Plato’s Spectacles: How Greek Philosophy has Distorted our View of Women in the Bible

The following presentation was shared at Emmanuel Bible College on March 3, 2015:

Plato’s Spectacles

To view the presentation, please click on the link above.  You will need Powerpoint (or a compatible program) installed on your computer to view the file.

If you would like Bob to share this or similar information at your church, group or organization, please feel free to send him a message on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bob.edwards.letmypeoplego.

May God use this information to enlighten and encourage!

P.S. For those who do not have Powerpoint, I have added this PDF version of the presentation.  You can view it using Acrobat reader.  Hope that helps!

Plato’s Spectacles

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A “Biblical” View of Men and Women?

According to the “Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood” (CBMW) the English Standard Version of the Bible (ESV) presents an “unapologetically biblical stance on God’s gracious plan regarding the complementary roles of men and women” (http://cbmw.org/uncategorized/literary-esv-is-unapologetically-complementarian/).

In the eyes of this Council, the biblical role of men is to be leaders, whereas the role of women is to submit to this leadership. Female leadership in the church is bluntly described as “unbiblical” (http://cbmw.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/50Q_contents.pdf).

The following passage from the ESV translation seems to support this viewpoint:

“My people—infants are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O my people, your guides mislead you and they have swallowed up the course of your paths” (Isaiah 3:12).

It appears from this passage that God stands opposed to female leadership. If women usurp male authority, God’s people may be led astray.

What the CBMW does not seem to make clear is that this translation of the Bible is based on the work of Jewish scribes from the 7th-10th centuries A.D. known as Masoretes. One of the jobs of these scribes was to add vowel marks to the Hebrew text, which originally consisted only of consonants (https://theorthodoxlife.wordpress.com/2012/03/12/masoretic-text-vs-original-hebrew/).

Depending upon which vowels were added to Isaiah 3:12, “infants” could be translated “extractors,” and “women” could be translated “extortioners.” Which translation is accurate? This is an important question.

Is God opposed to women ruling in Israel…or extortioners? A much older version of Isaiah, translated from Hebrew, is found in the Greek Septuagint of the 2nd century B.C.. Please note that the writing of this translation predates the oldest available copy of the Mosorete’s text by roughly 1000 years. This version (the Septuagint) was also quoted directly and extensively by the writers of the New Testament (including Matthew, Luke, John and the apostle Paul) (http://www.bible-researcher.com/quote01.html).

How did the Septuagint translate Isaiah 3:12?

“O my people, your extractors πράκτορες strip you, and extortioners ἀπαιτοῦντες rule over you: O my people, they that pronounce you blessed lead you astray, and pervert the path of your feet.”

A much older version of the Bible, frequently quoted by the New Testament authors, says nothing about “women” in leadership.

In fact, in the Old Testament we see that God himself appointed Deborah as a judge, leader and prophet of Israel. She did not lead God’s people astray:

“Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. She used to sit under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the sons of Israel came up to her for judgment” (Judges 4:4-5 NIV).

The CBMW also claims that female leadership is prohibited by the New Testament passage found in 1 Timothy 2:12:

“I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man…” (ESV)

What the CBMW doesn’t seem to clarify is that this translation of the passage is based upon Erasmus’ Greek/Latin version of the Bible from the 16th century A.D.. Specifically the notion that women may not “exercise authority” over a man comes from Erasmus’ Latin “auctoritatum” (Wilshire, 2010, Insight Into Two Biblical Passages). The Greek word he was translating was “authentein.” It is used only once in the New Testament, so it is difficult to grasp its meaning…unless we once again look to the Septuagint for assistance.

In the Septuagint Book entitled “The Wisdom of Solomon” the word “authentas” is used to refer to those who engage in pagan sacrifices to idols (12:6). The “authentas” were parents who sacrificed their children to a false god. What does this word actually have to say about women in leadership?

Absolutely nothing at all.

In fact for hundreds of years leading up to the New Testament era, the word “authentein” nearly always referred to perpetrating or supporting violence, murder or sacrilege (Wilshire, 2010). Not surprisingly, ascetic cults in Ephesus, the destination of Paul’s letter to Timothy, had a long history of performing violent ritual sacrifices involving men. Diodorus Siculus, a historian from 30 BC, explained that one of these cults originally sacrificed male children to their goddess, Cybele. In the New Testament era, male genitalia were offered to the goddess (an idol) during an annual ritual. Men not willing to participate in this ritual were perceived as “unclean” and therefore unfit for spiritual service. Is Paul really writing about “women in authority” here? Not if we look to the Septuagint to help us understand his language, and not if we take the religious history of Ephesus seriously.

So, is the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood correct in saying that the leadership of women in the church is “unbiblical”? No, I don’t believe they are. In fact, older manuscripts of the Bible strongly suggest that scribes and translators later distorted God’s message with their own sexist bias.

“‘How can you say, ‘We are wise, for we have the law of the LORD,’ when actually the lying pen of the scribes has handled it falsely?” (Jeremiah 8:8)

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Modesty and the Lust of Men

If you’re like me, you’ve probably heard countless sermons on the importance of modesty. Typically, these sermons are addressed to women. Women are told that if they do not conceal their femininity adequately, they will “cause” men to fall prey to the sin of “lust.” Usually, the preacher will then attempt to support this admonition by quoting from the following Bible passages:

“I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God” (1 Timothy 2:9-10, NIV).

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You Shall Not Commit Adultery’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28, NIV).

There you have it. Women should dress modestly or they will cause men to look at them lustfully and commit adultery. Right?

Wrong.

What is the author of 1st Timothy concerned about? “Elaborate hairstyles, gold, pearls, expensive clothing.” Nowhere does the author of this passage talk about covering up so that men will not lust. Evidently, the concern here is related to displays of material wealth.

In the book of James, we see similar concerns about discrimination in the body of Christ on the basis of wealth and social status:

“Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Here’s a good seat for you,’ but say to the poor man, ‘You stand there’ or ‘Sit on the floor by my feet,’ have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” (James 2:2-4, NIV)

God does not play favorites on the basis of material wealth, and neither should we.

Similarly, quotations of Jesus’ comments related to lust and adultery found in Matthew 5 have a disturbing tendency to leave out verse 29: “If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell” (NIV).

Does Jesus tell women to cover up so that they will not “cause” men to commit the sin of adultery? On the contrary, he uses a dramatic metaphor to encourage men to say “no” to temptation.
Once again, the book of James provides some helpful insight into this topic by describing how temptation can turn into sin:

“When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (James 1:13-15, NIV).

The temptation to sin comes from within a person, not from without. It is also important to recognize that we can always say “no”: “The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure” (1 Corinthians 10:13, NLT).

If a man notices a woman and finds her attractive, even in a sexual way, he has not sinned. He has experienced what psychologists call “attentional capture” along with an initial, involuntary emotional response. At this point, he may be tempted to behave in a manner that is sinful, but he does not have to. He can choose where to focus his attention, and he can choose what kind of attention it is that he directs towards another person. The apostle Paul, for examples, tells Christian men to think of women as “sisters, in all purity” (1 Timothy 5:1, NIV). Referring again to psychology, the process Paul is advocating would rightly be called managing one’s “cognitive appraisal.”

Sadly, many men have never been taught to distinguish attraction from action, impulse from choice, temptation from sin. In fact, we have often been told that “sexual desire,” in and of itself, is the very definition of sin. Historically, this notion originates in the work of a 4th century Bishop named Augustine. In his mind, sexual desire was a manifestation of “indwelling sin.” A genuinely Christian man would have all such desires crucified and replaced with other-centered, non-sexual inclinations from the Holy Spirit. That sounds very “holy,” but it is frankly not human. Neither is it actually biblical. St. Augustine derived these views from his study of ascetic philosophy. He shares this openly in his book of Confessions. Sadly, his views on sin were adopted as orthodox theology by some notable Protestant reformers. This view of alleged holiness continues to be taught in many churches today. In my experience, these churches inevitably preach sermons on the importance of feminine modesty, so that a glimpse of the female form will not “cause” men to stumble. The author of this brand of holiness, St. Augustine, insisted that women be veiled in public.

Should women be sure to “cover up” so that they do not “cause” men to sin? Not according to Jesus or the authors of the New Testament. Rather than attempting to control women, I believe men should develop a more accurate understanding of human sexuality, and with the help of God’s Spirit learn how to say “no” to choices and actions that would truly be sinful.

Concluding thoughts:

The blaming of women for male sin tragically goes beyond concerns about “lustful looking.” In many years of clinical practice, I’ve worked with victims and perpetrators of sexual crimes. It is often the case that a man charged with a sexual offense will claim that a woman’s beauty “caused” him to assault her. In this way, a woman is doubly assaulted. First, her sexual boundaries are violated by a man’s actions. Then she is held responsible for them. Typically, we refer to this as “blaming the victim.” This problem is not isolated to sexual crimes. Male perpetrators of domestic violence often say that a woman’s tone of voice, words or actions caused him to physically assault her. Sometimes the man will allege that the woman was not being sufficiently “submissive.” Sometimes church leaders will agree.

Another troubling message from some church leaders suggests that Christian men will fall prey to infidelity if their wives do not keep them sexually satisfied. Once again, women are made responsible for whether or not a man chooses to sin. Ironically, two of our most influential New Testament figures were apparently single—Jesus and the apostle Paul. They did not depend on women to “keep them holy.” Both set an example of yielding themselves fully to the Holy Spirit so that their lives would be characterized by love and kindness. Contrary to what is suggested by theologians like Augustine, this does not render one’s humanity inert. It does, however, give us the strength and inclination to say “no” to temptation and “yes” to God and love.

The issue I’m attempting to highlight is not confined to the Christian church. Other cultures also encourage what psychologists refer to as an “external locus of control.” This concept refers to the process of attributing one’s choices and actions to “external” or outside forces. Men who feel guilty for sexual feelings, or who do not know how to manage their sexual impulses, may blame these internal issues on external factors (e.g. a woman who is perceived as attractive). Viewing the perceived attractiveness as a threat to their moral and spiritual health, some men have been guilty of disfiguring women in a fit of rage. Leaders of some religious communities even encourage this kind of violence, in the alleged service of the public good.

All of these examples have a common thread: women are made responsible for the actions of men. If women are responsible, then the man is not. Rather than managing his own inner world and outward behaviors, this man will attempt to control women.

Jesus Christ did not teach women to take responsibility for men’s behavior. He did not teach men to control women. Sadly, many mistake this kind of co-dependent functioning for Christianity. It is my sincere hope that this article will provide some clarity. We may choose to dress in one way or another for various different reasons. The fear of “causing” someone else to behave sinfully need not be one of them.

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“It Was the Will of God”: Why this statement may not offer comfort in the face of suffering.

I’ve been a psychotherapist for nearly two decades now, and I’ve met with many people experiencing loss and/or trauma. It is often the case that well-meaning Christians attempt to offer comfort by describing some horrible experience as “the will of God.”

Typically, hardships allegedly from God are portrayed as one of three things:

1. Punishment for sin,
2. A lesson the sufferer needs to learn,
3. A necessary (though evil) means to a noble end.

Some of the tragedies I have worked to address, with the help of God, have included things like child abduction, sexual abuse, murder and ethnic-cleansing (genocide). Though it staggers the mind to consider it, some individuals have been impacted by all of these events in one life-time. Needless to say, they are in pain.

Which of the three explanations sometimes offered by well-meaning Christians affords them any comfort?

“Your child was abducted because you have sinned.”
“You were raped because God is trying to teach you a lesson.”
“God caused your spouse to be murdered to accomplish something noble, down the road.”

It’s a rhetorical question.

When presented with these explanations for tragedy, those suffering trauma or loss may feel that they can identify with the following words of Job:

“How helpful you all are to the powerless! Isn’t it wonderful that you aid the weak arm! How wonderful that you counsel the witless, always ready with a helpful suggestion! But who are you talking to, with these words of wisdom? Whose spirit spoke from your mouth?” (Job 26:2-4, TIB)

Whose spirit indeed?

Many who have read the Bible will be aware that Job is the story of a man who undergoes tremendous hardship, and is then approached by friends who attempt to comfort him. The comfort they offer is very similar to the three explanations often supplied by well-meaning Christians. Job did not receive this well.

Neither did God.

These are the words of God to Job’s would-be helpers:

“I am very angry with you and your two friends,” YHWH said, for not speaking truthfully about me as Job, my faithful one, did… I will accept Job’s prayer and not punish you as your folly deserves, for you have not spoken truthfully about me as Job, my faithful one, did” (Job 42:7-8, TIB).

The words of Job’s comforters wounded their friend; they also offended God because they did not speak truthfully about Him.

If this form of comfort wounds those we mean to help and simultaneously misrepresents the character of God, why do people offer it?

I can’t answer this question for everyone. I can, however, share what motivated a well-known theologian who attributed everything, including human sin (abduction, rape, murder), to the “will of God.” His name was John Calvin, and this is what he said,

“In short, Augustine everywhere teaches, that if anything is left to fortune the world moves at random… For which reason, he also excludes the contingency which depends on human will, maintaining a little further on in clearer terms, that no cause must be sought for but the will of God” (Institutes of the Christian Religion; as cited in Edwards, A God I’d Like to Meet, 2014, pp. 32-33).

John Calvin lived in a tumultuous time. In his own words, he tells us that the one thing he could not tolerate was the notion that “the world moves at random.” He evidently took comfort in the notion that everything on earth (including human decisions) are actually caused by “the will of God.” To paraphrase his worldview, one might say, “Despite all of the chaos, war, pestilence and plague we all experience or bear witness to, everything is proceeding exactly as God has planned.”

Is this a comforting thought? To John Calvin, it was. Apparently, he successfully addressed his fear of uncertainty by embracing a worldview commonly known as “determinism.” He is not the only influential theologian to take this approach. He indicates that he derived his worldview from the work of a 4th century A.D. Roman Catholic Bishop, named Augustine.

Augustine expressed the same deterministic worldview in the following terms:

“And so it comes to pass that the will of God is the first and the highest cause of all corporeal appearances and motions. For nothing is done visibly or sensibly, unless either by command or permission from the interior palace, invisible and intelligible, of the supreme Governor…” (De Trinity lib. 3 cap. 4; as cited in Edwards, 2014, p. 34).

In the eyes of these two influential theologians—one Catholic and the other Protestant—eliminating the notion that terrible things happen at random was paramount. To achieve this end, they also believed they had to eliminate the very notion of human choice. God, therefore, was made directly responsible for everything that takes place on earth, including human sin.

But isn’t this worldview “biblical”? Augustine believed that it was, and Calvin believed Augustine. Today, many pastors, priests and other church leaders continue to believe Augustine and Calvin. What they may not realize, however, is that Augustine did not derive this worldview from the Bible. He found it in what he referred to as the books of the “Platonists”:

“Simplicianus congratulated me that I had not fallen upon the writings of other philosophers, which were full of fallacies and deceit, ‘after the beggarly elements of this world,’ whereas in the Platonists, at every turn, the pathway led to belief in God and his Word” (Augustine’s Confessions, Book VIII, Chapter II; as cited in Edwards, 2014, p. 21).

One of the most popular Platonists read in Augustine’s day was a philosopher named Plotinus. In his work entitled, “The Enneads,” he shares a vision of a deterministic world:

“Evil has its origin in the All [the Source of all things], and without it, the All is incomplete. Are the evils in the universe necessary because it is of later origin than the Higher Sphere? Perhaps rather because without evil the All would be incomplete. For most or even all forms of evil serve the Universe–much as the poisonous snake has its use–though in most cases their function is unknown. Vice itself has many useful sides: it brings about much that is beautiful, in artistic creations for example, and it stirs us to thoughtful living, not allowing us to drowse in security” (as cited in Edwards, 2014, pp. 35-36).

According to Plotinus’ evil had its origin in the All [God] because even “vice” (e.g. human sin) “has many useful sides.” This is the source of Augustine and Calvin’s deterministic worldview. It is the source of the idea that God causes human sin: to punish us, to teach us, or to later accomplish some greater good.

If someone already believes in determinism, he or she is likely to interpret the Bible through these lenses. Bible passages that can be interpreted in many different ways will be hijacked by determinism. Present-day Calvinist, John Piper, for example uses the following passage to support a deterministic worldview:

“Proverbs 19:21: Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails” (Man’s Sin and God’s Sovereignty, Christian Post article; as cited in Edwards, 2014, p. 26).

Does this verse say that God causes everything that takes place on earth, including human sin? Frankly, no it does not. We’re simply told that whatever human beings may plan, it is God’s purpose that will ultimately prevail. The gospel of John tells us, for example, that God sent Jesus to take away the sins of the world (1:29). The gospel of Matthew tells us that King Herod would have prevented this from happening by slaughtering all of the boys in Bethlehem that were two years old or younger, including Jesus (2:16). God intervened, however, by warning Joseph in a dream to take Jesus and flee to Egypt (Matthew 2:13-15).

In this story, did God cause Herod to slaughter innocent children? Of course not. What a horrendous thought! In fact, the Bible tells us clearly to never hold God responsible for human sin:

“When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:13-17).

In the story of Jesus’ preservation from Herod, did God take control of human choices? No. He simply warned Joseph in a dream to flee to Egypt, and Joseph—wisely—obeyed. “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.” This passage has nothing to say in support of determinism, despite how it is sometimes interpreted.

When we encounter human suffering, I think we can expect to feel uncomfortable. In our discomfort, we may wish to reassure ourselves and others—as did Augustine and Calvin—that “everything is directly under God’s control.” In doing this, however, we may—like Job’s comforters—add insult to someone else’s profound injury. We may also be confusing a non-biblical philosophy (i.e. determinism) with the word of God. I pray that we will pause and reflect on other approaches to the problem of pain that is caused by human sin.

“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ” (Colossians 2:8).

Some personal thoughts:

When I have experienced trauma or loss (and I have experienced both) I have found the following Bible passages comforting:

“And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever” (John 14:16).

“I will never leave you or forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me” (Psalm 23:4).

“Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you” (Psalm 55:22).

“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans” (Romans 8:26).

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). Please note, this does not say that God “causes” all things; the Bible actually never says this. Determinism is only inferred by people who already believe in a deterministic worldview.

“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

“Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

“God is love” (1 John 4:16).

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The Sin of “Authentein”

Many are aware that 1 Timothy 2:12 is a verse often used to prevent women from “exercising authority” in the church. Some are also aware that the English expression “to exercise authority” originated as a 16th Century A.D. translation of the Greek verb “authentein.” For decades now, scholars have been debating the possible meaning of this verb, since it is found only once in the New Testament.

To help us understand what this word meant to the apostle Paul, I think it is helpful to examine the Bible he often cited in his epistles; namely, the Greek Septuagint (http://www.bible-researcher.com/quote01.html).

In the Septuagint (LXX), a noun form of “authentein” is used in following passage:

“Do you remember the ancient inhabitants of your holy land? You scorned them for their unholy ways, for their sorcery and profane rituals, their callous killing of children, their cannibal feasts on human flesh and blood. They practiced secret rituals in which parents slaughtered their own defenseless children” (Wisdom of Solomon 12:3-6, TIB).

The parents in this passage, who slaughter their children in profane rituals to false gods, are referred to as “authentas.”

Why would Paul use a verb form of this word in his letter to Timothy? Were child sacrifices being performed in or around Ephesus in the worship of false gods or goddesses? Historically, child sacrifices were indeed performed in Ephesus and the surrounding area by a matriarchal culture that worshiped a goddess named Cybele:

“They…dismissed all thought of intermarriage with their neighbours, calling it slavery rather than marriage. They embarked instead upon an enterprise unparalleled in the whole of history, that of building up a state without men and then actually defending it themselves, out of contempt for the male sex…. Then, with peace assured by their military success, they entered into sexual relationships with surrounding peoples so that their line would not die out. Males born of such unions they put to death, but girls they brought up in a way that adapted them to their own way of life…. After conquering most of Europe, they also seized a number of city-states in Asia. Here they founded Ephesus” (Pompeius Trogus, 1st Century B.C., as cited in Yardley, 1994, p. 29).

According to historians Ferguson and Farnell, the female-dominated culture in Ephesus viewed the male sex with contempt because masculinity was seen as a source of evil. Femininity, on the other hand, was seen as the source of life and purity. These views were reinforced by the culture’s creation myths. In the New Testament era, Cybele was still worshiped by a female-dominant culture, and they still viewed men with contempt. Although male children were no longer put to death, any men desiring to serve the goddess had to be purified of their masculinity through ritual castration. After this public rite, these men would sometimes fall into a trance-like state and begin prophesying for the goddess. Romans who witnessed this referred to the men as “interpreters of the divine word” (Favazza, 2011, p. 160). In addition to undergoing ritual castration, and shunning marriage, these men fasted from certain foods. Female worshipers looked to Cybele as the goddess who would save them in childbirth (Farnell, 1977, p. 444).

In Paul’s letter to Timothy, he warns against false teaching and mythology (1 Timothy 1:3). He connects this false teaching with those who shun marriage and forbid the eating of certain foods (1 Timothy 4:3). Those who practice this ascetic lifestyle claim to have access to special knowledge (gnosis) that Paul refers to as doctrines of demons (1 Timothy 6:20 & 4:1). Paul addresses the issue of being saved in childbirth (1 Timothy 2:15). He reminds Timothy that Adam was a source of life, and that Eve played a role in humanity’s fall (1 Timothy 2:13-14); this creation account directly contradicts the creation mythology of Cybele.

Paul also forbids the teaching and practice of “authentein” (1 Timothy 2:12). In this context, like that of the Wisdom of Solomon, it appears that “authetein” refers to ritual violence performed in the worship of a false god, or in this case the goddess Cybele, who was called Artemis by the Greeks.

Does the linguistic and historical data available to us support the idea that “authentein” should be translated into English as “to exercise authority”? No, I do not believe it does. Rather, I think it supports the notion that Paul is forbidding the teaching and practice of ritual violence.  In the case of Ephesus, this violence was done to men.

Appendix 1: What other authors say about “authentein.”

Catherine Clark Kroeger: “Authenteo, with its connotations of murder and of “sexuality related to death,” may imply a ritual action, for the mysteries contained both sex and death.  Possibly there was a ritual subjection to female dominance in order to gain purification…” (Women, Authority and the Bible, 1986, p. 244).

Leland E. Wishire: Between the 2nd century B.C. and the 2nd century A.D. Greek authors outside of the biblical text used a form of “authentein” in the following ways:

-Polybius used the word authenten, 2nd century B.C., to mean the “doer of a massacre.”

-Diodorus Siculus used three variations of the word (authentais, authenten, authentas), 1st century B.C. – 1st century A.D., to mean “perpetrators of sacrilege,” “author of crimes” and “supporters of violent actions.”

-Philo Judaeus used the word authentes, 1st century B.C. – 1st century A.D., to mean “being one’s own murderer.”

-Flavius Josephus used the words authenten and authentas, 1st century A.D., to mean “perpetrator of a crime” and “perpetrators of a slaughter.”

-The apostle Paul used the word authentein once during the same time period as Diodorus, Philo and Josephus.

-Appian of Alexander used the word authentai three times, and the word authenten twice, 2nd century A.D., to mean “murderers,” slayer,” “slayers of themselves” and “perpetrators of evil.”

-Harpocration used the word authentes, 2nd century A.D., to mean “murderer.”

-Phrynichus used the word authentes once, 2nd century A.D., to mean “one who murders by his own hand.” (Insight Into Two Biblical Passages, 2010).

Appendix 2: Comparison of Bible verses from the Septuagint and 1 Timothy

The Bible Paul was reading (LXX) included a book called The Wisdom of Solomon. In it, we find the following verses:

τέκνων τε φονέας ἀνελεήμονας καὶ σπλαγχνοφάγων ἀνθρωπίνων σαρκῶν θοῖναν καὶ αἵματος, ἐκ μέσου μύστας θιάσου καὶ αὐθέντας γονεῖς ψυχῶν ἀβοηθήτων, ἐβουλήθης ἀπολέσαι διὰ χειρῶν πατέρων ἡμῶν
(http://www.ellopos.net/elpenor/greek-texts/septuagint/chapter.asp?book=29&page=12)

Here is an online English translation:

And also those merciless murderers of children, and devourers of man’s flesh, and the feasts of blood, With their priests out of the midst of their idolatrous crew, and the parents, that killed with their own hands souls destitute of help

Here are Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 2:12

γυναικὶ δὲ διδάσκειν οὐκ ἐπιτρέπω, οὐδὲ αὐθεντεῖν ἀνδρός, ἀλλ’ εἶναι ἐν ἡσυχίᾳ.
(http://www.ellopos.net/elpenor/greek-texts/new-testament/timothy_1/2.asp)

Speaking to a culture that had a history of sacrificing male children (in Ephesus) and was currently sacrificing male genitalia to an idol, why do we think Paul was talking about “authority” here?

I do not believe he had “authority” in mind.  “Authority” as a translation does not appear until Erasmus’ 16th century Latin “auctoritatem” (Wilshire, 2010).  English Bibles based on this Latin edition translated the word as “authority.”  The King James, for example, follows this tradition.

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Confusing “Equality” with “Sameness”: Clearing up a Complementarian Misconception

Time after time, I’ve read complementarian literature that seems to misunderstand what is meant by biblical equality for women and men. The heart of the misunderstanding appears to be a misperception of what is meant by the term “equality.” Very often, the complementarian literature I’m familiar with assumes that egalitarians are advocating for the “sameness” of men and women in the church, rather than their equality. For example, in her book entitled, “The Feminist Mistake,” Mary A. Kassian uses the terms “equality” and “sameness” interchangeably (p. 37). She also assumes, wrongly, that Christian egalitarians want women to be “just like men” (p. 38).

Sameness suggests that there are really no differences between men and women. Numerous complementarian books, journal articles and blogs expend vast amounts of time and energy refuting this notion of “sameness.” They believe they are refuting biblical equality, but they are wrong.

Equality is not blind to the rather obvious biological differences between men and women. Equality, however, does not view biological differentiation as a basis for subjection. In other words, it does not believe that authority in human relationships should be designated solely on the basis of a person’s sex at birth.

Theologically, the association of “maleness” with leadership characteristics has a long history. For example, Clement of Alexandria (150-215 A.D.) declared, “Man is stronger and purer since his is uncastrated and has a beard. Women are weak, passive, castrated and immature… His beard, then is the badge of a man and shows him unmistakably to be a man. It is older than Eve and is a symbol of the stronger nature. By God’s decree, hairiness is one of man’s conspicuous qualities, and, at that, is distributed over his whole body. For what is hairy is by nature drier and warmer than what is bare; therefore, the male is hairier and more warm-blooded than the female; the uncastrated, than the castrated; the mature, than the immature” (Trombley, 2003, Who Said Women Can’t Teach, p. 234).

Clement argues that beards, penises and body hair are a sign of maturity, strength and purity. Theologians throughout church history have concluded that these qualities make men—and not women—fit candidates for leadership. Clement’s notion that beards, body hair and male genitalia relate to maturity demonstrates a profoundly androcentric and erroneous worldview. He wrongly evaluates a woman’s maturity in terms of issues related to male puberty.

Is it really true that men are more intellectually, emotionally or spiritually mature than women? If you asked St. Augustine, the influential 4th century Roman Catholic Bishop, he would have answered, “yes.” He believed that women must be subject to men because “the weaker brain must serve the stronger” (Questions on the Heptateuch, Book I, § 153).

After immersing himself in Augustine’s commentaries, prominent Protestant reformer John Calvin came to similar conclusions about a woman’s “nature” and how it rendered her unfit for leadership: “[A woman] is formed to obey; for gunaikokratia (the government of women) has always been regarded by all wise persons as a monstrous thing; and, therefore, so to speak, it will be a mingling of heaven and earth, if women usurp the right to teach” (Commentary on Timothy, Titus and Philemon). In the eyes of Calvin, women were created to “obey” not lead. He also viewed obedience and teaching as mutually exclusive activities.  In his commentary on Genesis, he referred to female subordination as “the order of nature.”

Today, complementarians continue to associate “masculinity” with “leadership” and “femininity” with “submission.” One of the founders of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, for example, said that women may not exercise authority because of their “characteristic weaknesses” (Piper, desiringgod.org, “affirming the goodness of manhood and womanhood in all of life”). Another complementarian leader expressed this viewpoint more bluntly, stating simply that women are more gullible and more easily deceived than men (Driscoll, as cited at the wartburgwatch.com, “danger flee churches which teach that women are easily deceived”).

Is it accurate to equate masculinity with leadership? No, I don’t believe so. This is really just a mental association resulting from gender-socialization. I don’t believe this particular association is evidence-based, though it has a long history in church tradition.

Do many women want to share decision-making authority in their churches and homes? Yes. Some of these women are also gifted to teach the Bible and/or preach the gospel of salvation. Does this mean that they want to be “just like men?” Only if we assume that maturity, leadership, teaching and preaching are distinctly “male” characteristics…and they are not. Equality is not sameness. Women can be distinctly female and–of course–spiritually mature; they can share decision-making authority with men, teach the Bible and preach the gospel: beards, body hair and male genitals are not required.

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Male Shame, and the Projection of Blame onto Women

When Adam ate fruit from the forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden, he knowingly disobeyed God’s command (Romans 12:5-14). Prior to this event, Adam knew no shame (Genesis 2:25). After his decision to sin, however, his feelings changed dramatically (Genesis 3:10).

When questioned by God about his actions, Adam’s first words were, “The woman you gave to be with me — she gave me fruit from the tree…” (Genesis 3:12). Why does Adam focus attention on his wife, when he is questioned about his own actions? Is this the first example in biblical history of attempting to defend against shame by projecting blame onto someone else? It may well be.

Even if this inference about Adam’s response to God is not an exact reflection of his motives, theologians throughout church history have projected blame for the fall of humanity onto women more overtly:

Tertullian: You are the devil’s gateway, you are the unsealer of that [forbidden] tree; you are the first deserter of the divine law; you are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. You destroyed so easily God’s image, man. (https://equalityinchrist.wordpress.com/2014/05/13/must-women-keep-silent-1-corinthians-14-the-apostle-paul-and-the-traditions-of-men/)

St. Jerome: And that the lot of a woman might not seem a hard one, [because of God] reducing her to the condition of a slave to her husband, the Apostle recalls the ancient law and goes back to the first example: that Adam was first made, then the woman out of his rib; and that the Devil could not seduce Adam, but did seduce Eve; and that after displeasing God she was immediately subjected to the man, and began to turn to her husband; and he points out that she who was once tied with the bonds of marriage and was reduced to the condition of Eve, might blot out the old transgression by the procreation of children: provided, however, that she bring up the children themselves in the faith and love of Christ, and in sanctification and chastity… (http://www.womenpriests.org/traditio/jerome.asp#undone)

According to both of these influential theologians, Adam (the man) was too formidable a target for the devil to tempt. They tell us that Satan had to work through humanity’s “weak link”—woman–to achieve his goal.

According to this incredibly sexist interpretation of the Genesis account, Adam (the man) is portrayed as a victim of female influence. It seems as though the commentators hoped to believe, “There’s no shame in being victimized by irresistible feminine wiles.”[1] Jerome even offers a solution to the alleged problem of a woman’s influence: women must be reduced to the condition of slaves.[2] Specifically, he tells us that female sin will be blotted out when women submit to men in marriage, bear them children (i.e. have sex with them), and raise their offspring “in sanctification and chastity.”

Male shame is transformed into the blame of women, which leads to their subjugation: Historically, this is the foundation for every doctrinal tradition that subjects women to the authority of men in the church or in the home.

Why were some of the early church fathers so inclined to defend against shame by projecting blame onto women? Answering this question requires at least a brief exploration of what theologians like St. Jerome were so deeply ashamed of. Put bluntly, Jerome was ashamed of simply being human. More specifically, he was ashamed of the passionate emotions that are part of human nature. This shame stems from the fact that Jerome was an ascetic. This means that he had embraced a philosophy that said the mind and the spirit are good, whereas the body and the emotions are less good. When he combined this worldview with the Bible, he came to the conclusion that his passionate emotions (especially sexual feelings) needed to be put to death (i.e. mortified). His self had to be annihilated—crucified with Christ. He felt especially successful in his pursuit of this understanding of spirituality, when he was not in the company of a woman he found attractive. If he did notice a woman that he found attractive, and if he did experience the involuntary arousal of sexual feelings, he believed he had already sinned. It seems as though the acknowledgement and healthy regulation of sexual emotions was not a concept he was familiar with. Jerome and other like-minded theologians seem to make no distinction between impulse and action.

At one point in his pursuit of ascetic spirituality, St Jerome spent three years as a desert hermit, hoping to isolate himself from environmental cues that might stimulate “concupiscence” (i.e. sinful desire). The following passage from a book entitled, “After Eve” describes this experience:

Jerome spent about three years in the desert, studying, mortifying the flesh, learning Hebrew to prevent his mind being filled with erotic fantasies. (He tells us that his mind boiled with lust in the desert and he was much troubled with visions of dancing-girls.) To his disappointment he found that the desert-hermits were less saintly than he had expected, and, not by any means for the first time, or indeed the last, he quarrelled with those around him, and gave up desert-life in disgust. (http://www.womenpriests.org/theology/barr.asp)

After this experience, Jerome returned to Rome where at last he found himself reasonably comfortable in the company of women who also embraced an ascetic lifestyle. They too denied their emotions in general (sexuality in particular) and went to great lengths to conceal their femininity, lest they allegedly cause men (like Jerome) to stumble:

Jerome became deeply involved in the religious life of Rome, the Pope took a great interest in his work, he started on a new translation of the Bible ([the Latin] Vulgate) and, very important for our subject, he became very friendly with a group of well-born Roman matrons. These ladies had already become very interested in asceticism, and when Jerome, with his own recent desert experience, arrived and became known to them, they hailed him with joy, and their delight was reciprocated. They met frequently for prayer and Bible study. They exchanged letters constantly on matters of Biblical exegesis and meanings of Hebrew words. This intimacy gave rise to prurient gossip. There were accusations of sexual impropriety, which Jerome hotly denied, and there was indignation that these ladies, with their high social standing, their beautiful villas on the Aventine Hill, were following a regime which involved dressing in rags, never bathing, and indeed carrying mortification of the flesh to such lengths that one young woman died…

…Jerome had a horror of women’s sexuality. How is his attachment to [these women] and their devotion to him reconcilable with his anti-feminist views? I think he succeeded in seeing these women, with their saintliness, their love of Scripture, their ready acceptance of asceticism, as being no longer women, but men. Let me quote a letter he wrote to Lucinius, a wealthy Spanish nobleman who has made a vow with his wife that they will live the rest of their married lives in complete continence [sexual abstinence]: “You have with you one who was once your partner in the flesh, but is now your partner in the spirit, once your wife but now your sister, once a woman but now a man, once an inferior but now an equal.” (http://www.womenpriests.org/theology/barr.asp)

When Jerome experienced passionate emotion, he felt ashamed. He believed that such feelings were an indication that he had failed to successfully “mortify the flesh” through faith in Christ’s crucifixion. To help maintain the illusion that he had succeeded at annihilating his emotional self, he spent time in the company of women who denied their femininity and their sexuality. They dressed in rags and did not bathe. Other ascetic theologians from this era (e.g. St. Augustine) insisted that women be veiled in public to avoid causing men to experience “sinful” desire. ( Edwards, A God I’d Like to Meet, 2014)

In Adam’s case, moral failure evidently led to feelings of guilt and shame. He apparently dealt with these feelings by focusing his attention on Eve’s role in humanity’s fall, rather than his own.

In Jerome’s case, the experience of passionate emotion was wrongly perceived as sin. Evidently he felt guilty and ashamed for simply being human. He also failed to distinguish between feeling and action, temptation and sin. He apparently dealt with his feelings by avoiding women who did not conceal their femininity from him with filth and rags.

In the case of both Adam and Jerome, responsibility for male guilt and shame is projected onto women. Historically, this has led to the subjugation of women, and—ironically–the disempowerment of men. Women have been compelled by the church to hide their femininity, lest they cause men to stumble. This line of thinking suggests that men cannot find a woman attractive, and yet choose not to engage in sexually sinful behavior. Men, it would seem, have no choice but to sin in the presence of female beauty. Some complementarian church leaders have told me this is exactly what they believe. This is why some faith communities insist that women clothe themselves in loose fitting attire from head to toe. This is why some religious traditions insist that a woman cover her hair.  In some faith communities the sight of a woman’s hair is perceived as an irresistible sexual cue.  There is relevance here to the all-too-prevalent practice of blaming female victims for sexual assault.

Is projecting blame onto women for male guilt and shame God’s plan for his church? No, I don’t believe it is. In fact, I strongly believe that the status quo we find in many churches is the opposite of what God would have us do.

In the case of Jerome, rather than spending time only with women who wore rags and refused to bathe, I think he needed to encounter the truth that human emotions are not evil. I believe he needed to recognize that impulse and action are not the same thing; there is an important difference between temptation and sin (Hebrews 4:15). Rather than compelling women to deny their femininity, Jerome needed to be set free from a lie—the human philosophy of asceticism: “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8).

I also believe that God has provided a solution to guilt and shame other than the projection of blame onto others. John’s gospel tells us that Jesus Christ came to take away the sins of the world (John 1:29). To experience forgiveness, however, we must first acknowledge when we have done wrong (1 John 1:18). Then we can turn from sin to God, with faith that Jesus took our sins to the cross and nailed them there (Colossians 2:14). This is how we can experience real forgiveness from God.

Further, Jesus’ coming shows us that shame is essentially a lie. Shame tells us that if we have made mistakes we are worthless failures that cannot be loved. The truth of the matter is that God does not see us this way. God loves us, even though we are not perfect. Jesus died for us on the cross to take our sins away, while we were yet his enemies (Romans 5:10). God sees us as people who are worth saving. He sees that we are worth loving. I recognize that some theologians dispute this, claiming that God can’t help loving us, because he is love and we are all just loathsome worms. This is the very theological tradition, however, that springs from St. Jerome’s blending of the gospel with the human philosophy of asceticism. I do not believe it is an accurate interpretation of God’s love, made known to us in the person of Jesus Christ.

Ascetic philosophy would have us believe that passionate emotion is evil. It would have us make no distinction between impulse and action, temptation and sin. Human defense mechanisms would have men deny responsibility for their own behavior and project blame for any wrong-doing—be it actual or merely perceived—onto women. Continuing in this direction will continue to oppress women and disempower men.

I don’t believe this is God’s redemptive plan for humanity. Rather, I believe God would have us trust in the love that has been revealed to us in Christ, accept ourselves as God’s dearly loved children, and love our neighbour as ourselves by saying “no” to impulses that would lead us to engage in hurtful behaviour. I believe this is the promise and hope of the “gospel” message, and that we can continue to grow in this direction, with the help of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:14-25). Surely this is a better solution to male shame than blaming and subjugating women.

End Notes

[1]In the Middle Ages, this belief had horrific consequences. Men caught in sexual sin would accuse women of irresistibly enticing them, with the aid of the Devil, through witchcraft. Many women were subsequently put to death. Shockingly, women who challenge patriarchal traditions in the church today are still accused of witchcraft, or of having a “Jezebel spirit.”  Have patriarchal church leaders forgotten that similar accusations were made against Jesus (i.e. that he had a demon) when he challenged the religious traditions of his day?

[2]Yet the Bible tells us that in Christ there is neither male nor female, slave nor free (Galatians 3:28).

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