A couple of posts below I noted concerns making their way into the pages of the Sydney Morning Herald re headship teaching in the Diocese of Sydney (i.e. teaching about male headship and female submission to that headship) (here and here).
That prompted some thoughtful comments posted in the thread to that post (thank you, Bowman) and I ask that this post be read in the light of those comments.
I also ask that you do not read this post as a direct engagement with either the Diocese of Sydney or with teaching within that Diocese - something of a large and multi-faceted set of topics and I do not presume to know everything one should know for such a direct engagement. Besides which, I imagine that while there may be strong themes, heavy emphases and so forth across the Diocese, there likely is not on uniform, standard, universally taught doctrine. Nevertheless, whatever is going on, in our neighbouring Diocese across the Ditch, it is enough to provoke a secular newspaper to publish an article about it.
Let's engage directly with Scripture itself and let's be realistic, this is but one post on a matter or two, and not a monograph on the subject, on which many books have been written, especially in recent years.
1. It's observable in the New Testament that Paul (in particular) develops an understanding of salvation which universalises humanity: salvation is no longer for the Jews only, but also for the Gentiles; a relationship with God through being "in Christ" is possible for all humanity including male and female (Galations 3:28).
2. It's observable in the light of (1) that women and men are involved in the communication of the gospel and establishment of the churches as the mission of Jesus spreads beyond Israel (e.g. the Samaritan woman of John 4; Lydia, Phoebe, Priscilla, Junia, Euodia and Syndeche). Further, no specific rules constraining the ministry of women are invoked within the narratives in which such women feature.
3. It's also observable that many leadership roles in the apostolic mission are taken up by men. This is unsurprising given the patriarchal societies of Israel and the surrounding nations. It is also the case that Jesus said and did things which invoked visions of a "new" Israel, the nation historically of twelve tribes founded on the twelve sons of Jacob/Israel, and thus consistent with this invocation, the leading body of disciples who became also known as the apostles were twelve men.
4. It's observable in the pages of the New Testament that some questions arose about how men and women are to deport themselves in church meetings.
5. This is a particular concern addressed by Paul in1 Corinthians 11:2-16 (cf. Ephesians 5:23-24). In that address Paul certainly talks about men in relation to women and vice versa and links this to the relationship between God and Christ and the talk involves a Greek word kephale which could mean "head" or "source". We will come back to this passage.
6. Two other passages, 1 Corinthians 14:33b-36 and 1 Timothy 2:11-15 have common themes (notably women being silent in church meetings) and may reflect (depending on one's understanding and determination) a Later Paul (i.e. Paul at the end of his ministry) or a Deutero-Paul (i.e. interpreter of Paul writing as Paul). The former passage is held by many to be an interpolation (because it interrupts the flow of 14:33-37; it is at odds with 11:5 which assumes women will not be silent in church because they pray and prophesy in the meetings; and, in some manuscripts, verses 33 and 34 appear after 14:40).
7. It seems reasonable to assume that material in 1 Corinthians 11, 14 and 1 Timothy 2 arose because some disruption in the meetings of the church was taking place. There is no sense reading through the gospels or Paul's other epistles (with the exception of Titus) or any other epistles that either Jesus or any apostle taught relationships between men and women as intrinsic to the essence of the church.
8. Indeed, Paul's strong start on the "headship" (or "sourceship") of men over women at the beginning of 1 Corinthians 11, as he seeks to respond to questions of length of hair for men and women, and wearing of headcoverings (or not), gives way by verses 11-16 with a recognition that "in the Lord" men and women are interdependent and the answers to the questions at hand may not be agreeable to his readers who need to judge for themselves what is right and what is wrong.
9. That is, it is not clear that Paul (or Later Paul or Deutero-Paul) is setting out in these passages timeless church rules to govern the church in all cultural contexts through all generations. There is a strong sense in the passages of ad hoc rules for present situations.
10. Further, in 1 Timothy 2:11-15 there are two very difficult (if not quite obscure) theological arguments introduced in support of women being silent in church.
11. Before we get to the first, let's recall another Pauline invocation of Eve. In 2 Corinthians 11:1-3 Paul likens the church as the bride of Christ to Eve, being in a position prone to deceit: "as the serpent deceived Eve by its cunning." Here Eve stands for the whole church, male and female.
12. In 1 Timothy 2:13-14 (Later or Deutero-) Paul argues in support of his ruling that a woman is to be silent in church that (a) "Adam was formed first, then Eve" (i.e. shades of 1 Corinthians 11's approach to male headship over females), and (b) "Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor" which is a curious if not obscure argument in the light (c) Romans 5:12-21 (where sin enters the world through Adam) and (d) 2 Corinthians 11:1-3 (where Eve is the counterpart to the whole church when it is prone to being deceived and not solely reponsible for the faults and frailties of women generally).
13. Then, in 1 Timothy 2:15 a way forward is offered for women in respect of their salvation which seems oscurely at odds with Paul's emphasis on salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. The NRSV reads, "Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty." This version nicely captures the ambiguity of the reference to childbearing: does it mean "saved through the risk and danger of giving birth to a child" or "saved via the bearing of children (e.g. as a fulfilment of the destiny of women, as a faithful discharge of the primary role of women)"? It is also faithful in translating the Greek which begins with a single woman and ends with women plural.
14. Again, with specific reference to 1 Timothy 2:11-15, the question arises whether we are being given a permanent, universal ruling against women speaking in church and/or exercising responsible authority, applicable in all contexts and all generations? If we are, it is a ruling underpinned by arguments which are difficult to uphold - for example, that women should be silent in church, not teach and not exercise authority over a man/husband because of inherent proneness to deceit.
15. What is the way forward here? I suggest a couple of recognitions we can and should make.
16. First, across all such passages as discussed above, and if we also include 1 Peter 3:1-7, we find nothing particularly surprising in the sense that, in the context of the times, we would expect to find material setting out relations between men and women in a manner which assumes the primary authority of men/husbands and the consequential expectation of submission to that authority by women/wives.
17. We could scarcely expect documents from the Graeco-Roman-Judeo world of the first century AD to second guess first, second or third wave feminism of the 20th and 21st centuries! (It is not as though in New Testament writings in respect of slavery that we find language which anticipates 19th century American and British arguments against slavery and for the emancipation of slaves.)
18. Secondly, what is important, then, in respect of what we find in the New Testament are the hints and clues and seeds of a new way of looking at relations between men and women. A way, we perhaps could say, that looks out from the present order of relations between men and women to a new situation which flows from a new appreciation of men and women being utterly and completely human, so that Genesis 1:27-28 flows into Gal 3:28; and Galatians 3:28, at least prior to some disruptions in church meetings, is evidenced as being lived out in the mutual ministries of Paul and Phoebe, Paul and Lydia, Paul, Euodia and Syndeche, Priscilla and Aquila, Junia and Andronicus among the apostles and being expressed in Paul's language about men and women such as:
"Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man or man independent of woman" (1 Corinthians 11:11)
"Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ" (Ephesians 5:21 which frames the subsequent exposition of wives being subject to husbands, husbands being heads of wives, and husbands loving their wives just as Christ loved the church).
19. There is a similarity here between what the NT says about men relating to women in the contexts of the day while opening up a new way of looking at relations between men and women and what the NT says about slavery (i.e. not directly challenging it as an institution of society and economy) while opening up a new way of looking at humanity (notably in Galatians 3:28) such that there can no longer be masters and slaves, all should be free and treated equally by one another.
20. Is there an NT reason for thinking that we might, today, view relations between men and women differently to Graeco-Roman-Judeo times? I think so. We read in Titus ... 2:3-5a, which sets out the way a woman should live, including "being submissive to their husbands", that the Later or Deutero-Pauline writer gives as a reason "so that the word of God may not be discredited" (5b). The Christian movement, the early churches, did not want to be seen as upsetting the accepted social order lest such upset brought discredit on the Christian message.
Today, we can ask the same question about teaching about headship which goes against the accepted social order of orderly marriages and family households today: it brings discredit to the Christian message - a message whose primary concern is not how men and women relate to each other in a particular hierarchical order.
20. We can also - of course - dig deep into NT material about Priscilla, Phoebe, Lydia, female prophets and so forth, and determine that women in the early church did not fit neatly into a "women must be silent, must not teach, must not lead, should focus on home-making and child-rearing" model beloved of some churches today. (As, indeed, women have not neatly fitted through church history.)
21. Yet, when Paul in 1 Corinthians 11 or Paul (or Later Paul or Deutero-Paul) in Ephesians 5 write about headship, connecting God/Christ and man/woman and/or husband/wife, a theology is being articulated which (whatever we then determine about what it means for life in home, community, workplace, classroom, church meetings and worship services) which cannot simply be excised from Christian consciousness.
22. How then do we teach/discuss/ruminate upon "headship" in an era fraught with risk to discourse (cancellation of participants, weaponization of tropes and memes, etc)?
23. And, noting current discourse which tends to smooth over difference between sexes (noting, most up to datedly, a UK Methodist decision to approve same sex marriages in churches), what is the relationship between teaching about headship and teaching about humanity, male and female God made us?
24. Yet, whatever we might think headship means, in Pauline thought, headship is always connected to God's relationship to Christ and Christ's relationship to God.
25. So, finally for now, what does it mean to think about "headship" in a Trinitarian mode of thinking about relations in communion: God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit; husband and wife as one flesh; male and female in one body of Christ bound together by one Spirit?