Sunday, August 4, 2013

Abi, Paul, Timothy...and subtle humor

Today, I have my dear brother in Christ, Len Hjalmarson, to thank for the inspiration behind this post.  He Tweeted a link to his post that collects important links concerning women in ministry.  Please take a look...particularly at the link to Don Rousu's post, since it is the one that provided my "missing link" moment!

If you have been following me for any length of time, you will have come to learn about my friend and mentor, S. Scott Bartchy...who was gracious enough to preach at my ordination 18 years ago.  His scholarship and friendship over the past 33 years has been so very important to me.  For this post, it is timely to link to this important post of Scott's from two years ago. While his post concerns Paul's letter to Philemon, the importance of what he calls "deep contexting" in paragraph 2.12 is so very important ... and is the point where translators so often fail us.

Go ahead and read it ... I'll be here when you come back.

You will see that Don Rousu has provided a bit of "deep contexting" for the tension-filled text found in 1Timothy 2:11-15.  I'm going to connect it to some teaching I heard and synthesized from Scott and others over the years.  I am sorry that I do not have links.  I am grateful that all the pieces fell into place for me today...even with a sluggish brain.  I only hope to challenge you with another view.

I'm going to start with the end and work my way forward.  To prepare for this, I ask that you follow J. R. R. Tolkien's sage advice to those who would read imaginative works:  suspend your disbelief long enough to enter into the story so as to experience it as the author intended.  Listen all the way through.  Hear the whole tale.  Could it possibly be true?


My paraphrase of 1 Timothy 2:11-15, inspired by The Voice, adapted from the New Century Version and building on the deep contexting of Rousu and Bartchy, goes like this: 

11 Let that woman who is troubling your congregation learn by listening quietly and being ready to cooperate in everything. 12 But I do not allow such a woman to teach or claim that a woman was the originator of or superior to a man, but want her to learn the truth peacefully, 13 because Adam was formed first and then Eve. 14 And Adam was not tricked, but Eve was tricked and became a sinner. 15 But that woman will be saved through The Childbearing if she continues in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control.

Need to take a deep breath or two?

It is important to remember a couple of things right off the bat:  this is considered to be a personal letter from Paul to Timothy -- probably a response to a letter from Timothy concerning his ministry in Ephesus.  It is full of insider information and context to which Timothy would have been totally aware.  Timothy would have been completely familiar with Paul's style of rhetoric and his use of humor and other "clever" speech.

The deep context Rousu provides is critical here concerning the culture in Ephesus regarding Artemis/Diana, as interpreted by the Gnostics.  What possibly was being taught by "that woman", among other things, was that women were superior to men because Eve was created first and that, being the Mother of All, she birthed Adam on her own -- with no need of a man. She possibly went further to claim that Eve was the "illuminator" who received "knowledge" from the Serpent and shared it with Adam.  So, they revered the Serpent as the Savior revealer of Truth.

Ugh...the twisting of Truth always comes from reading our own context into the Text, without regard for the deeper context.  This is why it is so important for those who teach to have learned in quietness and cooperation first.  It is just as difficult a task today as it was then.  Sigh....

So here we have Paul, responding to his "son in the Faith" with insightful encouragement and a bit of wit:
  • All, men and women, are to be encouraged to learn the Truth in a posture of humility.
  • Those who teach falsehoods are to be stopped gently and taught the Truth more fully.
  • Just as in Corinth, those in Ephesus had problems with Jesus' new paradigms that subvert their ideas of power and patriarchy. They did not know how to embrace their new situation as brothers and sisters -- joint heirs of God in Jesus.  Where no man is called Father but God and no one is Lord but Jesus.
  • As Paul said in 1Corinthians 11 (another passage requiring "deep contexting" and rarely getting it), Adam was created first -- and Eve came from him.  But Adam came from Christ, who created everything.  And Christ comes from God, as the Only Begotten. And now every man comes from a woman in the process of childbirth. It is not about power and hierarchy and authority and subordination, but simply about source in the perichoretic Circle of Life.
  • Because Eve did not have enough education, she was tricked by the Serpent and sinned.  There is lots of room to wonder why Adam didn't speak up to defend her ... or why he had not educated her properly ... and, in the end, he went along and ate, too.  The point is to teach well -- without improper embellishment --  and correct error gently as it crops up.
  • And in a delicious twist of humor, Paul reminds Timothy that salvation comes -- to that woman (and all humanity) -- through Jesus, who actually was born of a woman (The Childbearing) without the aid of a man!  That woman, if she continues to learn the Truth in faith, love and holiness, with self-control, will be saved.  As will we all....
So there you have it. 

I fully realize that there are a great many scholars who would not agree with me.  Listening for humor, irony, quotations -- this is difficult work in Koine Greek and First Century context.  But we must continue -- especially with the difficult passages that seem out of step with the rest of what Paul teaches and what Jesus lived.  We must all determine that we will learn in quietness of spirit and a humble heart that is open to the Spirit's still, small voice speaking the Truth that will set us free.

I hope that you were able to process this wee post with your disbelief suspended.  I pray that we will allow the Spirit to continue to lead us all into All Truth.  I yearn for the day when we can all truly be brothers and sisters in Jesus, sharing the Good News with those around us that our Father has already adopted them too...even if they don't know it yet! 

Be blessed!


Janet Woodlock said...

Well said Peggy! :-) Without contextualizing this, Romans 16 and I Corinthians 11:5 make Paul look pretty schizophrenic.

I'm yet to meet a legalist on the oft-repeated New Testament command to greet one another with a kiss... it seems we readily "contextualize away" things that don't suit our prior prejudices. ;-)

AbiSomeone said...

Thank you, Janet! I can always count on you for a word of encouragement. :-)