Masculinity, Femininity, and Hermeneutics

As I got done posting the previous article, I noticed an article posted on Boundless found here. It is by the whole Boundless community, so I will take that to mean that this is presenting their view. As I was saying the other day in Dr. James White’s chat channel, the “Biblical Manhood/Biblical Womanhood” movements are a hermeneutical mess. They are anything but “Biblical.” In fact, I already posted this, but Michael Horton has already pretty much shown this to be the case.

Still, the fact remains that there *are* gender roles, and God *has* created differences between men and women. However, we also have to deal with the fact that culture is not as it was in the Ancient Near East, and those gender roles have got to be expressed in terms of twenty-first century American culture. It is this hermeneutical issue that really is addressed in this post on Boundless, and I think is important to think about.

For example:

It has been said that God reveals His truth by way of two books — the book of Scripture and the book of nature — and that, properly understood, the two complement and supplement one another. Do these two books support our perspectives on masculinity and femininity? We think so.

This is the classic view that the Bible contains truth, and nature contains truth. While this is true, I would point out that our understanding of the truths in nature is clouded by sin. The question is whether we can understand this revelation of nature *apart* from the special revelation of scripture or not. We must always interpret the revelation of nature through the lens of the revelation of scripture.

For example, one of the problems for this view is what happens to a culture which has gender roles such as “Men are the oppressors, and women are the victims.” If that gender role ever got into a society, then, very clearly, we would have to say something about it. I think that they clearly want to avoid this given what they say at the end of this post:

Again, we will not argue that every detail of our cultural heritage regarding male and female roles is to be accepted without question. Quite the contrary. But we do maintain that if the sediment of mere convention could be fully removed, a bedrock of real and valid functional distinction between the sexes, consistent with Scripture and true to the facts of nature, would be found to remain. That bedrock, we believe, is tampered with only at great risk to the family, to society and to our humanity itself.

The problem is, how do we know which details of our cultural heritage regarding male and female roles are to be accepted, and which are not to be accepted, and how is that not arbitrary? Why should we not accept the cultural ideal so prevalent today that men are oppressors and women are victims, but accept the cultural norm that men should be breadwinners and women should be homemakers? Furthermore, how do you avoid the problem mentioned in the last post, and that is interpreting the culture through the lens of what you desire?

Some of these things they mention as being gender roles are pretty straightforward. For example, the first two “The attraction between the sexes, its consummation in sexual relations” are things we deal with when we deal with homosexuality. However, even here there can be mischief in that these statements may mean that a person who has these desires *must* [as part of their gender role] consummate them in marriage. There, again, I would have to question whether that is a proper application of what scripture teaches in this regard. The point is, those are still valid, universal elements of gender roles. Men are attracted to women, and women are attracted to men. Men and women get married and have sexual relations, not men and men or women and women.

Yet, even some of these that are obvious still must be interpreted. For example, take these roles:

the functions of pregnancy, childbearing, nursing, and nurturing which are biologically delegated to the female; the relative freedom of the male to look after other basic necessities of life and to support and protect the female and her offspring

Now, the question is what is meant by “nurture.” I can understand how one could take that in a Biblical sense [i.e., woman as “helper”], but there is also a sense in which man is to he a nurturer, as he is to love his wife and his children. For example, the Apostle Paul writes:

Ephesians 5:28-29 So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; 29 for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church,

Clearly, in context, this is a command for the husband to nourish and cherish his wife. Hence, there is a sense in which husbands are to be nurturers as well as wives. Also, what is meant by “other necessities of life?” What is meant by “support?” Is this in a financial sense? If it is, then does that mean that *all* supporting must be done by the man? And if this is the case, then how does that position avoid idolatry, which blatantly contradicts the first commandment? If it is not the case, then exactly where do we limit that support [to financial or otherwise], and how is that not arbitrary?

In this cursory review of these gender roles as they are laid out by the Boundless team, we can see that there are really *two* issues at work here. The first is the way in which the Bible defines the nature of man and woman, and the second is the way in which we apply those texts to our daily lives. This is made even more confusing by the fact that people can read their culture back into the text. I will never forget a friend of my who studied under D.A. Carson relaying a quote from him in which he said that people often confuse the notion that the Bible was written *for* us with the notion that the Bible was written *to* us. In other words, the Bible was not written to *us* in *our* culture; however, it was written *for* us and *for* our benefit even though we live in a different culture. This has been described as the distinction between “what it meant” and “what it means.” The first step is to determine what the text meant in the culture itself. This means that we will understand delimiters on words such as “nurturing” and “consummation of desires in sexual relations.” Some of this deals with the cotext, but others come from the culture itself, and exactly how that is to be understood.

The other element of this is the world of the author himself. How the author sets up his world is vital to understanding how he views words such as “submission” and “nurture.” The reason is that there may be some elements of these things that relate to his culture, and some elements that relate to the universal values that the author himself has. I have mentioned many times the law of Deuteronomy 22:8, which talks about building a railing around the roof of your house. The intention of that passage is to get a person to build a railing around the roof of their house. However, that is not the only intention of the passage. The intention is to protect human life, and very clearly, the author of the Pentateuch sees that as connecting back to universal ethics and values. The world of the author and intentionality are crucial to understanding what it meant.

However, it is the intentions of the author that relate to his universal mores that are crucial to application into our current society. The key question is this: how should we take those intentions, and accomplish the same thing in our societal context? For example, if the intent of Deuteronomy 22:8 is to protect human life against falls from high places, we can accomplish the same thing today by having railings around the upper decks of baseball stadiums.

Hence, with regards to the issue of man as breadwinner and woman as housewife, are there any Biblically defined gender roles that say that [obviously not]. The other question we need to ask is whether any of these Biblically defined gender roles seek to accomplish something relating to a universal moral absolute that we then accomplish today by having men be breadwinners and women be housewives. However, that is not altogether clear. One might suggest that being the breadwinner is what it means to be a leader in today’s society, but I don’t think that is true. If that is the case, then the member of a church who supplies the church with financial support so it can operate must be considered a leader. That makes no sense. Being a leader does not automatically make you a breadwinner in today’s society, and you can be a breadwinner without being a leader.

Hence, what we can say is that there is no reason to say that the Bible teaches that men must be the breadwinner, and there is no reason to say that the culture views “breadwinner” as a unique role of men. Hence, how does one get the notion that men must be the breadwinners? Certainly, one can say that society frowns on fathers not at least contributing to the financial well being of their children, but this, again has nothing to do with marriage per se [one might decide to get married, and not have children], and has nothing to do with being a breadwinner. Both on the semantic and pragmatic level of the text of scripture, there is simply no way to get the notion that women must be housewives, and men must be breadwinners.

I think that what this shows, especially the acknowledged retreat from the scriptures to the “book of nature,” is that much of what masculinity and femininity has been traditionally understood is not “Biblical” at all. It is so ironic to post a link to Albert Mohler’s article A Call for Courage on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, when they have admitted that this does not comes from the Bible, but from the “book of nature.” As Dr. Cornelius Van Til taught, you have to have special revelation to interpret natural revelation properly.

I also think we have to be careful to confuse certain tendencies that may arise from the fact that men and women are created different, and things that are obligatory for men and women, because it is definitional to how they are supposed to function as men and women. The fact that more boys want to play with toy trucks and toy guns, and girls want to play with dolls and toy houses is a tendency, not a matter of ethical breach. If that were the case, then a boy who likes to play house with his sister and her dolls would be in sin.

What I think this shows is that there are different levels to what we might speak of as “gender roles.” There are certain things that are definitional of the function of gender, and a person who behaves outside of those means is trying to be something they are not. Homosexuality, transgenderism, crossdressing, and leadership in a marriage would fall into this category. Next, there are some things that are general tendencies that each gender will have [this is where I would put being a breadwinner and being a housewife], and then there are some things that both genders share, and there may be things that have nothing to do with gender at all [whether you like to play the piano or not, for example]. Because of this, it is way to simplistic to say that anything having to do with the differences in gender, and force them to be universals that bind the conscience of every person in that particular class. The reason for this is that every person in each gender is not only male and female, and thus share all of the characteristics of men or women, but they are also unique and distinct from the rest of the men or women respectively. If you absolutize everything having to do with the differences in gender, then you are left with no ability to explain the Biblical teaching on the uniqueness of every human life.

I understand why this is happening. Feminism has caused major problems by saying that *no* distinctions should exist between men and women other than biological distinctions. However, as so often has happened in the history of evangelicalism, rather than challenges such as these driving us back to scripture, we simply overreact to the challenge, and say that *all* gender related differences are a matter that is absolute. I am convinced more and more that those that challenge the Christian faith should force us to go back to the scriptures to answer, sometimes with an answer that is not a simple as an overreaction to the challenge. It is very easy to overreact when you go back to the “book of nature” without the “book of scripture” to understand how to interpret the “book of nature.”

The Bible binds our conscience in the matter of gender roles-of this there can be no doubt. Nevertheless, it does not bind us in every area, and yet, still recognizes that certain tendencies are going to exist between men and women [men tend to get into certain sins; women tend to get into certain other sins, etc.]. It also says that men and women are alike in many ways, and that there are things that have nothing to do with gender [murder, for example, is wrong no matter who does it, man or woman]. To make all of these things binding simply on the basis of the “book of nature” is, I believe, a denial of sola scriptura. Especially the part about that which is not found in God’s word is not binding upon the Christian. To make tendencies into requirements is to basically say that God has not sufficiently told us in his word how we are to function as male and female. It is this error which no appeal to the “book of nature” will ever be able to overcome.


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