Evangelicals and Feminism Part 4: Theological Hermeneutics

A recent post by a friend about the new book A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans sparked a lively debate concerning the relationship of evangelicalism to the feminist movement.  After a lengthy discussion we have decided it best to move the conversation to a different forum.  This series of posts is meant to organize the ideas touched on in the debate into a more logical presentation before we delve into areas of further discussion.  Today’s post continues some of the themes from yesterday and moves into a discussion of theological hermeneutics.  For more of an introduction to this debate, the participants, and the various viewpoints in evangelicalism concerning this issue, see the introductory post to this series.

Theological Hermeneutics:

Alex:  Luke and Austin, I really like the idea of progression in biblical revelation. I find that idea very compelling in fact, in a lot of ways. But the question I want to pose is why the progression stops where it stops, particularly in terms of our interpretations of the biblical teachings. In particular, I’m thinking of the difference between the way we view New Testament teaching on slavery today and the way we view its teaching on the role of women in church/marriage/society. In our post-abolitionist movement age we are happy to say that Paul’s teachings on slavery were culturally conditioned. But not his teachings on women in a post-feminist movement age. Why are we holding onto that in the way that we do? To draw out the point even more starkly, slavery does still exist in the contemporary world in the form of human trafficking. Would you be willing to tell someone enslaved in such a situation that Paul’s admonition “slaves, obey your masters” applied to them? If not, why does that get a different hermeneutical treatment than “women should be silent in church” or “women should not be permitted to teach men” does in today’s world?

Austin:  My comments of slavery will likely not satisfy every question posed. There are some analogous areas between current human trafficking and first century slavery but there are some radical discontinuities as well. Slavery in the first century was not racially motivated; most times slaves were POWs, people in debt to another (even doctors), those convicted of a capital crime, etc. Many times children were sold into slavery or the parents didn’t have money to feed the child so they just left their children on the roads and someone would come by, pick them up, and place them into slavery. It varied from owner to owner how the slaves were treated; some were treated harshly (whipping, beatings, raping, etc.) yet some masters were very nice and treated the slaves as part of the family. So, some slavery in the 1st century was merely indentured servitude and others were not. I would likely offer Paul’s admonishment to the “slave” within the situation.

Paul addressed the indentured servants in 1 Corinthians 7. The issue in chapter seven has relevance to your question. Paul digresses from the marital topic to enunciate a position that should govern how the Corinthian congregations approach marital issues. Unless there are righteous reasons to the contrary, a Christian should be satisfied in whatever marital status they happened to be called to at the point of conversion. These verses affirm that all Christians belong to God and He does not show favoritism. Whatever state you are in, remain as such. The apostle states to “remain as you are” three times (7:17, 20, 24), drawing parallels with circumcision and uncircumcision (vv. 18-19), and then freedom and slavery (vv. 21-23). Paul’s point here is this: don’t worry about it. If you are a slave, you’re called as a slave for the sake of the Gospel. God doesn’t look at you as a lesser Christian. If the opportunity arises that you are able to be free, take it! His words have relevance for the slave in their given situation. Furthermore, despite not outrightly abolishing it with explicit commandments such as “the Gospel requires absolute freeing of all cultural-instituted practices such as slavery,” Paul and other apostles created a ticking time bomb for the practice of slavery with the express commandments given to both slaves and masters. The gospel changes the relationship between the parties thus changing the institution from the inside out (e.g. letter of Philemon). 

CLARIFICATION: No, I would not read those texts to someone within the jaws of the Satanic human trafficking system. But, if the NT statements made towards household slavery are aimed at indentured servants then I totally would. There were abuses in that institution that Paul sought to correct and regulate. New Testament slavery does not automatically equal antebellum slavery or human trafficking. Sorry for my unclearness.

The move to make slavery akin to biblical viewpoints concerning women in ministry or marital roles just doesn’t work. Pastor-scholar Sam Storms, president of Enjoying God ministries asks: Is not the argument for why wives should submit to husbands the same as the argument for why slaves should submit to masters? If we insist on the abolition of the latter, should we not also insist on the abolition of the former? Again, the answer is No.
There are several reasons why we can insist on the abolition of slavery while retaining the submission of wives to their husbands.
1. Scripture is known to regulate undesirable relationships without condoning them as permanent ideals ( see Mt. 19:8; 1 Cor. 6:1-8). Paul’s recommendations for how slaves and masters relate to each other do not assume the goodness of the institution.
2. The institution of slavery is not grounded in creation but is a distortion resulting from the fall. Marriage and male headship, on the other hand, are part of the original created order that antedates the fall.
3. On several occasions the seeds for the dissolution of slavery are sown. See Philemon 16; Eph. 6:9; Col. 4:1; 1 Tim. 6:1-2. Nothing in the NT, however, suggests that the same was envisioned for the relationship between husbands and wives.
4. If the argument from slavery is used to invalidate a wife’s submission to her husband, would it not also invalidate a child’s submission to his/her parents? Observe how the relationship between husbands and wives, parents and children, and bondservants and masters are all addressed by Paul in Eph. 5-6.
5. No permanent moral command or moral absolute is used with reference to slavery in Paul’s instructions to slaves.
6. Paul explicitly envisions and endorses the possibility of a slave obtaining freedom (1 Cor. 7:21). He never says anything comparable to this with regard to wives and submission to their husbands.

From the many conversations I’ve had with egalitarian proponents, this is an issue of “I feel God’s calling in this area” and I now need a theological rationale as to what to do with those commands that seem to contradict outright my internal calling. I would agree with Reinke that those egalitarians who do “theology” and “doctrinal formation” likely know they’re on shaky ground. I’ll forego any other comments because I do not want to delve deeply into the politics of victimization associated with this area of discussion, which, it would seem, make it so that what the text teaches is moot as long as we can show someone feels put out or wounded within the debate. A wound then becomes more important than the Word. I don’t like that and want no part in it.

Alex:  So I think we’ve hit a point of major methodological disagreement which might explain a lot:  You talk about the difference between someone’s feeling of “call” and proper exegesis or between a perceived “wound” and “what the text actually teaches.” What I am sensing in this contrast is a perception that we can objectively know the actual meaning of a text and then compare that meaning against someone (particularly someone who disagrees with us) else’s exegesis of it. I think that kind of objectivity is impossible. My proof is to ask you to find any two exegetes (doing their own scholarly work and not one piggy-backing off the other) who agree on every detail of exegesis. It simply does not happen because, I believe, we all bring our own biases and perspectives to the text to some degree or another. I want to be careful to make sure I don’t say that this discredits biblical exegesis as being foundational for theology. I certainly believe that our theology should be in conversation with biblical studies. But I think we have to be honest in saying that our preconceived notions about theology also influence our study of the Bible and therefore claims to an objective standard of the exegesis of a text which can then be the gold-standard of the sturdiness of our theology are extremely suspect.

We could take as a demonstration of this methodological disagreement my assessment of your six reasons why the New Testament treatment of slavery and of the role of women in church/family/society are not analogous. The quick summary is that I would dispute every one of those points except the first one (and the last, which is simply a factual statement about Paul’s writings, it is unclear to me what movement it makes in terms of an argument). I would argue (in response to your points):

2. There is no evidence (aside from a selective interpretation of the ending of Genesis 2) for anything resembling headship and submission before the curse of the fall. In fact, there is more explicit evidence, in the declaration that both men and women are created in the image of God, for the egalitarian position being the norm before the fall.
3. There are ample stories from the gospels that suggest that Jesus was elevating the women he came in contact with to be on the same (if not higher) footing than even his disciples. Further, there is Paul’s statement that in Christ male and female are the same. Those may not be explicitly related to “submission of wives” but they are certainly relevant.
4. I think your argument works more in my favor here than in yours. If Ephesians four puts submission and slavery in parallel to one another, then I think saying one no longer applies but the other does is very exegetically problematic. The only way to get out of that, I think, is to suggest that they aren’t as intertwined as you are suggesting, but then there is no problem for the question of children obeying their parents standing (exegetically) on its own.
5. If Ephesians 6:5, Colossians 3:22, and 1 Peter 2:18 are not considered the language of “moral absolutes” or “moral commands” then neither is anything in the New Testament about the role of women in society/church/family.

The point here is not to necessarily get into an exegetical debate but to demonstrate that in each instance the conclusion we arrive at in our exegesis is dictated by which details in the text we pay attention to or ignore and that, in large part, is derived from our already acting theology. Your already formed conclusions about the role of women leads you to exegete the text one way, my pre-formed beliefs on the subject lead me to exegete it another.

Which then brings us back to the earlier question about “progressive revelation” and where progressions stops. If we have progressed to the point of recognizing slavery as a moral evil, and therefore reinterpreting the New Testament teachings about slavery as culturally bound and conditioned, why can the same conclusion not be made about the New Testament’s teaching about the role of women in church/family/society? Especially when we consider that the current “complementarian” position is infinitely more progressive than the traditional interpretation of these passages (take even Luther and Calvin’s statements about women, which are often remarkably chauvinistic by today’s standards), suggesting that there may be, even within complementarian theology, a strong movement toward moderating these statements with the recognition of their cultural boundedness. Why has Evans gone too far in her interpretation of these passages, whereas Thomas Schreiner’s interpretation (if I remember it right from the “two views” book we read for Theo 4 at Southeastern) that Paul restricts women from the role of “senior pastor,” a position that doesn’t exist in the New Testament language or world, does not cross the line?

Austin:  On the issue of exegetical objectivity, your comments remind of Christian Smith’s most recent book The Bible Made Impossible and his creation of the term “pervasive interpretive pluralism.” Within it, he questions the perspicuity of Scripture because so many interpreters fail to agree on most things. Scripture cannot be objectively clear because so many people disagree on what it teaches. I think he and maybe you misunderstand what evangelicals believe about the clarity of Scripture. For Scripture to be clear means that it is composed in such a way that we can understand its teachings concerning all that is necessary for faith with God’s help and a willing heart (Deut. 6:6-8; Psa. 19:7, 119: 130). Those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation are clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture says the The Westminster Confession of Faith. The clarity or perspicuity of Scripture does not deny the fact that some biblical passages are difficult to understand (2 Pet. 3:15-16) or that the dullness of peoples’ hearts can hinder right understandings of the words of scripture.

Furthermore, just because one cannot have complete 100% objectivity does not mean that he or she cannot, through the use of the original languages, extensive background information, the Holy Spirit’s help, and a host of assistance from more learned teachers in the Church, understand and decipher the meaning of a text (I’m glad we both agree it has a meaning intended by the author). One’s presuppositions and biases, if recognized, can be kept in check. I understand that I come to the text as a white, American male from the West but that does not wholly negate my ability to not let those biases hinder the text’s voice and intention to me as a reader. Instead of viewing one’s own cultural, familial, and philosophical biases and presuppositions as completely blinding the text’s meaning, I view it as merely affecting the vision. The vision of the text can be made clear via using the right contacts or glasses e.g. original languages, background information, etc. Your biases may create a limp but I do believe that God wants his people to know Him as he has seen fit to sovereignly reveal himself through a text. We may have a limp but with help we may still be able to run the race. Our worldview and biases make us like Oscar Pistorius, not FDR. As a facetious slight, how can you make an objective claim that we cannot make objective claims about the meaning of the text? Did you not have any cultural biases at the moment you wrote that statement?

Though you do not want to get in an exegetical discussion, this is impossible to avoid. You disagreed to some of those points and to be quite humorous, I object to your objections.

2- There does seem to be some evidence from Genesis 1-2 that Adam had different responsibilities and roles than Eve pre-Fall. Thomas Schreiner lists six of them: God created Adam first, and then created Eve (1), God gave Adam the command not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (2), God created Eve to be a helper to Adam (3), Adam exercised his leadership by naming the creature God formed out of Adam’s rib “woman” (4), the Serpent subverted God’s pattern of leadership by tempting Eve rather than Adam (5), and God approached Adam first after the couple had sinned, even though Eve sinned first (6). Each one of these actions contains great symbolism that has moral implications concerning the relationship between men and women. Again, the Fall did not make Adam and Eve unequal (which may be implied by your statement). Having a different role does not make one unequal. It seems that each person of the Trinity has a specific role or function within salvation history. Having a specific role does not make any one person of the Trinity any less competent or any less fully God. That does not logically follow. Also, if the cross negated the effects of the Fall (which according to you would include specific gender and ministry roles and responsibilities), why do we find commandments of specific gender and ministry roles in the new covenant at all? Why was it never made explicit that the cross reversed all of that? One ends up with specific gender roles and responsibilities that have existed since the beginning from cover to cover.

3- I fully agree that Jesus was tender and respectful to women which was radically different from other 1st century rabbis. From the Second Temple period, women were not allowed to testify in court trials. They could not go out in public, or talk to strangers. When outside of their homes, they were to be doubly veiled. “They had become second-class Jews, excluded from the worship and teaching of God, with status scarcely above that of slaves” (The Oxford Companion to the Bible).  Rabbi Eliezer wrote in the 1st century, “Rather should the words of the Torah be burned than entrusted to a woman…Whoever teaches his daughter the Torah is like one who teaches her obscenity.” Jesus was a different kind of rabbi! Jesus talked to women, taught women, fellowshipped with women, respected women, loved women, included women, and used women. But still, he did not include women in the role of apostles. He did not reverse all gender-specific institutions made in Creation though he critiqued actively misconceptions and misinterpretations from chauvinist fellow Rabbis. He dignified women but did not destroy the nature of womanhood altogether.

Concerning Galatians 3:28, this text in no way does away with other commands concerning gender and ministry roles. In fact, that’s not even remotely the context. Paul is discussing membership in God’s new redeemed humanity within Galatians 3. The issue is justification. Even Dr. Wright says, 

But once we have grasped this point we must take a step back and reflect on what Paul has not done as well as what he has done. In regard to the Jew/Gentile distinction, Paul’s fierce and uncompromising insistence on equality in Christ does not at all mean that we need pay no attention to the distinctives between those of different cultural backgrounds when it comes to living together in the church. Romans 14 and 15 are the best example of this, but we can see it as well throughout Galatians itself, as Paul regularly speaks of ‘we’ meaning Jewish Christians and ‘you’ or ‘they’ meaning Gentile Christians. They have come to an identical destination but they have come by very different routes and retain very different cultural memories and imaginations. the differences between them are not obliterated, and pastoral practice needs to take note of this; they are merely irrelevant when it comes to belonging to Abraham’s family. And this applies, I suggest, mutatis mutandis, to Paul’s treatment of men and women within the Christian family. The difference is irrelevant for membership status and membership badges. But it is still to be taken note of when it comes to pastoral practice. We do not become hermaphrodites or for that matter genderless, sexless beings when we are baptized.

4- I think they still apply for the indentured servant (though we do not have those in the West; they exist in some places in the East and Africa. I met some in Swaziland) as-well-as for the wife, husband, children, etc. My question would be, if the command for wives to submit does not count anymore because that was a culturally-conditioned command that’s no longer relevant because the cross did away with it, does the command for me to love my future wife as Christ loved the Church still apply? If it does not, I’m going to need some pretty sound logic for why you can do away with some and not others. Egalitarians have attempted to give criteria for that type of selective reading but it has failed (here is an example).  I’m also going to push back again for how you can have any objectivity in knowing which parts of Scripture we do not have to obey anymore if we cannot even know the objective meaning of the text because of our biases and presuppositions?

Areas for Further Discussion:

  1. Specific exegetical issues
  2. Issue of objectivity/subjectivity in our hermeneutics
  3. Meaning of the clarity of scripture

9 thoughts on “Evangelicals and Feminism Part 4: Theological Hermeneutics

  1. A quick thought for Austin, more later: I don’t think your redefining of perspicuity answers the question at hand. There isn’t even widespread agreement among Christians about what constitutes “all that is necessary for faith” or what the most important passages “mean.” Though this may be beside the point, as you seemingly accept that we don’t have 100% objectivity in your second paragraph.

  2. I understand what you’re saying and Christian Smith said the exact same thing in his book. We cannot major on the majors and minor on the minors because no one can agree on what’s major and what’s minor because of our biases. I think something missing from the conversation is God’s will for people to understand him. It would be just quite idiotic for God to reveal himself through a written text with the full knowledge that no one would ever really understand him or his word because of their presuppositions and biases. Furthermore, I didn’t redefine perspicuity. That’s the standard view on it.

    Again, the lack of 100% objectivity does not mean we cannot have maybe 85% or even 99.9999% clarity on what a text means with the right tools. Probability is a guide to life and objectivity. 100% certainty doesn’t exist in most things. Also, As Tim Keller as pointed out, no reader of Scripture can or will have 100% objectivity because of what Scripture is and aims to do. We can read accounts of Genghis Kahn with complete objectivity because in a very real sense, it does not intrude upon our lives. It is merely an account about a tyrant. Scripture is very different. As we read it, it reads us. Scripture many times appears to be a mirror in which God shows us our dirty faces. Can anyone be objective about a text that subjectively deconstructs us from head to toe? We are handling a very important thing when reading Scripture. Also, I wonder what role you ascribe to God’s sovereign care of the truth and Church and the Holy Spirit’s role in the application of the Word.

    I want some dialogue on the scriptural passages themselves. For Luke and I, this is where the crux of the debate essential rises or fails. Questions concerning methodology, presuppositions, philosophy, and historical formulations seem to be many times an evasion tactic from what the text is attempting to say. Let’s talk about the household codes, Paul’s creation-grounding argument for women not serving as elders, and other important parts of these issues.

  3. So we may be hitting another major point of disagreement. We are also getting into the heart of the reason why I have been negotiating my relationship to evangelicalism the last several years. For me (unlike what I sense among many others who have “progressed” beyond the bounds) that has little to do with the supposed “political” stances of evangelicalism, I think that people like NT Wright, Roger Olson, and even Rachel Held Evans demonstrate that the tent of evangelicalism is broad enough to encompass a host of people with a host of different views on the most pressing cultural/societal issues of the day. For me, my tenuous relationship with evangelicalism comes from philosophical and theological reflections on the idea of scripture itself. This is what I mean (and why this is relevant to this conversation): I’m not sure I want to say that God has been revealed in a text. One reason I don’t want to say this because of the many ways a text can be interpreted and/or understood, which I think produces a host of difficult questions about “authority” and “method” that end up making the text even more obscure than where we started. Karl Barth (who used the label evangelical in a very different sense that most American evangelicals would today) has had a pretty significant impact on me when it comes to this issue: I think I want to say that God is revealed by divine action in the world. We experience the work of God (be that in “nature” or be that in a pietistic experience of the Holy Spirit or in the workings of history or in some other way), a work which has its culmination in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. This experience of the work of God is what inspired the biblical authors to write. So what we get in the Bible, I think, is the reflection of others on their experience of God working. This biblical witness to God establishes a kind of “norm” with which I think the later Christian tradition must always be in conversation, but I think my solution to the question why would God “reveal himself through a written text with the full knowledge that no one would ever really understand him or his word because of their presuppositions and biases?” is to say I’m not sure he did. Instead, I think the written text is how we reveal (our experience of) God to others.

    Now, that’s not an argument that we need to get into now, that’s a whole different issue from the one we are dealing with. But I’m trying to reveal the perspective that I am coming from in this. Which is probably not the perspective that RHE is coming from, but I think we made the shift from discussing her text to discussing our own ideas a while ago, so I’m not overly concerned by this.

    What I will say, however, is that when it comes to your second paragraph I think the relationship of our respective views becomes somewhat complex. I wholeheartedly agree that scripture can act as a mirror, that it challenges us, deconstructs us even (nice appropriation of that term, by the way). But I also think there is a danger in over-inflating our notion of scripture. In response to your questions about the sovereignty of God, I think that if we take divine sovereignty seriously we have to be very careful about the kinds of claims we make about concrete objects or actions. I was already planning to write a post related to this topic later this week, but to give you the sneak peak, I think there is a serious danger to attributing any “necessary” or “causal” link between any concrete action or object and our relationship with God. God is not bound by any such necessity. Can God reveal himself in the reading of scripture? Certainly. Must God reveal himself in some special way every time we crack open a Bible? That’s trickier. If God is bound by our action (opening the Bible), then is God truly sovereign or have we exerted some control over God? I think the danger that is present is the danger of elevating a concrete religious object or action to the level that it takes the place of God. Idolatry of the word is a real concern. To be clear, I’m not accusing anyone in this conversation of such idolatry, I’m just pointing to one of the things that underlies my own perspective and the reasons why I make the theological moves that I do.

    This has become a much longer comment than I thought it would be, so I’ll leave it here for the moment and come back later with more specific thoughts about the biblical texts we’ve raised.

  4. Here are my promised thoughts on the particular passages we have raised in this discussion. Responding to your most recent points:

    2- I would take issue with Schreiner’s demarcation of six different “responsibilities and roles.” In quick succession, here is my response to each: 1) Adam being created first is neither a role nor a responsibility, it is merely a restatement of the facts of the narratives. 2) The same could be said of the claim that Adam is given the command. This is merely a restatement of the facts of the narrative, not a “role” or “responsibility.” I also want to raise the notion of narrative selectivity here. No narrative can include every detail of a situation, they all must be selective in the details presented. So in a sense, we can also say that the claim “only Adam is given the command” is an argument from silence. 3) This is a prime example of an over-inflated concept. The notion of the woman as a “help-mate” is pretty exegetically complex. The same term is used to describe how God is related to Israel in the Hebrew Bible, which would seem to undermine the point you want to make. I don’t want to overemphasize that too much, but I think it would be safe to say that this term might be better understood in the way that we use “ally” or “partner” or “companion.” In which case, it implies a kind of relationship, but not a role or responsibility per se. To emphasize the “helper” aspect of this concept is, I think, to build up too much one aspect of the meaning of this term, which in effect betrays your interpretive bias. 4) This is, again, an example of an over-inflated concept. We simply don’t have definitive evidence that the act of “naming” implies leadership in the way you are suggesting. There are also indications from ancient literature that naming is a way of categorizing being, for instance. Its also interesting to note that the initial “name” is simply “woman” which is a category, not an individual name. Adam does not give her an individual name until after the fall. So if you want to argue that naming is an act of leadership, I think the more clear example is the post-fall example, which is more in support of my argument than yours. 5) This point simply begs the question. You can only interpret this as “subverting God’s pattern of leadership” if you have already assumed that this is in fact God’s intended leadership model. Since that assumption is exactly what we are debating, this point begs the question and thereby fails to prove anything. 6) I think the same can be said of this point. There are a thousand different narrative reasons why God might have approached Adam first. I think the whole dialogue that happens there is very important for the author in terms of themes later developed in Genesis. To insist that this dialogue is somehow indicating a particular role or responsibility for Adam is simply isogesis.

    This leads me to again conclude that there isn’t any straightforward evidence for a male-centered leadership paradigm in the creation account. My point, as before, is simply that you can only find such evidence if you are interpreting the text with a particular bias.

    3- I think Jesus does more than just elevate the dignity of women. Jesus actions have been interpreted by many scholars as inviting women into his group of disciples, which is effectively to denounce the idea that women could not exercise religion. The group of 12 may not have had any women, but I think the case can be made that this is largely for symbolic reasons: Jesus, intending to reconstitute Israel, chooses 12 men as his core disciples just as Israel had 12 sons which founded the 12 tribes. Beyond the gospels, there is is evidence that the rank of Apostle may have been more widely applied than just the original 12, and that in this broader application it may have included women. I’m thinking in particular of Romans 16 here, even though I know there is some dispute about the grammatical construction of that passage. My goal isn’t to definitively prove that Junia was an Apostle but to suggest that there is at least some precedent for thinking that the idea the apostles were all men is wrong (and, setting aside the Junia case, an argument from silence).

    4- There are two points I want to make here, both of which bring us back toward the more theoretical side of this discussion.

    First, I want to discuss the notion of “cultural constructs.” I think Paul is outlining a principle in Ephesians 4-6 about Christian unity. As part of that, the end of Chapter 5 and beginning of Chapter 6 points to the idea of mutuality in the relationships in the Christian home, with husbands and wives, parents and children, slaves and masters working together toward the goal of presenting a united Christian face for the world around them. As he makes that argument, I think Paul puts it in language that is indicative of the cultural norms of the day. Fathers/husbands were the heads of the household and slavery was accepted and common. But if you notice, in each instance there is a counter-command given which tempers the authority of the more powerful member. I think I see in this Paul attempting to work out how the principle worked in his cultural context, knowing that it both challenged that context and existed within it. My view is that this is how we have to deal with the application of scripture today. Our application must both challenge our context and work within our context. Insisting on male headship in a post-feminist movement age doesn’t make any sense within our cultural context. There has to be a better way to argue for the unity of Christians toward the world today than that.

    Second, this brings me to a more theoretical/hermeneutical point, which is to say that I think theology has to work in conversation with the tradition that gone on before it without demanding that such tradition remain static. We no longer live in Biblical times, literalist application of the Bible doesn’t work. Now, before you start jumping up and down, Luke, I don’t want to claim either of you are being overly literalistic. I think, in fact, that Austin in particular has outlined a complementarian view that moves well beyond the literal words on the page and is much more sensitive to the concerns of our culture than has been done by many major voices on this issue. But once we start moving beyond the most literal interpretation, we are entering into new territory. I think the model is the idea of a conversation, with the scriptures informing and challenging us but not dictating our every move. That doesn’t totally answer your questions about objectivity, Austin, but it gives you an idea of the framework I am working within.

    That’s all for now, looking forward to seeing where the conversation goes from here.

    1. I’m sorry it has taken me so long to reply to this post. Finals, papers and other more pressing things came up. I’d like to continue this discussion though as well as the one on Romans.

      It would seem that your responses basically come down to either 1) that is just a way the author of Genesis narrativally moved things forward and 2) it does not mean that. Concerning the naming of Eve, we can know a little more than you’re letting on. John Walton in his background to Genesis said concerning the role of naming in the creation story “In Mesopotamia the assigning of function is referred to as the decreeing of destiny. Decreeing destiny by giving a name is an act of authority. In the ancient world, when a king conquered another country, the king he put on the throne was given a new name. In other cases, the giving of a name is determined by circumstances. In either case, Adam’s naming of the animals is his first step in subduing and ruling. He is fulfilling the role that he had by virtue of being in God’s image…” There’s an authority that comes with the naming of something within the ancient mindset. This is what led Schreiner to assert “The assigning of a name to the woman in such an abbreviated narrative is highly significant. Yahweh could have reserved such a task for himself and removed any hint of male leadership…Adam’s naming of the woman signifies that he bears the leadership role. There is no exegetical warrant for assigning a different significance to the naming of both the animals and the woman.”

      The fact that Adam was created first, at least in the mind of Paul, was not just the way the narrative unfolded. He appealed to it twice to give ethical advice within the churches of Corinth and Ephesus because the situations being addressed were similar. Again Schreiner notes “The problem addressed in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is of the same general nature, in which the Christian women were adopting a style of dress (or hairstyle) that implicitly proclaimed their independence from their husbands. And, as we have seen, the situation at Ephesus is very similar to that at Corinth some years earlier.” You’re asserting that basically Paul’s Jewish Creation theology from whence his admonishments flow is not based on the text because you know better. That would seem to be just too perfect my friend. The fact that the narrative has a sequence where man is created first, names what is created, has a woman come from his side, and then names her possesses theological significance. Both the logic of this passage and the parallel in 1 Corinthians 11:3-10 make this clear: for Paul, the man’s priority in the order of creation is indicative of the headship that man is to have over woman. The woman’s being created after man, as his helper, shows the position of submission that God intended as inherent in the woman’s relation to the man, a submission that is violated if a woman teaches doctrine or exercises authority over a man. The creative order in Genesis is not merely an issue of chronology but constitution. It is the constitutive ordering of human relationships for their highest level of functional goodness. This idea is not merely a Pauline novelty but is found in other Jewish writings. The Testament of Naphtali 3:4-5 says: “Nations went astray, and forsook the Lord, and changed their order, and followed stones and stocks, following after spirits of error. But ye shall not be so, my children, recognizing in the firmament, in the earth, and in the sea, and in all created things, the Lord who made them all, that ye become not as Sodom, which changed the order of its nature, in like manner also the Watchers changed the order of their nature, whom also the Lord cursed at the flood, and for their sakes made desolate the earth, that it should be uninhabited and fruitless.” Idolatry, homosexuality (this is salient within Paul’s discussion of this in Romans 1), the reversal of gender roles, and other examples are attacks upon the way God has arranged and ordered his cosmos. There’s more going on in Genesis than your theological position will allow.

      You’re right that no narrative can include every thought but surely you recognize the author had intentionality by including the fact that Adam was given the command, Eve disobeyed the command that Adam shared with her (w/ Adam along with her) and Adam was the first to receive the judgment for the said disobedience. If there was no concept of headship at all within the text, why was Eve not approached first? After all, she’s the one who had the concept with the cunning serpent. This is a way of the text whispering or hinting at the creative order that God has so bequeathed to his world. I fully agree there are themes picked up from the passage that are pertinent for the rest of the book. I do not deny that. The fact that Adam refers to Eve as “woman” in chapter 2 and then “Eve” is chapter does not speak against the Complementarian position. What he calls her is inconsequential. That he names her is the point. Raymond Ortlund Jr. said “In designating her “Woman” the man interprets her identity in relation to himself. Out of his own intuitive comprehension of who she is, he interprets her as feminine, unlike himself, and yet as his counterpart and equal. Indeed, he sees in her his very own flesh. And he interprets the woman not only for his own understanding of her, but also for her self-understanding. God did not explain to the woman who she was in relation to the man, although He could have done so. He allowed Adam to define the woman, in keeping with Adam’s headship. Adam’s sovereign act not only arose out of his own sense of headship, it also made his headship clear to Eve. She found her own identity in relation to the man as his equal and helper by the man’s definition.” You say there could be a thousand plausible reasons why the man was approached first before the woman. In light of the two accounts, what the Scripture says concerning male headship within the family (Num. 30:13-16;Achan’s sin, etc.) and what Paul says in regards to them (Eph 5:21-33; Col 3:18-19; 1 Tim 2:11-15) offer a more plausible reason that can accommodate all that the biblical portrait presents. By all means, if there are a thousand different options, than this should not be very hard. Your dismissal of “straightforward evidence” is concerning to me. What constitutes “straightforward evidence” that would make you shift your thinking on this area? Can you get more straightforward than Paul’s statements about the accounts?

      You’re right to catch the symbolism of the reconstitution of Israel via the disciples. But, that no way alleviates the point that Jesus did not include women in that role for a reason. Which scholars are you referring to and what are their exegetical reasons for their invitation into his core group of apostles? I hope you’re not referring merely to N.T. Wright whose paltry argument that Mary Magdalene was an “apostle” to the apostles announcing the resurrection (but this is not without it’s questions http://www.dougwils.com/N.T.-Wrights-and-Wrongs/exegetical-confustication.html). The appeal to Junias/Junia and other women within ministry roles is unconvincing. Romans 16:7 is hotly debated concerning whether or not Junias is a woman, what type of apostle was he or she (the word is used often with multiple meanings) and what it even means to be “noteworthy among the apostles). There are others outside of the twelve that were considered apostles (http://www.enjoyinggodministries.com/article/are-apostles-for-today/). Other examples of women in leadership have to be examined and discussed in relation to the whole of Scripture. http://bible.org/seriespage/valuable-ministries-women-context-male-leadership

      I would suggest that because Paul’s admonishments for the ordering of the family and the church are founded within either Creation, the inner-trinitarian workings or upon God’s loving relationship to the Church, they begged to be interpreted and applied in more general “all-encompassing” kinds of ways. Our culture does not always get these types of things right. Charles J. Chaput said that “American culture is…a cocoon of marketing, entertainment, and manufactured appetites; a narcotic of noise, distraction, and relentless propaganda for self-absorption and confused sexuality.” It would seem unwise to interpret the text’s meaning solely on the basis of cultural movements and changes within societal constructs. Dr. Waldrep was right the other day when he said “society does not set the agenda for Christianity. Scripture does.” The applications will be different but the text remains the same regardless of what the wider society is thinking. As someone in the past said, “if we marry the spirit of our age, we will be widows in the next.”

What do you think? I would love to hear from you, please share your thoughts. Just remember to be respectful of others.

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