Gender roles and the cultures of the Bible

Bible by fireplaceContinuing yesterday’s discussion about the interaction between Scripture and the culture in which it was written, I think we need to recognize that there was some interaction. I think that the Bible talks about many natural things in ways that people would understand, such as references to the four corners of the earth, to storehouses of hail, and to the sun standing still. The Bible expresses things in ways that the original readers could understand.

I think there are many things in the Law of Moses that reflect the culture in which they were living. Many of the prohibitions of that law had to do with things which the nations around them were practicing. Some of those are identified as such, others aren’t.

In a missions class with Dr. Ed Mathews, he made the point that one way we can identify teachings that transcend cultures is to look at things in the Bible that are taught consistently in different cultural settings. And, although people talk about “the culture surrounding the New Testament,” the fact is that the New Testament was written to people in different cultural settings by people with different cultural backgrounds. Galatia was not like Rome. It definitely wasn’t like Jerusalem. Crete and Ephesus were not the same. There were similarities throughout the Roman Empire, yet there were great differences.

Look at how Paul was misunderstood in Lystra. That time was because of language. Then he was misinterpreted in Athens, even though he spoke the same language. The worldview of the Athenians was very different from Paul’s.

If we take the Bible as a whole, then we get still more cultural settings. The world of Genesis differs from the world of the judges; life in Egypt was not like life in Babylonia.

Some of those settings were completely male dominated. As Jr pointed out in the comments yesterday, other cultures gave much more public participation to women.

In none of those settings does God call for egalitarian leadership. He does specify male leadership on several occasions. We see the exception being practiced here and there, but never taught explicitly.

I think women have often been mistreated, abused, and wrongfully treated as second-class citizens of the Kingdom. I think that the whats and hows of their participation in the Body need to be examined with an open mind. But I’m not ready to join those who say, like Mark Love, “I am for full gender equality in congregational practice. Period. Everything. Preach. Teach. Eldering.” I don’t think that’s what we see in Scripture.

5 thoughts on “Gender roles and the cultures of the Bible

  1. Rafael G. Sustaita

    What a wonderful discussion. Interesting that it’s taken us so long to get here. I often wonder, as I expand my studies, how many writings were dismissed because of their view of women. Tertullian is said to have written of the Acts of Paul and Thekla, that it “didn’t reflect the proper role of women.” Slowly but surely, we are beginning to realize in the church that the “realities of life” (and I’m speaking in general terms now), are what Jesus used to teach us great divine truths. Recently in a conversation with an elder about divorce he stated and I quote him verbatim, “you know, Raf, divorce used to be a no-no in the church until the children of prominent elders began divorcing.” Maybe gender roles is something we’ve invented?

  2. Paul Smith

    Tim, interesting that you linked to Patrick Mead’s article in which he commits what I believe to be the *three big theological fallacies* of the egalitarian theologians. One, they misrepresent Paul’s teachings in 1 Corinthians – equating Paul’s generic discussion of women praying with his very specific instructions regarding the roles of men and women in the assembly. Two, they view Gal. 3:28 as being Paul’s final (and therefore most mature) discussion of male and female roles in the church. Third, they simply resort to removing 1 Cor. 14:33-34 altogether. As a student of Dr. Everett Ferguson, I was taught that Paul very clearly marks his transitions in the letter of 1 Corinthians, and he only mentions “when you come together” *after* his discussion of women praying. It was apparently important for Paul to separate “the assembly” from generic prayer times. Also, I am not familiar with a chronology that places the writing of 1 Corinthians and the pastoral epistles *before* the writing of Galatians, so if Paul “matured” in his thinking and theology, then he moved from the egalitarian Galatians (which, I believe is a total misrepresentation of Gal. 3:28) to the patriarchal 1 Corinthians, Timothy and Titus. Also, counting the introduction, there are 5 specific references in 1 Cor. that Paul makes that what he is writing/teaching is what he teaches “everywhere and in every church.” (1:2, 4:17, 7:17, 11:16 and 14:33). I know you have come out as being unable to support the egalitarian shift, so I am not trying to convince you, simply pointing out that those who want to re-define the roles of male and female have much, and I dare say, indefensible, theological work to do. I look forward to your further posts.

  3. nick gill

    The writings of the Scriptures, the word of God, comes to us in the midst of deeply warlike, fallen societies – but it was not so in Eden.

    Slowly, patiently, with much frustration and love, God leads His people away from a culture of violence and retribution and vengeance towards peace. Not to a renewed and transformed Eden — not yet — but to shalom. How do we find the best interpretations of the violence texts? By reading them according to God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ and seeing that God’s work of salvation has always been headed in a direction of curse reversal.

    Why are you willing to read the violence texts that way (as accomodational texts that even in their violence are striving to temper the bloodlust and vengeance and lead Israel — and through Israel, the world — away from the curse of violence), but not the gender texts?

    For Adam was not the ruler of Eve in the Garden. Eve was Adam’s ezer, not his assistant. She was his ezer kenegdo — his Help of like substance.

  4. Jr

    Nick: When discussing this topic, Paul does just what you are advocating. He appeals to pre-fall realities (Eph 5:31; 1 Cor 11:7-9; see also 1 Tim 2:13), as opposed to post-fall consequences or culture. He is pointing to Eden.

    Additionally and perhaps even more significantly, Paul also links the mutual loving headship/relationship to not only pre-fall realities, but divine realities (Eph 5:32; 1 Cor 11:3) as opposed to post-fall consequences or culture. I think to dismiss the pre-fall appeal for the loving husband and wife relationship as God ordained would be to logically dismiss such things as “Christ is the head of the church” and how the marriage mysteriously symbolizes Christ and His Bride.

    Grace be with you –

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