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Friday, August 03, 2007

1 Cor.: the angels

Several places in 1 Corinthians angels are mentioned, notably in chapter 11 - "for the sake of the angels." Gordon Fee emphasized that the angels were spiritual beings without gender, and that the confusion of the Corinthians was that they thought of themselves as being in this angelic ungendered state while still on earth.

This was behind the instructions in 1 Cor. 7 for people to carry on with life in the condition in which they found themselves when they became believers. Paul was explaining that the physical life was good and given by God.

While Fee was very frank about the fact that there was much about 1 Cor. 11 that he did not see as being clear or unambiguous, he made certain inferences. First, he maintains at all times that equality and mutuality are the basis of the male-female relationship in 1 Cor., based on chapter 7. Next, he notes that Paul establishes the good of the physical relationship and the good of celibacy.

So, going into chap. 11, men and women are equal and not necessarily married. That is the groundwork for understanding the chapter. And why the angels in verse 10? Because the angels are ungendered. However, the Christians at Corinth are to behave in a way that does not ignore the reality and the goodness of the two genders; they must demonstrate their recognition of the male-female distinction. Therefore, Fee favours the translation "angels" and not "messengers" in verse 10.

It is vital at this point for me to say that Fee and most egalitarians, as far as I know, believe in the complementarity of the sexes, but do not hold to a hierarchical view. They believe in mutuality and faithfulness (1 Cor. 7) as the fundamental basis for intimacy rather than authority and submission. They also believe in the wholeness of the single life, the completeness of the individual in Christ.

This lays a foundation for understanding the different main areas of teaching in 1 Corinthians, the teaching regarding marriage and the family, the unity of the body of Christ, and the purpose of the gifts of the Spirit. Fee admits that there are many things that we have not been told explicitly and it is best to simply accept that we are not going to uncover intentionality where there is none.

I want to thank Doug Chaplin for responding to my post on baptism. He brings up many interesting points. At this point we really don't know whether pools were present or not in the houses mentioned in Acts - see Doug's post and Peter's comments. However, I don't want to lose sight of the fact that Fee did not articulate any position regarding the necessity of baptism by immersion. On the contrary he put forth his view that the references to baptism in the Spirit in 1 Cor. 12 was metaphor to teach about the unity of the body of Christ.

In fact, it is the unity of Christians into one body in the Spirit that is Fee's major emphasis. The only reason I have not spent more time on this is that it impinges more on hermeneutics than translation. I can only recommend Fee's books for his overall teaching.

21 Comments:

At Sat Aug 04, 06:28:00 AM, Blogger Jeremy Pierce said...

They believe in mutuality and faithfulness (1 Cor. 7) as the fundamental basis for intimacy rather than authority and submission. They also believe in the wholeness of the single life, the completeness of the individual in Christ.

Most complementarians would affirm both things as well, in my experience. The difference isn't whether there is complementarity or whether there is equality. Both camps say yes to both questions. There are radical egalitarians who seek to ignore any differences between men and women, but its best proponents seek not to do that. There are also traditionalists who aren't really complementarians who deny any equality between men and women in nature, in effect denying Gal 3:28.

But most complementarians and egalitarians affirm Gal 3:28 while insisting that there are some ways that men and women are nonetheless distinct. The debate is over which ways those are. I doubt most complementarians would include the basis of intimacy as one of those ways, and I know of none who think we are spiritually incomplete without a mate.

 
At Sat Aug 04, 08:54:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Jeremy,

My observation is that most complementarian women function as less than complete without a mate.

Egalitarian women and complementarian women equally want to be feminine, want to be married, and read Jane Austen.

Complementarian women, to my observation, live in preparation for marriage, function in relation to a dominant male, and do not honour their own God given gifts and their own God given strength, initiative and leadership skills.

Both types of women share the same tendencies and interests, and have their natural femininity in common but they frame the difficulties of singleness in a completely different way. IMO

Most of the time we behave as individuals and should just scrap the categories. Who came up with them anyway?

 
At Sat Aug 04, 03:25:00 PM, Blogger Jeremy Pierce said...

Well, I think Christians in our day are too independent in general. A healthy congregation should become more and more interdependent, and I would say the same is true of a healthy marriage.

My experience doesn't confirm yours in terms of singles. Complementarian women in my experience do not restrict themselves to doing things they're not gifted in but rather seek to use their gifts in contexts that complementarians would view as legitimate. So if they have the gift of teaching, they will teach, but they will not teach groups with adult men. I know a number of complementarian women who would love to get married but have not and are serving God in singleness in very significant ways and not thinking that the only way they can serve God is as a wife and mother. They may have desires for a different sort of life, but those desires do not come from complementarianism. They come from the desire to be married.

 
At Sat Aug 04, 03:50:00 PM, Blogger martin shields said...

Can you explain how Fee knows that angels were believed to be without gender?

 
At Sat Aug 04, 07:18:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

They may have desires for a different sort of life, but those desires do not come from complementarianism. They come from the desire to be married.

Yes, Jeremy, I think there is enormous similarity among women - we are all women and that is really important. There is little difference in the wanting to be married dept.

And I am not really thinking of Christian teaching or such, but rather that as a woman one can do anything at all, any job. However, I see a lot of complementarian women on the internet who work for or with a male ministry organization when they could have their own ministry. These women often seek out the connection to a male leader, when they have the capacity to lead themselves.

It is really just an impression that I get from reading blogs, but I don't have any data.

But the internet is an odd thing, women don't really function as equals to men in many areas, at least not in equal numbers, but they certainly do in other areas. What do you think about this? I don't really know what to make of it and I would be interested in further input or opinions.

Martin,

No, I can't. My impression is that most people thought that angels were ungendered until recently. What do you think? I always assumed they were ungendered.

 
At Sat Aug 04, 10:42:00 PM, Blogger Iyov said...

Ungendered angels can hardly account for Genesis 6:2, or the celebrated account of the Book of Enoch. Since they take women as wives and produce offspring with them, I think it safer to call them male than female.

However, while angels may be male females are not left out when it comes to supernatural beings: Lillith (and indeed, the Assyrian lilitu -- which is defined as female) is most definitely female -- thus assuring us that at least some demons are female.

For further discussion please refer to this scholarly documentary.

 
At Sun Aug 05, 12:37:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

However, while angels may be male

Are you suggesting all angels are male, a kind of "through the looking glass" world out there?


I am trying to imagine it myself.

If all angels are male, then what do they do when the daughters of men are not available, for example, if the women have their heads carefully covered for protection? And how do angels normally carry on their line? And do they need to reproduce, or does this interest kick in only in the presence of the daughters of men?

I can just see it now, "Oh, you are such an angel!" she exclaimed.

However, while angels may be male

Or do you mean that angels are permitted to be male? They can chose their gender? Odder and odder.

 
At Sun Aug 05, 02:43:00 AM, Blogger martin shields said...

I ask the question about the gender of angels because it seems that Fee places some weight on this point in his argument (I only infer this from what's been written in the post), so if it cannot be adequately demonstrated that this is valid, I'm not sure his argument is well founded. I have no insight into beliefs about angels at this point, but I can see arguments both for and against gendered angels. For, in addition to Gen 6:2 mentioned by iyov, the angels named in the Bible appear to have male's names (e.g. Dan 9:21; cf. Lk 1:19, 26) and apparently angels can be mistaken for people, suggesting that they are gendered. OTOH, Matt 22:30 = Mk 12:25 could be used to argue that angels are not gendered (although it is not compelling).

 
At Sun Aug 05, 08:51:00 AM, Blogger Cheryl Schatz said...

When we see "because of the angels" we need to see what Paul attached this saying to. Paul said that "the woman ought to have authority on her head". Since the woman is to have "authority" to make the decision regarding what she wears on her head, why is her decision "because of the angels"? Paul has already told us in chapter 6 that Christians are to learn how to make decisions because in the next life they will be judging the angels. (1 Cor. 6:3) So the woman's authority to make her own decision over her head has to do with judging the angels. Women too are in the body of Christ and since they too will be judging the angels, surely they will be able to make a decision on a relatively small matter in this life regarding what they do or don't wear on their heads.

Decision making and judgment is Paul's reference to the angels. Here again Paul's reference is supporting equality regarding men and women because both will be judging the angels. Can a woman make the decision herself whether she wears the veil? Yes, of course - because of the angels! It is because in the next life she will have the great responsibility to judge the angels too and the decision-making that she does on this earth will be in preparation for the great work that she too will do in the future.

 
At Sun Aug 05, 09:29:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

I think there is enormous similarity among women - we are all women and that is really important. There is little difference in the wanting to be married dept.

Suzanne, are you saying all women want to get married? I haven't found that in my experience - or maybe they just don't want to get married to me ;-( Seriously, isn't this gender stereotyping?

 
At Sun Aug 05, 09:46:00 AM, Blogger Jeremy Pierce said...

My understanding is that the classical view is that angels are ungendered (on the admittedly inconclusive ground that Jesus says they're not of a nature to marry, although he says that will be true of presumably gendered people in the afterlife). Genesis 6 is easily dealt with on the classical view. Angels have no bodies, but when they take bodies why can't they take a gendered one? These ones did, and they took human wives. (There are also plenty of other interpretations of Gen 6, which involve no angels, although I do think that's now the most common view.)

Peter, is it stereotyping if she would say the same of men? She didn't say that men also tend to want to get married, but in my experience it's as true of men as it is of women. People in general like to get married, with exceptions. I'd be surprised if Suzanne disagrees with that assessment.

 
At Sun Aug 05, 09:51:00 AM, Blogger Jeremy Pierce said...

But the internet is an odd thing, women don't really function as equals to men in many areas, at least not in equal numbers, but they certainly do in other areas. What do you think about this? I don't really know what to make of it and I would be interested in further input or opinions.

I'm not going to rule out some differences in tendencies, some socially caused and perhaps some biologically influenced. One plausible (but unconfirmed) view I've seen is that men tend to be more concentrated than women at the extremes of certain kinds of intelligence. The result would be that professions that involve heavy uses of those kinds of intelligence will have women who are just as good as the men but not as many. Then professions that require little intelligence of that sort might be overrepresented by men as well. Add to this physical differences (which overrepresent men in manual labor), societal taboos on certain professions, societal encouragement of certain professions as male or female, and you get a complicated picture. But that doesn't rule out the possibility that the extremes of good physicists are overrepresenting men because there's a higher concentration of men at the top of those skills (and at the bottom, according to this theory).

As I said, I have no idea if this is true, but those who defend it think they have support for it, and it would mean some of the skill differences (aside from things related to biological size) come from real differences in tendencies even if none of them come from guaranteed differences in skills. So it would still be wrong to prevent a woman from doing physics even if the best physicists are more often going to be men, because you don't know if this is one of the really physics-smart women. But it would have a statistical effect even if it wouldn't have an effect on how we treat individuals.

Might the same be true of other skills? I don't know. It's not even remotely in my area of expertise. But I can see how something like that could complicate the social accounts that surely do get at some of this.

I think there are enough social causes that can explain lots of differences. Women are viewed as inadequate, or it's viewed as socially inappropriate, and that affects what girls think they can do consistent with their view of themselves as female. A lot of women (even egalitarians) prefer to be full-time moms, and that keeps them from working at all to earn a living (at least until later in life, which prevents some but not all opportunities). Women may be discriminated against in certain sectors (although I think this is decreasing in many kinds of jobs, particularly in academia where it's in the best interest of a department to hire women or to accept more women into graduate programs in order to look as if they value diversity). Certain fields are seen as less elite or less financially secure, and thus women concerned about demonstrating female equality are less inclined to seek such jobs. (This affects minorities more than women, but I think it affects women to some degree.)

 
At Sun Aug 05, 09:55:00 AM, Blogger Jeremy Pierce said...

Martin, the fact that angels have male names can be explained in two ways. One is that (as far as I know) these names are not given to male human beings anywhere in the Bible. It may well be that they were adopted as male names later but weren't originally male. Of course they probably obey masculine grammatical rules, which might be why that would have been done, but I think enough has been said on this site over the years to show that something treated as grammatically male need not be male.

Second, it may be that they took male names as they manifested male bodies. That doesn't mean they are male.

I think it's worth affirming given some of the suggestions here that Jesus says in no uncertain terms that angels have nothing remotely like our marriage or reproduction. Even if it's true that some at one time did in the past (with humans, I should remind us), he said they do not do so (anymore, at least). I suspect they never did apart from that one aberration that God declared to be evil.

 
At Sun Aug 05, 10:56:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Peter,

I may very well be guilty of gender stereotyping - I'm human. But what I see is that I have a lot in common with other women - things like spending the summer painting - housepainting, reading many of the same books, working in the garden, so I feel it is too bad that we women are labeled.

On getting married, well, maybe I am overgeneralizing - it would not be the first time I did some thing like that. But I do see a lot of the non Christian women in my workplace signing up to internet dating sites and things like that. (I interrogated a couple of them and they do want to marry again.)

Of course, I don't have that large a sample size.

Jeremy gave you a better answer, what I really mean is that people generally "want" to be married, regardless of the labels that are put on them. How that works out in real life is another matter.

 
At Sun Aug 05, 11:00:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Jeremy,

Thank you for explaining the classical view on angels. Fee did quote Matt 22 but that was it. However, my sense is that we were all brought up believing that angels are ungendered and that we will be also in the hereafter. The classical, old fashioned view of sexuality is that it is not part of our eternal essence, that male and female differences are not such that they will continue in heaven. That is my understanding from my old fashioned fundamentalist upbringing.

 
At Sun Aug 05, 11:21:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Jeremy,

I did not explain well my question about women on the internet. When I said that "cannot function as equals", I did not mean they aren't capable of it in terms of technology. Goodness, in a younger age bracket, I believe women outnumber men for blogs and things.

Anyway, blogging doesn't require much in the line of intelligence.

I wonder if I can express it well. What I really mean is that in the bibliosphere, forget the PhD thing, but as Christians, women - more often - use blogs to express themselves and men to talk about their ministry.

But in the 19th century many Christian women had a ministry view of themselves. They were focused on ministry. I worry that in some ways in some subcultures in the last 50 years Christian women have a tendency to trivialize themselves because they are not encouraged to see that they are just like men in terms of being capable of social leadership. They just see all the role models of leadership as male. It is stunting. Women must become secularized to realize their full potential or be ready to paddle upstream.

You know how many sites quote endlessly famous male Christians from an earlier era and go on and on about Christian men. This is far more pronounced than when I was young, and I was in a pretty conservative background. But women were thought to function as equals to men on the mission field, in capacity they were known to equal men. But now what I see is that some women are training themselves for submission.

This is a major social problem. I have a dear friend whose minister husband had a heart attack at 51. He recovered physically but has no short term memory. She has to tell him every day what he did the day before and what he is doing now.

She had a profession once but now she has a job at minimum wage. As this new generation of stay at home submissive women ages they are going to be in for a real shock. I am worried that this whole biblical manhood and womanhood trend will have serious sequelae.

Women need to become full adults at the age same age as men, and function as adults throughout their life. None of this, let someone else make the decisions for me.

I think many complememntarians are pretty marginal on this, but some take it seriously and I find it worrisome.

 
At Sun Aug 05, 12:23:00 PM, Blogger Jeremy Pierce said...

I didn't grow up thinking we will be ungendered in the afterlife, just that we will not be married or reproduce. I won't speculate beyond that other than suggestions that for all I know may be true. One is that gender will still be part of our being somehow, and another is that it won't.

As for a ministry view of life, I lament the fact that hardly anyone not going into full-time ministry has a ministry view of life. My experience in college and early graduate school was in ministries where a ministry view of life was encouraged of all students, male and female. I was involved in both complementarian and egalitarian ministries, and in both cases women were encouraged to have a ministry of view of life, just as men were. Both were in turn frustrated upon graduation when the one-pastor model of ministry discouraged them from maintaining such a view.

I don't think there's any necessary connection between complementarian and this problem, although I will acknowledge that those who take complementarianism beyond its primary claim might encourage this problem more than I'd like.

 
At Sun Aug 05, 01:15:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Jeremy,

I have the vague impression that the ungendered view is the classic view, and that the gendered view is quite recent. I would like to know it this was true, I'm not sure.

I think you have some good things to say about the problems of formal ministry. But there are three areas of teaching that might inhibit a woman.

1. Being unilaterally under someone else's authority in marriage discourages her God-given initiative.

2. Being taught that leadership and initiative are male attributes is a nonsensical and unbiblical platform that should be deconstructed. I am not saying all complementarians teach it, but certainly many do.

3. The lack of woman in formal church leadership means that women lack visible role models.

So, in my view, three counts down.

All this when I just wanted to say the Fee thinks the angels in 1 Cor. are angels, and ungendered, - they are not messengers. It is this point that I thought relevant to Bible translation.

 
At Sun Aug 05, 06:01:00 PM, Blogger martin shields said...

Jeremy,

My understanding is that the classical view is that angels are ungendered (on the admittedly inconclusive ground that Jesus says they're not of a nature to marry, although he says that will be true of presumably gendered people in the afterlife).

What is "classical"? Is this the view within (parts of) 1st century Judaism?

Genesis 6 is easily dealt with on the classical view. Angels have no bodies, but when they take bodies why can't they take a gendered one? These ones did, and they took human wives. (There are also plenty of other interpretations of Gen 6, which involve no angels, although I do think that's now the most common view.)

How do you know they have no bodies? Did people in the first century and earlier believe that angels had no bodies?

As to names, note that Dan 9:21 reads האיש גבריאל, so describing Gabriel as a man. Surely the natural inference here is to assign male gender to the angel and the text would have to explicitly counter that text unless the readers were already aware that angels were ungendered.

This is the hub of the problem. If it cannot be demonstrated that angels were generally believed to be ungendered in the first century and earlier, it seems that there is nothing explicit in the text to counter the otherwise natural inference that they are gendered (and always male). So I'm asking if there is some such information about angels from the period which would support Fee's assertion that they are ungendered!

 
At Sun Aug 05, 07:03:00 PM, Blogger Jeremy Pierce said...

Martin, I have no idea what speculative rabbinic Judaism came up with. There's a lot of weird speculation amidst that vast literature. We had been discussing the historic Christian view throughout church history. I know that at least as far back as Augustine you get the idea that angels have no bodies whatsoever. He assumes this in a number of places in City of God. Since he doesn't argue for it, I have to think it was pretty much the standard view in the 3rd-4th century at least.

There are lots of places where angels are referred to as men. See Genesis 18-19 for clear examples. But it's even clearer as the account goes on that we're not dealing with human beings at all, so of course they're not men. The same is true of Isaac's encounter with the wrestler.

 
At Mon Aug 06, 03:03:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Presumably angels are called "men" in the Bible (also in the New Testament e.g. Luke 24:4, andres) because they appeared in human bodies. Why "men" not "women"? I doubt if their sexual organs were visible. Perhaps their clothing or general shape and appearance was more like men than women, or maybe it was just a presumption in the culture that someone met at random was a man rather than a woman. Of course in many cases they appeared as warriors, who would certainly have been assumed to be male. But the point is surely not that they were actually male, or even human. Perhaps this has more to tell us about the meanings and use of 'ish and aner than about angels.

 

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