Preaching on Genesis 2 and Revelation 4

For those using the Revised Common Lectionary, the readings are Genesis 2.4b-9,15-25, Revelation 4 and Luke 8.22-25. The gospel reading is very short, and is set alongside two other significant readings that it might be odd to by-pass. I therefore share two reflections I have written on Genesis 2, and two on Revelation 4. The comments on Genesis 2 come from my Grove booklets on Women and Authority: the key biblical texts and Same-sex Unions, the titles reflecting the two key areas where the text of Genesis 2 has become most disputed.

Genesis 2

Although there are differences in the order of events with Genesis 1.1–2.3, it seems that we are intended to take these two passages as parallels, reading each in light of the other. That is, their differences are an important means for directing us on how to interpret each one. For example, humans are given authority to ‘subdue’ the earth and ‘have dominion’ over all living creatures (1.28). We could read this as a blanket right to take all we want from creation, except that in 2.15 we read that the adam was placed in the Garden to ‘tend it and keep it.’ These are verbs of protection and nurture, and so we see that subduing is achieved through positive care. Conversely, if we only had Genesis 2.15, we might think that humans have only a lowly role—as gardener and nothing more—when in fact we have dominion over creation. These two accounts, though different in many ways, inform our understanding of what it means to be human and how we relate to the rest of creation.

Where Genesis 1.27 has adam as male and female from the outset, this is not the case with Genesis 2.4–25. Here, we have the adam formed by Yahweh God from the dust and placed in the garden. But it is only in light of the announcement that ‘it is not good for the adam to be alone’ (2.18) that we clearly have a movement towards a distinction between male and female. Because of this it has been argued that the adam here is not gendered until we have male and female in 2.21–24. Although this is an intriguing possibility, it is more likely that this narrative considers the adam as male, so that the woman is created as his companion.

That the human created from the dust is male from the outset is probable when we consider how the companion is described as a ‘helper suitable for him,’ (though this is not conclusive since adam is a masculine noun). It is vital to pay careful attention to each word of this phrase if we are to understand the relationship between male and female here. What we will see is that even though there is an order of creation where the female is created later, there is no hierarchy as a result of this. Instead, there is a fundamental equality between male and female in creation.


The woman is described as a ‘helper’ (ezer) for the man. In English, ‘helper’ often means something like ‘assistant,’ someone of lesser status. Helpers might be important, but more often than not this is only because there is someone else who is more important with whom they are associated. But the Hebrew noun occurs some twenty times in the Old Testament, and in thirteen of these it describes God in relation to his people, frequently in terms of his ability to save them. Thus, for example, while pleading for urgent action, the psalmist addresses Yahweh and says ‘You are my help (ezer) and my deliverer’ (Ps 70.5). The poet here recognizes that Yahweh is greater because it is Yahweh who can deliver, not the psalmist. So it is clear that the woman is not assigned a lower status because she is called a ‘helper.’


Given that Yahweh is greater than his people, might this suggest the woman’s superiority over the man? Is she greater than him? This is where attention to the other part of the phrase is important. The woman is a helper ‘suitable for him.’ ‘Suitable’ renders a unique term in the Old Testament that is made up of two prepositions; the first most commonly means ‘like,’ whilst the second means something like ‘opposite’ or ‘in front of.’ The compound here suggests that the woman is different from the adam and yet goes with him. She is not greater than him but in some way complements and completes him, much as two banks of a river are equal and opposite. Thus the NET version of the Bible translates this phrase: ‘I will make a companion for him who corresponds to him.’ In creation, neither is greater than the other, but where Genesis 1 emphasizes their equal regency over creation, Genesis 2 emphasizes their distinctiveness. Together, both chapters point to equality in creation.


Against this, it might be argued that the adam’s earlier naming of the animals emphasizes his authority over them (2.19–20), and that when God brings the woman to him (at which point we can truly speak of man and woman) he also names her (2.23). However, there is an important distinction between the two events. The man grants each animal a name, using a naming formula ‘its name shall be called…’ and none of these is a suitable helper. But in 2.23, instead of granting the woman a name, he recognizes who she is as ‘woman,’ as one taken from ‘man’; the Hebrew phrase is quite different: ‘of this one it will be said “woman.”’

My discussion in the second booklet builds on these observations, and explores James Brownson’s re-reading of the text:

The second creation narrative (from Gen 2.4 onwards) focuses in detail on the creation of humanity as male and female. Feminist commentators (such as Phyllis Trible) have argued that the ’adam appears at rst to be undi erentiated in gender and so continues the sense from Gen 1.27 of ‘human’ rather than ‘man.’4 The significance of the term is made clear when ’adam is formed from the dust of the adamah (2.7), brought to life by the breath of God. The use of ’adam continues all the way to the start of verse 23; only then are the clearly gendered terms ‘man’ and ‘woman’ deployed (ish and ishshah).

The narrative turns around the surprising declaration that it is not good for the ’adam to be alone, and the subsequent quest for a ‘suitable helper’ (2.18, 20). The term ‘helper’ (ezer) has no particular sense of superiority or inferiority; God is at times described as the ‘helper’ of Israel. The term ‘suitable for him’ (kenegdo) is unusual, and has the sense of ‘equal but opposite’; it is the kind of phrase you might use to describe the opposite bank of a river, combining both the sense of equality but di erence and distinctness. The explicit sense of the narrative is that the animals are not ‘suitable’ since they are not the ’adam’s equal. But the equally powerful, implicit sense of the narrative is that it would not be sufficient simply to form another ’adam from the ground. This ‘helper’ needed to be equal but opposite. There is clearly a task to be completed (subduing the earth and receiving God’s blessing in being fruitful and multiplying [1.28]) but there is also a deep existential recognition in the (now) man’s cry ‘Here is flesh of my flesh!’ The twin themes of similarity and difference wind their way through the story like a double helix.

The climax of this narrative is the assertion that it is ‘for this reason’ that the male-female sexual union is the basis for family life. The breaking of a pre-vious kinship bond and the formation of a new kinship bond are precisely located in the recognition of ‘flesh of my flesh’ and the uniting in sexual union that which was separated in the creation of the woman from the ’adam, who in that moment became the (male) man. It is also interesting to note that the idea here of one man united with one woman is later deployed as a reforming lter in the interpretation of subsequent narratives.8 By the time of the NT, the permissibility of polygamy has been ruled out by reference back to the narrative of Genesis 2.

Against some traditionalist readings, it is important to note that the narrative is not describing the process by which God ‘invented’ gender, but is offering a theological account of why gender difference is there and what is its significance within human flourishing…

(There follows an exploration of James Brownson’s critique of this reading.)

Brownson’s critiques do not undermine the traditional reading that he articulates at the start of his discussion:

The reason same-sex behaviour is portrayed negatively…is that God created man and woman to complement each other in the bond of marriage…[M]ale and female are both similar and different, and this complementarity of similarity and difference is foundational to human identity, and to the institution of marriage. Therefore, the only appropriate place for sexual activity is the ‘one-flesh’ union of marriage between a man and a woman.

This is clearly not all that Scripture has to say about either humanity, singleness or marriage, but it seems a fair description of the foundational role of Gen 1 and 2. A key question will be how these texts are taken up elsewhere in the canon of Scripture—not least because this text on its own does not deliver what some ‘traditionalist’ readings would like in defining gender roles and explicitly prohibiting same-sex activity. Our interpretive approach to the creation narrative will need to be shaped by the way these texts were understood and interpreted by later writers both within and outside Scripture.

(For more detail on this discussion, see the Grove booklet Same-Sex Unions: the key biblical texts.)

On Revelation 4, I wrote this for Scripture Union’s Encounter with God.

Worshipping our Creator

At this point in Revelation it feels that we are leaving earthly realities behind and going on an otherworldly journey. For modern readers, we are leaving the familiar and historical and entering a strange world of thrones, elders, beasts and angels. It is a world full of life, colour and noise, overwhelming our senses. Pause for a moment and imagine the sights, sounds and sensations of this worship scene. What can you hear? What do you see? What do you feel?

For John’s readers however, this is the blending of two familiar worlds. First, the world of the Old Testament. The trumpet that announced temple worship calls John (v 1). The same Spirit which lifted Ezekiel to see the one on the throne (Ezek 1:26-28) does the same for John too (v 2). Jewels from Genesis 2 (v 3) accompany the rainbow from Genesis 9, the story of the flood. The thunder and lightning of Mount Sinai draw him to the seven torches of Zechariah 4 (v 5) and the sea of glass from Solomon’s temple (v 6, cf 1 Kings 7:23). This is an encounter with the God who made the world, who longs to see its restoration, and who travelled the long journey of redemption with his people.

But this reality is intertwined with another – the world of the Roman Empire and the worship of its Emperor. Here city elders dress in white, bow down to their august ruler, casting their crowns and hailing him with choruses. But, says John, it is the creator God who deserves this honour, and not any human ruler (vs 9-11). If anyone makes a claim to be the source of peace and prosperity, they are usurping God’s rightful praise, setting themselves up against him. God is the source of all power and majesty, and so all praise rightly belongs to him.

And in my IVP commentary on Revelation I offered this theological reflection:

John here offers a dazzling vision of God which pushes the boundaries of human imagination in its metaphorical description. John’s own language reflects this; in contrast with what has come before, he now repeatedly reaches for ‘as’ and ‘was like’ and ‘had the appearance of.’ As elsewhere in Scripture, literal description of God is not possible; God is unknowable even though he has graciously revealed himself to us. Even John’s grammar appears to reflect this; the throne itself is described without using finite verbs, and all in the nominative case, but when John turns to the things around the throne, he moves into the accusative case. Even if some features of this heavenly scene can be described as objects that John can see and apprehend, the throne and the one seated there are not objects to be perceived and analysed.

Yet within this kaleidoscope of language, two threads are clearly woven into the visionary fabric. The first – the warp threads which give structure – is the Old Testament theology of God as the supreme creator and the source of all there is. We see this in the image of the rainbow and in the living creatures, as well as the acclamations of worship; Revelation stands in continuity with the scriptural understanding of God as creator and the repeated re-emergence of that theme in the life of his people and their encounters with God in the different stages of their pilgrimage. This transforms not only our understanding of God, but also our understanding of the world. It is neither an accident of self-generation to be trivialized, nor a resource to be exploited, but an expression of the creative love of God which continually points to it source. And if God is creator of the world, he is also the creator of his own people, and so they owe him not only glory and honour but also gratitude and allegiance.

The second thread – the weft, woven in out of the warp threads – is the imagery of imperial obeisance. Whatever honours and acclaim are given to those with human power – whether it is the wearing of white, the prostration, the casting of crowns, the cry of ‘worthy’ – they really belong to God, since the power that is being recognized is power that is God’s power which he shares. Jesus’ words to Pilate ‘You have no power except what has been given to you from above’ (John 19:11) are, refracted through this visionary lens, spoken to all human power. Power that demands allegiance over against or ahead of the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ is speaking a lie and based on deceit; if we are tempted to believe it, we need our eyes opened to the true source of all things. God alone is worthy of our unceasing praise, our unswerving loyalty and our profound gratitude.

If you found this article helpful, share it on social media using the buttons on the left. Follow me on Twitter @psephizoLike my page on Facebook.

Much of my work is done on a freelance basis. If you have valued this post, would you consider donating £1.20 a month to support the production of this blog?

Signup to get email updates of new posts
We promise not to spam you. Unsubscribe at any time.
Invalid email address

If you enjoyed this, do share it on social media (Facebook or Twitter) using the buttons on the left. Follow me on Twitter @psephizo. Like my page on Facebook.

Much of my work is done on a freelance basis. If you have valued this post, you can make a single or repeat donation through PayPal:

For other ways to support this ministry, visit my Support page.

Comments policy: Do engage with the subject. Please don't turn this into a private discussion board. Do challenge others in the debate; please don't attack them personally. I no longer allow anonymous comments; if there are very good reasons, you may publish under a pseudonym; otherwise please include your full name, both first and surnames.

90 thoughts on “Preaching on Genesis 2 and Revelation 4”

  1. Ian, thanks for this, very interesting. I didnt appreciate the make-up of ‘helper’ and ‘suitable’. Though after having had elderly parents, I tend to view ‘helper’ as one who aids the one in need.

    ‘What we will see is that even though there is an order of creation where the female is created later, there is no hierarchy as a result of this. Instead, there is a fundamental equality between male and female in creation.’

    Whilst I agree that seems to be what Genesis teaches, does Paul not contradict this in his view of female roles in the church? He uses Genesis to justify his view and instructions (which tends to negate any idea that in Paul’s mind this was just a cultural issue or limited to that time).


  2. Thanks Ian.

    I think it’s Colin Hamer who is adamant that the one flesh image of Genesis 2:24 does not refer to sexual union (despite 1 Cor 6:16), but only to a new kinship unit. I think part of his reasoning is that Paul would not use marital imagery for Christ and the Church if it had the inherent connotation of sexual union (he can correct me on this if he is around).
    Do you have any thoughts on this?

    • Hi Will, Yes, I am guilty of the observation that a sexual act does not equate to kinship. If it did every sexual act would create a kinship union? Just as a driving licence gives you permission to drive, driving does not give you a licence. A marriage covenant permits sex, sex does not make you married? And to be precise, the OT permited polygyny, not polygamy.

        • Christopher, Nick Clegg (former deputy Prime Minister) admits to more than 30 sexual partners—in his view an unexceptional number. And what about prostitution or rape? But I do not think that is Will’s point—who articulates a view widely held among Christians, but one that I believe is not supported by the NT text. William Loader, who has probably published most on sexuality in the NT, admits that the “one flesh” of Gen 2:24 in the Hebrew Bible would be taken to mean “one family” (as do many OT scholars, i.e., not about sex) —but Loader then employs a strange (at least to me) lexical argument to suggest when the verse is cited in Greek “one flesh” changes its meaning to sexual intercourse. The implications of this are considerable, as Gen 2:24 is cited in Matt 19; Mark 10; 1 Cor 6; and Eph 5 to make theological points of some significance.

          • I dont understand how you can come to that conclusion. In the Matthew passage, for example, the only reason that Jesus gives for a ‘valid’ divorce is if the partner commits ‘sexual’ immorality. The reason for that is obvious – they have joined themselves to another and thus broken the one-flesh union.

            Kinship/relationship is clearly a very important part of marriage, but so is sexual union.

            As for Paul not using sexual connotations regarding the Church and Christ, the book of Hosea for example is full of sexual connotations in describing Israel’s ‘unfaithfulness’ to God (using prostitutes etc) so Paul is continuing such usage.

            In the end it is simply a way of describing the intimacy of relationship that God wants with His people, whether Israel of old or the Church.


          • Peter, and—regarding Hosea, I would argue that he is employing marital imagery, in that Israel by going with other gods was acting like a prostitute, not going with prostitutes. It is the same imagery used by Ezekiel, thus when speaking to Israel God says: “Therefore, O prostitute, hear the word of the LORD” (Ezek 16:35)—Israel WAS the prostitute.

          • Thanks Colin.

            What I don’t understand is why it can’t mean both one family and sexual union – how are you and others e.g. Loader sure it doesn’t connote both? Does flesh never have a sexual connotation in Hebrew?

            Loader is perhaps recognising how Paul uses it in 1 Cor 6 to see a Greek meaning possibly not there in the Hebrew?

            On prostitutes, is Israel as a prostitute not still suggestive of sexual imagery?

          • Will, —good to touch base again about this: “Does flesh never have a sexual connotation in Hebrew?” —never in the Hebrew Bible.

            Paul declares himself to be a Hebrew of the Hebrews, a student of Gamaliel, and as James Dunn (and others) points out, when Paul says in Phil 3 that “I have [now] no confidence in the flesh”—he means no confidence in the family of Israel. It is not about sex.

            “Loader is perhaps ‘recognising’ how Paul uses it [flesh] in 1 Cor 6 to see a Greek meaning possibly not there in the Hebrew?”—I would prefer to say Loader believes this—while at the same time pointing out that in the same two verse pericope (1 Cor 6:15-16) Paul does NOT use “flesh” to denote sexual intercourse as the basis of the relationship with Christ and the church. He accepts that that does not work. I suggest it is also impossible to read sex into Eph 5:31-32. Ezek 16:35 is saying that the members of the tribe of Israel were members of a prostitute. It is not about sex. Lynn Huber sees that such a concept is exploited in the imagery of Rev 17–21: “the images of harlot and bride depict two possible forms of existence for the Christian community. The community can live in idolatry, as a prostitute, or the community can live in faithfulness to God, as a bride.” [I am sure Ian has a view on this—I have his book on order.] Interestingly, Loader points out the problem with the concept that sexual intercourse creates a new reality, although he does not abandon that understanding. Is it not possible that Paul in 1 Cor 6 is using the marital imagery of Ezekiel and Revelation—an imagery that pervades both the Hebrew Bible and the NT, and is evident elsewhere in his own corpus? If so, the theological problems that Loader points to with his own understanding dissolve.

            “On prostitutes, is Israel as a prostitute not still suggestive of sexual imagery?”—the imagery is metaphoric. In any metaphor elements are transferred (metapherō) from the source to the target domain. The source domain of the metaphor is human marriage. One of the mysteries of a metaphor is that only some elements are transferred. In the Bible’s marital imagery sexual intercourse is never transferred. In other words, God is not portrayed as having sex with Israel (although some ANE imagery goes down this path). Thus, in the imagery, it is metaphoric prostitution—it does not involve sex. It refers to Israel’s idolatry, or simply unfaithfulness (adultery) to their covenant God. Thus, when Jesus refers to Jewish people as being an adulterous generation—he is not talking about sex.

          • Will, I repeat the post here that I sent to Christopher in case you do not see it:

            Christopher, what you are articulating is widespread church teaching. However, as I mentioned elsewhere, John Witte Jr. (Professor of Law, Emory University, USA) convincingly demonstrates in his large corpus of work on this subject that all Western Christendom models of marriage are based on classical Greco-Roman sources—in other words, not on biblical teaching—incidentally, Witte sees this as a good thing. Martin Luther, I suggest, was closest to the biblical model in that he believed marriage was purely a social institution with no sacred element—and that sexual intercourse had no ontological dimension. At first John Calvin appeared to share Luther’s view (Institutes, 4.19.3; 4.19.34)—but later in his life he also succumbed to the Greco-Roman model on which Witte demonstrates that Christendom has based its teaching. Commenting on Gen 2:18 Calvin states: “Marriage [by means of sexual intercourse] creates a sacred bond as nature itself taught Plato.”

          • Will, to summarise what I am suggesting: In Philippians 3 Paul’s confidence before his conversion was being ‘one flesh’ (one family) with Israel—but his confidence now is being ‘one flesh’ (one family) with Christ (1 Cor 6:15-16; Eph 5:31-32). The world is ‘one flesh’ (one family) with a ‘prostitute’ (1 Cor 6:15-16; Rev 17-21). Israel was based on a consanguineous union (as per Adam and Eve in Gen 2:23), the church is based on the marital affinity union where a wife becomes what she was not (Gen 2:24), just as the lost (including the Gentiles) become what they were not in Christ. It runs all through the Gospels—see for example John 1:12-13; John 8:39-47. It is a key NT teaching—but commentators who have a neoplatonic paradigm about sex and marriage (that is most?) miss it whenever Gen 2:24 is employed.

          • (1) Pentecostals have noticed the same reality from another angle, with the concept ‘soul ties’.

            (2) Otherwise sex is not regarded as the act of significance that it really is: it is to all intents and purposes how marriage/unification comes about.

            (3) 1 Cor 6 has normally been read thus, though I know you disagree.

          • Christopher, what you are articulating is widespread church teaching. However, as I mentioned elsewhere, John Witte Jr. (Professor of Law, Emory University, USA) convincingly demonstrates in his large corpus of work on this subject that all Western Christendom models of marriage are based on classical Greco-Roman sources—in other words, not on biblical teaching—incidentally, Witte sees this as a good thing. Martin Luther, I suggest, was closest to the biblical model in that he believed marriage was purely a social institution with no sacred element—and that sexual intercourse had no ontological dimension. At first John Calvin appeared to share Luther’s view (Institutes, 4.19.3; 4.19.34)—but later in his life he also succumbed to the Greco-Roman model on which Witte demonstrates that Christendom has based its teaching. Commenting on Gen 2:18 Calvin states: “Marriage [by means of sexual intercourse] creates a sacred bond as nature itself taught Plato.”

          • Colin

            I have had a look through all the instances of ‘flesh’ in the NRSV (admittedly a translation, but one of the more literal ones).

            The two main uses in the OT appear to be:
            1) The physical stuff that bodies are made from; body
            2) A term for being related by blood, ‘flesh of my flesh’; kinship

            The NT adds in a third major meaning:
            3) Human nature, especially in its present fallen (sinful) state

            The third was closely related to sexual sin eg Gal 5:16-24.

            In Leviticus wives seem to be identified with their husbands (Lev 18:7-8) but are not said to be of their flesh in the way that a man’s brother or sister is (Lev 18:12-13). This suggests the one flesh image of marriage was not understood to be of the same kind as the flesh of kinship – a sister, nephew or aunt was a man’s own flesh in a way that a wife was not. I didn’t see a reference to a wife being a man’s own flesh (presumably because a major point of Leviticus 18 is that a man may not marry of his own flesh!) or indeed any other reference to marriage in terms of being ‘one flesh’. (Gen 2:24 is the sole occurrence of the phrase in the OT.)

            It seems to me most likely that ‘one flesh’ in Gen 2:24 refers to the way that man and wife produce offspring who are of the same flesh as one another and their parents and their parents siblings etc., a uniting of flesh (different so as not to be incest but still human) to produce a new unit that shares flesh. I would take the image to include the union of the bodies to produce this, implied by Gen 2 where a primordial separating of bodies becoming the ‘reason’ that marriage is then a reunion of the separated flesh into one, implying one body. This is in line with the use in 1 Cor 6:16 – though I agree with you that this imagery cannot be taken to imply that a man actually marries every person he sleeps with; if that was so the OT would have had to include provisions for divorcing prostitutes (prostitution is notably not forbidden in the OT).

            So I largely go along with what you say – but I think the imagery of Gen 2:24 does include a union of bodies as part of producing this new unit of offpsring who share flesh through the union of two people who do not share flesh (except as human beings) but nonetheless become one unit. This doesn’t mean every sexual encounter counts as a marriage.

          • Thanks for these observations, and the care you have taken to engage with my argument. Some I suggest are more philosophical than text-based—but all are of interest to me. A problem only arises when some deduce pastoral teaching based on philosophical (often neoplatonic) deductions rather than a context-based authorial intent method of biblical exegesis (I am not suggesting such applies to you).

            Yes: “I didn’t see a reference to a wife being a man’s own flesh” —except Gen 2:24! Which I suggest is a metaphoric restatement of the Gen 2:23 union—it has all the hallmarks of such with a transfer from the source domain (the primal couple) to the target domain (a mundane affinity couple) with its ‘pair-wise’ statement: ‘A’ is said to be ‘B’ [i.e., the man and wife ‘are’ one flesh] when it is not true. The Pauline corpus uses that metaphoric one-flesh union to describe the union of Christ and the church—a book title I wished I had thought of is Robert Masson’s “With Metaphor No Saving God” (2014)—a brilliant analysis of modern metaphor theory and a critique of how little theologians understand about metaphors. Masson does not engage with my post-PhD work, where I suggest the gospel is built on the metaphoric Gen 2:24 union. In that union a naturally born man and woman, choose to become what they are not, in a marital affinity relationship, by means of a volitional covenant—the bride is now counted as being in her husband’s family. Thus Eph 5:31-32—those outside of Abraham’s family, can choose to become, by faith, what they are not (albeit drawn by the Holy Spirit as John 6:44 explains)—that is, members of the body of Christ, the church (see also Romans 9). The church’s bridegroom is, as Galatians 3:16 tells us, the promised seed of Abraham. It follows that the whole church, including the Gentiles, at the eschaton, comes into a marital affinity relationship with the seed of Abraham—and thus can be counted as being in his family. I was approached to write a 7,000 word article on it by the peer-reviewed academic journal Unio Cum Christo. It appears in their October 2018 edition.

          • One more thought: Is the ambiguous relationship between sex and marriage in the OT reflected in Exodus 22:16-17? Where a man who seduces a virgin is obliged to marry her – suggesting an inherent connection. But if her father refuses then he just has to pay her bride price – suggesting it is not absolute.

            Interesting there is no additional penalty for either the man or the woman (though the woman would presumably be deemed ‘disgraced’ as per Deut 22).

          • Will, you comment “Isn’t it the case that adultery had both the technical meaning you give and also a wider meaning which Jesus appeals to – which is why the 7th Commandment stands for all sexual sin and not just technical adultery?”

            The Hebrew was perfectly able to express sexual immorality (‘er·waṯ, e.g., Deut 24:1) but the author chose in Exodus 20:14 to use adultery (tnə·’āp̄)—in the same way Jesus distinguishes between the two in Matt 19:9.

            Christians are keen to conflate the two (see thread on this blog, e.g., Christopher—I could cite a great many publications that do the same)—because without that conflation the neoplatonic model of marriage does not harmonise with the NT divorce teaching. The (subliminal?) logic goes like this: Marriage is created by penetrative hetero-sexual intercourse, therefore, for marriage to be broken, it requires penetrative hetero-sexual intercourse with somebody not your “partner” (a term the Bible does not use)—in other words, adultery. But the NT does not say this—it speaks of divorce for sexual immorality (porneia) not adultery (moicheía). No problem they say! We will call porneia, adultery. (Obviously porneia includes adultery.) Even eminent scholars do it.

            Ask your friends what grounds for divorce does Jesus teach? The odds are they will say adultery. Especially evangelicals—on this, the text is cast aside to fit the model. In a paper I gave before an audience of eminent NT scholars in January I pointed out how the teaching of Matt 19:3-9 has five untenable assumptions forced on it by commentators so as to make it fit the neoplatonic model. In the extensive questions that followed and over dinner later that evening none challenged that observation.

          • Thanks Colin, that’s very interesting.

            I wasn’t trying to be philosophical, I was trying to understand the authorial intent, but may have missed it.

            I can see kinship is the primary reference for flesh in the OT insofar as it relates to relationships.

            I think I see the bodily union aspect of ‘one flesh’ to be implied by the way the primordial separation is said to be the reason (‘therefore’) for the man becoming one flesh with his wife – the primordial bodily separation becoming the explanation of the bodily union in marriage. Do you think this inference is incorrect?

            If so, how do you conceive of the relationship that the OT presents between sex and marriage? Even if it is not included in ‘one flesh’ it is surely close, particularly as marital infidelity is invariably sexual in nature? (You probably cover this in your thesis but I’m hoping to get the layman’s summary.)

          • “I think I see the bodily union aspect of ‘one flesh’ to be implied by the way the primordial separation is said to be the reason (‘therefore’) for the man becoming one flesh with his wife – the primordial bodily separation becoming the explanation of the bodily union in marriage. Do you think this inference is incorrect?” — no I don’t think it is incorrect. Scripture invites us not into a paddling pool but into a deep ocean. Jesus marries his own body (the church) at the eschaton —a re-fusion of the primal couple!

            “If so, how do you conceive of the relationship that the OT presents between sex and marriage? Even if it is not included in ‘one flesh’ it is surely close, particularly as marital infidelity is invariably sexual in nature?” But that is not correct. A wife could divorce her husband for his failure (marital infidelity. that is, not faithful to what he promised) to provide food and clothes—in other words material care. The Bible’s teaching (Exod 21:10-11; 1 Cor 7), the contemporary documentary evidence, and Rabbinic literature, are all clear on this.

          • Thanks for the explanation about Matt 19:9. (Our comments seem to be getting a little mixed up in where they appear but hopefully we can still follow the conversation). I agree that that verse is not straightforward (some think it refers specifically to incestuous marriages, as you probably know, though that seems unlikely to me).

            My understanding of the Decalogue is that the brief commandments there become heads for all related laws – so murder ‘covers’ all assault, theft covers all wrongful use of others’ property, false witness covers all fraud and deceit, and adultery covers all sexual wrongdoing. Do you think this is incorrect? From a textual point of view I mean.

          • “My understanding of the Decalogue is that the brief commandments there become heads for all related laws – so murder ‘covers’ all assault, theft covers all wrongful use of others’ property, false witness covers all fraud and deceit, and adultery covers all sexual wrongdoing. Do you think this is incorrect? From a textual point of view I mean.”

            Yes, I suggest it is not correct. As you have pointed point out prostitution was low down on the list of sexual sins (look at the story of Tamar and Jude in Gen 38) but adultery carried the death penalty (Lev 20:10). To follow the logic of the argument you posit, all sexual sins should carry the death penalty.

          • That’s a good point about marital infidelity not always being sexual. But it is often sexual – and Matt 19:9 specifically mentions only the sexual breach.

            What I’m really interested in is how you think the OT does conceive of the connection between sex and marriage. Or were you answering that in the first part of your last response?

          • As I see it, the Bible’s position is that sexual activity should be confined to marriage, it is a hugely important dimension and expectation of marriage, but is not its sole defining feature, and nor does the sex act create an ontological union.

  3. I appreciate your work on the complementary and equally important status of men and women, Ian.

    That said, Genesis is the product of a religious group (or successive religious groups) drafting and editing an account that might reasonably be expected to reflect the views on gender that they or their society held within their culture and their time.

    You seem to acknowledge their narrative that “there is an order of creation where the female is created later” but I would suggest by its very nature that such an order suggests a sense of primacy of the male. God in their culture is gendered as male, so ‘male’ is probably seen as a better representation of God, a closer likeness… with female one step removed from that likeness.

    As Elizabeth Johnson points out again and again in her superb book ‘She Who Is’ these things have consequences, and not all of them are benevolent.

    Personally I believe it is really important that the assertions in passages like these are de-constructed to see through to where cultural assumptions fed into the narrative, and understand how the religious society they lived in and wrote from may have coloured the way they viewed gender.

    I am assuming you read these passages not as factual narrative but as the theology and metaphorical platform through which the authors tried to communicate a framework of beliefs. I’d be interested to know if you think that is so, because sometimes when Christians talk about the Fall, they create an implicit suggestion that Adam and Eve actually were factual, and that there were no preceding humans, and that rather than evolving from earlier species, these ‘first humans’ really were as you seem to imply ‘formed from dust’ without prior descent:

    “That the human created from the dust is male from the outset is probable”… that language suggests that first human really was created from dust, not born of a preceding woman.

    Of course, the idea that ‘Adam’ had a mum, who bore him for nine months, and suffered labour to give him birth, is disruptive to the narrative. Indeed, the female, and the female role, is pretty much always disruptive to implicitly patriarchal religious systems.

    Fast forward about 800 years and we find Paul justifying an area of female subordination “because Eve sinned first”. Again, the impulse, even in Paul who wrote there was no male and female in Christ, to pin down women’s subversive ability to disrupt patriarchal assumptions. My own feeling is that Paul was in conflict on these issues: part of him was Spirit-prompted to sense that God was calling new paradigms into being; while part of him still held on to some implicit social and cultural assumptions about appropriate roles for women.

    Be that as it may, it is all well and good (and I respect your motives) to try to present the Bible as portraying men and women as equal from the outset, but that’s not exactly how it’s worked out, is it, through history, in Jewish and Christian lives. For millennia, the Bible has been used to shore up patriarchy… you only have to look at the huge disparity between men and women at the forthcoming Lambeth Conference, or at priesthood in many parts of the Church.

    It is not entirely unreasonable to suggest that the religious communities who generated the scriptures were overwhelmingly male-led in their outlook, in their views on leadership, in their views on society.

    So as I say, with all the finesse one can apply verse by verse to draw equality from the narrative, I believe more radical criticism and de-construction is needed. And the voice of Feminist Christian theologians is valuable in this context.

    Please don’t misunderstand my comments as disrespect: I see you as an ally on issues of female agency in the Church and in society. I like the intelligence you have applied to the subject. However there is a long way to go and I would still suggest the culture and agenda and assumptions of the original authors need radical de-construction and critique – not just surface reconciliation of verses, or unquestioning acceptance of the narrative process ‘because it’s in the Bible so it’s written by God’.

    Adam’s mother being erased is a pretty fundamental problem and error. Almost 3000 years of male-dominated religion has sort of journeyed on from there.

    Of course, I believe in Goddess as well as God, so my position is pretty radical when it comes to perceiving gender. And the same God transcending gender altogether, while understanding, feeling and expressing it. God is as much female as male.

    And yet, with all the good will in the world, the Christian Church still tends to say, no, the male is what we should attribute to God. And of course they cite the ‘Our Father’ as if that wasn’t, too, written within a culture and a religious tradition.

    The feminine divinity… the Goddess, if you like… is erased again and again. It is seen by many as a dangerous concept, a subversion, a threat to the male role in Church and Society.

    And yet, there are so many times when I know and encounter God(de) as a mother, or a female friend, holding, or nurturing, or just coming in through the backdoor of my house, to (figuratively) drink coffee at the table, and chat. As domestic as that.

    Finally, don’t you *love* the Book of Ruth? I always find it such a relief, when I am reading through the Bible, to get to Ruth – and the female presence, and female solidarity, and kindly intimacy. It is a wonderful book. (Boaz is great too, and that presentation of a good and decent estate.) But there in Ruth, women break out… break out, even from within the restrictive social confines that frame their circumstances.

    I’d suggest we still need to break out, and part of that breaking out, is repudiating some of the cultural assumptions that even the authors of Genesis had. And even though I think Genesis is superb, and speaks through myth so resonantly, like a deep mantra, deep speaking to the deep of our consciences and souls.

    I don’t only seek the co-ordination of bible verses in the fascinating way you have done, Ian. I seek a recognition that the Bible is provisional, is grappling with mystery, is filtered by culture, is deeply influenced by culture.

    And the consequences of not recognising that has been harmful – for women in the Church for millennia; for lesbian women today; and also for men, because men also need release and escape from gender stereotypes. Being a ‘real man’ can place demands on guys: I cringe at some groups in church that foster these stereotypes of men as providers, as leaders in the home, as icons of a male-framed God. Don’t get me wrong, I do like men who are men. But there’s more to gender than what makes men different. And religious communities have been very resistant to the idea of the female in the divine, just as men can be very resistant to the female within themselves. Gender and sexuality are far more complex than the simple binary presented in that 2800 year old text, even though I recognise the binary operates and works for many people.

    • Susannah, statistically have families done better when men and women have clearly defined different roles (such as made them be called men and women in the first place) or when those roles are (a) interchangeable and/or (b) unclear?

    • Hello Susannah, I read your very genuine thoughts with interest. Without wanting to get into a disagreement, it struck me that you too are making ‘cultural assumptions’ in your analysis. I would judge conclusions on the scriptures partly on how spiritual the people were doing the writing and the interpreting. Criticising Paul who had such a deep revelation I would find personally problematic and be reluctant to do. Academic ability and reputation do not measure up to knowing God in a deep life-changing way and the possession of a tried and tested faith.

    • “… its very nature (female second) suggests a sense of primacy of the male”? – not for the believer, surely, who has learnt that the second covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34, Hebrews 8:13, 9:14) is superior to the first one – in this case at least, most of us agree that second is decidedly better.

    • So, so many cultural presumptions in your writing Suzannah, particularly that the bible is only ever a human, cultural construct, and nothing more. Your comments are replete with current Western cultural, set in stone presumptions.
      I asked a question in a previous comment which I’ll expand slightly: can an infallible, omnipotent, omniscient, Triune God communicate who he is and his purposes, to and through fallible, fallen humanity?
      Presumably you don’t accept the reality of the Fall and sin.

      Adam didn’t have a mother, his created existence, supernatural, God breathed as the supernatural conception of God the Son. who is the last Adam.
      Why was the incarnation of Jesus the last Adam , his death, bodily resurrection, ascension necessary, as is his return.
      Whatever the sum total of your belief’s from what you have written, they are not Trinitarian, which is unique to Christianity. Mention of Godesses has a ring of pagan theological syncretism.
      God is a Father Before he is creator (John 17)
      Your description of spiritual experience in a previous post is at odds with Jackie Hill Perry’s, in particular, in the the consequent life transformation and direction. It also does not seem to equate will any revival-like, slaying in the Spirit, falling under the influence of the Holy Spirit at the communion rail (in an Anglican Church) or in church history down the centuries.
      So far as scripture is concerned, I’d repeat Ian Paul’s commendation of the Bible Project.
      I’ll not get involved in any more comments with you on this particular article, but leave it with Ian Paul’s last sentence beyond which I’ll not go here:
      “Power that demands allegiance over against or ahead of the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ is speaking a lie and based on deceit; if we are tempted to believe it, we need our eyes opened to the true source of all things. God alone is worthy of our unceasing praise, our unswerving loyalty and our profound gratitude.”

      • Adam probably had a mother in the biological sense. BB Warfield and many others have accepted that evolution happened and have nonetheless been considered true to a conservative view of the bible. One reasonable speculation is that at some stage God stepped in in an unusual way to breathe a “soul” into one particular Homo sapiens.

        • “One reasonable speculation is that at some stage God stepped in in an unusual way to breathe a “soul” into one particular Homo sapiens.”

          And before that, there was no pain in childbirth? No death?

          If you are actualising ‘one particular Homo sapiens, aren’t you literalising the context into an actual event, not myth… in which case are the consequences of ‘first sin’ by someone (as you put it) with a soul also literal and actual?

          Surely it’s more ‘reasonable’ to see the whole narrative as myth, and fictional, and not based on actual events… and to draw the profound meaning and depth from the myth?

          And if it’s myth, might it not also be myth built around the cultural and religious contexts of the day? Which included a pretty certain element of male primacy, however much women complement that and add to the whole?

          I’d argue that scripture has often been used through history as a mandate and agent for male supremacy and female subjugation. And I’m not convinced we’re right to perpetuate that primacy and apply their cultural pre-suppositions about men and women to the culture and world we find ourselves in today.

          • Hi Susannah
            I prefer “metaphorical truth” to “myth” but let’s go with “myth.”
            I offer a scientific consensus of approx 3.9 billion years for life on Earth so far. So we probably agree that the “days” in Genesis 1 are myth. But the myth still has authority – it tells me that the created world is good and that God is responsible for how it is.
            Now for Genesis 2 and the story of Adam and Eve, you say “myth” while I am more agnostic. But suppose again that I am willing to go with myth for the sake of argument. Does the myth (i) now stack up with the myths of Gilgamesh, and of Jupiter and Juno – interesting but irrelevant? or does it rather (ii) have an authority requiring us to understand and submit to its truth? If (i), why do you engage so earnestly? If (ii), what understanding and submission can you propose to me for us to agree on?

          • Hello Jamie,

            I appreciate your thoughtful points and I will reflect on them overnight. Start of the weekend, and a nice meal with some wine, but not the best time to start firing off comments on the internet!

            There may be a (iii) which believes there is power in myth, but may not necessarily mean we should regard it as an ‘authority’ in terms of surface level narrative that we should submit to. The narrative may give us glimpses of spiritual truth, without defining precise factual truth that demands our acceptance as fact. After all, part of the whole power of myth is that deep communicates to deep, and perhaps relationship to and reception of these texts needs more to be ‘felt’ than cerebrally analysed for the profound significance of every single word.

            As I said, there is the issue of ‘death’ coming into a perfect world after the ‘sin’. And the pain of childbirth. We are presented with a theological structure, but I doubt the narrative is ‘magically’ perfect or incontestable, or watertight or leak proof. It is the creation narrative of one particular religious group, fumbling and feeling for ways of describing and explaining our place in creation. The ‘story’ need not be submitted to as factual or incontrovertible truth. And yet it may communicate a sense of God and the presence of God in our lives.

            I love the story of Adam and Eve, but I don’t take it too seriously in detail. With all respect for different people’s fidelity, I sometimes feel people strain gnats, scrutinising every single word and its other occurrences and treating the words like oracles, going over them again and again in minute detail.

            And the danger is starting to talk as if the Fall, and Adam and Eve, were actual and real people, who brought about death and pain in childbirth through actual acts, when in fact death and childbirth had been going on for hundreds of millions of years. Paul, building his own religious architecture, later locks on to these narratives, and develops the narrative of the Fall, even proposing women submit in certain circumstances because of the supposed sin of a mythical woman. We can reflect on both narratives without necessarily believing them or obeying them / submitting to them carte blanche. To do so unquestioningly is to be infantilised and to anaesthetise our own consciences and responsibilities, and to just let questionable narrative define our moral decisions for us.

            I think our God-given consciences are meant to take more responsibility, and draw indeed from these texts, in prayer and reflection, but without literalising everything or attributing everything with the ‘authority’ of truth.

            Another thought: is defining these accounts as myth in fact a ‘fire escape’, because some of the facts are so obviously incorrect that it would make a bible-believer’s bible fallible and mistaken in places unless it was re-positioned as myth. In other words, a bit of selectivity going on?

            My own feelings are that there’s too much agonising over detail going on, as if every single chosen word is some profound message, like a space signal from God. Whereas I see the divine in the fallible, trying-to-make-sense, writing of a narrative which is nevertheless tentative and fallible itself.

            The various authors of Genesis no more had factual knowledge of Adam or the entry of sin coming into the world than you or I have factual knowledge of some aliens who may exist on the far side of a distant planet in the Andromeda galaxy.

            The whole thing is cultural myth and story telling, and if we say that it isn’t, then we are actually causing decent truth-seeking people to be put off the deeper gospel, because they can’t take this creation narrative seriously when quite a lot of Christians suggest it all actually happened.

            Anyway I’ll stop and reflect a bit more. I said I wouldn’t write, and I’ve written. But after supper and some wine, my own thoughts are offered as ‘tentative’ and ‘fallible’ too. But I very much appreciate your politeness and straightforwardness. Thank you.

          • Hello Jamie,

            I said I’d reply (when I had a fresher mind). It seems like we have a similar approach to Genesis 1: that it does not ‘trump’ scientific understanding that the world is billions of years old, but that the religious community that wrote and edited Genesis were (possibly consciously) using a story/myth/metaphor (I’d say myth myself) to communicate convictions and belief about the presence of God in our world and a sense that God is the source of creation.

            So with that agreement on Genesis 1 (though we may still have different underlying views on the extent to which scriptural text should be seen as ‘authority’ and in what way) perhaps time to take a look at what you went on to say.

            Jamie: “or does it rather (ii) have an authority requiring us to understand and submit to its truth?”

            Taking into account the fact that the authors are already dealing in myth in Chapter 1, there’s the question of what you mean by ‘truth’ when talking about the metaphorical. I suppose one is looking to see if there are underlying truths below the surface level of these texts, and as myth communicates almost at a subconscious level (because that’s how myth works very effectively) can we be sure exactly what’s pertinent in any ‘hidden’ message, apart from the very real danger of retrospectively imprinting our own ideas on what was originally delivered as mythical and deep/numinous/not literal? So what is its ‘truth’? And breaking it down, what were the authors deliberately trying to communicate, what might they have been subconsciously communicating, and then again, what might God – in encounter and operation with these people – have been impressing on their understanding, which they then communicated through these myths about ‘original people’ (which are not congruent with scientific facts we now have about the origin of our species)?

            So using the term ‘truth’ itself involves potential subjective appropriation of text with the views and values we feel we should impose upon it. Truth in what sense? Truth as a statement of rules and records of existence? Truth because the authors can use their creation myths in some profound way? Truth because we have to believe the bible is always true? Factual truth? Some kind of metaphorical truth?

            But moving on…

            Does Genesis 2 have an “authority” requiring us to submit to its truth (whatever that truth is…)?

            And here we come into the whole question of how we read the Bible and relate to the Bible and respond to the Bible. And the Church is not all of one mind on these issues.

            Are we to submit to anything and everything the Bible says, because it is infallible and is effectively the authoritative word of God in every single statement and every attempt the authors make to make sense of their encounters with God?

            Or do the authors write within the confines of their social and cultural contexts, and within their scientific worldviews, and from a position of human fallibility prone to some amazing insights but also prone to writing that may reflect their own cultures and human fallibility?

            If the latter, at what point between the God they encounter and the narratives they write should we find ‘authority’?

            In other words should we submit to *everything* a Bronze Age author writes or would that be infantilism and the perpetuation of culture rather than living our lives responsibility and with conscience, drawing on profound insights from the Bible, but not bound to apply everything that’s written to our own society in our own time?

            I take the view that there are indeed parts of the Bible where a forensic thinker or truth-seeker should step back, and say ‘wait a minute’ and challenge whether a passage of words is actually God speaking truth to us, or fallible human beings trying to make sense of the world and culture they live in, using their own insights, values, traditions, but not necessarily operating a literally correct ‘hot-line’ from God. Maybe the Holy Spirit influences understanding, without invading it so completely as to reduce authors to robots.

            The way I see the Bible is that it is a ‘conduit’ for the Holy Spirit… a portal or pipeline through which God can flow. The Bible itself is basically a container… a chipped, rough-edged, rough-peopled, imperfect container. It has all kinds of attempts to make sense of God, to make sense of history, to make sense of encounters. But that’s what they are: attempts. And then… there’s God… who can speak to us through the portal, speak to our hearts.

            So I am extremely guarded about the dangers of ‘idolising’ the Bible, and idealising it, and in the process anaesthetising our own consciences and responsibilities, and letting the Bible decide every moral issue for us. I don’t see the text as authoritative in that way. I see the ‘authority’ as what we open to, when we encounter God ourselves, individually and communally. And of course, that can reflect a lot of what other people have written about God in the Bible (and indeed in other books). But I do think the Bible is exceptional as a thinking ground for good living and faith, and for opening hearts to the covenant love that God has for us.

            So I find you term ‘truth’ less clear-cut than the brief comment seems to assume, and loaded with pre-suppositions in our religious communities; and the term ‘authority’ also seems contestable, because of different ways people read and respond to Biblical text, some reverently taking it all as infallible preciseness from God, and others reading it critically as a conduit of profound presence of God, but written provisionally and fallibly by people – real people like ourselves – attempting to make sense.

            You then write: “If these chapters of Genesis are just irrelevant myth (i), why do you engage so earnestly?”

            Firstly, I don’t see the Bible or even the very much culturally-influenced parts, as “irrelevant”. I see so much in the Bible that speaks profoundly, and deeply, that I am acculturated by habit to take it seriously, but not uncritically and subservient to the text (which may be different to being subservient to God).

            Secondly, people like myself may engage earnestly because: we believe the traditional evangelical elevation of the Bible to this incontestable authority may actually in places be harmful to other people – putting scientific truth-seekers off with its outdated claims of human origin, and Noah, and cultural prejudices about sexuality, or stereotypes about gender, or mandates for barbarity (in Joshua), or all sorts of other things that seem to some of us to put people off, for reasonable reasons, not just rebellion.

            And we may also believe in a new paradigm for navigating and responding to the Bible: because the old paradigm – which 400 years back took almost all of it as literally true – is failing, and switching people off, and yet a new and more intelligently critical relationship to the Bible may not be a terrible thing, might open people up rather than narrow them down. And I know, we are taught about a narrow way, and at core I agree – the way of the Cross leads us through death to self. But that doesn’t make cultural narrowness itself a good or healthy thing. I think we are earnest, because we have excitement and vision of a more open kind of Christianity, like a reformation, and a releasing from cultural contexts set in aspic… and a greater openness to science, to love, to inclusion.

            I’ll be honest: I think too much of Church culture is far too narrow. I think parts of the Church have been institutionalised, and live in a kind of dread and antipathy of anything that challenges its totem of an infallible Bible. And yet maybe more courage is needed. And instead of creating a defensive bunker, with all this terrible world assailing its ‘truths’ (well, claimed truths on some issues)… perhaps it should open up. But people have this extraordinary fear and ‘untrust’ that if a single part of the Bible isn’t true, then like a house of cards the whole Bible will come tumbling down. But that’s not true, and for Christians like myself, it hasn’t proven to be the case.

            Anyway, no, I don’t see why parts of the Bible being myth should mean we can’t be earnest of the God for whom the Bible is a conduit. God is still there, even if the Genesis authors presented a completely unbelievable account of Noah and the Flood, or judged men who had sex with men according to their own cultures and assumptions. God is still here. But the heart of the dynamic of the Bible – that being ‘alive and active’ – is the way God works through the Bible conduit to interact with us, and touch our hearts, and open our hearts to God.

            Finally you ask “If (ii), you believe that the Bible does have truth and we are called to submit to God” (I’ve reworded what you said, because otherwise I can’t get past all the complexities I detailed above)… “what understanding and submission can you propose to me for us to agree on?”

            That is a brilliant question. It’s precious because I think that’s very close to the heart of what God is actually taking us through as a community of believers with diversity and differences or view.

            And what I propose, fundamentally, is that we recognise a challenge from God to love one another, even when we have different views or walk different paths.

            The metanarrative, behind all this amazing history and journey of people trying to convey encounters with God in the Bible, is that God has made us to belong as part of God’s eternal household, and in Jesus we are given a covenantal love and action that draws us into that life and existence in eternity. In other words, whatever our differences, we are (like it or not) one in Jesus Christ.

            And in that unity, that belonging to God’s household, that eternal inheritance, we find our communion to each other. Not because we’re uniform (we’re not) but because we have dared (or been saved by grace) to open our hearts to God. And our relationship to one another in the end is defined not by ‘who is right’ but by God’s primary action in making us one in Christ.

            The heart of the matter is not even the precise correctness of all the scriptural quibbles that engross theological academia (not that they are worthless)… the heart of the matter is that God wants us to open our hearts to the love of God, and believe… which means trust… in God. God is reliable and faithful to us. God sees our differences. Has even made us with all kinds of diversity. And yet what God longs for is openness and trust in God and openness to love… so we ourselves become conduits of love, like the Bible is. And that is not about literalistic correctitude, but the opening of the heart to God, and… trust.

            Some might ask: “How can we trust God, if some of the Bible is not ‘true’ ” (that word again).

            But truth runs deeper than that. Truth breaks through in relationship, and in trust. In trust in God, even when we don’t understand it all. In trust in God’s fidelity.

            And I feel pretty sure, Jamie, that we both believe in God’s fidelity. So there, at least, is a starting point for agreement.

            We want to open our hearts to God, and God’s love. We may even do that along slightly different paths. But we yearn for God. And we believe that God is faithful and God can be trusted, even if for some of us that trust leans slightly less heavily on the Bible, though the Bible still communicates hugely to us all about God’s covenant love, and fidelity, and givenness to us.

            And we can agree that we both believe that in Jesus, God came and loved us, loved us to the point of no turning back, and broke open the way for us to enter eternal life and God’s eternal household. And that in this, we see how much God loves us, and is faithful to us, and have every reason to trust.

            I think that is a pretty strong platform of understanding and agreement.

            With love from

          • Hi again Susannah

            There’s an amazing amount of work you must have put into the above.

            I often struggle with the tension between wanting to be a Son of God and needing to be a sheep of God.

            See my comment below – -for wanting the freedoms that come with being a Son of God.

            But there was once a 13-year-old who saw a group of acquaintances walking across a courtyard for an exam. “Good luck, Colin!” came from the assorted lookers-on. “Bad luck, Richard!” was my own contribution.

            That created in me needs for (i) clear statements that (a) yes I really am responsible and blameable for my own sins and (b) my being in the same sorry state as my ancestors doesn’t let me off (ii) someone with authority on earth to forgive my sins. This need isn’t met by me opening my heart to God; it’s met by the Son of God, who sacrificed his life to take away my sins. Genesis 2 and Mark 2 have helped me to articulate the feelings I describe – but the feelings came first, after all, like most 13-year-olds I barely knew that the bible even exists.

            This must be my last post on this thread. We may correspond again on another one….

    • Dear Susannah

      Are you not bringing your own bias here when you say:
      “I’d be interested to know if you think that is so, because sometimes when Christians talk about the Fall, they create an implicit suggestion that Adam and Eve actually were factual, and that there were no preceding humans, and that rather than evolving from earlier species, these ‘first humans’ really were as you seem to imply ‘formed from dust’ without prior descent”

      For as long as the Bible has been in existence Genesis 1 has scientifically disagreed with Genesis 2 … but then NEITHER are science, they are theology. Genesis 1 says “if you want to know who God is then look around, He created everything around you!”, Genesis 2 (Garden of Eden) says “if you want to know about the character of God then He is the God who cares for us even when we disobey!” – Have you ever noticed that when God sends Adam and Eve out of the garden He gives them a coat?
      Now this is greatly simplified but what I am saying is that the two stories of creation have two DIFFERENT functions and they have ALWAYS DISAGREED.

      I know a lot of Christians and I could count on the fingers of one hand the number of Christians I have met who suggest that Adam and Eve were literal real people.

      Then you write:
      “Paul justifying an area of female subordination “because Eve sinned first”. Again, the impulse, even in Paul who wrote there was no male and female in Christ, to pin down women’s subversive ability to disrupt patriarchal assumptions….” etc – Where does that come from?

      The St Paul who said women shouldn’t speak in Church is the SAME St Paul who says that women should prophesy (and is the same St Paul who names women amongst the apostles) ….. Have you ever tried to prophecy in silence? What you come to see is that these are letters to different churches with different problems and the letter is about the problem that that particular church has.

      • “What you come to see is that these are letters to different churches with different problems and the letter is about the problem that that particular church has.”

        Thank you, Clive. That is sort of my point: the narratives in the Bible, written within specific cultural circumstances, respond and react to the needs of specific communities, but I would argue that what is relevant and helpful for one community and culture may not be relevant and helpful to all other communities or situations.

        You seem to be suggesting you agree with that point.

        And my view is that the way we read the Bible should take these cultural influences and pre-suppositions into account. The authors of the Bible write their narratives, in part through the contexts and filters that they are living with.

        For this reason, as you seem to be doing when you ‘unwrap’ some of what Paul says about women, I believe the surface narrative needs to be stripped of possible cultural dimensions, and that we need to work through, in prayer and reflection and lived experience, what is at the heart of what the authors were trying to say.

        I would agree that most evangelical Christians these days have abandoned the idea that Adam or Noah were actual human beings. They have, I supposed, decided to see through the context and genre, to try to understand the message of the myth. Of course, part of that has been informed by increased knowledge of science over the past 400 years. What may once have seemed credible and tenable no longer does.

        I’d suggest the same applies at other points in the Bible too.

        Looking at the context of Genesis, and its possible messages, I agree there are some general lessons we can draw about the nature of God from both these chapters. I have more problem if we do not set their myths about the origins of humanity in perspective. And that perspective is that – at the factual level, as you yourself have pointed out – we are not necessarily meant to literalise the narrative or draw perpetual conclusions from their frankly limited knowledge about our origins, such as suggesting that that the narrative should influence our views on marriage being only between a man and a woman; or suggesting that man in some great scheme of things was made first, before woman, and that there is a hierarchy in the genders (as some Christians have suggested through history, and some still do).

        I think it is important for the integrity and credibility of the Christian message today, that we make clear to the public that critical de-construction of narrative matters to us, and that for example, we believe in some kind of evolution of our species from earlier species, we don’t really believe all surviving life forms were crammed on to a boat, the Flood is only a story… and then move on to what we learn in deep principle about God’s love, and saving intervention in the world, and the process of death, burial and new life that is fundamentally what Noah’s Ark points to.

        What we don’t need to do is to try to justify hetero-only marriage or opposition to gender transition by resort to these vastly ancient texts that weren’t talking about at all.

        We do not really need to go through the entire text with a fine tooth-comb. We need to try to understand what the underlying encounters and understandings were, of these ancient people, and what they were trying to communicate about God.

        I think that last bit is what you were saying too, and it’s helpful. The fine detail of the surface narrative of a mythical story may offer up a few little thoughts and insights, but myth operates deeper than that surface, and we almost need to ‘feel’ more, what the writers are feeling as they write their stories.

        Because the myth is communicating – and still communicates – through feeling more than through anything else. The story facts on the surface may or may not be tenable. They have little bearing on Darwinianism. They probably have as little bearing on same-sex marriage, or transition, or the role of women. But as Genesis unfolds, we discover – through the myth – a God who creates, who creates people to live in relationship with as their God, who intervenes and saves, who will accompany us through the storm and ordeal, and lead us towards new things, and who offers a covenant of love…

        …a covenant of love that keeps on re-emerging through the experiences of later writers in the Bible, until it finds its climax in the givenness of Jesus Christ, the demonstration of what covenant love means, a giving of self to the point of no return.

        Just as, going back to early Genesis, Noah in the story entrusted himself to God, and was cut loose in a floating coffin, and out there on the vast waters was entrusted to God to the point of no return, and protected by God, and delivered – because God is faithful.

        None of these are literal facts, but the narrative (and the religious experience of the authors behind it) is intuitive and profoundly moving. And that feeling shudders, and communicates to us, not so much through cerebral and detailed textual analysis, but direct to the heart. The fidelity of God is *felt* through the myth… and recognised… and responded to.

        And I think that’s how scripture so often works. It’s a portal. It opens doors in our hearts and minds to understanding, to the coming of God through that conduit of the scripture narratives. The narratives themselves may be fallible or not factual, but the God who resonates through the stories is real, and flows through the conduit into our hearts.

        Thank you for your interesting and thought-provoking comment.


      • Clive,
        The St Paul who said women shouldn’t speak in Church is the SAME St Paul who says that women should prophesy (and is the same St Paul who names women amongst the apostles) ….. Have you ever tried to prophecy in silence? What you come to see is that these are letters to different churches with different problems and the letter is about the problem that that particular church has.

        Except, of course, that ‘women can prophecy’ but ‘women should not talk’, appear in a single letter to a single congregation.

        • I was in church on Sunday, praying before going up to receive the sacraments, and a couple of women (it could as easily have been men, I’m not making a gender point) were chatting away.

          I suppose Paul may have felt that the act of prophecy is a positive, that would be prompted and enabled by God, but that he believed there was an issue at this particular community with women chattering?

          Pure speculation of course, at this distance in time. And anyway (a) Paul does indeed have a side to him that seems to be reaching out, arguable Spirit-led, towards seeing women as active participants with agency of their own, to be regarded as people not restricted by gender; and (b) although this may have been an instance of a community with a particular local issue, there does seem to be a side to Paul that still views women as needing ‘submission’ specifically because of their gender, in certain areas.

          All of which I view as either practical views in reaction to practical local (and temporary) needs; or the influence of his (also temporary to those times) culture on the way he thinks about women… and in other areas, about man-man sexuality or woman-woman sexuality.

          These things need to take account of culture. And we should not be so infantile (abdicating our own moral judgment) as to suppose that these views and responses of Paul – addressed to religious and quite conservative communities in his specific time, in his specific culture – are somehow final and eternal edicts to be imposed on all societies in every age.

          I think, as Christians, we need to strip off the cultural influences from text, see them for what they may be, and take more responsibility for our own moral responsibility in our communities, when it comes to how we view gender roles and stereotypes, and what we think about sexual orientation and human relationships.

          We have God-given consciences and, although we can learn many deep and profound things from the Bible narratives, we are supposed to exercise our consciences responsibly, in prayer, and explore for ourselves in community what we think in the context of our own time, our own culture, and the real needs of people we live among and seek to love and value.

          I see these early Genesis chapters as one religious society’s myths and stories told, and edited over time, about how they see God and see their world. That they were encountering a God who intervenes in human lives I have little doubt. That their creation myth account was framed within their own social and cultural pre-suppositions I also have little doubt.

          Any views they had on the primacy of men in the order of creation, or the weakness of women, or the reasons why childbirth is painful… I see these as cultural expressions and assumptions, and the holding of some common cultural deposit. As such, I feel we should be guarded about seeing them as some kind of template for all our later, and very diverse, cultures… at least at the cultural level of male primacy in the order of creation (pretty crazy – every man who’s ever lived has been born of woman), the stereotype of the weak woman, or the idea that pain in childbirth is somehow a deserved punishment for a woman’s original sin.

          Culture and context colours and filters biblical narratives. Its fallible human authors quite reasonably see their worlds through the lens of their own times and social assumptions, and within the limits and parameters of their scientific knowledge and understanding. That much is reasonable.

          What is less reasonable is to unquestioningly perpetuate these cultural filters “because the Bible says so”. We need to always ask, what aspects of a passage are actually contemporary colouring, culture, assumption? What lies behind all that – what the authors are trying to communicate and express about their encounters with God? And we need to try to be open to the *feeling* of those experiences, not just the facts. We need, in short, to be open to the flow of God’s Spirit who communicates through feeling as well as fact, if we are receptive and attentive to the great flow of God coming through what, ultimately, is a flawed and fallible humanly constructed conduit of narratives.

          These early chapters of Genesis – because they are myth – need to be received as myth, and as such if we are receptive we will find they still resonate with feeling that shudders far deeper than our simply conscious minds and cerebral analysis and control.

          That’s how myths work.

          Otherwise we risk doing the classic fundamentalist act, of turning the telescope round and looking through the wrong end, so that everything becomes smaller not larger, and we’re left parsing the all kinds of craziness that these early chapters offer at the factual level of narrative events.

          Noah’s Ark is hilariously crazy at that level. And yet, as myth, wow! It blows your mind. It resonates with some of the deepest spiritual truth. It is deep, deep myth – doing what myth should do.

          • Sorry, the sentence:
            Sadly must lay people on the “Claphm omnibus” do believe that science is fool-proof when it is not.

            Should have read:
            Sadly most lay people on the “Clapham omnibus” do believe that science is fool-proof when it is not.

        • Yes David – but one is about gossiping in Church, in my opinion, and the other is about Christian / Jewish behaviour in Church.

          You cannot prophecy in silence which then gives a context to the idea of being silent in church.


          You said:
          “Of course, part of that has been informed by increased knowledge of science over the past 400 years.” but this has disturbingly turned into unjustifiable worship of science.

          Science is not even the same as theology and science is MOST certainly not fool-proof – you only have to look at the claims on both side of the same-sex marriage debate to realise that the science can be quite uncertain and imprecise. Sadly must lay people on the “Claphm omnibus” do believe that science is fool-proof when it is not.

          Therefore science can adjust my views but does not overrule Scripture at all. I do not let science suggest that everything in the Bible is just cultural interpretation or similar because it is NOT theology and it is NOT certain.

          The BBC 7 years ago put on their website that scientists had found the nearest “earth-like planet”. If you read down their article you read that the night time temperature was estimated as -192 degC …… so at that temperature you’d are likely to have icebergs of oxygen floating on a sea of liquid nitrogen …. so much for the idea that it was the nearest “earth-like planet” which the BBC hadn’t bothered to even understand before publicising!

  4. Thanks, Ian, for the detail on the Genesis passages in particular. These are a great help to those of us who love the Bible as God’s Word to us but don’t have the understanding of the original languages.

  5. לְזֹאת֙ יִקָּרֵ֣א אִשָּׁ֔ה to/of/for this one he will call (imperfect ignoring the vowels)/ called / will be called (niphal – paying attention to the vowels), Woman. The stem is the same as in 2:19. I don’t disagree with your conclusion, but the stem is not אמר, say/said/saying.

    While reading is important and close reading also, we don’t read other books to shore up our opinions like this book is read. What are we to do to cease the power games we play? In Canada in 1972, the first woman to sit in parliament was told to go to the visitors gallery when she first came. Today, the cabinet is 50% women, but the power games continue through lobbying. Britain is no stranger to these problems.

    • Bob, thanks for the observation. I take your point, that ‘she shall be called’ might be better than ‘it will be said of her’, but you also have to look at the range of ways קרא is used, include speech where we would *not* use the word ‘call’.

      The main point is that this is *not* the so called ‘naming formula’ as some conservative commentators claim.

      We don’t read other books in this way, because we don’t believe that in other books we find revealed the will and intention of God, as Jesus believed about the scriptures.

      The Canadian cabinet is not 50% women…as a result of a naked cultural power play. Arguing that men and women can equally fulfil these roles does not logically lead to the belief that these roles should equally be filled by women numerically.

  6. Thanks Ian.

    I can see I am in a sea of translations and combatants on this. I have looked at every instance of קרא. I have used in my translation mostly call(over 600 times), sometimes encounter (119) proclaim (59) recite (35) convocation (23), invite, query (for the q in an acrostic), converge!, a few more variations, and even twice for partridge – must be a bird that calls. Being a bear of very little brain, I decided never to use any of these glosses for other Hebrew stems. I really don’t know if language can work this way. But I finished.

    In the case at hand, perhaps ‘this one will be proclaimed as woman’. You are right, it is distinguished by using the passive voice as opposed to the imperfect active. I am glad Adam’s act of calling is ‘imperfect’ because we are still discovering new species and giving them names.

  7. From Matthew Henry’s commentary:

    “The woman was made of a rib out of the side of Adam; not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved.”

    • Yes, but if I were a woman, which I am not, I would feel cheated by Matthew Henry’s summary. Sure I need to be protected, sure I need to be loved, but I also need to do something on my own initiative to make the world a better place. Do women not feel like that? – your comments please ladies!

      • Jamie,
        Who is cheating? God? Christ is the ultimate protector, benefactor, provider, the ultimate armour of God, ultimate head.
        How does anything that has been quoted from M Henry restrict women from making the world a better place? Not one iota.
        Is there a hint of salvation by works in what you have written? Whereas it is only by grace, a gift of works by God. Or am I reading into it too much as you have with M Henry.
        Where we have true equality, it is in the image of God: it is equality in our sin, as sinners, a broken image, universal in its scope. (Though we’ve not reached Genesis 3 yet. It will be noted that it is said that Adam and Eve’s offspring are in the image of Adam, The contrast is seen in Genesis 5: 1 -3 and the following family line of death.)
        All Christians are joint heirs with Christ. He is the true elder brother who is pleased to share his inheritance with us. (Thanks to Edmund Clowney and Tim Keller for that understanding of the elder son and last Adam who brings resurrection life, as opposed to death) Astonishing, stunning, new- life transforming. He is to be worshiped.

      • In answer to your question. In Genesis there are 2 creation stories – one in which the man is formed and then it is decided “it is not good for man to be alone” and therefore woman is made and the other is that woman; is then formed from man’s rib. In both cases man is formed first. I don’t see that as preference on God’s part. We are in essence ‘the same, but different”. We are fe-male or wo-man. We have strengths and weaknesses, but together we are made stronger and more complete.
        I was in favour of women’s ordination in the 1990’s as I considered that we could equally fulfil the role. I have now concluded that I was wrong. Men fulfil the role as it was designed and I am sad to say that women do not. I am not saying that women cannot hold leadership roles in church, which of course they have done since the church began. Many feminists were appointed in the early years and are more interested in feminism than the Gospel. They are now in senior positions and I see little future for the Church of England under their leadership.

        • Does it not depend on the individual man or woman who is in that particular role? Not all women priests in the Anglican church are ‘feminists’. A family member is in such a role, and she abhors such ideas as calling God ‘Mother’ etc.

          • I too know some godly women, but I see no fruits in the church. Where are the congregations which have grown under a woman? It would be good to hear some good news. I see maintenance and decline. The facts on the ground seem to be that when a woman takes over – parish share declines and congregations decline. My previous parish has now had 3 women priests and the decline has progressed. In the 1990’s we were running Alpha, bible study, children’s holiday clubs, spiritual retreats and a regular presence in the primary school. The electoral roll is now down to under 100 with the congregation ageing and below 50 in number. What matters is the Gospel, not that women can claim equality.

          • Tricia – I cant respond to your reply directly so…

            I think to blame church attendance decline on female ministers is simply unsubstantiated. In England, between 1980 and 2015, church members decreased for many denominations. In the Catholic church attendee numbers decreased by 70%, and that is clearly male-led. One of the few increases was in ‘charismatic’ churches, where female leadership is generally valued.

          • Tricia – I think the issue is not women priests per se but the theology & gifting and model of ministry of the woman priests. My observation is that many women priests do church like mums do family with a bit of sacramentalism thrown in. A model of ministry predicated on maternal nurturing or even sacramentalism may produce a caring spiritual community but rarely a growing one. I am aware of one woman priest here in oxford seeing considerable growth in her church which has been in aggressive decline for 20+years, for most of those led by men! I think the issue is not one of gender but of theology and vision and gifting. In the parish in question we have a woman priest who believes the Bible, preaches the gospel, and is going for growth. And seeing growth.

        • Tricia Greetings. A few responses.
          Statistically the Church of England has been in steady numerical decline since its peak around the 1920s. Since only men have been leading for the greater part of that time does not your logic suggest they are plainly not well designed for this ‘role’ either?
          For the greater part of history women have not held leadership roles in the church at all actually. Where is your evidence for stating otherwise?
          If church numbers are the best measure of faithful and gifted church ministry then men are failing just as much as women – despite doing it for much longer and with more support. (and I dispute your generalised claim about women and church decline here by the way)
          Without defining ‘feminist’ it difficult to know exactly what you are criticising about ordained women and especially those (still relatively few) in senior leadership.

          • David – I know about church decline, I have been involved for 35 years in church life in many roles.
            I agree with Simon, I think the issue is gifting and ways of leading.
            Women have many great gifts to offer in major roles in leading worship, evangelism, pastoral care.
            Good to hear some news of growth Simon.
            David, feminism is a Marxist concept which is incompatible with Christianity. Third wave feminism denigrates men. We are seeing the fruits of the right to choose when infanticide is being legalised. Motherhood is an honour that God endows us with and we need to prioritise our lives in line with God not the world.

          • Tricia Thanks for the response.
            Feminism is no one theory or approach. It is not distinctively Marxist either. There are Christian feminists – while others prefer not to use the word but are basically arguing for similar core principles of equality and honouring.
            It could read here if you believe that senior women leaders in the church are marxists and feminists (and therefore by your definition not Christian), support infanticide and are undermining motherhood.
            Have I understood you right? Sorry if not. I genuinely want to understand your concerns.

          • David, it is a bit tricky trying to reply, thanks for persevering!
            My view of women in senior posts is that they have been absorbing the values of the world – words such as: equality, inclusive and diverse are like the dancing girl in proverbs who lures the unaware.
            Equality of outcome is not possible without quotas – that means passing over the best candidates because a quota has to be met if female, bame, disabled etc numbers are to rise. What matters to the organisation is whether it is the best candidate who will fulfil the role in the best way.
            The medical profession is reaping the results of this feminist preferment. Doctors were previously mostly male – they are now dominated by females. Young women tend to want work shorter hours, certainly when children come along. This means that GP surgeries are now working with many half time doctors, whereas the men used to work much longer hours. Maybe we should consider this and keep a better balance of candidates!
            Feminism always wants the narrative of working for less pay than men. Women make different choices about hours worked and home life balance and there is no differential when a calculation of hours worked is compiled. Equality of outcome is unfair to men.
            I do not believe that feminism is compatible with Christianity. Feminism is a narrative of Oppressor, being men, and the Oppressed, being women. Certainly the third wave feminist movement is destructive to the relationship between the sexes. Men are seen as predators by such as the metoo movement and women are victims. Societies views of sex and relationship are unhealthy- I watched a video which is being shown to young people that equates sex to a cup of tea. And advises that if she is passed out on the floor, then she does not want a cup of tea. In other words forcing yourself on an unconscious woman is not advised!
            I pray that Christian young people can be a light which shines in the darkness to show that God’s design for us is to save sex for marriage between one man and one woman and that their growing love for one another and strong families will bring the lies of the enemy into the light.

          • Christopher ‘But haven’t all the times of greatest growth coincided with male leadership too?’

            er yes …. but it is not a coincidence since only men were doing the leadership. Women weren’t allowed. Hard to make a statistic of that surely?

            And after hundreds of years of mixed stories of male leadership – women are only allowed 20 years to make a dramatic success of arresting long terms (male led) decline and leading the church into growth.

          • Tricia Thanks for continuing to engage. Too much here to respond to adequately. But ‘Oppressed, being women’. Yes without doubt. It is a statistically measured fact measured fact in many cultures around the world including ours. On almost very measure through history – education, health care, wage levels, social respect … women come second. I am really rather staggered you ignor this in your comments.
            Have you read Elaine Storkey – Scars Across Humanity: Understanding and Overcoming Violence Against Women?
            It has been said – ‘To be born of a woman is fact. To be born a woman has more often been misfortune.’
            So I find your analysis very one-sided, generalised and puzzlingly negative towards your sisters in Christ. The very fact you can engage as you do on this website today is because previous generations of women have fought for a voice.
            As to the motivation of marxist, feminist, anti-motherhood, anti equality, senior women leaders in the church – well I have personal interest and cannot comment further.

        • Tricia,

          If women can lead countries, and lead in almost every walk of life, then what specifically is it about being a woman that inhibits her from being as intelligent, compassionate, collaborative, assertive, creative and appropriate in Christian leadership as men?

          Are we in danger of stereotyping, in the act of making generalised claims about women’s capacity to hold leadership positions in the Church?

          On the feminist bit: I don’t identify as ‘feminist’ myself, but I certainly recognise the helpfulness of feminist critique and methodology in a Church that as David points out in this thread has been hugely patriarchal in its leadership and structures for most of Christian history.

          In such a context, and the perpetuation of cultural stereotypes of women, you bet there should be feminist input in our church life! Church history, and the way Christian women for centuries have been ‘contained’ by chauvinistic and patronising culture, justifies intelligent feminist analysis and input.

          Like I say, I don’t identify personally as a feminist. But that doesn’t mean that there can’t be a valuable feminist dimension to some women’s ministry (or indeed men’s).

          Having said all that, I recognise that some Christians still feel that female leadership is not God’s Will for the Church, even if women can lead whole nations these days. I recognise that a position like that can be held from a reading of scripture, in good faith and conscience. However, I think we are past that being the default view in the Church, and I’m glad that we are.

          Women, like men, come in all shapes and sizes, with strengths and weaknesses that are often and usually not gender-specific, but to do with personality, intelligence, integrity, pastoral compassion, ability to collaborate, ability to nurture and encourage and be open to God.

          If anything, what limits some women’s capacity and potential is exactly this indoctrination from an early age that girls and women are not as good as men at being in charge. The very culture can then become a self-fulfilling prophecy. However, thankfully, we can see in society today that young women (and older women) in all walks of life are breaking out of that cultural stereotyping.

          I just don’t think we should generalise about what men and women can do.

          As others have pointed out, church decline has been caused by many other factors, while the Church was led only by men, and perhaps it’s not women priests and bishops who are the problem but a wider paradigm that has seen the Church fail to communicate or be believed in so much in post-Englightenment societies.

          One other concern I have, and that is I have seen in the workplace, how some women have an almost visceral difficulty being led by another woman. I think there can be something of the primeval mating competition in that. However, that’s clearly not rational and not justification for saying ‘let’s just be led by men’.

          I correspond with a lot of the Bishops, and we have some really inspiring female Bishops, and also male Bishops. I just don’t see it as an issue of gender. As a Church we should be modelling for society (and young girls) that we respect and appoint women as freely as men, and believe that people should primarily be recognised as ‘people’ when it comes to what they can offer, and what we as a Church can share in journeying with them, under leadership which is service and often sacrifice.

          I’m just trying to put a different viewpoint to yours, but not with ill will or anything like that.

          • Susannah,
            Greetings in Christ to you.

            Your post clearly shows that you have swallowed the feminist narrative.
            Eg Patriarchal is a bad thing – Jesus taught that God is our father. God is love, he is goodness truth, justice and mercy. My own father loved me and made me believe I was a woman who was valuable and encouraged me during his life time. Good men are a blessing. Christianity focuses men on goodness – you shall have one wife, you shall become one flesh, you shall not commit adultery. You are to love your wife as your own body. In other words faithfulness, commitment and love. Many men in our congregations have been married for 50 or 60 years – there will have been difficult times but they have worked at their marriages. Their families are stable homes where children and grandchildren can be enveloped in that love.
            I am not encouraged by the women who have been appointed bishops. They do not speak to me of godliness, they speak to me of equality and needing more women in leadership.
            Of course many women are in good positions in society. But how many of them are worn out, trying to juggle family and home to prove they are as good as men. How many of them had to leave their babies with strangers. Results of early separation and long hours in child care now show children to be aggressive by the age of 10. They were deprived of the one to one attention. Only families in high income can afford the luxury of a nanny to be a replacement figure.
            One woman priest informed me that she had been treated better by an Imam than male priests. My reply was – he may have been polite to you, but you would not have given you any leadership in the mosque or even allowed you to sit with the men. The Christian church has never separated us from the men, women in the early church held meetings in their homes.
            I believe in working alongside men to ensure that a world which has turned its back on Christianity can be pulled from the flames of a depraved narcissistic culture.

          • Thanks for your reply, Tricia.

            “Good men are a blessing.”

            I really agree with that statement. For example, I love the decency of Boaz in the Book of Ruth.

            I’m not here to defend all feminism, because I don’t identify as feminist myself. I do think there are many different expressions of feminism, and I know feminists who are definitely not Marxist and would vote Conservative.

            That said, I know some wonderful Christians who are at least socialist, and I don’t think being on the left is incompatible with Christianity.

            I guess we disagree on women being in charge of churches, but I do share your longing for people – men and women – to grow in God’s grace.

            I am not opposed to men, or men leading some churches. It’s probably true that some kinds of feminism can be divisive and even man-hating, which is really sad.

            But I have also found some feminist theology thought-provoking and helpful. You take the good from diverse sources, pray about it, and learn from different voices.

            Historically I don’t think we’ve really heard enough in the Church about women’s voices and wisdom and experience, in part because of social attitudes, and in part because the person with the main voice and platform has often been the priest.

            I want young women to grow up in a Church where that’s definitely not the case.

            ‘Bad’ patriarchy can begin when men over-extend their role, and ‘protection’ becomes condescension and infantilising of women. I’m sure you’ve sometimes been talked down to, or talked over, sometimes by men who don’t listen respectfully to women.

            That can happen at work, it can happen in church, and similarly I feel that if there are a disproportionate number of men in a leadership group – for example in Parliament – then something is lost. Just as men and women are said to be complementary to each other in some ways, I believe that could be claimed to justify women in leadership too.

            Anyway, I think the best models of church leadership are about ‘team’ and ‘community’ and, seen that way, as collaborative rather than one ‘top down’ individual, I really don’t worry about the gender of the priest myself, though I respect fellow Christians who do.

            Grace and peace to you, and thanks for your comments. Have a good weekend!

          • There are clearly some aspects of being on the left (or any other ideology) that are incompatible with Christianity, very incompatible.

            -Abortion is an evil and is treated as a sacrament. Mums and their sons and daughters are at war – according to the narrative.

            -Research findings are not given the time of day. Uninformed preference is better, apparently. But why?

            -Men and women are at war, according to the narrative. How I feel for all those men who are being told that. We are utterly on your side.

            -A situation where family splits increase exponentially is somehow held to be better than mature and stable as was till recently the norm.

            -Doctors who we thought were healers are meant to be killers too, and/or approving that.

            Organisations that have very little academic clout whatsoever (Brook, Stonewall, Educate and Celebrate) take over even academic institutions. They emanate from the ‘left’.

            Bald assertion is confused with reasoned opinion – by writers like H Harman and A Furedi. I document this in my ‘What Are They Teaching The Children?’ chapter.

            If anyone does not fall in line behind what even Obama and Hillary did not believe 7 years ago, they are pariahs.

            In my view leftism (together with many other isms), insofar as it holds to the above, is an awful stance. It does not deserve the name ‘philosophy’.

  8. Great quote, David. Like many from the past, such as Spurgeon, scripture is brought to contemporary life. It would flow well in a sermon.
    Can’t recall who said it: they didn’t really understand scripture details, or passage umtil they studied it as part of sermon preparation.

  9. More fundamentally, and quite independent of the men/women questions, Gen 2:16 reads “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You (plural?) may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but …” So there were 100 trees from which we could eat, and one from which we could not. This may shed some light on the balance between freedom and obedience, between being a son/daughter and being a sheep, which God expects of his human creation.

      • Hi Peter, (I hope this post goes in the right place)—if you look carefully you will see that in Mat 19:3-9 it is affirmed no fewer than 4 times that the subject is husbands divorcing wives (not vice versa). Jesus answers the question he was asked and reinforces the teaching of Deut 24:1-4—that “sexual immorality” was a husband’s only grounds for divorce. Such (as many scholars point out) embraced behaviour that was not confined to adultery (for example, indecent exposure, bestiality, etc). In any case adultery in the Bible refers to sexual intercourse with a married woman who is not your wife—there are no exceptions in the Law, the Prophets, the narratives, or in the NT. In other words, a married man having sex with a single woman is not adultery. The wife’s grounds for divorce were much wider (Exod 21:10-11)—this is clearly evidenced in documents discovered in the last 60 years that date back to NT times. Thus, divorce in Hebrew Bible teaching was allowed for any failure of these asymmetrical gender-based covenantal responsibilities. I believe that Jesus and Paul reaffirm that teaching—but the church instead went on to adopt a neoplatonic view of marriage and such is held by most today.

        • Hi Colin,
          You wrote:
          In other words, a married man having sex with a single woman is not adultery.
          How does that fit with Jesus saying, “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart”?
          Does what you say mean that I can look at a single woman lustfully, as the outworking of this list in practice would not be adulterous?

          • Hi David, A good observation. But Jesus is speaking metaphorically? For it to be technical adultery it would have to be woman married to somebody else. Looking at your own wife, or prospective wife who is single with desire would not be adultery. Illegitimate sexual thoughts regarding a single woman would be sexual immorality. This is the terminology the Bible uses. On a subject fraught with confusion and emotion I think it is best to stick with accurate terminology. Hence my comment about the initial statement in this blog – that it is better to use polygyny not polygamy to describe the OT position on plural marriages. If your surgeon could not name the body parts correctly you would be somewhat dismayed? 🙂

          • Colin

            Isn’t it the case that adultery had both the technical meaning you give and also a wider meaning which Jesus appeals to – which is why the 7th Commandment stands for all sexual sin and not just technical adultery?

          • I’d suggest that the heart of ‘adultery’ is unfaithfulness, and breaking the love-bond and covenant God longs to share with us. That spiritual adultery is something pretty vivid in, for example, the Old Testament.

            So when it comes to Jesus telling people that even lust for another woman is adultery, it seems to me that at the very least the statement accentuates the deeper spiritual principle of God’s fidelity and our call to reciprocal fidelity given back to God.

            And then secondly, I think Jesus may well be taking a poke and a challenge at people’s tendency to point the finger at others and not themselves. It is a classical psychological device to project your own sexual loathing onto other people, so as to divert the guilt over sexual desire and lust you feel inside, and take the line “At least I’m not like those other people over there!”.

            But actually, Jesus doesn’t seem to want people to be that self-deceiving. His comment about lust being adultery is a direct-line hit and it’s a huge ‘calling out’ of religious hypocrisy.

            I’ve mentioned this before: most men self-pleasure. It’s understandable. They have so much ‘go’ with their testosterone, and that ‘go’ has to ‘go’ somewhere. Probably most men masturbate several times a month, and in some cases several times a week. And that undoubtedly includes good and decent Christian men, and I’m willing to bet includes many or most of you here (I won’t speak for myself so as not to personalise it, but obviously women self-pleasure too).

            But I don’t think it’s good enough to treat Jesus’s comment as metaphor. He’s making a point. When people self-pleasure, they often aren’t imagining tender sex with their wife or husband. They may get stimulated by a photo or a fantasy. They are in a way expending what should belong to their spouse in terms of sexual care and release, on another person.

            I don’t care whether the focus of that lust is married or unmarried. It’s still lust, and that means – on the terms that Jesus is reported to have set out – most men commit adultery.

            To me, the reason ‘upped the stakes’ to incriminate his listeners must probably have included the desire to flag up hypocrisy, and that willingness to blame others, but gloss over our own inability to ‘stay pure’. That kind of religious hypocrisy was anathema to Jesus I think.

            We hear on and on and on about the sinfulness of “the gays”, and yet heterosexual men or women are adulterers and serial sexual outlaws each time they pleasure themselves, but that is discreetly set aside and hidden. It’s far easier to project one’s own shortcomings or insecurities on someone or some group ‘out there’.

            Just as Jesus said, “let the one who is without sin, throw the first stone”… when it comes to condemning another person’s sexual sin, surely first we have to put right our own sexual practice.

            And in the end, the way of perfection – across the board, not just sexually – can only come through grace, and through a strength that’s greater than anything we ourselves possess. Our righteousness is who we are or may become in Jesus Christ.

            But it does seem to me, that on sexual matters, Jesus is saying, ‘You fall short too. Again and again. You are an adulterer as much as that woman you were about to stone.’

            And fundamentally, that applies day by day in our relationship with God, when we let selfishness lead us down side alleys of appetite. We’re never going to be perfect. It would be too intense to try. But we can seek grace through prayer and trust and relationship.

            Meanwhile, no David, if you take what Jesus says as true and infallible, you cannot look at a single woman lustfully and it not be adultery. No way. The bible position is that wanking is adultery, guys.

            Now I take a different view, because I suspect that the Bible is not all written literally like that, but if you regard the Bible and what Jesus said as verbatim and to be followed, then it really doesn’t shape out well for people’s own sense of personal righteousness.

            One of my sadnesses, over my lifetime in the Church of England, is that while we have a message of grace, and we see that grace at work, and I love that… there is unfortunately so much moral self-righteousness.

            And one expression of that is to think you are sexually more moral than somebody else. In the great majority of cases, on the terms and condition of your own theology, you’re not.

            But my loving and caring lesbian relationship still gets hit.

            Much of the time, by serial adulterers.

          • Colin,
            Again, how does adultery being only the action of a married man with a single woman fit with Jesus’ words in Luke 16:18 “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.” I can see how the second half fits, but what about the first half. If the divorcing man marries a single woman, how does that fit your definition?

          • David, you comment: “Again, how does adultery being only the action of a married man with a single woman fit with Jesus’ words in Luke 16:18 “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.” I can see how the second half fits, but what about the first half. If the divorcing man marries a single woman, how does that fit your definition?”

            I reply: Adultery is when a married woman has sexual intercourse with a man who is not her husband (consult any good Bible dictionary). But the verse you point out does seem to present problems—Jesus clearly seems to be saying here (Luke 16:18a) that it is the divorce that is adultery.

            To harmonise the teaching of the Gospels it is accepted by many that Matt 5:32 and Matt 19:9 must be taken into account—Jesus there taught that it was invalid divorces that were the problem. So, it is thought that Luke is referring to invalid divorces—and that they were adultery.

            But how can that be? A clue is in the fact that 50% of the time in Scripture “adultery” is used metaphorically, not literally. A synonym might be “unfaithfulness.” I believe this is what is meant when Jesus said of the Jewish people in his day that they were an “adulteress” generation (e.g. Mark 8:38) —that is, unfaithful to the covenant they had with God. Thus, a man who divorces his wife without valid grounds (that is, her sexual immorality) is unfaithful to the covenant he had with her.

            But what about Luke 16:18b? —”he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.” Few people in the ancient world would divorce for the sake of it—especially a woman, who would have no means of support without a husband. Divorce occurred when there were valid grounds, or another suitor was on the horizon. I suggest this paraphrase for the whole verse encapsulates the meaning:

            “Anyone who invalidly divorces his wife because he wants to marry another commits adultery (that is, he has been unfaithful to his original marriage covenant), and he who marries a woman who has secured a divorce from her husband because she wants to marry her new suitor is complicit in that adultery.”

            It might be noted that in Rabbinic Judaism a woman who had been divorced for adultery was not permitted to marry the man with whom she had committed adultery.

            My suggested understanding (as per the paraphrase) harmonises the teaching of the Gospels, employs “adultery” in a way consistent with the rest of Scripture, and explains how divorce can be adultery. Craig Blomberg (Distinguished Professor of the New Testament at Denver Seminary, USA) makes this comment:

            “The whole debate about whether a second marriage, following a Scripturally illegitimate divorce, is permanently adulterous or involves only an initial act of adultery dissolves. Neither is true; the adultery (faithlessness) occurred at the time of divorce.”

            Incidentally, David Parker points out the many textual variations in the MSS where the Gospel verses link adultery with both divorce and remarriage and comments: “‘hard sayings’ were hard from the beginning…. Passages which were the focus of contentious issues were particularly prone to change” —it seems the copyists that understood “adultery” literally in this teaching could not make sense of it.

  10. that the ’adam appears at rst to be undi erentiated in gender and so continues the sense from ????? Translation please

  11. Tricia,
    Didn’t know where this would show up in the sequence of replies so it is here at the end.
    With apologies to CS Lewis, I find your comments here an antidote to “chronological snobbery” that abounds inside and suffuses the church : they are akin to “keep(ing) the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds.” Thank you for your wise observations, and for Simon’s.
    If a man were to have made the same comments they would have been vigorously denounced and with much complementarian- phobic hostility from some usual suspect quarters.

    • Thank you Geoff. I realise that I am only allowed to say such things because I am a woman, which in itself is a tragedy as truth is needed to shine light in a dark world.
      But we must be positive that He will overcome, just not sure how long that will be. I am very upset at the moment over the piece in the Church Times laying out the plan for C of E schools to be indoctrinated in all things progressive. Jesus and mill stones round some people’s necks comes to mind.
      God Bless.

      • Tricia you seem to have a good intellect.

        I cannot but continue to join you in saying these things ”even though” I am a man, because the alternative is to lie, which is a serious thing. Keep speaking out the truth, having reasoned and researched it first.

        • Thanks Christopher. Speaking the truth is definitely becoming a “revolutionary act”. Speech and particularly Christianity is being silenced and pushed aside. I see today that the Psychologist who wishes to research reverse transitioning has lost his case and is going to appeal. It would seem that confused and vulnerable people are not allowed to know about the resultant problems of that lifestyle. He is going to appeal.
          Can the Church of England still call itself the church of Christ if it foists “Educate and Celebrate” on its schools? How will this affect Christian staff and children? Is this another profession that is to be closed to Christians, like leading a political party or being a magistrate.
          Jesus said ‘the truth will set you free” – Amen to that.

          • Yes – think of all the millions of children that will be affected in just this one small island by the government’s new demands. Educate And Celebrate and Stonewall should not be let near any children. EAC’s leader Elly Barnes is as radical as they come, so how can such an organisation be competent to teach children from all traditions, leaving aside whether those traditions are always coherent or not? The overtures to and programme for faith schools is by Anna Carlile, who is equally not the obvious choice to provide for children across the board let alone for Christians – the presupposition is that the following are both mainstream and compatible with assuming the role of an ‘expert’: having different children with different men (one or more of whom may be cast off – who knows?), marrying none of them, marrying someone of the same gender, having children with someone who is absent, depriving all children of their right to live also with their dad even if they know who that dad is (or else there is the possibility of wasting half one’s life travelling house to house between parents, none of which will either embody or impart the security of parental harmony/unity), and will not engage with more logical viewpoints. I feel quite exhausted even listing it. And that is to say nothing of all the conflict which will very likely occur along the way, when the outcomes are this way. Quite the contrary: a teacher or expert is someone whose life and character make them apt to impart wholesome things to hearers and pupils.

            Is it really true that people cannot see this?

            Think of the different ways in which these organisations are totally inappropriate:
            -In the case of Stonewall (and also of EAC’s actual materials) there is no academic credibility.
            -Yet it is academic institutions that they are seeking to teach!!
            -They prefer slogans (‘Get over it’) – and bullying slogans at that – to reasoned research.
            -They are imparting perspectives that 7 years ago were not believed even by Obama or Hillary.
            -They are not opposed to pansexuality. But science is.
            -They are not opposed to promiscuity. But science is.
            -They use the vague and ill-defined word ‘relationship’ which means that one must be utterly strict about number (2 is the only allowable number) but simultaneously utterly lax about gender.
            As in Daniel’s days and pre-Donatist days, Christians are being hounded out of the workplace or forced to lie or keep quiet. That is utterly outrageous at the best of times, but when it is the Christians who have so much better records on these things than the secularists (for whom noone voted) – well…. Why is it that so few are exercised by this?

        • Hi Christopher
          Like you I am appalled that the church which I have served since I came to faith 35 years ago can contemplate suggesting using this material.
          The material obfuscates – it uses a non dictionary word when it suggests that this material should be “usualised”. It states that teachers should speak to parents at the school gate and explain the Equality Act (in other words the state is taking away parental rights). The most chilling factor for me was that this material must be “embedded” in the curriculum (so no opt out because it’s everywhere). It should not be just Muslim parents protesting over this.

          • There is a big protest tomorrow 4-6 outside Parliament. i heard it was a prayer-rally but as you say it will be multi faith.

            The embedded thing is saturation. No subject on the currictulum must be exempt. No colour of the rainbow is exempt: rainbow means full spectrum. When Metro newspaper publishes rainbow bootlaces, they run through every single page unbroken. Pride means pride in *everything*, with homosexuality the controlling Pride over all other prides. Saturation. Thus also there are many activists including in the church who mention this abstruse subject every single time they speak. Saturation.

            Why the emphasis on this particular issue? Because, I suggest by perverting the civil-rights and ‘equality’ and bullying and suicide narratives, the revisionists think they have found a winner capable of silencing those nasty truth-and-accuracy seekers unaffected by peer pressure and Zeitgeist (so many of whom seem to be Christians) who make them feel guilty.

  12. Tricia, Christopher and Geoff There is no silencing here – men or women – and all views are welcome (I trust). But it is a discussion thread and this has become a series of strong generalised assertions instead – simply declared without much evidence or context upon which the views are based. It feels like a closed group without being open to the possibility that some here might not share your opinions or would at least want to ask explore the issues a bit further.

    • David, I do not believe we have sought silencing of views on this site. In fact, it is to the contrary – it is discussion. However, Christopher is correct that in the fevered state of relationship between male and female, at this point in history, it is very difficult for men to make the observations I have done. Certainly, the particular point I was making was the silencing of the Christian voice in the wider society. Tim Farron had to step down from the Lib Dem’s, currently a Christian Magistrate is appealing to be reinstated, street preachers are being arrested and kept in cells overnight. The above are facts and not generalisations.

    • David – when I fail to give reasons for any opinion, then call me out on it. The same applies to anyone. Positions that are supported by evidence (i.e. large scale non-anecdotal stats; logical coherence and noncontradiction; commonsense; science) are kosher, those that are not, are not.


Leave a comment