Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Church And Same-Sex Unions



  • The first time God blesses anything or anyone is when God tells the newly-created sea creatures and birds to "Be fruitful and multiply and fill" their respective realms (Genesis 1:22).
  • God then creates mankind in God's image and blesses them likewise, saying, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth" (Genesis 1:28). But it's additionally stated about mankind that they were made "male and female" (Genesis 1:27). This may simply be a statement about the human creature, or an affirmation that both men and women are made in God's image. But it could also suggest or imply that "male and female" reveals something about God's nature or about mankind's relationship with God.
  • God says that "the man" (i.e., the male) was in a "not good" state when he was "alone" (Genesis 2:18). God remedied this by making for him a female counterpart, one with whom he (and she with him) could become "one flesh." While ANE (Ancient Near East) scholars like Frank Moore Cross say that to "become one flesh" in Genesis 2:24 refers to marriage creating a kinship bond, Jesus' and Paul's reference to the verse in the context of their discussing divorce and adultery (Mark 10:2-9) and sex with prostitutes (1 Corinthians 6:16) seems to take "become[ing] one flesh" in Genesis 2:24 to mean the male-female sex act.
  • Paul in Ephesians 5:22-33 likens the relationship between a man and a woman in marriage to the relationship Christ has with his church.
  • This man-woman/Christ-church marriage relationship (perhaps first alluded to in the parable of the wedding feast - Matthew 22:1-14 and parallels) is finally and most fully realized in Revelation 19:7-9 and Revelation 21-22 with respect to the bride, the wife of the Lamb, the New Jerusalem.
Thus, male-female marriage imagery seems to bookend the Scriptures, beginning with the first man and woman and ending with the marriage of the Lamb and his bride - i.e., the union of Christ with his body and God with his people.

Therefore I think it's difficult for the church to find biblical justification for "blessing" same-sex unions or according them the same status as male-female marriages. It's not that two same-sex people can't love or commit to or complement (at least in non-genital ways) each other, but that male-male and female-female do not seem to accord with a significant biblical metaphor, which may in fact be a heavenly reality of which human male-female marriage serves as a copy or shadow (Hebrews 8:5). I.e., same-sex unions are problematic because they may not be proper icons of Christ and the church.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Holy Spirit As "It"?

In some of my writings I refer to the Holy Spirit as "It," rather than as "He," though in the future I'll probably defer to the common practice of using "He/Him/His" rather than "It/It/Its."

Before explaining why, I want to make it clear that I do not regard the Holy Spirit as an "impersonal force." Nor am I denying the orthodox Christian understanding and expression of the Trinity.

My reasons for at times referring to the Holy Spirit as "It" are basically the following:
  1. The most-developed Biblical concept of the Holy Spirit is found in the New Testament, and the Greek word pneuma (πνευμα) is a neuter noun.1 Thus, referring to the Holy Spirit as "It" is kind of an artificial conformity to its "gender" in the New Testament. (I realize that the genders of Greek nouns don't necessarily correspond to or indicate the "sex" of the noun.)
  2. The New Testament passages that commonly translate the Holy Spirit as "He" - i.e., Jesus's statements in the Gospel According to John 14-162 - mislead many readers to think or assume that Jesus is deliberately breaking Greek grammar rules (i.e., a pronoun must agree with the gender of its antecedent) to emphasize the Holy Spirit's personhood by using masculine pronouns for a neuter word (and I've heard preachers and teachers say this very thing). But it can be shown that the word that is translated as "He" in those passages - i.e., the "far" (or "distant") demonstrative pronoun ekeinos (εκεινος) - has as its antecedent the masculine noun paraklêtos (παρακλητος) and not the neuter noun pneuma (πνευμα). In fact, it would be perfectly acceptable, and possibly more proper, to translate ekeinos (εκεινος) in these instances as "that one," since a "paraclete" (i.e., an advocate or someone called alongside to one's aid) need not necessarily be a male.
Actually, a case could probably be made for referring to the Holy Spirit as "She," since in the early church the Holy Spirit was at times equated with the "Wisdom" of the Old Testament and the Apocrypha, and both the Greek word for wisdom (sophia - σοφια) and the Hebrew word for "Spirit" (ruach - רוח) are feminine. But for me to refer to the Holy Spirit as "She" would be in my mind even more problematic and lead to greater misunderstanding than using "It."


1 In the Hebrew Old Testament, the corresponding word, ruach (רוח), is feminine, but Hebrew has no neuter gender. English, of course, has no genders for nouns at all.

2 Here are the relevant verses in the Gospel According to John 14-16. I've marked in bold all the instances of paraklêtos (παρακλητος) and ekeinos (εκεινος), as well as any masculine pronouns that refer to paraklêtos (παρακλητος). I've also indicated where the New American Standard Bible used here translates verbs where the pronoun subject is included in the verb ending with "He" and neuter pronouns referring to the (neuter) Spirit with "Him" or "who(m)."

John 14
16 καγω ερωτησω τον πατερα και αλλον παρακλητον δωσει υμιν ινα μεθ υμων εις τον αιωνα η, 17 το πνευμα της αληθειας, ο ο κοσμος ου δυναται λαβειν, οτι ου θεωρει αυτο ουδε γινωσκει: υμεις γινωσκετε αυτο, οτι παρ υμιν μενει και εν υμιν εσται.... 26 ο δε παρακλητος, το πνευμα το αγιον ο πεμψει ο πατηρ εν τω ονοματι μου, εκεινος υμας διδαξει παντα και υπομνησει υμας παντα α ειπον υμιν [εγω].
16 "I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; 17 that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.... 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you."

John 15
26 οταν ελθη ο παρακλητος ον εγω πεμψω υμιν παρα του πατρος, το πνευμα της αληθειας ο παρα του πατρος εκπορευεται, εκεινος μαρτυρησει περι εμου:
26 "When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me,"

John 16
7 αλλ εγω την αληθειαν λεγω υμιν, συμφερει υμιν ινα εγω απελθω. εαν γαρ μη απελθω, ο παρακλητος ουκ ελευσεται προς υμας: εαν δε πορευθω, πεμψω αυτον προς υμας. 8 και ελθων εκεινος ελεγξει τον κοσμον περι αμαρτιας και περι δικαιοσυνης και περι κρισεως:... 13 οταν δε ελθη εκεινος, το πνευμα της αληθειας, οδηγησει υμας εν τη αληθεια παση: ου γαρ λαλησει αφ εαυτου, αλλ οσα ακουσει λαλησει, και τα ερχομενα αναγγελει υμιν. 14 εκεινος εμε δοξασει, οτι εκ του εμου λημψεται και αναγγελει υμιν.
7 "But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. 8 And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment;... 13 But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative ("from Himself"), but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. 14 He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you."

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Κεφαλη and Αυθεντειν

Κεφαλη and Αυθεντειν.

Two words that have probably caused more ruckus in the last couple decades than any other words in the Greek New Testament!

(For non-Greek readers: One reason I do not give the definitions of these words is that the disageement about what they mean is a large reason for the ruckus.)

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Whence "Complementarianism"?

(Warning: The following may be "fightin' words" to some people.)

I've recently waded into the "Complementarian - Egalitarian" battle that's being waged in Evangelical Protestantism. (See, e.g., the Complegalitarian blog site.) Though I am not well read in the area,1 I do not lack thoughts or opinions on the subject! And, per an earlier post, I've been to a church that is on the front lines of this battle.

Anyway, here's a salvo from me:

Note: Had I first read the introduction to Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy (Ronald W. Pierce and Rebecca Merrill Groothuis, Editors), I might not have written this post, since in it the editors discuss the subject I address here, though not exactly as I have done. And as the subtitle of the book indicates, egalitarians regard themselves as complementarians, but without the hierarchy that restricts church and home leadership to men.

Why is the "only men can be church leaders and teach other men in church" position called "Complementarianism"?

While there are certain biological roles and functions for which men and women have complementary functions, Christian "Complementarianism" also uses these biological differences to restrict certain church roles and functions to men, even though men are allowed to do in church everything that women can do (including the women-assigned things in Titus 2:4-5 - i..e, men can so instruct these young women as well). Such a "Complementarianism" seems to be saying: "All Christians are equal, but some are more equal than others." (Cf. the commandment in Animal Farm being changed from "All animals are equal" to "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others."2) This, despite what Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:13 and Galatians 3:26-28 and Colossians 3:10-11 about such former distinctions being done away with in Christ and all believers being one in Christ.

Hence, I would suggest an alternative term for such a position. Here are some candidates:
  • "Subordinationism." But since "lay" men are just as "subordinated" to male pastors, elders, and deacons as "lay" women are, this is probably not a good alternative.
  • "Restrictionism." This might be a valid alternative, since whereas "lay" men can become "clergy" and hold "church offices" and teach others, both male and female, it's not similarly open to women to enter or achieve the same rank or position or place of authority.
  • "Patriarchalism." This formerly-used term most literally means a society headed by a "father." But since it also means a system or organization whereby power is held by and transferred through males, it might be the best and most accurate alternative term for so-called "Complementarianism."
To critique "Complementarianism" directly, and not just the term, if one distinguishes home and married life from church life, I think it shows that "Complementarianism" may be somewhat improperly importing the husband-wife relationship of men and women into the church realm or imposing it on the church. This seems contrary to one of the major Biblical images of the church as being the Bride of Christ, regardless of the genders of its members. It also seems contrary to the image of the church as the body of Christ in which God has placed the members as He decided, and to whom His Spirit gives gifts and giftings as It wills (1 Corinthians 12:11,18) - with no mention made of restrictions or distinctions based on gender, or some positions or giftings being more appropriate for men than for women, or vice-versa.

(Note: When I talk about importing the husband-wife relationship into the church realm, I am not thereby saying or assuming that the husband-wife relationship has to be patriarchal, though there does seem to me to be Scriptural support for that, with the husbands' mutual respect and love and self-giving reciprocating the wives' and children's non-leadership or lesser-leadership roles. What I'm saying is that "Complementarians" seem to be imposing that model onto church roles and offices and tasks when they give men authority over women while denying a woman an equal right to be in authority or a pastor or a teacher of men.)

Maybe "Complementarians" would be offended if "Egalitarians" insisted on using "Patriarchalism" again, a term that more accurately describes the negative aspects of "Complementarianism." Is it the desire to dialogue without offending the other party that causes "Egalitarians" to acquiesce and accept the "Complementarians'" somewhat-euphemistic self-designation?


1 I haven't read many of the latest articles written about this, but I have in the past owned and read several books on the subject, though I've subsequently sold or given away most of them. I have yet to read much of the largish (500+ pages) Discovering Biblical Equality, but have read most of the second edition of Two Views on Women in Ministry, as well as the first edition of Women in the Church: An Analysis and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 (and own the second edition as well). I've also read several responses and rebuttals to and from the opposing sides.

2 George Orwell, Animal Farm, Chapter X