Lance Pape, now the Granville and Erline Walker Assistant Professor of Homiletics at Brite Divinity School, is one of the original founders and first editor of gal328.org; as such, he authored this “FRO”–because at gal328.org we don’t just get “Frequently Asked Questions,” we get “Frequently Raised Objections.”
FRO (Frequently Raised Objections)
1. Do you really pronounce the site name “gal three twenty-eight dot org”? Isn’t the word “gal” sexist? It’s ironic that your site’s name perpetuates a damaging stereotype.
Lighten up. It’s meant to make you smile when you say it.
Jesus embraced Samaritans against all odds, yet he did not choose any Samaritans as apostles. God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, breaking down the dividing wall between Jews and Gentiles, yet Jesus did not choose any Gentiles as apostles. In Christ there is no longer male and female, yet Jesus did not choose any women as apostles. Jesus was no “respecter of persons,” but his ministry had to be conducted within the constraints of a particular historical context.
Furthermore, the number (12) and kind (Jewish men) of the apostles function symbolically to recall the twelve tribes descended from the sons of Jacob, thus designating Jesus’ new community of followers as the New Israel descended from twelve.
In the final analysis, the “demographics” of the apostles no more suggest exclusively male leadership as Jesus’ vision for the church than they suggest exclusively Jewish leadership as Jesus’ vision for the church.
3. Aren’t you afraid you might be wrong? Why risk your eternal soul over something you can’t possibly be sure about?
Granting that well-meaning people may disagree about the Bible’s teaching on gender, there is no compelling reason to assume that the traditional, restrictive position is theologically “safe.” The status quo is self-authenticating. It creates the illusion of safety while depicting alternative visions of community life as inherently risky. But in light of God’s self-disclosure in both Testaments as the advocate of the voiceless, the liberator of the oppressed, the friend of the marginal, and the reverser of human power structures, I submit that when the status quo restricts and excludes in God’s name, it is profoundly risky and should bear the full burden of proof.
4. Gender justice is a sell-out to culture. Secular feminism raised this issue and now you are trying to make the Bible conform to a secular agenda.
There is no doubt that gender justice is enjoying a lot of attention in our culture. Violence against women, objectification of women through pornography (including the soft porn of mainstream advertising), lower pay for equal work—in so many ways our enlightened democratic society is coming to grips with the reality that gender discrimination has led to all kinds of gross injustice. As during the movements for abolition in the 19th and civil rights in the 20th century, the world outside our church doors is rumbling once again with profound change. I am convinced that, once again, God is at work in such rumblings.
I submit that these rumblings are a third chance for us. Do we really want to repeat the hardness of heart that allowed us to defend the supposed Biblical warrants for slavery right up to the moment when we were dragged kicking and screaming into God’s future? Do we really want to repeat the rigid thinking that made our Christian colleges some of the last to embrace racially equitable admission policies? What is needed now are people who take Scripture seriously and who can read it courageously with the fresh eyes that our new, God-given moment makes necessary and possible. God does new things (Isaiah 43:19) and awakens in his children new capacities to discern the new thing in their midst. Just ask the daring souls who decided the question of the inclusion of the Gentiles (Acts 15). There was plenty of Scripture to quote both ways on that question, but the more inclusive vision carried the day to the glory of God and our eternal benefit. Scripture, like the God of Scripture, is living and active. Take another look in the light of a new context; you may be surprised what you find there.
5. What about 1 Timothy 2:11-15 and 1 Corinthians 14:33b-36? Shouldn’t it tell you something that you have to work so hard to “explain away” texts like these? The plain sense of these texts seems clear enough.
The simple fact is that sometimes the truth really is complicated. When a passage insists that women “will be saved through child-bearing” (1 Timothy 2:15) rather than by grace through faith, we are on notice that something is up—something complicated.
Our context plays a huge role in determining which passages seem perfectly clear, and which need to “be explained.” To a plantation owner in the deep South circa 1860, the implications of Ephesians 6:5-6 seemed clear enough:
Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ; not only while being watched, and in order to please them, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.
A century and a half later, in a new context, we are not persuaded by the claim that the ownership of one human being by another is part of the God-ordained order of creation. We are utterly unconvinced by the once seemingly self-evident claim that this arrangement enjoys a universal, Christological endorsement.
What is needed is interpretive humility, and a sensitivity to the theological undercurrents in Scripture. I am convinced that Galatians 3 and Acts 15 recommend themselves as good starting points for thinking theologically about gender while 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2 do not. For a detailed annotated bibliography of the relevant literature, see our “Readings” page. And we will continue to provide resources on the “Articles” page that explain and clarify our understanding of the Bible’s egalitarian vision of gender relations.
6. You chose Galatians 3:28 as the theme verse for your site. Aren’t you aware that Galatians 3:28 is simply saying that both men and women enjoy equally the promise of salvation?
Obviously the argument of Galatians is concerned primarily with the question of Jews and Gentiles, not men and women. And, strictly speaking, the conflict doesn’t appear to be a boundary or “salvation” dispute (“Are the Gentiles in or not?”) so much as a status dispute (“Can an uncircumcised Gentile ever really be ‘in’?”).
This is a growing scholarly consensus that is well illustrated in the story Paul relates in Galatians 2:11-14. Paul recalls an incident in which he chastised Peter as a hypocrite when he was persuaded by Jewish peers to refuse table fellowship to Gentiles in Antioch. Paul counted Peter’s treatment of Gentiles as an affront to “the truth of the Gospel.”
Apparently, the “no longer Jew and Gentile” of Galatians 3:28 is not only a claim about Jews and Gentiles sharing equally in the promise of salvation, if by “salvation” we mean an other-worldly designation with no concrete social implications. We can scarcely imagine Paul consoling Gentiles forced to sit at a separate table with the assurance that they are equal in God’s sight, but must resign themselves to a different “role” in the community. In Galatians, Paul argues and imagines a community with no second-class citizens. For Paul, the new status enjoyed by both Jews and Gentiles “in Christ” is the reality that trumps all others—a “new creation” that will be reflected in every facet of community life.
Since the claims about race, class, and gender appear in parallel in Galatians 3:28, I submit that the burden of proof is on those who want to say that the implications for gender are not analogous to those for race. I further submit that Galatians 3:28 may be the best window into Paul’s theology of gender—one that is not complicated and obscured by the (largely unknown) circumstantial crises of gender that precipitated 1 Corinthians 14, and 1 Timothy 2.
7. Churches of Christ have a long history of quarreling over opinions and majoring in minors. This gender justice thing is just another example. Shouldn’t you be paying more attention to core issues like evangelism?
I resonate with this concern. Given our history, we should take great care in choosing the issues that receive our attention. I can only say in good faith that I am convinced that time will show that gender justice is different. I think history will someday show that it is as important to the truth of the gospel as the full inclusion of the Gentiles in the first century, and the important milestones of class inclusion championed by American Christians in the 19th (abolition) and 20th (civil rights) centuries.
Paul could say that “the truth of the gospel” was at stake in the way Gentile converts were treated by Jewish Christians at Antioch (Gal. 2:11-14). And, of course, the status of Gentiles in the community did have profound implications for the spread of the Gospel of grace in Paul’s mission field. Paul understood that the Good News was not really good news to the Gentiles of Asia Minor or Greece if it involved inviting them into the community of faith as second-class citizens. How could they have been expected to receive it as Good News on those terms?
I think that in the 21st century we will face similar problems on gender unless we work hard to come to terms with the last of the three claims in Galatians 3:28 (“no longer male and female”).
For a narrative approach to this same idea, I recommend “Elijah’s Twelfth,” a little piece of historical fiction by Dale Pauls that teases out the troubling evangelistic implications of dismissing justice issues as peripheral to the gospel.