Christianity 201

April 10, 2021

Why Limiting the Role of Women Limits God Himself

An ongoing, front-burner debate among Evangelicals involves the role of women in the hierarchy of both families and churches. The article we’re presenting today obviously leans to one position over the other, but brings out an aspect of the discussion I had not considered before.,

Ernest Vance blogs at Sincere Son of the Sanctifier (say it fast ten times) where you’re invited to click the header which follows. The blog has been inactive for about a year now, but there are some great articles in the archives like this one!

When Bad Theology Mocks God

I have to say, I am not in a bad mood right now, so hopefully I can contain my angst enough to get my thoughts clearly on paper.

I am angry at the past leadership of the church for setting forth a theology that mocks God’s goodness in His creation as well as His goodness in His grace. What theology is this you might ask? It is the theology based upon two repugnant assumptions: Women, because of Eve are either easily deceived (flaw in God’s creation) or usurpers (cause of the fall of Adam).

How does this mock God? It mocks Him by saying that He created Women woefully flawed to the point that He supposedly had to lock her into a position of subservience, ‘aka submission to all male authority’ for all time. Never mind what He did on the cross that redeems us all, it wasn’t enough to keep women from usurping male authority or being easily deceived. Frankly we are humans and we are all easily deceived, so this one is just as weak an argument as any especially considering the logical follow-through as to why the daughters of Eve are supposed to remain in submission: Sons of Adam should know better. And isn’t it part of the curse against Eve that God ordained women would constantly covet man’s power? Seriously? Where does the ‘man’s power’, er, excuse me… authority, come from anyway? Did God tell Adam and Eve, ‘Now dear ones, please understand, Adam was made first, therefore Eve, you are in submission to him in all things. OK?’ No, God did not. The ONLY rule God set forth prior to the fall was that they absolutely NOT eat of ONE tree. An entire garden to choose from and the both find themselves staring at what is forbidden. The fall had already begun the moment they paused there. The fall continued as Adam did not remind Eve in that moment that they should go somewhere else. The fall continued further when neither one of them rebuked the evil one for mocking God and His one rule.

The fall had nothing to do with Eve usurping Adam’s authority. Eve was totally Adam’s equal. The Hebrew words, Helper Meet literally describe a word-picture of two equal beings face-to-face. God called them, ‘one flesh’. There wasn’t even a hidden message in how God talked with them. Yes, God addressed Adam first, but God did directly address Eve. He did not go through Adam as in a priest. Go ahead, read Genesis 2 and 3. It’s all there, no matter the version, though you will have to check an interlinear to see the Hebrew meaning of help meet, or the Septuagint which translates Helper comparable.

So in this bad theology where one might take meaning that men are somehow superior to women in that we somehow are less frequently deceived or usurpers of authority such that women must be ‘put in their place’ for all eternity, do we suppose that God is the one who set this up? Let us look at the wording of the curse in Gen 3. To the serpent God said,

“And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her Seed;
He shall bruise your head,
And you shall bruise His heel.”

It is absolutely clear what God is declaring as His action and proclamation toward the adversary.

But to Eve He said,

“I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception;
In pain you shall bring forth children;
Your desire shall be [e]for your husband,
And he shall rule over you.”

The first line is clearly God’s doing. Then the remaining three lines are simply statements of what will be. Leaving us to wonder, was this God’s intent, His doing? Or was this simply God saying, this is somehow the result of what happened. I am not doing this to you. Either one can fit. Thus it is not clear in the slightest whether God was forevermore putting Eve and all of her daughters in a place of submission. Nothing in all of the Old Testament clarifies this question. Indeed, Numbers 30 where we see that Fathers have veto power of oaths their unmarried daughters take as do husbands is the only hint at this. But it is further muddied by the fact that if there are women who have neither husband nor father, no one had veto power over her oaths. Widows, therefore, are fully autonomous according to the OT Law. There is no accommodation saying a brother or brother-in-law must take up the mantle of authority over her. Adding to this a Prophetess/Judge named Deborah in Judges 4,5 who had no one in authority over her as she administered these God-given duties.

Thus we get to the matter of Creation and Grace. Both male and females fell from the perfect state at the same time. Adam is clearly blamed for this throughout the NT by the same guy who arguably wrote 1 Tim 2. So why has much of history held women so responsible for the fall that they cannot even hold a position of teaching a Bible study with men present? It is not as clear as some would say and for more of that you can see my reasons for saying so here. But truly, as I have mentioned before, it is based upon two terribly misogynistic ideas that have been carefully couched in ‘holy speak’: women are easily deceived and inclined to be usurpers. The first I have shown to be weak, the second is even weaker. Eve has not shown up as a usurper in Genesis 3, at most she is curious and falls prey to the oily words of a good sales-man… er snake. But Adam has clearly not taken up a mantle of authority and simply allows the entire thing to go down without saying a word either to the snake, or to Eve. At best, in a complementarian view, we should be placing the blame squarely on Adam’s shoulders and by extension the sons of Adam and telling all men to not give into their laziness and apathy. That leadership is, therefore, man’s mantle to take up since Adam failed so miserably. But failing that, women should not be left to wonder which way to go if a man does not lead. In a complementarian society that is both loving and fair, the women should never be told to avoid stepping into a leadership role that needs to be filled when there is no man to take it up.

But I will take this one step further because there is no clearly defined passage that says women who do so are outside of God’s will. As such, there is not any valid, Godly reason for a governing body of a church to see a women with appropriate leadership qualities, well trained and suitable to teach yet avoid placing her in that position. It is just not there. Indeed, in Romans we see Paul greeting a female deaconess (Phoebe Romans 16:1) and many other women in leadership roles, yet we misrepresent him as saying in 1 Tim 3:12 that only married men can be a deacon. I could go on since there are so many women who Paul recognizes and then seems to later define women or even single men (except himself? Really?) out of positions of authority. But all we really need to recognize is that we have made a mistake and overly exegeticized (probably not a word, but I’m sure you get my meaning) certain things in accordance with some men’s presuppositions (giving them too much credit? Possibly).

It is past time we give up these notions that God meant what he didn’t clearly say, concepts that break both his creative goodness and his glorious satan-works-defeating grace, and therefore we must over-emphasize on his behalf and look the other way when someone brings up the fallacy of our too-long-held dogmatic belief in male superiority couched in holy-speak. I am done.


February 16, 2011

Diverse in Doctrines, But Joined in Seeking

This week we’re catching up with devotional bloggers we visited last summer, which brings us back to Scott Shirley’s blog.  This is a piece worthy of much consideration and although it’s a bit longer, I hope you’ll take the time.  It appeared this week at his blog under the title The Divisiveness of Truth.

“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” – Psalms 133:1

Should everybody be allowed to read the Bible? (Spoiler alert: I think the answer is yes, but don’t stop reading yet.)

In the later part of the 14th century, John Wycliffe became the first person to translate the Bible into English. His aim was to get the Bible into the everyday language of the people. His story is complicated and full of twists but suffice it to say, his actions did not engender him to the hierarchy of the Church.

The translating of the Latin Bible into the “vulgar” English language worried Church authorities enough that by 1407 the English translation was denounced as unauthorized and translating or using translated Bibles was defined as heresy — a crime for which the punishment was death by burning. In 1415 Wycliffe himself was denounced, posthumously, as a heretic. His remains were exhumed in 1428 and burned. His ashes were spread over the Swift River.

The lens of history does not reflect well on the way the Catholic Church handled this issue. However, the Catholic Church may have been correct about one thing. They desperately feared a scriptural translation that could be read by king and commoner alike because they believed the commoner was not capable of “rightly dividing” the word of God. Putting the Bible into the hands of people not professionally trained to interpret it would result, they predicted, in rampant divisions within the Church and loss of the unity so often implored by the New Testament.

And that is exactly what happened!

By the end of the following century a German priest named Martin Luther, influenced by the work of Wycliffe, nailed his 95 theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, thus setting the stage for the Protestant Reformation and the results that followed. Up through the time of Luther, the Church was mainly comprised of two sects or branches, the Eastern Orthodox and the Roman Catholic (the result of the first Church split right after the beginning of the second millennium). Since Luther, the church has splintered so many times it is difficult for scholars to accurately assess how many differing branches exist. But we have gone from two branches at the time of Luther to, according to many estimates, over 40,000 branches today.

Why? Because we started reading the Bible.

What Wycliffe, Luther, and all the reformers started was a needed and necessary work. The desire of the Reformation Movement was to rid the Church of the power to dictate the truths of the Bible and put this power squarely into the hands of the people. And despite the results of countless divisions, none of us really wants to go back to a situation where clergy dispenses truth to us. However, swirling beneath the surface of our everybody-should-study-the-Bible-for-themselves attitude is the same fear that fostered the Catholic Church’s resistance to an English Bible translation.  We are scared people will reach different conclusions.

And reach different conclusions we do. No theological position or doctrinal belief has been immune to human interpretive difference. Well intentioned Bible-believing Christians disagree about everything from issues as small as the order of a worship service to much bigger issues such as the nature of God, the incarnation, soteriology, or the theory of atonement.

The fallout of a disagreement over any Biblical issue considered foundational has usually resulted in Church division. One may wonder how it rightly could be otherwise. Whenever we disagree on a Biblical doctrine or teaching, we seem to think the only justifiable solution is to separate. After all, if two people hold opposing views, somebody must be wrong and they are, therefore, guilty of teaching false doctrine.  We dare not stay in fellowship with them for fear of appearing supportive of their views.

Our natural response when differences arise is to assume our position (or our Church’s position) is the correct one, or, at the very least, the most likely to be correct. There are very few individuals capable of viewing the religious opinions of others as having the potential of being as valid as their own opinions. Fewer still are the Churches who can pull off this bit of intellectual honesty. We all believe ourselves to be right. 40,000+ differing divisions all chirping the same song… come to us, we’ve got the Truth.

How can that be? How can we all be so confident yet differ so much? The main problem, as I see it, is that Churches and individuals alike rarely distinguish between Truth and truth. We are all after a perfect and certain understanding of God’s absolute Truth. We go to Church, listen to sermons, attend Sunday school classes and Bible studies, all in the pursuit of the Big T. Yet we vastly overestimate the results of our chase. We fail to realize that just having God’s Truth in a book doesn’t mean we are capable of understanding it perfectly. What we get, despite our sincerest efforts, isn’t Truth. We get our best approximation of “T”ruth — we get “t”ruth.

To gain meaning from the words of the Bible we are forced to interpret them through the filter of our own mind. Meaning requires interpretation and, unfortunately, our interpretive machinery is all too fallible. There’s a fundamental difference between Truth and our interpretations of Truth, and while we search for the former, our imperfections bring us only the latter. If we only recognized this imperfection within ourselves we could more easily understand why our Christian brother down the street suffers from the same condition.

As long as we are going to read the Bible ourselves and not allow Truth to be dictated to us from any earthly authority, we are going to have to deal with differences of opinion. This is unavoidable. It is possible, however, to maintain a unity of brotherhood without unanimity of opinion. But our unity cannot rest on our interpretive abilities and opinions of scripture because it is a fight our finite humanity cannot win. We will never all agree. Our unity must come from “faith in” Truth, not “beliefs about” Truth. We can, I believe, humbly unite through our constant desire to “diligently seek” after Him. It is our search that binds us, not our answers along the way.

Alexander Campbell said it very well…

“Dear Brother, for such I recognize you, notwithstanding the varieties of opinion which you express on some topics, on which we might NEVER agree. But if we should not, as not unity of opinion, but unity of faith, is the only true bond of Christian union, I will esteem and love you as I do every man, of whatever name, who believes sincerely that Jesus is the Messiah, and hope in his salvation.”- Alexander Campbell, A Restoration of the Ancient Order of Things

Along this theme, check out this original parable by Scott Shirley, which appeared at his blog the next day.