Saturday, March 15, 2014

Women in the Congregation, Part 1: "Brothers"

Something bugs me.  I have lived in the Bible Belt for the past nine years.  I realized this has colored my perception of the church, but the Bible Belt is a really big place and it has a lot of people and it has a huge influence on the American church.  Of all the things that bug me, one thing has come to the fore lately.  Women in the church.

For a while, I have wanted to start writing about women in the church.  But this is such a huge and encompassing issue, that I have decided to take it piece by piece, in no particular order, and so this post is entitled "Part 1."  There are going to be a bunch of parts.  I know not yet how many.  But in each one, I want to address at least one issue that contributes to the over arching narrative present in the American church today regarding women.

In this first one, I want to address a simple translation inaccuracy.

In Koine Greek, the language of the New Testament, like many languages, and unlike English, there are words with gender.  The word translated in English as "brothers" or "brethren" does not in Greek mean simply "brothers" as in male siblings.  If you have a Bible with good foot notes, all instances of "brothers" will be cited as referring to the word "adelphoi" or "brothers and sisters."  But there is no equivalent word in English for "sibling" in the same spiritual sense as "brethren."

 If you are a student in language, you will notice a few things.  Similarly in Spanish, hermano means brother, and hermana is sister, but what is a group of brothers and sisters?  Again we are left with one word which does not translate into English directly, hermanos.  And it's the same word as brothers plural.

So there is a bias introduced into the text simply by translating it into English.

Many "conservative" scholars have decried adjustments in certain translations to try to account for this oversight.  If you try to make up the difference by using other words, you will be labelled "liberal" and "trying to be politically correct."  But the inherent bias is there and it should be corrected so that the original understanding of the terms and messages can be communicated.  A better word than brothers would be brethren, but what is the definition of brethren but "brothers and sisters."

When you remove the bias, you have women who are apostles, deacons, prophets, and who use their homes as meeting places.  Women are the first witnesses of the resurrection, and women deliver and probably exegete at least one of Paul's letters to the congregations.  It is far from the idea presented in modern American churches that women are to be subordinate to men in the congregation and that women cannot teach men.

But this is only one single facet of the issue and this post isn't going to change your view on women in the church.  So I shall move to facet number two.  Suggestions are appreciated.

Here are the finished parts:
Part 2: A Knockdown Verse

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