Did Paul Call for Women’s Silence? (Series Part 3, Finale)

There is yet another problematic passage in the Corinthian correspondence besides the 1 Corinthians 11 passage that we have considered. It is the passage people have used to argue that Paul sanctions an exclusively male church leadership: 1 Corinthians 14:33 – 36, reproduced below:

For God is not a God of disorder but of peace – as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people. Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to enquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached?

Scholars have observed that this passage gives off a First-Century Jewish synagogue undertone, and, of course, Christianity was essentially a sect of Judaism at the time. A typical synagogue meeting would have men and women seated in different sections, and women were not allowed to speak in those services. Married women could not even ask questions of their husbands during service because of the seating arrangement; apparently, they had to wait until they got home. 

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Spiritually Gifted Men Were the Problem (Series Part 2)

Paul Quotes the Corinthians

As emphasized earlier, we have much-needed data missing from the Corinthian correspondence. Scholars have presented several possible explanations, but not one satisfactorily answers the text’s questions. Each explanatory schema answers a few questions while neglecting the rest. In truth, we may only be able to fully understand the text if archaeology comes to the rescue once more. 

One exegetical approach I find convincing is a rhetorical reading of 1 Corinthians 11 that posits that Paul quotes his opponents to argue against their positions. This idea is not all that strange or ad hoc. There is a consensus that Paul does employ such a form of argumentation in various places in the same letter. Virtually all modern English translations have the phrases believed to be Corinthian in quotation marks—a literary device invented about 1700 years after Paul penned the letters. Below are some examples:

‘All things are lawful for me’, but not all things are beneficial. ‘All things are lawful for me’, but I will not be dominated by anything. ‘Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food’, and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is meant not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body—1 Corinthians 6:12, 13 NRSV

Some scholars believe that the Corinthian phrase in this passage may also include the “and God will destroy both one and the other” piece. Following is another example:

“Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: ‘It is well for a man not to touch a woman.'”—1 Corinthians 7:1.

Two points are worth mentioning here. First, we see again that Paul is, at least in part, responding to a now-lost letter the Corinthians wrote to him. Second, “It is well for a man not to touch a woman” being a Corinthian idea is evident from the way Paul proceeds in the rest of the chapter to correct how strict adherence to such a rule would undermine the community.

At this point, one may wonder why Paul does not clarify that these “Corinthian slogans” are not his. While this seems a fair question, I can hazard two responses. First, it could be that Paul did not think it polemically helpful to take that approach – after all, his goal was to win the Corinthian church over. Second, and more likely the case, these slogans might have been influenced by Paul’s teaching. The Corinthians might have misunderstood (or misapplied) the actual teaching of Paul, and Paul, seeing their effort to follow his instruction, might have chosen to be subtle in his response. For instance, the idea in 1 Corinthians 7:1 could have derived from a Pauline teaching of Jesus’ teaching recorded in Matthew 19:10-12. (We have argued elsewhere that the content of Matthew 19 influences 1 Corinthians 7.) If this is the case, then Paul could not be more explicit about divorcing himself from the Corinthians’ views because the views would have originated from him—albeit in a different form and for another use. 

Below are some other instances of Corinthian phrases in the letter:

“Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that ‘all of us possess knowledge.’ Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.”—1 Corinthians 8:1

Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that ‘no idol in the world really exists’, and that ‘there is no God but one.'”—1 Corinthians 8:4

 “‘All things are lawful’, but not all things are beneficial. ‘All things are lawful’, but not all things build up.”—1 Corinthians 10:23

There are other instances where Paul quotes the Corinthians in this letter, but these cases need to be more broadly agreed on. Admittedly, all the examples above only contain short phrases. Indeed, the only question raised against reading 1 Corinthians 11 as having Corinthian ideas is that these ideas will be much longer. But as Peppiatt observes, “this refutation is not particularly decisive” (68). She further points out that the presence of short phrases in the letter could be why we should expect and read the chapter as containing Corinthian ideas (68).

There needs to be more data on the Corinthian correspondence for definitive works. The situation being what it is, every scholar who works on this text endeavors to reconstruct how things could have been in the Corinthian church. Crucially, scholars assume that the central problem with the Corinthian church is certain women abusing their newfound freedom in Christ to disrupt public services. Peppiatt, however, breaks away from that quotidian scholarly practice. She believes that it is much more likely that the central problem of that church was men—spiritually gifted men, at that.

One only needs to have basic knowledge of the structure of the Greco-Roman world to see that Peppiatt’s proposal is far more likely. In that world, women were inferior, and they knew it. Aristotle even gave the world a philosophical argument for the inferiority of women. Poor women were only marginally superior to enslaved people. Men ruled that world with near-absolute power. Since Paul only stayed in Corinth for less than two years and Christianity was very young and despised, it is more likely that the Corinthian church would acquiesce to cultural practices over time. Indeed, as we showed earlier, a few things in 1 Corinthians 11 strongly suggest men-made theologies. With no precedence in the Hebrew Bible, the fact that a belief developed that required non-uniform responses to tending to one’s heads: women covering theirs while men uncover theirs, angels asymmetrically policing women’s infractions but not the men’s even though men’s offense would be more significant, and Christ being the head of man and man being the head of the woman but the woman is the head of nothing all strongly suggest that men, not women, were behind this theology of repression. Peppiatt concludes that it is much easier to imagine “a group of powerful and spiritually gifted men, who in Paul’s absence implemented teaching and practices that reinforced a hierarchical view of men and women based on a creation theology of derivation” (69). She is right.

Lucy Peppiatt’s Rhetorical Reading

Paul begins this section with praise for all the harsh words he had for the Corinthian church. This observation has confounded exegetes down the ages. Some scholars do not believe that Paul is sincerely praising the church—what’s there to praise them for? This was a divided church with misplaced values and priorities. Lucy Peppiatt, however, believes that Paul indeed honestly praises the church both for remembering him and for holding on to the traditions that he gave them, even if they didn’t maintain the teaching as soundly as he would have preferred (85). 

She points out an intriguing detail in Paul’s language (86). Paul begins verse 3 thus, “But I want you to know….” When Paul strongly disagrees with that church, he usually phrases his rebuke differently, “do you not know that…” (see 1 Corinthians 3:16; 5:6; 6:2,3, 9, 15-16, 19, 9:13, 24). This weak way of introducing a corrective suggests that Paul indeed taught the church that “the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man” (1 Corinthians 11:3). The point of the teaching seems lost on the Corinthians as they made a hierarchical theology of derivation out of it. We do not know the original formula that Paul taught, but Peppiatt speculates that the initial teaching might not have had “and the head of Christ is God” in it, which would have made its abuse easier (86-87). So, Paul later writing that “But I want you to know that…the head of Christ is God” may be correcting an abused (incomplete?) formula. The fact that the Christ/God couplet appears at the end, rather than the beginning of the formula, may also strengthen the proposal that Paul is correcting a misunderstood idea here. It seems more natural for the verse to read, “the head of Christ is God, and the head of man is Christ, and the head of woman is man. To avoid any further confusion on Paul’s view of the origin of women, he would soon write that “everything comes from God” (11:12). Hence, both men and women come from God. Peppiatt writes: “I suggest that what Paul is doing in this chapter, and indeed, through the whole of the letter, is reframing his original teaching, partly for the sake of clarity, but more importantly because it had been used for the glorification of men and the oppression and exclusion of women” (96).

Peppiatt further suggests that verses 4-5, reproduced below, are not Paul’s but amount to him “quoting” the Corinthians. These verses are the results of what that church had done with Paul’s teaching about heads:

Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered disgraces his head. But any woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered disgraces her head, for it is one and the same thing as having a shaved head.  —1 Corinthians 11:4, 5

We should note, as Peppiatt does, that “It is possible that the Corinthians are referring here both to hair length and head coverings” (98). One strength of this proposal is that it explains the rather Greco-Roman culture-specific details. Indeed, Peppiatt believes “that verse 6 is in fact the voice of Paul mimicking the Corinthian threat in order to expose the underlying absurdity, and possibly even aggression of their argument” (99). She claims that Paul here offers a reductio ad absurdum argument (99):

He is taking their argument to its logical, shocking conclusion. If you force women to wear head coverings, and they refuse to comply, you might as well shave their heads. If this is the Corinthians’ argument, Paul exposes the abusive nature of it, and the coercion behind it. If you refuse to cover your head, you are behaving like a prostitute, so you should have your head shaved. But if you do have your head shaved, then you will be known to be a prostitute, so you should cover your head.

If this was the case, then Paul would be showing the Corinthians how non-Christ-like their stance on the matter was. 

Besides, Peppiatt also proposes that we read verses 7-10 as originating from the Corinthians:

A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels.

If we accept her proposal, it will solve many issues with this section of the letter. First, it resolves the misappropriation of the Genesis creation narrative used to justify women’s subjugation. As mentioned earlier, it is pretty challenging to believe that Paul would misquote such a core and elementary passage of the Hebrew Bible. Peppiatt’s proposal may also shed light on the problematic angels of the passage. The spiritually gifted Corinthian men may have specifically invoked angelic presence as a policing threat to the women and to get the women to comply in fear. It could have been a move to silence them. Whatever else the case might have been, Peppiatt concludes “that it is a Corinthian Christological and anthropological heresy” (101). We know it is a heresy because Paul immediately refutes their theology, as we showed in Part 1.

There is an interesting detail that we did not cover earlier. In verses 14-15, Paul asks:

Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair it is a disgrace to him, but that if a woman has long hair it is her glory? For long hair is given to her instead of a covering. (NIV)

We already noted how Paul altered the language of “glory” here. Whereas verse 7 says that the woman is the glory of man, verse 15 claims that the woman’s hair is her glory. Once again, there will be no tensions here if we accept Peppiatt’s proposal because verse 7 would be Corinthian while verse 15 would be Pauline. But the interesting point to cover here is Paul’s use of “nature” in this portion of the letter. No scholarly consensus on what Paul meant, and the term occurs once in the entire letter. However, whatever Paul meant by that term must be how the Corinthians understood the word—and this may very well be like the Stoics’ use of it. In any case, the appeal to “nature” here is not in the same sense that a modern theologian would use the term. Some scholars suggest that the Corinthians might have used “the nature of things” in their correspondence with Paul to bolster their argument. If that is the case, then Paul would be borrowing a Corinthian line of reasoning against them.

Finally, we should briefly consider how Paul ends this section:

If anyone intends to quarrel about this, we have no other practice, nor do the churches of God. —1 Corinthians 11:16

On Peppiatt’s reading, this verse is a strong condemnation of the requirement of head coverings for women. It is worth pointing out that the fact that Paul expects some to “quarrel” or disagree with his view suggests how divisive the church was and how some members preferred their theology of derivation. They wanted women silenced. Paul’s emphatic reference to no other practice in the churches of God, coming right after he dismantles the Corinthian arguments for head covering, further exonerates Peppiatt’s reading. Indeed, most churches today do not require a head covering for women.

Lucy Peppiatt’s book is a well-researched and argued work. These blog entries are no substitutes for reading the book. Let us suppose, however, that someone reads the work and remains unconvinced. Then what? Returning to this passage’s traditional reading cannot be an option. As already demonstrated, if we approach this letter section assuming that every idea therein is Paul’s, we cannot avoid the various bizarre conclusions. And as we just mentioned, the church carries on today like Peppiatt is correct. Frankly, I think she is. A man may very well be the head of a woman. The problem is that we are still determining what that means, but we do know what it does not. We do know that this passage does not teach that women are inferior.

Work Cited

Peppiatt, Lucy. Women and Worship at Corinth: Paul’s Rhetorical Arguments in 1 Corinthians, 1st ed., The Lutterworth Press, 2015. JSTOR, https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctvz0hc8w.6. Accessed 2 Jan. 2023.

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Man is the “Head” of the Woman? (Series Part 1)


First Corinthians 11 is one of those Bible passages that no reader can forget about in a hurry. It is the kind of passage you read and wonder about afterward. The chapter is significant not just for the challenging issues it raises for scholars but also for the impact it continues to have in churches. After all, the passage is full of apostolic pronouncements for the global church. First Corinthians 11 is the famous chapter about hair covering and the claim that “neither was man created for woman, but woman for man” —a passage that the church has subsequently used to treat churchgoing women as “others.” Of course, the othering of women, based on this passage and other similar ones, would not be problematic if, indeed, that is the kind of thing Paul had in mind. 

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What’s Natural Theology? The Example of the Moral Argument

Natural Theology is the branch of theology that seeks to argue for God (or theism) solely from observed facts and experiences. A natural theologian may reference the bible in her work without assuming special knowledge or revelation. She may cite a bible passage but only like any other book. It is worth reiterating that natural theology is a natural enterprise. It is a human endeavor that seeks to employ reason to argue for God’s existence. To that end, two points are worth accentuating here.

First, the arguments of natural theology are not infallible or immutable. A natural theologian does not take a theistic argument to be on the level of a divinely inspired text. Theistic arguments rely on observed facts and experiences. As facts change, relevant theistic arguments must accommodate the changes to remain valid. Indeed, original arguments, such as the Leibnizian Cosmological Argument and the Ontological Argument of Saint Anselm, might be easily refuted today without appropriate modifications. Second, an unconvinced person, theist or otherwise, may reject a theistic argument. Once again, the deliverances of natural theology do not claim divine inspiration. Besides, it is difficult to imagine how one may affirm an argument that one does not adequately understand. (Of course, one’s inability to understand an argument does not count against it.) I once had such an experience.

The Moral Argument is one of the more popular theistic arguments around. One form of the argument goes like this:

  1. If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
  2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.
  3. Therefore, God exists.

For several years, I could not get down with this argument. I knew it was a logically airtight argument—the conclusion can’t be wrong if the premises are correct. But I felt like the first premise was contrived, nonetheless. Indeed, I thought the premise was as flawed as saying, “if the moon is made of Amala, then God exists.” It was not until I studied the work of the systematic theologian and philosopher William Lane Craig that I finally could grasp what was going on with the argument. (Interestingly, William Craig himself also had a similar reservation about this argument and was helped by the work of another philosopher.) It turns out that the argument is not defective. Premise one posits an explanation for objective morality, and I was somewhat slow to grasp it. Even with a good understanding of the argument, someone may still find grounds to reject it, as we shall see.

Moral duties have to do with something right or wrong, while moral values have to do with good or bad. The difference is not trivial—something may be good for you but not right for you. Here is an example to explain what “objective” means. It is not only wrong to torture babies for fun or rape someone; it is objectively wrong to do so. By that, I mean there never was, and never will be, a time when it was not wrong to rape or torture babies. Of course, this does not mean that some people or cultures have not thought it right to do these things. Also, this is not a holier-than-thou statement that seeks to enforce my personal view on everyone else. Instead, it would still be wrong to rape or torture babies even if I did not exist. Hence, “objective,” as used here, really means “regardless of what people say or think.”

Most people grant that objective morality exists. Indeed, it is the underlying basis of ethical theories—however, each ethical theory handles moral problems differently. For instance, utilitarianism, the moral theory that urges us to seek the greatest happiness for the maximum number of people, presupposes objective morality. Suppose there was no objective morality binding on all. In that case, one might ask why we should care about anyone else’s happiness. Similarly, the Kantian ethical theory that forbids us from using people as a means to an end also presupposes objective reality. Again, one might otherwise ask why one should not use people as a means to an end, especially if one can.

However, a minority of people deny the existence of objective moral values and duties. To some of them, morality is subjective. That is, it is people-dependent. One culture may have reasons to normalize rape, for instance. And it would be arrogant for another culture that sees rape as wrong to consider the other culture as being wrong. Essentially, morality is what a culture decides it to be for these people. While we may refute this position, the point, for now, is that some people, a tiny minority, deny the existence of objective moral values and duties. And for such people, the moral argument fails. The apologist may need to resort to other arguments–and there are about thirty of them.

As demonstrated, natural theology uses reason alone to argue for the theistic God, with no appeals to special knowledge or divine revelation. To this end, natural theology is a branch of philosophy. It is worth noting that the arguments of natural theology do not pick out a specific deity—Olodumare, Yahweh, Allah, or whoever. They seek to establish, in a general sense, that some transcendent God exists. Perhaps, more importantly, the deliverances of natural theology make it uneasy for someone to dismiss religion. Gone are the days when intellectuals could dismiss religion without engaging with the truth claims. A non-theist would have to interact with the arguments to be intellectually respectable today.

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Crowther’s Critics’ Cardinal Error (Series Part 3, Finale)

We have told the story of Bishop Ajayi’s early life. The teenage Ajayi was captured by his compatriots and sold into slavery. But for the interception of a British squadron, Ajayi would have been sold in the trans-Atlantic slave trade and might never have been known—just like the innumerable millions who perished in that grand evil scheme. It is hard to imagine that Ajayi, especially as he would later have learned about what could have been, would not have felt like he owed his life to Britain. Not only was he saved by British sailors, but he was also educated and introduced to Christianity by British missionaries. Considering the history of Britain at the time, we may assume that racist and hegemonic inclinations tainted the Christian education he received. So, it should not be shocking if we find vestiges of eurocentrism in Crowther’s works. What should be more critical is what Crowther willfully believed and defended.

Critics have pointed out how Crowther selectively translated “devil” as “Èṣù.” This observation is the most potent critique against Crowther’s translation work. Not only did Crowther retain “Satan” (adapted to “Satani”) in the Old Testament when, as already argued, the notion of God’s arch-enemy was not fully developed, but he also retained “Satan” in the New Testament. Without a justification for this choice, it strongly suggests that Crowther equated “devil” with “Esu.” However, it does not follow that Crowther also equated or confused the devil for Èṣù. A cursory look at the manner of use of “Èṣù” in Crowther’s work would have immediately made it clear that his “Èṣù” was different. Consider the following passages:

Therefore rejoice, O heavens, and you who dwell in them! Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time.”—Revelation 12:12

Crowther translated “the devil” of this passage as “Esu.” Contextually, this passage implies that Èṣù used to reside in Ọ̀run and was displaced to live on Aiyé. But the Yoruba metanarrative says nothing about the pantheon rejoicing because of Èṣù’s displacement to the earth. On the contrary, Èṣù remains the god of crossroads who is not necessarily against humans. Hence, Crowther’s “Esu” does not refer to the Yoruba deity. Below is another passage:

And he cried mightily with a strong voice, saying, Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird. —Revelation 18:2

Once again, Crowther translated “devils” here as “àwọn ẹ̀mí Èṣù” (literally, “spirits of Esu”). This is a classic case of a foreign idea expressed in the Yoruba language with attending awkwardness. Yoruba metaphysics knows nothing about the “spirits of Èṣù.” On the contrary, Yorùbá only recognizes Èṣù as one of many deities. Perhaps, the most instructive case is how Crowther renders James 4:7,

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

Interestingly, Crowther renders “resist the devil” as “Ẹ kọ ojú ìjà sí Èṣù” (meaning, “fight/war against Èṣù”). But Yoruba traditional Èṣù is not a deity to fight. Indeed, he is practically the only hope of humanity! No Yoruba contemporary of Crowther would have failed to notice the difference between Crowther’s Èṣù and the traditional god. 

Besides the charge of Crowther’s consistent translation of “devil” as “Esu,” critics often cite lines from Crowther’s letters and journals to argue for his disdain for Yoruba metaphysics. In an oft-cited passage from Crowther’s journals, we read:

 . . . about the third year of my liberation from slavery of man, I was convinced of another worse state of slavery, namely that of sin and Satan. It pleased the Lord to open my heart. . . I was admitted into the visible church of Christ here on earth as a soldier to fight manfully under his banner against our spiritual enemies. (Quoted in Adefarakan, 44).

Here, we see how Crowther coped with the mind-torturing slavery he experienced. He considered it less than the slavery of “sin and Satan.” This language likely merely reflects the teaching Crowther received about Christian salvation. Some critics, however, see in the passage a demonization of Yoruba land and metaphysics. Temitope Adefarakan, for instance, writes (44):

What the above passage reveals is Crowther’s ontological and epistemological shift from a young man who was comfortably immersed in a Yoruba worldsense, to one who equated that very worldsense with slavery, sin and Satan and, in fact, indexing it as worse than human slavery, a type of spiritual slavery, if you will.”

(“Worldsense” is Adefarakan’s preferred African equivalent of “worldview” as she does not believe that African metaphysics privileges the visual sense over others.) Adefarakan sees Crowther here equating the Yoruba understanding of the world with spiritual slavery, sin, and Satan. She supports her conclusion with another quotation from a letter Crowther wrote in 1837 to the then CMS Secretary, Reverend William Jowett (44-45):

I suppose sometimes about the commencement of the year 1821, I was in my Native country, enjoying the comforts of father and mother, and the affectionate love of brothers and sisters. From this period I must date the unhappy, but which I am now taught, in other respects, to call blessed day, which I shall never forget in my life. I call it unhappy day, because it was the day in which I was violently turned out of my father s house, and separated from relations; and in which I [was] made to experience what is called to be in slavery—with regard to it being called blessed, it being the day which Providence had marked out for me to set out on my journey from the land of heathenism, superstition, and vice, to a place where His Gospel is preached.

Adefarakan stresses how Crowther here describes Yorubaland as “the land of heathenism, superstition, and vice”. But, as even Adefarakan observes, this merely reflected “what Crowther was taught to believe while in the care of the Christian Missionary Society in Sierra Leone” (45). But then she adds, “Crowther has uncritically embraced and internalized the Euro-Christian worldview at the expense of his Indigenous Yoruba worldsense” (45). This latter statement, however, is a mere assertion.

Adefarakan has not shown that Crowther “uncritically embraced and internalized the Euro-Christian worldview.” There is a more straightforward way to explain Crowther’s statement. Then a Christian, Crowther could think back about his ancestral land as one of “heathenism” because, well, the people did not believe as he did in Yahweh, and nobody preached the Gospel in Yorubaland. While Crowther could have used “heathenism” with the derogatory undertone characteristic of British usage of the term, and as Adefarakan argues, there is evidence of Crowther using the word positively. In an 1869 address to African missionaries in Lokoja, Stephen Ney (44) writes of Crowther saying, “If any activity ‘is not immoral or indecent, tending to corrupt the minds but merely an innocent play for amusement, it should not be checked because of its being native and of a heathen origin’” (emphasis added). As to the description of the land as one of vice, Crowther can hardly be faulted. We can scarcely describe the land and people who sold him into slavery as virtuous. 

Besides, there is evidence that Crowther critically assessed the Euro-Christian worldview he received. In the early days of the missions to the Niger, Europeans had more favorable, even if racist, views of Africans. Henry Venn, the CMS Secretary in 1851, for example, wanted “to strengthen the indigenous ministry” by seeking to make “self-governing, self-supporting, self-propagating churches with a fully indigenous pastorate” (Walls, 19). Henry Venn believed that African churches could self-govern themselves, and they did. But things changed in the latter days of Bishop Crowther. Andrew Walls writes (19), 

European thought about Africa had changed since the time of Buxton; the Western powers were now in Africa to govern. Missionary thought about Africa had changed since the days of Henry Venn; there were plenty of keen, young Englishmen to extend the mission and order the church; a self-governing church now seemed to matter much less.

This development happened after the Whiteness-infected Scramble for Africa at the Berlin Conference of 1884. It became fashionable in Europe to assert that Africans could not govern themselves and needed Europeans to govern them. European missionaries did take over the mission, “brushing aside the old bishop (he was over eighty) and suspending or dismissing his staff” (Walls, 19). In 1891, Crowther died of a stroke. 

A European bishop replaced Crowther, despite the availability of several capable indigenous candidates. This racist development and many others would eventually lead to the formation of African independent churches (Walls, 20). A key attribute of African independent churches (AICs) is their insistence on merging the African way of life with Christianity. For example, the AICs rejected European enforcement of monogamy in favor of traditional African polygamy. Contrary to what critics like Adefarakan would have us believe, how is a church development in protest of the European treatment of Bishop Crowther so proudly African in its outlook if the bishop “uncritically embraced and internalized the Euro-Christian worldview”? Indeed, Ney’s quote is worth repeating in its broader context. He writes concerning Crowther, “Christianity, he says, does not reject African collective identities. If any activity “is not immoral or indecent, tending to corrupt the minds but merely an innocent play for amusement, it should not be checked because of its being native and of a heathen origin” (44). Crowther encouraged engaging Christianity with “Africanness.”

Another line of reasoning often marshaled against Bishop Crowther claims that he was an angry fellow who sought to avenge his maltreatment. In a quite enjoyable written speech, Funso Aiyejina writes (4-5), 

The irony of the choices made by the Crowthers of the African world is that in their psychological disdain for, and rejection of, African culture, which was, in part, a response to the African involvement in their enslavement, they became a new generation of middle-men and -women who functioned as arrowheads for the denigration of African cultures. So, while a number of pre-colonial African chiefs and merchants betrayed their fellow Africans by selling them into enslavement, the intellectual Crowthers, acting as priests, interpreters, translators, policemen, postmasters, and school teachers, were key players in the process of the religious, psychological and mental enslavement of African peoples.

In Aiyejina’s conception, Bishop Crowther is the stellar example of Africans who willfully became veritable colonial tools and played crucial roles in the religious enslavement of Africans. Aiyejina (5) elaborates on this “religious enslavement” when he writes in a paragraph worth quoting at length,

If Africans had been less trusting and more cynical and suspicious, they would have wondered why the same translators of the Bible who saw nothing wrong with equating Satan with Esu did not find a near-equivalent Yoruba deity for Jesus Christ, instead of Yorubanising his name into Jesu Kristi. If Satan translates into Esu because of some perceived incidental similarities between the two, how come Jesus does not translate into Orunmila, given the fact that Orunmila is as proverbial, wise, calm, peaceful, and forbearing as Jesus? How come he does not translate to Ela, the divinity of regeneration? Of course, such a logical approach would have undermined the policy of discrediting African world-views and would have suggested a cultural equity between the West and Africa that Europe was not minded to concede. It would not be until much later in the interaction between Africa and Europe in the Americas that a democratic principle of equity between Christianity and the Orisa tradition would be initiated by Spiritual Baptists, who would erect a structure that would equate the Orisa with Christian saints, with Esu being equated to St. Peter in recognition of their gate-keeping and intercessory roles.

Aiyejina uses “religious enslavement” to refer to the process that claims that African traditional religions are inferior. In his view, Crowther’s choice of rendering Satan as Èṣù is a move that demonizes Yoruba metaphysics. Expressing a similar thought, Adefarakan writes that Crowther specifically targeted Esu, of all the orisa in the pantheon, “because of Esu’s unique role and function within the Yoruba metaphysical system” (emphasis in the original, 39). 

These critiques are off-target. First, it is unclear what Aiyejina means by “psychological disdain for, and rejection of, African culture.” Does he mean to include any African who rejects a portion of the culture but embraces the rest? Indeed, what is “African culture,” and is it immutable? One must imagine that Aiyejina would answer these questions in the negative. To do otherwise would include himself, “a professor of literatures in English,” in the mix. But if he answers negatively, why should someone who privileges “Euro-Christianity” over its traditional counterpart be any less African? The idea that Africans who embrace foreign religions are somewhat less African is deceptive, especially when we consider that many, such as Wole Soyinka, who claim to embrace African traditional religions, deny the realism of the gods. 

Aiyejina’s assertion that Crowther was an angry man seeking revenge is also not persuasive. Of course, it would be completely understandable if Crowther remained infuriated for being sold into slavery. But translating “Satan” as “Esu”—or more correctly, “devil” as “Èṣù”—is not an effective way to exact revenge. Indeed, with his knowledge of the Bible, a more effective way to exact revenge—an eternal one, at that—would be to borrow a leaf from the prophet Jonah, who chose to die over preaching to a people he intensely despised. Crowther could have refused to do missions in Yorubaland so that every Yoruba person may eternally perish, as Crowther’s Christian conception teaches. 

Furthermore, Aiyejina’s rhetorical questions on why Crowther only used “Esu,” of all the pantheon members, in his translation work is also misguided. Specifically, the reasoning here is guilty of assuming that Crowther intended his “Èṣù” to pick out the same referent as the traditional Yoruba “Esu.” It is pretty alarming how scholarship on the matter missed this point. Aiyejina’s questions are meaningful only if Crowther meant to assert a one-to-one correspondence between the referents of the terms—and critics are yet to establish that. Indeed, it is implausible that Crowther would have meant a one-to-one correspondence. Crowther’s work is a translation of a work conveying a different metanarrative. He could not have arbitrarily changed the attributes of Satan to those of Èṣù Ẹlẹ́gba.

Moreover, the assumption that Crowther corrupted Yoruba metaphysics through his translation work is guilty of severely belittling Crowther’s contemporary Ifa priests and adherents. Even if Crowther were so angry that he believed Satan and Ẹlẹ́gbara to be the same person, Ifa priests would have begged to differ. They would have pointed out to Crowther that his Èṣù (and Ọlọ́run, in fact) are only superficially like traditional Yoruba divinities by those names. More importantly, the Ifa priests would have ended such a conversation with exactly zero change to their beliefs. Hence, Crowther would not have corrupted anything.

Besides, we know that Crowther was not such an irrational being. In his encounters with Islam, a religion that claims historical reliance on the Bible and adherents of which Crowther could be justified to hate since Oyo Muslims sold him into slavery, Bishop Crowther “reflected the patience and the readiness to listen that marked his entire missionary method (Walls, 19). Though the Quran claims contrary to some cornerstone Christian beliefs, “Crowther sought common ground and found it at the nexus of Qur’an and Bible: Christ as the great prophet, his miraculous birth, Gabriel as the messenger of God (Walls, 19). Crowther befriended many Muslim rulers and clerics. In the final analysis, and regarding his apologetics works to Muslims, Crowther concluded: “After many years’ experience, I have found that the Bible, the sword of the Spirit, must fight its own battle, by the guidance of the Holy Spirit” (Walls, 19). This picture is not of a man taken over by anger or seeking revenge. Those who believe differently must prove their case.

Similarly, Adefarakan’s critiques are also misguided. Her claim that Crowther targeted the Yoruba traditional Èṣù for his central role and function in Yoruba metaphysics may be valid. But this does not amount to much. Crowther could have appropriated “Èṣù” to stimulate the minds of his readers—actually, primarily hearers—to consider the similarities and differences between the Christian Èṣù and Ẹlẹ́gbara and how the worldviews contrast. He could also have chosen “Èṣù” for its tonal similarity to “Jésù,” Crowther’s rendition of “Jesus.” This move would have made for easy mental connections (and conversations) in a primarily oral culture. However, if anyone confused the identities of Crowther’s and Yoruba traditional Èṣù figures, she would only need to attend a service at Ẹlẹ́gba’s temple to be reminded that the divine beings are different. In any case, Crowther may not be blamed for the confusion.

Adefarakan also writes (40):

The figure of the devil is central in Euro-Christian cosmology, hence an essential figure to the project of missionarism. The Bible is not the same without the devil, for he is needed as the quintessential antithesis to all that is good and all that is God. Esu is a central figure in the Yoruba cosmos, while Satan is a central figure in the Euro-Christian worldview.

The claim that “the devil is central in Euro-Christian cosmology” may be correct, but that is only because Adefarakan addresses “Euro-Christianity,” not Judeo-Christianity. The epic poems of Dante and John Milton enormously elevated Satan beyond Biblical bounds (See Steadman, John M. “The Idea of Satan as the Hero of ‘Paradise Lost.’” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, vol. 120, no. 4, 1976, pp. 253–94.). However, Adefarakan’s claim that “The Bible is not the same without the devil, for he is needed as the quintessential antithesis to all that is good and all that is God” is undoubtedly not a Judeo-Christian truth. As already demonstrated, the Devil does not get a mention in the Hebrew Bible, so that portion of the Bible is just fine without the devil. In the New Testament, where the Devil is referenced many times, he is not “the quintessential antithesis to all . . . that is God.” The devil is not equal but opposite to God. He does not even get the credit for much of what is wrong in the world. For instance, many people will undoubtedly name death as the foremost human enemy. Yet, the Bible does not give Satan credit for human death. Indeed Satan, sin, and death are treated as distinct enemies who are already judged by the Christ event and will be finally judged in the eschaton. See Derek Brown’s “The Devil in the Details” for a survey of research on Satan in Biblical studies. Hence, while Èṣù may be a central figure in Yorùbá cosmology, Satan does not play a similar role in the Judeo-Christian worldview.

Nevertheless, it is plausible that Crowther might have believed in an exaggerated view of Satan under the influence of a British education. However, that belief does not seem to feature in Crowther’s translation. If it does, it only amounts to an appropriation of a label, not confusion of identities, as already argued.

Surely, Bishop Crowther knew the Biblical story differed from the Yorùbá metanarrative. Yet, he must communicate his foreign myth in his native tongue. He might have appropriated “Èṣù” for its similarity to “Jésù.” In any case, a close reading of his translation work would reveal that Crowther’s Èṣù differs from the Yorùbá deity. Crowther’s critics have ignored the simple notion of a name and its referent that the philosophy of language has resolved. Slapping a label of “alcohol” on a bottle of water will not change the bottle’s content. Similarly, Crowther’s appropriation of “Èṣù” for “the devil” does not somehow confuse the respective deities.

Works Cited

Adefarakan, Temitope. “‘At a Crossroads’: Spirituality and The Politics of Exile: The Case of the Yoruba Orisa.” Obsidian, vol. 9, no. 1, 2008, pp. 31–58. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/44489275. Accessed 21 Jun. 2022.

Aiyejina, Funso. “Esu Elegbara: A Source of an Alter/Native Theory of African Literature and Criticism.” St. Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago: The University of the West Indies, 2009. Internet resource.

Ney, Stephen. “Samuel Ajayi Crowther and the Age of Literature.” Research in African Literatures, vol. 46, no. 1, 2015, pp. 37–52. JSTOR, https://doi.org/10.2979/reseafrilite.46.1.37. Accessed 21 Jun. 2022.

Walls, Andrew F. “Samuel Ajayi Crowther (1807-1891) Foremost African Christian of the Nineteenth Century.” International Bulletin of Missionary Research, vol. 16, no. 1, 1992, 15–21. doi:10.1177/239693939201600104. Accessed May 25 2022.

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Èṣù Ẹlẹ́gbara and the Evolution of Satan (Series Part 2)

Èṣù in Yoruba Metaphysics: A Brief Note

Traditionally, Yoruba conceives of the world as an interconnected three-tiered cosmos: Ọ̀run (meaning, heaven), Aiyé (meaning, the earth) Ilẹ̀ (meaning, underground; netherworld). Ọlọ́run (literally, “heaven’s owner”) inhabits Orun with the over four hundred gods in the Yoruba pantheon, many of whom walked the earth as humans with supernatural abilities. Ọlọ́run, also known as Ẹlẹ́dàá (literally, “the creator”), is the supreme being. Aiyé is the world of humans, and Ilẹ̀ is the world of departed souls, especially of ancestors. The dividing wall between Ọ̀run and Ilẹ̀, especially regarding deified souls, is quite ethereal.

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Bishop Ajayi Crowther and the Yorùbá Bible (Series Part 1)


Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther’s contributions to African Christianity are well attested in the Christian world, especially in the Global South. In his native land, however, the Bishop is mainly seen as a villain than a hero. He is seen as an able instrument of colonialism used to undermine Yoruba metaphysics. His significant achievement, a Yoruba version of the Bible, is critically described as a courier of “Euro-Christian ideas, beliefs, and cultural logics” (Adefarakan, 45) written in the Yoruba language. Among the adherents of the traditional Yoruba religion, Bishop Crowther is a traitor who willfully allowed himself to be used in the corruption of what he once held dear.

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Adam Could Have Existed 6,000 Years Ago (Series Part 4)


If the Copernican revolution defended by Galileo Galilei displaced humans from the center of the universe, the Darwinian revolution completed what was left by stripping humans of any sense of unique worth. Whereas people had embraced the idea of being created by some supreme being as the science of human origin, Darwinism offered a radically different narrative in which a human is no more special than a SARS-CoV-2 particle. Indeed, the former owes its existence to viruses which are her genetic ancestors. While not challenging the Gospel of Jesus, the Darwinian idea seeing 32ly invalidates the message of the first few pages of the Bible. For the theologically minded persons, those were very trying times. Theologians and skeptical scientists levied critiques against Darwinism—a not unusual development; new scientific ideas always benefit from reviews. These critiques helped refine the Darwinian thesis. Today, Darwin-inspired evolutionary science is the scientific consensus—even if substantive debates continue about various aspects of the dogma. All in all, theology yielded grounds to the unstoppable mighty Darwinian force in all of this.

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Galileo’s Trial Was NOT a Case of Anti-Science Church (Series Part 3)

An Everlasting Myth

Every schoolchild knows something about Galileo Galilei. She may not know that the 16th-century Italian scientist studied at the University of Pisa or designed telescopes that he later used to observe mountains on the earth’s moon. But she knows that Galileo was a bold scientist who stood up against the Pope and the Catholic Church with his scientific findings and got severely punished for so doing. Indeed, even today, people continue to formulate Galileo’s friction with the Church as an archetype of science versus religion or reason versus faith. In many people’s minds, religion is just the sort of thing that hinders scientific progress, as the story of Galileo showed. This story is a myth, an untruth, as I shall show below.

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Science and Religion as Social Programs (Series Part 2)

The Big Human Factor

It is no news that science and religion often make claims concerning the same things. Sometimes they concur in their proclamations; other times, they do not. For instance, for some 2000 years while science, under the influence of Aristotelianism, maintained that the universe was eternal even though the first page of the Bible vehemently disagrees, proclaiming that the universe had a finite past. Similarly, Galileo, a Christian and scientist, knew about the church’s teaching that the earth was the center of the universe when he proposed heliocentrism. These observations need not be surprising. Whatever else one may think about religion and science, this is true: humans play considerable roles in both endeavors and do so with their messy humanness. 

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