Differently made, like God

by
18 January 2013

It is not unjust to give men and women different tasks, argues Pete Myers

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Spare rib: the creation of Eve from the 12th-century Bible of Sauvigny

Spare rib: the creation of Eve from the 12th-century Bible of Sauvigny

Most of us handle polite disagreement well, but attacks on us personally are another matter. The biggest problems come when the one is confused with the other.

One reason why the discussion surrounding women bishops is so emotive is because, for many, it is a question of identity: who do we think women are? While I don't personally think it is helpful to root my identity in the part I play or the job I do, I recognise that many feel differently. As such, some may hear my polite disagreement about whether women should be made bishops as an attack on them personally.

It isn't. To explain, I would like to begin with another identity question: who is God?

The God we worship is Trinity, which means that he is like a family. Everyone in this family is of equal worth and ability (the three persons are "one being"), but each has a unique part to play. They are not three identical clones. In eternity, the Son always sits at the Father's right hand, never the other way around (for example, Ephesians 1.20), as all three of the ecumenical creeds confess.

It is unthinkable that the Father would die for my sins. It is unthinkable that the Son would command the Father. It is unthinkable that the Spirit would become incarnate as a man. This is the God we worship, one and many all at the same time, and I love him.

People slap different labels on this relationship: "submission", "headship", "eternally begotten of"; but I don't care what you call it. It's beautiful.

We were made as family in God's likeness. Women and men were created in the image of God, and so Genesis 1.27 affirms that all humankind is totally equal, but at the same time differently male or female. Genesis 2 then goes on to show that men and women are equal (made of the same stuff), but different (one is made after, and from, the other).

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For Paul, it is precisely because God created man before woman - before the Fall - that he argues that men and women have different parts to play in Christ's Church: "I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man" (1 Timothy 2.12-13). Throughout 1 Timothy 2-3, church and home are closely connected; so much so that the Church is even called God's household (3.15).

1 Timothy 2 is not a lone rogue passage. The roles of men and women in church and home reflect the relationship of the Church to Christ (Ephesians 5.21-33; Colossians 3.19) and of Christ to his Father: "the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God" (1 Corinthians 11.2-16).

Paul grounds his view in creation's order (not in culture), and the apostle Peter agrees (1 Peter 3.1-7). All over the Bible, husband and wife are an analogy for God and his people, especially in the prophets (for example, Isaiah 54.1-8; Jeremiah 3.1-10; all of Hosea; Revelation 12.1-6; 19.6-10).

Furthermore, I find it puzzling that some who claim that Paul's language in 1 Timothy 2 is obscure insist that they definitively see a female apostle hidden within Paul's greeting in Romans 16.7. The Greek phrase Paul uses (the adjective "hepisēmos", followed by the preposition "en" and a personal dative) has no parallel in the Bible, the Apocrypha, or almost anywhere else, and its translation is contested. Some are very keen to translate it "Junia . . . outstanding among the apostles," but if so, I would expect to see a simple genitive, not the odd construction that Paul uses.

One parallel does exist in the Psalms of Solomon 2.6 (a first-century Greek text, written anonymously in Solomon's name), where Israel is "prominent" among the Gentile nations, but is not itself a Gentile nation. This suggests that the Bible versions which translate Romans 16.7 as "Junia . . . well known to the apostles" may perhaps be a touch more accurate.

But, besides, the definition of an apostle is by no means certain, and if Junia was an authoritative apostle (not merely someone commissioned by a church), then why does Acts never mention a female apostle?

I don't think this understanding is undermined by Galatians 3.28: "There is neither Jew nor Greek . . . neither male nor female." Paul is not demanding that all Jews become Greeks, or all Greeks become Jews - rather the exact opposite.

Both in Galatians 5.2, 6.12, and 1 Corinthians 7.18-19, he insists that Christians remain Jewish or Greek. It is racist to suggest that, to be a Christian, I must shun my ethnic identity. Galatians 3.28 shows that, despite our real differences, we are still one in Christ Jesus. This applies to gender as much as to nationality.

Debating aside, let's put this issue in perspective: our faith rests on the resurrection, not this. A comparison could be made with another secondary issue that Christians disagree on: baptism. Many of my family and friends believe that it is wrong to baptise their children. Being an Anglican, I disagree: I have baptised my own children, and I'm teaching them the Catechism in preparation for confirmation.

I have worked alongside and under advocates of believers' baptism, and would be happy to have them playing a significant part in my congregation, or even on my PCC. We can charitably overlook this disagreement for the sake of gospel work. But I would never pressure people to baptise their children against their conscience, and believe that it is wrong to pres- sure me not to baptise my children.

Similarly, conservative Evangelicals can cheerfully work alongside female ministers and bishops. But being made to submit to a woman - actively to do something that we believe is unbiblical - is, for many, like preventing our baptising our children rather than just living cheerfully alongside those who believe in adults-only baptism.

The comparison between baptism and male/female roles is also helpful because the Bible does not explicitly describe the pastoral consequences of getting either doctrine wrong. As with baptism, we must speak in tentative generalisations, and we will always be able to find exceptions.

My biggest pastoral concerns are:

1) that women's ministries are not considered valuable unless they take on male roles (you would not believe the permanent flak that female deacons get); and

2) that playing male roles leaves many women stressed, burnt out, and their gifts not nourished effectively.

In contrast, large conservative Evangelical churches employ many women in non-administrative ministry positions and on senior staff, in roles designed for them. Many women thrive in these settings, and their gifts are fanned into flame.

Some say that this is sexist. But women in churches throughout the country find a positive description of their identity in 1 Timothy 2, 1 Corinthians 11, 1 Peter, and similar passages. I think that telling conservative Evangelical women who have spoken in this debate to "be silent" is sexist, besides misrepresenting our theology and values.

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I have spent the past six months helping a friend take her bullying and abusive former husband to court, because I'm a human being who cares about women. Please stop drawing me with horns and a pointy tail.

Above all, let's stop being so emotive, and not disparage women on any side of this discussion. Let's realise that we care more about the people with whom we disagree than we do about our disagreement.

If I am wrong, and the passages above are merely an accommodation to the surrounding culture, then distinguishing gender roles in church and home still cannot be a "sexist" denial of the created equalness of men and women. Paul and Peter would never sacrifice equality for the sake of cultural "relevance". These passages at least demonstrate that our consciences on this have always been accommodated within the Church.

Some might ask that if distinguishing the roles of men and women on the basis of their gender is not sexist, then what is? I would answer: pornography, rape, the apathy people show to my abused friend's suffering, and other such horrors.

I also hate what Fifty Shades of Grey is doing to the idea of submissiveness. I hate the way our culture sexualises everything in a way that degrades women, treating them as objects rather than people who are made in God's image.

This is what we are, men and women together: humankind made in God's image. We are equal but different, just as he is.

Pete Myers is a member of the council of the Church Society, and the campaign co-ordinator for Together4ward (together4ward.wordpress.com).

 

I HAVE said that Genesis 2 shows us that men and women are equal (made of the same stuff), but different (one is made after, and from, the other). Others, however, understand the two Hebrew words for "man" in Genesis 2 to refer to two different "beings".

The first word "'ādām" is translated "man", or the name "Adam". It's the masculine form of "'adāmâ" translated "ground". Hebrew names often serve the story, and the similarity of "man" and "ground" highlights Adam's being made from the ground (Genesis 2.7).

The second word "'îš" is translated "man" or "husband". It is the masculine form of "'îššâ" translated "woman" or "wife". This highlights the woman's being made from "'ādām", and then her coming to him as a marriage partner (Genesis 2.21-22).

The words "'ādām" and "'îš" are often used interchangeably throughout the Old Testament, and I would argue that in Genesis 2, they cannot mean two different beings, but must be the same person:

 •  'ādām sings about his new companion, referring to himself as 'îš: she is called 'îššâ because "she was taken out of 'îš."

 •  Both 'ādām and 'îš are the "source material" for the woman. She was made from the rib taken from 'ādām (v. 22), and she was taken out from 'îš (v. 23).

 •  Both 'ādām and 'îš are used of the same person in verses 24-25.

 What changes in v. 23 is that Adam is now a husband. This is why the word "'îš", which also means "husband", is used of Adam only at the end of the chapter: v. 24 goes on to talk about marriage.

Reading Genesis 2 in Hebrew affirms what any English translation appears straightforwardly to say: man was created first, then woman from man. Yet more significantly for us as Evangelicals, however, is how Paul understands Genesis 2 in both 1 Timothy 2 and Ephesians 5.

Pete Myers

 

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