Today is International Women’s Day, and I have Gender and Mission on my mind.

Peppiatt, Lucy (2015) Women and Worship at Corinth: Paul’s Rhetorical Arguments in 1 Corinthians, Eugene: Wipf and Stock

I’m preparing for Redcliffe’s new MA module on Gender and Mission and gathering resources to get students thinking about the many and complex issues involved. One excellent example is Lucy Peppiatt’s “Women and Worship at Corinth: Paul’s Rhetorical Arguments in 1 Corinthians“. It is a bold and brilliant take on some of the controversial passages in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.

Peppiatt recognises that the issues in these passages touch deep nerves within us, and impact on not only our theology, but our church dynamics, and pastoral concerns as well. The issues can’t be approached in a detached manner, because “too much depends on the outcome” (p1). So true.

She shows how interpreters have variously concluded that Paul is either confused himself about his views on women, or patriarchal (i.e. a typical man of his day), or simply a misogynist. Yet from what we know of his life, from Acts and his other letters, it is clear that Paul had female friends, recognised women in Christian leadership (Phoebe, Priscilla), respected women, and even referred to one woman as an apostle. It does not seem likely that Paul was any of the things suggested above.

The thesis of the book is that in the passages where Paul appears to contradict himself on women, he is using rhetoric, whereby he quotes the wrong views of the Corinthian Christians and then rebuts them. This was a known rhetorical device, and is sometimes easily recognisable in our Bibles, as in 1 Cor 6:12: 

“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything.

– the quotation marks are added in the English but are not there in the Greek, because Greek doesn’t use them. We all accept that Paul is quoting a saying. Another similar example is 1 Cor 10:23.

So Peppiatt concludes that Paul taught that women did not need to be veiled to speak in church – “we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God” (1 Cor 11:16). Similar explanations are proposed for understanding the passages women keeping silent in church, on tongues and behaviour at the Lord’s Supper.

Whether or not you agree with Peppiatt’s reading of Paul, this book is a call for rigorous thinking on this and other complex issues. Assumptions need to be challenged from time to time, and implications for mission and ministry thought through.

If you are interested in questions of gender, church and mission, why not explore them in our new Gender and Mission module at Redcliffe College?

This will give you the opportunity to develop your theological, biblical and cultural understanding of various gender issues, such as Humanness and Identity; Gender in the Bible; Women in mission; Feminist theology across cultures and religious groups; Cultural understandings of sexuality and marriage ; Gender-based violence; including FGM, rape, trafficking and forced marriages; Justice and gender; and Gender and the cross-cultural worker.

As well as Redcliffe faculty, there will be visiting lectures by Dr Lucy Peppiatt (so you can talk to her more about her book there!), Dr Elaine Storkey, and Rev Dr Ian Paul.

The module runs from 24 – 28 July 2017, and can either be taken as a stand-alone short course, or as part of a whole MA in Contemporary Missiology, Global Leadership, or Member Care. See this link for more details:

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