Key Questions about Christian Faith: Old Testament Answers by John Goldingay is a valuable collection of essays that are broad in scope touching on everything from tithing and circumcision to prayer and suffering. One essay caught my attention and suggests a cautious hermeneutic when seeking to find timeless principles from timely stories in Scripture. From “Is Leadership Biblical?” Goldingay points out that God’s original design did not include any kind of hierarchy within the human race. In fact, he intimates that male headship is a compromise to the optimal design of God’s creation. Leadership? Yes. Male headship? No. He writes:

At the beginning, God did make leadership part of the way the world was created. Leadership was going to be needed if the world was to be subdued and made into a place that worked by peace and order, and the agents made responsible for this leadership were the human beings God created (Gen 1:26-28). In the second creation story, likewise God planted a garden, formed a gardener, put him in the garden to “keep” it (literally, to “serve” it), and then provided him with a co-worker but did not tell Adam to exercise headship over Eve. In both stories, it was humanity as a whole that was commissioned to subdue the world and serve the garden. There was no leadership of one human being over others, only leadership of the world by humanity as a whole….

Or as Jesus put it, “from the beginning of creation” it was not so (Mark 10:6; cf. Matt 19:8). Jesus provides his disciples with a crucial hermeneutical clue for understanding the scriptures. From either Testament you can justify male headship or slavery or war because much of the Bible is written “because of your hardness of heart” (Mark 10:5). Jesus’ particular concern at this point is the legitimacy of divorce. There is no doubt that the scriptures allow it, yet divorce stands in tension with the way God created man and woman (Mark 10:6-9; cf. Gen 1-2). The scriptures are not simply a collection of visionary ideals, though they are that. They are also a collection of timely compromises. (p. 268, emphasis mine)

He goes on to argue that “the practice of leadership within humanity rather than by humanity is another aspect of the way sin came to spoil human life” (p. 269). I wonder: How many of the “timely compromises” have we turned on their heads making them out to be “visionary ideals?”

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9 Comments

  1. Very interesting post, Paul! I think there is much to be said for this idea. God created man and woman as equals. It is only our sinful nature which has lead to this idea of male headship.

  2. Though both Adam and Eve were of the same value, worth and dignity in God’s sight, they had different roles. Adam was given the lead role, Eve was a helper for him, which is why although they both sinned in the garden, Romans 5 talks of it being “through one man’s sin” (Adam’s) sin has come into the world. Note, “one man” not “through the first couple’s sin.” Adam was the federal head of the human race.. as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive (1 Cor 15:22).

  3. Paul, there are so many things wrong with Goldengay’s statements that I am at a loss to know where to start. I’ll try…….He seems not to know about the headship implied by naming, and Paul’s point about the priority of their creation, much less Paul’s words about Eve being created for Adam. I kind of assumed also that Paul was referring to headship in 1 Cor. 11, Then we could discuss the meaning of God’s rebuke to Adam regarding “listening” (read that “obeying”) his wife (see the NET Bible note on that). And..his treatment of the divorce material…………..oh never mind. It just reminds me of my father’s words, “That would be all right, except for one thing: it’s all wrong.”

  4. Hey Paul. I responded to the excerpt of Goldingay’s quoted above.

    God Bless.

  5. Carl:
    Just saw/read your post. I’ve some thoughts but will reserve them for later.
    Meanwhile, to all, see the link to Carl’s response.

  6. Hey Bill,
    Thanks so much for your comments here. Understand your concerns and have just a few inquires:
    1) Exactly how do we move from naming the animals to male headship over females? Is this explicit in the text? The text is explicit that “they” were to rule over creation (1:26).
    2) Is it fair to intimate an author does not know about something merely because they do not mention it (viz., “naming” = headship)? Though an author may be aware of this move, he/she may not have thought it germane to their argument. The essay is not a polemic, after all.
    3) On Paul referring to “headship” in 1 Cor 11, see Phil Payne’s discussion (as I know you’re aware) summarized here for an alternative take on what Paul may have meant.

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