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.
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.