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This blog site will feature essays, columns and musings that deal with the intersection of Christianity and journalism and the American Songbook.

Man as Male and Female (book review: Presbyterian Journal)

Man as Male and Female by Paul W. Jewett
Presbyterian Journal
May 5, 1976

A professor of systematic theology at Fuller Seminary has written a thought-provoking but disturbing book subtitled, “A Study in Sexual Relationships from a theological Point of View.”

The book takes a sympathetic look at Karl Barth’s work pertaining to sexuality (Church Dogmatics, III) 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.”

Dr. Jewett declares that Genesis 1 and 2 teach that man (1:27) is both male and male, and therefore koinonia must exist between the male and female for the mannishness of man to be evident. Koinonia (fellowship) is defined as partnership in fulfilling God’s will and recognition of the sexual integrity of both sexes.

Furthermore, he declares Genesis 2 is only a restatement of the Genesis 1:26-27 creation account in a “poetic or parabolic form,” and therefore it cannot be used to advance the idea of subordination of females to males on the grounds of male priority.

Dr. Jewett gives an erudite 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 by itself is worth the small admission price.

However, when one is through doing battle with the Church fathers, one must deal with the Apostle Paul if one expects to have a correct view of the male/female relationship. At this Pauline juncture the book becomes alarming, for the author departs from the strenuously Biblical hermaneutic of the Reformation, that Scripture is normative by principle, precept and example for our life and our beliefs.

Dr. Jewett denies the normativeness of the apostolic example. He holds that Paul was adversely influenced by his upbringing (Jewish rabbinic tradition) and by his historical time (first century Palestine). This influence rears its ugly head, Jewett contends, when Paul writes of the subordination of women to men in I Corinthians 11 and 14. With this bad influence in mind, Jewett questions the Pauline authorship of I Timothy 2:11-15 and I Corinthians 14:34-35, as well as the Pauline hermaneutic of Genesis 2: 18-25.

Dr. Jewett seems to have adopted the hermaneutic 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 (first century culture, customs, biases, language and so forth).

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, incompatible perspectives, uneasy conscience, view of the man/woman relationship (in) congruous with the Gospel, difficulty in his reasoning, Jewish scruples, inconsistency, and rabbinic learning.”

While Paul’s background and nature need to be taken into account in exegesis, the author uses those considerations to bolster his argument that difficult passages such as Genesis 2, I 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 the 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 (I 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 his 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.”

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