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.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Homosexuality and Discourse Domains

Sometimes life just gets busy and tiring and then busy and tiring and then 2 months  3 months go by and no posts (not like I've been a very prolific blog writer anyways) ... and then somehow I got more traffic in the last month than any month prior (where did that come from). If you're a new visitor/reader, welcome!

Here in New York State, many Christians are all abuzz with the new law allowing homosexual marriages. This isn't an issue I keep track of very closely though obviously this is an issue that has affected many states in recent years. Recently, I've been involved in some conversations with people on this issue.

It is common among many (but certainly not all) Christian circles to get very worked up over homosexual issues and some I know who consider it, or at least act as if, it is THE paramount sin. And of course it's common to hear some vitriolic ranting - if you don't know what I'm talking about, well, just Google it. 

Yet there are other Christians who, rightly so, try to temper such talk by framing the discussion around the selfless and indiscriminate love that the gospel requires. I would readily side with the second group and would consider that those who call themselves Christians who display such talk would do well to consider how to better live their live in light of the gospel - its call to love all, and its corollary for understanding the depths of all our sins and how much grace has been shown to us. 

What I realized recently is that, while the hatred talk is prompted by political measures, the response as given above easily creeps into the political realm. Statements summarized along the lines of "Who are we to discriminate against homosexuals? We as Christians are to love them." Or, "Homosexuality is no greater sin than any other that we as Christians don't make a fuss about" (e.g. gossip, materialism, etc.). So then, I find  many times that people's judgments about political laws are being framed, positively or negatively, around how we deal with its sinfulness.

I think what's key here is recognition that the government does not exist to enact love but to exact justice and keep order; though, that's not entirely exclusive of acts of love/kindness. This is, in this life at least, an entirely different discourse domain than that of the Christian gospel; its deeply personal, indescriminate, and affectionate love; and the necessary imperative of love for those who live under it.

In discussing politics, I think for Christians the issue of homosexuality needs to be set in light of Genesis 1:26-27 and 2:18-24 where the fundamental building block of humanity, within God's goodness of creation, is based on the social construct of marriage being of one man and one woman and realizing the blessing of recreating and ordering life in that context. To deviate from that to the point of completely eliminating one-half of the construct and thereby effectively erasing the whole relationship is of the gravest level of sins, bringing chaos and destruction to society at one of its deepest levels (read also Romans 1:18-32 and the escalation of sins and God "giving them up to..."). Under this orientation, governments reach a still-deeper level of depravity to a considerable degree when permitting the extension of marriage to that beyond one woman and one man. This level is one rarely attained by the civilizations of the world throughout history and does not bode well for our country and not something to be taken so lightly as to be simply dismissed under the rubric of gospel love.

So, the issue of homosexual marriage should be straightforward. Should the government allow homosexual activity at all? That's a much more complex issue that's not addressed by the considerations above and won't be attempted here.

At the same time, those Christians who find themselves outraged at the government and tempted to slander homosexuals would do well to place themselves back under the gospel perspective and remember that even our most tolerable sins - or "respectable sins" as Jerry Bridges calls them - aren't really any better than homosexuality. (Is it materialism? Anger? Pride?) We personally are called to live in light of the one who loved us so much as to endure humiliation to the point of death and save us from the judgment due us for even our most respectable sins. So love your neighbor, no matter what his/her sexual "preference". And to those who are outraged and shocked that the government should reach such depths: What would you expect in a fallen country that's never been Christian and is less so now than ever before? There shouldn't be any surprises here.

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