A few days ago I had a leaflet in my pigeon-hole at college entitled “Male & Female in God’s Image“. It was published by Reform, and (strangely enough) written by my placement supervisor. (He didn’t specifically give it to me, by the way; it was given to all students at Oak Hill).
The main claim in the leaflet is that if we accept women bishops, then we will damage our understanding of the Trinity. This is what the leaflet says:
Genesis 1:27 does not teach the sameness of men and women. In fact the asymmetry of the words used point to the differentiation in the Triune God which in turn lies at the basis of the differentiation between men and women.
But if our society views men and women as having no significant differences and this is then pursued as an axiomatic principle within the Christian community, it is inevitable that our view of the nature of God will change.
So, what we see is the asymmetry between male and female relationships being a sort of picture of the asymmetry in the Godhead. He goes on:
The persons of the Trinity are equally God, yet the functions of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are different … It is the order within the Trinity which lies at the root of the different functions of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The idea is that the Son is relationally subordinate to the Father. For example, in John 14:28 Jesus says, ‘The Father is greater than I’ (much-loved but little-understood by Jehovah’s witnesses). The Son is equally God, but being relationally subordinate seeks to do the Father’s will.
As such, the consequences of denying any difference between men and women will be pretty bad. It will impact our understanding of God, and more:
If we are not careful we will end up saying that a person’s value lies in their power over other human beings, or else we will destroy the proper basis for authority in human society. The only sound basis for maintaining a real equality of human beings with the experience of social order is to be found in the biblical insistence that we are all made in the image of the Triune God.
Now, I’m not sure what I think about all this. I don’t know enough of the doctrine of God to know about relational subordination and how that plays out in human relationships. But what I’m not sure about doesn’t really relate to that per se. I’m currently doing a course at college on the Pastoral Epistles, which included looking at the infamous passage about women and authority in 1 Timothy (1 Timothy 2:8-15), which I’ll come onto in a moment.
My thoughts are currently twofold: Firstly, the differences between men and women – and I think the Bible does teach that there are differences – don’t necessarily have to be authoritative. For example, debate has been raging for many years about the usage of the Greek word kephale (head) in 1 Corinthians 11. Does it mean head as in authority, or does it mean something more like ‘source’? You will find arguments on both sides – it’s actually incredibly difficult for a layperson to evaluate. Strangely enough, most people on the complementarian side of the divide find kephale has the sense of authority; those on the egalitarian side find it means something more like ‘source’.
Secondly, relational subordination between men and women seems to be within the context of husbands and wives. To what extent does that apply within the context of church leadership? The go-to passage for this, the knock-down argument, has traditionally been that passage from 1 Timothy 2. But I’m not so sure anymore that it teaches what it has traditionally been thought to. It seems there is a plausible cause that can be made for an alternative reading of the passage as referring to a particular situation at Ephesus. Plus, I don’t think the ‘traditional’ understanding is without its problems. But I would like to dedicate a blog post to that particular passage another day. Suffice it to say I think there is, to channel William Lane Craig, ‘reasonable doubt’. And if 1 Timothy doesn’t teach women should not be in authority in church leadership, what then?
I don’t have answers at the moment, just questions. But I think it’s right sometimes to question these things. There are a goodly number of evangelical scholars out there who have come to rest on the egalitarian position.
Well, once again in my own ‘special’ way I have managed to write a medium-length blog post without coming to any firm conclusions. But hopefully some more updates to follow. Watch this space, or don’t, as the case may be.