Dear Gulf Coast Leaders,
This Sunday is also Father’s Day.
Prayer List – Our prayers go out to Pastor John Hunsicker and family. John’s mother passed away this week. She would have been 100 on Friday. We’ll keep you appraised of service arrangements, possibly Saturday at Swiss Alp.
Lectionary – A summary of the upcoming lessons.
Gulf Spill – Call to prayer and action.
Hurricane Season – Prepare.
Since the 4th of July falls on a Sunday this year, consider using ELW 887 as hymn of the month, though perhaps not as slowly as this choir.
Join me for a continuing ed event on preaching this summer. With the author of The Four Pages of the Sermon, at TLU this summer. Preaching as God Talk. Register here.
I’m reading The First Paul, by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan. Borg will be our presenter at the next Theological Conference.
Borg and Crossan spend some time talking about this Sunday’s epistle from Galatians 3. But they begin their book on Paul with some things that most readers of Scripture and theology know. Paul’s statement of faith, Jesus is Lord, would have been high treason in the Roman world. Paul never read the gospels, as they had not yet been penned, and would not be until after his death. Paul did not think of himself as having converted to a new religion. He died thinking of himself as a Jew, albeit a Christian Jew. Many of Paul’s statements seem to support slavery, the subjugation of women, and oppression of homosexuals.
But Borg and Crossan also point out some things that I had not considered. They call Paul a Jewish Christ mystic. Mystics speak of ecstatic experiences of God, often involving light. They base their faith on these experiences of God, often thinking of them as enlightenment. Paul had a firsthand experience of Jesus, whom he saw, and who spoke to him. Luke does not record Paul as having seen Jesus when he recounts Paul’s Damascus Road experience (no less than three times), but Paul himself, in his letters, speaks of having “seen” Jesus. Paul’s apostolic identity rests on it. Luke might not consider Paul an apostle (for Luke there are only 12 apostles, and when Judas dies, he is replaced, not by Paul), but Paul is very clear on the matter: “Am I not an apostle?” Paul also speaks of being taken up into the seventh heaven, and mentions other mystical experiences. Paul does not have a philosophy of religion, as much as a life-changing encounter with Jesus.
One more thing before I get to Galatians. Borg and Crossan ask us to consider three Pauls in the New Testament. First is the Radical Paul of the seven undisputed epistles (yes, now there are only seven): Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, I Thessalonians, Philemon. Then consider the Reactionary Paul of the pastoral epistles: 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus. Finally, in the middle, the Conservative Paul of Ephesians, Colossians, and 2 Thessalonians.
Radical Paul is pure Paul. No one doubts that these epistles were written by this guy named Paul. Conservative Paul is somewhat revised, perhaps in his lifetime. There is some debate about whether Paul wrote these or not, though the majority view is not. If he wrote them, he backed off considerably from his original positions. More likely, they were a corrective from a more conservative pseudonymous writer. Finally, the Reactionary Paul presents viewpoints that are in almost every case contradicting some of Paul’s most basic positions. The language is that of the second century. No serious scholar believes these epistles to have been written by Paul.
Most of this is familiar territory for students of theology, though presented in a clearer way than I’ve heard it in years. What made lights come on was comparing Paul’s statements about women and slaves in these very clearly defined camps.
For example, slavery. The Radical Paul’s position on slavery in the undisputed epistles is radical. He tells Philemon that it’s his duty to release Onesimus, and regard him now as a brother. I could command you to do your duty, but instead I’ll appeal to you, even though you owe me your very life…
It may be an appeal, but it doesn’t stop Paul from concluding, “Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, know that you will do even more than I say.” What on earth would lead Paul to consider something like this given the structures of Roman economy and society that everyone took for granted? And of course our text that says for those baptized “into Christ” there is no longer slave or free. How could he possibly imagine something like this?
When you get to the Conservative Paul changes his tune, “Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything, not only while being watched and in order to please them, but wholeheartedly, fearing the Lord…” (Col. 3) “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart…” (Eph. 6) Both passages end with injunctions to masters not to treat their slaves too harshly. I’m fully aware that first century Roman slavery was significantly different than Euro-American enslavement of Africans. Nevertheless, this position is a considerable regression from the Radical Paul. The Conservative Paul considers the Radical Paul a bit too liberal with regard to the norms of Roman society. This Paul is more palatable to the elite classes.
But the Reactionary Paul of Titus eliminates even the reciprocity of the Conservative Paul:
Tell slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect; they are not to talk back, not to pilfer, but to show complete and perfect fidelity, so that in everything they may be an ornament to the doctrine of God our Savior. -Titus 2:9
There is no mutuality whatsoever. Crossan and Borg point out that there is only one single verse, and it begins, “Tell slaves…”
All this reminds me of a very Lutheran principle: All Scripture is not on an equal par. Luther was a scholar. He did not consider James and Romans to have equal weight. We do not treat law and gospel the same.
Passages about women fall very clearly into these three classes as well. The Radical Paul insists on mutuality (see 1 Corinthians 7). Husband and wife injunctions are balanced. Even the decision to abstain from sexual relations for a time must be “by agreement.” The paterfamilias did not seek consent of the wife for much. Radical Paul is egalitarian. Romans 16 mentions several female leaders (and various slave names), and even a female apostle, confirming that Paul felt there were more than 12 male apostles. For 1,000 years every commentator agreed that Junia was a female name, but in the late Medieval period considerable effort was made to turn Junia into a male name for obvious reasons.
In the Conservative Paul of Colossians and Ephesians, instructions to children and parents become instructions to children and their fathers. (Also instructions to slaves and owners becomes instructions to slaves and masters.) Women, children and slaves were considered inferiors. “Wives be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of th wife just as Christ is the head of the church…” However, there is some mutuality, in that there are some instructions for husbands, one of which says husbands should be prepared to give up their lives for their wives, as Christ gave up his life.
The pastoral letters assume that Paul has left Timothy and Titus in charge of Ephesus and Crete, respectively. I wouldn’t want to have been there. The text is forbidding:
Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.
– 1 Timothy 2:11-15
Ouch. Crossan and Borg call this Reactionary Paul, because it is clearly a reaction to what must have been going on. No one would forbid women to teach if it wasn’t already happening. There are no decrees forbidding female senators. It wasn’t even on the radar.
Good heavens, I’ve written an epistle, and haven’t even gotten to Galatians 3. Suffice it to say, this is great reading for those who love to delve deeply into the mind of Paul. Or perhaps I should say the three Pauls. So, on to Galatians 3.
Borg and Crossan ask what about the Jesus event makes it impossible for Philemon to own Onesimus? What is this justice that Paul feels is an obvious consequence of the gospel? To get at it, Borg and Crossan take apart Galatians 3:27-29:
As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free,
there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring,* heirs according to the promise.
They suggest we really shouldn’t quote verse 28 without 27 and 29. It becomes and nice sentiment, but we lose the thrust and source of the conclusion. They also point out that Paul repeats this passage in 1 Corinthians 12:13 without the third example. Notice the construction is the same:
For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body
-Jews or Greeks, slaves or free-
and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
Life “in Christ” or “in the Spirit” means no matter how you came into the community, as a male Jew or a female Gentile, your are equal to one another in the community. Hierarchical distinctions are human, and therefore have no place in the community.
But is this just in the community? Are Christian Jews to act “as if” they are equal, even though they are so clearly not in Roman society? When the return to the real world, things go on as always?
Philemon, the authors point out, is the test case. Clearly for Paul, this is no theoretical equality. Paul “encourages” Philemon to welcome Onesimus back not as a slave, but as a brother. He uses words like “duty” and “obedience.” It seems the Radical Paul has more in mind than play acting in church. What he proposes has implications for the real world.
“On earth as it is in heaven.”
One more quote from Witnessing America
I’ve been reading Witnessing America: The Library of Congress Book of Firsthand Accounts of Life in America (1600-1900). Source readings are like a time machine. This was written by the chief designer of New York’s Central Park, Frederick Law Olmsted. He writes of his first visit to a large Southern plantation:
“I saw the negroes at work before sunrise an after sunset… The number of hands directed by each overseer was considerably over one hundred… The best overseers, ordinarily, are young men, the sons of small planters, who take up the business temporarily, as a means of acquiring a little capital with which to purchase negroes for themselves…
“The overseers and drivers punished the negroes whenever they deemed it necessary, and in such a manner, and with such severity, as they thought fit. ‘If you don’t work faster,’ or ‘If you don’t work better,’ or ‘If you don’t recollect what I tell you, I will have you flogged,” I often heard. I said to one of the overseers, ‘It must be disagreeable to have to punish them as much as you do.’ ‘Yes, it would be to those who are not used to it-but it’s my business, and I think nothing of it. Why, sir, I wouldn’t mind killing a nigger more than I would a dog…’
“I happened to see the severest corporeal punishment of a negro that I witnessed in the South while visiting this estate… The manner of the overseer who inflicted the punishment, and his subsequent conversation with me about it, indicated that it was by no means unusual in severity.”
He recounts the story of discovering a slave girl hiding in a ditch.
“After some questioning, she said her father accidentally locked her in, when he went out in the morning… The overseer was silent for a moment, looking at the girl, and then said, ‘That won’t do; come out here.’
“The girl arose at once, and walked towards him. She was about eighteen years of age… ‘Get down.’ The girl knelt on the ground; he got off his horse, and holding him with his left hand, struck her thirty or forty blows across the shoulder with his tough, flexible, ‘raw-hide’ whip (a terrible instrument for this purpose)… ‘Now tell me the truth.’ The girl repeated the same story. ‘You have not got enough yet,’ said he; ‘pull up your clothes-lie down.’
“The girl without any hesitation, without a word or look of remonstrance or entreaty, drew closely all her garments under her shoulders, and lay down up on the ground with her face toward the overseer, who continued to flog her with the raw-hide, across her naked loins and thighs, with as much strength as before. She now shrunk away from him, not rising, but writhing, groveling, and screaming, ‘Oh, don’t, sir! Oh, Lord! Oh, master, master! Oh, God, master, do stop! Oh, God master! OH, God, master!'”
“A young gentleman of fifteen was with us; he had ridden in front, and now turning on his horse, looked back with an expression only of impatience at the delay. It was the first time I had ever seen a woman flogged… I glanced again at the perfectly passionless but rather grim business- like face of the overseer, and again at the young gentleman, who had turned away. If not indifferent he had evidently not the faintest sympathy with my emotion. Only my horse chafed… The screaming yells and the whip strokes had ceased when I reach the top of the bank. Choking, sobbing, spasmodic groans only were heard… My young companion met me there, and immediately afterward the overseer. He laughed as he joined us, and said, ‘She meant to cheat me out of a day’s work, and she has done it too.’
“‘Did you succeed in getting another story from her?’ I asked, as soon as I could trust myself to speak.
“No; she stuck to it.” (pp. 187ff.)
Dehumanize someone, and you can do anything. Even though slavery was abolished, the dehumanization continues. Jesus gives us the model for treating outsiders as insiders. The only question is if we who name ourselves with his name, are willing to follow it.
שלומ سلام Peace,
Michael Rinehart, bishop
Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
12941 1-45 North Freeway, Suite #210
Houston, TX 77060-1243