A Male Feminist Wrestles with the Bible (come watch!)


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This post is part of our on-going series about Male Feminist Theology.

When we last met, I tried to lay out a theology of the Bible that makes sense when we take into account the experiences of women–an experience that is marginalized, embodied, and connected to the earth itself. When you do that, you realize that a top-down understanding of the Bible is inadequate. The way God reveals himself is primarily from the bottom-up.  And that is how we should see the Bible–not as a divine dispatch from the heavens, but as an emerging reality out of the embodied, painful reality of human existence.

My argument was that the top-down idea that God spoke from on high and people wrote down his words in the Bible, is actually a patriarchal view that concentrates power and knowledge at the top and restricts it only to those with the privilege of being “in the know”.

Whether you agree with all that or not, there’s actually a bigger elephant in the room than our theological ideas about the Bible: the actual contents of the Bible itself. If you want to be sensitive to the realities of women in the world, what should you do when you approach passages (both Old Testament and New!) that disregard, demean, and disempower women?

Two roads diverged in a narrow Word…

There are commonly two ways that that the “hard parts” of the Bible are read by feminists, egalitarians, and those agreeing with the full participation of women in all parts of the church.

The first one, associated with “liberal” and “progressive” theologians, simply disagrees with what the Bible says. They would say that the conservative view of how to understand and translate certain texts is actually correct. The Bible itself does not see women as full structural equals as men. Jesus really couldn’t imagine having women as teachers. Paul really is denying women a place in the Church.

But, they would say, the Bible also says lots of thing that we’ve come to realize aren’t the case (scientifically, historically, practically, etc.).The Bible is simply a product of its (patriarchal) culture, and we need to be sensitive to how the Spirit is guiding us and not cling unnecessarily to harmful cultural ideas the original writers had. Yes, Paul didn’t want women to exercise authority in church. And he was wrong. You can say that and still be a Bible-believing Christian. It’s okay.

The second path–the one I’ve historically ascribed to–tries to argue that the Bible (at least the New Testament) is itself supportive of egalitarian views that allow women to teach and exercise authority in the church. Jesus and Paul weren’t wrong in this case, we’ve just been reading the text wrongly for a while now. As we’ve grown in our knowledge about historical context and translation, and as other voices have interpreted the text, we see more clearly how the New testament has every expectation that women would be full participants in every part of the church.

I have gone to pains to fight for this second path. To “defend” the Bible as it were and say that you can be biblically-faithful with a “conservative” view of the Bible and still walk away agreeing with women doing authoritative things in churches.

But what if I’m doing it all wrong?

A Feminist Fundamentalist?

Personally, I think the way most American Conservative Evangelicals read the Bible is not correct. Too many treat the Bible almost as a god in of itself, as if it is holy, sacred, perfect in all its attributes with nary a mark of human weakness or finitude in its pages. This puts the Bible on a pedestal on which it doesn’t even put itself (and no, when the Bible talks about God’s “word”, “law”, or “statutes”, it is not mainly talking about written Scriptures. But that’s a discussion for another day).

I’ve come to a place where I’ve realized that when the Bible talks about historical stuff, science, and many religious practices, it’s acting as a product of its culture. The biblical writers wouldn’t have known about a super-old earth or the findings of modern science and archaeology, so I wouldn’t expect them to put that in the Bible. When they write stories and histories, they are doing so more as artists than documentarians.

The Bible is indeed the primary place through which God breathes and shows us who he is, but it is a human text written by humans, for humans. And these humans had certain cultural and historical presuppositions that made their way into the Bible. And that’s okay.

(Do you see my problem yet?)

When it comes to nearly every other aspect of the Bible’s contents, I have that “flexible” view that sounds a lot like those theological “liberals” and “progressives” above. But when it comes to this issue of the Bible and Women, I suddenly start talking like a Fundamentalist Conservative Evangelical. I find myself thinking:

Surely, the Bible couldn’t be ‘wrong’ about this topic! It HAS to be supportive of women in all aspects for it to TRULY be the Word of God! If that falls, where does that leave us!?”

And yet, I fight so hard against people with those exact same thoughts when it comes to history, science, authorship, and so many other aspects of biblical scholarship.

Hypocrite or Heretic?

I still don’t know. This has been a really hard post to write. I am still of the opinion that the New Testament is in favor of women leaders in the church and that it is fundamentally an egalitarian document. But I admit, I sometimes feel like I’m jumping through hoops and doing mental gymnastics just to support this idea. Am I twisting Scripture to support an idea I’ve arrived at due to other non-biblical factors?

I don’t have any firm or final conclusions about this, but I have a few things that have helped me think through this more clearly, even as I continue to wrestle. I’ll post those tomorrow.

But in the meantime, what do you think? If you believe in women’s ordination, which view of the Bible would you ascribe to? Why or why not?

UP NEXT: Oh no! What’s a Feminist Fundamentalist to Do?


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6 thoughts on “A Male Feminist Wrestles with the Bible (come watch!)

  1. Does The New Testament support women’s full participation in the church, or do some of the books/authors of The New Testament? While the Acts church leaders did meet to hash out some agreement on issues like whether the gospel was for Jews, Gentiles or both, and what the role of the Law of Moses was in the church, it’s not like they held regular conferences to come to agreement on every issue.

    It seems to me very likely that some authors supported full participation and some did not. Those who did not weren’t yet aware or open to how God’s kingdom didn’t care for the cultural and legal norms of earthly kingdoms as they relate to women. Or maybe they were inconsistent as they tried to work out the place of gender in the church. There are passages and contexts that don’t seem to leave any other option than at least some church leaders recognizing the full equality of women.

    So, while you’re probably a hypocrite *and* heretic in some areas (as we all are), maybe the issue here isn’t you, but them. The church leaders were also hypocrites and heretics, who, at their best, revealed God’s will and work in the world, and at their worst perpetuated beliefs that have continued to be used to subjugate women for 2000 years. It’s certainly the case that they weren’t all in agreement on all issues with each other, and maybe the authors weren’t in agreement with themselves as they continued to wrestle with what it means to be a new creation on this old earth.

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    • Man, we’ve had so many discussions where you know how “crazy” I can get on Bible stuff, but this is a good example of exactly what I’m talking about! You say that, and it sounds so reasonable, and in so many other areas of theology and biblical understanding, I’d agree with you. But with this topic? I have a hard time seeing Scripture like that. Why is that?! Sigh…

      Well, anyway, my post tomorrow, I think, will actually come around to sounding a lot like what you’re saying (as in allowing flexibility in how we get to certain theological ideas). I can’t wait to get your thoughts. Thanks for commenting!

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  2. I think the bigger issue is that many of the “conservative” readings are very proof texty. I’ve been stuck debating this issue after I posted on it.

    I don’t think your a heritic at all, in fact “sola scriptora” is still very much an unrealised ideal. Your view is the correct one especially against the liberal “ignore it” view.

    The conservatives tend to be heritics themselves (dispensationalist and their kin) so I wouldn’t fret over offending them much.

    The point of being Protestant is to carry shorguns into rooms of chained up sacred cows. But on this even moderatly conservative seminarys read egalatarian (only with some caveats).

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  3. Pingback: Oh no! What’s a Feminist Fundamentalist to Do? | Prodigal Paul | the long way home

  4. Something I’ll be studying more as of late in scripture is what is a direct command from God vs what is advice from a Godly man. Context needs to be considered. Women in Biblical times were not educated and were always dependent on a man in order to simply live. A woman might not have had the knowledge needed to educate others back in the day and therefore it’s understandable. Nobody could have predicted that women would be independent one day, that we would have legal rights equal to a man, and that needs to be considered when reading scripture. So in Biblical times, women were not equal – educationally, financially, socially, functionally – so of course scripture will reflect that. But now… women can be independent, educated, support themselves, talk with other people and have their voice matter and be taken seriously. If someone is educated (male or female) that human should be able to educate other humans. Also, who were the first people to see Jesus risen from the dead? Women. God chose to show them Himself – not show another man to show them.
    If one considers woman “equal but different” I will question that person’s morals and also if they are racist as well.
    I don’t see how one can say that a woman can be “equal” in a marriage with a man over her as her head and Jesus is his head. This is a contradictory statement. Being over someone means they are not equal, for example I am not equal to my boss and man is not equal to Jesus who is over him as his head. Personally, I’d like God to be my head… HIMSELF. Not a man who loves God. I want nothing to put a limit on intimacy with Jesus or ability to follow Him and marriage SHOULD NOT limit those things for either party. If we’re both lead by and submit to Jesus there shouldn’t be a problem.
    I also question morals when a man thinks that a woman (who may have all the knowledge she needs on the topic) should not educate a man. The person with more knowledge should educate the person with less knowledge AND should also teach them to think for themselves and equip them with the tools they need to hold their own and not be completely dependent on the teacher. If there are two people who want to pastor a church, a woman who is more educated, capable and gifted and a man who is less educated, capable and gifted will you say that the less capable person should do the job because he has a penis?
    Does God think less of me because HE CREATED ME with a vagina?

    On a separate note, I feel that issues like this separate God’s church. All these issues we discuss… they’re okay to discuss and they’re okay to disagree on, but we live in a time where people have disagreed on issues and separated into different denominations and refuse to work together for God’s good. Is this really what God wanted for His people? And how much church resources (in general/in most churches) goes to help others in need vs to keep within the church? I’m not only talking about money. What is more important here??? We are missing the big picture. Some things are okay to disagree on. There are boundaries of what is and is not Christianity, but within those boundaries there is space to think of things different ways. Every Christian will believe something slightly different when it comes to scripture. And. It’s. Okay. The question that itches me the most is how do we all step back, see the big picture, stop BITTERLY arguing over secondary and tertiary issues (yet still be free to discuss at an appropriate time), and WORK TOGETHER to do what we should be doing??? I don’t think we realize how much we can be doing if we all worked together and stop being distracted!!! So how? How to function together? That is my itch. I have plenty of ideas about what is “wrong” with our church and our culture, and plenty ideas on how to move forward. I don’t even know how to go about discussing these things with others because I see pastors and church leaders so quickly shut others down and NOT even hear them out on issues much more trivial. People want to do what they’ve always done. They don’t want growth or change because it’s scary. There are other ways of doing things that are not wrong. Clearly we’re not doing the best we can as Christians, so how can we do better??? How to do better when we won’t even consider another way?

    Also… can this other day discussion be soon? 🙂 “This puts the Bible on a pedestal on which it doesn’t even put itself (and no, when the Bible talks about God’s “word”, “law”, or “statutes”, it is not mainly talking about written Scriptures. But that’s a discussion for another day).”

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  5. This is my first glance at all these wanderings. . . why not just flip the whole thing on its head and wrestle with human (male) submission. The idea of raising people (women) to power, cultural whining about who is on top, who is #1 or who is equal, who gets the special privileges, freedom, self-acutalization . . .all threads of a very secular/worldly (politicized?) meta-narrative. Yes, male-chauvinism is sinful and has been incredibly prevalent in our world, but the pendulum swing to (secularish) feminism is just as sinful in my mind.. . .of course, you can imagine, I am no feminist 😉

    Skipping lots and lots of thoughts and spiraling tangentially to the side (and oversimplifying for the sake of time). . . .I think about the path my life has taken and the choices that B and I have made. We made conscious choices at pivotal points to do what some people would call “maintain traditional gender roles.” That role has allowed me the freedom to be more innovative, creative, intellectually stimulated and productive for the church and the community than I ever would have been otherwise. And the limiting, weary burdens commonly called traditional womanhood have been a mercy of refining fire. Please don’t empower me.

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