Mojmír Adámek

Introduction

Egalitarianism is a philosophy that prioritizes “equality” (from Old French egalite „equality”). It takes several forms and shapes in philosophy, politics and theology. This paper will briefly survey “Egalitarian Hermeneutics.” That is the interpretative approaches and methods utilized by those Christians who believe in an absolute, unqualified equality of men and women not only in their ontological status but more importantly in their roles and gifting’s as well. It is important to emphasize that all authentic Christians confess the ontological equality of all human beings, regardless their race, gender, age, mental capabilities or social status (c.f. Gal. 3:28). This debates pertains only to the role that God has designed for both men and women. Are these roles equal in every aspect? Or does each gender have different role which complement the other one? The egalitarian Christian confess the former one, whereas the traditional (or “complementarian”) Christian maintains the later position. There is a reason why the “complementarian” position is associated with a “traditional” view. It is a position of the author that if one is to arrive at the egalitarian position there has to be a shift in hermeneutical approaches. In other words one has to alter his interpretative methods in order to justify “egalitarianism” as a Scriptural position. This paper will critique some key arguments of egalitarians with special attention to their hermeneutical methods. We will look at two major “kinds” of egalitarian starting points. One that starts with modern, critical assumptions about the nature of Biblical texts and second that confess traditional high view of Scriptures and arrives at their conclusion through biblical reasoning. We will devote more attention to the second position.

Non-Evangelical Egalitarians

The traditional definition of evangelicalism would historically include a belief in an inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible. This has been the position of the Church until the rise of enlightenment (in the 17th century) and modernism (in the 18th century). This cultural paradigm shift in approaching religious authority also fundamentally changed the approach to the veracity of Biblical documents. This climate gave birth to a new generation of biblical scholars who utilized higher-critical methods such as historical, literary and redaction critical methods. These approaches often utilized highly subjective methods of criticism that undermined, for example, the traditional authorship of several New Testament letters. For instance, the pastoral epistles were no longer viewed as letters penned by Apostle Paul himself but rather as a collection of several traditions that were put together and edited by some anonymous author who claimed to be Paul in order to give credentials to his writings. For example Joanna Dewey, a feminist bible scholar writes: “The Pastoral Epistles are an attempt to use the authority of Paul to influence or control church order in the second-century churches.”[1] Such view has a serious ramification for accepting teaching contained in these epistles as authoritative. These epistles, according to Dewey “represent perhaps the most total capitulation of Christianity to the patriarchal (hierarchical and male-dominated) social structure of the Roman Empire to be found in the New Testament.”[2] Once such attitude is assumed it naturally undermines the validity of teaching found in these epistles since it has been written by an author(s) who operated fundamentally on illegitimate and oppressive patriarchal structures. Since in Paul’s authentic letters[3] he is more broadminded to women’s roles the instructions concerning women’s role here in Pastoral Epistles are rejected as a mere opinion of an anonymous author who abused Paul’s authority to enforced his particular view of women’s role.

Even though this approach presents itself often as scientific and objective it frequently betrays one’s a priory philosophical and theological commitments which lead to the eventual dismissal of the text at hand (e.g. Pastoral Epistles, etc). For example aforementioned scholar Dewey dismisses teaching of Pastorals as simply non-Pauline because: “The historical practices of early Christian women, confirmed by other New Testament and noncanonical texts, suggest different and more active roles for women” justifying it by quoting 1 Corinthians 11 and Romans 16.[4]  Yet few sentences earlier she quoted 1 Corinthians 14:34–35 as “similar in vocabulary and content”[5] to 1Tim 2:11–15. Since 1 Corinthians is deemed to be Pauline, and Paul was not so oppressive to women, the passage in 1 Cor 14:34–35 “is probably a later addition (an interpolation) into the text of 1 Corinthians.”[6] However, contrary to this scholar’s opinion, from the textual standpoint, this is certainly not true, since the history of transmission does not evidences any omissions (or interpolation) of these verses. Rather than accepting Paul’s words that do not fit the preconceived notion of Paul’s approach to women, she resorts to an explanation that she has no evidence for.

These methodologies should not be practiced by evangelical scholars (despite claims to the contrary) because they destroy the authority of the Bible. It becomes a matter of an individual who decides whether to accept or reject particular New Testament writing based on his/her subjective literary and redaction criticisms. These hermeneutics are simply not compatible with evangelical (or historic) Christianity.

Egalitarians: Evangelical

The approach of “non-evangelical” egalitarians is rejected by those egalitarians who profess a belief in an inerrancy of Scriptures.[7] To dismiss teaching of Pastoral Epistles (or other NT writings) as pseudographs is not a “hermeneutical option” for these egalitarian Christians. Therefore, they have to interpret several texts in a different non-traditional way so that they could arrive at egalitarian conclusions without abrogating Paul’s (and Biblical) authority. However, as we shall see, these egalitarian hermeneutics are not compatible with historical-grammatical hermeneutics.

The Principle of Ad Hoc Documents[8]

This is virtually de facto approach of all evangelical egalitarians. It has been popularized by NT scholar Douglas Fee. When it comes to 1 Tim 2:11–15 he writes:

“All of these instructions, including 2:11-12, were ad hoc responses to the waywardness of the young widows in Ephesus who had already gone astray after Satan and were disrupting the church. It simply cannot be demonstrated that Paul intended 1Tim 2:11-12 as a rule in all churches at all times. In fact, the occasion and purpose of 1 Timothy as a whole, and these verses in particular, suggest otherwise.”[9]

Over the past decades numerous scholars tried to read into the Ephesian situation various historical settings that allegedly prompted Apostle Paul to prohibit women from “teaching and exercising authority over men” (1 Tim 2:13). Thus many interpreters over the years have, in combinations with quiet speculative theories about Ephesus and its Artemis cult, proposed various renderings of this phrase, such as: “I do not allow women to…engage in fertility practices” or “I do not allow women to…proclaim herself the author or originator of a man” or “I do not allow woman to…instigate violence.”[10] In any case, egalitarians assume that Paul’s prohibition is thus culturally bound with the peculiar situation of the Ephesian church. There are however several serious problems with this approach. 1) None of these elaborate cultural reconstructions concerning the false teaching (whether Gnosticism or Artemis-fertility cult) are spelled out in the text. Postulating these hypotheses are mere speculations that rest on a subjective reconstruction of the historical situation. It would also imply that Christians before (or without) these archeological discoveries had no chance of interpreting these texts correctly. 2) It cannot be denied that Paul indeed writes to Timothy to instruct him about the way he should act in the church situation he Timothy found himself (1Tim 3:14-15). However such ad hoc motive says nothing about the normative nature of Paul’s commands (including prohibitions). Virtually every text in the Bible has been written ad hoc. We have to interpret Scriptures in their historical and cultural context. They were written to specific situations, specific cultures (with their own customs and practices) and in specific times. There are plenty of things in the Scriptures that by virtue of their cultural context cannot be emulated today. However, that does not mean that they are useless for Christians outside of that particular context. We have to understand why these commands were given so that we can see principle which supersedes that situation. In other words, we must distinguish between the principle and the cultural outworking of a principle.[11] 3) Paul grounds his prohibition in the created order. He says that Adam was created first (1 Tim 2:13) and additionally stating that Satan subverted male leadership by first deceiving a woman (1 Tim 2:14). Since Paul’s prohibition is grounded in creation his command thus applies to all those who are descendants of Adam and Eve, ergo it applies to all Christian at all times.

The Principle of an Interpretive Center

This principle pertains to the question “which passage should be the main driving force in understating the biblical view of women’s role?”  In 2016 a bigger conservative church in Texas published a sermon in which eldership of this church explains the biblical and experiential reasons why they decided to become egalitarian in their view of ministry. Among the first three key reasons (principles) that lead them down the path to egalitarianism was that they realized that “one must decide which passages control the discussion.” Thus the elders decided to prioritize “the texts that affirm the freedom of women in unqualified ways.”[12] Later on the video, they said that this text is Galatians 3:23. In regards to this passage, the pastor said: “Paul summarizes the leveling nature of the cross in this incredible controlling passage … when we’re in Christ the social distinction that once placed us into a packing order are no longer relevant.” [13] This controlling passage is thus used to support women leadership. But is this really a controlling passage for women’s roles? Does one have to choose an interpretative center that will shed proper light on the other passages? To further complicate this issue, this hermeneutical approach is often being presented as the “analogia fidei” principle. That is that the “clearer” passages interpret other passages. It is true that this is the popular understanding of this protestant principle. However one has to be cautious about how he applies it. The proper application of this principle should follow only after each text is interpreted in its immediate context. In other words, each biblical text should get “a fair hearing” and only after we get a sense what is meant by the author of that statement in the original context we can put it together with other scriptural statements that speak on the same subject. Otherwise, we are in danger of arbitrarily cherry-picking “clear” texts that we intentionally pit against other ones.[14] In praxis, there is no hermeneutical reason why Galatians 3:28 should overshadow passages such as 1Timothy 2:11–15. It simply speaks on different issues. The former one speaks about the effects of salvation that is offered freely to every human being, regardless of their gender, ethnicity or social status. All human beings are equally accepted in Christ Jesus. Whereas the second passage speaks about the roles of men and women in the church. It is a non sequitur to imply that differentiation of role amounts to denigrating one to a “second-class Christian.”

Webb’s Trajectory Hermeneutics

In 2009 William Web wrote a book called “Slaves, Women & Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis” in which he surveys ethical issues concerning slaves, women, and homosexuality. He argues that in the case of slavery and the social status of women, the Bible contains a trajectory that has a study upward growth from genesis to revelation. He likens slavery to the role of women. Just as Christians abrogated slavery even though the Bible does not clearly prohibit it they should likewise abrogate old models of restricting women even though the Bible teaches that women should be submitted. He argues that Biblical narrative moves from “inferior” ethics to an “ultimate” and “better” ethics. However, these “better” ethics are not contained in the Bible itself. Nevertheless, this conclusion is highly problematic for evangelicals who derive their doctrinal and moral teaching from the Scriptures. If the NT is God’s final revelation that humans must obey how can we dare to abrogate it for “better” ethics? Such an approach undermines the very authority of the Scriptures. The key difference between slavery and role of women is that one is not endorsed in the NT but merely tolerated whereas the other one (role of women) is explicitly spelled out, commanded and supported by creation order. Paul Felix, quoting W. Grudem,[15] summarizes incorrectness of this parallelism this way: “Despite these impressive parallels, one major setback confronts this principle:

“The existence of slavery is not rooted in any creation ordinance, but the existence of marriage is.” Additionally, Paul laid down principles in the book of Philemon that would ultimately destroy the institution of slavery. This is not true of the male/female relationship.”[16]

Even though Webb’s conclusions explicitly states that unlike slavery and women the ethical status of homosexuality stays the same (i.e. sinful), some LGBT activists already took hold of his hermeneutical method in defense of inclusion of homosexual practices into Christianity.

Summary and Conclusion

This paper outlined two kinds of starting positions of egalitarianism. The first camp dismisses traditional distinction of roles based on higher-critical methods that undermine Pauline authorship of Pastoral (and other) epistles. We have shown that such an approach betrays one’s a priory theological and philosophical commitments which are not compatible with evangelical (and historic) view of Scriptures. The second group of egalitarians, on one hand, confess belief in the inerrancy of Scriptures but resorts to hermeneutical methods that are simply not wholesome. One is the Ad Hoc principle that unjustifiably dismisses Paul’s prohibition as culturally bound, second is an illegitimate use of “interpretative center” which is incorrectly presented as analogia fidei and third is the adoption of faulty trajectory hermeneutics coined by William Webb. These are three key hermeneutical methods employed by egalitarians. It is a conviction of the author that these methods are fundamentally faulty, liable to misuses and from an evangelical point of view unsustainable.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Belleville, Linda L., a James R. Beck, ed. Two views on women in ministry. Rev. ed. Counterpoints. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2005.

Dewey, Joanna. “1 Timothy.” In Women’s Bible Commentary, edited by Carol A. Newsom, Jacqueline E. Lapsley, and Sharon H. Ringe. Revised and Updated. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012.

Felix, Paul W., „THE HERMENEUTICS OF EVANGELICAL FEMINISM“. TMSJ 5/2 (Fall 1994): 159–84.

Grudem, Wayne. „SHOULD WE MOVE BEYOND THE NEW TESTAMENT TO A BETTER ETHIC?“ JETS, n. 47/2 (June 2004): 299–346.

Köstenberger, Andreas J., Thomas R. Schreiner, S. M. Baugh, Denny Burk, Albert Wolters, Robert W. Yarbrough, Theresa Bowen, et al. Women in the Church (Third Edition): An Interpretation and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15. 3 edition. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2016.

Piper, John, a Wayne A Grudem. Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2006. http://public.eblib.com/choice/publicfullrecord.aspx?p=343397.

The Future of Leadership at Bent Tree | Bent Tree Bible Fellowship. Accessed 1. December 2018. https://benttree.org/sermon/the-future-of-leadership-at-bent-tree/.


[1] Dewey, Joanna. “1 Timothy.” In Women’s Bible Commentary, edited by Carol A. Newsom, Jacqueline E. Lapsley, and Sharon H. Ringe. Revised and Updated. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012, 596.

[2] Dewey, 595.

[3] Dewey lists traditional seven letters which are considered by modern biblical scholars as Paul’s authentic letters: Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon. Dewey, 595.

[4] Dewey, 599.

[5] Dewey, 598.

[6] Dewey, 599.

[7] Belleville, Linda L., a James R. Beck, ed. Two views on women in ministry. Rev. ed. Counterpoints. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2005, 15-16.

[8] Here I utilized some outline points from helpful article by Paul W. Felix’ called:  THE HERMENEUTICS OF EVANGELICAL FEMINISM“. TMSJ 5/2 (Fall 1994): 159–84.

[9] Fee, Gordon D., Issues in Evangelical Hermeneutics, Part III: The Great Watershed—Intentionality & Particularity/Eternality: 1 Timothy 2:8-15 as a Test Case,“ Crux 26 (December 1990):35. Quoted in Felix, 165.

[10] Köstenberger, Andreas J., Thomas R. Schreiner, S. M. Baugh, Denny Burk, Albert Wolters, Robert W. Yarbrough, Theresa Bowen, et al. Women in the Church (Third Edition): An Interpretation and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15. 3 edition. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2016, 195.

[11] Schreiner, Two Views on Women in Ministry, 308. 

[12] The sermon can be accessed here: https://benttree.org/sermon/the-future-of-leadership-at-bent-tree/

[13] Ibid.

[14] Thus falling into the same trap as Jehovah Witnesses who when they are confronted with texts about divinity of Jesus jump to other texts „that explain why Jesus is not God. “

[15] Grudem, Wayne. „SHOULD WE MOVE BEYOND THE NEW TESTAMENT TO A BETTER ETHIC?“ JETS, n. 47/2 (June 2004): 299–346.

[16] Felix, 173.