“Gender Apartheid” And “Toxic Masculinity” In NAPARC? (2)

In the first part of this essay we looked critically (albeit briefly) at just some of the problems inherent in the categories “gender apartheid” and “toxic masculinity” in the NAPARC world. Please read that introduction before reading or engaging part 2. In it, we also considered briefly the explicit teaching of Scripture that there are two sexes (not genders). We saw that the sexual differences between males and females are not arbitrary but a matter of creation, a category which is largely alien to the late-modern world, which would have us think that sexual differences are mere conventions to be deconstructed at will. As Christians we must re-learn to begin with God’s Word, with “in the beginning” instead of the politics of victimization. One of the most fundamental problems of late-modern life is the radical nominalism—for which Martin Luther is not responsible—in which we have all been catechized. Nominalism, however, is a cruel master because it denies nature, what some have called “givenness.” The only way out of our late-modern morass is to recover basic biblical categories, nature and grace. As important as nature it does not sanctify it and it cannot save us from sin and the effects of sin. It is to grace that we turn now because grace is the only way to overcome the dialectic of recrimination.

Scripture begins with two sexes (not genders) in a mutual, ordered relationship. Man was made from the earth, by God, and woman from man (Gen 2:7, 18–23). We can see for ourselves from the creation narrative that there was an order. Our sin, willfully committed against God and against his holy law introduced disorder. The curse upon sin disrupted the harmony of the relations between the sexes. Genesis 3:16 says of and to the female, “Your desire shall be for your husband (‏ וְאֶל־אִישֵׁךְ֙ תְּשׁ֣וּקָתֵ֔ךְ) and he shall rule over you (‏וְה֖וּא יִמְשָׁל־בָּֽךְ). Whatever ambiguities there may be in this part of the narrative, it should be clear that sin corrupts the natural order and that harmony and only grace can restore it to any degree before the consummation.

It is necessary to observe and grasp both the creational order as found in Genesis 1 and 2 and how Paul applies that order. He appealed to the creational order in his instructions about how men and women are to conduct themselves in public worship (see 1 Cor 11:7–11; see also 1 Cor 14:34). He noted what we have seen, that the woman was made from man (and thus a wife is not independent of her husband, even in public worship) nor is a man independent of his wife, since men are now, after creation, born of a woman).

He turned to it again in his instruction to pastor Timothy. As in 1 Corinthians 11, he is addressing the conduct of public worship.

I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; 9likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, 10but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works. 11 Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. 12I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 13For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 15Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control (1 Tim 2:8–15).

The parallel in vv. 8–10 is between the the virtues Paul expects of men and women. Christian men ought to worship together in peace and women in self-control and modesty. Of course it is not that men are permitted to be immodest or women violent but these are things that he had doubtless noticed (e.g., in Corinth) and, as a more experienced minister, passed on to Timothy as issues of which to be aware relative to the churches in Asia Minor.

However difficult these verses may be for our hyper-egalitarian age, v. 12 has been the place where the discussion has been focused most intensely for the last 30 years or so: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet” (διδάσκειν δὲ γυναικὶ οὐκ ἐπιτρέπω οὐδὲ αὐθεντεῖν ἀνδρός, ἀλλ᾿ εἶναι ἐν ἡσυχίᾳ). Again, the context for these instructions is public worship. We must not attempt to make Paul seem ridiculous by universalizing these instructions. Paul is not a Muslim and he is not teaching Sharia law. Indeed, if we compare these relatively clear verses to the some of the relatively (not absolutely) more obscure instructions in 1 Corinthians 11:13 we can infer that the command to be silent is not absolute in church since silent prayer was unusual in the ancient world. Further, Luke explicitly says that Aquila and Priscilla “explained” (ἐξέθεντο) to Apollos a better understanding of the history of redemption (Acts 18:26). Finally, whatever Paul meant by using “deacon” (διάκονον) she surely did not perform her service silently. She and other women had a significant and visible role in the church since Paul refers to her as prostatis (προστάτις), which occurs just this once in the New Testament but which, in classical usage, is used of a leader, a ruler, or a governor. She was most likely a widow who hosted a congregation in her house and was performing an important service for Paul. The word is sometimes translated as “patroness” in this context. We know that Phoebe was not alone in her service to the Lord since Paul says explicitly, ” help these women (αὐταῖς, αἵτινες), who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers (συνεργῶν), whose names are in the book of life” (Phil 4:3). For Paul “co-worker” is an exalted title.

However painful and difficult Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 2:12 may be for us late moderns, they are God’s Words. We dare not dismiss them as “misogynist” or “hopelessly patriarchal” as some have done. Christians are not entitled to take such a high-handed approach to holy Scripture. If we may dismiss Paul’s words here because they are inconvenient then how may we protest when others dismiss his declaration that Christ’s bodily resurrection (1 Cor 15) is a fact? Such an approach to Scripture is the equivalent of setting a fire in the basement while hoping to live on the second floor. It cannot stand.

So what does Paul mean when he says, “I do not permit a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man”? In the modern ear, after the rise of feminism (especially 2nd and 3rd wave feminism), this has been the subject of a great deal of debate, of course. The context is public worship so we may reasonably infer, as argued above, that he restricts his instructions to the sphere of public worship. E.g., I have addressed the question of women teaching Sunday School elsewhere. We must reject those approaches that seek to find a way out from under these difficult verses. E.g., there is no reasonable ground for thinking that Paul was addressing some sort of ancient and resurgent feminism in Ephesus. On this see the work of my colleague S. M. Baugh, “The Apostle Among The Amazons.” Read in context, shorn of obfuscations, Paul’s intent evidently is that females should not do what Timothy does: exercise ecclesiastical, teaching authority in the visible church. The words “I do not permit (ἐπιτρέπω) a woman (γυναικὶ) to teach (διδάσκειν) or exercise authority (αὐθεντεῖν) over a man (ἀνδρός)….” In contrast (ἀλλ᾿), she is to “remain quiet” (εἶναι ἐν ἡσυχίᾳ).

Two errors are to be avoided. The first is to the temptation so to expand the exercise authority as to verge upon a Sharia-like attitude (e.g., patriarchalism). This is not Paul’s view of females generally nor of the role of women in the church. Remember, this is the same Paul taught that, in Christ, there is no “male and female” (οὐκ ἔνι ἄρσεν καὶ θῆλυ· Gal 3:28). This was categorical rejection of the way that females were regarded and treated in the Greco-Roman world. Contrary to popular reports, Paul was no misogynist but neither may we try to make him a feminist.

The other great error, as broached above, is the temptation simply to ignore this teaching as do the mainline (liberal) denominations, as some Pentecostal traditions have long done. One of the most remarkable aspects of the life and ministry of Sister Aimee Semple McPherson (1890–1944) is her resolute belief in God’s Word and her simultaneous and complete disregard for 1 Timothy 2:12. On this see “Magic and Noise” in Always Reformed.

It is this second error that one sees in the rhetoric of “gender apartheid” and “toxic masculinity.” When the podcasters spoke about qualifications for special office (e.g., elder) in the church they mocked the idea that only men are permitted to hold special office by reducing the qualifications to male anatomy. Of course, Paul has much more extensive qualifications (e.g., 1 Tim 3:1–7 for elders and vv. 8–13 for deacons). Were the offices of minister, elder, and deacon open to females they would have to meet the same high tests but Paul restricts those offices to males. Why?

He grounds his order for the church in the creational pattern we observed in Genesis 1 and 2:

For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor (1 Timothy 2:13–14).

The order in the church is not arbitrary. It is a reflection of the creational pattern. Paul here implies all that we saw in Genesis 1 and 2. There was supposed to be order and mutuality. The man was created first and the woman from man but thereafter all men are born of women so that, without them, no man can be. Even our Lord himself, whose humanity was miraculously conceived by the Holy Spirit, was in the womb of the virgin and was born from the blessed Virgin Mary.

The Word of God is holy and inerrant. There is neither “gender apartheid” nor “toxic masculinity” in Scripture but the creational differences and order between male and female are clearly revealed, taught, and applied. The visible church is the earthly manifestation of the eschatological kingdom of God but eschatology does not wipe out nature (creation). It renews it. One of the difficulties in the current discussion is that the classical Reformed approach to nature and grace has been supplanted with the radical Anabaptist view of nature and grace, whereby grace is thought to obliterate nature. Scripture knows nothing about such a view. In the biblical and Reformed view, grace renews human nature in redemption and that renewal is manifested in sanctification, which includes obeying the order established for the visible church.

9 comments

  1. In my opinion, the Church loses sight of Scripture when she attempts to be relevant to the modern culture. We need only look at the CRC, as well as the recent developments in Holland with the GKN(liberated). The Church is not about social gospel, or any other gospel save Christ and Him crucified. Adherence to God’s word, the confessions which we hold to, and even tradition to some degree are of vital importance to the life of the Church. Compromising our doctrine, and social relevance only lead to the decay of the Church.

  2. If Paul had only appealed to the creation order I would be happy but the sentence goes on to seemingly appeal to the gullibility of Eve (and hence all women) and a lack of such a trait in Adam. I have yet to see a good critique of this. Do you or any of your readers wish to speak to this?

    • John,

      It’s a challenging passage but Christians start with the a priori with the conviction that whatever it says, it is the Word of God. We begin with implicit faith in Scripture. If there’s a problem, it lies with us not with Scripture.

      That’s not an exegesis but it is a starting point for further discussion.

    • I’ll offer my alternative view. I’ve just nearly finished a series of sermons in 1Tim.

      It is an unwarranted stretch to reason from Paul’s statement concerning: “the woman” (1Tim.2:14), that she was deceived; to “every woman is gullible.” In the first place, “the woman” is a literary parallel to “Eve,” v13. What Paul does with this terminology is tie “Eve” to a) the Heb. text of Gen.3:1ff, where she is called “the woman;” she is not given name until 3:20; and b) to vv11-12 of the immediate context, “a woman;” this particular, paradigm-woman for any/all of the generic class of female church members, Paul’s narrow subject matter at this place.

      Secondly, the fact Eve was *deceived* is not evidence that 1) she was “gullible,” since that pejorative implies a kind of simpleton outlook, and possibly a prejudicial judgment of a sex-weakness; 2) not evidence that the serpent did not have to craft a well-tailored assault on the woman in the garden, in order to defeat her defenses; 3) not evidence that in other circumstances, males have not proved themselves just as susceptible to deception–if not more–than Eve.

      It is sufficient (following Paul) to describe Eve’s failure as one that had the quality and/or the effect of upending divinely created order. The implication from Paul is that this original repudiation of creation-order resulted in a form of “guilt-by-association” that the daughters of Eve participate in. In this way is formed a weak-parallel to the undoubted, universal imputation (regardless of sex) of Adam’s sin to all his naturally generated posterity.

      The answer of faithful (and often highly intelligent) women, is her meek acceptance (Moses was the meekest man, let’s not forget) and her robust defense of the best illustration of restoration of divine order by simply obeying God in church-order, new-creation order.

      If the text says anything about Adam (it does not say anything about a ‘manly’ trait of clear-sightedness), in noting he was not deceived; we might reason he must therefore have sinned in a rather eyes-open manner, and/or abdicated his lead-role. Neither Adam’s weaknesses or strengths are factors in Paul’s argument, so they get no real attention. Paul cleaves to the OT text, focused only on the facts of 1) the timing of Adam’s creation relative to Eve’s; and 2) that she was deceived (as she confessed).

      The Bible is full of wise women; on the whole I think they come off better than the men, when they are brought together in sex-selective camps. Certainly, there’s little reason from Scripture’s examples to judge them “unwise” as a class, or “more gullible” than men overall in the Bible-record. Abigail (1Sam.25) is just one standout instance; Manoah’s wife, Deborah, Mary, Lydia… the list is extensive, and impressive.

      Yet, all these available paragons of virtue and wisdom are not the Holy Spirit’s inspired appeal in the text, nor in 1Cor.11; but always creation. Paul is not misogynist, unless one says the same about God himself; or that “inspiration” itself is a male-privilege category, and all that nonsense. Reestablishment of divine order is not about denigrating women. The human race is not even half-complete without women.

      Adam and Eve did not submit to the Word of God in the garden, and that’s why “THE childbirth” was necessary to save them. By now submitting to the Word of God, the women will only help the men and the whole redeemed race come meekly back toward alignment with the divine purpose for eternal fellowship and joy with God.

  3. Scott,

    Excellent article, especially noting that gender is a literary construct. One thing I have not seen mentioned in these discussions is the fact that women clearly do not meet the physical requirements for elder or deacon. Scipture clearly states the elder or deacon is to be the (Greek word for male) of one (Greek word for female). There is no ambiguity here.

  4. Scott,
    You’ve successfully defended Biblical Christianity from those who would ignore Paul’s teaching and from those who would apply it too broadly; however, you never got around to defending the PCA, OPC, or NAPARC. You’ve shown that the podcast ladies misused a lot of words and that they misunderstand the actual Biblical standard to which their denominations should be adhering, but you never addressed the general feeling behind their argument. I would like to hear whether you think there is any mistreatment/oppression/whatever of women in the PCA/OPC/NAPARC. Maybe the feeling of mistreatment is simply a false construct of a hyper-egalitarian, late-modern subjectivist mindset? But then, on the other hand, you did mention one example of mistreatment: the churches where women can’t vote. (BTW, I am eager to hear your explanation of why that policy is an unlikely application of 1 Tim 2.) But I wonder if the podcast ladies are even aware of the non-women-voting churches. Certainly as PCAers and OPCers, those ladies do exercise the vote. It sounds like their complaints go beyond not being allowed in the offices of the church; it sounds like they feel women aren’t valued.

    • Jo,

      Good questions.

      1. Do the NAPARC denominations need defending? That assumes that they are corporately or widely guilty as charged in the podcast. That must be shown. I did not hear the podcasters actually making a case that they are violating God’s Word. They might be guilty. We are all sinners but I’m not at all sure that they were starting with the Word rather than an alien standard.

      2. I have addressed the question of abuse in various ways:

      3. “General feeling”? That’s quite amorphous and vague. Let’s talk about discontent. It may be just or unjust. Are females being unjustly oppressed in NAPARC churches? As above, my answer is perhaps but let us agree on what Scripture says (which we have done in our confessions) and let us proceed on that basis. Will we satisfy non-Christian social or relational standards? No but we’re not obligated to that in the church. We are obligated to God’s Word as we confess it. I agree, however, that it is probably true that females do not feel valued in some NAPARC settings. I’m trying to get at that by arguing against the “sit down and shut up” (quasi-patriarchal) mentality. This is why I highlighted the various ways Paul talks about female service in the church. He did so unashamedly. We ought to follow his example.

      4. The biggest mistreatment I’ve noticed over the years is the attitude, taken in some quarters, that females should “sit down and shut up.” That is a mistake and contrary to Scripture as I argued in the essay. One symptom of this attitude is to refuse to let females vote in congregational meetings. Why is that problematic? First, there is little evidence that there was congregational voting in the New Testament churches. At best it is an inference. Females are denied, in some places, participation in congregational elections on the basis that males are the federal heads of households in the OT. That argument assumes a sort of continuity with Moses that may be properly doubted. That sort of headship, at least in the church, was arguably typological. Third, it is argued that voting is an exercise of authority and thus, a violation of 1 Tim 2:12. Again, this may be doubted. The exercise of authority in 1 Tim 2:12 is closely associated with the teaching office. We know that it does not refer to every exercise of authority since Phoebe was certainly exercising some kind of authority since they were to help her with her work. Arguably, she was exercising more authority in her service than that inherent in a advisory congregational vote.
      In most Reformed polities, a congregational vote is advisory rather than definitive. So, the case against female suffrage in the church rests on three inferences added together and all are dubious.

      In those places where patriarchalism (not unrelated to denying female suffrage in congregational meetings) has taken root, it is typically associated with some form of theonomy. That in itself is problematic and patriarchalism (for some of the reasons given above) his problematic. Rachel Miller has done a great job of critiquing it. I’ve linked several of her essays in response to another question.

      Two of the errors to be avoided here are 1) patriarchalism and quasi-patriarchalism, which ignores what Paul says about females serving in the church and 2) egalitarianism, which simply ignore what Paul says about the limits upon both sexes in the church.

  5. This is a classic example of male and female conversation having completely different goals. Women are seeking consensus out of their conversations and the conversation itself is the main goal. They want their feelings addressed. Men seek order and problem solving. This sound like women are being made to feel undervalued in some way and they’re expressing it in terms of complaints about male behavior generally. I think this is a common undercurrent in female blogging.

    The latest complaint is Piper´s complementarianism. I have had female managers an don’t think any women other than my wife have to submit to me. However, the entry or women into certain male dominated fields is ruining a lot of things for men. Let me give an example. Women should stay out of war. They aren’t designed for fighting as they lack the upper body strength, athleticism, and natural cognitive disposition for fighting. Fighting is as natural to a man as childbirth is to a woman. Males have a natural drive to protect women that is going to get many men and women unnecessarily killed. Yesterday some woman was mocking Piper’s assertion that a woman shouldn’t be a drill sergeant because it causes her to have to exercise authority over a man. What about all of what I mentioned above? She doesn’t seem to care about that. I hope she figures it out before it costs her a son or daughter in a war.

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