Danvers Complementarianism – Part 1

Distinctions in masculine and feminine roles are ordained by God as part of the created order, and should find an echo in every human heart (Genesis 2:18, 21-24; I Corinthians 11:7-9; I Timothy 2:12-14).

Danvers Statement – Affirmation 2

 

The Who’s Who of current Evangelical orthodoxy largely defines gender differentiation in terms of ordained social roles. Yet an incontrovertible case cannot be sustained even from the verses selected in the Danvers Statement, let alone from the fullness of Scriptures. “Roles” or terminology equivalent cannot be explicitly found in Hebrew/Greek Scriptures, especially as pertaining to gender. Nor can it be firmly inferred. Scriptures is resoundingly silent in distinguishing the genders on that basis.

This does not deny specific admonitions and prohibitions in Scriptures. However, the construct of distinct and rigid roles cannot be derived or deduced from Scriptures. Indeed, quite the contrary! “Roles” is a theological overlay imposed upon the text that the text does not support. Alternative frameworks may better correspond.

Furthermore, the framework of “roles” cannot withstand rational scrutiny without choking upon existential exceptions which thereby falsify this theological overlay. If one asserts such categories, those categories must be ruthlessly consistent in all places, at all times, and under all situations.

Danvers’ Proof Text: Genesis 2:18

But two serious scriptural proof texts are presented to validate the claim. As a scriptural rule of thumb, “every matter (rhéma) must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses” (2 Cor 13:1, Matt 18:16); this in order to protect Christians from committing travesties which have bedeviled its history.

From the first proof text cited (“a helper suitable for him” – Gen 2:18), it that women should act in a submissive and supportive role to their men’s leadership. However, as Evangelical Egalitarians have pointed out, the Hebrew word (ezer) has also been scripturally applied to God. “You [O Lord; O God] have been the helper of the fatherless” (Ps 10:14). “As for me, I am poor and needy, but the Lord takes thought for me. You are my help and my deliverer” (Ps 40:17; also Ps 30:10, 121:1–2). Greek New Testament Scriptures concur. “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (Heb 13:6). Notions of rank and authority cannot be incontrovertibly derived from the term “helper.”

It is true that God is called our “helper,” but the word itself says nothing about the kind of helper intended. The context must decide whether Eve is to “help” as a strong person who aids a weaker one, or as one who assists a loving leader.[1]

Conceding the point, Piper and Grudem suggest that context must decide. The first helpers that were offered were the beasts of the field and birds of the heavens. Deemed insufficient for the task, a woman must do.

The context makes it very unlikely that helper should be read on the analogy of God’s help, because in Genesis 2:19-20 Adam is caused to seek his “helper” first among the animals. But the animals will not do, because they are not “fit for him . . . Yet in passing through “helpful” animals to woman, God teaches us that the woman is a man’s “helper” in the sense of a loyal and suitable assistant in the life of the garden.[2]

To intimate that the nature of women’s help is essentially on the par with mules is not merely and obliviously impolitic, in passing through “helpful” animals to woman, Piper and Grudem pass over the more immediate context.

Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” (Gen 2:18)

According to the Lord God of Scriptures, as opposed to these lords of Reformed/New Calvinist churches, the helpmeet was intended to deal with Adam’s alone-ness (lə-ḇad-dōw), not his inadequacy in the grunt work. How is this alone-ness defined? In the 37 direct instances of the Hebrew term, let alone its variants, alone-ness is depicted in terms of being set apart or segregated (Gen 30:40, 43:32), of isolation (“man does not live by bread alone” – Deut 8:3; also Gen 32:24, 42:38); of exclusiveness (“the LORD alone will be exalted in that day” Isa 2:11, 17). Supplementary labor does come into the picture. Indeed, the implications of these CBMW ruminations are shocking and contemptible. If women are but supplementary assistants and appendages of the purposes of the male, it reveals not only a low view of women, but of the nature of marriage.

The question seems to assume that because a word (like helper) has certain connotations (“Godlikeness”) in some places it must have them in every place.[3]

Interpretation of Scriptures is a talent not unlike that of interpreting laws and constitutions, which can easily become a mere thing of wax in the hands of the judiciary to achieve desired results.[4] I must, therefore, respect the late SCOTUS jurist, Antonin Scalia, for being faithful to textualism (“interpretation whereby the plain text of a statute is used to determine the meaning of the legislation”) and originalism (“principle of interpretation that views the text’s meaning as fixed as of the time of enactment).

Certainly context is relevant in framing precise meanings of the text. But as has been a chronic problem with Christendom and its theologians throughout history, context and lack of consistency of meaning permits inventive interpretative license (a.k.a. eisegesis) in order to achieve desired meanings.

One cannot honestly derive a “supportive laboring assistant” role from this verse, in of itself, or within the immediate context. Considering that in the Garden of Eden, humanity merely reaps that which God has sown, it is difficult to comprehend why the woman was so necessary in a laboring capacity. Thereby, having refuted one of the two proffered proof texts, the claim that a woman’s role is to act in a supportive role to her man’s leadership lacks sufficient scriptural support.

Danvers’ Proof Text: 1 Timothy 2:12

I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. (1 Tim 2:12)

A negation of certain tasks becomes a pretty tenuous basis upon which to extrapolate a whole ideological architectural framework of “roles.”  It would be akin to extrapolating that since “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press” and so forth; this is rather the role for the President, Supreme Court, the Pope, or some other sociopolitical entity, foreign or domestic.

With regard to teaching (didaskein), there are some pragmatic reasons for that counsel, which the current state of public education appears to demonstrate. Males and females have propensities to learn in different manners. Consequently, as seems proven in the wider world, boys suffer in an educational environment with far too many female teachers as their instructors. It is not as if woman are forbidden to teach, since older women are enjoined to teach their younger sisters what is good (Titus 2:4–5).

As regards the issue of women exercising authority over men, the Greek term deployed (authentein) is singularly unique and different in meaning to every other mention of authority (exousia); a semantic reality not captured in most English translations; the exception being the KJV and AKJV (“nor to usurp authority over the man”).

Paul wrote into a pre-existing language with its own pre-existing semantic meanings. Whenever there did not exist a word that conveyed Paul’s desire meaning, he invented simple compound words, such as arsenokoites (1 Cor 6:9, 1 Tim 1:10, also Rom 1:27) to describe men bedding with one another. Fortunately however, exousia and authentein both have pre-existing understandings in pagan literature.

So when the herdsman had made known the truth, Astyages now cared less about him, but with Harpagos he was very greatly displeased and bade his spearmen summon him. And when Harpagos came, Astyages asked him thus: “By what death, Harpagos, didst thou destroy the child whom I delivered to thee, born of my daughter?” and Harpagos, seeing that the herdsman was in the king’s palace, turned not to any false way of speech, lest he should be convicted and found out, but said as follows: “O king, so soon as I received the child, I took counsel and considered how I should do according to thy mind, and how without offence to thy command I might not be guilty of murder against thy daughter and against thyself. I did therefore thus:–I called this herdsman and delivered the child to him, saying first that thou wert he who bade him slay it–and in this at least I did not lie, for thou didst so command. I delivered it, I say, to this man commanding him to place it upon a desolate mountain, and to stay by it and watch it until it should die, threatening him with all kinds of punishment if he should fail to accomplish this. And when he had done that which was ordered and the child was dead, I sent the most trusted of my eunuchs and through them I saw and buried the child. Thus, O king, it happened about this matter, and the child had this death which I say.”[5]

The term deployed here is authentein (μήτε θυγατρὶ τῇ σῇ μήτε αὐτῷ σοὶ εἴην αὐθέντης – “and not your daughter here and not thyself permit execution”). The historical anecdote notes the differentiating between a self-derived authority versus acting upon the lawful authority of another.

[113] Sertorius was now evidently misled by a god, for he relaxed his labors, fell into habits of luxury, and gave himself up to women, and to carousing and drinking, for which reason he was defeated continually. He became hot-tempered, from various suspicions, and extremely cruel in punishment, and distrustful of everybody, so much so that Perpenna, who had belonged to the faction of Lepidus and had come hither as a volunteer with a considerable army, began to fear for his own safety and formed a conspiracy with ten other men against him. The conspiracy was betrayed, some of the guilty ones were punished and others fled, but Perpenna escaped detection in some unaccountable manner and applied himself all the more to carry out the design. As Sertorius was never without his guard of spearmen, Perpenna invited him to a banquet, plied him and his guards with wine, and assassinated him after the feast.

[114] The soldiers straightway rose in tumult and anger against Perpenna, their hatred of Sertorius being suddenly turned to affection for him, as people generally mollify their anger toward the dead, and when the one who has injured them is no longer before their eyes recall his virtues with tender memory . . .

[115] . . . He was seized by some horsemen and dragged toward Pompey’s headquarters, loaded with the execrations of his own men, as the murderer of Sertorius (αὐθέντην Σερτωρίου), and crying out that he could give Pompey a great deal of information about the factions in Rome.[6]

Likewise, the uproar against Perpenna, despite the historian’s conjectures, but more consistent with the Roman mindset at the time (73–72 BC), was that despite the abuse of power of the military commander, Sertorius; unlawful and mutinous means of dispatching the civic woes imposed by the petty tyrant, was considered an outrage. Barely a decade later, Cicero, as consul (63 BC), summarily executed perceived traitors to the state without due process in the Cataline conspiracy. He would suffer exile in the ensuing years.

In contrast, exousia speaks of legitimate authority.

But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority (hypoexousian), with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” (Matt 8:8–9)

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right (exousian) to become children of God. (John 1:12)

Therefore, in regard to women exercising authority over men in a church, it actually speaks about taking authority upon one’s own own authority, rather than as being delegated by the church proper. Even so, the nature of the use of authority within a Christian context differs from the world.

But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them (hoi megaloi katexousiazousin autōn). It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matt 20:25–8)

Therefore, if Scriptures declares that a woman can teach, but not to men; and exercise authority, but not without it having been delegated; how coherent and plausible is the notion of a “roles” infrastructure?

Danvers Complementarianism – Part 2

Reclaiming Complementarianism: Introduction


[1] John Piper and Wayne Grudem, “Charity, Clarity, and Hope,” in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1991, p. 409.

[2] Piper and Grudem, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, pp. 409–410.

[3] Piper and Grudem, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, p. 409.

[4] Thomas Jefferson, “Letter to Spenser Roane,” September 6, 1819, in The Works of Thomas Jefferson. edited by Paul Leicester Ford, New York and London: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1904–5,

http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/a1_8_18s16.html.

[5] Herodotus, Histories, 440 BC, in The History of Herodotus, Translated by G. C. Macaulay, London and New York: Macmillan, 1890, 1.117, (WEB) http://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/hh/hh1110.htm.

[6] Appian, The Civil Wars, mid-2nd century AD, Translated by Horace White, London. Macmillan and Co., 1899, 1.13.113–115, http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0232%3Abook%3D1%3Achapter%3D13.
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2 thoughts on “Danvers Complementarianism – Part 1”

  1. I was curious about that myself: If God felt that Adam was lonely and needed a helper to help him fulfill his task of keeping the Garden of Eden, why would God decide that no animal was fit for the job when mankind had domesticated elephants, horses, oxen, etc. to help farm? Why would he create a woman only to decide that her “role” is to do a completely equal and yet different job. Adam would still be lonely while he was out gardening by himself and the yet un-named Eve would be lonely cleaning their house. What if “help” meant that she was also tasked with keeping the Garden of Eden, helping him plant plants, harvest food, being where he is and doing what he’s doing?

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