Not Many Say This

Not many say what Daniel Kirk has said: “I am going to argue that Paul’s letters, to a greater extent even than the ministry of Jesus itself, establish a narrative trajectory of unity through equality” (Jesus Have I Loved, But Paul?, 118). So there you go: the bold claim that in Paul’s own ministry and writings we see a trajectory that goes beyond even Jesus in making women equal to men.

Agree?

How does he establish his case? Well, to begin with, he observes that Galatians 3:28 is the Magna Carta of Humanity, and few can doubt the potentiality of Paul’s words for establish radical equality. No one in a right mind would say the church lived up to this statement. But there’s far more in this chp, and this verse actually gets little ink.

He begins with Jesus and Mark, and makes an observation I’ve not seen before. At least that I can remember. Mark inverts greatness into servanthood and the disciples, and Kirk observes that Jesus calls only males, come under the scope of Mark’s narratival discretion as examples — often enough — of being flip-flops. Though called they do stupid things and act like the world’s power hungry. But the women, the unnamed women — count them, four unnamed women in Mark — are always doing the right thing and, outside of Jesus, the unnamed woman of Mark 14 who anoints Jesus comes in for more praise in Mark than any other human. There’s something radically countercultural, then, in Mark’s narrative theology as it applies to women. Being unnamed, then, is a sign of being in the approved role of Jesus and the Evangelist.

In Paul, too, there’s something at work. Read Romans 16 and observe that women are fully involved in ministries. Servant/deacon, co-worker (a great term in Paul), and apostle. 1 Cor 7 shows a radical newness in that a woman has authority over her husband’s body (7:4) — an “astounding claim to mutuality” (126).

But there are Pauline tensions and Kirk’s overall theme is a trajectory that is not completely worked out in Paul. Which means there are times when Paul doesn’t break through as in Galatians 3:28, and neither should we expect Paul to. Women are different; there are social embodiments (respectful) of the difference; there is a fundamental equality.

In the household codes, Paul tells the Christians how to live the gospel life in that social context, with some major suggestions that undermine and subvert the ways of the Greco-Roman world — a cruciform kind of male love for his wife. And Kirk sees major tension in 1 Tim 2 with the rest of Paul’s praxis and teaching.

That is, we see only “glimpses of a new creation” kind of life in the early church, but those glimpses are our trajectory to follow out in our world. We do not set our life by old creation but by new creation.

We are in the battle to overcome the Fall, and we are challenged to avoid giving offense with the gospel and our life.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • phil_style

    “And Kirk sees major tension in 1 Tim 2 with the rest of Paul’s praxis and teaching”

    Interesting sentence this, as it seems to suggest that Kirk places Timothy within Pauline authorship. It seems the “tension” is an additional argument for placing timothy outside of Paul’s work?

  • mmiller

    If this is a trajectory, how does Paul have a “breakthrough moment” in Galatians and then yet seemingly go backwards in the Pastorals (assuming of course Pauline authorship)? Positing “a trajectory” seems to me speculative at best. Moreover, does Kirk deal with the fact that the context of Galatians is soteriological and not social? I don’t mean to suggest the two must be radically separated, but we must first priority to the explicit context, no?

  • http://www.kinnon.tv Bill Kinnon

    Fleming Rutledge is one of my favourite preachers — but I am trying to understand why her picture is in this post?

  • scotmcknight

    Bill, because the post is about inclusion of women in ministries in Paul.

  • http://www.kinnon.tv Bill Kinnon

    So she’s the generic “woman in ministry”. I guess I find the use of her picture without acknowledgement of who she is, counter productive to the message of the post, Scot. Just saying.

  • Bradley

    Scot et al,

    Honest question that I’ve wrestled with on this issue. What accounts for the absence of ordained women in the writings of Clement, Ignatius, Dionetus, Polycarp, etc.? Do you think this weakens the trajectory argument in any way? And would Paul himself have recognized the trajectory, such that he passed it onto his disciples?

    If you’d rather point me to some literature which addresses this, I’d be much obliged. Also, many thanks for your hard work on Jesus Creed. I am a regular reader and benefit from it immensely.

  • Luke Allison

    “That is, we see only “glimpses of a new creation” kind of life in the early church, but those glimpses are our trajectory to follow out in our world. We do not set our life by old creation but by new creation.”

    Clearly the natural bent of humanity (both of the “new” and of the “old”) is towards gender-exclusive tribalism. For me, it’s much easier to be a man who mutters about women under his breath or to other men (provided no women are around) than it is to intentionally strive for the kind of different attitude that Paul describes.

    Watching the news about this lacrosse player who was murdered by her ex-boyfriend, I’m reminded of the potential danger of this “bent”. It seems that the main obstacle to women living fulfilled and flourishing lives in this world would be men. Statistically, there’s some research to back that up.

  • http://www.devonportbaptist.co.uk Mathew

    “He begins with Jesus and Mark, and makes an observation I’ve not seen before. At least that I can remember. Mark inverts greatness into servanthood and the disciples, and Kirk observes that Jesus calls only males, come under the scope of Mark’s narrative discretion as examples — often enough — of being flip-flops. Though called they do stupid things and act like the world’s power hungry. But the women, the unnamed women — count them, four unnamed women in Mark — are always doing the right thing and, outside of Jesus, the unnamed woman of Mark 14 who anoints Jesus comes in for more praise in Mark than any other human. There’s something radically countercultural, then, in Mark’s narrative theology as it applies to women. Being unnamed, then, is a sign of being in the approved role of Jesus and the Evangelist.”
    This suggest that the Apostles/disciples (men) were worldly idiots making mistakes where as the women were quietly getting on with the business of getting it right and doing the right thing? And therefore women should be ordained? Come on Martha? This is not a good or indeed balanced argument for the ordination of women.
    It is the same kind of argument used by Catherine Booth claiming that, because the men were hiding after the death of Jesus and the Women were at the tomb on resurrection Sunday, that women are to be Ordained as men are?
    The fact that men (as well as women) make mistakes is one thing but to use that as calling women into ordination is an entirely different issue altogether. The same can be said for Catherine Booth’s argument… just weak and flimsy a butchery of the Bible. The Apostles mistakes and the women being at the tomb first have their own theological context and application and I believe little to do with the debate over ordination.

  • Judy Diehl

    God willing, this is just the beginning of the melting of the iceberg of gender inequality in the church, which I have experienced for as long as I can remember. For years I heard women misunderstand Paul, reject him as a theologian and bristle at his teachings as interpreted by the male-dominated pulpit. The Southern Baptist church apologized to African-Americans for their early stand on slavery; someday maybe they will apologize to women for their views on gender.

  • http://www.devonportbaptist.co.uk Mathew

    PS Equality has nothing to do with what you do but who you are… and those things are not the same…Jesus changes who we are so that we can be Equal… that is not the same as doing the same things or having the same jobs or role in society… I think a Change of Mind to affect the way we treat eachother is more important than what we claim God is allowing us to do…

  • http://jrdkirk.com J. R. Daniel Kirk

    On the particular texts mentioned: I try to not rest too much on Gal 3:28 itself, but to see it as part of a larger theological framework of new creation. In itself, and in the context in Galatians, there are several different ways to take it. It has a specific function in its context that has little to do with church leadership directly. But it does underscore that men are not the sole bearers of the marks of the people of God any longer, as was the case when circumcision was required.

    On the language of trajectories: I certainly do not see the line as a straight one.

    Nonetheless, Jesus clearly had some women in his orbit as faithful followers. Paul clearly had coworkers, and knew women who occupied the roles of apostle and deacon in addition to “co-laborer” more generally. Also, Jesus preaches and sends the 12 to do so, but in Paul’s letters he is addressing how women should conduct themselves when they are so leading the worship of the church.

    Paul also provides some indications of a theological framework within which this makes sense: our identity and our roles are not constrained by society’s hierarchies, but given to us by the Spirit who makes us all one in Christ. There’s an “in Christ” identity that determines who we are and therefore determines what we can and cannot do.

    Regarding the early church: other evidence is also important, such as the the letters of Pliny the Younger to Trajan indicating that women were deacons, and Chysostom’s marveling at Junia as a woman apostle. But it does seem that the ancient world’s patriarchy was by and large victorious as the Christian movement developed, and the seeds of equality sown in Paul’s and Jesus’ ministries did not fully flourish.

  • http://jrdkirk.com J. R. Daniel Kirk

    Matthew,

    I hear your concerns. I dealt with them a bit more here: http://www.jrdkirk.com/2012/02/06/power-inverting-kingdom-take-2/

    The question is, what does this story tell us about who can faithfully minister the gospel? I’m arguing that the story itself tells against normativity of the 12 men, and that there is another group that has a better claim to our emulation.

    Figuring out how stories can be authoritative is tricky.

    I’d argue, though, that the ultimate failure of the 12, even in Acts where they are higher exalted, further warns us against setting them up as the normative examples:
    http://www.jrdkirk.com/2011/01/08/the-seven-not-exactly-deacons/

  • PaulE

    I’m not seeing the same pattern in Mark that Daniel Kirk is seeing. There are named men in Mark who are portrayed in a negative light – Herod, Pilate, Judas – and there are named men portrayed in a positive one – John the Baptist, Jairus, Bartimaeus. There are unnamed men portrayed in a negative light – the YRR, various teachers of the law – and there are unnamed men portrayed in a positive one – the men lowering a man from the roof, the Gadarene.

    I did notice a couple interesting things:

    First, I’m pretty sure Mary is the only woman named before Mark 15, and even then her name is only given in reference to Jesus (“Isn’t this Mary’s son?”) rather than introducing her as a character. When she appears as a character in the story (in ch 3), she’s simply referred to at Jesus’ mother and portrayed as someone not necessarily having faith.

    Second, the named women in Mark 16 (Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome) in verse 8 respond to the white-robed man in a fashion of bewilderment and fear, similar to the disciples’ reactions in Mark 6 when Jesus walks on water or at the transfiguration in Mark 9.

    I don’t know what to make of these things yet, if anything; they just stood out as observations while I was surveying the text.

    To answer your question about agreement, I find it much easier to say that Paul (and Luke in Acts) establish a narrative trajectory of unity through the commonality of the Spirit. Maybe that’s what he means by equality, but I think the commonality of the Spirit is a better way of putting it.

    Phil. 2:1 encourages the church to be of one mind if they have any “common sharing of the Spirit.” 1 Cor. 12:13 is very similar to Gal. 3:28 and puts the emphasis of their position on their commonality in the Spirit while expressing the different works: “All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.” Eph. 4:3,7 says, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. (7) But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.” There’s almost an explicit inequality – different measures of grace, different gifts – and yet Paul points to the commonality of the Spirit to lift peoples’ eyes from their discontentment and/or pride in their position to Christ’s purposes in building up his one body.

  • Christopher Travis

    With all this talk about creation and new creation would you then want to start with understanding Gensesis 1 and 2 along with the different eschatological passages concerning leadership in the new heavens and earth. Seemingly the order of the creation of “Man” and God seeing that man needed a helper and the woman being fashioned out of the rib of man of the man to fulfill that purpose that all the animals did not fulfill. Something to consider.

  • http://leadme.org Cal

    I think we all can agree on the clear Biblical dictum of ontological equality in Christ, but still economical differences in the world. We may all be one, branches woven together in the Tree; but we’re still functioning in different roles. Jews were still jewish and Greeks were still greek, but they were the same in Jesus.

    Well, we’ve also forgotten that there were many roles in the Church. Some to be Apostles, Teachers, Evangelists, Pastors and Prophets. I’m not charismatic and I lean closer to cessationalism (though I still believe in the miraculous to draw people to Jesus for those who will believe) but these roles exist. Yet today, most focus on the teaching element.

    The unity and worth (being) of all is equal but roles are not. Say women can not teach (not saying it’s a possibility) it does not preclude any of the other roles.

    Food for thought I suppose,
    Cal

  • Mathew

    I would agree that we should not hold up the 12 as normative… they are the exception as Apsotles… I do not agree with your treatment of them however. You appear to be putting them down and going to lengths to do so. I would question your motives here… to prove a point we need to be careful what we do with the texts in question and I am not convinced by your arguements about the extent of the Apostles mistakes esp in Acts. There is a lot of detail that we do not have in any of the Narratives and so I would not be able to make statements that imply that the Apostles choice of the 7 or indeed there not serving on tables was an error and claim that they were not acting in the servant heart of Christ… But there are some interesting obeservations that can be considered… but the mistakes of the 12 is not the reason I would not consider them as a normative model for Leadership in the Church but rather that they were Apostles, and eyewitness of Jesus Resurrection… they walked with JESUS! Any comparrison of the Post Pentecost Church and what happened before needs to be done with great care (this is only my opinion).

  • mmiller

    I always think we should be very careful with “what the new creation looks like” talk. Why? Because humanity–and Christians in particular–have very peculiar ways of constructing that reality. Wasn’t that really what “Christendom” in both its continental and North American forms was all about? Further, Is it not problematic to extend the soteriological context of Galatians in 3.28–which seems mostly to be pointing to the inclusion of Gentiles rather than obliterating gender distinctions–problematic at best–even with a cleverly conceived hermeneutic? Why is all of this dependant on unsubstantiable hermeneutical moves and theoretical trajectories? Moreover, I am not sure women where ever “excluded” from God’s work–they had specific roles and were members of the nations and therefore covenant members. Indeed, Sarah and Rebecca are they key genesis points for the propogation of the covenant, no? I think the emphasis in Galatians 3.28 is squarely on the Gentile/Jewdistinction –as the immediate context bears out.


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