Greater Phoenix Association of Evangelicals Newsletter
(Note: This book review is one of the first published non-letter to the editor pieces I wrote.)
Dr. Paul K. Jewett, professor of Systematic Theology at Fuller Seminary has written this thought-provoking but disturbing book subtitled, “A Study in Sexual Relationships from a Theological Point of View.” The book is provocative in that he takes a sympathetic look at Karl Barth’s work pertaining to sexuality (Church Dogmatics, 111) and comes up with a similar perspective with an evangelical flavor: “We have affirmed, following Barth, that Man, as created in the divine image, is Man-in-fellowship; we have further affirmed that the primary form of this fellowship is that of male and female.”(p.49) Jewett declares that Genesis I and 2 reach that MAN (1:27) is both male and female and therefore “koinonea” must exist between the male and female for the mannishness of MAN to be evident. Koinonea (fellowship) is defined as partnership in fulfilling God’s will and as recognizing the sexual integrity of both sexes (p.49, etc.), Furthermore, Genesis 2 is only a restatement of the Genesis 1:26-27 creation account in a “poetic or parabolic form” (p.122) and therefore it cannot be used to advance the idea of subordina¬tion of females to males on the grounds of male priority. Dr. Jewett gives an erudite defense of his defense of his position by gently refuting some of the church’s paramount theologians (Origen, Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, Luther, etc.) and this aspect of the book is, itself, worth the small admission price.
However, when one is through doing battle with the church fathers one must still deal with the apostle Paul if one expects to have a correct view of the male/female relationship. And it is at this Pauline juncture where Jewett’s book becomes alarming, for he departs from the strenuously Biblical hermeneutic of the Reformation, i.e.: Scripture is normative by principle, by precept and by example for our life and our beliefs. Dr. Jewett denies the normativeness of the apostolic example (p. 147-148). He holds that Paul adversely influenced by his upbringing (Jewish Rabbinic tradition) and by his historical time frame (1st century Palestine). This influence rears its ugly head (Jewett contends) when Paul writes of the subordination of women to men – 1 Corinthians 11 and 14 (p. 115). With this bad influence in mind, Jewett questions the Pauline authorship of Tim. 2:11-15 and I Cor. 14:34-35 (p. 115), as well as the Pauline hermeneutic of Gen. 2:18-25 (p.119, 122).
Dr. Jewett seems to have adopted the hermeneutic of-Dr. H.M. Kuitert of Holland which is called “verpakkingsmaterial,” roughly translated: “packing material.” In simple language: The Bible gives us not only the priceless treasure (gospel) but also the stuff which protects it in its journey to us (1st century culture, customs, biases, language, etc.). It is the task of 20th century exegetes to know what is the precious treasure and what is the discardable packing material. To prepare us for the discarding of some of the non-essential material Jewett makes mention of Paul’s: “Jewish background” (p. 112), “incomparable perspectives” (p.112), “uneasy conscience” (p.113), “view of the man/woman relationship (in)congruous with the gospel” (p.113), “difficulty in his reasoning” (p.114), “Jewish scruples” (p.115), inconsistency (p.116), “rabbinic learning” (P-117). While Paul’s background and nature need to be taken into account when exegeting Dr. Jewett uses these considerations to bolster his argument that the difficult passages such as Genesis 2, 1 Corinthians 11 and 14, Ephesians; 5 and I Timothy 2 are to be discarded as shipping paper. The problem with this method of interpretation is, of course, who decides (and how is it decided) what is packing material (non-normative Scripture) and what is the precious treasure (normative Scripture). Clearly, Paul the apostle tells us that all Scripture (by principle, precept, and example) is normative for our life and beliefs (1 Cor. 11:1; Phil. 4:9; 2 Tim. 3: 16-17).
Having said all this, I still believe that Dr. Jewett’s book gives us a needed push to jog our thinking and to challenge us to be more Biblical in our view of the male/female relationship. However, while we can appreciate the Doctor’s analysis and survey of the problem we must be wary of his solution. The church of Christ still awaits, I believe, a consistently Biblical view of the “sexual relationship from a theological point of view.”