Disentangling conflations in popular conversation

Alastair’s response has raised precisely the concern that I think I was trying to get at, but didn’t perhaps make entirely clear – that words like ‘biology’, ‘nature’ and ‘creation’ get conflated in these conversations in an unhelpful way.

In a similar way, the line between ‘description’, ‘explanation’ and ‘prescription’ is very often blurred. Thank you Alastair for drawing out those distinctions – that is really helpful. (For a popular example in media currently, see this video on why Hilary Clinton shouldn’t be president because of female hormones and the Bible)

I am by no means saying that this kind of flawed reasoning is the norm on the conservative end of this conversation, and I’ve certainly also experienced some very awkward line blurring from liberals. I suppose my broader question is – if we can’t seem to clarify these differences in popular conversations, as Christians, should we be making use of them at all? And, if so, how? What are the limits we should impose on referencing any kind of ‘natural’ (here meaning not scriptural – e.g. the ‘two books’ or revelation, nature and scripture) argument when trying to dialogue? And how can we avoid getting into extended debates about defining terms, rather than making genuine headway in our understanding? We have to assume that most people who are taking up this conversation do not have degrees in biology, or theology, or human psychology – and yet will often encounter these very different disciplines mixed up in each other. How much disentangling do we need to do?

Understanding Nature

Thanks for starting us off, Hannah. I want to focus particularly on your first question, as I fear you conflate some things that might need more careful distinction.

First, ‘nature’ isn’t the same as ‘biology’, nor is ‘nature’ simply creation as it appears to a narrowly scientific method. While biological processes are an integral part of nature, nature isn’t reducible to them. As a natural reality, for instance, sexual relations are more than just a biological fact.

Second, there seems to be some equivocation here over the meaning of ‘nature’. ‘Nature’ as it functions in discussions of natural law, for instance, is not simply what can be observed to exist or occur in the natural world (let me introduce you all to the homosexual necrophiliac duck), nor does it just refer to the typical form that things take (e.g. people being right-handed), or to our personal desires, instincts, and interests divorced from a wider reality and moral order.

‘Nature’, as it functions within most forms of natural law, has directivity as an integral element and not just something appended in the form of positive command or personal volition or determination. For instance, in saying that the eye is an organ of sight, we are saying that it is natural for the eye to be able to see and that an eye that cannot see is not a good eye, even though blind eyes can readily be found within the world.

As human beings, we are person-bodies embedded in a larger natural world and moral order in which we participate. We have both forces at work within us that are greater than us and natural orientations towards expression of, participation in, and realization of realities that exceed ourselves. The natural order beckons to us from both within and without. Living according to natural law is more of an art than a matter of speculative science. It involves deepening our acquaintance with and honing the directivity of the natural order that is already incipient within and operative upon us, through the feedback loop of participation in and reception of a natural reality that exceeds us. It also involves recognizing that we are not just brute creatures of instinct and need to act in accord with the personal and moral character of human nature (for example, recognizing that as we are personal beings, we cannot approach sexual relations in a purely animal fashion without morally injuring ourselves). In such a manner we pursue the flourishing of our nature in unity with other persons and the created order more generally.

Nature—as a force that is other and greater than ourselves, yet which is at work within us and which places constraints and demands upon our behaviour—is threatening for many. We may wish to cut ourselves off from its operations, exercise control over it, and autonomy over against it (C.S. Lewis’ The Abolition of Man is worth reading on this, especially the third chapter). The only nature that will be acknowledged is the ‘nature’ that surfaces in our private desire. And, as we are living in a world that hasn’t been perfected and which is broken and sinful—where persons can experience an unchosen predilection for the most wicked acts, for instance—our own natures viewed in such detachment are hardly a reliable source of moral norms.

Finally, I think you might be eliding explanation, description, and prescription. Natural description would readily seem to support the notion men are the physically stronger sex and that, despite overlap in the bell curves of male and female strength, sex is easily one of the most crucial variables underlying strength differences in humans. Evolutionary psychology is one discipline that seeks to provide us with explanations for this fact (whatever their merits might be). Neither, however, provide us with the prescription that men must be stronger, although their observations and explanations may inform our moral and social practice.

I think Jem’s piece on evolutionary psychology misrepresents academic forms of it (the first comment beneath it raises important objections, I think). Evolution’s mechanism of natural selection centres the importance of processes surrounding reproduction—mate selection, successful mating, the bearing of offspring, the rate of offspring survival, their reproductive success in particular environments, etc.—as an explanatory tool for the different forms of species. Men and women are implicated in these processes in very different ways. As in other species, we should expect sexually divergent forms, behavioural tendencies, and social outcomes to accompany the contrasting parts that men and women play in the central species task of bringing other human beings into the world. Maleness and femaleness is a primary example of the way that we are confronted by a natural order that exceeds us, an otherness operative and present in our most intimate selves, an otherness with which disciplines such as evolutionary psychology seek to acquaint us.

#AllTheFeels: What does gendered reason and emotion do to the Church?

After raising the question of men trusting women (and why a tendency towards mistrust might persist) I thought it would be pertinent to explore the topic of gendering reason and emotion, particularly in the Church. As has been proposed in several of the responses from our previous discussion, there does seem to be, at the very least, a stereotype towards women being viewed as untrustworthy on the basis of being more ‘emotional’ than men. We’ve talked a little about passages that reference women as the ‘weaker’ sex, and, while Kristen is probably right that most casual sexism towards women in secular 21st century society isn’t rooted in a particular interpretation of 1 Timothy, I think it is fair to say that post-enlightenment protestant Christianity has certainly encouraged a reason/emotion split, and, importantly, hierarchy in modern thought, and along gender lines. As we move the conversation from a broader look at society as a whole to gendered reason/emotion in the Church, there are a few areas I’d particularly like to explore.

  1. How much should we allow a kind of pseudo-biology to dictate the way we talk about the relationship between women and men and their emotional faculties? When it comes to Christians and the ‘natural order’, I notice a trend of inconsistency in which aspects of nature we denote as ‘God ordained’ and which are not. For example: the same people who tell me that in God’s order, women are the ‘weaker’ (read more emotional) sex and men are more aggressive (and reasonable!) leader figures, and that this is reflected in some loose definition of biology, might not be so willing to acknowledge the ‘biological’ basis for the ‘natural’ presence of homosexuality, or the ‘naturally’ occurring desire for men to have multiple partners for evolutionary reasons. On what basis can we use ‘nature’ or ‘biology’ to justify a particular interpretation of scripture, when we’re dealing with a fallen world? And if we are going to, how far can that take us in seeing women as the more ‘emotional’ sex, often to their detriment? (Jem Bloomfield has written a really excellent post on some of the ‘evo-psych’ involved in this conversation – do read it!)
  1. Is it fair to blame diminishing male percentages in the Church on ‘feminization’ (usually meant almost as a dirty word, with connotations like overly touchy-feely worship songs) even though the overwhelming majority of leaders are still male? Do groups like the ‘Christian Vision for Men’ help matters by trying to make church more ‘manly’, rather than addressing a deeper problem, which is that emotional engagement is seen as a primarily female space – and that this somehow makes it inferior? I’m not necessarily arguing that the ‘Man’s Group’ is a bad thing, but as someone who grew up in a form of intellectual evangelicalism, in which emotional engagement with one’s spirituality was viewed with suspicion, it seems that attempts to make the church seem more intellectually rigorous or tough lead to a short-circuiting of a truly valuable aspect of human experience. I’m curious whether there is any traction in the idea that rather than an overly emotional church, the reason for lack of male engagement is that traditionally it was women who were asked to serve in their church communities – and those are involved stay engaged. Rather than taking men out of the main body of the church to bond and do ‘manly’ activities, community is best built when people serve the body together. This is turning into a broader point than specifically about reason and emotion, but I suppose I want to ask whether it’s fair to, in some way, blame women for something that is actually nothing to do with a ‘female’ trait.
  1. How much is gendered reason and emotion impacting the field of theology? Anecdotal evidence shows a lack of women doing the ‘hard’ or more ‘academic’ areas of theological disciplines, like Philosophical Theology, Biblical Studies, and Systematic Theology, and while it is essentially impossible to justify a position which suggests that men are more academically capable of studying these areas, why is it that women are not drawn to them, or are less likely to go on to professorships in these areas?

I’m aware that each of these questions could be a whole topic on its own, so if one is particularly picked up on and someone wants to write a full post exploring another area, I would welcome your thoughts!

Mistrust and the problem of “overgenderizing”

When we first moved to England for my husband’s sabbatical, we began watching a new miniseries on the BBC called, The Honourable Woman, a fitting name for the subject at hand. Every episode began with The Honourable Woman, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, saying, “Who do you trust?”

The questions being asked here are who do you mistrust and on what basis? On gender alone?

First, When it comes to men not trusting women I think we’ve hit on an anthropological problem of sin that affects all types of relations. After Adam and Eve sin, Adam blames Eve and Eve blames the serpent. Then in the next chapter Cain murders his brother from a place of jealousy and mistrust. We see this continue to manifest itself between races, nationalities, socioeconomic statuses, ages, religions, gender, etc. Simply put, we mistrust each other. To be sure, there’s a mistrust of women by men, as has been discussed, but I don’t think we should have the conversation without acknowledging an equal mistrust of men by women. I say this because I don’t want us to “overgenderize” (if I am allowed to make up my own word) this issue.

A danger of overgenderizing is reducing an issue such as mistrust to gender alone and thereby raising up a gender over another. Do all women deserve to be trusted simply because they are female? My answer is a firm, No. In the same way I don’t believe women should not be trusted simply because they are female. Being female (or male) doesn’t make us more or less trustworthy than the other. In fact, because of my view of sin and humanity, I find us all pretty untrustworthy. Yet, when I decide whether or not to trust someone or to believe what they say, it is not based on gender alone but on the person’s character. If there is a woman who is gossiper and liar, they will lose believability. If a male pastor has an affair, he will lose my trust. There are women who do not trust any man because they have been abused by men. There are men who do not trust any woman because they have been cheated on by women. And, of course, as already discussed, there are those who are very biased and allow gender to be a cause of mistrust more than character or behavior.

A second point that follows is that I don’t believe that the passages mentioned by Bronwyn and Graham are much to blame for a general mistrust of women among men. I think the issue, going back to the first point, is a result of sin and, as Alastair mentioned, partly influenced by how we are raised and other outside factors. But I don’t believe 1 Timothy 1 or 1 Peter 3 has had much influence (if any) on the general male population. For example, I don’t believe that every male mechanic to whom I have ever taken my car and has not believed me when I have said that my car is making a funny noise (not to mention that it never makes the noise when I take it to them!) is using 1 Timothy 1 as their reason. As it relates to mistrust of women, I believe the place where these passages of Scripture often come into play is within the ecclesial context where women might not be trusted as senior pastors or as preachers or teachers.

I liked what Bronwyn said in her piece, but I would clarify it a little further. She wrote,

“That first Easter, nobody trusted the women. But I’m reminded on Easter that Jesus did. He trusted the women. And it tells me that somehow, when it comes to bearing witness to Him, He trusts me too.”

I would say that Jesus didn’t trust the women at the cross simply because they were women. Rather, Jesus entrusted the message of his resurrection to the women, without regard to their gender, because he chose them and because they were there. Obviously these women were just as capable as men to take the gospel, but not because there was something in their gender that made them that way but because God chose to redeem and to use both sexes. The emphasis, then, is placed not on gender but on God.

To be honest, knowing my heart the way that I do and how prone I am to wander, I am surprised that God would entrust his gospel message to me at all. I sure don’t deserve it. But by his grace he does, and we must recognize God’s grace at work in others when he entrusts the same message to them that God has entrusted to us.

In response to Graham’s post, it seems that Paul was on trial in regards to his intentions (“Did Paul bring patriarchal bias into the composition?”) and in regards to inspiration (“Luke Timothy Johnson takes Paul to task for his poor exegesis.”). If one doesn’t take the “plain reading” of the text, then there’s no reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak. Rather, instead of raising a level of suspicion of Paul, I think a better and more helpful approach is to show from Scripture, tools of hermeneutics, cultural background, etc, how we have been misreading Paul. What Paul has written is the Word of God, but we have been misinterpreting or misreading him. This would be a better approach, in my opinion. I am uncomfortable with the other approach. A helpful book here that charges us to not read anachronistically is William Webb’s book, “Slaves, Women & Homosexuals.”

Secondly, in regards to the comment about Paul doing “poor exegesis” of Genesis 2, I think a better explanation of what we find in 1 Timothy 1 is Paul making an application of Genesis 2. He is not exegeting Genesis 2 as such, but rather he is using Genesis 2 to explain what is happening in Ephesus with the women. I personally understand Paul here to say that wherever women are being deceived like Eve and spreading false teaching, they need to shut up. And to that I say a hearty, Amen.

“Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes” by Randolph Richards and Brandon O’Brien would be a helpful read also.

The Deception of Eve

The exegesis of 1 Timothy 2 that Graham mentions in his follow-up post is really a question that deserves its own treatment, so I won’t fully address it here (especially as we are in danger of straying into a different discussion entirely), just to the degree that it bears upon my point. The main concern of my earlier comments was to challenge the common reading of Paul’s argument that Luke Timothy Johnson seems to adopt, as I believe that Paul’s logic is different.

A key observation here is that the deception of Eve did not arise from the fact that she was a woman (as I noted at the end of my last post, the rest of the Scripture has numerous instances of women proving themselves wiser than serpents), but from the fact that she lacked the first-hand knowledge that Adam had, so could be confused and deceived by the serpent.

Adam’s sin is seen to differ from Eve’s in a number of respects that are relevant here.

Adam is not described as having been deceived, while Eve is declared to have been deceived in both Old and New Testament. How was the woman deceived? The commandment concerning the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was in implicit tension with the granting of the right to eat of any tree in Genesis 1:29 and the serpent played the two off against each other. He cast doubt upon the reliability of the commandment given to her through Adam (the serpent’s question could even be read as ‘was it really God who said?’). At this point, Eve should have questioned Adam and sought more reliable information, but she doesn’t. Adam’s silence and failure to intervene—notice that when Eve takes from the tree, she gives of its fruit to Adam too, suggesting that he had been standing silently by—compounded her confusion and uncertainty. Had Adam misreported the commandment? Had she misunderstood it? Had he been deceiving her? Whom should she trust?

Adam wasn’t in a position to be deceived: unlike Eve, he knew exactly what God had said and didn’t have to determine between the mixed messages of two witnesses. He sinned ‘with a high hand’. He wasn’t deceived concerning God’s word, but just distrusted and rejected it. Nor does 2 Corinthians 11:3 blame Adam’s sin on Eve (I disagree with Graham here). Adam was the one who was the particular priest/teacher in Eden, charged with upholding the authority of God, teaching and enforcing the commandment and guarding and serving the Garden sanctuary. We principally fall in Adam, rather than in Adam and Eve. Adam failed to protect Eve from and prepare her to withstand the false teaching of the serpent (an aspect of his guarding work), choosing to use her as a guinea pig for sin instead. In this respect, Adam’s sin lies behind Eve’s.

I strongly agree with Graham that Paul’s argument doesn’t hinge upon a claim that ‘women are universally like Eve in being deceivable.’ Also that Adam’s sin is the one emphasized in Scripture, contrary to much subsequent popular theology. However, I disagree with his claim that Adam was deceived like Eve: the deception of Eve is rather different from the distrust of Adam. We can recognize this difference between their sins without suggesting anything about their relative intelligence. In short, I believe that: 1) Paul’s condensed summary in 1 Timothy 2 is perfectly in line with the Genesis narrative and almost certainly arises from a fairly attentive reading of that text; 2) contrary to many readings, 1 Timothy 2 presents us with no biblical basis for the belief that women are by their nature less reliable or more susceptible to deception.

“Those Clanging Words” cont’d

Just some thoughts in response to Alastair’s comments to my earlier comments. I wrote:

Interestingly, on 1 Timothy, Luke Timothy Johnson takes Paul to task for his poor exegesis of Genesis 1-3. He states that “the warrant for the injunction [excluding women from leadership] is, in fact, a faulty reading of Torah.” (Luke Timothy Johnson, The First and Second Letters to Timothy [The Anchor Yale Bible]. New Haven: Yale, 2001. p. 211). More could be said on how Paul reads the Genesis accounts and what he’s trying to demonstrate. But I will simply say that the ease with which Eve was deceived is certainly matched by Adam, and in Romans and the Corinthian letters, responsibility for sin is placed exclusively on Adam.

To which Alastair replied:

I don’t believe Paul is misreading Genesis, although the proper application of it is a question for another day. A key to the Eden story is that, although both Adam and Eve came under it, only Adam directly received the commandment concerning the tree, before Eve was created (2:16-17). Note that when God refers to the commandment later, he addresses Adam alone and uses the singular ‘you’ throughout (3:11, 17). Eve could be deceived because the serpent played off information that the text suggests she received directly from God (3:1-2; cf. 1:29) against information that she only had second-hand from God through Adam (as with Hebrew reported speech more generally, Eve’s reporting of the commandment in 3:3, where the plural ‘you’ is used, should not just be presumed to be a de dicto rendering of God’s words: here it seems rather to be a declaration of God’s commandment for them revealed through the words spoken to Adam alone). Adam appears to have been close by while Eve was tempted (3:6), without intervening, increasing her confusion and the likelihood of her deception. Adam alone committed thetrespass because he alone knowingly went against what God had said.

Just to clarify what I was referring to, I’ll expand what I was echoing Luke Timothy Johnson on. Alastair and I, for the most part, agree on this part of the exegesis of Gen. 3 (although Alastair elsewhere has drawn conclusions about gender which I wouldn’t from Gen. 1-3). But Adam’s earlier creation, and the creation of Eve after the command to not eat of the one particular tree are not precisely the issue I (and LTJ) are responding to. The issue is the fact that Paul seems to be drawing certain conclusions about women and men based on specific aspects of his reading of Genesis 3 which are not present in the text.

Let’s just look at Paul’s argument based on Genesis 3:

Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. 12 I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 15 Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty. (1 Tim. 2:11-15, NRSV)

Paul’s argument is typically understood to be this: a woman should learn, and not teach or exercise authority over men, but must keep quiet in teaching times, because 1. Adam was formed first and 2. it was Eve who was deceived, not Adam. Thus, men are not culpable (or more likely less culpable) and women are in some sense disqualified because the original woman was created after the original man, and because their having been deceived demonstrates their inherent lack of ability to correctly handle the commands of God. The problem is two-fold:

First, Adam having been formed first shows little or nothing with regard to male headship or authority generally. On the surface it looks like Paul is arguing that the simply fact of Adam preceding Eve means only men can teach. Adam having been present for the command and not Eve is never shown to be binding on gendered humanity for all time. Adam taught that command because Eve was not present to receive God’s instructions, not because males are inherently designed to hold teaching authority. Once relayed, the command is equally binding on both, even though Eve has it second hand (in our case, all commands of God are taught to us through human teachers, whether we are male or female, so this dynamic needs to be flushed out more). Eve knew the command, and initially trusted Adam that it was from God. Beyond the first generation, no one was present for the giving of that command thus Adam’s creation before Eve is almost irrelevant for discussions of male exclusivity in authority to teach (I say almost because I’ll come back to that in a moment).


Second, Paul says “Adam was not deceived” but he in fact was deceived. Paul says “the woman was deceived and became a transgressor” but Adam also became a transgressor. In Romans and 1 & 2 Corinthians, it is through Adam that sin enters the world, and in Adam all are subject to death (although, 1 Cor. 11:3 does blame Adam’s sin on Eve, but Paul still asserts that it is Adam’s sin which brings death). Johnson’s argument is this:

Paul plays on the fact that the serpent deceived Eve rather than Adam. Presumably, this is to show that women are less capable of distinguishing truth from error, or are too driven by the appetites to be reliable teachers and leaders. But the logic is flawed. The woman, after all, was deceived by “the most subtle creature that the Lord God had made” (Gen. 3:1), but all the woman had to do was offer the fruit to the man and he ate it (3:6)! We can also note that in Gen. 3:17 it is not the woman who is blamed for eating the fruit, but the man.

He then continues:

Paul was not in this case engaging in sober exegesis of Genesis, but supporting his culturally conservative position on the basis of texts that in his eyes demonstrate the greater dignity and intelligence of men and, therefore, the need for women to be silent and subordinate to men.

Paul’s actual argument, based on Genesis 1-3, seems to be and has been traditionally understood to be that because of men having been made first, and women being deceived, holding the authority to teach is exclusive to males. To make such an argument is problematic, since the text of Genesis does not, in my opinion warrant such a conclusion. So, either Paul (or the person writing 1 Timothy) is misreading Genesis and using it to reinforce patriarchy and make an injunction excluding all women from the authority to teach, or we have to re-evaluate our reading of this particular passage in 1 Timothy. Johnson argues the former. I would argue both to some extent.

I do think Paul has made problematic assertions regarding Genesis. But I also think many readings of 1 Tim. have gone off in a problematic direction. Paul’s assertion that Adam was not deceived is problematic. The text of Genesis makes no such assertion. Why else would he eat of the fruit? The serpent has convinced Adam and Eve, since they were together at the time, that God’s statement “you must not touch it, or you will die” was not to be trusted. The way the text reads, in my opinion, is that they were both deceived, and Paul says Adam was not, and he then gives no account of Adam’s reason for partaking.

That said, I still think there is a real problem with reading 1 Timothy to say Paul’s argument is that women are universally like Eve in being deceivable, and also that Adam being created first means authority to teach is reserved exclusively for males. My own reading would be more like this: Adam was created before Eve, and the commandment came before Eve’s creation. This gave Adam the role of passing along what he knew, because Eve did not know, and needed to be given this instruction. The lesson then is not only males are permitted to teach and females must learn in submission, but that the untaught (in a 1st century context, women would fall here) should respect the authority of those who have already been taught (or have been taught to a greater extent). Eve was deceived because she failed to trust Adam’s teaching (hey look, we’re back to trust issues, but the other way around!). She believed the serpent and not Adam, and in turn, Adam believed the serpent and not God. Thus, Adam’s transgression is what produces death. Eve failed to trust her husband, Adam failed to trust his God.

Realms and Manners of Experience / Deceiving Tyrants

Hannah Malcolm posed some helpful questions in response to my opening post in this discussion. A few comments in response:

First, there are areas where realms of experience are completely non-overlapping. For instance, I have no experience whatsoever in what it feels like to have a menstrual cycle and have no reason not to take a woman’s word for it. By contrast, I have extensive experience and knowledge of my male friends. On the basis of this experience and knowledge, I have a plausibility framework for their actions. If a woman comes to me with an accusation about one of them, I am unlikely just to trust her without asking several questions first. While a woman can experience interactions with my friends that I cannot, I am unlikely to allow her experience to override my experience without closer investigation. And this is not necessarily a bad thing: even though they need to be open to change and adjustment, it is healthy not to abandon our plausibility structures on the mere basis of another person’s say-so. Both of us have limited vantage points and experience: we need to triangulate between these to get a clearer sense of the character of the friend.

Second, this issue is exacerbated when women make claims about things that lie outside of their direct experience on the basis of that experience. For instance, in the post around which our first discussion here was built, Jen Wilkin wrote about the frustrating interactions that women can experience with male leaders in the Church. However, she did so by speaking about the way in which men perceive women. Clearly, Jen has no immediate experience of this, while I have had extensive experience of interacting with women as a man and am well acquainted with some of the difficulties that can exist on the other end of such interactions. On the basis of this experience (coupled with my close acquaintance with many pastors), I question certain of her suggestions about the perceptions that drive men’s treatment of women. I do this without needing to question her account of how it feels to be on the receiving end of such treatment, or the need of addressing it. The difference between trusting someone’s account of the facts of an interaction and trusting their interpretation of that interaction also can be immensely important here.

Third, the trust that Young’s article focuses upon is trust of women’s feelings. This goes deeper than trust of women’s reporting of events. It is rather about trusting a particular manner of experiencing, perceiving, processing, and responding to the world. It is less about the content of experience than it is about the form. Differences between the sexes can often play out on this most fundamental of levels, as our differing biochemistry and differing bodies give rise to differing tendencies in manners of being in the world (this radio show is an interesting series of accounts of how testosterone can play into this most basic character of experience), differences that can be exacerbated by gendered modes of socialization. While there is always much more that men and women share in common than what they do not, we are often insufficiently cognizant of the significance of such differences. The closest analogy here might be that of trusting neuroatypical persons’ accounts of their experience. While men and women can relate to much about the manners of experience of persons of the other sex (and, no, there isn’t one single sexed manner of experience for men and women, but there are, I believe, sexually-weighted tendencies), there will often be dimensions that will appear rather unusual to us, making it more likely that we will reserve judgment or find it difficult to trust perceptions on certain matters. This isn’t easily resolved, not least because not all manners of experiencing, perceiving, processing, and responding to the world are equally reliable in each and every context.

Finally, a note in response to Graham’s post, on the exegesis of Genesis 1-3 and 1 Timothy 2. I don’t believe Paul is misreading Genesis, although the proper application of it is a question for another day. A key to the Eden story is that, although both Adam and Eve came under it, only Adam directly received the commandment concerning the tree, before Eve was created (2:16-17). Note that when God refers to the commandment later, he addresses Adam alone and uses the singular ‘you’ throughout (3:11, 17). Eve could be deceived because the serpent played off information that the text suggests she received directly from God (3:1-2; cf. 1:29) against information that she only had second-hand from God through Adam (as with Hebrew reported speech more generally, Eve’s reporting of the commandment in 3:3, where the plural ‘you’ is used, should not just be presumed to be a de dicto rendering of God’s words: here it seems rather to be a declaration of God’s commandment for them revealed through the words spoken to Adam alone). Adam appears to have been close by while Eve was tempted (3:6), without intervening, increasing her confusion and the likelihood of her deception. Adam alone committed the trespass because he alone knowingly went against what God had said.

It should be noted that the deception of Eve by the serpent—and Adam!—introduces a theme of poetic justice that runs throughout the biblical text, where tyrants and unfaithful men are deceived by faithful women. Sarai deceives Pharaoh (Genesis 12:10-20) and Abimelech (Genesis 20). Rebekah deceives Abimelech (Genesis 26:1-11) and Isaac, who was about to go against God’s will and bless the wrong son (Genesis 27:1-29). Rachel deceives Laban (Genesis 31:19-35). The Hebrew midwives deceive Pharaoh (Exodus 1:15-22) and Moses’ mother, sister, and Pharaoh’s daughter all play a part in deceiving Pharaoh to secure Moses’ safety (Exodus 2:1-10). Rahab deceives the men of Jericho (Joshua 2). Jael deceives Sisera (Judges 4:17-22). Michal deceives Saul (1 Samuel 19:11-17). Esther deceives Haman (Esther 5-8).

“Those clanging words”

Alastair’s post to begin this topic was really helpful, and identified the key issues regarding trust. He concluded with a set of questions. The one I want to speak to is the second question: “What are some of the ways that men can change their behaviour and attitudes in order to trust women more?”

In her response (which got picked up by the Huffington Post), Bronwyn, I think, hit the nail on the head, referring to the biblical texts which cause so many problems for gender discussions:

1 Peter 3 refers to wives as “weaker vessels” than their husbands, and then there are those clanging words of 1 Timothy 2:14 where we are reminded that it wasn’t Adam who was deceived, it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. (And, I am struck by the fact that Adam is named as an individual-not-blamed, while Eve-as-individual is not named… it the more generic “the woman” who was deceived… as if Adam as an autonomous agent is an exception, but all women are innately deceivable.) Are these not hints, then, that even in God’s economy, women are less able to act, less able to discern, just…. less able? In other words, are there theological reasons for women to be considered less trustworthy?

I haven’t met many willing to own this statement outright, but it seems to me that it lies as an undercurrent beneath some of the discussions about women in leadership in the church. Being prone to being busy bodies and gossips as they are (1 Timothy 5), and being deceivable and weaker (the Bible says so) – surely then women should remain silent?

The hermeneutical challenges of these passages (and other passages often cited and used as “clobber texts”, like Eph. 5:22ff, 1 Cor. 14:34-35) are immense, and hard to cover in a single post (so I won’t even try). Several questions swirl in my mind when I read these texts. Most egalitarians will immediately go to historical context, and suggest a greater level of cultural influence than complementarians are comfortable with. These are canonical texts, accepted by the Church as inspired (what that means in terms of infallibility/inerrancy is far beyond the discussion at hand). We assume that the authors were guided by God in the composition of these words. Did Paul (or whoever wrote Ephesians & 1 Timothy in Paul’s name, depending on your slant on this topic- also beyond our scope right now) bring some still persistent patriarchal bias into the composition? In Romans and Galatians we don’t see anything like what we see in 1 Timothy. So, was there something unique about the behaviour of the women in Ephesus and Corinth? Did Paul have a lack of trust for all women, or just the specific women in these particular places/congregations? Given the praise he heaps on the women mentioned in Romans 16, can we identify a tension in Paul’s own mind which the Spirit is coming up against?

Without getting to deep into the exegesis of these passages, I just want to work out some things we can take away from them in response to Alastair’s question. A surface reading of these texts can easily reinforce male mistrust of women. As Bronwyn noted, it could be read to mean women in general follow after Eve and are deceivable, weaker, and as such, untrustworthy as witnesses. Yet, as Bronwyn helpfully pointed out, Jesus was certainly willing to trust women. So why were Paul and Peter seemingly reluctant to do the same, even with the Holy Spirit guiding and inspiring? Do we have to reread Jesus? Paul & Peter? All of the above?

Several commentators make helpful observations about meanings of words, like the fact that “weaker” can mean something more lack lacking access to resources, or simply that it refers to physical size making women vulnerable. So, in a patriarchal culture, weaker vessels is not a comment on women’s abilities generally but a statement about cultural assumptions and the treatment of women; i.e. Christian men must act as advocates because of the restrictions and dangers Greco-Roman social structures place on women.

Interestingly, on 1 Timothy, Luke Timothy Johnson takes Paul to task for his poor exegesis of Genesis 1-3. He states that “the warrant for the injunction [excluding women from leadership] is, in fact, a faulty reading of Torah.” (Luke Timothy Johnson, The First and Second Letters to Timothy [The Anchor Yale Bible]. New Haven: Yale, 2001. p. 211). More could be said on how Paul reads the Genesis accounts and what he’s trying to demonstrate. But I will simply say that the ease with which Eve was deceived is certainly matched by Adam, and in Romans and the Corinthian letters, responsibility for sin is placed exclusively on Adam.

Obviously we can dig deeper and deeper into the exegesis of these texts, but don’t have space right now. But, in terms of Alastair’s question about what man can do to alter their behaviour to reduce the mistrust against women, one important answer is to read with greater nuance. One of the phrases that I read from rigid complementarian writings in “plain reading of Scripture”. If we read more critically (both in reading the texts, and ourselves, noting our inherent biases) we see far more at play than simply reinforced patriarchy. Egalitarians still have to wrestle with this too of course, and not simply dismiss 1 Timothy as not authentically Pauline and therefore not authoritative (even if it is pseudonymous, it’s still accepted as canonical) or chalk it up to cultural influence or situation specifics and ignore it. I’d love to pretend certain passages aren’t there. But I always have to ask myself, even if this is specific to Ephesus in the 1st century, what does it mean for me in 21st century Canada? I live in culture with significant immigration from places where patriarchy and low views of women’s value and trustworthiness are alive and well. Even among Westerners, the problem is still there. How do I do ministry in an environment with a plurality of views on gender?

My own behaviour as a pastor with egalitarian views speaks volumes to the culture I am in. But do I keep silent, and hold these views as private, and non-binding on others? How much of my understanding of the trustworthiness of women related to my egalitarian views? If I claim I trust women, how do I influence others and demonstrate this trust in a way which proves to be a positive influence on others, even if the others continue to hold to certain patriarchal or “hard” complementarian views? Can patriarchy still endorse trusting women’s testimony or do the underlying assumptions inevitably undercut any stated level of trust?

I am under no illusion that only egalitarian men trust women. That would be rubbish to even suggest. But is there a connection between what Paul seems to say about Eve and assumed gender roles and a lack of trust shown to women? Given the Genesis declaration that male and female are both fully and equally in the image and likeness of God, what makes males assume men are more trustworthy than women? Do we tend to overemphasize generalized differences between the genders, to such an extent that the shared likeness is downplayed? Isn’t a mistrust of females a mistrust of humanity?