Monday, March 17, 2014

The Revolutionary Treatment of Women in Early Christian Communities

"Husbands have the obligation of loving and caring for their wives the same way they love and care for their own bodies, for to love your wife is to love your own self." 

In the West of the 21st century, those words have lost much of the punch the original audience must have felt. This sentence does not feel very revolutionary to me and probably not to you either. But not so for the AD 60 readers of this letter from Paul (Ephesians 5:28) to the growing church in Ephesus in present day Turkey. Paul's words would have offended many of the men.....and felt like the dawning of a new day for many of the women. 

In those days, in that part of the world, the value of women was low, as just two examples illustrate: One rabbinical prayer went this way, “Blessed are you, O God…that I’m not a brute creature, nor a Gentile, nor a woman.” And in Jewish society of the day, men could divorce their wives....but not the other way around. 

Paul's words were revolutionary, and helped bring about the more equitable treatment women enjoy today in the West. And the Gospel will do the same for women as it permeates cultures that still today hold women behind the veil and in low esteem. 

Today, his words are good medicine for me and all who are husbands. He is giving us a yardstick to measure how we treat and love our wives: as well as we treat our own selves.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

What Did Paul Mean When He Wrote "The Head of a Wife is Her Husband"?

We all use metaphors to abbreviate communication, or to make it more interesting or meaningful.  For example, if my friend asks me if I am going to the meeting this afternoon, and I respond, "no, I'm going to save my bullets for the game tonight", he'll know right away that I'm going to miss the afternoon meeting so I can save my energy for more exertion later.  My answer has nothing to do with storing up ammunition for the game.  That's a metaphor: we say or write something, but use it to refer to something else.

Metaphors are common in languages other than our own, and they have a long history around the world.  Biblical writing is sometimes metaphoric.  How Biblical metaphors are interpreted makes a LOT of difference in the meaning of the passage.

Here, for example, is 1 Corinthians 11:3 But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.  How are we to interpret the word "head" in this passage?

Clearly, Paul (author of this letter to the Corinthian church) is not talking about a literal head with hair, a mouth, ears, eyes, nose and teeth.  That makes no sense.  Therefore, he must be using the word head as a metaphor.  So, what is the metaphoric meaning of "head" in this case?

Meanings of words and metaphors change over time. Before we assume that today's use of "head" as a metaphor is correct, we need to understand what Paul meant with his metaphor, and what his original audience would have understood him to be communicating to them. More on this in a minute.

In 21st century English usage, the obvious interpretation of Paul's metaphor is "leader."  We use it all the time.  For example, if I write,  "Sue is the head of the purchasing department" it is clear to us that Sue is the leader of that department.

That is our understanding today, and it is easy to project our understanding of that metaphor onto Paul's words.  I know I have.  It is easy to assume that he meant something like this: ".....the leader of every man is Christ, the leader of a wife is her husband, and the leader of Christ is God."  And from that interpretation of "head" as "leader," we might chart our interpretation in a hierarchy something like this:

God is leader over
Christ, who is leader over
Man, who is leader over

But there is an interesting problem with at least the first half of this interpretation:  it is heresy!

Arius, an Egyptian Christian leader and theologian of the 4th century, had been teaching that Christ was subservient to God; a teaching that the Council of Nicea deemed heretical in AD 325.  Since then, the Church has taught that the three persons of the Trinity are co-equal, and that any other teaching is dangerously wrong.

If the hierarchical interpretation of "the leader of Christ is God" is probably not what Paul intended, then what about the rest of the passage?  Note that the same Greek word, "kephale", is used throughout this verse.

Here's where understanding what the metaphor meant to Paul and the original readers in the church at Corinth will help.  We can't ask them, so anything we come up with will be informed speculation at best.  Nevertheless, there are clues.

Some commentators (examples appended below) write that a common understanding of the metaphoric usage of the word "head" to 1st century Greeks was "source".  Actually, we still use that meaning today; for example, the headwaters of the Sacramento River are the source of that river.

Perhaps what Paul was telling the Corinthians -- and us today -- is this: ....the source of every man is Christ, and the source of woman is man, and the source of Christ is the Godhead.  (Suggested by Phillip B Payne, Man and Woman, One in Christ).  That perspective might make our chart look like this now:

The Godhead is the source of 
Christ, who is the source of
Man, who is the source of 
(God took Eve from Adam's side)

If that is a more accurate interpretation of Paul's metaphor, it opens the door to a different view of the order of men and women in the Kingdom than perhaps most of us have understood.  

Maybe Paul wasn't commenting at all on who should lead in a marriage.

Thanks to Rich Schmidt for showing us this for the first time.

See, for examples:

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Serve Your Employers Wholeheartedly and with Love

Never saw it quite this way before....

"Serve your employers wholeheartedly and with love, as though you were serving Christ and not men. Be assured that anything you do that is beautiful and excellent will be repaid by our Lord, whether you are an employee or an employer."

This is Ephesians 6:7&8 from a recent translation of the earliest and best Greek and Aramaic texts of this letter from the Apostle Paul. As I read that this morning it spoke directly to me more clearly than ever before.

What I found as I compared it to a more familiar English version of the Bible is the words "slave" and "master". I have read this passage many times over the years, and I have always understood the point and tried to follow this instruction.

But I never felt it so directly pointed at me as I did today. Then it hit me: always in the past I have, at some level, seen this instruction as written to slaves. And while "slave" is the actual translation of the Greek word that Paul used, this instruction really applies to anyone working for someone else, as this translation points out.

Chalk up one more reason for reading the Bible in various translations!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Is Your Papa the God of the Universe?

Is God also your papa? 
Is your papa also God? 

Our friend and Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry classmate David Jackson posed this question recently. It's an important question, because it impacts how that relationship works in our hearts.

When I was a boy, all I knew was that my dad went to work and did things at a desk. I found out as I grew up that at the peak of his career he supervised worldwide exploration for one of the biggest oil companies in the world. But even then, I related to him as a father who was good to me and my family, not as an important man who found oil for the use of millions of people.

Here's the point: if I see God first as my daddy, a good father, then I expect one kind of relationship. If I see Him first as the creator of the universe, the King of kings....and then as a Father, then it has a different relational feel.

I choose to see Him first as my abba, my Father who gives good gifts and loves me beyond what I deserve or hope. He is also the King, but I am His son, his prince. When I talk to Him, I choose to talk to Him as my father....who is also Him who flung stars into space.

How does it work for you?

Friday, February 07, 2014

The Greatest of these is Love

An older gentleman hobbled into the gym this morning.  He was using crutches to slowly make his way between the rows of exercise machines to the dressing room.  I could see he was in pain.

Nearly finished with my own exercise routine, I continued on the treadmill, reading my book.  

A few minutes later, he emerged from the dressing room wearing simple exercise gear.  He slowly worked his way to one of the exercise cycles, painfully mounted up, and slowly began to pedal.

"Encourage him," I heard inside me.  
"No...don't do that; he might take it badly," another thought insisted.

But as I walked out of the dressing room, I knew that I would speak to him.  Love had won out over fear.  I have learned much in the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry, and one of the greatest lessons has been an even deeper understanding the supernatural power of love.

I walked up to him on the cycle.  His face wondered at the intrusion into his space.

"You have great courage to press on when it is so hard, " I said to his thirsty heart.  "You are an inspiration," I continued.  "An inspiration."

"It's so hard," he said as my love entered his soul.  "I don't want to keep going."

"Keep going!" I said encouragingly.  "You are an inspiration."

I turned to leave....our conversation lasting perhaps 10 seconds.  But I could see the simple act of love had given him fresh hope.

"Thanks," he said with a small smile.  "Have a great day."

I waved.  

For there are these three things that endure: Faith, Hope and Love, but the greatest of these is Love. I Corinthians 13:13