The Person in Complete Context
The Whole of Theological Anthropology Distinguished
Section II: The Person in God's Context
Chapter 7 Celebrating the Whole
of Theological Anthropology
I tell you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed…
how this whole person has acted will be told as a reminder
of her whole ontology and function.
In my personal narrative, the Spirit changed my interpretive framework (phronema) and lens (phroneo, Rom 8:5-6) to understand that to be ‘white’ (and any other prevailing models) was not who I am as a human person. In addition, the Spirit’s whole understanding made definitive for me that to be an Asian American (and any other human distinction) did not distinguish my whole person. This only defined me by a distinct identity from outer in that was determined by a comparative process of human distinctions, where any differences from the dominant model were “less”—in other words, a distinctly deficit identity. My whole person did not emerge until my assumptions from my initial anthropology and subsequent theological anthropology were challenged and changed accordingly.
The global church is located in a pluralistic-multicultural human context that is constrained by human differences rendering persons to fragmentary ontology and function “to be apart”—“naked with differences from outer in and covering up.” The global church living within this human condition is challenged to live whole ontology and function into the human context—“naked from inner out without distinctions and without shame.” Therefore, the global church urgently is also challenged in their assumptions of theological anthropology that define their identity and determine their function. Human distinctions cannot be the primary source that defines who and what they are and determines how they function. Such a source by its nature operates in a comparative process of “better” or “less” that fragments the person and persons together to those parts of distinction, thereby composing their ontology and function “to be apart” in ontological deficit and deficit identity. This further challenges by necessity clearly understanding sin as reductionism and addressing any reductions of whole ontology and function.
When theological anthropology is distinguished whole, then its pivotal position and vital function serve as the integrating basis to distinguish the global church to be whole and to live whole ontology and function into this fragmenting human context—live, that is, without secondary or false distinctions. When the person and persons together as church are distinguished in complete context, then the whole person, God’s whole family and the whole of God can celebrate.
Before we can truly celebrate this whole, the persons of theological anthropology must be clearly distinguished in complete context. This clarity is further gained by understanding what we should not celebrate.
The distinguished Face—of God’s definitive blessing initiating the gospel (Num 6:24-26) fulfilled by the face of Christ—continued to turn to his family not only to bless but necessarily to challenge for the new relationship together in wholeness (siym-shalȏm), which is the relational outcome of the gospel that irrefutably distinguishes his family as church. What the embodied face of God constituted as the gospel and fulfilled as its relational outcome, in relational terms and not referential, also nonnegotiably composed the ecclesiology of his family to be whole. This vulnerable and intimate relational work of Jesus did not stop with the end of his formal earthly ministry; that was only the prelude. He had other defining interactions specific to his church, which can be considered his post-ascension discourse for the ecclesiology definitive for his church to be whole.
After the Spirit came to his church for its development and completion, the face of Jesus shined on Paul to engage him in relationship for his transformation and called him to be whole to clearly distinguish the church’s wholeness for the experiential truth of the gospel (Acts 9:1-16, Gal 2:11,14). Then Jesus challenged Peter’s perceptual-interpretive framework for making distinctions about persons/peoples, in order to redeem his bias in relationships that created barriers in Christ’s church preventing all persons from coming together in transformed relationships as God’s family without the veil (Acts 10:9-36; 15:7-9). In family love Jesus clarified the full significance of his relational work of equalization to establish the function of his church also as equalizer, and thereby the ecclesiology of the whole was being made definitive (as Paul composed, Eph 2:13-22).
Ironically, the counter-relational process of distinction making and discrimination by Jews to Christian Jews became the same counter-relational process used by various Jewish Christians to make distinctions of Gentile Christians to discriminate against them in the early church. This was Peter’s perceptual-interpretive framework and essentially his contradictory practice in the church until Jesus’ post-ascension discourse with him directly. Then Peter led the discussion in reordering the stratified early church to be the equalizer, though Paul would be the one to make it functional and to compose the ecclesiology of the whole. After Jesus redeemed his bias and reformed his ecclesiology, Peter declared at the Jerusalem church council that God “has made no distinction between them and us” (Acts 15:9). The term diakrino denotes to make a distinction, discriminate, and treat differently, which God does not practice in his family. This term and God’s family action help us understand that such distinctions are not neutral without repercussions but rather are integrated in a counter-relational process, which uses those distinctions to discriminate toward those persons by treating them differently, namely as being less by the deficit model, and thereby imposing an identity or ontological deficit on them. Peter learned that those distinctions are human constructs, not made by God (cf. Acts 10:14-15).
In this pivotal action for ecclesiology, the early church shifted to emerge as the equalizer. Its defining function for church practice became distinguished: dissolving false human distinctions of human construction and absorbing legitimate human differences from God in order to be and live the whole of God’s family in the new relational order of transformed relationships together integrally equalized and intimate. As Jesus embodied in his equalizing, church function as equalizer by its nature necessitates being both whole and holy, therefore to be qualitatively distinguished from the function of the common—specifically in the human shaping from the prevailing function of the surrounding context’s relational order.
The significance of the church being holy involves a functional aspect and a relational aspect, for which church practice is accountable not only in distinguished identity but also in sanctified (uncommon) life and practice. Since Jesus redeemed and thus equalized persons in extending to them the whole relationship of his Father as family together, what distinguishes his followers (his family, his church) is to live equalized, and, in full congruence with his relational work, to equalize by extending this whole family relationship of family love. Jesus made unmistakably evident throughout his sanctified life and practice that his equalization perspective and a reductionist perceptual-interpretive framework are irreconcilable, thus incompatible as a working basis for church practice. Therefore, the functional aspect of being holy involves being freed from the influence of reductionism that explicitly or implicitly defines and/or determines church practice. The related relational aspect of being holy involves the integral practice of church relationships together in likeness of the Trinity, which is distinguished from any and all aspects of the relational condition “to be apart” from the whole, for example, shaped in likeness of orphans in an orphanage. This functional and relational significance of the church being holy interact to compose the process of church qualitative development and growth in relational terms, in contrast and conflict with quantitative church growth and development in referential terms that commonly prevails today. Underlying this process is the theological anthropology of these persons together—and inseparable from their theological anthropology is their view of sin as reductionism—which is basic for what to and not to celebrate.
James emerged from the Jerusalem church council with a new interpretive framework theologically about human distinctions that he practiced with a new interpretive lens (Jas 2:9). For Peter, however, what was formed (and reformed) theologically was not simply made functional in his practice as a foremost church leader. This contradiction emerged later as the basis for Paul needing to chasten Peter in family love in order for Peter to practice the relationships together necessary to be whole as God’s church family—the only relational outcome congruent to the truth of the whole gospel (Gal 2:11-14). This interaction was not an isolated incident that provides us merely with historical information. What unfolds in the first-century church should not be ignored by the global church today, because it illuminates both the basic ecclesiology necessary to be whole and the critical influence of human distinctions to fragment church ontology and function. We need to pay attention to what unfolds from Jesus into Paul, so that what they composed whole also unfolds into the church today.
What was Paul’s role and function to develop this new faith in Christ that emerged in a pluralistic world? Did he serve to develop Christianity beyond its roots in Judaism and transform it from a Jewish messianic renewal movement into essentially a new religion that influenced the Greco-Roman world and beyond? Did Paul engage in effect in the reification (human authorship and enterprise seen as objectified fact) of Christianity and the church, thus promoting a belief system and institution of his own construction; or was he in fact responding in many of his letters to the reification of Christianity and the church by false or reductionist practices of many associated with the church, in order for him to clearly distinguish their human constructs from the whole of God’s thematic relational action and creative involvement making whole from above?
From Paul’s relational involvement with “the face of Christ,” Paul’s gospel emerged directly from the gospel vulnerably embodied by Jesus in relational terms (2 Cor 4:4,6). From his previous practice in Judaism and tamiym’s epistemological clarification and hermeneutical correction, Paul understood that anything less than and any substitutes for this gospel of peace (wholeness, Eph 6:15) are incompatible and in conflict with the truth of the whole gospel relationally embodied by Jesus. In other words, Paul clearly understood that reductionism is always positioned against wholeness ‘in Christ’, seeking to formulate alternatives (“a different gospel,” Gal 1:6-9) by human terms, shaping and construction; and he fought intensely against reductionism to expose its counter-relational work.
Human terms, shaping or construction occur when the gospel is contextualized within the primary influence of human contexts. Jesus takes his followers further and deeper than this, as he did Paul. Paul declared unequivocally that the origin of his gospel cannot be explained by human contextualization and the influence of surrounding contexts (Gal 1:11-12), which also includes by Paul’s own shaping or construction. To the contrary, his gospel was contextualized only in Jesus’ whole relational context and thus can be understood only by Jesus’ whole relational process. For Paul, this was not about information in referential terms, rather in relational terms this was first his direct experience with Jesus to be transformed and made whole in the experiential truth of the whole gospel relationally embodied by Jesus. As a person vitally concerned about this whole gospel, Paul turned first to the gospel of peace he experienced directly from the Lord of peace to make definitive the theological basis for his gospel. Paul did not engage in reification, that is, essentially construct his own gospel and belief system to support an institutional order of his shaping, in which he lived as if this were the nature of God’s truth and the reality of peace ‘in Christ’. He did, however, expose those who did.
Therefore, though Paul’s letters delineate specific human contexts, he was always contextualizing the gospel further and deeper in the whole of God’s relational context and process embodied by Christ. Paul never spoke in a vacuum but always spoke in human contexts and to those contexts, yet he never spoke from human contexts, including of his own shaping and construction (except to illustrate reductionism in comparative relations, e.g. 2 Cor 11:16-12:13). Paul’s readers then should not look for a unity in Paul’s thought and theology in his corpus until they understand where he is speaking from.
Given the deeper context defining and determining the whole of Paul and the wholeness ‘in Christ’ integrating his thought throughout his corpus, there emerged two distinct depths in Paul’s development. On the one hand, there was his compassionate, sensitive and loving relational involvement with God’s family for the purpose of being God’s whole and living whole on God’s terms, thus making unmistakable the functional and relational significance of the gospel. On the other hand, there was his passionate, rigorous and uncompromising response to anything less and any substitutes among those related to God’s family for the purpose of exposing and confronting reductionism to make them whole, thereby making irreducible and nonnegotiable the experiential truth of the whole gospel. In these ongoing depths of action, Paul made his own person vulnerable to any relational outcomes or consequences resulting from those he addressed. It would be inaccurate to perceive Paul’s passion as a mere expression of his personality transferred from his previous passion to persecute the church (cf. Acts 26:11). His previous passion came from an outer-in ontology and his new passion emerged from the depths of an inner-out ontology made whole. This process of transformation to wholeness was the gospel of peace Paul deeply felt so strongly about. And the only alternative to this whole gospel was one reduced by human terms, shaping or construction. And such alternative for Paul, experientially, epistemologically and ontologically, had no basis and qualitative-relational significance beyond human design to be defined as a gospel (Gal 1:6-7).
What this delineates about Paul was his strength of position on the ongoing issue of the gospel. The issue is ongoing because reductionism is always positioned against the whole of the gospel, and the gospel of wholeness, always seeking to redefine it with something less or some substitute. The strength of Paul’s position was clearly expressed in his polemic about the issue, which is always twofold: It is an inseparable fight for the truth of the whole gospel, on the one hand, and against reductionism, on the other. This unrelenting fight unfolds in his letters, where Paul addressed various situations and conditions involving tension, distress, fragmented relationships and a lack of harmony in the church. In these contexts, Paul intensified his conjoint fight for the gospel’s experiential truth and against any and all reductionism of it and its relational outcome ‘already’. Most notably in his fight, Paul magnified the issue of wholeness fragmented by human distinctions, thus making definitive that human differences are insignificant or only secondary and cannot define the gospel and determine its relational outcome.
In one of his earliest letters, Paul raised the underlying basic question integral to his fight against human distinctions for the gospel embodied in whole and its relational outcome embodying the church: “Has Christ been divided?” (1 Cor 1:13) The specific situation and circumstances Paul faced at Corinth provide the stimulus for his polemic and thought. This context and Paul’s response also help his readers understand his theological discourse (explicit and implicit) on the human person and the relationships necessary to function as the church. The existing condition in that church was fragmented relationships created by the misguided competition of each person’s claim to be either of Paul or of Apollos or of Peter or of Christ (1 Cor 1:12). The underlying dynamic of these divisive relationships (3:3,21) reduced the persons involved to being defined from outer in (1:13) based on fragmentary knowledge (3:1-5). Defining persons by the teachings (or their style) each had engaged them in a comparative process of “who’s better” and “who’s less”, which then became the intentional or unintentional cause of relationships fragmenting the church.
What Paul addressed in the church at Corinth—and continues needing to be addressed in the church today—exposed the human shaping of the gospel and the human construction of theological cognition from human contextualization (e.g. as has shaped belief systems and denominations). Both this human shaping and construction went “beyond what is written”—that is, beyond the definitive source of Subject-face in God’s communicative action (1:19,31; 3:19-23). Paul only used what was previously written (e.g. Isa 29:14; Jer 9:24; Job 5:13; Ps 94:11) to illuminate the communicative action of God’s revelation on God’s relational terms—which Paul himself continued to receive further and deeper—as well as to expose anything less and any substitutes (1 Cor 2:10; 2 Cor 4:2,6; Eph 3:2-6). This is the defining significance of Paul urgently needed for the global church today—whose relevance may be ignored or dismissed but not reduced or renegotiated.
Paul’s conjoint fight continues, on the one hand, to highlight the fragmentation by human distinctions while, on the other, to magnify whole ontology and function both for the person and persons together as church. This emerges further in a crucial letter (Gal) in which Paul establishes unequivocally the functional clarity of the truth and whole of the gospel from any alternatives of reductionism, and thus to be distinguished from any alternative gospels. This ongoing tension and conflict exists throughout Paul’s letters, pointing to Galatians as the lens by which to read Paul’s writings (e.g. Rom provides the theological clarity necessary to be integrated with Gal’s functional clarity to constitute the experiential truth of the whole gospel). Paul’s letters are not random statements, notably in response to various situations affecting the church. He was not dispensing moral prescriptions to cure a bad situation or ethical advice to fix a broken situation. In fulfillment of his relational responsibility for God’s family (oikonomia, Col 1:25; Eph 3:2), Paul’s letters compose the integral aspects crucial to the whole of God’s revelation (theological trajectory and relational path) in thematic relational response to the human condition. Accordingly, the global church needs to pay attention to his letters as directed to the persons together as church today, which includes addressing the assumptions of our theological anthropology and related view of sin that Paul challenges. As Paul himself experienced first, we could likely be in need of epistemological clarification and hermeneutic correction to be made whole. Paul’s statements also are not making suggestions but are compelling relational messages to respond to, or be found perhaps on a different theological trajectory and relational path than Jesus with an alternative gospel.
When Paul provided the functional clarity for the gospel in Galatians, part of his clarity involved the relational outcome of adoption (Gal 3:26; 4:4-7). The function of God’s children emerged in the transformed relationships from baptism in Christ, that is, dying to the old and rising in the new (3:27; 5:6; 6:15; cf. Rom 6:4). Paul functionally clarified their transformed relationships together in what is commonly perceived in referential terms as a baptismal formula (Gal 3:28). More significantly this is Paul’s relational language for the necessary function of the transformed relationships together that is conclusive of the relational outcome from adoption into God’s family, and therefore that is inclusive of any and all who “belong to Christ” (3:29). This notably includes those in the pairings highlighted (Jew-Gentile, slave-free, male-female), which go beyond merely pairs of opposites for Paul.
These pairings are a summary account (not exhaustive) of reduced human ontology and function, which construct false human distinctions to stereotype persons for stratified human relations; Paul later stated a variation of this summary in Colossians 3:11 (though such differences are used to dispute his authorship). Whatever human distinctions are highlighted, the relational consequence is fragmented relationships, not whole relationships together. This was clearly exposed by Paul in Corinthians (e.g. 1 Cor 3:21-22; 4:6-7). Therefore, for Paul anything less and any substitutes for the integral function of equalized and intimate relationships would not be congruent with the transformed relationships together necessary to constitute relational belonging in God’s family, and would render baptism to a mere sacramental practice without its relational significance. Nor would human terms and shaping of relationships be compatible to wholeness together in likeness of the whole of God—to which Paul illuminated being restored in his variation of this summary (anakainoo, “being renewed to the original condition of the image of its creator,” Col 3:10-11).
In the whole of Paul’s practice and the whole in his theology, relational belonging is irreducible for any persons (regardless of human distinction) and is nonnegotiable to the prevailing aspects or surrounding influences of human contextualization. The false human distinctions are a product of human constructs that have displaced God’s created design and purpose for human ontology and function (cf. 1 Cor 4:6-7; 2 Cor 5:5,16; Eph 2:10; Gen 2:18,25). These human constructs, terms and shaping are the dynamics involved in reductionism of the gospel. In Paul’s fight against reductionism and for the whole gospel, his polemic includes his personal experience of being redeemed from his own reductionism and transformed in Christ to be made whole (sozo) for pleroma soteriology. It is this whole of Paul and his witness that is basic to his polemic (e.g. Gal 6:14). Thus, in Galatians, when his testimony prefaces his second summary statement both for the whole gospel and against reductionism (the first is Gal 5:6)—“For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything” (6:15)—this is not only theological discourse for Paul but equally important his experiential truth. In changing from reduced ontology and function to whole ontology and function, Paul’s whole person grasped from inner out that relational belonging in God’s family is neither partial to persons nor amenable to human contextualization. Thus, any form of reductionism cannot constitute God’s relational whole for Paul; nor can it signify the whole gospel or represent the wholeness of Christ as his church family (cf. Eph 1:22-23; 2:14-22).
Any other human distinction could have been inserted in his summary statements. By the very nature of God’s relational whole, reductionism simply cannot define and determine relational belonging in God’s family; and by the nature of reductionism’s counter-relational work, it is always in conflict with whole relationship together. Therefore, Paul deeply understood in human relations that women most notably, followed by slaves, were most vulnerable to be subject to reduced ontology and function in subordinate relational positions. In the new creation, the whole of Paul could be in face-to-face relationship together with women and slaves, among other distinctions, only on the basis of transformed relationships both equalized and intimate. What defined and determined Paul’s ontology and function also unequivocally defined and determined their ontology and function in the dynamic of nothing less and no substitutes, regardless of their situations and circumstances in the surrounding context. While the latter conditions may still exist for them, Paul is emphatic that these do not and should not be the determinants for their ontology and function. As he would make imperative later, “let the wholeness of Christ be the only determinant of your persons from inner out, since as members of one body you were called to wholeness” (Col 3:15).
At the church in Corinth, Paul highlighted other distinctions based on education (“knowledge puffs up,” 1 Cor 8:1) that fragmented the person and relationships together in the church (8:2,10-12); and he even highlighted distinctions based on spiritual gifts (12:1-11; 14:1ff) that further fragmented persons and church. Paul is decisive in his fight for wholeness and against reductionism, and he illuminates the comparative process engaged by human distinctions that results in deficit identity and ontology (1 Cor 4:6-7; 2 Cor 10:12). Paul also made conclusive for the church: any and all distinctions in a comparative process redefine the ontology and function of the body of Christ and renegotiate its function in stratified relationships that engage a deficit model to define its members as “better” or “less”—knowingly or unknowingly (1 Cor 12:12-13:1, cf. Eph 4:11-16). As Paul functionally clarified definitively, this theology and practice neither composes the whole of the gospel nor constitutes its relational outcome of new relationships together in wholeness for the church (past or present).
For Paul, human distinctions include not only false distinctions of human construction but also already existing secondary differences (e.g. physical, mental, including age) used as the primary source for defining persons. We need to examine the implications of what Paul highlights to determine what should not be celebrated in the global church.
Directly implied in Paul’s basic question “Has Christ been divided?” is the global church’s shaping of its basic beliefs into various belief systems and thereby the formation of a multitude of denominations, thus fragmenting the church’s basic beliefs of whole theology and practice embodied by Jesus into Paul. Any casual observer today would answer Paul’s question “Obviously, yes!” Yet, denominations are celebrated in the global church, which for Paul would be at the expense of the truth of the whole gospel and its relational outcome constituting the ontology and function of the church solely in new relationships together both equalized and intimate, without the distinctions fragmenting the whole. The issue was not a matter of pragmatics for Paul, nor the reality of human differences. The whole person in the qualitative image of God and persons together in wholeness in the relational likeness of the triune God are at stake for Paul, because anything less and any substitutes are not the relational outcome of the gospel fulfilled by Jesus and initiated by God’s definitive blessing. Therefore, for the global church to celebrate denominations is to be on a different theological trajectory and relational path that celebrates a fragmented church of reduced ontology and function, whose theology and practice are unable to be whole, live whole in the human context and make whole the human condition. Simply stated: denominations fragment the global church and reduce the significance of the gospel and its relational outcome ‘already’; and the defining issue is a theological anthropology diminishing the person and minimalizing relationships.
Directly related are further implications of the human distinctions Paul highlighted in Galatians 3:28. The ethnic/race distinction is a fact of human life that correctly reflects human contextualization. Yet, is it correct for this distinction also to reflect the church in its contextualization? Consider these related questions that, as a person of color, I’ve raised to clarify the matter: “What color will you be in heaven?” Given my previous narrative, early in my Christian life I would have answered “white”. Assuming now that my resurrected body will remain essentially the same (except totally whole), my answer is some shade of yellow. Whether you agree or not, consider further: “OK, if that’s your color, what race or ethnicity will you be in heaven?” This is where the fact of human distinctions is critical.
Skin color is an already existing secondary human difference that emerged from evolutionary adaptation or directly from God’s creative action. However this existing difference emerged, color is only secondary and should not be the primary basis for defining and determining persons. It really is insignificant to God what color I am ‘already’ or ‘not yet’ because that’s not how God defines me or wants me to define my person—though I don’t think I want olive green as my color in heaven. For God, however, I cannot be in heaven a particular race/ethnicity, or any other, since race and ethnicity are human distinctions from human construction alone. God did not create race or ethnicity and does not affirm their construction by human self-autonomy, self-determination and self-justification. The significance of race and ethnicity emerges and always functions in a comparative process of interracial/ethnic relations that stratify persons and relationships, which when formalized become systems of inequality (cf. the temple system of exclusion, Mk 11:15-17). Thus, our answer to my second question must be an emphatic “Absolutely none.”
As a Jew in a pluralistic Mediterranean world, Paul understood the dynamics involved in ethnicity and race and, more importantly, the theological anthropology involved. He highlights this pervasive human distinction to challenge us of its influence and to expose its fragmenting consequences on the three inescapable issues: (1) how persons define themselves and others from outer in, and (2) on this fragmented and stratified basis engage in relationships with others, and (3) thereby reduce church ontology and function by forming homogeneous gatherings as church. Paul does not and cannot celebrate these gatherings constructed from ethnic-race distinctions, because these distinctions are false distinctions that substitute for and are contrary to the whole gospel and its relational outcome of the church’s whole ontology and function.
The global church must account for its theological anthropology that promotes homogeneous racial-ethnic churches. Language is certainly a prerequisite for communication in relationships, which would necessitate having such churches. Once mutual communication is established, however, there is no longer a theological basis for their existence. On the contrary, Paul makes definitive the theological and functional basis not to celebrate racial-ethnic churches, whatever their length of tradition, standing in the community and service to God—“neither ethnicity nor race has any determining value” (ischyo, Gal 5:6, NIV) because “neither ethnicity nor race means anything significant” (Gal 6:15, NIV). These are hard words for many of us to listen to, much less respond accordingly. In spite of any of their history or background, racial-ethnic churches, along with denominations, reflect, reinforce and even sustain a reduced theology and practice “to be apart” from God’s whole—that is, “naked from outer in with differences,” contrary to “naked from inner out without distinctions” in God’s whole family only on God’s relational terms.
Moreover, how we practice church based on how we engage in relationships, both on the basis of how we define persons according to human distinctions (the three inescapable issues mentioned above), all emerge despite any likely affirmation of Paul’s metaphor of the body of Christ and its related theology about spiritual gifts and the function of the body (1 Cor 12). These three inescapable issues for ontology and practice cannot emerge in whole theology and practice when our theological anthropology is reduced to persons defined by the distinctions of the spiritual gifts they have and the related roles they perform in the church. We cannot be defined by our spiritual gifts (and any related roles and titles) and not get into a comparative process with other church members (intentionally or not), which then inevitably stratifies the interdependent equalized relationships composing the body. In other words, we cannot maintain the integrity of the body of Christ and expect it to function whole and not fragmentary, while we use spiritual gifts to both define each other and engage relationships in the church. At best, this use of spiritual gifts can only substitute for and simulate the body, but this does not bring the relational outcome of the church’s whole ontology and function in new relationships together to embody ecclesiology of the whole. The challenge from Paul directly addresses the ongoing practice of celebrating these common distinctions (namely of church leadership) at the expense of overlooking the functional significance of all members of the body, at the expense of promoting relational distance in relationships together (transformed to be equalized and intimate) due to stratification, and at the expense of fragmenting the persons (including leaders) involved and their relationships as church to reduced ontology and function. To continue this celebration is to compose a different gospel and outcome, and to renegotiate a different ecclesiology.
Returning to Paul’s other summary distinctions (again, not exhaustive) in Galatians 3:28, their implications involve sociocultural issues that commonly shape the church. That is, this shaping exists unless the redemptive change signified in baptism (the old dying and the new rising, Gal 3:27) transforms relationship together to be both equalized and intimate, therefore constituting the gospel’s relational outcome of new relationships together in wholeness (just as Paul composed the ecclesiology of the whole without distinctions, Eph 2:13-22). The reality of this relational outcome experientially transforms any ontological deficit and relationally equalizes any deficit identity that result from distinctions in a comparative process using a deficit model. This is the outcome that Paul fights for that requires fighting against these distinctions. The most dominant human distinction prevailing in the human context—pervasive in ethnicity, race, class, age, culture and religion—is gender. We need to understand Paul’s definitive view of gender for the global church to have clarification, if not correction, of what to celebrate and not to celebrate.
From an unbiased view as a male, I think it is fair to say: women signify the most consistent and widespread presence of reduced human ontology and function in the history of human contextualization, and this condition is unavoidable for all persons to address for our wholeness as persons and persons together. Theological discourse and pronouncements have not significantly changed the embodiment of this human condition, perhaps due to ignoring its enslavement (the interaction between Paul’s summary distinctions). Paul has been placed at the center of this human divide that fragments the church and renders God’s family “to be apart” from being whole in likeness of the relational whole of God—a condition existing knowingly or unknowingly, intentionally or unintentionally. As long as this condition of reduced human ontology and function continues, the relational outcome ‘already’ of the gospel will not be our experiential truth until ‘not yet’.
Paul would dispute how his relational discourse on women has been interpreted; he would expose and confront the reduced theological anthropology underlying such interpretation and application for the reduced ontology and function of women—for example, by both complementarians and egalitarians. Yet, his apparent prescriptions and directives for women will have to be clarified in order for Paul to be vindicated, his theological anthropology affirmed and his pleroma ecclesiology in transformed relationships together (equalized without distinctions) to be the experiential truth ‘already’.
The issue of Christian freedom is distinctly prominent in Paul’s discourse—for example, in the lives of slaves and also among those claiming no constraints—which he always frames, defines and determines by the dynamic of redemption and baptism into Christ. Just as Paul defined for slaves, the importance of women having freedom is never about self-autonomy and self-determination or justification, nor about being yoked to reduced ontology and function, but only to be whole in ontology and function (Gal 5:1). This also applies to men, and any other classification of persons. The issues of freedom and of wholeness are critically interrelated for Paul; and having freedom is no guarantee of whole ontology and function, even for slaves. The dynamic of redemption and baptism into Christ is the functional bridge between freedom and wholeness. Paul makes this link definitive in what needs to be understood as the integral process of redemptive reconciliation.
From the interpretive lens of his theological framework, Paul’s definitive view of women is that “there is no longer male and female” (Gal 3:28). His perception could be taken as contrary to the reality of creation, yet Paul is not implying that there are no physical and biological differences between the genders, and thus that no existing differences should be seen. Paul’s view is the definitive declaration: In the dynamic of baptism into Christ, the redemptive outcome is the human ontology freed from being defined and the human function freed from being determined by the gender differences of any kind shaped or constructed by human terms, whether in the surrounding context or even within churches. Existing human differences—even those later ascribed as gender tendencies—are used to create distinctions that reduce the whole human ontology and function of those baptized into Christ’s death and raised with him by the Spirit in the whole image and likeness of creator God (cf. Col 3:10-11; 2 Cor 3:18; Eph 4:22-24).
As Paul makes definitive, the person emerging from baptism is a new creation, whose ontology and function from inner out cannot be defined and determined by any differences and distinctions from outer in (Gal 6:15), not even by one’s gifts or role in the church (as noted earlier). This transformation from inner out in the redemptive change to whole human ontology and function also involves reconciliation to the whole of God in God’s family, which is constituted in the process of redemptive reconciliation to the transformed relationships together both intimate and equalized (Eph 2:14-22). As with slaves, Paul’s concern for women is their whole ontology and function and the relational outcome of whole relationship together, of which women are an integral part and for whose function women are the key. Yet, it has been difficult for Paul’s readers (both women and men) to reconcile his definitive view of women with his prescriptions and directives for them.
In his relational discourse, Paul continues to integrate Christian freedom with redemption, which is inseparably conjoined with reconciliation. Also in his theological dialogue, Paul integrates the redemptive-reconciliation dynamic with the creation narrative for the redemptive outcome in the image and likeness of God. His integration is made deeply in his main directives for women, and this integration must be accounted for to understand where Paul is coming from in his relational discourse. As discussed previously about hermeneutic factors in interpreting Paul’s relational language, though he speaks in a human context involving women and speaks to their human context, Paul is not speaking from a human context. His apparent prescriptions and directives for women are contextualized beyond those human contexts to his involvement directly in God’s relational context and process. These directives emerged in human contexts, along with his letters, but were constituted from the further and deeper context of the whole of God. This is the significance of Paul’s integration that is critical to understand for the person in theological anthropology.
There are two main directives representative of Paul’s relational discourse with women and his theological dialogue for all persons: 1 Corinthians 11:3-16 and 1 Timothy 2:8-15.
1 Corinthians 11:3-16
This section of Paul’s letter must be read in the full context of his letter. From the beginning Paul was dealing with the reduced theology and practice fragmenting this church (1:10-15). While confronting these persons in family love throughout the letter, in fairness to them and for their encouragement Paul puts their context into a larger picture of God’s people (10:1-11) and their practices into the deeper process of the dynamic of redemption and baptism into Christ (10:16-17). This exposed the sin of reductionism common not only in Israel’s history but the history of humankind (“common to everyone,” 10:13). Despite its normative character and structural nature, human contextualization and its common practices are incompatible with God’s (10:21); therefore, Christian freedom must function on God’s relational terms, not human terms (10:23-24, 31-33).
On this basis, Paul’s further relational discourse with women continues, with its integration with the creation narrative. Earlier in his letter, Paul had made definitive for this fragmented church: “‘Nothing beyond what is written,’ so that none of you will be puffed up in favor of one against another” (4:6). The comparative dynamic Paul illuminates here is the natural relational consequence of reduced human ontology and function defined from outer in and determined by human terms, that is, beyond God’s relational terms revealed in God’s communicative word written in Scripture. In this section on women, Paul restores the focus to what is written in the creation narrative (11:3) in order to magnify the relational outcome from the dynamic of redemption and baptism into Christ (1 Cor 10:16-17; 12:13). If the creation narrative is not integrated with this dynamic in the intended focus of Paul’s interpretive lens, then the relational outcome will be different for Paul’s readers, and neither compatible with his relational discourse nor congruent with his theological dialogue.
Paul’s focus can be misleading due to the explicit aspects he highlights in the creation narrative, namely, chronological or functional order and quantitative significance. Yet, Paul’s focus remained on God’s communicative action in the relational words written, without de-relationalizing those words in the narrative, which would be essentially to go beyond what is written in relational terms.
In chronological and functional order, Christ participated in the creation of all things and its whole, as Paul later made definitive in the cosmology of his theological systemic framework (Col 1:16-17). Thus, “Christ is the head (kephale, principal or first) of every created man” (1 Cor 11:3). The embodied Christ also became the kephale “over all things for the church” (Eph 1:22) and the first to complete the dynamic of redemptive reconciliation as its functional key (Col 1:18). Whether Paul combines the embodied Christ with creator Christ as the kephale of man is not clear in 1 Cor 11:3. The creator Christ certainly has the qualitative significance of the embodied Christ, conversely, yet highlighting the chronological-functional order has a different emphasis in this context. This quantitative difference is confirmed by “the head of Christ” is God. Since the Creator (the Father and the Son with the Spirit) precedes the creation, creator Christ is obviously first in order before Adam. It follows that Adam came first in the creation narrative before Eve, thus this husband (or man, aner) was created before his wife (or woman, gyne). This difference in order has only a quantitative significance in what Paul is highlighting. If Christ later became God, then there would be a qualitative significance to “God is the head of Christ.” Christ as the embodied God was neither less than God nor subordinate to God, yet in functional order the Son followed and fulfilled what the Father initiated (e.g. Jn 6:38-39; Acts 13:32-33).
The quantitative significance of this chronological-functional order has been misinterpreted by a different lens than Paul’s and misused apart from his intended purpose by concerns for the sake of self-autonomy and self-determination, even self-justification efforts—all of which have reduced human ontology and function and fragment relationships together. Paul expands on the quantitative significance with application to prayer and whether the head should have a covering or not (11:4-7). The quantitative significance of head coverings during prayer is connected by Paul to the chronological-functional order in creation. While such practice is actually secondary (11:16), Paul uses it to illustrate an underlying issue. Apparently, for a man to cover his head was to void or deny that Christ is the head, who created man in the image and glory of God (11:7). For a woman to be uncovered implies her independence from the creative order, implying her self-determination, which in Paul’s view she needed to be purified of (11:6; cf. Lev 14:8) because she was created from the qualitative substance of the first human person in the same image and glory of God (11:7). Her glory cannot be reduced to being “the glory of man” but nothing less and no substitutes of the man’s glory, that is, in the same image and glory of God. Conversely, a man’s glory cannot be defined in a comparative process with the woman; this reduces both of them “to be apart” from the determinant of the image and glory of God. This distinction of glory is critical for understanding the basis used for defining gender ontology and, more likely, for determining gender function in reductionism or wholeness. Yet, it would also be helpful for women to have for themselves a clear basis (exousia) for distinguishing their whole ontology and function to fully understand their position and purpose in the created order (as angels needed, 11:10).
A further distinction is also critical to Paul’s relational discourse. The glory of God had a more quantitative focus in Hebrew Scripture and quantitative significance for Israel. The focus and significance of God’s glory deepened to its full qualitative and relational depth in the relationally revealed face of Christ (2 Cor 4:6). This qualitative and relational depth is the glory Paul experienced from Christ and the full significance of glory he alludes to. It is this glory in Paul’s pleroma theology that is basic to whole ontology and function, both of God and of human persons.
When Paul restates this chronological order (11:8) and its functional order (11:9; cf. Gen 2:18), he is shifting from its outer-in quantitative significance to point to the inner-out qualitative significance of creation: the primacy of whole relationship together (in contrast, “to be apart” as in creation narrative above) constituted by the whole human ontology and function created in the image and likeness of God (11:11-12; cf. Gen 1:26-27; 2:25). In this shift, Paul also engages the dynamic of redemptive reconciliation to integrate with the creation narrative. The other quantitative matters are secondary, even if they appear the natural condition (physis, 11:14-15); therefore, they should not define and determine human ontology and function, both for women and men (11:16). To use secondary matters as the basis is to reduce all persons’ ontology and function, and thus to go beyond what is written by substituting outer-in practices of ontological simulation and epistemological illusion from reductionism—that is, ontology and function shaped from outer in by human terms, not God’s relational terms from inner out. The relational consequence is to diminish the primacy of relationships, minimalize their function, and fragment relationships together, which can only be restored in the process of redemptive reconciliation to the transformed relationships together of the new creation (cf. 2 Cor 5:16-18).
This is the ontological and functional condition Paul addressed and the purpose of his relational discourse with the church at Corinth to fight conjointly against their reductionism and for God’s relational whole—which Paul makes definitive in the remainder of his letter (11:17ff), notably with the summary declaration: “for God is a God not of fragmentation but of wholeness” (14:33). When Paul adds to this declaration further relational discourse for women, somewhat parenthetically, his only concern is for this wholeness of human and church ontology and function (14:34-35). Paul is not seeking the conformity of women to a behavioral code of silence but rather their congruity to the whole ontology and function in the image and glory of God. Thus, what Paul does not give permission to for women in the church is for them to define their persons by what they do (“to speak”) and have (knowledge, position or status) because this would reduce their ontology and function. Certainly, this applies to men equally, whom Paul has been addressing throughout this letter.
How persons define themselves is the central issue basic to how persons engage in relationships, and on this basis how these persons in these relationships then compose church. The implications of distinctions penetrate these issues with immeasurable consequences. The whole of Paul and the whole in his theology, therefore, challenge the assumptions and theological basis persons have in these three inescapable issues for ontology and function. In his family communication with Timothy, Paul extends his relational discourse for women to provide further clarity to this process to wholeness.
1 Timothy 2:8-15
The letters to Timothy and Titus have been perceived to depict a less intense, more domesticated Paul, with a more generalized focus of faith and an emphasis on the virtue of “godliness” (1 Tim 2:2; 3:16; 4:7,8; 6:3,5,6,11; 2 Tim 3:5; Ti 1:1; cf. 1 Tim 5:4). This milder image and emphasis not found in his undisputed letters are part of the basis for disputing Paul’s authorship of these letters. His relational discourse for women, I affirm, helps “restore” the intensity of Paul in his fight, not for having a mere faith and mere virtue, but for wholeness and against reductionism.
In his loving encouragement of Timothy to engage in this fight (1 Tim 1:18), he reminds Timothy that the primary purpose and outcome (telos) of his proclamation (parangelia) for the church is not purity of doctrine and conformity of belief but is only relational: persons in whole ontology from inner out and in whole function agape-relationally involved by the vulnerable relational response of trust (1:3-5). Paul’s intensity of meaning should not be confused with quantitative density, which would not understand the quality of Paul’s intensity in the absence of any quantitative density in his words. The faith and love noted above by Paul (v.5) were first Paul’s experiential truth of vulnerable relationship face to face with Christ (1:12-14). Paul’s intensity of meaning is critical for his readers to understand in order to know where Paul is coming from. On the basis of his “relational faith and experiential truth” (2:7), Paul’s whole function establishes the context of his communication with Timothy and his relational discourse for women.
Paul begins this section with the practice of worship, with the focus first on men (2:8). Based on where Paul is coming from, his deep desire is for men to move beyond any negativity they have from situations and circumstances—not letting that define and determine them—and to openly participate in worship, not merely observing or being detached (cf. abad, work from the creation narrative, also rendered as worship). Yet, participation was not about being more demonstrative by lifting up their hands outwardly. “Holy hands” signified an inner-out action of personal involvement, not as an end in itself but lifted up in relational response to God. This personal relational involvement with God was Paul’s deep desire for men to engage further and experience deeper, because the only alternative is a reduced practice from outer in even if the hands were lifted. Paul’s focus for men is the focus by which his similar desires for women need to be seen. This focus is on person-consciousness in contrast to self-consciousness.
Paul’s concern for women’s practice in worship may initially appear to be a reverse emphasis than for men, less visible and more in the background as observers (2:9-10). Paul’s focus, however, went deeper than outward appearance and further than the common church practice of “good works.” This involved the vital issue in all practice about the integrity of the person presented to others (the first unavoidable issue for all practice), which is directly integrated with how that person defines herself (the first inescapable issue for ontology and function). In other words, Paul’s concern is about women who focus on the outer in to define themselves by what they have and do, thereby reducing their whole person to those parts. Defined on this basis, women depend on drawing attention to their appearance and other outer-in aspects of themselves in self-consciousness.
The issue for Paul was not about dressing modestly and decently, with appropriateness. Again, Paul was not seeking the conformity of women to a behavioral code. While modesty is not the issue, highlighting one’s self to draw attention to what one has and does is only part of the issue. When Paul added “suitable” (NRSV) or “propriety” (NIV) to this matter and later added “modesty” (NRSV), “propriety” (NIV) to another matter (2:15), the same term, sophrosyne, is more clearly rendered “sound mindset.” That is, Paul was qualifying these matters by pointing to the necessary interpretive lens (phroneo) to distinguish reductionist practice from wholeness—the new interpretive framework (phronema) and lens (phroneo) from the dynamic of redemption and baptism into Christ (Rom 8:5-6). The underlying issue for Paul, therefore, is whole human ontology and function, or the only alternative of reduced human ontology and function. Paul’s initial focus on men clearly indicates that this issue equally applies to men.
How a person defines one’s self interacts with the presentation of self, which further extends in interaction with how the person engages relationships. The person’s interpretive framework with its lens is critical to this process. Paul’s alternative to outer-in function for women is “good works” (2:10), yet this can be perceived still as being defined by what a woman does. With Paul’s lens, however, good works must always be defined by and determined from the primary relational work of relational involvement with God from inner out—the ongoing vulnerable relational response of trust in relationship together; for Paul, the primacy of relational work composes “good works.” This person-consciousness is also the lens and focus of the process of learning for women. Yet, Paul appears to constrain and conform women to keeping quiet (hesychia) as objects in the learning process. Rather, hesychia signifies ceasing from one’s human effort in self-consciousness—specifically engaged in defining one’s self and notably to fill oneself with more knowledge to further define one’s self with what one has (as in “puffs self up,” 1 Cor 8:1)—and, with Paul’s lens, to submit one’s person from inner out for vulnerable involvement in the relational epistemic process with God (2:11, further qualifying 1 Cor 14:35). Certainly, this learning process in person-consciousness over self-consciousness equally applies to men (cf. 1 Cor 2:13; Gal 1:11-12).
Paul’s deep desire and concern for persons are for their whole ontology and function and for their whole relationships together. This relational outcome of the gospel can only emerge when these persons are transformed from inner out, thus redeemed from life and practice (both for the person and persons together as church) that are defined and determined from outer in. He pursues them intensely with family love for their reconciliation to this wholeness. Yet, his further communication to Timothy about women appears incongruent with God’s relational whole created in relational likeness to the whole of God: “no women to teach or to have authority” (1 Tim 2:12). The lens and focus of the relational epistemic process continued to apply in Paul’s directive for women. Information and knowledge about God gained from a conventional epistemic process from outer in is referential and does not have the depth of significance to teach in the church, that is, teach the significance of God’s relational whole on the basis of God’s relational terms. Such information and knowledge in referential terms may have functional significance to define those human persons by what they have but have no relational significance to God and qualitative significance for God’s family. The term for authority (authenteo) denotes one acting by her own authority or power, which in this context is based on the effort of self-determination to define one’s self further by the possession of more information and knowledge, even if about God. Such self-determination emerges from self-consciousness, operating under the assumption “you will not be reduced” (as witnessed in the primordial garden). Therefore, Paul will not allow such women of reduced ontology and function to assume leadership in God’s family. Moreover, he would not advocate for Christian freedom for women to be the means for their self-autonomy and self-determination, because the consequence, at best, would be some form of ontological simulation and epistemological illusion, that is, only reduced ontology and function. He turns to the creation narrative to support this position (11:13-14).
By repeating the chronological order of creation, Paul was not ascribing functional significance to man to establish male priority in the created order. Paul was affirming the whole significance of the human person created in the image and glory of God, just as he affirmed in his previous directive to women (1 Cor 11:7). Yet, Paul appears to define their function differently by blaming Eve for the dysfunction in the primordial garden, as if Adam did not engage in it also and was an innocent bystander. What Paul highlights was not Eve’s person but the effort of Eve’s self-autonomy to gain more knowledge for self-determination, perhaps even self-justification—human effort based on outer-in terms in reduced ontology and function—which she certainly engaged first, followed by the willful engagement of Adam (cf. Gen 3:2-7). Paul uses the chronological order in the creation narrative to magnify, on the one hand, the qualitative and relational significance of the human person’s ontology and function and, on the other, the functional and relational consequences of engagement in the sin of reductionism with the self-consciousness of reduced ontology and function.
At this point Paul integrates the creation narrative with the dynamic of redemptive reconciliation and synthesizes them into the relational outcome of baptism into Christ (11:15). In Paul’s pleroma soteriology, sozo (to save, make whole) means conjointly deliverance and being made whole. Curiously, Paul declares that women “will be saved through childbearing,” which appears to be a human effort at self-determination and justification, limited to certain women. With Paul’s lens, he highlights an aspect from the creation narrative— whose quantitative significance is not the primary determinant for persons but only a secondary function in God’s whole plan (cf. Gen 1:28)—in order to magnify the qualitative significance of the primary function of whole relationship together, both with God and with persons in the image and likeness of God (cf. 2:18)—which childbearing certainly supports in function but does not displace as the primary function. Yet, this distinction has been used as a primary source to define women. Therefore, with Paul’s integration and in his pleroma theology, women will be saved from any reduced ontology and function and saved to wholeness and whole relationship together. That is, women are sozo (made whole) while they engage in secondary functions—as identified initially in the creative narrative by childbearing, but not limited solely to this secondary function—based not on the extent of their secondary functions but entirely on ongoing involvement in the relational contingency (“if they continue in,” Gk active voice, subjunctive mood) of what is primary: the vulnerable relational response of trust (“faith”) and the vulnerable relational involvement with others in family love (“agape”) only on God’s relational terms from inner out (“holiness”) with a sound mindset (“sophrosyne”), the new phronema-framework and phroneo-lens from the dynamic of baptism into Christ and redemptive reconciliation. Women’s ontology and function pivot on this contingency.
The faith in Paul’s relational contingency is not the generalized faith (in all its variations) of what the church has and proclaims but the specific qualitative function only of relationship. The vulnerable relational response of trust signifies the ongoing primary relational work that constitutes the “good works” of Paul’s alternative to outer-in function for women, and from which all secondary functions need to emerge to be whole from inner out. Moreover, the agape (not about sacrifice) in Paul’s relational contingency is also reflexively contingent on faith. To be agape-relationally involved with others must be integrated with and emerge from the vulnerable relational response of trust; without this, agape becomes a more self-oriented effort at sacrifice, focused on what is done in self-consciousness—for example, about others’ needs, situations or circumstances—without the relational significance of vulnerably opening one’s person to other persons and focusing on involvement with them in relationship. Paul was definitive that any works without the primacy of relational work are not the outworking of the whole person created in “the image and glory of God” (1 Cor 11:7).
Of course, everything that Paul has directed to women is also necessarily directed to men in Paul’s pleroma theology, except perhaps for childbearing. Paul sees both of them beyond their situations and circumstances and defines them as persons from inner out; and the implication of this theological anthropology directly addresses church leadership. Yet, I wonder if an ‘unexpected difference’ has emerged in the church, which no one has, or perhaps wants to, seriously address. Whole ontology and function for persons of both genders are defined and determined only as transformed persons from inner out relationally involved in transformed relationships together, by necessity both intimate and equalized—the relational outcome ‘already’ in Paul’s pleroma ecclesiology. In his ecclesiology of the whole, only whole persons can serve as leaders in order to help grow persons and persons together to be the whole of Christ’s body (Eph 4:11-13). This relational outcome of the experiential truth of the gospel has been problematic in church history as far back as Peter (cf. the churches in Rev 2:2-4; 3:1-2, 15-17), which continues to grieve the Spirit (cf. Eph 4:30). While the situations and circumstances in the church have certainly varied, the underlying issue of reductionism in church ontology and function has remained the common problem—which may be pointing to an emerging solution needing our attention.
Since Paul was occupied with fragmentation in churches, I doubt if he had any initial awareness of this ‘unexpected difference’ in his early experience with churches. But if the difference between Jesus’ relationships with women compared with men during his earthly life has any further significance for the church, it supports what I suggest without apology: Women who are emerging in whole ontology and function are the relational key for the whole function of this relational outcome and the persons most likely to be vulnerable from inner out in order to lead other persons in this process to wholeness in church ontology and function.
The Creator made no inner out distinction between male and female, as Adam and Eve experienced in whole relationship together (Gen 2:25), in contrast to their experience in reduced ontology and function (Gen 3:7). The extent of a person’s engagement in reductionism is the key, and this is directly related to the whole of theological anthropology and understanding sin as reductionism. In Paul’s pleroma theology, the righteous are not those who simply possess faith—a common theological notion. The righteous are those in ongoing congruence with their whole ontology and function in relationship with God, whom God can count on to be those persons in their vulnerable relational response of trust. Whom God can count on to be vulnerable in relationship with their whole person is the question at issue; which persons will step forward to be accountable with God and to act from inner out on the challenge in transformed relationships together, conjointly intimate and equalized, to compose the church as God’s new creation family, this is the question before us all. No human distinctions in Paul’s lens have any qualitative significance for persons baptized into Christ (Gal 3:27-29), only the primary relational work of trust making persons vulnerable to be agape-relationally involved with others in and for God’s new creation family ‘already’ (Gal 5:6; 6:15)—nothing less and no substitutes.
If gender distinction, or any distinction, continues to be celebrated in the global church, then the influence of human contextualization on the church remains defining. This engagement is contrary to the ek-eis dynamic (as in reciprocating contextualization) that Jesus made imperative to constitute the identity and function of persons in his family (Jn 17:15-19). The relational consequence, whatever the distinction, is that persons and persons together as church are not able to be distinguished (pala) in complete context, unable to get beyond human contextualization and the constraints of a comparative process that render them to ontological deficit and deficit identity. Along with assuming “we will not be reduced” and not understanding sin as reductionism, such reductionism in persons and persons together is difficult to recognize without the presence of the whole. Jesus embodied ‘the presence of the whole’ and Paul composed the functional and theological clarity of the whole in order to expose reductionism in persons and persons together as church. Paul made imperative for a fragmentary church and gospel: “let the wholeness of Christ be the only determinant from inner out for the church to be distinguished in its calling as one body without distinctions” (Col 3:15).
The global church lives within the human condition that constrains persons to human distinctions and renders them to fragmentary ontology and function “to be apart” from being whole, “naked with differences from outer in.” Until the global church meets the challenge of ‘Jesus into Paul’ and addresses the assumptions of the church’s underlying theological anthropology (and its view of sin) that define church identity and determine church function, the global church cannot meet the challenge, Jesus’ call and God’s expectation to live whole ontology and function into the human context. The pervasive consequence for those claiming and proclaiming a fragmentary gospel is that persons and persons together as church will continue to celebrate what not to celebrate.
Jesus and Paul made it unmistakable: “the distinctions you use will be the persons and persons together as church you get”; therefore, “pay close attention to these words you hear” (Mk 4:24) and “do not go beyond the relational language and terms of the Word” (1 Cor 4:6) but “let the word of Christ ongoingly interact with you whole-ly” (Col 3:16).
This three-fold composition of celebrating the whole is interrelated, engaged in a reflexive dynamic between them, and therefore indivisible to constitute persons in reciprocal relationship together as composed by the experiential truth of the whole gospel.
The interaction unfolding between Jesus and Mary initiates the relational outcome of the gospel, which is why their involvement is critical for us to understand and embrace in claiming, celebrating and proclaiming the experiential truth of the whole gospel. On his way to the cross, Jesus stopped for this table fellowship together. As you recall, Peter previously had difficulty affirming Jesus’ whole person from inner out without distinctions (Mt 16:21-22). All the disciples had difficulty responding to Jesus’ person in the primacy of relationship together at this table fellowship—that is, all the disciples except for Mary. Her discipleship had clearly emerged at an earlier table fellowship, in which she decisively broke through the constraints of human distinctions in a deficit identity and redefined her person in relational connection with Jesus (Lk 10:38-42). The relational progression of her discipleship took her deeper into the relational path of Jesus to “Follow me” and be with his person in the primacy of relationship together, rather than making the primary focus serving (just as Jesus made imperative, Jn 12:26). Primacy given to serving over relationship is a contrary relational path to Jesus that the other disciples often engaged, as demonstrated by their focus in this fellowship. The primacy, however, of Mary’s relational involvement with Jesus deepened from disciple (in servant discipleship like the other disciples) to friend (as Jesus distinguished, Jn 15:15); and this constituted her ontology and function in wholeness to be vulnerable and intimate in new relationship together with Jesus face to face as never before. Her vulnerable and intimate relational work would be extended later by Jesus to the other disciples at his footwashing, also for the primacy of relationship together and not for serving (Jn 13:1-17).
As Martha apparently served in the role of her distinction (Jn 12:2), Mary cleaned Jesus’ feet in an act somewhat parallel to the former prostitute (Lk 7:36-38). Mary’s action might be considered customary for guests to have their feet washed at table fellowship; if this all it were, Jesus would not have magnified it (Mk 14:9). Mary’s whole person from inner out, in person-consciousness with its lens of qualitative sensitivity and relational awareness, perceives Jesus’ whole person without distinctions of “Teacher and Lord” (cf. Jn 13:13), and thereby responds to his innermost (cf. Jn 12:27; Mt 26:37-38). In this relational context and process with Jesus, the whole of Mary’s person from inner out, without the human distinction of gender and the secondary distinction of disciple, steps forth. Yet, her whole person could not be celebrated until she broke through the constraints of this dominant distinction and went beyond the limits of this secondary distinction in order to shift from self-consciousness to person-consciousness. Once again, her person further acts contrary to prevailing cultural form and practice to literally let her hair down to intimately connect with Jesus—inappropriate conduct for both of them.
It was critical for Mary to engage person-consciousness and its lens of inner out to affirm personness and celebrate whole ontology and function. Equally important, this was necessary for her own person to live whole and thus be able to perceive and respond to Jesus’ whole person without distinctions. If Mary doesn’t embrace personness and celebrate her whole person, she doesn’t embrace the innermost of Jesus and celebrate his whole person defined beyond those parts of what he does (even on the cross) and he has (even as God). In other words, without Mary’s person-consciousness this interaction cannot unfold with the significance of the relational outcome distinguishing the gospel.
As Mary celebrates the whole person (both hers and Jesus’) without outer-in distinctions, she involved her person with Jesus’ in what truly signifies being “naked and without shame,” that is, vulnerable and intimate without the relational distance and barriers signifying the self-consciousness of “naked and covering up.” Mary celebrates being “naked and without shame” in the relationship together constituted in the beginning, fragmented from the beginning and now being reconstituted to wholeness. This celebration is not just a further taste of the new wine fellowship but the celebration of its flow shared vulnerably and intimately as family together, the new creation family ‘already’. Therefore, the significance of her involvement and Jesus’ response must be paid attention to because it initiates this relational outcome of new relationship together in wholeness without the veil—the veil that Jesus is soon to remove to constitute God’s new creation family from inner out without distinctions (2 Cor 3:16-18; Eph 2:14-22; Col 3:10-11).
In spite of the experiential truth of the gospel unfolding, the other disciples object to such involvement together since they are focused on the outer in of self-consciousness, which gives priority to the secondary of servant discipleship over the primacy of relationship together (Mk 14:4-5). There is no celebration for them, only the obligation of duty (serving the poor, cf. “fast and pray” at the first new wine table fellowship, Lk 5:33-39). Even the taste of new wine is only a memory for them, as Jesus’ whole person is overlooked (notably at this critical point) and rendered secondary to serving (Mk 14:7, cf. Lk 5:34). Jesus’ rebuttal in relational language is revealing and magnifying.
Jesus stops his other disciples from harassing her and defines clearly for them that Mary is engaged in “a beautiful thing to me” (Mk 14:6, NIV). It is misleading, if not inaccurate, to render Jesus’ words “performed a good service for me” (NRSV). Jesus is not speaking in referential language focused on the secondary of servant discipleship. “Beautiful” (kalos, quality) and “thing” (ergon, work of vocation or calling) signify the quality of Mary’s work. Yet, what is this work that Jesus deeply received and the other disciples rejected? First, Mary was not focused on the quantitative from outer in and thus not self-consciousness about breaking cultural form or the expense of the perfume. Nor was she concerned about performing a good service. Her person-consciousness was focused on the qualitative from inner out, thereby focused on the whole person and the primacy of relationships. Her “beautiful thing” involved the quality of her relational work, which she engaged vulnerably and intimately not for Jesus or even to him but directly with the whole of Jesus in reciprocal relationship Face to face to Face. Mary’s significance unfolds as she (1) celebrated Jesus calling her to personness, and (2) celebrated the relational work of her primary vocation with the qualitative depth of her whole person without distinctions, in reciprocal response to Jesus’ whole person for the primacy of relationship together in wholeness without the veil, in order to (3) be vulnerable and intimately involved with the whole and holy God to celebrate life together in God’s whole family.
The dynamics of the quality of Mary’s relational work converge to compose the above three-fold celebration. Her relational work provides the hermeneutical, ontological and functional keys to celebrating the whole that emerges solely from the relational outcome of the whole gospel. At this stage, the other disciples are still on a different relational path from Jesus, engaged in a fragmentary gospel while (pre)occupied in a renegotiated calling of self-conscious secondary work. Their lack of qualitative sensitivity and relational awareness, with related relational distance, has an unmistakable relational consequence (Jn 14:9), contrary to the whole of God’s vulnerable presence and intimate involvement embodied by Jesus (Jn 17:2-3) and what Jesus prayed to compose his whole family (Jn 17:20-26). Mary’s relational work is integral to constitute persons in reciprocal relationship together as composed by the experiential truth of the whole gospel. On this qualitative relational basis, Jesus magnifies Mary’s person as a key to the significance of the gospel’s relational outcome of new relationship together in wholeness, necessarily in the qualitative image and relational likeness of the Trinity (as Jesus embodied and prayed): “Wherever the whole gospel is proclaimed, claimed and celebrated in the whole world, her whole person’s vulnerable and intimate relational work will be told as a reminder to illuminate the whole ontology and function that necessarily unfolds from the relational outcome of the gospel” (Mk14:9).
The significance of Mary is not her gender, yet it does prompt the question: Where is this person in the gospel proclaimed by the church and why is she not highlighted by the church and celebrated in the church? I suspect gender has a role in this lack; and even though gender is not Mary’s significance it does point to a likely key for leading the church to wholeness that I raised earlier. Nevertheless, we should not be distracted from the primary reality: Mary’s significance is distinguished in her whole theology and practice. It is not the name of Mary that Jesus magnifies but her person-consciousness integrally vulnerable and intimate in whole theology and practice. Mary is not mentioned in Paul’s letters, but the significance of her whole person engaged in whole theology and practice as the relational outcome of the gospel that composes the church in new relationship together in wholeness, this whole significance of her person is indeed magnified in functional clarity and theological clarity by Paul. With her whole person assuming the lead, she initiated the relational outcome of the gospel that became the experiential truth of the whole of Paul and the whole in his theology and practice. Jesus into Paul is inseparable from Jesus into Mary.
Mary’s whole theology and practice illuminate the keys for celebrating the whole. Her qualitative hermeneutic lens, her heart in the innermost of ontology, and her function from inner out were the keys to engage the relational context and to be involved in the relational process necessary to celebrate the whole person without distinctions, new relationship without the veil to be whole together, and the whole and holy God in vulnerable and intimate reciprocal relationship Face to face to Face—all with nothing less and no substitutes. Her person-consciousness with qualitative sensitivity and relational awareness in the primacy of relationship together was distinguished from the other disciples’ self-consciousness engaged in secondary matter over the primary. The contrast between Mary and the others illuminates the conflict between the whole gospel and its reduction, which is the significance of Mary that Jesus magnifies and that Paul fights both for and against. Yet, this significance has not been sufficiently embraced and this fight has not been adequately engaged by the church to celebrate the whole. The church’s theological anthropology and view of sin as reductionism are the central issues involved. For example, the church in Ephesus celebrated its extensive ecclesial work that many churches strive for, yet Jesus exposed their secondary work engaged over the primacy of relational work: “You have forsaken, ignored or have relational distance with your first love” (Rev 2:2-4). Or the church in Sardis celebrated its well-earned reputation esteemed by others that most churches would be proud to have, yet Jesus exposed their fragmentary theology and practice: “Wake up…I have not found your works pleroo, to be complete and whole, according to the lens of God’s qualitative relational terms” (Rev 3:1-2). The Roman Catholic Church has celebrated a Mary in its theology and practice but it’s the wrong Mary—failing to understand both the significance of this Mary’s whole person and the absence of gender distinction that challenge its theological anthropology and view of sin, and thus the relational outcome of its gospel.
The global church continues to be challenged—if not by a “Wake up” call—in its theological anthropology and view of sin. Indeed, all of theological anthropology discourse is challenged in its view of sin. For Paul, a strong view of sin as reductionism is defining for the experiential truth of the whole gospel (and its complete salvation), which integrally composed his fight for the integrity of the gospel against any and all forms of reductionism that emerge most notably in its counter-relational work. The fragmenting of persons and persons together as church does not continue when the whole of theological anthropology is distinguished by confronting sin as reductionism in all theology and practice for the person and relationships.
Sin as reductionism composes the human condition that the whole of God relationally responds to, initiating by relational grace the improbable theological trajectory and intrusive relational path from the beginning of God’s definitive blessing and fulfilled by the embodied whole of Jesus. Understanding sin as reductionism is an irreplaceable key for these theological dynamics to unfold to its relational outcome ‘already’: the pleroma (full, complete, whole) Christology, and the pleroma soteriology of what the whole of God indivisibly saves from (sin as reductionism) and saves to (sozo, to make whole), by necessity with the pleroma pneumatology (the reciprocal relational work of the Spirit) for the whole of God’s ongoing vulnerable presence and intimate involvement to compose pleroma ecclesiology of God’s new creation family—the relational outcome ‘already’ of new relationship together in wholeness on an eschatological trajectory and relational path to the relational conclusion ‘not yet’.
Central to these theological dynamics and critical to the fight against their reduction is the whole of theological anthropology. Rejecting the misleading assumption “You will not be reduced,” theological anthropology distinguishes the whole person in whole relationships together with the whole of God to complete the relational context and process that composes the whole of theological anthropology. The whole of theological anthropology is distinguished when the person is integrally constituted in complete context: (1) to be whole together in the primacy of God’s relational context, and (2) to live whole ontology and function into the human context on the ongoing basis in the primacy of God’s relational process—the definitive ek-eis dynamic (in ongoing reciprocating contextualization) that Jesus composed in his formative family prayer (Jn 17:15-26). Distinguished on the basis of nothing less and no substitutes, the whole of theological anthropology is celebrated according to the significant whole theology and practice of Mary and the functional clarity of the whole of Paul and the theological clarity of the whole in his theology. Only this whole has significance to God, which is who God seeks to celebrate “in spirit and in truth” (Jn 4:23-24).
Worshipping the whole and holy God in compatible reciprocal relationship together is the relational context and process in which the whole of theological anthropology converges. The taste of the formative new wine fellowship (Lk 5:33-39) flowed into the defining new wine fellowship with Mary and was consummated at the constituting new wine fellowship in relationship together around the communion table—sharing intimately together the new wine of the new relational covenant in wholeness together. If Jesus’ sacrifice behind the temple curtain does not remove the veil, the whole person does not emerge face to Face with the vulnerable presence and intimate involvement of the whole of God (Heb 10:19-22). If the veil is not removed, relationships do not come together in wholeness and the communion table does not signify being saved to the whole (2 Cor 3:16-18; Eph 2:14-22). If participation in communion does not involve our whole person in whole relationship together with the whole of God, the celebration of the Eucharist is not ‘whole-ly communion’ in relational terms but merely Holy Communion in referential terms.
As new wine table fellowships demonstrated, the importance of making choices—that is, in person-consciousness, and not in self-consciousness, for the primary over the secondary, the relational over the referential, and thereby celebrating God’s whole—are integral both to enjoy the breadth of being whole and to experience the depth of living whole. This breadth and depth of the whole is the makarios (“blessed,” meaning to be “fully satisfied”) from the beatitudes and from the relational outcome of the Face’s definitive blessing, vulnerably constituted by the whole of God’s agape relational involvement (Jn 15:9-11). Making the choice and celebrating God’s whole converge most definitively for his church family in relationship together when they function in Eucharistic worship. Celebrating in Eucharistic worship is the most integral opportunity of God’s new creation family to grow intimate communion together, signified most notably in Mary’s new wine communion with Jesus. Yet, this distinguished opportunity is not a mere spiritual tradition and practice of faith merely engaged before God; such practice may signify still being in front of the curtain. Tradition easily becomes a substitute for deeper involvement in relationships without the veil, and hereby serves as an old wineskin. Thus, what we participate in and how we participate are vital; that means even the logistics are important to help us grow God’s relational whole that holds us together in our innermost, not a mere referential unity of faith and church. This communion is a qualitative function only of relationship, intimate relationship together with the whole of God, therefore relationship not embedded in the past or simply anticipating the future but relationship vulnerably functioning in the present. By removing the veil with his sacrifice, Jesus constituted the new creation family ‘already’ (Lk 22:20; Jn 17:21-23; Eph 2:14-22). In Eucharistic worship, when his church functions in vulnerable relationship to build intimate communion together, his church family in whole ontology and function experiences the height of relational involvement with the whole of God, and hereby the breadth of being whole together. This relational outcome emerges indeed from the experiential truth and functional significance of the gospel, the celebration of which is their experience of even greater depth of living whole.
Celebration in the human context comes in various shapes and sizes. Celebrating the whole, however, has significance in only complete context, the keys of which Mary provides with her whole theology and practice in vulnerable and intimate relational work. Persons and persons together as church remain in waiting to respond to the call and challenge of Mary’s lead to celebrate the whole.
Worship is the primary relational context and process that defines what God expects from persons. Answering what it means to be and live as these persons determines the reciprocal response engaged in worship and its relational outcome in relationship together. When Jesus vulnerably disclosed the innermost of God to the Samaritan woman, he redefined worship in nonnegotiable relational terms—as persons whose reciprocal response must (dei, necessary by nature, not the obligation of opheilo) be compatible to the vulnerable presence and relational involvement of God’s response, that is, must reciprocally respond “in spirit and in truth” (Jn 4:23-24). Jesus’ call to worship is his call to personness. In other words, the whole person from inner out without distinctions (as the Samaritan woman experienced) is now accountable to engage the whole and holy God in reciprocal relationship together Face to face to Face without the veil. This is the only person who has significance to God, whom God expects and seeks to celebrate whole together as family.
This is the person, the only person, whom theological anthropology must distinguish whole. As Jesus further distinguished, anything less and any substitute of the person’s response to his call to worship and personness emerges from reduced theology and practice composed by fragmentary ontology and function (cf. Mt 15:8-9), rendering the person and persons together as church “to be apart” from the whole—even as they gather to celebrate Holy Communion and serve to proclaim the gospel.
The new wine distinguishing God’s whole on God’s terms always involves making choices, most significantly in person-consciousness rather than in self-consciousness. Choosing what we will pay attention to and what we will ignore. Choosing what is a greater priority, what is primary or what is secondary. Choosing what will define our person and what we will not let define us. Choosing how we will define others and how we will not define others. Choosing how we will be involved in relationships and how we will not do relationships. Choosing the uncommon (holy) over the common. Choosing zoe over bios, the qualitative over the quantitative. Choosing to live more by the opportunities of kairos than by the constraints of chronos (linear time). That is to say, choosing to be whole, to live whole and to make whole. Yet, these choices are not about human agency merely in individual terms but about involvement in reciprocal relationship together in response to God’s relational grace, the basis and ongoing base for relationship together to be whole.
Making these choices signifies celebrating the whole, signified in the new wine table fellowships. With each choice, we celebrate God’s whole and being whole in communion together, that is, in intimate relational involvement and not in mutual referential association. Making this vulnerable choice may be difficult but what also emerges in making it is the relational outcome of celebrating the whole of God’s new creation family together. This is the family responsibility that we humbly submit to and thankfully account for in the relational process of family love, because we are “not left as orphans” but have been adopted into God’s family—belonging with the only distinction as daughters and sons. Therefore, we celebrate our redemption to be free to make these choices without the constraints of human distinctions. We celebrate our transformation to make these choices in family love. We celebrate our reconciliation to make these choices for relationship integrally equalized and intimate together in God’s new family. And we celebrate making these choices in relationship together without the fragmenting presence of the veil, which keeps us at a relational distance in self-consciousness “naked with outer-in differences and covering up.” In other words, by making these choices we celebrate being made whole to be whole in order to live whole and to make whole, God’s relational whole on God’s relational terms.
Integrated with the constituting new wine relationship together of whole-ly communion is Jesus’ footwashing. The significance of Mary’s footwashing, composed by her whole person from inner out without distinctions, flows to the footwashing of Jesus’ whole person from inner out without distinctions (“Teacher and Lord”)—without even any vestments to serve communion—being poured out to his disciples in the vulnerable and intimate relational work of love (Jn 13:1-5), not for the purpose of serving them but for the sole purpose of new relationship together in wholeness without the veil (Jn 13:12-17). This action of Jesus’ person-consciousness (in contrast and conflict with Peter’s self-consciousness, 13:8) whole-ly embodies his call to personness and constitutes whole-ly his call to worship in reciprocal relationship together. Jesus makes his footwashing nonnegotiable in his call to personness because person-consciousness by its nature (1) requires the whole person from inner out within the primacy of relationship together and (2) involves the primacy of vulnerable and intimate relational work.
The significance of Mary’s and Jesus’ footwashings celebrates the whole person from inner out without distinctions, new relationship together in wholeness without the veil to compose God’s family as church, and the whole and holy God in reciprocal relationship Face to face to Face. As noted earlier, this three-fold composition of celebrating is interrelated, engaged in a reflexive dynamic between them, and therefore indivisible to constitute persons and persons together as church in the relational outcome of the experiential truth of the whole gospel. Anything less and any substitute of who and what they embodied from inner out are reductionism, which theological anthropology is the key to fight against. If theological anthropology does not or cannot fight reductionism, it is reduced of its theological nature and merely reflects, reinforces or becomes humanistic anthropology.
In the beginning, the person and persons together were created whole by Subject-Creator’s creative action in irreducible relational terms. From the beginning, Subject-God’s communicative action has pursued the person and persons together to be whole and ongoingly engages them in nonnegotiable relational terms. The whole embodying of Jesus into Mary and Jesus into Paul challenge our theological anthropology to be whole, and equally challenge our view of sin to perceive sin as reductionism. When we fulfill this challenge with whole theology and practice, the whole of theological anthropology distinguishes persons in complete context—celebrating their ontology and function in the qualitative image and relational likeness of not parts of God but the whole of God, therefore living whole ontology and function into the human context and making whole the human relational condition “to be apart”.
As witnessed from the beginning, any and all reductionism is incompatible with the whole, and its counter-relational work shapes an incompatible response that is unable to be distinguished whole—even though such response assumes “you will not be reduced.” The whole embodying of ‘Jesus into whom?’ is an open question for the person and persons together today, which has yet to be responded to adequately, and that theological anthropology is still responsible to fulfill whole-ly. As heard from the beginning and will be heard until ‘not yet’, the relational words from God need to be listened to today and responded to for the whole ‘already’: “Where are you?”
 For a helpful discussion of the dynamic of reification and its implications in human life, see David K. Naugle, Worldview: the History of a Concept (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 177-20.
 J. Louis Martyn perceives these as pairs of opposites in the same way as the elements of the cosmos are pairs of opposites. Theological Issues in the Letters of Paul (London: T & T Clark, 1997), 138-40.
 For added discussion on ‘intensity of meaning’, see Daniel W. Hardy, “Reason, Wisdom and the Interpretation of Scripture” in David F. Ford and Graham Stanton, eds., Reading Texts, Seeking Wisdom (London: SCM Press, 2003), 72-76.
 My wife and I celebrated the incarnation this year by composing the worship song “Whole-ly Communion,” accessible online at http://4X12.org.
 In the framework of whole theology and practice, the following two studies expand on worship and worship language: Kary A. Kambara, A Theology of Worship: ‘Singing’ a New Song to the Lord (2011), and Hermeneutic of Worship Language: Understanding Communion with the Whole of God (2013). Online at http://4X12.org.
©2014 T. Dave Matsuo