Friday, March 21, 2008

Gender Hierarchy Part 4

I didn't plan a "part 4" to follow parts 1, 2, and 3, but after I wondered whether the tension between “there is neither male nor female” and “wives, be subject to your husbands” needs to be preserved in our twenty-first century context, Andrew asked, "Couldn't that same reasoning be applied to same sex relationships?" It is a good question. This is my attempt at a reply.

First, here is some more context from part 3:
I wonder whether the tension between “there is neither male nor female” and “wives, be subject to your husbands” needs to be preserved in our twenty-first century context. Since we stand closer to the end than Paul did, perhaps we can let our union in Christ relativize the hierarchy of the household code to a greater extent than was possible in the first century. Perhaps we can say with Jesus, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment” (Mark 10:5) and move on to live out in our context the mutual self-giving love that Paul was calling for.
Essentially, I'm wondering about the propriety of our employing Jesus' eschatological hermeneutic to the New Testament as well as the Old Testament. Can we go "Beyond the Bible," as evangelical scholar, I.H. Marshall, put it provocatively a few several years ago?

Jesus claims that the implicit permission of divorce in Deuteronomy 24 stands in tension with God's design as expressed in Genesis 1-2, and explains that divorce was a concession to human frailty, and is no longer permitted. The standard label for this is "progressive revelation," but the term misses the eschatological contrast between the old age of hardened hearts (cf. Deut 10:16; Jer 4:4), and the new age of the kingdom.

I think we see something similar going on in the case of slavery. The OT takes slavery for granted. It is presupposed in the Ten Commandments (see Exod 20:17), and although laws are established for the fair treatment of slaves (e.g., Exod 21:1-11), the practice of slavery itself is never condemned. In the NT Paul's letter to Philemon and his statement that in Christ there is no longer slave or free (Gal 3:28; Col 3:11) stands in tension with the injunctions for slaves to obey their masters. Slavery is relativized by the assertion that Christ alone is Lord (Col 3:22-4:1), but none of the NT writers explicitly condemn the institution of slavery itself.

Despite what the Bible doesn't say on this subject, I believe it is wrong for a human to own another human being. I can appeal to Gal 3:28 and Col 3:11 for support: In Christ, slavery is relativized. Though there are appropriate distinctions in social roles, owning another human runs counter to the gospel message. For whatever reason, Paul did not explore fully the social implications of his message. (Perhaps he could not imagine a world in which slavery did not exist.) Since I am decisively influenced by the events of the last 250 years, I have a hard time not seeing them.

If we do this for slavery--which most of us assume to be wrong--I wonder whether we can trace a similar eschatological trajectory with regard to gender roles. Are statements, such as Gal 3:28 and Col 3:11, fully realized in their first century context? Are we now in a position to see more clearly the implications of what Paul said?

In the end, I don't think the same reasoning applies to same sex relationships because I don't see an eschatological trajectory with roots in Scripture that applies to same sex relationships. As its title indicates, William J. Webb's book, Slaves, Women & Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis [Downers Grove, Il.: InterVarsity, 2001], explores this idea in some detail. Although I have serious reservations about Webb's mechanical hermeneutic and his "principlizing" approach, readers of Webb will notice the obvious similarities between Webb's concept of "redemptive-movement" and what I have called an eschatological trajectory. Webb, of course, is not the first to explore the idea.


Bob MacDonald said...

You might want to look at Rabbi Steven Greenberg's book Wrestling with God and Men. Quite apart from that, your 'seeing' is not the full extent of the confrontation between God and the children of dust that is going on today of which same-sex relationships is an obvious part. Likewise, I have to claim a similar limitation on my seeing. It is not completely possible to reason from Scripture to God. But one thing is sure, God is not a God of injustice. Many of those who say the see clearly are hypocritical in their spirit - not able to acknowledge their own tenderness. It remains true for all that if by the Spirit we put to death the deeds of the body, we will live. The life we see may not be completely describable to someone else, but it will perhaps allow us to avoid injustice and hypocrisy.

nicholas meyer said...

These have been fine posts, d., and I find myself in general agreement. But I have some nagging questions. Once you admit that all of scripture is culturally conditioned, why is it then necessary to find the traces of eschatolocal trajectories on any particular issue? Must scripture bear witness to all trajectories in order for the church to recognize them as such?

d. miller said...

Good words, Bob. Reminds me of Volf's chapter on "Oppression and Justice" in Exclusion and Embrace.

Thanks for the comment, Nick. I'm trying to avoid distinguishing between timeless and culturally conditioned elements in Scripture here. Not sure if I'm being consistent. With regard to trajectories, I like Hays's focal images (more in the next post).