Monday, August 04, 2008

Husband as "Head" Part Five: Back to the Garden

NOTE: If you go to the sidebar and click on "The Gender Debate" all of the posts in this series will be available and you can scroll down to the first post ("Is the Husband the Priest of the Home") and read the posts consecutively if you'd like. The follow-up posts are all titled "Husband as Head" Part __.

I apologize for taking over a month with this. Life intervenes with blog writing. I will get back to the "head" reference in Eph. 5:23 very soon, but I want to take a detour back to the Bible's Garden of Eden. It is a detour, but it does relate. On the way to Eden, let me share a few things--I guess that means a detour from the detour. That gets involved, and this is a long post, so I'll add some headings. I hope it helps!
We are stardust,
We are golden,
We are caught in the Devil's bargain,
And we've got to get ourselves back to the Garden.
Joni Mitchell
Peeling Back the Layers

It can be difficult to read the Bible, especially for those of us who were "raised on it," with fresh perspective. In the post which began this series, "Is the Husband the Priest of the Home?" I shared an example from my own life of of reading and preaching scripture with unknown bias. It was a long time before I realized that in sharing the "husband = priest" sermon I was not teaching what the scripture actually said, but what I had been told the scripture said. I shared that story, and will share a few personal things in this post, not because I think that my experience is amazing or even all that important, but because I want to convey that many things influence the way we read scripture. Sometimes we are unaware of these things. In the world of the Church it seems to be mainly "Conservative Evangelicals" who teach a message of defined, theoretically God-ordained gender roles in marriage. I sincerely applaud my peers' desire to be faithful to scripture, but I encourage us to peel back the overwhelming overlay of culture, history, books, sermons, and the opinions of well-known (and well-intentioned) Christian celebrities. As I mentioned previously in the series, I am not trying to be scholarly, deep, or thorough in these posts. There are no footnotes. I am skimming the surface, but later I will suggest some materials for deeper study.

The Book I Both Loved and Feared

I recall reading a book that is now out of print (Women in Ministry Today by Helen Beard, published by Logos). If you find a copy, I recommend it. The book was divided into two parts; the first dealt with the issue of women in ministry leadership, especially women preachers. As I read I rejoiced, and lights went on in my understanding. I saw, really saw, the truth of scripture. It seemed so wonderful, so real, so clear.

Then I reached the second section, which was about Christian marriages. It included the thought that the Bible really does not say the man must always be the authority at home. She emphasized that husbands and wives were meant to be partners. She had a different view of "head' and of wifely submission too. This was 28 years ago, but I recall my thoughts: "Well, I think her understanding of scripture about women preachers was really great, but now she's just gone too far. She must be a women's libber." It was 1980, and in my personal world to be associated with the women's liberation movement was a bad thing indeed.

I continued to read the book because I had so enjoyed the first part, but I could not agree with this marriage view. Was it because the author did not make a good case? No. Was it because she did not explore the scripture well? No. Was it because she just presented her opinion and had no logical or reasonable structure for her stance? No. Was she a man-hater? Clearly, no. In fact she praised her husband with great love and admiration. Though I could not admit it, I was afraid to consider her scriptural interpretation. At that time I knew no one--absolutely no one--in my church, or in my denomination, or in my circle of Christian friends, or in my family, who would have been willing to discuss it if I had tried to do so. To acknowledge that the author's view might be true was just too disturbing. I was not ready for my world to change, and I knew that if I accepted Helen Beard's words my life would shift and that this shift would cause difficulty. Frankly, I liked thinking that my husband was supposed to be more spiritually responsible than I. Not really being a natural leader, following was usually fine with me.

While I am sharing some personal things, I won't give you all the details of my own search and what changed in my life. They do not matter for now. What does matter is that I never forgot that book. I still have it. It haunted me from the shelf where I left it for years. Really, it was the Holy Ghost who haunted me. (Pun fully intended.)
I wanted to be faithful to scripture. I still want this. Eventually, that was what caused me to start searching for for what was right and good and true, and what most fit with what I knew of the nature of God as revealed in Jesus.

That completes the detour from the detour. Now, let's continue our journey back to the garden.

When I saw this picture of Adam and Eve I laughed out loud. I decided I'd better post it. Laughter is a good thing.
Does God Have a Divine Plan of Hierarchy in Marriage?

Just last week I had a conversation in which I was assured that Adam (Man) was designed for leadership and Eve (Woman) was designed to follow. The man was designed to be over the woman. God's plan was a hierarchy--a loving hierarchy of God - Man - Woman.

Friends, I believe we are applying the results of Darkness and calling it "God's divine plan" for men and women. That grieves my heart for so many reasons, not least of which is that I believe it is a dreadful thing to attribute the work of evil to God, even with the best of intentions. So what does it say in Genesis? Aren't there very different and God-given roles for a man and a woman?

Men Need Dominion

Some years ago I went to a large women's conference along with several other people from my church. Many workshops were offered, but one of the most popular was about husband/wife roles. I did not attend, but I heard plenty about it in the van on the way home. I grew disturbed and sad as I listened to happy, enthusiastic women tell how they had learned about "God's plan." God, the Bible said, made man to "have dominion." That was the main point of the workshop. If we women did not allow the men to have dominion, we were demeaning them and undermining their God-given role as leaders in our homes. There were some good things shared. But mixed with helpful things was a damaging seed of error. Men were made to lead, they had heard; it was part of the male nature. Every man would step up and provide godly leadership, given encouragement. As Christian wives it was their job to go home and discover the ways in which they had robbed their husbands of this divine mandate.

I listened in silence. They were too excited to notice. It was not a time for correction, but later when the excitement of discovery had dimmed in the light of real life, I was able to take some of those women to Genesis and read the workshop's text (Genesis 1:26). Careful reading and attention to the context was revealing. I believe that Genesis implies that all humans need a sense of some "dominion" and I mean that in a positive way.

Two Creation Accounts

Unlike most writing with which we are familiar, biblical accounts are not necessarily in chronological order. There are actually two different accounts of creation in Genesis, and each gives different insight.

The first is Genesis 1:26-28. The workshop leader used the King James Version, so to be fair I'll use that too.

26 And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. 28 And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

Let's take a look at the New International Version.

26 Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground." 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. 28 God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground."

This initial discription of human creation, sort of an overview of the plan, does not separate the creation of the individual man and woman. It is presented as one event. The male and the female are created together as "man" (humankind) in God's image. Who has dominion? "Them." Both genders are given rule over creation. There is no suggestion of power, position, hierarchy or defined roles.
God declares all this "good."

The second creation account is Genesis 2:7, and 18-24 and it adds detail. This time I'll use the New American Standard Version, but read it in whatever version you prefer.

7 Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being...18 Then the LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him." 19 Out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him. 21 So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. 22 The LORD God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man.
23 The man said,
"This is now bone of my bones,
And flesh of my flesh;
She shall be called Woman,
Because she was taken out of Man."
24 For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.

Helpmate versus Ezer Kenegdo

The second passage introduces us to the man and woman as seperate beings. Where is that word we hear so often in Christian circles to describe the wife, "helpmate?" Or is it "helpmeet" that the Bible says? Actually, it is neither. Helpmate seems to have come into existence because mate and meet sound so similar. The two words, "help meet" come from the King James version, verse 20b
"... but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him."

Nowdays, the words helpmate or helper usually imply a subordinate or an assistant. But the woman is not called an assistant--she is so much more than that. "Help" here is a noun, and "meet" is an adjective. The word translated "help" or "helper" is the word EZER. This word is used repeatedly in the Old Testament, but it is never used for a subordinate helper. Instead it is used to show an equal, a strong (or even a superior) help. Ezer is often used to refer to God! One example is Psalm 12:1-2.

I lift up my eyes to the hills--
Where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
Maker of heaven and earth.

The various forms of ezer in the Hebrew Bible can mean either a help or a strength. It carries the idea of power. I am not saying that women are gods, but I am saying that the woman is a strength to the man!

What about the "meet" part? This word meant suitable or appropriate. Shakespeare and other old English writers used meet this way, but here is another example right from the King James Version of the Bible.

Matthew 15:26 But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs.

The word translated "meet" or "suitable" is NEGED (or depending on usage, KENEGDO) "counterpart to, matching, corresponding."

Dr. Susan Hyatt, in her excellent book, In the Spirit We're Equal says this, "The Hebrew expression ezer kenegdo appears, meaning 'one who is the same as the other and who surrounds, protects, aids, helps, supports.' There is no indication of inferiority or of a secondary position in a hierarchical separation of the male and female spheres [roles] of responsibility, authority, or social position."

I think the New Revised Standard Version gets it correct with the rendering of “partner.” Interestingly, the old Catholic Douay version captures the meaning too with the rendering of “like unto himself.”

An ezer kenegdo is not simply a quasi equal who is important but somewhat weak; woman was meant to be a partner in a positive, strong way! She was like Adam, suitable in every way, figuratively standing right beside him. One writer described it as, "eye to eye, vis a vis, a matched pair." This is shown in the exclamation, "Ah, at last! This is now bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh. Instead of presenting a subordinate-superior hierarchical relationship for the man and the woman, this passage actually presents a relationship of mutual partnership.

I just did a search that led me to an article stating that "clearly [?] the woman's role is to 'help meet' her husbands desires." The remainder of the article explains precisely how the wife must meet her husband's wishes in every way. How foolish we can be in trying to claim biblical authority for our pet ideas, and how easy it is to read into scripture what we think is there!

Some Results of "the Fall"

Genesis 3:16 - Your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you. This is a favorite verse used to support the idea that God intends a man and wife to live in a hierarchy where the man is the leader at home. Some even extend this pattern of male authority to all male-female relationships. However, the most frequent view relates simply to marriage and says something like this, "God is a God of order. A Christian home should be a peaceful and well-ordered home, so of course there must be someone in leadership. Without a final authority there will be confusion, and this verse makes it clear that God always gives that authority to the husband. It's not a matter of worth, just a matter of God-ordained roles." In a seperate post I may address the idea that someone must lead, but for now let's consider the nature of the scripture verse itself.

Is this a mandate from God, or is it a prediction? Does the Bible say that God instructs the man to rule over the woman? Must this remain so for all time? Or is God saying that this is how the world will now be, as the result of sin? Is God cursing them, or is this state of affairs a result of their actions? If it is a command from God, then there is no escaping it, and in fact to try to do so would be rebellion against God.

Thankfully, most people do not see these things as unalterable decrees and demands of God. We seek to lessen the effects of fallen nature by many means--medicine, surgery, weed-killer--we find ways to make work less difficult and to alleviate pain and suffering. Read chapter three carefully and you will see that God cursed the ground, and the serpent. God did not curse the people. Why, if we seek to lessen the effects of fallen creation in other areas, do so many people insist that the woman must be ruled? Why say that the effect of sin in creation is God's plan? Why say that the woman must be under the man's authority because it is in the Bible? Let's be consistent. If you want to demand that the woman remain as a subordinate, better let those weeds and thistles grow unchecked.

Many take the phrase, "...your desire will be for your husband" as meaning that the woman will seek to dominate the man. Countless sermons and articles have told us that the woman's natural tendency is to try to usurp the man's authority. This flies in the face of much evidence to the contrary, but I'll leave that be.

What does this verse mean then? Put it in the context of a fallen, changed world, the world that C.S. Lewis called the "dark planet" because of the results of sin. God has told humankind that the world is changed. The man (not the woman) will seek to dominate. The woman will bear many children, and her life will have pain as a result. (I think this is more than labor pain, but that too is food for another post.) Life will be difficult for them both. Death and grief are entering the world. As the result of these drastic changes, and the nature of mankind, the woman will come to rely more upon the man, need his protection, and her pregnancies and small children will cause her to be vulnerable. Her desire (literally her turning toward) will be for his approval. The man will be more able to take advantage of the woman and to dominate her. This is seen over the centuries and around the world. As for the woman, it is heartbreaking and frustrating to note how many times a woman will seek worth and satisfaction from a man. No man can provide that--only God can!

This sinful cycle of those with power dominating those who are weaker, and the greed, pride, bitterness and manipulation that result has permeated all of life on this earth, but it is not God's way. God loves justice, humility, and mercy. A man may deny his wife money just because he can, or dominate her because he is physically stronger, and the woman may gossip about the man and humiliate or manipulate him in numerous destructive ways in order to get what she wants or needs. What an evil cycle!

Concluding Thoughts

I'll close this post with some wise words from Pat Gundry in the book, Heirs Together. The bold font is added by me.

"... this circle of worldliness caused by the Fall can be broken by Christ's provision. Salvation restores our fellowship with God. The Holy Spirit not only gives us back the lost access to God, but also enables us to know how to reunite ourselves with each other again as equal...And it is this banner of freedom in Christ and the equality of believers that carries us on toward reversing the principles of worldliness which teach us to exploit and manipulate; we can go on to relationships of non-exploitation and non-manipulation in which each person is of equal value with equal opportunity to experience and express his or her full personhood.

In the past, we have taken this prediction of sin's result and have tried to institutionalize it and enforce it as God's will for us. Instead, we should be working to reverse it (as we have the other results of the Fall) and reinstate that lost relationship of mutual responsibility and respect that was present before the Fall. God provided a Savior to mend the broken relationship between His human creation and Himself. Now He wants to work through us, His creation, to reverse the bad effects of the Fall. It is time we worked with Him to reinstate the original relationship between man and woman in marriage."

There is a reason I posted Joni Mitchell's lyric above. Humankind was created "good." Now it seems that far too many Christ followers are seeking to keep us caught in the Devil's bargain. I refuse to live under the curse and call it God. We've "got to get back to the Garden" --living in freedom which Christ provides for us.

Next time I will go back to that pesky "head" reference.



Diane M. Roth said...

You are doing really good work here, Singing Owl! I commend you.

Cody said...

Brilliant, my sister.

I wish my father--one of those staunch, old Conservative Evangelicals who is of mind that women are lesser--could read this.

God is Love,

Dorcas (aka SingingOwl) said...

Thank you, Diane. Br. Cody, does Dad have a computer? ;-)

Anonymous said...

I never heard this, I will be thinking about it. The only bible I have is the King James one.


Truth said...

I'm glad to see you continuing this expression of headship, helpmeet, etc. We don't hear enough accuracy on this topic today.

LoieJ said...

Well done. I'm particularly interested in your comments about unknown bias (in general.) Aren't we always in this mode, given that we are human?

I'm in a discussion elsewhere with people with a different sub group of my denomination who say that THEY have the TRUTH and it is their duty to point out false interpretation of scripture in others. They cite scripture for this view, of course.

But if a pastor-to-be attends a school of his denomination and a seminary of his denomination (using male pronoun deliberately) and is told that other groups have adopted lies about scripture, then I would think that person would completely avoid reading other interpretations, resulting in believing what one is told to believe rather than coming to one's own conclusions. That flies in the face of why my denomination came into being.

Dorcas (aka SingingOwl) said...

Yes, PS, being human we likely cannot avoid all bias, but it is significant just to understand that we WILL have it (them?)--and to avoid dogmatism for that reason. If we can acknowledge that our interpretation of scripture is bound to be at least a little imperfect somewhere, we can avoid pride and arrogance.

For example, you are Lutheran and I am AG. Thus, we already know we disagree on some things and agree on some others, and you said in a comment some time ago that you think your way is best. Sure. I think my way is best! But I can discuss things, read your blog, learn from you and you from me, and so on. In the Rev Gals Happy Birthday post a couple weeks ago I mentioned that the RGBP online community has challenged me to rethink some things. Some of my ideas changed. Some did not.

I know what I believe about the Church, Jesus, scripture, etc. (in most areas, not all) but these beliefs must be my own. They aren't really worth much if I hang on to them just becuse some prof said to, are they? Sigh. Perhaps it will be fun, by and by, to see where we missed it and where we got it right. I wonder if we will discuss theology in Heaven. Probably not. :-)

I will stop now and pray for you and those you are in discussion with. And then get to work!

Clix said...

Wow. Thank you for a series that is kind, humble, and thought-provoking! I look forward to reading more and have added you to my blogroll over at Faith Means Letting Go!

Unknown said...

Hi Singing Owl,

Over time, I am becoming increasingly amazed at what the Bible does not say more so than at what it does say.

For years, I too had just accepted what conservative theologians and evangelical luminaries had assured me is absolute truth with respect to gender roles.

When I started doing my own Biblical homework, dogma began to fall apart, and I arrived at an egalitarian view of gender in the Body of Christ.

I think that a great many Christians who are currently in denominations and mega-churches that teach female subordination as a Biblical mandate, are more than content to let their leadership do their thinking for them.

It takes work to become a Berean. It takes work to search the scriptures, interlinears, and lexicons to see if these things are so.

Let's face it, most are just not up to it. Who wants to rock the boat and go against the flow? It's easier to just accept what the leadership teaches, no work involved, and best of all, no personal risk or accountability.

By the way, I loved your reference to Joni Mitchell's "Woodstock" off of her "Ladies of the Canyon" LP, it's one of my all-time faves for that genre!

Chilly Fingers said...

Thank you for some great thoughts. I've been thinking about this myself, and it seems to be that any argument about who is IN CHARGE or who has authority over who is, in most cases, not a Christian argument...not if we use Jesus as our leader. He was all about service and compassion - not bossing people around. Like you said, "God loves justice, humility, and mercy." I hate that parts of the Bible have been interpreted in ways that detract from the powerful message of love.

Bad Alice said...

Wow, great post. I work for a denomination that is very big on the man as the leader being a biblical mandate. It's nice to read a well-thought-out response.

Crimson Rambler said...

Thank you, Owl!!! This is delightful reading and OH so clear and easy to follow!

Dorcas (aka SingingOwl) said...

PS, I'm thinking about what you said, "That flies in the face of why my denomination came into being." Man! There are some interesting implications! I've been told that what I think about this can't be right because so many knowledgable people, or so many Evangelicals, or Dr. __________ , thinks differently. What if Luther had just shut up because he was told that he was wrong? Or told that the powers-that-were had it right and it was their duty to straighten him out? Oh wait, that is exactly what happened!

I just starting thinking of how many great people, including church luminaries that we admire today, HAD to question and even refuse the status quo.


And thank you for the kind words, everyone.

Anonymous said...

This is a great analysis, especially of Genesis (even for a nonliteralist like me!). I know this sort of thinking can be challenging in your denomination, but I think it's important to keep asking questions and being open to alternative explanations--in any denomination.

Dorcas (aka SingingOwl) said...

Me too, Kievas! Like P.S. said. And I don't really think it is about being a literalist--or not being one. All Christians reading the Bible need to look for principles, those abiding truths that transend time and culture. It is the principle of men in woman in partnership and mutual benefit, among other ones, that the scripture is affirming.
I think I'll be saying more in the next post about that.

Hey, we better get together soon, because before we know it the snow will be flying! Argh!

Mavis said...

WOW this is great. I admired the way in which Tony Campolo modeled equality of relationships at a predominantly conservative Christian music festival in NZ in January. Your discussion of Genesis reminds me of my teenage retort (to my uncle no less) in a national church publication. He was arguing that women should not hold any leadership positions because of the Genesis story (the extreme end of the interpretations you describe). I said something like "Why should a condition ascribed to a fall from grace be considered normative in the new age that Jesus has ushered us into." I still agree with myself! And like you said it's not about literal or non-literal. It's about linking text and people (an idea I'm borrowing from Rambling Crimson)

Dorcas (aka SingingOwl) said...

You said that as a teen? YOU were ordained (by GOD, no doubt) to be a preacher woman at that moment! LOL!

Psalmist said...

What an EXCELLENT series, Singing Owl!

Bless you for posting it.

Anonymous said...

I know that when we get to heaven we will all be wrong on some point that we were sure we had it right. BE