Tag Archives: gender roles

Why the ad hominem attack on Paul?

We’ve been discussing the concept of “Jesus vs Paul” or “the gospels vs the epistles.” There’s one other observation that I want to make, even though I doubt it will be a popular one. Who is trying to demote Paul’s theology to second class? That is, who wants the words of the epistles to carry less weight than they traditionally have?

In my experience, this view is promoted by basically two groups, who share a common argument (though they rarely admit it). In churches of Christ, it’s primarily those who hold to an egalitarian view. In Christianity at large, it’s also those who no longer see homosexual behavior as a sin.

I rarely hear people saying, “Jesus emphasized baptism more than Paul did; I take Jesus much more seriously.” Seldom is the argument: “Jesus taught a works-based justification while Paul emphasizes grace; I take Jesus much more seriously.” (And yes, those claims are debatable… like the idea that Jesus promoted egalitarianism more than Paul did.)

I’m very open to correction on this point. Feel free to point me to people who are de-emphasizing Paul for reasons other than the ones I’ve mentioned. My experience is naturally limited.

For now, I’m very uncomfortable with any attempt to not take a biblical writer seriously, especially one who wrote as much as Paul did. Yes, many have over-emphasized Paul in the past, many have stripped his words of all context, many have built ridiculous arguments based on proof texts. But none of that calls for us to demote apostolic teaching to a second tier.

Male leadership a consequence of The Fall? Where’s the biblical evidence?

So yesterday’s question was: “Can you think of a New Testament writer who described the current (in their day) state of male-female relations as being a result of The Curse?” I’d still like to hear from anyone who can think of an example. Because I can’t.

There are some references, though largely symbolic, to God’s words to the serpent:

“Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to make war against the rest of her offspring—those who obey God’s commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus.” (Revelation 12:17)
“He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years.” (Revelation 20:2)
“The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” (Romans 16:20)
“I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.” (Luke 10:18–19)

There are references to God’s words to Adam:

“For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” (Romans 8:20–22)
“Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned— for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come.” (Romans 5:12–14)
“For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:21–22)

The New Testament argues that the curse on the ground will be lifted. The punishment of death, that came through Adam’s sin, will be undone. (Will there be a lifting of the curse on the serpent? Maybe, if you take Isaiah 11:6-9 as a description of the fulfilled Kingdom)

What I don’t see is any reference to the creation story followed by an indication that the relationship between men and women should be changed because of it. Sin is said to have come in through one man, as is death. There’s nothing saying that male leadership, male headship, women’s submission, or anything related came about because of the Garden. In fact, I can’t think of any Old Testament passages that make such an argument, either. (Again, with the possible exception of Genesis 3:16, though I find that interpretation to be forced on the text rather than read out of it)

I think anyone wanting to make that argument should do so with caution and humility. At most you have a possible interpretation of one less-than-clear text on your side.

Men, Women, and The Curse

Adam and Eve in the GardenWith the general feeling that I’m prying open a powder keg with a lit torch in my hand, I want to look at another aspect of the issue of gender relations in the church (And yes, I still lack a good way of referring to that topic). I want to talk about The Curse.

When discussing women’s roles in the church, one often hears a reference to male headship/leadership as merely being a result of what God described in Genesis 3:16. A friend of mine was discussing how churches limit the participation of women, and he said, “They don’t realize they’re just prolonging The Curse.”

A question came to mind. Can you think of any place in the New Testament where this argument is made? That is, can you think of a New Testament writer who described the current (in their day) state of male-female relations as being a result of The Curse? What scriptures would you offer to support such a view?

I’d just as soon we didn’t wander too far afield from this particular question. If you were going to prove the validity of this argument (male leadership began with The Fall and is a consequence of The Curse), what biblical texts would you use? Let’s leave out Genesis 3 for now. What does the rest of Scripture say about this?

Thanks for your input!

Coffee and headship

Coffee ServiceWhen I get up in the morning, I make coffee. It reminds me who I am.

I’m not talking about the need for a caffeine fix. A lot of times the coffee sits around over an hour before I drink any. Caffeine doesn’t particularly wake me up. I don’t drink coffee as a drug.

But I prepare coffee for my wife. And I wait to drink it with her. I get out two mugs that match. Not the same mugs every day, but I want our mugs to be the same.

Most of our mugs have been in our home for a decade or two, so they show some wear and tear. I pick out the better of the two mugs and use that for my wife’s coffee.

Most of the time, I prepare both cups and serve her hers, putting in the sweetener and milk that she uses.

So hooray. I do a chore around the house. Am I looking for a medal?

No, it’s not about that. This little morning ritual reminds me who I am. I take seriously what the Bible says about me being the head of my family. (Feel free to argue about whether head means “source” or “leader” or whatever you choose) As head, from what I read in Ephesians 5, I’m called on to do several specific things.

  • I’m to love my wife (and family)
  • I’m to serve her
  • I’m to sacrifice for her

To me that’s what it means for me to be the head of my family. And making coffee in the morning reminds me of that.

Image from MorgueFile.com

Spiritual giftedness and gender

Bible studyWe’ve been talking on and off about the subject of gender differences since October of last year. I don’t really want to carry over into February, so I’ll offer a few more thoughts and let the matter rest.

One sticking point for many people is the question of giftedness. That is, if men and women are equally endowed by the Holy Spirit with spiritual gifts, are we not resisting the Spirit if we limit the exercise of those gifts?

This, my friends, is a powerful argument, at least in my mind. As Nick pointed out the other day, Peter’s quote from the book of Joel in Acts 2 seems to point to a time when women and men will be receiving and using gifts from the Holy Spirit. And the rest of the book of Acts seems to bear that out, particularly when we see the daughters of Philip who are prophetesses.

But there’s something that troubles me, something that I brought up to Jen in one of my replies to her:

Something I want to discuss in a later post is something that I think very important: I believe that believers in the first century were as transformed by the Spirit as we are. Gifted by the Spirit.
So did the Spirit lead men to stifle the gifts of Spirit-filled women because of cultural concerns? Or did the Spirit wait until culture changed before gifting women for roles the culture wouldn’t accept?
My view is that the Spirit is much bigger than human culture and able to form a Christian community within any culture that transcends that culture. If he chose to use males to lead for centuries before the coming of Christ* and chose males to lead during Christ’s ministry and chose males to lead the church after Christ’s ascension, isn’t it quite possible that he had a plan in all of that? Even if we don’t understand all of the whys?

*Yes, there were exceptions at times when the men weren’t living up to what they were supposed to, but none of that changes what the norm was.

I’m wary of a chronological snobbery that says, “We finally got right what the church missed for hundreds of years.” I’m aware that there are some similarities to the issue of slavery, yet I can’t help but see differences as well. Slavery within the church was addressed even when the church abstained from waging a campaign to eradicate slavery in society. Even if the church wasn’t going to change Greco-Roman societal views toward women, major changes could have been implemented from the very beginning of the church. And they weren’t.

Some claim that any who advocate a difference in the activities of men and women in the church are guilty of sin. I can’t help but note that the early church was guilty of the same sin, if it be a sin. And I’m convinced that they too had the Spirit of God.

I don’t believe that spiritual giftedness is new to the last few centuries. I also believe that God’s Spirit was living and active in the first century church, as he is today.

The argument of spiritual giftedness, compelling though it seems, is not enough to lead us to say that God had a different practice in mind than what we see in Scripture: Active, spirit-filled women serving as missionaries and prophetesses, performing works of service and ministry, building up the church through their work, under the authority of male shepherds.

(Ben Witherington had a helpful post the other day on the subject of slavery, in the context of analyzing N.T. Wright’s work on Paul and The Faithfulness of God)