Friday, March 27, 2009


V. Feminist Hermeneutics

Some folks may be inclined to ask “Are these differences (the man drives the car; the woman changes the diapers) goals God has commanded us to pursue?”[1] Galatians 3:28 for many in the church appears to hold the key to Christian “equality” and it is this verse that must be considered logically prior to any texts that seem to indicate any “inferiority” among the sexes.[2] It is argued that the follower of Christ must come to the more difficult texts - 1 Timothy 2:12-13, and simply recognize that Paul was battling this particular tension. Mollenkott provides one such answer to this particular tension:

We must open our eyes to these conflicts, demonstrating faith in the God who allowed them to appear in the New Testament. We must conquer our fear that honest attention to what we see in the Bible will undercut the doctrine of inspiration. We must allow the facts of Scripture to teach us in the way it was inspired, rather than forcing Scripture to conform to our own theories about it.[3]

In essence, Mollenkott is encouraging “us” Christians not to be afraid to approach the scripture and find contradictions; “inspiration” is a false idea and contradictions are the natural result of any man (Paul) made doctrine. Some have even argued the texts we find in Paul’s writings were nothing more than Paul just thinking out loud and trying to work through his own conflicts.[4] This approach could obviously be applied elsewhere in scripture, including any texts that appear to contradict a more modern understanding of sexual boundaries, including homosexuality. If the assumption is made that Paul’s writings were influenced by a male “chauvinistic” rabbinic background, then surely he could be called “homophobic” by today’s standards simply by his rejection of same sex sexual relationships. In fact, Paul Jewett, mentioned above, appears to have no problem at all with homosexual orientation being understood as a “natural” orientation; he thinks it should be distinguished differently from what the New Testament teaches - it is not a “perversion” but rather a natural “inversion.”[5] It is this approach to the biblical texts that serve as an example of how the texts themselves are interpreted against modern day sensibilities and or “cultural norms.” In other words, homosexuality is only wrong when it’s not a “perversion.” That clearly begs the question – who defines “perversion” God or modern day (post modern) wisdom?

What about those “feminist” who hold a higher view of scripture and its authority? Feminist who are more of the evangelical persuasion have argued that the more “clear” passages, Galatians 3:28 for instance, should be the starting point when looking at less clear passages.[6] Paul W. Flex asks if it possible for the interpreter to exclude bias in the hermeneutical process, or is this just a delusion that is hiding behind some “veneer of objectivity?”[7] At this point it should be noted that the historical orthodox position has always affirmed the full equality of males and females “in Christ.”[8] Paul’s writing in Galatians is not concerned with any role relationships that may be found in the Church[9], but rather it teaches “an egalitarianism of privilege in the covenantal union of believers in Christ.”[10] How then does one apply the text of 1 Timothy 2:11-14 in today’s church? Isn’t the fact alone that some women who claim Jesus as Lord, being led by the “holy spirit” to lead and teach men within the church, enough evidence? Are they not entitled to full “equality” and are they not only doing God’s will?

Howard Clark Kee argues that the church’s “vitality” can only be regained when it recovers what he calls the “revolutionary insights of its founders - Jesus and Paul.”[11] His reference to the “oldest strata of the Jesus tradition” is to be found in the so-called Q document, and it is here we find the oral tradition of Jesus’ activities and where women are given the most “special attention.”[12] His authoritative reference to the Q document, may lead some to think this document may be found at the local bookstore, they will however search in vain. Kee, as others mentioned previously, argue that Paul’s writings were still bound and influenced by a male dominated culture, and argues that those texts which seem to be “waning” in the ecclesiastical roles of women is evidence that they were produced in his name by a later generation; thus in keeping with the Roman Greco world.[13] He also supports his argument by referencing the Gospel of Thomas and the Letter of Barnabas (non-canonical texts) as to contributing to the climate in which influenced Paul’s writings.[14] He concludes by recommending the church get back to the “inclusiveness” of all people including “sexual boundaries,” so that it will once again be a more “positive movement” in our society.[15]

Bruce Barron argues the egalitarians may have won the day when it comes to women in ministerial positions.[16] He writes had it not been for this passage in 1 Timothy 2, this debate over women in leadership positions would not even exist.[17] He does admit, however, that the passage is clear and that those in the egalitarian camp must reinterpret the passages using what some groups have called “hermeneutical oddities.”[18] Barron suggests that Paul utilizes the creation account, not to convey some timeless principle, but rather to refute a Gnostic myth that had put Eve over Adam in intellectual superiority.[19] He contends that Paul’s writing in Timothy makes much more sense when interpreted against this background; temporary instructions given to Timothy for dealing with a specific struggle in Ephesus.[20] He concludes that from a “sociological” standpoint, women in ministry are not like the evils of slavery or abortion, nor is it focused on any central principle that involves salvation; thus he concludes Paul, in our current day, probably would have adopted a more tolerant view.[21]

[1]Susan Foh, “Why Joanie Can’t Be Johnny” Christianity Today, 8 April 1991, 49.
[2]H. Wayne House, “Paul Women and Contemporary Evangelical Feminism,” Bibliotheca Sacra 136, no. 541 (Jan-March 1979): 44.
[4]Ibid., 45.
[5]Raymond C. Ortlund, Jr. “Male-Female Equality and Male Headship: Genesis 1-3,” in Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood, ed. John Piper and Wayne Grudem (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2006), 83.
[6]Paul W. Felix, Sr. “The Hermeneutics of Evangelical Feminism,” The Master’s Seminary Journal 5, no. 2 (Fall 1994): 170.
[7]Ibid., 175.
[8]S. Lewis Johnson Jr. “Role Distinctions in the Church: Galatians 3:28,” in Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood, ed. John Piper and Wayne Grudem (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2006), 163.
[10]Ibid., 164.
[11]Howard Clark Kee, “The Changing Role Of Women In The Early Christian World,” Theology Today 49, no. 2 (July 1992): 225.
[12]Ibid., 228.
[13]Ibid., 231.
[14]Ibid., 237.
[15]Ibid., 238.
[16]Bruce Barron, “Putting Women In Their Place Putting Women in their Place: 1 Timothy 2 and Evangelical Views of Women in Church Leadership,” Journal of The Evangelical Theological Society 33, no. 4 (December 1990): 451.
[17]Ibid., 452.
[18]Ibid., 453.
[19]Bruce Barron, “Putting Women In Their Place Putting Women in their Place: 1 Timothy 2 and Evangelical Views of Women in Church Leadership,” Journal of The Evangelical Theological Society 33, no. 4 (December 1990): 454.
[20]Ibid., 458.
[21]Ibid., 459.

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