Musings on getting "gender roles" from Genesis/the Bible

It was in a Greek readings class covering Paul’s ‘big’ epistles (Romans, I & II Corinthians). Oddly, I can picture the professor including beard and booming voice but can’t remember his name!* He pointed to this as the beginning of a custom that by the time of Justinian had come to be part of Roman society.

If my storage unit hadn’t ended up being in a different town than where I’m living (long story) I could probably pull the coursework file and see if he gave any references. Unfortunately at the moment several rooms in my house are undergoing renovations so I wouldn’t even have room for the file cabinet.

  • I can also remember his rather raw sense of humor in referring to English translations [he was one of those professors who if he said “Get out your Bibles” he meant the Hebrew and Greek; if he meant a translation he said, "Turn to your translations:], for example “King James Perversion”, “Revised Slandered Version”, “Nude American Barnyard Version”

Apparently studies have come a long way in the last four decades – I would love to be able to have a time machine to take that back and share around! That puts into clear words some of the thoughts I’ve had but only as inklings, never fully coherent. I think the key is recognizing that Timothy was in Ephesus, something I’ve never heard mentioned in a Bible study or even a sermon(!) but which ought to be an obvious first step to establishing the context just as with any other ancient literature.

Now I have to decide whether to add the book to my list of “Must read!” that is already four hundred-odd volumes delinquent.

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I Corinthians is a solid book. Probably the book that spoke to me in my skeptical stage.
Chapter 5 has strong words. And this passage could be a life verse for me:

“For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.”


The struggle is real.

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Our pastor preached on 1 Cor. 11 today and expanded his comments to talk about women’s role in ministry, which pretty much correlates with what is being discussed here. Pretty courageous stand for a First Baptist church and directly in conflict with the recent SBC actions concerning Saddleback. I can link the sermon to anyone wanting to listen, just PM me. His sermon seemed to center on putting church behavior in context with the culture, and Paul’s comments addressing the cultural norms of the audience he was writing to.

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Ah, but the Holy Spirit reduced the entire rules-set of the Old Testament to just four items for the church, at that little get-together in Jerusalem recorded in Acts 15.

I had that issue out with a very Calvinist university professor once; he was offering an elective course “Christian Ethics” and from the course syllabus his foundation was going to be the Ten Commandments. He was disappointed I didn’t sign up and asked why, and rather bluntly I said his course syllabus made it appear that it was actually about Mosaic ethics. He wanted to know just where I thought Christian ethics were to be founded, and I just looked at his and said, “The Cross”.

= = = + = = = + = = = + = = =

Several times in Spanish (once in the Valera version), once in Latin, at least a dozen times in Greek, a couple of times in the King James Version, three or four in the Revised Standard Version, once in the Amplified (not a fan), a couple of times in the English Standard Version, three or four times in the Good News Translation, and several times in versions by various scholars who did their own.

The Sermon on the Mount imposes no “more stringent standards” – that’s a misreading of it. And we know it’s a misreading because in Acts 15 the Holy Spirit doesn’t put any of that in the four items of instruction issued to the churches.

Really Jesus didn’t give any commandments in the sense of rules that must be followed, He gave instruction on what following Him would look like in various specific circumstances. The closest He came to an actual commandment was when He told the disciples (following the translation of one of my professors) “A fresh commission I give you, to love one another as I have loved you”.

“Commission” conveys the concept well: we have no list of rules to follow, we have a commission to fulfill. Following rules puts our eyes on ourselves with the question “How am I doing?” Following a commission puts our yes on others: “What can I do for them?”

And that commission is just for the “household of faith”, where it should be easy to love!

Jesus is of paramount concern. If you can’t figure out proper behavior from knowing Jesus, your behavior will be artificial.
It’s been recognized at least as far back as Josephus that rules-based morality is shallow and immature. The only rules that are of benefit are the ones that come from within. Don’t forget the admonition given by St. Augustine, “Love God and do as you please”, an admonition that catches the Gospel nicely because if you love God then what pleases Him will come to be what pleases you.

The statement is not intended as universal, it was intended to help Timothy deal with a situation where wives were getting out of line – not out of line for women, but out of line for anyone – and their husbands were getting angry about it.
After all, if you think it “intends to say and imply exactly what it does here” then you have some actual problems, starting with the fact that it contradicts Paul’s example in practice, and ending up with asserting that no woman can go to heaven without having mothered children of her own.
Besides which, as the article Christy linked noted, the writer doesn’t issue this as a command but as a personal statement: “I do not allow”. That alone is enough to recognize that this was a prescription for a particular situation.

If it was just about forgiveness of sins, that might be possible. But it’s also clear from the New Testament that it isn’t just about sins, it’s about a repair job for the entire cosmos. But that also misses the point: Jesus’ death did not fit the social construct, not least because there were multiple social constructs, but also because all the shedding of blood to cover sins had to be done repeatedly but here is God saying, “One last time, now, and then no more of that!” And it wasn’t just some animal, it was God Himself laying down His life for people who didn’t deserve it.

I think we fail to understand just how much Christianity was vibrantly contrary to the social constructs of the time. Just “God loves you” would have been enough to provoke stares, shaking heads, even laughter, because what “everyone knew” about the gods was that they were capricious, they had no interest in the welfare of humans in general or any human in particular, and if you wanted their favor you had to buy them off. Gods didn’t come to Earth to help humans, they came to scheme and meddle and manipulate and abuse, yet Christians were pointing to the Cross and saying, “God took your place” – a shocking statement because there was no space in the social construct for a God who shed His own blood willingly in order to do something for humans.

Something telling in that account lurks quietly where it’s rarely noticed:

They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives . . . ."

Jesus just announced that part of the Law was not a universal tenet but was conditional based on human weakness. That throws open the entire question of just how much of the Law had any application at all outside the specific society to and in which it was given!

But those were cultural attitudes; this on the surface says that God has a hierarchy and women are second class. That is totally contrary to what Paul says and what Paul does because he put women in positions of leadership and counted at least one as an apostle. What Jews and Gentiles or any other class of people did or thought isn’t the point, the point is that this passage is used to say that God regards women as second-class.

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Well answered. I don’t or at least haven’t yet actually read the Bible though I enjoy mulling over snippets that have been shared with me here by thoughtful people who are able to regard me in my agnosticism as a neighbor and part of the community Jesus enjoined his followers to love as they do themselves. I regard these valued Christians as part of my most trusted and valued virtual community and wish them nothing but the best on their own terms. Those juvenile Christians with apologetics driven fervor who begin to froth and go into conniptions when they realize I am not shopping for a belief system, I can do without. Those who are disposed to be gracious in spite of their personal disappointment I am happy to answer with respect any question they may have. But those who mistake their own indignation for God’s I put on ignore.

I wonder if you have any interest and/or familiarity with process theology? I just heard a wonderful twenty minute talk on the subject. I am pretty jazzed and thinking of opening a thread here to see who else might be interested. Would you be?

Excellent point! “Is it lawful” isn’t just an off-the-cuff start of a question, it’s a pro forma introduction to a query to a teacher to get a ruling. As one of my professors in grad school said, Hillel’s position essentially allowed a man to divorce a woman if she cooked his egg “over-easy” instead of “sunny side up”. In that context, this is an interesting read:

The near-formal inquiry form was used to publicly seem to show respect though the actual purpose of the question was to trap Jesus into taking sides between two respected rabbis. On another level, it was an effort to get Jesus to commit to one school of exegesis or another. He dodged both handily.

Your professor in grad school should be more cautious then. Using third century literature to understand Jesus’s comment in the 30s is terrible scholarship. There is zero evidence for this view. More likely than not it has nothing to do with Shammai or Hillel as there is no evidence this issue was debated anytime pre-70 by anyone. See my response above. Old myths based on nothing die hard I guess. More likely is the following:

Jesus forbade divorce. This would have been a very controversial teaching of his so people would have either asked a legitimate question or others would have tried to trap him since the Mosaic Law clearly regulates and allows men to divorce their wives. Either Jesus’s view is incorrect or he would have to disagree with and shun the Law of Moses. Either way his opponent would win and discredit him. Jesus’s response is brilliant. He didn’t reject the Pentateuch. He just appealed to a more primordial portion of it.

Everyone, including Paul and probably Matthew, seem to want to soften Jesus’s total prohibition of divorce and remarriage. So we try to claim he was just saying you can’t divorce for any reason. If Jesus’s thoughts on divorce and remarriage we’re not total prohibition, it was only permitted in the most extreme of circumstances. Many think Matthew may have added the bit about “marital unfaithfulness” and Paul seems to soften things as well though he is careful to distinguish between what he says and what the Lord says.


Thanks, this was something I had long glossed over and now I’m glad I looked it up. Couple interesting quotes I found:

“Marshall writes, “Probably no section of Acts has aroused such controversy as this one or led to such varied historical reconstructions of the actual situation.””

“The prohibition of sexual immorality (porneia) seems to belong to a different category from the rest, and it appears out of place in this list.”

Luke Timothy Johnson put a two-volume work out on Paul recently. He is a very well respected critical scholar. I found his thoughts on some of these issues helpful to me:

His conclusion.

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I reread this earlier tonight, and was impressed that it doesn’t say whether the love is for God or for people. Let me take a guess, it’s both. I can show all manner of generosity to other people, but if I don’t love God, it is nothing. I can show all manner of devotion to God, but if I have no love for people it is nothing.

And to speak in tongues of angels is not a figure of speech for Paul.

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Well, we also love God in a relationship with God, so that tracks. Love God, love people is the summation of the Law and the Prophets, and both involve “how we relate to each other.”

@Vinnie and @heymike3 and @St.Roymond if you want discuss the ramifications of Bible interpretation on LGBTQ issues, please take the discussion to private message, as this is not a topic we want debated on the public boards.

Would you please clarify your position here?

There is also the fruit of the Spirit

… and then there are the acts of the flesh. Is sexual immorality open to debate?

Short answer, no. Longer answer, sexual issues tend to cause conflict and emotional responses, and we are just not up for the drama as moderators, and discussion of sexual issues has been something we have been encouraged to avoid as part of the public forum. Feel free to debate and discuss as a PM, Same goes for politics.

Same should probably go for gender issues

Yep, sort of on thin ice at times with that one.