Neo-Feminism

T

hroughout the 1970’s, 80’s, and 90’s, the battle for the inerrancy of the Bible raged throughout the evangelical world, especially in America. Eventually, the supporters of inerrancy gained the upper hand, and it became dangerous for an evangelical to openly oppose the doctrine. So a new method was seized upon to get around Paul’s teachings. Instead of saying that Paul was wrong, now it became fashionable to say that Paul’s teachings are misunderstood by the modern reader.

It is now a question of hermeneutics, not of inspiration. According to the modern evangelical feminist argument, Paul was addressing a particular situation in his culture, and was not giving permanent commands. For example, he wrote that slaves should obey their masters; this did not mean that slavery was a good institution. In fact, he said slaves should seek their freedom if possible.[1]

In the same way, so the argument goes, Paul’s statements about women submitting to male leadership in the home and church reflect the culture of the times, and are not to be taken as absolute and permanent guidelines in a different culture.

This last argument has been greatly expanded and strengthened by much research and writing in recent years. A typical statement of this position is that of James Payton, professor of history at Redeemer University College in Ontario, Canada.[2] He points out that in traditional Greek culture, respectable women did not appear in public alone and never conversed with men other than their families.

Normally they stayed at home in comparative isolation from the outside world. The only women accepted in public male company were prostitutes, either the regular, uneducated prostitutes (the pornai) or the educated, “high-class” prostitutes (the hetairai). Payton notes especially the role of hetairai in Greek culture. They were often highly sought out by prominent male citizens for companionship. They were expensively and attractively dressed, and could converse knowledgeably on topics of interest. When a woman was observed conversing with men in public, it was assumed that she was of this type. With this cultural world in mind, so the argument goes, one can see why Paul urged women in Ephesus not to speak out in public in the church, but to ask questions of their own husbands at home