Review: The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth

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TylerR's picture

Editor

I've done some of my own work on the "key texts" on this issue. 1 Corinthians 11 is hard. Very hard. 1 Timothy 2:12-14 is very, very, very hard. You gotta do something with that pesky conjunction. The usual approach (and I don't mean this in a derisive way) is to use cultural context to interpret Paul's entire argument. That's fine so far as it goes, but it can give the impression of being too clever by half.

I will say that both these texts are harder than some complementarian advocates make them seem.

Most readers here are already familiar with the Danvers Statement, the credo of complementarianism. Some may not be familiar with the counterpart Council for Biblical Equality and its own statement. It's worth reading. They're evangelicals, and they're serious.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

....is that if the excerpt from the book and the article be trusted, the author is responding mostly to writing such as that of Bill Gothard, James Dobson, the LaHayes, and others.  Notice who's not on the list; actual academic theologians and people who consider themselves "apt to teach" as elders.

And as such, we're stuck in the same place we have been for the past, I'd guess, 30 years; throwing Paul's prescriptions for deacons and elders one way, and hearing about Junia, Deborah, and Phoebe on the other.  I'm firmly on the complementarian side here, but I've got to admit that if we don't improve our arguments, it's going to remain in the "indications either way" bin instead of migrating to the "this has to do with the basic character of God" kind of discussion.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Larry's picture

Moderator

What's the great difficulty about 1 Tim 2:12-14? I think the "usual approach" (to use your words) is because the text isn't difficult to understand. It's so clear that they have to use the cultural context to explain it. It seems essentially an admission that "We know what it says; we just think it doesn't apply now." They typically don't try to explain the text another way (other than authenteo, which doesn't really help much IMO). Assuming the "pesky conjunction" is the "or" of the teaching/exercising authority, while that can be somewhat difficult, it doesn't do much to the argument. No matter what authenteo means or the relationship between teaching and exercising authority, the alternative is to remain silent. 

TylerR's picture

Editor

I think it's harder than the way you make it seem! What're the reasons from 1 Tim 2:13-14? Are women dumber? Are they more flighty and easier to be tricked? Are they weaker? Are they inherently poor leaders? What, exactly, is Paul saying? That's why that pesky conjunction cannot be gainsaid - it means something. What does it mean?

You also gotta figure out whether gender "roles" as complementarians interpret them are baked into creation, or are a result of the Fall. I'm not convinced many pastors have read literature from the other side (not from "radicals," but from evangelicals who simply disagree). You then also gotta deal with Gal 3:28 and its implications for this issue.

  • If gender tensions are a result of the fall, and not God's intention
  • And if Christ has come to make a new community
  • Then should we model that eschatological trajectory (a la William Webb) and do our best to model future kingdom values right now?
  • Thus men and women are equal partners in God's community, each with gifts to exercise (etc., etc.)

These are some (not all) of the questions the other side raises.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Ken S's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

....is that if the excerpt from the book and the article be trusted, the author is responding mostly to writing such as that of Bill Gothard, James Dobson, the LaHayes, and others.  Notice who's not on the list; actual academic theologians and people who consider themselves "apt to teach" as elders.

And as such, we're stuck in the same place we have been for the past, I'd guess, 30 years; throwing Paul's prescriptions for deacons and elders one way, and hearing about Junia, Deborah, and Phoebe on the other.  I'm firmly on the complementarian side here, but I've got to admit that if we don't improve our arguments, it's going to remain in the "indications either way" bin instead of migrating to the "this has to do with the basic character of God" kind of discussion.

Were you saying that there are no academic theologians on the egalitarian side, or were you saying that she is not responding to academic theologians on the egalitarian side? I wasn't sure from your post.

Clearly both sides can't be right, but there are some very intelligent and well studied people on both sides of the issue. I do agree with you that we need to make sure we have solid arguments, however on this issue I feel like both sides can make some arguments that the other side will struggle to adequately answer. I wish that the heavyweight theologians were only on one side as that would obviously indicate that the teaching was more clear.

Ironically, if we were to migrate this to the "this has to do with the basic character of God" kind of discussion, I'd view that as tipping the scales toward egalitarianism.

Bert Perry's picture

I'm saying first of all that the writer appears to be mostly responding to the non-academic theologians, and I have to wonder if part of the reason the debate is the way it is is that really, most of us are listening more to people like Gothard than we are to people like Grudem.

Regarding the "tipping the scales", the thing that strikes me when I review the depth and breadth of Scripture, I see a few things that aren't addressed directly to the debate, but do speak to God presenting Himself as male, and His people as (collectively) female.  You have the Father and the Son, Israel is "virgin Israel", the church is the bride of Christ, etc..

So if you take all of that together, it would seem that the 1 Timothy and Titus prescription for male church leadership reflects God's nature as male, and then if you mess with that, you've got the question about what the Church would implicitly be saying--or mis-stating--about God.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Larry's picture

Moderator

Thanks for the response, Tyler. I think most of the questions you raise can be answered from the text. 

What're the reasons from 1 Tim 2:13-14?

Man was created first and the woman was deceived. Why are we looking beyond that? The question is, Are those things still true? If they are, then the command that arises from them is still in effect, it seems to me, even if we don't exactly understand why. The only way to ignore or limit the command of 2:12-14 is to affirm that man was not created first or to affirm that the woman was not deceived. Paul could have said something about the first century context as he did in other places, but he didn't. He reached all the way back to Genesis.

The rest of the questions seem irrelevant to the point at hand.

That's why that pesky conjunction cannot be gainsaid - it means something. What does it mean?

I am still not clear on the issue with the conjunction. Assuming it is the "or," we can acknowledge that there are various ways to see the relationship between teaching and authenteo. But no matter the relationship, the alternative is to keep silent. The alternative is not to teach under someone else's authority. Or teach without authority (as if that could be done). Or not teach in the first century because of lack of education or some such. It is to keep silent: Don't teach/authenteo but keep silent.

You also gotta figure out whether gender "roles" as complementarians interpret them are baked into creation, or are a result of the Fall.

It seems most likely to me that they are "baked into creation" based on both the OT and NT.

I'm not convinced many pastors have read literature from the other side (not from "radicals," but from evangelicals who simply disagree).

I completely agree with this. I sat with someone in my office who was vigorously egalitarian and I lost count of the number of times they said, "I don't know." Or "I have never heard that." Or "I will have to think about that." And yet this person was willing to cause major dissension in the church and even leave the church over things they admitted to not knowing, not having heard, and having to think about. I think pastors tend to be the same at times. We read in an echo chamber, or read critiques of those who disagree rather than reading those with whom we disagree.

You then also gotta deal with Gal 3:28 and its implications for this issue.

  • If gender tensions are a result of the fall, and not God's intention
  • And if Christ has come to make a new community
  • Then should we model that eschatological trajectory (a la William Webb) and do our best to model future kingdom values right now?
  • Thus men and women are equal partners in God's community, each with gifts to exercise (etc., etc.)

While I would not call this an eschatological trajectory and would not assert it is modeling future kingdom values because they are current church teaching, I don't think any thing here is controversial. Gal 3:28 seems clear that male and female, Jew and Greek, slave and free are all one in Christ. No one has special access to Christ based on these characteristics. And no one is omitted from spiritual life because of these characteristics. This context has nothing to do with church leadership. It has to do with the gospel and our standing in Christ as non-Jews.

I think the challenge for egalitarians is to show one passage that unequivocally and without dispute shows a woman teaching or leading in a church over men. If someone can come up with that passage, this is a different discussion, IMO.

Mark_Smith's picture

Paul says the woman was deceived, but what about Adam? Was he not deceived? He just stood there and let the snake deceive his wife? That's worse! I think that is the failing of many men I see. They stand there and do nothing.

Ken S's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

I'm saying first of all that the writer appears to be mostly responding to the non-academic theologians, and I have to wonder if part of the reason the debate is the way it is is that really, most of us are listening more to people like Gothard than we are to people like Grudem.

Regarding the "tipping the scales", the thing that strikes me when I review the depth and breadth of Scripture, I see a few things that aren't addressed directly to the debate, but do speak to God presenting Himself as male, and His people as (collectively) female.  You have the Father and the Son, Israel is "virgin Israel", the church is the bride of Christ, etc..

So if you take all of that together, it would seem that the 1 Timothy and Titus prescription for male church leadership reflects God's nature as male, and then if you mess with that, you've got the question about what the Church would implicitly be saying--or mis-stating--about God.

Ah, now I understand what you are saying. Thanks for the clarification.

pvawter's picture

Imho, 1 Timothy 2:15 is far more difficult than v.12-14. I don't think I've read anyone with a convincing argument for their position on that one.

And Mark, for the record, I think that point is in Paul's mind when he wrote 1 Tim 2, as he began the discussion in v.8 by instructing men to fulfill their responsibility to exercise active leadership through public prayer in the congregation. Eve was deceived, but Adam was in rebellion and refused to fulfill his role.

TylerR's picture

Editor

Yes, v. 15 is crazy. Here are vv.13-14, with my translation and comments to make my concerns clearer:

  • Ἀδὰμ γὰρ πρῶτος ἐπλάσθη εἶτα Εὕα

"Because Adam was made first, then Eve." Paul is explaining why women must be silent in the church to which he was referring in his letter to Timothy. This is the reason - Adam was made first.

  • καὶ Ἀδὰμ οὐκ ἠπατήθη ἡ δὲ γυνὴ ἐξαπατηθεῖσα ἐν παραβάσει γέγονεν

"and Adam was not tricked, but because the woman was tricked, she became a lawbreaker." What's the significance to Adam not being tricked, whereas Eve was? Why is this a valid argument? Is there something about "woman" that made her particularly vulnerable in the Garden? What does Paul mean? How does this remark explain why women cannot speak in the congregation? Commentators have historically answered that women were (essentially) dumber or weaker, more fragile. Delicate flowers. Schreiner (et al) have attempted to rescue the same basic interpretation from these crudities by explaining that women are psychologically weaker, not mentally or morally weaker. This seems to strain credibility. 

So, it's tough. Kostenberger and Schreiner have literally edited an entire volume on this single passage. That volume is now in its third edition and runs to 416 pages.

Here is William Webb (from another volume) summarizing his cultural argument:

The best solution, then, is not to discount the historical teaching of the church but to say that the social data has changed from Paul’s day to ours. The degree to which one is deceivable or gullible relates primarily to a combination of factors such as upbringing (sheltered or broad exposure), age, experience, intelligence, education, development of critical thinking, economic conditions and personality.

Spanning centuries, whether in Paul’s or Isaiah’s culture, many of these factors functioned in an associative way to make women more easily deceived than men. In our culture, however, gender is simply not a viable explanation for this “greater deception” phenomenon. So the text was suitable and accurate in its day due to cultural factors of an associative nature. Applying 1 Timothy 2: 14 today, however, requires that we move up the ladder of abstraction and work with the underlying transcultural principle: seek teachers and leaders who are not easily deceived.

Webb, William J.. Slaves, Women and Homosexuals (p. 292). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Larry's picture

Moderator

Imho, 1 Timothy 2:15 is far more difficult than v.12-14. I don't think I've read anyone with a convincing argument for their position on that one.

I agree with this. It is a difficult one, much more than 12-14. I have taken it to mean that the woman's part in correcting the affects of the fall is to raise children in a godly way.

Here's the connection: Some people think that if women can't teach, they are removed from spiritual authority and influence; they can't really participate in counteracting the curse. But Paul says, Far to the contrary, your part is not public teaching and authority but the heavy lifting of childbearing and all that it means with faith, love, sanctity, and self-restraint.

BTW, one of the other ironies of the egalitarian view is that it demeans women in a way by arguing that being able to teach only women is a second class teaching job. You can't really be a real teacher unless you can teach men because apparently men are the ones who really matter. I would say teaching women is a real teaching job. It is not second class in any way.

G. N. Barkman's picture

Verse 15 is difficult.  But the fact that we do not understand the reason behind Paul's statement does not negate his teaching, does it?  If that's the standard, we will not accept the doctrine of the trinity, nor hypo-static union, nor many other doctrines of God's Word.

G. N. Barkman

TylerR's picture

Editor

I worked through 1 Cor 11 in Greek a little while back. It was a good exercise. I have to do 1 Tim 2, next. To be honest, I'm not sure I could sign the Danvers Statement or the Council on Biblical Equity's statement, either. There are different gradations of both positions, and the folks who actually represent these positions at the local church level can sometimes be real boneheads (on both sides).

I'll likely work out my own position on this matter in the next year or so. It's a project I want to come to a resolution on. I'm waiting for the second edition of an excellent biblical equality book to release this Fall. That, coupled with Grudem/Piper's book, and my Greek NT, should be everything I need. At a certain point, the arguments just repeat themselves. One could go blind reading all the literature on this topic over the past 40 years.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Larry's picture

Moderator

I agree that the significance of "deceived" in v. 14 is tough. It is not entirely clear why that is raised by Paul. By I wonder if we are making too much of that? (Not you personally.) Are we supposed to embrace and believe only that which we can understand and explain? Or are there some things too high for us which we must trust God?

I think you and I would both say the latter. So why isn't that enough of an answer here? We can suggest some reasons, but we need to be cautious in my view.

Perhaps had God wanted us to know he would have told us and pursuing this question fits into the speculation category, perhaps even foolish speculation. it seems enough to say that God said it.

 Your quote of Webb is, I think, helpful for understand my point.

The best solution, then, is not to discount the historical teaching of the church but to say that the social data has changed from Paul’s day to ours.

This assumes that social data was the issue. And yet the text does not say that. So if we are driven by the text, we must not say this, at least too dogmatically. Furthermore, this says nothing about the first reason--the creation order.

In my view, the whole egalitarian position is based on assumptions that are not supported clearly by the text. It requires the most beneficial reading of every text and in some cases requires special pleading. It requires things the text does not say and ignores what the text does say. So I find that a difficult mountain to climb.

Applying 1 Timothy 2: 14 today, however, requires that we move up the ladder of abstraction and work with the underlying transcultural principle: seek teachers and leaders who are not easily deceived.

Again, there is no evidence that the transcultural principle was about deceived leaders. It might be something entirely different ... like how the church is to be led. 

Mark_Smith's picture

pvawter wrote:

Imho, 1 Timothy 2:15 is far more difficult than v.12-14. I don't think I've read anyone with a convincing argument for their position on that one.

And Mark, for the record, I think that point is in Paul's mind when he wrote 1 Tim 2, as he began the discussion in v.8 by instructing men to fulfill their responsibility to exercise active leadership through public prayer in the congregation. Eve was deceived, but Adam was in rebellion and refused to fulfill his role.

Wow... I guess I need to read Scripture a little deeper. I admit I am not sure how "I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; " has everything you are saying it does. It seems to me he is talking about self-control and controlling anger, not leadership and resisting Satan.

josh p's picture

I actually do believe that 1 Timothy 2:8 is requiring men to lead prayer in the assembly. It’s not the general word for men but men only. Also it fits with the contrast with the role of women in the church that follows. Wrote a paper on it in school and it changed my position about who can lead prayer at church.

Mark_Smith's picture

josh p wrote:

I actually do believe that 1 Timothy 2:8 is requiring men to lead prayer in the assembly. It’s not the general word for men but men only. Also it fits with the contrast with the role of women in the church that follows. Wrote a paper on it in school and it changed my position about who can lead prayer at church.

Lead in prayer. Yes. Leadership in general... not so much. Spiritual warfare? Not seeing it mentioned. 

pvawter's picture

Mark, 

Verse 8 is not an isolated thought. The connecting words make that clear. It follows logically from Paul's discussion of prayer in v.1-7 and leads to the discussion of gender roles in v.9-15. (Note the term "likewise" in v.9)