More NT Wright on Women
Wright deals with 1 Corinthians 11 with a number of “perhapses” mostly showing the breadth of possible directions to go with Paul’s exhortations concerning prayer and dress. He concludes that at the very least we can say that Paul desires men to pray like men and women like women. While that can seem to side-step the issue, it at least establishes a genuine difference in their various ministries.
When we apply this to the question of women’s ministry, it seems to me that we should certainly stress equality in the role of women but should be very careful about implying identity. This passage tells, for me at least, quite strongly on the side of those who see the ministry of women as significantly different to the ministry of men and therefore insists that we need both to be themselves, rather than for one to try to become a clone of the other.
While some of the possible interpretations he suggests seem far-fetched to me, this is nevertheless an important point to make.
Finally, he goes on to deal with 1 Timothy 2, the passage he acknowledges to be the greatest barrier to the ordination of women for ministry in the Christian Church. I’d like to come back to some of what he says, and only just touch on one part of his discussion here and now. His interpretation of the passage rests largely on his translation of the Greek. And so just two brief comments on that:
First, verse 11 is translated in the NKJV: “Let a woman learn in silence with all submission.” I agree with Wright’s concern that this not be read in such a way as to imply that women may not speak in the worship service. 1 Corinthians 11:5 takes for granted that women will be “praying” and “prophesying” in the worship service. It has to be read in a way that means something more like ‘having a teachable spirit’. We see the same word used in 2 Thessalonians 3:12 exhorting Christians to be hard and “quiet” workers. Conceivably, Paul does not have in mind here Christians being careful not to say anything while “on the job.” Rather he means something more general like don’t be disruptive and be diligent about the business at hand. The kind of learning that Paul is concerned that women pursue is the kind that is not given to flightiness. It isn’t a gossip ring in the guise of a prayer meeting. Paul says, “let a woman learn quietly…” In other words, don’t speak out of turn.
Secondly, Wright contends that verse 12 (“And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man…”) might better be translated: “I’m not saying that women should teach men, or try to dictate to them…”. While Wright acknowledges that this could sound like squeezing water from a rock and wants his readers to know that he knows this but really thinks this a viable option for translation, I’m unconvinced. I’m not a Greek scholar by any stretch, but just on the grounds of the first word “permit”. The Greek just doesn’t mean “I’m not saying”. It means “I don’t allow/permit/ordain/commission/entrust/turn over/command/rely on women teaching men…” Those are the gambit of meanings for that word.
And really, even if I were to buy the translation, I really don’t see how it helps the case for women’s ordination. It appears to make Paul’s concerns slightly more vague and removed, and I supposed that’s supposed to be the hole in the fence through which Wright and his friends can scramble. But the fact still remains that Paul isn’t encouraging women to teach men. Even if we can soften Paul’s language down to “I discourage women from teaching men…” which is what Wright’s translation seems to amount to, we still have Apostolic discouragement of the practice. St. Paul still looks down from heaven and gives a rasberry to the Christian feminist project.
And I still really, really, really (that’s three ‘reallys’ for extra emphasis) appreciate the exceptional work of Wright on the person and ministry of Jesus as well as his contributions to the discussion of Paul’s theology and development of key Christian doctrines. Just for the cyber record.