Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Old Testament Theology...and Women?, Part I: Bruce Waltke's Argument

I’m taking a seminary course this semester titled “Old Testament Theology.” And for the last several weeks, my class has been going through the basic features of OT theology, like poetry, prose, narrative, etc. We’ve been looking at all the types of writing in Scripture and how the writers of Scripture crafted the writing the way they did to give us a certain message. Paying attention to the message involves paying attention to form of the text, that the form helps shape the interpretation.

But I never thought that this course would also involve an entire chapter on women and their “prescribed” roles in the home and the church.

Now, before I continue, let me first say that I count myself to be a conservative theologian. What this means is that I believe that when Scripture tells the wives to submit to their husbands, I believe Scripture to be true. However, I believe that husbands are called to be like the “Lord” (uppercase L); and by serving as the ‘lord’ (lowercase L) of their homes, men are to “love their wives as Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for her” (Eph. 5:25). Men leading in their homes can lead with love, concern, and the utmost care for their spouses and children. In the same way that humanity is to have a God-given, benevolent rule over the earth (Gen. 1:26-28), so men are to be benevolent leaders in their homes.

But I disagree with the assumption made in most conservative circles today, which says that men are to lead in the home and, therefore ARE CALLED TO LEAD IN THE CHURCH. I don’t see that labeled in Scripture. Rather, I see both men and women called, and both genders provided for in terms of work in the church. More specifically, I don’t see where men are told that only THEY can be the elders, pastors, and leaders. And it is my whole-hearted belief that such passages like 1 Timothy 2 have been twisted in the name of “old Southern tradition.” In reality, the “stretched metaphor” of the men ruling in the churches because they rule in the home is an inference drawn from Scripture (or so believed)---but where is the cold hard proof? In the end, if there are no explicit texts that give men full leadership in the church, then men ruling in the churches becomes about as necessary as the color of the carpet, or the style of worship. And if these things just mentioned have no explicit texts to uphold a certain belief, then I think it’s wrong to say that the carpet MUST be red, or the worship style MUST be traditional...or that men MUST rule in the churches. Paul gave a loud declaration when he said that Christ is the head of the church (Eph. 4:15; 5:23-24). If Christ is the head of the church, then no matter how powerful the male leader, he is still not the head. No deacon, preacher, elder, or otherwise will ever be the head of the church. That is reserved for Christ alone. All the pastor will ever be is the “undershepherd,” or “overseer,” which is a position that lies beneath the Lord, who is “the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls” (1 Peter 2:25, NKJV).

Bruce Waltke, author of “An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach,” writes the following regarding 1 Corinthians 11:

“God establishes this pattern (the order of creation) by creating Adam first and the woman to help the man (Gen. 2:18). As Paul notes in a passage dealing with the role of men and women, one that demands its own study, ‘man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man’ (1 Cor. 11:8-9). In other words, Paul GIVES GOVERNMENTAL PRIORITY TO THE MAN BY THE SEQUENCE OF CREATION OF MAN AND WOMAN AND BY THE PURPOSE FOR WHICH THE WOMAN WAS CREATED. Is it not plausible to assume that if God intended equality in government, he would have formed Eve and Adam at the same time and made them helpers suitable to each other? If he had wanted a matriarchy, would God not have formed Eve first and created the husband to be a suitable helper to his wife?” (Bruce Waltke, “An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach.” Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007, page 242)

There is no doubt where Waltke stands on this one: he is a conservative...and a die-hard complementarian. His argument is not surprising, but I will examine it nonetheless.

Let’s look at the passage that he quotes. In 1 Cor. 11:8-9, the discussion in the church involves the issue of women wearing head coverings. Notice in verses 4 and 5 that the men AND women are doing the same things: “every man PRAYING OR PROPHESYING” (v.4), and “every woman who PRAYS OR PROPHESIES” (v.5). The only difference is that the men should not cover their heads (in this verse), while the women should (v.5). Both men and women are equally acknowledged in the ministries of prayer and prophecy.

Waltke actually acknowledges equal gifts among men and women, and emphasizes that even the Old Testament testifies to this very fact:

“Huldah is a most remarkable prophetess with regard to the question of women’s roles in worship and ministry...Josiah directs five leaders to inquire of I AM (God) about the book. INSTEAD OF GOING TO JEREMIAH AND ZEPHANIAH, they go to their contemporary, Huldah, to verify the book (2 Kings 22:8-20)” (caps mine) (Waltke, 240).

Waltke’s comment about Huldah and prophetesses? “In the Old Testament, women are called to be ‘prophetesses’ ON AN EQUAL FOOTING WITH THE PROPHETS” (Waltke, 240).

It looks as if Waltke understands that the gifting of the Spirit places women on an equal footing with men. He actually titles five sections around the theme of equality: “Equality in Creation, Equality in Parenting, Equality in Charisma (Gifts), Equality in Prayer, Equality in Worship” (Waltke, 239-240).

But then, Waltke gets to leadership in the church...and he blows it entirely! Waltke’s first mistake after the above equality affirmations is to separate gifts and offices:

“Here we need to distinguish clearly between call to ministry and appointment to an office since they are not the same thing” (Waltke, 241).

I agree with Waltke. For instance, being a helper in the church is not the same as being a deacon. While a deacon has the “ministry of helps,” every person who possesses this gift does not end up serving in the office of deacon. A deacon can possess the gift, but possessing the gift does not guarantee the office. In this manner, I affirm what Waltke says. But I disagree when Waltke tries to show why women should not serve in the offices of pastor and elder:

“Male authority in the home and in the church is founded on the order of creation and reinforced in the order of redemption as presented in both the Old and New Testaments” (242).

In response to Waltke, I’d like to say two things: first, male authority in the home is not founded on the creation order, but in the very words of God Himself as a punishment to Eve for her sin in the Garden(Genesis 3:16). If God had clearly intended to appoint Adam as the head of his wife in the home, then why is it that we only find God saying these words to Eve in Genesis 3 with the fall and not earlier?

Complementarians such as Waltke like to play with vague generalities and draw inferences. But when are conservatives gonna get back to finding EXPLICIT references in Scripture---and when are we gonna stop using vague references to emphasize our points? If God says it in Scripture, there will be some place within the canon of the text where the concept will be as clear as day. Every text in the Bible is not a vague generality; and I despise this sort of technique used by complementarians to attempt to validate their personal belief.

Secondly, there are no texts that give men the right to be the head of the church (not even 1 Timothy 2 does this). I have interpreted this text dozens of times here at the site. For all those who desire to read my thoughts, go to the blog sections on the right of the main page and click on the section “1 Timothy 2.” Respond to this post or the others if you have comments, questions, observations, etc.

The point being made here is that the order of creation does not place the man over the woman in the churches. And 1 Corinthians 11 works against the complementarian position. What does it say? Well, I’ll get to that in my next post.

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