Thursday, January 12, 2012

Biblical manhood and womanhood

I’ve been asked to comment on this:

A few preliminaries:

I haven’t bothered to keep up with the egalitarian/complementarian debate. I’ve studied the issue in-depth, but it seemed to me that both sides were recycling the same moves and countermoves, so that became a point of diminishing returns. Having arrived at my own position, I moved on to other things. So, for instance, I haven’t read every issue of the CBMW journal. As such I may have missed some developments.

It’s possible that Burleson’s reaction is influenced by personal experience. Maybe something in his upbringing, or Southern culture, or the SBC. Perhaps there are some horror stories in the back of his mind where men abuse male headship.
Because I accept the truth of the Bible, I must accept that the invisible, immortal and omnipotent God has female characteristics, and that females were created in the image of God to be co-regents, co-equals, and co-leaders with men over creation.
Several problems, of which I’ll state three for now:

i) Burleson seems to be assuming that coregency entails coequality. If so, he needs to argue for that inference. It doesn’t follow that coregents have the same authority. For instance, you have royal couples in the Bible, but that doesn’t mean kings and queens wield the same authority.

ii) Gen 1 isn’t discussing the authority of man and woman in relation to each other, but in relation to the subhuman order.

iii) Authority is a hierarchical concept. A superior/subordinate relationship. Subordinates are unequal to their leaders. So there’s a tension between Burleson’s egalitarianism and his hierarchicalism.
In Isaiah 46:3 God says, "Listen to Me, O house of Jacob, and all the remnant of the house of Israel, you who have been borne by Me from birth and have been carried from My womb."

Later in Isaiah, God says to His people: "Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!" (Isaiah 49:15).
This is highly anthropomorphic imagery. So you can’t directly apply anthropomorphic ascriptions to the nature of God. There’s an intervening step. Like any analogy, especially a figurative analogy, you must isolate and identify the literal point of commonality. What is the abstract truth that this concrete image illustrates? Is gender part of the intended analogy, or something more generic?

Incidentally, the same holds truth for male anthropomorphisms.
In Genesis 1:27 it is said, "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them." The male and the female were created by God. The male and the female both bear the image of God. The male and the female are both included in the Hebrew word adam (man) - "So God created adam ... He created them." Notice what God says about them ... "and let them rule.…” The male and the female were both designed to rule. Men and women are created by God in His image as co-regents of the world He created. Any system, any society, any organization that places one gender as an authority over the other, whether it be patriarchal or matriarchal in nature, is a direct violation of the command and design of the Creator God. Why can women rule in God's creation? Why can women lead in God's creation? Why can women be equal to men in God's creation? Women are created in the image of God, just like men, and when the omnipotent, sovereign and invisible Creator God determined to create man in His image, He created a male and a female, reflecting the very nature of God Himself. This is why there is nothing wrong with considering God as both Father and Mother, as the invisible and all-powerful Ruler of the universe who reflects Himself in both males and females--God is Spirit and the perfections of each gender are seen in God.
I’ve already commented on some problems with this inference. Here are two others:

i) What’s the relationship of Gen 1 to Gen 3? When is Gen 1:26-28 fulfilled? Is this protological or eschatological? Does the Fall disrupt this prospect? Does its realization await a postlapsarian restoration of some sort?

ii) What’s the relationship of Gen 1 to Gen 2? Gen 2 is arguably epexegetical in relation to Gen 1. In my opinion, the relation between Gen 1 and Gen 1 reflects a synoptic/resumptive-expansive technique, where Gen 2 resumes and explicates a part of what’s outlined in Gen 1. In particular, it provides more detail about man and woman.

So it’s exegetically illicit for Burleson to compartmentalize Gen 1 to the exclusion of Gen 2.
George Kwami Kumi, Ph.D. is an Akan Ghanaian Christian and the vicar general of the Diocese of Sunyani, Africa. Dr. Kumi says that the affectionate term Father-Mother God is used among his native people to denote the invisible God of the Bible.
Of course, we could chalk that up to syncretism.
The liberal scholar is the one who denies that both men and women are created in the image of God. Some liberal scholars are self-proclaimed conservative scholars who twist the Scriptures to purport that only man is created in God's image and the woman is the glory of man, not God. Sound strange? To me it sure does. Let me give you an example of this kind of teaching. Dr. Bruce Ware, in a long and bizarre article entitled Male and Female Complementarity and the Image of God writes, "I propose that it may be best to understand the original creation of male and female as one in which the male was made image of God first, in an unmediated fashion, as God formed him from the dust of the ground, while the female was made image of God second, in a mediated fashion, as God chose, not more earth, but the very rib of Adam ... The theology of this is clear ... Genesis 2 intends for us to understand the formation of the woman as both fully like the man in his humanity, while attributing the derivation of her very nature to God's formation of her, not from common dust of the ground, but specifically from the rib of Adam, and so from the man. Just as the man, created directly by God is the image and glory of God, so the woman, created out of the man, has her glory through the man. This much is clear: as God chose to create her, the woman was not formed to be the human that she is apart from the man but only through the man. Does it not stand to reason, then, that her humanity, including her being the image of God, occurs as God forms her from the man as "the glory of the man"? (emphasis mine).
i) But as any Biblically literate reader can see, even from the excerpt that Burleson quotes, Ware’s argument is basically an interpretive paraphrase of Gen 2 and 1 Cor 11. So there’s nothing prima facie “liberal” about Ware’s argument.

ii) However, I’m less interested in exegeting Ware than in exegeting Scripture. To put it briefly, one argument which complementarians use is to start with 1 Cor 11 and work back through Paul’s literary allusions. Paul filters Gen 1 through Gen 2 as well as Ps 8.

Gen 2 glosses Gen 1. Ps 8 contributes the “glory” motif. Ps 8 also plays into Paul’s honor/shame dialectic.

Paul doesn’t deny that women bear the image of God. But one question is how the image of God is transferred.

Adam receives it directly from God (via immediate creation), Eve receives it from Adam (via mediate creation), while subsequent men and women receive the image of God directly from our parents, indirectly from Adam and Eve–and ultimately from God, via the providential process which the Creator initiated.

Adam originates from God, via the ground. Eve orginates from God, via Adam. The rest of us originate from our parents.

The imago Dei is both patrilineal and matrilineal, inasmuch as mother and father conjunctly transmit the image of God to their sons and daughters through procreation. It’s no more demeaning to women to say Eve derives the imago Dei from Adam than to say men derive the imago Dei from their parents–both male and female.

Even if you think Eve receives the imago Dei straight from God, that’s hardly relevant to Adam’s posterity.

iii) 1 Cor 11 teaches male headship, at least in marriage. At the same time it also entitles women to pray and “prophesy” in public worship. So there’s a balance, but it’s not symmetrical.
I think this kind of teaching, promoted as the norm at the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, should be called out for what it is. It is liberal theology. It is a denial of the nature of God and the authority of Scripture. From this strange doctrine arise toxic problems within Christian churches and homes. For example, if the male (not the female) is created in the image of God in an unmediated fashion, and the female bears God's image only through the male, then females will be taught that their identity will only be found in a man, not God, and thus ...
Of course, complementarians have additional prooftexts for their position, viz. Eph 5, 1 Cor 14, Col 3, 1 Tim 2, 1 Pet 3. Burleson is aware of that, and he no doubt has equalitarian counter interpretations. My point is that he acts as though complementarians simply defy the witness of Scripture. Frankly, that’s slanderous.
(1). Females should always be under a 'protective covering' of a man, either a father or a husband just as men need God's protective covering.
He doesn’t say which complementarians make that claim, or how they ground it. So I’m not quite sure how to respond.

For instance, OT fathers could nullify an unmarried daughter’s contractual agreement. However, we have to be careful not to overextend that example:

For one thing, girls were generally married off shortly after puberty. So this concerns the authority of a father over a single, pubescent girl who’s living at home. That’s hardly analogous to, say, a twenty-something single woman who has a job and lives away from home.
(2). Females should never lead, rule or govern anything but only serve and support the males who were designed to rule as God rules.
That’s a rule of thumb. But rules deal with generalities, not exceptions. For an exception, take the case of Abigail (1 Sam 25).
(3). Females should be subordinate to the authority of men in the same manner Jesus is eternally subordinate to the authority of God the Father, and even if that authority is abusive at times, the woman should always remain compliant and submissive.
i) As I’ve discussed elsewhere, I reject Nicene subordination. And I think it’s a mistake for complementarians to ground gender roles in the Godhead. But I won’t repeat myself here.

ii) No, a wife shouldn’t submit to abusive authority.
(4). Females should always find their identity and self-worth in the men that God has given to them (fathers and husbands), with home-making and child-rearing being their focus and never working toward any career or identity outside the man's home.
i) That’s overstated. They should find their identity and self-worth in Christ.

ii) Motherhood doesn’t mean finding your “identity and self-worth” in your husband. For motherhood involve a degree of personal fulfillment in your children–sons and daughters.

iii) It isn’t just the “man’s” home.

iv) It’s possible for stay-at-home moms to have a “career” or “identity” outside the home. For instance, gifted women can be writers.

v) We should also keep in mind that the nuclear family is fairly anomalous socioeconomic development in human history. Throughout most of human history, and in many parts of the world today, extended/intergenerational families living under the one roof are/were the norm. Likewise, you had tribes and clans that lived in community.

So we need to avoid making iconic images of the middle class family in the Eisenhower era (e.g. Father Knows Best; My Three Sons) the paradigm.
Therefore, I praise God when a gifted woman leads, teaches, prays or takes a position of authority in the presence of men.
That jumbles together a number of things that aren’t interchangeable. If, say, a woman writes a Bible commentary (e.g. Karen Jobes), she’s teaching male readers. But that’s not an authoritarian exercise.


  1. "Of course, complementarians have additional prooftexts for their position, viz. Eph 5, 1 Cor 14, 1 Tim 2. Burleson is aware of that, and he no doubt has equalitarian counter interpretations. My point is that he acts as though complementarians simply defy the witness of Scripture. Frankly, that’s slanderous."

    An egalitarian who slanders complementarians? Not a surprise.

  2. Hey Steve,

    Sorry for the OT comment, but I cannot find a way to contact you on the site. Would you be so kind as to recommend some resources for the issues of inerrancy, infallibility, etc. of the Bible. I am not looking for things on textual criticism but something apologetic on the internal and external evidences for these in Scripture. I am looking for somehting that might be helpful particularly to new believers who are facing the objections to the Bible on the street or in the classroom. Thanks for any help you can give.

  3. Gleason Archer, New International Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (Zondervan 2001)

    Craig Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (IVP; 2nd ed., 2007).

    V. Philips Long, The Art of Biblical History (Zondervan 1994).

    Vern Poythress, Inerrancy and Worldview (Crossway 2012).

    Robert Stein, Interpreting Puzzling Texts in the New Testament (Baker, 1997)

  4. TAM,

    Your comment is off-topic. Obviously he wasn't asking about atheist literature.

    And as far as that goes, I've posted reviews of Ehrman.
    Likewise, I've frequently critiqued Price and Avalos. You're way behind the curve.

  5. Regarding the metaphors in Isaiah, it's one thing to use a metaphor to explain and another to say that the metaphor is God's self-identity.

    There is no justification to use the metaphors to call the first person of God "Father-Mother" where the scriptures don't. The scriptures, and the words of Christ, refer to Him only as "Father". We should likewise. It's disingenuous at best, and probably self-deceptive, to use a high view of the scriptures to argue for a low-view departure from the scriptures.