Monday, September 23, 2013

My response to Haller and Black

I very much appreciate the Haller-Black debate in the comments to the previous post, themselves a continuation of debate on ADU, and a contribution to the wider debate about the question of gender and marriage both sub specie aeternitas and from the perspective of this life.

In trying to get to grips both with Bryden Black's argument (which I unashamedly lean towards) and Tobias Haller's argument (which I unhesitatingly respect as reasonable and fair) I shall try to be fair!

Useful for below:

'So God created adam in his image,
in the image of God he created him,
male and female he created them.' Genesis 1:27

'There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.' Galatians 3:28

'For a man ought not to have his head veiled, since he is the image and reflection [glory] of God, but woman is the reflection [glory] of man.' 1 Corinthians 11:8

'For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Saviour ... For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church. Each of you should love his wife as himself, and a wife should respect her husband.' Ephesians 5:23, 31-33

A few reflections (some of which I think I have already made inter alia among previous comments).

1. I think it an error to call up the interpretation of the ancients on Genesis 1:27 (Haller) to rebut a (so-argued) novel reading of Genesis 1:27 (Black) in the context of arguing for a novel interpretation of marriage (Haller). It is quite fair and reasonable that a review of the biblical material on marriage towards adopting same sex marriage is a free review of all material, including the possibility that a new reading of Genesis 1:27 counts against that adoption.

2. Although it took me a while to understand the force of Tobias' argument that the third line of the three line statement about creation imago dei in Genesis 1:27 is in 'opposition' rather than 'apposition' to the two previous lines,  I understand him to be arguing that God created adam in God's image but did not create humanity divided into the sexes in God's image. That is, what we 'image' is neither the diversity of God through being diversely gendered nor the creativity of God through being humanity-enabled-to-be-procreative-by-being-male-and-female. A strong argument which claims properly that it is a plain and careful reading of the words of the three lines.

3. The apposition argument from Bryden is that God creates humanity-that-is-male-and-female in his image. (Funnily enough, yesterday reading a book about Jacques Ellul, I noted that Ellul understood Genesis 1:27 in the apposition way, God created one person in two forms (with obvious analogy back towards God-one-being-in-three-persons).) The strength of this argument is that it allows the word 'created' to be what it is, a connection between all three lines so that the third line is an extension of the second line rather than an opposition to it: in the image of God he created him = adam = male and female.

That male and female each bear the image of God is the least the third line means (and thus we read what we read in 1 Corinthians 11:8: the man images God, the woman images the man who images God) but might we also take account of Genesis 5:1-2,

'This is the list of descendants of Adam. When God created adam, he made him in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them adam when they were created.'

Humanity is expressed by the adam (man) but the writer of Genesis 5:1-2 understands humanity in its gender diversity, composed of zcr and tqbh, male and female, as created by God: not (as in Genesis 2, reflected in 1 Corinthians 11) primarily male with female derivative from male (or female as an improvement on male), but both together.

Genesis 5:3 is then important:

'When Adam had lived one hundred and thirty years, he became the father of a son in his likeness, according to his image, and named him Seth.'

The image of God 'became the father of a son in his likeness, according to his image.' Inherent in the understanding of being made in the image of God is the creative power to make others in that image. That happens because humanity is male and female. Without being male and female, humanity could not act in this God-like manner. Humanity male and female is a creation in God's image because together (and only together) male and female act like God in themselves procreating sons and daughters in their likeness.

If we are going to talk about plain reading of texts, are we not reading plainly as Trinitarian Christians when we see humanity as one person (adam) in two forms (zcr, tqbh)?

In sum: while seeing the strength of Tobias' argument against reading Genesis 1:27 as God made humanity male and female in his image, I am not overwhelmed by that strength. The apposition argument may not be so strong as to sweep the opposition argument before it, but it is a strong argument.

(As an aside, it is ironical that the NRSV, much valued for its inclusive approach to translation, makes Genesis 1:27 perfectly suited to support Bryden's argument! 'So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.')

4. I accept that in heaven there will not be marriage and thus sub species aeternitas (from the perspective of eternity) marriage is a temporal phenomenon. Yet this observation needs care. Our physical bodies, for example, are also temporal (beyond the grave we will have new spiritual bodies). But dare we treat them as a kind of passing phenomenon? If we did, we could be quite cavalier about each other's bodies: I know this will kill you but it is only your temporal body ... of course not!

The precise paradox of temporality of the phenomena of this world is that we respect one another as God's creatures and do all in our power to prolong each other's lives, through health, through peace-making, etc while understanding that (in a sense) all this is in vain as all die and all institutions of this life fail (save for the church?). Gender and marriage may not survive death and judgment but that does not and should not lessen the importance we attach to them in this life.

5. One importance which attaches to marriage is that it is a great and repeated metaphor for the very relationship between God and God's people and between Christ and Christ's church. But how does this metaphor work? It works from an understanding of marriage in which the two parties to the marriage are differently gendered so marriage consists of a male husband and a female wife, a point reinforced in (say) Ephesians 5:23 where marriage is understood to involve headship, a specific relationship between husband and wife which itself mirrors and sheds light on the headship of Christ over the church. The great mystery of marriage, Ephesians 5:31, is then both the 'one flesh' coming together of the man-who-leaves-his-mother-and-father and the woman to whom he is 'joined' as she becomes his wife and he her husband. Paul does not quite say it, but the great mystery likely includes the way in which two are one flesh even as one is head of the other: this is a great mystery for how are the two joined in marriage equal partners in one flesh while being unequal (or 'unequal') in respect of headship.

Whatever we make of headship and of the understanding and application of Paul's teaching about it in today's world, the point is that marriage is understood here (and elsewhere in Scripture) to be gender differentiated. This is not merely as a matter of biology (the coming together of which differentiated bodies to form one united body through intercourse is basic to 'one flesh'), or psychology (the coming together of two people to form one couple united in heart, mind and will is also reasonably included in the meaning of 'one flesh'), but also of relationship to one another in the gendered roles of husband and wife. Husbands are to love their wives; wives are to respect their husbands. Men in marriage are asked to be responsible for their wives in a specific way, women in marriage are asked to be responsible to their husbands in a specific way.

This approach to marriage works well in terms of metaphor. Christ is not the church; the church is not Christ, yet Christ loves the church (like a husband loves his wife), the church submits to Christ (like a wife submits to her husband) while Christ and the church are united as 'one flesh', a head (Christ) and a body (the church) forming one entity. There is indeed a great mystery here.

Now polygamous marriage would not offer a metaphor here and nor would same sex marriage. The important question then, I suggest, working from the Haller-Black debate, is whether the approach to marriage taken in Scripture rules out the possibility of same sex marriage.

Obviously same sex marriage is not ruled out just because it cannot be invoked metaphorically in the service of Christ and the church. Further, we observe that polygamous marriage finds a place in the Bible. But polygamous marriage has a checkered career through the history of Israel (and no place at all in the movement of Jesus). The focus on marriage in Ephesians 5, anchored as it is into Genesis 2, rules out the possibility of Christianity endorsing and promoting polygamy: Christ is one and there is one church.

Having connected marriage to christology and ecclesiology in the manner of Ephesians 5, there is no going backwards for the church to re-think marriage as re-extendable to incorporate polygamy. The consequence of involving marriage as a metaphor for Christ and the church is that Christ and the church confines understanding of marriage to rule out polygamy. In case of doubt one may also refer to the teaching of Christ himself on marriage which in similar fashion (including anchoring on the rock of Genesis 2) only envisages marriage being between two people, not more.

What bearing then does Ephesians 5 have on same sex marriage? I suggest it makes it that bit harder to say that the Bible in the end is indifferent to the gender of parties to a marriage.

6. Nevertheless arguments will spring forth (and back) re the expandability of the definition of marriage. Sticking with Ephesians 5, for example, the case can be made (as Tobias does) that the connection between husband and wife in terms of roles re 'love' and 'respect', betokening as it appears an inequality, is lessened today if not done away with, so that consequently a distinctive aspect of gender difference in marriage is done away with. Cue the possibility of marriage indifferent to gender.

But this works in another way. Engaging with Ephesians 5 (and not only with Ephesians, but simplicity keeps me focused on this chapter) directs us to the particular significance of marriage between a man and a woman, a marriage which creates a husband and a wife, both with attendant responsibilities and potent metaphorical attribution. Is this form of marriage sui generis? If 'marriage' is a word to also be used of a relationship between two men or two women, do we need another word for what Ephesians 5 talks about?

7. Another way to put my concerns at this point is this: if we approach the definition of marriage by testing what is essential and what is inessential we find a case mounts for gender differentiation to be placed in the inessential rather than essential category. Ergo, same sex marriage is plausible as marriage. But if we approach proposals for what constitutes marriage (e.g. heterosexual marriage, same sex marriage, polygamous marriage) and ask whether heterosexual marriage, that is, the embodied union of two differentiated genders, is a distinctive class or category of marriage, then answer is affirmative. The question then is not whether all marriages fit an agreed definition of marriage, but whether we have the right names for distinctive relationships.

In part this question will be answered by the course the English language takes. In another part the question could be answered by theologians finding a specific word or phrase to describe the marriage between a man and a woman.

I may add to this but I will post for now ... 12.19 pm NZ time, Monday 23 September 2013

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Bryden Black Responds to Tobias Haller


On Anglican Down Under, through recent posts in late August, early September 2013, an intense theological debate (IMHO, of the highest quality) was conducted through Comment threads, particularly involving Bryden Black (NZ) and Tobias Haller (USA). Specifically, in terms of their interchange, in the thread of comments following this post, here.

Below, Bryden Black takes up a particular challenge made by Tobias Haller to Bryden's 'line of argument'.

Peter Carrell.

Bryden Black writes:

Well Tobias, how best to move forward by a step something of what we have addressed/tried to address under this thread?

I’ll select only three elements for simplicity’s sake.

1. Evoking premises and/or systematic approaches is laudable to be sure at first blush. There is of course that famous opening para by Rowan Williams in his contribution to The Way Forward?, where he points to “beginning from the same premisses” and then our “concluding” rather differently. Something I have observed in such cases is that often we (i.e. folk generally) colour those supposed common premisses rather differently in fact. Approaches to Scripture and its interpretation leap to mind in our current Communion debates. I’ll come lastly to one such element in this comment. A second line has to do with your own ideas re the “systematic”. I’d raise two points here.

Firstly, as has already emerged on this thread (and also in R&H), systematic in your hands often tends to mean ‘abstract’; just so my own insistence (via the subjunctive exercise initially but not solely) on the temporal dimension of “reality”. I have found it far more rewarding to try to not abstract one’s approach from the sheer historical nature of our world, both generally and especially re our own mortal and moral lives. To that effect, I particularly appreciate this comment of Jenson’s: “God does not create a world that thereupon has a history; he creates a history that is a world, in that it is purposive and so makes a whole.” Which comment directly precipitates the second point: what passes for the systematic, the rational has a cultural historical context itself, as clearly evidenced in Pope Benedict’s Regensburg address of September 2006.

Despite their best efforts, the media totally missed his main points, one of which precisely concerned “the reduction of the radius of science and reason” to the instrumental by much of the contemporary west (I’ll pick this up in another way very soon with what you yourself say/request). To wit, teleology as a genuine expression of the rational is very much eschewed; yet even in biology form and function coinhere (or did you miss my metaphysical shift to the language of “form” when you were discussing male and female vis-à-vis ousia/hypostasis?!). That’s enough on this first element. But I trust you can see by now there are many ways of actually being systematic and/or rational, just as there are a plurality of premises in actual fact. We shall all have to await the Parousia for that universally understood and understandable and acknowledged ‘premise’; meanwhile, as Sykes correctly observes in The Identity of Christianity: Theologians and the Essence of Christianity from Schleiermacher to Barth (1984), we are left with the inevitably contested nature of Christianity’s identity, where both methodological questions and matters of substance go hand in hand.

2.1 Gen 1& 2. Any student of OT101 will soon be introduced to major motifs of Hebrew poetry, parallelism being to the fore. Lines in apposition will complement, or contrast, or amplify, etc. Only this last w/e in MP did we have Deut 32:1-12! Modern EVV of Gen 1:27 and 2:24 will indent these verses to help make the point they are forms of poetry:

So God created (the) adam in his image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female (nouns) he created them.

 The first two poetic lines are also a chiasm, stressing the expression image of God. Just as you Tobias correctly want to point out the parallelism formed by the second line ending in a singular and the third in a plural, so too do I wish to point out how lines two and three are similarly parallel in how they begin: the image of God // male and female. My entire thesis (nor am I alone in this; far from it!) springs from this sheer textual observation, which frankly is a no-brainer! The difficulty of course is what we (can) draw from this textual observation, that “image of God” and “male and female” are in strict apposition, thus interpreting one another. What indeed constitutes the next forward step?

Sure; much of the Tradition has tried to locate “image” language in some quality or capacity of the human. Your quote from Augustine re Ps 49:20 is delightful! Yet Wenham is surely correct to point out: “In every case there is the suspicion that the commentator may be reading his own values into the text as to what is most significant about man.” Just so, Plotinus and the entire neo-Platonic tradition sought to locate this special human something as precisely those interior qualities Augustine prizes; other Greek ideas spoke of some divine spark. Now; I don’t see anything wrong exactly in this approach; it sort of works, and sort of explains how the next verse might operate: “dominion” is realized by means of such capacities. Yet the stubborn parallelism of the text remains, with male and female interpreting the image of God. Hence the Barthian notion ...! Yet even he needfully qualifies his interpretation: “There can be no question of anything more than an analogy. The differentiation and relationship between the I and the Thou in the divine being, in the sphere of the Elohim [the Son being the eternal “counterpart” of the Father], are not identical with the differentiation and relationship between male and female.” Which remark brings me necessarily to a canonical reading.

Sure; there are intertextual readings to consider as well: Jesus quoting Gen 1& 2, and running them together. Or re-reading Matthew once we’ve realized the end notion of baptism in the triune Name, ch.28, prompts us to better appreciate the subtlety of Matt 3; or ch.1's “Immanuel” // “Behold I am with you always ...”; and then we’ve to richly conflate these summary key theological ideas that are the Gospel’s bookends. But richer again is the sheer grammar of the NT that gives rise to Trinitarian doctrine proper: ‘God’ = Father Son & Holy Spirit. What then might be “the image of God” in which human being is created, when we read back into the OT this NT conclusion? The stubbornness of the sheer text of Gen 1:27 demands this question and its probable answer that Imago Dei evokes the triune deity - analogously.

Thereafter, Rahner’s conclusion: “Grace gives rise to not-appropriated relations of divine persons to man.” Or Jenson’s summary: “The one divine ousia, the varied sharing of which distinguishes Father, Son and Spirit, and the varied sharing of which qualifies their joint act as God, is ...” (emphases original). I.e. the idiomatic identities of Father, Son and Spirit are uniquely and specifically complementary - just so their respective idiotēs or proprium. Analogously, so too are the human forms of male-and-female, that which respectively indicates a male and a female human person - even if the sexual complementarity of men and women is not necessarily contingent on or reducible to procreation per se, though it naturally and/or normally involves it.

Gen 2:23. The JPS Torah Commentary on this verse delightfully picks up on this line of thinking in similar fashion: “in naming her ʾishah, he simultaneously names himself. Hitherto he is consistently called ʾadam; he now calls himself ʾish for the first time. Thus he discovers his own manhood and fulfillment only when he faces the woman, the human being who is to be his partner in life.” There is likeness between the two, the man and the woman, as you stress; yet this is not sameness but differentiation too - “opposite him”, ish/ishah. All the standard techniques of Hebrew poetry compressed into this verse prepare the way for the next verse: in the marital reality, the sheer word “husband” implies “wife”, and vice versa. As you wrote earlier: “But a husband is not a man because he is married; he is a man who happens to be married, and is therefore a husband.” Yet not quite so, since men and women generally also complement each other, not just quintessentially in marriage, together effecting the Image as per Gen 1. [This is one reason for me to endorse women’s ordination, biblically ...]

2.2. I will stand by my description of the doctrine of the Trinity “languishing” down the centuries, not least on account of such work as that of Rahner’s, who after Barth helped pioneer our current revival. For note his approach was not just “systematic”, it was an historical analysis, just as Jenson’s after him is resolutely historical, even theodramatic. I could cite many further contemporaries who reveal how the doctrine for centuries did not have that essential grammatical role it deserved upon theology and praxis generally, even as it was formally affirmed. Just one key corroborative assessment is that of Jason Vickers, who in Invocation and Assent: The Making and Remaking of Trinitarian Theology (2008) rightly locates Trinitarian speech in its setting of Christian initiation, which itself gave rise to the Early Church’s Rule of Faith. This matrix he then contrasts subsequently to those attempts during the Continental and English Reformation of the 16th and 17th Cs with their search for rational assent to this now established doctrine via the role of Scripture, which supposedly supplies clear and intelligible propositions of faith. All of which is one key stepping stone to the rise of Deism, etc. as he shows. For at root, it is one thing trying to claim in the abstract as you do a due form of Orthodoxy; it is quite another to actually engage with the historic and historical specifics of confession and belief and behaviour via concrete communities and their members (e.g. particular theologians!). All of which leads me to my third and final element.

3. You wish to focus our attention on “the area of pastoral or moral theology - which is where it seems to [you] the presenting issue lies”. Fine; but back to what I’ve tried to set up as the key framing of such an approach, in Regensburg, in forms of rationality, in ethical and moral reductionism (NB also Oliver O’Donovan’s opening chapter, “The Failure of the Liberal Paradigm”, in his Fulcrum series, “Sermons on the Subject of the Day”), in situating nothing less than my own moral premise now to be unfolded. For I do not think myself that we are actually dealing with a ‘New Thing’ today. What we are dealing with is the novelty of the demand to make kosher what has been hitherto considered an abomination, an Old Thing, symptomatic of our collective fallen broken human nature. Sure; there are countless rationalizations offered as to why this move might be akin to other seemingly similar moves: Gentiles versus Jews, liberation of slaves, etc.

You mention Tobias in passing that Gen 1 has an intertextual reference in Gal 3; I presume you mean Gal 3:28. However, is Gen 1:27 the driving force here in Gal, even as it probably echoes this text? Or is it rather “the threefold privilege for which a pious male Jew daily thanked God: that he was not made a Gentile, a slave or a woman—categories of people debarred from certain religious privileges”, as a commentator writes? Very helpful in understanding the significance of these religious and social categories of the day is Mark Strom, Reframing Paul: Conversations in Grace and Community (2000), Part 1, “Primary Reality & Everyday Reality: Ancient Frames for a Split World” (other sections are pretty helpful overall too). For the baptismal reality of being “in Christ Jesus” establishes something essentially novel, which nonetheless is but the fulfillment of the Creator’s intentions in the first place.

Romans 12:1-2 is my premise for any area of pastoral and moral theology and praxis that you or anyone else for that matter might wish to address. I choose this as it signifies the absolute fulcrum of Paul’s magisterial treatment of the Gospel. It also explicitly echoes, in v.2, the baptismal catechetical format of the NT Church. For there are at least four verses in the Epistles which suggest that very early the Church had a set pattern of basic teaching, by means of which it instructed its members. Rom 6:17 says that the Roman Christians “had obeyed from the heart (the) form of teaching to which (they) were committed/handed over”. EG Selwyn remarks: “the phrase connotes a limited course of instruction, which followed definite and settled lines.”

Both Eph 4:20-21 and Col 2:6-7 also allude to a given form of catechism, in which people “learned Christ”. More obvious is 2 Tim 1:13, which Selwyn paraphrases: “Have (i.e. have by you) a sketch or outline of the sound words you have heard from me, in the study we have had together of Christian faith and conduct (love).”

Overall, the NT baptisma (with its three elements, evangelical, sacramental and Pentecostal, Acts 2:38-9; yet which sadly we today have often torn apart due to various ‘traditions’ of “initiation”) precipitates a quite specific “form of teaching” which is evidenced throughout many parts of the Epistles. They are scattered throughout like tips of an iceberg; yet this only begs an enquiry into digging below the waterline to access and reconstruct the whole. [See EG Selwyn, The First Epistle of St. Peter (Macmillan, 1947), Essay II, pp.363-466, where he painstakingly collects the various texts in the NT and then constructs their overall “pattern” or framework via a form critical exercise - including BTW Eph 5 etc.]

In other words, my baptismal premise is somewhat more substantial than that of TEC’s as expressed in the “Koinonia Statement”, August 1994. It assumes, as does Rom 12:1-2, that there is a genuine tension between this age and the age to come, the one inaugurated by the Coming of the Kingdom of God in Christ Jesus, who embodies in himself the New Creation. It assumes - and I have had extensive pastoral exposure to this - that, while there will always be residual signs of the fallen old age in our midst, enough of the New suitably breaks into our lives to warrant the sorts of exhortations Paul is making here.

Nor should we miss the fact that these two verses link exegetically directly back to Rom 1:16ff, via worship motifs especially and their respective “spiritual/reasonable” expressions, notably via the “body’s” means as well (even as Rom 1 echoes the creation narratives generally, with particular male/female and man/woman references too).

It is one thing to uncover certain aetiological possibilities for such conditions as cancer of the bowel - something my own family and myself in particular know something about. It is quite another to then address such phenomena - in my case, surgery followed by chemo; or screening, etc. It is one thing to try to unravel the multifactorial aetiology of what we today term same-sex attraction or orientation. It is quite another thereafter to either give expression to this phenomenon, or to not do so. Yet the very phenomena (NB the plural) of multiple forms of same-sex erotic behaviours have been well known in many cultures down the ages: viz only Samoa today.

Nor do I reason St Paul was at all ignorant of these diverse expressions. His aetiology was almost certainly not quite as ours might be. And yet his counsel and the counsel of the NT Baptismal Catechetical Form in the face of such phenomena was and is immediate: put off/abstain! For you have been crucified and buried ... to walk in Newness of Life.

Now; we have to account for the social context of such commands, in the mutually accountable setting of the fellowship of members of the Church. The issue of the past 40 years, it seems to me, has been a failure on two fronts: the failure to morally support each other in our increasing transformation under the mercy of God in Christ Jesus, which support means both a strong call to holiness (sic - given the title of your own book) and moral purity, and an awareness that we all have various ‘weaknesses’ to be redeemed, together.

Given precisely such a twin dynamic, I can hear some call for a form of ‘monogamous companionship’ among members of the LGBT communities, who become Christian, as a means to address just this twin needed support in the area of ss-attraction. Yet I have had to conclude we should rather call such calls a tragic irony - given the explicitly gendered nature of the Imago Dei. Such unions will ever fall short of the created ideal, one that Jesus has now especially redeemed and seeks to transform yet further. The rationalizations often invoked are symptomatic more of the autonomous, humanist, individualistic, liberal ethics of recent European culture - back to “this age” of Rom 12:2 - where the cries of egalitarianism make absolutely no allowance for the clearly gendered differentiation of Gen 1& 2, and where freedom is mostly the opposite of due Christian libertas, or where postmodernity’s strong drift to homogenization does indeed exhibit more a gnostic androgyny!

What might one conclude from all this rich baptismal and catechetical NT data? I’ll let Louis Crompton summarize this third element: According to [one] interpretation, Paul’s words were not directed at “bona fide” homosexuals in committed relationships. But such a reading, however well-intentioned, seems strained and unhistorical [abstract?]. Nowhere does Paul or any other Jewish writer of this period imply the least acceptance of same-sex relations under any circumstance. The idea that homosexuals might be redeemed by mutual devotion would have been wholly foreign to Paul or any other Jew or early Christian. [Homosexuality and Civilization (Harvard University Press, 2003), p.114]