Tag Archives: authority

God’s Vision for His Daughters

The following is a talk/sermon I gave in February at a ladies luncheon and in a service at our church.


I used to think that teenagers were the only ones who struggle with identity issues, as they are expected to be “finding themselves,” questioning authority, pushing boundaries, etc,  but I’ve discovered that the search for identity can continue beyond adolescence, and even be a lifelong journey.

The reason we struggle so much with our identity is that the Enemy seeks to steal, kill and destroy us, constantly using lies that tell us to find our identity:

We are what we do.
We are what others say about us.
We are what we have.

As long as we are experiencing success and people are saying good things about us, or we are living comfortably and enjoying good relationships, we can feel OK.  But when we face failures, when others disapprove of us, when we lose people and things that are dear to us, then we may experience an identity crisis.  We may discover that we’ve been finding our identity in what we do, or in what others say about us, or in what we have.

001

We can be laid flat when an identity crisis comes, and may feel like the fool who built his house on sand instead of a firm foundation.  Or it can feel like we are standing face-to-face with a wall that doesn’t want to budge, and we have to push through by sheer will or just give up and walk away.  And that’s what many people do – they drift away from the Church or their faith when they lose their footing in one of these crises.

When I was in high school, one of my best friends became a Christian and I went through a Bible study with her about core doctrines of our faith. And then we went off to different colleges and she messaged me that she was doubting her faith.  I had no frame of reference for doubt, I had never had a single doubt in my 19 years of Christianity at that point.  So I had no idea how to meet her where she was.  She was having an identity crisis.  A couple years later, she died tragically, and I found myself having an identity crisis.  I was angry at myself for “letting” her drift from God.  I was angry at God for letting her die before I “fixed” her.  I didn’t walk away from my faith, but instead this was a catalyst for spiritual growth for me.  I learned that God was a loving Shepherd who pursues his lost sheep.  He didn’t need me to save my friend, so I lost my Savior complex.

This is what an identity crisis can do – it can be a time of spiritual growth as God chips a lie from the Enemy off our identity.  These crises are a natural and necessary part of our spiritual development as we mature and are sanctified more and more to be like Jesus.

God laid out a vision for his sons and daughters, so that we could live by the firm foundation of the identity that he intended for us.  Living in a fallen world, that vision is obscured by the lies of the Enemy.  But it is right here in Genesis chapter one and two.

002

One of the first aspects of our identity is that we bear the image of God. That means we are representatives of the character of God on earth.  We are the eyes and ears, hands and feet, and the voice of God.  As such, every voice matters in the church.  Every one of us has a unique aspect of his character to share with the church.

003

Before Jesus ascended into Heaven, he left his disciples with a Great Commission, to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:18-20).  Here in Genesis, God lays out the first Great Commission – our mission to manifest God’s kingdom here on earth.

004

The essence of God’s mission for human beings can be boiled down to four words:

Fruitful – Jewish scholars decided that in order to fulfill this command, men and women should marry and have at least two children.  By this standard, Jesus failed, because he never married or had any children.  And if you divided the worlds’ population by married and unmarried, you’d discover that half are unmarried, and one in four couples struggle with infertility.  As we see in the perfect life of unmarried and fatherless Jesus, who demonstrated perfect image bearing for us, this command is not only about procreation, but goes along with the biblical theme of the “fruit” that comes from being a faithful witness.  A faithful life bears good fruit.  And Jesus never faltered, even when tempted by Satan to believe the same lies he tries to tempt us with.  Jesus always drew near to His Father and prayed for His Father’s will to be done.

Multiply – We multiply image bearers through creative action, as representatives of the character of our Creator God.  We must allow our imaginations to draw us into doing unlikely and beautiful ministry for God.  The Night to Shine is a great example of creative action that puts God’s loving character on display for the world to see and multiplies image bearers in the process.  In Jesus, the perfect Image Bearer, we see creativity on every page of the Gospels.  His stories and parables drew crowds.  His miracles never ceased to surprise.

Rule – God has given us authority over all Creation.  Again, this is a mission for both men and women, boys and girls to fulfill.  We are God’s eyes and ears, his hands and feet, and his voice in this world.  It is a position of authority to represent God.  Every one of us is a born leader in God’s kingdom.  That manifests through our different gifts, talents, and callings – and it looks like servanthood and humility, as our perfect image bearer Jesus demonstrated.  But we need to root our identity in that fact.  We are kings and queens!

Subdue – This is about pushing back against the lies and destruction of the Enemy to God’s good creation; to be activists for the redemption of his creation.  Jesus was not passive when he saw people hurting – he was moved by visceral compassion and then he acted to heal, to feed, to teach.  As God’s representatives, we too need to be moved to ACT.  We need to “Let our hearts be broken by the things that break the heart of God” ( as Bob Pierce said, the founder of World Vision and Samaritans Purse).  If we begin to imitate Jesus, the perfect Image Bearer, in small ways each day, our capacity to be fruitful, to multiply, to rule and to subdue will grow.

Not a small task!  This is the mission for all image bearers – male and female, young and old – to be fruitful, multiply, rule and subdue.  God knit each of you together while you were in your mother’s womb, giving you everything you need to accomplish the good works he planned for you to do (Ephesians 2:10)!  Often times we can get too comfortable and busy here in America, and are content to worship God, to spend time with God each day, to lead a “good” life, and we may miss that God has a MISSION for us to do!

That was the chapter one creation account.  The focus there was vertical, about the relationship between human beings and their Creator.  In chapter two, we see a horizontal focus, on how males and females relate to each other and function together as partners.

005

Not good for man to be alone –

  1. He was alone in his relationship with God, no other creation called to live by faith
  2. He was alone in his mission to be God’s image bearer and to build God’s kingdom

God is Trinitarian, three-in-one, so Adam’s aloneness meant he missed a big part of image bearing and was impeded in revealing God in the world.

“God is entrusting his reputation to our male/female relationships.  We are telling the world what God is like by how we interact, value one another, build his kingdom together, and move towards Trinitarian oneness” (Carolyn Custis-James).

006

If God is entrusting his reputation to our male/female relationships, we need to unpack what it means for women to be “suitable helpers.”

And here, I’m going to remind you that the Enemy attacks our identity with lies.  Lies that make us feel less-than, unworthy.  The Enemy tells us we “should” find our worth in our accomplishments, appearance, education, femininity or masculinity, occupation, race, spirituality, wealth, etc.  He lies to us, telling us we are what we do, we are what others say about us, we are what we have.

007

And these lies get ingrained in our psyches through SOCIALIZATION.

We live in a Fallen world, where the Enemy prowls around looking to steal, kill and destroy.  And he’s been very effective, even in spreading lies even in the church.

We are socialized to believe certain lies about our identities through three processes:

  1. Modeling (how we observe others behaving)
  2. Overt Instruction (how we were instructed to behave)
  3. Reinforcement (positive or negative responses to our behavior)

Then, our socialization results in cognitive lenses, like bifocals or rose-colored lenses, that impact the way we understand the world and ourselves.  The Apostle Paul says that now we see as through glass, in heaven we will see face to face.

Socialization is POWERFUL.  Through our cognitive lenses, we learn to associate or assign meaning to words in a process that happens nearly instantly, in one-seventh-of-a-millionth second.

I want to do an exercise with you.  I’ll say a few words, and I want you to pay attention to your immediate association.  CHURCH; WORSHIP; LEADER; WOMAN

You may have thought “helper,” because every Bible translation you’ve ever read of Genesis 2:18 and 20 render the Greek word ezer there as “helper.”  The Holy Spirit inspired the word ezer to be used here to describe God’s daughters, so we want to understand it properly.  And sometimes, our modern English just doesn’t convey the same meaning as the original Hebrew.  This word ezer is a pretty striking example of this.

008

“The word ezer is used twenty-one times in the Old Testament. Twice it is used in the context of the first woman. Three times it is used of people helping (or failing to help) in life-threatening situations. Sixteen times it is used in reference to God as a helper.  Without exception, these biblical texts are talking about a vital, powerful kind of help. Yet when ezer is applied to the first woman, its meaning is usually diminished to fit with traditional and cultural views of women’s roles.” – Marg Mowzcko

Every instance where ezer occurs, it is in the context of warfare.  And the Garden of Eden is no exception.  God intends for his daughters to be a “strong help” in the war against the Enemy and in building his Kingdom!

Similarly, the Hebrew word kenegdo that is translated “suitable” or “meet” actually means “corresponding to, signifying equality.  God has not created a subordinate assistant for Adam but rather, a strong equal.  Men and women are neither inferior nor superior to each other. Both bear the image of God, both share the mission of human authority over creation.

009

Our final passage doubles down on the equality of male and female:

010

Like the translation of ezer, the word translated “Rib” here doesn’t actually refer to a bone, but means “good portion of Adam’s side.”  Some theologians have argued a strong case for this meaning that the first human was divided in two.

Oneness is the point here, with God at the center of their oneness.

011

So as we see in these Creation stories, our true identity is as image bearers, here in Appomattox to represent God’s character and mission.  As his representatives, we are at the center of what God is doing in Appomattox—not as spectators but as kingdom agents and as leaders responsible for what is going on around us.  We are God’s eyes and ears, his hands and feet, and his voice in the world.  We are ezer warriors, and as his representatives, we need to see the world through his eyes, love what he loves, grieve what he hates, and join his cause.

He gave us Jesus as the example of a perfect image bearer, showing us exactly how we are to be fruitful, multiply, rule and subdue.  Everywhere he went, Jesus was the embodiment of love, mercy and justice. We too must embody the gospel in our relationships and work.  And I believe this little army here today can be a catalyst for revival in Appomattox!

012


Thanks for visiting TBKW!  “Like” us on Facebook where we post articles from around the web everyday, dealing with gender issues in the Church and world!

I was reading Carolyn Custis-James’ book, “Half the Church” when I prepared this talk, and her influence is all over it.  I would highly recommend you read her book!

Advertisements

Q&A on Christian Feminism

img_8425

On Christmas Eve, I received a comment on a post I wrote in 2015 responding to the Girl Defined article, “Why Christianity and Feminism Can’t Mix,” and I noticed this morning that I had received another comment on the same post that I promised to respond to and never did.  So I will post these two comments, my replies, and links to more resources.  I am very grateful for this opportunity to engage with women who come from different perspectives and want to say first of all, thank you, Nancy and Cassidy, for reading my original post and for taking the time to ask your questions!


Nancy

The ending quote was: “My advice to Christian women is to marry a man who will be a friend, not a ruler.” Why must it be *either/or*? Why not marry a man who will be a friend AND a ruler. After all, earthly marriage is the very image of the ultimate marriage which is between God and His bride, the church. God is our ruler AND our friend. Works beautifully. He, laying down His life for His bride, edifying His bride, lifting her up, purifying her, etc. While ruling the union with love, truth, grace, and strength… while she sees Him worthy of her love, trust, respect, service (help) and submission. Why not allow the earthly image God created (human marriage) truly reflect the ultimate heavenly reality? That’s the way it was designed by Him after all.

Nancy is quoting a pastor’s wife, Andrea, who had commented on the Girl Defined article and then I pasted her words at the end of my post.  After years of counseling Christian women in abusive marriages, she began to study the Bible to better understand God’s design for gender roles, and came to the conclusion that God designed men and women to be equals.  My initial response to Nancy was to share a link to this excellent article by Bob Edwards to learn more about the origins of the headship/submission marriage model:

Seeing Male Authority as God’s Design: Where Did This Idea Come From? 

Edwards shows us how Plato influenced Augustine, who influenced Calvin, who influences complementarian theologians today, like John Piper.  The pipeline of patriarchy in Christian scholarship.  Many are unaware of the Platonic lens that they are reading their Bible through, and the inferences these gender teachings come from rather than clear Biblical directives.  I highly recommend reading more of Bob and his wife Helga’s work!

Egalitarians believe that husbands and wives are created equal and are both called to love and submit to their spouse.  This involves treating each other respectfully, helping each other, trusting each other and all the other “one another” directives that Paul gives to all believers.  In the Ephesians 5 passage that pastors often teach “Men need respect, women need love” from, it is all part of a larger section that involves instructions to love one another and submit to one another, “…wives to their husbands” (the verb “submit” does not occur in verse 22 as a directive to wives but the idea is linked from the earlier verse saying “submit to one another”).

In the creation narrative, God created mankind (both man and woman) in His image and gave both dominion and authority over creation.  “Help” is an inadequate translation of the Hebrew word ezer, as it connotes a subordinate position in our English language but more literally means something like “counterpart”  God is often referred to as Israel’s ezer throughout the Old Testament, and is clearly not a subordinate in relationship to His people.  It is in the curse in Genesis 3 that the Bible says men will rule over their wives.  As Carolyn Custis James says, “Patriarchy is the cultural backdrop of the Bible–not the message of the Bible.”

umbrella-graphic-by-amber-dann-picotta

Love this image from Amber D’Ann Picota

Another word that is misunderstood in English is kephale, translated “head.”  The problem with this translation is that “head” has more than one meaning.  In modern English, we hear “head” and immediately think “CEO,” “boss,” or “authority.”  But in ancient Greek, kephale did not connote authority.  On a body, the head did not appear to have any use except as the place where we put food, the source of life.  In ancient Greek culture, husbands were the “head” in the sense that their households were completely dependent financially and socially on the patriarch, just as a body is dependent on the head to receive food.  The body metaphor also teaches mutuality rather than authority/submission because every part of the body is dependent on each other, and directives come straight from the head, who is Christ, and is not channeled from one part to another.  Jesus is our “umbrella” and women have direct communication and covering from our Messiah, not from any male human.  Marriage is often elevated as the glue of the Church but in fact, Paul teaches us not to marry for the sake of the Gospel.

There is a great podcast on mutuality in marriage by Nick and Allison Quient that I recommend checking out:

Split/Frame of Reference Podcast: Episode 4: Ephesians 5:18-33, Mutual Submission, and the Mystery of Marriage

And an article by Egalitarian scholar Marg Mowczko that I link to all the time on women as ezers:

A Suitable Helper (in Hebrew)

As Nancy points out, it is a common teaching in complementarian

tgc-gender-1

Um, no.

churches that Christian marriage is meant to mirror a heavenly relationship between Christ and His Church, so that the world can better understand the Gospel with this tangible metaphor.  We are taught by complementarian pastors that wives’ submission to their husband and to “Biblical gender roles” point the secular world to the Good News.  But the early Church was striking to ancient secular society as counter-cultural by defying patriarchal gender roles.  In a society where women were property, Christian husbands treated their wives as equals and loved their wives as their own bodies.  Women were elevated to equality in the early Christian Church and ministered alongside the men.  The modern conservative Christian Church has swung back to patriarchal teachings in reaction to the growing egalitarian values of our Western culture, who now look at the Church and do not see anything “good” in the way Christian women are subjugated.

Here are the “Biblical gender roles” for women that are actually in the Bible:

25 Biblical Roles for Biblical Women – Marg Mowczko

And an excellent article from Kristen Rosser:

Is Marriage Really an Illustration of Christ and the Church?


Cassidy Shooltz

I must ask a question; you make an interesting statement at the beginning of the post:

“This is a testament to the diversity of thought within Christianity and how beliefs are shaped by personal experiences, relationships, community, cultures, socialization and more.”

Do you believe it is God’s will for the foundation of our lives to be built upon personal experiences, relationships, community, cultures, and more? I believe it is God’s intent for us to build our lives solely upon His word. If you are living and believing based on the whims and ideas of others opinions, then how are you distinguishing between right and wrong?

You stated in this post that you and the girls from Girl Defined are both followers of Jesus, but it is very clear that the core of feminism is self – not Jesus Christ. I really can’t see how someone can live a life that is both feministic and Christ-centered – because feminism is about the exaltation of the female (and not Jesus). The Christian life is all about Jesus, and no movement that works to defy His design will be able to stand before His word – the concept of feminism literally falls apart at the seems when our hearts are aligned with His word.

I would not be surprised at all if the “Christian” feminists one day wake up and decide that they no longer agree with anything the Bible says. Someday y’all may very well wake up and go pro-abortion, fight for gay rights, and leave your walk with Him behind. Of course, I pray so very much that such will not be the case for you girls, and that you will instead turn to Him in this area of your life.

First of all, I am not saying that it is God’s will that we base our beliefs on things like the cultural norms of our “tribe.”  It is just a fact that this is how we come to most of our beliefs.  I have heard Tim Keller say this same thing.  The Bible is an ancient book that is not clearly and perfectly understood by any flawed human being.  Scholars fluent in Hebrew and Greek who study the Bible faithfully have different opinions on doctrines and the meaning of difficult passages.  I believe we should come to theological conversations with humility and grace for those who have different perspectives.  I am not saying that all perspectives are correct.  I am saying that your perspective and my perspective and our favorite pastor’s/theologian’s/author’s perspective is flawed in some way.  And so beyond core doctrines (i.e. The Apostles Creed), we ought to be gracious in our discussions.  Of course we should all seek faithfulness to orthodoxy and orthopraxy.  But we should also bear in mind that in issues like gender roles, we have been socialized to infer certain beliefs into the text because of the culture of patriarchy that we live in.  My biggest beef with the Girl Defined post (and honestly, your comment), is the demonization of Christian brothers and sisters who see things differently.  I was attempting then and now to demonstrate that a Christian identifying as a feminist probably is doing so out of love for those who suffer the most under the darkness of patriarchy.

I have already linked to Bob Edwards in my reply to Nancy, but here is another link to a transcription I did of a video he shared, and an excerpt of his description of the process of socialization:

Bob Edwards’ Fascinating Discussion on the Origins of Male Authority in the Church

Bob discusses how gender socialization impacts our perception/understanding of the bible.

Socialization is a process that occurs throughout our lives.  We are socialized by the cultural norms present in our environment.

People are socialized by three essential processes:
1. cultural norms are modeled for us
2. overt instruction
3. reinforcement – reward/withhold rewards, encourage/discourage behavior

Put these together, and people are socialized to make the norms of their environment their own internal norms.

Socialization takes place in regards to gender.  We have role models that show us what it means to be a man/woman in a particular society (leadership may only include men).  Often we are taught overtly (in Christianity, we are taught that men are leaders, protectors, providers, and that women are supposed to be helpers of men.  Men have authority and women do not, and must submit themselves to male authority.)  And there is reinforcement (if you don’t do what is expected of you in this environment, we’ll make that painful for you).

Socialization is sometimes affected by people who act as if certain things are simply true.  People may act as if women are less capable of leadership and decision making.  They act like that simply by not allowing women to make leadership decisions.

The end result of the socialization process is that the norms that exist in the culture around us become the norms that exist in our own minds.  The external norms become internal norms.

Some researchers, particularly in the field of social sciences, cognitive psychology and the psychology of perception, talk about cognitive lenses by which we make sense of the world around us.  If I’ve been socialized to believe  that men lead, women follow/submit, if I’ve been socialized to believe that men are more fit for certain positions in the church and home, then I am going to internalize those norms and I will automatically assign certain meanings to the word “man” and to the word “woman.”  And we do this by association.  I may automatically think “leader” when I hear “man” and “helper” when I hear “woman.”

These associations we make take place in the brain (according to researcher Milo Fridga) in .00007 seconds.  That’s fast.  And so, we don’t always realize that socialization is at work when we’re looking at the world around us.

In fact, socialization affects how we see, how we perceive, and how we make sense of the Bible.

Secondly, I do not believe that Christianity and feminism have to be at odds.  Certainly there are extremist feminists just as there are extremist Christians who I do not wish to be associated with.  I do believe that I did a decent job explaining this in my post.  Here are a couple pertinent quotes:

Christians can partner with environmentalists, humanitarians, economists, social workers, politicians, educators, health professionals, counselors, scientists, and even feminists, in the work of redeeming God’s creation to it’s pre-curse state.  A feminist, atheist, Democrat, you-fill-in-the-blank is a person created in God’s image and loved dearly by God…I personally couldn’t call any imago Dei “devoid of God.”  There is common grace among all of humankind.   And has the Bible already solved all of the world’s problems and restored us to God’s design and will for humanity?  Clearly there is much work to be done, and Christ has given us that work to do.  Do I agree on all issues that all feminists tout?  No.  Do I agree that patriarchy is from the curse and has no place in Christ’s redeemed Kingdom?  Yes.

I didn’t come to feminism through a desire to usurp the authority of men.  I came to egalitarianism (I believe through God’s direction) and some of my conservative Christian friends began cautioning me about the slippery slope that I was on, and began jokingly referring to me as a feminist.  Not because I was arguing for abortion rights or burning my bras, but because I was asking questions about gender roles in the Church.  “Feminist” is a slur in the context of my upbringing.  Looking back, I understand that this negative response can be a powerful deterrent to keep group members from challenging the status quo of patriarchy.  It didn’t take me long to adopt the title feminist, as I couldn’t shake it and I was becoming more and more impassioned to see change in the world for women who are marginalized and abused by systems of patriarchy.

President Jimmy Carter says that gender inequality is the greatest humanitarian crisis of our generation.  I am posting these two links again for more information on the desperate need of feminism to liberate women and girls around the globe from the worst forms of patriarchy.  I would love to see Jesus’ followers at the forefront of this battle:

Christian Compassion or Complicity: The Abuse and Gendercide of God’s Daughters – Dr. Mimi Hadad
We Need Feminism – Rachel Held Evans

Thirdly, is Christian feminism about elevating women?  Certainly.  Because women have been down-trodden and denied equality, justice involves elevating them to their dignified and rightful place alongside their brothers in Christ.  Is Christian feminism anti-male?  Certainly not.  God made men and women for dignity and dominion.  We bear His image as His representatives on earth, ushering His Kingdom in by shining a light in the darkness. Not as “girls” and “boys” but as Beautiful Kingdom Warriors.

I thank you for your prayers and leave off with a prayer for you as well:

love-may-abound


Thanks for visiting us here at The Beautiful Kingdom Warriors!  Check us out on Facebook too, where we share links from around the web pertaining to women in ministry, mutuality in marriage, the abuses experienced by disenfranchised women and girls, etc.

A Response to Girl Defined – Is Feminism Devoid of God???

Last month, a dear friend sent me this picture, which linked to this article, “Why Feminism and Christianity Can’t Mix”, by Kristen Clark:

11206008_837632299619184_8099788202025688119_n

That’s a pretty polarizing image that begs for a response, don’t you think?!

The blog Girl Defined has the tagline, “getting back to God’s design,” so my first impression was that Kristen Clark and The Beautiful Kingdom Warriors share a passion for the very same thing, and yet our primary messages are drastically different.  This is a testament to the diversity of thought within Christianity and how beliefs are shaped by personal experiences, relationships, community, cultures, socialization and more.  We are both sincere Christians, passionate for God’s Kingdom and God’s design to reign supreme.  We are also both defensive against what we perceive to be heresy that impedes God’s will.

Fundamentally, the difference between Kristen Clark’s and my ideology comes down to our respective Biblical interpretation of gender roles.  By “God’s design,” Kristen means that in the Genesis narrative, God created man to be “head” and woman to be man’s “helper.”  There is a hierarchy with God over Christ, Christ over men, and men over women and children.  Men have authority and women submit to men.  Though men and women are of equal value, their roles are different.  This is the teaching of complementarian (i.e. patriarchal) theology, which is explained thoroughly in this video by Pastor John Piper (one of the founders of the Center for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.  Kristen links to a CBMW review of “Jesus Feminist” by Sarah Bessey in the comments section, with the explanation that she respects the theologians and writers on that site.), in which he says,

The intention with the word “complementarian” is to locate our way of life between two kinds of error: on the one side would be the abuses of women under male domination, and on the other side would be the negation of gender differences where they have beautiful significance. Which means that, on the one hand, complementarians acknowledge and lament the history of abuses of women personally and systemically, and the present evils globally and locally in the exploitation and diminishing of women and girls. And, on the other hand, complementarians lament the feminist and egalitarian impulses that minimize God-given differences between men and women and dismantle the order God has designed for the flourishing of our life together.

Egalitarianism in short.

Egalitarianism in short.

So Piper would lament feminism and egalitarianism (the Christian theology that God created man and woman equal, with shared authority; see this article or this one or this video, all from respected and notable theologians, for summaries of egalitarian theology) as ideologies that “dismantle God’s design.”  Often, egalitarians also identify as feminists due to the shared goal of demolishing patriarchy, which egalitarians see as a heresy in opposition of God’s design and will for humanity.  Egalitarians believe that God created man and woman in His image (literal translation of ezer being “corresponding strength” rather than “helper”), gave both authority over creation, and hierarchy came as a result of the curse in Genesis 3.  Throughout the Bible there are women functioning outside of complementarian gender roles, and in the New Testament we see the Holy Spirit falling on both men and women, and women serving alongside men in leadership in the early church.  Here is a good response to John Piper’s masculine view of Christianity.

While Christians have always held different views on many theological issues from the advent of the Church, it is common for complementarians to treat their view of gender roles as a critical aspect of the Gospel and to besmirch their egalitarian brothers and sisters with accusations of insincerity and rebellion. The Whartburg Watch wrote a post this year called, “Owen Strachan, CBMW, John Piper and David Platt: Gender Whackiness on the Rise” demonstrating this trend of elevating gender issues to be on par with the Gospel.

the-patriarchy (1)

But back to Kristen’s polarizing image and characterizations of feminism.  Is it true that at it’s root, feminism is devoid of God?  If so, why are so many Christians identifying as feminists?

First of all, it is true that “feminism wears many hats” and cannot be flatly defined, in the same way that Christianity comes in many forms, traditions and political leanings.  For example, Baptists.  There are over 1,400 Baptist denominations in the United States.  To some who hear the word “Baptist,” there is a visceral, biological response because of their negative experiences with Baptists, who can be judgmental, unloving and legalistic.  I have personally known Baptists to gossip, to be gluttonous and proud.  It can be controversial to bring up the topic of  Baptists.  It can be polarizing to identify yourself as a Baptist.  So it is probably best not to identify with that word.  Just call yourself a Christian!

See what I did there?  I could change “Baptists” to “Pentecostals,” or “Episcopalians,” “Methodists,” “Congregationalists,” or “Presbyterians” for the same effect.  And if I really did believe that Baptists were misguided and I wanted to deter others from becoming Baptists, I could utilize that tactic.  Playing word games doesn’t really prove anything.  The fact is, there are no perfect denominations, political parties, or social movements.  But there are lots of social activists making positive change in the world towards values that I believe are in line with God’s redemption work.  Christians can partner with environmentalists, humanitarians, economists, social workers, politicians, educators, health professionals, counselors, scientists, and even feminists, in the work of redeeming God’s creation to it’s pre-curse state.  A feminist, atheist, Democrat, you-fill-in-the-blank is a person created in God’s image and loved dearly by God…I personally couldn’t call any imago Dei “devoid of God.”  There is common grace among all of humankind.   And has the Bible already solved all of the world’s problems and restored us to God’s design and will for humanity?  Clearly there is much work to be done, and Christ has given us that work to do.  Do I agree on all issues that all feminists tout?  No.  Do I agree that patriarchy is from the curse and has no place in Christ’s redeemed Kingdom?  Yes.

Among many conservative Christians, the word “feminist” is spit out with disdain and horror.  Feminists are accused by conservative pundits and pastors of  ruining our country with their liberal agendas.  They are compared to militants who see their gender as superior – “feminazis.”  I am not familiar with the categorizations that Kristen uses to describe feminists.  Her primary attention goes to addressing “equality feminists” though, so that is what I would like to respond to.

Like Kristen, I was a complementarian for nearly thirty years.  I respected the same theologians and teachings that she points to in her writings.  I won’t go into detail about my change to egalitarianism, as I already posted that story here.  In short, it was at God’s prompting that I began reading about women in ministry and egalitarian theology, and I became convinced that the complementarian theology of gender roles was wrong.

I didn’t come to feminism through a desire to usurp the authority of men.  I came to egalitarianism (I believe through God’s direction) and some of my conservative Christian friends began cautioning me about the slippery slope that I was on, and began jokingly referring to me as a feminist.  Not because I was arguing for abortion rights or burning my bras, but because I was asking questions about gender roles in the Church.  “Feminist” is a slur in the context of my upbringing.  Looking back, I understand that this negative response can be a powerful deterrent to keep group members from challenging the status quo of patriarchy.  It didn’t take me long to adopt the title feminist, as I couldn’t shake it and I was becoming more and more impassioned to see change in the world for women who are marginalized and abused by systems of patriarchy.

Kristen Clark’s term, equality feminism, sounds to me like a euphemism for egalitarianism.  I believe she is using this term, which is considered deviant in conservative Christian circles, to paint egalitarianism in sinister terms.

povertyI began to see that “fighting theological battles” (i.e. blogging) like egalitarianism vs. complementarianism is critical to liberating women and girls around the world who suffer the most from the systems of patriarchy and poverty and war, etc.  Becky and I share articles every day on our FB page detailing the horrors and injustices of the world’s most vulnerable inhabitants.  If it is feminist to care about these issues, then yes, I’m a feminist.  For important reference points on gender issues around the world, here are two excellent articles:

We need feminism – Rachel Held Evans
Christian Compassion or Complicity: The Abuse and Gendercide of God’s Daughters – Dr. Mimi Haddad

e4c2e61dc0186b4ebe317ab0bcc67f33And in thinking about the roots of feminism, which Kristen Clark says are devoid of God, it is a fact that many of the earliest feminists were Christians who were trying to improve the lives of impoverished, disenfranchised, suffering women and children of their day.  The blog Making a Track, by Rev. Jonathan Inkpin, celebrates the lives of early Christian feminists and is an excellent resource for learning about inspiring Beautiful Kingdom Warriors.

I am going to leave off with a comment that I found under Kristen Clark’s article from a wonderful Beautiful Kingdom Warrior who took the time to advise her Christian sisters in the better way, skipping right over the references to feminism (i.e. egalitarianism?) and getting to the heart of the matter–gender roles:

I too used to believe in the headship/submission form of marriage. But now, in my 50’s, I have changed my view. Please understand- I am in love with Jesus more than ever before, am pro-life, am a pastor’s wife, home school mom, been married to the same man for 27 years, teach Sunday school, and lead worship at our church. But I now believe that God created husbands and wives as equals, friends and co-heirs in the promises. After counseling many women who were verbally and sometimes physically abused by their Christian husbands, I studied the verses that cause so much pain. What I learned is this:

1) Eve was Adam’s helper, but this didn’t mean servant or maid. We don’t see Eve helping Adam by washing his clothes or cleaning his house; she was created to help Adam rule the world. As woman, she was given equal status as part of “mankind.” She had equal responsibilities and equal blessings. It appears that as salt is to pepper, peanut butter is to jelly, Eve was Adam’s Helper in that she helped to complete the set: man + woman = mankind. This was God’s beautiful, original design for husbands and wives.

2) At the fall, Eve was cursed, with all women, to be ruled by her husband. Ever since the curse, in nearly every society, women have been ruled by men. In some cultures, women are the legal property of their husbands and can be abused, sold, or even killed.

3) In the Old Testament, slavery is always mentioned as a curse, never part of the blessings for God’s people.

3) Jesus broke that curse, along with every other curse, at the cross. Christian women are now free- co heirs with men once again to enjoy all the blessings and promises of God.

4) In 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy, Paul has many rules for women.  They are told to keep silent in church, wear head coverings or wear long
hair, and never teach a man. Paul says women “are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law.” But why would Paul, who in Galatians says
that “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law,” and now “there is neither male nor female; you are all one in Christ Jesus,” and “if you are led
by the Spirit, you are not under the law,” now put women (half the church) under the law? I think Paul was trying to jolt these churches back into grace. This
makes sense considering how in 1 Corinthians 3:1-3 Paul tells the people that he can’t talk to them as Spirit filled believers; because of their carnal
behavior, he must speak to them as people still under the law.

5) In Philippians 4 and Romans 16, Paul mentions many women who were ministers, deacons, teachers, laborers, co-prisoners and co-workers for the Lord! These women were anything but silent. It seems these women broke the rules of 1 Corinthians and Paul was very happy for it! Why? Because they lived in grace, not legalism. Remember, the law kills but the Spirit gives life! It is for freedom that Christ set you free, do not be burdened again with the yoke of slavery!!

6) When Paul tells wives to submit, he tells husbands to love (agape) their wives. 1 Corinthians 13 tells us that agape love is patient, kind, and doesn’t demand its own way. This is, of course, the very heart of submission. So, in reality, Paul is telling husbands and wives not to demand their own way… submit to the desires of the other, just like Christians are supposed to act with all people at all times.

7) The husband is head of the wife, as Christ is head of the church… How is Christ our head? Is He demanding or patient? Is He angry or loving? As Christ gave us the example of how to agape love, husbands are to usher this kind of love into the marriage. They are the heads in that they are to be the model of agape love for their families. Nabal was “head” by being an angry, demanding
tyrant that no one could reason with (1 Samuel 25). Clearly God was not pleased with Nabal’s behavior!

Solomon, however, was “head” by not being demanding…. When his wife was tired and turned him away one night, Solomon didn’t throw a tantrum and demand his own way, he quietly turned and left. King Lemuel, husband to the Proverbs 31 woman, also ushered this Godly love into his marriage. His wife was an intelligent woman who pursued many interests during her lifetime. Lemuel gave her the freedom, one fellow human to another, to follow her creative desires. He was “head” by being respectful to her, considerate of her needs, and proud of her talents. She, in return, loved him dearly and did him no harm all the days of his life.

My advice to Christian women is to marry a man who will be a friend, not a ruler.

 Amen.

Thank you for visiting The Beautiful Kingdom Warriors!  Please “like” our Facebook page where we post articles every day regarding gender issues from around the world and the church.  God bless!

Did Kirk Cameron say that husbands have authority over the life of their wives?

I was browsing Netflix a couple weeks ago, looking for something to watch while I did bookwork, when I noticed Kirk Cameron’s 2013 film, “Unstoppable,” in which he addresses the problem of pain and suffering and how you can reconcile that with the idea of a loving and good God.  Out of curiosity, I hit play.

I’m not writing this post to critique the movie, but I do want to address Kirk Cameron’s comments about husbands and wives as he is sharing the Creation story.  I find his remarks problematic, and I would like to do my part to make sure there is something on the internet pointing this out.

Kirk sets up the movie with a heart-wrenching story about friends of his who lost their ten year old son to cancer after years of pain and grueling treatments.  A couple weeks before he died, the young boy asked his dad if he could fix him.  Holy cow, I’m crying again just thinking about this poor family.  I can’t bear it.

So Kirk asks the question, Where is God in the midst of tragedy and suffering?  And he begins to answer this question by going to the beginning of pain and suffering (the Fall), first describing the creation of Adam and Eve and the perfection of their life in the Garden.  Here is a short video in which Kirk explains why he goes back to the Garden of Eden in this film:

Around twelve minutes into “Unstoppable”, he is describing how God created man from dust and then he says,

Adam, he’s made of the earth (that’s what Adam means, it means dirt), and he’s not like any of the other creatures.  Not only is he made in the image of God, he is given authority to rule over every other creature.  He’s given privilege and authority to name every other living creature.  When you have authority to name something, that means you have authority over their life. 

After God makes Eve, Kirk goes on to say,

So now, man is no longer alone.  He has his woman, and the two of them are beautifully, perfectly designed to compliment one another.  They have become one flesh.  Adam says, “This is bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh.  She shall be called woman.”  He names her.
 

And then God gives them The Assignment, The Great Mission.  And that is, to be fruitful, multiply, have lots and lots of babies, fill the earth and subdue it.  Rule it, take dominion over all of God’s creation.

Adam had one job, and it was to tend and keep the Garden.  In other words, to cultivate and guard.  To beautify and  protect.  Well, if I said that to you, “Guard this.  Protect what has been entrusted to you,” the obvious question is, “From what?”  And this is the worst part of the story up to this point.

Adam is in the Garden, with his wife, the most precious thing in the Garden.  He is to be protecting her, beautifying her, doing his job.  And a serpent enters the Garden.  This is exactly what Adam should have been watching for.  He should have smelled him a mile away and ran to him and crushed his head the second he saw him.  Especially after he saw what he was doing to his wife!  This is the ultimate breakdown of a man’s responsibility.  This is a story of a man throwing his wife under the bus and using her as a guinea pig in the human experiment.  Remember, God had said to Adam, “the day you eat of this fruit, you will surely die.” (emphasis mine)

First of all, Kirk is not “shooting from the hip.”  The script has been carefully crafted and he is performing it, even though the effect is to seem off-handed and natural.  So when he gives special attention to clarify that naming something is in effect having authority over their life, and then breezes past the statement, “Adam named Eve,” the message is very loud and clear that Adam had authority over Eve’s life.

Did he?  Really?

Kirk Cameron is clearly understanding the Creation narrative through a complementarian/patriarchal lens, and is reading inherent roles into the text that simply aren’t there.  He believes there is an implicit authority given to men to rule over animals and women that is signified through the act of naming.  However, as Kirk states after Eve’s creation, God gives them both authority over the animals, although Eve was not there for their naming.  And the truth is, God named both the man and the woman Adam (human-being in Hebrew), and never told Adam to name his wife.

When God created mankind, he created them in the likeness of God.  He created them male and female and blessed them.  And he named them “Mankind” [adam] when they were created.  Gen. 5:1b-2.

God did not create a hierarchy of authority at Creation.  Adam and Eve are both given the same directive from God: “And that is, to be fruitful, multiply, have lots and lots of babies, fill the earth and subdue it.  Rule it, take dominion over all of God’s creation” (Kirk’s paraphrase of Genesis 1:28).  Kirk describes Adam’s “responsibilities” as “one job…to tend and keep the Garden.  In other words, to cultivate and guard.  To beautify and  protect.”  And then he extends those descriptions to Adam’s responsibility to Eve, “He is to be protecting her, beautifying her, doing his job.”  But that isn’t coming from the Bible.  That is coming from a complementarian patriarchal reading-into of the text.  God created Eve as Adam’s ezer-kenegdo (“strength-corresponding to” rather than the traditional mistranslation of “helper suitable to”) and gave both of them the authority to rule over creation, sans gender-specific roles.

In Marg Mowzcko’s article, A Suitable Helper, she says,

The whole purpose of the Creation of Eve narrative in Genesis 2:21-24 is to emphasise the equality of husband and wife.  To read it any other way is to miss the point and distort its meaning! . . . When Adam looked at his new partner he exclaimed that she was “flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone”!  A profound expression of equality.  There is no hierarchy here! But to further emphasise the point, verse 24 says that when a husband and wife join in marriage they become one flesh – a point which Jesus also highlighted (Matthew 19:4-5, Mark 10:6-7).  Men and women together are made in God’s image.  God’s ideal at creation was that the husband and wife be completely equal and rule over nature together (Genesis 1:26-28).  Complete gender equality is the Godly ideal we should be aiming for.

I could say so much more from watching Kirk’s film, but the concept of Adam having inherent authority over the animals and Eve because of naming them was a striking error that needed correction.

Blessings to you as you have dominion over Creation today! – and I would hope you do that by making the world a better place, reconciling things to the beauty and perfection of God’s original design.  Carry on, warriors!


Marg Mowzcko just posted this excellent article yesterday, relating directly to this issue of gender roles as understood from the Creation narrative: Kenegdo: Is the woman in Genesis 2 subordinate, suitable, or similar to the man?

I would also highly recommend this article by Bob Edwards: Must women keep silent?  1 Corinthians 14 – The Apostle Paul and the traditions of men.  He discusses how proponents of male-authority point to the pre-Fall Genesis account to support their views.

Don’t forget to “Like” our FB page if you haven’t done so already!  We post lots of articles pertinent to empowering women to find their callings as ezer-kenegdos alongside their brothers in Christ, and to raise awareness of areas where redemption work is needed.

Bob Edwards’ Fascinating Discussion on The Origins of Male Authority in the Church

I wanted to share this discussion on the origins of male authority in the church, made by social worker, psychotherapist, and professor Bob Edwards.  Bob is a frequent contributor to the wonderful Egalitarian website, The Junia Project.  I would encourage you to press “play” and listen.  I am always looking for videos like this to watch while I’m working (I highly recommend subscribing to CBE, Christians for Biblical Equality, on YouTube.  They have lots of great videos on their channel).  I also took notes, below, for easier reference to the material.

Bob discusses how gender socialization impacts our perception/understanding of the bible.

Socialization is a process that occurs throughout our lives.  We are socialized by the cultural norms present in our environment.

People are socialized by three essential processes:
1. cultural norms are modeled for us
2. overt instruction
3. reinforcement – reward/withhold rewards, encourage/discourage behavior

Put these together, and people are socialized
to make the norms of their environment their
own internal norms.

Socialization takes place in regards to gender.  We have role models that show us what it means to be a man/woman in a particular society (leadership may only include men).  Often we are taught overtly (in Christianity, we are taught that men are leaders, protectors, providers, and that women are supposed to be helpers of men.  Men have authority and women do not, and must submit themselves to male authority.)  And there is reinforcement (if you don’t do what is expected of you in this environment, we’ll make that painful for you).

Socialization is sometimes affected by people who act as if certain things are simply true.  People may act as if women are less capable of leadership and decision making.  They act like that simply by not allowing women to make leadership decisions.

The end result of the socialization process is that the norms that exist in the culture around us become the norms that exist in our own minds.  The external norms become internal norms.

Some researchers, particularly in the field of social sciences, cognitive psychology and the psychology of perception, talk about cognitive lenses by which we make sense of the world around us.  If I’ve been socialized to believe  that men lead, women follow/submit, if I’ve been socialized to believe that men are more fit for certain positions in the church and home, then I am going to internalize those norms and I will automatically assign certain meanings to the word “man” and to the word “woman.”  And we do this by association.  I may automatically think “leader” when I hear “man” and “helper” when I hear “woman.”

These associations we make take place in the brain (according to researcher Milo Fridga) in .00007 seconds.  That’s fast.  And so, we don’t always realize that socialization is at work when we’re looking at the world around us.

In fact, socialization affects how we see, how we perceive, and how we make sense of the Bible.

Then Bob discusses the cognitive lenses of the most influential theologians throughout history.

St. Augustine
A Roman Bishop that lived in the 4th century A.D.  The church had just become the official state religion of the Roman Empire – significant because the Roman Empire was dominated by men.  “The Rule of the Fathers” was the cultural norm – the father of the household had absolute rule over his wife, children and slaves.  Slavery was prevalent and normative, to own other human beings who would do all the labor for us.  Also, the dominant philosophy of the day was rooted in the thinking of prominent Greek scholars like Plato and Aristotle, and there were some neo-Platonic philosophers that were popular, like Plotinus.

St. Augustine once said that when he became a Christian and tried to make sense of the Bible, it was very difficult for him.  It came across to him as almost nonsense.  And so, he read from a number of books written by philosophers that followed the train of thought begun by Plato, and went as far as to say that this helped him to make sense of the Bible.  So in other words, the work of Plato and later Plotinus, became the lenses through which Augustine made sense of the Bible.

Plato in The Republic:

“Let me further note that the manifold and complex pleasures and desires and pains are generally found in children and women and servants….  Whereas the simple and moderate desires which follow reason, and are under the guidance of the mind and true opinion, are to be found only in a few, and those the best born and best educated.”

“Very true.  These two, as you may perceive, have a place in our State; and the meaner desires of the [many] are held down by the virtuous desires and wisdom of the few.”

“Seeing then, I said, that there are three distinct classes, any meddling of one with another, or the change of one into another, is the greatest harm to the State, and may be most justly termed evil-doing?  This then is injustice.”

“You are quite right, he replied, in maintaining the general inferiority of the female sex….”

The worldview that is preferred by Plato is that a just state is made up of a hierarchy of classes and that the highest class is made up of the best born and best educated, exclusively made up of men, and that the particular needs and desires of the many (women and servants) need to be held down and kept in check.  Your blood (ethnicity, family line, race), your gender, and your education contribute to this sense of intellectual and moral superiority.  Women were considered inferior and so needed to be ruled over.  Any mixing of these classes was considered by Plato to be an injustice.  So when St. Augustine read the Bible through this lens, this is what he saw.

St. Augustine in Questions on the Heptatuech, Book 1, Section 153:

“It is the natural order among people that women serve their husbands and children their parents, because the justice of this lies in (the principle that) the lesser serves the greater…. This is the natural justice that the weaker brain serve the stronger. This therefore is the evident justice in the relationships between slaves and their masters, that they who excel in reason, excel in power.”

So we see the same concept here in the work of St. Augustine, in 4th century A.D. and he is seeing through the lens of a philosopher of ancient Greece, 4th century B.C.  Justice is a class-based society, men are in the superior class and must rule, and women are in the inferior class and must be ruled over and serve.

He says repeatedly in his Confessions, (for example Book 8 Chapter 2) that he was influenced by Plato:

“Simlicianus congratulated me that I had not fallen upon the writings of other philosophers, which were full of fallacies and deceit, “after the beggarly elements of this world” whereas in the Platonists, at every turn, the pathway led to belief in God and his Word.”

John Calvin (16th century A.D.)
A theologian frequently referred to by present-day Complementarian teachers,  pastors, and scholars.  In the seminal Complementarian work, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, edited by Wayne Grudem and John Piper many authors cite John Calvin and his commentary work, particularly on the Epistles.  John Calvin made sense of the relationships between men and women on the basis of his understanding of the Creation account in Genesis.

What’s interesting about John Calvin, he admits to seeing the Bible through the lens of the work of St. Augustine.  So you have this worldview being passed down through literature, teaching, and modeling through culture and context – gender socilization.  In Europe during Calvin’s lifetime men were seen as superior and women as inferior.

“Augustine is so wholly with me, that if I wished to write a confession of my faith, I could do so with all fullness and satisfaction to myself out of his writings.”

“Let the woman be satisfied with her state of subjection, and not take it amiss that she is made inferior to the more distinguished sex.”

Same language as Augustine and Plato.  Many of the authors of Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, and many of the members of the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood identify themselves as strictly Calvanists in their theology.  John Piper, for example, is incredibly enthusiastic about John Calvin and his work.  On his blog, http://www.desiringgod.org, he identifies himself as a “7 Point Calvanist,” and there are traditionally only 5 main points to the theological system.

And so we have the case that lenses of the 4th century B.C. are showing up in present-day commentaries of the Bible.

St. Augustine and Calvin attempt to make sense of the problem of evil, both attaching great significance to their view/understanding of Adam and Eve.  There are assumptions made by Augustine that because Adam was made first and Eve second, that Adam was in charge.  It is interesting that the Apostle Paul, when he writes about this in 1 Corinthians, he points out that although Adam was made first, all men are born of women, and both come from God.  And so I’m not sure that the order of Creation as it is referred to is an indication of leadership/authority/male-dominated hierarchy.  It certainly is not explicitly spelled out.

St. Augustine also makes a particularly Platonic assumption about the verse in Genesis in which Adam describes Eve as “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh.”  In the text, Eve is taken from Adam’s side.  Adam is acknowledging that this person is made of the same “stuff” as himself.  But when St. Augustine saw the word “flesh,” he automatically assumed that meant something lower than intellect, something more vulnerable to temptation.

He explains this in On John, Tractate 2, Section 14:

And how are they born? Because they become sons of God and brethren of Christ, they are certainly born. For if they are not born, how can they be sons? But the sons of men are born of flesh and blood…The apostle puts flesh for woman; because, when she was made of his rib, Adam said, “This is now bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh.”   And the apostle saith, “He that loveth his wife loveth himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh.”  Flesh, then, is put for woman, in the same manner that spirit is sometimes put for husband. Wherefore? Because the one rules, the other is ruled; the one ought to command, the other to serve. For where the flesh commands and the spirit serves, the house is turned the wrong way. What can be worse than a house where the woman has the mastery over the man? But that house is rightly ordered where the man commands and the woman obeys. In like manner that man is rightly ordered where the spirit commands and the flesh serves.

So that’s how St. Augustine makes sense of Adam saying “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh.”  His automatic perception of the woman being referred to as flesh is that she must be ruled and that there is something not quite right with her.  And that the man equals the spirit, and the spirit must rule over the flesh (which isn’t quite right), and so the man must rule over the woman.  What I find interesting is that the man is never compared to the Spirit.  Augustine projects that onto the text, seeing something that is not there – but he is seeing what he already believes.  And he believes this because he agrees with the philosophical writings of Plato from the 4th century B.C. 

It is also the case that St. Augustine had male-leadership modeled for him in the culture of Rome but also in his own home, in which his father dominated his mother, including physical beatings which his mother blamed herself for, and St. Augustine agreed that was right. 

So we have role modeling of male domination reinforced in the home through violence, specific teaching of male-dominance through the philosophical work of Plato, and we evidently have St. Augustine internalizing this gender socialization so that the norms of his society became the norms in his mindset, it became the lenses through which he read the Bible and understood God’s revelation.  But we can see that his reasoning is flawed, because the man is not compared to the Spirit and the woman is not compared to flesh in the sense that she is somehow evil or less-than a man.  That is not, I believe, what Adam had in mind when he referred to Eve as “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh.”  Adam obviously historically precedes Plato and does not seem to have a Platonic view of his wife.  That’s being projected onto Adam just as it is being projected onto Paul in his Epistles.

These norms have also been internalized by present-day teachers/commentators, and have also been internalized historically by Bible translators.  Here are some discrepancies we can find in our translations of the Bible, in which some are clearly coming from a profoundly Patriarchal lens is beign used to make sense of the text.  One of the most prominent comes from Isaiah 3:12.

As for my people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O my people, they which lead thee cause thee to err, and destroy the way of thy paths. King James Version

Women ruling over Israel is apparently a bad thing.  We see this despite the fact that Deborah was a judge.  People went to Deborah seeking wisdom, and she would render judgment.  She was also prophetic and this was good, this was of God.  She gave instructions to a man who was to lead an army into battle.  She was a leader with God’s blessing to fulfill this function.  So why would it seem to suggest that women ruling over Israel is a bad thing?

In the Greek Septuagint, this same verse gives us a completely different understanding.  Translated into English directly from the Greek, we have:

Oh my people, your extractors strip you and extortioners rule over you.

So we have different translations with additions made by scribes, many generations after the text was originally written.  Depending on these small marks added by scribes, you could read that children and women are being oppressive, or you could read that extractors and extortioners are oppressing Israel.

The King James Version was translated all by men, during a period of history when male-domination was normative in the culture, and the theological work of St. Augustine was prominent, from the 4th century on and particularly through the Middle Ages. 

The work of St. Augustine and the translation work of St. Jerome – this work was incredibly influential when it came to making sense of the Bible in the Middle Ages, and that explains why the KJV would say that women ruling is a bad thing, in contradiction to the Septuagint.

We find other discrepancies between the KJV and the Greek New Testament.  Phoebe was referred to in the Greek as a deacon, diacanos, and in the KJV, as a “servant” rather than “deacon” (where sometimes diacanos is translated “minister”).   Later, Phoebe is referred to with a noun in Greek, prostatis, and a verb form is used repeatedly throughout the New Testament to indicate positions of leadership and ruling, and yet the KJV translates prostatis in Phoebe’s case as “helper.”  There is no suggestion that Phoebe could have been in a position of leadership.

Here is a link to an excellent article that expands on this in great detail by Elizabeth A. McCabe.  She does an excellent job describing how the words used to describe Phoebe are the same words to describe Paul, Timothy, and elders.  Some argue that the difference in translation is due to context, but in Romans 16, Paul is simply introducing Phoebe and commending her for her work.

Another example of problematic translation occurs in Ephesians 5.  We’ve got the oldest known translation for Ephesians talking about “submitting one to another out of reverence for Christ.”  That’s in 5:21.  There is one instance of this verb translated “submit.”  In later manuscripts, we have another instance of this verb added to text by scribes, in 5:22 – a specific command to wives, “Wives, submit to your husbands”, also translated, “Wives, be subject to your husbands” (NASV).

It’s one thing to say “Be subject one to another” and then provide examples of how that might apply to wives and then to husbands, but the additional command, “Husbands, be subject to your wives” is not present.  Husbands are asked to love their wives as Christ loves the church.

What is interesting is that is it not the relationship of Christ as Lord and head of the Church that husbands are commanded to emulate, it is the example of Jesus taking upon himself the form of a servant.  Philippians 2 tells us, “Jesus did not consider equality with God something to be grasped but rather took upon himself the role of  a servant and was obedient even to the point of death on the cross.”  And this is the example given to husbands in Ephesians, how husbands are to serve their wives.  “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and became a ransom for all,” and “The greatest among you will become a slave of all.”

This is powerful language.  Jesus is trying to teach his followers  that there is a different way he wants them to relate to others, different from the rest of the world where people are trying to rule over others and be the one in charge.  Jesus was telling them, forget that and focus on serving.  He modelled that when he washed his disciples feet, dressing himself as a slave and performing the function of a slave in washing their feet.  John Piper writes that the disciples still knew who was in charge, but that doesn’t fit their reactions.  Peter’s first reaction was to forbid it, “No Lord!  I won’t permit it!  I won’t accept you functioning as my slave!”  And Jesus replied, “If you want to be clean, if you want to be mine, you have to allow me to do this.”

There is this incredible example being role modeled for his disciples, and he says, “As I have done for you, do for one another.”  And later he says, “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another.”  One translation of Philippians 2 says, “In all your relationships, have the same attitude as Christ Jesus, who didn’t see God’s authority as something to be grasped and used to his own advantage, but rather he took upon himself the form of a servant and served with love.”

And so looking at Ephesians 5, and when we don’t add in the additional command to wives to be subject to your husband, we get a picture of Christians submitting to one another, serving one another in love.  It’s a beautiful picture.

Another Bible verse that is problematic in terms of its translation is 1 Timothy 2:12-15, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man” and then Paul makes reference to the Creation account with Eve being deceived and Adam not being deceived, and also to being saved in child-bearing, which has puzzled the church for centuries.

One of the main verbs used in this particular portion of the Bible, is authentein, an infinitive Greek verb, used one time in the New Testament.  Most of the other times “authority” occurs in the NT, it is translated from excousia, which has a clear indication of authority.  Authentein, however, can’t be found elsewhere in the Bible unless we look at the Wisdom literature in the Septuagint, specifically the Wisdom of Solomon, in which there is a noun form almost identical to authentein, authentas, and it referes to people who commit murder in the ritual sacrifice to a false god or idol.  There is no sense of positive authority with authentas in the wisdom of Solomon in the Septuagint.

So why do we have ritual murder for authentas on the one hand, and exercise authority on the other hand in Paul’s epistle.  The word authentein became associated with “authority” through the work of the early Church Fathers, Greek and Roman, who began to use it in this sense almost exclusively.  There are a few references to some form of the word authentein that does seem to equate to “exercise authority,” so I’m not saying its an impossible use of the word.  But it is certainly not the most common use.

A book was published in 2010 that does an extensive study of all the variations of the word, authentein from 200 B.C. to 200 A.D., with the Biblical era as the intentional center of this range.  William Willshire made use of an online database of every instance occurring in writing from that range, with the following definitions:

– “doer of a massacre”
– “author of crimes”
– “perpetrators of sacrilege”
– “supporter of violent actions”
– “murderer of oneself”
– “sole power”
– “perpetrator of slaughter”
– “murderer”
– “slayer”
– “slayer of oneself”
– “authority”
– “perpetrator of evil”
– “one who murders by his own hand”

(Polybius, Diodorus Siculus, Philo, psuedo-Clement, Appian of Alexander, Irenaeus, Harpocration, Phrynicus, as cited in Wilshire, Leeland, “Insight Into Two Biblical Passages: Anatomy of a Prohibition”, University Press, 2010).

If we’re trying to decide which meaning is the best, we need to look at the context of the letter and the context of the intended audience of the letter.  Paul was writing to Timothy who was pastoring in Ephesus and Paul was incredibly concerned about false teaching.  He was concerned about people who were forbidding marriage and sexual activity, and were commanding people to abstain from eating certain foods.  They thought their lifestyle of self-denial gave them special knowledge about/revelation from God which made them teachers of the Law.  Paul says to Timothy, “Guard against these teachers of the Law.”

We talked about some of the uses of authentein being from historians like Diodorus Siculus, and others, and these historians not only make use of the word authentein repeatedly, they also describe the culture of Ephesus.  They describe it in these terms (Diodorus Siculus):

“Beside the river of Thermadon, therefore, a nation ruled by females held sway, in which women pursued the arts of war just like men…. To the men she relegated the spinning of wool and other household tasks of women. She promulgated laws whereby she led forth the women to martial strife, while on the men she fastened humiliation and servitude. She would maim the arms and legs of male children, making them useless for service in war.” (as cited in Murphy, 1989, p. 58).

Another historian from the 1st century B.C., Pompeius Trogus, supplies us with additional information about this “nation ruled by females”:

“They also dismissed all thought of intermarriage with their neighbours, calling it slavery rather than marriage. They embarked instead upon an enterprise unparalleled in the whole of history, that of building up a state without men and then actually defending it themselves, out of contempt for the male sex…. Then, with peace assured by their military success, they entered into sexual relationships with surrounding peoples so that their line would not die out. Males born of such unions they put to death, but girls they brought up in a way that adapted them to their own way of life….

After conquering most of Europe, they also seized a number of city-states in Asia. Here they founded Ephesus.” (as cited in Yardley, 1994, p. 29).

More recent historians have also studied this culture where women were dominant and men were maimed as children.  Historians Neal and Ferguson describe the spiritual teaching of this culture in Ephesus.  Women were seen as good and the source of life, and men were seen as evil.  In Ephesus, the deity that was worshipped was known as Cybele, and when Greeks immigrated they called her Artemis, and the Temple of Artemis became world-renowned.  If you wanted to become a priest in the service of Cybele, you had to be castrated.  Men castrated themselves so that they would be acceptable to the goddess, because male sexuality was seen as a source of evil.  These women wanted to bear children, so they would mate with surrounding people, so they would at times get pregnant and give birth, and women frequently died in child-birth, and they would call on Cybele to save them in child-bearing.

Paul wrote abut salvation in child-birth because of this culture, and he writes to Timothy about Adam also being a source of life, because of their views on women as the source of life and men as the source of evil.  It is also important to look at authentein in light of this culture.  Is it referring to simply exercising authority or some sort of violent domination?  If Paul is writing to a context where the Goddess Cybele is being worshipped, that sees women as dominant, male sexuality as unacceptable, that encourages men to be holy through doing violence to themselves through ritual emasculation…Is it really likely that Paul is saying that all women should not have authority over men in the church, or is he saying that women should not teach and practice ritual violence against men?  Frankly, the repeated use of the word authentein to describe ritual violence and because of the spiritual cultish practices occurring in Ephesis, it makes more sense to translate authentein to describe violence or abusive domination.

Why have Bible translators seemed to overlook these prevalent understandings of authentein and the Ephesian context of female-domination?

Leeland Whilshire looks at St. Jerome’s 4th century translation of authentein in terms of leadership rather than violence.  He says that authentein can be translated to the Latin dominari, referring to domination over men.  This is one of the first instances of translation from Greek into another language, and the notion of violence is lost in the translation.  Later translations also lose sense of the sense of domination.  In the Reformation, Bibles translated into German and later English, simply talked of authentein in term s of exercising authority.

All this to say that the mindset of the translator plays a pivotal role in this process.  If someone doesn’t believe that women can have authority over men – if they’ve already internalized that cultural norm, if its become their cognitive lens through which they make sense of the world and the Bible, and you see this word in the Bible, how are you going to translate it?  They make these decisions in translation on the basis of their own socialization.  There is mounting evidence that our gender socialization does impact the cognitive lenses through which we make sense  of the world around us, and that includes how we make sense of the Bible.  We may see what appears to be a male-dominated gender hierarchy in the Bible, but we may be seeing what we’ve already internalized to be normal, but that might not be an accurate reflection of the original language or the original message of the Bible as it was intended by the author in his original context. 

For reflection/prayer:

What are my cultural lenses?

What has my role modeling been?

What has my teaching been?

What has my reinforcement been?

Have I been raised in a patriarchal family structure?

Have I been raised in a patriarchal social culture?

Have I been raised in a patriarchal church?

Am I reading translations of the Bible in English that add verses/headings that do not occur in the original Greek that encourage female submission?

What is my gender socialization and how is that impacting how I read the Bible and what God is saying about the role of women in the church and home?



Once again, here is the link to the video on Youtube, and Bob Edwards’ blog.

Please “Like” us on Facebook and check out our Links and Video pages for more great resources like this one!