Monday, May 19, 2008

Adam and Eve in Genesis and First Timothy

Why did God say to the woman that her desire would be for the man, and the man would rule over her? Was this—as traditional belief would have it—God’s means of punishing the woman for being the first to sin and then leading the man into sin? Or was this simply God’s announcement of what the woman would suffer as a natural consequence of both her sin and the man’s sin? And how did this alter the relationship between woman and man?

Eve was deceived by the serpent to believe that God had been withholding his blessings, and that the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil would in fact be good for her, not bad. So she disobeyed God’s command by eating the fruit. She then prevailed upon Adam to eat the fruit, thus leading Adam into disobedience as well. Given that Adam was not deceived but knew very well that the serpent’s words were wrong and untrue, he would likely have had some serious reservations. Yet, Eve had the upper hand with him.

So it was that when God came to Adam and Eve after their disobedience (from which they showed no signs of repenting), God told Eve that her desire would be for the man, and he would rule over her. Although various interpretations of the woman’s “desire” have been advanced, I am inclined to agree with Richard Hess, who explains in Discovering Biblical Equality (DBE), p. 92, that this is not a sexual desire but rather a desire to dominate. Sin created a struggle of willpower between women and men.

In saying that the woman would “desire” and the man would rule, God was not issuing directives or commandments to Adam and Eve. God was simply explaining what they had gotten themselves into. The punishment fit the crime, as it were. This was the way their sin had made things to be. From now on, Eve would want to have her way with Adam—as she had done after her first sin—but she would not continue to prevail over him. She would want to have her way, but she would not. He would not let her; he would rule over her. Both would live henceforth in sin. She would want to rule him. He would rule her. This is a classic picture of the “battle of the sexes.” From the beginning, man and woman have been drawn to each other—as God made them to be. Yet ever since Genesis 3:16, man and woman have also sought to get the better of each other—as sin has made them to be.

Since male rule is a consequence of sin and not God’s commandment, it should not be sanctioned or enforced, but ameliorated as much as possible—likewise with respect to the other consequences of fallenness (pain in childbearing, weeds and thistles and so on). Yet the roots of male rule go deep into the soil of sinful humanity—inextricably deep. Although we should seek to alleviate the effects of the fall, we cannot expect eradication of sin’s effects until the new heavens and the new earth have come.

Understanding the dynamics of Adam and Eve’s sin in the Garden helps us to understand why Paul brings Adam and Eve into the picture when he tells the Christians in Ephesus not to permit a woman to teach or authentein a man. (The Greek word authentein has been translated various ways, including “assume authority,” “have/exercise authority,” “domineer over.”) In 1 Timothy 2:11-15, Paul draws an allusive picture of the post-fall set-up. Paul sees in the men and women of Ephesus a situation that is reminiscent of the fall of Adam and Eve. Certain women who, it would seem, were deceived and dictatorial, had been seeking to impose false doctrine on the men, just as Eve had done when she imposed the serpent’s lie upon Adam. Eve had been deceived and so had prevailed upon Adam to accept and act upon false teaching concerning God’s word. Paul is saying to the Christians in Ephesus that a woman must not do what the first woman had done.

An understanding of Paul’s prohibition as forbidding a woman to do to a man what Eve did to Adam accounts for the use of the unusual term authentein. This term does not necessarily mean having or exercising authority in the ordinary way (as it is typically rendered in modern translations). It more likely speaks of exercising a dominating influence upon someone to go along with a specific agenda or to engage in a particular activity.

Gordon Fee sums up the situation in this way: “Paul prohibits a woman from teaching a man so as to dominate him because he does not want the women in Ephesus to replay the sin of Eve, who was deceived and led Adam into sin” (DBE, p. 377). Linda Belleville summarizes Paul’s prohibition in verses 11 and 12 as follows: “Let a woman learn in a quiet and submissive fashion. I do not, however, permit her to teach with the intent to dominate a man. She must be gentle in her demeanor.” She concludes that “Paul would then be prohibiting teaching that tries to get the upper hand—not teaching per se” (DBE, p. 223). (For more detailed treatments of this text, see my essay “Leading Him Up the Garden Path,” as well as Linda Belleville, chapter 12 in DBE, and Andrew Perriman, Speaking of Women, chapter 6.)

Paul's concern appears to be with the process whereby a person becomes deceived into believing a satanically twisted view of God's Word and then proceeds to impose this teaching upon another, thereby leading the other into disobedience to God. This is what Eve did to Adam. This is evidently what some women were doing (or were in danger of doing) to some of the men in the church at Ephesus. And this is what Paul will not permit.

Thus Paul does not bar women from ministries that involve teaching and/or having authority over men (either locally or universally). Rather, when Paul says that a woman must neither teach nor authentein a man, he has in mind what the first woman did to the first man. It is the repetition of the error of Eve that Paul disallows, not a woman’s faithful exercise of her teaching and leadership gifts in the church body.

Paul's reference to "the childbearing" in 1 Tim 2:15 seems to evoke the promise of redemption God gave to Eve in Genesis 3:15. While the woman Eve was deceived by Satan when she failed to submit to God’s true word, the woman Mary heard and believed the word of the Lord to her, and so through her the Christ child was brought into the world. Thus Paul concludes his stern warnings regarding Eve and the Ephesian women on a more positive, encouraging note.

Indeed, in Genesis 3:15, even before God pronounces the dire consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin, he hints that this moral disaster is not the end of the story. There will be redemption and, what is more, the woman will be in on it. God has put enmity between Satan and the woman. That means the woman is on God’s side. She is not inherently unclean or defective, as many of the early church fathers and men throughout the millennia have assumed. God does not give the woman over to iniquity. He gives her a starring role in redemption’s drama. And this speaks not just of the one-time event of the birth of Christ. As all women (not just Eve) have in some way borne the brunt of male rule, so God desires all women (not just Mary) to serve a significant role in God’s redemptive drama. For we are each one—male and female—God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10). We each have an important part to play, a part prepared by God and determined not basically according to our gender but according to the whole person God made each one of us to be.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Logic of Equality

Here is a very helpful and thoughtful essay by Adam Omelianchuk, which addresses the patriarchal-complementarian (PC) argument that women and men are equal in being but unequal or different in roles. It includes a discussion of subordination in the the Trinity. Below are some excerpts of this article to whet your appetite.

If you would like to comment on this essay, please put your comments below. Thank you!

“On an Internet discussion in which I participated, one complementarian stated essentially that women should not be encouraged to preach, because by doing so they would “dishonor God.”…

“Complementarians typically charge that the biblical equality position is not reasoned from Scripture, but from outside of it by the fallen culturally conditioned human intellect. A key egalitarian argument maintains that if men and women are intrinsically equal (as complementarians affirm), then this logically rules out the assignment of an intrinsically equal person to a role of permanent and comprehensive subordination based solely on an intrinsic quality (such as gender).’’...

“But if the Father and the Son are equal in being yet in everything for all eternity relate according to a hierarchal order of authority and subordination, then is not the logic of “equal in being, unequal in role” vindicated?...

“On the surface the argument seems convincing. However, on a closer look it is striking that such a list of proof texts parallels that of the Arian and semi-Arian exegesis that reduced the Word to a demigod. This requires us to examine and test the logic that lies behind this view of the Trinity with the utmost theological care. Moreover, even if it were a true picture of Trinitarian relations, it would still fail to serve as a valid analogy to that of female subordination. I have eight reasons to support this…

“Now we come to the last and perhaps the most significant objection: The doctrine of male authority and female subordination is not about gender differences; it is about obeying God’s will. Therefore, a woman is just as capable as a man in her essential human capacities, yet she resigns herself to a God-ordained “role” where these capacities are largely prohibited from use…

“This debate is about hermeneutics and the presuppositions we bring to the biblical text. I have argued for the lens that reads the Scriptures as recognizing complementarity without hierarchy. I have gone about this, not by means of exegetical argument, but by logical argument… Thus I have reasoned from the whole to the parts (deductive reasoning), rather than from the parts to the whole (inductive reasoning)...This is analogous to the reasoning that I would use in establishing biblical inerrancy….

Monday, May 5, 2008

Differences, Distortions and Definitions

Recently, on one of my rare perusals of the Internet, I came across this account of “complementarians” and “egalitarians.” For some reason I had thought this site would probably be favorable towards biblical equality. I had but to read the (highly prejudiced!) definitions of each position to recognize that my assumption had been way off the mark!

"Complementarians believe that men and women are created in the image of God; equal in their essential dignity and personhood. By God's good and glorious design men and women have distinct, complementary roles in the home and the church. God has assigned to husbands self-sacrificial leadership in the home, and wives a joyful and respectful embrace of that leadership. God has also called qualified men to the burden and responsibility of self-denying leadership in the church, and the entire congregation to respect and submit to their leadership.

"Egalitarians believe that God created men and women equal in all respects, and that no functional distinction exists, only physical distinctions. Male and female roles and functions are interchangeable both in the home and in the church. Male hierarchy in the home and church is a result of the Fall. Basically egalitarians are Christian feminists."

For a minute there I thought that I must be a complementarian after all. Men and women essentially identical and interchangeable except for certain bodily functions? How could the drab sameness of such an arrangement stand up against all that joy and self-sacrifice, respect and responsibility and submission to self-denying leadership? Just consider the joyous state of the women as their self-sacrificing husbands shoulder the burden of self-denying leadership. What a deal! Yes, I definitely need to be a complementarian.

But wait. I am a complementarian—in the true sense of the term. I just am not a patriarchal complementarian (PC). I do believe that God created man and woman to complement, correspond to, and complete one another. Men and women are not the same except for body parts.

However, I do not believe there is warrant in Scripture—or in the empirical evidence provided by actual human beings, for that matter—to conclude that it was God’s “glorious design” from creation to put women under the rule of men (no matter how “self sacrificing” the male rule may be). I do believe the divinely designed complementarity of men and women is far more subtle, delightful, nuanced and interesting than the flat-footed “roles” that lock men into the relentless responsibility of final decision-making authority and lock women into a submission and suppression of many of the distinctively human qualities with which God endowed both men and women at creation.

By distinctively human qualities I mean those characteristics found in humans but not in the lower species (or at least not to the same extent as in humans). Some of these qualities are critical thinking, rational processing of ideas, discerning truth, making decisions based on complex criteria, directing and taking responsibility for one or more persons. All of these distinctively human abilities are either denied entirely or significantly attenuated in the PC definition of properly feminine behavior.

Women are short-changed not only in original creation, but also in the new creation in Christ. The PC parameters of godly female behavior inhibit women from full participation in the gifts, callings and responsibilities with which Christ has commissioned the members of his body. Women thus lack the spiritual authority that male believers have been given. As a result, women may not enter fully into the status and identity that every believer rightly has in Christ, and so are prohibited from fully using the gifts and wisdom with which God has endowed them.

How is this so? The New Testament teaches that God gives believers in Christ the responsibility and the calling to use their gifts, to preach the good news of the Gospel, to teach other believers, to discern and obey the Word and will of God, to serve as priests unto God, to have the mind of Christ, to exercise spiritual authority in the name of Christ and to represent Christ to the world at large. Yet PC doctrine ends up denying female believers a measure of each one of these God-given privileges and responsibilities, and so allocates to male believers the lion’s share of what the Bible speaks of as the status and calling of all believers.

So, as it turns out, the point at issue between patriarchal complementarians and egalitarian complementarians is not whether men and women are different or alike, but whether or not God did, in fact, endow man and woman equally with creational authority, and whether or not God has, indeed, called and commissioned both men and women in the new creation to take up and utilize the authority they have been given in Christ.

(The next-to-last paragraph was taken from chapter 18 in DBE.)

Friday, May 2, 2008

Discovering Biblical Equality

Since I have referred to this edited volume several times, here is a brief discussion of the book, and of several key issues pertinent to the gender debate.

Jim Hoover of InterVarsity Press interviews Rebecca Merrill Groothuis on Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy, ed. Ronald W. Pierce and Rebecca Merrill Groothuis (IVP, 2005, 528 pages, $25.00).

Hoover: With so many books out there on the subject of men and women in the church, what was the impetus for this project? What makes it stand out from others in the field?
Groothuis: There seemed to be a clear need for a single resource that covered the main issues and arguments for biblical equality. Also, I wanted people to see that biblical equality makes sense from every angle; it’s not just a matter of exegeting a few controversial biblical proof texts (or, in some cases, “proof words”). The truth of Scripture regarding biblical equality is confirmed and demonstrated across many disciplines. It seemed this would be seen most clearly if we had a number of authors write from the perspectives of various disciplines. In making the depth and breadth of the case for biblical equality evident in this way, Discovering Biblical Equality stands alone.

Hoover: You've subtitled the book "Complementarity Without Hierarchy." Is that just deliberately provocative, or is there something substantive that you are trying to get at?

Groothuis: It is not intended to be deliberately provocative, but it does make a point—namely, that the idea of male-female complementarity is not the issue at stake in the gender debate; indeed, the concept fits as well with gender equality as with gender hierarchy. It is axiomatic that male and female are complementary; that is, they complete and correspond to one another. This is clear from the Genesis creation story. What is not clear from Genesis or anywhere else in Scripture is exactly how God created man and woman to be different from one another, outside of the obvious anatomical differences. Nor are we able to determine innate gender differences from science, due to the fact that cultural influences can never be eliminated from any experimental design. The Mars and Venus self-help books—whether secular or evangelical—do not give us this information either.

However, biblical egalitarians are persuaded that the Bible does not teach an inbuilt, God-ordained hierarchy of male authority and female subordination as an essential difference between male and female. The purpose of Discovering Biblical Equality (DBE) is to show that, according to Scripture, all believers are free to exercise their gifts in Christian ministry, to discern and follow the will of God for their own lives, and to teach the truths of Scripture to others—without the bestowal of prerogatives on some and the withholding of opportunities from others solely on the basis of one’s gender.

Hoover: Becca, your article "Equal in Being, Unequal in Role" tackles head on a major premise of those who challenge the notion of biblical equality without hierarchy. Why do you think this stock response has so much appeal? Why do you think this issue is so critical? Groothuis: For most of church history women were denied equal status with men because it was held that women were simply inferior persons, by God’s design. Then later in the 20th century the church came to believe that God did not create woman to be personally inferior to man; yet the submission texts were still understood to exclude women from equal participation in the church and in the home, especially with respect to any activities deemed spiritually authoritative. But this left dangling the question: why should an equal person be excluded from key areas of human activity and ministry? To reconcile this conflict, the equal in being/unequal in role construct was devised. This is the linchpin of the patriarchal-complementarian enterprise. They must be able to uphold equality of being alongside inferiority in role, and this hermeneutical device is the widely-accepted way of reconciling these two propositions. Yet in my chapter I show that it simply is not logically possible to have women be both equal and unequal in this way.

Because of its rationale as intrinsic to God’s original creation design, and its nature as necessary, permanent, and grounded in woman’s unalterable ontology, woman’s inferior “role” does not fit the definition of a role. Calling woman’s subordination a mere “role” or “function” serves as a rhetorical decoy that makes woman’s subordination to man’s authority appear compatible with woman’s full spiritual and ontological equality with man. Herein lies its appeal. It appears to resolve the conflict between equality and inequality. But, as I argue in chapter 18, if this “role” is biblically mandated for all women for all time, then it logically entails women’s fundamental inferiority in being and not merely in function. Yet we know from Scripture that man and woman are created equal in being. Thus woman’s subordination is contradicted by woman’s equality. We cannot, as the saying goes, have our cake and eat it too, when it comes to acknowledging women as equals while we keep them in their “place.” And it won’t do to insist that even if it’s not logical it must be true because the Bible says so. Not even God can make a logical contradiction true. And if it can’t be true, then it can’t be biblical.

Hoover: Opponents of your point of view often suggest that egalitarianism inevitably leads to liberalism in the church. How do you respond to that charge?

Groothuis: This charge seems to be more a perception of guilt by association than anything else. The concern appears to be that because theologically liberal churches ordain women to leadership ministries, then any church that allows women to serve in pastoral leadership is therefore liberal or destined to become theologically liberal. But this is an emotionally-laden impression, not a well-reasoned conclusion. In fact, the reasons that liberal churches ordain women to pastoral leadership are not the reasons that biblical egalitarians believe women should be permitted to serve alongside men. Because theological liberalism denies the full inspiration and authority of the Bible, liberal churches ordain women not primarily because of what the Bible does or does not say, but primarily because gender equality is culturally acceptable and relevant. But this is doing the right thing for the wrong reason.

We believe it is the right thing for churches to permit women whom the Spirit has gifted and called to serve in leadership ministry alongside men without restriction based on gender. We believe this because the Bible affirms the gifts and ministries and priesthood of all believers in Christ, regardless of gender or any other social or physical difference. As long as our views regarding gender equality are based on the reasoned belief that the fully inspired and authoritative Word of God affirms women’s equal status in marriage and ministry, we will not even get close to stepping onto that dire slippery slope to theological liberalism. All the chapters in DBE are grounded in and consistent with a high view of biblical authority.

Hoover: The other charge I often hear is that the sort of reasoning that is used to defend egalitarianism leads to acceptance of homosexuality. How do you respond to this charge?
Groothuis: When one applies to the texts on homosexuality the hermeneutic that evangelicals use in deriving gender equality from the biblical texts, the clear conclusion is that, although the traditional ban on women in leadership should be abandoned, the scriptural ban on homosexuality should be retained. This is because the Bible itself treats these two issues in diametrically different ways. DBE has an entire chapter explicating these watershed differences. I will mention just a couple of quick examples: In Paul’s sin lists he repeatedly includes homosexual acts. He never lists women preachers. He does, however commend women who served in leadership and teaching ministries, and women leaders are cited approvingly throughout Scripture. By contrast, nowhere in Scripture does homosexual behavior of any kind come in for any commendation; the Bible never mentions homosexuality except to censure it. Heterosexual monogamy is clearly the biblical norm (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:1-2).
Hoover: What surprises do you think readers will find in this book?

Groothuis: Those who are convinced that biblical equality is simply a Christianized spin-off of contemporary “feminist” culture may be surprised to notice that from cover to cover, DBE makes the case for biblical equality based on what the Bible teaches and never on what feminism teaches. Only once is feminism appealed to as the basis for an argument: In chapter 24 the precepts of 19th century classical feminism are invoked to argue against the ideology of “abortion rights”—which may also surprise some people!

Many opponents of biblical equality who stopped paying attention to biblical arguments for gender equality some time in the 1970s or 1980s may be surprised to find that evangelical egalitarian scholarship has made some significant strides in recent years. The approach to Scripture is more rigorous and more holistic (as opposed to focusing exclusively on a few verses). Readers will also find egalitarian exposition of Scripture by scholars who are not known for their defense of biblical equality, but are simply setting forth a careful interpretation of the text’s meaning. Readers will have to come to terms with the fact that some of the most respected names in evangelical scholarship (such as Gordon Fee and Craig Keener) are solidly, rationally and biblically in support of biblical equality.

Hoover: Gordon Fee served as contributing editor to this volume. Would you like to say a little more about the role he played in the development
of this project?

Groothuis: He played a tremendous and indispensable role, writing four stellar chapters and giving very close editorial attention to all the chapters addressing New Testament themes. The book would not be what it now is, if we had not had the benefit of Gordon’s invaluable contribution.

Hoover: How might this book be used in a classroom setting?
Groothuis: It would serve well as a main textbook for any class addressing the gender debate in evangelicalism. It could also be used as a supplemental text for classes in Christian ethics, theology or practical theology.

Hoover: What are your hopes for this book?

Groothuis: My hope is that Discovering Biblical Equality will receive a wide and fair reading in and beyond the evangelical world. I hope and pray that many will hear and heed its liberating message that men and women can and should minister to the glory of God by the power of the Spirit according to their gifts and abilities. When believers in Christ come to understand that women stand before God with the same responsibilities and privileges as men, then the church will not be hampered by any perceived need to keep women subordinate but will instead be more fully empowered by the Spirit as all members of the Body are able to pursue the ministries to which God has called them. The mission of biblical equality is not simply to empower women as individuals, but to empower the church as the Body of Christ on this earth.