Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Book Review: Lucy Peppiatt, Women and Worship at Corinth

I’ve been contributing reviews to Theological Book Review for a number of years now. Sadly, the publication shall soon cease. But I have obtained permission to reproduce my TBR book reviews, including this one (which will probably see print in 2018), on Sacred Wrightings.

Lucy Peppiatt, Women and Worship at Corinth: Paul’s Rhetorical Arguments in 1 Corinthians (Cambridge: James Clarke, 2017; originally published by Cascade Books, 2015)

The instructions on orderly worship in 1 Corinthians 11–14 contain some of the most contested passages in the New Testament. These passages relate to head coverings (1 Cor. 11:2-16), to glossolalia and prophecy (1 Cor. 14:20-25), and to women’s silence (1 Cor. 14:33b-36). Whereas many scholars resort to interpretative gymnastics to reconcile ostensibly contradictory positions in these passages, Lucy Peppiatt employs a simpler approach: these controversial texts include the Corinthians’ own stances on these issues (found in 1 Cor. 11:4-5b, 7-10, 14, and 14:21-22, 34-35), which Paul is quoting in order to refute.

Peppiatt’s argument assumes that 1 Corinthians is in fact part of a wider epistolary conversation between Paul and the Corinthian church (cf. 1 Cor. 5:9-11), and that the Corinthian leadership would recognise Paul’s citations of its own slogans. It also presumes that this leadership consists of ‘a group of spiritually gifted and highly articulate male teachers who were both overbearing and divisive’ (p. 10), and who desire to promote themselves at the expense of other members in the church community. Thus Paul’s comments in 1 Corinthians 11–14 are designed to encourage humility, unity, and equality for all worshippers, regardless of gender, class, or giftedness.

Throughout, Peppiatt attends closely to the phrasing of the texts and the implied theology of different readings. She interacts judiciously with the more traditional interpretations in order to explain where they are lacking in coherence, and illustrates how her approach to 1 Corinthians makes sense of the theology in Paul’s other letters. Arguably, more space should have been given to the idea that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is a later interpolation and not a citation; I suspect that textual criticism plays a far more important role in understanding these texts than Peppiatt perhaps admits. But the thrust of Peppiatt’s argument is persuasive and intelligently addresses many contemporary liturgical and pastoral concerns. Women and Worship at Corinth is essential reading, especially for anyone engaged in Pauline studies and/or involved in church leadership.

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