In February of 2007, I attended CBE’s conference in Bangalore, India. The day after the conference, Mimi Haddad and I, together with a few other conference attendees, went out to explore the city. At the entrance to an indoor marketplace, an Indian woman—apparently a beggar—gestured to me in a manner I did not understand. She was seated on the ground, pointing upward with an open hand. Assuming she wanted money, I began fishing in my pockets for rupees. She perceived what I was doing, closed her hand, and pointed more vigorously. After a few awkward moments, I realized she was pointing at pigeons overhead. Then, when she knew I had seen the pigeons, she pointed at their droppings on the pavement. She wasn’t asking for my help; she was giving me a warning!
I think of her the first day of each semester that I teach the course, “Paul and His Letters.” I begin that course by asking students to think of someone they have met who is especially different from themselves. Answers range from difficult roommates to Maasai warriors. My own answer to the question is the Indian woman who kindly warned me about the pigeons. After fielding various answers, I make two points.
First, the Apostle Paul is more different from us than anyone we have met. Even though I am strikingly different from that Indian woman, we both understand much about twenty-first-century life that Paul would not. Paul, for example, did not know about jet planes or cell phones, English or Hindi, or four of the seven continents. This point is essential for studying Paul’s letters, for far too many Christians make the mistake of considering Paul to be a lot like themselves.
Second, I also make the point that—in spite of the differences of century, language, and culture—we can indeed understand Paul. With a bit of difficulty, I was able to understand the Indian woman’s message about the pigeons. And, albeit with a bit more difficulty, we can indeed understand Paul’s messages about grace, glory, faith, forgiveness, equality, etc.
This issue of Priscilla Papers is themed “Paul in Context.” Its articles interpret Pauline texts while taking seriously Pauline contexts. Neither biblical studies, nor Christian ministry, nor evangelical egalitarianism benefits from considering Paul apart from his context.
Robert F. Hull opens the issue with an investigation of Euodia and Syntyche, mentioned by Paul in Philippians 4:2. Dr. Hull has deftly navigated scholarship on the first-century Macedonian context of these two Christian servants. Richard Cervin then judiciously addresses the linguistic context of Paul’s use of the word kephalē (“head”). Caroline Schleier Cutler, co-winner of CBE’s 2015 student paper competition in Los Angeles, adds to our understanding of Galatians 3:28 by framing it with Paul’s understanding of inheritance as expressed in Galatians and Romans. Finally, Dawn Gentry, a member of CBE’s blog team, offers a review of the 2015 book, Finding Their Voices: Sermons by Women in the Churches of Christ, edited by D’Esta Love.