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Speaking of Women Speaking of Women
Interpreting Paul

Andrew Perriman
ISBN 9780851114583 (085111458X)
IVP, 1998

Category: Biblical Studies

Paul writes in his epistles that the man is the head of the woman as Christ is the head of the church. Headship, argue some, means being the head of a corporation: listening to everyone, considering everything and taking the decisions which they must carry out.

No, argue the others, there were no modern corporations in the first century. Headship in Paul's day had more the force of the 'head of a river': namely its source. And through various assorted doses of logic and feeling and computer-generated statistics based on every use of the word "head" from the dawn of time until into 1960s sitcom television, we've all learned to take our stands.

Into a dispute where the terrain has been tediously mapped out and the battle lines drawn and trenches dug in to some considerable depth, Andrew Perriman comes hovering in like a flying saucer. The long-debated choices were supposed to be X or Y, but Perriman comes in arguing for Z, or perhaps I should say Zeta.

No, he argues, the evidence supports neither "hierarchical decision-maker" nor "source/origin". Rather, he says, everything points to a concept closer to "pioneer" or "most prominent". In Paul's society, the man was the more prominent member of the family and whatever the woman did reflected, therefore, on him, just as what the church does reflects on our most prominent part, Jesus.

He does a good job of arguing through this interpretation and the others that he makes throughout the book. He is unlikely to make many friends though, at least not among those who have long defined themselves by their opinion on these questions. Nor will the fact that his arguments are (rightly) based on the intricacies of Graeco-Roman language and culture endear him to the ordinary reader. If you are studying or teaching on gender roles and the New Testament this book is a 'must read'. And if you can detach yourself from the 'off the shelf' views, even temporarily, it's a breath of fresh air. The book can get extremely technical though, so prepare to skip along lightly to the invaluable 'conclusion' sections at the end of each chapter, which are even more helpful in getting the gist than the Conclusion chapter at the end of the book.

Conrad Gempf, May 1998

Dr Conrad Gempf teaches New Testament at London School of Theology. He is the author of Jesus Asked (Zondervan, 2003), Mealtime Habits of the Messiah (Zondervan, 2005) and Christian Life & The Bible (LST, 2006). He writes extensively for various books, journals, magazines and websites; here's his blog: Not Quite Art; Not Quite Living.

Previously published by London School of Theology. Reused here by kind permission.


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