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Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood

Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (or RBMW) is collection of articles on gender roles from a biblical perspective, edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem. It was published in 1991 by Crossway Books for the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW). CBMW is an international, interdenominational, evangelical Christian organisation, with a board and staff committed to a view of gender roles they dub complementarian.

The book is subtitled A Response to Evangelical Feminism and was the Christianity Today Book of the Year for 1993. It was reprinted with a new preface in 2006. CBMW host open online access to the text at their website (see Bibliography).

There are two main issues—gender roles in marriage and in church leadership. Until the advent of feminism, the Bible has been understood to unambiguously teach male leadership in marriage and church, and corresponding acknowledgement and support of this from women. Many feminists have noted precisely these teachings regarding marriage and public office, and so rejected the Bible on these points. Some however, committed to the Bible as a matter of faith, have questioned traditional interpretation rather than the Bible itself. These, RBMW calls "evangelical feminists". It addresses evangelical feminists directly, affirming their faith in the Bible, but criticising their "new interpretation". Indirectly, RBMW addresses other feminists, affirming their interpretation of the Bible, but criticising their rejection of it.

Summary

Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood presents its essays in five logically distinct sections. It also contains substantial additional material in two appendices—an essay by Wayne Grudem and the Danvers Statement—and a prefaratory essay by John Piper. The five sections that describe the structure of the volume are:

  1. Vision and Overview (2 essays)
  2. Exegetical and Theological Studies (12 essays)
  3. Studies from Related Disciplines (5 essays)
  4. Applications and Implications (6 essays)
  5. Conclusion and Prospect (1 essay)

The structure reflects a deliberate methodology, distinctive of explicit evangelical doctrines, to establish issues of Christian practice (application or hermeneutics) on a foundation of analysis of biblical teaching (exegesis). It is important to note that evangelical doctrine and methodology are standards also accepted by those whose views RBMW critiques. It is the common point from which the two views then diverge on gender issues.

Prefaratory material

Preface

The current (2006) edition of RBMW has a modified preface by the editors, reflecting 15 years of further debate on gender roles within evangelicalism since it was first published in (1991); including almost ten years of debate regarding gender in Bible translation. It concludes with a short suggestion for readers.

Note on how to use this book
We do not expect that many people will read a book of this length from cover to cover. The book is arranged so that people can read first the chapters that interest them most. Those who want an overview of the book may read chapters 1 and 2. Those interested in dicussion of specific Biblical texts can turn to chapters 3 – 11, while theological questions are treated especially in chapters 12 – 14. Specialized studies (from history, biology, psychology, sociology, and law) are found in chapters 15 – 19, and questions of practical application are treated in more detail in chapters 20 – 25. Finally, in chapter 26 we give a careful response to the statement issued by Christians for Biblical Equality, and then try to put the whole controversy in perspective and express our hopes for the future.

For single men and women

The major component of the prefaratory section is John Piper's pastoral foreword, "For single men and women (and the rest of us)". It addresses single Christians who may feel isolated from, or distressed by, discussion of masculine and feminine roles, due to celibacy derived from their biblical convictions. "We believe the vision of manhood and womanhood in this book is utterly relevant for single people. Piper provides quotations from the Bible and from the writing of mature Christians (especially single ones) to establish eight assertions, which he numbers to form the structure of the section.

  1. Marriage, as we know it in this age, is not the final destiny of any human.
  2. Jesus Christ, the most fully human person who ever lived, was not married.
  3. The Bible celebrates celibacy because it gives extraordinary opportunity for single-minded investment in ministry for Christ.
  4. The Apostle Paul and a lot of great missionaries after him have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of God.
  5. The Apostle Paul calls singleness a gift from God.
  6. Jesus promises that forsaking the family for the sake of the kingdom will be repaid with a new family, the church.
  7. God is sovereign over who gets married and who doesn't. And he can be trusted to do what is good for those who hope in Him.
  8. Mature manhood and womanhood are not dependent on being married.

Vision and overview

Vision: Biblical complementarity

Chapter 1 of RBMW has enjoyed circulation alongside—and, in Christian circles, in lieu of—the full volume. It was first published by John Piper in 1990 as What's the Difference: Manhood and Womanhood Defined According to the Bible, with a foreword by Elisabeth Elliot. Due to its brevity, and perhaps accessibility to lay readers, it has been reprinted several times, most recently in March 2008. The bulk of the book is a phrase by phrase discussion of the evidence for and significance of the following definitions of masculinity and femininity.

  • At the heart of mature masculinity is a sense of benevolent responsibility to lead, provide for and protect women in ways appropriate to a man's differing relationships.
  • At the heart of mature femininity is a freeing disposition to affirm, receive and nurture strength and leadership from worthy men in ways appropriate to a woman's differing relationships.

Overview: Central concerns

This chapter lists 51 questions that commonly arise among lay Christians, regarding practical application of gender issues raised by the Bible, as well as about the significance of specific passages. The answers are short. The first seven questions illustrate the nature of the chapter.

  1. Why do you regard the issue of male and female roles as so important?
  2. What do you mean (in [the answer to] question 1) by "unbiblical female leadership in the church"?
  3. Where in the Bible do you get the idea that only men should be the pastors and elders of the church?
  4. What about marriage? What did you mean (in [the answer to] question 1) by "marriage patterns that do not portray the relationship between Christ and the church"?
  5. What do you mean by submission (in [the answer to] question 4)?
  6. What do you mean when you call the husband "head" (in [the answer to] question 5)?
  7. Where in the Bible do you get the idea that husbands should be the leaders in their homes?

Exegetical and theological studies

The twelve essays in this section are further subdivided in the preface as eight exegetical studies (chapters 3–11) followed by three theological studies (chapters 12–14).

Genesis 1–3

  • Raymond C. Ortlund Jr., "Male–female equality and male headship: Genesis 1–3", chap. 3 in RBMW (1991): 95–112.

At the time of writing, Ortlund was assistant professor of Old Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS), and an ordained minister of the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA). His doctorate was awarded by the University of Aberdeen. Ortlund describes his purpose in this essay as being "to demonstrate from Genesis 1–3 that both male–female equality and male headship, properly defined, were instituted by God at creation and remain permanent, beneficial aspects of human existence." He emphasises his definitions by offsetting them from the prose.

  • Male–female equality: man and woman are equal in the sense that they bear God's image equally.
  • Male headship: in the partnership of two spiritually equal human beings, man and woman, the man bears the primary responsibility to lead the partnership in a God-glorifying direction.

He also emphasises the following caveat by using italics. "The antithesis to male headship is male domination. By male domination I mean the assertion of the man's will over the woman's will, heedless of her spiritual equality, her rights, and her value. My essay will be completely misunderstood if the distinction between male headship and male domination is not kept in mind throughout."

The essay has a simple structure of two parts: "What God intended at Creation" and "What God decreed at the Fall". God's intention at Creation is argued from the texts of Genesis 1:26–28 and 2:18–25. Examination of God's decree at the Fall focusses on Genesis 3. Ortlund sums up the significance of Genesis 1:26–28 regarding gender in the following way—"Man was created as royalty in God's world, male and female alike bearing the divine glory equally. He also interprets the generic use of man for the human race as indicative of male headship, a possibility he notes key evangelical feminists seem not to address. He quotes work by Gilbert Bilezikian and Aida Bensançon Spencer. However, the major differences between feminists and other evangelicals come in the subsequent passages.

Genesis 2:18–25 is the crux of Ortland's essay, the pericope explicitly teaches about marriage, in Ortland's view with repeated indications of a paradox of equality yet inequality in this relationship—"the woman was made from the man (her equality) and for the man (her inequality). This context is significant for interpreting the sense of the Hebrew compound kenegdô which qualifies the nature of the "helper" Adam seeks. Ortland explains the traditional, complementarian interpretation that the Hebrew indicates "direct proximity or anteposition" and hence "a helper corresponding to the man, as his counterpart and equal." He raises several objections to the evangelical feminist view of Spencer who postulates female leadership here, asserting "the Hebrew text even literally signifies that the woman is 'in front of' the man or 'over' him!

Gospels

  • James A. Borland, "Women in the life and teaching of Jesus", chap. 4 in RBMW (1991): 113–123.

1 Corinthians 11:2–16

  • Thomas R. Schreiner, "Head coverings, prophecies and the Trinity", chap. 5 in RBMW (1991): 124–139.

The image of God

Church, family and male leadership

  • Vern Sheridan Poythress, "The church as a family: Why male leadership in the family requires male leadership in the church", chap. 13 in RBMW (1991): 233–247.

Poythress is professor of New Testament interpretation at Westminster Theological Seminary, with doctorates from Harvard University and the University of Stellenbosch. He is author of Philosophy, science and the sovereignty of God, Understanding dispensationalists, Science and hermeneutics and other works. In this essay he considers the significance of family metaphors in the Bible's language for understanding its teaching regarding gender roles in the church. He divides his investigation into eight, roughly equal sections.

  • New Testament teaching comparing the people of God to a family
  • God's household in 1 Timothy
  • The use of the household idea as the basis for inference
  • Male leadership in the church
  • The inevitability of inferences concerning people's distinctive roles
  • The temporary character of modern doubts
  • Household management contrasted with simple communication
  • Evil effects arising from disrupting the order of God's household

He concludes:

Some Christian people think Christian marriage ideally should express a radically egalitarian pattern: a husband and wife should in every respect be able to function interchangeably. If they were right, the analogy between family and church would suggest that men and women could in every respect have interchangeable roles within the church.
But they are not right. Ephesians 5:22–23 resists them, as do the other passages comparing the relation of God and His people to marriage.

Authority in the church

Patterson is the president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. After a brief introduction, noting a century of women's ordination from Aimee Semple McPherson of the Church of the Foursquare Gospel (1890) to Barbara Clementine Harris as the first Episcopalian bishop (1989), he divides his essay into four numbered sections.

  1. The nature of ordination
  2. Authority of elders
  3. Authority and female teachers
  4. Conclusion

In the first section Patterson argues "no clear pattern or proceedure for ordination is discernable in the New Testament." He adds, "Most churches and denominations have developed ordination beyond New Testament precedent in both its form and its significance." But moderates this noting, "this is not to say that the New Testament does not recognize ecclesiastic offices." Hence he modifies the usual question—"Who can be ordained?"—to an alternative—"Who is qualified to serve in ecclesiastical offices?" He redirects attention from the idea of "ordination" to specifics of the office of "elder".

Having established where he believes the key New Testament church office is to be found—the elder—Patterson next attempts to understand the authority the New Testament sees implicit in this office. Interacting with both New Testament text and various denominational interpretations, Patterson suggests New Testament eldership had "oversight" and "teaching" functions, with "substantive" authority to achieve these, but also with significant limitations. He notes scripture, apostles and congregational polity as moderating factors. Also noting differences between the somewhat more informal early church and relatively more authoritative modern forms of church government, Patterson finally turns to the question of inclusion of women.

Studies from related disciplines

The exegetical and theological studies from the previous section speak mainly to evangelical feminism. According to the analysis of the essayists above, feminism and the Bible cannot both be true. If feminism is correct, then the Bible is wrong. In other words, one can be a feminist or an evangelical, but not both. Patterson (above) noted even the egalitarian inclined Clark H. Pinnock wrote, "If it is the Bible you want, feminism is in trouble; if it is feminism you want, the Bible stands in the way.

In this next section, however, the studies from biology, psychology and sociology speak to feminism in general, and mainly argue independently of the Bible. They outline the evidence against feminism, and the lack of evidence for feminist claims. The church history and law essays address different issues, explained in their sub-sections.

Church history

  • William C. Weinrich, "Women in the history of the church: Learned and holy, but not pastors", chap. 15 in RBMW (1991): 263–279.

Professor of early church history and patristic studies at Concordia Theological Seminary, Weinrich is also author of Spirit and martyrdom and The New Testament age. He opens his contribution to RBMW with the observation that, "If it was once true that women were a neglected factor in church history, that imbalance is quickly being rectified." He also notes that, in his opinion, the most important contribution, from an evangelical point of view, at the time of writing was Ruth A. Tucker and Walter Liefeld's Daughters of the church. He notes an objectivity about this book, but perceives a "predilection for feminist interpretation". Weinrich provides almost 90 footnotes to ancient documents and modern analysis.

The chapter is divided into two main sections: part I recounts the documented ministries of women in church history; part II describes the central tradition—"it is not given to women to teach". Part I is subdivided into three broad areas of women's contributions to the church over its history: (A) service of prayer and charity; (B) service of mind and pen; (C) service of spiritual power and administration.

Weinrich's short conclusion (part III) mainly summarises part II, and he cites Tucker and Liefeld in support of the facts (though not the ideology). "We have emphasized the practice and argument of the patristic and medieval periods of the church's history. It was during these centuries that patterns of conduct and ecclesial behaviour were developed and solidified. The evidence shows that the Pauline statements against women speaking in the church were consistently upheld."

"Although they are favourable to the full participation of women in all functions of the church, Tucker and Liefeld note that even women who did seek a position of prominence rarely evinced 'feminist impulse' but rather were 'very hesitant to challenge the "rightful" leadership of men.' That observation as much as anything testifies to the pervasive and universal faithfulness of the church to the Biblical and apostolic word throughout its history. The utter paucity of instances adduced where women were given or took the function of public preaching and teaching confirms it."

Biology

Top: Pioneer plaque differences
Above: pelvis, male and female

  • Gregg Johnson, "The biological basis for gender-specific behaviour", chap. 16 in RBMW (1991): 280–293.

At the time of writing, Johnson was associate professor of biology and author of Cyto-genetics. His doctorate was awarded by the University of North Dakota. He addresses the large topic of gender-specific biology by dividing it into sections, which he numbers.

  1. Ethological observations on sex
  2. Sex differences in non-nervous system physiology
  3. Sex differences in the peripheral nervous system
  4. Sex differences in the hind brain and limbic system
  5. Sex differences in cerebral organization
  6. Sex differences at birth
  7. Sex differences in stress management

Johnson provides extensive lists under most headings, providing footnotes to a bibliography of some three dozen or so major works. J. Durden-Smith and D. DeSimone's Sex and the Brain (New York: Arbor House, 1983) is cited frequently. A. Glucksman, Sexual dimorphism in human and mammalian biology and pathology (Academic Press, 1981) provides a good deal of the early information. Johnson attempted to restrict his survey to biological rather than psychological evidence, though he notes Maccoby and Jacklin's famous review found a majority of psychological studies reported significant gender differences in specific areas. Johnson also notes that the few studies he found (and cites) that reported low or no gender differences in his own survey of the biological literature were, in fact, based on psychological survey and test data rather than strictly biological metrics.

It is a relatively short chapter, but the text is dense with information regarding measurable differences. It avoids using jargon or explaining specific mechanisms in detail. Johnson concludes, "Are we as men and women different? The evidence presented here suggests that we have some fundamental physiological and neural differences that are present at birth and predispose us towards certain behaviours dependent on gender. We should not conclude automatically that because men and women may have different gifts, traditional roles are the only way they may be expressed."

Psychology

  • George Alan Rekers, "Psychological foundations for rearing masculine boys and feminine girls", chap. 17 in RBMW (1991): 294–311.

Sociology

  • David J. Ayers, "The inevitability of failure: the assumptions and implementations of modern feminism", chap. 18 in RBMW (1991): 312–331.

Law

  • Donald A. Balasa, "Is it legal for religious organizations to make distinctions on the basis of sex?" chap. 19 in RBMW (1991): 332–341.

Applications and implications

The family and the church

  • George W. Knight III, "The family and the church: how should biblical manhood and womanhood work out in practice?" chap. 20 in RBMW (1991): 345–357.

Conclusion and prospect

The final chapter of RBMW (Chapter 26) is a detailed interaction, by the editors, with the parallel organisation Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE), in particular with CBE's equivalent of the Danvers Statement—called Men, Women and Biblical Equality. Although the body of the chapter is a detailed commentary on the CBE statement, this is embedded in text addressing broader issues of how to work together to resolve disagreements. The chapter is called "Charity, Clarity, and Hope: The Controversy and the Cause of Christ". It is divided into six sections, which are not numbered.

  • Two New Organizations:

Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood
Christians for Biblical Equality

  • Pursuing Charity and Clarity Together
  • The Declaration on "Men, Women and Biblical Equality" by Christians for Biblical Equality
  • A Commentary on "Men, Women and Biblical Equality," a Decaration of Christians for Biblical Equality
  • An Assessment of "Men, Women and Biblical Equality"
  • Reasons for Hope

Appendices

Appendix 1: kephalē

The major part of the text in the appendices is taken by Appendix 1, an essay by Wayne Grudem titled, "The meaning of kephalē ('head'): A response to recent studies". This essay addresses critics of an earlier paper by Grudem on the meaning of the Greek word kephalē (κεφαλή) in a biblical context.

  • Wayne A. Grudem, "Does kephale ('head') mean 'source' or 'authority over' in Greek literature? A survey of 2,336 examples", Trinity Journal 6 [new series] (1985): 38–59.

The first part of Grudem's essay addresses Richard Cervin's critique.

  • Cervin, Richard S. "Does kephalē mean 'source' or 'authority' in Greek literature? A rebuttal". Trinity Journal 10 [new series] (1989): 85–112.

For the second part, Grudem provides a select bibliography of 10 relevant articles published since 1985, which he numbers and analyses in that order.

  1. Berkeley and Alvera Mickelsen, "What does kephalē mean in the New Testament?" in Women, Authority and the Bible (WAB), ed. by Alvera Mickelsen, (IVP, 1986): 97–110.
  2. Ruth A. Tucker, "Response", in WAB: 111–117.
  3. Philip Payne, "Response", in WAB: 118–132.
  4. Walter L. Liefeld, "Women, submission, and ministry in 1 Corinthians", in WAB: 134–154.
  5. Gilbert Bilezikian, "A critical examination of Wayne Grudem's treatment of kephalē in ancient Greek texts", Appendix to Beyond sex roles, 2nd edition, (Baker, 1990): 215–252.
  6. Catherine Clark Kroeger, "The classical concept of head as 'source' ", Appendix III in Equal to serve, by Gretchen Gaebelein Hull, (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, 1987): 267–283.
  7. Gordon D. Fee, The first epistle to the Corinthians, NICNT, (Eerdmans, 1987): 501–505.
  8. Joseph Fitzmyer, "Another look at kephalē in 1 Corinthians 11:3", New Testament Studies 35 (1989): 503–511.
  9. Peter Cotterell and Max Turner, Linguistics and biblical interpretation, (IVP, 1989): 141–145.
  10. Walter Bauer and others, Grieschisch–deutsches Wörterbuch (1988): 874–875; and Louw-Nida, The Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament based on semantic domains (UBS, 1988).

The significance of Appendix 1, in the context of RBMW, is that several of its essays interact with the scholarly debate regarding kephalē. The significance of the debate, in the context of RBMW, is that the more reasonable it is to understand kephalē as 'source', the more reasonable it is to see the biblical view of "man as kephalē of woman" implying little more than reference to Adam's rib. Whereas, the more reasonable it is to understand kephalē as 'authority over', the more reasonable it is to see the biblical view of "man as kephalē of woman" implying "traditional" gender roles. The two sides agree that what the Bible says de dicto is binding for Christian doctrine; they disagree about what the Bible actually says de re.

Appendix 2: Danvers Statement

Appendix 2 to RBMW is simply a copy of the CBMW Danvers Statement, which has been adopted by many other Christian congregations and organizations. The editors are explicit that it is this particular statement that was definitive in their selection of articles—both in regard to selecting authors who endorse it, and text which explains it.

See also

Notes and references

Bibliography

CBMW major works

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