Thursday, 11 February 2010

Arguments against male headship?

Well, I haven't read that many books so I can't claim to know much about the subject. It's probably fair to say that my opinion so far is based on what I've been told, and how I've read the Bible. I mean, I don't even know whether the term, "male headship" refers to marriages or churches or both.

I think that when you read Ephesians 5 it's pretty hard to come to the conclusion that male headship in marriage is wrong, but I'm still open to hear other ideas.

I posted on Dave W's blog:
Ephesians 5 does seem to support male headship though. Quite explicitly. Is it the case that it only applies to the ancient church in Ephesus, and not to us?

I honestly don't understand. Help me out!


He responded:
Ephesians 5 is only clear if you ignore verse 21, ignore the real impact of "as to the Lord" in verse 22, forget that we no longer accept 6:5-9, ignore all the evidence that Paul supported women as leaders of the Church, ignore the Biblical witness of Deborah, choose only to read the second creation story in Genesis, change the gender of Junia in Romans 16, ignore Galatians 3 and 5, ignore the way Jesus treated women, ...

So I guess this means "male headship" is about who leads churches as well. I think. In my comment, I was really referring to male headship in marriage, because that's what the Ephesians passage is about.

Dave's first point is a very good one. Verse 21 says "submit to one another", and that is the preface to the following passages (depending on where the Bible translators put the paragraph breaks). So there should be mutual submission between me and my wife. I agree, and I believe that there can be mutual submission within any relationship, definitely in a marriage, but the husband would still be the "team leader".

I'm not really sure what "the real impact of "as to the Lord" in verse 22" is, but I don't see how that verse undermines the concept of male headship.

I found the next statement very interesting; "forget that we no longer accept 6:5-9".

I wasn't aware that we don't accept it. Who is "we"? I know Paul talks about slaves submitting to their masters, which seems backward, but can we really say that we're not going to accept this part of the Bible? I assume that the argument for rejecting it is that it seems to contradict most of the rest of the Bible, but I don't think you can play parts of the Bible off against each other.

The rest of the stuff in Dave's reply was about women in church leadership... I might save that one for another day.

13 comments:

DaveW said...

Re Ephesians 6:5-9

I suggest you do not accept this text as I suspect you do not believe slavery is ok. In other words as you reject slavery (pretty standard Christian interpretation for a couple of hundred years in the UK). Therefore you would support a slave today standing up against their master, refusing to obey, fighting for their freedom.

So in the one passage you have one section which you do not read literally, which you do not accept the plain meaning of (as otherwise you would be happy with girls sold or tricked into slavery in the sex trade).

Yet you are claiming that another section of the same passage must be read literally and is still completely relevant today (on wives submitting).

How are you making your decision about which bits of this passage to accept and which to reject?

Andy said...

DaveW,

Yes, I reject slavery.

I don't necessarily reject the passage though. Paul does not show that he supports slavery, but thinks it is better for slaves to obey their masters than to rebel.

I'll keep thinking about it.

I'm not making any decisions about which bits to accept, because I start with the assumption that it is all divinely inspired.

How do you make those decisions?

Phil Whittall said...

Dave, I think you're making a few assumptions here about the issue of slavery. 1 Tim 1:10 Paul clearly calls slave trading contrary to the Gospel, we can be pretty confident of Paul's views on prostitution and sexual immorality. So I think you twist Eph 6 if you think it means being ok with girls being tricked into the slave trade for example.

Everyone must ask what should we make of Eph 6, those who take other passages literally or not. That's basic hermeneutics and that's no reason not to take Eph 5 seriously as being applicable today.

If you read Eph 6:5-9 carefully you'll see that Paul is writing to Christian slaves and slave masters and in doing so he powerfully undermines the idea of slavery. Because the master is to treat the slave in the same way as the slave the master, the child the parent, the wife the husband, as Christ the church and vice versa.

So I don't think there's a contradiction between fighting for justice or for the abolition of slavery and for applying to those in that position to respond as Paul instructs. It seems consistent with the age that it is likely he is talking about household slaves not sex slaves which would contradict other clear prohibitions.

You seem to have made the interpretative decision that because Eph 6 no longer holds, Eph 5 can't either. But I assume you agree with Eph 5:21 if not Eph 5:22, so your position is opposite but no different to those that hold Eph 5:22 but don't support slavery.

DaveW said...

"How do you make those decisions?"

Slowly :-) I have been looking at this issue in some detail for over 8 years. So I have been through the texts, commentaries from different viewpoints, many books (again from all kinds of viewpoints from Grudem to Ruether), I have written essays and led study groups.

I take scripture very very seriously and on many levels.

Phil,

1 Tim? So you would disagree with the Biblical Scholars who argue that the pastoral epistles are not by Paul but from the Pauline tradition? What about the uncertainties about the authorship of Ephesians?

What about the contents Philemon?

I suspect that Paul is not acting directly against slavery more because he thinks Jesus will return so soon than because it is not an issue (particularly in the earlier texts).

I agree the Girls tricked into slavery was pushing it. But there are plenty of other forms of slavery still today.

No I am not making a leap from Ephesians 6 to 5. I am trying to raise some of the complications of interpretation that are so often ignored by the Male Headship rallying cry around Ephesians 5:22 which is taken out of the passage, out of context and without reference to the rest of scripture.

Andy said...

DaveW,

Thanks for your input, it's good to hear from someone who's done a lot of research.

Like I said, I haven't read books about it, and I can't say my opinions are now set in stone. However, I think that to completely change my mind I would need to change the way I read the Bible.

I don't think that I can reject Ephesians 5:21-33, and if I can't reject it then I must find some way to apply it.

Do the folks against male headship reject that passage as they do Ephesians 6:5-9, or do they just apply it differently?

Phil Whittall said...

hi Dave,
Interesting questions about the authorship of Ephesians or the pastoral epistles but in the end, no matter who wrote them those texts are there as Holy Scripture and I must do something with them and wrestle with what and how.

I'm unfamiliar with teaching that separates Eph 5:22 from Eph 5:21 although I understand people do and I'm not sure how you can explain such a thing, so I think headship within a marriage must always be in the context of mutual submission and submission to Christ. I think Andy described it pretty well in his post on that.

I think Philemon is consistent with Ephesians 6. The slave is returned and told to submit, the master is told to treat the slave like a brother which is radical stuff.

Paul may have one eye on the return of Christ but for us today it is the powerful undermining of ownership of another because we are owned by Christ and are therefore all part of the one new family that really undermines slavery, which as you said takes many forms today.

Andy said...

Hi Phil,

Thanks for your comments on Paul and slavery. That does put the passage in very different light!

DaveW said...

Andy,

"Do the folks against male headship reject that passage as they do Ephesians 6:5-9, or do they just apply it differently?"

Whoa! There is a mis-understanding here. I think you believe that by not accepting what you see as the literal (plain) understanding of the text I am rejecting it. That is a common misunderstanding but it is a misunderstanding.

In no way do I reject anything in Scripture. I do not reject Ephesians 6:5-9 I just do not accept it in the way you do.

What I do reject is simplistic literal interpretations that appear to act as if the whole of scripture were written as my personal life instruction manual.

Such interpretations take a text and ignore context, scholarship, Christian history, prayerful reflection and so much more.

To ignore all these things and jump from an ancient text written for a very different culture straight to direct application to my life today is not respectful of scripture, it is not taking scripture seriously and it leads to simplistic and unhelpful challenges (such as you either apply this literally or you reject it).

I admit that my definition of taking scripture seriously can appear complicated. I recognise that those who hold what I consider simplistic, unhelpful and inaccurate views of scripture (inerrant, fundamentalist, ...) believe I am lost and taking scripture to mean whatever I want (although I dispute that).

All this is by way of saying that I think you are asking the wrong question. It is not a choice between rejection or applying differently. Instead it starts much deeper with a different approach to scripture that begins in a different way with different questions.

As a simple start try approaching this passage looking at 3 things in order:

- original context and meaning (who was it written by and for, in what style, what was the cultural context and situation of the writer and the audience, how did they understand it, ... ?)

- what does it reveal to me of God? Connect it to the life (birth, ministry, death, resurrection and ascension) and teaching of Jesus. Connect it to salvation history.

- Given these things and using a combination of Scripture, Tradition, Reason, Experience all worked out in community (this is called the Wesleyan Quadrilateral) what does this mean for us today? (remembering that Christian faith is not individualistic but about relationships with God, people and the rest of creation)

If you would like to try this sort of approach to see how it might lead to a different understanding then I would be happy to work through it with you (either in private or through joint blogging) as I would love to be able to explore with you how fantastic it is to take scripture seriously in this way - life giving and very much life changing.

Andy said...

In no way do I reject anything in Scripture. I do not reject Ephesians 6:5-9 I just do not accept it in the way you do.

What I do reject is simplistic literal interpretations that appear to act as if the whole of scripture were written as my personal life instruction manual.


Thanks, that gives me a clearer idea of where you're coming from.

Generally I do try to look at the Bible in its historical context, and ask questions about the author and audience to find the original meaning.

I'm not sure I would agree with the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, as tradition and experience can distort your interpretation as much as aid it. Scripture and reason, though, go hand in hand, and I agree that it's better to get in-depth and make things complicated than to read isolated passages and deal with them without reference to other sources.

But if there are chunks of the Bible where the true meaning can only be discovered through knowledge of the historical context, then what do you do if you don't have time/access to/accurate historical sources or books?

E.g. when we translate the Bible into other languages, is it any good if we don't also translate Bible commentaries?

I think that God intended us to use our brains when we read scripture, but does He need us to do masses of research before we can make a proper application?

Maybe I'm just being lazy. The people who wrote the notes in my study Bible did all the work, why should I have to? (Joking)

So, although I don't think your approach to reading the Bible is vastly different from mine, (or my intended) it would still be interesting to explore the Bible in a different way. So if you're up for it, and can explain exactly what "joint blogging" is, then I'm game.

Andy said...

I should add that I'm going away until Wednesday so I won't be able to moderate or reply to comments for the next few days, sorry.

DaveW said...

Andy,

"Generally I do try to look at the Bible in its historical context, and ask questions about the author and audience to find the original meaning."

And for this Ephesians passage what did that look mean for you? What are the differences between that culture and situation and your own? Does that have any impact on the meaning?

"I'm not sure I would agree with the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, as tradition and experience can distort your interpretation as much as aid it. Scripture and reason, though, go hand in hand, "

Note that these are not given equal weight, Scripture is the most important and they become less significant as you move through them.

Putting tradition above reason is important. We need to weigh new and novel ways of understanding a text against how Christians before us have understood it. Saves a lot of stupid mistakes (including the common one of accidentally changing the definition so that many Christians from generations are no longer Christian - sadly I have seen that many times).

Our experience of the living God, of the work of the Holy Spirit must of course shape out reading of Scripture - reading Paul's teaching on gifts after experiencing or seeing some of the more dramatic gifts is a very different thing to reading before that.

Note a real key is that these things are done in community, it is not me alone coming up with this.

As for the books it would be good to read some of the material about base communities in liberation theology where you can see amazing theology done without any books.

"I think that God intended us to use our brains when we read scripture, but does He need us to do masses of research before we can make a proper application?"

Sorry but I think you just said that you value your fiancée so little that you will demand that she submits to your male headship without doing masses of research to check that is really what God wants.

I know that you don't mean to say that. But you have and that is the danger of male headship it gives you power and makes women submit too something you have not properly checked out. Oops!!!

DaveW said...

re "So if you're up for it, and can explain exactly what "joint blogging" is, then I'm game."

Lets talk about it by email, there are lots of possibilities.

Phil Whittall said...

Dave,
I assume (following your comments on tradition) that you think the male headship reading of Ephesians was the 'new and novel' way of reading it and that actually the author intended something else?

I've read a fair amount about the debate about 'kephale' but most of the time I see egalitarians just ignore the passage (in the way we're accused of ignoring other scriptures), arguing that headship isn't really headship, that it's a bit like the Queen - figurehead but nothing more - in the end I don't think the scriptural arguments are strong enough.

More importantly you've made your two key interpretative principles of inclusion and justice non-negotiable and there's a lot of assumptions in there. I'm not sure you could say conclusively that scripture requires those two principles as some kind of hermeneutical key. So, for example I think your views on inclusion of GLBT is a new and novel reading, you see injustice where others (not even in the case of some women) do not.

And you know you're twisting Andy's final point about research. His point is about the plain meaning of the text and how you would teach someone that what it says is not what it means. We all do that with various parts of scripture, no question, I'm as yet unconvinced by the arguments that you should do that here.