Affirming the Ministry of Women in the Lutheran Church of Australia

AN EQUAL PARTNERSHIP

It is said, on the basis of 1 Corinthians 11:31 Corinthians 11:3
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3 But I would have you know that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is the man, and the head of Christ is God.

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and other NT texts, that there is a biblical order of creation by which women are to be subordinate to men. The texts used to support this notion invariably appear in what is known as household codes, reflecting traditional understanding at the time of writing rather than an unbudging order of creation. Also the subordination of women is not argued independently, to establish it as a fixed biblical principle. Rather Paul employs the contemporary position on the role of women to support the main point he is making, that women should wear something on their heads during worship (11:2-16). When we turn to the creation and fall stories in Genesis 1-3 it becomes clear that the Bible cannot be used to support the notion of the subordination of women.Men and women are both made in the image of God (Gen 1:26-28Gen 1:26-28
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26 God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the sky, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 God created man in his own image. In God’s image he created him; male and female he created them. 28 God blessed them. God said to them, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the sky, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

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). The fact that Eve is made after Adam in the second creation account cannot be used to argue for her secondary status. The Genesis 2 account is told to emphasise at every point the fact that the two are made for one another, to complement one another, to serve one another, and to live together in a partnership of mutual interdependence. Just as the Bible is clear that it is not only men who are made from the dust of the earth, but also women (eg Ps 104:29Ps 104:29
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29 You hide your face: they are troubled; You take away their breath: they die, and return to the dust.

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), the dust symbolising their fragility and their mortality, so also it could be said (even though the Bible doesn’t) that men have been taken from the ribs of women, symbolising their togetherness as one flesh.
‘He shall rule over you’

Doesn’t the fall story make it perfectly clear that men are meant to exercise dominion over women, and that women are called to be submissive? Doesn’t God punish Eve after the fall with these words, ‘he (your husband) shall rule over you’? (3:16).

There can be no doubt, for Eve’s misdemeanours God punishes her with desire for her husband, coupled with his rule over her. What does this mean? Is it a heavenly and perpetual decree that men shall have dominion over women, or husbands over wives? It has certainly been read that way often enough, and might I say harmfully enough.

What does this mean for us?

In answering this vital question it is helpful to look at Genesis 4:7Genesis 4:7
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7 If you do well, will it not be lifted up? If you don’t do well, sin crouches at the door. Its desire is for you, but you are to rule over it.”

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. There God tells a vengeful Cain that sin is couching at the door; its desire is for him, but he must master it. This is the only other occurrence of the word ‘desire’ in Genesis, and it is employed in closest association with the verb ‘to rule, or have dominion’. So the two words ‘desire’ and ‘to have mastery’ both appear in Genesis 3:16Genesis 3:16
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16 To the woman he said, “I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth. In pain you will bring forth children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”

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and 4:7. What does this mean for us? Sin’s desire in the case of Cain is the desire to gain the upper hand; that is, for vengeance to take control of his life. Cain is counselled to master the desire of sin.

A number of things become clear. First, a battle is raging in his heart between two opposing forces: sin and conscience, human nature and the will of God, bad and good. Call the opponents what you like. Secondly, the desire has little to do with sexual desire, although that is certainly the force of the word when used in the Song of Songs.

If we now look at Genesis 3:16Genesis 3:16
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16 To the woman he said, “I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth. In pain you will bring forth children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”

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, it follows that the author is speaking first about Eve’s desire to dominate Adam rather than her physical desire for the brute; and then the author is acknowledging the fact that the male will generally get the upper hand over the female throughout history, physically, economically, and politically. How else can we read St Peter’s statement that the woman is ‘the weaker sex’? (1 Pet 3:71 Pet 3:7
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7 You husbands, in like manner, live with your wives according to knowledge, giving honor to the woman, as to the weaker vessel, as being also joint heirs of the grace of life; that your prayers may not be hindered.

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, NRSV).

What are the implications of this understanding?

This interpretation seems to suggest that the so-called punishments of Genesis 3 are nothing but descriptions of the common lot of humankind. Surely God’s words to Adam and Eve are also to be understood as punishments, and not merely as observations about human nature and behaviour. At this point the verbs are particularly unhelpful when looking for an unequivocal answer. The imperfect tense that is used is the simple future, and hence the verbs do in fact describe the way things will be for ever and a day (or the way things have been from day one); but the imperfect is also used for a requirement, and hence in this context a punishment. It is not a case of either-or, but a case of both description and prescription.

Does that mean that male dominion is not only an accurate description of the human lot from time immemorial, but is also prescribed by the fall account and therefore needs to be adhered to strictly, or lovingly by those who think that that is possible? Genesis 3:16Genesis 3:16
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16 To the woman he said, “I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth. In pain you will bring forth children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”

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describes perfectly the perennial battle of the sexes while at the same time prescribing, as Eve’s punishment for her (equal) part in the fall, the destiny of constantly coming off second best in that battle.

Now look at the other punishments: increased pain in child-bearing and an increase in the number of pregnancies (the literal Hebrew), men wresting their living from the accursed soil, which has been depleted in energy and infested with thorns and thistles, with sweaty brows, and a final destiny in the dust from which all humans were made. If these are eternally decreed, they are not to be challenged or overturned. Calm resignation to God’s immutable will would mean no weedicides (I agree), no air-conditioned tractors (I disagree), no pain relief in childbirth (likewise), and no birth control (see the punishment consisting also of an increase in the number of pregnancies, v 16). All of these, and more, have been enforced at different times, and in some cases to this day, throughout the history of the church. But the punishment with the greatest resilience has been male rulership. The punishments have been borne and lifted from us in Christ, and hence they no longer apply. We are free to attack all manifestations of male control and mastery over women with the same vigour that we attack the weeds in our garden.

The male-female equality and mutual servant-hood of creation and fall have yielded in some societies to matriarchal patterns, in others to patriarchal patterns, and in others to genuine attempts at equal partnership. In Christ, none of these suffices, not even egalitarianism, which leads inevitably to a sense that I am not getting my fair share, or my partner is not putting in equally. The male-female relationship patterned on Christ involves mutual servant-hood, whereby we outdo one another in showing love. This is radically a-cultural or trans-cultural. In Christ there is a new creation (2 Cor 5:172 Cor 5:17
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17 Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old things have passed away. Behold, all things have become new.

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). Punishments following the fall have been borne by him and lifted from our shoulders. In him the mutual servant-hood of creation is restored. The one who washed his disciples’ feet (Jn 13:5Jn 13:5
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5 Then he poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

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) and said he was among us as one who serves (Lk 22:27Lk 22:27
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27 For who is greater, one who sits at the table, or one who serves? Isn’t it he who sits at the table? But I am in the midst of you as one who serves.

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) has set the new agenda.

There definitely is, in my opinion, a biblically sanctioned order of creation, that has humans under God tending the created realm. Within the human realm the focal authority figure is the parent (see the fourth commandment), with parenthood patterned on the ultimate rule of God. All positions of authority within a given society are said, according to ancient church tradition, to be situated ‘in the place of the parent’ (Latin: in loco parentis), not in the place of the father, or men in general. The church is the precise place where leadership is demonstrated for the world to see in sacrificial servant-hood and loving parenthood.

Peter Lockwood

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