Friday, July 15, 2011

John Goldingay on Male Headship

Over at Paul Adam's excellent blog, he recently posted on a no doubt good (though I haven't read it) essay by John Goldingay in his new book Key Questions about Christian Faith: Old Testament Answers. Paul quotes Goldingay:

At the beginning, God did make leadership part of the way the world was created. Leadership was going to be needed if the world was to be subdued and made into a place that worked by peace and order, and the agents made responsible for this leadership were the human beings God created (Gen 1:26-28). In the second creation story, likewise God planted a garden, formed a gardener, put him in the garden to “keep” it (literally, to “serve” it), and then provided him with a co-worker but did not tell Adam to exercise headship over Eve. In both stories, it was humanity as a whole that was commissioned to subdue the world and serve the garden. There was no leadership of one human being over others, only leadership of the world by humanity as a whole….
Or as Jesus put it, “from the beginning of creation” it was not so (Mark 10:6; cf. Matt 19:8). Jesus provides his disciples with a crucial hermeneutical clue for understanding the scriptures. From either Testament you can justify male headship or slavery or war because much of the Bible is written “because of your hardness of heart” (Mark 10:5). Jesus’ particular concern at this point is the legitimacy of divorce. There is no doubt that the scriptures allow it, yet divorce stands in tension with the way God created man and woman (Mark 10:6-9; cf. Gen 1-2). The scriptures are not simply a collection of visionary ideals, though they are that. They are also a collection of timely compromises. (p. 268)

I'm not quite following Goldingay's hermeneutic here. He seems to be flattening "Scripture"  in his defense: 
"There is no doubt that the scriptures allow it, yet divorce stands in tension with the way God created man and woman ..." (emphasis mine)
Not quite. Rather, the Mosaic Law permitted exceptions as given to a spiritually unregenerated people ("hardness of heart"). As in Matthew 5, Jesus as "Lord of the Sabbath" (cf. Mt. 12) sets a new and higher law in contradistinction to the Mosaic law ("It has been said ... but I say ...") yet in continuity with it as being pointed to by it (Mt. 11:13). So I think it unfair to pit Dt. 24:1, quoted in Mt. 5:31 and referenced by the Pharisees in Mt. 19:7/Mk 10:4, against Gen. 1-2 since what Jesus is doing is simply restoring what was lost in the fall and never fully regained under the Mosaic Law.
Concerning leadership roles in Genesis 1-2, I've held a spectrum of convictions on this, varying as I understand Scripture better and better. I used to be a vigorous complimentarian, then slowly (over the course of 2 years of study) shifted to egalitarian (what I'd consider a very cautious one with a few distinct nuances and qualifications), and am currently partly egalitarian, partly complimentarian, wishing I had more time to sort out all the issues I'd like to sort out to understand it better.
After a taking the time recently to examine Gen. 1-3 under a microscope, I have to say I find Goldingay's thoughts quite distant from the text, though not entirely off. He demands too much of the narrative text for claiming God didn't tell Adam to exercise authority over Eve. Of course it doesn't. It's narrative! It can establish truths without God inserting his voice into the narrative.
But Goldingay's point partially stands because the lack of such force in the narrative should caution us against too quickly establishing male headship in the text. Yet the issue of male headship is not entirely lacking either:
1) Adam is created first and Eve then from Adam. This doesn't really have anything to do with primogenitor as many complementarians claim but does make a difference in the flow of the text.
2) This can be seen, especially, I think, in the Hebrew text from Genesis 2:5-17 even to vv. 18-23 in the use of the word Man, or adam in Hebrew. In 1:27 God creates adam (singular) to be "male and female". When you get to 2:5 and following there is no reason to take adam to be the male given everything prior. (Some have claimed that the fact that the man was not "working the ground" in 2:5 has to be a reference to the male half of adam but I think that's a stretch; though note 3:17-19) Different translations vary as to when they shift from translating adam as "man" to the proper name "Adam". But there's no cue to the reader until 2:22 that the adam is the male half when we read that the "woman" was taken from him. "Man" in 2:23 is the first time the Hebrew word for "man" appears that can also refer to "husband". 
The point of all of this is that everything purposed to "man" prior to woman's creation (the tree eating command, priestly role of man tending God's garden-temple, etc.) also holds for woman even though she was not yet created. The woman then being created from man is a "helper" for these tasks.

3) But this point didn't settle it for me until I read Gen. 3. The woman is the one to take of the fruit first - she sins first. She knew the eating-of-the-tree command applied to her too (v. 3). But God addresses the man/male first (v. 9) and, most significantly, places the onus of violating the command on Adam in 3:17ff, while Eve receives no such chiding.

4) So then, it seems to me that the narrative indicates that the male part of humanity seems to be representative of humanity in a way that the female half isn't. This means at minimum that there is "headship" of a sort, perhaps even if not defined in the typical complimentarian sense.

5) And I have to insert that I think there is little biblical backing to the idea of headship in Genesis 1-3 items like a) the naming of Eve by Adam, b) that Eve sinned primarily by not submitting to her husband, and other complimentarian arguments.
But I've slowly done something in this discussion: shift from talk of leadership to headship/representative. In all this I think leadership is a sticky word. Adam is never said to "exercise" anything over Eve yet a certain responsibility is placed on him that is lacking with Eve. I'm not really sure where to go from here except that I think that with Christ-submission any "leadership" so defined perhaps shifts to something we'd hardly recognize.

In any case, care does need to be taken on the egalitarian side because whether it's a part of creation or not, even the best Christian is severely fallen. And complimentarians need to take care because any leadership spoken of in Genesis 1-3, Ephesians 5, 1 Peter 3, etc. is not required to be established by the man, but willingly submitted to by the woman.

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