Other Ways of Feminine Wisdom
As humans, we were created to love God and our neighbor. Love does no harm to a neighbor, wherefore, instead of resisting each other, we ought to co-operate with each other. But although a seemingly easy task, submission requires a lot of wisdom: we must decide daily whether we should co-operate or respectfully dissent, for love does not lead us down the path of evil. Intelligent submission follows the way of wisdom, the way of goodness and peace. Blessed are those who follow her path.
How many times can a verse be changed in Bible translations before anyone notices that something fishy is going on? Is it possible to do it, say, nine times over the course of sixteen centuries? Yes, it actually is. Genesis 3:16 has been changed numerous times over the centuries. With every major change in theology, this one verse has been changed in both wording and meaning. But why this particular verse of all the verses in the Bible? Because it is the only verse in the Bible that talks about the man’s rule.
The first change was made by Jerome in the beginning of the fifth century in his newly created Latin translation, the Vulgate. Instead of providing a literal translation, he decided to express the meaning of the verse as the patristic church understood it. In the Vulgate, Genesis 3:16 tells us that the woman was placed under the man’s authority, for Jerome thought the verse said God caused the woman to turn to the man as a punishment for her sin. For about a thousand years the Latin translation was the only one available. When the sixteenth-century reformers decided to rid themselves of the obsolete language in favor of languages actually spoken by the people, the meaning of the verse was changed again. The German reformer, Luther, changed Jerome’s paraphrase with a small addition of his own; he added the word “will” to the text making the woman’s will subject to the man as a punishment for her sin. Calvin agreed with Luther, for he thought the verse said the woman would desire only that which the husband wished, as her punishment was servile subjection. The creators of the Geneva Bible decided that it was the woman’s desire that was subject to the man while Luther’s English contemporary Myles Coverdale chose the word “lust,” making the woman literally lust after the man. The creators of the King James Version must have felt uneasy about using such a crude word, for they chose the more polished word “desire,” setting precedence for four centuries of English translations. A deviation from the norm—and the Septuagint itself—is found in the nineteenth-century English translation of the Greek Septuagint in which the woman’s submission is said to be to her husband. The latest change, made at the end of the twentieth century, is found in the footnotes of The New Living Translation: the desire is now understood to be the woman’s desire to control the man.
Genesis 3:16 is, however, not the only verse in the Bible that has been changed. We know, for example, that the interpretation of the creation account has been altered, for the patristic church would have been at odds with the claim that the woman was subordinated to the man already from creation. One of the most illustrious bishops of all times, John Chrysostom, wrote in the fourth century that neither God nor the man said anything about subjection to the woman at creation. Also Jerome wrote that the man and woman were equals in their virginal purity before the fall. Their contemporary, Augustine, however, attempted to subject the woman from creation, but he had to use pagan Neo-Platonism, allegorism, and Roman mores to succeed. By likening the man to the soul (not the head, mind you) and the woman to the body, Augustine argued that the husband ought to rule over the wife as the soul rules over the body. But Augustine did not think it through, for if the body and soul lived in perfect harmony before sin, and it was only after the entrance of sin that the body began to rebel against the soul, the soul didn’t need authority over the body until after sin entered. To give authority to someone who has no need of it makes as much sense as giving a shark scuba diving equipment to prevent it from drowning.
The task of permanently subjecting all women from creation was therefore left to the medieval scholastic doctor of the church, Thomas Aquinas. Instead of remaining true to the original text, Thomas resorted to Aristotle’s philosophy and the antiquated belief that the woman is a “misbegotten male” in order to subject the woman to the (in Aristotle’s opinion) wiser man. But since according to Jerome’s Vulgate, God subjected the woman to the man only after sin had entered, Thomas had to create a twofold subjection in which God subjected the woman from creation to the wiser man and after the entrance of sin to her lord and master as her punishment was servile subjection. This twofold subjection was taught as God’s truth by theologians for seven centuries. John Calvin, for example, included the novelty in his theology, as did the eighteenth-century theologian Matthew Henry. At the end of the twentieth century the concept was finally abolished by theologians tired of tying their tongues into knots as they tried to explain how it was possible for God to subject the same woman twice to the same man without the belief that the woman was inferior; a concept thrown in the same grave as Aristotle’s unexamined belief that bees are ruled by a king instead of a queen. Whereas egalitarian theologians returned to the patristic belief that men and women are by creation equal, hierarchical theologers tossed servile subjection and kept subjection as a created order. As a result, these same theologers had to find an alternative interpretation for Genesis 3:16. The only option available was to return the verse to its original meaning—a consequence of sin instead of a commandment of God—but with this change came also the puzzling question why only a few women actually chase every shirt they see if women desire men as a result of sin. There was obviously something wrong with the word “desire,” but since it was what they had to work with, hierarchical theologers changed the meaning of the word from “sexual desire” to “desire to control.” But even with this change, precisely the same problem remained: if women desire to control men, why have men always controlled women? The problem is yet to be solved.
Since the theological kaleidoscope can lead us only further away from the truth, what should the modern church do with Genesis 3:16? Should the church accept the modern belief, or return to the patristic era and subject the woman to the man because of Eve’s sin? Or should the church return to the pre-Christian understanding of the verse and affirm that the woman turns to the man for help especially as she becomes a mother, the context of the verse in question? It depends partly on our understanding of 1 Timothy 2:11-15. We must somehow explain why the woman’s deception is mentioned in the same context as the man’s prior creation. If the patristic church was right in saying that the woman’s punishment was subjection, why was she subjected to the man who was equally guilty? Or was he? More than one theologian has suggested that Adam was innocent. For example, some have claimed the man took the fruit out of love, others have said the man wasn’t there, or that the woman forgot to ask the man what God had said. Contrary to such speculations, the Bible states clearly that the man was equally guilty. From a biblical perspective, it doesn’t make much sense for God to reward disobedience, wherefore the patristic belief can be ruled out.
Should we then agree with those in the modern church who say that the woman’s deception only highlighted the fact that the man was given authority, for had the woman let the man lead we would never have left Paradise? This thought begs the question, why did the man not use his authority to stop her? If the first man—who was manhood perfected—stood passively by when his wife wreaked havoc in the garden only to turn around and blame her for the whole business when they were caught, we are getting the point that even the most perfect of men has no idea how to use his God-given authority in a constructive way. It is true that people who are not natural-born leaders become either passive or dominating bullies when given a leadership role, which leads us to conclude that either Adam was not a natural-born leader, or Adam and Eve were equal partners and acted jointly.
The singularly greatest problem with the modern reading of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 is that the act of creation and the first disobedience are events that remain fixed in the garden; they cannot be duplicated, for women are not created from men (men are born of women), nor are women perpetually deceived by talking serpents (all Christians find themselves deceived once in a while; even Paul himself admitted being deceived by sin). What we can do is to duplicate just about everything else the Bible says humanity has done ever since sin entered the world. Incidentally, in the pre-Christian Septuagint (250 BCE), Genesis 3:16 portrays the woman as seeking protection and provisions from the physically stronger man especially as she becomes a mother, which gives the man an opportunity to rule over her. Historically most women have married and become mothers, and majority of these married women have been ruled by men, wherefore the translation of Genesis 3:16 in the Septuagint fits what humanity actually experience in this world.
What then about 1 Timothy 2:11-15? Why does the text say a woman is not allowed to teach or have authority over a man because the man was created first? The problem is not the text itself for its message is straightforward; it is rather the translation of the text that is the problem. The word for “silence” reads “quietness” in the original Greek, and “dominion” (the kind that decides between life and death) was the original choice, not “usurp authority.” If the woman must be commanded to be in quietness, do women have a tendency to cause a tumultuous uproar? And what about this little word “subjection,” hypotasso in Greek? Does it not tell us that the woman was created to be the man’s subject because he was created first? If the Greek word hypotasso, usually translated “subjection,” is the antonym for dominion (authenteo), we have a curious situation in which teaching and dominion are associated with tumultuous uproar while learning is done in subjection and quietness. (“A woman should learn in all subjection, not with a tumultuous uproar. I do not permit a woman to teach or to dominate a man; she must not cause a tumultuous uproar.”) No other verse in the Bible provides such definitions for teaching and learning, especially since 1 Corinthians 11-14 gives the church in Corinth instructions on how to manage their unruly and tumultuous behavior. It is equally difficult to find a verse which states that women are inherently more gullible than men, wherefore, perhaps these verses refer to a local problem restricted to Ephesus, as has been suggested by more than one Bible scholar? It becomes even more plausible when we take into account that the Old Testament never mentions that the man’s prior creation gave the man authority over the woman. Ever wonder why God never revealed it to Israel?
But what about Luther’s belief that the man was given the government of the church immediately after the first humans had sinned? It might have been a real possibility if it wasn’t for the fact that Luther was also of the opinion that the soul died at the moment God came looking for the humans he had created (the soul was rehabilitated at Genesis 3:15 as the soul’s punishment was transferred over to the body), wherefore Luther gave the governance of the church to the man whose soul was dead.
Autres Sentiers de Sagesse Feminine
En tant qu'humains, nous avons été créés pour aimer Dieu et notre prochain. L'amour ne blesse pas son prochain, nous devons donc coopérer les uns avec les autres plutôt que de résister aux autres. Bien que cela puisse sembler être une tâche aisée, la soumission exige beaucoup de sagesse: nous devons quotidiennement décider s'il nous faut coopérer ou faire respectueusement dissidence car l'amour ne nous conduit pas sur la voie du mal. La soumission intelligente marche sur la voie de la sagesse, la voie de la paix et de la bonté. Bienheureux sont ceux qui suivent cette voie.
© 2014-2017 Susanna Krizo All Rights Reserved