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Eats Shoots and Leaves Theologically Speaking


Len Hjalmarson posted an interesting article on his Next Reformation blog yesterday, which reminded me of the core subject of Lynne Truss’s Eats, Shoots & Leaves. What is the link between punctuation and theology? Whereas Lynne’s headline is all about the comma, Len’s is about the use of quotations; in both cases, changing the punctuation can change the meaning.

Len is referring to a detailed piece by Marshall Janzen, also available online on the author’s website, exploring 1 Corinthians 14. This has often been used as a passage to argue that women should keep quite in church and, thus, that there is no way they can exercise any level of leadership in a mixed congregation. However, it turns out that the Koine Greek of the original text does not have a clear way of marking quotations with the consequence that they could be lost as the text is transcribed down through generations of manuscripts. When Paul wrote that women should stay silent, he could be quoting a view that he went on to disagree with rather than uttering an opinion that would reinforce the cultural norms.

Such a possibility certainly makes more sense of the equality he writes about in Galatians 3 (“in Christ there is no male or female…”) and those references to his fellow workers (ie. leaders) Priscilla and Aquilla. Perhaps one of the most telling arguments is Janzen’s examination of early Christian writers, who had access to manuscripts now lost to us. Although many of them seem determined to put women in a position of submission, they don’t use what seems like the obvious verses, resorting instead to much more tendentious bracing for their arguments.

Of course, this is the kind of thing a Bible scholar might write, as it keeps them in their jobs, just like bug free information systems would be the end of my career! However, it is worth a ponder.

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