Paul… the Radical Countercultural?

Neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female: we are “all one in Christ Jesus”

Paul Mosaic at Chora Church in Istanbul

People today don’t give Paul (or Jesus or the Bible) enough credit for “forward thinking”. We like to think that modern man has pulled himself (and herself) up by the bootstraps, a notion that emerges from our modern view of ourselves, of beings that have made ourselves after a long, doggedly determined climb out of the primordial slime.

Paul is often called patriarchal and even misogynist. He is blamed for the “backward thinking” that prevails in some areas of the church. Bronze age ideas and norms, they say, enslave the church in primitive thinking that quashes the rights of more sophisticated modern people.

There are dozens of examples in Scripture that this isn’t true. When we read the Scripture through a modern lens and don’t understand or appreciate the context of the time when it was written, we fail to appreciate the radical nature of Scripture.

I have written on these things many times in the past, but my attention is drawn to one example today. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul wrote:

“[I]n Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
“I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” (Galatians 3:26-4:7)

Let’s unpack this a bit, and I think you will see what I am talking about. First, we need to consider the context of the time in which this letter was written. Then we need to look closely at what Paul is saying.

Continue reading “Paul… the Radical Countercultural?”

Reading the Bible in Context

When we read the Bible, we need to come to it with the understanding of what it is and what it is not.

Depositphotos Image ID: 1439763 Copyright: sframe

We read the Bible, with writings going back to the Bronze Age, through the lens of our modern experience, understanding and knowledge, often without considering that we need to adjust our lens to understand what we are reading.

I do believe that the Bible is Scripture, conveying an accurate understanding of a timeless, changeless, faithful God, but it is written through the eyes of men who lived at particular times in history in particular cultural and historical contexts. It was written by about 40 men, to be more specific, over a period of about 1500 years with the last writing penned about 1900 years ago.

While Paul tells us that Scripture is inspired by God (“God-breathed”),[1] he means that Scripture was “translated”, written out and conveyed through the vessel of people. I don’t mean to get into the subject of inerrancy or whether the Bible must be read literally in all respects. The way God communicated through people in the Bible is different from the claim that Mohammad made, for instance, in regard to the Quran: that he took down the dictation word for word from Allah.

The Bible does not claim to be a word-for-word communication from God (as if God speaks in Hebrew or Aramaic or Greek). God inspired what was written, but He didn’t dictate it.

I find this at once remarkable and hopeful. Continue reading “Reading the Bible in Context”

Is the Bible Sexist and Racist? Part 4 – Sexism

Though Paul is often accused of being misogynistic, we find that he carried over a similar view of women from Jesus, declaring that there is neither male nor female in Christ.

depositphotos Image ID: 138541616 Copyright: Rawpixel

We have been exploring the answer to the question: whether the Bible is sexist and racist. The discussion was introduced in Part 1, sexism was tackled in Part 2 by looking at the sweeping theme of the Bible in dealing with men and woman, and an overarching view of what the Bible has to say about racism was addressed in Part 3. In both cases, with the topic of sexism and racism, we looked at the beginning, where the Bible expresses God’s general ideals and purposes in creating humankind, and we looked at the end where we catch a glimpse of things as they will be.

In regard to the issues of sexism, Genesis provides a window to peer into God’s motivations, intentions and purposes. We find that God created an idyllic habitation for men and women to live in harmony with Him and nature, but He allowed people to have free will.

Free will introduced the possibility that people would choose their own values over God’s values and go their own ways. We are told Adam and Eve, the first people (or representative people) did choose their own way, and that choice introduced sin into the world.

Sin means “to miss the mark”. The “mark” would include, among other things, God’s values. People have chosen their own values over God’s values, and the result is that we live in a world in which God’s values are distorted from what He intended. But what are God’s values?

God created men and women as counterparts who, together, reflect the image of God. Neither one is valued higher than the other. We see that God intended them to be fruitful and multiply, to diversify, and not to hunker down in one place with one language in a homogeneous civilization. God wanted diversity. These are the overarching themes of the Bible.

The Old Testament is largely the story of how God chose one people through whom He intended to bless all the nations of the world, but His chosen people continually chose to go their own way. They largely did not reflect God’s values in the way they lived. The Church, today, also often does not reflect God’s values as revealed in the Bible. Paul says, though every man may be a liar, still God is true. (Romans 3:4)  We can’t judge God’s values by what we see people doing – even church people.

In fact, only one person in history, we are told, truly reflected all that God is – Jesus. Jesus was “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15) and the “exact representation of His nature”. (Hebrews 1:3) Jesus said, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9)  In this segment, therefore, we will look at what Jesus said and did that can be applied to the subject of sexism.

Continue reading “Is the Bible Sexist and Racist? Part 4 – Sexism”