Tuesday, July 25, 2006

In a previous post (July 6) I submitted that Scripture says there is a unique headship/submission relationship between husband and wife, and that that relationship is mandatory, but that it does not extend beyond marriage. That is, every husband is the head of his wife, whether the two of them like it or not—that’s inherent in the meaning of husband. But it does not follow that every boyfriend is the miniature head of his girlfriend whether the two of them like it or not; that is not inherent in the meaning of boyfriend (or if it is, Scripture has declined to inform of us this fact). I think you can see added support for this in the Biblical conception of courtship—essentially, there is no Biblical conception of courtship. The Bible seems perfectly okay with total strangers getting married, no evaluation period and no practice for headship/submission. If that’s true, then it seems to me that it must also be true that even though our society has instituted this evaluation and practice period we call dating, it must be okay to have a dating relationship without treating it like a miniature marriage. Dating is not a miniature marriage; that’s the whole point. Let me hasten to add a caveat: I think that a boyfriend and girlfriend can and should covenant to form a miniature headship relationship. I don’t think Scripture commands it, but I still think it’s a good idea. Sure, a man can go from boyfriend to husband and start being head then with no practice. A woman can go from not submitting at all to her boyfriend’s headship and start submitting to her husband’s headship cold turkey. But that just seems like making things a lot harder on both people than it has to be.

Such, at any rate, is my understanding of the Scriptural order of things as it stands right now. But in my last post I glossed over the question of what exactly we mean when we say that a wife should submit to her husband in all things and that a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. It is a question I find perplexing despite much modeling and much teaching, but I think it deserves to be addressed.

Let me start by observing (as did Thayet, if you go back and read the comments) that this is a very specific subset of human relationships. The general rule for relating to people, which I think is much more important, is to love your neighbor and be humble. Among Christians specifically, that means submitting to one another (Eph. 5:21). These things are far more important when it comes to how we ought to relate to one another than observations about husbands and wives—and, significantly, they apply to husbands and wives just as much as they apply to total strangers. A Christian husband is the head of his wife, to be sure. But he is still called to submit to her.

So let’s start with husbands. The husband, Paul tells us, is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, and is to relate to her as such. He goes on to discuss Christ’s death on behalf of the church and the fact that the husband and wife are (if I can follow C.S. Lewis in putting it this way) a single organism.

I hope that it is clear from what has been said so far that this is not an authoritarian picture, but in case it isn’t let me say so explicitly: this is not an authoritarian picture. Yes, Christ has complete authority over the church. But the analogy between Christ and husband will break down if we push it too far, just like any analogy, and Paul does not focus on Christ’s authority. He focuses on Christ’s sacrifice. That is the take-home point of the analogy. Husbands sacrifice for their wives. Husbands love their wives—they love their wives so much that they should place their very bodies, if need be, between their wives’ sin and their wives.

At the same time, Scripture commands wives to submit to their husbands “in all things.” Let me be the first to admit that this is a troubling passage. My goddesses are not damsels in distress. They are Alanna the Lioness, Cimorene, Honor Harrington, and Keladry of Mindelan—strong, independent, dangerous women who lead, inspire, kick ass and take names. And I still think that is what a woman should be: valiant, magnificent, and wise (I know I’ve mentioned this before and have still failed to elaborate. Maybe I will at some point in the future). Of course, at the end of the day my concern is not what I think should be. My concern is what Scripture says is.

At the same time, I think my opinion is consistent with the Scriptural picture. So here is what I think is going on here. I do think that Scripture is being literal when it says that a wife submits to her husband in all things. I don’t think we’re talking about submission in merely spiritual things. That would be silly if husband and wife are really as fully joined as Scripture says. If they’re joined for all purposes—and that, I think, is crystal clear—then there’s no basis for not taking Paul at his word when he says “in all things.” But I think translating hupotassô as “submit” may get us into trouble here. It’s not a bad translation, but in the marriage context specifically the English word “submit” carries a lot of baggage. Perhaps it would be helpful if I observed that hupotassô literally means “to arrange under.” And then let us remember that while the wife is to “arrange all things” under her husband, her husband is to sacrifice his last breath for his wife.

To me, this makes things clearer. I do not think the picture here is of a wife asking her husband’s permission every time she wants to go out, or buy gas, or go shopping. Indeed, the very concept of asking permission seems out of place to me. The church does not ask Christ’s permission to do things. Christ liberates the church; he doesn’t restrict it—and so, I submit, it should be between husband and wife. Now of course at the same time the picture is not of a wife doing whatever she pleases without regard to her husband. This too is like the church: Christ liberates us, yes, but the church does what Christ likes because we love Christ (and if you don’t think that’s liberating … well, you’re wrong). The wife is the central [earthly] fact of the husband’s existence just as the husband is the central [earthly] fact of the wife’s existence.

I think this picture also clears up for me the troubling hypotheticals. One might ask, for instance, what a wife is supposed to do if her husband is abusing her—or abusing their children, perhaps. Let’s make the hypothetical even sharper: suppose a husband orders his wife to come over to him so he can abuse her. What then? Is she to obey, on the theory that she is to submit to her husband in all things? Or suppose that a wife is abusing her husband—is he to walk over, on the theory that he is to sacrifice everything for his wife? By no means! Mê genoito!

Now, let me make it clear that I do not think these relationships are conditional. A husband does not stop being the head of his wife because she refuses to arrange all things beneath him. A wife is not freed of that obligation because her husband refuses to sacrifice for her as he should. Scripture does not say that a husband is head of his wife if she submits to him, nor that a wife is to submit to her husband if he is her head. But I do think that what it means to submit—or to be head—changes as the other spouse’s behavior changes.

In the case above, for instance, I think the abused spouse should follow all of the usual procedures. The last thing s/he should do is walk over like a lamb to the slaughter, and I really have no problem with employing physical force in the protection of endangered children, if the situation should call for that. In fact, I would applaud the use of physical force in the protection of endangered children. That’s what physical force is for. But the husband should not give up on his wife, nor the wife on her husband. And (while keeping herself/himself safe, of course, and removing herself/himself from the abusive situation) s/he should do everything in his/her power to bring his/her spouse back. Maybe things are so bad that s/he can’t do anything but pray. The point is, whatever her husband is doing, she finds a way to arrange her life “under” him. Whatever his wife is doing, he finds a way to sacrifice, to interpose. The rebellious spouse remains the central [earthly] fact of the other’s life, even if common sense requires that they be separated.

This “central [earthly] fact of the other’s life” is, I’m pretty sure, the most important thing about how marriage is different from other relationships. As Paul says in 1 Cor. 7:32-33: “The unmarried man is concerned with the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord—but the married man is concerned with the things of the world, how he may please his wife; and he is divided.” And he goes on to say the same thing about the married woman and the unmarried. The centrality of the spouse’s existence in the other’s life can be seen by remembering the unmarried man is called to love all people as Christ loves them and to submit to all believers. And evidently Paul thinks the spousal relationship is significantly stronger than that. So we have centrality. I think that’s the most important thing. But there are two other things that I think deserve to be mentioned: authority and initiative.

First question: leadership. We might well wonder, does the husband have any unique authority in marriage? I don’t mean cultural authority; I mean Scriptural authority. Does the husband have any unique authority over his wife regardless of his culture’s conception of marriage?

I think the answer is a qualified yes. I’m willing to admit that authority is to some extent inherent in the concept of “head.” I mean, after all, it’s a pretty evocative word to use to describe the husband’s role. So yes, I think that at the end of the day the husband’s vote is deciding. But I think it is important to remember that even as the husband has this “authority,” he is first called to serve his wife, and is still called to submit to his wife as his sister in Christ. So the picture I get from that is still not authoritarian. It’s a little bit like a lieutenant who has a very close relationship with his platoon sergeant—sure, technically the LT is in charge, and yes, that does mean something, but a lot less than you might think if you’d never seen them work together. And along the same lines (lest we have any would-be chauvinist dictators out there), there may come a time when the sergeant will refuse a command—not in a spirit of insubordination, but out of love for the lieutenant and respect for the chain of command.

Second question: initiative. Do husbands have a God-given responsibility to take the initiative? I don’t mean occasionally; I think it’s perfectly plain that both spouses (indeed, all people) are going to have to take the initiative at least occasionally. The question is, does the husband have a responsibility to take the initiative most of the time? And if so, in what ways? Praying at dinner? Conversations about the family’s spiritual life? Planning dates? Maintaining the household? Initiating sex?

Again, I think the answer is a qualified yes. It is true, of course, that Christ took the initiative for us spiritually—that he died while we were yet sinners; that he loved us before we loved him. It is also true that in a sense Christ took the initiative for us with respect to our entire lives—because he took the initiative spiritually, our whole lives are changed. And to some extent, as we know, every action we undertake is a spiritual one.

But if you push that line of reasoning too far I think your claims start sounding absurd. Because Christ took the initiative spiritually, a husband must plan most of the dates with his wife? That seems rather silly. Because Christ loved us before we loved him, it is spiritually wrong for a wife to initiate sex most of the time? Come on.

I’m willing to grant you that a husband bears primary responsibility for taking the initiative when it comes to the family’s spiritual life. I think that flows pretty naturally from the analogy between Christ and husband. Most other things (including, in my opinion, who prays most often) are governed by the principle of loving one another. I think who plans what proportion of dates, or who does what proportion of household chores, and all things of that nature, should be determined by what is most loving. If a wife is best loved by her husband planning most of the dates, I think he should do that. If a husband is most loved by her doing most of the household economics, I think she should do that. And if their two preferences conflict, I think they should resolve them in a spirit of love and humility.


Jonathan said...

glad to see some of these themes elucidated further than in the last post...we're probably more on the same page than i thought after reading the last one.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for explaining these things in a way that makes sense to me. The biblical concept of submission always seemed to get lumped together in my mind with the sexual roles of dominance and submission, and the two bear very little actual resemblance.

Anonymous said...


Ayudaren said...

I hate to be a party pooper here, but you describe the husband having to plan dates as silly (rather, the anological argument that leads up to that conclusion as silly), but Paul says a number of other things (1 Corinthians 14:34-35 comes to mind, where he says it's disgraceful for women to speak in church) that I would describe as silly.

Now, he mentions "as the law says", which suggests that women being unable to speak in church is distinctly a custom of that time, but it becomes sticky as soon as you dismiss some things off hand as artifacts of a time long past, and keep other parts, ESPECIALLY when they're both immediately relevant to gender relations. In 1 Cor. 7, Paul is helpful enough to seperate his own opinion from what he recieved from the Lord, but he doesn't make the distinction later, so we're left in dicey territory, as I understand it. (I am operating under the impression that you don't feel that men have more of a right to speak in church than women do, or that women with short hair are disgraceful)

I have to admit, I'm suspicious of your conclusion, but that might result just from an unclear understanding of what taking the initiative in terms of spiritual life involves.

My suspicions go something like this: If it's spiritually wrong for a husband to do other than take the initiative when it comes to a couple's spiritual development, does that mean that every man must rise to the occasion, or be spiritually remiss? And if a wife feels up to the task of guiding the spiritual development of a couple, she's out of luck?

If a man who doesn't want to take charge of the spiritual development of a couple marries a woman who does, need they both deny their initial inclination? That does seem quite silly to me, though I recognize that on all the levels that matter, we should do stuff because God says so, not because we think it's rational.

Natalie said...

As far as 1 Cor. 14 (and the related passage in 1 Tim. 2), my opinion is that we're talking about order in church rather than something about women in general, and that Paul discussed women rather than men because that was the question at hand. Unless we believe that it's possible for women to pray and prophesy in church (1 Cor. 11) without speaking, I don't see how we can hold the opinion that women should be literally silent in church.

In response to your suspicions, yes, my present understanding is that it is remiss for any husband, regardless of merit, not to be head of the couple's spiritual life. I don't see the slightest textual hook to let me say that Paul is talking about a meritocracy, or talking about what the couple want - husband is the head of wife, that's all the text says. This is one of the reasons I'm in favor of dating - I believe that any man can rise to this office, but I'd personally want a little more information about that before I went and joined myself to one for life.

The question, I suppose, is what it means to take the initiative - or, to hew more closely to the text, what it means to be head. When I think about how Christ is the head of my spirituality, three things come to mind immediately: a) Christ made it possible for me to follow him; b) Christ is the one I must and desire to be like; c) Christ alters my personhood to make me more like him. It seems perfectly plain to me that b) and c) are the province of Christ alone, and not a role the husband can take with his wife. Which leaves me (unless someone can suggest some other categories) with a) - it is the husband's role, primarily, to identify that which hinders the couple's closeness to Christ.

When I say "identify," I'm envisioning a pretty broad spectrum of possibilities for actual action, and trying to stay within the head-body metaphor that Paul is using (a metaphor which I can't help but see Platonic overtones in; i.e., Plato's direct-enforce-desire trichotomy). The entire picture here is not of two organisms but of one, so the actual actions involved - the actual repenting, whatever that looks like in any given instance - will of course involve the couple as a couple. It seems to me that the husband bears watchdog responsibility more than anything else. And I'm thinking of "watchdog responsibility" again in a very command structure sort of way, remembering that Genesis admonishes us that the wife is the ezer kenegdo of the husband - arguably, that woman is the ezer kenegdo of man. When someone in his platoon drops the ball, it's the LT's responsibility no matter who actually did it. But that doesn't mean he can discharge his unit's responsibilities singlehandedly. Nor does anyone expect him to - not the outside world, not the men in his platoon.

So I fully expect that a husband will be incapable of watching over the couple's spiritual life without his wife's involvement in the project, just as the wife would be incapable without the husband. In that sense (the sense of "who is most important to the success of this endeavor), the two bear equal watchdog responsibility. If the wife doesn't offer her observations and her wisdom or refuses to take action, the project will fail no matter who her husband is, and she shouldn't (generally speaking) wait for him to ask any more than the body waits for the head to request information before sending it up. So in that sense the man's responsibility is only primary, and certainly not dictatorial. But is it his responsibility? I see no option but to conclude that it is. If a woman marries a man and both agree that she is best suited to this kind of directing, identifying responsibility ... well, yes, I think they need to find a way to make their natural inclinations and natural talents work within the framework God has ordained.

Ayudaren said...

Honestly, I'm fully willing to accept that every man in a marriage must step up to fill the shoes of that role, and I'm perfectly willing to believe that God has given every man the capability to do so, but I'm still unclear on how you've addressed potential objections that can be raised from Paul's other statements.

Perhaps I'm just misunderstanding though, are you suggesting that Paul was suggesting that women should not speak in just the church at Corinth he was writing to? Describing it as "disgraceful" seems to suggest to me that it represents a more universal standard in his mind.

Twilight said...

Good point. I always feel like with you two I'm tagging along enough to understand the conversation, but never enough to contribute much. :)

Natalie said...

Can you elaborate some more on the potential objections?

I think that Paul considers it universally disgraceful for a woman epitrepetai lalein, and I think he considers it a universal standard that women sigatôsan and hupotassesthôsan (1 Cor. 14:34), but I don't think that translates to women being literally silent in church. I think it translates to women being quiet and respectful in church (c.f. 1 Cor. 11, where Paul assumes that women will pray and prophesy in church). I think 1 Cor. 14:34-35 is best translated like this:

(Literally) Let the women be quiet in the assemblies, not giving themselves to chatter, but rather let them be submissive, just as indeed the custom also says. And if they want to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home.

(more vernacular) Women, be quiet in church, not giving yourselves to chatting - but rather, be submissive, as indeed is also customary. And if you want to learn more about something, inquire of your own husband at home.

My suggestion in the comments I linked to was that Paul singles out women here because of the cultural context - respectable Greek women didn't really get out of the house, even to go shopping if they could help it, whereas men had plenty of socially acceptable opportunities to see their friends. Greek women would really only see their friends at religious ceremonies, which served a double function as civic holidays. Consequently Christian Greek women - who would gather for church every week - had a rather unique opportunity to see their friends and peers, and it's only natural that in such situations the women would want to chat and catch up with each other. Basically what I think Paul is saying here is that church is not a social gathering (which is universal), and because of the gender roles in the specific society to which he was writing that was something that needed to be said to women much more than men.

Ayudaren said...

This is a quick note, and I think they'll be more later, perhaps when it's not so late in the day.

Your explanation makes perfect sense (at least I think it does, your link there is broken, and I'm not as linguistically educated as you are), and I'm just going to go with your translation (the one I'm looking at is a lot less forgiving, literally saying "for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church", among other things).

However, your case doesn't strike me as air tight. Your take is a logical and cohereant one, and I find it helpful to think of things in that light, but it doesn't strike me as the only possible interpretation.

What it really comes down to, I suppose, is the question of Paul's fallibility. I'm curious regarding your opinion. Do you feel that Paul makes no culture-sensitive assertions about gender relations? (It would seem silly to me to assert that) And if you feel he does, how do you seperate the culturally-sensitive statements about gender relations from the broader statements about God's plan for the way women and men interact? How do you know that his broader statements aren't being influenced by the obviously ingrained cultural attitude towards gender relations?

Ayudaren said...

Also, one other thing.

First of all, let's get one thing straight, if you just stick to your guns, my argument right here doesn't have any force, but I'm curious if you can shed some light on the issue.

I'm still bothered by the suggestion that these roles are predetermined according to gender. (Actually, a WHOLE other debate to avoid for now is whether or not these roles are determined by gender or by sex)

I'm perfectly willing to accept, as I said, that there lies dormant, in every man, the capability to rise to the office of Spiritual Watchdog, but I feel it gets stickier when talking about women.

As I see it, there are three possible explanations to deal with the problem of a woman who wants to rise to the occasion (of being the spiritual watchdog) in a relationship with a man who doesn't particularly want to rise to the occasion.

1. Just do it. It doesn't really matter what they want, if God ordained it that the man should be the head of the relationship, then that's the way it should be.

2. Find a workaround. "find(ing) a way to make their natural inclinations and natural talents work within the framework God has ordained" as it were.

3. These classifications aren't as gender specific as Paul makes them out to be.

I suppose there's a fourth possiblity, but that would be that God has somehow ensured (much in the same way it was ensured that all men can rise to the occasion) that no women ever really want to rise to same said occasion, but I have a great deal of difficulty swallowing that.

That leaves us with three other possibilities (if you think of more, please inform me), but to some degree, the first and the second mesh together. If I am a women who is very interested in (and would be very good at) being the spiritual watchdog for a couple, aren't I going to have to, at some stage, deny my God-given talents? It's possible to respond by saying, "Well, they channel their talents into caring for the couple's wellbeing in other ways", but I would say that belittles the objection.

The first two explanations seem to carry the possiblity that God is giving women inclinations and abilities that he said it would be spiritually remiss to use. This seems like a fatal difficulty, which leaves me only with the third explanation. However, you are completely correct to say that the third explanation runs the risk of putting words in Paul's mouth. What then, is the answer?

It's rather late, and I've done a bit of hand waving in my argumentation process, so I suspect this will continue to be discussed, but that's my first reaction to you asking me to clarify my objection.

Natalie said...

Let's deal with how I read Paul first.

For purposes of this discussion, I think we can break down Paul's statements into three categories: statements of God's opinion that are universally applicable, statements of God's opinion that are locally applicable, and statements of Paul's opinion. My first analytical pass will be aimed at separating God's opinion from Paul's. Because Paul was writing Scripture and seems to have been aware of that fact, my assumption is that it's God's opinion unless obviously denoted otherwise. Some examples might be 1 Cor. 7 or 1 Tim. 2, where Paul uses the first person pronoun. In those cases I feel justified (with some additional exegesis) in saying that Paul is giving his own opinion. That still carries weight in my mind - it's still Scripture, and I think Paul's opinion deserves weight on the basis of his experience as a Christian anyway - but to me it's not nearly the same as God's opinion.

My second analytical pass will be aimed at separating God's universal opinion from God's local opinion - by "local opinion" I mean a particular application of a universal opinion to a certain situation. I think these can usually be picked up by context. For instance, the discussion of head coverings in 1 Cor. 11 looks pretty universal until you get to vv. 11-16. Those verses constitute ample justification in my mind for saying that whether a woman has fabric on her scalp or whether a man has "long" hair is a particular example of a deeper issue. But without some sort of textual hook I'm not going to call something local opinion.

As for your objections, my approach would be to take a closer look at our hypothetical woman's motivations and talents. It will not do to say that because a woman was born with "talent" for spiritual watchdogging that God intends her to be spiritual watchdog over her husband (again, in the specific sense that I outlined earlier - in many senses of course God does intend her to be spiritual watchdog over her husband). The fact that I was born with a talent for singing does not mean that God intends me to be a professional recording artist, any more than the fact that I was born with a talent for being passive means that God intends me to be passive whenever I can.

So suppose that our woman was born with this talent. Like all things she was born with, that talent will be a gift from God that is twisted by her human depravity. The sin will come not from using the talent at all but from using it in a particular way. So we ask not, is using her talent in line with God's purpose or not (obviously it is); but rather, is using her talent in this way (spiritual watchdog) in line with God's purpose or not?

If that is our question, we can answer with either your first or second explanation (which I agree do run together to some degree) without really running into the difficulty of God giving women inclinations and abilities that it is spiritually remiss to use, and I think those are the explanations with the best Scriptural support. Or rather, I think we have reduced that difficulty to the general level. On some level, we all have inclinations and abilities that it would be spiritually remiss to use, and on some level God gave us those (if nothing else, inasmuch as he is responsible for our existing at all). But we don't normally consider it a difficulty that, say, I have the ability to murder somebody with a handgun and God has said it would be spiritually remiss for me to do so. Or that I have the inclination to butt into my friends' lives and fix all their problems, even though (as I think you especially will appreciate) it would be spiritually remiss for me to do so.

Ayudaren said...

If I didn't know you better, I'd begin to suspect that was a dig against me.

I used "spiritual watchdog-ing" as shorthand for "whatever the discussion up until now has determined was ordained by God to be solely the man's responsibility in a marriage". It's quite a bit of an oversimplification, and I think some confusion has resulted from it, so I'm gonna give this another go.

You say that just because God gave you a talent for singing doesn't mean he wants you to be a professional singer, and I agree, but I submit that it DOES say that he wants you to sing in some degree. (Have you ever heard the AW Tozer quote, "If God gives you a watch, are you honoring him more by asking him what time it is, or just consulting the watch?")

Either way, the debate comes down to whether or not there is a skill that is involved ONLY in (doing whatever this discussion has decided that God has ordained as solely the man's responsibility in a marriage) and nothing else. Because if some skill exists that is used soley in (doingwhateverthisdiscussion...etc.) and nothing else, and some woman possesses this skill, then we're stuck in the situation that a woman possesses a skill that God ordained she should never use in any form. Unfortunately, at that point, the discussion devolves into trying to prove an "exists" statement ("there exists at least one skill in the set of all skills that is used for..." and then later "there exists at least one woman in the set of all women that posseses the skill to..."), which is impossible when we deal with something as slippery as "skills" and "inclinations".

Since that avenue seems headed for an impass, lemme try a different approach. If God gave you the talent to shoot a gun, we can all aknowledge that there are many more ways to use that and be spiritually remiss than not. We can also aknowledge that God has probably given this talent to people who will never have an opportunity to use it in a way that is not spiritually remiss. What's hooking me about your gender roles discussion isn't the suggestion that women might have skills that it would be spiritually remiss for them to use at certain points, but the suggestion that anyone might have a skill that it is spiritually remiss to use regardless of context.

Do you happen to have any leads on a way to make a case that the skills involved in (doingwhateverthisdicussionhasdecided...) can be applicable elsewhere? Cause I'm not too terribly in favor of my opinion, but I have difficulty just throwing up my hands and taking for granted that the inclination to be the primary spiritual watchdog in a marriage is applicable elsewhere.

You know, the more I think about it, the less sure I become that I agree with that Tozer quote...

Ayudaren said...

Also, let me be the first to say that, in reference to your quote: "(I know I’ve mentioned this before and have still failed to elaborate. Maybe I will at some point in the future)" I'm looking forward to it, though perhaps that's because, as you know, I have my own, different, but I would say analagous, take on the subject of goddesses.

Natalie said...

I think you're right that the question is whether there is, as it were, an individuated watchdog gift - a gift for leading spiritually in marriage that is not the gift for leading spiritually generally. And I guess I just don't think there is such a gift, or if there is, I can't think why God would give it to someone he didn't want to exercise it ever. Otherwise we'd be left in precisely the position that you're talking about, and I think we would be right to be bothered by that.

I had just sort of assumed that the skills involved in (doingwhateverthisdiscussionhasdecided...) were generally applicable, but here's a suggestion for some evidence to buttress that assumption. If you actually look at any real marriages where the husband is head and the wife is submitting, it's a very powerful, dynamic, empowering sort of relationship both for the couple and for those around them. I submit, for instance, that you can observe the following: a man is a better man around someone else's Biblically submissive wife. Mayxm leads me spiritually by submitting to Vonsus. This suggests to me that what we call "headship" and "submission" are not very different in substance (and possibly not different at all) from general Biblical servant-leadership - just different in context.

Ayudaren said...

Quote: "I submit, for instance"

Now that's just designed to maximize confusion...

Natalie said...

Actually, let me revise that whole previous entry with the following:

We've been assuming that there is such a thing as a talent or inclination for this headship thing. But upon reflection, perhaps that's silly. After all, what we really mean when we say husband is the head of the wife is that the husband is in a uniquely Christ-like position in his marriage. But nobody is born with a talent for serving like Christ, and nobody is born with such an inclination.

In fact, we might say the same thing about spiritual leadership in general. People can have talents or inclinations that will help lead spiritually, but I don't think there is such a thing as a talent or inclination for spiritual leadership itself. For instance, a person might be born with a talent or inclination for compassion, or decisiveness, or serving other people, or leading other people - but none of those things are spiritual leadership. Spiritual leadership, when you get right down to it, pretty much requires that you behave like Christ - and nobody is born with a talent or inclination for that. So maybe the answer to your problem is that there simply is no such talent or inclination, and therefore neither men nor women can be born with it, and therefore neither men nor women can be put in a position where they have this talent but cannot use it.

Ayudaren said...

I'm curious what your translation's interpretation has to add to Gal. 3:28. The NIV I'm looking at read as follows: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus".

This sounds much more likely a general platitude to me than many other things that Paul says, suggesting not so much a course of action as a overarching way of viewing your fellow Christians, but I can't put my finger on what exactly makes it qualitatively different from something like "Man is the head of woman" (or "Husbands are the heads of Wives"). I'm wondering what your translation comes up with when you put those two statements together, because when you put those two statements together as they're printed here, you get nonsense, as best as I can tell.

Natalie said...

Short answer, I would read it Gal. 3:28 as a general statement about status to which husbands and wives are sort of an exception. Long answer:

That's exactly how I would translate Gal. 3:28, although I would add that a) Paul is waxing poetic here, and b) each "there is neither X nor Y" includes an "in" in the original, so more literally what he's saying "there is neither Jew nor Greek in [Christ Jesus] - there is neither slave nor free in [Christ Jesus] - there is not male and female in [Christ Jesus] - for you are all one in Christ Jesus." But that's not very good English.

As to how I would deal with this ... as I understand it, there are two camps. One camp reads this verse as controlling the various discussions of husbands and wives such as in 1 Cor. and Eph., and concludes that when Paul uses specific terms such as "husband" and "wife" he implicitly means the converse as well. So, on this interpretation, it is true that husband is the head of wife, but it is also true (because there is neither male nor female in Christ) that wife is the head of husband. And similarly, both must submit to each other in all things (we will recall, I trust, that I do think that in most ways wives and husbands should submit to each other, according to Eph. 5:21 and others).

My own interpretation falls into the second camp, which says that Paul means husband and wife when he uses those specific terms. I think I'd gloss Gal. 3:28 like this:

Paul has been writing in Galations about the difference between Jews and Gentiles, and his main point here is that Christ doesn't distinguish among status groups ("Greek" here standing in for Gentiles generally). That remains true in light of husbands being the heads of wives. As Christ taught us, having a position of authority does not make you superior to your subordinates. So even if the husband is in a position of authority over the wife (a position I'm not sure I'm willing to commit to right now), he isn't superior to her (Christ is superior to the church not because he is the head of the church, but because he is God and we are not, so we can't argue by analogy there). Husbands and wives may not have interchangeable roles in marriage, but that doesn't make them unequal. So in the sense of status (which seems to be Paul's main sense in Galatians) there is not male and female in Christ.

I might also argue that the distinction between husband and wife is not, in my mind, really a gender-based distinction. On the one hand, by definition you can't be a husband without being male. But Paul doesn't say "the husband is the head of the wife because he is male." And as we've just finished discussing, I definitely reject the gloss that would say "the husband is the head of the wife because man is the head of woman." Likewise, the wife does not submit to the husband because women submit to men. Women don't submit to men (or at least, Scripture doesn't tell them to). So strictly speaking, I would say that a man's headship of his wife is not a result of his maleness but rather of his husbandness, and likewise for the woman. And Paul doesn't actually say that there is not husband and wife in Christ Jesus.

In fact, as I think you were pointing out in your post, if you carry Gal. 3:28 too far you start getting some very strange results. For instance, if there is not male and female in Christ, why did God create male and female in Eden? I don't think Paul meant to say that in Christ all gender identity is effaced. I think he meant to say that your most important status as a person is that you are Christian, not that you are a free Jewish male or a female Gentile slave.

Lady Kalessia said...

It's always interesting to me to catalogue divergent uses of the term "submit".

On that note, a data point from the other lip of the canyon:

I think you have some good points, particularly in regards to doing things because they are the best way to love one another, but they're obscured in the terminology. The discourses of the religion in which I was raised say that as we are all Souls living in physical vessels, we are all inherently equal, and for all theoretical intents and purposes, so we are. (I say theoretical, because no two people have the exact same vessel, the exact same karmic debts, etc. But in the end, the dynamo is the same.)

What I then find is an assumedly aritficial elevation of one sex or another to be at the root of the terminology problem. In the aforementioned religion, we were taught that our goal in participating in this world is the learn to love, and work *with* God. *With* God, not *for* it. The goal then, is to become "coworkers with God", and let that be reflected in all our relationships in the physical world. And so the language of our partnering ceremonies always evokes equality: while we may (or may not) retain the traditional names "husband" and "wife" it's always made very plain that people entering into a marriage compact are partners on the road. At some level I find the elevation of the male of the species to be an interesting ethno-historical artifact, and ultimately along the same lines as my decision, or not, to wear a flower in my hair or black leather work boots to my job - a matter of personal preference.

Eric said...


After reading your comment I'm not sure if my point is obscured by my terminology or if it's actually a different, albeit similar, point to the one you're making. For instance, when you say "Souls living in physical vessels" I get the impression that there's only one type of human (the Soul) even though there will be individual variation, at least once a Soul has been on Earth. But if that is what you are saying I don't think we're making the same point at all, for I am claiming that there are two kinds of human (male and female) even though there will be individual variation, and even though differences within a gender may exceed differences between the genders.

Similarly, you stress that the Eckist view is to work with God and not for God. That is not precisely what I mean, so it may be appropriate that we use different terminology. I think that a human's first responsibility is to love, worship, and obey God. I also think that God's plan for the world involves humans partnering with him as he carries out his designs, and so I think if one is obeying God one must be working with him. But that's not exactly the same as what you said.

It's because I think obeying God is such a high priority that I can talk about gender roles. It sounds like your belief in gender equality (or, at least, the Eckist belief) finds its roots in the belief that humans are essentially equals with God. My belief in gender roles finds its roots in my belief that humans ought to obey God. I don't think the role of husband is subtly different from that of wife because I think male humans are fundamentally different than female humans. I think that husbands and wives have different roles because I think that's what God ordained.

I'm curious as to whether you think my view is an instance of elevating the male of the species, because I don't see it that way. In my view of gender roles, equality is sort of a nonsense concept. This is what I meant when I used the term "anequality" on your LJ a few weeks back. I don't mean unequal, because that would imply that equality is a meaningful concept in the discussion and the state of things is not equality. I mean to imply that equality is not even a meaningful concept in comparing gender roles - that husbands and wives are no more equal (and no more unequal) than apples and bread.

Lady Kalessia said...

I think you're correct - I wasn't so much addressing your essay as providing a hopefully not-unwelcome, and hopefully somewhat interesting differring data point.

A bit of a blip of correction on the Eckist (and thus my, post-Eckist) spiritual view - Soul is seperate from the physical form, and thus a human contains a Soul, but a Soul is not necessarily a human. Silly metaphor time: a battery is a battery no matter what kind of flashlight, radio, or other device you put it into, though the voltage, size, and charge may vary. (God is, in this metaphor, the source of the current.) So men and women, and animals, plants, etc are all equally Souls even if they're not all human, much less physically equal.

I agree then that one serves God as best one can from within whatever vessel one was given, and so I agree that there are different roles for different Souls. I just find it troubling that this should be culturally determined, since what one's karmic debt entails rarely has anything to do with one's culture. I find it just a little too close to the Indian caste system for my liking. Where does such a system leave the intersexed? Those who have no desire or ability to wed? I feel it unlikely that God would mandate something that leaves out so many of It's creatures.

I think the core of my disagreement does in fact come from my differing view of what Soul's role is in regards to God. To love god is our first duty, yes, but I think to worship and obey are somewhat unwieldy loaded terms for other aspects of that relationship. I do not worshiop God in the traditional Western sense, by praying or going to services, but I do acknowledge It in my own personal way that could be construed as worship. (How very Protestant of me. ;) ) Do I obey God? My view is that God has never set me any rules - there are societal things that one abides by, but ultimately I do things because I love God, and not because I fear retribution for breaking some sort of rule. Again though, you've hit the nail on the head in that my view of my relationship with God is fundamentally different from your view of yours.

I want to say that your view doesn't elevate the male of the species, but it seems that arbitrarily assigning headship to someone based on their sex does just that. It seems to me that it'd be like chosing a flashlight based on the color of the housing, and not the utility of the other features. Although I do understand that you don't view headship as a status position that raises one over the other, I don't think the rest of the world holds such an enlightened opinion.

Completely aside from this, I always feel like Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse in the first few chapters of Cryptonomicon, running alongside the train and peering into the windows, when I sit in on these discussions. I have just about zero knowledge of the Bible aside from what we learned in my AP English class Senior year, and that mostly covered the Book of Job, and Revelations. Thus you are in no way obligated to take me as any sort of scholar where this subject is concerned. :)

Natalie said...

So, if I understand you correctly, the Eckist account of Souls doesn't distinguish among species - the Soul of a human male is, karmic debts aside, indistinguishable from the Soul of a flower (assuming the Eckist account attributes Souls to flowers)?

I should also clarify my own view of souls and gender. I do distinguish between types of souls by species, if you will - for instance, I'm reasonably certain that angels have souls, and if angels have souls then I'm sure that an angel's soul is different from a human soul. I'm agnostic as to whether human souls have gender. I believe that there is such a thing as inherent gender, but whether that's due to soul or body or both (the human body is not separate from the human essence, in my view) I neither know nor care.

From what you've said so far it sounds like you don't think there is such a thing as inherent gender (whether that comes from your Soul, from your body, or elsewhere). I agree that there is such a thing as culturally determined gender, but I also think that gender is inherent (and sometimes inherent gender is in conflict with cultural gender, I think). Inherent gender goes a long way to putting my qualms to rest as far as a God who cares about gender - not that there aren't still gray areas, but I trust God to design a system that takes care of all the players, while I don't trust my culture to design such a system.

You say, "I feel it unlikely that God would mandate something that leaves out so many of Its creatures." Let me emphasize that this post was about marriage, and not about gender. If someone has no desire or ability to wed, nothing I said in this post (and nothing God says about marriage) applies.

As for headship, let's assume I'm right about the Biblical view of headship ("Biblical view" being my benchmark for "correct"). If that's true, I don't see that it's relevant if other people twist my view into something it's not. I mean, my concern is for what's true, not whether people can corrupt the truth.

Underlying your comment about flashlight housings, it strikes me as interesting that we seem to have different views of marriage roles. I think I'm safe in saying the Christian view (and I mean most all Christians now, not just me) think that marriage roles are offices into which the couple steps. That is, a married couple includes the offices of husband and wife, and to a certain extent those offices are fixed (just how fixed they are is what I was trying to address in this post, and my conclusion is that they're fixed to some extent but not a very large extent). What a couple does when they marry, on this view, is accept the fixed aspects of each spouse's office and agree to work the rest of it out.

To me, this is a large part of the beauty of marriage - each partner can look at their spouse and say, "I acknowledge you in the role of X, regardless of your actual merit." Acceptance without meriting acceptance - a very Christian way of looking at things. But it strikes me that your view of marriage seems to lack anything fixed at all. Is that true?

As for your Biblical scholarship, that's not a problem. I enjoy having your own views here. Of course if you're curious for your own edification to have more of the Biblical textual substrate show through when I comment, I'd be happy to do that.