Saturday, January 12, 2008

Where Is the Joy? Part Two

I’m not sure this is going to work, but I’ll give it a try. In this post I want to answer a few questions concerning my understanding of the different ways that the teaching and practice of patriarchy is handled throughout redemptive history. However, while I do this I also want to keep in mind my overall objective of demonstrating that these questions are worthy to be considered because of the overwhelming joy that follows for those who put these teachings into practice. I’ll likely fail at one or more aspect, so please be patient.

Mary Anne made a helpful observation concerning the Bible’s inconsistent emphasis on the issue of patriarchy. Specifically, she observes that it’s somewhat easy to find patriarchy in the Old Testament and in Paul’s writings, but we don’t seem to find it anywhere in the teachings of Jesus. I think there are some very good reasons for this and so I’ll be focusing on this. I should state at the outset however that I find Jesus’ teachings as found in the gospels as essential for any proper understanding of the biblical view of patriarchy.

Patriarchy in the Old Testament:

Before I really get into the OT, I think it is helpful to observe that I cannot find anything in the OT that even comes close to the teaching we find in the NT with regard to men and women, the purpose for which they were created, and their proper relationship. We do see a basic pattern arise, such that Peter can say essentially, ‘be like Sarah who obeyed Abraham, calling him lord,’ but we don’t have any clear commands like this in the OT.

Purpose found in creation

So what do we find in the OT? First, we find admittedly ambiguous statements about the purpose of men and women in the historical accounts of creation. Eve was created to be a helper to Adam and they were both to be fruitful and to tend the garden, i.e. care for all of creation. If this is all we had, I don’t think I’d ever even mention patriarchy on this blog.

Creation purpose undermined by sin

Besides that, in the OT, we really only find two other kinds of passages: laws that infer that patriarchy was the norm and narratives that demonstrate that patriarchy was the norm. However, there is something very telling in almost all the laws and stories found in the OT. Almost every one of them demonstrates that the patriarchy of the OT was deeply flawed, even to the breaking point.

The laws, which assume patriarchy, were written to protect women from perverse men who, if left ungoverned, would abuse their authority. The narratives are even worse. We often see unrestrained abuse or abdication of authority, which results in suffering. Even the Patriarchs (Abraham and Jacob) can’t get it right.

Patriarchy does not fair any better than the nation of Israel in the OT. Israel’s hardness of heart caused them to loose the Promised Land untold times during the period of the judges. They faired no better under the reign of their kings. Israel’s history seems shows that everything on earth is broken, even the kingdom of God. Patriarchy falls under the same curse. If all we had were the writings of the OT, I would not take up the topic of patriarchy. In deed, I can hardly find any joy there as it relates to the subject.

Well, this post is getting long and I've only begun to address Mary Anne's question. Next I’ll take up the subject of what Jesus teachings as they relate to patriarchy.


maryannie said...

That's really helpful, Chris. And it has made me think of another question to ask you! I think it's really interesting that you say that if all we had about patriarchy were the Old Testament writings, you would never bring it up as an issue. And you find that the creation account leads to ambiguous conclusions about the purpose of men and women. So then why do you think Paul justified so many of his statements about patriarchy with the OT/creation account? What did he see in there that you (and I) aren't seeing?

And I also wanted to mention something interesting I read about the Genesis account. I read something by a faculty member at Gordon-Conwell (I don't remember who) awhile ago about the "helpmeet" passage. This scholar noted that all the other times that the Hebrew word we translate as "helpmeet" was used in the OT was to describe God. The Hebrew word really comes closer to meaning a "strong help", if I remember correctly. You may know better than I do. So this person's argument was that it is way off to interpret "helpmeet" as meaning a subordinate, submissive helper, and that this shouldn't be used to support patriarchical arguments. I know you didn't use this in support of your arguments either. I just thought that was really interesting.

Well, that's all for now. Thanks again for taking the time to write about all this stuff!

Christopher said...

Hey Mary Anne,

I have something to say about both of your questions, but I'd rather focus on finishing my answer to your first question before answering these. I do hope you will continue to post your questions as it's very hard to think through all the questions people have about why I focus on patriarchy issues. I will likely try to address your question of Paul's use of the Genesis text when I deal with Paul later. As I can't see how to fit in the helpmeet concept into the answer for your first question, I'll likely just do a separate post on it after I've finished the next two posts.

maryannie said...

Yes, of course... don't let me derail your train of thought with my numerous questions on these issues. I'm just tossing them out there, but I'm sure the posts you have planned will address most of them anyway.