Saturday, December 31, 2005

Gender and the Imgage of God: A Response

Friends—and that it what you have all become—thanks so much for taking the time to read my lengthy post and respond so thoughtfully. I have felt out numbered, but not ganged up on. The irenic nature of this discussion speaks to your charity and the bond of the Spirit that unites us all.

Due to the length of this response, as well as in order to alleviate the need for you to keep scrolling down the page and then even further down a subsequent thread of comments, I have chosen to respond to you in the form of a post. In that some of your comments addressed similar concerns, I will tackle the issues you raise by subject, rather than addressing each comment individually. Here goes.

Both Peter and Suzanne took issue with my assertion that kephale has a semantic field of meaning which includes the idea of "leader" or "chief." Though kephale is most often used to denote one’s literal head, it is also used to denote a position of authority or leadership. Note the lexical definitions below. I have highlighted the pertinent passages and have abbreviated some of the entries.
[Friberg] kephale,, h/j, h` head; (1) literally, of a human or animal head (MT 6.17); (2) figuratively; (a) metaphorically, of Christ as the head of which the church is the body (EP 1.22); (b) of persons, designating first or superior rank head (1C 11.3); (c) of things uppermost part, extremity, end point; of buildings keystone, capstone (MT 21.42); (d) leading city, capital (AC 16.12).

[UBS] kephale, , h/j f head ( kata. kÅ e;cw have one's head covered 1 Cor 11.4); lord, head (of superior rank, etc.); kÅ gwni,aj main corner-stone.

[Louw-Nida] kephale,, h/j f: (a figurative extension of meaning of kephale, 'head,' 8.10) one who is of supreme or pre-eminent status, in view of authority to order or command - 'one who is the head of, one who is superior to, one who is supreme over.' o[j evstin h` kephale,, Cristo,j 'who is the head, (even) Christ' Eph 4.15;

[Thayer] kephale,, kephale/j, h`, the Septuagint for varo; the head, both of men: Matt. 5:36; Mark 6:24; Luke 7:38,44 (Rec.),46; John 13:9; Acts 18:18; 1 Cor. 11:4; Rev. 1:14; 4:4, and often; and of animals: Rev. 9:7,17,19, etc.; on the phrases kli,nein th,n kephale,n, evpai,rein th,n kephale,n, see kli,nw, 1 and evpai,rw; on the saying in Rom. 12:20, see under a;nqrax. Since the loss of the head destroys the life, kephale, is used in phrases relating to capital and extreme punishments: so in to, ai-ma u`mw/n evpi, th,n kephale,n u`mw/n (see ai-ma, 2 a., p. 15{b}), Acts 18:6, and similar phrases in classical Greek; see Passow, under the word, p. 1717{a}; Pape under the word, 3; (Liddell and Scott, under the word, I. 3 and 4). Metaphorically, anything supreme, chief, prominent; of persons, master, lord: ti,noj, of a husband in relation to his wife, 1 Cor. 11:3; Eph. 5:23; of Christ, the lord of the husband, 1 Cor. 11:3 (cf. Buttmann, 124f (109)); of the church, Eph. 4:15; 5:23; Col. 2:19 (cf. Buttmann, sec. 143, 4 c.); tou/ sw,matoj th/j evkklhsi,aj, Col. 1:18; pa,shj avrch/j kai, evxousi,aj, Col. 2:10; so Judg. 11:11; 2 Sam. 22:44 .

[BDG] kephale a being of high status, head, fig. (of Asclepius IG II2, 4514, 6; in gnostic speculation: Iren. 1, 5, 3 [Harv. I 45, 13]. o` me,gaj a;rcwn, h` k. tou/ ko,smou Hippol., Ref. 7, 23, 3). a. in the case of living beings, to denote superior rank (cp. Artem. 4, 24 p. 218, 8 h` k. is the symbol of the father; Judg 11:11; 2 Km 22:44) head (Zosimus of Ashkelon [500 AD] hails Demosth. as his master: w= qei,a kephale, [Biogr. p. 297])
Of course the lexicons aren’t inspired, but such lexical definitions certainly find continuity with the word kephale as used in passages such as Judges 11:11, 2 Samuel 22:44 (and Psalm 18:43, same as previous), Eph 1:22 and, of course, 1 Cor 11:3. In each case the context seems to demand a definition such as that provided above. Ultimately of course, this is important to my argument to the extent that I have argued that “naming rights” are granted to the leader or “head” of a given group of people. So if man is not the “leader” of the woman, then of course my argument is void. But this discussion is really part of the wider egalitarian debate.

Wayne rejects my conclusion that male-representative language implies male-headship. But the idea that male-representative language (regardless of the language) implies male headship seems evident from the fact that our wider egalitarian culture rejects its usage precisely on the grounds that it seems to suggest that the man is somehow "over" the women--something that egalitarians very staunchly oppose. Such a sentiment has crept into evangelicalism as well. The Trinity Evangelical Divinity School asks that its theses and dissertations for instance, avoid male-representative language on the grounds that such language is “potentially offensive” and detracts from the reality that both men and women are made after the image of God. This may not be the reason that translations such as the TNIV have chosen to follow suit, but certainly our wider egalitarian culture finds such language at odds with egalitarian sensitivities.

And it must be pointed out that male-representative language was rejected initially not because it was unclear, but because it suggested, and arose from, a complimentarian social structure--a social structure that egalitarians found deficient in its view of women (and in many ways the secular complimentarian social structure was deficient). It is no coincidence that the demise of male-representative language in common English parallels the rise of the feminist movement of the 70's (at least in America).

Imagine how this progression looks to a complimentarian such as myself: First, the basic complimentarian paradigm of western culture is rejected by an emerging egalitarian culture that radically rejects any suggestion that the man is the head of the woman. Consequently, our former idiomatic expressions that imply male headship are increasingly marginalized and put out of use. And now having finally reached a point where the idiomatic expression of male-representative language is no longer understood by many in our wider culture, bible translation teams such as the TNIV feel a need to eliminate such language from Scripture in order for our readers to understand a text, only further masking the reality of male headship--which in keeping with the central thesis of this series is important in as much as male headship typologically portrays God's headship over Christ and reflects the image of God.

So as a complimentarian, I understand that complimentarian language is no longer the norm in English culture. But in as much as it has been the egalitarian bent of our culture that has brought about the elimination of male-representative language in the first place (precisely because it implies male-headship), I can’t help but feel as though our corporate lack of ability to make sense of male-representative language has been a self-fulfilling prophecy (or sorts). This is why as a complimentarian I think it is important to retain male-representative language in our bible translations--such language intentionally contrasts with a misguided egalitarian society that tends to view submission, authority, hierarchy, humility, etc., as evils rather than beauties (regardless of the social context).

Both Wayne and Peter argued against my finding significance in male-representative language in that such language is merely a reflection of the grammatical conventions of the day. In response, I would note first of all that I do understand that the biblical languages are not some divine dialect that was unique to Scripture. Certainly the biblical authors adopted and utilized semantic idioms that can be found outside of scripture, and as such one need not attempt to derive theological significance from every idiomatic expression. But the difficulty I have with Wayne and Peter’s reasoning is that I don’t agree that male-representative language is a necessary grammatical idiom. Peter writes,
When someone merely says what they are forced to say by the structure of the language, they are conveying no information; for example, if I say "two words", the -s on "words" conveys no new information because the structure of the language requires it to be present. Similarly, when the biblical authors use male-representative language (if I grant for the moment that that is what we find in the Bible) in Greek and Hebrew, they do so because that is what the structure of those languages requires them to do, and therefore by doing so they cannot be conveying any teaching, anything of theological significance.
But male-representative language is not a necessary grammatical idiom. Just as was common in the English language 30+ years ago, male-representative language in Scripture was used by choice rather than by necessity. Quite easily the biblical authors could have (and often did) referred to gender mixed groups as “children” rather than “sons”, or as “brothers and sisters” rather than “brothers.” They had the semantic tools to do so. It is true, as Wayne and Peter point out, that such language was common both in Scripture and out, but no grammatical necessity required the use of male-representative language. So the fact that the biblical authors felt comfortable utilizing this idiomatic expression shows that, at the very least, it did not did not reflect an anti-Christian perspective regarding gender relations. But more needs to be said here, so on the next subject . . .

I think that I can safely argue, that at least for much of the history of the western world, male-representative language has been overwhelmingly the norm. Again, by male-representative, I simply mean “the use of a typically real world male term (not just a grammatically masculine term) to denote both sexes.” Certainly this type of language phenomenon was found in ancient Semitic languages such as Hebrew, continued in ancient Greek (both or which are “pre-western"), Latin (I think I’m right here) and on through the vast majority of the history of the English language. I do not have a broad enough exposure to other languages but would suspect something similar as well. Male-representative language is not merely idiomatic to Greek and Hebrew but rather is the customary way in which many languages, if not most, operate. Rather than this being a strike against my argument, I think it is evidence for it.

There seems to be something latent within many (most?) languages that affirms male headship. Just as it is beyond coincidence that the diverse world cultures have all adopted a 7 day week, so too it seems beyond coincidence that the diverse cultures of the world would adopt idiomatic expressions that imply male-headship. For me, this unifying element in the various languages of the world seems to point toward a cosmic truth that is latent within corporate humanity. We humans, as a collective whole, seem to intuitively know that the man is the head of the woman. This is in turn reflected in our diverse language patterns.

My reasoning here, of course, will convince no one who does not already embrace the theological conviction that the man is the head/leader of the woman. But I will point out again—in reference to one of Wayne’s comments—that I am not attempting to prove my complimentarian position by the use of male-representative language. As Wayne correctly pointed out, such a position should be arrived at by studying the clear teaching of Scripture. In the same way that Jonathan Edwards, having already arrived at the theological conclusion that hell in fact does exists, can see fire as a typological portray of hell, so too I, having already arrived at the theological conclusion that the man is the head of the woman, am able to see typological significance in male-representative language (derived quite seperately from male-representative language). Those who do not believe in the existence of hell will obviously not be impressed by Edwards’ argument that fire was created by God to serve as its typological portrayal. Similarly, those who do not already embrace some form of complimentarian thought will not be impressed by my argument that male-representative language, both within and out of Scripture, is a typological indicator of headship (the man over the woman and God over Christ).

At the end of the day, we will never agree on the significance of the type if we do not agree on the reality of the anti-type.

But this has been entirely too long. Thanks all again for your input. Look forward to your response.


Suzanne McCarthy said...

According to Aristotle, "There is a community of interest and friendship between slave and master in cases when they have been qualified by nature for those positions. Although when they do not hold them in that way, but by law and by constraint of force, the opposite is the case. Politics I

Aristotle believed that women were inferior so there was a community of interest and friendship for the husband to rule. We no longer believe that women are inferior. According to Aristotle, if the ruled is not inferior to the ruler, then there is no community of friendship.

More about Aristotle and Christ on my bookshelf

Ted Gossard said...


I don't follow your thinking in your insistence that the Bible authors could have avoided male representative language if they had so chosen. Maybe so, but what if their usage was simply conforming to the languages that they were using at that time? And further, what really was the meaning that came across in those words spoken at that time?

Someone, at least began to read your arguments in your last post and e-mailed me that they think you are going too ontological. I'm not sure what they mean. I've been too busy to try to think this through sufficiently. But my guess is that they're referring to your insistence that language itself bears ontological significance in the ways you've propounded: i.e., reflecting the order of male over female.

For myself I think language reflects the worldview and experience of the culture and people from which it comes. In the Bible patriarchy was dominant and so language simply reflected that. In our society a gender egalitarian view is beginning to prevail and our language reflects that.

Surely language globally reflects our "imago Dei" (sp?). But language inherently can't be made to be a part of God's special or even general revelation to humanity in the way you are describing, with reference to male representative language. If it could, why all the variance in world languages? Only what is explicitly taught through the language can be called God's special revelation to us. Right?


Ted Gossard said...

Only what is taught explicitly through the language OF SCRIPTURE can be called God's special revelation.

Clarification for end of my comment.


Gerald said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Gerald said...

For myself I think language reflects the worldview and experience of the culture and people from which it comes. In the Bible patriarchy was dominant and so language simply reflected that. In our society a gender egalitarian view is beginning to prevail and our language reflects that.


This is true, and that was part of my point. But the reality is that language also "creates" the worldview and experience of a culture. This is why, in order to create a more racially sensitive culture, our society has moved away from racially insensitive or derogatory terms. The movement away from such terms actually helped to create the very society envisioned by those who rejected the racially insensitive terms in the first place. It was for the same reason that the feminist movement moved us away from complimentarian/patriarchal language.

So if male-representative language both reflects and creates the complimentarianism paradigm (and assuming that complimentarianism is indeed the biblical paradigm), then the use of such language in our translations would help to both communicate and challenge the misguided egalitarianism of our culture. Cultures are not amoral--some better reflect a biblical worldview than others. Just because our culture is egalitarian does not mean we need to capitulate to the egalitarian mindset in our translations.

As to the "too ontological" critique, ontology is a slippery word and I'm not sure what specific parts of my argument that might be directed toward. Or perhaps he or she meant that my whole theological paradigm is "too ontological." The significance of ontology as a philosophical term has been marginalized in recent years (though I hear that it is making a comeback). But in as much as the bible tends to give a heavy emphasis to ontology, I guess I don't mind being "too ontological."

Gerald said...

I think I should add that I am not suggesting that the patriarchalism of the Old Testament or secular culture should serve as a model for NT complimentarianism. As Suzanne's comment above indicates, there are many reasons to adopt a patriarchal attitude in regard to gender relations--not all of which are affirmed by the NT. The radical inclusion of women as equals into the church and the body of Christ speaks of a different day than the Mosaic brand of patriarchalism.

Just so you all don’t think that I think that women are property or somehow ontologically inferior to men. Galatians 3:28 speaks a better word than the law.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

Just so you all don’t think that I think that women are property or somehow ontologically inferior to men

I would somehow prefer to read that women are not inferior to women, without some obscure qualification added to this statement. 'Women are not inferior to men' should be an unqualified statement. Otherwise, women are inferior to men, and you are back to Aristotle, not Christ.

Gerald said...


In some way the Father is "greater" than the Son, yet we theologically speak of them as equal in ontology/nature.

Aristotle seems to be arguing that women are ontologically inferior (inferior by nature) and thus the headship of the man over the woman is a natural and "reasonable" headship. But Paul places the man over the woman as a reflection of God's relationship over Christ and Christ's headship over the Church. In both instances, there is an identical ontology between the the two (for the church in as much as we have "become partakers of the divine nature").

If you can accept the relational dynamics of the trinitarian hierarchy (and perhaps you don't) is it not possible to accept the dynamics of complimentarian gender relations without resorting to Aristotle? I think so.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

our society has moved away from racially insensitive or derogatory terms

If you condone moving away from racially insensitve terms why not condone moving away from sexually insensitive terms?

This was exactly Dr. Longenecker's point, as a translator of the TNIV.

The other aspect, of course, is that a great deal of the choice is made in the translation - the ESV has retained 'man' for 'human' where everyone knows the Greek says 'human'. The Greek has been mistranslated to promote the position of men.

Gerald said...

If you condone moving away from racially insensitve terms why not condone moving away from sexually insensitive terms?

Because I do not believe them to be properly offensive or insensitive. Certainly the fact that you find such language offensive or insensitive means little more than the fact that my wife finds it acceptable and meaningful.

For you, the entire complimentarian system is offensive (or insensitive) so obviously you find language that reflects such a paradigm insensitive.

The issue is not whether some find it offensive but whether it properly communicates God's ideal. There are many things that many people find offensive in scripture that are yet accurate reflections of God's ideal.

Peter Kirk said...

Gerald, suppose that someone continued to use and to promote the use of language which was considered to be racially offensive by members of another racial group, and refused to stop doing so "Because I do not believe them to be properly offensive or insensitive". Would you condone that? And how would that be different from what you are doing now, using and promoting the use of "male-represantative" language even though you know very well that it is offensive to many women?

Peter Kirk said...

I now want to come back to the main content of this posting. Gerald wrote:

My reasoning here, of course, will convince no one who does not already embrace the theological conviction that the man is the head/leader of the woman. But I will point out again—in reference to one of Wayne’s comments—that I am not attempting to prove my complimentarian position by the use of male-representative language.

And similarly any arguments I make will convince neither Gerald nor anyone else who already embraces this theological conviction. I hope they may help some whose mind is not already made up. But it is pointless to continue to argue here at great length.

Nevertheless, I do want to make a few points. One is that by no means all languages use any kind of male representative language, and some use female representative language, such as persona non grata in Latin, and for that matter the use of "cow" for all cattle, male or female, in city dwellers' English.

My main point here concerns the Greek word κεφαλή kephalē, usually rendered in English as "head". Firstly let me make it clear that my point that its meaning does not include the idea of "leader" or "chief" refers to the Greek word only, not to its Hebrew near equivalent רֹאשׁ rosh; and I will now further restrict my point to works composed in Greek, rather than literal translations of works written in Hebrew or other languages. On this basis I dismiss as irrelevant Gerald's Old Testament references and consider only Greek language evidence.

Well, Gerald cites specialist lexicons of New Testament Greek in support of a sense something like "designating first or superior rank". The problem is that these NT lexicons routinely base their definitions primarily on NT usage, which they understand generally according to traditional interpretations. And so it is circular argument (although of a very common type) to use these lexicons as support for those same traditional interpretations. To find out what the word really meant in Greek, and to the original audience e.g. for Paul's letters who were not already familiar with the NT, it is necessary to look outside the NT. Now I have not done that myself, but I understand from those who have that there is very little evidence for κεφαλή kephalē ever meaning anything like "leader" or "chief".

Of course it is possible to argue that this sense is implied by the NT usage. But the Ephesians and Colossians references clearly need to be understood as part of an extended metaphor of the church as the body and Christ as the head; but for Greeks, the place of the head in the body was not understood as "leader" or "chief", but probably more as the source of nourishment as in Ephesians 4:15-16. And the remaining reference, 1 Corinthians 11:3, although not explicitly related to the body metaphor, should surely also be understood in the same terms.

I will leave it there except to say that I do not consider the complementarian (surely not "complimentarian", Gerald) case has by no means been proved.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

Certainly the fact that you find such language offensive or insensitive means little more than the fact that my wife finds it acceptable and meaningful.

I never before thought in such terms about the male pronoun. You have certainly given me insight into how it might be interpreted that never before crossed my mind.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

For the sake of giving a counter reference I have posted the full dictionary meaning of 'kephale' here from the Liddell and Scott classical dictionary. I cannot find any reference to leadership or authority in this entry, extensive as it is. To argue from lexicons of Biblical Greek that head means leader in the Bible is a circular argument. It is unfortunate that this discrepancy has happened and gives rise to such conflicting opinions.

Jeremy Pierce said...

I suggest looking at Anthony Thiselton's I Corinthians commentary, which takes off from a large body of literature that appeared after Gordon Fee's commentary (the main proponent of "source" among the most recent commentators), including work by Judith Gundry-Volf and A.C. Perriman.

He argues that the primary meaning is the literal head as opposed to the physical body, but the extended sense is multifold, most importantly signifying prominence and preeminence. It doesn't entail leadership or authority, though it can have that connotation. Thiselton thinks this complements but doesn't guarantee other scriptural statements about the non-symmetrical relationship between men and women in terms of authority that Paul grounds in the creation order in I Timothy 2.

David Garland's more recent commentary resists the connotation of authority. Garland is a full-blown Fee-style egalitarian, so this is no surprise. Both Garland and Thiselton reject as no longer tenable the view of Fee and others that 'kephale' means "source". I believe Craig Blomberg's commentary takes a similar view, if I remember correctly. This means that a number of commentators seem to be converging on a consensus here, one that cuts across the egalitarian/complementarian debate, people like Fee and Grudem notwithstanding.

I think Grudem's focus on the LXX usage of this term to translate positions such as chiefs or other leaders in the OT is more relevant than Fee wants to allow, even if Fee is right that that couldn't be the primary meaning. Thiselton and Garland simply accept that it couldn't be the primary meaning, while insisting that sometimes it is part of the connotation. Then they differ on whether it's part of the connotation here. Fee seems to rule out this possibility from the outset, never considering that such a connotation might appear even if the primary meaning has nothing to do with authority.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if language and philosphy are connected in any way?

Gerald said...

Without question--but I would need more elaboration in order to respond.

A None ymus said...

gerald say: "In some way the Father is "greater" than the Son, yet we theologically speak of them as equal in ontology/nature. "

If anyone is still around I'd love to hear your view of how God the Father is greater than God the Son. The way you worded it sounds like you are saying that the facts are that God the Father is greater and our theological terminology is just a formalogy.

Anonymous said...

Don't know if anyone is paying attention to these posts anymore, but I just wanted to respond to the original post to note that 'male-representative' language is only suspect in a few politically-correct fields. The vast majority of Americans understand that phrases like 'What is man that you are mindful of him' are not intended to be gender-specific.