Identity Mapping

From Roy Ciampa, used with permission. For Dr Ciampa’s fuller study, see this.

What do you think of Ciampa’s idea of “identity mapping”? Where do we do this? Where do you see it?

On Treating Modern Women as Ancient Greco-Roman Wives

 by Roy E. Ciampa, Ph.D.

One of the most unfortunate habits of biblical interpretation in the past several centuries, in my opinion, is that of assuming that the teachings of biblical texts are directly transferable to other cultures, including those that are quite different from those to which they were originally addressed. It is sometimes an unspoken assumption that “inspired” means “non-contextualized” and thus directly applicable to people of all times and cultures. This has had disastrous results for many marginalized people, including modern slaves, Jews and women.

Of course, a crucial part of the problem is that modern readers are usually not fully aware of the extent to which their context differs from that being addressed by the biblical texts. One result of this lack of awareness is what I call the “mapping of identities.” The “mapping of identities” takes place when people or groups in the biblical text are identified with people or groups in the culture and context of the modern reader, with one identity being mapped onto another.

This takes place, for instance, when modern readers directly apply labels for social or demographic groups (e.g., “Jews,” “slaves,” or “wives”) to people they believe fit those labels in their own society. They tend to assume cultural similarities between the group in the biblical world and those in their own world and tend to overlook crucial differences. This has played out with horrible consequences for Jews and slaves, among others, in the modern era, but the focus here will (naturally) be on the consequences for women.

Since slavery is no longer an acceptable part of Western culture (at least not explicit, legalized slavery), when readers come to biblical texts that mention slaves and masters they realize instantly that the texts, if they are to be applied, cannot be directly transferred. Since husbands and wives are omnipresent across all societies, people without in-depth knowledge of biblical cultures readily assume that the marital relationships being referenced and addressed in the biblical texts closely parallel those with which they are intimately familiar in their own context.

Most Bible readers are not familiar with important aspects of marriage relationships in the Greco-Roman world.

In that particular context, marriages were not typically entered into by men and women of similar ages and with similar life experience, but by adolescent girls (aged 14-15 or so) and fully adult men (aged 28-30 or so).* And, although there are references to well-educated women in the Greco-Roman world, they seem to be exceptions to the rule (and considered noteworthy, literally, by the ancient authors).

Normally men and husbands were much better educated and had greater exposure to information and experience outside the household. This is implicit even within one of the most remarkable texts of the New Testament relating to this subject. In 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 Paul says women or wives are not allowed to speak in the church meeting (in fact it would be shameful to do so), but should ask their own husbands at home if they have any questions. This latter clause only makes sense in a context where it is safe to assume that a wife’s husband is better informed and therefore capable of answering whatever questions the wife might have.

Such was the context of the typical Greco-Roman marriage. It had less in common with marriage in most of the Western world today than it did with those in parts of the world where child brides are married to older men. Many wives in the Roman world experienced life much like Balki Souley, a young bride married at the age of twelve, discussed in a recent story on child marriages in the Washington Post (“In Niger, hunger crisis raises fears of more child marriages”). This was the experience of women in the ancient world and remains the experience of millions of women in Africa and elsewhere today.

The New Testament texts themselves make perfectly good sense as instructions to people living in that social context. For a young bride to be submissive to her significantly older, more mature, experienced and knowledgeable husband, and for him to be exhorted to treat her in kind and loving ways (in terms that might sound somewhat paternalistic to us) would be part of honoring Christ in such a culture and relationship. Those would be loving ways for people to relate to each other.

All of the New Testament statements about how wives and husbands should relate to each other are addressed not to wives and husbands who married peers of similar age and life experience as in modern western cultures, but to wives and husbands within the asymmetrical relationship that was the Greco-Roman marriage.

Should all that the New Testament authors wrote about husbands and wives be considered directly transferable to husbands and wives who do not reflect the cultural inequities (i.e., unequal ages, levels of maturity, education and life experience) of the Greco-Roman marriage?

For me to treat my wife as though she were less wise, discerning, mature, knowledgeable or apt to lead than I am would be insulting and a failure to recognize and love her for who she really is rather than treating her according to the reality of most ancient wives. It would be to map the identity of a first-century Greek wife onto her identity and thus treat her not as Christ would have me treat her but as Christ would have an ancient Greco-Roman husband treat his less mature and less knowledgeable wife.

A constant theme of Jesus’ teaching and that of the New Testament is that we should love one another. To love one another we must know each other and treat each other in light of who we really are, rather than in light of some artificial or misapplied category from another time and culture. Many Christians unwittingly teach wives and husbands to relate to each other according to a Christianized version of Greco-Roman standards, without being aware of, or contemplating the significance of, the differences.

Love calls for something much better than that.

*See, e.g., Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2008), 75.

About Scot McKnight

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

  • http://aprilkarli.com AprilK

    I read this via Carolyn Custis James’ FB page the other day. Glad to see you sharing it here, too.

  • derek griz

    “All of the New Testament statements about how wives and husbands should relate to each other are addressed not to wives and husbands who married peers of similar age and life experience as in modern western cultures, but to wives and husbands within the asymmetrical relationship that was the Greco-Roman marriage.”

    ALL? Is this not a rather large assumption? And is this to say ALL passages are no longer transferable now? They must ALL be dramatically reinterpreted?

  • Val

    I also think we miss what a Patriarch was in the Greco Roman world. When Ephesian’s tells wives, children and slaves to submit to the patriarch, what we don’t read is that these are multigenerational families, living in one household – could be an estate with several separate buildings, or not, but a “household” in ancient times was not a nuclear family. This is significant because wives would be submitting to their father-in-laws, not husbands. Husbands would NOT be the head of their homes, their Dad’s would be.

    This is still common practice in much of the world. Richer families can and did afford more than one physical home, but the head was still the father-in-law. It blew me away how the young self-assured men in India always listened to their dad’s – they were told where to work, which kids could go to collage, what to study, who to marry… despite their seemingly self assured demeanour, they didn’t live as individuals. Marrying young girls wasn’t a teen mom crisis, since younger brides were subject to their mother-in-laws AND husband’s older brother’s wife, the children were raised by grandma, aunties, and mom. When I read that passage, I don’t know anyone following it in western christianity.

  • Marcus C

    It seems like we tend to gerrymander which scriptures we disregard due to historical cultural context and which scriptures we take literally. Again, Christian Smith’s book ‘The Bible Made Impossible’ comes to mind…

  • Patrick

    I think all statements properly understood in their context should be respected myself. Paul in Corinthians, according to researchers like Ben Witherington and Kenneth Bailey, was not discussing what it appears on the surface to be to us about females and church services.

    BTW, Jesus was 100% respectful of The Father’s authority and that does not mean The Son has less intellect, value, meaning, etc. That’s a perverse view to take just because one respects the authority of another as Paul described marriage and child relations with parents.

    Paul made it clear the wife is the church, the husband is Christ in roles at least regarding spiritually mature believers and typology. That has squat to do with ancient thinking. It’s a clear biblical teaching whether anyone in “the west” buys it or not.

    I think most the modern problem is we husbands never considered our role, we demanded the wife fulfill her’s as if she was our servant and now the ladies have said, “stuff it”. That clearly is not her role, it is OUR role to serve her as our bride, like Jesus did and like Jesus does.

    Her role is to respect us.

    God never tells the wife to love us, he tells us to love her. He tells her to respect us. Go figure.

  • http://krusekronicle.com Michael W. Kruse

    “What do you think of Ciampa’s idea of “identity mapping”? Where do we do this? Where do you see it?”

    I see it over and over again on economic issues. The ancient world had two social institutions: family and the polis. There were only the most rudimentary economic institutions. Economic exchange was heavily influenced by custom and other considerations that had little to with supply and demand. The economy was essentially a zero-sum game, someone’s increase in wealth was someone else’s loss. Productivity was unalterable.

    Some conservative readers seem to find proto-capitalism scattered all through the Bible. Liberal readers are blind to breakthroughs in economic productivity and the adaptive capacity that has emerged in recent generations. They want to apply biblical teaching as if these changes never took place (or never should have taken place), viewing biblical era framing of economic issues as sacrosanct.

  • Corri Ogburn

    Thank you for so beautifully expressing this. I often think it strange that we are understanding now of slavery being wrong even though many used to justify it just by the fact that it was referenced in the scriptures, but we hold so fast to certain long standing teachings about women that often result in attitudes and actions that are far from reflecting God’s character.
    I think it’s important to understand the history and culture of the time of writing- and equally important to know through which “goggles” of culture we ourselves are reading the Bible – 2 very important cultures to understand – theirs and mine! I have been a Christian since I was 10 – but I have been an American longer than that. If I am not aware of the values that I hold as an American and the way they affect my reading of the Bible – I will miss a lot, assume a lot and make incorrect judgments. A great article – and a fun read is “Why do Americans Act Like That? A guide to understanding the U.S. culture and its values” by Dr. L Robert Kohls – Director of International Programs at San Francisco State University. It helped me to shed light on many American values I’ve absorbed as “truths.” Living in other countries has also helped to reveal these to me. Everyone in the world reads the scriptures through their own cultural goggles – that is natural – but we have to be careful when we are standing strong on culturally changing issues and missing the heart of God’s character between the lines.

  • Craig Wright

    Patrick #5, Titus 2:4 implies that wives should love their husbands.

  • http://www.juliecoleman.org Julie Coleman

    It’s also important to note how Paul (and Peter), when addressing the societal norms and practices of their day, were not out to change the system. They were all about operating within the system to reveal Christ. Slaves, be obedient. Your masters will see Christ manifested in you. Wives, submit to your husbands. Lead them to Christ by your respectful behavior. In other words, don’t do things that would distract people from seeing Christ in you. As Peter put it, “Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evil doers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.” (1 Peter 2:12)

    We can show Christ in us in any culture. But how that is shown does change with the times. These days, when women are CEOs and running for president, to have the Church regard women as second class citizens, unable to garner the same respect as men, would be an impediment to today’s society seeing the gospel as valid. The principles are all there in Scripture– love, mutual respect, servanthood, dying to self. But HOW they are implimented changes with the cultural context of the implementer.

    Thanks for this article. It certainly educates us as to the cultural expectations of the first century. I wonder what Paul would have written if he lived in the 21st century. Just like the parables would have been dramatically different (but the message remaining constant) I think Paul’s instructions would have looked very different. The principles to a God-honoring marriage would be there– but I believe the expression would have looked far different.

  • ao

    I see this problem often with my friends who are anti-dating and all about courtship. Then they appeal to all these OT passages where a man and his future father-in-law come to an agreement about marrying the daughter. When my friends make these arguments, all I can think of is that my friends have no idea that that’s how they did things in a culture in which marriage was a property transaction between two men. Do we really want to call that modern courtship? Is that really a model we wanna uphold today?

  • http://walkingthroughthecityofgod.blogspot.com Pseudo Augustine

    I guess that marriage being an image of Christ and his church is [deleted due to inappropriate sarcasm].

  • scotmcknight

    Pseudo Augustine, besides being cloaked in a pseudonym, which triggers irresponsibility for some, the whole comment is nothing but sarcasm. Sarcasm is anger expressed in word. Please offer comments of a constructive orientation.

  • John

    “What do you think of Ciampa’s idea of “identity mapping”? Where do we do this? Where do you see it?”

    It seems to me that underlying “identity mapping” is the idea of understanding, interpreting, words and ideas as having a single literal meaning for all time. Thus, in Genesis when we read “day”, we are told by some this must be what we know of today as a “24 hour day”, i.e., we map our word day onto the Biblical term we interpret as day.

    Or take this passage from Revelation 4:8 – “Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under his wings. Day and night they never stop saying: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.”

    Many will read this and think that if this is said in Revelation, we will obviously see such creatures when we get to heaven; that if this is in the Bible, this idea will map onto a futre reality.

    I will never forget Don Carson of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School saying in a talk about metaphors, images, and poetry in the Bible, “When we get to heaven, we are not going to see birds with six wing and covered with eyes flying about.”

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    The one current misplaced identity map I can think of is the relationship of the people to the government. The government today is us. The default position per biblical identity is to consider it other.

  • P.

    Excellent article. This underscores the point that for us to see what the Bible says to us today, we have to know the situations that Paul and others were addressing back then. In this day and age of educated women, requiring a woman to be silent in church and therefore be educated by her husband at home is ridiculous – and could hinder others from accepting Christ.

  • Val

    @Patrick who says “Paul made it clear the wife is the church, the husband is Christ in roles at least regarding spiritually mature believers and typology. That has squat to do with ancient thinking. It’s a clear biblical teaching whether anyone in “the west” buys it or not.”

    Paul, Jesus, and everyone else in the NT says – Jesus is Christ (King), people are the church (his kingdom/body on earth). Marriage is second-best according to Paul, so he isn’t making marriage into our modern western idol. Hovering over these few versus is not “clear teaching” in the overall Bible – Junia being an apostle shows the church was not following Roman family hierarchal structures (patriarchy) in the church. It is clear that complementarians are over-focused on too few verses (not clear at all that those famous too-few versus radically underwrite the early church’s teachings on Christ/body), while overall, Paul, Jesus, etc. al are cool with disregarding the Patriarchal structures in the Kingdom, they just don’t go and rock the Roman World’s structures (Kingdom/church=family to the early church, Patriarchal blood lines = family to the Romans) – Paul, wisely, leaves that hornet’s nest alone.

  • http://morganguyton.wordpress.com Morgan Guyton

    Galatians 3:28 is the template of Christian identity towards which we have aspired for the past 2000 years. Do we really believe that in Christ Jesus, there is no longer “male and female”? It is significant that “and” (kai) is used here instead of “or” (ei) — though admittedly I’m not sure why. Galatians 3:28 presents itself as a *paradigmatic* statement unlike the specifically contextual pastoral directives Paul gives regarding women being silent, asking their husbands to teach them, etc. So you can’t just find a clobber passage to “cancel out” Galatians 3:28 and say well we’ve got more than you’ve got, so we win. You have to say why you feel comfortable crossing out the male/female part of Galatians 3:28 in your Bible (and explain why you wouldn’t cross out the Jew/Greek and free/slave part if you lived 200 years ago).

    Regarding Christ and the church, that has more to do with the Jewish teaching that “the two become one flesh,” not with mapping the hierarchy of Christ/church onto husband/wife. To say “Christ is the head of church as the husband is head of the wife” is simply to articulate the legal reality of Roman society in which the paterfamilias had life and death power over everyone in his household as its head. For Paul to tell men to love their wives like their own bodies is a direct assault on the Roman concept of paterfamilias. It undermines that absolute life and death authority. So it’s ridiculous for us to anachronistically reverse what Paul is doing within a culture where women had no status.

    Here is the blog version of a sermon I co-preached about this with my wife while washing her feet: http://morganguyton.wordpress.com/2012/08/27/submission-as-leadership/

  • Andrew

    I’m surprised no one in the comments here has touched on homosexuality. Jenell Williams Paris makes a very solid argument for that in her anthropological perspective on the issue in _The End of Sexual Identity_.

    What she didn’t do, and I haven’t seen anyone do in my admittedly limited reading on the subject, is to address Paul’s _para physin_ “against nature” verbiage (Romans 1:26-27) in a satisfactory way. If his real beef was with particular Greco-Roman same-sex sexual practices that had significant age differentials and temple prostitution associations, then why does he ground his critique in the created order?

    The same question could be posed for the women-in-church question. Why in 1 Timothy 2:13-14 does Paul ground his comments on women in church in Eve’s role in the Genesis creation and fall narratives?

  • Andrew

    Another question that I think deserves consideration is what can/should a Bible translator do to discourage improper identity mapping? Is this something that only the interpretive community (churches, pastors) can remedy? Or should the translator play a role in its correction? If so, should s/he do so through the paratext (i.e., through footnotes) or through the text itself (e.g., “catamites” or “Judeans”)?

    These are critical questions not only (and not primarily) for English, but for the many languages that are just now receiving a Bible translation for the first time.

  • Brendan

    @Andrew, great comments. My take:

    “Identity mapping” is helpful in a sermon, book, or article, but the challenge is giving an interpretive framework that everyone can see as they read the Bible for themselves. The general tendency in the church should be pointing to the consistent and plain message of the Bible, not arcane data known only by experts. Reference Bibles are very helpful for explaining the text’s cultural context simply, though some can (like Scofield) lead astray. Translations are always interpretations so can solve some of these issues, though footnotes offering different translations are superbly helpful on debatable texts. I think the NIV Study Bible is the best existing example, but there’s always work to be done.

    Andrew, thanks for bringing up sexuality, since dismissing the “plain meaning” of NT household codes (on women, children, slaves) as “cultural” can tend towards undermining the “plain meaning” of the Bible’s teachings in general, including those on sex. That can (and often does) turn into a game of pick and choose on which passages are “cultural” and which are “universal.” I think the key is seeing the Bible as consistent in a way that does not require special pleading to cultural factors beyond what the text itself talks about.

    Frankly, I think the text itself accounts for a surprising amount of determining what is universal and what is merely cultural. For instance, the universal, unifying principles in Ephesians 5 are imitating Jesus in self-sacrificial love (5:1-2) and submitting to one another out of reverence for Jesus (5:21), while in Philippians and 2 Corinthians the main point is imitating Christ’s self-sacrificial humility. In every letter, there’s a certain consistency that imitating and revering Christ is paramount, the main thing around which everything else is organized, the clear “universal.”

    Paul makes the “cultural” clear in 1 Cor. 7:17-24: he wants people to stay where they are in the social order, not topple it, though he encourages slaves to get freedom if they can (vv. 21-23). That whole chapter also makes clear that in Christ, marriage is reciprocal and equal – ten injunctions are given equally to husband and wife, including the husband’s body belonging to the wife. So Paul is not about defending the culture’s standards, but saying that Christians accept the cultural standards they’re in – circumcision and uncircumcision is nothing (though don’t seek to change that cultural status); keeping God’s commands is what counts (7:19).

    While “identity mapping” is helpful for scholars and preachers, it’s out of reach for many laypeople, and simply pointing to the standards within the text is generally easier to grasp and more helpful for non-experts.

  • John I.

    Re the statement that the apostle Paul “wants people to stay where they are in the social order,”

    I disagree. True, Paul does not want civil disorder, but he does encourage the slave to seek his freedom where possible, for example.

  • Tom C

    Dr. Ciampa is emerging as one of the leading NT scholars of this generation. He is thoughtful, creative, careful, Biblical and orthodox.
    His idea of Identity Mapping is another current example of his contributions to orthodox and practical contextualization of Scripture.
    Certainly, IM is not a silver bullet to change 2000 years of thinking for those who believe the role of women should be limited in the church. But it does add one more compelling plank to the other very strong arguments that support egalitarianism.
    The argument advanced by some bloggers here that Paul (or Christ) accepted the cultural standards and didn’t promote equality is wrong on at least two counts: 1) they did not – at almost every opportunity they “violated” cultural norms by including women in ministry at unprecedented levels. 2) That they did not go further than they did was because they had the wisdom to know that creating undue controversy would change their ministry from a message of saving grace to that of social reformation. Simply, in their context, they did not want the message of salvation marginalized. Today we have the opposite problem, the gospel message is being marginalized and scandalized by excluding modern women who can be and are CEO’s, Prime Ministers, Doctors, etc. from serving in church leadership.
    As Luther would say, this doesn’t meet the test of “scripture or reason”.

  • Rory

    Hey guys,

    Now, I suppose I don’t really know where to start other than to say that I am really glad we are addressing this issue in public forums. I thank Patheos for putting this up and engaging in critical thought about the context(s) behind the first century writings of the Epistles in particular. Truly we must evaluate these background for a fuller and indeed more edifying understanding. I will also like to say that I have not read any of the comments, so maybe my initial questions have been answered in there. If so, then I am sorry. There is reason behind me not reading blog comments, but I wil not bore you with such things. Just know that I would rather interact with the content directly before moving on to the discussion.

    First, here is a quote that I have some questions on: “Of course, a crucial part of the problem is that modern readers are usually not fully aware of the extent to which their context differs from that being addressed by the biblical texts. One result of this lack of awareness is what I call the “mapping of identities.” The “mapping of identities” takes place when people or groups in the biblical text are identified with people or groups in the culture and context of the modern reader, with one identity being mapped onto another.”

    Of course, I fully agree with the first sentence, as I stated in my brief introduction. For my first question, I will say that I admire a pursuit of “mapping identities.” That is a noble one for sure. But my question comes by means of *how* this is to take place. In other words, do we map identities merely on cultural norms, as the article seems to infer implicitly? Or are there other means? Is it not as straight forward as evaluating culture? In other words, I will say it in an opposite manner: to find out who we are we must understand culture? Is this true? Am I a *mere* product of my culture? Were Greco-Roman women? Just some thoughts to ponder.

    Secondly, I certainly understand where the author is going with his “Jew” “Slave” “women” argument. The question, I suppose, on first appraisal is categorical. Should all these categories be lumped into one? I know he is just using these as examples, but examples, we must understand, are a part of a larger argument and they do serve a purpose. Here is what I want to ask, and it is similar to what I asked earlier. If identity mapping is so integral to distinctions in how we treat one another, and cultures are so integral to this whole process, is a Jew or a slave or a woman so tied to ones culture that it fully makes up that identity? In other words, the culture of the first-century Jew was indeed imperative to their understanding of their identity in the context Greco-Rome. However, if your identity was shaped by that culture, you were seen as covenantally unfaithful to what the Jews prized as that which was so important for identity: in simplicity, the Torah. It is here that we see, culture is a distinctive that out not shape identity, and there are in fact other distinctions we need to take in to account for cultural identity of a specific religious group. So, in sum, as the author states, we do need to evaluate culture to know how to map identity; in this case, it is a religious mapping and the Greco-Roman culture is a big error if it is playing a part in your life as a Jew in the first century. But my point stands I think, culture can be a serious deterrent when other aspects of identity should take precedence in a particular way of thinking. For the Jew, it is not culture that shapes identity, but Torah. If culture shapes identity, then you were seriously out of bounds in the mind of the Jew. So. categorical distinctions. That which is formative for a Jew may not be formative for a slave, or a woman. They have different priorities. To be relgiously faithful is to shape one’s own identity; this is truly identity mapping for the 1st century Jew. So, to my question here: What other categorical distictions can we ascertain from this list? Are there identity formers that are seem as primary in a context of Greco-Roman Corinth? For a Jew? For a slave? For a woman?

    To my next inquiry: “Most Bible readers are not familiar with important aspects of marriage relationships in the Greco-Roman world.” No they are indeed not. And it is all too tragic. Again, we really need to be well read with these things to understand in a fuller way what Paul and other writers are addressing. But here is my question: Is Paul saying that such aspects of a Greco-Roman marriage are to be the *main* formers of identity? Or, or are there other things that ought to mark a marriage from Paul’s perspective? For example, as the verse reads, in very simple terms, “As in all the churches of the saints, the women should be silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak. Rather, let them be in submission, as in fact the the **Greco-Roman culture** says. If they want to find out about something, they should ask their husbands at home, because it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in church. Did the word of God begin with you,or did it come to you alone?”

    Maybe this is a bit overstated and can be seen as even rude; if that is how it is read, I really do apologize. Everyone knows we do not need any more distention on blog comments. But. My point is obvious enough above. But what else can we deduce from the context of the church *gatherings* in Corinth (not just a broad understanding of Greco-Roman familial structures) from the context of Paul’s argument? Are there other things at play here? Is Paul merely speaking to a general context of obeying the cultural norms of the first century Greco-Roman Corinth? More to the point..

    Back to my second point, Paul seems to say that he is tying his commands, not to the Greco-Roman culture of 1st century Corinth, but to “the Law.” What Law? Why does he say such things? Is he mapping identity in a certain way? In his own way? Is there some form of ‘omnipotence’ of identity mapping as he sees as crucial for a wife that plays into such words? Are they cultural primarily or religious? How so?

    This is also a difficult sentence for me: “For me to treat my wife as though she were less wise, discerning, mature, knowledgeable or apt to lead than I am would be insulting and a failure to recognize and love her for who she really is rather than treating her according to the reality of most ancient wives.” There are a number of things this statement implies, but I will camp on two: 1) that all *wives* Paul is speaking of here are such. This seems to me to be a stretch… I mean, surely Paul didn’t advocate loving your wives based off their intellectual capacities. In other words, this implies that Paul is saying something to the effect of, “guys, you know our Greco-Roman culture, and how our wives are all morons, lesser-than, etc. etc., we shall love them properly by telling them to shut up in church.” Is this the kind of love that the NT advocates? That Jesus? That Paul to wives from husbands advocate? Or, could there be another explanation, could there be another map the identity Paul is expounding upon?

    This last aspect is something I want to return to; for I jumped ahead of myself, “Should all that the New Testament authors wrote about husbands and wives be considered directly transferable to husbands and wives who do not reflect the cultural inequities (i.e., unequal ages, levels of maturity, education and life experience) of the Greco-Roman marriage?”

    The answer to this is a definitive, no. It absolutely shouldn’t. The question then is, is that really what Paul is advocating? Is that really what he is basing his words on? Is it an aspect of the larger picture? Certainly? Does it have direct bearing to the interpretation, and then the application of how men are to treat their wives? Surely it does. But I personally am hard-pressed to think that Paul himself is taking a cultural norm and telling the church how they must act inside the walls of the church, and the home.

    I fully concur with this statement as I end,

    “Many Christians unwittingly teach wives and husbands to relate to each other according to a Christianized version of Greco-Roman standards, without being aware of, or contemplating the significance of, the differences.”

    The ironic thing here is that this is exactly what is happening with a post like this….

  • Don Johnson

    I think if one does not see the egalitarian teaching in Jesus, Paul, Peter, etc. in contrast to the very non-egalitarian culture of the time, one misses what they are saying and misses it in a huge way. Yes, they spoke and wrote on how marriage was to be and in every single instance they made it egalitarian as a partnership and not as a hierarchy.

  • Mallory Anderson

    Thank you so much! Thank you, thank you, thank you.