Thus, to take one example from later times, St. Paul, in the first epistle to the Corinthians, condemns woman’s participation in the exercises of worship and instruction in the Christian assemblies of Corinth. This judgment is accepted, by those who hold to the unreal Bible, as forclosing the case of woman versus man in the vocation of the ministry, in this land and age as in all lands and ages. We saw lately the action of this theory over in Brooklyn. Though she had the gifts and graces of a Lucretia Mott, though her preaching were blessed as that of a Miss Smiley, though woman’s temperament seems peculiarly fitted for the inspirational influences of the pulpit, yet Nature’s ordination must be disowned because Saul of Tarsus thought it unseemly for a woman to speak in meeting! He thought it unseemly also, as he tells us in the same letter, that woman should appear unveiled in public assemblies; in which you do not seem to consider him an authority. Why should you defer to him in the one opinion and disregard him in the other? Both opinions formed part of his education as a Jew of the first century of our era; as which he frankly confessed that he regarded woman as inferior to man. We do not consider the Jewish physiology and psychology of that age binding on us; and St. Paul’s opinion on such a matter falls to the ground with it.
It is a wrong use of the Bible, for the purposes of theology or religion, to give its language any other meaning than that which similar language would have under similar circumstances.
People of sound minds do not read poetic language in other books as though it were prose. They do not take words thrown off at white heat; crowd them, all molten with feeling, into the mould of a Gradgrind understanding; force them to take the form of such matter-of-fact minds; and then, when the emotion is cooled down, and the fluent fancies are reduced to stiff, hard prose, say—“there, that is the exact meaning of this language!” Fancy Shakespeare’s impetuous, tumultuous riotous imagery treated by such ‘criticism!’
Yet that is the sort of treatment which many learned pedants call ‘expounding the Bible!’ It is with the greatest difficulty that the Western mind can rightly read the Eastern’s language. We miss the rich aroma of their nectared speech, and find only the grounds left. And we take these grounds for the true original beverage of the gods! Out of such residuum of poetry, when the poesy has exhaled, we make our spiritual food! Poetry petrified into prose—is the real explanation to be offered of many an absurdity of Bible-reading.
A visitor to one of the Shaker communities describes the men and women as engaging in the most preposterous play of making-believe; performing upon imaginary instruments as they marched in procession; going through the motions of washing their faces and hands as they surrounded an imaginary fountain; and, finally, plunging bodily into this spiritual fountain, by rolling over on the grass! To an exclamation of surprise at such childish doings, answer was made that thus they were becoming as little children, in order to enter the kingdom of heaven!