RUINS OF SAN ANDRÉS: The Mystery of Life and Death and the Deities

This is a pre-Columbian archaeological site that Mayan groups populated and rebuilt since 900 B.C. Because of a nearby volcano activity in A.D. 250 at Ilopango Lake, the settlement was abandoned only to become an important center of Mayan lordship between A.D. 600 and 900. Notorious therein are the Acropolis and the Bell Pyramid, perhaps used as burial places for the elite.

 

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FOTORACIONES

Los sagrados reflejos de una sagrada vida 

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The sacred reflections of a sacred life

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FOTORACIONES

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“Yo soy la puerta”

“I am the gate”

Jesús

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FOTORACIONES

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God… a sacred, absent presence waiting for and giving companionship… and you?

Dios… una ausente y sagrada presencia esperando y dando compañía… ¿Y tú?

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Paul and Us: A Critique

During the Fall semester of 2016, a group of my students embarked on a journey to study the Apostle Paul from a historical perspective but also from the standpoint of his significance for their lives and the world we live in.

After a long process that involved research, discussions, and efforts to contextualize the life and work of this giant of the Christian traditition in several posts they wrote for my blog, this is what they all learned and were willing to share, as part of their educational experience:

 

“As we have continually encountered in our journey through the works of Paul, he is often overtly passive aggressive. Before making request of his readers, he tends to remind them that he as the authority to command them (c.f. Philemon1:8; 2 Corinthians 8:8). Basically, he is making a command without actually making one. Such manipulation seems contradictory to the loving, serving, apostolic character Paul typically identifies with. On top of this, Paul’s relationship with the other Apostles can be called into question. It seems that he was constantly fearful of their challenge against his authority. Seeking the same level of respect, he commands his followers to reference him as an Apostle (1 Corinthians 9:1) and established a counter-culture in the Gentiles (Galatians 2:11-12) through the message of uncircumcision. He was overly paranoid spent too much time looking over his shoulder.”

-Brent Blackwell, Senior Religious Studies

 

“After the short but detailed encounter with Paul, we can understand his way of viewing different social issues of his time. It was important to see and analyze the limitations he had to become what we perhaps consider the second most important Biblical figure after Jesus Christ. With some of his letters being authentic and others possibly not, we still got a strong view of his persona. Paul was a strong leader with loyal followers and that itself is a big accomplishment of someone who once was looked down upon. His persistence on helping the marginalized and mostly the poor, were values he taught and are still being followed today. Although great, Paul was not perfect and sometimes because impatient and in a way arrogant. Making commands while acting humble, being for the marginalized yet not accepting the ‘homosexuals’ were some of his flaws. He did not trust many, but wanted everyone to trust his teachings. Paul’s life was quite the journey that some may find important to study.”

-Ivonne Ramirez, Senior, Interdisciplinary Studies

 

“Throughout this journey of studying Paul and his Epistles, we have gained a greater understanding of Paul’s character, missionary purpose and message in spreading the gospel. Paul was originally a persecutor of Christians and the Christian faith until one day he had a transcending encounter with “Jesus”. After this encounter along the road to Damascus, Paul’s journey and purpose in life completely changed. He transformed from a man of hatred, persecution and deceit to a man of compassion, servanthood and righteousness. He continued to live his life as a missionary spreading the Gospel to the Gentiles throughout several regions. Although Paul preached the Gospel religiously, Paul was often more opinionated on topics of specific reference such as homosexuality and the role of women. Paul was bold, direct and gave explicit information in regard to these topics of controversy even in today’s society. Throughout Paul’s Epistles we can better understand the meaning of his writings by considering the influences that sparked Paul’s notion to write such texts. Paul often wrote letters to the people of churches who were not teaching the Gospel or leading in the way the Paul would lead and teach. He was often sending letters in an effort to correct false teaching and to correct misconduct of individuals within the church. This evidence is referenced in the audiences of his Epistles and more specifically, his letters to individual groups of people within the church in regards to specific issues that arose. As a leader of the Christian faith, Paul led boldly, confidently in what he believed and relentlessly in his efforts to spread the Gospel.”

-Brittany Gaddy, Senior, Music Performance

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Paul and Poverty

Paul’s Quest to End Poverty

Ivonne Ramirez-Perez

There are numerous types of poverty that may be found in the world the Apostle Paul knew and in our world today. Some of these forms are: spiritual, intellectual, physical, and economic poverty.  Having any of these forms of poverty may be seen as a misfortune, but which one was Paul most concerned about?  In 2 Corinthians 8: 1-15, we witness Paul’s desire to spread the good acts of compassion to the disadvantaged, but at the same time to test the Corinthians’ readiness to fully commit to God. The main types of poverty found in 2 Corinthians 8:1-15 are economic poverty and spiritual poverty, and Paul manages to address the Corinthians about these controversial matters in a way only Paul can.

To get a better understanding of Paul’s caregiving skills, we need to look into the previous passage. 2 Corinthians 8:1-15 fits in a larger section of 2 Corinthians (8:1-9:15), which is primarily concerned with Paul’s collection for the Jerusalem Church.  In Galatians 2:10, Paul let the readers know that this concern for the poor has been a part of his ministry from the beginning.  According to Romans 15, Paul views the collection as a service to the poor among the saints in the Jerusalem Church (15:25-26).  The apostle also uses different tactics to motivate the Corinthians to finish what they had started; putting the Macedonians as an example was one of them. Before Paul resorts to shaming them directly, he reminds the believers that their actions to support the Jerusalem poor demonstrate the earnestness of their faith (2 Corinthians 8:8). Paul reframes the whole collection as the gospel proclaimed. In 2 Corinthians 8:9, Paul retells the Good News through the lens of generosity.  Christ gave up extraordinary riches so that others might receive the abundant wealth of God’s grace. Paul is clear that he is not calling the Corinthians to give to the point that it hurts.  Instead, he makes clear that they share in the responsibility to care for their brothers and sisters in Jerusalem, just as their brothers and sisters in Jerusalem share in caring for them (8:14).  It is hard to establish any form of “equality” (8:14) if one party has nothing because it has given up everything.  The Corinthians are urged to give generously with the knowledge that God has already provided abundantly for them for this very purpose: “And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that you may always have enough of everything and may provide in abundance for every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8).

Having the previous examination in mind, we can see that Paul’s main goal in 2 Corinthians 8: 1-15 was to give economic wealth to the Jerusalem church, and spiritual wealth to the Corinthians.  Paul invokes two images to explain what he means by wealth. The first one is somewhat abstract, but in the ancient world, as now, it appeals to our sense that in the natural world and in society equilibrium leads to stability and health for everybody. The recipient of someone’s generosity benefits because that gift improves an abnor­mal deficiency. The giver benefits because the gift prevents acclimation to an unsustainable abundance.  The second image associated with wealth is concrete and historical. Paul reminds the Corinthians of the ancient days when God gave the people of Israel the bread from heaven (manna) to sustain themselves (Exodus 16: 11-18). Though some gathered much and others comparatively little, when the daily ra­tion was distributed, no one had either too little or too much. The principle that the richer should give some of their wealth to the poorer to the degree that everyone’s resources are in ‘balance’ is challenging to modern notions.

We have to be careful, however, not to make simplistic applications to the structures of today’s world. Some may argue that this principle among Christians has motives for Socialism and Capitalism. The question there would be whether the state has the right—or duty—to compel the balance of wealth by taking from the richer and distributing to the poorer. This is a different matter from Paul’s situation, in which a group of churches asked their members to voluntarily give money for distribution by an­other church for the benefit of its poor members. In fact, Paul does not say anything at all about the government’s role in this regard. As for himself, Paul says he has no plans to compel anyone by saying, “I do not say this as a command” (2 Corinthians 8:8).

Paul’s purpose is not to create a particular social system, but to ask those who have money whether they are truly ready to put it at God’s service on behalf of the poor. Who is truly ready to give to the poor in today’s world? Perhaps some of us have walked past a homeless person by the road asking for money and completely disregard their presence. Or have been asked if we want to donate a dollar to charity when checking out at a grocery store. Motivating people not only to give but also to be financially responsible in their giving, is a difficult enterprise even in the best of circumstances.

Paul faced many challenges in order to give to the poor during his own days. He spent close to ten years looking for funds for what is commonly referred to as the Jerusalem collection. With the resources that we have today, there should not be so much poverty in the world. What are we missing? Do we not care for each other anymore? Did Paul not give us an exceptional lesson on compassion and poverty as a whole?  Paul makes us aware of our flaws by saying “Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong” (1 Corinthians 1: 26-27).  Many have been affected by a type of poverty at some point in their life and yet not everyone has found a little compassion through their struggle.

Overall, Paul may not have been consistent with different aspects of his life and teachings, but when it came to poverty and doing something about it, he was unsurpassed. Paul’s main principles that could still be seen and applied today were reciprocity, generosity out of poverty, and compassion. Giving and receiving was very clear when he talked about poverty. They were giving financial stability to those in need while gaining spiritual stability. Also, giving to others although not having much was a teaching that should be taken into account today. And just like the good qualities, we also see the bad ones like churches being run as business. It was an issue back in Paul’s time and today as well. Many people do not contribute to charity because they are uncertain of where the money is going. Paul’s life was an exceptional example of giving everything to help others, he may not have been perfect but his gave everything he possibly could.

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Paul and False Teachers

The Ungodly Get Punishment

Ivonne Ramirez-Pérez

Ungodly people living in an ungodly world. False prophets among false believers. Outsiders being insiders with walls. Terms of this kind came to mind when reading Jude and 1 & 2 Timothy. But, what would Paul say to our churches today about false prophets? How have his teachings changed from his times to ours?  Jude and 1st and 2nd Timothy focus on “false teachers” and their role in their community of the time, but these writings also suggest the effect these prophets had in the early Christian communities, whether good or bad. To fully understand the effects of this literature, we need to find the meanings of various tags that were used in both Jude and Timothy.

In the letter of Jude, we encounter references to the ungodly people and different characteristics attributed to them.  First and foremost, we need to focus on the meaning of the term ‘ungodly’ since it was used many times throughout this short epistle. By reading Jude 4-16, one may conclude that the ‘ungodly’ people, according to their writer, were individuals who in ways perverted the image of God. The people of Egypt, disobeying angels, Sodom and Gomorrah, shepherds who feed only themselves, clouds without rain, trees without fruit, wild waves at sea, are examples of negative labels assigned to these individuals and because of who they are in the eyes of the writer they deserve nothing but punishment. We also find the term ‘ungodly’ in 1 Timothy 1:9 and 2 Timothy 2:16.  In these passages, ‘the ungodly’ are the people whom the law is made for: the lawbreakers and rebels, the immoral and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, etc., for the law is good if one uses it properly.  We may conclude that the label of ungodly had many characteristics but only one outcome awaited them: punishment.

The individuals whom the writer of Jude opposes and criticizes are also labelled as ‘false prophets.’ If we look at the historical background of the ‘ungodly’ people we can understand the title given to them.  False prophets were also found throughout history before and after Jesus.  Having this in mind, one can understand the harsh terminology against them and the punishment that awaits them. The snowball effect is clearly attested when describing the roles of such people.  It all began at the creation story when Eve disobeyed God, and we can track it all the way to the betrayal of Judas, although these are different types of disobedience, a punishment still awaits.

The place and role of outsiders in the eyes of Paul were different.  In Jude we find the outsiders to be the false prophets, and in 1 Timothy the outsiders are the Gentiles who were marginalized by the Jews.  However, to Paul the outsiders were people who needed Jesus just as much as the people who claim to be believers in Christ.  Paul thought that there had to be a good reputation in order for the outsiders to see the end result and to motivate them.  It is a quality of Paul to think of the marginalized, the ones that needed the most from God. The outsiders were a main target for Paul and, therefore, he wanted Timothy to be aware of this as well.

Taking this theme a step forward, who are the outsiders today and are they treated? Not very well.  Immigration has always been an issue, but thanks to technology today we get to see the injustice that goes around the world with people who “do not belong.” Live streaming through Facebook allows us to see the misfortunes of Syria today, for instance. Twitter allows us to see the trending topics that are mainly made up of world news. With the help of these media, anyone and everyone can inform the world of different issues happening in our everyday lives and how outsiders are treated.  People in Syria, Africa, North Korea, indigenous people in Latin America and even Asia, all of them need someone like Paul to feel compassionate and who can advocate on their behalf.

Was Paul harsh and rude when writing about false prophets? Wasn’t he once a blasphemer?  This may be a delicate topic due to the criminal background of Paul. How can a teacher who was once an enemy of the Christian faith talk about false prophets? The integrity of Paul may be at risk when talking about outsiders and false prophets. If Paul were to see our society today and how many people are treated, he would want to go back to heaven.  Whether labeled as ‘ungodly’ or just as ‘false prophets,’ we have plenty of these individuals in our society today; for many, our president-elect Donald Trump might be one of them.  Paul the Apostle was preparing us to avoid people like Trump for his words on different world issues are a perfect example of someone who could be seen as a false prophet. Trump’s vision for this nation creates sectarian conditions that are directly opposed to Paul’s teaching of universality in the Epistles. The ungodly people mentioned in the Bible behaved in a way that effected others way of living. Trump is about to take office as perhaps the most powerful leader in the world. Furthermore, false prophets play a big role in the power of speech because what is supposed to be a divine calling has turned into blasphemy. False prophets may have a bigger impact in a community because they can be seen as higher individuals. Like these prophets, we encounter ‘ungodly’ people in our community today, and we also have those false teachers.

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Paul and Homosexuality

The Apostle to the Gentiles and Homosexual Relations: 

My Interpretation

Brittany Gaddy

 In order to fully understand what Paul says about ‘homosexuality’ in the Bible, we must also consider the factors that influence Paul’s thought processes, word choice, and statements made throughout his Epistles. Biblical texts that explicitly talk about the question of homosexuality are few in number and are found exclusively in the Pauline corpus (Himbaza). Because the Gospels do not say anything explicitly about this theme, ‘the concept of silence’ moves people to imply that Jesus approved of homosexuality. However, we must consider the literary and historical context in which the statements are written and what certain words implicitly entail.

In 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy1:10, the words malakos and arsenokoites are used to refer to homosexual practices.  Malakos refers to ‘the passive partner’ in a homosexual relation, as arsenokoites refers to ‘the active partner.’ According to the statements in each passage of scripture, Paul formulated a judgment that the people who committed this act of homosexuality will not inherit the kingdom of God.  Here Paul is talking about acts considered to be most serious and directly offensive to the divine law. This teaching is parallel with the first century A.D. Judaism. Paul does not make reference to sexual orientation or to specific sexual acts, but the act itself that is condemned in Paul’s opinion. Is there a difference between the acts versus the lifestyle of homosexuality? Was Paul referring to the act of homosexual relation or the lifestyle? We could argue that Paul was talking about the acts of homosexuality versus the way of homosexuality as a lifestyle. The context of Paul’s statement is contradictory in itself as many variables play into the meaning of every specific word within the passages Paul that has written.

Let’s also consider the audience to which Paul is writing these commandments.  These passages of Scripture are applicable today to all followers of Jesus as well as the audience to whom Paul originally wrote the passages. In 1 Corinthians, Paul wrote to the church in Corinth while he was in Ephesus, in 1 Timothy he wrote to instruct Timothy of what concerns to address within the church in Ephesus, and the book of Romans was written to address the followers of Jesus and the Christians in Rome. Furthermore, it can be implied that Paul was partially writing to address homosexual relations that already occurred or that Paul was writing to preventatively address potential acts of homosexuality within the church.

In Romans 1:18-32, Paul wrote that homosexual acts along with other forms of wickedness consequent in God’s anger as “the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people…because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error (Romans 1: 18-27).”

There are four different ways in which this text has been interpreted. Interpretations include that Paul wrote this passage to condemn the act of homosexual relations, to condemn the unison of two homosexuals, and condemns homosexual relations, but he also defends the status of the man in relation to Greco-Roman culture.

Before we can fully understand these interpretations, we must also consider the historical context in which Paul wrote this passage of scripture. In the Greco-Roman culture, the man must dominate his sexual partner.  The Greek society attached honor and even virtue to a nobler type of homosexual love and loved the body too much to ever reject it totally, while the Roman society was a little less casual than the Greeks. Also, within the Greco-Roman culture during Paul’s lifetime, half of the twelve rulers were homosexual or bisexually inclined. Understanding this historical context provides more context clues to support the interpretation that Paul was defending the status of men within the Greco-Roman culture. If this interpretation of the scripture is correct, was Paul ultimately defending the status of male homosexuality because half of the rulers did practice homosexual relations?

Let’s also consider the historic Roman cultural influence on Paul’s writing of 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. Paul wrote this passage for the Greek audience of the people in Corinth, which was Greek under heavy Roman influence. Furthermore, the vulgar games that Romans used to play had a large impact on Paul’s address of wrongdoers: “Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters not adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6: 9-10). Paul derived such a list of wrongdoers found in 1 Corinthians as well as 1 Timothy 1: 9-10 from the popular Stoic list of excesses contrary to reason.   It is also possible that the condemnations in 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy are references of cultic or religious homosexuality.

Now that we have a better understanding of the interpretation of the message based on a close study of the terms and the historical surroundings of the text, we must also consider Paul’s intent to write this letter to the Christians in Rome. The letter to the Romans is not written with a primary focus on either homosexuality or the morality of it. The first part of letter aims to show that justification is achieved by faith and not by the practice of the law, and that God’s wrath is directed to all humanity, Jews as well as pagans. The originality of Paul’s letter consists of an attack against homosexuals acts with paralleled criticism of pagan idolatry. Understanding the connection between these homosexual acts and the pagan idolatry allows the reader to understand and interpret the passage better.

Much debate and controversy exist within a number of religious traditions throughout American society today. Several Christian affiliated programs have been established to make a difference in the lives of people who are recovering from past homosexual experiences. For example, the ex-gay movement provides a set of ministries, therapies, publishing enterprises, and entrepreneurial opportunities. Their purpose is to help same-sex-attracted people leave homosexuality by speaking the truth in love to people with a homosexual problem in a world  impacted by homosexuality. The compassion of the ex-gay movement is centered on Christian compassion, and within this movement there are secular and Christian spheres that overlap and combine with scientific expertise to make an impact on the lives of ex-gays.

Homosexuality in today’s society is viewed differently than Paul originally taught about within his churches. Today the Book of Discipleship of the United Methodist Church recognizes that “sexuality is God’s gift to all persons…with the context of our understanding of this gift of God, we recognize that God challenges us to find responsible, committed and loving forms of expression.”  Later this source states that “homosexual persons no less than heterosexual persons are individuals of sacred worth. Although we do not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incomparable with Christian teaching, we affirm that God’s grace is available to all.” Furthermore, the statements within the Book of Discipleship of the United Methodist Church supports that the act and lifestyle of homosexuality is not condoned in today’s society. The teaching of the gospel is the same, but the moral right of the people embraces that every person is to be treated equally under God’s grace regardless of age, gender, marital status, or sexual orientation.

I believe the Church should minister to people regardless of their personal preference, gender, or sexual orientation. If the Church’s purpose is to offer fellowship and guidance for all members of humanity, then the Church should welcome people into their community regardless of people’s sexual preference. For the Bible says in 1 Corinthians 5, “what business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside” (1 Corinthians 5:12-13). Therefore, it is not the place of humanity to judge humanity, but God’s place to judge those who are wicked versus those of are righteous under His law.

Isn’t it true that anyone can receive the salvation of the Lord if they accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior, and have a personal relationship with Him? Then why would Paul’s writing be so direct toward homosexuals and their right to receive the bread of the Kingdom of God?  Did Paul receive specific instructions from God when he encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus that we have not understood, because we have not experienced such encounter? Did Paul receive these words directly from Jesus or did he formulate these instructions based on his personal opinion of who should receive salvation based on their choices, actions, and sins? Isn’t God the one to judge and to determine who receives the salvation? Even Paul stated in Romans 3:23 that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”. So aren’t we all sinners based on our actions? Then why would the act of homosexuality be condoned within the church?

I believe a person can become a Christian even if they are gay. If a person has a personal relationship with Jesus and has received salvation, then isn’t a person considered to be a Christian? Aren’t we all sinners and have fallen short of God, and God still loves us and washes away our sins? If God redeems and saves sinners, forgives all of humanity for their sin when humanity asks for forgiveness and redemption, then why would God not do the same for another person regardless of their sin?  If the sin is the act or lifestyle of homosexuality, then how is this type of sin different from any other type of sin?

I believe people should be welcomed into the Christian community and should have the option to have a relationship with Jesus regardless of their sin. Christians live for a God of unconditional love, who forgives, redeems and guides those who seek and ask of Him. Furthermore, I believe homosexuality can change when a person begins a relationship with Jesus and becomes a Christian. In lieu of Paul’s statements in 1 Timothy and 1 Corinthians, I believe that the act of homosexuality is a sin and I also believe that we are all sinners, but God redeems and forgives those who desire a personal relationship with Him regardless of their sin.

Paul’s words within his Epistles are very direct and possibly opinionated. Homosexuality is more present in today’s society, and I believe that Millennials are more accepting of homosexual relations than people of past generations because homosexual relations are more common in today’s society. I believe there is controversy of the issue of homosexuality between the teaching of Paul versus the teaching of Jesus, as well as the mindset of Millennials versus earlier generations. The meaning of Paul’s writing is controversial as the passages within the Pauline Corpus are left up to the interpretation of people who did not live within the time Paul wrote his letters, who have a variety of different opinions, and who did not know Paul personally. Because there are several variables that factor into the meaning of Paul’s writing, controversial interpretations exist.

 

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Paul and Women

The Place and Role of Women in Paul’s Letters

Brittany Gaddy

The roles of women in the epistles of Paul are clearly defined, but they are also contradictory at first glance. These roles vary as few women lead alongside men in spreading the Gospel while most women are submissive to men in the church and at home.

In Galatians 3:28, for example, Paul wrote that the role of women was equal to men in the way of salvation as “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). In order to fully understand Paul’s statements without misperceiving arguments, we must also understand the historical context in which Paul’s statements are written in full context.  Paul wrote a letter to the Galatians in response to what he perceived as an urgent crisis among the Galatia churches.  The “troublemakers” who he was addressing were Christian Jews, like Paul himself.  Paul passively addressed these problems by proclaiming that all people, specifically men and women, are equal under God; however, he did not state the specific roles of men and women within the church and within the family.  Therefore, we must also consider more of Paul’s statements about the roles of men and women in Christian marriage.

In 1 Corinthians 14:33-35, Paul makes a more imperative but controversial statement:  “Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church” (1 Corinthians 14: 33-35). In this passage, Paul emphasizes that women must be submissive to men within the church and submissive to their husband at home. However, this statement imposes another question of concern as to why women should consult with their husbands at home.  Paul’s statement of the unvoiced role of women within the church leaves an open ended question concerning the woman’s responsibility to seek advice from her husband.  By studying the texts surrounding Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians, we can further define the logic behind the silent role of women within the church as well as their role within the home.

In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul more clearly defines the role of women within the home.  He argues that as “the head of every man is Christ; the head of a woman is her husband” (1 Corinthians 11:3). This principal role of women to be submissive to their husband is further defined in four other passages that Paul wrote throughout the New Testament, as wives are to “submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22), “submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord” (Colossians 3:18) and “submit yourselves to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives” (1 Peter 3:1). Paul also expressed the role of women to be managers of the household as “younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God” (Titus 2:4b-5).

Paul also described the way women should conduct themselves in more detail in 1 Timothy 2.  He described therein that he wanted “women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God. A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be save through childbearing – if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety” (1 Timothy 2:8-15). Within this passage Paul expresses a more imperative belief that women should be submissive and that their submission results as a divine role of women according to God’s ordained creation of woman after man and as a result of a woman’s initial fall to sin prior to the fall of man.

The role of men within the home is also defined in Paul’s Epistles as leaders of their children.  Thus, he gives the following instructions: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4), “Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged” (Colossians 3:21), and  “[Fathers] must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?)” (1 Timothy 3:4-5). Throughout Paul’s Epistles, the roles of both men and women within the home are clearly expressed and fully supported throughout several passages.

Paul statement of the role of women as submissive to men in the church is somewhat contradictory with his approval for women to lead in the church. The contradiction is between the role of women as silenced and submissive as compared to the role of women equal to and leading alongside men within churches. For example, Syntyche and Evodia were two women who worked alongside Paul in spreading the gospel. However, these women threatened the unity of the church, and Paul responded to the threat of division by sending a letter and addressing the two women directly: “I entreat Evodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. And I ask you also, true yoke fellow, help these women, for they have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the Book of Life” (Philippians 4:2-3). Here Paul recognizes that the women leaders of this church were causing disharmony in the church of Philippi; therefore, he wrote this letter to courageously address both women directly in an attempt to create unity, peace and cooperation.

In order to fully understand the roles of women during the time of Paul’s Apostleship, we must also consider the socio-cultural aspects of family structure within the Christian families of the Greco-Roman era. During this time period, the role of women within the Greco-Roman communities was to preserve their virginity, to marry and bear children, and to submit to their husband.  For young women of high rank, husbands were usually chosen for them and were usually strangers.  She would join his household, but rarely joined his circle of intimacy. The man also had the authority to disown his wife if she committed adultery or kill his daughter if her virginity had been compromised. On the other hand, the man was allowed to commit adultery without repercussions. This example demonstrates that men had more authority and power over women, and the role of women was of purity and submission to the men in regards to marriage.

The role of women within our society today has changed significantly over the past three millennia, in which the function of marriage, the shape of family, and the quality of child care have changed dramatically. Women’s roles shifted by the twentieth century as women began to join the workforce more and to increase in independency from men. Women now have more economic control than did women of Paul’s Greco-Roman era. Today, finding a mate is more based on compatibility and finding someone whom the women love, in which someone of good moral character were the highest of values. Also present today is the notion of “equal-partner marriage” as the setting for companionship, for mutual character formation, and for shared work between the men and women within a marriage. Significant portions of the church supports equal gender power in families within the past thirty years.

One of the major turning points in the role and authority of women throughout the decades was the one introduced by The Quaker Movement. This religious movement argued for equal power in intimate matters, and condemned woman’s subordination to the men as sinful domination of usurping authority over women. Irrefutably, power imbalance has always existed throughout the millenniums but, this result has merely been a reflection of the community and its values as a whole. A power imbalance still exists in today’s society as the salary of women is only seventy cents to the dollar that men receive.

The role of women publically and domestically is contradictory in itself as some women were allowed to lead alongside men in the church, while some women were ordered to be silent and submissive to the men. Many interpretations have derived from the original text which Paul wrote throughout his letters. Additionally, multiple philosophies interpreted from the fall of Adam and Eve to sin in the Garden of Eden have left men to determine the roles of women politically and personally. Because of the contradictory nature or ambiguity of the 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy in relation to the function of society within church communities, the role of women has fluctuated in domestic and political settings. Furthermore, the roles of women throughout the millenniums have depended on God’s ordained authority, the values and beliefs of the Christian faith, and the setting of the church community.

I believe Paul’s statements of the women’s role to be submissive to men had merit, especially when you put them in context.  First of all, Paul repeatedly stated the role of women to submit to their husbands. Second, Paul’s teaching was compared to the representation of the men’s submission to God. And Third, Paul’s statements and beliefs were supported by Protestant Reformers and other humans throughout the millenniums. Because one small piece of a passage can be interpreted in many different ways, it is best to analyze the text from the eras that surround the time in which the text was written, the purpose in which Paul wrote it, and the historical meaning of the text as it applies to modern day applications. Although Paul’s statements of the role of women have merit, I believe his statements were overridden throughout history and even in our current society as some people stepped up to have their voice heard and to take lead. This can be evidentially supported through the history of female leaders and the Women’s Leadership and Independence movements that have arisen.

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Paul and Slavery

An Analysis of the Letter to Philemon

Brent Blackwell

The Church creates a better world. The Church challenges social injustices. The Church encourages liberty and basic human rights.

We have all heard these messages, coming down from the pulpit or rising up from our faith communities. Christians defend the notion of the Church’s relevancy and radical moral teachings. However, has this been traditionally accurate? Has formational doctrine truly defended human rights historically and in the 21st century?

In his letter to Philemon, whom we can reconstruct as a wealthy Christian in the 1st Colossae, Paul appeals on behalf of a runaway slave, Onesimus. The following is a general framework of the Epistle:

  1. Greetings as a fellow prisoner and slave of the Gospel and addressment towards the entire church in Philemon’s house (vs. 1-3)
  2. Appealing to the ethos and generosity of Philemon’s character and love for Jesus and the saints, as well as the encouragement Paul has received through their relationship (vs. 4-7)
  3. Requesting, not commanding, Philemon to generously receive Onesimus as if it were Paul himself (v. 16-17)
  4. Offering to repay any debts owed on behalf of Onesimus (vs. 18-20)
  5. Appealing, again, to Philemon’s ethos, knowing that he will go beyond the expectations of Paul (vs. 21-22)
  6. Benediction (vs. 23-25)

An inductive reading of this text explicitly shows that Paul is addressing the institution of slavery, both through the words he used and entreaties regarding the relationship between Philemon, the slave owner, and Onesimus, the slave. Yet, we are faced with one, insurmountable obstacle: Paul never demands the manumission of Onesimus, though he appears to have the authority to do so (v. 14).

In addressing this difficulty then and now, we will examine both how Paul’s anti-manumission attitude has been legitimated and justified by fundamentalists as well as provide a critique of Paul words, or lack thereof, and their application today.

Intentional Tonal Ambiguity and Euphemisms

My initial reaction to Paul’s letter was marked with attention to the overwhelming mixed messages that surround this letter.  My 21st century expectation is that Paul will eventually demand the manumission of Onesimus in the name of the faith; yet this never occurs. Rather, what we see is that Paul’s open-ended letter has both served to legitimate and justify slavery, while also serving as a basis for an abolition movement. Therefore, there is a pressing need to sort through this vagueness.

First, a word-analysis of this brief epistle shows that Paul never actually uses the Greek equivalent for “slave”, though this has never lead scholars to doubt a conceptual connection to this epistle. Instead, in speaking of Onesimus, Paul uses the term doulos,  which refers to a slave or bondman, but typically was associated with submission to the mission and vision of Christ. Implications of this intentional use are: (1) Paul recognizes the sensitivity surrounding the topic (2) Paul is seeking to preserve the dignity of Onesimus and emphasize his newfound faith (v. 10).

Secondly, as already noted, Paul never explicitly addresses the issue of manumission. While he speaks to the gracious attitude in which Philemon is to receive Onesimus, he fails to testify what should come after. Within this structure, Paul’s concern seems to not be centered on the freedom of Onesimus but on the relationship master-slave. In other words, Paul is not seeking to condemn the institution of slavery or forms of it, but is rather seeking to transform individual relationship within that institution.

Rather than criticize Paul for this miss-appointed goal, cultural relativity should challenge us to recognize Paul’s actions as radical and admiral when we take into account the values and expectations of the 1st century. Furthermore, his greater concern for the relationships between masters and slaves seem relatively justifiable considering his views of the future and God’s salvific plans. Simply put, Paul’s belief that the return of Christ was too near (c.f. Romans 13:11) for the deconstruction of the slave institution. Therefore, his concern was, instead, directed at what was feasible within this short period of time: love.

Passive-Aggressive Manipulation

Based on all the above observations, it seems to me that Paul, in his effort to retain the master-slave relationship with no clear and direct exhortations to liberate Onesimus, Paul’s letter follows a fairly simple psychological manipulation strategy, built upon passive-aggression. After establishing his apostolic authority, Paul appeals to the ego and character of Philemon, knowing him as person of love and worthy of thankfulness, and that he would act accordingly in regards to Onesimus (v. 4-7).  However, Paul’s generous words do not stop there.  After those initial words, he asks Philemon to receive Onesimus as a brother in the faith (v. 16), with a very telling statement in between that appeals to his apostolic authority, and that highlights his passive-aggressive role: “Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do” (v. 8).

It is because of Philemon’s generous and loving character that he should receive Philemon back, free from retribution.  In other words, if Philemon were to adhere to social norms expecting the punishment of Onesimus, then it would be a direct contradiction to his respectable character. While Paul’s plea might seem just for Onesimus, he is certainly backing Philemon into a corner.  Should Philemon punish Onesimus and maintain the social role as Lord in his household while losing his reputation in the Church, or should he show grace as Christ would and perpetuate the future disobedience of other slaves?  To say the least, Philemon is between a rock and a hard place, and Paul has put him there.

As if this were not enough, Paul goes a step further to reach his goal. He appeals to Philemon “on the basis of love (v. 9)” and not on command. However, before Paul even gets to his request, he is very clear that he “could be bold and order you, [Philemon], to do what you ought to do (v. 8).” Though Paul constructs his letter in a way that makes it appear that Philemon is actually coming to the decisive decision of receiving Onesimus as a brother, or foregoing retribution for his crime, but this is not the case. Paul is actually pushing Philemon towards an expected decision, and if Philemon does not do so then Paul will essentially command him into submission at a later point, since he reminds Philemon he has to authority to do so.

Therefore, what do we do in light of this manipulative pattern and these passive-aggressive commands that Paul makes of Philemon? Does Paul have to right to violate his friendship with Philemon in his defense of Onesimus? How did Philemon interact with Paul’s clandestine words?

Contemporary Slavery, a Critique

On December 2, every year, the world unites as a global community to celebrate the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery which, in 1949, marked the United Nation’s adoption of the Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others.  Formally, this ended the historical practice of slavery and the slave trade. However, people still live captive and in bondage today.

Do we not experience similar oppression within the marginalization of minority communities around the world? Do we not experience similar oppression within the exponential growth of African Americans incarcerated today? Do we not experience similar oppression within the social stratification between social classes and the lack of vertical mobility within societies? Do we not experience similar oppression within gender issues and ageism? Could we be slaves to our own ideologies, social norms, and institutions?

Today, slavery has taken a new identity, masked by the language of human rights. We no longer speak of master and slave, free and servitude; rather, we talk of inalienable rights, human dignity, and the value of all life. Therefore, we see the same patterns of oppression and subjugation in the institutional and informal violation of these human rights. When people are fenced in and prevented from moving within the borders of their own state, refused an ethnicity or nationality, or denied the right to marry based on gender identification, are their rights not violated, and have they not being enslaved to the values, biases, and ideologies of others?

It is in this recognition, a new understanding of slavery, that we must adopt an alternative response to the one of Paul’s.  Radical transformation begins with a subtle action, a spark that initiates a blaze. In this challenge, the human rights of all people, especially based on differences, must be defended and preserved; not passive aggressively or through coercion, but according too free will and grace. Truly, we must recognize that the various manifestations of slavery create a complex networks of solutions that are not universal, but are contextualized according to the issues.

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