Speaking of Women: Interpreting Paul – Andrew Perriman

Speaking of womenI find it hard to rate books on goodreads, especially books that make arguments, in order words non-fiction; of the theological kind, academic or any other so called serious book in comparison to fiction where the content doesn’t necessarily need to be True. Fiction should be judged on the beauty aspect, whether it moves the soul as well as the mind, if such distinctions could ever be scientifically made. Serious books too are judged on how well they are written, not just on whether the arguments they make are sound and valid.

With that said, I’d like point out that I particularly found this book quite enjoyable and I wouldn’t expect anything less from a writer who studied English at Oxford. There is nothing I hate more than truth badly expressed, even when the writing is academic where too much emotive language is discouraged. This book excels in articulating its viewpoint clearly and in such an engaging fashion.

My Introduction is loaded with a ‘but’ that you’re sure was eventually going to reach you, but like a bus you’ve been waiting for in the rain, there are more than two coming your way.

The arguments for the Egalitarian position in this book, which the Author, helpfully identifies himself with at the outset are mostly invalid as they do not naturally flow from their various premises. A prime example can be found from the early chapter on the word for headship used in the Bible – kephalē. Andrew Perriman lists several Biblical and Ancient uses of the word to mean Ruler, Leader, Army General, Tribal Elders, the Mind, Ptolemy II Piladelphus, Physical head, Summit. From this usage survey, He concludes that:

“Little evidence has emerged from this examination of passages outside the Septuagint to make me change my view that in common usage the kephalē metaphor signified no more than that someone or something was prominent or preeminent. Where the association with the person of a ruler is strongest, we also find that kephale most clearly belongs either to a distinct literary or philosophical context or to the larger metaphor of the body. Even then it is arguable that the meaning of the figure has less to do with the exercise of authority than with the position of the head in relation to the body, or with the significance of the head for the life of the body”

He has successfully then softened the meaning of kephalē from denoting Authority to just that of preeminence or prominence which too must be said come with connotations of Authority or Rule. Afterall, is not the word preeminence used by Rulers in their title and of Christ, the first-born of all creation, which doesn’t make him a created being but recognises his rule over his Church. Though we cannot shed the use of the word Authority from the tyranny associated with it, we cannot though deny the positive meaning of the word especially when it comes of the Authority of Christ, knowing that he gave his life for his subjects.

The strongest arguments are those pertaining to the cultural context in which Paul writes. The culture required that men have preeminence in society and so, Perriman argues that in order not to invite unnecessary scorn on the early christian church, Paul asks the members of the church to adhere to this cultural norm as well. Which then means since, this no longer applies we should move in the same direction as the culture by affirming that women could hold Pastoral positions (Beyond that of Deacon as agreed by most Biblical scholars). The book concludes on this point, that it will be embarrassing for the Church to not follow in the same direction as the culture as Paul would.

At the outset however, Perriman claims to be coming from a mainly exegetical standpoint and though cultural context should be brought to bear in our exegesis, he fails to argue the egalitarian position strictly from the text alone and so the context is made to have a greater say that the plain reading of scripture’s words.

The appendix on the NIV inclusive language controversy brought the arguments to bear on a practical issue. Although I agree that this is down to what translation philosophy we are to follow, either a word for word translation which will surely be quite clunky or the intended meaning in today’s language. If the latter then there wont be any problem with using He/She or them or people in cases where the masculine form is used in a plural sense to denote both men and women. But in making the bible more accessible to today’s culture do we not then become unfaithful to the original text especially in the case of 2Timothy2:2, did Paul mean that Timothy should have people, and not specifically men entrusted with the main teaching done in the Church.

Nevertheless, I am still grateful for this book as it presents the egalitarian position as best as I have read so far, although I found the over-exegesis at times tedious.

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