Wright talks about Philemon & Frye talks about Jesus and Women

Go here for a remarkable sermon by N.T. Wright on Paul’s letter to Philemon (there is both an audio and a video option–it’s just over 14 minutes long).  I just read Philemon a couple of times last week (it’s very short).  Afterwards I thought, “OK, Paul is embracing this former slave as a brother, but I’m not sure what else this letter is about.”  Wright does a nice job elucidating.  (It’s also an example in the value of being familiar with the historical context of a passage.)

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John Frye, in his post “Jesus and Expectations: Part 7- Women“:

Whatever the debate is today, it is undeniable that Jesus had very liberal views and relationships with women in his 1st century Jewish culture. Whatever his culture’s boundary markers were, he broke them. I will present three episodes of Jesus’ relationship to women. (Link)

The three episodes are Jesus speaking “publicly and theologically” to the Samaritan woman at the well (in John chapter 4); the prostitute who anointed Jesus’ feet with perfume (in Luke chapter 7); and Mary anointing Jesus with myrrh (inMark chapter 14).  John ends the post with this:

Jesus’ relationship to women did not follow the cultural scripts. Neither does the Gospel follow cultural scripts. The Gospel liberates women to their rightful place with their brothers in the work of the kingdom of God. Phoebe was a leader, a deacon. Junia was an outstanding apostle. Priscilla was an effective discipler of Apollos. Many other women were co-workers, not sub-workers, with Paul in the ministry of the Gospel. It all got started with Jesus. (Link)

What has been interesting the learn in the last couple of years is that it’s not only Jesus’ words that are his teaching, but also his actions.  Both his teaching and living are theological.  (And, once again, a fine example of the necessity of being familiar with context.)

Like John does in the post, I highly recommend Scot McKnight’s book The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible.  I grew up in what was officiallycomplementarian home (I’ll let Wikipedia explain the term), though it wasn’t something I saw in practice very often.  Over the years I’ve slowly moved away from that view, and McKnight’s book was the proverbial nail in the coffin for any remaining complementarianism (I think).

(McKnight’s book is not, incidentally, about gender roles and the church or, for that matter, about the symbolism of Jesus’ actions.  The book is about how we read the Bible; women in church ministry is his chosen case study for that reading.)

12 thoughts on “Wright talks about Philemon & Frye talks about Jesus and Women

  1. John W Frye

    Thanks, brother, for the shout out about “Jesus and Expectations- Women.” And to be associated directly with NT Wright (one of my theological heroes) is a compliment indeed. If you don’t mind, I’ll add you to my blog roll. Blessings!

  2. Toni

    I find it interesting how both sides (complementarians and egalitarians interpret those exact same scriptures in John Frye’s quote the opposite way round. I wonder who’s correct?

    I’d also love to know why Jesus didn’t choose a woman to be an apostle. There must have been a number around that heard his teaching from the beginning, and it can’t have been because he was a man of His culture (as JF points out).

    FWIW my viewpoint has shifted over the years, in that I used to be a convinced that a woman in leadership was fundamentally wrong. I now believe that God calls those who are willing, and if men aren’t going to come forward then He’ll work with the women that will. It’s not second best from His point of view, though I think it does break His intended order, and further down the line there’s a price that everyone will pay for it.

  3. Toni

    BTW outside a church context I’ve worked for a mixture of both men and women. With a single exception in each case, the women have been difficult to work for and the men have been OK to work for. I am still good friends with one of the women who was difficult to,and like her very much, so it’s not just a personality thing. The one guy who was bad to work for was a bully and given to emotional blackmail. 2 of the women I worked for had emotional stress (and both came near to breakdowns) as a result of managerial pressures that most men in equivalent roles seemed to carry OK.

    While there are exceptions, my experience from business is that women are good to have working for you, but bad to work for. I’m no misogynist, but I’ve had some very bad times out there.

  4. Linea

    I think that the biggest qualifier for leadership in the church needs to be sensitivity to the Spirit. Male or female. If that is the case, then God becomes the leader as should be the case in the church. Our gender may have a big part to play in how we act out that role since God has gifted us all in different ways and we respond to God out of our humanness which includes our personalities and emotions.

    But, of course, given my present direction, I do believe that women have a role to play in church leadership. I’ve never been concerned about whether I’m a complementarian or egalitarian. I just know that when God calls there is a tremendous compulsion to follow and I am so glad that my culture has taken down some of the barriers to allow me to do that.

    Toni, too bad you had a bad experience working with women in management roles. Actually, I’ve worked under women who were not good managers too. But I do know women who are good managers and great to work under(Leo’s last boss at the health district has been wonderful.)

    I hope I am a good boss as well. I know that I am not a type A person and that would perhaps frustrate some men since I lead more by example than by dictate. My biggest stresser is conflict but I probably deal with it about as well as a man who hates conflict.

  5. Toni

    Linea – if you lead by example then you’re probably a good manager, though less of a boss. FWIW this is more my management style too. The issue with women managers I’ve had has been that they tend to instruct ambiguously, micro-manage, won’t trust their staff to do a good job and won’t support them if there appears to be an issue. I did work for one woman whom I appreciated very much, s it IS possible.

    Personally, I would seriously consider declining a job if I knew I would work for a woman, not because I’m sexist, but past experience has taught me that there’s a world of hurt waiting, 5 times out of 6.

  6. Marc


    Do you mean why didn’t Jesus choose female disciples? There were more apostles then the 12 disciples–Paul, for one, and depending on how you translate/interpret Romans 16:7, Junia (a woman) as well.

    I admit I don’t see the correlation between your experience of women in the workplace and God’s will in terms of the place of women in church leadership. You have good leaders and poor leaders, male or female. What if you just had bad luck in bosses? What if managing in your line of work is particularly high stress?

    “I think it does break His intended order.” I guess here it comes down to interpretation again (as you point out). And which passages? Do you mean the order in Genesis 2? And if so, do you see that order as hierarchical in terms of gender roles? Or do you mean the order in some of the epistles? What about the order in the Kingdom (“neither male nor female”)?

    Interestingly, after I posted this I was at the Providence bookstore and noticed a book on display: “Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood”. I was a bit dubious–it is by John Piper and another fellow, so I knew where it was going. But I did open it up and noticed an essay by Douglas Moo (one of the translators, I believe, of both the ESV [arguably the complementarian’s translation of choice] and the TNIV [arguably the egalitarian’s translation of choice]) which seemed to take the opposite view on some of the passages which Scot McKnight covered at the end of his book. I’ll have to take a closer look.

  7. Toni

    Yes, thanks Marc, I did mean one of the disciples (although he obviously had a lot of disciples too).

    The correlation was about women in leadership roles, church or otherwise.

    About breaking the intended order, I’m thinking of Deborah and Barak as an example, but I’d see it as implied throughout the bible (but then I would, wouldn’t I?). The idea of neither male nor female is an aspect of the age to come, and true of our standing and value before God, but not *entirely* of our time here on earth (there is also neither Jew nor Greek, but many would interpret God doing specific things with the Jews in the end times). In heaven there is no longer marriage, and we might ask why that is. I think that in our standing before God there is no difference between men and women, yet we are still clothed in and shaped by our flesh (I am making up my theology as I go along, typing pout loud) and that is what makes the difference here. I wonder how much of what makes men flawed in male ways and women flawed in female ways is a direct result of our fallen bodies?

  8. Linea

    I think Jesus seemed to have a penchant for breaking the intended order – maybe to let us know that there are other things more important than following the intended order. And there could be some argument given as to who really intended the order inherent in a patriarchal cultural system. Was it the creator or the one who came in and messed with our relationships?

  9. Collette

    Toni, you’re English right? the UK is a pretty male-dominated society if you ask me. (I lived in Scotland for a year.) I would venture to guess as Marc mentioned that you simply had bad luck. but I would also pose that in a very macho society, which the UK seems to be, being a female leader would be a significantly tougher job than being a male leader. and facing a workplace where her employees, such as yourself, are already on the defensive (or perhaps offensive) because she’s a woman would not make things easier. also, if you relate better to men in general, then you may find being lead by a man is easier for you since you are a man. a woman may find the opposite.

    also I think if you once thought that “a woman in leadership is fundamentally wrong”, the women you worked for would be picking up on that. or you would be projecting that.

    I think life tends to be more about YOU and less about THEM, if you ask me. (conversely my life’s experiences are shaped by what is going on inside of my head, not by what’s going on inside of the heads of those around me.)

  10. Toni

    Collette – nice try. However England is very little like Scotland in terms of inter-gender culture and interactions. Which bit did you live in? Edinburgh would be more Anglicised, Dundee and Glasgow much tougher.

    I don’t have a problem with female managers in a secular society. And I’ve been at work long enough (>30 years) to know good from bad management. I was certainly not alone in my assessment of managers with problems (and some of my ex-colleagues who were quite liberal about these things would be much less charitable with their words).

    Sometimes others force themselves into your own personal world so that no matter how you try, you can’t buffer them out. Yes, perception is about what’s inside of us to a degree, but sometimes no matter how ‘nice’ or ‘liberal’ one is you can’t deny getting crapped all over by someone further up the food chain.

    I’m in a slightly grumpy mood tonight, so sorry if I’m coming across a bit short. But I remember quite clearly the times I was shouted at, the way I’d be given conflicting instructions (this was normal from several of them). The way I was humiliated in front of a consultant by the nature of the questions I’d be asked and the suggestion that I didn’t know even the basics of my job: we were friends then and I am still good friends with that particular ex-manager. One woman started out great, then flipped after a couple of years. I have also watched women managing other departments and in parallel with me, and while some have been good, most have not from a subordinates point of view.

    One male manager I worked for was an utter bastard, but the worst of the rest of the males (a pathological liar, but not stupid) was more stable and a better manager than all but one of the female managers. Unlucky? How many data points do we need for convincing probability?

    The comment I made about Linea’s management style was a complement. If she really does lead like that (I have no reason to think otherwise) then she’s somewhat unusual among female managers, and a bit of a gem.

  11. Collette

    I lived in Edinburgh.

    my take is that because you think women can’t lead, few women will ever live up to your standards. if you go in to a situation expecting troubles, you will get troubles. and if you live in a macho society where women aren’t expected to lead well, the women will be under more pressure to perform, leading them to “flip” later if they don’t meet such huge expectations.

    my comment on perception isn’t about you being “nice” or “liberal”. it’s about you automatically assuming a woman will be a poor leader, and about you thinking she can’t communicate, when perhaps it’s you who can’t understand. I would venture to guess that you are BOTH the problem, not just the fact that she’s female.

    also, your views on what makes a good manager vs what makes a good boss seem to be very outdated. I don’t think the emerging business world believes in the same kind of boss that you believe in. good bosses now are expected to lead by example. they are not Mr Fatcat sitting in this office barking out orders with nothing to back them up but blind faith in his leadership.

    but then, fundamentally you and I, Toni, are about as opposite as two people can be. so, I don’t expect you get what I’m saying, just as I completely don’t get what you are saying. I’m agreeing to disagree on this one.

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