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?”