Sunday, October 31, 2010

Year of Biblical Womanhood

Rachel Held Evans has announced the topic of her next book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood. I have enjoyed reading the posts and comments on her blog ever since. Her audience is diverse and the comments are quite entertaining. Unfortunately commenters do not worry much about the sensitivities of complementarians so be warned. I don't think they mean any harm, and are not vicious, but many just can't get their head around many of the things that John Piper likes to smoke. I recommend To Vote or Not to Vote.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The end of perspicuity

I am not sure when the doctrine of perspicuity began. Perhaps it was during the Reformation that some decided the scriptures were clear and forthright. However, we can safely announce the end of perspicuity this year. It is now out in the open that complementarians dither endlessly about whether Ephesians 5:21 refers to non-reciprocated submission, or submission which is reciprocal, albeit different.

They are not the same thing, if you think about it. If submission is non-reciprocal, then the command in Eph. 5:21 is only intended for those Christians who are in roles of submission to other Christians, it is not an instruction for everyone. Some time ago after careful consideration, Denny Burk wrote,
I think “one another” is used in the non-reciprocal sense Ephesians 5:21 as well.
But the other day he wrote about Thielman,
He takes a different tack on the interpretation of “submitting to one another” in verse 5:21. He understands that both husbands and wives are to submit to one another, but they are to do so in different ways. Thus he maintains the Pauline notion of headship while distinguishing his view from the “mutual submission” interpretation of egalitarians.
For most complementarians, there are many different ways to interpret the words of scripture. As long as they all lead to the authority of the husband over the wife, one can still call oneself a complementarian. But great latitude is allowed in exegeting scripture. Why is Thielman acceptable? Because he distinguishes himself from egalitarians. Not because he has any particular understanding of scripture. In fact, relatively few jump to defend the clarity of scripture. Many jump to defend the authority of the male over the female.

More about kephale in Philo

On Denny Burk's recent post about a commentary of Ephesians, Derek writes,
What part of “in a manner” do you not understand about Philo’s text and explanation? The mechanics of his interaction with the other kings is simply not relevant here and Philo says as much. All that is needed is to understand the way a leader relates to his herd. That’s it. Read it again and more carefully and you’ll see it.
The difficulty is that "leader of the herd" is not a particularly literal translation of this phrase. I would prefer to see Derek engage with the passage in Greek, rather than continue to comment on the English. This is from Fitzmeyer, page 86,
    Philo speaks of Ptolemy II Philadelphus as one who was outstanding among the Ptolemies and expresses it thus,

      genoumenos kathaper en zōō to hēgemoneuon kephalē tropon tina tōn basileōn

      being, as the head is the leading part in a living body, in some sense the head of kings [of the Ptolemaic dynasty]. (De Vita Mosis 2.5.30)
The word translated as "herd" is ζῷον, "animal, creature, image" found here,
πρῶτον μέν νυν τύπον ποιησάμενος λίθινον ἔστησε: ζῷον δέ οἱ ἐνῆν ἀνὴρ ἱππεύς, ἐπέγραψε δὲ γράμματα λέγοντα τάδε: “Δαρεῖος ὁ Ὑστάσπεος σύν τε τοῦ ἵππου τῇ ἀρετῇ” τὸ οὔνομα λέγων “καὶ Οἰβάρεος τοῦ ἱπποκόμου ἐκτήσατο τὴν Περσέων βασιληίην.”

First he made and set up a carved stone, upon which was cut the figure of a horseman, with this inscription: “Darius son of Hystaspes, aided by the excellence of his horse” (here followed the horse's name) “and of Oebares his groom, got possession of the kingdom of Persia. Herodotus Histories
The truth is that Philo's use of kephale is as a metaphor, and we are not exactly sure how to translate it. It is not an established way to say that someone had authority. Philo uses the word kephale elsewhere to denote a person of exemplary virtue. There is no indication that Paul wants us to believe that the husband in a marriage relationship naturally displays an exemplary morality that the wife would do well to emulate. The comparison is strained.

Here is a longer article about kephale in Philo. I regret that these are not full posts, but simply responses to a discussion which is ongoing on Denny Burk's blog, where I have been blocked.

The main question that I am left asking is why such a passage would be considered one of the most significant pieces of evidence that kephale means "authority."

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Kephale in Philo

With reference to the discussion going on on Denny Burk's blog, all I can say is that the citation from Philo is proof against Grudem's taxonomy, which is as follows, stated negatively,
"we cannot find any text where person A is called the "head'' of person or persons B, and is not in a position of authority over that person or persons"
Ptolemy was called the head of the Ptolemies, but was not the authority over his father or other kings in his famiy line. In fact, the only person who was ever called the kephale of a family, tribe or nation of which he was the leader, was Jephthah.

I am not going to change my story on this.

If you want to talk about who is the "head of the household" then you have to go to another Greek phrase oikodespotes. In the verb form, this word is applied to women in 1 Tim. 5:14. In the New Testament, it appears that there were at least a few women who were the head of their own household - Lydia, Chloe, Nympha, the elect lady, and so on.

Any woman reading this needs to know that believing that the husband is the authority in the marriage, has no benefit in terms of getting into heaven, raising one's children well, bringing honour to God, or preventing divorce. Submission to an unpleasant spouse, either husband or wife, may seem to work in the short term, but it is highly dysfunctional in terms of maintaining a relationship, and is in fact, one predictor of divorce. People need to know the truth.


I am not able to comment on Denny Burk's blog, but my material is discussed there. I will post in response this evening.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Venus and Mars - Love and Respect

I wonder why Venus and Mars have become such popular icons for the female and male in love. Why do we imagine that eros is the child of war and beauty? Why is "beauty submitted to war" even an erotic image in the first place? And why do some Christians invest such an notion with even a particle of truth?

In fact, we may find another romantic hero in mythology. Not Mars, the god of war, but Hephaestus, also known as Vulcan, the god of technology. Perhaps he was not the best-looking, the most buff and fit god of all the gods. He was a plain-looking creature, by some accounts a bit lame but nonetheless, the god of craft and fire, the god of forging and forming. What's to choose between war and craft?

Who loves a Vulcan, but Jane Eyre, that pragmatic young woman, who wisely rejects St. John Rivers, the staid clergyman, for Rochester, her personally flawed but much loved Vulcan. I am sure that by now you must think that I am in love with Spock, not so, although I wonder just how many real life males fall between Nimoy and Shatner.

In any case, it was not Mars but Hephaestus (that is Vulcan) who warrants our interest. And who did he marry? According to some traditions, Hephaestus was married to Aphrodite, (that is, Venus) but according to another story (the Iliad) Hephaestus' true mate was Charis (Grace.)

If I wanted to hijack a story to use as an icon for Christian mating, for seeking the perfect complementarian relationship, I would not touch Mars and Venus with a ten foot pole. I would chase after Hephaestus and Charis. (okay, so it doesn't make a great book title, "Men are Hephaestus and Women are Charis" (or Aglaia, the youngest grace.) Nope, that would not sell books. But it might be a love worth having.

In contrast to both John Gray, of Men are from Mars ..., and Eggerichs, of Love and Respect, I highly recommend John Gottman. All this to say, in an interesting way, that there is a great comparison between John Gray (Men are from Mars ...) and John Gottman right here. If I had to recommend any books - by anyone at all - on love and relationships, it would be John Gottman.

All this nonsense, or sense - depending on who you are - is because I received an email today thanking me for my series on Love and Respect, which I wrote about a while ago. I am no fan of this kind of pop psychology.

Love and Respect 1
Love and Respect 2
Love and Respect 3
Love and Respect 4
Love and Respect 5
Love and Respect 6
Love and Respect 7

There are a few more posts on this topic under Eggerichs.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

preparing to be a help meet

Just when I think that I need to put the whole issue of biblical womanhood out of my mind, and enjoy a little fresh air, it inserts itself back into my life. Last week my daughter came home with "Preparing to be a Help Meet" by Debi Pearl. I actually read most of it, and found some of the anecdotes quite entertaining. It was an odd read, unsophisticated in many ways, and I can in no way recommend it. But I understand how a young girl, who is recently engaged, might enjoy reading it and fantasize a little.

Anyhow ... my daughter was horrified. She doesn't normally want to talk these things over with me, but she did admit that this book was so much worse than anything I had mentioned. Oh well, she'll survive and she won't be overly influenced by it.

We did confirm that this is the same Debi Pearl who still advocates on her website that parents buy half inch flexible tubing in order to give their children a series of "licks" on their feet or legs whenever they stray from the straight and narrow. This is still up on their site. Go figure.

Anyway, I do think that women need to consider what it means to "help" others. Being a caregiver is a major preoccupation of women my age. Some are caring for parents, moving them into supported living facilities, or moving them into their own house. One friend has just acquired a new house that she can live in with her parents.

Other women are paying for their children's university education or helping them get on their feet financially. Some women are caring for husbands, siblings, or others in their family.

The important thing is that each of us will feel the need at some point in our life to be the caregiver, the one who provides for others that we love. The question then is how we prepare for this. It is something that we don't really want to think about. We might want to fantasize that we will be the one who is cared for. This may happen for us also, in our turn. But we don't need to prepare for that. We need to prepare for those times when we have to care for others.

Preparing to be a help meet, then, in my view, is a vital consideration. We need to be able to support ourselves, to pay for food, shelter and eduation for our children. We may need to buy a house, or cover medical costs or travel to be with our parents. Ideally these responsibilities are ones that we will share with a spouse. But chances are that half of us, or more, will be on our own at some time in our lives with these responsibilities staring us in the face.

We need to be in a position also to care for others beyond our famility and close friends. We need to be able to reach out to others, to change the living conditions of those who cannot care for themselves. How can we do this?

Preparing to be a help meet - nothing is more important.


While I have not been blogging much lately, I have still been reading the blogs, and it seems that the topic of women and the Bible has not cooled. Quite the opposite, it is warming up. I want to contribute a few notes, as I can.

Noel Bullock of British Columbia has written a paper called FIRST TIMOTHY 2:8–15. HT CBE Scroll. She covers material that I have presented on this blog in the past and does a very thorough job of it. I think my readers will be grateful to have her paper.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Young Earth Egalitarians?

RJS has been blogging at Jesus Creed. Let me say that while I am comforted at the steady blogging on behalf of women in ministry, I am hurt and horrified at how the actual woman herself is abandoned to her fate. RJS writes,
I’ll be blunt – to attach complementarianism to the gospel in any fashion is to distort and damage the gospel message. Complementarianism devolves to rules. But God will use our efforts anyway. To attach egalitarianism to the gospel message is to distort and damage the gospel message – it takes the focus off of Christ and onto us, and this has dire consequence. Egalitarianism devolves to rights.
So are women not to have rights? Men have rights. It is okay, just fine and dandy, for men to have rights. Oddly even Saint Paul had rights. He asked to be recognized as a Roman citizen so that he would not be beaten. Why did he do such a craven thing and stand on his rights? A woman should never do this. She should just put up, even if what is happening to her is wrong.

I have the sense that the insistance that egalitarianism is about rights and that is not gospel, is expressed by someone who has no idea what it would mean to live out one's life from birth to death without rights. Clearly this writer would not rate abolition of slavery as a gospel essential either.

Please judge by my sarcasm that I am still hurting from what it meant to me to be part of a complementarian community. The truth is that I was lucky. I have a job and I can support myself and my children. I feel privileged and grateful to my parents. Many people come out of fundamentalism with the sense that they have wasted years of their life in futility. Vanity, I think it is called. Emptiness. Feeding the beast of fundamentalism.

PS. In the comment thread, there is a call out for young earth egalitarians. I am pretty sure that some women who read this blog are young earth egalitarians, although I am not. You might want to take a look.

In all honesty, I am grateful to RJS for keeping this topic alive. However, I get the impression that he thinks it is no big deal to live one's life without basic human rights, such as going in and out of one's house freely, working to earn money, controlling how many times one becomes pregnant, attending the church of one's choice and so on.