Lucy Peppiatt’s Rediscovering Scripture’s Vision for Women: Fresh Perspectives on Disputed Texts

If you are like me certain things are important when making decisions. I like new ideas, especially new theological ideas. But one deal breaker for me is when new theological ideas have no basis in the bible. I want to see how the new idea interacts with the text before making my final decision on it.

I remember watching a documentary on cable one day just a month or two before the pandemic about the gospel of Judas or some other such text and what it really means. The documentary I was watching was very well put together and it led me through the process of how people first interpreted this document and how they were saying that our understanding of Bible times needs to change because of it. Just when I was starting to feel uncomfortable about the implications of this they introduced the next step of the story. All of a sudden a different expert in the languages comes in and looks at the documents, and to her surprise, and my relief, she realizes that the language had been misinterpreted and the new claims have no basis in the document. I realised at that moment that sometimes it takes someone to arise and say, “Wait a minute. I’m not sure that’s the way things should be.”

I grew up in evangelical churches. I not only grew up in them, but I even served on the pastoral staff one for a while. In fact, I am an ordained Baptist minister. So my evangelical roots and orthodoxy are strong. One thing I learned early on is that the bible teaches that there are differences between men and women, and primarily differences in the roles that men and women play in the family and the church. I suspect that you may have the same experience. For many years I didn’t think too deeply about it but from time to time the issue has raised it’s head. I tended to reject any new interpretations because they seemed to be non-biblical. One Old Testament class in seminary clearly taught us that the creation order outlined in Genesis 2 & 3 proved these gender differences. I remember even writing in on a survey distributed to our church that I would leave the church if they changed their mind on this issue 🙂 O for the certainty of youth!

Then my sister gave me the book last year. We have always been a family of readers so a new book was a good choice. I recently had a chance to finally finish the book and I must say I found it to be pretty impressive.The book is Lucy Peppiatt’s Rediscovering Scripture’s Vision for Women: Fresh Perspectives on Disputed Texts and it serves as someone saying, “Wait a minute. I am not sure that’s the way things should be.” 

This book makes sense biblically. Lucy Peppiatt’s book both points out things in the bible that I had overlooked as well as introduces alternative interpretations of the key passages addressing the issue.

I remember a conversation I had years ago in seminary with my professor and friend Stanley E. Porter. He was talking about a paper he had written on some aspect of New Testament studies that relied on a rather small Greek word. His lesson for me that day was that he needed to find another scholar who also had the same idea — it wasn’t enough for him to merely come up with something new all by himself. I have taken that lesson to heart when I approach the bible. That’s why Peppiatt’s alternative interpretations ring true because she is very careful to point out that she isn’t just coming up with something new on her own but that these interpretations have a long history. I should also point out that Peppiatt is very clear in indicating when multiple possible interpretations exist for a text and is very sure to not force her own views on her reader. Rather she is opening up other legitimate interpretations for the reader to consider.

There is so much I could say about this book but here are just a few things that jumped out at me. You will need to read it for yourself in order to benefit from everything she says.

Regular readers of this blog know that masculinities is one of my favourite subject. Peppiatt doesn’t disappoint in this area. Here’re a couple of great quotes that are useful in helping us move towards a better understanding of gender as a whole and masculinity in particular:

“There are few examples of the Bible narratives telling us that women are or should be like this and that men are or should be like that.”

“What I, and many others, find fascinating is that this male Saviour offers us a unique picture of manhood. This is what God looks like when he becomes a man — at once powerful, authoritative, secure, holy, angry at injustice, and also broken, vulnerable, isolated, and weeping He is both acquiescent and resistant in the face of violence, but never retaliates like for like. This is a challenge to what is traditionally viewed as masculine and feminine traits.”

“And so we end where we began, with gendered language for God and for the church that turns out to be symbolic, figurative, and resistant to stereotyped views.”

If Peppiatt is right about these things, then current conversations that define Christian or biblical masculinity as THIS or THAT need to be reexamined. Apparently the bible is not as clear cut as we might like. But then again, nuance is a key part of contextual theology and appropriating faith, isnt’ it?

Peppiatt also spends a good amount of time addressing key bible passages surrounding the debate. One of them hits rather close to home for me. Earlier I mentioned how a close study of Genesis 2 & 3 in seminary convinced me about the reality of the creation order that places men in authority over women. What Peppiatt so ably points out, and what I so clearly missed, is that Genesis doesn’t start in Chapter 2. Rather, we need to go back to what Chapter 1 says when theologising. Realising that male and female are described together in that Chapter puts a whole new spin on things.

I also appreciated the focus on understanding that describing Eve as a “fit helpmate” means that she has “a power equal to man.” This means that she is not subordinate at the time of creation but is in fact equal.

The centrality of Genesis 3:16 is also key for me. I have touched on this here. It seems to me, and perhaps I figured this out before reading Peppiatt but it is certainly ably reinforced by her, that we need to read this verse realising that its position post-fall requires us to understand it as describing the way things will be from now on. Because of the sin of Adam and Eve, their relationship will be marred and as such will be characterised by “desire” and “rule” rather than the mutuality that existed pre-fall. That means that anything that reinforces either “desire” or “rule” between men and women is sinful and needs to be redeemed. Peppiatt says it much better than I:

“Genesis 3:16 is a sign of both female and male disorder and tragedy. A woman, in her brokenness and vulnerability, turns to a man rather than to God to meet her needs, and instead of kindness and compassion she encounters his broken and disordered need to dominate her, a tragedy played out with sickening regularity throughout history.”

Peppiatt also enters into a very in depth and thorough discussion of what headship means. These verses are notoriously hard to understand with more questions being raised than answered. I wrote a little bit about this here. Here I will just quote Peppiatt:

“My conviction is that these verses reflect Paul’s opponents’ ideas and this this very Greco-Roman view of creation has infected the church at Corinth while functioning as the men’s rationale to put the women int he congregation in head coverings for worship.”

This conviction is based upon the idea that in his letter to the Corinthians, Paul is addressing a series of questions raised by the church(which he directly quotes) and giving his answers. It is no means an interpretation unique to Peppiatt. What is clear from the text, however, in spite of the vast variety of interpretations offered, is that “Paul, the apostle, releases women to pray and prophesy in public along with the men, as he has just explained. They are not to sit in silence but participate equally with their husbands.”

Peppiatt addressed male and female participation in marriage by entering into a fascinating discussion of household codes and how important they were in the early Near East. I would encourage you to read this but let me just say that according to Peppiatt, Paul’s use of these codes is actually an adaptation that begins to undermine traditional understandings of family roles and allows change to be incorporated into the family for the better. She says, “In a culture where wives were often regarded as both chattel and easily expendable, Paul redefines a husband’s responsibilities toward his wife in terms of enduring covenant faithfulness, monogamy, and self-sacrifice.”

Another area addressed in the book is how the doctrine of the trinity has been undermined of late by those who want to insert hierarchy into it. One can’t simply redefine trinity to include a hierarchy between Father and Son so that a hierarchy can be created between men and women. Peppiatt says, “I hope it has become clear that the idea that the male represent the Father in his authority and the female represents the Son in his submission as a way of trying to lock in male-female relationships.”

Peppiatt has so much more to say but you will have to read that for yourself. I will end this by pointing out that if you want to see great example of contextualization in action take a look at the final chapter, which is a fabulous look at 1 Timothy 2. Peppiatt, relying heavily on Hoag and Glahn, gives a detailed account of how Paul did contextualisation based on the early novel Ephesiaca. Wow! Stuff like that is so cool!

Suffice it to say I highly recommend this book. However, I suspect that some reading this book feel I may have fallen off the deep end. Let me tell you that I get where you are coming from. I was there myself. I was happy to live in my beliefs without considering any new arguments or evidence. Why not take a leap and read Peppiatt’s book? It may provide some answers that you have been looking for.

If you feel like sharing your journey with this topic why not leave a comment below?

Remember sharing is what friends do.

Image is copyright IVP.

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