripture as the words on the page do.  So, for example, if we were to read the passages found in scripture that relate to slavery, we read them very differently today than we did just two hundred years ago. Our understanding and interpretation of those passages, and the lens through which we read them, has changed radically in the last few centuries.
Now I think Paul is one of the great misunderstood people in the history of the church, and a lot of that has to do with how Paul’s words, or Paul’s reported words, have been used throughout the history of the church to hurt and suppress people.  Adam Hamilton, who is the minister of the largest Methodist church in the country, recounted a time when he was stopped by a teen girl one day while he was walking down the hall and she asked him what he was going to be preaching on that Sunday, and he said he was doing something on Paul, and she replied, “uh.”  When he asked her what that was for, she said, “I don’t want to hear about Paul, he’s a misogynist.”

This is a statement with which I would have originally agreed, but the more I read Paul and the more I come to understand Paul the more I see that he was not someone who normally supported the status quo, not to say that he was not a man of his own time, because he was, but that in many, many ways he was a true radical.  But over the centuries and millennia we have tamed and controlled and boxed in the radicality of Paul’s message.

With that idea in mind, there are some scholars who believe that this passage was not actually written by Paul, but was instead added by a scribe later. This is called an interpolation, which simply means that a later text was added to an earlier text.  If you were looking at the bulletin insert from this morning, you may have noticed that the passage we read was in parenthesis, which indicates that the translators of the New Revised Standard Version do not believe it is authentic, or at least maybe not to this section, but they also don’t want to remove it and so they try and give some indication that marks it as different.  Now you may be asking how do translators decide if something is authentic or not?  Well I’m glad you asked.

The first thing to know is that the New Testament is not written in English, it was written in Greek, and so everything we have is a translation.  The second thing is that these translations are made not from just one manuscript, but instead from many different manuscripts.  The good news about that is that we have probably the best access to manuscripts that we have had since they time that they were written.  But the bad news is that these manuscripts do not match each other, and so where there are differences, the scholars and translators have to make decisions about what they think is original to the text.  Now it should be noted that for most of scripture there is little debate about whether it is original or not, although sometimes there are differences in words used, and good translations will make note of this, but where there are discrepancies in the manuscripts, especially when one manuscript contains text not found in another manuscript, or when the text is found in different locations, there numerous things they take into consideration to make the decisions about what they think is original or not.

One of the things the things they look at is if the passage is always found in the same places in the manuscripts it is found in.  If it is found in different places, then there is a chance it is an interpolation.    If there is question of whether the passage is an interpolation, the second thing scholars look for is whether the texts before and after are impacted by the passage, that is would they be easier or harder to understand if the passage was removed.  And the final thing is to look at whether the passage matches the rest of the document, or other writings by the same person, or if it stands in stark contrast.  By those standards, today’s passage fails on all three accounts.

The first problem is that the passage is found in some manuscripts where we find it now at verse 33b, but in other manuscripts it is found after verse 40.  When translators find this occurring one of the immediate questions is whether it is original to the text, but also to try and figure out where the passage might originally have occurred.  In this particular instance, many scholars believe that these sentences probably came in as a margin notation made by a scribe at some point and it was then added into the text by other scribes.  Now just because it was a margin notation does not mean that it is not original, because often margin notations are made because when a scribe was copying a document they made a mistake and skipped some lines and so they get added back in on the margin.  But, as I said, the many scholars don’t think that is what happened here.

Instead they believe that a scribe made a margin notation based on a summary of 1 Timothy 2:8-15, which we will hear next week, the main portion of which says “Let a woman learn in silence and full submission.  I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent” (11-12).  So what some scholars speculate is that as a scribe was copying this letter and saw that Paul was writing about order in the church, they thought that clearly women speaking brings disorder to worship, and so made this margin notation referencing the 1 Timothy passage and then it got added into the text when later scribes copied it, but since it was just in the margin they weren’t sure where the passage was supposed to go and so it’s been added in at two different places.

The second point that translators look at is whether the passages before it and after it would make more sense if the passage was not there.  If you have your Bible with you today I invite you to turn to the passage so you can see it there, although it is on the screen in smaller type.  Paul is talking about prophecy, and he says “you can all prophesy” with no distinction made about gender as long as they follow the rules for order in worship.  This understanding that it is both men and women matches exactly to an earlier passage in chapter 11 in which Paul specifically addresses women prophesying and praying in church, with which he has no problem, as long as they have their heads covered.

Then this passage comes in, which tells women to be quiet, then immediately Paul goes back to talking about those who claim to be a prophet and that they need to follow his commands.  If you are looking at this text, you will see that if you remove this section, which is in parenthesis, not only does it not make the passage more difficult to understand, but that it in fact makes it easier.  It makes more sense without it there then it does with it there, which again makes some scholars believe it is not original to the text, or perhaps it has been moved, which might say that it should come after verse 40 as a new thought.

There is one other possibility that could be used to argue that the passage is in fact authentic to Paul.  One of the biggest problems in looking at the ancient Greek manuscripts in order to do a translation of the New Testament is the fact that punctuation wasn’t used, and so translators have to decide what punctuation should be used, including quotation marks.  For centuries, people have believed that in 1 Corinthians Paul wrote that “all things are lawful” and later in the letter that “it is good for a man not to touch a woman.”  But, most scholars now believe that Paul didn’t actually say this, instead he is quoting something that was written to him or relayed to him that members of the Corinthian church were saying.  So these are not Paul’s words, but instead he is quoting what they are saying in order to reply to them, usually to refute them.  Most translations now show these two phrases, along with some others, in quotations.  So some have proposed that the same thing should be done for today’s passage, that Paul is not saying that women should be quiet, but instead is quoting this as something being said in the Corinthian community to which he is responding, not in affirmation but instead in rebuke.  So, what some scholars propose is that verses 34 and 35 should be in quotes, and then verse 36 is Paul’s response.

If we want these words to be authentic to Paul this might be a reasonable conclusion to make for several reasons.  The first is that we know that things like this were certainly being said.  The Talmud, which is a collection of rabbinic teachings, says it is “a shame for a woman to let her voice be heard among men.”  And Rabbi Eliezer, who was a contemporary of Paul, is recorded as saying, “Let the words of the law be burned, rather than that they should be delivered by women.”  If this is a quotation, then the rebuke which follows in verse 36 also begins to make more sense.  Traditionally this has been seen as a rebuke against the women who are now being told to be quiet, although that is difficult interpretation to see based on what is actually said.  What makes more sense is that the rebuke is not to the women, but instead to the men who are making such a claim.  But it still doesn’t make much sense with what comes before or after since it seems like an interruption of what Paul had been talking about.

The final problem in seeing this as authentic to Paul is to understand it in relation to many other statements that he has made about women, not only in 1 Corinthians, but in his other letters as well.  The one passage that people who want to object to this passage hold up is his statement in Galatians in which Paul says that in Christ “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female” for we are all one in Christ Jesus. (3:28)  That’s a great passage, but the problem is that there is not a sort of hierarchy of passages so that one has preeminence and all others get judged against it.  Doing that with the Galatians passage is no different than those who do the same thing with passage from 1 Timothy.

This is one of the great dangers when we don’t read scripture with integrity.  Instead, each passage must be taken into context with the entirety of Paul’s writings, and in particular with what he has already said in 1 Corinthians, which includes instructions for women on how to pray and prophesy in church, as well as how prophets, all prophets not just male or female, are to deal with their revelations while in worship.  These statements would all seem to indicate that Paul does not in fact have any problem with women speaking in church, as long as they follow the rules and are orderly, the same as the men in the congregation. 

And that seems especially true because we know from numerous sources, Paul being one of the most important, but certainly not the only one, that women played important roles in the early church.  In his letter to the Romans, Paul makes reference to several women, including Phoebe, who is called a deacon, and to Junia, who is said to be “prominent among the apostles.”  Because some translators have had a problem with a woman being called prominent with the apostles, her name has often been changed to a male name, a male name it should be noted that didn’t actually exist, in order to try and solve this problem.

I’m assuming you can already guess what my opinion is on this passage, not only with what I have just said, but with the fact that we have women speaking in church nearly every week.  But I would still say that in order to deal with this passage with integrity we must ask, even knowing all the stuff I just dumped on you, what if this is authentic to Paul and he actually did say that women should be quiet while in church? What does that mean for us today?  Does it mean the same thing in a 21st century context as it did in a 1st century context, or can we see it and interpret it differently today?  That is what we will look at next week.

Clearly today’s passage has impacted the church for nearly two thousand years, and still impacts us today, so how do we approach scripture with integrity, even scriptures with which we disagree?  Reading scripture is hard, it is difficult and it is also life changing and life giving.  When we shy away from difficult texts then we short our faith and we short the witness of scripture, but when we refuse to see the text as a living document that still speaks to us today because God still speaks to us today, because the Spirit still speaks to us today, because Jesus is still with us today, then we also do scripture and our faith an injustice, so I hope you will continue with us on this path as we seek God’s wisdom and knowledge and guidance in our lives through encountering God’s holy word.  May it be so my sisters and brothers. Amen.

No comments:

Post a Comment