A Biblical Feminism?

by Rick Shrader

Sure, the men of this world have gotten a little extreme at times. An old German proverb states, ‘‘Never believe a woman, not even a dead one.’’ An old Persian saying goes, ‘‘Woman is a calamity, but every house must have its curse.’’ The Talmud teaches, ‘‘Better to burn the Torah than to teach it to a woman.’’ But the women of this world have often had their say also. ‘‘Men become older, but they never become good.’’ ‘‘Sure I wear the pants in this family, somebody’s got to.’’ However, these amiable exchanges do not fairly represent the attitude of today’s Feminists. A popular Hollywood feminist says, ‘‘I’m loud, and I’m vulgar and I wear the pants in the family.’’ Another activist admonishes, ‘‘Liberation will not happen unless individual women agree to be outcasts, eccentrics, perverts, and whatever the powers-to-be choose to call them.’’ Columnist Suzanne Fields responded, ‘‘This is hilarious, but not funny. When real men finally fight back, it may be too late.’’

‘‘But,’’ we say, ‘‘all of this does not affect the Body of Christ.’’ We should know better! The cultural battles of our secular society are usually just a precursor of similar battles in the church. Today’s ‘‘Christian Feminists’’ (a pregnant oxymoron) are lamenting ‘‘the appalling loss to God’s kingdom that results when half of the church’s members are excluded from positions of responsibility’’ and the tragedies that follow a ‘‘hierarchical interpretation of the husband’s ‘headship.’’ Since they have appealed to the Scripture for justification, we should note their point of view and answer accordingly. There are two major scriptures brought into question on this issue.

Galatians 3:28. Paul writes, ‘‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.’’ Feminists consider this passage the most important statement in the Bible on equality. Paul Jewett (Man as Male and Female) calls this the Magna Carta of Humanity. Stendahl (The Bible and the Role of Woman) sees Paul reversing the order of creation and advocating that these categories in Gal 3:28 are functional as well as positional. Any lines, they say, that separate the function of men and women in the church have been obliterated by this statement of the Apostle. This includes the offices of Pastor and Deacon as well as teaching and authority positions.

Is that what Paul means by this statement? Not at all! One could not find a more didactic portion of scripture on the nature of our justification in Christ than this portion of Galatians. Throughout the third chapter male and female are included as mankind, human beings, in the great story of sin and redemption until we are all brought to salvation ‘‘in Christ Jesus’’ in verse twenty eight. In the family of God, all human beings are equally sinners saved by grace. Neither race nor gender makes one more or less of these.  Peter admonishes husbands to keep in mind that although the wife is the ‘‘weaker vessel’’ in her function in life, she is an ‘‘heir together (with him) of the grace of life’’ (1 Peter 3:7) in her spiritual essence. ‘‘In Christ Jesus’’ we are all saved souls. That is how God sees us. But that does not change our stewardship before Him as we carry out our calling.

1 Corinthians 11:3. Paul writes, ‘‘But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.’’ The problem for the feminists is obvious and they have approached the problem in ways ranging from denying the inspiration of Paul at this point to blatant refusal to accept the authority of scripture at this point. But their major thrust in this verse has been to redefine the word ‘‘head.’’ Feminists, unable to accept the common interpretation of ‘‘head’’ as ‘‘authority,’’ have searched high and low for a meaning acceptable to their point of view. Writers such as Alvera Mickelsen (Women, Authority and the Bible) and Markus Barth (The Anchor Bible, Eph 1-3) have scoured the ancient uses of the word kefalh to find a place where the word could mean ‘‘source.’’ They have found scarce sources where the word might refer to a river’s ‘‘head’’ and, therefore, mean ‘‘source’’ and one Greek lexicon where the plural is given the optional meaning of ‘‘source’’ (Liddell & Scott).

The feminist interpretation is lacking in two points. The first is context. Paul is not at all saying that man procreated from Christ and Christ procreated from God, therefore, the woman simply procreated from the man. This is a passage on authority and relationships. It is impossible to find the idea of ‘‘source’’ in these couplets. The second error is a typical lexicon and concordance usage problem. For some reason many treat such reference books as a multiple-choice pool of meanings. They simply take the meaning that they want to attach to the word but now they can say they have a reference. No language dictionary works that way. Rather, it lists possible meanings the word may assume in a given context. Generally, only one of those possible meanings will fit. In this case, ‘‘authority’’ and ‘‘source’’ cannot both be right.

What more can we say? Christian Feminism tends to make us all uncomfortable. Not because we are unsure of the biblical position, but because we know what friction the explanation causes. But perhaps we should be thankful. First, because we are being forced to restate our position in a more relevant way. The present generation of young people needs to hear the church’s position taught plainly. Secondly, because we need to get over that uncomfortable feeling when stating biblical truth. This is what we are called to do in our generation.  We don’t do feminists or anyone else in our churches a favor by softening the Bible on this point. Perhaps if we hadn’t been so soft for so long it wouldn’t hurt so much now. No wonder the Apostle Paul takes so much guff. But it was the Holy Spirit who inspired him to write, ‘‘I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression’’ (1 Timothy 2:12-14). And in case one thinks that such a doctrine is oppressive to women, consider the position of women in Christian societies for the last two thousand years compared to Muslim societies, tribal societies or any other non-Christian societies. Men and women alike are thankful for the liberation Christianity has brought us.