A Biblical Examination of the Original Doctrinal Statement of the “Christians for Biblical Equality”
CBE’s Evasion of the Principal Texts
Now, let us direct our attention to Point 9’s second statement, in which the authors of this document treat us to a lesson in hermeneutics. This would be laughable, if it were not such a serious business. Let me say it again: the way that these Feminists handle the holy Scriptures is ludicrous! It is the turning of things upside down and inside out to try to find a way to inject sexual equality into the Bible. As such, it is sacrilege!
Now, let me say that if you want to know what any document says on any point, you look for a place in it where that particular point is under discussion. Having found that, you look for explicit statements and conclusions. Then, having found those, you have a basis for understanding any incidental references to the same point (apparent or real) in other places.
You do not avoid those places that speak clearly and fully, just because you do not like what they say, and then look for clues scattered throughout the document that seem to support your foregone conclusions. You do not then use these clues (such as texts isolated from their contexts) to create a framework constructed of your own opinions and call it what that document “really” says. Finally, you do not then set aside the obvious message of the key passages of the document on the basis that they cannot mean what they seem to say, because that would go against the framework of opinions that you have constructed. That is not the way a reasonable person would proceed; and that is not how a humble seeker after truth would go about it. However, the document gives us this remarkable statement:
“Therefore, the few isolated texts that appear to restrict the full redemptive freedom of women must not be interpreted simplistically and in contradiction to the rest of Scripture, but their interpretation must take into account their relation to the broader teaching of Scripture and their total context (1 Cor 11:2–16, 14:33–36; 1 Tim 2:9–15).”
Here is their justification for burying the three prescriptive texts (listed here; but not as proof-texts) that set forth the proper understanding of male and female sex roles as they are to be expressed in the life of the church. These, they say, are nothing more than a ” few isolated texts”. Few they may be; but they are the only texts that address the exact question at issue. Two or three witnesses to the same fact are sufficient. Nay, in holy Scripture, a single statement, properly interpreted, is enough to establish any fact. The fewness or the plenitude of confirming witnesses them has nothing to do with anything.
Neither are they isolated texts. What does that mean anyway? Is there some quality inherent in the text itself that means it has no authority, so we can ignore it. Isolated from what? Each text belongs in a certain context, and we traditionalists interpret it in that context. One can, it’s true, take a verse out of context. That is what the CBE statement does all the time! But these three signposts are not single verses wrested out of their proper context to be abused as proof-texts. They are, so to speak, “free-standing” and “self-interpreting” passages; whose meanings are obvious, and would not be any different if they were found anywhere else in Scripture.
But no matter how few, if these passages are clear (and they are) then no recourse needs to be had to the Feminists’ favorite texts to qualify or elucidate them, though theirs be many.
Next, the word “appear” occurs:
“…the few isolated texts that appear to restrict the full redemptive freedom of women”
The texts have already been discredited as “few and isolated”, so now it can be safely said that they only “appear” to contradict their egalitarian theory of sexual equality. Hmm, let me see… How about this one:
“But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God. Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head. But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven. For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered. For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.”
Or this one:
“Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church. What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only? If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord. But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant.”
Or this one:
“Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve.” Does this only appear to contradict the Feminist position?
No, it is not appearance only, but substance, as anyone can see. Accordingly, as we shall see, any stratagems devised to invalidate them must fail.
But then they tell us how to interpret these “few isolated texts”; or rather how not to interpret them:
“…the few isolated texts that appear to restrict the full redemptive freedom of women must not be interpreted simplistically and in contradiction to the rest of Scripture.”
Claiming to have already proved the “full redemptive freedom of women” (in the sense that they mean the phrase) they demand that we give up the obvious and natural sense of these texts in favor of interpretations that they have made up out of whole cloth!
First we are told that we must not interpret them “simplistically”. What exactly does this mean – “Simplistically”? I can only guess that it is something that they are attributing to the traditional interpretation – something lacking in the sophistication of former interpreters such as – well, just about every biblical scholar from the church fathers to the eminent Bible scholars of the 19th century, and most of them in the first half of the twentieth. They were all only “simple” men, no doubt, who lacked the intelligence and hermeneutical acumen to interpret Scripture correctly! Though some of them were very learned, they were all affected by the prejudice against women which prevailed in their times, and accordingly misunderstood and mistranslated these texts according to their appearance, in contradiction to the whole teaching of Scripture.
I admit that I am “simplistic: I “simply” take the texts at face value, without arbitrary eisegesis and exegetical gymnastics. I am not one of those sophisticated Feminist theologians who, by virtue of their vast learning and exceptional intelligence, have avoided the fatal trap of interpreting the Scripture according to its mere appearance! Perhaps someday I will attain to the heights and rarified air in which these scholars dwell – but not now. I am just a simple man.
We are also cautioned against contradicting the rest of Scripture by our simplistic interpretation. Thank you very much for the warning! But it is not really necessary. I learned a long time ago that when someone is dishonest and self-deceived, he will often attribute to his opponents the very thing that he is doing. That observation applies here. They are the ones who are contradicting “the broader teaching of Scripture and their total context”. They have it exactly backwards!
Finally, the term, “the full redemptive freedom of women” appears. This is, I believe, the first time that the term is used in the manifesto. What does it mean? Let’s review what they have said already. Here, in their own words, is the substance of the doctrine that is meant by that term.
“The Bible teaches that woman and man were created for full and equal partnership.”
“The Bible teaches that the forming of woman from man demonstrates the fundamental unity and equality of human beings.”
“Without distinction, the Holy Spirit indwells women and men, and sovereignly distributes gifts without preference as to gender.”
“The Bible teaches that both women and men are called to develop their spiritual gifts and to use them as stewards of the grace of God. Both men and women are divinely gifted and empowered to minister to the whole Body of Christ, under His authority.”
“The Bible teaches that, in the New Testament economy, women as well as men exercise the prophetic, priestly and royal functions.”
“The full redemptive freedom of women” means that men and women are equal in every sense except their biology. There is no difference in the status of men and women. Women are free to do any work and to assume any role in the church that men do if they have the gifts for it. They are not subordinate to men, so they are not to be barred from the diaconate or the presbytery because of their sex. So that any passage of Scripture that seems to deprive women of this freedom must be reinterpreted.
Now, let’s see what that means for the interpretation of the three texts that they wish to revise. I have already discussed 1 Cor 14:36-40 in Part 4 of this series. Let’s examine another one of the signposts that they must re-write if they are going to win this debate.
The first of the “few isolated texts” in their list, that appear to restrict the full redemptive freedom of women” is 1 Cor 11:2-16. Before looking at the text, permit me to make a few opening remarks.
Paul is dealing with various abuses in the church from the very first chapter of this epistle. This is a subject that differs from the others; for it is merely teaching given to prevent an abuse – perhaps one which was just beginning to take hold. It differs from what Paul says in the other cases he comments on, in that Paul says “Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you.” The obvious reason why he would open this section with this compliment is that the practice of women covering their heads is included in therse ordinances. He does not tell them to start covering their heads, as we would expect if they were neglecting the ordinance, or if it was a new practice that they were not familiar with. If he was instituting it at this time, it would have to have been explained in more detail.
The next section begins with the contrasting declaration,”Now in this that I declare unto you I praise you not…(1Co 11:17a). These two statements are obviously meant to contrast with each other. They are like bookends, and clearly mark the beginning and ending of the section under consideration. The passage is therefore independent of both the previous and the ensuing context for its meaning. I do not isolate it by interpreting it as an intentionally differentiated section. It carries within itself all the information that is needed to interpret it correctly, with the help of several links to the book of Genesis contained within it.
Obviously, Paul’s purpose in writing this passage is to deter Christian women from uncovering their heads in public. (Some limit it to the meetings of the church; but there are good reasons for not doing so.) He also prohibits men from covering their heads. His interest, then, is in the clear delineation between men and women that ought to be maintained by differences in dress (Deut 22:5).
Paul’s purpose is served by teaching both the men and the women the biblical principles that govern the practice of covering the head. It is not my purpose to expound the whole passage; but rather to show what it teaches that relates directly to the subject in hand. (Those who want a fuller treatment of the passage are encouraged to read my book, The Myth of Sexual Equality. You can purchase a copy on Amazon.com.)
2 “Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you. 3 But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.”
Let’s begin with verse 3. What does it say? It says that everyone but God the Father has a head over him. He is subordinate to the person who is his head. That is what headship means. Man is subordinate to Christ; woman is subordinate to man; and Christ (as the mediator, in His Divine/human nature) is subordinate to God. It is in vain to claim that headship has nothing to do with authority and subordination.
Is man not under the authority of Christ? Then what does it mean to “keep His commandments”?
Is Christ not under the authority of His Father? Then what did He mean when He said “…as the Father gave me commandment, even so I do.” (Joh 14:31)
Headship means authority. Simple as that. Woman, then is under the authority of man.
4 “Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head. 5 But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven. 6 For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered.”
As I said, I do not intend to discuss head covering; but it is impossible to make sense of what follows without reading these verses. A man who covers his head while praying or prophesying dishonors it; but a woman who does not cover her head dishonors hers. This is not just advice. Verse 6 closes with these words of command, “…let her be covered.”
Then we come to the remarkable statement in verse 7:
“For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man.”
God made Adam in His own image (Gen 1:27). He was the image of God before Eve was made. He was not an incomplete part of the image of God, which had to be completed by the creation of Eve, as some say. If that were true, it would follow that neither one was made in the image of God. He was made in the image and likeness of God. Here, we read “image and glory of God”. These two words are used together in Hebrews 1:3 to describe the Son of God:
“…Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his [that is, God’s] person…”
It would appear that the word “likeness” and the word “glory” are closely related in some way; so that Adam could be called either. Now most people would assume that the same thing could be said of the woman as is here said of the man. But not only does he not say that; he makes it a point of contrast, referring to man as God’s image and glory, while he denies her that dignity, and says that the woman is the glory of the man instead! He further uses that point of contrast to dictate a rule concerning the covering of their heads.
7 “For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man.”
This text alone demolishes any notion of the equality of the sexes! The battle is over. No other discussion is needed. You cannot possibly establish the Christian Feminist cause while this verse remains in the word of God!
But we proceed:
8 “For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man. 9 Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.”
Paul has stated that the man and the woman are not equals. Now he gives us two of the reasons why he says this, both drawn from the account of human origins contained in the early chapters of Genesis. The word, “for” connects verses 8 and 9 to verse 7. It means “because”. These two arguments are insuperable. Verses 7-9 taken in the context of the head covering discussion, demonstrate Paul’s position on sexual equality. It is this inequality that explains why women need to cover their heads, and men must not.
The Feminists know that this text is fatal to their system; and so want to discredit its plain teaching. To cover the head as a sign of submission to male headship is oppressive – a humiliation not to be born! So the passage must be gotten rid of in some way. It is only one of a few, they say (as if that mattered). It is wrongly interpreted if it is isolated from the overall teaching of Scripture (they mean the framework that they have constructed). It’s “real meaning” is – whatever they say it means.
Some try to escape its force by saying that the great Apostle was mistaken, since he was trained in the misogynistic view of the rabbis. The opinion found in this text is not inspired truth, but one man’s opinion. This only shows how desperate some of them are to have an excuse for living lives of rebellion against God’s ordinance. They had rather sacrifice the plenary inspiration of Scripture than admit that they are in the wrong. How sad!