04 August 2006

The Stained Glass Ceiling

I read an interesting book a few weeks ago that a coworker loaned to me. What Paul Really Said about Women, an Apostle's liberating views on equality in marriage, leadership, and love, by John Temple Bristow. This was an amazing book. While not based on the book, the link to the following article sums it up very well: The Stained Glass Ceiling.

What amazed me was that basically it took all the passages of the Bible that have made me feel awkward or doubtful of my role as a female in the Christian world order, so to speak, and explained them in a way that I always wanted to be true. I always wanted to think that God was saying, you are a whole and worthy human being, I want you to participate in kingdom completely, no holds barred. I wanted that to be true, but felt guilty from my background and with my cultural reading of these "difficult" "cultural" passages that this was not the Truth.

Perhaps I have just found a liberal theologian who is saying things I want to hear, at least I can imagine someone making that criticism. However, the book is very specific and backs up the points thoroughly. Plus the coworker that loaned this to me is very conservative and intellectual both, so I feel fairly confident it's not a kook idea being thrown out there.

I'd encourage anyone to read the book. It is somewhat academic, but a short book so not a rough read. But it explains first how the Hellenistic and Greco-Roman perspective on women colored the interpretation of the Greek writings until it became accepted as the norm. Mind boggling to me that we could lose something as culturally significant as letting women learn and participate in the Gospel as full partners. Not as big an issue in our denomination, but some of those applications to Paul's awkward scriptures I've heard in my lifetime, in our churches. Fascinating.


  1. One of my friends in college nearly made it her mission to encourage women into ministry leadership through her education. She is one of the most intelligent people I know.

    This has always been a sticky issue, I think especially because many of the staunchest supporters of an "all male in ministry" mentality are women. Many passages in the Bible relating to gender have puzzled me deeply, but I know that a lot of my confusion is due to a lack of understanding the cultural context. I think the roles of deacons, and the instructions about hair, and a host of other issues would make more sense with a cultural understanding.

  2. I've heard sermons on this when I was younger explaining the cultural differences. It sounds like the study that I heard is similar to what you have read recently. It does sound like an interesting study.

  3. What amazes me is that many of these things that sound like negatives today - were positives at their time allowing women greater freedom of worship and participation. However, the culture then was as male dominated and chose to reinterpret those passages. Even some of them, we have heard the "cultural" take on it that doesn't represent the radical deviation from societyal norms that was being proposed by Paul.

    I can't explain it very well ...

  4. I always wondered about the scripture that referred to women being silent in church. Maybe that was just a cultural thing at that time.

  5. Forgive me if this sounds like a stereotype. I don't think it is.

    I am of the opinion that the women being silent during teaching passage has something to do with the fact that many times when women get together it is a social time for many of them. This is not always a bad thing, but many want to talk about what is going on in their lives rather than listen to any teaching that might be going on. I think the problem that Paul was writing about was that some women were distracting everyone with their not-silent conversations with their friends.

    Roamer, I think you are right about a lot of these passages meaning to be liberating rather than restrictive. It's a shame that we don't have a way to get first-hand knowledge of which statements are culturally based, and which transcend culture.

  6. This book gave me huge insight actually. Shocked me. You are right about the silent one. This was a phase where women weren't allowed out much and when they got together they wanted to talk and exchange information about life.

    What doesn't come through in the passage, as it is in English, is that they are saying meditate, commune with God - not shut up and be silent. The second makes me feel unworthy to be here or participate. The first is an exhortation which is what was intended and doesn't "offend" my sensibilities at all.