Buried Talents: Questions & Answers

I studied and even taught this material for many years before arriving at my present position. I’m confident that many readers will struggle to get comfortable with these ideas that are so far removed from what many of us have been taught.

If I we’re teaching in person, I’d look forward to a question and answer period to allow those with questions to clarify their thinking. In lieu of such a session, the following are the hardest questions that I could think of to ask myself:

Q. The argument for men to have dominion over women seems so simple and your position seems very complicated, with references to Greek and commentators and all. Isn’t the simplicity of the dominion position strong evidence that it is the right position?

A. Not at all. The simplest interpretations of scripture are sometimes right but sometimes very wrong. After all, it is very easy to point out that the New Testament frequently, plainly, and unambiguously commands us to greet one another with the Holy Kiss.

(Rom. 16:16) Greet one another with a holy kiss.

(1 Cor. 16:20) Greet one another with a holy kiss.

(2 Cor. 13:12) Greet one another with a holy kiss.

(1 Thess. 5:26) Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss.

(1 Pet. 5:14) Greet one another with a kiss of love.

These are all direct commands. The commands are plain. We don’t preach, teach, or practice them, even though the argument in support of adopting this practice is very simple indeed. What’s not to understand?

The only reason we don’t struggle with the Holy Kiss (or for that matter, prohibitions on braided hair and gold jewelry or the requirement to wear a veil) is that such commands run contrary to our culture today and would not serve their original purpose today.

We do struggle with the role of women because, until very recently, our culture has refused to allow women to have the same opportunities and recognition as men. Our older members grew up in that culture and many (including the women) came to approve and accept unequal rights for women. Therefore, they find the traditionalist arguments comfortable — and therefore “simple.”

Moreover, the argument that I’ve spent so posts on can be stated just as simply as any other argument dealing with the role of women:

The Bible says that in God is no respecter of persons and does not judge by external appearances. It means what it says. Passages that apparently limit women’s role are written for a temporary cultural situation that no longer exists (much like the command of the Holy Kiss). Genesis 3 is a curse not a command. Genesis 1 and 2 define how husbands and wives should relate in Christ, who came to undo the Fall of Man — they are both made in God’s image and husbands and wives should be one flesh, much as Jesus and God are one.

It’s not really complicated.

Q. I just can’t accept that men and women are equal.

A. Me neither. God made us different. While God did not set up a hierarchy of men over women, Genesis 2 plainly teaches that Adam without Eve was “not good.” God did not make another man — He made a woman, who was wondrously different.

The inherent, God-created differences between men and women mean that certain gifts and talents will be unequally distributed among them. It is hardly a shock to anyone that more women teach the cradle roll class than men. There is no deep theological reason that men shouldn’t do this. They just, on the whole, don’t care to and, on the whole, wouldn’t be as good at it. But many women have this talent. This obvious gender distinction does not mean that men cannot teach cradle roll.

Just so, it is conceivable that more men than women are gifted to teach adult Sunday School classes (although we really have no way of knowing this at this time). If this proves to be a fact, nonetheless, as J. W. McGarvey and David Lipscomb suggested nearly 100 years ago, capable women should be allowed to teach.

Finally, the differences between men and women relate foremost to marriage, not church organization. God gave Eve to Adam as a wife — not as a pre-school Sunday School class teacher and communion preparer. As we will discuss later, when the Bible speaks of any Christian’s role in the church, it speaks in terms of talents. And while a given talent may be unequally distributed, all the talents that God has given must be used to His glory, no matter to whom God has given them. It is, after all, God’s choice.

Q. Can’t a woman be required to be subordinate without being made inferior?

A. The paternalist and hierarchicalist positions are often justified by the argument that the leadership or “headship” of man makes woman subordinate — but not inferior. Indeed, hierarchicalists and many paternalists would insist that women have the same “value” as men, arguing that this is the true meaning of such passages as Galatians 3:28: “There is … neither male nor female.” See, for example, Black, ibid, page 212-213; Goebel Music, Behold the Pattern (Goebel Music Publications, Colleyville, Texas 1991) page 530; Ferguson (“A common mistake is to confuse equal worth with equal rank”).

And it is certainly true that in certain circumstances one may take a subordinate role to another and be in no wise inferior to that person. For example, I am an equal partner in my law practice with the other senior lawyers. I’m in no way inferior to them in terms of legal rights or ownership. And yet, I often work under another attorney in the firm on a case or project. A given project may require more than one experienced lawyer, and yet we recognize that a project should have only one boss. Thus, the other lawyers take a subordinate role — voluntarily.

Indeed, this is a word that pops up frequently in hierarchicalist literature. It is repeatedly stated that women should “voluntarily” subordinate themselves to men, and yet no effort is made to explain how one can voluntarily subordinate oneself if one has no choice!

The underlying problem here is that truly voluntary subordination is based on reasons other than a rule. For example, the choice of which lawyer will take the lead on a case is made based on talent, experience, relationship with client, or the like. In biblical terms, the choice is made based on gifts and talents.

Just so, on a basketball team some players are asked to be “role players.” They take subordinate roles as substitutes, rebounders, defenders, or the like. In fact, all players are role players in the sense that each has a distinct job and assignment. All five players cannot be the playmaker, and all five can’t stand behind the three-point line setting up for a long-range basket. And clearly being the playmaker versus being the center does not make one player inferior to the other. Magic Johnson was just as valuable as a point guard as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was as a center.

But if the coach chooses to designate roles arbitrarily, based on skin color, family status, or the car driven by the player, the players would quite properly protest the unfairness of the decision. There is nothing unfair in taking different roles or in being subordinate — or even in sitting on the bench — so long as the choice in made based on the abilities of each individual.

In the not-too-distant past, we required black men and women to take subordinate positions to whites. Today, we see that this was wrong — not because no black person should ever be subordinate to a white person — but because the practice evaluated the black men and women as a race and not as individuals. Indeed, the requirement of subordination plainly indicated inferiority, and for this reason it was immoral.

Accordingly, whether we mean to or not, we patronize women when we argue that requiring them to be subordinate to men regardless of their respective talents, experiences, or accomplishments and regardless of what is best for the work of the church has no implication of inferiority.

The paternalist and hierarchicalist respond to such arguments by reasoning in a circle. God plainly values women the same as men. God plainly requires women to be subordinate to men. Therefore, subordination does not imply inferiority. But such reasoning “solves” the problem by denying the problem. The reality is that limiting what women can do purely because of their gender indicates inferiority — which is exactly what the church argued for centuries, indeed, until just the last few decades.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink.
My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.

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0 Responses to Buried Talents: Questions & Answers

  1. Alan says:

    Moreover, the argument that I’ve spent so posts on can be stated just as simply as any other argument dealing with the role of women:

    The Bible says that in God is no respecter of persons and does not judge by external appearances. It means what it says. Passages that apparently limit women’s role are written for a temporary cultural situation that no longer exists (much like the command of the Holy Kiss). Genesis 3 is a curse not a command. Genesis 1 and 2 define how husbands and wives should relate in Christ, who came to undo the Fall of Man — they are both made in God’s image and husbands and wives should be one flesh, much as Jesus and God are one.

    It’s not really complicated.

    You can state your belief simply. What you cannot do is reconcile it with the scriptures simply.

    OTOH, all I have to do is to quote the scriptures themselves to assert my belief:

    1Co 11:3 Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.

    1Co 14:33 For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.
    As in all the congregations of the saints,
    1Co 14:34 women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says.
    1Co 14:35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.
    1Co 14:36 Did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached?
    1Co 14:37 If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord's command.
    1Co 14:38 If he ignores this, he himself will be ignored.[9]

    Eph 5:22 Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.
    Eph 5:23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.
    Eph 5:24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

    Col 3:18 Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
    Col 3:19 Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.

    1Ti 2:11 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission.
    1Ti 2:12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.
    1Ti 2:13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve.
    1Ti 2:14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.

    Tit 2:4 Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children,
    Tit 2:5 to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.

    1Pe 3:1 Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives,
    1Pe 3:2 when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.
    1Pe 3:3 Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes.
    1Pe 3:4 Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight.
    1Pe 3:5 For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands,
    1Pe 3:6 like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.

    1Pe 3:7 Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.

    I imagine that you would argue that these passages don't mean what they seem to mean, for a variety of complicated reasons. My point still stands. My belief is based on what the scriptures literally say, and is consistent with what the church has believed for almost 2000 years.

  2. Jay Guin says:

    As Mike Nance properly notes, the church supported slavery for nearly 2,000 years. Moreover, the pro-slavery advocates could argue quite simply from many proof texts that seemed to unequivocally permit slaves.

    Those opposing slavery had to make much more sophisticated arguments, based on bigger principles, such as the nature of the gospel and the overriding command of love.

    Arguments went back and forth between good, thoughtful men on both sides. Ultimately, when the culture changed and slavery became repugnant, the proof texts no longer seemed so clear.

    The lesson we should learn is that our confidence in what seems simple and in proof texts depends very much on our culture — including the internal culture of our church. We best escape our cultures by looking at the gospel.

  3. Alan says:

    The argument about slavery is a red herring. We're not debating whether or not the Bible permits something. We're debating whether or not the scriptures demand something.

  4. My person concern with your position, Alan, is that you often rely on English translation of the text for your literal rendering.

    And further, every command you promote must some how be consistent with the most central, singular command to love one another the way Jesus loved us.

    And, personally, I don't see how your position expresses love in this way.

  5. Alan says:

    you often rely on English translation of the text for your literal rendering.

    David, It doesn't matter whether you choose NIV, ESV, HCSB, NASB, RSV, KJV… They all say the same thing. And they accurately reflect what the Greek says. This controversy is not about how to translate the Greek text.

    And further, every command you promote must some how be consistent with the most central, singular command to love one another the way Jesus loved us.

    And, personally, I don’t see how your position expresses love in this way.

    Your argument is with the scriptures, not with me. I'm just quoting the scriptures.

    The inspired apostle Paul apparently didn't see any difficulty reconciling this position with love:

    Eph 5:22 Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.
    Eph 5:23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.
    Eph 5:24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
    Eph 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her
    Eph 5:26 to make her holy, cleansing[2] her by the washing with water through the word,
    Eph 5:27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.

    It's not very loving to encourage someone to disobey the scriptures.

  6. Mike Nance says:

    Is it fair to ask: Can there exist a distinction between disobeying the scriptures and disobeying God? Simply quoting scripture leaves little room for teaching, insight, application, etc. In fact, the only thing that does is indicate that one can read and recite. Quoting doesn't address even the simplest of communication parameters – definitions, intent, the point, tone, success of delivery, the audience's perceptions. Not that quoting scripture is not the most logical place to start. But it is the place to start, not finish.

    Eph. 5 clearly speaks of relationship between a husband and wife – a covenant relationship by the way. Perhaps there is a direct covenant that exists between me and your wife beyond being a brother and sister in Christ, but I don't know what it is.

    I clearly do not have all the answers, but I won't be the least bit surprised if the heathen eventually grasps something that our quoting has missed.

  7. Alan says:

    Mike,

    It seems to me that you have a different view of the purpose of scripture. Though I fundamentally disagree with Jay on the topic of this series, he seems to be using scripture as more than "the place to start, not finish." I think the scriptures have the last word on any topic that they address.

  8. Mike Nance says:

    Of course they do. Who doest think that the scriptures do not have the last word on any topic that they address? As you yourself recognize, quoting words is not enough in an of itself. Context, historical background, stated purpose of the author, knowing the audience, etc all give the quote meaning.

  9. Alan says:

    Context, historical background, stated purpose of the author, knowing the audience, etc all give the quote meaning.

    From the very earliest available witnesses in the early church, all the way to the early 1900's, ministers and scholars have held a consistent view of what these passages meant. It seems pretty far-fetched to me that we've suddenly discovered the key to understanding them, which eluded all those people for nearly two thousand years. In fact it seems far more likely that the earliest interpreters had the greatest advantage in understanding, since they spoke ancient Greek natively, and since they lived in that ancient culture. For us to say we understand better would be pretty presumptuous.

  10. Mike Nance says:

    I am not convinced that it is presumptous to recognize that 2000 years of church history was built on the earliest witnesses and it took nearly that long to recognize that women are basically not property. I wonder what Jesus would do in MY culture today since that is where you and I exist. If it be the same, so be it. What harm is there is asking?

  11. dr brenda baker says:

    Sir, Could you and your readers give me some advice? I am a BUICK (brought up in church kid) and became a member of the church at a young age 7. I was rebaptized at 16. I have never left my first love. I grew up in a very dysfunctional home with an abusive father. My mother endured persecution from him just to take us (6 children) to church services. He often ridiculed her for her beliefs. I grew up, went to medical school, never dated until I was 27. Married at 28 to a man who grew up in the church also. He didn't unite with Christ until he was 27, though. We moved back to his home town and are members of the church where he grew up and his father was an elder. Although many of our beliefs about desputable matters are the same, we do not agree on everything. About 10 years ago, my relationship with Christ began to mature. I began hearing the Spirit. (Although I was never taught this in our congregation. So it seemed strange to me.) He doesn't believe that the Spirit endwells. Some of my before held beliefs concerning doctrine I had been taught have changed. (Such as instrumental music, women's role in the church, etc.) I have devoted a good deal of time to the study of scripture and have not arrived at my positions without much inner turmoil. Esp. since I am now being persecuted by my own family and church for my currently held beliefs. Anyway, What I seem to struggle the most with is the degree that I need to be submissive to my husband. He means well. Thinking that I am in danger of loosing my salvation because of my evolving beliefs. Therefore, he forbids me to do what I feel lead by the Spirit to do. For instance, today after eating out for breakfast, I was leaving a tip for the waiter. He was upset because he thought I left him too much and he ridiculed me for writing the waiter a note on a napkin that stated that God loved him. My 17 year old son took the note off the table and refused to leave it. How do I follow what I believe the Spirit wants for me to do and yet remain faithful to the submission of my husband? I feel torn. Ridiculed. Persecuted. Angry. Does anyone have a suggestion for me? Thanks

  12. bradstanford says:

    This newly found relationship has power associated with it. You can pray your husband and family through this. Look to God and say, "I hear you. I want to act. Make my paths straight."

    Be ready to pray that for a year or more. God will change you as well as changing your family.

    In the meantime, honor and serve your husband more than you ever have. That is the life of Christ. Was Jesus misunderstood as He pursued His mission? Absolutely. He felt, torn, ridiculed, and angry. You are sharing in suffering with Christ! The better news is that, just like Jesus, There is joy set before you on the other side of this! Real growth is not about us, it's about taking up the cross and following, even unto the death of ourselves.

    You can develop spiritually and still honor your family. Ask God how. If you are hearing Him, take advantage of that. That's your new weapon of choice! It might be a slower process than you desire, but God did not awaken you just to have your growth stifled. He has a purpose.

    Every day, ask Him for moments to grow that won't dishonor your husband. When your husband finally sees your joy, and the way you have served him without arguing or causing him embarrassment (it's up to God to make him aware of that), your family's entire reality will change.

    Don't think, "I don't get to do [x], so my husband is keeping me from being with God!" God brought you this scenario. Ask Him how to handle it, and He will tell you clearly. This is not about your husband, your son, or even you. It's about God's story and His glory.

    If you have a good relationship with your husband, you have to talk with him about it, but not in a condescending way.
    • "I really want to get involved in evangelism. How can I do that in a way that doesn't embarrass you?"
    • "Something is happening that no one can can explain for me. You are my husband, and I need your help to figure out what it is. Can you talk with me about it?"

    (If your marriage is weak, don't ask these types of questions. They will be both misheard and misinterpreted.)

    Your stronger faith should not offend his weaker faith. The result of a mature faith is that everyone around you is more encouraged to be like Jesus.

    Jesus was all about others. Let's model that. Don't feel sad about what you think you're missing out on, for God has promised you a full life. Rest on that promise. Be thankful He is as close and tangible as He is! Do you know how many people long just for that feeling just once?

    Be mindful that you have been called out, and that it's about God's glory, not what you feel you need. He has awakened you for a purpose. He will fulfill it.

    Don't be afraid. Just believe.

  13. dr brenda baker says:

    Dear Sir, The reply that Bradstanford offered was incredible! His recommendations were excellent and I believe God inspired. I wish for him to know that I will follow his advice. To God be the Glory! Thanks.

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