Welcome to part 2 of my series on Biblical interpretations of Christian Marriage! In part 1, we examined the complementarian and egalitarian interpretations of the Genesis passages. I ended with a question: "What is the cost of not owning my own interpretations of Scripture?" Moving forward, I have taken some time and I have come to see that this discussion is a little over my head. To elaborate, there are too many other good, scholarly articles on the Internet that articulate and defend both interpretations of the passages on marriage. I can send you 15-20 articles of quality complementarian and egalitarian arguments that go into great detail on what they believe and why you should believe it. This has been done and I’m a little crazy to think that I would say it better than they would. (If you want these articles, send me a message.)
Therefore, I will be wrapping this series up with the Genesis interpretations only. I’d like to say two things in conclusion.
First, the Bible is a document which can be interpreted in various ways. This is a cornerstone belief of mine. It has been proven by my experience, and by various Bible scholars (N.T. Wright, F.F. Bruce, Scot McKnight, and Sarah Ruden). We do not simply read the Bible and then figure out what it says from the text. This is too simplistic and not true of my experience. When I sit down to read the Bible, I bring my own biases, my own interpretations, and my own experiences to the text. When I read, I can either confirm or question those biases when interpreting the Bible. What I cannot do is deny they exist. This is, quite simply, a lie.
Here is an example from John 3:16 (probably the most well-known Bible verse to American Christians), "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." If you are familiar with a Christian tradition called hyper-Calvinism, you would know that hyper-Calvinists interpret the word "world" here to mean "a limited number of people" whom they call the elect. But someone with an Arminian (another Christian group) interpretation would say the word "world" means "every single person who ever lived." So, when you read the Bible, you are certainly not just reading what it says and coming to a conclusion. You are always interpreting. It does not matter if you are the world’s greatest Bible scholar, a pastor, or a bishop. You will interpret Scripture when you sit down to read it.
My second point is this: once we realize that, then we must move to consequences of interpretations. If you interpret the Bible to say that women shouldn’t be pastors, and shouldn’t have an equal role of leadership in the church and home, then you will have the potential consequence of women believing they are not as important as men. When women look at the leadership of a church, and see all men, they will probably come to the subtle conclusion that God is more interested in what men have to say rather than what they have to say. This is not an emotional or "illogical" conclusion to come to; on the contrary, this is the result of clear, rational thinking on the part of any woman. From there, women will (most likely) come to the conclusion that they are not as important as men. I know from experience (primarily from my wife, but also other women) that this happens. I have literally heard complementarian pastors defend their interpretation of the Bible above a woman’s experience when they respond, "No, no, no. You’re equal in value, just not in role. The Bible is clear that men are spiritual leaders and women submit to them." This is an invalidation of the woman’s experience at the expense of defending their interpretation of Scripture.
Eventually, you may have enough women say: "If what you are saying is one way to interpret the Bible, and there is another way to interpret the Bible that means I can lead a church and lead (or at least co-lead) in the home, why would I not believe that?" Now that is a great question. It is great because it is looking at two different interpretations, looking at the consequences of those interpretations, and then asking, "How can we decide which interpretation is better?" I argue that one of the primary criteria for deciding between interpretations is how our interpretations play out in daily life (i.e. our experience). When I say "our" in the phrase "our experience," I mean literally every person—including women. Another primary criteria for deciding between interpretations is: "Does this lead to more love for the other person?" When I say "love," I mean many things, but one of the primary things is the Golden Rule that is articulated by Jesus, "Do to others what you would have them do to you."
Let’s apply this criteria to a woman coming to a male pastor to say that she doesn’t feel as important as a man in his church. I would hope that that pastor would first explore why she feels this way. Then show her the different Bible passages on the topic and different interpretations of those passages (both complementarian and egalitarian). Finally, he would have a dialogue with her about the consequences of those interpretations. The intention would be for her to go and decide for herself which is the one she feels to be more loving in her experience. Sadly, I have yet to hear a pastor take such a helpful view. Instead, I have had many experiences where a pastor simply rattles off a Bible verse and expects that to solve the problem.
In conclusion, we all can interpret the Bible to mean a variety of things. This is not a heretical statement, nor a "right" or "left" statement. Rather, it is simply a declarative fact. We interpret. With our interpretations come consequences. Some of these consequences are oppression, racism, the Crusades, and patriarchy. Some are justice, freedom, love, kindness, and liberation. We must enter into dialogue to hear people’s experiences so we can continue evaluating our interpretations and the consequences of those interpretations. This is our choice. Our beautiful, good, and true choice.
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