Vol 1, No 3 (2005) Mutuality Rhetorics and Feminist Interpretation: Examining Philippians and Arguing for Our Lives


Joseph A. Marchal


Typically, when scholars have sought to identify Pauline ethics about sexuality, they have turned primarily to letters such as Romans and 1 Corinthians. The Pauline corpus in general has proven to be troubling, though, especially when approached as a source for a feminist, liberating, or progressive sexual ethic. Such a feminist sexual ethic would include, among other things, moving towards founding relationships based on mutuality, respect and consent. Given this dynamic in Pauline interpretation and feminist ethics, this paper proceeds differently in three ways. First, it examines the argumentation of a Pauline letter normally left out of the conversation, Philippians, a text that might especially be relevant given its rhetorics of mutuality. Though the letter does not seem to refer to certain ‘bedroom acts,’ it does argue rather strenuously for a certain view of communal identity and behaviour. This is relevant for our task in a second way since holistic considerations of sexuality assume that it is expressed by and through our whole selves. That is, sexuality is not divorced from our everyday lives ‘in the world,’ but is integrated into how we act in community and relationship. Third, rather than placing Paul at the centre of this study as a source for sexual ethics, it argues that the act of interpretation itself can be a resource for our political-ethical struggles. This paper seeks, then, to critically examine these rhetorics of mutuality as a contribution to the project of building and expanding a vital feminist ethic of sexuality. The test for such a contribution involves assessing mutuality rhetorics in current arguments about gender and sexuality.


Philippians; sexuality; gender


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