Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul’s Letters

Craig L. Blomberg's review of "Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul’s Letters" by Philip B. Payne.

by Philip B. Payne on February 05, 2010

Book-Man and Woman One in Christ

Philip B. Payne.  Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul’s Letters. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009.  $29.99.  511 pp.  ISBN 978-0-310-21988-0.

It’s not often these days that a book takes thirty-six years to complete.  But Phil Payne has a good excuse.  In between the beginning and end of his work, he founded Linguist’s Software and developed computer fonts for most of the languages in the world!  When Payne began his work while still a Ph.D. student in New Testament at Cambridge in 1973, there were no books of this scope defending an egalitarian position from Paul’s writings.  Had he finished it in the seventies or early eighties, it would have been a blockbuster—and a lightning rod for both praise and criticism.  Today, most all of Payne’s positions are known from other writers, and people have formed their opinions of them.  But it still remains interesting to see which specific synthesis he winds up with.

A short chapter introduces us to backgrounds to Paul’s thought.  Not well known are Gamaliel’s favorable attitudes to women in contrast to most of his peers.  (But then Saul of Tarsus scarcely followed his teacher’s “live and let live” attitude to the early Christians, so it is hard to know how significant this information is for Paul’s likelihood of supporting women in ministry.)  Much more well known are the egalitarian approaches to Genesis that find patriarchy appearing only after the Fall.  Jesus begins to undo this corruption by favoring women, counterculturally by the standards of his day.  The absence of women from the apostles has strictly cultural significance.

Turning to Paul, Payne surveys the women Paul names as “ministry leaders”—especially Phoebe, Priscilla, and Junia, along with a dozen theological “axioms” that affirm the equality of men and women.  Galatians 3:28 cannot be limited to equality with respect to salvation but requires social consequences.  The equal rights of husbands and wives in marriage are repeatedly affirmed in 1 Corinthians 7.  Of course, some complementarians would agree with virtually all Payne writes thus far, so now he narrows his focus to the three most problematic texts, 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, 14:34-35; and 1 Timothy 2:8-15, which occupy his attention for almost all of the rest (about 80%) of the volume.

Payne makes an excellent case for the head covering Paul wants wives to retain in worship in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 11 to be their hair—done up rather than flowing freely, in keeping with the style for almost all married women of the time.  Payne makes a plausible case for long hair on men being forbidden because of its common connotations of homosexuality, especially in the Greek world.  (It is a pity the TNIV deleted the lengthy footnote in the NIV at this point, acknowledging the translational possibilities for verses 4-7 along the lines of this interpretation.)  On the vexed question of kephalē in verse 3, Payne predictably opts for “source,” but at least he acknowledges and discusses the complexity of the issue and the comparative rarity of both metaphorical meanings for “head”—“authority” as well as “origin.”  Ultimately, the immediate context dictates his decision, because not only is the man the kephalē of the woman, but God is the kephalē of Christ, and Payne believes Kevin Giles’ work that functional subordinationism in the Godhead is an early Christological heresy.  (However, Mark Baddeley in a 2004 Reformed Theological Review article argues that Giles repeatedly misreads the patristic evidence, but Payne does not comment on this “refutation”.)

An intriguing and plausible option for verse 7 (“the woman is the glory of man”) is that Paul is implying “and not another man is the glory of man,” especially given the apparent concerns about homosexual practice in this context.  Payne agrees with most scholars these days that the angels appear in verse 10 as watchers of worship, and he correctly translates the verse not as the woman having “a sign of authority on her head” but as having “control over her head.”  Verses 8-9 explain why the various “glories” of verse 7 have come to be, but verses 11-12 show that in Christ there are no differences in roles to threaten the equal standing of men and women. ( Like Rebecca Groothuis, Payne finds the concept of functional subordination within ontological equality virtually non-sensical, so he doesn’t really consider it as an intermediate option. )  Verses 14-15 reflect further cultural attitudes, while verse 16 should be rendered “we have no such practice” rather than “we have no other practice.”  But, instead of this meaning that Paul has no uniform policy at all, as some egalitarians have argued, Payne also realizes in context it more likely means “we have no practice that would disallow my commands,” so the different translations lead to approximately the same conclusions.

Much more debatable is Payne’s treatment of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, although it is a commonplace in non-evangelical scholarship these days for these verses to be labeled post-Pauline.  Building on Gordon Fee’s work and reflecting his own previously published articles, Payne opts for the interpolation hypothesis.  Why are these verses placed after verses 39-40 in a handful of (mostly late) manuscripts?  Not because that is the much more logical place for them, after Paul has completed his treatment of prophecy and speaking in tongues, and thus exactly where we might expect some scribes to move them, but because they were originally absent from Paul’s autograph altogether.  Marginal sigla in the very early and reliable Codex Vaticanus support the case for textual variants having existed at this point.  Payne strengthens his argument from his previous publications for these sigla indicating textual variants at this point rather than being used as some other kind of marker, but no new information makes the case more probable that the variants implied involved the absence of these verses rather than their relocation

Payne counters that there are no other known examples of NT scribes transposing “blocks of text to other places to improve the logic of a passage” (p. 229).  Presumably what he means is that there are no other examples of them doing so with this large a passage, since scribes were certainly known to rearrange words, phrases and clauses within a sentence or within a one-to-two verse span of material in order to improve the logic of a passage as they understood it.  I still think the stronger egalitarian argument is Craig Keener’s, in his Paul, Women and Wives, that Paul is silencing disruptive or uneducated questioning that should be dealt with by married women asking their husbands at home.  And I don’t sense that Payne has felt the full force of the complementarian argument from the narrative flow of the passage that makes speaking in the context of evaluating prophecy far more likely than it would be  based just on an analysis of these two verses alone.

A brief chapter on Ephesians 5:21-33 and Colossians 3:18-19 treats role relationships in marriage.  “Source” is again better than “authority” for kephalē  (so Payne) in a context in which the parallel is drawn to Christ’s sacrificial self-giving to nurture the church.  But Payne says little about kephalē being combined with “submit” (hypotassomai) in this context.  Perhaps it would be better to speak of Paul redefining authority in terms of sacrificial responsibility rather than privilege.  And I am puzzled by what Payne means, as an egalitarian, when he writes of why Paul calls wives to submit but men to love:  “Paul highlights for women and men what each tend to need to hear most.  Women tend to need a call to submit, men to love” (p. 277).  How is this any different from a moderate or chastened complementarianism at this point?

A meticulous and thorough analysis of 1 Timothy 2 brings us almost to the end of the book.  Payne is already known for his argument, of which I am convinced, now recently published in New Testament Studies, that parallel parts of speech conjoined with oude, as in verse 12, create an informal hendiadys.   In other words, the expressions combine to define one activity rather than two separate ones.  The evidence for this is rehearsed again here.  Payne, however, disputes Andreas Köstenberger’s equally careful study of such structures (in the book he co-edited on Women in the Church), which argues that they also very consistently pair two activities that are either both positive or both negative, so that if the teaching in verse 12 is normal, healthy instruction, then so must be the exercise of authority.  Payne includes me as one of the scholars he takes to task for having “uncritically accepted [Köstenberger’s] thesis” (p.  356 and n. 48). 

But how can Payne know whether or not I scrutinized Köstenberger; in fact, I evaluated his examples quite carefully and critically accepted them.  The rebuttal Payne offers involves passages interpreted in strange ways to turn them into counterexamples.  For example, he lists “the one who did the wrong nor. . .the one who was wronged” (2 Cor. 7:12).  Evil is involved in both instances, but Payne says the one is meant to elicit sympathy and the other antipathy so that they aren’t both bad.   He cites, “we were not idle when we were with you, and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it” (2 Thess. 3:7-8).  Clear synonymous parallelism is at work here—both are negative actions that Paul eschews.  Payne does not even explain how he sees it otherwise.  Or again, Payne cites “to sleep or be indolent” in a passage in Plutarch where Payne thinks a reference to dreams turns sleeping into something positive.  But the context has a speaker declaring that he has no right to do either action despite a trophy he has won.  In fact, of the seven counterexamples Payne presents, only two come from the NT (the texts noted above), and the only one that is a clear counterexample is in Sirach 18:6, a full two hundred years earlier than the time needed for analyzing grammatical meaning in Paul’s day.

When it comes to authentein, Payne stresses that the unambiguously positive uses of the term for ordinary or even positive exercise of authority are all post-Pauline and that the contextually appropriate definitions that are demonstrably pre-Pauline are “domineer” or, what Payne prefers, “assume authority.”  Because he believes the references in the Pastorals to women being seduced by the heresy in Ephesus mean that they were also involved in teaching it (a point never demonstrated), the “assumption of authority” that is proscribed is its inappropriate or unauthorized assumption.  Properly delegated authority to women, presumably by an entire congregation, could be completely acceptable.  Now I will grant that “assume authority,” given the lexical evidence, may well be an improvement over “exercise authority” (so also TNIV), but, given Köstenberger’s analysis, it should not be taken merely to mean inappropriately assumed authority.  It still seems better to me to combine the valid insights of both men and see “teach or exercise authority” as defining a single, positive role (or even, “office”), which, as I have repeatedly argued, 3:1-7 and 5:17 suggest is that of elder or overseer.

Perhaps anticipating that not all will accept his lexical-grammatical analysis of these words, Payne relies further on the present tense of “permit” (epitrepō) and suggests in keeping with verbal aspect that it is better rendered “I am not permitting” so as to indicate something other than a timeless command.  This would be a legitimate insight if the statement were phrased positively, “I am permitting. . .”  But verbal aspect with a negative prohibition means “I am [continually] not permitting. . .”  Perhaps in some other time or place Paul would have behaved differently, but nothing in the use of the present tense by itself allows us to deduce this.  The verbal aspect actually suggests his practice is a more continual prohibition than if he had just used the default tense of the aorist. 

As for the statements of rationale in verses 13-14, Payne takes these as better explaining the injunctions to learning quietly and submissively in verses 11-12, given the context of deception by the false teachers “and the respect woman owes man as her source” (p. 403).  But then would men not need to respect women teachers and learn from them peaceably and submissively?  Why the lack of symmetry in verse 13 even if it is not explaining Paul’s prohibition?  And while occasionally a gar-clause can refer back to material that is not its nearest antecedent, this is neither common nor a natural interpretation in this context.

Finally, Payne defends “the Childbirth” (of the Messiah) as the way to translate teknogonia and solve the puzzles of verse 15.  He argues that 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 do not prevent women from being elders or overseers.  And he concludes and summarizes by arguing that Paul consistently champions egalitarianism.

Although Payne has compiled a very ample bibliography, there are still a few surprising gaps in the views with which he interacts, including the fuller 2005 version of my views, published in the revised edition of Two Views of Women in Ministry.  Understandably, most of his interaction with complementarianism is with the more strident and thoroughgoing form represented especially in Wayne Grudem’s and John Piper’s various works and those of a similar perspective.  But there is a “kinder, gentler” complementarianism (what William Webb in Slaves, Women and Homosexuals calls “ultra-soft patriarchalism”!) that escapes Payne’s notice at several points and that remains slightly preferable in my view.  For someone who wants an extraordinarily detailed defense of egalitarianism in Paul, however, Payne is a must read.  And, in my opinion, his is second only to Keener’s book as an exegetically plausible egalitarian approach.  But with both, I remain just “almost persuaded”.

Craig L. Blomberg, Ph.D.
Distinguished Professor of New Testament
February 2010

Tags: egalitarian, philip, payne, man, woman, one in christ, exegetical, theological, paul’s letters, craig, blomberg

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