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Tuesday, August 21, 2007
Tuesday Book Club - Misquoting Jesus Part 3
Many of us on this blog have wrestled with what the Bible and the church say about the role of women in the church. Ongoing conversations about original intent, redemptive trajectory, translation issues, and historical evidence all play a role in those discussions. For our Tuesday Book Club this week, I want to look at the approach Bart Ehrman brings to this discussion in his book Misquoting Jesus.

Ehrman states that disputes arose regarding the role of women in the early church "precisely because women had a role - often a significant and publicly high profile role." This was one of the main criticisms the pagan early opponents of Christianity leveled against it. But since Paul didn't urge a complete social revolution (equality of the sexes) just as he didn't urge for the abolition of slavery (although he said there is neither slave or free), future generation continued to debate the worth and place of women. This led to the suppression of the role of women in the church altogether.

To Ehrman part of this suppression involved the creation of letters written in Paul's name, but by others with different agendas. Many scholars believe that the book of 1 Timothy with its extreme views of women was one such book. It contradicts Paul's earlier ideas because it is not by Paul and was written later. Similarly as the debates continued scribes made changes to scripture in order to limit the role of women and alter texts that seemed too permissive. Examples include restrictive passages missing in some early manuscripts, the changing of the apostle's female name Junia (a common name) to the unheard of male name Junias (because women couldn't be apostles), and changing texts like "prominent women" to "wives of prominent men."

This approach assumes that yes, those passages as we read them in the scripture are oppressive and restrictive of women. But that textual criticism implies that those passages were not originally written as such but were altered by scribes trying to align scriptures with their own sense of the limited role of women. This is a very different approach from those who assume that the scriptures as we have them are what God intended, but that our sexist prejudices have led to restrictive interpretations. How do you react to these different approaches to the troublesome passages regarding women? Does one approach make more sense to you? What are the problems with either approach and which may be the most helpful to the cause of women?

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posted by Julie at 10:53 AM ¤ Permalink ¤


  • At 8/21/2007 03:42:00 PM, Blogger Heather W. Reichgott

    And then, there's the approach of a male scholar (Ehrman) who uses the central theory from a widely read, classic text by a female scholar (In Memory of Her by Elisabeth Schuessler Fiorenza) and passes it off as his own.


  • At 8/21/2007 08:50:00 PM, Blogger Julie

    Heather - what exactly are you referring to? As I understood it, his ideas were just the common textual criticism approach to the issue that he was giving a very basic summary of?

  • At 8/21/2007 10:46:00 PM, Anonymous julieH

    My response - God is the ultimate author of the scriptures and sovereign over which ones were included... as well as the scribes who were doing the copying, and the versions that we are reading as part of the canon today.

    Deciding that certain books should be thrown out is dangerous. It's denying the authority of scripture... which means you can start picking and choosing what was really from God and what was really a scribe whenever you don't like something.

    Whether it's the most 'helpful approach' is irrelevant. It's not about making scripture most helpful to make a case, it's about figuring out what God has actually said.

  • At 8/22/2007 03:23:00 PM, Blogger Julie

    JulieH - to push the question as it were... how do you choose which manuscript version is the correct God given one? The fact that various forms of the Bible (some with different words, sentences, and paragraphs added or missing)is a fact. So how do you determine which of those manuscripts has come down as the God authored one?

  • At 8/22/2007 03:38:00 PM, Blogger Michele L

    For me, Ehrman made some points that can't be ignored. Certainly there are varying perspectives and depending on one's stance of what "authority" means, those may or may not be well accepted.

    I think under the concepts of patriarchy and certainly the environment of that age, it is very possible that agenda could be part of "changes", additions, etc.

    I find it facinating all that is available for study in the scholarship world. And...whether we like it or not...findings such as those reported by Erhman have affected women in this world. Many will say we can't understand the Bible in a "new way", because it is "dangerous". The reality is...we do and have from the time it was put together.

    We as women are at a much different place in this world than in past generations. Our ability to be educated, have discussions such as these, etc. come from changing thoughts (especially in the Faith world). Even in the most "traditional" forms, Biblical understanding has changed. So where does it stop? Who gets to decide what was "cultural" and thus acceptable to move away from (ie. slavery, oppression of women etc.)? Someone had to, those ideas were not original after the Bible was composed. Therefore, they changed over time with new understanding. And...with great resistance. These things do not change overnight. We don't realize many times the battles within "religion" that occurred just to get us where we are today. It continues and always will. There are many things we can not get around if we tried. Ex. Science, cultures, area of the world, the understanding "we" received vs. the understanding "someone else" received....I could go on and on.

    The tension is hard. We all want to please God. I appreciated reading this book. I found it quite freeing. "Church" circles don't usually discuss these other options as possible...why because a good majority aren't even aware they exist, and many times, because of the "fear" that is inflicted onto those who would even consider looking into something other than the "approved" thinking.

    I for one am glad for the constant evolution of humanity. It gives me hope for continued growth, acceptance, and harmony within the human race. I am thankful for knowledge, the ability as a woman to learn, grow, be respected and accepted as more than property or a "submissive" supporter for men. My hope is that for my daughter and future females we can make even more strides.

  • At 8/22/2007 03:52:00 PM, Blogger Lydia

    Our ability to be educated, have discussions such as these, etc. come from changing thoughts (especially in the Faith world). Even in the most "traditional" forms, Biblical understanding has changed...

    This is a great point.

  • At 8/22/2007 05:58:00 PM, Blogger Michele L

    Julie H-

    To elaborate the question that Julie asked, If God is the author of "whatever" manuscript you accept, then why all the others, and why do we not have a definitive original manuscript? The reason I have a problem with some interpretations of "God as author" is the fact that there are no original's, it isn't totally agreed upon on what all is original. There are so many details involved in the study of these ancient manuscripts. We are so advanced in our knowledge, science, etc. then the generation that compiled the Bible. Bart even points out the fact that only a small minority were literate, and probably not literate in our definition. If those are all we needed, then why would God allow for the discovery of many other "gospels" in recent time, or make sure we had the original's, because that has just caused great "confusion".

    Our generation has got to stop viewing these books within our context. These were written almost 2000 years ago. I don't even think we can truly grasp all that means today. We do the best we can with the knowledge and interpretation we have available to us today.

    As for the comment about picking and choosing being dangerous, the truth is we all do it. That is one of the main reasons for so many differing branches of Christianity. We choose which parts are more "important" and each and every one has something about the Bible they can't fully understand, explain etc.

    I am a part of a community that has been looked upon as "dangerous" because we welcome ANYONE, are open to hearing ANY perspective, and seeking God together. We don't all agree, and we have a very diverse group. I will tell you though, in the last year I have never truly encountered more sincere, God seeking group of people. We are not mechanical people repeating what we know is expected, and we don't live in fear of being ostracized. We talk through HARD concepts, we seek the wisdom within the tension of those growing times.

    There is even great debate on the "inspiration" of the Bible, but even if someone (my-self included) doesn't necessarily feel that inspiration meant "dictated" or written word for word by God, doesn't make it less important. I was raised in a Baptist tradition, I never could "get in to the Bible" until I let go of the rigidity of belief about "what it is". Once I was less concerned about "defining and defending" my position, did I finally become fascinated with it.

  • At 8/22/2007 06:25:00 PM, Anonymous julieH

    julie -
    I think you have to look and see what the majority of texts included and what the earliest texts included, as well as what things meant in the time period and original language.

    Then look at the variants. What copies did they show up in and when? What is really varied? How does that change meaning, if it changes anything?

  • At 8/22/2007 06:43:00 PM, Anonymous julieH

    Michelle I,
    God tells us that he is the author.
    "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work." 2 Ti 3:16-17

    Just because we all pick and choose what we like, doesn't make it right.

    I'm glad you "welcome ANYONE, are open to hearing ANY perspective, and seeking God together. We don't all agree, and we have a very diverse group." I don't think we should be parrots, I don't think we should pretend to agree, and I think God desires all people, and way too many churches are unwilling to welcome people who differ in belief or anyone who looks different from them.

    I do NOT think God dictated the bible to a human being. But I do believe that he was sovereign over what the human authors wrote, and that He is the ultimate author of scripture. That's what I mean by inspiration.

    I am not a Baptist, I was raised in a UMC, as an adult attended an EFCA and an AG plant.

    All that being said, I think it's important to know what the bible is. It affects how I read it and how seriously I take applying it to my life. I treasure God's revelation to us, and am totally fascinated with it.

    Grace and peace,

  • At 8/23/2007 04:30:00 PM, Blogger Heather

    **God tells us that he is the author.**

    The complication for many with this view is that it's using the Bible to "prove" the Bible, though. It would be like saying, "How do we know Person A is good?" and the response being, "Because Person A said so."

    For me, it's more of looking at it in terms of inspiration: something or someone can be a source of inspiration without being directly involved in the creation. Say a storm inspires me to write five poems. I could then say, "All five poems are inspired by storms" but that doesn't mean the storms were the author of the poems.

    That's how I see the Bible. The writers didn't always get it right, because there were cultural limitations, such as slavery and gender issues. But they were also struggling to put into words their encounter with the divine.

  • At 8/23/2007 05:44:00 PM, Blogger Michele L

    Heather....well put. That is exactly how I view it. You did a better job! ;)

  • At 8/24/2007 03:45:00 PM, Anonymous eileen

    I think Ehrman did a pretty good job demonstrating that the original is non-existent at this point, that there is and are tons of variations due to translation errors, copying errors and intentional changes (in many different directions).

    The bible, in my mind, is man's imperfect attempt to hold the teachings of God. God is truth, and incapable of error. Man, not so much. And I think Ehrman did a pretty good job at exposing many different examples of each kind of error.

    The Bible is an important book, but to read it without examining where it came from and how it came into being, including cultural and sociopolitical factors is dangerous, IMO.

  • At 8/26/2007 06:08:00 PM, Anonymous Karen

    Ehrman makes many good points-- most of which are not new. However, his case is overstated. He admits the majority of the errors are inconsequential--spelling errors. We don't have the original, but we have a pretty good "restored" text. Many of these errors are seen and pointed out and fixed.

    That doesn't mean that all the discrepancies are easy to point out--but the ones that he used to illustrate--many of them are corrected in modern translations. So are a moot point. Also, he makes it sound like the basis for key theological points like Jesus' divinity is based on a few verses which are questionable, when, in fact, if you do systematic theology and trace theological themes through out scripture from beginning to end--you can find these themes beyond just a few verses. For example, the Old Testament refers to YHWH as the one to whom every knee shall bow and every tongue confess. Then, the New Testament takes this O.T. reference and applies it to Jesus-equating him with YHWH.

    The Scriptures are much more reliable than Ehrman gives the impression of. One can go and read Isaiah in the Dead Sea Scrolls from 200 B.C. and compare it to a modern translation and they are virtually identical despite 2,000 years separation.

    He also refers to the gnostic gospels as though they are on par with the New Testament gospels. Scholars acknowledge that the gnostic gospels are much later than N.T. gospels. The earliest being the Gospel of Thomas which is dated to about 140 A.D. whereas the N.T. gospels are dated much earlier to 60 A.D. etc.

    Also, the idea that the canon was not created until Constantine is not accurate. There were virtually complete canons circling around long before Constantine.

    Ehrman is a good scholar and he brings out many points that are accurate, and we certainly have been affected by some scribal errors--but he makes it sound like the whole biblical text is in question and can't be trusted at all, which simply isn't true. The wealth of textual evidence for the scriptures is quite significant, more than any other classical literature in the world

    Ultimately, the truth of the Bible proves itself inspired and true by the way that it completely transforms people. People, villages, countries have been transformed by the truth of Jesus.

    On another note, I was just reading a magazine and noticed an ad for a new book called "Misquoting Truth" by Timothy Paul Jones. Its rebuttal to Ehrman's. I haven't read it, but I think I will get it. Would make an interesting compare and contrast.

  • At 8/28/2007 11:47:00 PM, Blogger Heather W. Reichgott

    Hello Julie and all-
    Sorry to make a snarky comment and then not respond to the response. :/ please accept my belatedness!

    I haven't read Misquoting Jesus. I'm just going by the summary in this post. From which it looks like Ehrman is claiming this theory developed by Schussler Fiorenza as his own: that the scriptures display traces of a very early gender-egalitarian Christian community, which were papered over (somewhat) by the redactors of the NT.

    If instead Ehrman is claiming that this theory is "the common textual criticism approach", that's at least a little bit better than using someone's ideas without citing her at all. Certainly, a lot of people have picked up Schuessler Fiorenza's ideas and run with them (citing properly), in the years since In Memory of Her was published.

    Or, does he actually cite Schuessler Fiorenza when he introduces this idea?


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