Sunday, July 09, 2006

Ephesians Is SO GOOD, until you get to that part...

I read Paul's Letter to the Ephesians last night and I thought, "Wow, this is just the most beautiful statement about religious community ever" and just went on marveling about its beauty and deep understanding and amazing insights and lovely theology and then I got to the part about women obeying husbands and slaves obeying masters and I had to go take some Advil.

It just sucks that we have this gorgeous, gorgeous shining thing that resonates across the thousands of years, and then Paul has to go and totally be a limited man of his own time and place.

I hate when that happens.


Blogger Donald O'Bloggin said...

Go with the Lawyers rule: Stop quoting at an arbitrary punctuation mark before he makes an ass of himself.

Blogger ogre said...

What donald said. Remember, punctuation was added, anyway (as I recall the original texts are lacking it).

And wash down your Advil with a tall glass of something better. After all, there's that bit about there being neither male nor female, slave nor free....

And if that's the case, then no one should be talking about slaves or wives out of Christian context.

Blogger fausto said...

I'm told that when you read it in the original Greek (I can't, myself), the admonitions to husbands and wives are reciprocal. The reciprocal meaning of the Greek grammatical idiom does not come through as well in English translation. In any event, both the admonitions to wives (5:22-24) and to husbands (5:25-30) are further elaboration of the general principle of reciprocity introduced in verse 5:21, "Be subject to each other", which is reaffirmed at the end of the segment in verses 5:31 and 5:33.

Hope that helps. Ain't exegesis fun?

Blogger Doug Muder said...

It just sucks that we have this gorgeous, gorgeous shining thing that resonates across the thousands of years, and then Paul has to go and totally be a limited man of his own time and place.

Yeah, I thank God that I'm timeless and placeless myself. I also speak without an accent. And this only looks like English -- I'm actually writing in a Pentecostal language that your brain automatically translates into whatever it understands best.

Blogger fausto said...

BTW, stop trying to read it as if God himself had written the thing. He didn't, Paul did. A hapless schmuck like the rest of us, making his way through this mean old world as best he could in his own place and time.

Which leads to another point -- the slavery thing. That was then, this is now. God did not stop speaking with the closing of the canon. Revelation is progressive, and has indeed progressed. And some of us UUs have even been privileged enough to serve as its prophets and martyrs.

But some words do resound in more than one time and place. I think one of the most eloquent parts of John Winthrop's "City on a Hill" sermon is where he riffs on Eph 4:2-3, and they are still echolig today, as I noted recently on Philcrites' "Nauvoo" thread.

Blogger fausto said...


Oops. Echoing.

ing -- ing -- ing

Blogger Berrysmom said...

Take a current look at the conversation on the UUMA Chat about editing readings, changing sexist language, etc. Some of us are shameless editors. Tom Schade, in particular, is eloquent on why he does this.

Tom, care to speak for yourself?

Isn't there something somewhere about letting the chaff fly away and just keeping the good stuff?

Blogger fausto said...

I re-read the section in Ephesians on slavery, and I think the reciprocity principle applies here, too. Paul isn't trying to overthrow the entire social order, but he is saying that, even though the master-slave relationship is inherently unequal, Christians who are involved in such a relationship should treat it as one of reciprocal servitude rather than unequal domination.

I realize that it runs against the UU instinct not to challenge the entire social order, but there is a strong theme in Christianity emphasizing justice and compassion in personal and communal relationships rather than the just exercise of secular power. Ephesians falls right into this pattern.

(A topic for another discussion might be, why don't we? A partial answer might be, because Christianity did not arise in a democracy, where each citizen shares responsibility for the entire society. Expanding further on my comments above about our role in unfolding revelation, it was our own First Church in Plymouth, Mass., that first introduced the conflation of democratic rule with religious ideas of compassion and justice, through the Mayflower Compact.)

Blogger Aola said...

What really sucks about it is if you have been in "churches" where they take those few scriptures and beat women to death with it.

Well,you know, in those fundy circles Paul is right up there with God.

Do I sound bitter?....

Blogger fausto said...

Yes, there certainly are fundies who do that, but if you read Paul carefully, what they practice shows a great deal of contempt for the spirit of reciprocal deference and respect that he actually advises.

Which is all the more shameful when it occurs among people who hold Biblical authority in as high regard as they do.

Blogger LinguistFriend said...

The initial problem here is that most critical scholars do not think that Ephesians was written by Paul. The evidence of language and style is against it, and so R.W.Funk in his (1953)doctoral dissertation on Paul's use of the Greek article did not include it among the works that Paul certainly did write. J.A.Robinson in his good commentary on Eph. points out how different in approach this epistle is from Paul's usual style, lacking the usual personal details we find in Paul. T.K.Abbott's commentary and others have pointed out its similarity to Colossians, also not written by Paul.
That being said, those who wrote the pseudonymous letters attributed to Paul often incorporated views which we know to have been those of Paul, from their occurrence in texts which do have his characteristic style (Romans, Galatians, 1st and 2nd Corinthians, 1st Thessalonians, Philippians, Philemon, was Funk's list, with which some would disagree in details). This included among other things both his traditional views on the subordination of women, and his
regrettable comments on homosexuality (e.g. 1st Timothy 1.9-10 follows 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 in content and style, but is generally doubted to have been written by Paul). Jesus seems to have been more open-minded in terms of his views on the role of women.

Blogger CK said...

PB, I just tried to comment on your most recent post. I didn't dive in to the discussion, so I'm not defending myself. But I wonder if there was a misunderstanding, too, about what you were asking for? Did you want an amen about Paul's limitations, help on understanding them, or us to reflect on the good stuff there? If you don't ask, sometimes it's hard to know.

Ogre did mention the the positives of Pauline writing, as did Berrysmom.

Sometimes the response you get on a blog has to do as much with the limitations of the medium as with the limitations of the commenters.

Blogger LaReinaCobre said...

At this moment I am really glad not to be a Christian!

Blogger LaReinaCobre said...

p.s. by that I mean, I have no responsibility in making sense of this. The history of the Bible is pretty overwhelming. Maybe even more so than the "19 sciences" needed before one can "correctly" interpret the Qur'an.

Blogger Chalicechick said...

As someone lacking a theological education, I'm afraid I haven't the first clue why we would refer to Paul as the author if we don't think that's the case.

I realize I'm the clueless one for not knowing what it looks like everyone else assumed, but some help understanding why the post and every response still refers to the works as being written by Paul and draws inferences about Paul from them would be much appreciated.


Blogger PeaceBang said...

CK, I guess my question is, when people don't ask us anything in particular of us when sharing a religious struggle, how is it that we mostly assume they're itching for debate, edification or correction? Because I think we do assume that. Our typical behaviors would certainly suggest so.

I wonder what our relationships would be like if we didn't need to be asked for anything in particular, and if we just *assumed* that in most cases, folks sharing religious thoughts out loud were just trying to encourage mutual reflection, not lecturing, correcting, debating or edifying?

Blogger fausto said...

Ouch, PB. You convicted me with your latest post, to which you blocked responses. Good on ya. I do sometimes like to argue and show off too much, I guess, and I like to hang out where other people do, too.

On the other hand, I think it's difficult to invite comments on Scripture, and especially on passages as controversial and prone to abuse and misinterpretation as the submission of wives and slaves in Ephesians 5 and 6, without anticipating wide variations in the level of scriptural literacy, the sort of hermeneutical assumptions held, and the subjectivity of the responses that will be provoked, among your audience. (As a lay UU interested in the Bible, I've discovered that similar variation also exists even among the clergy, although perhaps it should be more surprising to find it there.)

I don't think it's inappropriate to try to enter such a conversation by trying to explicitly identify some otherwise hidden hermeneutical premises, although perhaps some poor attempts at pith or snark were misplaced. There really are UUs who still do read the Bible as if it were (or as if it had no other worthwhile meaning unless it were) the direct utterance of God -- who think that the fundies do understand the meaning of the Bible correctly, and that if we don't agree with their understanding we must reject the authority and validity of the text entirely. There really are UUs who aren't familiar enough with the idea of "progressive revelation" to recognize that it has anything to tell us about how to read the Bible in context, or how to compare our own moral sensibilities with those of the ancients. There really are UUs who aren't aware of the intimate connection between the history of their own covenanted, communal denomination and the birth of American democracy or the final refutation of slavery as a scripturally-justified institution.

You conjure up all these specters when you speak of words that resonate across thousands of years, and of hating to see them diminished by an author speaking in a limited time and place. You conjure them when you read Eph 5:22-24 in the same oppressive way that fundies do rather than in the reciprocal context of the preceding verse as the author probably intended, and then say you have to go take some Advil. If it's bad for us to speak up about these things and provide the remaining unspoken context because we sound like bickering know-it-all showoffs, isn't it even worse to keep silent and allow toxic negative assumptions to continue to sleep undisturbed, or to speak only in a way that reinforces and affirms them?

And if you knew any or all of this already, none of my/our smartypants remarks necessarily mean that I/we supposed you didn't. In an open rather than closed conversation like this one, it's enough to have supposed that some other readers wouldn't.

Blogger CK said...

I guess my question is, when people don't ask us anything in particular of us when sharing a religious struggle, how is it that we mostly assume they're itching for debate, edification or correction?

I'm not disputing that we do that. One of the things I'm learning from my covenant group (which Lizard Eater remarked on, in conjunction with your post) is how to listen well, and bite my tongue when I think I have something to "contribute."

My respone to your chastening rod was both--"right on, we need that" and "wait a second, what just happened?" The comment was more directed to the latter.

This is why blogging is challenging, especially (I think) for the extroverted, which I will assume you are....typically my posts have been churned over and over, and I know what exactly I want people to say, or comment, and I'm not often sharing experiences but wanting critical response. For the bloggers who are emoting, getting analytical comments in return is frustrating. (By the way, this applies equally to relationships--I have learned this lesson over and over! Just ask Liz how many times she shares, and I respond with analysis.)

End of lengthy comment goes like this: maybe it would be helpful for those of us who are more logical to have some kind of cue (since body language isn't present to help interpret) as to what your post is aimed at.

This is also an opportunity to push Wordpress which gives you categories....

Blogger CK said...

I wonder what our relationships would be like if we didn't need to be asked for anything in particular, and if we just *assumed* that in most cases, folks sharing religious thoughts out loud were just trying to encourage mutual reflection, not lecturing, correcting, debating or edifying?

Oh, and in response to this--I'd say, generally confusing. Communication goes both ways, and I can try to intuit and assume all I want on a blog, but there are certain verbal cues, lacking context, that I (and I think others) need.

Now if we were in a coffee shop, sharing how our weeks were going, and what we were reading and meditating on, and you said to me what you did in your post, I would probably respond with a follow-up question, to understand.

But we ain't in no coffee shop, we're on a blog! :)

Blogger fausto said...

Good points, CK. I think PB thought she was inviting one kind of conversation, but some of us thought she was inviting another.

Blogger LT said...

In response to Berrysmom, I have posted my comments on my new blog: thelivelytradition.

Blogger chutney said...

I wonder what our relationships would be like if we didn't need to be asked for anything in particular, and if we just *assumed* that in most cases, folks sharing religious thoughts out loud were just trying to encourage mutual reflection, not lecturing, correcting, debating or edifying?

Peacebang, after reading your last post, I have to ask: are you sure that you're following your own advice with your commenters?

Would it not be more fruitful for you to either (a) close down comments entirely, lest you not like the ones you not like or (b) indicate exactly what you'd like your commenters to say? (Or perhaps write their comments for them?) This is twice now since GA that you've "chastened" your readers for not towing your line. Just because you want to play wedding doesn't mean everyone has to dance. Just because you want to play funeral doesn't mean everyone has to cry.

You choose to write in a medium where your sermons get talkback. So it goes, so it goes.

Blogger Mystical Seeker said...

Bart Ehrman argues in his book "Lost Christianities" that Paul was actually quite feminist in his perspective on the role of women, and if you look at his bona fide epistles, you do find evidence of this. This feminist notion was so offensive to the later developing orthodoxy that when the later forgeries were written in his name--like the one to the Ephesians--that anti-feminist ideas were reinserted by those who wanted to re-establish the hegemony of men in the church.

Here is what Ehrman says: In his undisputed letters, Paul indicates that "in Christ there is no male and female" (Gal. 3:28), that is, that men and women were completely equal in Christ. Moreover, as scholars of the late twentieth century began to emphasize, churches connected in some way with Paul appear to have had women leaders. Just in the greetings to the church of Rome, for example, Paul mentions several women who worked with him as Christian missionaries (Rom. 16:3, 6, 12), another who was the patron of the church m eeting in her home (16:3), one other, a woman named Phoebe, who was a deacon in the church of Cenchrea (16:1), and most striking of all, yet another woman, Junia, whom Paul describes as "foremost among the apostles" (16:7).

Blogger PeaceBang said...

Chutney, I am hosting a salon here, not "posting sermons." Your very concept of the purpose of my blog is wrong in the first place.
My concept of what should be happening here, not yours, is how I shape both my postings and my response to the comments.

I am a minister and I write as a minister. When people flood here by the hundreds and read my posts (or each other's comments) not in the spirit of listening and reflection but with wild projections and aggressive, drive-by intellectualism, I will intervene. Not only for me, but for everyone.
My goals are not just to mediate what happens on PeaceBang, but to influence what happens in our congregations. Any time I can use this blog to get us to think about how our blogging dysfunctions may be analagous to our congregational dysfunctions, I will.

The ridiculous projections that were flung about when I happened to mention that I use the word LORD was abundant evidence to me that, unless I direct the way I am read and responded to, many of my readers will use me as a punching bag to work out their myriad tensions with religious leaders and authority of all kinds.
When I close the comments it is analagous to calling for a moment of silence at a contentious meeting.

Your hostility to my mindful management of the tone and rules of engagement on this blog are revealing. It fascinates me how some readers persist in treating me as the Mommy Blogger/Theologian they should either please, attack, or rebel from. I understand this dynamic, as it's rare for a Unitarian Universalist to speak from personal religious conviction using explicitly theological language, but it's still shocking when it gets out of hand.

I will continue to close the comments when they degenerate so far from the spirit of the original post that they become an exercise in pure projection.

Finally, one of the reasons this blog is successful is that I engage with the community and respond to the comments. When the comments become so toxic I have no desire to get near them, the health of the blog is imperiled.
So in blocking them at times, I am protecting the author of this blog. If that is objectionable to you, or if you feel that it's infuriating that I choose to use the Blogger option to close the comments from time to time, by all means refrain from visiting. We're all volunteers here.

Blogger ms. kitty said...

PB, I sympathize with your expressed need to be HEARD, not critiqued. It reminds me of the need of participants in groups like 12-step, etc., to talk without fear of being critiqued. You are asking to be heard, with no "crosstalk".

Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be the nature of a blog. I think when we're blogging, we have to grit our teeth and recognize that our ideas and thoughts have become part of the universe and are up for unfettered comment.

It's way easy to let our egos dictate our response to critique. As ministers, we don't have that luxury. And we're ministers when we're on the blog or on the job. A tough truth to get our minds around.

Blogger PeaceBang said...

Kitty, see my response to Chutney. And I don't think you've understood my objections, which are not that I want to be heard and not critiqued, but that we as communities often walk into every conversation from an assumption that it's an opportunity to display our knowledge and exert intellectual dominance.
I am pointing out here that it's an ugly quality on a blog just as it's an ugly quality in the church.
Notice that some readers simply do not want to hear this, and use my intervention as an opportunity to compulsively post yet MORE information, or to throw mini temper tantrums at me for exercising my option to close the comments on the "chastising" post.

Blogs can be all kinds of things: there is no one "nature of a blog." This blog is very interested in conversation and "cross-talk," but I will always reserve the right to intervene when the conversation degenerates into pure projection or when it painfully illustrates what I believe are our worst tendencies.

Just as a minister's responsibility is to constantly assess the spiritual well-being of the community and to occasionally steer the ship to better waters, so it is the religious blogger's responsibility to steer the blogging community to a place of better integrity when it

Blogger CK said...

Not to prolong a discussion of pedantics, but would it be worthwhile to post about your purpose, and then retain a permalink in the sidebar about what you are doing in this place?

Then you can easily refer readers to your concept of your space, into which you've invited us.

I've seen many successful blogs do such a thing--it helps those of us with a more analytical bent (which can get cranky and nitpicky) join into a conversation. It's far easier to begin by inviting conversation than to try to reign in a discussion when it's gone down a path you don't like.

That said, I will stop leaving 'suggestions' as it is your blog. I usually enjoy your style and the substance of your posts--my suggestions are primarily administrative. I think it might help moderate things, but again, it is your choice.

ck--Waiting for some more PB posts to converse on....

Blogger Caroline Divine said...

I know I'm just an Anglican interloper here, but I wanted to weigh in and say I really like CK's idea of posting about your purpose, PB. While all blogs are different, there are some things that tend to happen in the blogospheres because of the nature of the medium -- the rapid pace, the way it's easy to be impulsive rather than reflective and contemplative, and so on. So declaring your space a reflective space or whatever you wish to declare it, with some guidlines permanently posted, is a great idea. Truth in advertising and all that -- and like that folks know what they've signed on to. And it gives you some leverage to moderate the comments while remaining welcoming.

If you think things get nasty here, you shoulda seen the Episco-blogopshere during and after the recent General Convention. Aieeee. So, it's not just a UU thing, believe me. I think we're all making our way in this new medium and finding out what can happen. So the seach for new rules (or guidelines) and boundaries goes on, especially among bloggers and blog owners dedicated to civil and constructive conversation.

I do understand what you're saying about how the blog conversation can reflect or parallel the community/congregation conversations, and you're right on. I'm just saying there are *also* particular reflexes and situations that get exacerbated in blog-land and that many blog owners do need to moderate, or write a (gasp, oy) mission statement of sorts (but not, thank the Goddess, by committee -- don't you HATE writing by committee? but I digress).

And then of course the blog thing takes on a life of its own... (One of my blogger friends, not affiliated religiously, was blogging furiously about the dynamics of his workplace and some of his and his companions' love lives and artistic lives, with pseudonyms of course since he is a man of delicacy and discretion, and his mother, in one of those inimitable mother-to-adult-child phone conversations, said to him, "Sam [a pseudonym, I too am a person of discretion], are you living your life or blogging it?"

But I know you don't just blog, you contemplate cubs, and that one you posted recently is a creature of beauty.

Going to go listen to some birds now.

Peace out,

Caroline Divine

Blogger ms. kitty said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Blogger ms. kitty said...

See Ms. Kitty's Saloon and Road Show for some thoughts on the Viscous (not vicious) Circle of blogging.

Blogger MauKatt said...

Yeah, I know what you mean. I've found myself being totally blown away by the insights from some author, whether contemporary or ancient, and then some ~comment~ about women, gays, other belief structures, whatever... jumps in and brings me screeching to a halt.

And it doesn't seem to matter that I can rally round all my intellectual defenses about ingrained cultural viewpoints, societal influences, interpretational variances, or even human fallibility. It's still that ~emotional~ speedbump that derails what had otherwise been a great spiritual "groove."

Blogger PeaceBang said...

Mau, EXACTLY. Thanks.

Blogger Chalicechick said...

Don't worry, I'm sure they'd feel the same way about us.


Blogger jean said...

Just recently discovered your blogs via QG. Why be surprised and shocked that Paul was a man of his time? Do we not all suffer from the same failing?

BTW, the revolutionary thing about that passage is that Paul advises husbands to LOVE their wives even as Christ loved the church--and he also gives instructions to masters as well as slaves.


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