I am pleased to be able to provide here with permission a section of Kevin Gile's recent study of a recent theological trend that attempts to link relationships in the Godhead to relationships between men and women. What is especially odd about the argument discussed here is that it appears that theological conclusions are revised on the basis of certain anthropological conclusions about women. I would call this the tail wagging the dog, to say the least. This article is written by Dr. Kevin Giles and has appeared in the Vol. 32 No. 3 March 2006 issue of Catalyst magazine pp. 1,3-5. For more one, should consult the fine book by Giles published by InterVarsity Press in 2002 entitled The Trinity and Subordinationism: The Doctrine of God and the Contemporary Gender Debate.
THE ETERNAL SUBORDINATION OF THE SON OF GOD AND THE PERMANENT SUBORDINATION OF WOMEN
In the later part of the twentieth century the doctrine of the Trinity captured the attention of theologians more than any other doctrine, and this interest has not waned. At no time in history, since the theologically stormy days of the fourth century, has there been so much discussion on this topic. Books on the Trinity by Protestant, Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox theologians continue to be published. No longer is it thought that the Trinity is an obtuse, secondary, and impractical dogma. It is recognized today that it is nothing less than a summary of the Christian understanding of God given in revelation. The Trinity is the foundation on which all other doctrines are built. It is of immense theological and practical significance.
Contemporary discussions of the doctrine of the Trinity agree that the God revealed in Scripture is by nature trinitarian. He is one and yet three differentiated “persons” who eternally co-exist in the most intimate communion of love and self-giving. In this “model” of the Trinity the equality of the divine three, both in unity and in relation to one another as persons, is very much to the fore. For this reason any suggestion that the divine three are ordered hierarchically, or divided in being, work, or authority is rejected. T. Peters in his 1993 book, God as Trinity: Relationality and Temporality in Divine Life, describes contemporary thinking about the Christian God as “antisubordinationist trinitarianism.” Similarly, the conservative evangelical, M. Erickson in his 1995 study, God in Three Persons: A Contemporary Interpretation of the Trinity (Baker; 331), says that, along with other contemporary theologians, he believes in “the complete equality of the divine three.” David Cunningham, in his 1998 book, These Three Are One: The Practice of Trinitarian Theology (Blackwell; 112), is of much the same opinion. He speaks of “a radical, relational, co-equality” in modern trinitarian thinking. In my opinion, the finest study on the Trinity in the last ten years is that by T.F. Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being Three Persons (T&T Clark, 1996). He too emphasizes the co-equality of the differentiated, mutually indwelling, divine persons. Building in particular on the work of Athanasius, he makes the Trinity itself the monarche (sole source or origin) of the divine three and the Son the monarche of divine saving revelation. He is totally opposed to subordinationism in any form.
In the light of this powerful, contemporary stress on the co-equality of the divine persons who are understood to be bound together in the most intimate bond of love and self-giving, it is no surprise to find that some of the best contemporary expositions of the doctrine of the Trinity understand the Trinity as a charter for human liberation and emancipation (cf. L. Boff, Trinity and Society [Obis, 1988]; J. Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom [Harper and Row, 1981]; C. LaCugna, God for Us [Harper, 1991]; M. Erickson, God in Three Persons [Baker Academic, 2003]). If no one divine person is before or after, greater or lesser because they are “co-equal” (as the Athanasian creed says) this suggests, we are told, that all hierarchical ordering in this world is a human construct reflecting fallen existence, not God’s ideal. God would like to see every human being valued in the same way. It is thus the Christian’s duty to oppose human philosophies and structures that oppress people, limiting their full potential as human beings made in the image and likeness of God. Erickson is one evangelical who is sympathetic to this agenda predicated on the belief that the persons of the Trinity relate as equals in self-giving love (333).
Evangelicals of Opposite Opinion
Paradoxically, in this same thirty-year period in which the co-equality of the divine persons has been powerfully reaffirmed and the implications of this teaching for our human social life recognized, many conservative evangelicals have been moving in the opposite direction. They have argued that the Trinity is ordered hierarchically, with the Father ruling over the Son. The Father is eternally “head over” the Son just as men are permanently “head over” women. In this model of the Trinity, the doctrine of the Trinity, rather than being a charter for emancipation and human liberation, becomes a charter to oppose social change and female liberation.
This novel teaching was first enunciated by G. Knight III in his highly influential 1977 book, New Testament Teaching on the Role Relationship of Men and Women (Baker, 1977). He argued that the God-given permanent subordination of women in role and authority in the church and the home was supported and illustrated by the Trinity. For him, the Son is eternally subordinated in role and authority to the Father, despite the fact that the Father and the Son are both fully divine. He thus spoke of a “chain of subordination” (33) in the Father-Son and the man-woman relationship, and of an eternal subordination of the Son that has “certain ontological aspects” (56).
This new teaching on the Trinity came to full fruition in 1994 with the publication of W. Grudem’s, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Zondervan, 1994). Two chapters in this book outline his doctrine of the eternal subordination of the Son in function and authority. The impact of this book on evangelicals cannot be underestimated. Over 130,000 copies have been sold and the abridged version, Bible Doctrine (ed. J. Purswell; Zondervan, 1999), with exactly the same teaching on the Trinity and women, has sold over 35,000 copies. For Grudem the Son’s role subordination, like that of women, is not a matter of who does certain things as we might expect on seeing the word “role,” but rather a matter of who commands and who obeys. He writes, “the Father has the role of commanding, directing, and sending” and the Son has “the role of obeying, going as the Father sends, and revealing God to us” (Systematic Theology [Zondervan, 1995] 250) These words disclose the key issue; that is, the Son is eternally set under the authority of the Father. Grudem insists that this understanding of the Trinity is historic orthodoxy (cf. his latest book, Evangelicals, Feminism, and Biblical Truth [Multnomah, 2004] 405-43). It is, for him, what the creeds and the best of theologians have maintained throughout church history.
This hierarchical understanding of the Trinity has now almost won over the conservative evangelical community. Most evangelicals seem to believe this is what the Bible and “the tradition”—that is, the interpretive tradition—teach. However, I am also an evangelical, but I am convinced the opposite is the truth. The Bible (Matt 28:19; 2 Cor 13:13; etc.) and the interpretative tradition summed up in the creeds and Reformation confessions speaks of a co-equal Trinity where there is no hierarchical ordering.
Grudem and the many evangelicals who follow him say they are only advocating the eternal functional or role subordination of the Son, not the ontological subordination of the Son. Indeed, all Christians believe that the Son voluntarily and temporally choose to be subordinated for our salvation in the incarnation (Phil 2:4-11). The problem arises with the word “eternal.” If the Son is eternally subordinated to the Father, and cannot be otherwise, then he does not just function subordinately, he is the subordinated Son. His subordination defines his person or being. Eternal functional subordination implies by necessity ontological subordination. Blustering denials cannot avoid this fact.
The Appeal of Eternal Subordination
To understand how this doctrine—ambiguous at best, and heretical at worst—of the Trinity has emerged in the last thirty years and almost taken over the more conservative side of evangelicalism, one thing has to be recognized. The issue is not really the Trinity at all. What has generated this novel and dangerous doctrine of the Trinity is “a great cause,” the permanent subordination of women. For some evangelicals “the woman question” is the apocalyptic battle of our age. They are convinced that the Bible gives “headship” (“leadership,” in plain speak) to men. If this principle were abandoned because of cultural change the authority of the Bible would be overthrown and the door would be opened to homosexual marriages, the ordination of practicing homosexuals, and believe it or not, the obliteration of sexual differentiation. To bolster support for this “great cause” the doctrine of the Trinity has been redefined and reworded to give the weightiest theological support possible to the permanent subordination of women. Every evangelical who has written in support of the eternal subordination of the Son is committed to the permanent subordination of women in the church and the home. This agenda is what drives them to advocate the eternal subordination of the Son.
The Tail Has Wagged the Dog
Until the twentieth century Christians universally spoke of the “superiority” of men and the “inferiority” of women. After the 1970s, with the advent of “women’s lib,” Christians had to abandon this language, and, in addition, most abandoned the idea that women were subordinated to men. Conservative evangelicals, without exception, gave up this language as well, although some sought a new way to uphold male hegemony with more genteel wording. They affirmed that men and women are equals, yet God has given them different roles. This sounds fine, but when unpacked it means women have the “role” of obeying and men the role of leading; no other “role” is in mind. What is more, this “role” is permanent since God ascribes it in creation. Since God established this social hierarchical order before the Fall, it cannot be changed. It is the ideal. As this difference in “role” (in plain speak, difference in authority) is the one essential difference between men and women, to deny the permanent subordination of women is to deny male-female differentiation as such. This novel case for women’s permanent “role” subordination raises exactly the same problem as their novel case for the Son’s eternal “role” subordination. If women are permanently subordinated in role, and their subordinate role can never change, then they are the subordinated sex. They do not merely function subordinately. Their God-given subordination defines their person or being. They are the subordinated sex.
Having creatively constructed this novel theology predicated on obfuscating terminology to uphold male hegemony, these same theologians then reformulated the doctrine of the Trinity using the same terminology, thereby justifying the leadership of men. They began teaching that the Father and the Son are equally divine: the Father and the Son simply have different roles or functions. And what are these differing roles? Not surprisingly, the Father has the “role of commanding, directing, and sending” while the Son has the “role of obeying, going as the Father sends, and revealing God to us” (cf.Grudem, Systematic Theology, 250). Differing roles again means differing authority. The Father rules over the Son like men are to rule over the women set under them. If anyone denies that the Father and the Son are differentiated by their differing authority, then they are accused of denying divine differentiation itself—that is, of falling into the heresy of modalism. To cap off the case, the claim is then made that this teaching is historic orthodoxy. This is what Athansisus, the Cappadocians, Augustine, Calvin, Barth, and Rahner teach on the Trinity. In reply to these claims I have carefully surveyed the evidence and found that the teaching of Scripture and the interpretative tradition directly oppose these ideas (The Trinity and Subordinationism: The Doctrine of God and the Contemporary Gender Debate [InterVarsity, 2002], and in greater detail on the Trinity, Jesus and The Father: Modern Evangelicals Reinvent the Trinity [Zondervan, forthcoming]). What we have here is simply a newly worded case for an old heresy called “subordinationism.”
What has to be noted in all this is the circular nature of this reasoning.
1. A novel theology was first devised to theologically ground the permanent subordination of women based on the argument that men and women are equal yet differentiated by their God-given, unchanging roles; and then
2. the wording and ideas used to develop this novel case for the permanent subordination of women were utilized to develop a novel doctrine of the Trinity that spoke of the Son as equal, yet eternally subordinated in role or function; and then
3. this novel doctrine of the Trinity was quoted to theologically justify and explain the permanent role subordination of women.
If this line of reasoning is correct, then this means that the doctrine of the Trinity has been reformulated in terms of fallen male-female relationships to support what was already believed: women are permanently subordinated to men. Instead of correcting sinful human thinking, the primary doctrine of the Christian faith, the doctrine of the Trinity, has become a theological justification for such thinking. In the end, the doctrine of the Trinity, rather than being seen as a charter for human liberation, has become a charter for human oppression.
Thus, just as some have spoken of “Rahner’s rule, “Pannenberg’s principle,” and of “LaCugna’s corollary,” I suggest a “Giles’ guideline”: “Whenever the Trinity is construed to support some prior belief, then the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity is inevitably corrupted and distorted.”
To conclude it may be helpful if I spell out the doctrine of the Trinity as I would enunciate it in the light of biblical teaching, the interpretative tradition, and the best discussions of the doctrine in recent years.
The Key Affirmations of Historic Orthodoxy
1. The God of Christian revelation is one divine being and three “persons.” Unity and divine differentiation are both absolutes. The unity of God is not to be thought of in terms of one substance, but rather, as the most intimate, most loving, and most profound triune communion. The triune God’s unity is the unique Being-in-Communion of the eternal Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. What ultimately underlies this divine union and communion is the mutual interpenetration (Greek: perichoresis) of the three divine persons. The divine persons, on the other hand, in their eternal and immutable distinctions as the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, are not to be thought of as three individuals or centers of consciousness, but rather as the one God in tri-personal existence and self-revelation, distinguished, but not divided. The Father, Son, and Spirit exist as Being-in-Relation.
2. The three divine persons are one in being. The divine three must not and cannot be differentiated on the basis of differing being. What they are in unity they are as differentiated persons. To suggest otherwise is to deny the homoousian principle, enshrined in the Nicene and Athanasian creeds. This principle points to the real distinctions between the three divine persons and their absolute oneness in being. It categorically excludes the idea that any one divine person is more or less true God.
3. Inseparable in operations. Inseparability in being implies and necessitates inseparability in work/operation/function. The divine three are one in who they are and what they do. In every divine action all three divine persons work cooperatively and in harmony. They are never divided or separated in their operations. The doctrine of inseparable operations, it must be added, does not infer identical operations. It is agreed that the Father sent the Son, the Son took human flesh and died on the cross, and the Spirit was poured out on the day of Pentecost. These and other things are indelibly associated with one or another of the divine persons. To divide and separate the work of Father, Son, and Spirit is to undermine the unity and simplicity of the one God.
4. Indivisible in power and authority. The Father, Son, and Spirit are indivisible in power and authority. Since each divine person is fully God, each is omnipotent without any caveats. If the divine persons are one in being, equal God, they must be one in power and authority. If they are not one in power and authority they are not one in being and divinity. The Son is, then, subordinated God, not just in function but in his person. The idea that the Son must eternally obey the Father implies that the Father and the Son each have their own will. The Son must submit his will to the will of the Father. If the divine three each have their own will, then divine unity is breached and tritheism follows. To argue in reply that the Son can do no other than obey the Father—the language of compulsion is not appropriate—does not solve the problem. If the Father and the Son (and the Spirit) have one will, the actions of one cannot be conceived as obedience to another. In the NT, Christ is obedient as a human.
5. Differentiated but not divided. The Father, Son, and Spirit are not divided in being, work, or power, but they are eternally differentiated. Their distinctiveness is grounded in the tradition principally on three things, individual identity (the Father is the Father and not the Son, etc, etc), differing origination (the Father begets the Son, the Son is begotten, the Spirit proceeds), and differing relations (the Father is the Father of the Son, the Son is the Son of the Father, the Spirit proceeds from the Father, or the Father and the Son). Differentiating the persons in these ways does not divide them. Differentiating them in being or power does divide them, leading both to subordinationism and tritheism.
6. There is order among the divine persons. The way the divine persons are revealed, how they relate to one another, and how they work, is never random or arbitrary. It is ordered. There is a pattern and consistency in the divine life that is unchanging. To argue that this order is a sub-ordering in being or power is to deny that the divine three are “co-equal” in being and power. The divine persons are ordered horizontally, not hierarchically.
7. The Son is subordinated in the incarnation. In taking human flesh the Son of God voluntarily relinquished his status, not his divinity or being as God, assuming the form of a servant. What is revealed in Jesus of Nazareth is true and provides an accurate knowledge of God, but it is a revelation of God in kenotic form, of God in human flesh, of self-subordinated God. This means what is creaturely in Christ must not be read back into the eternal or immanent Trinity.
It is my case that the Bible, implicitly, and the historically developed orthodox doctrine of the Trinity, explicitly, affirm divine unity, the eternal personal distinctions of Father, Son and Spirit, the oneness of being of the divine three, their inseparable operations, their indivisible authority, an order among them, understood as a disposition, and the temporal and voluntary subordination of the Son in the incarnation.
By Kevin Giles, author of The Trinity and Subordinationism: The Doctrine of God and the Contemporary Gender Debate (InterVarsity, 2002) and Jesus and the Father: Modern Evangelicals Reinvent the Doctrine of the Trinity (Zondervan, forthcoming).
I would say as a footnote to this discussion, that while I would not subscribe to every last detail of Gile's analysis of the Trinity, I quite agree with him that it is a mistake to assume that a text like 1 Cor. 11.3 is arguing that Christ is eternally subordinate to God the Father. 'Kephale' here can certainly have the sense it has when it is referring to the origins of something, for example a river. When we speak of the 'head' of a river, we mean its source, not some authority over it. Similarly, God's only begotten Son comes from God the Father. This is not a statement of his ontological or functional subordination to God the Father. As Giles points out, it is when the Son takes on a human nature that he assumes a subordinate relationship to God the Father. As Phil. 2.5-11 makes perfectly clear, the pre-existent Son of God had the condition and status of being equal to God, but he chose not to take advantage of it, but rather humbled himself (involving a choice, not an inherent condition or state of the divine Son) and took on a human nature.
If we return once more to 1 Cor. 11.3 what must be added is that whatever 'kephale' means in the relationship of Father and Son, is also what it means in the relationship of man to Christ and woman to man. In each case, 'source' is the proper rendering of 'kephale'. This quite naturally alludes to the Genesis story in which woman is literally brought forth out of man. But we might ask-- in what sense does 'man' have his source in Christ? There are two possible answers to this. In the first place Paul does affirm that Christ pre-existed and was involved in the creation of humankind from the beginning. Col. 1.16 is explicit about this, and we could compare what is said in John 1 as well. But we should also remember that Paul has a last Adam Christology applied to Jesus as well, in which Jesus is seen as comparable to the historical Adam and so the founder of a whole new race of human beings-- those who are in Christ, both men and also women. I think that the former idea rather than this latter one is alluded to in 1 Cor. 11.3.
Thus to sum up: 1) 1 Cor. 11.3 provides no justification at all for the notion that Christ is eternally subordinate to the Father; 2) nor does it provide any justification for the idea that men are perpetually in authority over women. That's not what kephale means in any of these examples here in this verse.
There is one more thing to note. Male-female hierarchialism is of course grounded in certain assumptions about gender. It is a very odd thing to start with that assumption and then apply the insights to the Trinity, where no gender hierarchy could possibly be involved.
Finally, the point that Kevin Giles makes about the relationship of the Father and the Son can easily be substantiated by a few quotes from the church fathers. I have space here for one, and it is a comment made by the venerable Bede of Durham, the father credited for saving the church's great heritage of wisdom during the dark ages. This is his comment on the beautiful doxology found in Jude vss. 24-25: "This summary bestows coequal and coeternal glory and the kingdom both on the Father and the Son through all and before all ages and refutes the error of those who believe that the Son is less or later than the Father, when it says that glory, splendor, lordship, and power belong to God the Father through Jesus Christ our Lord, and this not from some beginning in time but before all ages both now and for ever. Amen."
Think on these things.
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
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I believe in the Orthodox statements on the Trinity, but if there isn't some subordination, I'm having a hard time understanding I Cor. 15:27-28 which seems to be talking about an eternal subordination of some sorts at least.
Finally, after reading this entry and some of your other entries, I find is unbelievable that you don't take into account Scriptures like 1 Timothy 2:11-12, 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and other like Scriptures. We know women weren't to be totally silent during worship based on other passages like I Cor. 11:5 but reading all of these passages together, I sure don't see a case for women in leadership and it sure seems to me that women have separate "roles." Dancing around what the Scriptures are clearly saying, or saying "Oh no, here is what they REALLY mean" is hard for me to accept because it seems very clear how it is written. I don't have all your degrees, but I think the text can speak for itself, unless there is something I'm completely missing.
Hi traditionalist: You might enjoy reading the lengthy discussion on this blog from earlier in this year on 1 Tim. 2.8-15. What you are missing is that Paul is correcting problems in both these texts (the other being 1 Cor. 14),not inaugurating first principles about the roles of women. So long as women did not violate the protocols mentioned they were free to teach or preach, provided of course that they were properly instructed in the first place. 1 Tim. 2.8-15 is about women seeking to teaching and usurping authority over existing male teachers, before they have either been instructed or authorized to teach.
As for 1 Cor. 15.27-28, we need to bear in mind that we are talking about what will transpire on earth after Christ returns in person, in the flesh. The reference is to the subjugation of the world at the return of Christ, at the end of which event, Christ will once more submit himself functionally under the Father. What this implies is that while he is reigning on earth prior to the end of the millenium, Christ is not subordinated to the Father.
Any discussion on Paul's view of women, and particularly on the role of women in the church, should include some texts which you have omitted.
In the 16th chapter of his letter to the church in Rome, for instance, Paul sends greetings to many of his co-workers in Christ. While those greeted include more men than women, women are well represented in the passage. One woman, named Phoebe (v. 1) is said to be a deacon (or minister) in the church at Cenchrae. In light of the fact that Paul sends his greetings to a female minister, it is reasonable to interpret him elsewhere as saying that women can under no circumstances have a leadership role in the church? Is Paul contradicting himself?
Later (v. 3) Paul greets a couple who are fellow missionaries, Prisca and Aquila. Interestingly Prisca is the female name and Aquila is the male name. If women are to be in all cases subordinate to men (in Paul's view, at least) then why would Paul mention the woman before the man in this case?
In the third chapter of his letter to the Galatian church Paul, in describing the state of relationships within the body of Christ (brought about through baptism - v. 27) Paul says this:
There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
Galatians 3:28 (NRSV)
If Paul is arguing that women are eternally subordinate to men, or that there are different roles for women and men based purely on gender-type which can in no cases be other than the prescribed gender role; why would he, in describing the state of affairs within the body of Christ, deny the distinction between men and women.
Admittedly here Paul is describing an ideal situation. It is certainly not the case that women were always equal to men in the early church, and Paul was well aware of that fact (as evidenced by Dr. Witherington's discussion of the passaged from I Timoty and I Corithians). But Paul is here describing the way that things can be, and prescribing the way things ought to be.
If you insist on interpreting the passages in question as indicating some permanent subordination of women, or some sort of permanently prescribed gender role, then you have Paul fighting against himself. Some "dancing" (as you say) is necessary to avoid the absurdity of saying both:
1. Paul's words are authoritative, and in some meaningful way represent a message from God, and
2. Paul clearly contradicts himself.
You are welcome to "dance" around the texts which affirm the essential equality of women. But the "dancing" seems more honest when it takes into account the fact that as a matter of historical fact women can preach as well as men, and can lead churches as well as men.
Why did no ancient historical witnesses from the early church have such a view of the role of women in ministry? Why did it literally take us hundreds of years to reach these conclusions and "discover" them in the text when the people it was originally written to obviously didn't get "the truth" if what you are both writing is truth?
Second, to say that men and women don't have different roles and functions is refuted just by looking at human nature. Men are stronger. Women are more nuturing. These are generalizations that don't apply to every single case, but they are generally true.
Back to the interpretation of these issues, I'm troubled when scholars basically tell us laypeople that the true meaning of a text isn't what appears to be its on the face meaning. I think interpretation is a method and takes some time in some cases, but the way some scholars talk, you almost need 15 degrees and all sorts of obscure insights to see what a text "truly" means rather than what it clearly says.
Now I know some things were local and cultural. I think the head covering thing applies in that respect. I have a Reformed Calvinist friend who attends a church where women are required to wear head coverings. Also, I know some fellow independant baptists who do the same. I don't agree, but when I look at Scripture on a whole, I'm having a hard time coming to these conclusions because they seem pretty clear on these matters. Prof. Witherington is pretty firm on the homosexual issue it seems, but there are plenty of other scholars who are doing the same thing he is doing in regards to the women passages "Oh, no it doesn't really mean that, even though that's what it seems to clearly say, it really means this, yada yada." Not saying Prof. Ben is one of those liberals but it sounds as equally unconvincing (so far, and I really am trying to keep an open mind).
Second, to say that men and women don't have different roles and functions is refuted just by looking at human nature. Men are stronger. Women are more nurturing.
In reading the biography of Edmund Gosse, a Plymouth Brethren of the 19th century, I notice how, from a very early age, his father took over his education and nurtured him.
Some men may have alienated themselves from this experience of nurturing young children but they shouldn't blame it on God or human nature.
There is nothing in the Bible about roles and I had never heard of roles, even in my Brethren upbringing, before 1987 and the Danvers Statement.
The Brethren always believed that women should know their place, i.e. don't speak in the breaking of bread, but among the educated Brethren, the women were honoured hostesses in the drawing room, where they were equal in every way. Actually the Brethren did not think women were inferior, many just followed a literal understanding of the Bible, without the need to justify it by saying things about women that are not in the Bible.
Many women in the 1800's had equal leadership roles in social enterprises and scholarship.
I am surprised by the ahistoric notions around today. Thanks for bringing attention to this, Dr. Witherington.
I wonder if anyone else finds this squabbling over headship distasteful? Paul says to us, "Your attitude should be the same as that of Jesus Christ: Who being in very nature God ... made himself nothing, taking on the very nature of a slave..."
CS Lewis says somewhere that the things that divide us, we will see in heaven to be a product of the metaphor necessary to explain things to our insufficient minds, and be no difference at all.
The Trinity is a mystery. Deliberately so, I think.
I understand your frustration, but disenfranchising a whole gender, and preventing them from using the gifts God has given them because of a particular interpretation of 'headship' is not a trivial matter by any means. The same Paul who said what you quoted also endorsed various women to play various roles in his churches as texts like Rom. 16 and 1 Cor. 11 make quite clear.
Traditionalist: You are simply wrong that no early church folks endorsed women playing various roles, though some required them to remain single to do so (see for example the 2nd century Acts of Paul and Thecla). Chrysostom is quite clear in saying that there are Biblical precedents for women to teach and preach, and even calls mary magdalene an apostle to the apostles. So the situation is not monolithic when it comes to the church fathers. You might want to consider the examples of Julian of Norwich or Hildegaard of Bingen.
Which one of the verses I mentioned was ambiguous? Which required some scholarly interpretation? While I advocate reading the text in its cultural, historical, textual and linguistic context, the plain meaning of those passages also speaks to my point, which you - in your rant against scholars - have conveniently failed to address.
When Paul commends a woman for her ministry it is very hard indeed to say that Paul was in all cases against women ministers. When Paul mentions a woman before a man, it is very hard indeed to say that the woman is in all cases subordinant to the man. And when Paul explicitly says that in Christ there is no male and female it is very hard to say that Paul is in all cases prescribing roles based on gender.
While many of my arguments do not rest on the "plain reading" of the text, this particular one does. So when you decry arguments which subvert the plain reading of the text you are distracting from the point here, which is that in the passages mentioned Paul's very words speak against your position.
In other words, this is not some scholarly trick. It is using the text of the Bible to speak against a selective reading of the Bible.
A couple comments.
First off, women do have different roles. There is no such thing as equality among sexes. The fact is that a male is different than a female. Biologically and physically they are different. I have never understood the constant press for such equality.
Now having said that, I will say they are equal in spiritual terms...which is what is being said in the verse that someone else quoted (no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female). The verse is not stating that females are equal to males in their role. Slavery continued after this verse was written but a slave could be no more "saved" than a free/master, they are equal spiritually. In fact, if you were a slave you were to be content IIRC.
In addition, the question of Christ still being the head of the church is something to ask in relation to submission.
Ephesians 5:22-24 NET.
(22) Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord,
(23) because the husband is the head of the wife as also Christ is the head of the church — he himself being the savior of the body.
(24) But as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
I would say that wives still need to submit to their husbands today and the church still needs to submit to Christ.
Here is my response to Brother Andreas' post (and his previous book), in short form.
A student pointed me to your post on 1 Tim. 2.8-15, which seems to comport with what you have earlier said on this text. As you might imagine I have several problems with this interpretation. Let's start with a general comment based on 1 Cor. 7. Paul quite specifically says there that to be married or to be single requires a 'charisma' if we are talking about Christians. The issue is not settled by gender or creation order, but rather by a matter of redemption, a matter of a 'grace gift'. And Paul recognizes that some men and women do not have the 'gift' to be single, or to be married. 1 Cor. 7.25-35 makes this teaching rather clear.
In the case of the 'virgin' in that text, Paul advises that he would prefer both men and 'virgins' to remain as he is, which is unmarried, considering the panoply of responsibilities being married requires.
In light of this text, it makes no sense to me to argue as you do that women, by their gender have been predetermined to follow some sort of creation order mandate that requires that they be married to do such roles. Its the order of redemption that carries the most weight now, since the eschatological situation has changed due to the death and resurrection of Jesus. 1 Tim. 2.8-15 simply cannot be read as you read it unless Paul has become very inconsistent in his old age (and yes I think Paul is responsible for the Pastorals as well as 1 Corinthians).
There are these further problems with your interpretation of 1 Tim. 2.8-15: 1) why exactly do you ignore the fact that vs. 15 speaks of 'the child bearing' with the definite article? Do you really think that the definite article has no weight here? Paul is surely referring to one specific childbearing, not the act of childbearing in general, for which we would have expected a different grammatical construction. The church fathers often recognized an Eve -- Mary contrast here, as I am sure you know. If this is right, then it is not a comment on women in general and their roles, it is telling us that just as the fall came through Eve, so redemption came through Mary. The curse was reversed through Mary. 3) Paul says nothing here about women being in submission to men. The submission referred to in vs. 11 is coupled with the learning in quietness that they must do. It has to do with submission to the teaching of authorized teachers, whoever they may be. BTW Genesis while speaking of an order to creation does not connect this with the submission of women to men; 4) obviously 1 Tim.2.12 is the big bone of contention--- I would have thought that with the 'not.... nor' construction here and the fact that Paul is correcting problems caused by both men and women in 2.8-15 that these facts would have favored a negative reading of both infinitives here--- referring to unauthorized teaching and the usurping of authority. 'Authentein' in a pejorative context like this where abuses are being dealt with can certainly refer to the heavy handed use or abuse of authority or power or privilege.
I recognize that other readings of this text are possible, but there is no knock down argument which rules out the possibilities I have outlined above and will present at length in my commentary on the Pastorals coming out this fall. In other words, you can't rule out my interpretation and I cannot definitively rule out yours. This being the case, it would be better to recognize and accept this fact while we agree to disagree as brothers in Christ.
There are a host of theological problems with what you have suggested including the following: 1) men and women are created equal-- they are both created in the image of God of course! They are thus equally human beings, and as such of sacred worth. 2) Gal. 3.28 is not just about spiritual matters, it is also about social and relational matters of course. Notice that the Greek of this verse changes in the pairing when it gets to the male-female tandem. It reads literally 'neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free' but then it says 'no male and female'. There is 'no male and female but all are one in Christ'. This clearly has relational implications, not least because the phrase is a direct quote of the LXX of Genesis where it says 'male and female he created them'. The creation order is one thing, the order of redemption is another. 3) Ephes. 5.22-24 should never be cited without citing 5.21-- which says all Christians should be in submission to each other out of reverence for Christ. In fact there is no verb 'submit' in 5.22 in any Greek manuscript! The verse is eliptical and simply reads 'wives to husbands as to the Lord'. If you carry over the verb submit from vs. 21, then obviously it has to mean the same thing in both verses. I would suggest then that when Paul refers to the husband loving the wife as Christ loves the church self-sacrificially he is explaining how the husband submits to the wife-- a new idea. In other words, he doesn't have to argue for women submitting to men. That was the way the culture was. He does have to argue for mutual submission, in cluding the submission of husbands to wives, and he does so here. If self-sacrificial love is not a form of submission and service of others , then I don't understand the concept of Christian love.
In recognition of traditionalist1611's sincere objection that "the text can speak for itself," and that people with many degrees (alas that I would ever become such!) just obfuscate things, I would like to make this comment. I have lately seen the difficulty of reaching agreement on the "meaning of texts" with others who perhaps are not as familiar with the methods of historical-critical exegesis of the Bible. The norm for interpreting the Bible seems to be either 1)just opening it up and applying the words on the page to ourselves with no consideration of the context that God was addressing, or else 2)a flat harmonizing ("analogy of Scripture") that ignores the point that God was trying to make through the individual authors.
As Gordon Fee said, the culprit is historical exegesis, the demand that we understand what God was saying through the biblical authors to the people "there and then" before we then take it and transfer it to the "here and now." I think this is where we lose the people who accuse us of ignoring what the text "obviously means." It seems most Christians in America are taught that they are to just open the Bible and receive from it whatever they believe God is giving, without any mediation from the believing community, those who have been in the faith longer, or even those whom God has gifted with an understanding of the original languages and culture.
I'm sure that books like "How to Read the Bible For All its Worth" get the ball rolling, but sometimes it seems to be rolling uphill.
Dr. Witherington, thanks for keeping a blog where the exegesis of texts can be discussed, as well as other things too.
I deeply appreciate you posting this article and I have enjoyed reading through your responses to previous comments. I received a B.S. in Biblical Studies from an certain school founded by a guy with a big beard named Dwight L. Everything I heard there was very much emphasizing the submission of women. I never knew that there was any view of the Trinity other than subordinationalist, until recently. As I've been getting ready for a class on Trinitarianism at Dallas Sem this summer, I've been surveying the literature on the Trinity, getting a sense for what additional reading I need to do. (Thanks for the recommendations, BTW). Looks like I have a head start by reading this post.
I've struggled a lot in the past few years, being a young women with strong interest in and perhaps a gift for exegesis and academic work. I think I can say with a clean conscience that I am not looking for power or position. But it does discourage me to meet with disinterest, even denial of my gifts at a time when I very much need help in finding my direction.
"[B]ut disenfranchising a whole gender, and preventing them from using the gifts God has given them because of a particular interpretation of 'headship' is not a trivial matter by any means."
No, it is not a trival matter. Just because God commands all of us to endure under hardship doesn't justify others to carelessly cause hardship.
I'll be checking out the books you recommend! Thanks again and God bless.
Yuckabuck you are quite right about the endless belief that one can simply understand the Bible by reading some translation and thinking about it. This is seldom true when we are dealing with complex texts precisely because we bring too much of our modern assumptions to the reading of the text.
Hannah, blessings on your studies, and thanks for being brave enough to speak out on a website like this. You would certainly be and feel welcome here at Asbury where many Evangelical women are pursuing ministry, but hopefully all will be well in Dallas too.
Sandalstraps, after reading your blog, you seem not to care about the clear meaning of Scripture on the homosexual issue and explain that way, and even deny the Trinity, ignoring a host of verses that significantly imply it. And that is my objection on this conversation, only the Professor is not going as far.
But in this case we are taking a doctrine supported by a series of verses, saying the verses really don't mean what they say, and that apparently all of our translators lost the "inflections" that really do explain them, and put a whole new spin on them. I'm objecting to this idea that some obscure point of minor grammar in the Greek text rexplains a whole verse that for centuries was interpreted almost uniformly. This line of thinking and interpretation strips the common believer of anything and puts everything in the hands of a small elite scholarship base.
The lay people, apparently, are not intelligent enough to see what the Bible (in my opinion) is clearly saying. So while some of you look at me like I'm some fire-breathing fundamentalist, I certainly don't appreciate the snobbery of some (not necessarily on this blog) who hint and even would flat out say that the rest of us are too lazy to find all these hidden meanings which only they seem to be able to discover.
A comparison of the male - female relationship and whether or not there is biblical cause for the pronouncement of subordination in relation to the Godhead is incomparable.
The same reason Giles argues against "subordination" is the same reason he purports Grudem proclaims the contrary; creeds & confessions. Who has the "right" hermeneutic?
John 1 clearly resolves any question concerning whether or not the Son is subordinate to the Father. The answer is no. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are eternal and have always been. One is not greater than the other. The same arguement can't be stated when trying to eliminate a "role" or "hierarchy" relationship between husband and wife.
Unfortuneately, the word "hierarchy" automatically assumes "authoritarianism" or "dictatorship" while "role" assumes "oppression".
If there is no cause for hierarchy regarding the "role" of man then I need a further explanation of Genesis 3:16 and the use of the word "rule;mâshal;משׁל"
BP, the explanation you will hear is that after Christ's work on the cross, men and women have been put back in right relationship with each other and the effects of the fall are overridden. I would say that the Gal. 3:28 passage is speaking of us positionally in Christ, not in terms of "role" the unpopular word on this blog.
Another point I want to strongly make, is outside a small minority of feminist women, MOST women want a man who will protect them. Find me women who are attracted to men who are less strong than them, or that they feel aren't protectors. Many women speak like they want total equality, but when it comes to who is going to do the heavy lifting around the house, and who is going to fight the wars, who is going to be the one opening and shutting doors, paying for the meals, and providing general leadership, they will say they want MAN to do this things because that is how God WIRED men and women. I'd love to see observational evidence to the contrary.
Whatever views you think I hold outside this discussion are not relevant to the argument at hand. Yes, I engage in the sorts of (to use an excellent but derrogatory term that a conservative pastor friend of mine loves so much) "scriptural gymnastics" that you despise. But I have in no way brought such gymnastics to this discussion.
That I believe that homosexuality is not inherantly sinful and that I do not believe that there is a slam dunk argument in favor of the standard Trinitarian formulation which has been considered orthodox since some of the earliest Christian councils does not mean that I have misquoted Paul.
Kindly engage the argument presented to you, which rests on the "plain meaning" of the scriptures in question, rather than tossing out ad hominem arguments to try to discredit me. Even if I can be discredited (and as I am a liberal I'm sure that at this site I can be) my argument, which rests on a mode of interpreting scripture which all here agree on, stands.
Paul expresses refutes the interpretations which you are bringing to his statements. Attacking me instead of dealing with that fact is deeply dishonest.
Additionally, for observational evidence to the contrary, you need look no further than my wife, or any other woman who rejects the roles which you (not God) and other chauvanists prescribe for them.
Ben, I must admit to being perplexed by your exgesis of 1 Cor. 15.27-28, but that has more to do with my eschatology than anything else. For myself (I reject subordination in the godhead), I've tended to read it as the son giving the kingdom to the triune God, if that makes sense. (However, I'm probably less happy with my position, exegetically, than yours!)
It was nice to read the good-natured manner of your letter to Andreas Kostenberger.
With all due respect, I do not think you are understanding the positions being taken here. These are not "hidden meanings," and they are not necessarily dependent on "some obscure point of minor grammar in the Greek text." The position here is that the Bible you read (KJV? no matter) is not a direct letter sent to you by God, without any "middle-men" at all. Indeed, God inspired all of it in greek, so I do not think you would argue with that proposition. But the fact is that there is more distance between the words of the Bible and ourselves than merely greek. This is where God had provided some in the church who have been called, led, and gifted by His Spirit in order to learn all the details of that distance. Thereby, we in the 21st century can hear what God was properly saying then.
It surely is wrong to hold a posiiton that "strips the common believer of (everything) and puts everything in the hands of a small elite scholarship base." Notice I changed your word "anything" to "everything," because that is where the problem lies. It is just as wrong to put everything in the hands of a lone (ranger) individual Christian, interpreting the bible however he wants, irregardless of what the apostle Paul or others really meant when they used words in a language foreign to us and ideas that are from a culture that is foreign to us.
Here is an example:
One view says that in 1st Timothy, Paul's clear intention is to give instructions of how every church in every age should order itself, with male elders, etc. (see the book Biblical Eldership by Alexander Strauch). This view is based on 1 Tim 3:14-15, where Paul says that he is writing so that "you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God's household."
Another view says that Paul's intention in everything he says in 1 Timothy was clearly only meant as instructions for Timothy to carry out in the church of Ephesus ONLY, including the rejection of female elders (see Gordon Fee's commentary on 1,2 Tim and Titus). This is based on the first thing Paul tells Timothy in the book: "stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer."
Now, I haven't done either view justice here, but my point is that NEITHER one of these positions comes from just picking up the bible and reading bare words devoid of linguistic, grammatical, literary (Paul's "intention") or cultural context. BOTH views understand that there is more to "reading the whole context" of a verse than just reading to the end of the sentence. Yet, in oractice, that kind of short-circuiting of teh process is what tends to come from people who advocate ignoring scholars and sticking to the "plain meaning."
To refer to this process as obscuring the "plain meaning" is to completely miss what's going on. For the record, there is a real method here being advocated too. It leads many to see no room for women as pastors, but it also leads many such as myself to come to the opposite conclusion. And I am not just "giving in to culture" here. The same process of interpreting the bible does NOT lead me to the conclusion that homosexual acts or same-sex marriages are not abhorrent to God. But I respect thyose who engage in the process as prayerfully as I do.
The only other option is to posit three "inspires sources:" 1) the original (greek and hebrew) bible, 2) a specially inspired infallible english translation of it, and 3) a specially inspired "prophet or pope" to tell us what the infallible interpretation is. And I cannot in good conscience go there. The contradictions of such a position are huge.
God bless you!
Two final points, and then I'll leave you alone. You probably don't deserve nearly as rough a treatment as I'm giving you.
1. Your comments on the nature of women remind me of the way in which slaveholders used to speak of their slaves:
Darkies need and want a massa to be over them.
In general, at least per the evidence available to them, those slaveholders were right. Slaves had been culturally conditioned not to rebel against their prescribed role. Survival depended on being (or at least acting like it) who the dominant society wanted them to be.
But does it follow from this that their role was ordained by God, and built into their natural substance? Of course not. Cultural conditioning is not a sign of divine ordination.
The same is true for women. As we've seen since the rise of feminism, not all women are made from the same mold. Many women like living in a patriarchal society, this is true. But at least as many women seek to break free from the shackles of patriarchy. That you know of some women who have been conditioned to need a strong male figure in their lives does not make such cultural conditioning evidence of God's design.
2. While I use textual criticism (along with other tools) to encourage us to rethink our (Christian) approach to sexual morality, that does not mean that all people who engage in any form of textual criticism are bound to go there with me.
Dr. Witherington, for instance, does not need to abandon his academic methods in order to argue against my position. He is perfectly welcome and able to argue against my position using textual criticism as one of his tools.
(None of this is designed to imply either that Dr. Witherington ought to be bothered with my argument, or that I am his equal. He is a scholar - and a pretty good one - and I am not. It is istead to apply that many scholars, like Dr. Witherington, have used the methods which frustrate you to defend the position you hold.)
He could say, for instance, that I have misrepresented the verses in question. Or he could say that I have misinterpreted them. He could even say that I have drawn conclusions which are not warrented from the evidence which I presented. Those are perfectly acceptable modes of discourse. He need not abandon them in order to preserve the traditional view of sexual morality and homosexuality.
His best argument, in fact, might be to do none of the above, but instead say that while the verses in question may not amount in and of themselves to a wholesale condemnation of homosexuality, still these two points make interpretation dubious:
1. Same sex sexual relations were generally condemned in the early church.
2. There are a number of verses which - while I have tried to deal with them - paint homosexuality in a negative light; and there are exactly zero verses which paint it in a positive light.
For these reasons my argument in favor of the acceptence of homosexuals rests on more than just scripture. Someone who holds scripture to be the norming norm for the Christian life can use the same methods I use to discredit the scriptural argument against homosexuality and arrive at a much different conclusion.
That you think that a critical scholarly approach to the Biblical text necessarily leads to positions which call your own faith into question, I have to wonder how secure you are in your position. If, for instance, you really think that the Bible says what you think it says, why should you fear a critical inquiry into the text?
Now I will leave you alone, as I'm sure I've treated you far more harshly than you deserve. Please do consider the scriptural argument concerning the role of women in the church laid out before you, as it is a very compelling one.
Regarding the "plain" reading of scripture, I used to be frustrated by those who delved into greek to show that it didn't mean what it obviously did to me. However, I have come to see how much our cultural preconditioning shapes the meanings of the words we hear.
While leaving the finer points of greek and hebrew to people educated in those languages, I will argue that those seeking to say that the "plain" reading that women can't lead or teach do not follow the same approach in other areas.
Let's start with Money. Jesus quite clearly told some rich people to give all that they have to the poor and come follow him. There is not a NT example of a rich person coming to faith in Jesus who did not give all or large parts of their wealth away. Keep in mind, we who can afford internet access are RICH . So any NT teaching, whether in the Gospels, Acts, James or John about the rich applies to us. And the "plain" reading is that we should give all or large parts to the poor if we follow the "plain" approach to application. Do we do it? Sad to say, no we don't. It is most frequently said this is specific to a person or "type" of person, or a heart issue. We are told it does does not apply to us because it is specific to a different time/place/culture/person/etc....
Next, shall we talk about the Sermon on the Mount? "Blessed are the peacemakers..." remember that? Followed-up with the whole turn the other cheek thing. That's a pretty clear teaching on pacifism and is consistant through-out Jesus' teaching. Yet few (some Menonite and related churches are the exception) who hold to the position that women are not allowed to lead or teach also hold to the "plain" reading of this text.
So now there is a problem. Clearly the same interpretive technique for women's roles is not being applied consistently. This is where our cultural pre-conditioning really does change the meaning of what we hear. And that is why it is so important to listen to those who are educated in greek and hebrew as well as those who understand the culture to which it was written.
And with that, I will add my appreciation for Professor Witherington and his blog postings.
I never said the matter was trivial, nor that I wanted to stop women using their gifts to the full. What upsets me is the idea that ministry should be seen in terms of headship. Throughout church history ministers have seen themselves as figures of authority rather than as servants. The authority they have comes from the gifts that they have been truly given, and not from rank or position. The gifts are at the service of the church not to lord over it.
I think that much of the objection to the ministry of women comes from the confusion between service and headship. Having served as a lay-leader of a congregation of 500 for three years without a pastor I do not feel that this is a position to be coveted whatever gender the aspirant. Being a servant of the church calls for sacrifice, hard work and much grace. Let all who are called to such a task serve, but do not squabble about status.
I think your argument against the eternal subordination of God the Son is quite persuasive; particulary when one relates it to the notion of eternal subordination of women. It always appears that the doctrine of eternal subordination of the Son to be scripturally unbalanced; by virtue of the ontological dimension and nature of the Persons of the Godhead. In addition, it is quite evident that, at least to me, to find any scriptural warrant for such concept. But I do see from the Scripture an apparent subordination of the Son to the Father in his incarnational state (as you've already observed above).
You will have to forgive me because I am a new Greek student but I looked at Ephesians 5:22 in several Greek versions I have and apparently some do have hupotassomenoi (hope I transliterated correctly) in that verse. In addition, I looked at the translation note from the NET Bible which seems to suggest that the witnesses that have the shorter rendering are minimal though early.
NET Bible translation note:
The witnesses for the shorter reading (in which the verb "submit" is only implied) are minimal (Ì46 B Cl HierMSS), but significant and early. The rest of the witnesses add one of two verb forms as required by the sense of the passage (picking up the verb from Eph_5:21). Several of these witnesses have ?p?tass?s??sa? (hupotassesthosan), the third person imperative (so ? A I P ? 0278 33 81 1175 1739 1881 al lat co), while other witnesses, especially the later Byzantine cursives, read ?p?t?sses?e (hupotassesthe), the second person imperative (D F G Ï sy). The text virtually begs for one of these two verb forms, but the often cryptic style of Paul's letters argues for the shorter reading. The chronology of development seems to have been no verb — third person imperative — second person imperative. It is not insignificant that early lectionaries began a new day's reading with Eph_5:22 these most likely caused copyists to add the verb at this juncture.
Are you suggesting that the other witnesses are incorrect?
Perhaps I am misundertanding you but are you suggesting that the mss that don't have the word are stating that husbands should submit to wives?
If so, it seems 5:24 would be out of order since it says as the church submits to Christ so also wives should submit to their husbands. 5:24 states again that wives should submit to their husbands in everything. The Greek versions I checked here all seemed to have the the word.
In addition, if Paul's main point (and argument) is for mutual submission, why so much talk about wives submitting to their husbands (especially if that was understood)?
I think that Paul was not only teaching mutual submission here but that he was teaching about the roles of husbands and wives. Wives submitting to their husbands, husbands loving their wives.
Again, I am not sure what the new found resistance to this teaching is. I suggest it is the changing culture. Many godly women have no problems with the roles that are taught here. The roles taught in no way diminish the spiritual equalness of men and women.
P.S. Thanks for the continued thought provoking posts.
Brian said, I think that Paul was not only teaching mutual submission here but that he was teaching about the roles of husbands and wives. Wives submitting to their husbands, husbands loving their wives.
Brian, I am a woman. Are you suggesting that I need not love my husband? And that my husband need not submit to me? (Eph 5:21).
Brian, I am a woman. Are you suggesting that I need not love my husband? And that my husband need not submit to me? (Eph 5:21).
As a Christian you submit one to another...as a Christian you should love one another.
As a wife you should submit to your husband. As a husband you should love your wife.
I am not suggesting anything, I am merely quoting scripture (in context no less).
As I stated in my previous comment, I know many godly women who have no problems with such commands from scripture (my wife included).
Again, I will say that I think it is a cultural thing. Things aren't always like we want them to be, but God's Word is what reigns supreme (over our "feelings" and thoughts as well).
When people decide they want to start adjusting scripture to fit the current cultural climate they are just asking for trouble (I am not suggesting that anyone here is doing that...it is a general statement).
Two points about textual criticism. Firstly, you go with the earlier witnesses and the best witnesses. Secondly you go with the more difficult reading or the reading which best explains the origins of the other readings, because scribes tended to smooth out the infelicities of the text. Metzger's Textual Commentary pp. 608-609 says that the version of 5.21 without the verb is surely the more original and it is supported by both p46 and B among others two very strong witnesses.
I am not disputing that the text says that a wife should submit herself (this is an action she freely takes, the verb is reflexive here). What I am saying is that the husband's self-sacrificial love for the wife is also a form of submission and service to one's spouse. Thus Ephes. 5.21 is the heading for all that follows in this passage, and so husband and wife are taken as the prime examples of what mutual submission should look like.
There is another issue not addressed here, which I address in my forthcoming commentary on Colossians, Ephesians, and Philemon. If you compare the household codes in Colossians and Ephesians to those existing in the Greco-Roman world at the time, it is perfectly clear that Paul is revising these patriarchal codes in a more egalitarian direction. He must start with the audience where they already are, but when you discover that in the typical codes it only refers to the subordination of women, slaves, and minors, whereas Paul gives three spearate exhortations to husband,father, slaveowner to behave in a Christian manner which involves love and respect, not domineering and dominating, you can see clearly how he is changing these codes. This is all the more so when you also notice that in Colossians Paul is addressing an audience for the first time, an audience he did not convert, whereas in Ephesians we have second order moral discourse to people he has addressed before. It is just common sense to recognize that what a persons says to another on a controversial subject on the first meeting is not likely to be the full picture. In Ephesians we see better the trajectory of Paul's remarks than in Colossians.
I think the 1611 guy is making some huge points that can't be ignored. When we meet up with a Scriptural wall we don't like, it is tempting to create an exegetical trampoline to jump onto and get over the wall anyway...Dave
thank you for this - it is renewing my mind!
"traditionalist 1611" said:
"Another point I want to strongly make, is outside a small minority of feminist women, MOST women want a man who will protect them."
My response: I don't think that protection of another person implies authority in the decision-making arena. Most night watchmen don't have much clout in the company meetings.
This idea that the Trinity must be three persons in some kind of fungible equality is so strong, so entrenched .
Oh yes we do refer to one of the persons as ‘Father’ and the other as ‘Son’ but we won’t let that bother us for now.
The Apostle Paul is that apostle everyone loves to hate, especially the feminists. But others of more orthodox persuasion damn him in other ways : “he doesn’t really mean what he says” .
Or epistles like 1 Timothy and 1 Corinthians are immediately discounted, aren’t they, because they don’t give us that kind of meaty doctrine we love to put into our creeds and confessions :
"Don’t bother me about all that this primitive man is saying concerning structure in the family and in the church. What does he know? He probably came up with that stuff after a nice long session in the bath and thought it might be good for Timothy to be getting busy over, to keep him out of trouble . It’s not really God’s own truth, is it ? After all, we know better than Paul how to organise and run our churches. We’ve had more practice and success than him."
“Eternal subordination of the Son to the Father” ? Bite your tongue, you Arian heretic !
We are so accustomed to our fallen universe of lust for tyranny and love of rebellion that we shrink with horror to allow any place at all to concepts such as ‘submission’ any place within Triune Deity.
We have to qualify it : ”the Son only obeys the Father in his human nature” . Yeah, right.
After all, the boss who calls the shots is so obviously a more superior and cleverer being than the chap who submits and obeys the will and purpose of another. It’s so obvious, isn’t it ?
You heretic !
Thanks for this post and I will be looking forward to reading more about what you have to say about the household codes in your new commentary.
Coming from a more sociological perspective, I have found the household codes and their implications fascinating. There has been discussion about the "head" metaphor here and I believe its misuse has implications FAR beyond gender issues. IMO, the Ephesians' household code is one of the most radically subversive texts in the New Testament and is central to understanding Paul's method for transforming the world into the kingdom of God. I wrote a post on this a few days ago that is part of a larger series I am doing on theology and economics. The post is Paul's Subversion of the Empire.
Anyway thanks again for your insights!
Thank you for hosting this important discussion.
I am a womam and I have never been married. I have been practicing law for several years and, recently, have returned to school to study theology and philosophy at Talbot. God’s words never have been idle words to me, they truly have been my very life. I entered seminary in answer to God’s call to the ministry of His word. But now face the question of what is the proper role of women in regards to the ministry of His word?
As a lawyer and critical thinker, I believe the current dialogue concerning women lacks coherence and integrity. It borders on the ridiculous. To say “different, but equal roles” doesn’t make sense when the different roles involve one person in the place of authority and the other person in the place of submission. That’s not equal and saying so doesn’t make it so.
I believe, however, that woman are subject to men (headship in the home and male authority in the church). This subjugation does not reflect any difference in their inherent qualities. But rather, it reflects God’s recognition that fallen humanity requires some form of leadership to maintain order and unity within any social environment. Scripture establishes that God delegated to men the role of leadership. And it teaches that women are to be subject to that authority.
But it is not an eternal subjugation. Honestly, I wonder if there even will be gender differences in heaven in light of Christ’s teaching on marriage. God is a God of order and purpose. Both gender and marriage have a purpose on earth. Neither seem relevant eternally. (I’m conservative in my views, but I still love to question our settled (and often shallow and inadequate) understanding of things to arrive at a more complete and coherent view--one that would survive scrutiny from an intelligent skeptic.)
Likewise with Jesus, as you said. I can live with the eternal subjugation of women (even in eternity), but it offends every fiber of my being to think of the Son as eternally subjected to the Father. Subjugation is inherently and logically inconsistent with equality. Subjugation of the Son served its purpose in this fallen world. But I cannot imagine its continuation in heaven, where Jesus will sit upon the throne of God forever and ever.
I have not yet come across any anti-subordinationist who deals with 1 Corinthians 15:28 in anything approaching a clear and coherent manner insofar as their position is concerned.
Belief in the Trinity itself is more problematic than belief in an ordering of the divine persons. As i mention in my earlier comment, the anti-subordiantionist position is more influenced by our fallen experience, otherwise there is no reason to object to structure in the Trinity.
We say love as seen in our human relationships must be a divine attribute so why can't we say the same about structure in society and structure in the family ? The creation reveals the Creator and so does man as created in the image of God.
I think I'll leave it there.
I'm wondering if you think that Jesus submits to the church. Do you have any comments on that subject. I am interested in any opinion you, or others, would care to give.
Donna L. Carlaw
I am dismayed that someone as eminent as you, Dr Witherington, would respond so positively to Dr Giles' book which is marred by so many lapses in scholarship, mischaracterisations and false antitheses.
Please take the time to read the discussion on (and with) Dr Giles at http://www.ajmd.com.au/trinity. I think you will find that there a number of nuances that Dr Giles has missed.
There are also a number of links to other discussions which readers may find helpful.
Regarding "kephale" as carrying the Greek force of "rank" or of the Hebrew word "rosh" / "head or source" in 1 Cor. 11 -- I believe the point is moot if 11:11 is viewed as a dividing point between a detractor's teaching and Paul's response. 11:11 explains that things are different "in the Lord" than what is mentioned in 11:10 and prior. Furthermore, there are points of contrast or correction made between what comes before and after 11:11. 1) women must wear a covering. 2) women are in subjection to men because they came from men (source). Paul responds after 11:11 that every man comes from a woman and if she needs a covering let it be her hair. Clearly he is not arguing with himself. Also, the identification of the man as being in the image of God in some way superior to the woman is a perversion of the Genesis account. Chapters 1 and 5 make it clear that male and female are created equally in the image of God.
What also helps make the case in 1 Cor. 14 that Paul is correcting problems and what the traditionalist has likely missed is the previous discussion about tongues in 14:22-25. I have not read this but someone must have dealt with this material before. Here is what I have observed:
v.22 makes four points:
a) Tongues are intended for the good of unbelievers.
b) Prophesy is not intended for unbelievers.
c) Tongues are not intended to benefit believers.
d) Prophesy is intended for believers.
These points are contradicted in the illustration of vv.23-25 where it teaches that tongues will cause unbelievers to say your church is crazy while prophesy will cause the unbeliever to repent and confess God is really among you.
The whole point of the chapter is to highlight the benefits of prophesy over tongues for the church. Paul was clearly not the source of v.22's statement that prophesy is not for unbelievers.
When people see that 1 Corinthians is the product of a dialogue between Paul and Corinth and that there are forces opposing Paul which needed correction they are more open to reconsidering these proof-texts about women in the church. This is, I believe, especially true when it is observed that the phenomenon of dialogue occurs just a few verses prior to the hotly debated verses about women.
I couldn't find a 'general' email place to contact you - so my apologies if this note is inappropriate for this particular section. (just found this blog site!)
Firstly, I just wanted to say a big thanks for your many insightful remarks and teaching, and for hosting so many helpful discussions. I will keep reading your blogs! they are fantastic... I am currently working on a paper for my M. DIV on Paul's use of Gen 1-3 relating to his teaching on women (both in regards to marriage or "roles" in the church). I have spent a number of hours perusing your archives from the last few years (finding a number of relevant discussions).
Regarding the egalitarian-patriarchal debate... the one thing that seems absolutely clear to me is that whatever one's reading of the difficult texts (such as 1 tim 2:8-15 and 1 Cor 11:2-16) we are called by our Father to be gracious in the manner in which we express our opinion.
I am a woman who feels like God has given a gift for teaching and leading. I am married to a wonderful godly man who has been raised and 'trained' in the (patriarchal) reformed church. We both love and know the Lord. We both want to have integrity in how we serve him - in our marriage and in the "church". We are prayerfully (and often painfully) trying to work thru the whole patriarchal-egalitarian debate. I am doing this current research project with the 'personal agenda' of growing in my understanding of the issue with the hope that it may lead us both forward 'together'.
Can i pls ask you a particular qn ?
My lovely hubby feels that because Paul (in his opionion) uses "pre fall" Gen 2 (cf 1 Cor 11:8-9 and 1 tim 2:13-14 etc) as a basis for his teaching - which he sees as endorsing patriarchy - then that is how we too must interpret pre-fall culture etc... and if things were ‘patriarchal’ pre-fall, then we mustn’t argue with God’s arrangements…
Are Paul’s references to the ‘order’ of creation and eve’s deception just 1st Century midrashic argument which made sense to the recipients of his letters? Or is there a case to say that because the Apostle uses Gen 2 this way, we must also understand it to be a transcultural thing that women are to be subordinate to men etc etc..?
Any thoughts you have on the topic would be very welcome!
Again, many thanks for investing in so many helpful discussions,
Dear Dr. Witherington,
I am a woman who for years has struggled with the whole women's role issue. As a person with a deep passion for preaching and teaching the Word, and gifted according to most, I could not understand why God would not accept and use them. Why he would prefer some men to preach sermons that violate every rule of interpretation and homiletics, instead of simply letting a trained, gifted woman do it, was beyond me.
Conservatives can argue all they want about equality of being, but if this does not translate into equal treatment, they are nothing but empty words. To be constantly overlooked and ingored just because of your gender, hurts to the core of your being. The fact that I am single made matters worse. Married women have an alternative (or outlet or compensation) in their family life, but what about me?
I have been reading extensively on historical theology lately and have come to the conclusion that redemption history is about restoring the situation of Genesis 2, i.e. equality of men and women, both made in the image of God, both gifted with His Spirit. Neither Jesus not Paul advocated slave rebellion (on the contrary, Paul taught slaves to be submissive), but the Christian church has come to understand that the implication and the outworking of the Gospel is the abolition of slavery. The same holds true for women's liberation. Of course traditional evangelicalism has neglected history (emphasizing a-historical, 'eternal' truths), and the cultural and historical contexts of not only the original writings, but also of its cultural and historical outworking.
I am very grateful that you have also given me an argument from the text itself. I see God now from a completely different perspective. He is the liberator, from sin and from oppression, who fully accepts my womanhood, my gifts and my passion. I am finally free; not free to sin or dominate, but free to be a servant, of His and of the church.
Soli Deo Gloria
Mister Witherington, Dear Ben,
Just 'discovered' you!
I'm studying Urban Mission with BGU (Bakker Graduate University) in Seattle. You're on my reading list, and wanted to find out about this writer of the 'New Testament History'.
Just wanted to let you know that I loved your article on the Trinity and women; good, logical reasoning and clear communication.
I'm a writer/journalist. One day I'll write about this subject, and will find you... :-)
Thanks for not avoiding this controversial subject.
Greetings from Holland,
Thank you so much Ben. Much is used by many to keep a status quo in opperation, through fear and loathing, or even just ignorance and the delight in being obtuse.
Your blogs have been a boon for me as I am challenged in my life as a Christian.
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