NT Wright and Women in Ministry
A friend pointed me to Wright’s lecture/artical here. In an early portion of the artical he says:
Remember that the presenting issue in Galatians is circumcision, male circumcision of course. We sometimes think of circumcision as a painful obstacle for converts, as indeed in some ways it was; but of course for those who embraced it it was a matter of pride and privilege. It not only marked out Jews from Gentiles; it marked them out in a way which automatically privileged males. By contrast, imagine the thrill of equality brought about by baptism, the identical rite for Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female. And that’s not all. Though this is somewhat more speculative, the story of Abraham’s family did of course privilege the male line of descent: Isaac, Jacob and so on. What we find in Paul, both in Galatians 4 and in Romans 9, is careful attention being paid – rather like Matthew 1, in fact, though from a different angle – to the women in the story. If those in Christ are the true family of Abraham, which is the point of the whole story, then the manner of this identity and unity takes a quantum leap beyond the way in which first-century Judaism construed them, bringing male and female together as surely and as equally as Jew and Gentile. What Paul seems to be doing in this passage, then, is ruling out any attempt to back up the continuing male privilege in the structuring and demarcating of Abraham’s family by an appeal to Genesis 1, as though someone were to say, ‘But of course the male line is what matters, and of course male circumcision is what counts, because God made male and female.’ No, says Paul, none of that counts when it comes to membership in the renewed people of Abraham.
With all due respect to Wright’s scholarly abilities, I would beg to differ with his appraisal of male/female privilege in the Old Testament. While the sign of the covenant was received by the males only, the point was not that the male was in any way priviledged with a greater/better/more important covenant status. Surely just as significant as the stories about male triumph and male failure are the stories that record female triumph and female failure. And as it relates to the family of Abraham, Sarah’s barrenness, Rebekkah’s barrenness, Rachel’s barrenness… and their subsequent conceptions and motherhood are the triumph of women, the blessing and priviledge of motherhood.
Wright references Matthew 1, and I think that’s a great proof of my point. Matthew goes out of his way to display how integral women were in the story of the Old Covenant.
The fact of the matter of course is that the story of the Fall records the failure of Adam to guard and protect his wife. While Eve did indeed contract her own personal guilt in the story, and all generations of men and women alike are under the curse of death, Adam takes the brunt of the responsibility. He’s the one who is condemned for listening to the voice of his wife.
If anything, the general focus of the Old Testament Scriptures on the male descendents is for their continual failure and flaws. The necessity of marking the male with the sign of the covenant was surely in part a sign of the failure of Adam. Circumcision was not meant to priviledge males in any way except in so far as they were “priviledged” to bear the responsibility of Adam’s sin and it’s effects in their families. Remember too that every male born to the family of Abraham and the subsequent generations of Israel was a “seed of the woman” (in a general sense). This doesn’t downplay the signicance of the female in any way, rather it highlights the “ministry of women” in the Old Covenant, a ministry of life-giving and nurture. The great example of this is Mary, the handmaiden of the Lord, who is blessed by all generations for her faithfulness and courage. She was the new Eve who accepted the word of the Lord and bore the Seed that crushed the head of the dragon. Mary is the fulfillment of all of the female heroes of the Old Testament story from Eve to Rebekkah to Jael to Esther to Anna.