Monday, June 20, 2011

Phoebe flutters

People are all in a flutter at what the bible actually says about women serving the church, and how the early church interpreted it

1 comment:

Luke Collings said...

Bird's argument is highly speculative and his exegesis makes no sense.

The situation he outlines presupposes that Paul had written in such a way that the Roman church would have been confused by what he meant by God's righteousness and would have needed to seek clarification from the messenger, who would then have been naturally expected to address the congregation. Not to say that there would have been no misunderstandings, but surely Paul's argument is clear enough that those with whom he shared a common theological culture and context would have been able to work out for themselves what he meant. Too many "what ifs" in that scenario for my liking.

Worst of all, he appears to derive his theological justification for Phoebe being an authorised instructor by reversing Paul's clear intention. He does not say "receive her so that she may give you whatever help you may need", but "receive her so that she might receive whatever help she may need". Nowhere in the text is there an explicit or implict authorisation for Phoebe to be the interpreter of Paul's message. Indeed, Paul's spelling out of why the Romans should receive her may have been so that they would not receive her as a "deputy apostle", but that they would provide whatever assistance is required (if at all) from a lady who had been a significant partner in the proclamation of the Gospel. Indeed, the Greek text suggests that Paul did not consider his relationship with Phoebe to be particularly noteworthy or unique, simply that he was one of many gospel preachers to benefit from her hand.

Why exactly it was that Paul should have entrusted this letter to the Roman Church to Phoebe we shall never know. Even if it was simply a matter of convenience (i.e. she was going to Rome anyway) I agree that it demonstrates that women were considered honoured partners in taking the message of Jesus to the world. In my mind, Bird allows his cultural suppositions to overrule what is actually in the text and assigns a role to Phoebe without proper justification.