Three Debates in the Week of Mutuality

I’ve been following Rachel Held Evans’ Week of Mutuality, which is about Christian egalitarianism.  I’ve learned more about at least three debates.  In this post, I’ll talk about what I learned about these debates on Rachel’s blog.

1.  The first debate concerns the meaning of kephale in I Corinthians 11:3, which (in the KJV) says: “But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.”  Kephale is the word that the KJV translates as “head”.  Others contend, however, that the word should be translated as “source”.  Does kephale in I Corinthians 11:3 mean that the man has authority over the woman, or that man was the source of the woman (when God made the woman out of man at creation, I assume). 

Some scholars argue that there is not a whole lot of evidence that kephale can mean “source”.  D.A. Carson says on page 37 of Exegetical Fallacies (and I have edited the passage, since I do not know how to put Greek fonts in a blog post):

“The Mickelsens make much of the idea ‘head of a river’ as the river’s ‘source’; but in all such cases cited by LSJ, the word is plural, kaphalai.  The only example listed by LSJ where kephale (sing.) means ‘source’ or ‘origin’ is the document the Fragmenta Ophilcorum, from the fifth century B.C. or earlier, which is both textually uncertain and patient of more than one translation.  Although some of the New Testament metaphorical uses of kephale could be taken to mean ‘source,’ all other factors being equal, in no case is that the required meaning; and in every instance the notion of ‘headship’ implying authority fits equally well or better.  The relevant lexica are full of examples, all culled from the ancient texts, in which kephale connotes authority.”

Other scholars, however, maintain that kephale can mean “source” in I Corinthians 11:3.  Suzanne McCarthy has written posts on the meaning of kephale (see here).  She appears to overlap with Carson on what the data are—-kephale appears to mean “source” in a fifth century B.C.E. document, and there aren’t other places where it unequivocally means that.  But she brings up other considerations: that kephale and arche (which can mean “source”) are treated as synonymous “from the time of the Orphic fragment, in 500 B.C.E. to the time of Cyril of Alexandria in the 5th century A.D.”; and that there are very few places where kephale refers to being in authority.  Wayne Grudem argues the opposite (see here), but then he and Suzanne interpret certain passages differently and offer arguments for their respective positions: are these passages in question talking about authority, pre-eminence (without authority), or something else? 

In my opinion, the simplest interpretation of I Corinthians 11 is that the passage is saying that women are subordinate to men, and so women need to wear a head-covering as a sign of their subordination.  I’m not saying this sort of attitude is right, but that’s what the text appears to me to say.  But I have to admit that I have not thoroughly researched egalitarian interpretations of this passage.

2.  In Romans 16:7, Paul appears to refer to Junia as an apostle.  Junia was a female name.  So were there female apostles in the early Christian church?

In a post, Rachel Held Evans presents Junia as a female apostle.  She notes that a fourth century bishop, John Chrysostom, regarded Junia as a woman, and she states that a later medieval theologian made Junia a man by turning her name into “Junias”. 

A commenter, P.M., accused Rachel of selectively referring to evidence:

“As has been stated on the blog numerous times, people pick and choose. Since Rachel has chosen to pick  the early church father Chrysostom who died in A.D. 407 as one who referred to Junia as a woman, I’ll choose the early church father Origen who died in 252  as one who referred to Junia as a man. I’ll also mention the early church historian
Epiphanius who died in 403 also refers to him as being a man.”

Suzanne McCarthy, however, argues in this article that there is more to the story, and that there is good reason to believe that Junia was a woman:

“David Jones, in his article on the CBMW website, states that Origen also referred to Junias as a male. In fact, it is only in a 12th century manuscript of Rufinus’ Latin paraphrase of Origen’s commentary on Romans, that the variant Junias is found. In the critical text for Rufinus, the conclusion is that Rufinus had used the feminine, as is found in the majority of the copies of his work.

“There is no scholarly argument remaining today that Origen, or any Greek author – other than Epiphanius ‐ ever mentioned the masculine name Junias, from the earliest manuscripts up to our present day Greek Bibles and church calendar. In the Greek Orthodox Church today, Junia is a saint and considered one of the seventy apostles. It is not unheard of for the Greek church to honour female apostles. Saint Nina is another. This does not mean that they were ordained as priests, and I will not be discussing that in this post. In addition to this evidence for a feminine Junia, there is an icon which clearly demonstrates that Junia was a woman.”

“Epiphanius…referred to Junias as a masculine name. However, this is usually discounted as he also called Prisca ‘Priscus’ a man. In general, scholars agree that all Greek and Latin authors before the 12th century referred to Junia as a female, and some referred to her as an apostle.”

3.  Galatians 3:28 says (in the KJV): “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Some argue that Galatians 3:28 does not imply that women can serve as pastors or have the roles that belong to men, but rather affirms that they are spiritually equal with men before God—-which supposedly has nothing to do with their roles. 

KR Wordgazer (whose blog is here), however, does not think that one can easily divorce spiritual status from its social implications: “savation was not really separated in the manner you are describing, from the rest of Christian life in the minds of the apostles.  In any event, Galatians 3:28 is simply not just about ‘salvation’ in the sense of relating to God– or Paul would not, earlier in the letter, have related how he rebuked Peter for refusing to eat with the Gentiles.  Also, Galatians 3 goes on into Chapter 4, the first part of which is all about our equal status as ‘adopted sons.’  ‘Adopted sons’ as understood by Paul and his audience, was not just about future inheritance, but about current status and privileges.”

The spiritual equality of Jews and Greeks had social implications—-they could eat together.  I think what KR Wordgazer is saying is that the spiritual equality of men and women was likewise believed by Paul to have social implications, in the direction of egalitarianism.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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