Submitting to Feminism

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  • Submitting to Feminism

    by Cameron Buettel

    It is no coincidence that the rise of feminism in the twentieth century paralleled an unprecedented push for female clergy in Western churches. With the shifting views and priorities of the culture, the timeless biblical truths of male headship and church leadership were suddenly under attack.

    Sadly, many churches and denominations have looked for ways to accommodate feminism. Some eagerly leapt aboard the egalitarian bandwagon. Others were slower to cave in to cultural pressure but eventually waved the white flag of surrender. The legion of female pastors filling pulpits today is the legacy of the evangelical syncretists who were willing to marry feminist ideology to Scripture.

    That capitulation stands in opposition to the clear teaching of Scripture: that wives should submit to their husbands as unto Christ, while their husbands are to love them as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:22–33) and that women are prohibited from teaching men in Christ’s church (1 Timothy 2:12–14). Both of those passages, read in their context, have clear universal application—the latter tying its basis back to God’s original design in creation and the former to God’s design in salvation. In other words, biblical manhood and womanhood is a reflection of creation and salvation. And there is no biblical precedent to overturn God’s design.

    In reality, no honest exegete of Scripture can come to any other conclusion. It is difficult to think that anyone could lock himself in a room with a Bible and arrive at some other interpretation of the God-ordained roles of men and women. In that sense, egalitarianism is one of the most obvious examples of the culture’s corrupting influence on the church.

    And yet there seems to be no limit to the hermeneutical gymnastics some scholars are willing to perform in order to make Scripture say what they want. Here are just two examples.

    Inventive Reinterpretation

    Craig Keener is a respected New Testament scholar and professor of New Testament at Eastern Seminary, Wynnewood, Pennsylvania. The following excerpt displays his fundamental approach, which allows him to dismiss the clear meaning of 1 Timothy 2:9-15:

    In any case, here Paul also forbade women to “teach,” something he apparently allowed elsewhere (Romans 16; Philippians 4:2,3). Thus he presumably addressed the specific situation in this community. Because both Paul and his readers knew their situation and could take it for granted, the situation which elicited Paul’s response was thus assumed in his intended meaning. [1]

    Only a rudimentary understanding of Bible interpretation is necessary to spot the gaping holes in Keener’s arguments. In the quote above, Keener points to two passages where Paul affirms women in ministry. Remarkably, without evidence Keener assumes and declares that such ministries included teaching—in doing so, he actually points women away from the kinds of ministry the apostle encouraged them to pursue.

    Moreover, Keener makes several logical leaps to recreate the historical situation which was “assumed” by Paul and his readers. Further in his article he claims that women were being misled by false teachers and subsequently promoted that teaching in the church. Therefore, says Keener, Paul was not establishing universal principles. Instead, he “provided a short-range solution: ‘Do not teach’ (under the present circumstances); and a long-range solution: ‘Let them learn’ (1 Timothy 2:11).”

    There are at least two problems with such an approach. First, the historical situation is invented. While Paul speaks about the influence of false teachers, he makes no mention of its effect on women specifically. Second, the grammar of Paul’s instruction does not allow for the “short-range” and “long-range” distinctions. These two commands are parallel with Paul’s other commands in the surrounding context, none of which have temporal limitations. This is to say nothing of the fact that immediately following the prohibition against women teaching and having authority over men, Paul details the universal qualifications for shepherds—one of which is “the husband of one wife.”

    In short, in order to set aside the clear meaning of the text (which is consistent with Titus and other equally clear passages), Keener simply invents history and reinterprets the text in light of his assumptions.

    Outright Rejection

    Gordon Fee is likewise a widely respected New Testament scholar among evangelicals and has written many truly helpful books and commentaries. But even he is determined to drive the square peg of feminism into the round hole of Scripture’s clear teaching. When Fee’s award-winning commentary on 1 Corinthians discusses Paul’s insistence for women to remain silent in the church meetings (1 Corinthians 14:34–35), he brushes it aside by trying to argue that Paul never actually wrote it:

    Although these two verses are found in all known manuscripts, either here or at the end of the chapter, the two text-critical criteria of transcriptional and intrinsic probability combine to cast considerable doubt on their authenticity. [2]

    Fee cannot imagine Paul making such a statement and insists that another writer must have inserted it into the text at a later date. His scholarly language hides an unscholarly and dishonest approach to the text. While it is true that scholars debate the authenticity of the text, it is also true that there is an overwhelming consensus that they belong in Scripture. Fee seems to take advantage of the debate for the convenience of his theology. As another scholar writes, “Few [scholars] place the weight that Fee does on a textual variant.” [3]

    Frankly, that’s a dangerous precedent to set when dealing with passages of Scripture that confront or contend with popular opinion and cultural norms.

    Submitting to Scripture

    When we as believers encounter portions of the Bible that clash with our deeply-held convictions, we need to humbly assume that our convictions are wrong—not Scripture. And we need to carefully consider what benefit there is in following pastors and teachers whose ministries rest on the dismissal of inconvenient parts of God’s Word.

    For leaders who would kowtow to the pressures of society, it is disingenuous to espouse an inerrant and authoritative biblical text while playing fast and loose with its contents. Oil and water do not mix, and neither does God’s Word with ungodly ideologies. The true student of Scripture must be willing to listen and submit to it rather than correct its author when He violates our modern cultural sensibilities.
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