Intriguing Scriptures, Part Two: Dr. Angela Parker

As Dan continues our summer series talking with friends and colleagues about Scripture passages that intrigue them, he is joined by Dr. Angela Parker, Assistant Professor of Biblical Studies at The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology, who brings 1 Corinthians 4:8-13 to the conversation. Dr. Parker starts by offering some context about the port city of Corinth and the people who make up the church Paul is writing to. It’s a divided city, concerned with hierarchy and proximity to power.

Angela: “You have a group of people who are Jesus-followers, but they’re also kind of living in their own uppityness—their own hierarchical arrogance.”

In a patriarchal culture, writing as a biblical patriarch, Paul is using his power to take away his power, but he also can’t fully take away his power. It is important that Paul compares himself to “the scum of the earth,” those who are marginalized and maligned by the empire, but it’s also crucial to remember that Paul is still a man with some degree of power. Dr. Parker challenges us to consider Paul’s ethnicity, gender, and position as we wonder about “what might be going on underneath the text,” which also invites us to wrestle with our own identities as readers of the text.

Angela: “Paul is actually a fertile playground for me to think through all of these issues, and then to have conversations about what all of this means in a church that often tries to universalize our experience of Christianity.”

Part of my calling, as I read Pauline text, is to think about my own nuanced identity and Paul’s nuanced identity, and problematize my students’ identity as they read the text.

As we work together as readers, teachers, and fellow believers, Paul’s writing is a reminder of the urgency of having honest, nuanced conversations about race and gender that recognize a continuum of privilege and hierarchy. For Dr. Parker, this means acknowledging her privilege as an educated, credentialed professor living in Seattle, while still holding her experience as a Black woman in America. As a Biblical Studies teacher, she says, “I resonate with the call to provide opportunities for readers of Scripture to wrestle with this nuance.”

Angela: “It’s a never-ending cycle of how we can hold and be with one another when sometimes I have to be big and sometimes you have to be big, and sometimes I have to be little, and sometimes you have to be little.”

Dan: “That requires a level of humility on both parts, and that’s what I see in Paul.”

Dan and Angela also discuss the importance of considering our context as we read this passage—and Scripture in general. Dr. Parker says that, in the rural churches she grew up in, it was not difficult to grapple with Paul’s language about “scum” and “rubbish.” But it is not often a familiar mindset for the graduate students in her classes—meaning that Dr. Parker often has the disrupt interpretations that were assumed to be universal by locating them in particular identities and contexts.

Angela: “If you have difficulty reading from a place of ‘under,’ from a place of being the rubbish of the world or the dregs of all things, if you’re only reading from a suburban idea of Jesus walking through your neighborhood with the sheep on his shoulder, that sanitized Jesus or a sanitized Paul, then you’re probably reading incorrectly.”

In case you missed it, you can check out part one of this series with Dr. Chelle Stearns. And next week, Dan will be joined by Dr. Derek McNeil, Senior Vice President of Academics at The Seattle School, for a heartfelt and illuminating conversation about betrayal and resilience in Luke 22.