Constructing Early Christian Families: Family as Social Reality and Metaphor

By Halvor Moxnes | Go to book overview

10

BROTHERHOOD IN CHRIST

A gender hermeneutical reading of 1 Thessalonians

Lone Fatum

This chapter is an example of what I would like to call a gender hermeneutical approach to the communication of Paul. First I shall present a reading of 1 Thess in which I do not really pretend to present anything new to those already familiar with narrative and rhetorical criticism. Then I shall examine the socio-sexual structure of Paul’s symbolic universe, drawing on insights from sociology of knowledge, social history, and cultural anthropology. Finally I shall focus on the gender ideological implications of 1 Thess concerning the historical construction of the Pauline community after the model of the patriarchal family. How does Paul stage himself and his audience in 1 Thess, and how does he apply the hierarchic code of the family model to the Christian association? What are the implications for women converts of Paul’s ideal of the eschatological brotherhood, and what may we conclude concerning the Thessalonian women from his effort to organise and administer the community as male kin, his dependent sons in Christ?

All interpretation takes place in a context. To focus on gender from a constructivist point of view in order to assess the workings and effective history of gender ideology is, of course, a modern hermeneutical project. In that sense, my critical feminist position is not defined primarily by Pauline Antiquity; it depends on the historical reflexivity so characteristic of late modernity (Giddens 1991). And yet, as regards gender bias and sexual discrimination on a basis of patriarchal order and a hierarchic code of androcentric social values, modernity does not seem very far or very different from Antiquity. In our present context it can actually still be debated whether women’s rights are human rights, i.e. whether women are in fact fully human. Indeed, one issue which caused extremely heated and difficult encounters during the recent conference in Beijing, The Fourth World Conference on Women, September 1995, was the status of women as free and independent, socio-sexual agents. A gender hermeneutical reading of 1 Thess raises the question, whether women could in fact be fully Christian according to the androcentric values of Paul’s socio-sexual communication. Were Thessalonian women converts actually among the recipients of 1 Thess? Are we to count them among the brothers as full members of the

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