I was having a conversation, not too long ago, about Paul’s epistles and his apparent command for women to be silent in the church. I was talking to a Bible-major friend of mine who comes from the position that refusing to ordain women is “biblical.” Now, before you start thinking he’s just a sexist pig, realize that this is a guy who’s really worked hard to understand the Bible. Among the undergraduate Biblical studies students at APU he is one of the most adept. My respect for him and his respect for me made the conversation tolerable (which makes me wonder: would all of our theological arguments go better if we began by respecting one another? Probably!).
Now if you don’t know me, I have become convinced that a proper reading of Scripture will not lead you to the conclusion that women shouldn’t preach (I will flesh that out for you in another post if I need to). I am convinced that women carry a necessary perspective that should be voiced from the pulpit. It is nothing less than oppressive to assert that only men should be able to teach in the Church—oppressive and arrogant.
As I was going on in this conversation I realized that we were both uncomfortable with some of the same things. Neither of us wanted women to be oppressed, we both wanted to hear women’s voices in the Church but he was willing to uphold his reading of a few particular passages in Paul’s epistles even at the risk of denying women their rights and even their calling. His perspective was respectable insofar as he was extremely careful to obey Scriptures… an endeavor which we all should learn (especially when it comes to the really important stuff), but his perspective worried me as well. It raised an important question:
Would the Bible want us to hold it above people? Should our concerns ever be a choice between holding to scripture or treating people fairly? I believe that if we are ever faced with this choice we should rethink how we read scripture.
Before I go on, it wasn’t so simple for my friend, he was genuinely convinced that if we obeyed Paul’s teachings correctly it would not be oppressive at all… this was difficult for me to comprehend. It seemed that he had conformed his ethics to his reading of scripture. In other words he read the Bible, interpreted it, and then figured out how it could be ethical. Once again—very respectable, but very dangerous when dealing with such a small sampling of scriptures. We should conform, rather, to the larger message before dealing with small samples.
We need to always look at the Scripture from the big picture perspective. The general message of Paul is that “For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink,” “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” So when we allow very short, very specific passages to overshadow the bigger message we should re-think our reading especially if it leads, or could lead to oppression.
Jesus dealt with this very issue… there was once a man with a crippled hand who needed healing. The Pharisees brought him before Jesus to test Jesus. Their reading of scripture taught them that it was not lawful to heal on the Sabbath. But Jesus saw the big picture, the heart of the Scriptures and asked the simple question—“is it better to do good or to do evil?” They Pharisees were so concerned with upholding their reading of a particular set of passages that they forgot that the message of Scripture is to do good, to love people, to love God through loving people, and vice versa. Their choice was to remain silent, Jesus’ choice was to heal.
Whenever you’re dealing with scripture, it is important to take care and obey it. But if ever you are faced with the choice to oppress or obey scripture, to uphold your reading above you ethics, to do good or evil, remember the big picture is more important than any small sampling of Scripture, and re-think how you are reading the Scriptures.