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On Femininity

Here is what I was going to call a ‘Feminine Manifesto’. (If you haven’t read the introductory post, please do so.) I changed its name because I decided that writing a ‘manifesto’ was a much bigger task than I could undertake here. It’s longer than I wanted it to be and I feel like it only scrapes the surface. So instead, I’ve called it ‘On Femininity’.
Writing this has been a humbling experience. It was much more difficult than I had anticipated and piercingly personal to wrestle with the issues. I hope that this is a faithful picture of biblical femininity. I pray that one day I can come close to living it out.

Here is what I was going to call a ‘Feminine Manifesto’. (If you haven’t read the introductory post, please do so.) I changed its name because I decided that writing a ‘manifesto’ was a much bigger task than I could undertake here. It’s longer than I wanted it to be and I feel like it only scrapes the surface. So instead, I’ve called it ‘On Femininity’.

Writing this has been a humbling experience. It was much more difficult than I had anticipated and piercingly personal to wrestle with the issues. So this is where I’m up to with biblical femininity. I’m praying that one day I can come close to living it out.


Categories: Woman Written by Tamie

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Tamie Davis

Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at

39 replies

  1. Yes!

    I can tell you – as a Christian guy – that the femininity you describe is exactly the kind of thing I want in a woman!

    “Femininity is ultimately found in your relationship with God, your willingness to be vulnerable enough to trust him and to express this in relationships.”

    – I think you nailed it. There is nothing, nothing I admire more in woman than that.

    “…though men and women are not independent from each other, man is for the glory of God and woman is for the glory of man. Whatever this means, women ought to affirm men, not to compete with them—to help men, not to replace or displace them. In terms of our attitude, this means that women ought to celebrate manhood, not denigrate it.”

    – why can’t there be more women like this? I hope everyone reads your paper.

  2. Hi Tamie,

    Interesting article. There are a couple of points that weren’t convincing to me… Firstly your argument about women being emotionally vulnerable. You’ve said “there is at least an indication in this passage, evident in our own experiences, that women are not only vulnerable physically but also on an emotional or societal level.” From there you seem to be emphasizing the emotional rather than societal and writing of it as an innate way of being rather than a socially constructed phenomenon. If you’re truly leaving it up to being either emotional or societal – I’d agree that in a social sense, women have been historically weaker – because for centuries patriarchal societies have dominated and suppressed them. However, I disagree that there is an innate emotional vulnerability. I believe that your argument here is poorly substantiated – both Biblically (I don’t think that 1 Peter 3:6b necessarily points to innate emotional vulnerability) and experientially (which seems to just emphasize the social construction side of things). Experience is always a bit of a dodgy point of reference anyway… this would be stronger if there was some evidence from some solid psychological research about gender differences in ‘emotional vulnerability’… and if you could separate out an innate vulnerability from that which is a result of living in a society with strong social constructions around gender and emotional vulnerability.

    Further note on 1 Peter 3:6b… Throughout the Bible, men are afraid, and God is exhorting them to not fear but trust in Him (granted that these are passages written more broadly to the people of God, rather than letters which specifically address men and women. However, I think that these letters need to be read with great care when it comes to gender relations, because they were very culturally bound and specific to the issues in the churches to which they were written). There are also several examples of women in the Bible who were characterized more by strength (often having more of it than the men around them) than emotional vulnerability. This is also the case in history / society.

    The second point that didn’t sit well with me was the role of a woman as a nurturer. Again, I believe this is heavily influenced by social construction. Genesis 3 speaks of God’s punishment to Eve as pain in childbirth. I think it’s a bit of a stretch to draw a gender role of nurturing from this. You’ve said “There is a sense in which the helper was to operate more naturally in this dimension than the man”… well yes, biologically women are created to bear children and men are not, so childbirth will come more naturally to women, but that is not necessarily tied to nurturing.
    We also have several examples in the Bible of earthly fathers and the heavenly Father displaying nurturing qualities – knowing their children’s needs and desires in order to provide for them, loving them, guiding and disciplining them, etc.

    Just a few initial thoughts!… Hope you guys are doing well. Have a fab w/end,

    Joh xx

  3. Hey fellas! Glad it’s been helpful. Looking forward to your questions, Sam!

    Hi Joh, thanks for your thoughts. I read a few bits of psychological studies (Crabb cites a few in his book) but in the end, I was only trying to say that this resonates in our experience, rather than trying to build the case from there.

    I think you’re right about women sometimes being characterised by strength – Deborah is the classic example, of course, as I noted. With your point about men being called to nurture as well, or men being exhorted not to fear, I agree. But as I said, I wasn’t building a case for masculinity, but rather femininity.

    As for the passages being culturally laden, I think we’ve probably had that discussion before. ;)

    Hope you, Brad and the bub are well!

  4. :) nice work Tamie. Impressive mental gymnastics!!

    I had a thought whilst reading this, and it was that you didn’t directly touch on the idea of woman being created in God’s image. It feels relevant to me but I can see that it would 1. suddenly expand this to a 70 page paper, not a 7 page paper and 2. the discussions of that aspect of femininity can end up sounding really trite! However in defence of this (point 2) is that recently I heard a rather interesting piece of information from a woman passionate about gender equality (etc) but who has also studied theology for a number of years…
    It was in regards to how God in this trinitarian state is always referred to in the masculine when ‘father’ or ‘son’ is mentioned in the bible, but the holy spirit is feminine, In the original language. Which feels significant to me, but I haven’t even had time to think properly about it. Have you come across anything like that?

    Anyway, praise the lord for being able to talk about this!!! :D

  5. Hey Ali

    With the Holy Spirit being in the feminine, I’m assuming you’re talking about the Hebrew, which I haven’t studied myself. However, I have done (or am currently studying) other ‘gendered’ languages such as German and Greek (in which the NT was written). One thing I’ve learned about those languages is that everything is given a gender but that this does not necessarily carry meaning with it. To use examples from German, Tisch (table) is masculine, Tuer (door) is feminine – apparently with no reason! While Jung (boy) is normally masculine, Maedchen (girl) is neuter while Frau (woman) is feminine. Similar things happen in Greek. So I guess it would depend on how Hebrew deals with gender, whether the Holy Spirit being feminine is significant.

  6. The thing I think is missing from this paper is a discussion of eschatology. I didn’t put it in because I’m not yet confident in the thoroughness of my answer. However, here are a few tentative suggestions:

    In my paper, I’ve argued that gender is inherent to being human. Part of the reason I can say that is because I think that there will still be gender in the New Creation. Gender is part of the first creation, but also Jesus, the first man of the new humanity, and the ruler of the New Creation, was, was raised as and forever will be a man.

    There are a few tantalising references that marriage that will not exist in the New Creation (for example, Mt. 22:30, Mk. 12:25) but I don’t think this means that gender won’t. After all, gender exists outside of the specific context of marriage. God’s order, his “way of things” is not limited to marriage.

    If this is the case, it ought to shape the way we think about gender. For starters, I think we need to continue to reclaim gender outside of marriage. I think it probably also means we need to give a lot more attention to thinking through the general level of God’s order.

  7. @Ali

    Interesting thought about the Spirit. I think it’s worth thinking more about. A good look at the Trinity shows feminine qualities are woven into God – submission is just as godly and significant as headship, as there is submission within God himself – the Son to the Father, and the Spirit to the Father and the Son.

    But in regards to God’s relationship to the creation, it is always one of authority, so I think it’s right to use ‘he’ when talking about any member of the Trinity. The Spirit has complete power and authority over us.

    However, in regards to his relationship to the other members of the Trinity, you could say his role is more feminine than than anything you see in the Son or the Father. God the Spirit is their helper – and our helper on their behalf – carrying out God’s work in significant ways, but gladly living for Jesus’ glory, just as Jesus’ glorifies the Father. The Spirit never has authority over the other two, but Father and Son depend on him – most clearly seen in Jesus’ earthly ministry (having given up his divine rights and power, all that Jesus did he could do only because the Spirit enabled him.) The Spirit doesn’t consider it a loss to have no authority over the Father or Son, rather, he embraces his role as helper within the Godhead because living for the glory and good of the others in this unique way gives him the greatest joy.

  8. Hi Jack

    I’m a bit sceptical of what the interrelationship of the Trinity can teach us about gender. I don’t know of a scriptural precedent for this idea. Where do we see the Trinity used as a model for gender?

    Although the Son of God is forever gendered as the man Jesus, God is not gendered. We don’t gender God; rather, sex and gender is God-given. Let’s make sure we’re keeping the Creator-creature distinction in place — human qualities stem from God but, while God graciously uses human categories to reveal himself, we cannot ascribe gender to him. I can’t really see a foundation for a female or feminine Spirit, however feminine his qualities may appear to us.

    Besides, if we’re talking at the general level, we can’t really say that all women are in submission to all men, or that all men have authority over all women. That would be to confuse the general and specific levels that Tamie was talking about.

    A final comment: headship, at least in marriage (Eph 5), isn’t primarily about authority. Responsibility in self-sacrifice and life-giving service? Certainly. Leadership in terms of decision making? Not so much.

  9. @Arthur

    I wasn’t ascribing gender to God – I meant what you mean, that human qualities stem from God. And I didn’t mean to imply that all female-male relationships are the same. Of course the range of human relationships are going to be different than the Trinity’s relationships.

    I think the point I was trying to make was: you can see that there is an order within God and differences in relation roles, and as we are made in God’s image, you can see that order and differences in relation roles are actually a good thing. Male and female are both made in the image of God equality; both reflect aspects of God.

    I get most of what I’m saying from this book, ‘Father, Son, and Holy Spirit’ by Bruce Ware:

    1. No worries Jack :P

      Yep, like you say — the plurality that God has built into humanity through gender may well be a reflection of God’s own character but, in any event, it is certainly a good thing. Yet, this doesn’t mean we try divvying up God’s character into ‘male’ and ‘female’ elements, as if men got some parts of God and women got others (not that you were saying that :) ).

      Would be interested to see what Bruce Ware is saying. Elsewhere, he has argued that women become the image of God *through* men — I have to say, I don’t buy it. :|

  10. @Tamie, some more detailed thoughts.

    Firstly, nice work once again! Very careful balance on many points which is great to see, given how rare it is in the gender discussion more generally. Love the avoidance of getting caught up in marriage as the be-all and end-all.

    Secondly, you seem to read a lot in the English word “helper” without explaining your exegetical basis for doing so, and proceed with your paper on the assumption that “the defining relationship of femininity is ‘helper'”, that women must always consider how to be a “Genesis 2 helper”, etc. I think this perspective needs to be argued, rather than assummed. Are you able to elaborate further on how exactly you view Gen 2 and apply it? [Shields’ paper would be relevant to this].

    Thirdly, on 1 Peter 3. I think your interpretation of this passage needs to be argued more also. Eg. as Joh noted, your argument seems to hinge on an appeal to experience, which obviously moves away from the authority base of Scripture, and is fraught with many subjective and cultural problems. Also, you seem to take this passage as normative and perscriptive advice to women in all ages, without any discussion of whether that’s actually the case. And, you state that a ‘gentle and quiet spirit’ is a feminine quality. I’m not so sure that claim holds. For example, the word translated ‘gentle’ or ‘meek’ in 1Peter 3:4 is the same word Jesus applies to himself in Mt 11:28 & 21:5).

    I realise you might not want to go into exgesis in this paper to keep it short. It would be helpful at least if you include a note somewhere setting out assumptions though (eg. you assume complementarian “role theology” [though you might dislike the role label], you assume Gen2 should be understood in X way, etc].

    Anyway, good stuff, certainly got me thinking. FYI I’m not a comp., which may help explain my angle.


  11. Hey Sam

    Thanks for your comments. I’m passionate about Christians working this stuff out with generosity and unity in the gospel, whichever ‘camp’ they identify themselves with.

    I think there is some more work required in exegesis than I’ve given here. Arthur’s done some work on Genesis 1-3 which he’d be happy to send your way. I think there’s work that’s been done on the whole ‘helper’ thing exegetically – my interest lies more in applying it, as you’ve identified.

    With 1 Peter 3, perhaps the discussion about experience was a side-track. My thoughts come much more out of thinking about the ‘not fearing’ thing and the call for women to submit to their husbands. I guess I was commenting less on the inherent emotional sensitivities of women and more on their position i.e. being the one who submits, naturally puts women in the vulnerable situation. My other comments were surmising about whether this is resonates with our experience but they seem to have been the point everyone’s picking up on!

    In terms of the gentle and quiet spirit being a feminine quality, I think that’s what on view in this passage – women are commanded to have a gentle and quiet spirit! (The passage doesn’t comment on this for men.) It doesn’t bother me for Jesus to have the same word applied to him. After all, as I argued, women are to be like Jesus!

    btw. how did you come by our blog? So great to have your input!

  12. PS I found this link interesting..

    I like the sentiment (as you say in your post)- about the difficulty with ‘Wild at Heart’ and arguing about what is ‘normal’ from experience without consideration of cultural constructions or sin.

    I also like the point about Victorian constructions of masculinity and femininity. I was reading 1 Tim 5 the other day and was struck by how forthright Paul is in discussing women’s sexuality – far from modern day notions of men being the sole sexual aggressors!

    I thought that many of the correctives are helpful. I agree, suggestions of aggression in men or passivity in women ought to be opposed!

    However, I’m less keen on advocating the same virtues for men and women, mainly because it seems that Bushnell wants men and women to meet in the centre, at some point of androgyny.

  13. @Tamie: I’d certainly be interested in anything further on Gen 1-3. Slightly off-subject, but it’s one area where I think the Comp. case struggles quite a bit, and to date I haven’t found any decent rebuttals to the points which Shields’ makes. Of course, one still needs to figure out 1Tim 2 and 1Cor 11…

    Re: gentle spirit – I completely agree that is what Peter is commending, don’t get me wrong! But we don’t have any reason to think that what he’s suggesting here are “pink and blue” exclusive absolutes representing masculinity and femininity.

    That is – gentleness is not an exclusive feminine quality – it’s an attribute of Christ that both men and women emulate.

    Similarly, being considerate is not only for men. Women also should be considerate – 1Cor 13!

    Does that clarify where I’m coming from? In other words, you may take the view that Peter is setting forth exclusively feminine qualities that are universal and applicable in all times and places. But I don’t think such a view stems from the text in question. Hope that’s fair to say :)

    Personally, as much as we would prefer it otherwise, I’m not convinced that the Scriptures are too concerned about offering us definitions of masculinity/femininity and associated qualities.

    Now, if this is so, that doesn’t mean that men and women must act identical, or disrupt their culture, or any other such notion. Rather, it would just mean that we have freedom, need to exercise wisdom, and should strive to practice 1Cor 13 in all things.

    Can’t recall how I stumbled across your blog! Sometime in the last week following links from Sydney blogs. Trying to listen to more local Aussie voices :)

  14. Hi Sam

    I think we’re agreed on the pink and blue. I don’t think gentleness is an exclusively feminine quality. However, I don’t think that means it’s *not* a feminine quality.

    I’m reminded of getting into trouble as a child and always saying, “but she did…” and my mum saying to me, “Now, who are we talking about here, Tam?” The point was that irrespective of what was required of someone else, there was something required of me. I suspect we fall too quickly into trying to compare and contrast the similarities and differences between men and women rather than working from the ground up.

    That said, Peter does give specific commands to women and then specific commands to men in this passage, not both commands to both. While he may be addressing the issues of his day as appropriate to each gender, it seems to me that we want to make the opposite commands today and I wonder about whether we, in our enculturation and sin, have enough perspective to do so accurately.

    I’d be interested to hear more about your last point though. You’ve said that men and women don’t need to act identically but do you have a framework for suggesting how? Simply to encourage wisdom and 1 Cor 13 seems somewhat nebulous to me. After all, Peter, etc didn’t leave it at that but made some more specific application. Even if their application is just for their time, I take it that we need to think specifically about our own context. Would love to hear your thoughts on that.

    Australian voices – know the feeling! We’re trying to do the same thing.

  15. I think we’re agreed there then — I was protesting the notion of it being an *exclusively* feminine quality is all.

    I’m not sure who the “we” is and what the “opposite commands” are, so I can’t comment. Obviously if you’re referring to say, radical feminist stuff, I’d be in agreement.

    My note re: not being identical was simply to state that a lack of strict gender qualities doesn’t necessarily lead to androgyny (often the fear).

    Yes, Peter gives specific advice, as does Paul (I was just re-reading all the “gender advice” passages yesterday as a refresher, incidentally). This doesn’t mean their advice is necessarily universal be-all and end-all of how men & women should act, and I think we risk misinterpreting them if we assume that. In a patriarchal time the advice is what we’d expect — women would probably be struggling with submitting, and men would be probably be struggling with loving. That is, I take it their advice is on how to be better *Christians*, not how to confirm to universal masculine and feminine traits.

    (Of course, this starts to tangent off towards the question of headship, Eph 5/1Tim 2/1Cor 11 etc, which I’m trying to avoid).

    What I noted re: not acting identitically was simply that IF we conclude that Scripture actually *doesn’t* give us the gender advice we would like, then we do *not* automatically end up with androgyny. Rather, I think Scripture is much more concerned that we be emulating Christ (ie. 1Cor 13 as an example) *however* we are living.

    So, whether you’re a Christian living in a patriarchal culture, OR you’re a Christian living a matriarchal culture – be like Christ.

    Thus, the question becomes not “how do I become more feminine/masculine”, but “how do I become more Christ-like”.

    That’s my current thinking, anyway. Still don’t have a settled view on how to fit the entire jigsaw puzzle of gender passages together!

    P.S. Bushnell was a kick-butt scholar in her own right. Check out sometime)

    P.P.S. Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen has many insightful essays on these sort of topics from a Psych point of view. Check out in particular her “What do We Mean By Gender Complementarity?” here:

  16. Hey Sam & Tamie,

    I’ve found your discussion really interesting – so thanks for putting the time & thought-power into it.

    I particularly liked this last post from Sam (5th July 3.19)…. Throughout the conversations, there seems to be this issue of the fact that many of the ‘feminine qualities’ in the paper also apply to men. I appreciate that Tamie has focussed on the application of these qualities to women so as not to digress into defining masculinity… but does that not perhaps point towards the fact that there may not be such prescribed differences of qualities to each gender – but rather an exhortation for both genders to be godly in their particular circumstance (as explained more clearly in this last post of Sam’s).

    … anyway – thanks for the discussion…


  17. Hi Joh

    Yeah, it might be that the same things are prescribed for both genders. But I think I find that difficult because the Bible writers often address their comments specifically to one gender or another.

    I wonder what you think about the first point in the paper about gender being inherent to humanity. If this is the case, I take it that the goal is always to be a more whole Christian woman and that that will in some way be distinct from what it means to be a more whole Christian man.

  18. Great work Tamie-Gun (that’s my new nick name for you I’ve decided)!

    Not sure about the CEO comment in Piper and Grudem though – i’ll have to check that. From memory he says it would be a strain but not impossible. Also not sure about the relationship angle over-against the role angle. We assume roles in relationships so I don’t think you’ve really got out of anything there. there’s stuff about the Trinity I want to talk to you about too. 1 Cor 11 is the launching pad.

    But great stuff, have fun in Tassie!

  19. @Joh: Cheers!

    @Tamie: TBH, I didn’t feel like I “got” your point on gender v. humanity, or was convinced by it. Surely the Bible does, and thus we can, speak of both?

    I think one of the fundamental difficulties is trying to seperate out gender from culture.

    @Nat: to jump into your convo! On the Trinity, I haven’t read in-depth the reams of writing on the topic in recent years. But, it (the comparison with gender relations) does seem to be a very recent theological theory developed by Comp’s (I’m welcome to correction if that’s not that case).

    On that note, just last night I read a short take on this which was helpful.

    Graham Cole briefly but clearly addresses the Trinity argument in his short paper here (pp. 3-5):

    His point about the messianic reference strikes me as an important one that I haven’t seen mentioned before.

  20. Hi Sam, thanks for the article. I’ve read it before but couldn’t recall where and wanted to send it to someone the other day and couldn’t find it. But now I can!

    On the gender / humanity thing, part of where I’m coming from is a larger question of the constitution of humans. i.e. humans are not just souls, they are bodies too, so different bodies means that there are essential differences in humanity – they are either men or women. I’ve just read Rob Bell’s ‘Sex God’ in which he argues that bodies, etc can’t be separated from souls, “that this is about that” and so you can’t just boil the difference between men and women down to different body parts.

    Nat, looking forward to that chat!

  21. Sam, I forgot to say, I think sorting out gender from culture is vital too. Happy to chase that one through a well if you’re up for it.

  22. Happy to hear your thoughts, maybe another paper? :)

    I haven’t got any firm views on it myself — I’m just very cautious about it!

  23. Hi Tamie and others involved in this discussion!

    Tamie, thank you so much for your considered and informative paper – as Ali noted, it sure gave me a mental work-out too! I must also confess a high level of nervousness in daring to share an opinion on the matter… but here I am!

    Ali – I’ve heard the “Holy Spirit is female” thing too in the past, then eagerly opened up my bible to find out more about it… to be a little disappointed not to come across anything that supported it (but perhaps others have?). I come from a Catholic background, and whenever femininity was discussed, it was always exclusively to do with female biblical and Church role models and that Mary mother of Jesus was the ultimate (and supposedly ‘sinless’) example. So I think I naturally wanted to find a role model, because somehow that would be easier – just do what they do!

    I started to wonder what being a godly woman is all about if I don’t have a single female role model as such… and there I was back at square one. So I gave lots of thought as to why I think I needed a female role model. After all, isn’t trying to be like Jesus the point anyway? But I found my deep ingrained desire was to grow in Christ-likeness, but somehow, as a woman. I know I am different to a man, but what on earth does that mean?!

    I know that men and women are called to become more Christ-like. From my experiences (I know that appealing to experience as an authority is a no-no but it’s “all I got” at this stage!), I really see that this just looks different in men than women and vice versa. Isn’t that part of the reason the bible speaks to each gender with advice? Isn’t gender something that God created? Why?
    If it is supposedly advice given to the Church only at a particular point in time and there are limitations on that advice because of that time’s culture and ‘particular’ gender struggles, does that mean other areas of the bible can also be interpreted as culturally dependent? While I certainly don’t think that everything that I am supposed to absorb about being a woman is to be taken purely from sections of the Letters that address women, and not the rest of scripture also, when I read those passages, I find that 2000 years later, I struggle with the same issues.

    Maybe I just want it all to be “easy”, for there to be a universal femininity. Because if “grow more like Christ” is all the prescriptive instruction there is (if everything else is just descriptive of issues in that culture at that time), and I’m supposed to rely on my own judgement, wisdom and discernment to figure out how that plays out in my womanliness, I’m lost before even trying to begin. :-(

    Then there’s the “I’m not a man, so I’ll just learn what men are to be like… and do what?!” thoughts I’ve had…
    So Tamie, thank-you, thank-you, thank-you for taking a “from the ground up” look at femininity. Although I think it is wonderful that biblical masculinity is being given a much-needed hearing (by many including Mark Driscoll of course, and at our church too), and although I believe that good “headship” would help women not to fall into fear as much, I had only really heard of biblical femininity as “what a man is not” or “how to make men more manly”. Which also doesn’t help me that much.

    So although in reading your paper, Tamie, I have a zillion things I want to ask and obviously need to read further on, I’m just comforted by the attempt, and that it’s a damn good one. :-)

  24. Hi Sam

    I think I’ll pass on the paper – for a while anyway. This one exhausted me enough and I’m trying to study for my NT Greek test! Here are my bare initial thoughts:

    – If we’re going to go with Scripture being God-breathed, useful for training in righteousness, etc., we can’t discount some passages because they’re too cultured – as if they only speak for that time. (God’s word living and active, double edged sword, blah, blah, you get the drift!)
    – But at the same time, the Bible was written into a particular culture, for specific issues in specific times, with applications specific to that culture. We need to be careful that we don’t take the lazy option by simply imitating 1st century (or 4th century BC!) culture.
    – So the very short answer is to try to work out what the principle behind the application is and then to apply that to our culture. But everyone has different ideas about how to do that! ;)

  25. Hi Tamie (& others),

    I’ve been thinking a little about the problem of the cultural and social construction of gender and how that influences the Bible passages which speak differently to different genders. (Which seems to be a semi-key point in this conversation).

    I’ve been thinking a little about another couple of groups that the Bible speaks separately to – that being slaves and masters. In a time and place where slavery is now illegal and there is international law condemning it… should slaves still obey their masters?

    I guess it is pretty tricky in working out how to apply the principle behind the application, as you’ve said. Just thought it might be interesting to consider another pair which is spoken to separately in the Bible – and where culture has changed over time in its treatment of those groups.

  26. Hey Joh

    Thanks for raising this – we’ve been dancing around the issue for a while so it’s helpful to have a more concrete discussion.

    I guess there are two things on view for me.

    The first is that Paul deals with the issue of slavery as an example in a wider question in 1 Cor 7 – I’d paraphrase it as take the opportunity for freedom if you have it, but that what is ultimately important is living for Jesus where we are, not our own status. (v.19-24)

    The second thing is that I’m unconvinced that gender and slavery are in the same category when it comes to working out where social construction fits in. The reason for that is that many of the gender passages reference an order or creation or a picture bigger than current circumstance (for example, Christ and the church) where I don’t see that happening in the same way for slavery. Which makes me more inclined to see slavery as something we can work out culturally.

    Where does that leave us with slavery? I think the short answer is that the Christian who is a slave should obey their master because they know that living for Jesus is the important thing. They can take the opportunity for freedom, should it arise. And Christians who know that each person is precious to God should be at the forefront of working to make those opportunities possible.

    I realise that’s controversial! Thoughts from others?

  27. I agree re: slavery. That is: if the same *type* of slavery existed today (and I’m pretty sure it doesn’t), then I think Paul’s advice would remain the same.

    However, Paul giving advice about how to live in X social situation doesn’t mean he is prescribing that as an ideal or normative social situation.

  28. Thanks Tamie for all of your hard work, I’m inspired! :) You should be congratulated for carefully seeking to separate cultural norms from Biblical imperatives.

    However, I still see a few slipping through. I’m unconvinced that it was God’s ordination for a male (Barak) to do the killing, rather, it was culturally expected that a man should do so. I think the point is more about the role being given to a godly, obedient leader than to a woman.

    I also disagree about your comment that ‘woman can be a boss of male employees but a boss known for her kindness rather than her desire to dominate. Her focus in her job ought to be building others up, not fighting for advancement of her own status’ should only apply to woman. I would hope that men aren’t dominate in their secular roles of leadership and also seek to build up their colleagues. I also see examples of male ‘nurturing’ in the Bible, such as Eli nurturing the young Samuel (who is entrusted into his care at only 3 years old!) Whilst historically women have done a lot of the nurturing of children due the system of patriarchy, I see no Biblical imperative for women being the sole carers, or even the better nurturers.

    Imo the curse in Genesis relates to the woman’s biological functions (from which she cannot escape) rather than her role as the main nurterer. I would also suggest that the fact her ‘husband rules over her’ has and is being restored under the new kingdom where a sense of hierarchy is lost and mutuality is restored between the marriage partners. In Gen 2, there lacks an imperative for the man to be THE leader in marriage.

  29. Hey there

    Yeah, the point about Barak is well taken. I’m thinking of it more as an illustration of what I’ve previously argued than the basis for the argument. As you point out, you can go either way on this passage depending on whether you read gender as significant to it.

    I’m with you on Gen 2 lacking the imperative for the man to be the leader in marriage – I’m unconvinced that Gen 2 is actually about leadership at all!

    One of the hardest things about writing on femininity is not doing the companion piece about masculinity, which is where your point about nurture comes in. In some ways, femininity and masculinity stand alone – in others, sometimes we gain greater clarity by comparing and contrasting them.

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