Recently I wrote a post on I. Howard Marshall’s chapter in “Theological Interpretation of the New Testament” (edited by Vanhoozer, Treier, and N.T. Wright), where I showed Marshall’s study of 1 Timothy 2 revealed that the traditional argument doesn’t make sense and can’t be proven. After writing that post, I mulled the statements from Thomas Schreiner and Wayne Grudem over and over in my head. I’ve been studying this subject for the last two years (intensely), and the last three years at large; but I think that the ridiculous statements from the complementarian camp still seem to shock me. After all this time, I can still feel “the woman” rising in me when someone repeats the biological argument against women and their ministries.
Reading Schreiner and Grudem’s quotes from Grudem’s book “Evangelical Feminism,” I began to remember that Sarah Sumner wrote something in her book called “Men and Women in the Church” that seemed to tackle the biological argument—her chapter called “What’s a ‘Weaker Vessel’?” (chapter 11).
Just to get a feel for what I’m discussing, let’s place Schreiner’s and Grudem’s quotes up once more for all to see:
““God’s order of creation is mirrored in the nature of men and women. Satan approached the woman first not only because of the order of creation but also because of the different inclinations present in Adam and Eve. Generally speaking, women are more relational and nurturing and men are more given to rational analysis and objectivity…appointing women to the teaching office is prohibited because they are LESS LIKELY to draw a line on doctrinal non-negotiables, and thus DECEPTION AND FALSE TEACHING WILL MORE EASILY ENTER THE CHURCH…” (pg. 71; quote itself taken from Thomas Schreiner’s “Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:9-15, pp. 145-146).
Grudem, after quoting Thomas Schreiner, takes up this line of thought himself in “Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth”:
“God gave men, IN GENERAL, a disposition that is BETTER SUITED TO TEACHING AND GOVERNING in the church, a disposition that inclines more to rational, logical analysis of doctrine and a desire to protect the doctrinal purity of the church, and God gave women, IN GENERAL, a disposition that INCLINES MORE TOWARD A RELATIONAL, NURTURING EMPHASIS THAT PLACES A HIGHER VALUE ON UNITY AND COMMUNITY IN THE CHURCH (v.14)” (pg. 72).
If one reads Schreiner’s explanations of the biological differences between men and women, one is easily led to believe that a woman’s “relational and nurturing nature” make her “less likely to combat error in the church,” which means that she is a weakling. On the other hand, men are supposed to “protect” the doctrine of the church and maintain her purity (once again, the male is to “protect” the feminine, which is the church).
Without saying it, Schreiner states that men are stronger “in mind,” while women are stronger “in heart”—the heart being the seat of emotions.
But the question is, is this what Scripture affirms? The answer is a firm “No.” Jesus came on earth and took on human flesh—yet He wept over Lazarus (John 11:35) and was grieved for the masses who had no shepherd to guide them (Matthew 9:36). Jesus even sweated “like drops of blood” as He prayed for the Father to remove the task before Him (Luke 22:44). Jesus possessed emotion and showed it while one earth. Men should have a problem with Schreiner’s and Grudem’s views of men as just being “of the mind”—basically, without saying it, these two men are labeling the male gender as “heartless.” And what about the women? Well, according to their ideas about biological constitution, women let their emotions rule them. This is absolutely ridiculous when you look at the number of great women that study in universities and academic institutions in this country, and go on to make lasting changes on our society. If emotions ruled them, the intellect would take a back seat—and yet, it doesn’t. Doesn’t that tell us something about the way these men think that should disturb us?
Does Scripture affirm Schreiner’s and Grudem’s view of men and women? Absolutely not!
Let’s take a look at 1 Peter 3:7—
“7Likewise,(I) husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker(J) vessel, since they are heirs with you[a] of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.”
Notice that Peter calls the woman “the weaker vessel.” Now I thought at first glance—as well as most—that when Peter calls women “the weaker vessel,” that he was affirming Schreiner and Grudem; but Sarah Sumner hit at something that I had never thought about before:
“The word is a comparative—weakER. The implication is that husbands are WEAK and wives are WEAKER. BOTH ARE VULNERABLE. To be more precise, the Greek word ‘asthenes’ literally means ‘STRENGTHLESS’. The implication, then, is that MEN ARE STRENGTHLESS AND WOMEN ARE YET MORE STRENGTHLESS. The DIFFERENCE BETWEEN WOMEN AND MEN LIES IN THE DEGREE OF THEIR STRENGTHLESSNESS, or as we said before, their VULNERABILITY” (Sumner, “Men and Women in the Church,” pg. 135).
When Peter calls women “weaker,” he must be calling them “weaker” in relation to something. For instance, if I like eating at Applebee’s, I might say that the food was “good.” But what about if I am asked about Applebee’s food VERSUS FOOD SOMEWHERE ELSE, like Chili’s? I might say, “I like Applebee’s, but I like Chili’s BETTER.” Why do I use the word “better”? Because I am comparing one restaurant’s food to another’s. Only with a comparison is the word “better” used; and it is the same with “weaker.” If women are the “weaker,” then they have to be weak IN RELATION TO SOMETHING! In relation to what? In relation to men.
But what does this comparison do for us? It shows us that women are not the ONLY WEAK ONES—MEN ARE WEAK TOO, but women are MORE WEAK than men!
But where does this weakness lie? Sumner discusses the use of the word “vessel” (skeuos) in 1 Peter 3:7 to reveal the source of weakness:
“The Greek word for ‘vessel’ (skeuos) specifies PHYSICALITY. The same word occurs in 1 Thessalonians 4:3-4, ‘For this is the will of God…that each of you know how to possess his own ‘vessel’ in sanctification and honor.’ The point is for every individual Christian to be responsible to stay sexually pure. To possess your own ‘vessel’ means to control your own body. Thus women, as weaker vessels, are PHYSICALLY MORE VULNERABLE THAN MEN” (Sumner, 135).
So men are WEAK in body, contrary to what society tells them—and women are WEAKER in body than men are. Men are physically stronger than women are, but the physicality is where it stops—NOTHING in Scripture indicates that men are stronger MENTALLY or EMOTIONALLY, or any of the rest of it. Neither does Scripture indicate women are stronger in their emotions or mentality, etc. Men are, however, physically stronger.
Now, back to Schreiner’s statement: Scripture has nothing to say along the lines of Schreiner. There is no biological argument that makes men more fit to lead in the church than women. There is only a Scriptural argument regarding the physical strength of men and women. But, fascinatingly enough, God doesn’t pick leaders according to their strength…