Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Bible, Gender, Sexuality--A Review

In Bible, Gender, Sexuality Dr. James V. Brownson attempts to “reimagine” the Bible’s teaching on homosexual relationships in such a way that we come to the conclusion that the moral logic of the Bible is accepting of committed, monogamous, mature, self-giving, homosexual relationships.  While there is much to consider here, and Dr. Brownson is an articulate and skilled writer, it is my conclusion that his arguments fail to accomplish his purpose.  I think there are multiple reasons for this failure but I will focus my review on just one of them.

Brownson’s Egalitarian Foundation and Dismissal of Sexual Complementarity is Unbiblical

Brownson selects Dr. Robert Gagnon as his principle opponent in this debate.  As I am no expert on Dr. Gagnon’s work I will leave it to someone who is better qualified than I am to defend his positions and to discern whether Brownson has presented those arguments fairly.  To this end I have contacted Dr. Gagnon and asked if he would be willing to defend himself in person during a debate with Dr. Brownson.  Dr. Gagnon expressed an eagerness to defend his positions and I think it is incumbent upon Dr. Brownson to give him that courtesy.  I would be happy to make the arrangements if Dr. Brownson would be so gracious as to accept this invitation.

One of a number of frequently circulated arguments opposed to sexual complementarity states that Adam’s headship over Eve was established after the Fall.  This argument asserts that Adam and Eve lived in an egalitarian relationship before the Fall and the church has a duty to do whatever possible to disestablish Adam’s headship in an attempt to live into the egalitarian ideals of the kingdom of God.  Brownson employs this very argument. “Genesis 3:16 portrays patriarchy not as grounded in creation, but in the conflicted relationship between men and women resulting from the Fall.” (58)

Setting aside the inflammatory nature of the term patriarchy--which Brownson couples frequently with the term domination which is equally misleading, as are his frequent comparisons of biblical manhood and womanhood to American slavery--let’s consider whether or not Adam’s leadership in his relationship with Eve was established before the Fall or after.  Here are three brief reasons to conclude that Adam was in a position of loving leadership in relationship to Eve before the Fall and that proper sexual complementarity is marred by the Fall not a product of it.

1.       Adam was formed first and then Eve.  Chronological primacy as an indicator of headship may be easily brushed aside as coincidental or insignificant by modern scholars.  But Paul didn’t think it was coincidental or insignificant.  In making his case to Timothy as to why men should exclusively serve as elders within the church he says, “For Adam was formed first, then Eve.” (1 Tim. 2:13)  Paul considered the complementarity of the sexes from Genesis 2 to be normative for the church.

2.       Eve was created to be Adam’s helper.  Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make a helper fit for him.” (Gen. 2:18)  The fact that Eve was the helper does not mean that she was inferior, less intelligent, less capable, or to be dominated by Adam.  It simply means that God granted to Adam the joyful duty of leading and to Eve the joy of following the man formed in God’s own image.  Submission does not imply inferiority, nor does it in any way imply that Eve was not equally created in God’s image.  To insinuate that complementarians believe otherwise is either ignorant or disingenuous.

3.       Adam named Eve.  This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” (Gen. 2:23)  The naming of Eve by Adam implies leadership on his part and submission on her part.  In the same account God names Adam and Adam submits to God and Adam names the animals who are under his authority, so too then Adam names Eve.  The pattern is unmistakable and significant.

Certainly Brownson would not be convinced by these arguments; he’s certainly not convinced when the New Testament writers themselves make them.  But despite these attempts of New Testament writers to find a basis for certain forms of patriarchy in the creation narratives, we must also note the remarkable egalitarian motifs that appear in the creation stories themselves.” (58)  Note the language that is employed here.  For Brownson these arguments are not convincing, authoritative, or even successful; they are mere “attempts” on the part of the inspired authors to find a basis for their own biases within the creation account.  Brownson believes that these accounts actually teach the opposite of what the New Testament writers find in them.  We must ask ourselves who we believe is better equipped to interpret Genesis 1-3: the inspired New Testament writers, or modern Western theologians.

The logical result of the denial of sexual complementarity is to create a human race composed of interchangeable parts.  No longer are men and women given uniquely joyful duties, but now men and women are interchangeable in the home, in the church, and, for Brownson, even in marriage itself.  This conclusion is arrived at largely through the dismissal Paul’s clear teaching in letters such as 1 Timothy, Titus, and Ephesians, and also by a misconstrued interpretation of Galatians 3:27-28.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise. (Gal. 3:27-28)

Paul writes the book of Galatians to deal with a specific problem: Jewish converts to Christ were insisting that the Law must be maintained as it formerly had been in Judaism.  Paul was clear that this was not to be so.  Within this context we can well understand that Paul is not stating that there are no longer men and women in the church. Whether we like it or not we live in this reality every day.  I have yet to attend a church that had gender neutral restrooms, nor have I met Christian parents that insist on having their sons or daughters share locker rooms with people of the opposite sex. What Paul means to teach here is that the old covenant distinctions between male and female, Jew and Greek, slave or free that were established under the Mosaic law no longer have any binding force for the Christian.  Hence, for Paul, the only distinctions that remain between men and women are those that would have been in place before the Mosaic covenant was established; this, not coincidentally, is precisely what Paul teaches in 1 Timothy 2.

Brownson argues that in Galatians 3:27-28 “all gender distinctions seem to be obliterated.” (71)  This of course merely takes the modern feminist-egalitarian understanding of so called “gender” to its logical conclusion.  We can commend Dr. Brownson for having the integrity to make these clear connections which many complementarians have been making for years.  But in considering the Pauline writings as a whole do we really see the obliteration of sexual distinctions and roles?  Of course not, no honest reading of Paul’s letters to Timothy or Titus, 1 Corinthians or Ephesians can conclude that manhood and womanhood no longer have any bearing in the home, family, or marriage.  Paul defines marriage clearly in Ephesians 5 in terms of “husbands” and “wives”, not mere “persons” as Brownson would prefer to believe. “Marriage is…a school of Christian living and a means of grace, as two persons learn to live with each other and to deepen their love over the long haul, discovering more deeply the love and faithfulness of God in their relationship with each other (Eph. 5).” (123-124) Consider the astounding, and biblically untenable, shift in meaning that occurs when you perceive of men and women as interchangeable parts due to the obliteration of sexual complementarity.

In the end Brownson’s arguments for the church’s acceptance of same-sex eroticism fail before they start.  They fail when the similarity between men and women is mistaken for uniformity, when the distinctions between the sexes and their God-given roles are smoothed out in ways that are convenient for a feminist Western culture but would have been entirely foreign to the writers of the Bible or to our brothers and sisters in the non-western world. 

Finally, we need to be willing to accept that Moses and Jesus really meant that “a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”  We don’t need to reimagine or retranslate the clear teachings of scripture, we need to proclaim them to a lost and broken world that desperately needs to repent and believe the good news of Jesus Christ.








For more information on the unique and complementary beauty of manhood and womanhood check out, and be sure to check out the Danvers Statement.


  1. Ben,

    Thanks for your thoughtful review.I have not yet read his book. One can re-imagine many things, but we cannot re-imagine how the reproductive system works. If we are to reclaim a pre-fall kingdom of God view, we would surely see the high value God places on reproduction and multiplication in the created order. One that homosexuality utterly and completely nullifies.

  2. i agree, Wayne. But more is that just anatomical sexuality is being reinterpreted here. What is being reinterpreted is sexual distinction within the home and church as well. It is important that we hold tightly to the Biblical truth regarding biblical manhood and womanhood. I believe that the realities and truths attested to within this review help to illuminate the dangers and errors of even conservative egalitarian positions.