Five women who changed God’s rules

Ben Emerson’s ambitious effort to blog through the Bible — the Whole Dang Thing — reached one of my favorite stories this week. It’s in the 27th chapter of Numbers (Numbers 27:1-11), so I think of it as one of those bits of narrative tucked into that book as rewards for any reader who has managed to slog through its long lists of rules and names and begats.

A man named Zelophehad died. He left behind five daughters, but no sons. The rules were clear about sons and daughters: Sons could inherit their father’s land; daughters could not. So Zelophehad’s daughters were screwed.

Keep in mind that this rule was the law of Moses, directly from Moses, the lawgiver himself who was still directly in charge and standing right over there, talking directly to God. So this was a “thus saith the Lord” kind of rule.

But Z’s daughters didn’t let that stop them. The rule wasn’t fair. It would mean they had no inheritance in the Promised Land. It would leave them landless, penniless and helpless. That was wrong. It was unjust.

So the five of them — Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah — filed an appeal. They told Moses that his rule was unfair and needed to be changed.

What that really meant was that they were telling Moses to tell God that God’s rule was unfair and needed to be changed. “Give to us a possession among our father’s brothers,” they told Moses. It was more of a demand than a request.

And here’s the really cool part of the story:

Moses brought their case before the Lord. And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: The daughters of Zelophehad are right in what they are saying; you shall indeed let them possess an inheritance among their father’s brothers and pass the inheritance of their father on to them. You shall also say to the Israelites, “If a man dies, and has no son, then you shall pass his inheritance on to his daughter. … It shall be for the Israelites a statute and ordinance, as the Lord commanded Moses.”

Moses and God listened to the women’s argument, conceded that they had a fair point, and changed the rules. In the case of Mahlah et. al. vs. God, God turned out to be an activist judge who ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, changing the law and creating a new precedent. Thus saith the Lord.

What are we to make of that?

Broadly speaking, we Christians take one of two approaches to this story about God changing God’s rules.

The first approach is to say this sort of thing may have happened back in the days of the Bible, but that we mustn’t think it can happen now. Nowadays we’re not in the Bible, we have the Bible, so now the rules are set. They’re final and unchangeable and we can no longer do what Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah did. We cannot appeal to Moses to appeal to God to change the rules. The Rulebook can no longer be changed or challenged. Those are the rules.

The second approach doesn’t see the Bible as a Rulebook, but as a story and collection of stories that shows us what God is like. This particular story about Z’s daughters shows us what God is like. And what we learn about God in this story is that God listens and God agrees with Mahlah and her sisters. The rules should be fair, they said, and God said yes, yes they should, that’s what they’re for.

If we want to talk about rules then, from this point of view, this story can be seen as giving us a rule about rules: If they are unjust, then they must be changed. “The daughters of Zelophehad are right in what they are saying.”

  • http://www.blogger.com/home?pli=1 Coleslaw

    What that really meant was that they were telling Moses to tell God that God’s rule was unfair and needed to be changed. “Give to us a possession among our father’s brothers,” they told Moses. It was more of a demand than a request.

    This story reminds me of how often when you protest the injustice of some “Biblical” idea, you get the answer that, “It’s God’s rule. If you don’t like it, take it up with God.”

    Which always leaves me thinking, if I should be having this conversation with God, then why are you butting in?

  • Guest-again

    To be utterly flippant – I didn’t know that Moses used the same phone that the pope and the president of (several) churches generally referred to as Latter Day Saints have access to.

    ‘If they are unjust, then they must be changed.’
    They to be only slightly less flippant, it seems at least that God has call waiting these days – because it took God a long time to inform the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints of the acceptability of black men in the church’s structure – from 1849 to 1978.

    ‘LDS church president Spencer W. Kimball (president 1973-1985) took general conference
    on the road, holding area and regional conferences all over the world.
    He also announced many new temples to be built both in the United
    States and abroad, including one temple in São Paulo, Brazil.
    The problem of determining priesthood eligibility in Brazil was thought
    to be nearly impossible due to the mixing of the races in that country.
    When the temple was announced, church leaders realized the difficulty
    of restricting persons with African descent from attending the temple
    in Brazil.[63]
    Finally, on June 8, 1978, the First Presidency
    released to the press an official declaration, now a part of the
    standard works of the church, which contained the following statement:

    He has heard our prayers, and by revelation has confirmed
    that the long-promised day has come when every faithful, worthy man in
    the church may receive the Holy Priesthood, with power to exercise its
    divine authority, and enjoy with his loved ones every blessing that
    follows there from, including the blessings of the temple. Accordingly,
    all worthy male members of the church may be ordained to the priesthood
    without regard for race or color. Priesthood leaders are instructed to
    follow the policy of carefully interviewing all candidates for
    ordination to either the Aaronic or the Melchizedek Priesthood to
    insure that they meet the established standards for worthiness.[64]

    According to first-person accounts, after much discussion among the
    First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles on this matter,
    they engaged the Lord in prayer. According to the writing of one of
    those present, “It was during this prayer that the revelation came. The
    Spirit of the Lord rested upon us all; we felt something akin to what
    happened on the day of Pentecost and at the Kirtland Temple.
    From the midst of eternity, the voice of God, conveyed by the power of
    the Spirit, spoke to his prophet. The message was that the time had now
    come to offer the fullness of the everlasting gospel, including
    celestial marriage, and the priesthood, and the blessings of the
    temple, to all men, without reference to race or color, solely on the
    basis of personal worthiness. And we all heard the same voice, received
    the same message, and became personal witnesses that the word received
    was the mind and will and voice of the Lord.”[65]
    Immediately after the receipt of this new revelation, an official
    announcement of the revelation was prepared, and sent out to all of the
    various leaders of the Church. It was then read to, approved by and
    accepted as the word and will of the Lord, by a General Conference of
    the Church in October 1978. Succeeding editions of the Doctrine and
    Covenants were printed with this announcement canonized and entitled “Official Declaration—2″.

    Gordon B. Hinckley
    (a participant in the meetings to reverse the ban), in a churchwide
    fireside said, “Not one of us who was present on that occasion was ever
    quite the same after that. Nor has the Church been quite the same. All
    of us knew that the time had come for a change and that the decision
    had come from the heavens. The answer was clear. There was perfect
    unity among us in our experience and in our understanding.”‘

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_people_and_The_Church_of_Jesus_Christ_of_Latter-day_Saints#Racial_policy_ends_in_1978

    A cynical person might just point out that it wasn’t actually God on the line – but then, only a cynical person would note that God seemingly only speaks to the official representatives of a religion when the hierarchy of that religion says that is how God works in terms of telling humans God’s will. Calling it a tautology seems almost too simplistic.

  • http://thewholedangthing.wordpress.com Ben Emerson

    First of all, thanks.

    Secondly, I was shocked by that story but absolutely love the implications.

  • Emcee, cubed

    “If a man dies, and has no son, then you shall pass his inheritance on
    to his daughter. … It shall be for the Israelites a statute and
    ordinance, as the Lord commanded Moses.”

    Um. I gotta say, while I agree with the overall point here, I can’t really say this was all that big of a step. Going from “women aren’t people” to “women aren’t people, but if there isn’t a human alternative, they’ll do”.

    But I guess the point is that if God can change when he hears a good argument, or sees unfairness once, then He can do it more than once. So if a daughter came to Moses complaining that it wasn’t fair that her brother inherited everything (and made a good enough argument), maybe we would have gotten another change.

  • jemand

    yeah.  And the women who inherited under this rule were limited in who they were allowed to marry– only their father’s closer relatives.  So the land, stayed in the control of the men of her father’s larger household.

    So yeah… not *that* big a step, really.  Unless you take it as a rule *about* rules.

  • Heartfout

    Couldn’t God, being an all knowing being capable of thinking the universe into existence, see this one coming and make the rules fair from the start? I mean, I get what Fred is trying to say with this post, it just doesn’t really work for me, particularly since the rules still weren’t actually fair, just slightly closer to it than before.

  • Tehanu

    The point is, the rule changed because God is not a stubborn tyrant.  It didn’t change to what we today would consider totally enlightened and modern and feminist … but it could now.  Actually, it reminds me of the story about the 4 rabbis who were arguing about something:  3 agreed and the 4th didn’t, so he called on God for an answer, whereupon God said he agreed with him (the 4th).  And the other 3 rabbis said, “Well, that’s 3 against 2, so we win” — and they did.

  • wendy

    God turned out to be an activist judge who ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, changing the law and creating a new precedent. Thus saith the Lord.What are we to make of that?

    Besides that there’s a reason so many lawyers are Jewish?

    This isn’t the only time in scripture that God changed his mind about something; Jews take it pretty seriously as evidence that God is not infallible, and doesn’t even claim to be. Usually he’s smarter than us, always he’s more powerful than us, but humanity is his almost-equal partner and he expects us to step up and do our share of the thinking. We think it’s creepy that the ellenjays of this world seem to think people are God’s little cocker spaniel, obliged to love and adore and follow all orders with no right of self-determination. 

    Here’s what the whacko missionary at my door told me last week about the ten commandments — “these are God’s rules. He says so. People must obey because it has been ordered, the Rules are important because they came from God.”

    “Here’s what my rabbi told me about the ten commandments — “Examine them on their own merits, setting aside for the moment where they came from. For a people who’ve just that week been freed from generations of slavery, trying to figure out how to govern themselves, these rules are a pretty good blueprint for the foundation of a sustainable society. Imagine how much misery would have ensued if we’d had to figure it out by ourselves through trial and error. God is important because he gave us some very useful knowledge right when we most needed it.”

    At Passover, we thank God for *THE LAW* even more vehemently than we thank him for leading us out of bondage.

  • Andrew Galley

    It’s not a big step, but I don’t really think that’s the idea. Indeed, to say “and then everything was perfect!” is to ignore, I think, the significance of the passage that Fred is pointing out. If divine right can change once, it can change continuously.

    Indeed, if one were a liberal Christian one might even say that the very possibility of change — of recognizing one’s own unfairness and resolving to do better — is what makes it divine. ;)

  • TRice

    I love this for so many reasons. I know people who would have said back then that these women were bitter and needed to move on and get over it. Demanding justice is not valued by most evangelicals … especially when it comes to females demanding justice for themselves. But this story does show us what God is like, and I needed to be reminded today. Thank you.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Reminds me of the alternate history (Southern Victory/TL-191) where Abraham Lincoln tries to convince Brigham Young to have a convenient revelation that polygamy was no longer doctrinally acceptable.

  • http://www.quirkyknitgirl.com/ Stephanie Ivy

    I am somewhat relieved to see that I am not the only one crazy enough to attempt to blog my way through the Bible. A friend and I are doing just that, because I (confession time!) have never read the entire thing through and she has several times (and been to Seminary) so we figured the perspectives might be interesting. (Obligatory plug: blog lives at http://oakengrove.wordpress.com/). It’s rather enlightening in shaping my (ever-evolving) perspectives.

  • Tanyamarlow

    Thought-provoking post, thank you. This is a hasty response – so excuse the unpolished theology. I don’t think the Bible is a ‘Rulebook’, but I’m not sure I agree with your conclusion that if a rule isn’t just it must be changed. That’s because what I fear what it leads to is. ‘if we don’t like the sound of a rule, or it doesn’t sound just to us then it must be changed.’ 

    I think you overstate the ‘God gave an unjust rule then he corrected’. the initial rule WAS a just one in principle- the land passed down from father to son, to protect the land rights of families. Lots of justice behind that one – protecting families’ inheritances. The women typically would have got married, so this exception wouldn’t have arisen. 

    The ‘correction’ is more like a clarification in caselaw – ‘X’ was the general principle, which is not overturned, but ‘Y’ acts as a clarification in the case of daughters who are unmarried. It wasn’t an unjust law, but a just one that needed expanding. 

    Of course, Jesus overturns and reinterprets the law in the New testament, and ultimately He has come to fulfil it. But I notice that often jesus, rather then rescinding the demands of the law, lakes them even further. For example – a law promoting restraint (an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth) becomes ‘turn the other cheek’.  The problem this rule was addressing was an unfair demand for justice (so if someone steals your sheep, you cut their hands off). So this command is to restrain revenge and make sure the punishment is just and proportional. So when Jesus says, ‘when someone wrongs you turn the other cheek’ He is taking that rule even further. Not only should your retribution not be out of proportion but it should show grace and forgiveness. Sexual purity is not relaxed but rather re-emphasised. Divorce is not for any and every reason; sex outside of marriage is not condoned – but neither is lusting in your heart. Jesus says, it’s not so much the outer things that make you unclean before God but the heart – and as a result no-one is clean before God (and hence we need Jesus’ sacrifice of atonement to bring us back to God).  I wouldn’t say this passage is a rule about how we interpret rules, nice though that would be -I’d say it was a ‘subset’, natural extension of the principle already given. I think Jesus’ teaching on the Law is the ‘rule about how we interpret rules’, and His death is the ultimate expression of justice; that’s where I’d want to go.    

  • seniorcit

    Okay, we all know that God said women are to keep silent in the church.  Written in stone, or the next thing to it, right?  Between the black leather covers.   God said it, I believe it, that settles it! 

    Well, maybe God has changed God’s mind and let some people know that it’s okay for women to speak in church.  How about widows who have no husband to speak for them?  No chain of command.  Same for single women.

    Maybe God is more flexible than we think.  Or maybe what we think God is saying is not God speaking.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    I always sort of imagine that this sort of bible story has a postscript with God doing a divine facepalm and saying “You mean that wasn’t implied? Sweet Me, you corporeal beings are so dense!”

  • WingedBeast

    To those pointing out that it’s a small step.  When compared to what we would logically accept from an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent being, of course it’s a teeny tiny step that shouldn’t have had to be made in the first place.  When judged against perfection, the morality of much of the bible fails utterly.  And the morality of the questionably-biblical or extra-biblical fails even worse.  Hell, original sin, thought crime, sexism, etc, all complete and utter failures when judged against a being hyped up to be absolutely without limits of power, knowledge, or compassion.
    Compared, on the other hand, to a bunch of human beings (whether or not they fled from bondage in that particular instance) the laws, even before this point, were a step forward.  Eye for an eye from the hamurabic code improved on what had come before, which was essentially the Chicago way.*  At the very least, this put a limit on things.
    Judging from the point of view of a bunch of people doing the best they can without the added advantage of nearly five thousand years of hindsight, this was pretty good.  And, the important part is that it was precident of justice/fairness** taking priority over tradition.  And, getting the dominant strains of Christianity to accept that justice is a goal, not an infallibly attained code is another very good step to make.
    *He makes a fist, you draw a knife.  He draws a knife, you draw a gun.  He puts one of yours in the hospital, you put one of his in the morgue.
    **Two things that many Christians wedded to Hell theology like to deny are really linked together.

  • Wednesday

    No, someone claiming to be Paul said that women shouldn’t speak in church. Some biblical scholars are of the opinion that those lines were inserted later into that section of Corinthians.

  • seniorcit

    You’re doing historical/literary criticism here and we all know that that’s on the slippery slope to liberalism and destruction.  If someone other than Paul inserted these words in the scriptures, does that mean that the words are not equally as inspired as Paul’s words and therefore fallible?

    Sorry, I’m playing the devil’s advocate here with you. As someone (a widow) who was caught in the “no-speaking” web I searched for a hermeneutic which honored my (non)marital state and found it outside the inerrant/infallible interpretation.  Whether or not you and I agree on Paul’s complete authorship of the epistles, I suspect we might agree that some of the “rules” for church practice are not applicable for today.

    I could never be a member of a church which did not allow women on its governing body.  But then, I’m not really sure that the idea of formal church membership is Biblical, anyway.

  • Wednesday

    First, let me say I am sorry for your loss and for your time spent believing that your God did not wish you speaking in your place of worship because of your sex — that sounds like a suffocating place to be, spiritually and emotionally. And I agree, the rules laid out in 1 Corinthians 14 (whoever wrote them) certainly would not be well-suited to most modern Christian churches and congregations. 

    That said, I do have an answer to your devil’s advocate argument. :)

    First, I’ll concede the likely-inserted-later lines can be infallible and divinely inspired if you also accept as infallible and divinely inspired the hilarious genealogy transcription error some hundreds of years ago in one of the Gospels where God has a father and Jesus had a son. :)  (I can get you a more specific citation if you like.)

    Second, even if you take the position that Paul wrote that (apparently contradicting himself; cf Fred’s post on Junia) and was divinely inspired, it’s still Paul speaking. Throughout the Christian bible there are times when God says something, or where Jesus says something, and that’s made quite clear. But 1 Corinthians 14 is Paul speaking as Paul. Saying women shouldn’t speak as per the Law (also a bit of a contradiction, given his position on circumcision) is not the same as Paul reporting that God Says This. (In fact, in line 37, the next ‘paragraph’, Paul states the authority of what he’s saying as _conditional_. _If_ you happen to be someone who speaks in tongues, _then_ these rules about how to prophecy are the Lord’s command.)

  • Anonymous

    I think you overstate the ‘God gave an unjust rule then he corrected’. the initial rule WAS a just one in principle- the land passed down from father to son, to protect the land rights of families. Lots of justice behind that one – protecting families’ inheritances. The women typically would have got married, so this exception wouldn’t have arisen.
    No, “women don’t deserve the same rights as men” is *not* just in principle you misogynist asshat.

  • MaryKaye

    The thing that really struck me, when I ceased to be a Christian and was therefore no longer required to adhere to a Christian interpretation of the Bible, is how badly that interpretation fit. 

    There are several OT stories where humans win arguments with God.  They don’t really go well with omniscient/omnipotent/omnibenevolent.  They fit in better, to me, with a more Pagan interpretation of the god.

    There are several places in the NT where Jesus seems to specifically deny being God.  They fit in better, for me, with a more Hero’s Journey view where he is not “of one being” with God but is God’s chosen, as the Moslems hold.

    I was going through contortions trying not to see things this way.  I won’t claim to be wildly more clear-minded now, but at least that’s one less set of mental contortions.

    (This is not a critique of Christianity in general–I’m sure that solid arguments can be made on all of these points.  It’s a critique of the way I personally was taught, which focused on *not seeing* those troublesome interpretations more than on dealing with them in a clear-headed manner.)

  • seniorcit

    Wednesday, so what you are saying is that there are some parts of the Bible that are more inspired than others.   Truthfully, I’ve learned to regard the Bible as a human book about God, with fallible human authors and culturally conditioned statements.  Paul may have been speaking his own views about women and the church in I Cor 14 and I Tim 2 as a misogynist, but there are plenty of churches in these modern times which still hold to them and believe them to be the will of God for all time.  Unfortunately, one just has to look at certain offshoots of the Baptist denomination to find them.

  • Ralovett

    It should be realized, in interpreting some of the above comments, that the rule of primogeniture (only the FIRST son inherited) was designed to keep land from being subdivided into tracts so tiny nobody could live on them. In an agrarian society, there was more sense to these rules than we see in our industrial society. What Fred sees in this, though, I love. Clearly a great sermon lurks here. 

  • http://twitter.com/shutsumon Becka Sutton

    This is going to seem a bit tangential at first, bear with me. (Note: this isn’t exactly my interpretation of God but it’s what I think about when I think about passages like this. It’s an interesting thought exercise but it’s mildly dystheist and makes God seem as much trickster as omnibenevolent).

    When you look at our closest non-human relatives, the great apes, all except the bonobos show male dominance (and the bonobos split from the chimps after they split from our ancestors). Our own ancestoral species in the fossil record show massive sexual dimorphism. It seems to me that it’s likely that we arrived at reason with patriarchy (and most likely a lot of our other messes as well) already in place and we’ve been dealing with the fallout ever since. (Our own sexual diamorphism is low but not non-existent).

    So here’s God trying to deal with his chosen species – the one he’s decided to give souls to – what’s going to happen if he tells them “Stop doing that”? Knowing humans they won’t – we’re stubborn. He could force us but he doesn’t want robots. (When people talk about God’s Law it usually means means ‘we don’t want to change’. They ignore the bits they don’t want after all). So he sets us up with rules slightly outside our comfort zone, a little bit fairer than we are wont to be but not so much we’ll kickback. Once people get a taste of fairer they tend to want more, so then they speak up and say ‘hey, this isn’t fair either’ and then he can say ‘no it isn’t let’s change that’. This is an intepretation that suggests God wants us to argue with him – not because he might be wrong but because he wants us to realise it’s wrong.

    The biggest problem with this intepretation (leaving aside the whole benevolent trickster thing, which isn’t actually as big a problem as this) is that when you do question God his responses are kind of hard to understand because humans are *really* terrible at hearing him and very good at hearing what we want or expect.

  • http://twitter.com/shutsumon Becka Sutton

    This is going to seem a bit tangential at first, bear with me. (Note: this isn’t exactly my interpretation of God but it’s what I think about when I think about passages like this. It’s an interesting thought exercise but it’s mildly dystheist and makes God seem as much trickster as omnibenevolent).

    When you look at our closest non-human relatives, the great apes, all except the bonobos show male dominance (and the bonobos split from the chimps after they split from our ancestors). Our own ancestoral species in the fossil record show massive sexual dimorphism. It seems to me that it’s likely that we arrived at reason with patriarchy (and most likely a lot of our other messes as well) already in place and we’ve been dealing with the fallout ever since. (Our own sexual diamorphism is low but not non-existent).

    So here’s God trying to deal with his chosen species – the one he’s decided to give souls to – what’s going to happen if he tells them “Stop doing that”? Knowing humans they won’t – we’re stubborn. He could force us but he doesn’t want robots. (When people talk about God’s Law it usually means means ‘we don’t want to change’. They ignore the bits they don’t want after all). So he sets us up with rules slightly outside our comfort zone, a little bit fairer than we are wont to be but not so much we’ll kickback. Once people get a taste of fairer they tend to want more, so then they speak up and say ‘hey, this isn’t fair either’ and then he can say ‘no it isn’t let’s change that’. This is an intepretation that suggests God wants us to argue with him – not because he might be wrong but because he wants us to realise it’s wrong.

    The biggest problem with this intepretation (leaving aside the whole benevolent trickster thing, which isn’t actually as big a problem as this) is that when you do question God his responses are kind of hard to understand because humans are *really* terrible at hearing him and very good at hearing what we want or expect.

  • http://twitter.com/shutsumon Becka Sutton

    This is going to seem a bit tangential at first, bear with me. (Note: this isn’t exactly my interpretation of God but it’s what I think about when I think about passages like this. It’s an interesting thought exercise but it’s mildly dystheist and makes God seem as much trickster as omnibenevolent).

    When you look at our closest non-human relatives, the great apes, all except the bonobos show male dominance (and the bonobos split from the chimps after they split from our ancestors). Our own ancestoral species in the fossil record show massive sexual dimorphism. It seems to me that it’s likely that we arrived at reason with patriarchy (and most likely a lot of our other messes as well) already in place and we’ve been dealing with the fallout ever since. (Our own sexual diamorphism is low but not non-existent).

    So here’s God trying to deal with his chosen species – the one he’s decided to give souls to – what’s going to happen if he tells them “Stop doing that”? Knowing humans they won’t – we’re stubborn. He could force us but he doesn’t want robots. (When people talk about God’s Law it usually means means ‘we don’t want to change’. They ignore the bits they don’t want after all). So he sets us up with rules slightly outside our comfort zone, a little bit fairer than we are wont to be but not so much we’ll kickback. Once people get a taste of fairer they tend to want more, so then they speak up and say ‘hey, this isn’t fair either’ and then he can say ‘no it isn’t let’s change that’. This is an intepretation that suggests God wants us to argue with him – not because he might be wrong but because he wants us to realise it’s wrong.

    The biggest problem with this intepretation (leaving aside the whole benevolent trickster thing, which isn’t actually as big a problem as this) is that when you do question God his responses are kind of hard to understand because humans are *really* terrible at hearing him and very good at hearing what we want or expect.

  • WingedBeast

    Nice thought, but it does rely upon God to have a lack of communication ability.  People make this mistake of thinking that God’s only options are exactly what has happened or a removal of free will.  What about the presentation of evidence?

    By the way, many stone age tribes were, in fact, matriarichal, not just matrilinial as the Isrealites were.  So, from the very beginning, a little more political power in the hands of women wouldn’t have been so jarring.

  • Wednesday

    Seniorcit, I actually don’t believe any of the Christian bible is divinely inspired, but I’m perfectly capable of taking something like that as an axiom for the sake of discussion. :) My argument was twofold:

    One, from a purely factual and historical standpoint, Paul probably
    didn’t write 1 Cor 14:34-35 and 1 Tim 2 (if he did
    write those then he’s contradicting himself something fierce. Again, cf
    Junia, among other things). So it’s (most likely) factually wrong to say Paul said those things. And whether or not you believe Paul himself
    was divinely inspired when he wrote his letters, you need to address whether or not the people who
    inserted those lines and who wrote 1 Tim 2 were divinely inspired.

    Second, ignoring that pesky fact business and just taking the canonical text literally (so as to avoid the Evil Librul Slippery Slope), the whole business about women being silent in church in 1 Cor 14:34-35 is still “Paul” speaking as Paul, and not Paul reporting that God/Jesus Said This.

    I checked several English translations (not knowing any Greek), and in all of them, Paul speaks of himself in the 1st person in 1 Cor 14, expressing his opinions as his own, eg (” I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy.”)  Contrast portions of the Gospels reporting Jesus saying things, or Leviticus (I admittedly haven’t read the whole thing and only in English, but in most of the sections I have read are just lists of laws, many of which basically say “Don’t do X, because God finds it offensive.” They’re explicitly reporting God’s opinions on the subject). Also contrast Numbers 27, where the author(s) report something happening and God doing things, and  Romans 1, where Paul reports God actually did something to people. To take 1 Cor 14:34-35 as God Saying Women Should Shut Up In Church is _not_ a literal reading, and specifically requires ignoring what’s actually said in the text and how it’s said.

    tl;dr, to say that according to 1 Cor 34-35 God Says Women Should Shut Up In Church is literally incorrect and most likely historically wrong as well.

  • Anonymous

    The commentary on this passage in my Chumash:

    In recognition of their righteousness, God gave [the daughters of Zelophehad] the honor of being the catalyst for the pronouncement of a new chapter in the Torah: the laws of inheritence… A mitzvah that would have been in the Torah in any case was initiated because of people who longed for it.

  • Ken

    If someone other than Paul inserted these words in the scriptures, does that mean that the words are not equally as inspired as Paul’s words and therefore fallible?

    “All scripture is divinely inspired and suitable for teaching” – but nothing says the lesson is limited to what’s written on the page.  That’s my attitude, at least.

  • Ken

    If someone other than Paul inserted these words in the scriptures, does that mean that the words are not equally as inspired as Paul’s words and therefore fallible?

    “All scripture is divinely inspired and suitable for teaching” – but nothing says the lesson is limited to what’s written on the page.  That’s my attitude, at least.

  • Ken

    If someone other than Paul inserted these words in the scriptures, does that mean that the words are not equally as inspired as Paul’s words and therefore fallible?

    “All scripture is divinely inspired and suitable for teaching” – but nothing says the lesson is limited to what’s written on the page.  That’s my attitude, at least.

  • http://biblicalpersonhood.wordpress.com/ Retha

    “The rules were clear about sons and daughters: Sons could inherit their father’s land; daughters could not. So Zelophehad’s daughters were screwed.Keep in mind that this rule was the law of Moses, directly from Moses, the lawgiver himself who was still directly in charge and standing right over there, talking directly to God.”
    Did God actually say, in the law of Moses, that only sons can inherit? I’ll believe that if I get a verse reference.

  • http://biblicalpersonhood.wordpress.com/ Retha

    The people I read say the most likely interpretation of that is Paul quoting a statement the Corinthians knew, only to refute it in the next verses:

    (You Corinthians know the quote)”Women should remain silent …”

    What! (“Nonsense!” is another translation of that Greek exclamation.) Did the word of God go out only from you? What! (Again, “nonsense!” is possible, but some translations leave the exclamation unsaid.) Did it reach only you?

    In other words, how could they say anything that preposterous, considering that all should use their gifts, as that was the topic of the Chapter? 

  • Dan Audy

    Did God actually say, in the law of Moses, that only sons can inherit? I’ll believe that if I get a verse reference.

    Inheritance law in Judaic writings is addressed in the Talmud (which is a collection of rabanic discussions codifying the previously oral tradition) rather than the Torah (which was revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai).  The story in Numbers that Fred is talking about makes it clear by inference that the previous rule had been only sons could inherit because otherwise changing the law so that daughters could inherit if there was no son would be nonsensical.

  • http://biblicalpersonhood.wordpress.com/ Retha

    Here’s how I see numbers 26-27. Correct me where I am wrong:
    Chapter 26 is not about general inheritance law for the future of Israel, but for dividing the land this once. God said to take the sum of the people, listed by their father’s house (26:2)They did, and listed males by family. (26:5-51)God told them to divide the land by families: Big for a big family, small for a small family. (26:53-56)God never made a general law saying “Only males may inherit.”
    Z’s daughters were unmarried and taken up by their closest male family member. But they wanted an area for the sisters, in their father’s name, not shared with whatever family they were counted with. (In that sense, they did get their case vindicated by God.)

    Num 27:8, unlike the previous chapter, sound like law and not just the singular event of dividing the new land:  And thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If a man die, and have no son, then ye shall cause his inheritance to pass unto his daughter.It does not say a man should consider his sons first, but merely take for granted that this will happen.

  • arc

    That joke always reminds me of (and may well be based on) the story in the Talmud about Rabbi Elizier, a brilliant rabbi who has a dissenting opinion about whether contaminated ovens can be purified (he thinks they can, the other rabbis think not).

    He gives a series of arguments to prove that he is right, and then he starts performing miracles (trees fly through the air, water moves upstream) and a heavenly voice confirms he is correct.

    But the other rabbis remain unimpressed.  One of them says “ever since the Torah was given on Mount Sinai, we pay no attention to heavenly voices, for as You have written in Your Torah, ‘decide according to the majority’.”

    Then G-d is supposed to have laughed and exclaimed ‘my children have defeated me, my children have defeated me!’

    I don’t know very much about judaism, but disagreeing with the deity seems to be both:

    (a) possible (from a traditional Christian perspective to the extent it’s even conceivable, it would be both highly blasphemous and completely irrational) and

    (b) a big part of the culture, in a way.

    Two other examples that spring to mind are the discussion in the Midrashic literature (I think it’s in the Genesis Rabbah) which in a roundabout and somewhat shady way concludes that God was wrong to… dammit, I’ve forgotten what it was, maybe it was punishing Cain? something significant, anyway.  The other example, admittedly a bit less classical, would be Teyve’s constant bickering and bargaining with G-d in ‘Fiddler on the Roof’.

  • Tricksterson

    Andthis is why if I was going to be a monotheist I’d probably be a jew.


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