I wasn't able to attend the recent Festival of Preaching, but was very struck with an idea shared with me by someone who did. What if we were to read the Bible in the order in which it was written?
There is a common tendency to structure biblical understanding according to the order of the canon. The Old Testament comes first, lays the foundation for the whole story, but its day is now done. Then comes Jesus, the turning point of history, when God became flesh. Finally, the epistles help us to apply what the gospel narrative.
That is not what happened, of course. The first generation of Christ followers were familiar with the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament. Paul, a leader among them, knew only these Scriptures. His teaching, such as it is, derives from them. Actually, we know little about Paul's teaching in the early decades, We know only how he responded to questions and quarrels in the churches he had founded. Through the epistles we can trace the development of Paul's theology, and even how letters written in his name, but after his time, attempted to redress what might have been seen as too egalitarian a perspective on things. [Stylistically the letters to Timothy seem to have been written after Paul's death, and it is here that we find the most restrictive teaching about women in material linked to the name of Paul.]
After Paul, the Gospels were written.
Supposing that these writers were attempting to redress the balance? Luke in particular, who travelled with Paul, seems to have made some effort to be inclusive. Maybe both the Old Testament and the Epistles were developments on the way to a more complete telling of the story of Jesus. Both were working toward an understanding of God's self-revelation in Jesus.
Reading the Bible in this order has a profound effect. Referring to Paul as a touchstone for doctrine, on women or anything else, is a retrograde step. If we really want to know what the Bible says about us, it is to the Gospels we should go. Looking to Jesus, rather than Paul, changes things radically. No longer does greater weight sit with someone trying to exegete Jesus' life and teaching, but with the story of Jesus himself. The need to either justify or explain away restrictions apparently placed by Paul on the ministry of women is diminished, for Jesus taught, touched and commissioned them. Women travelled with Jesus, paid for his ministry, remained with him at the cross, and proclaimed his resurrection.
In Acts, Paul works with women and leaves churches in their charge.
Reading the Bible in chronological order might be a means to radically reviewing long-held understanding and revolutionising attitudes to all kinds of problems - in particular those of exclusion and inclusion.