The Subordination of Women in the Church: Where things went wrong, and what we can now do to stand for love and equality

A man named Origen attended a school in Alexandria, Egypt in the 3rd Century A.D..  What was he studying?  Something called neo-Platonic philosophy.  He was being taught by a man named Ammonius Saccas.

Believe it or not, this seemingly abstract bit of historical information is one of the main reasons so many theologians have believed and taught that women may not share authority with men in the church or in the home.

How is this possible?  Alongside Origen was a classmate named Plotinus.  The works of these two men were discovered and embraced by an influential church leader in the 4th Century A.D. named Ambrose, the Bishop of Milan.  He in turn passed this philosophy on to St. Augustine, the influential theologian and Bishop of Hippo.  Hoping to provide a theological foundation for badly needed reform in the church, John Calvin encouraged the readers of his work entitled “the Institutes of the Christian Religion” to make sense of the Bible through the interpretive lenses of St. Augustine’s philosophy.

I wish the rest was “history,” as they say; but sadly, this philosophical framework–neo-Platonism–continues to dominate much of today’s preaching on what is wrongly called the “biblical” roles of men and women.

What did the neo-Platonists teach? They taught that the universe is best explained by a philosophy of dualism.  In other words, they broke reality down into various sets of two opposing principles: spirit versus body, mind versus emotion, man versus woman.  They also taught that the “natural order” of the universe was best understood in terms of hierarchy.  In other words, they said that the universe is functioning as it should when spirit “rules” body, mind “rules” emotion, and men “rule” women.  They also taught that the “best born” free men should rule over slaves.

How did neo-Platonists define evil?  They said that evil exists where one principle usurps the authority of another.  Sound familiar? Any “mingling of the classes” was described as “injustice.”

St. Augustine used this interpretive framework to make sense of the creation account found in the book of Genesis.  For example, when he saw Adam refer to Eve as “flesh of my flesh,” he automatically assumed that Adam must represent the spirit.  Just as spirit must rule over flesh, he concluded, so too must men rule over women.  This passage of the Bible (Genesis 2:22-23), however, says nothing about a hierarchy of authority–unless you force it into a neo-Platonic context; and that is exactly what St. Augustine did.

When John Calvin wrote his commentary on Genesis, he came to the same conclusions as St. Augustine.  That should come as no surprise, since in his commentary work, Calvin cites both St. Augustine and Plato as his influential sources.

Augustine and Calvin’s view of Genesis then impacted their understanding of all of the apostle Paul’s references to the creation account found throughout his epistles.  Both theologians automatically assumed that Paul was reinforcing the dualistic hierarchy they wrongly perceived in Genesis.

To complicate matters further, two notable Bible translators were also strongly influenced by neo-Platonic philosophy: St. Jerome of the 4th century A.D. and Erasmus of the 16th century.  Jerome’s Bible became the authorized Latin translation for the Roman Catholic Church.  Erasmus’ Bible became the basis for our first English translations, which then went on to influence popular English versions from the King James to today’s English Standard Version.

In all of these Bibles, there is mounting evidence that texts have been modified to fit into a neo-Platonic framework.  Commands are added regarding women that do not appear in the oldest Greek manuscripts (e.g. Wives submit to your husbands).  The leadership of women is maligned as sinful (c.f. Isaiah 3:12 and 1 Timothy 2:12).  Words translated as “leader” “ruler” “minister” for men are translated as “servant” or “helper” for women.  Headings are added that do not appear in the manuscripts, and that change the meaning of various passages.  Punctuation is added (or not added where it is probably necessary) to obscure or change the meaning of various texts.  Neutral, or in some cases female, pronouns in the Greek manuscripts are all rendered as male.

Due to the overwhelming influence of neo-Platonic philosophy, the Christian faith has suffered immensely.  In some instances, it no longer shares the message that was taught and lived by Jesus and the apostles.  Perhaps most notably, the Bible teaches that sin (evil) is the opposite of love, not the inversion of a neo-Platonic hierarchy.  Instead of following Jesus’ example of love, many churches now focus on the importance of power, control and exclusively male authority.  This is a travesty.

When I attended Bible College, many years ago, I first became aware that my understanding of the Bible was not shared by scholars referred to as “egalitarians.”  At the time, I wasn’t aware that my own theology had been influenced by a neo-Platonic framework.  It was then that I embarked upon a journey of many decades to try to understand why some Christians did not understand the Bible as I did.

What I discovered shook me to the core.  I’ve summarized it here today, honestly because I just felt I had to “get it out” so to speak.  It’s painful for me to see the ongoing influence of this philosophy on the church, on the gospel message, on our understanding of God, and on women in particular.

Someone might say that I haven’t supported my conclusions with any references.  Well, as far as this post goes, that’s correct.  This is from the heart.

I do, however, detail all of the reference material from Plato’s original works, to those of Origen, Plotinus, Augustine, Jerome, Erasmus, Calvin and today’s neo-Calvinist leaders in my book entitled, “A God I’d Like to Meet: Separating the Love of God from Harmful Traditional Beliefs.”

As much as possible, I reference primary source material from all of these philosophers, theologians, commentators and translators.  I investigate manuscript evidence found in the oldest available copies of the biblical text.  I also draw from the work of historians dating back as far as the 2nd century B.C..

Anyone who wants to read more about this, or investigate the references, or learn what we can do now as a church to restore the message of Jesus and his earliest followers is welcome and encouraged to read it.  I pray that it helps make a difference.  We must remove the lenses of neo-Platonic philosophy from our understanding of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.

http://www.amazon.com/God-Like-Meet-Separating-Traditional-ebook/dp/B00NP913IG/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=8-1&qid=1426016996

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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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How Prejudice Can Distort the Bible

What does it look like when the Bible is taken out of context, and seen through the eyes of prejudice…against men?

It might look something like this:

We can see in the Genesis account that God’s creation progresses from those things that are more basic to those that are more complex and beautiful. Thus we see God begins with creating such basic things as light and dark, land and water. He then creates plants and basic animal life. Finally, he progresses to humanity, beginning with the man and finishing with the pinnacle of his creative work: woman. (Genesis 1:1-27)

The notion that God’s creation progresses from the lesser to the greater is affirmed in the writing of the apostle Paul. Specifically, he refers to the first man as “the glory of God,” whereas he refers to the woman as the glory of this glory. By this the apostle indicates that the woman is twice as glorious as the male! (1 Corinthians 11:7)

That women are the pinnacle of God’s creation is also demonstrated in God’s choosing a woman, without the involvement of a man, to give birth to the Savior. “And of Jesus Christ, the birth was thus: For his mother Mary having been betrothed to Joseph, before their coming together she was found to have conceived from the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:18). It is clear that a man would not have been worthy to play a role in God’s redemptive plan, because it was the man—not the woman—through whom sin and death came to the whole world: “through the disobedience of the one man, the many were constituted sinners” (Romans 5:19).

We see, in fact, the cowardly and unbelieving nature of men (in general) by looking at the story of Barak and Deborah. Barak, a man, was unwilling to obey the Lord’s command to go into battle. He would only go if accompanied by Deborah. Deborah, a woman, had faith and courage. Therefore she enjoyed the Lord’s blessing and was appointed a leader over Israel. (Judges 4:4-8)

The fearful and unbelieving nature of men is further demonstrated in the New Testament, when Jesus entrusted the news of his resurrection exclusively to women. They bore witness to our Lord’s victory over sin and death. The men who first received the good news–even though they had spent much time in the company of the Lord, and had seen many miracles–did not believe: “When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women” (Luke 24:9-11).

What have I done to achieve such a monumental distortion of the Bible’s message? I simply began reading with the underlying assumption that men are inferior to women, and that Adam (because of his inferiority) was ultimately responsible for humanity’s fall. This assumption has reframed each and every text I’ve cited, removing it from its original context, and distorting its meaning.

Throughout church history, the same process has been used to distort the meaning of the Bible as it relates to women. The following influential theologians began reading the Bible with the basic assumption that women are somehow inferior to men and that they are ultimately to blame for humanity’s fall:

Origen: “It is not proper for a woman to speak in church, however admirable or holy what she says may be, merely because it comes from female lips.”

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.”

Augustine: “It is the natural order among people that women serve their husbands and children their parents, because the justice of this lies in (the principle that) the lesser serves the greater…. This is the natural justice that the weaker brain serve the stronger. This therefore is the evident justice in the relationships between slaves and their masters, that they who excel in reason, excel in power.”

Calvin: “Augustine is so wholly with me, that if I wished to write a confession of my faith, I could do so with all fullness and satisfaction to myself out of his writings.”

and

“Let the woman be satisfied with her state of subjection, and not take it amiss that she is made inferior to the more distinguished sex.” (https://equalityinchrist.wordpress.com/2014/05/13/must-women-keep-silent-1-corinthians-14-the-apostle-paul-and-the-traditions-of-men/)

Today, the interpretive framework laid down by Origen, Tertullian, Augustine and John Calvin continues to lift the biblical text out of its original context, and make sense of it as if there is something inherently wrong with women. One prominent complementarian, for example, explains that women may not share leadership authority in the church or the home because of their “characteristic weaknesses” (http://www.desiringgod.org/sermons/affirming-the-goodness-of-manhood-and-womanhood-in-all-of-life). Another has said that women are simply more gullible and more easily deceived than men (http://www.dennyburk.com/mark-driscoll-on-women-in-ministry-2/). Ignoring the context of various biblical passages, these and other like-minded leaders in the church, infer a doctrine of male authority and female subordination.

As a result of reading the Bible through the lenses of systemic prejudice, women have been given lists of what they may not do in the church or in the home. Essentially, they may not lead or teach. In other words, they are prohibited from sharing decision-making authority and/or teaching the Bible…because of alleged characteristic weaknesses.

This article is an attempt to highlight how prejudice can affect our interpretation of the Bible, and how this kind of prejudice still affects women in the church today. It is also a call for humble reflection, and—I hope—repentance. My prayer is that the church would lay aside the distorting lenses of prejudice against women once and for all, in Jesus name.

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House of Shame or Kingdom of Love?

When Adam sinned by eating the forbidden fruit, he felt ashamed.

When God approached him, he turned his shame into blame: “The woman you gave to me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.”

When the mighty empire of Rome began to lose its war with Carthage, its leaders—all men—felt shame. How did they cope? By turning their shame into blame. Women, it was said, were wasting the empire’s resources on selfish indulgence. They had been allowed too much freedom. The gods must be appeased by strengthening the laws that made all women subject to men.

In the middle ages, when “Christian” men were caught in adultery, they felt shame. They turned their shame into blame. Women had allegedly cast spells on them, forcing them to commit impure acts. The unrestrained lust of men was attributed to female sorcery. Women were imprisoned, hanged or burned alive.

Theologians for centuries—all male–have pondered for centuries how humanity could have fallen away from the paradise of Eden. Eve, we’re often told, had rebellion in her heart against God and his created order. She yielded to the serpent, and took her husband—and the rest of the world—down into darkness. As a result, all women must be restored to their rightful place of subjection. Only then will the church, and all humanity, be protected from error.

Blame-shifting,

Control,

Subjugation,

Abuse.

This is not the Kingdom of God. It is a house of shame.

In the light of God’s love for us,

With an understanding of our worth in His eyes,

Will we not turn from the lies of shame?

Will we not come out of the darkness, and meet with the Lord of light?

Will we allow Him to make us clean and forgive the mistakes we all have made?

Will we welcome Him into our hearts and lives to establish His Kingdom of Love?

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I Call It “Injustice”

There is a place on earth where one group of people is considered “born to rule,” and another “born to serve.”

These groups are established solely on the basis of one biological trait.

This trait has nothing to do with intelligence, integrity or the capacity to lead.

Where there is disagreement, the will of the ruling class always prevails.

The servant class is required to “submit” and “obey.”

The ruling class claims to rule by divine right.

They reserve the exclusive right to interpret and teach from their sacred texts.

They sometimes call themselves God’s prophets, priests and kings.

The ruling class is called “men.”

The servant class is called “women.”

Some people call this place “church.”

I am not one of those people.

I call it “injustice,” wrongly attributed to God.

“The LORD promotes equity and justice; the LORD’s faithfulness extends throughout the earth.” (Psalm 33:5, NET)

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28, NIV)

“Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ.” (Matthew 23:10, NASB)

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