An Accidental Misrepresentation?

An article in CT the other day told the story of a woman’s acceptance of complementarian gender roles. She said,

I found a defense for the holy beauty of submission when I hadn’t gone looking for it. Jesus Christ, obedient to his Father, went willingly to his death—for me. Was I to argue against the disposition that saved me? Running, I was caught.

The assumption seems to be that egalitarians are committed to arguing against submission in all its forms. But they are not. They like submission so much that they implore both men and women to submit to one another mutually! Nor do egalitarians find submission to pastoral leadership, the governing authorities, or the requirements of one’s employer to be ethically problematic (unless they are abusive). Nor do they believe inequality is intrinsically bad. They can fully agree with the conclusion of the following argument Alex Pruss gives:

  1. There is nothing intrinsically bad in heaven.

  2. There is inequality in heaven (God is in heaven and humans are in heaven, and there is infinite inequality there).

  3. So, inequality is not intrinsically bad.

So the article, I think, misrepresents egalitarians. What they actually believe is that maleness neither qualifies one for authority, nor does femaleness disqualify one for authority. That is to say, roles of authority and subordination that are ontologically grounded in maleness and femaleness do not exist; therefore patriarchy is to be rejected. It does not follow from this, however, that there are no ontologically grounded hierarchies; Jesus is worthy of obedience precisely because he is the Son of God. Part of that obedience is imitation; he “did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant.” If the greatest possible being can give up his divine rights, then so can men who (wrongly) believe they have patriarchal rights over their wives. In any case, the Christian gospel undermines patriarchy.

A Reply to Denny Burk on the Centrality of Complementarianism

There has been some discussion about why organizations like Together for the Gospel and The Gospel Coalition include a complementarian clause in their confessional statements (see their respective videos here and here). Carl Trueman speaks for many when he says he is confused by this emphasis on gender roles. He writes,

[W]hy is the complementarian/egalitarian debate such a significant bone of contention in parachurch cobelligerent organisations whose stated purpose is to set aside issues which divide at a church level but which do not seem to impact directly upon the gospel?   Why, for instance, is this issue of more importance than, say, differences over baptism or understandings of the Lord’s Supper?  Historically and confessionally, those have been the issues that divide, so it is strange to see the adjective ‘confessional’ applied to movements which actually sideline the very doctrinal differences which made Protestant confessions necessary in the first place.

This is not a new question, however; and Denny Burk gives an answer in the form of a metaphor:

Every year I visit my dermatologist for a check-up. In those examinations, he looks at everything growing on or under my skin to see if there is anything that needs to be removed. Every year, he observes a number of moles, skin tags, and other unseemly blemishes. For aesthetic reasons, he’ll sometimes suggest that I have one or more of these blemishes removed—a suggestion that I typically refuse. On two occasions, however, my doctor has identified “blemishes” that he insisted must be removed because they were precancerous. I rely on the doctor to distinguish the benign blemishes from those that will develop into something that is malignant. Neither type of blemish will kill me. But what grows out of the latter type of blemish can indeed end my life.

Differences over secondary theological issues are like those blemishes. By themselves, they are merely theological blemishes that do not necessarily threaten the central issues of the gospel. Like those blemishes, however, some of them have the potential to turn into a theological cancer. Some secondary issues have more deadly potential than others, and we all have an obligation to be able to distinguish the former from the latter.

Two reasons are given to explain why egalitarianism is likened to a cancerous mole. First, there is what I call the tortuous gymnastics objection as articulated by Lig Duncan:

The denial of complementarianism undermines the church’s practical embrace of the authority of Scripture (thus eventually and inevitably harming the church’s witness to the Gospel). The gymnastics required to get from “I do not allow a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man,” in the Bible, to “I do allow a woman to teach and to exercise authority over a man” in the actual practice of the local church, are devastating to the functional authority of the Scripture in the life of the people of God.

The second is the “new path to liberalism” argument as stated by Mark Dever (and more precisely by Wayne Grudem):

Dear reader, you may not agree with me on this.  And I don’t desire to be right in my fears.  But it seems to me and others (many who are younger than myself) that this issue of egalitarianism and complementarianism is increasingly acting as the watershed distinguishing those who will accomodate [sic] Scripture to culture, and those who will attempt to shape culture by Scripture.  You may disagree, but this is our honest concern before God.  It is no lack of charity, nor honesty.  It is no desire for power or tradition for tradition’s sake.  It is our sober conclusion from observing the last 50 years.

I thinks this a great discussion and I left this response in the comments of Denny’s post:


Thanks for this post. Some thoughts in response. First the Duncan quote:

“The gymnastics required to get from ‘I do not allow a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man,’ in the Bible, to ‘I do allow a woman to teach and to exercise authority over a man’ in the actual practice of the local church, are devastating to the functional authority of the Scripture in the life of the people of God.”

I’ve never understood why the tortuous “gymnastics” charge picks out egalitarians and not others. Are not the same broad principles applied to Jesus’s command “do not to resist an evil person (Matt 5:39) such that, when considering cases like rape, the victim is allowed “to resist an evil person?” The point is there is a time and place where this instruction holds and where it does not. Likewise, as egalitarians tend to read Paul’s restrictive passages, the purpose of the restrictions are explained as taking into account uneducated and contentious women. Again, we might disagree about this, but the authority of Scripture is not at stake; rather, it is our *interpretation* of Scripture. Just because someone holds a more expansive range of cases where an imperative applies does not mean one holds a stronger view of the authority of Scripture. We would not grant that to a hardcore pacifist; why should we grant this to Duncan? No good reason I can see.

Second, I think the sort of arguments which conclude “egalitarianism is a new path to liberalism” are flawed. They represent the so-called “track record” like this:

[1] If one holds to egalitarianism, then one (probably) undermines the authority of Scripture.
[2] If one undermines the authority of Scripture, then one is (probably) on a path to liberalism.
[3] There are people who hold to egalitarianism.
[4] Therefore, there are people who are (probably) on the path to liberalism.

Call this THE ARGUMENT. In order for THE ARGUMENT to go through, one has to show that premise [1] is true, that is, that holding to egalitarianism is a *causal factor* that, at least, increases the likelihood of undermining the authority of Scripture. But I think this is far from clear in light of the sizable contingent of scholars who truly hold to the authority of Scripture AND egalitarianism.

Obviously, holding to egalitarianism isn’t a sufficient condition for undermining the authority of Scripture (a la Roger Nicole). And of course, neither it is necessary. One can deny the authority of Scripture while rejecting egalitarian gender roles. Plenty of conservative Muslims and Jews do just that. Therefore, I think THE ARGUMENT would be better stated like this:

[1] If one does not hold to the authority of Scripture, then one is (probably) on a path to liberalism.
[2] If one is on a path to liberalism, then one (probably) holds to egalitarian gender roles.
[3] There are people who do not hold to the authority of Scripture.
[4] Therefore, there are people who (probably) hold to egalitarian gender roles.

Of course, evangelical egalitarians would agree with this argument, because the determinative issue is whether one holds to biblical authority–not egalitarian gender roles.

William Webb’s Appendix B: The Traditional Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:14

Complementarians typically appeal to church history to buttress their view that Christians have always believed that women were “equal in being, but different” in role. This is suspicious considering what people men have taught about women, particularly from 1 Timothy 2:14. William Webb’s book Slaves, Women and Homosexuals has the following quotes in an appendix demonstrating that in reality the Christians believed women were inferior in their being, and therefore inferior in their role.

Didymus the Blind (313-398): “Being strong [i.e. stronger that the woman who was weak under Satan’s deception], the man is more able than the woman to fight and defend himself against the trickery of the adversary, he would not (and will not) let himself be drawn into seduction like Eve.”

John Chrysostom (347-407): “For thus they will show submission by their silence. For the sex is naturally somewhat talkative: and for this reason he restrains them on all sides… “The woman [Eve] taught once, and ruined all. On this account therefore he saith, let her not teach. But what is it to other women, that she suffered this? It certainly concerns them; for the sex is weak and fickle, and he is speaking of the sex collectively.”

Augustine (354-430): “And [Satan] first tried his deceit upon the woman, making his assault up on the weaker part of that human alliance, that he might gradually gain the whole, and not supposing that the man would readily give ear to him, or be deceived, but that he might yield to the error of the woman…. For not without significance did the apostle say, ‘And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.'”

Epiphanius (365-403): “The female sex is easily mistaken, fallible, and poor in intelligence. It is apparent that through women the devil has vomited this forth. As previously the teaching associated with Quintilla, Maximilla, and Priscilla was utterly ridiculous, so also is this one…. Come now, servants of God, let us put on a manly mind and disperse the mania of these women. The whole of this deception is female; the disease comes from Eve who was long ago deceived.”

Humbert de Romans (1194-1277): “In connection with the preacher’s person, we should notice that he must be of male sex. ‘I do not permit a woman to teach’ (1 Tim. 2:12). There are four reasons for this: first lack of understanding, because a man is more likely to have understanding than a woman.

Bonaventure (1217-1274): “The devil, envious of man, assumed the form of a serpent and addressed the woman…. By this temptation, sought to bring about the fall of the weaker woman, so that through her he might then overthrow the stronger sex….But it was by the devil’s own cunning that he approached the woman first. It is easier to overcome the weak. A clever enemy always attacks a stronghold at its weakest point.”

Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274): “The human group would have lacked the benefit of order had some of its members not been governed by others who were wiser. Such is the subjection in which woman is by nature subordinate to man, because the power of rational discernment is by nature stronger in man…. St. Paul says ‘that women should keep silence in the Churches,’ and ‘I permit no woman to teach or have authority over men.’ [1 Tim. 2:12] But this especially touches on the grace of speech. Accordingly that grace [speaking publicly to the whole church] does not pertain to women… because generally speaking women are not perfected in wisdom so as to be fit to be entrusted with public teaching.

Erasmus (1466-1536): “Eve was deceived first when, believing the serpent and beguiled by the enticement of the fruit, she disregarded God’s command. The man could not have been taken in either by the serpent’s promises or by the allure of the fruit; only love for his wife drew him into a ruinous compliance.

Martin Luther (1514-1572): “Paul thus proved that by divine and human right Adam is the master of the woman. That is, it was not Adam who went astray. Therefore, there was greater wisdom in Adam that in the woman. Where this occurs, there is the greater authority…. He [Adam] persevered in his dominion over the serpent, which did not attack him but rather attacked the weaker vessel… just as he does today.”

John Knox(1514-1572): And first, where I affirm the empire of a woman to be a thing repugnant to nature, I mean not only that God, by the order of his creation, has spoiled woman of authority and dominion, but also that man has seen, proved, and pronounced just causes why it should be…. For who can deny but it is repugnant to nature, that the blind shall be appointed to lead and conduct such as do see? That the weak, the sick, and impotent persons shall nourish and keep the whole and strong? And finally, that the foolish, mad, and frenetic shall govern the discreet, and give counsel to such as be sober of mind? And such be all women, compared unto man in bearing of authority…. I except such as God, by singular privilege, and for certain causes known only to himself, has exempted from the common rank of women, and do speak of women as nature and experience do this day declare them. Nature, I say, does paint them forth to be weak, frail, impatient, feeble, and foolish; and experience has declared them to be inconstant, variable, cruel, lacking the spirit of counsel and regiment. And these notable faults have men in all ages espied in that kind, for the which not only they have removed women from rule and authority, but also some have thought that men subject to the counsel or empire of their wives were unworthy of public office.

F.F. Bruce on Galatians 3:28

I’ve always appreciated F.F. Bruce’s comments on Galatians 3:28

W.A. Meeks thinks that Paul is here quoting a ‘baptismal reunification formula’ which envisaged the restoration of a pristine androgynous image. But Paul himself is not concerned with any such fantasy; he is concerned with practical church life in which men and women (like Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free persons) are here and now fellow-members. It is not their distinctiveness, but their inequality of religious role, that is abolished ‘in Christ Jesus.’

Whereas Paul’s ban on discrimination on racial or social grounds has been fairly widely accepted au pied de la lettre, there has been a tendency to restrict the degree to which ‘there is “male and female.”‘ Thus it has been argued that these words relate only to the common access of men and women to baptism, with its introduction to their new existence ‘in Christ.’ True, Paul may have had in mind that circumcision involved a form of discrimination between men and women which was removed when circumcision was demoted from its position as religious law, whereas baptism was open to both sexes indiscriminately. But the denial of discrimination which is sacramentally affirmed in baptism holds good for the new existence ‘in Christ’ in its entirety. No more restriction is implied in Paul’s equalizing of the status of male and female in Christ than in his equalizing of the status of Jew and Gentile, or of slave and free person. If in ordinary life existence in Christ is manifest openly in church fellowship, then if a Gentile may exercise spiritual leadership in church as freely as a Jew, or a slave as freely as a citizen, why not a woman as freely as a man?

In other spheres, in deed, the distinction which ceased to be relevant in the church fellowship might continue to be observed. In Roman law the distinction between slave and free person remained;  in the family the cooperation of husband and wife, or father and mother, depend (as it still does) on the distinction between them. But superiority and inferiority of status or esteem could have no place ithe society whose Founder laid it down that among his followers ‘whoever would be first … must be slave of all’ (Mk. 10:44).

How Paul allowed the principle of ‘no “male and female”‘ to operate in practice may be seen, for example, in his appreciation of the Philippian women who ‘labored side by side’ with him in the gospel (Phil 4:3) or his recognition of the right of women to pray and prophesy in church–the veil being the symbol of their authority… Paul states the basic principle here; if restrictions on it are found elsewhere in the Pauline corpus, as in 1 Cor 14:34f or 1 Tim 2:11f., they are to be understood in relation to Gal. 3:28, and not vice versa. Attempts to find canon law in Paul, or base canon law on Paul, should be forestalled by a consideration of Paul’s probable reaction to the very idea of canon law.

NIGTC, 1982: 189-90.

Phil Gons on the McCall/Yandell Argument and My Response

Phil Gons has a good post detailing a response to the McCall/Yandell argument against necessary role subordination in the Trinity:

Here’s their argument:

  1. If the Son is eternally subordinate to the Father in all possible worlds, then the Son is necessarily subordinate to the Father.
  2. If the Son is necessarily subordinate to the Father, then the Son is essentially subordinate to the Father.
  3. Thus, the Son, as essentially subordinate to the Father, is of a different essence or nature than the Father, which entails a denial of homoousion.

My first line of response is to show that this argument can be equally applied to any eternal difference between the Father and the Son. Let’s take the Son’s property of sonship and apply their own argument to it.

  1. If the Son is eternally the Son and the Father is eternally not the Son in all possible worlds, then the Son is necessarily the Son and the Father is necessarily not the Son.
  2. If the Son is necessarily the Son and the Father is necessarily not the Son, then the Son is essentially the Son and the Father is essentially not the Son.
  3. Thus, the Son, as essentially the Son, and the Father, as essentially not the Son, are of a different essence or nature, which entails a denial of homoousion.

The result of extending the argument this way is that it demonstrates—assuming the legitimacy of the argument—that there can be no eternal difference of any kind without denying homoousion. But Yandell himself affirmed in the debate that the Son alone has the property of being the Son, and the Father alone the property of being the Father, and the Spirit alone the property of being the Spirit. Yet, according to his own argument, he must deny homoousion because these eternal differences constitute necessary differences, which constitute essential differences.

Yandell and McCall are attempting to affirm three propositions that simply cannot stand together. Here are the three incompatible propositions:

  1. The argument is valid.
  2. There are eternal differences among the three persons of the Trinity.
  3. The Father and the Son are homoousios.

If they wish to maintain their claim to rationality, they must either deny (1) the legitimacy of the argument, (2) that the Son alone has the property of being the Son, etc. (which amounts to a denial of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity), (3) the doctrine of homoousion, or (4) some combination of the three. At least one of these has to go. All three cannot coexist.

I thought this was a good argument. But after studying some metaphysics (years later) I left this comment:

I came across this post just after the debate, and I thought your raised a good argument against McCall and Yandell. Even though I was skeptical of it, I could not put my finger on what I thought was wrong with it. Now I am thinking I have an account of what is wrong with it. You write,

“My first line of response is to show that this argument can be equally applied to any eternal difference between the Father and the Son.”

I think there is a good reason to think it is false that this argument can be applied to any necessary difference between the Father and the Son. The property of “sonship” as explained by your counter argument amounts to this: “the Son is necessarily the Son and the Father is necessarily not the Son.” The first conjunct, “the Son is necessarily the Son” is the exemplification of self-identity: necessarily, everything is identical with itself. The Son has this property as does the Father as does every concrete particular. Yet such a property is what philosophers have recognized as an ‘impure property’—that is, a property that presupposes the notion of a concrete particular! To say the Son has the property of being identical with the Son and the Father as having the property of being identical with the Father is to assert a trivial truth that elucidates nothing about their constituent ontologies. What McCall and Yandell are worried about is a pure property, one that does not presuppose a concrete particular, distinguishing the Father and Son’s constituent nature. If the Father has the property of being in authority, and the Son qualitatively lacks this property, then neither the Father nor the Son is identical in their constituent ontologies.

One might try to wriggle out of this problem by claiming that the ‘being in authority’ property is not a constituent of the divine nature; rather, it is only a constituent of the Father’s personal nature. But there is good reason to doubt this as such a property seems to be a necessary condition of the divine attribute of sovereignty. One is sovereign if and only if one has the ability to control all things and the right to govern all things. It is very plausible to envisage the right to govern all things as exemplifying the property of being in authority, something the Father has that the Son lacks.

This distinction helps explain how there is compatibility between the three propositions. First, the argument is valid. There is no logical fallacy or false inference occurring between the premises. Second, the property of self-identity, while not sufficient to elucidate the constituent nature of a concrete particular, is sufficient for naming a difference between at least two concrete particulars, that is the Father and Son. Third, pure properties, those that make up the constituent nature of a concrete particular without depending on a concrete particular, make up identical sets of properties that are both necessary and sufficient for the divine nature of the Father and Son, thus both are homoousios

What do you think?

Read the whole thing to see Gons’s response.

Gender Bias in the NLT

From here:

    Most English translations of 1 Timothy 3:1-6 give the impression that these qualifications only refer to and apply to men. Yet in reality, this passage is remarkable gender neutral in the Greek. The NLT gives the most biased English translation of this passage.

    This is a trustworthy saying: “If someone aspires to be an elder, he desires an honorable position.” So an elder must be a man whose life is above reproach . . . 1 Timothy 3:1-2a (NLT, 2007, my emphasis)

    The NLT translators have taken an enormous liberty with their version of verse 2 and inserted the phrase “an elder must be a man”. This phrase simply does not appear in any Greek manuscript. It is a fabrication.

    Their bias against women church leaders is so strong that they have added a phrase to assert their opinion; even though that opinion is not stated in any manuscripts or faithful translations of the Bible.

It’s true. The word for ‘man’ is generic and universal.

CBMW and T4G: Is Male Headship Quasi-Essential?

A comment I read on another blog makes an insightful observation:

As I see it, CBMW and many in my own theological camp are in somewhat of a bind. They know that the complementarian/egalitarian debate can’t be cast as a first-order, gospel-or-die issue, but yet they don’t want people to walk away thinking that it’s simply a garden variety 2nd order issue where you believe what you want and I’ll believe what I want. Hence, you find attempts to craft a space for complementarianism that sits somewhere between a first order (i.e. gospel) and a second order issue. You can see the same thing in Article XVI of the T4G Affirmation and Denial Statement. Article XVI’s affirmation doesn’t say that complementarianism equals the gospel, but insists that it is a “testimony to the gospel” — yet there’s no explanation what the statement means by this phrase. Moreover, the last sentence of Article XVI indicates that a church can’t ”confuse” these issues (and relax its complementarian stance) without “damaging its witness to the gospel.” Note first that there’s no definition of what ‘confuse’ means here, and there’s also no suggestion as to which interpretive standard is being used to measure what would constitute said ‘confusion’. As with the affirmation, the denial in Article XVI hasn’t said that complementarianism and the gospel are one and the same, but it has nonetheless intimated that there’s a very, very thin line separating the two. It’s at best a quasi-argument.

Manfred T. Brauch on Kaphale (head)

Manfred T. Brauch’s Abusing Scripture: The Consequences of Misreading the Bible has one of the best discussions of the case for reading kaphale (head) as meaning “source” or “origin” over and against “authority.”

This much neglected book deserves a wider reading, not just for its interpretations of gender texts, but for its common sense in reading the Bible as a whole.

Omelianchuk v. Cowan

Steven Cowan and I go toe to toe in the latest edition of Philosophia Christi over whether complementarianism is incoherent.

In a recent article Cowan defended the claim that female subordination and male authority are merely functional differences. Drawing upon insights from Natural Law, I argue that complementarianism typically speaks of these functions as proper functions of male and female designs, thus making men and women metaphysically unequal in being. Furthermore, I maintain that the function serving as a means to an end is less valuable than the function having authority to direct the end. Hence, Cowan fails to defeat the objection that the claim that women are equal to men in being, but subordinate in role, is incoherent.

In reply, Cowan says that my case misses the point of certain aspects of his argument, that it begs the main question, and that it depends upon an unclear notion of metaphysical inferiority.

Confessions of a Cage Fighter

And perhaps this is the main reason that I bristle when Driscoll begins to opine on MMA, because he is the type of fan that fighters despise. If you go to any live event, you will know why: the fans are there for blood. Well, more accurately, they are there to get drunk, whistle at ring-card girls, and bullshit about why they would fight if some circumstance outside of their control were different. But mainly, they are there to see blood. If you can count on fans yelling anything during a fight, it is the cry, “Elbow him! Elbow him!” An elbow that is delivered properly can be much more destructive than a fist. One well-timed elbow can end a fight—or a career. By their cries, many fans make it clear that they are there for one reason: to see someone get hurt.

Read the whole thing.