Desperately Seeking Feminism in the Bible

Sometimes, if you let a room get messy enough, it’s hard to know where to even begin cleaning it up. When the enormity of the disarray is such that you can see no clear path from start to finish, the whole thing can become overwhelming. Its tempting to just ignore the mess a little longer.

I had much the same feeling when someone recently alerted me to this blog post: Because Christian Patriarchy Isn’t Christian by Beth Allison Barr. It’s precisely the kind of mental chaos one would expect from an author who considers Beth Moore, of all people, to be “one of the greatest students of biblical text and teachers of biblical truth in the modern church.” When so many problems abound, the same question presents itself: Where do I even begin?

Well, with messes like this, the best thing to do is usually to just start picking out specific problems, make a list, and focus on each one in turn, trusting that eventually you’ll see a path to the finish line. So without further ado, here are seven enormous errors in “Because Christian Patriarchy Isn’t Christian”

 1. Looking for ways to get rid of the parts of the Bible you don’t like.

The post begins with a brief history of some gender-related politicking in pagan Rome. It highlights elements that run against the grain of the feminist sensibilities of the contemporary West before framing the whole package as a summary on pagan views of women. Next, it relegates Paul’s explicit prohibition on women pastors in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 to an echo of these pagan ideas–projecting onto the Apostle the author’s own concerns about “subjecting” women to such pagan ideas.

It is only after poisoning the well in this manner that Barr actually considers the text of Scripture–and this only to try and turn Paul’s instruction on its head by imagining it as a quote which he himself is trying to condemn. It is a transparent attempt to dictate what Scripture is allowed to say before trying to discern what it actually says. This is not what honest exegesis looks like. The entire post amounts to a woman who hates Paul’s instructions finding an excuse to go on hating them.

Grammatically speaking, could the verses be rendered the way she’d like? In all honesty, I can’t say for certain. I unfortunately did not study Greek when I had the chance. Nevertheless, its telling that A) I don’t know of any significant translation that actually renders it as a quote, and B) apart from prejudice, she hangs her case entirely on an interjection of indignation that does absolutely nothing to imply that a quotation is taking place. She presumes that Paul’s indignation is directed at the supposed quotation (because that’s the direction of her own indignation), but it could just as easily be directed at women who were usurping the pastoral office or at all the people introducing chaos into the congregation at Corinth.

But even if it could be read the way she wants, why should it be read that way? Particularly when such a reading would put it into conflict with other verses like 1 Timothy 2 and with the whole of Church history? That, of course, leads to the next error…

2. Ignoring the Church Fathers

A quick way to double-check whether you’re imposing your own philosophies onto the text is to try and see whether your interpretation is novel. If it took nearly two millenia for anyone to actually read Paul’s words here as though he were condemning a quote, then that’s probably not what he was doing. This is not to say that the Fathers were never in error–they were. However, it should make us skeptical of ourselves when we have to contend that every last one was oblivious to the true meaning of a text which–doubly so when its only “discovered” to support a peculiar anachronistic ideology by those who themselves support that peculiar ideology.

So where are all the Church Fathers who read 1 Corinthians the way Barr does? She passes by this facet of the issue without comment or acknowledgment, but if there were any Fathers in her corner, I suspect she would have mentioned them.

3. Conflating natural law with worldliness

If the pagan world was patriarchal, does that mean that Scripture must therefore oppose patriarchy? By no means. As Paul describes in Romans 1 & 2, even the pagans have a grasp of what Godliness looks like, for God wrote his law on our hearts, and the order of creation is readily observable. You can, for example, find variations on the Golden Rule in all sorts of non-Christian religions, cultures, and traditions. It doesn’t therefore follow that Jesus was quoting the idea in order to condemn it.

Scripture is right to warn us not to be conformed to the thinking of this world. There is a great deal of evil which the Prince of this World would mire every one of us in. However, this does not mean we are to therefore defy divine ordinance and first article gifts–even ones which the pagans recognized. When we don’t view Scripture through the jaundiced lens of feminism, it becomes quite clear that God ordered both the family and His Church in a way that is, quite frankly, patriarchal.

4. Using one part of the Bible against another

Barr speaks out of both sides of her mouth here. She pays lip service to taking Scripture as a whole–quoting Beth Moore as saying “What I plead for Is to grapple with the entire text from Mt 1 thru Rev 22 on ever [sic] matter concerning women. To grapple with Paul’s words in 1 Tim/! For 14 [sic] as authoritative, God-breathed!- alongside other words Paul wrote, equally inspired & make sense of the many women he served alongside.” But like Moore (more on that in the next point,) she immediately goes on to find excuses for setting aside the parts of God’s Word that she doesn’t like.

“Which seems more like Jesus,” she asks, 1 Corinthians 14 or Galatians 3? Surely, if we were accepting both as God-breathed, then we wouldn’t even be asking that question because we would know that they both seem completely like Jesus. Surely, if we were accepting both as God-breathed, then we would not be giving Galatians 3 precedence simply because it’s more “radical.” Instead, we would be trying to find out how both can be true at the same time. And, of course, the answer is quite simple: Christ died for the sins of the whole world and everyone who believes in him is wholly forgiven–male, female, Jew, Greek, slave, free, etc has no bearing on that blessed assurance. God also orders his Church and his creation in ways which calls men to some roles and women to others.

It is quite possible to reconcile these verses with one another without dismissing either–the Church has been doing so for millennia. It is quite impossible to reconcile both of these verses with feminism. It’s that latter impossibility under which false teachers like this chafe, and their burden will not be lifted until they stop trying to submit God’s word to false ideologies.

5. Trying to invent “Attitudes” of Christ to obscure the actual text of Scripture.

Barr picks this error up from Moore. In the previous quote, immediately after giving lip service to learning from the whole of Scripture (or at least the NT), Moore instructs that “Above all else,” (which in this context means above Scriptural considerations), “we must search the attitudes of Christ Jesus himself toward women.” Notice how obviously backwards that is. How are we to know Jesus’ attitudes towards women (or anything else) from somewhere above the text of Scripture? Christ’s teachings (ALL of Christ’s teachings) are precisely where we ought to discover his “attitudes,” not vice versa.

But that’s not how the game is played. Instead, it goes something like this: It starts innocently enough–by observing that that Christ loved women, taught them, counted them among his devoted followers, was supported by them in his ministry, and so forth (all of which are true.) Next are included other NT observations that women were involved in the activity of the early Church, as we can see from Acts and the Epistles. So far, so good, but it is here that the sleight-of-hand usually occurs: They distill the “attitude” of Christ as holding women in high regard and including them in the Church’s ministry, which is true in a certain sense. But from this attitude, they erroneously conclude that women are therefore just as qualified and called as men to be pastors and included identically in every facet of the Church’s work.  Women must be regarded as functional equals and included in all the same vocations–thus sayeth the attitudes of Christ!

But notice how feminist and egalitarian standards of “regard” and “inclusion” were just substituted for Biblical ones. After all, if we were to use Biblical standards, we could not help but number “I do not permit a woman to teach and have authority over a man” and “women should keep silent in the churches” among Jesus’ attitudes toward women. And if we were to really take Scripture as a whole, then we would accept those attitudes alongside those of inclusion and high regard in the Biblical sense. In other words, we would look at the fact that God does not call women to the pastoral office as being wholly compatible with Christ’s inclusion and high regard. For women are included in other essential and unique work in the church and esteemed for that service–God is not misogynistic for doing so.

Of course, that doesn’t mesh with Western feminist sensibilities, but why should it have to? God isn’t compelled to conform his Word to worldly philosophies. Those are our attitudes, not Jesus’. To try and reinterpret the Bible in light of Jesus’ attitudes is simply to project one’s own prejudices and ideologies onto the text.

Speaking of which…

6. Projecting one’s own prejudices and ideologies onto the text

This is the common thread that just keeps coming up in all the different errors so far–the push to find feminism in God’s Word. Of course, you can’t actually find it there. It is alien to Scripture. It is alien to the Church’s heritage and ancient tradition. It is even alien to natural law– built as it is on a mountain range of broken families and tiny corpses.

But if you are unwilling to submit your own ideologies to the judgment of Holy Scripture, then the only recourse of someone who identifies herself as a Bible-believing Christian is to try to plant those ideologies there–whether deliberately or not. You can recognize this dynamic by seeing how Christianity becomes reoriented away from the Gospel and towards advancing particular social & political causes–the very causes which are held regardless of anything they may have learned from Christ.

Christianity cannot help but change cultures because it cannot help but change the Christians who enflesh those cultures. At the same time, however, cultural change is in no way its purpose. The Church is there to proclaim God’s Word and administer the Sacraments.  Once you start making Christianity a means to a political end, you find yourself in the final error of the bunch…

7. Saying the Most Radical thing about the New Testament is anything other than the Gospel

Here, we find the terminal state of these errors. Barr writes,

The most difficult passage in the New Testament to explain, historically speaking, is the end of Galatians 3:

“For you are all children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”

This is what is radical. This is what makes Christianity so different from the rest of human history. This is what sets both men and women free……

This could have been a true assessment–provided Barr was actually speaking about freedom from sin, death, and the power of the devil. But she’s not. This is all part of a program on “Disrupting Christian Patriarchy.”  As she immediately goes on to write,

I find it ironic that we spend so much time today fighting to make Christianity look like the things of this world instead of fighting to make it like the world Jesus showed us was possible. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Instead of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 as God’s dream for humanity, doesn’t the world of Galatians 3 seem more like Jesus?

Patriarchy may be a part of Christian history, but that doesn’t make it Christian.

It is not freedom from patriarchy that makes Christianity so different from the rest of human history. It’s the forgiveness of sins we receive through Baptism. It’s the fact that the One who invented blood shed his own so that his creatures would live. It’s the fact that even while we were still sinners, God sent his Son to die for us. It’s the fact that we are saved by that grace through faith alone rather than through our own works.

That Gospel is the what makes Christianity different. The moment you start believing that the most radical thing about Christianity is anything other than God becoming man and dying for the sins of His creation, you have altogether failed to understand the religion.

About Matt

Software engineer by trade; lay theologian by nature; Lutheran by grace.
This entry was posted in Feminism, Gospel, Heresy, Natural Law, Paganism, The Modern Church, Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Desperately Seeking Feminism in the Bible

  1. OKRickety says:

    You present some excellent thoughts. Now if we could just get the rest of Christianity to think about what they believe ….

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