‘Biblical’ family life

(I was preaching in our university chapel yesterday, where we didn’t make much of the celebration of Mothering Sunday, but the fact that it was that day prompted me to finish off this post, which I have had sitting around in draft since mid-January.)

I read something today – it doesn’t matter what; it was a denominational statement from overseas, and so not very relevant – that made a fairly familiar gesture demanding support for ‘Biblical’ patterns of family life which, in this case, included support for the vocation of motherhood and a resistance to cultural pressures that encouraged mothers to go out to work, an encouragement not to limit numbers of children borne within the nuclear family, and a claim that, within the nuclear family, there was a proper leadership to be exercised by the husband and accepted by the wife.

Now, any or all of these points may be good ethical advice (although allow me to express some serious doubts…). Any or all of them may even be demanded by the gospel (although allow me to express some profound disagreements…). But to describe them as ‘Biblical’ is clearly ridiculous, and probably sinister.

Why ‘ridiculous’? Well, between them, they assume a normative situation of a nuclear family (i.e., a cohabiting unit of mother and father with their birth-children, and nobody else) which has easy access to safe and reliable contraception and which is economically productive only away from the home. A family living in this situation cannot possibly be living according to ‘Biblical’ patterns, simply because every facet of the situation highlighted in the previous sentence is a modern Western reality, unknown to the Bible (and indeed to much of history since, and to much of the world today).

Why ‘sinister’? Well, the document I was reading was a contribution to a debate over church discipline; by invoking the rhetorical device of describing these unhappy and unpleasant ideas as ‘Biblical’ a move was being made to remove mission support and ecclesial legitimacy from honest and faithful people.  ‘Sinister’ does not seem too strong.

Unfortunately, this rhetorical device is becoming common, and is in danger of gaining a spurious legitimacy on the basis of nothing but repetition. There have, it is true, been attempts to argue for it rather than simply assert it, but none has been remotely credible. The classic, still apparently taken seriously by some people, was a collection of essays entitled Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, a book so poor that when I first encountered a chapter of it as a pdf I concluded that it was a cleverly-constructed spoof – surely no-one could have published arguments that bad?! Unfortunately, much of the book has a veneer of plausibility, since a basic knowledge of Greek and Hebrew is necessary to spot the more glaring errors. In case any reader who lacks Biblical languages is minded to take it seriously, however, let me give one example of just how astonishingly poor, and misleading, the arguments in the book generally are. Considering Junia, ‘outstanding amongst the apostles’ in Rom 16:7: the editors  face the standard question: is Junia a woman, or is it ‘Junias’, an otherwise-unknown male name? Their answer goes like this (pp. 72-3 of my edition): ‘We did a complete search of all the Greek writings from Homer (b.c. ninth century?) into the fifth century a.d. [using the TLG] … The result of our computer search is this: Besides the one instance in Romans 16:7 there were three others [these are described]. So there is no way to be dogmatic about what the form of the name signifies. It could be feminine, or it could be masculine. Certainly no one should claim that Junia was a common woman’s name in the Greek speaking world, since there are only these three known examples….’

Presumably everyone has spotted the basic error here already, but just to spell it out: Junia was an inhabitant of Rome, not Athens. In Rome, they spoke Latin, not Greek. The evidence presented is about as interesting as saying that early modern Spanish literature contains very few men named Hans. More directly, no-one is claiming ‘that Junia was a common woman’s name in the Greek speaking world’; most of the recent commentators on Romans claim that it was a common Latin name, citing such standard sources as CIL, Solin, and Lampe, which show upwards of 250 uses, compared to no attestations at all for the masculine ‘Junias’.

It is difficult to know what to make of this. The ignoring of standard, and widely published, evidence, and the presentation of spurious but perhaps convincing-sounding arguments instead, could convey an unfortunate impression to an uncharitable reader, and yet they are both features rather common in the book. Certainly, claiming that this collection of essays has established or proved anything is inappropriate. It is a revealing text, however, which is why I reference it here. One of the editors begins the first chapter with a rosy recollection of his own childhood, a picture of family life which could have come straight out of The Waltons; as the book continues, the thoughtful reader is driven to suspect that this idealised picture of mid-twentieth-century, mid-Western American, nuclear family life is in fact what is driving everything; the book is a celebration of a passing tradition of American family life, with a fairly feeble attempt to claim that this tradition had some interesting connection to the Bible.

In my experience, the rhetoric of ‘Biblical’ family (in the West – perhaps it is of some use elsewhere?) normally works like this: what is being celebrated is a patriarchal vision of being a nuclear family that has its origins in the industrial revolution and is now – thankfully, in my humble opinion – rapidly being displaced. In industrialised societies, for a little while, Mummy looked after the kids while Daddy went out to work, and (amongst the white middle classes who defined reality in their own terms) grandparents were nowhere to be seen. This pattern of economic dependence and generational isolation disrupted earlier traditions of family living, and re-ordered gender relations in far-reaching and often very unhelpful ways. Of course, in pre-industrial society almost no-one ‘went out to work’: Mummy, Daddy and the kids all worked on the farm, along with other members of the extended family and various servants who lived with them. Even amongst the nobility, tradition holds that the man held the sword, the woman the distaff – he was engaged politically, she economically; his freedom to enter into public life was based on the fact that she earned the money for the household. This at least echoed some aspects of the Biblical witness (Prov. 31:23-4)…

If we choose to base our concepts of what is ‘Biblical’ on the Bible, not on a conservative grasping at an idealised version of our grandparents’ experience, then the basic thing we find is astonishing variety. Families are polygamous and multi-generational; re-marriage and fostering are common and sometimes required; slaves are a significant part of the family unit; marriage can be a political act, or the result of rape, and is rarely based on romantic attraction; etc. I think it is true to say that there is not one single nuclear family (a shared household of wife, husband, and birth-children only) in the entirety of the Scriptures – certainly, it can hardly be presented as a normative pattern.

So what is ‘biblical’ family life? It seems to me that we have two options: we could look for a centre of gravity within the variety that we can describe as normative, and push for this. I do not in fact think that this is possible, but if it were, it would as a minimum involve polygamy and slavery. Alternatively, we can find permission to explore a wide variety of patterns of living together, since a wide variety is witnessed to in Scripture. We can see things that are less than ideal (polygamy; slavery; patriarchy; …) and things that witness beautifully to the gospel if they can be lived out in the messy particularities of human life (revolutionary mutual submission – Eph. 5:20; …). But defined gender roles? I think of an old friend of mine, recently ordained in Australia; Heather and I had the privilege of sharing marriage preparation classes with him and Su. When asked what roles he thought should belong to his future wife in their marriage, he responded ‘pre-natal childcare. And breastfeeding.’ The rest was up for creative re-interpretation in the light of the gospel and the circumstances in which they were called to live.

That’s Biblical. Far more so than the strident attempts to impose cultural idolatries with which I began.

37 Comments

  1. PatrickM
    Mar 15, 2010

    Steve
    Great post. I know this response is not exactly full of content, but you have said what you said so well that all I want to say is “Amen and amen!” Follow up reflections some time on women in ministry ?

    • Steve H
      Mar 15, 2010

      Hey Patrick, that was quick! Are my views on women in ministry not sufficiently obvious, then?!

  2. Andy Goodliff
    Mar 15, 2010

    Steve – great post and appearing just as BU Council will have heard a presentation on women in leadership (which they will continue to think about over the next 2 days as well) …

    • Steve H
      Mar 16, 2010

      Yes, Jonathan E. was telling me a week or so ago that Council would revisit the question of women in leadership and examine the Union’s failure to live up to its stated commitments about recognising and affirming the ministry of women (my words, not his); the response of this member of the Baptist Union of Scotland? Hollow laughter…

  3. Jason Goroncy
    Mar 15, 2010

    Steve, I reckon that this counts as a very ‘biblical’ post. Great stuff, and thanks for ruminating out loud about it.

  4. PatrickM
    Mar 15, 2010

    Well yes you may have given the game away …. always good to hear one’s one preju .. views agreed with.
    But more seriously as Andy Goodliff’s comment reminds, and daily experience confirms, an issue that continues to need ongoing reasoned and truly ‘biblical’ engagement.

    • Steve H
      Mar 16, 2010

      Fair point. I think I have some things that might be worth saying. Give me a few weeks.

  5. craig
    Mar 16, 2010

    I grew up in a biblical family: my half brother and I did not get on too well because dad had a thing with the maid but dad and sorted things out when we went for a walk and he took me by surprise, tying me up, threateneing me with a knife telling me God wanted me dead … Or was that just something I read

    • Steve H
      Mar 16, 2010

      Craig – a word of advice: if you should end up with twelve grandsons – get them all to dress the same…

  6. Rose Marie
    Mar 16, 2010

    Interesting … you said that in Rome they spoke Latin (obviously); did Paul write his letter to the Romans in Latin then? I dont know why, but I kind of assumed (dangerous) that he wrote it in Greek…you Bible translators out there can tell me – does it make a big difference when reading it (Romans) and trying to translate the English to the Greek when the Greek expressions might not be truly what the Latin would be – do you see what I am trying to say. Or is Paul consistent in his preaching that it does not matter whether he uses Greek, Hebrew or Latin. I am asking because when I prepare a sermon/talk I like to if I can refer to the original language the text was written in. English can be so mis-leading. (by the way, I am a Reading friend of Maik). Your comments (please?) are awaited.

    • Steve H
      Mar 16, 2010

      Hi Rose Marie, Welcome and thanks for commenting. Romans was definitely written in Greek; I assume Paul didn’t speak Latin (although I don’t off hand have any evidence for this, other than the lack of record of him speaking/writing it). Rome at the time was a city of immigrants (Seneca says the ‘major part’ of the population were not born in Rome – Helv. 6; Juvenal calls Rome ‘Graecam urbem’ – ‘A Greek capital’ (Satires 3.61), and goes on to complain that its customs are being overwhelmed by imported practices). Greek was widely spoken in the city, and was the preferred language of Roman Christians till about 250 AD according to Lampe (‘From Paul to Valentinus: Christians at Rome in the First Two Centuries’, p. 143). And of course some of the people Paul greets in Rome we know were born in the (largely Greek-speaking) Eastern Empire – Aquila was from Pontus (so Acts 18:2); Epaenetus would seem to be from Turkey (sic, ‘the province of Asia’ – Rom 16:5). My point was not about the language of the letter, so much as the curious decision to ignore the regularly-repeated and well-established evidence that this was a common female name.

      • Wesley
        Jan 6, 2011

        I realise this post was from some time ago but i’ve just come across it now. As to your argument (or response to the argument) about Junia(Junias) or whomever she or he was, i wonder: do you think maybe your (and their) focus on the name is actually less helpful in understanding what’s really being said here than to look at what the word “outstanding” means/meant? In the ESV the passage is rendered “..and Junia, my fellow kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and were in Christ before me.” Now with that rendering, and even a brief look into Phil.4:2-3, it seems plain that Paul worked alongside women in his minsitry and had a very high regard for them. That said, however, i don’t think either side of the debate can claim this passage as conclusive on their side as it seems plain Paul is not stating that whoever these two people were (Andronicus and Junia) that they were themselves aplostles, but rather that they were “outstanding”/well known or renowned/etc. amoung the apostles. It seems all the focus on the gender of the individual may have abscured what is actually being said about them … no?

        • Steve H
          Jan 6, 2011

          Hi Wesley, welcome. The ESV translation, whilst not grammatically impossible, is far from the most obvious or natural rendering of the Greek (see almost any serious commentary). If there were no concern about the gender of Junia, everyone would translate the verse ‘Greet Adronicus and Junia, my relations and fellow-prisoners, who are outstanding amongst the apostles…’ A (false, in my view) theological concern has rendered this obvious translation unacceptable to some, and two routes to escape it have been found: claiming Junia/s is in fact a man, and an outstanding apostle; or accepting that she is a woman, and finding a forced translation of the second half of the verse that removes her from the apostolic band. The ESV translators have apparently chosen the second route.

      • Wesley
        Jan 6, 2011

        SO, it’s clear now which translation you favor and i take no issue with that. My question is still what Paul is actually saying by claiming she is outstanding amoung the apostles? It seems unfair to claim that Comps “force” the translation to exclude her from apostleship, but that your own interpretation is not forced as well. The matter would be much easier if Paul had simply written, “Junia … who are apostles” but you must concede he did not. I understand how impossible it can feel but it seems – like everyone else – your worldview/pressupposition is informing your translation of a text that seems to support neither side, even though both sides are tryiing to ‘claim’ it.

      • Steve H
        Jan 6, 2011

        On translations, for preaching I tend to use whatever the church uses; for my own devotional reading I vary – I used the ESV for several months last year, just to get to know it (I won’t go back to it; the prose is repeatedly rather clunky, and it just doesn’t read well). For exegetical and academic work, I use Greek/Hebrew, of course, and if I cite Scripture in Eng. translation in print, I usually do my own translating.

        But here there seems to be a lot of consensus amongst the commentators as to the best way to translate the verse. The ESV translation is grammatically possible, as I noted, but it is unnatural and forced with the Gk in view – see any serious commentary for an extended discussion why.

      • Wesley
        Jan 6, 2011

        Steve –
        thank you for taking the time to write back. The question on the table however seems to be left unanswered. Whatever translation of the verse you find most natural (honestly, i struggle to see how oyu feel your work in translation is so far superior to what dozens of other men and women have already accomplished) do you not concede the point that Paul is not directly saying these two people were, in fact, apostles? You are doing your own “forcing” should you try to say that he is. So the question remains: what does “outstanding amoung the apostles” actually mean? Especially given the context of this text, it seems at least fair and reasonable to say this woman could even in fact be as Pricia and Aquila: a “fellow worker” alongside Paul. But that does not automatically infer then that Paul is contradicting his views on headship in either the home or the church. They could be involved in his ministry in manifold ways without at any time holding authority (spiritual or otherwise) over men. Do you see my point? The translation of the verse is secondary – how you understand “outstanding amoung the apostles” is highly influenced by the worldview you bring to it.

    • Steve H
      Jan 6, 2011

      Wesley, sorry, I am not being clear about my point, and I see that I missed yours.
      First, I think I have a pretty good grasp of what the current commentaries on the Greek text say about this issue. I base my judgements about the naturalness of the translation on what they say, not on my own reading.
      Second, the general consensus of the commentators is that the Greek means Junia/s and Andronicus were considered to be apostles by Paul.

  7. Sue Barker
    Mar 16, 2010

    Having been a member of ‘Men Women and God’ (MWG) for many years, I had been aware of this book. Your post is so good that I have asked other members to read it.
    Unfortunately there are still churches with male leadership (including ministers) who take the view stated in this book and who have removed women from their leadership role.
    We women need men like you to explain the Biblical facts.

    • Steve H
      Mar 17, 2010

      Thanks for stopping by, Sue. Yes, you’re right – although I think the currently-popular justification for the ‘leadership is male’ position is slightly different from that defended in the book in question. Perhaps I’ll blog about this in a few weeks…

  8. jutta
    Mar 16, 2010

    I had considered reading the book, but it seems it would have been a waste of time. It was hard for me to believe that the person I associate with the title could publish something of such low quality. I had to do an internet search to make sure that there are not two books with a similar title and I got them confused. I knew that he probably had a different opinion than myself on some subjects, but I thought he would at least support his view with better research than what you mention. How sad!

    • Steve H
      Mar 17, 2010

      Welcome, Jutta. Most of us – and the point holds through history – are less good in controversy than in trying to do constructive theology. (Augustine is the only obvious exception I can think of.) A good reason, perhaps, not to let our public personas be defined by the controversies we engage in…

      • meinmysmallcorner
        Mar 18, 2010

        Hi, thanks for the post! I comment here because this is what I find most alarming – the authors of the book you comment on are so widely respected, that the book carries incredible gravitas purely on the basis of the author’s names. Eugh… It scares me that this then leads to suspicion of anyone who might take a differing viewpoint.

        PLUS… women have grown up in our culture (though I’m from N.Ireland so my culture is a little confused…!) believing that feminity is best expressed by a pink-and-fluffy-ness reminiscent of the Southern Belle. So the viewpoint that man should be great big beefy patriarchs in the home winning bread and laying coats over puddles is a strangely attractive one! And… let’s be honest, if its someone else’s responsibility to look after my spiritual life, more’s the better – I’ll just go shopping… ;)

      • Steve H
        Mar 21, 2010

        Thanks for stopping by, from ‘your small corner…’ I love your honesty at the end of this … although I have to say that I’ve known a lot of Christian women from N. Ireland over the years, and ‘pink-and-fluffy-ness’ would not have been the first phrase I’d have reached for to describe them in general…

  9. Baptist Bookworm
    Mar 16, 2010

    Hi Steve, Great post! As one of those involved in the BU Council presentation on Women in Leadership, I think it has been (so far) a really helpful process. The Union overwhelmingly reaffirmed its support for the ministry and leadership of women (a couple of abstentions, no negatives). This is great news. The question before us currently is what this looks like in practice? Where do we go from here…? I found the vote surprisingly emotional, and am very much looking forward to hearing back from the small groups tomorrow. My hope in this is that we will find ways of changing the hearts and minds of those who currently are opposed to women in leadership/ministry. There has been some concern raised about the extent to which the Union will wield its big stick. I think that far more important at this stage is us being intentional and persistent in our challenging of the non-gospel position, done in such a way as to win as many as possible to the good news of the ministry of women.

    • Steve H
      Mar 17, 2010

      Thanks, Simon. This was not specifically about ministry, of course, but you are right. I was excited when Jonathan told me you were planning to address the question at Council in a creative way. In the traditions you and I come from, we have settled into a particular comfort zone: we say the right things, regret that others disagree, but don’t rock the boat. Does that need to change? I don’t know, but I wonder…

  10. Tyler Wittman
    Mar 21, 2010

    Professor Holmes, allow me to be a nuisance for a moment . . .

    Your complaint with Grudem and Piper’s argument may be well-founded (I haven’t read the whole book myself), but I’m struggling with this particular example you’ve cited.

    Certainly, if there were a dispute over the gender of a ‘Hans’ mentioned in a letter written in Spanish, part of the detective work would include an evaluation of the many ways ‘Hans’ is used in Spanish literature (albeit a very small part of the detective work).

    But their argument does not rest on that one little point. I just looked it up because I doubted things were as simple as this. It SEEMS that they are aware of the fact that ‘Junias’ is a Latin name, as is evidenced by the “more significant” citation of Origen (and note the subsequent chapter by Schreiner where he discusses the many grammars and their judgments on whether or not Junias was a contracted form of the masculine Latin name Junianus, etc.).

    Is it a closed case? By no means, but I don’t believe they’re claiming it is. I think their pithy response to that question, when supplemented with the argument offered later in the book, serves only to emphasize that it is a single disputed text that cannot really be settled either way.

    As I read it, they’re trying to get the text out of the playing field because it’s so inconclusive. But, then again, I really haven’t waded too far into the complementarian/egalitarian waters….

    • Steve H
      Mar 21, 2010

      Hi Tyler,

      I guess my concern here was not whether they were right or wrong on this point, but the way in which the standard evidence (and it really is standard – almost every commentary on Romans gives the numbers and references) was simply ignored. In a way, the fact that there is a later chapter in the book addressing the evidence compounds the fault; they obviously knew that there was a discussion to be had here, but wrote the introduction as if the issue were clear-cut.

      • Tyler Wittman
        Mar 22, 2010

        . . . “as if the issue were clear-cut.”

        That, unfortunately, can often be the case with the arguments in my own conservative evangelical circle(s).

  11. Stephen
    Mar 23, 2010

    Prof. Holmes,

    I would argue that the “astonishing variety” in the Bible on family life, taken as a whole, does not present a “normative pattern” for family life, as you said.

    I would, however, want to differentiate between descriptive and prescriptive texts that speak to family life. You don’t want to “look for a centre of gravity within the variety that we can describe as normative, and push for this. [You] do not in fact think that this is possible, but if it were, it would as a minimum involve polygamy and slavery.” But polygamy and slavery would only be required if you assume the texts on polygamy and slavery are prescriptive and not descriptive. And more to the point, you do end up pushing for a normative center of gravity within the variety by elevating Paul’s texts on mutual submission above those that would imply male headship.

    After weighting all these prescriptive and descriptive texts equally, you “can find permission to explore a wide variety of patterns of living together, since a wide variety is witnessed to in Scripture.”

    Having established this starting point, you then seem to scoff at “defined gender roles” as more unbiblical than even polygamy, slavery, or patriarchy (last paragraph). I would argue, however, that, out of all these categories, “defined gender roles” are prescribed in the Bible much more than the other categories of polygamy, etc., which seem to be assumed, or described, more than commanded. Paul never says to be polygamous, for Christ has many churches; he does say that the man is the head of the wife as Christ is head of the church.

    I am confused over this issue in general, and so I don’t intend in this post to defend the Grudem/Piper camp. But I also found your clumping of prescriptive and descriptive texts unhelpful, and much in line with the tendency of many biblical interpreters who have not satisfactorily dealt with Paul’s prescriptive texts surrounding the issue of the biblical family.

    Respectfully,
    sd

    • Steve H
      Mar 23, 2010

      Hi Stephen, thanks for stopping by. You will appreciate that I am not trying to argue for polygamy and slavery – both seem to me to be bad ideas – but illustrating the problems of claiming a position is ‘biblical’ without hard exegetical and hermeneutic work.
      You want to make a distinction between ‘prescriptive’ and ‘descriptive’ texts – that might be a good hermeneutical move (although I think it ignores the complexity of the nature of narrative, which is a big part of the Biblical witness), but it is already an interpretative framework. Besides, there are in fact direct prescriptions commanding both polygamy (Dt 25:5-10) and slavery – and the requirement for a rapist to marry his victim (Dt 22:28-9); and some other things which I regard as probably less than gospel-shaped (Ex 21:1-5…). Yes, these are all OT – but that’s the word of God too. So let’s develop a hermeneutic that privileges NT instruction over OT law, and parenetic material over narrative material… As I say, I’m not opposed, but let’s not pretend that we are reading the plain sense of Scripture without imposing any interpretative grids of our own…

      • Stephen
        Mar 24, 2010

        Prof. Holmes,

        I didn’t mean to support a literal/plain sense reading of Scripture. And I understand that I am coming to Scripture with my own interpretive framework. But just because different interpretive frameworks exist does not mean all are equal – Marcion’s, for example, was less than helpful. Instead, I want to support a prescriptive reading of Paul’s instructions regarding men and women because he seems to root these prescriptions in Christ – the hermeneutical key that, more than any other, helps us define where to take Scripture more “literally” and where not to – where to label something more prescriptive and something more descriptive. God’s revelation in Scripture is interpreted in light of His revelation in Christ because Christ is the locus of that revelation (so I’ve been taught in class). So, the OT texts you list that seem to support polygamy could be interpreted as no longer prescriptive, as you pointed out. And I would say that the reason I wouldn’t prescribe polygamy or slavery, despite OT texts telling me to do otherwise, is because Christ rightly interprets the real prescription behind these texts, whatever that may be in specific cases.

        So I’m not arguing for an OT/NT hermeneutic either. I’m arguing for a Christocentric hermeneutic that has been a mainstay in Christian history from the early church onward (and obviously this is reductionistic of both the hermeneutic and Christian history, but in blogging, what isn’t reductionistic?).

        My confusion then is what to do with Eph. 5:23-24, where Paul prescribes male headship on the basis of a Christocentric hermeneutic. No one would want to suggest that Christ is not the head of the Church, but why are we so willing to suggest that the husband is not the head of the wife?

        My initial leanings are as follows:
        Can we not try to understand patriarchy/headship in light of Christ as ultimate servanthood, as defined by “I came to serve, and not to be served”? Otherwise, it seems to me that we are tweaking the foundational hermeneutic that Paul was using in Ephesians 5. Again, no one would want to suggest that Christ is not the head of the Church, but why are we so willing to suggest that the husband is not the head of the wife? Again, being “the head of the wife” means sacrifice, not selfish gain. Biblically-prescribed patriarchy was much different than the biblically-described patriarchy of the ancient world.

        Through a Christocentric hermeneutic I think we can somehow better differentiate between prescriptions and descriptions on this issue, because, as you said, they are not so easily differentiated. Christ rightly interprets the confusion over descriptive/prescriptive, he helps us understand why we interpret things this way, and then he rightly defines exactly what it looks like to be, for instance, the head of the wife.

        Personally, in this view, I’d rather not be commanded this, because rightly interpreted, it involves serious sacrifice modeled after Christ’s death on the cross (5:25). This is not a privileging of man (as so many assume) but a call to the hardest kind of service. In this sense I wish the passage would call wives to be heads over their husbands.

        Just to be absolutely clear: I don’t walk out of church services where women preach, and I don’t advocate overly defined gender roles. Overall, this issue, like I said, baffles me, not because I care so much right now about wives and husbands(I’m not married) or women’s ordination, etc., but because I think it undermines the interpretive key I’ve been told to use above all others. The issue for me is one of biblical interpretation, which of course is a complex task involving many variables (which I have had to reduce down to one for the sake of this argument – but I’m not unaware of the complexity of biblical interpretation), but if biblical interpretation ever actually makes it to the biblical text itself, I’ve been frustrated with the way a text like Ephesians 5 has been dealt with. It makes me wonder whether we use our own experience – of the wrong kind of patriarchy and headship and women’s suppression – to the text rather than some sort of consistent hermeneutic that will confirm some of our experience and challenge other parts.

        I could very well be wrong on all this, and I fully realize that.

        Respectfully,
        Stephen

      • Steve H
        Mar 24, 2010

        My concern in the post above was with claims that there is an ‘obvious’ Biblical position, so much so that people may be excluded because of it. The post is attempting to be destructive of this sort of idea, not constructive of any alternative…
        …but if you want to know what I think about Eph. 5, there’s a post around here somewhere – try ‘Gender’ or ‘Exegesis’ from the tag cloud to the right.

  12. lynn
    Jan 12, 2012

    I’m late here (as usual) but Steve, thank you. I love this post. I have just conducted my own sabbatical period of thinking, reflecting and writing for a popular book on children and families. In particular, I wanted to be really absorbed in considering what conditions were like for women/wives and children in the first century. I have been hugely impacted by what I have discovered and as a result I’m longing again for the radical reorientation of family life to be so attractive that people can’t help but be attracted to it. I believe utterly that the way Jesus demonstrated love and acceptance to women and children in a radical counter-culture way paved the way for a rise in women’s status. I love the way you think.

    • Steve H
      Jan 13, 2012

      Lynn,
      Let me know when the book is out, won’t you?
      Thanks,
      Steve

  13. lynn
    Jan 12, 2012

    Oh I wanted to add. I have been really irked by a number of “family worship guides” printed off from certain Washington DC/Seattle (!) churches where the instruction is to the dad to be the pastor to the children, that it’s his role to teach and instruct children. I am annoyed by the claim that this is the biblical way to raise a family. I feel this is inaccurate and puts guilts on families where mum leads family devotions. My understanding of bet’ab and oikos is as you have already said; the community of faith (extended family) shared in and supported parents in their role of passing on understanding about God; and its application was modelled in all activities as the community as one team together they served God.I don’t see in Old or New Testament solid evidence that dad is sole pastor to the family. I see community and team.

    In the New the overriding theme, as you have stated, is one of submission to each other with God as the head, pastoral epistles read out loud for all to hear.

    Am I way out on this !?!?!?

    • Steve H
      Jan 13, 2012

      To the last line, No!.!.!.!.

      Let’s start by asserting that family devotions are a really good idea!

      Who should lead? Well, history suggests, ‘whoever has the time’. In our family, Heather and I (more-or-less, depending on other commitments) alternate leading in prayer; our youngest from time to time gets fixed ideas in her head about who should read the Scriptures and devotional comment; for a while it had to be me; now it has to be Heather. We simply roll with that, for the sake of having a family devotional time each day.

      • Lynn
        Jan 13, 2012

        Hi again
        It should be June. I’m in the internal edit process to be followed by the external edit. Am tremendously encouraged that you asked, thank you, but as I said to our mutual friend MWE, I’ll feel nervous at the trilingual academic reader response :-) will pop you an email when it’s on it’s flight to the UK :-)

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. A really good post on biblical manhood and womanhood « FaithinIreland - [...] No point repeating it all here – have a read here. [...]
  2. Biblical Manhood and Womanhood « my small corner - [...] remiss of me not to pass on the link first found at FaithinIreland to Shored Fragments’s post here about …
  3. PaulGlavic » Blog Archive » Gender roles: rooted in Scripture or Western culture? - [...] interesting post from Scottish theologian Stephen Holmes that I found via Scot McKnight this morning focused on the trouble …
  4. Great article on "gender roles" : JulieGlavic.com - [...] write again soon! In the meantime, check out this marvelous little article by Scottish theologian Stephen Holmes (which Paul …
  5. ‘Biblical’ family life | Dan's (Sur)f Log - [...] http://shoredfragments.wordpress.com/2010/03/15/biblical-family-life/ [...]
get facebook like button