I threw my Old Testament class for a loop a few weeks ago. We had spent about 20 hours going over the historical setting, context of and the different theories about the Pentateuch’s composition. After the fourth lecture or so I could tell they were less than thrilled to hear about another dead guy’s opinion. Running without knowing how to crawl, let along walk, seems to be a common theme in Malawi—Biblical study is no exception.
After convincing myself that I had dutifully explained that it is possible to critically study Scripture while still holding it 100% authoritative, we finally opened the book of Genesis.
I lectured for about an hour on the two accounts of creation (yes, Scripture has two sometimes conflicting accounts about the formation of the world) and then I tried to convince them that the significance of the Primeval History (Gen 1-11:26) is theological in nature. I explained that while debating the how of creation, we often miss the why, which (regardless of how you interpret the first chapters of the Bible) has to remain central.
For the most part they were tracking along, so I figured I’d drop the gender role bomb. Malawi is a very male dominated society and, similar to much of the conservative evangelical western world, Scripture is often used to defend man’s domination over woman. I had them turn to Genesis 1:26-28, 2:18-25 and 3:14-24.
Gen 1:28-28. God created humankind in God’s image, both male and female, god created them. Most in Malawi read from the Chichewa, King James (KJV) or Nearly Inspired (NIV) versions of the Bible—which all wrongly translate humankind as man.
Gen 2:18-25. Verse 18 reads, “it is not good for humankind to be alone.” Again, not man. It’s not until the end of verse 23 that we see a distinction between genders (“this one shall be called woman”).
I said that if you want to use Scripture to defend male dominance, you have to look somewhere other than creation—somewhere like God’s response to original sin.
Gen 3:14-24. Three punishments; two curses and one promise. The punishment for the serpent; it was to be “cursed among all animals.” The punishment for man; the ground itself is cursed because of his actions. The punishment for the woman; a promise that childbearing will be painful AND her husband shall “rule over” over her.
We debated the issue for a bit and it was refreshing to see that at least a portion of my lectures on the work didn’t fall on deaf ears. I mentioned that the discussion we were having-one that asks what happens when one interpretation of Scripture confronts culture-was one that needs to be had frequently within the church, and too often it’s not.
A week or so after our discussion at JMTI, a good friend and mentor of mine posted this article about Scripture and Homosexuality (which was responding to this article) on facebook. What followed was a very well thought out, though incomplete (really, how does one have a full conversation on facebook?) discussion about Scripture and culture colliding when it comes to sexual ethics.
In mentioning homosexuality and the church I do not mean to beat the dead horse that has unfortunately become the theological center of the destruction of the Western Church (the Church takes its focus off of Christ and then, somehow, is surprised it is dying?…a post for another time). I bring it up to ask this question; when it comes to any sort of Christian Ethic, are we to strive for the pre-fall understanding of our relationship with God and others? Or do we just accept that we live in the post-consequence world?
But we don’t only live in the post-consequence world, we also live in the post-resurrection world—where death has been conquered and love of God and neighbor is to reign supreme. But what does that mean for how we act and live in today’s world?