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Saint Paul

Rethinking 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is fairly standard now:

women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.

A regular interpretation now is to understand that in these two verses Paul is not giving his own position but that he is quoting a saying and that in fact he disagrees with this saying, responding to it with a rebuke:

Did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only ones it has reached?

Another “clobber passage” that regularly does the rounds is Romans 1:26-27

For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.

Again there are various interpretations of this text, including understanding sin to be going against one’s nature. If one questions whether females have one nature, and males another, then are homosexuals going against their nature in trying to fit into a heterosexual relationship? Not to mention that there is obviously no mention of female same-sex sexual activity in the Old Testament from which Paul can draw – why is it referred to here?

But there may be a simpler way forward, akin to the insight followed above for 1 Corinthians 14:34-35.

This interpretation hinges on your answer to, “What do you make of the vocative at the beginning of Romans 2?

The condemnatory nature of Romans 1:18-32 fits awkwardly, if at all, with the the rest of the epistle. Contrasting with the rest of the letter, the third person plural occurs here with striking concentration, with repetition of the third-person pronoun αὐτός thirteen times, the reflexive (“themselves”) once, and third-person plural verbs over and over.

And then there is that vocative in Romans 2:1 ὦ ἄνθρωπε “Oh man”.

Professor Roy Bowen Ward in Why Unnatural? The Tradition behind Romans 1:26–27 states “It is still open to question whether these two verses represent Paul’s voice or the voice of a rhetorical spokesperson in Rom 1:18-32, whom the apostle criticizes beginning in Rom 2:1.” Calvin Porter concludes Romans 1:18-32 does not represent Paul’s view, but the prevailing view of Gentiles among many Jews at the time, which Paul, apostle to the Gentiles, is arguing against! “In 2:1-16, as well as through Romans as a whole, Paul, as part of his Gentile mission, challenges, argues against, and refutes both the content of the discourse and the practice of using such discourses. If that is the case then the ideas in Rom. 1.18-32 are not Paul’s. They are ideas which obstruct Paul’s Gentile mission theology and practice.”

This approach of Paul’s leads ultimately to Romans 14:13 where he uses language strikingly similar to Romans 2:1

Let us therefore no longer pass judgement on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling-block or hindrance in the way of another.

image: St. Paul the Apostle by Claude Vignon

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