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Paul, Women, and Wives: Marriage and Women's Ministry in the Letters of Paul Paperback – June 1, 1992
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About the Author
Craig S. Keener (PhD, Duke University) is professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. He is the author of many books, including the bestseller The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, The Historical Jesus of the Gospels, Gift and Giver, and commentaries on Matthew, John, Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, and Revelation.
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Keener argues persuasively that a straightforward reading of these texts does not necessarily do justice to their proper interpretation as these are part of Paul's epistolary address to specific churches who were struggling with certain contextual issues. Reading up the cultural and historical background of the first century setting is essential to the task of biblical interpretation.
In 1 Cor 11, he argues that 'kephale' is best interpreted as 'source' rather than 'authority over' in light of the context where Paul draws the parallel between 'woman came from man' and 'man being born of woman'. Yet, even if for the sake of argument, one should grant that kephale should mean 'head' in the authoritative sense, Paul is simply speaking to a patriarchal culture in which man is assumed to be the head of the woman and he is contextualizing his message to that culture without necessarily sanctioning or universalizing it. He counsels that women should exercise their God-given gifts to pray and prophesy in the public assembly without undermining gender distinctions by adopting the appropriate cultural symbols - in this case, the headcover. The point is to preserve gender mutuality and not gender hierarchy.
In 1 Cor 14, the injunction for 'women to keep silent in the churches' has specific reference to women asking (silly) questions and disrupting the assembly. This is a temporal and local pastoral measure aimed at the lack of education of the women at that time. The counsel for them to learn from their husbands at home was with a view that they could get up to speed in their learning of the scripture. This was already a departure from the then prevailing cultural bias against women studying the sacred texts at all since they were considered spiritually inferior.
In 1 Tim 2, Paul's prohibition for women to teach man should be understood against the background of false teachers in the Ephesian church who were worming around and preying on the women folks who were less educated and hence more vulnerable to being deceived. Unless Paul shares the cultural degrading of the woman's moral and intellectual abilities of his day, the text is not appealing to a universal order of creation that subordinates women permanently, as some hierarchichalists claim. Rather, Paul is drawing an *analogy* between the situation in Ephesus and the fall of Adam and Eve. Part of the parallels is that Eve was not there when the command was given - which was the implication of the statement 'Adam was formed first, then Eve'. In other words, Adam was given the headstart in receiving religious instructions compared to Eve. Paul's counsel therefore was for the women to learn in quiet submission because they were lagging behind in religious instruction due to the social conditions in which they lived and not because women were inherently more gullible.
Lastly, in Eph 5 Paul's speaking to the man as 'head of the wife' is another exercise in contextualization. He assumes the familial structure of the typical Greco-Roman household, that is largely patriarchal, as a given context of his pastoral work. What is revolutionary is that he juxtaposes that structure with the model of Christ's headship over the church and calls the man to lay down his life for his wife as Christ did for the church. There is nothing more submissive than that! It is this sort of sensitive and contextual approach that Paul uses to turn the oppressive structure of the old social order on its head.
Keener goes on to use the hermeneutical history of the issue of slavery as a test case, arguing that Gal 3:28 underscores the trajectory from the NT text that is to be realized as the church comes to grasp more fully the implications of our oneness in Christ. This is admittedly a good point, often made by egalitarians to further strengthen their case. To be complete though, perhaps, I wish that Keener would devote another chapter addressing the common fear, however misplaced, among some conservative evangelicals that the same trajectory could on the other hand be a short route from 'ordaining gay ministers'.
Much else can be said and harvested from this book, but I thought I would stop at summarizing the salient points of Keener's egalitarian reading, as I understand it, of these pertinent Pauline texts concerning women's ministry and raising a concern of where the egalitarian reading could potentially lead, or so it is argued by the other side.
In keeping with his intended audience, Keener includes extensive endnotes. Roughly 1/3 of each chapter is devoted to extra documentation and references. This allows Keener to write a book that is readable by a general audience, yet still appeals to his scholarly readership.
Keener divides his book into two marked sections. The first section, comprising chapters one through three, looks at three passages that deal with women and their role in the church. The second section examines exclusively Ephesians 5:22-31. Here Keener looks at Paul's most complete argument on wives' call to submission. He presents these arguments by setting forth many of the most popular interpretations of each passage, and then defends the one he feels is most accurate.
Chapter one of this book examines 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, wherein Paul requires women of the church to wear head coverings. Keener analyzes the use of head coverings in antiquity, as well as Paul's arguments as to why women in the church should wear them. Keener concludes that the practice of wearing a head covering was a command for the Corinthian church, because of a specific problem they faced, and not a trans-cultural argument applicable to all generations. Perhaps most importantly, he states that Paul's reference to man being women's head has nothing to do with submission.
In chapters two and three Keener breaks down a couple of passages that are often used to argue that women are not allowed to teach, or even in some cases speak in church. He first looks at 1 Corinthians14:34-35 which examines the issue of women asking questions. If it is taken at its most literal interpretation, Keener argues, Paul would be forbidding all women from even talking in church. He is quick to point out that this cannot be the case because in chapter eleven of 1 Corinthians, Paul actually expects women to pray and prophesy within the church. Keener also looks at 1 Timothy 2:9-15, a passage that deals with women as teachers. In both cases, he emphasizes that Paul's letters were written to a specific church with a specific problem. 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy both address the concern of women not being educated and therefore not knowing the issues in which they were speaking. He argues that Paul is not setting forth a strict prohibition on women's talk in church or teaching for that matter, yet rather addressing women's lack of education in a specific setting.
Over the next three chapters Keener builds an extended argument concerning women's role in the family as seen in Ephesians 5:18-33. Chapter four deals with Paul's rational for emphasizing submission among women. Here Keener argues that Christianity had to portray itself as "in line" with the model of an ideal family code that was presented by the Roman society. Christianity was not seen as a threat by doing this. In chapter five Keener seeks to elaborate on what Paul meant by submission in Ephesians. Keener lays out his views that Paul was talking about a mutual submission, and that he never meant for women to be obedient, but rather, respectful. He points out that society today tends to forget what Paul describes as being the man's role in mutual submission, that is to say, a willingness for self-sacrifice. In chapter six Keener places the capstone on his argument by drawing a parallel between slavery and the suppression of women. He explains that a person can disagree with an institution, such as slavery, yet still give instructions concerning it. In the same way, he can instruct women to be submissive, yet not approve the institution that oppresses them.
Keener finishes his book with a chapter that summarizes his views and what he hopes will be the end result of reading his book, namely the acceptance of women in the ministry. He also includes two appendixes, one on women in Paul's ministry and the other on the context of Ephesians 5:18-21. Keener also includes an extensive bibliography and multiple indexes.
Keener has done an excellent job in the writing of Paul, Women & Wives. He stuck to his foresaid purpose of writing a book that is useful for the layman as well as to the scholar. The passages Keener chose to look at adequately represent those examined by people who would argue for the subordination of women both in the church and in the home. Keener effectively develops his more egalitarian views, by giving these verses a correct understanding.
The most commanding aspect of this book is that for the most part Keener is right on with his discussions. He does an outstanding job of displaying the contextual relevance of all four passages. From the beginning, he demonstrates that if context were not brought into play when interpreting scripture then modern Christendom would still advocate, "women's head coverings in church, the practice of holy kisses, and parentally arranged marriages" (p. 4). In chapters two and three, he does a great job of explaining why Paul's calls for silence by women, and his prohibition on their teaching are not
trans-cultural. Throughout the book Keener strengthens his contextual argument by pointing out the many New Testament women that played an active role in ministry (appendix A), yet does not dwell on the issue, thusly keeping to his purpose of only examining passages used to argue the subordination of women (p. 10).
A second major strength to Keener's book is his explanation of biblical submission. Chapter five deals exclusively with the Pauline model of mutual submission. Here Keener points out what many who argue for wives subordination fail to see; that the man is required to submit as much, if not more then the wife. He reminds the reader that Paul calls the man to lay down his life, yet only requires respect from the women. This strengthens Keener's arguments immensely.
A final strength to this book is the extensive documentation that Keener provides his reader. Over half the space is dedicated to endnotes, indexes and a bibliography. This allows even the most scholarly reader to dig deeper into the issues at hand. His thirty-eight-page bibliography can point readers to additional material and sources.
Overall, Keener presents very persuasive arguments for his points, however he does have some shortcomings. Despite his impeccable use of context, on at least three occasions he reads into the text points that are not there. In chapter two Keener states that "Paul is advocating the most progressive view of his day" (p. 84) by expecting the husbands to educate their wives and consequently take care of the problem of uneducated women. While this does in fact sounds like a logical conclusion, there is no textual evidence to back it up. Secondly in chapter three Keener argues that Eve's deception in the garden was due to the fact that she was not at hand when God gave the commandment. This puts more of the blame and consequence on Adam because he did not properly educating her. This argument seems to make sense, and follows along nicely with Keener's point; however again there is no textual backing for his views. Finally, if we look to chapter six, where Keener deals with slavery, we find one more textual shortcoming. He crosses the line by assuming where Paul stood on the slavery issue. It is nice, and in fact quite probably, that Paul was an abolitionist; we however cannot get this information simply from reading the canonical texts as Keener seems to believe.
One final weakness displayed in this comes in the writing style itself. In the first several chapters, Keener makes his argument by presenting several possible interpretations of a passage or issue. He then proceeds to discredit many of views he just offered. This does provide a strong argument by displaying his knowledge of opposing sides, however it also leaves the reader in a clutter of shattered theories trying to extract the authors main point.
Despite these few apparent weaknesses, the book overall is quite good. The points that are in question do not jeopardize his arguments. Keener himself points out in his closing words that he himself is not certain of all details concerning the cultural background, but is convinced that the case as a whole is sound. He has done an outstanding job of placing questionable passages in their historical context in order to correct misconceptions about the biblical subordination of women.
Craig S. Keener, Paul, Women & Wives: Marriage and Women's Ministry in the Letters of Paul (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1992), 350 pp.