October 14, 2016

The Dominion Couple

Category: Bible - OT - Genesis,Family :: Permalink

To whom did God give the mandate to fill the earth and subdue it and to have dominion over the creatures? Did he give that mandate to Adam and Woman together or did he give it to Adam specifically? The latter, says Douglas Wilson in Reforming Marriage. (I blogged about this yesterday, but having read further in the book, I found more worth discussing on this subject.)

The Lord had created Adam and given him a task (Gen. 2:15). In addition to taking care of the Garden of Eden, Adam was also to multiply and replenish the earth. There was an obvious need for a helper as he could not multiply the species all by himself. The task assigned to him was that of exercising dominion over the earth; in order to accomplish this task many descendants were needed. But in addition to the obvious help of making Adam fruitful, Eve was also to accompany him in his vocation and assist him in it (p. 29, emphasis added).

Again and again, this paragraph indicates that the task of filling the earth and “exercising dominion over the earth” was given to Adam. Adam is to be fruitful and, because he can’t do that by himself, he needs a helper, namely Eve. Adam is to exercise dominion over the earth and, because that’s too big of a task to do by himself, he needs the offspring that he can have only with Eve’s help and he needs her “to accompany him in his vocation and assist him in it.” But make no mistake, on this reading, it is his vocation (not her’s).

Only one verse is cited in this paragraph, namely Genesis 2:15 (“And YHWH God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to serve and guard it”). This was the task given to Adam, as the first sentence of this paragraph says. It was given to Adam before Woman was created.

But the next sentence moves past this specific task to talk about another task — the mandate given in Genesis 1: 28 — and it speaks about this task as if this task too was given specifically to Adam. But as I pointed out yesterday, that’s not what Genesis 1:28 says. Rather, it says that “God blessed them and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.'”

The task of being fruitful and multiplying wasn’t given to Adam specifically but to Adam and Woman together. It’s not that he is to be fruitful and she helps him be fruitful; rather, they are to be fruitful. The task of subduing the earth and having dominion over the critters wasn’t given to Adam specifically but to Adam and Woman together. It’s her calling, her mandate, her task just as much as it is his. God blessed them both and he blessed them together with this calling in the world.

Wilson’s approach to the cultural mandate of Genesis 1 continues to affect what he writes on subsequent pages:

This creation order means that all husbands are called to a particular task…. Their wives are called to the role of aiding and supporting them in their calling…. Under God, he is defined by the work to which he is called, while she is defined by the man to whom she is called (p. 30).

I’m not persuaded that each man is “called to a particular task,” that one man might be called to be a farmer and another might be called to be a teacher and another might be called to be a baker and yet another might be called to be a plumber. While that idea has a long historical pedigree, I don’t find it in Scripture.

But leave that aside for now. On Wilson’s view, only the husband has this calling to a task. The wife, on the other hand, is not called to a task; she is called to a man, namely, her husband. Her involvement in a task is indirect: by “aiding and supporting” him — or, as Wilson said of Eve earlier, “accompany[ing] him in his vocation and assist[ing] him in it.”

It’s not clear whether “accompany[ing] him in his vocation and assist[ing] him in it” requires a plumber’s wife to be a plumber’s assistant. In fact, it’s not clear at all what it would mean for a woman to “accompany” her husband “in his vocation.” But it is clear that on Wilson’s view, the vocation or task are the man’s, not the woman’s. Again, this is not what Genesis 1 says.

Note too that while Wilson is speaking specifically of husbands and wives here, what he says has implications for single women and widows. Are women, single or otherwise, never called to a task — or at least, never called to a task outside the home  Is a single woman simply waiting to be called to a man  If she, while single, pursues an occupation — becomes a teacher or a doctor or a restaurant manager, let’s say — is that just a job she does but, no matter how well she does it and how much she enjoys it, not a vocation or not a direct engagement in the Genesis 1 mandate?

Where does the Bible teach that a man “is defined by the work to which he is called” but a woman (or, specifically, a wife) “is defined by the man to whom she is called”? Isn’t a man also called to a wife  May a woman not be called to some work?  Of course, they are. In Genesis 1, Scripture makes clear that men and women are called to work; in Genesis 2, Scripture makes clear that men and women are called to their spouses (Gen 2:24: “ Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife”).

On the next page, Wilson goes on:

In no way does this mean that women are not competent in many of the tasks they do. A crescent wrench can be used to pound in nails, but that is not what a crescent wrench is for  There are some tasks detached from the home in which women do outstanding work. But just because someone is able to do a job does not mean that he is called by God to the task. A wife can do many tasks in the home and find fulfillment in doing them. Her husband, confronted with the same job, would be able to do it, but it is like eating gravel for him. He finds no fulfillment; he is not called to the task in the same way she is (p. 31).

Now we find that both husband and wife are called to tasks, but the tasks are in two realms: “tasks detached from the home” and “tasks in the home.” Women can “do outstanding work” in “some tasks detached from the home,” but they are not “called by God to the task.  On the other hand, a husband can do a task in the home but “he is not called to the task in the same way she is.”

This breakdown of tasks is presented here without Scriptural support but (apparently) as a matter of common sense. But it doesn’t seem like common sense to me.

What are these “tasks in the home” that a wife can find fulfillment in but a man cannot? Doing the dishes? Mopping the floor? Changing diapers? Cooking a meal (unless it’s outside on the grill or some “manly” food, like bacon or elk steak)? Wilson doesn’t say.

Do all wives find fulfillment in all of these tasks? Isn’t folding the fourth load of laundry in a single day or cleaning up the children’s room for the second time in a week ever like “eating gravel” for a wife? Do all husbands find no fulfillment in any of these tasks? If a man really enjoys doing the dishes, does that make him less manly? What if he likes baking cookies? Should someone let him know that that’s like using a crescent wrench to  pound in nails, that that’s not what he’s for?

And how valid is the parallel implied here?

A husband can do a task in the home but without enjoyment or fulfillment.

A woman can do “outstanding work” outside the home (implied: but without enjoyment or fulfillment).

Isn’t it the case that, just as some husbands enjoy some tasks in the home and find great fulfillment in them, so some women enjoy some tasks in jobs outside the home and find great fulfillment in them? For that matter, don’t almost all jobs entail some aspects that are satisfying and others that aren’t, regardless of whether those jobs are at home or outside the home, done by men or done by women?

In spite of the use of the word “task” now to describe what the woman has in the home, it is clear that on Wilson’s view wives — or women in general: both “women” and “wives” are used in this paragraph — do not have a vocation, a calling, a task “detached from the home.” Taken with what Wilson says earlier, it would seem that the wife’s role as “helper” involves being called to a man and serving him primarily by doing tasks in the home, especially the tasks that are “like eating gravel” for her husband.

But Genesis 1 and 2 say nothing of the sort. Again: the mandate to fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the creatures — the mandate which is also God’s blessing given to his image — is given to Adam and Woman. Both are God’s image. Both are blessed. Both have this calling. Single men and single women, married men and married women are equally called to tasks in the world. It is not Adam’s blessing (mediated through him to Eve). And it is not Adam’s mandate (performed with Eve’s assistance). It is their blessing, their mandate, carried out through their various tasks.

Posted by John Barach @ 2:55 pm | Discuss (0)
October 13, 2016

Helper & Helpee?

Category: Bible - OT - Genesis,Marriage,Theology - Liturgical,Theology - Pastoral :: Permalink

In Reforming Marriage, Douglas Wilson quotes Genesis 2:18 (“It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him”) and 1 Corinthians 11:9 (“Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man”) and then draws this conclusion:

As a result of the creation order, men and women are oriented to one another differently. They need one another, but they need one another differently. The man needs the help; the woman needs to help. Marriage was created by God to provide companionship in the labor of dominion. The cultural mandate, the requirement to fill and subdue the earth, is still in force, and a husband cannot fulfill this portion of the task in isolation. He needs a companion suitable for him in the work to which God has called him. He is called to the work and must receive help from her.  She is called to the work through ministering to him. He is oriented to the task, and she is oriented to him (p. 19).

I’ve read this book several times and have used it in premarital counseling, but as I read it this afternoon this passage stood out to me and a bunch of questions came to mind.

Are we to think here of men and women, in general, or only of a husband and his wife? Presumably it is the latter. Though the opening sentence speaks of “men and women,” it goes on to speak of how they are “oriented to one another,” and in the context that would be in marriage. Still, it is possible to (mis!)read the next sentence (“The man needs the help; the woman needs to help”) as if it were speaking about every man and every woman, as if women exist to help men. One could wish the wording were clearer to guard against that misreading, but a close reading does suggest to me that Wilson has in mind only husbands and wives.

Still, some questions remain. Is it true that husbands need to be helped and women need to help, and not the other way round? Is Genesis 2 making a blanket statement about husbands and wives, teaching us that the husband is to do the work and needs help in doing it, while the wife is only to assist in the work as her husband’s helper? Does a wife never do the “the labor of dominion” directly, but instead takes part in it only “through ministering to” her husband? May she not be involved in some “labor of dominion” that is distinct from her husband’s particular labor, that she does without ministering to him? Is the husband not to be oriented to her? Is she not in any way oriented to the task (or even to a task that is not her husband’s task)? Is this orientation thing an either/or, either an orientation toward work or an orientation to a spouse? Can it not in some way be both?

Surely “the labor of dominion” in Genesis 1 includes procreation. The command-blessing there is “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” That, as Wilson says on the next page, is something a man cannot do on his own. But is procreation something that the husband does with the assistance of his wife? Is she only helping him do his task of being fruitful and multiplying? Is she involved in procreation only “through ministering to him”? Is he “oriented to the task” of procreation, while “she is oriented to him”?

On the contrary. In the Bible, the mandate given as a blessing in Genesis 1 is given only after the creation of Woman (that is, chronologically after what is reported to us in Genesis 2) and is given to both Adam and Woman:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his image; in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen 1:26-28).

Both of them are created in God’s image. Both of them, male and female, are blessed. To both of them God gives the mandate to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth and subdue it, to have dominion over the fish and birds and animals. There is no hint here that this mandate is given to the man, with his wife in only a helping role. She receives the mandate too.  She is to be fruitful and multiply as much as he is, and they take part in this calling together. He helps her and she helps him. He receives her help and she receives his help.

What is true of procreation, of being fruitful and multiplying, is true of the other aspects of this mandate, subduing the earth and having dominion over the creatures. As James Jordan has written, “The cultural mandate is given equally to men and women (Gen. 1:28). In cultural life, the man is to help the woman as much as the woman helps the man.”

It is not only that “The man needs the help; the woman needs to help.” It is also that “The woman needs the help; the man needs to help.” Both the husband and the wife are involved in carrying out the mandate God gave, and both need each other’s help in various ways.

What about Genesis 2, then? Doesn’t God say that he is making the woman to be a “helper comparable to” Adam?  It certainly does. But a helper with what?

In Reforming Marriage, Wilson links the help with the “labor of dominion,” but that isn’t mentioned in the context in Genesis 2. At the time God created the woman, the cultural mandate had not yet been given; it wasn’t given, according to Genesis 1, until after the woman was created and then it was given to them both. What about procreation? Again, nothing is mentioned about that in Genesis 2.

One might think more generally of companionship. After all, God says, “It is not good that the man should be alone.” There is a certain sort of companionship, a certain sort of help, that the wife gives to her husband, a kind of help that he cannot receive from another man or from one of the animals, a kind of help for which he needs someone similar but different, fully human and “comparable to him” but not exactly the same.

That’s true enough. But note, too, the flow of events in Genesis 2. God created Adam first and then created the Garden and put Adam into the Garden to serve it and to guard it, tasks that are later associated with the work of priests. The Garden is God’s sanctuary, the place where God will meet with his people. Adam does not have dominion over it and is not going to subdue it. It is not Adam’s Garden but God’s, and Adam is in it as a priest, a palace servant, commissioned to serve and guard it. That priestly task is given to Adam, along with the gift of all the trees of the Garden (including, obviously, the Tree of Life) and with the warning not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Only at that point does God say that it is not good for the man to be alone and that he needs “a helper comparable to him.” If we are to associate the Woman’s role as “helper” here with any task given to Adam, it is not the task of dominion or of procreation or of cultural development, the tasks that hadn’t been given yet, but the priestly task, the task of serving and guarding the Garden, the task of worship and care for God’s sanctuary  — and that’s how Paul applies the creation order in 1 Timothy 2: not to all of life, not to cultural work or the “labor of dominion” but to the sphere of liturgy and worship (see the provocative discussion here; my link does not, of course, necessarily imply agreement with everything in this article).

Genesis 2, then, is not talking generally about men and women or husbands and wives and doesn’t indicate that husbands are to be oriented toward their work, while their wives are to be oriented toward them and help them in their work. It’s talking, rather, about a specific sphere, a specific sort of work and help in that work. But the broader mandate, the mandate to fill and subdue and rule the world, God gave to men and women, husbands and wives, alike. Each works, each needs help in many ways, each gives help.

Posted by John Barach @ 2:25 pm | Discuss (0)
August 23, 2016

Fifty to a Cave

Category: Christian Life,Church,Theology :: Permalink

The author of this article is billed as a “leading expert on the persecuted church,” but I have to say that I find what he says here not only very strange but unbiblical.  The gist of the article is summed up on the site as follows: “When a Christian experiences persecution or imprisonment in a foreign land, we do everything we can to extract them. But what if God has them right where he wants them?”

I grant that God does use persecution, suffering, crucifixion, death to advance the gospel and his kingdom in the world. But does that really imply that we, who see people in danger and suffering, shouldn’t attempt to rescue them? Does it mean that if we do help them, we might be thwarting God’s plans?

Would we apply the same reasoning to other situations of suffering? To the wife being beaten by her husband? To the woman being assaulted and raped? To the child being abused? To the homeless person who has no means of support and who hasn’t eaten for days? To the flood victim who has lost his house and all his belongings? Would we say “Maybe God has a good plan for this suffering and so I won’t try to help this victim”?

I hope not!

Abram did not say, when Lot was captured, “God might have a purpose for this” and leave him captive. Instead, he went and fought and rescued him (Gen 15). Ditto for David when his wives were captured (1 Sam 30).

How about a concrete example of “extraction from persecution”?  “While Jezebel massacred the prophets of YHWH, … Obadiah had taken one hundred prophets and hidden them, fifty to a cave, and had fed them with bread and water” (1 Kings 18:4). Should Obadiah have been (to borrow this author’s words) “emotionally, psychologically, physically, and spiritually strong enough” to leave them in Jezebel’s reach instead?

Rahab helped the Israelite spies escape (Josh 2). When Athaliah murdered all the king’s sons, Aunt Jehosheba rescued Joash and hid him (2 Kings 11). In Matthew 10, Jesus told his disciples, “When they persecute you in this city, flee to another.” Obviously Jesus doesn’t think flight is a bad thing. When people were plotting to kill him, Paul escaped by being lowered from the city wall in a basket (Acts 9).

Proverbs 24:11 tells us “Deliver those who are drawn toward death, and hold back those stumbling to the slaughter.” James tell us that “pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is” — what? To leave the orphan and widow in their suffering because God might use their suffering might bring about something good? No: “to visit orphans and widows in their trouble.”

Yes, God uses even suffering for his good purpose. But that does not imply in any way that we should just leave people — let alone our brothers and sisters in Christ! — in their suffering. We may not reason from God’s sovereignty to our irresponsibility.

Posted by John Barach @ 2:31 pm | Discuss (0)
August 18, 2016

Yes-Men or Debating Partners?

Category: Bible :: Permalink

A follow-up thought, hard upon the heels of what I wrote earlier about the kind of commentaries you need.

When you do your own study of Scripture and then turn to your commentaries, are you hoping they’ll function as yes men, reassuring you that you’re on the right track, or that they’ll function as conversationalists, even partners in an argument over the text?

Do you hope that they’ll say what you want them to say or are you willing to listen to them and let them convince you?

Does it ever happen that you read a commentary and find it compelling, only to go on and read another one and find that he demolishes the first one’s position, only to read a third and find that he brings you at least part of the way back to that first writer’s view or maybe pushes you toward a different view altogether?

If you never find yourself going back and forth, never find yourself having to work through arguments and weigh them, never find that you have to change your mind as you study, something has gone wrong somewhere, maybe in you, maybe in the kind of commentaries you’re reading.

Posted by John Barach @ 8:41 pm | Discuss (0)

What Kind of Commentaries Do I Need?

Category: Bible :: Permalink

What kind of commentaries do you need to help you in your study of the Bible?

You don’t need commentaries that tell you, in passage after passage, exactly what you’ve always thought or only what you yourself have already discovered. Such commentaries are generally a waste of your time. Why read So-and-so telling you what you could figure out on your own?

Such commentaries may confirm your thinking, which can be comforting (“So I’m not the only one who holds this view of the text!”), and that’s fine.  But they aren’t challenging — and you need to be challenged.

If you’re buying commentaries, you should know that most evangelical commentaries say what other evangelical commentaries say. Which means you don’t need a pile of evangelical commentaries on any book of the Bible. If you have one good one, you pretty much know what all the rest of them are going to say.

That’s especially true if the one good one you have is by Gordon Fee, who carefully interacts with a lot of other great commentaries to such an extent and so helpfully that once you’ve read him, you have a good sense of what those other commentaries say too.

But what you do need, alongside one or two of the best of these evangelical commentaries, are commentaries that present options you may never have considered, that argue for certain options and against others, that bring to light things you may have overlooked, that make you think and rethink.

I’m thinking of commentaries like those by John Paul Heil, who shows (and does a remarkably good job of demonstrating) that epistle after epistle is written chiastically, with each subsection chiastically structured as well.

I’m thinking, too, of commentaries like the ones by Jakob van Bruggen, because Van Bruggen is never afraid to raise exegetical possibilities you’ve never even thought of and to argue for them and back up his arguments by pointing to things in the text that never jumped out at you.

Such commentaries are time-consuming, not to say sometimes troubling, because they make you rethink things you thought you had already figured out. But for that very reason, they are worth their weight in gold.

If you’re studying a passage of Scripture and no commentary you read ever makes you change your mind or at least pulls you up short and makes you say, “Huh. That’s not how I’ve always taken this verse!” and if you never change your mind in the course of your study or waver between the very different views strongly argued in two commentaries, both excellent, you need better commentaries.

Posted by John Barach @ 2:02 pm | Discuss (0)
July 12, 2016

Amen!

Category: Theology - Liturgical :: Permalink

“The people must not be present at worship only in the capacity of hearer and spectator, nor even merely to follow in thought what is pronounced by the minister of the church, but they must also speak from their side and at least they must respond Amen to what is said in the name of the congregation” — Osterwald’s preface to the liturgy of Neuchatel (1713), cited in Richard Paquier, Dynamics of Worship, 63n10.

Posted by John Barach @ 5:00 am | Discuss (0)
July 11, 2016

The Harvest Is Plentiful… (Matthew 9)

Category: Bible - NT - Matthew :: Permalink

In Matthew 9:35ff., Jesus sees Israel battered and cast down, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he says to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful; the workers are few.”

Why does the imagery change from animals to plants, from sheep/shepherd to harvest/workers? It would make sense for Jesus, seeing the crowds like sheep without a shepherd, to tell his disciples to pray for workers to gather in the flock.

Jakob van Bruggen  (Matteüs) proposes that Jesus is speaking, not of workers needed for gathering in the harvest but of workers needed for distributing the plentiful harvest to care for the flock.

I’m not persuaded that explanation really works. After all, “Send out workers into his harvest” is not the clearest way to say “Send workers out to Israel with the food that has been harvested”!

On the other hand, when Jesus does send out his disciples, he returns to the imagery of sheep/shepherd (10:6: “Go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel”) and he speaks, not of gathering, let alone of gathering in a harvest, but rather of giving (10:8: “Freely you have received; freely give”).

Still thinking….

Posted by John Barach @ 7:46 pm | Discuss (0)

Simon the Zealous

Category: Bible - NT - Acts,Bible - NT - Luke :: Permalink

I’ve sometimes heard that one of Jesus’ disciples was a Zealot, presumably a former Zealot who, now that he was follow Jesus, had given up his desire to commit violence.  Even N. T. Wright says, in one passage, that the name of “Simon the Zealot” (Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13) “probably indicates known revolutionary tendencies” (NTPG, 174n33).

But it turns out that that’s not true (or at least, it’s highly unlikely). Yes, he’s called “Simon the Zealot.”  But that title doesn’t mean he was part of a party called “Zealots.” To the best of our historical knowledge, that party didn’t exist or bear that name until after Jesus’ time.

Most likely, then, Simon wasn’t a member of some party in Israel that was inclined toward violence toward Romans or compromising Jews. What Simon was, it seems, was zealous, and that’s not a description of his life before following Jesus; that’s how he was as a follower of Jesus.  He was zealous, and that was a good thing.

Posted by John Barach @ 7:42 pm | Discuss (0)
July 5, 2016

A Voice for the World

Category: Theology - Liturgical :: Permalink

The church of Christ, the first fruit of the new creation, expresses in articulate and intelligible words the silent sighing of nature subjected to corruption and waiting for deliverance (Rom. 8:19-23). Its “liturgy” of gratitude for the deliverance received through Christ and for the hope of the manifestation of the glory to come, lends a voice to the entire world.

Christian worship carries to the throne of God, through Christ the supreme liturgist, the praise and supplication of all humanity and of the whole creation — Richard Paquier, Dynamics of Worship, 56-57.

Posted by John Barach @ 5:37 am | Discuss (0)
July 4, 2016

That Blessed Family

Category: Theology - Trinity :: Permalink

“Belief in the Trinity is not a distant speculation; the Trinity is that blessed family into which we are adopted” — Austin Farrer, The Crown of the Year.

Posted by John Barach @ 2:20 pm | Discuss (0)

Confessionalism

Category: Theology,Theology - Eschatology,Theology - Liturgical :: Permalink

All narrow confessionalism and all complacency in any local ecclesiastical tradition must hear the apostolic judgment: “What! Did the word of God originate with you, or are you the only ones it has reached?” (1 Cor. 14:36) — Richard Paquier, Dynamics of Worship, 52n9.

Posted by John Barach @ 2:19 pm | Discuss (0)

Common Prayer

Category: Prayer,Theology - Liturgical :: Permalink

In the Lord’s service, we pray together, so that each individual who is taking part in the prayer focuses not on himself and his own needs and interests but on the community as a whole, even if those other needs and interests don’t really move him emotionally much at all.

R. Guardini puts it this way:

He will have to get out of his circle of customary ideas and appropriate a whole world of thoughts infinitely broader and richer. He will have to leave and go beyond the horizon of his own little interests, of small private and personal profits…. He will have to address to heaven some of the requests that do not touch nor interest him directly; he will have to hold up before God these requests with as much devotion as if they were his own, even though they are far from his interests and dictated only by common concern (cited in Richard Paquier, Dynamics of Worship, 50).

Posted by John Barach @ 5:23 am | Discuss (0)