Paul’S View Of Women

Women, Men, and the Bible, by Virginia Ramey Mollenkott (Abingdon, 1977, 144 pp., $3.95 pb), and Chauvinist or Feminist? Paul’s View of Women, by Richard and Joyce Boldrey (Baker, 1976, 71 pp., $2.95 pb), are reviewed by Philip Siddons, pastor, Wrights Corner United Presbyterian Church, Lockport, New York.

Those people who consider the Bible authoritative and without error and who work toward the equality of women in church and society (biblical feminists) agree that the greatest exegetical tasks lie with the Pauline material.

Christian feminist writings have shown that despite the heavily male-dominated culture, there were some advancements for women in Old Testament times. The fact that Jesus was a feminist has been demonstrated by contrasting his actions with the laws and customs of his first-century culture. But then there is Paul.

Up to this point on the issue of “women from the biblical perspective,” there have been four ways to deal with difficult Pauline passages. The first method has been to consider the passages in question as non-Pauline. This is done by attributing the problem verses to scribal addition. Then a passage presents little problem because it is not part of the Scriptural canon. The problem with this method is that it easily leads to judging verses to be non-canonical if a person does not like it.

A second method has been to limit the relevancy of Paul’s words to the century in which he lived. Some people believe that what Paul expressed on the issue of women only pertained to the first century. But the criteria to distinguish what is for all times from what is for the first-century reader only is often vague.

Great care must be taken in interpreting some passages as applying to specific rather than universal situations. There is a difference between the advice to “greet one another with a holy kiss” and the statement “if you confess that Jesus is Lord and if you believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, then you will be saved.”

The claim that Paul’s words on women only refer to the first century raises issue with the doctrine of Scripture as God’s word to all people. Specifically, why would God have a passage written if it was to be of no value for the rest of the readers throughout the centuries?

A third method of interpreting emphasizes that God spoke through fallen and limited human beings, that although God intended what was written to instruct, some of the passages reveal human incompleteness and a struggling toward wholeness. This is Mollenkott’s view.

Article continues below

But there is a fourth view. Throughout Scripture there is one perspective on the issue. If the literary context (the words, sentences, paragraphs, and book), the historical context (what the first-century readers knew and experienced), and the theological context (character of all Scripture) were carefully studied, Paul, like Jesus, would be clearly seen as an egalitarian. This is the Boldrey position, and the one I hold.

Women, Men, and the Bible will have a wide audience because of its forthrightness on the issue. Mollenkott contrasts the world’s way of relating (dominance-submission) to the Christian idea of relationships involving mutual submission of all people. She contrasts the one-sidedness of the Jewish culture and of today’s Total Woman view, with the life of Jesus and the teachings of Paul. The book also contains helpful discussions on the female/male imagery of God in the Bible, and sex-role stereotypes in society.

The crux of the issue, however, is dealt with in the fifth and sixth chapters: “Pauline Contradictions and Biblical Interpretation,” and “Learning To Interpret Accurately.”

Regarding the fourth view that the Pauline material is consistent with Jesus’ egalitarianism, Mollenkott admits that she has “not found their interpretations convincing.” Rather, she believes that “… some of the apostle Paul’s arguments reflect his personal struggles.” Interpreting the First Corinthians 11 verses, she states that “his conscience makes him uneasy” as he argues first from a rabbinic view, then from an egalitarian view. She argues further that there is evidence of conflict between Paul’s rabbinical background in First Corinthians 14 and his Christian insight in Galatians 3:28.

Mollenkott’s analysis of Paul’s argument in First Corinthians 11 helps us understand Paul’s greater concern for custom than for rabbinical theology on women. She is correct in working with the principle of interpretation that “one can not absolutize the culture in which the Bible was written …” and that God’s ultimate will for the human race does not necessarily dictate a government of kings and subjects, or masters and slaves.

But, she writes, “Like us all, Paul was a product of his own culture.” Just as some of David’s imprecatory Psalms reflect an unChristian-like vindictiveness toward enemies, so too some of Paul’s arguments for female subordination “contradict much of his own behavior and even certain passages he himself wrote … showing his struggling.” Paul, according to Mollenkott, was an “honest man in conflict with himself.”

Article continues below

Virginia Mollenkott is certainly aware of the problem. “Many people fear that if they admit that some of Paul’s arguments undergirding female submission reflect his rabbinical training and human limitations, the admission will undercut the authority of Scripture and the doctrine of divine inspiration” (p. 103). And she asks, “How then will we be able to sift out which passages reflect human limitations and which passages reflect the will of God for all times and all places? There is no easy formula” (p. 118).

Although Mollenkott holds firmly to the exegetical methodology of examining literary, historical, and theological contexts, the question of “Paul’s personal struggle with his rabbinical training and Christianity” remains one that needs continuing study in relation to Scriptural authority and inerrancy.

Mollenkott’s attempt to characterize these Pauline passages as his own struggle need not be done to achieve compatibility with the rest of Scripture. If further study were undertaken, especially on the literary and historical contexts of these passages, we would find that they are consistent with the rest of Scripture. There is satisfactory evidence that the First Corinthians 11 and 14 and First Timothy 2 passages are directed to specific individuals in those two local churches. And because Paul is admonishing a few disrupting people, those passages are consistent with the “mutual submission” and egalitarian thrusts of Galatians 3:28; Ephesians 5; Colossians 3, and with the life of Christ. Richard and Joyce Boldrey’s short book Chauvinist or Feminist? Paul’s View of Women takes this view.

In the foreword to the Boldrey book, Professor David Scholer (of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary) points out that studying the first-century culture doesn’t mean that we are “making the Bible culturally relative—only historically conditioned.” After all, Jesus wasn’t using taxicabs and skyscrapers in his parables.

Like Mollenkott and others have done, the Boldreys point out the radical nature of Paul’s treatment of women—compared to the first-century culture. The women leaders Paul mentioned in Romans 16, and the theme of mutual submission in Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3, are briefly contrasted to the first-century male-dominated scene.

Article continues below

But when dealing with the difficult Pauline passages, the authors state that “Paul’s application was not only culturally (rabbinically) conditioned but also based on ‘timeless truths’ of Christian freedom, and it was in many respects countercultural.”

According to Chauvinist or Feminist, Paul’s reasoning for veils on women during worship is twofold. First of all it is to remind all the worshipers that people were not created in their own image. Both men and women have power (exousia) over their heads. The second reason for veils is, unfortunately, discussed later in the book. It is that veils were necessary to distinguish Jewish Christian women from the pagan prostitutes of the Aphrodite cult who didn’t wear veils.

Regarding the First Timothy 2:11f passage, the Boldreys failed to emphasize the harshness of the rarely used word for authority (authentein). It meant to “dominate authoritatively.” However, they explain that in that passage “… Paul was not so anxious to protect men from subversive females as he was to protect the gospel from false teaching.” Paul was warning that individuals might be taken in (as Eve was) by deceptive domineering people who propagated heresy. (Possibly these individuals are referred to in 2 Tim. 3:6,7.) This is the same interpretation Scanzoni and Hardesty have in All We’re Meant To Be.

The Boldreys’ explanation of First Timothy 2:15 varies with the usual interpretation. Most scholars think that the “childbirth” refers to the incarnation of Christ promised to Eve by God in Genesis 3:15. The authors, however, paraphrase it: “she [any woman] will be a whole person in motherhood.”

The First Corinthians 14 passage that commands women not to speak in church is placed in its proper context of chapters 12 to 14. In these chapters Paul was dealing with disorderly charismatic worship services in a particular church. In this passage they say that Paul was not silencing all women for all times. Paul did not mind women praying and prophesying in church (c.f. 1 Cor. 11:5). Rather, he was merely advising them to conduct their worship without disorderly interruptions. (It may be interesting to recall that the first-century Jewish Christians continued to worship with the men and women separated on opposite sides of the church. It is a possibility that certain women may have been speaking across the aisle to their husbands during the services.)

Article continues below

There might well have been a lengthier discussion on whether a statement was intended for a specific congregation’s problem, or whether it was addressed to all Christians for all times. The brevity of the work is the reader’s greatest frustration. Donald Dayton’s annotated bibliography at the back of the book is most helpful for those who wish to do further study.

A Scientist On Genesis

The Genesis Record, by Henry M. Morris (Baker, 1976, 716 pp., $12.95), is reviewed by Lon Solomon, assistant professor of Old Testament, Capital Bible Seminary, Lanham, Maryland.

Of all the books of the Old Testament there is probably no more copious bibliography than on Genesis. Morris himself mentions no less than twenty-nine such works in his first appendix, and these do not include works of a non-orthodox slant. Nevertheless Morris’s commentary successfully fills a need.

There are three special strengths of this commentary. First, Morris writes from a position of respect for the Bible and love for Christ. He consistently reiterates his cardinal presupposition that the Bible “should normally be taken literally.” It is refreshing to find a commentator who follows the literal meaning throughout even if it places him in a position of sounding unscientific.

The second praiseworthy item, as one might have expected, is Morris’s treatment of the sections where current scientific interpretation of the data conflicts with the clear teaching of the Scriptures. His comments on the creation account and the flood are particularly good. It must be noted here that his approach to these areas is not technical, but is on the level of the layman.

This quickly draws attention to the third positive note of his work: its purpose. Morris’s goal is to present a book that is able to be grasped and applied by the average Christian as well as the technical expert. Its style is therefore one of smooth flowing narrative, easy to read and understand, purposely uncomplicated. He makes good common sense observations based primarily on the English text and tries to make practical application to Christians living in the twentieth century. Morris’s book is not intended to be a technical linguistic analysis, but a practical exposition suited for the average reader.

Article continues below

Despite these obvious strong points, however, the book has several weaknesses. The first, and by far the most serious, is that the weak linguistic background of the author shows. There are even several places where the Hebrew has been clearly misapprehended. In dealing with the interrelationship between verses one and two of the first chapter of Genesis, a critical point of syntax is missed when the author fails to notice that the “and” connecting verses one and two (simple waw) is not of the same type of that used in verses three and following (waw consecutive imperfects). Also, the misunderstanding of the syntax of the Hebrew absolute infinitive has caused the mistranslation “dying, you shall die” in Gen. 2:17 rather than the correct “you shall surely die.” Yet in all fairness to Morris, his commentary exhibits a wealth of work and investigation on his part in an attempt to compensate for this deficiency.

The other weaknesses are more minor and are concerned with Morris’s treatment of individual passages. The typology is somewhat overdone; many of the comments on the Babel incident are highly speculative; and the treatment of Ham’s sin and Canaan’s curse is woefully inadequate. All in all, Morris takes the standard positions on most of the difficult interpretive issues and adds very little real contribution in these areas.

Yet the strengths of The Genesis Record far outweigh its weaknesses. Its style as a narrative exposition rather than a technical analysis will appeal to the average Christian who simply wants to understand the Bible better; even the scientific problems are dealt with at a layman’s level. It fills the need for a practical study of Genesis that the majority of the Christian populace can use.

What The Puritans Thought

Introduction to Puritan Theology, edited by Edward Hindson (Baker, 1976, 232 pp., $8.95), is reviewed by J. Kenneth Grider, professor of theology, Nazarene Theological Seminary, Kansas City, Missouri.

This anthology of Puritan writings has twelve chapters on various doctrines, arranged in a kind of logical order. A superb foreword by James I. Packer introduces the reader to Puritanism generally and the continuing significance of its sober sermon treatises.

The twelve Puritans selected by editor Edward Hindson of Liberty Baptist College include both English and American writers covering a two-century period (c. 1550 to c. 1750). Hindson includes a helpful general introduction, and introduces each of the authors and the essays he has selected.

Article continues below

The writers are all basically Calvinists, as you expect Puritans to be. Some are Augustinian as they stress sin and grace, others are Bezan Calvinists (e.g. the supralapsarian William Perkins). Several of the chapters treat doctrines believed by both Arminian and Calvinist evangelicals.

Arminian readers will be particularly interested in, if not amazed by, John Owen’s chapter on limited atonement, in which he responds to the unlimited atonement views of Thomas More. Owen says that by “all nations” (Mt. 28:19), “every creature” (Mk. 16:15), “sinners” (Mt. 9:13), “the ungodly” (Rom. 5:6), and “that which was lost” (Luke 19:10), “… only the elect of God and believers are clearly intended” (p. 165). He also says, “In a word, all peculiar saving privileges belong only to God’s elect, and them alone, by the blood of Jesus Christ” (p. 166).

Although Owen applauds Paul, who does not “tie it [the Gospel] up to the confines of Jewry, 2 Cor. 5:19, 20; Rom. 10:18,” he himself proceeds unabashedly to say it is limited to the elect. Of the non-elect he says that “… the atonement was not for them.” He refers to “Grotius” as “that Ishmael”—Arminius’s student, who taught that Christ is referred to in the passage, “That all men through him might believe.” Owen says, “certainly John,” in answer to the question of whether the “through him” of this passage refers to Christ, or to John. He refers to the “Arminian sufficient grace” doctrine, “granted to all, … enabling them to obedience, … according as they who have it do make use of what they presently enjoy” as “repugnant to the whole dispensation of the new covenant.” He calls the doctrine “Pelagian poison” and “Popish merit,” and says that it is as “derogatory to the free grace of God … as any thing that the decaying estate of Christianity hath invented.…”

As an evangelical Arminian myself, I have been most interested in the recent symposium edited by Clark Pinnock, Grace Unlimited (Bethany Fellowship, 1975), which mines a precisely different ore from the same New Testament that Owens uses. Pinnock says, “The [ten] contributors to this volume are all convinced that belief in a limited election is mistaken.…” Pinnock also says, “There is no predestination to salvation or damnation in the Bible.” In the same book, Vernon C. Grounds, president of Denver’s Conservative Baptist Seminary, speaks of those “who align themselves with John Calvin … and … Benjamin B. Warfield,” who teach that the atonement is “limited,” and says, “Despite the wide acceptance of this position, especially among contemporary evangelicals, it quite flatly contradicts the overwhelming testimony of Scripture to the universality of God’s salvific grace.” Hindson says that no one has answered Owen with the care that Owen gives to opposing More’s Arminianism. In a sense, the Pinnock symposium does that.

Article continues below

Hindson seems to forget Owen’s careful support of a limited atonement when he writes, “It is totally unfair, though, to label them [the Puritans] hyper-Calvinists, for they made a full and free offer of Christ to sinners and urged them to seek Him.”

A small reason to read these seriously theological puritan writings is to see why they have been largely forgotten, and why John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress is still so widely read.

Non-Violent Intervention

Blockade: A Guide to Non-Violent Intervention, by Richard K. Taylor (Orbis, 1977, 175 pp., $6.95 and $2.95 pb), is reviewed by Ronald J. Sider, associate professor of history and religion, Messiah College, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

This book is a testimonial to Gandhi’s dictum that “in a gentle way, you can shake the world.” It tells the fascinating story of how a small non-violent fleet of canoes and kayaks changed United States foreign policy in 1971.

The author of this first-person account is a committed evangelical Christian. Born a liberal Quaker, Dick Taylor was an ardent activist during the 1960’s, working for a time as a staff member for Martin Luther King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Unlike many 60’s activists from liberal theological backgrounds who drifted away from the church when the civil rights and anti-war movements collapsed, Taylor moved the other direction. Convinced of historic Christianity’s belief in the deity and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, Taylor persisted in the search for justice because of his biblical faith that the Lord of history is always at work to correct oppression and injustice regardless of what politicians and the media happen to be saying. Taylor is now a member of Jubilee Fellowship of Germantown, an evangelical house church in Philadelphia.

Article continues below

Blockade reads like a well-written suspense-filled novel. But it is a factual account of how a few hundred people dramatically influenced U.S. foreign policy. In the summer and fall of 1971 the U.S. supplied the military dictatorship in Pakistan with large shipments of arms while the Pakistani government massacred hundreds of thousands of East Bengalis, permitted its soldiers to rape 25,000 women, and forced nine million refugees to flee to India.

At the beginning of the summer of 1971 American public opinion was unconcerned, in part because the U.S. government lied about U.S. arms shipments. Then a few hundred daring activists decided to launch a flotilla of canoes to blockade the Pakistani ships that docked at the harbors of Philadelphia, Boston, and Baltimore to pick up arms. Taylor describes how he felt just before trying to paddle his tiny canoe in front of the huge Pakistani freighter, the Padma. In spite of the possibility of imminent death, Dick recalls: “I felt a deep calm. In many past actions I had felt the presence of Christ’s Spirit. It was almost as if I was going to join God, who was already there, resisting the injustice I had finally seen. Now I felt the familiar touch.” Eventually the group closed the harbors in Philadelphia and Boston and helped persuade Congress to end arms shipments to Pakistan in November, 1971.

The gentle spirit of the protesters is one reason that the action was so effective (and that the book is so moving). Beginning with the assumption that “police … are as much beloved children of God as we are”, the protestors gently loved those who arrested them into seeing the validity of their cause. One of the officials who prosecuted those arrested in the canoe blockade of the Baltimore port confessed: “I admire anyone who fights for a peaceful cause in a peaceful manner. I admire gentle people and I think these were gentle people. I could tell the police were sympathetic also. The group had a manner about them that seemed to turn even the toughest policeman around” (pp. 51–52).

Blockade has two sections. In addition to the first section that describes the 1971 action, there is a lengthy manual outlining how to organize a non-violent direct action movement.

Article continues below

The book does not answer all the questions posed by the substance of the book. Taylor does not tell us how a non-violent direct activist exegetes Romans 13. Nor does he tell us whether (and if so why) the late 70’s are a time when non-violent direct action could be pursued successfully. I hope that in another volume Taylor will spell out more extensively the biblical theology that is presupposed in Blockade.

But Blockade is a moving, exciting book that raises an important issue. “In these years of America’s Bicentennial, we might do well to decide whether we want to continue aligning our nation with the rich and the powerful, the dictators and oligarchs of the world. If our identity is not with the King Georges of this earth, but with those revolutionaries who founded America, then we might find non-violent struggle a potent contemporary means to reshape America toward the vision of political liberty and economic justice for all” (p. xv).

Briefly Noted

Rejoice, You’re a Sunday School Teacher (Broadman, 94 pp., $3.25) by John Sisemore is perfect for the beginning Sunday School teacher. This “why-to” volume focuses on the teacher’s attitude toward teaching and attempts to communicate the challenge and excitement of her role. Another effective aid for the new teacher is Can I Help It If They Don’t Learn? (Victor, 119 pp., $1.95 pb). Written by Howard Mayes and James Long, this simple yet thorough volume outlines the basic principles of good teaching.

Evangelicals are beginning to accept the challenge of social action. Here are three guidebooks of specific activities. Ministry of Service: A Manual for Social Involvement by Marie Schultejann (Paulist, 113 pp., $1.95 pb) contains instructions for establishing volunteer programs like big brother/big sister or dial-a-driver. Charismatic Social Action by Sheila Fahey (Paulist, 180 pp., $4.95 pb) is not for charismatics only. The book discusses fifteen broad areas of need, then provides general suggestions for action. Tips for the pastor come from The Church and Community Resources by Marcus Bryand and Charles Kemp (Bethany Press, 96 pp., $3.95 pb). The book explains how to discover available resources and how to build a referral system.

For ways to make class time more exciting, note these three books: Breaking Communication Barriers with Roleplay (John Knox, 125 pp. $4.95 pb) is geared toward high schoolers and contains step-by-step instructions as well as four chapters of several suggested exercises on listening, understanding, love, and identity. Creative Drama in Religious Education by Isabel Burger (Morehouse-Barlow, 127 pp., $4.75 pb) is an effective teaching method for children—and it’s fun. Also for children is Let Them Worship (S.K.H.S. Publications, Room 301, 619 Avenue Road, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 164 pp., $3.95 pb) by Kathleen Sladen. It provides resources to help the teacher prepare his students for adult worship. For a potpourri of ideas read Classroom Creativity (Seabury, 162 pp., $5.95 pb) by Elizabeth Jeep. This revised edition for teachers contains ideas from creative writing to the use of audiovisuals—a valuable addition to any church library.

Article continues below

Anyone involved in Christian education knows the need for good resource books. Six volumes of 77 Dynamic Ideas For … (Standard, 48pp., and $1.50 each) on subjects from preschoolers to the handicapped are basic but good aids—especially for beginning teachers.

The popular television show, All in the Family, is Spencer Marsh’s basis for Edith the Good (Harper & Row, 82 pp., $5.95, $2.95 pb). Laced with quotes and photos from the show, the book expounds on life and wholeness, illustrating the Presbyterian pastor’s thesis that everyone can be whole.

QUOTEBOOKS: Want to spice up your writing or speaking? Consider these alphabetically-arranged sources.

Quote Unquote (Scripture Press, 396 pp. $6.95, $4.95 pb), compiled by Lloyd Cory, is a volume packed with pithy sayings and anecdotes. Time to Laugh (Harvest House, 198 pp., $2.95 pb) by Bob Williams contains jokes geared more toward the teenage funny bone. In contrast, F. B. Proctor’s Treasury of Quotations on Religious Subjects (Kregel, 826 pp. $14.95) is a reprint of a volume first issued in 1887, featuring sermon notes and outlines on 3,000 subjects.

For the newest on current issues within Christian education, note the following books: The Religious Education We Need edited by James Lee (Religious Education Press, 174 pp., $8.95 and $5.95 pb), contains six essays by leading Catholic and Protestant educators that present their visions for the future and the improvements they seek. The frustrations of many people are reflected in the title of Morton Kelsey’s new book. Can Christians Be Educated? (Religious Education Press, 154 pp., $5.95 pb). He says yes, and then examines the underlying philosophies and attitudes that prevent learning. In Christian Education for Liberation (Abingdon, 111 pp., $3.95 pb), J. C. Wyn discusses such issues as what Christian education ought to accomplish, its role in moral education, and its relation to the “theology of liberation.”

Article continues below

In this day of mass communication, personal communication is endangered. Earle Koile thinks that learning to listen is essential and attempts to teach the reader to do just that. But Listening as a Way of Becoming (Regency, 131 pp., $5.95) is a little too psychological and clinical to be of help to the average person.

Proud Parenthood (Abingdon, 128 pp., $6.95) by Joseph L. Felix is a delightful book by a child psychologist who writes from the perspective of parenthood and psychology. Felix is particularly concerned to help parents draw on their own resources in developing solutions to some of the common problems of family living.

Periodical Notes

The Winter 1977 issue of Union Seminary Quarterly Review has four articles on aspects of “The Evangelicals” that should be of interest to those who choose that label as well as others: social conservatism, biblical hermeneutics, and the roles of women and of blacks. For a copy send $3 to 3041 Broadway, New York, New York 10027.

Five essays by Fuller Seminary students compose the latest (October) issue of Studia Biblica et Theologica. Among them are studies of “I Am” in John, the cursing of the fig tree, and the role of Charles Hodge in opposing the Presbyterian reunion of 1869. Subscriptions to the twice-yearly journal are $5 and should be sent to Gary Tuttle, 125 Harper Ave., New Haven, Connecticut 06515.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.