Women’s Ordination and the Bible (pt. 2)

Dr. Gibbs explores some of the “clobber texts” used on the other side of the women’s ordination debate. I find the efforts of the Evangelical feminists admirable though there were some serious errors in his hermeneutical approach to 1 Corinthians.St. Thecla depicted wearing a head covering.

Dr. Gibbs begins by starting with 1 Cor. 7:4 wear the man is not to have authority over his body but the wife is and vice versa within the context of a marital relationship. Of course, this is very true so as to prevent rape and what-not but it seems Paul is gearing this toward sexual relationships mainly. There are different positions taken among those who do not support women’s ordination as to when authority ends and what-not. Adrian Warnock has an excellent post detailing when authority is to end whether one is considered a “complementarian” or an “egalitarian”. In other words, 1 Cor. 7:4 seems more to me to be addressing sexual lives of individual couples rather than showing how the church should function.

This brings us to 1 Cor. 11:2-16 where Paul is addressing how the church should function.

Gibbs goes on to say about the head coverings that “Verses 14 and 15 help us to understand that when Paul is speaking of covering or uncovering the head, he isn’t talking about wearing (or not wearing) a veil or a hat.” There’s going to be a lot of flak on both sides of the debate on this one. Many Orthodox and Catholic women still infer that women should wear a head covering according to verses 4-5. I happen to follow the blog of one such women who interprets the text as such. Then there is St. John Chrysostom who says in respect to verses 14-15 that

“”And if it be given her for a covering, say you, wherefore need she add another covering? That not nature only, but also her own will may have part in her acknowledgment of subjection. For that you ought to be covered nature herself by anticipation enacted a law. Add now, I pray, your own part also, that you may not seem to subvert the very laws of nature; a proof of most insolent rashness , to buffet not only with us, but with nature also. This is why God accusing the Jews said, Ezekiel 16:21-22 You have slain your sons and your daughters: this is beyond all your abominations.
And again, Paul rebuking the unclean among the Romans thus aggravates the accusation, saying, that their usage was not only against the law of God, but even against nature. For they changed the natural use into that which is against nature. Romans 1:26 For this cause then here also he employs this argument signifying this very thing, both that he is not enacting any strange law and that among Gentiles their inventions would all be reckoned as a kind of novelty against nature. So also Christ, implying the same, said, Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye also so them; showing that He is not introducing any thing new.” (Homily 26 on 1 Corinthians).

The Archbishop of Constantinople is a strong defender of the liturgical tradition of wearing a head covering in church and many women at the Greek Catholic parish I attend still wear the head covering. Then again, I am no expert on the Bible and there is an Orthodox tradition of male clergy having long hair. Some would suggest that this deals with ordinary folks who have not chosen to dedicate their lives to God such as the Nazarenes. With respect to women, there is no such vow that seems to permit them taking off the head covering and early Christian iconography, especially of St. Thecla who worked closely with Paul, depicts Christian women wearing a head covering.

Dr. Gibbs takes issue with the interpretation “head” in 1 Corinthians 11:3 as referring to authority and instead takes it as referring to “source”. His reason behind this is grossly misinformed though. He argues that “Most Bible scholars agree: “head” is not a way of speaking of an authority figure in the Greek language as it is in English and Hebrew. We normally speak of the “head” of an organization and so on. NO GREEK SPEAKER DID SO. Metaphor’s are always culturally bound and often limited to particular regions or dialects. In Greek, “head” was rather a metaphor for the “source” of something.” And he further states that “Further, and this is very important, in the same context he claims that “the head of Christ is God.” If “head” is a role of authority over, then there is a subordination within the Trinity, which the Church has declared as heresy.”

First off, I’d like to point to you a Greek speaker who did understand “head” as referring to “authority”.

“3. But the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God. Here the heretics rush upon us with a certain declaration of inferiority, which out of these words they contrive against the Son. But they stumble against themselves. For if the man be the head of the woman, and the head be of the same substance with the body, and the head of Christ is God, the Son is of the same substance with the Father. Nay, say they, it is not His being of another substance which we intend to show from hence, but that He is under subjection. What then are we to say to this? In the first place, when any thing lowly is said of him conjoined as He is with the Flesh, there is no disparagement of the Godhead in what is said, the Economy admitting the expression. However, tell me how you intend to prove this from the passage? Why, as the man governs the wife, says he, so also the Father, Christ. Therefore also as Christ governs the man, so likewise the Father, the Son. For the head of every man, we read, is Christ. And who could ever admit this? For if the superiority of the Son compared with us, be the measure of the Father’s compared with the Son, consider to what meanness you will bring Him. So that we must not try all things by like measure in respect of ourselves and of God, though the language used concerning them be similar; but we must assign to God a certain appropriate excellency, and so great as belongs to God. For should they not grant this, many absurdities will follow. As thus; the head of Christ is God: and, Christ is the head of the man, and he of the woman. Therefore if we choose to take the term, head, in the like sense in all the clauses, the Son will be as far removed from the Father as we are from Him. Nay, and the woman will be as far removed from us as we are from the Word of God. And what the Son is to the Father, this both we are to the Son and the woman again to the man. And who will endure this?” (Homily 26 on 1 Corinthians)

St. John Chrysostom not only uses this interpretation to identify subjection within the Trinity but also to refute the heretics. As an Assemblies of God pastor, Jeremiah Gibbs has regretfully very little authority to declare an interpretation on the Trinity to be “heresy” or not and he would be wise to study up a little bit more on Trinitarian theology in this area as many Christians believe that there is subjection within the Trinity. Some of the church fathers’ quotes (though by no means should it be implied they had the full understanding of the Trinity we do today):

“I shall attempt to persuade you, since you have understood the Scriptures,[of the truth] of what I say, that there is, and that there is said to be, another God and Lord subject to the Maker of all things; who is also called an Angel, because He announces to men whatsoever the Maker of all things–above whom there is no other God–wishes to announce to them.” (Justin Martyr, Dialogue With Trypho, ch. LVI)

“For consider, all ye who invent such opinions, since the Father Himself is alone called God, who has a real existence, but whom ye style the Demiurge; since, moreover, the Scriptures acknowledge Him alone as God; and yet again, since the Lord confesses Him alone as His own Father, and knows no other, as I shall show from His very words,-when ye style this very Being the fruit of defect, and the offspring of ignorance, and describe Him as being ignorant of those things which are above Him, with the various other allegations which you make regarding Him,-consider the terrible blasphemy [ye are thus guilty of] against Him who truly is God.” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 2.4)

Fr. Sergius Bulgakov has an excellent book called The Comforter where he writes that “one cannot fail to see in the Holy Trinity, not causality…but a certain ontological hierarchical relation of the equi-eternal and equi-divine hypostases” (71). Episcopal theologian Francis J. Hall tells us that “The true remedy for Arian misapplication does not lie in a surrender of the doctrine of subordination, nor even in ignoring it, but in correctly understanding and defining it” (Dogmatic Theology, v. 4: The Trinity, 243. Any way, I would strongly advise Dr. Gibbs to do some more reading on the Trinity before making such blanket statements as this. One of the reasons I left Evangelicalism is because the Trinity was really quite underemphasized in Evangelical life even though we are baptized in the name of the Trinity!

I will mention that if his interpretation of “source” is correct, this too seems to undermine the humanity of women by making them some sort of “sub-creature”. Christ is the source of men because he created men, surely. Of course, it would not be a surprising interpretation to read Paul in this way as he has already said that “For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. (For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. 9 Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.)” (1 Cor. 11:7-8)

My comments on 1 Cor. 14:34-35 is to assign Dr. Gibbs to read The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture by Bart Ehrman. The overall point is that the church has determined for some reason that 1 Cor. 14:34-35 belongs in the canon like all allegedly “corrupted” Bible verses. We might as well redefine the canon as we see fit if we don’t like something in the canon. Of course, it must be interpreted in harmony with the other texts. Some would argue that it only restricts women to preaching the homilies in church. I’m no expert. But Gibbs’s overt reliance on Biblical scholars leaves me wary as many Biblical scholars also doubt the inspiration of the text nowadays and I’m not certain Gibbs is willing to go down that direction. This is, admittedly, a difficult text but I am not for one sending it out of the canon as Gibbs seems to be into.

His interpretation of 1 Timothy 2 is quite admirable but I wonder about his dismissal of Paul’s usage of the Eden narrative in this. When we read Paul in Romans 5 where he appeals to the Eden narrative we take that to build a doctrine about original sin. 1 Tim. 2:11-15 is a text that also too must be struggled with by both sides in this debate. I’m not going to take too many sides.

My overall point here is not so much to agree with the “clobber texts” used against women’s ordination per se but rather to address that St. Paul really did say things that would be considered quite sexist in modern terms and we as Christians have to deal with that. Simply ignoring these texts isn’t going to work.

About Emperor Thomas I

Catholic monarch of the New Roman Coalition. Consecrated to the Apostle Thomas, the Holy Martyr Sigismund, and the Holy Martyr Olaf II.
This entry was posted in Anthropological, Bible, Feminism, History, Religious. Bookmark the permalink.

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