Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Complementarian Hermeneutics: Warning Nuts May Have Been Involved in Manufacture

Complementarian Hermeneutics is the approach to understanding the Bible in respect of church, society, marriage, and family in which male headship and female submission is always the conclusion reached. At the head of the effort is The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. A commenter on Anglican Down Under has drawn my attention to an article by Mark Walton, Relationships and Roles in the New Creation. You should not read this if you have been abused and downtrodden as a woman since it is totally depressing, arguing as it does that male headship is not for this life only but continues in eternity.

Nuts though the idea of eternal male headship and female submission is, it is the stuff of hermeneutics to tackle issues as they arise from all quarters. Here is a key excerpt, some notes below by me (the numbers in the text of the excerpt refer to footnotes that can be followed up by linking to the article:

"Given, then, that relationships between those married on earth will in some sense remain in the new creation, it remains for us to inquire regarding the nature of those relationships. To put it more directly, will husbandly headship and wifely submission still obtain in the new creation? The egalitarian response, of course, is that all traces of headship and submission will have been removed. The evidence, however, argues to the contrary.

First, consider the argument concerning man and woman as originally created. There is virtually universal agreement that man and woman are ontologically equal, equal in essence and worth, because both were created in the image of God. In the ordering of his creation, however, God formed the man first and gave him responsibility and authority as the head of the human race.41 This headship, far from being a result of the fall-feminist and egalitarian claims notwithstanding-is a central feature of the divine created order.42 Because the new creation is, fundamentally, a return to the divine order that prevailed before the fall, it follows that male headship will remain in the new creation.

Second, consider that subsequent to the fall (and not as a consequence of it), the principle of headship and submission in male-female relations is clearly affirmed in the New Testament. Furthermore, nowhere in Scripture is this principle replaced or rescinded.43 Surely within the context of biblical teaching on the church there would be an unambiguous repeal of the principle of male headship if, in fact, its end reflected the divine ideal. Such is simply not found. There is every reason to believe, then, that male headship will continue as the divine order for male-female relationships.

Finally, consider that in the new creation, those who were husbands in the former dispensation will, at last, be unencumbered by the flesh. They will be able, as never before, to genuinely love "as Christ also loved the church" (Eph 5:25). They will, as never before, have the capacity to relate to those they love "in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life" (1 Pet 3:7). Consider, moreover, that in the new creation those who were wives in the former dispensation, will have the mind of Christ, "who, although he existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and . . . humbled himself" (Phil 2:6-8). They will see in the example of Christ, as never before, the beauty and glory that inheres in gracious, selfless submission. With both man and woman thus perfected and transformed, are we to suppose that the new creation will abandon the order established in God's original creation? I think not. Rather, such relations will bring to each true joy, and to God, more glory than before."

The argument here is so flawed it beggars belief that it has been seriously put forward. But it has. It also beggars belief that any responsible Christian body could be so pastorally insensitive to the abuse of women at the hands of men that it would consider it some part of 'good news' to argue publicly for eternal male headship and female submission. But it has.

To the flaws:
(1) there is simply no evidence of marriage on earth continuing in heaven
(2) there will be no 'weaker sex' in heaven so that part of headship which is about protection and care by the 'stronger sex' will be rendered unnecessary
(3) there is absolutely nothing said in Scripture about gender, or sexual difference for resurrected believers in the new creation and therefore absolutely no basis to propose any scheme of 'order' in respect of our new humanity
(4) it is not established that the new creation will be a restoration of the pre-fall creation
(5) even in the case that the new creation is a simple restoration of the pre-fall creation it is not established that the twofold story of creation in Genesis 1 and 2 establishes male headship and female submission as 'the' order for perfect human life on earth, let alone for eternal life
(6) using Philippians 2:6-8 to tell women what their perfect attitude to men might be when that text speaks to the whole church - men and women - about mutual submission
(7) the emphasis in Scripture when speaking about eternal life is on: oneness in Christ (Paul's epistles; Galatians 3:28), being one with the Father and Son (John 17), fellowship with God overflowing with worship to God (Revelation), and, the only talk about marriage in heaven is that between Christ and the church.

Sorry, guys, in that marriage we are all female!

OK - this site does not want to shut down sensible exegetically based arguments for and against how we live our lives on earth - an extraordinary challenge, and one in which various views are held both with sincerity and tenacity, and for which various kinds of evidence can be put forward as to the fruitfulness or otherwise of different ways of ordering church, marriage, family and society. The kinds of arguments, for instance, which underlie the different polities and practices of churches oriented to (say) Rome, Constantinople and Geneva.

But that does not mean putting up with nonsense about the unknown future for which the one thing we can be certain is that 'no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him' (1 Cor 2:9)!


  1. Great Peter

    ...and about this, I think we can get quite bolshy



  2. Sometimes people 'overplay their hand' and that is actually a good thing because it exposes the nonsense which lies within it!

  3. A further fault in his interpretation ... A strong case can be made that in the Genesis creation account (that is, the combined account as it stands in the canonical text) the "adam" first created from the dust, being in the image of God, is neither male nor female. Gender difference is then created out of this first creature in order to solve the problem of loneliness. Both states of humanity are sinless, and male domination only arises as a consequence of sin, an integral part of humanity's cursed rather blessed state.
    Why do some Christians have an instinct to prolong the curse in this life, let alone in the next?

    In my faith, gender equality is part of redemption, to be appropriated here and now. The fly in our hermeneutical ointment is the possibility that at least one of the NT authors did not quite get this!

  4. I wonder which author that was, Howard? [ smile ]

    I cannot answer this question, "Why do some Christians have an instinct to prolong the curse in this life, let alone in the next?"