The Fruit of Complement

The doctrine of Inerrancy, drafted in 1978, insists that all of Scripture functions as absolute universal truth.  This approach to Scripture has caused its proponents to state that Scripture is 100% accurate in all it affirms, and that among these affirmations are fully accurate presentations of science and history.  It has led people to insist that the Spirit superseded the knowledge of both author and audience in the process of Scriptural inspiration; that God’s truth is not bound by context but functions timelessly to reveal theological, historical, and scientific facts that stand beyond question and speak absolutely into every time, place, and circumstance.  Thus, Scripture can be broken down into small chunks containing small propositional statements that, when quantified and systematized, will reveal the full truth of Scripture.[1]

The most prominent inerrantist subgroup is complementarianism.  Complementarians insist the Bible commands a patriarchal gender hierarchy.   In Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, a highly regarded compendium of complementarian thought, popular pastor/thinker John Piper asserts that this hierarchy is established by God-appointed gender specific roles.   As he sees it, masculine and feminine are opposites defined properly only in relation to each other.  To quote Piper himself:

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.

and

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.[2]

Piper has also stated that Scripture points to an explicit gender binary (male and female) inherent to the image of God. This differentiation means that a woman’s relationships with men should never place her in a position of direct influence over a man.  Such positions of authority “offend a man’s good, God-given sense of responsibility and leadership, and thus controvert God’s created order.” In fact, it is the relationship between men and women as a gender binary created by God in an explicit gender hierarchy, both in marriage and singleness, that allows God’s grace as expressed in Christ to be fully expressed in and through our lives.  This, he states is God’s morally imperative, thus God calls it “very good“.

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These assertions – as representative of the large system of complementarian thought – are woefully myopic, self-serving, and exegetically bankrupt.  To demonstrate this, it is important to evaluate certain ideas and engage key texts.  As such, I am endeavoring to write a series of posts which critically engage both the relevant biblical texts and theological statements used to bolster the complementarian schema.  This inaugural post will focus specifically on the ways Genesis 1-2:3 is used to support arguments of patriarchy/gender hierarchy.  Throughout this series, it will become disturbingly clear how complementarianism is rooted in preserving male dominance/authority at the expense of biblical honesty.

With this said, let us proceed to the matter at hand.  Does Genesis 1-2:3 support the gender claims of a complementarian reading?   In order to answer this, we must examine whether the text actually lends itself to an inerrantist reading in the first place.

It is virtually uncontested that Genesis 1 is a creation account.  Beyond this point of agreement, little else remains uncontroversial.  Those of inerrantist belief often claim the creation narrative could only have occurred exactly as the text claims.  Thus, this text is held up as scientifically prescriptive; we are told the Bible is absolutely true in all manners of history and science.  This is due to the frequent insistence of many inerrantists that God doesn’t work in culturally conditioned ways – God is truth and truth is only communicated in absolute fashion.

However, it seems important to emphasize the Bible is an ancient text, written by ancient authors, to address ancient concerns at a specific time in history.  We, as a modern audience, must recognize that seeking to address modern concerns at a very different and very specific point in history can result in questions and concerns the inspired biblical authors has no interest in addressing.

For instance, we are told that God created light on the first day, and that this light was used to separate day from night (vv 3-4).  However, we are then told on day four that Yahweh created the greater and lesser light, the greater for day and the lesser for night.  These were set “in the dome of the sky”, along with the stars, in order to mark signs and seasons, days and years (vv.14-20).

This is problematic if we are seeking to address modern scientific concerns about origins.  For starters, there is the claim that the sky is a giant, solid dome.  This dome, created on the second day, separates the “waters above” from the “waters below” (vv. 6-8).  The Flood narrative presumes the “waters above” are a heavenly ocean held back by a solid object (the dome) containing windows that are opened to allow rainfall (Gen 7:11).  According to the day four text, the celestial lights are located within this dome (1:14-17).  The earth itself, topped by this dome, is something entirely different from these celestial bodies.

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Science however tells us that our atmosphere is not solid, but comprised of a mixture of gases.  Further, beyond our atmosphere is not a body of water but the expanse of space.  It is within space, and not suspended within a solid dome, that the celestial bodies are located.  Also, the earth itself is a celestial body – though it, and the numerous other planets in our galaxy are neither stars nor one of the “lights”.  The moon, a celestial body described in Genesis 1 as a “lesser light” is not a light at all, but a satellite of the earth that reflects the light of the sun.  In fact, the entire narrative – read on its own terms – implies geocentricity despite common scientific knowledge dictates our solar system is heliocentric.

Why, then, do the founding documents of inerrantism tell us that science cannot contradict the Bible?  If true science always points to biblical accuracy, what are we to do?

It is helpful to consider the possibility that the language of Genesis 1-2:3 is phenomenological. It is also worth noting the book of Genesis shows evidence of composition over time by at least two authors.  Different sections of the text contain linguistic and stylistic differences which lead most scholars to agree Genesis was compiled from a number of ancient traditions and has a complex compositional history.  Likely, the final text (as appears in both Jewish and Christian Scriptures) was completed by the Jews after returning from Babylonian exile with the purpose of reestablishing their cultural identity after having been nearly destroyed as a nation.[3]

However, if we assent to these things, we have already stepped beyond the bounds of an inerrant narrative.  Conversely, if we insist the biblical author was in some way inspired to communicate 100% scientifically accurate information through
“observational descriptions of nature” due to a “lack of modern technical precision”[4] we have not been honest to the nuanced history of the text itself.

Genesis 1 fits neatly within the genre of Epic Poetry.  It is stylistically similar to other creation narratives from the Ancient Near East.  The Babylonian creation myth, Enuma Elish, depicts creation as a divine war between the deity Marduk and a giant sea serpent.  In creating the world, Marduk kills the sea serpent Tiamat and rips her in two lengthwise.  He then uses the two halves of the serpent to conquer the waters by separating them into an upper and low sea, forming sky and land.

Comparisons with the Epics of Atrahasis and Gilgamesh, older texts adapted by Enuma Elish, reveal further similarities between Genesis 1-11 and Ancient Near Eastern myths.  These epics tell a story of creation from watery chaos, divine displeasure with humanity, and a flood from which a single person/family is saved. However, it is notable that there is also a deal of dialectic tension between Genesis 1 and its Mesopotamian counterparts.  The God of Genesis has no issue taming the waters.  Also, humanity in Genesis is created to share in Yahweh’s purposes, not as slaves to the gods’ appetites.

Also, a close reading of parallel biblical creation poems such as Job 26 (cf 40-41) and Psalms 74:12-17 reveal that there are ancient versions of the Israelite Epic containing stories of sea dragons and emphasizing Yahweh’s power over foreign deities (which are assumed to actually exist!).  Our current account does not represent the entirety of Jewish thought, but the culmination of their identity in post-Babylonian chaos.[5]

Lastly, a careful reading of the Genesis 1 creation epic will help reveal its own poetic structure.  If you look at the flow of the text, you will notice it has a mirror image format.

Day 1 – Light & Dark/Day & Night

Day 4 – Greater & Lesser light marking day and Night

Day 2 – Waters Separated/Sky (dome) created

Day 5 – Waters and Sky filled with living creatures

Day 3 – Dry land and vegetation created

Day 6 – Dry land filled with animals and humans that consume vegetation

Day 7 – Creation culminates in God’s rest

As such, we discover when Yahweh is depicted as ordering creation, the language connotes him carefully crafting each day as a skilled artisan.[6] Also, He divides and orders in priestly fashion, separating everything according to its type.  Lastly, he assumes the role of divine king in the seventh day.

This leads us to a fundamental question:

If Day 7, and not Day 6, is the focus of the creation narrative, what does this do to a complementarian reading of Genesis 1?

According to several prominent complementarian thinkers, Day 6 is the focus of the narrative with mankind being the culmination of all creation.  As such, they argue that the image of God in humanity is tied up in the words “Male and Female”, creating a hard set gender binary.  From this, they argue the command to “be fruitful and multiply” in 1:28 is a command to sexual reproduction.  They contend that the human body is inherently sexual in all its forms (male and female) and thus all relationships between men and women are potentially sexual. Since marital love is a metaphor for Christ and the Church in Ephesians 5, we must understand that the Godhead intended us to fully understand love best through marriage and proper gender hierarchy.[7]

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As such, procreation is God-ordained as the ultimate purpose of relations between men and women, fulfilling God’s purpose in creating a gender binary.  In fact, some go so far as to say that the texts tells us sexuality and gender are the same essential thing, sexuality is biblically defined by the existence of a gender binary.  In fact, many claim that this text indicates that in order to fully understand what it means to be in the image of God, we must first understand what it means to be “masculine and feminine” according to God’s designed purpose.  Since we are commanded to “be fruitful and multiply” this then indicates that the divine purpose for mankind is best realized within a one man, one woman marriage through sexual intercourse geared towards procreation.  By understanding how the Godhead intended men and women to interact we can determine their God-given, gender specific roles within marriage and thus within society.  In Genesis 1, Yahweh deems this “very good” so we must accept his assessment as prescriptive for our lives.

In countering these beliefs, it helps to remember that such a translation makes men, not God, the focus of the biblical text.  It neglects the fact that the seventh day is intimately connected to Sabbath.  Because, as I briefly noted above, a look at the mirrored structure of the poem shows the seventh day is the intended focus of Genesis 1-2:3 it is important to point out that only in Yahweh’s rest does humanity find its meaning.

While I won’t rehash here the complex biblical commands of Sabbath (see here), it is enough here to say that the Sabbath represented Israel’s response to the very real presence of Yahweh in the formation of their nation (cf Ex 16, 23:10-13; Lev 25).  Israel was not called simply to observe Sabbath as a day of the week, but to live Sabbath in relation to their neighbor.  Sabbath was emulation of Yahweh in all they did and the assurance of his presence in their midst.  Failure to practice Sabbath was among the reasons Yahweh sent Israel into exile (Jer 17:19-17, cf 34).

It is no wonder, then, that the language of Yahweh’s rest is linguistically tied to his act of filling the tabernacle/temple with his Shekinah glory.  In both cases, what is at stake is Yahweh establishing his presence towards the establishment of his divine kingdom.  The seven instructions for building the tabernacle (Ex 25-31) closely resemble the seven days of creation. Both passages culminate in Sabbath. The intricate imagery of the tabernacle/temple suggest it was intended as a microcosm of creation, reminding us that just as Yahweh indwells the tabernacle/temple, he has chosen to dwell within his creation.

This establishes an interpretive framework for Day 6.  In stating that humanity – both male and female – are created in the image of God, we learn he has commissioned them for his purpose.   The idea of bearing “image” in Hebrew is rooted in the notion of priestly kingship.  In other words, in establishing his kingdom, and himself as ruler, Yahweh is inviting humanity to partake in his purpose, to rule accordingly in his kingdom. [8]

This is consistent with the creation of Israel in Exodus 19.  Having been delivered from the chaotic waters of the Red Sea, an epic poem is written which strongly resembles the language and tone of Genesis 1 (Ex 14:1-21).  At Sinai, as Israel makes their covenant before Yahweh, they are called to be the set apart as a holy nation, a “priestly” royalty which represents the kingdom of Yahweh before the nations (19:5-6).

Once we have established these things – Yahweh as indwelling ruler and humanity as priestly stewards – we can begin to divest ourselves from scientific concerns rooted in the need to preserve the doctrine of inerrancy or complementarian belief.  There is not, implicit in the Genesis account, a gender binary for creatures.  There is, however, the idea of distinction between Sexes.  That is, the text does not assert a definition for masculine of feminine according to a “universal” set of cultural norms, but it does present all creatures as being anatomically male or female.  This notion is confirmed in the gathering of animals before the flood in Genesis 6-7, where Noah is explicitly told to gather pairs of all creatures, one male and one female, including humans (his immediate family).  The flood account, like the creation epic, speaks of grouping animals according to their “types”.

However, this is problematic.  If we are to assume Genesis is literal, we have to ask, What did Noah do with earthworms?  The reality is, a number of animals reproduce asexually, thus not requiring a Sex pair.  In fact, earthworms are neither male nor female and some do not require reproductive partners to procreate.  The question becomes, Did the Spirit know this and intentionally allow biblical authors to write sacred texts according to their own ability to understand nature?  Or is science somehow wrong?  Is there actually a hard set sex distinction or, as some claim a gender binary ,among creatures?  Or did it simply appear that way to the ancient author and thus they wrote the biblical text as such?

http://www.backyardnature.net/e_worm.gif

We cannot assume modern concerns of historical or scientific accuracy are at play here.  Instead, when focus shifts to the text as theological treatise towards community identity, the lack of an actual gender binary or a clear cut male/female Sex in nature is hardly troubling.  Insisting that the Bible mandates a gender binary or that the words male and female preclude the existence of intersex as Yahweh’s purpose in creation is akin to arguing in circles about how there was light without a sun or why the moon is called the “lesser light” if it actually doesn’t give light but reflects it.  In accepting the text as ancient cosmology, we can move on to more important matters – What does the text actually say about man in relation to Yahweh?

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This question allows us to see the text wasn’t designed to be prescriptive.  Instead, Israel was setting out to establish its own identity as the people of Yahweh by rejecting the myths and culture of their pagan neighbors.  They were rejecting any notion that they had been assimilated into Babylonian culture through exile by firmly stating their only identity was in Yahweh himself.

When viewed in this light, the command of Yahweh to “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” (Gen 1:28) is viewed much differently.  Unlike the air and sea creatures, who are given the purpose of fruitfulness and filling, humanity is given dominion.  This reinforces the idea of rule by stewardship.  Humanity is called to be Yahweh’s divinely appointed priestly race who will care for his creation.   They must set out to rule all of creation and bring Yahweh’s kingdom with them.

This, then, must play into our reading of Genesis 1.  The text does not give separate roles for men and women, but calls all of humanity – both man and woman – into divine relationship through kingdom purposes.  Reducing the notion of being “fruitful” to only sex/procreation effectively reduces the imago dei in women to that of incubator.  Their job, in relation to men, is to keep having babies so God’s people can grow and his kingdom can expand.  Men then are the progenators, those who impregnate the women and enable them to give birth.  This, however, reduces the theology of the text to concerns of science and sex and ignores the ways in which it is intertwined with Sabbath imagery and Israel’s call as a nation.  It assumes that, ultimately, the image of God is defined not in relation to God himself, but in relation to created beings.  This is the height of anthropotheism, the worship of human sexuality in a manner eerily similar to that of Israel’s pagan neighbors’ fertility cults.

Israel, however, was forbidden from engaging in such practices.  They were not instructed to have sex to please Yahweh or serve his purpose.  Instead, the notion of Sabbath was instituted as an act of faith that Yahweh would provide.  Likewise, unlike their neighbors, Israel was forbidden from sacrificing their children and instead called to consecrate their child in faith by animal sacrifice.  They were called to entrust Yahweh with their first fruits of both harvest and livestock through sacrifice not to appease Yahweh or earn his favor, but as provision for priestly meals and faith that Yahweh would reward their faithfulness.

This emphasis on faith in procreation runs throughout the Abraham narrative.  Abraham is depicted as “going in to” Hagar (Gen 16:4), yet Isaac is emphasized as the blessing and faithfulness of Yahweh (Gen 21:1-7).  Here, the emphasis is that procreation, even between man and wife – Abraham married Hagar (21:3) – is not the means of fulfilling Yahweh’s purposes.  Instead, it is faithfulness to God’s covenant, in this case the calling of Abraham to trust Yahweh to establish him as a nation and a blessing to the nations (Gen 12:1-3), that is encouraged.  Abraham was told not to take his future or his identity into his own hands by assuming simple progenation would accomplish Yahweh’s goals.  Instead, faith in Yahweh’s provision through an identity rooted in Yahweh’s covenant was Abraham’s true calling.

This thoroughly removes procreation as the central emphasis of the imago dei.  Also, it calls undermines the contention the text of Gen 1-2:3 is truly concerned with establishing a hard set gender binary.  Thus, we are frees to safely ask certain questions that complementarians seek to suppress:

If Scripture already does not speak to the actuality of biology by depicting all animals as “male and female”, why should we assume it speaks definitively on human biology?

Why would we take a text about human identity rooted in relationship with Yahweh and claim, instead, human identity is rooted in a gender binary?

The idea that we can assert, beyond doubt, a human gender binary or only male/female Sex distinction from this text is ludicrous.  In all reality, 1:2000 children are born each year with externally visible intersex genitalia (http://www.isna.org/faq/frequency).  It seems reasonable that the evidence of clearly identifiable intersex in humans points toward a very distinct possibility: other biological and environmental factors (brain chemistry being one) can cause persons to possess subtle, non-visible, forms of gender non-conformity.

Having rejected the idea that the Bible functions prescriptively, that it is concerned with modern historical/scientific answers, and that it establishes a God ordained gender binary based in hierarchy we can return to the text on its own terms.  This allows us to examine the assumption that in some way the words “very good ” are an ethical evaluation by Yahweh regarding a supposed gender binary geared towards procreation as divine image.  In reality, the Hebrew word for “good” used here is not one of moral valuation, but connotes a potter’s assessment of her finished work.  God, the skilled craftsman constructing earth as temple, takes the time to step back and admire his work.  In doing so, he finds at every stage that his work meets his desired aesthetic – that it functions as he intended.  God has had a specific design and purpose, his creation has lived up to his vision.  It is not an assessment of sinlessness, but of a God who intends communion with his creation and has accomplished that purpose at every turn.[9]

Having analyzed these claims, I feel confident in asserting that the biblical evidence stands in stark contrast to complementarian belief.  Reading gender binary and male/female hierarchy into Genesis 1 is by anachronism and concordianism.  That is, it requires the operative hermeneutic assumption that (1) the Bible is concerned with answering questions of history and science in a modern, not ancient, fashion. (2) The Bible establishes a gender binary as the normative, God-given biological existence of humanity. (3) That the Bible affirms and works within the cultural gender hierarchy of ancient Mesopotamian (OT), Roman (NT), and/or modern Western society.  Yet, as I have shown above, none of these assumptions holds water.

The book of Genesis is a foundational document within the Pentateuch for establishing Israelite post-exilic identity.  Not only Genesis 1-2:3, but much of Genesis 1-11 has parallels in Ancient Near Eastern mythology.  As such, I can safely assert that the main purpose of Genesis is to consider what it means to be a “holy nation and a royal priesthood” through an exploration of Israel’s formative history.  The author’s concern is with reminding the audience that Israel must be different from the nations, and thus we must realize that it existed in tension with the cultural norms of its pagan neighbors.  Among these norms would have been a strict gender hierarchy.

To list only a handful of examples from Israelite Scriptures: Zipporah acts as priestess, saving Moses’ life (Ex 4:24-25), Deborah serves as both spiritual and military leader of Israel (Judg 4-5), and two entire books (Ruth and Esther) are devoted to the importance of women in Israelite history.  The existence of strong women, not as outlier but normative, in Israelite Scriptures demonstrates that Israel conceived its own definition of “woman” in relation to Yahweh, even to the point of praising Gentile women for their faith (e.g. Ruth and Rahab [Josh 2, 6]) and even including them in the Davidic line.[10]

Likewise in early Christian culture, authors such as Paul and Peter used the style of Roman household codes to define relationships within the Church.  However, as has often been noted, these Christian household codes decentralize the notion of the male as dominant leader in the household – the pater familias with control over life and death for all under his authority – and refocus on Christ as head of his body, the Church.  They rejected Roman definitions of masculinity and feminity, and instead assert that male and female can only be defined in Christ.

Paul claims in 1 Corinthians 1:18-30 that the cross of Christ stands in direct opposition to power systems of this world.  As such, the weak are exalted and the powerful made fools.  He states quite emphatically that all understanding of what it means to be a Christ follower and to witness to our world must be focused through “Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2).

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Likewise, Peter emphasizes that being Christian means being called out and set apart as God’s “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people” (1 Pet 2:9, cf Ex 19).  They are chosen from among and called to be a witness to the nations (2:11-17), inviting all to worship the Father in seeing Christ through us (2:8-22).

With these things in mind, I reject the claims of complementarianism, interpreted through inerrantism, stated above.  I am unreserved in my position that the only true identity of the Christian, the only ethic to which we are called, is the cross of the cruciform God, Jesus the Christ (Phil 2).  Like the Gentiles described in Romans 1, complementarians fail to establish identity in God as creator and insist on claiming their identity in relation to creation, worshipping themselves and asserting their own power while claiming to represent the will of God.  As such, American evangelical complementarianism’s continued insistence on defining masculine as the opposite of feminine, male as the opposite of female can only result in an utter failure to say anything meaningful to a broken world about gender and Sex.

[1]  “Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy” pp. 211-219 in Carl F.H. Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority, vol 4 of 4 (Waco, TX:Word Books, 1979). Heretofore cited as CSBI.

[2] John Piper and Wayne Grudem, eds. Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1991) p. 29

[3] R.W.L. Moberly, TheTheology of the Book of Genesis, Old Testament Theology Series, eds. Brent A. Strawn and Patrick D. Miller (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009). pp. 48-50.

[4] “CSBI”.

[5] Moberly, Theology, 43-44.

[6] Ibid, 54-57 (quoting John D. Levenson, Creation and the Persistence of Evil: The Jewish Drama of Divine Omnipotence [Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988]).

[7] Dr. Emerson Egerichs, Love and Respect: The Love She Most Desires, the Respect He Desperately Needs (Nashville: W Publishing Group, 2004) pp. 215-225.

[8] John Walton, The Lost World of Genesis 1: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 2009) pp. 72-77.

[9] Moberly, Theology, 43-44

[10] Rahab’s inclusion in the Davidic line is largely drawn from Matthew 1:5, which draws from an extrabiblical tradition that she married Salmon, David’s great-great grandfather.

**Cover photo from http://img.over-blog-kiwi.com/0/98/97/57/20150214/ob_4f7ae9_saint-valentin-erotisme.png**

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9 thoughts on “The Fruit of Complement

  1. Whoa! Thats a lot to tackle; inerrancy, science and God’s Word, and gender roles. Way to jump into the deep end of the pool. It has been my experience that it is best to use God’s Word to support one’s thoughts about what God reveals in His Truth. Not that it can’t be misconstrued, but it does help one’s argument.

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    1. Paul, thanks for taking the time to read and engage! I want to ask a quick question to ensure I understand you, and to prevent working in circles around a misunderstanding. When you said:
      “It has been my experience that it is best to use God’s Word to support one’s thoughts about what God reveals in His Truth. Not that it can’t be misconstrued, but it does help one’s argument.”

      are you making a general observation, or do you believe I gave too much weight to something beyond the text of Scripture? I don’t want to proffer a response until I’m sure I’ve understood you properly.

      Thanks again for the response. Grace and Peace.

      Like

Thanks for taking the time to read and engage. I look forward to your feedback, I welcome any criticism. However, as my goal here is mutualy respectful, beneficial conversation, I only ask that we keep civility in mind with our words. Grace and Peace.

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