Women, men, and hermeneutics 03

Where have we differed now from (and yet faithful to) Paul? On slavery. Not that Paul was a anti-abolitionist, though, but that slavery was just simply assumed in his era such that it was almost impossible to argue against the system. The slavery system supported the whole Roman empire and the empire would break down if the slavery system went away. But then we could find traces where Paul tried to subvert the system. In the letter to Philemon, for example, he hinted to Philemon to free Onesimus (Phlm 1.15-16). Indeed, there is neither slave nor free in the Messiah (Gal 3.28).

Nevertheless, Paul was also realistic. The slavery system just simply could not go away overnight. So he did things that at least could be faithful to the Gospel that he heralded and yet realistic. And hence the household codes which we found in the last chapters of his letter to the Ephesians and Colossians. There we found a relationship of mutuality between the owner and the slave. It was more common to uphold the rights of the owner. After all, the  owner owned the slave. But Paul sketched the responsibility of both the owner and the slave. In that sense the relationship would be characterized by mutual respect rather than contempt.

The relationship between the husband and the wife was also affected by the Gospel. In a highly patriarchal society, Paul also outlined a relationship of mutuality between the husband and the wife in his household codes. Both the husband and the wife have responsibility toward each other and not only the wife toward the husband. So we could also see a transformation of relationship in the light of the Gospel.

So, why didn’t we translate this into the church? As there is neither slave nor free in the Messiah, there is no male and female as well. And usually the phrase ‘in Christ’ was used to denote the people of God. We are the body of Christ. And in the body the strict distinction is gone between the Jew and the Greek, the slave and the free, the male and the female.

But again, Paul was also realistic. It might not be that easy for everyone to accept bi-gender leadership in the church. And Paul was also the one who cared deeply about the conscience of his people. This is what I would call the ethics of conscience. When we do this or that, the question that we asked is not merely whether it is allowable to do so, but also whether it is profitable for other people or instead it becomes a stumbling block. And perhaps the conscience that he wanted to protect here is the conscience of the husbands. That’s why the prohibition against speaking in the church for women was connected with husband-wife relationship. In all cases of the strong against the weak (in conscience), it is always the responsibility of the strong to protect the conscience of the weak. The strong must be willing to sacrifice what they thought to be their rights for the sake of the weak.


4 thoughts on “Women, men, and hermeneutics 03

  1. yosua

    Interesting psycho-analysis of Paul. But for the last part about protecting the conscience of husband, if Paul really meant it that way, it’s more likely that he would state it regardless it’s a hard fact or not (as I believe I see it at his letters).

    I believe Paul has honest interpretation of duty between gender (which is different with our current majority that treat this as a form of unacceptable discrimination). It just simply what is right at that time. So, it’s kinda hard to see Paul want to stretch it that far into.

    Very good conclusion by the way :D


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