My argument is that the community of Jesus’ followers is an embodiment of the new creation, the coming age that is already breaking into the present age. In this community people now relate to one another in a new way. They are no longer governed as they once were by first-creation distinctions such as Jew/Gentile, slave/free, young/old, male/female, etc. When Paul talks about this in Galatians, for example, it seems to me that he’s not just saying that people of all kinds now have equal access to God through faith. I believe he’s also talking about their standing within the community. This is why, earlier in Galatians, Paul tells how he “opposed Peter to his face” when he stopped eating with Gentiles. Paul says that the “truth of the gospel” was at stake in this interaction. If the Galatian community was going to be one in which there were first-class and second-class citizens based on ethnic and religious identity, it was not a gospel community!
However, because the community of Jesus’ followers continues to exist within the first creation, its members must still honor and respect their existing earthly relational obligations. And so, for example, as Paul writes to Timothy, those who are slaves should continue to show their masters full respect; even if the masters are believers, the slaves should not respect them less, but serve them even better because they are their brothers. In other words, this earthly relationship is not obliterated but rather it is transformed. I would argue that in the same way, a wife should not show less respect for her husband if they are both believers, but rather a qualitatively higher kind of respect, because he is her beloved brother in Christ. I think many of Paul’s controversial comments about women need to be understood and interpreted as teaching this principle, as we’ll see when we get to them.
At the same time, a husband should show a qualitatively higher kind of love for his wife, since she is his beloved sister in Christ. As I envision this, the husband striving to present his wife “spotless and radiant” (as Paul says in Ephesians) has to include wanting to see her develop and make full use of the gifts God has given her. More about this later, too.
We’ll also need to consider whether, according to the Bible, there any basic relational obligations that men in general have to women in general, and that women in general have to men in general, and how these obligations will be both honored and transformed in the community of Jesus’ followers.
Striking a balance between the obligations of the present age and the freedoms of the coming age is, in my opinion, the key to resolving the vast interpretive question before us. In the following posts I’ll start getting into the specifics.