Thursday, 8 November 2012

Galatians 3.28 Part Two

On Tuesday I blogged about Stephen Cottrell's use of Galatians 3.28 in his video supporting the consecration of women as bishops. I looked at he difficulties of translation, and how this suggest that proof-texting of the kind he employs is rather unsafe.

I suspect he knows better, but you can't go through the entire Biblical debate about the role of women in ministry in a short video. But then I'm puzzled about who exactly is the target for this "Enough Waiting" campaign. The worry one might have is that lots of General Synod members haven't actually worked on the Biblical material very hard. Ho hum.

Now, I think a good Biblical case can be made on both sides of this discussion, but I definitely want to challenge the over-reliance there seems to be on Galatians 3.28, as if it simply closes down the argument. It is treated as if it states in simple terms that women are absolutely equal with men in Christianity, end of any discussion. I happen to think that women and men are absolutely equal - hardly controversial - but there is a real debate to be had about whether they are interchangeable without loss in all aspects of the Christian life. Proponents of women's ordination will say they are interchangeable in ordained ministry with gain - the House of Bishops will be enriched by their presence, it is claimed. I'm not so sure it will make any real difference beyond the obvious "equality of opportunity." I don't think parochial ministry has been enriched (or changed much either way for that matter), but maybe that's just me. And perhaps any changes there have been have been more to do with wider changes in society than the occupants of vicarages. But I digress.

What I'm interested in in this post, and the next one, is whether St Paul's letters think that men and women are interchangeable in Christian life without loss. Does he really mean, what Gal. 3.28 appears to say, that in Christ male and female don't exist? This could mean that he believes in some kind of androgyne humanity - male and female really do cease to exist in the baptized because all sexual differentiation is eradicated.

I don't think Paul can mean this, since there seems to be no hint that he thinks Jesus is not a normal human being, as it happens in this case male, even now after his Resurrection. That leaves open the possibility that he thinks there is not male and female, but just male. Again, I don't think that's likely to be what Paul is saying. I would have though it say it explicitly, if that's what he meant. Both these ideas fly in the face of ordinary perceptions, which is why something more explicit would be required.

Instead we get all sorts of passages which make distinctions between men and women in the Christian community, some more controversial than others. 1 Corinthians 7, where he talks about marriage is a case in point. he describes marriage as able to be "in the Lord" (v.39). If it is "in the Lord" then we have the same situation as Gal.3.28 "in Christ," but the fact of marriage assumes male and female for Paul.

So male and female still exist in some sense for Christians. I say "in some sense" advisedly, for it is clear that Gal 3.28 is making an ontological statement. But it's something along the lines of not existing at the level of being part of the Body of Christ, rather than at the level of daily lives. All very complicated and paradoxical. And this doesn't tell us whether having ordained women is something which is right, because we should be working at that Body of Christ level, or not necessarily right because we must work at the level of daily life.

Which brings me around to Bishop Stephen's argument that
if we don’t pass this it would look terrible in the eyes of the world, would hold back our mission, and would also plunge us into years more debate on this issue.
Now, I happen to think that plunging into years more debate on the matter would be a bad thing, since it works against Church unity. That's a good argument for passing the Measure. Of course, it's not clear that it will stop the debate, as we'll then move on to discuss the Code of Practice, and then fight about whether the Code is being properly applied and so on ad nauseam.

But I also think that worrying about looking bad in the eyes of the world is a terribly bad way of making decisions about how we live our faith - and I think Paul would agree with me. the reason I think that is by reading Galatians.

For Galatians is essentially a rant about the Christians of Galatia succumbing to the desire to conform themselves to the community around them, specifically on the issue of circumcision. Paul is furious that they have been led astray by those who would have them conform to Jewish strictures. Whether this is a small group of teachers or pressure from a large body of Jewish Christians is unclear, but the pressure is coming from outside the churches Paul helped found, and it is trying to change them, to make them conform to the expectations and beliefs of others.

Which could look a lot like the way that secular values have come to have such an influence in terms of equality in the Church. If the argument being used in favour of women bishops is that the world expects it, and won't understand if we do it, I think Paul would say "Well, tell the world to [disappear away]!"

Or perhaps no he wouldn't, even if he was in Galatians-rant mood. I think he'd say "Well, tell the world to come and join in with our way of being."

Is that what the Church is doing over women bishops?

Next time: the very difficult case of 1 Timothy 2.15, or why we should conform to the world.


  1. Hello Bernard...

    'The Body of Christ' level vs the 'everyday life' level? That surely must be a false dichotomy (for all of us, but surely in Pauline thought). Is not everything at the BoC level for him (and us)?

    1. Fair point. But I do think we can draw a distinction between the spiritual reality of being the Body of Christ and the non-spiritual reality that is our visible earthly life. Hence it is coherent to talk about marriage "in the Lord" (that is in practice, to another Christian), even if there is no male and female in Christ.

      Another example, in Christ there is no sin, and yet we, although members of the Body of Christ, sin daily. This is a paradox of describing ourselves as the Body of Christ - the level we ought to work at, but often don't.