Equal Access to Grace in Ministry

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by James R. Christoph

Christoph, J. R. (1990) “Equal Access to Grace in Ministry: Women and Men.” In Listening to the Word of God, ed. Barry L. Callen, pp. 41-55. Anderson, IN: Anderson University and Warner Press.

 

The Church of God Reformation Movement, among many other Christian groups, clearly has affirmed active roles for women in public ministry.1 This position has been demonstrated in practices like the open admission of women to ordination. Such understanding, however, has been challenged within Christendom by such widely diverse elements as the Roman Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Convention. Dr. Boyce Blackwelder, nevertheless, maintained the position of open access of women to serve the kingdom of God:

According to the general context of the New Testament, women are free to pray, witness, exhort, and preach, inasmuch as there is no distinction between men and women regarding salvation and the graces and gifts of the Holy Spirit, (Gal. 3:28) (Blackwelder 55-56).

The question of the role of women in society and the church has stimulated much new research and debate. These investigations have heightened concerns about the methods of the reading of the Bible and applications in church practice. Two camps are easily identified. On the one side of this debate are the traditional views categorized as patriarchal. These views maintain that men were created to rule and women were created to follow. The patriarchal focus is established upon the claim that God in the Bible gives the human race universal, timeless, and specific gender roles. A prime example of this view is “The Danvers Statement”2 that recently appeared in Christianity Today (January 1989).

 

On the other side are the editors of Vital Christianity and its writers who recently devoted an entire issue (May 1989) to showing acceptance of women in leadership roles. The same theme also had been discussed with approval in the Center for Pastoral Studies’ Centering on Ministry (Anderson University’s School of Theology: Winter 1980). Current research has directed attention to a reevaluation of the biblical sources themselves. To this task we shall now turn.

 

Where To Begin

This discussion will proceed by accepting the pattern of some continuity and movement of thought between the Old and New Testaments.3 In choosing this pattern, this study presumes that use of Old Testament concepts and theology is proper to assist interpretation of the New Testament. At the same time, I also assume that New Testament teaching can and should influence the understanding of the intent and structure of the Old Testament message.

 

The fundamental problem of where to start the interpretation task has been recognized from ancient times in both Christian and Jewish circles. Robert C. Dentan wrote:

The Christians of the first century, like the rabbis, were aware of the diversity of the authorship of the Old Testament books, and Jesus at any rate was aware of the different levels of value within the Old Testament and was willing to quote one part against another (Mark 10:5-7).4

What is commendable about Dentan’s observation is that he takes seriously the idea that Jesus must have recognized the differing inherent values of individual texts of Scripture. This is a decision that must precede the citation of a given text in attempting to answer a question about any specific practice. An individual interpreter must determine what text has sufficient inherent value to serve as a substantial authoritative starting point. The sections of Scripture cited in the debate about divorce, for instance, are all elements of the most central division of the Hebrew Bible. Jesus answers the policy question by choosing two texts from the opening chapters of Genesis to repudiate the practice of divorce permitted by alternate claims of “Mosaic” legislation in Deuteronomy. The view espoused by Jesus (understood through Mark) presumably suggests the Genesis texts to have revealed the equal value of persons of both genders, “male and female.” Thus the destruction of the marriage bond of “one flesh” through divorce by either male or female constitutes adultery against his or her spouse. This idea within the first century setting could well be identified as revolutionary.

 

The corrective use of Genesis (Gen. 1:27; 5:2; 2:24) in this manner functions like a step of the hermeneutical process presented by John Bright in the James A. Gray Lectures at the Divinity School of Duke University. Bright claims that the preacher must preach only Christian sermons from the Old Testament: “That is to say, the text must be interpreted in full recognition of Christ as the crown and norm of revelation” (Bright 197-98).

 

The procedure that Bright suggests calls for the interpreter to perceive the verdict of the New Testament upon the theological concerns underlying the precise meaning of any text in the Old Testament (Bright 211-12). The use of the Genesis texts in Dentan’s illustration is comparable. Scholarship unquestionably recognizes Jesus’ affirmation of persons independent of social status, nationality, or gender.5 Jesus introduces a startling standard on the basis of an allusion to Genesis 1:27 (or 5:2) in Mark 10:6. Jesus’ own concern for persons, male and female, might be understood as providing an opportunity to see anew a concern for persons, both male and female, within these Genesis creation texts. This concern, when joined to a text of the Eden story (Gen. 2:24) presenting the idea of marriage as a “one flesh” creation (Mark 10:7-8), would deny the usual Rabbinic patriarchal understanding. The teaching presented by Mark specifically rejects the existence of two in the marriage bond. The Rabbinic view of leader (male) and follower (female) is thus corrected by the emphasis upon the creation of the one flesh relationship.

 

Bright’s verdict step demands that the interpreter evaluate the message of any text of the Old Testament on the basis of corresponding New Testament teaching. Does this example of Jesus ratify, modify, or abrogate the claims of Genesis? Is, as it is claimed, the Genesis texts present the traditional Rabbinic viewpoint and thus teach patriarchal orders for society and family, these conceptions still would need to be reconsidered with respect to Jesus’ ministry and teaching and the remainder of the New Testament. Bright’s verdict step thus offers a reliable procedure to avoid the introduction of possible distortion from Old Testament teaching and practices deemed substandard to the teachings of the gospel.

 

The Genesis creation stories therefore need to undergo a careful reexamination in the light of the Jesus who employs citations from these accounts in a fundamentally different way and with dramatically different results from traditional conventions. This examination should proceed with full awareness of the shifts of meaning introduced by gender preconceptions.

 

 

Two Creation Stories

The opening chapters of the book of Genesis present the reader with two distinct accounts of origins. Each story reflects its own particular perspective, purpose, and style of development.

 

The first story (Gen. 1:1-2:4a) reverberates with stately refrains and cadences. It emphasizes the powerful word of the one God over chaos and indeterminate matter. The scope of its heralding is no less than the vastness of the whole of the universe. The second narrative (Gen. 2:4b-25) by contrast unfolds the mysterious beginnings of the human family in the finite limits of the paradise of Eden. Its effect is accomplished in several scenes through a rapid pace of literary brush strokes revealing the tender concern of Yahweh God for this earthling fashioned from clay. The story climaxes with the intervention of divine care to introduce Yahweh’s solution for loneliness by the establishing of community in relationship and unabashed trust.

Westermann reports that stories of what has been created appear in two forms:

Two basic types may be distinguished: there are stories of the creation or origin of the whole and stories of the creation or origin of the one (i.e., of a particular thing). Generally speaking the creation of the whole (that is of the world and humankind) is the later form, and the creation of the one is the earlier form.6

Thus it may be observed that the two accounts that Genesis transmits offer examples of both types: the creation of the whole (Gen. 1:1-2:4a) and the origin of the one (Gen. 2:4b-25). The function or purpose of the story can help to explain the sharp contrast of focus and features of presentation. These unique elements may be further clarified if it would be possible to identify the community of ancient Israel responsible for the oral (possibly even written) transmission of these independent narratives.

 

After investigation of the characteristics of both, U. Cassuto has attempted to identify the locus of origin:

The two traditions, the one dealing with the story of creation and the other with that of the garden of Eden, were of different types. The former, which treats of a more speculative subject, passed apparently through the circles of the “wise men” . . . the philosophical groups who delved into the mystery of the world’s existence. The latter, which is concerned with a simpler and more popular topic, remained nearer to the broad masses of the people and assumed a form more suited to them in its vivid portrayals (Cassuto 72).

The distinctive interests of these diverse populations can thus additionally help explain the difference in scope and the general overall stylistic variations as well.

 

Yet even after an initial confrontation with the multifold variety between these two accounts, a more fundamental question remains with respect to the question of the role of woman. Just how do these narratives compare in their treatment of the female gender of homo sapiens? Do the underlying theological premises correspond or do these stories present divergent viewpoints that cannot be reconciled? A careful inspection of these stories should provide helpful assistance for answering these questions.

 

Genesis 1:26-29

The first creation story presents the events of the sixth day in Genesis 1:24-31. The narrator, following the description of the origin of land creatures, abruptly introduces into the story a new form of speech. This new element of divine speech, “Let us make . . . ,” has been interpreted variously. While Westermann suggests that its use here as a plural of deliberation is a sufficient explanation,7 many other modern and ancient interpreters hold that the form reflects royal language of the heavenly court. In any case, this form draws attention to a significant change in the story due to its heightened concern for the creation of humankind. This inference is supported by the twofold use of “man” (‘adam) in verses 26 and 27 and the threefold use of “create” (bara’) in verse 27. In this way, the account clearly emphasizes the more immediate activity of God with respect to humanity.

 

The word translated here as “man” must not be confused with the concept of gender as “man” or “male,” for its use in the deliberative statement of verse 26 points to its function in the sense of genus. The phrase, “and let them have dominion. . . ,” suggests the same meaning. Von Rad state: “The Hebrew word ‘adam’ (‘man’) is a collective and is therefore never used in the plural: it means literally ‘mankind’ (L. Koehler)’ (Von Rad 55).

 

The most poignant indicator for emphasis in verse 27 is the change of literary form from prose to poetry. The text reads:

So God created / man in His own image, In the image of God / He created him; Male and female / He created them.8

Although there is much debate about the meaning of the image of God,9 the Hebrew poetic parallelism clearly demonstrates that the female of the human species is created in possession of this same feature. She participates in the divine image in no grammatically, demonstrably different way in contrast to the male. Mary Hayter, when discussing the Imago Dei, says:

Whatever it is correct to say about the creation of the male in the image and likeness of God applies to the female. Anything and everything that may be deduced from the text about “man,” “mankind,” “humanity,” is relevant not simply to one half of the human race but to all men and women (Hayter 92).

Therefore any claims to variation of degree in bearing the divine image based upon gender distinctions should be rejected. Such readings overlook or ignore the plain reading of the text. The third line of this poetic refrain candidly recounts the creation of a plurality of persons, “them,” in genders male and female.10

 

Some would object that the account given in chapter two indicates the priority of the man as male. At this precise point, the terminology and concepts that Paul himself cavalierly employs in the pivotal passage 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 unfortunately allows such an understanding.11 An objection, reflecting this perspective, may be raised suggesting that the “him” of line two refers to the antecedent “man” in line one. Grammatically, however, the “him” of line two cannot refer to man as male for the category male is only first introduced in the following line. As already stated above, ‘adam does not mean male but humankind and it is used as a collective noun. Therefore the word him cannot carry any male gender connotations in this setting.

 

Recognition of the function of Hebrew poetic parallelism has also provided a useful approach for understanding the meaning of the Imago Dei with respect to the relationship between woman and man. Jewett observed that “according to this view, Genesis 1:27b (‘male and female made he them’) is an exposition of 1:27a (‘in the image of God created he him’) (Jewett 33).”

 

This view understands that “man” was created to live in community or in partnership. Westermann commented:

A lone human being remains a complete human being in his lonesomeness. What is being said here is that a human being must be seen as one whose destiny it is to live in community; people have been created to live with each other.12

Thus man and woman are to live and work in partnership as a representation of the smallest unit of community. At this point, if one is disposed to find it, the first story fails to provide instruction in an alleged order of creation. If sexual distinction means difference in rank or function the story offers no hint. No hierarchical roles are formulated. No gender behaviors are suggested.

 

Ignoring this lack, the account continues with a divine blessing upon “them.” Even more surprising, the orders to reproduce (peru urabu) and populate (umil’u) over earth, to subdue it (ukibshuha), and have dominion (uradu) over the animal kingdom are given in the plural form (Hayter 89). This clearly suggests that both male and female are included in the divine plan of action. This conclusion, however, should be no surprise, for it simply follows the specified intent of the deliberative statement in verse 26, “and let them have dominion” (weyirdu).

 

The reading of image in Genesis 1:27 has been interpreted theologically as a reflection of the Trinitarian relationship in the Godhead. This view takes the divine community of the trinity as the apriori of human community. Scanzoni and Hardesty, for example, discuss the image and likeness of God by saying:

We believe that the image of God is not only rationality but “relationality.” All persons, male and female, are created by God with rational self-awareness, and also with the capacity for self-transcendence. The fellowship of husband and wife, of parents and child, and even the fellowship within the church reflect the dynamic mutuality and reciprocity of the Trinity, which agreed, “Let us make man in our image.”13

Formulating the idea in this way suggests that the relationship of the sexes mirrors the affairs of Deity. As the dogma of the trinity would hold to some idea of divine equality of the persons of the Godhead, so some idea of human equality between the persons of the human family must be recognized. This equality of persons would naturally extend to equality between the genders. How far this correspondence between the divine and the human should be traced is an important question. Should the conception be understood from the view of being only or also entertain the ideas of a mutuality of function discussed in such Trinitarian dogma?14 However these questions may eventually be decided, the idea of sexuality in the Godhead should be denied cautiously (Jewett 43; Hayter 37-41).

Genesis 2:18-25

The second creation story focuses upon the origin of human social matters.

 

 

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