Book Write-Up: Men and Women in Christ, by Andrew Bartlett

Andrew Bartlett. Men and Women in Christ: Fresh Light from the Biblical Texts. IVP/SPCK, 2019. See here to purchase the book.

From the back cover of the book: “Andrew Bartlett QC is based in London and is a highly rated international arbitrator with a wide range of experience in dispute resolution in numerous locations. He has a BA in theology (University of Gloucestershire) and has served as an elder and a churchwarden in various churches.”

This book weighs in on the complementarian/egalitarian debate within evangelical Christianity.

Here are some thoughts, observations, and subjective impressions:

A. While Bartlett tries to give the impression that he is transcending the debate, Bartlett leans towards the egalitarian perspective. When Ephesians 5:23 affirms that the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, Bartlett rejects the view that this means the husband has authority over his wife; rather, after doing a word study on the Greek word kephale, Bartlett concludes that the husband is head in that he nourishes and provides for his wife. The wife responds by providing her husband with support, which is what believers are supposed to be doing for each other in the first place. For Bartlett, I Corinthians 11 does not posit a hierarchy in which women are under male authority. Rather, Bartlett argues that Paul is trying to prevent married women from attracting other men in church services through their long hair, and men from attracting male lovers by wearing their hair long. As far as Paul is concerned, this violates Christ’s created order, which is significant because Christ is the source of (not head over) man. On I Timothy 2:11-15, Bartlett does not believe that Paul is prohibiting women from church leadership for all time. Rather, Paul is against rich heretical women who spread false teaching and practice witchcraft, and Paul likens that to Eve misleading her husband. Paul encourages women to serve as wives and mothers. At the same time, Bartlett does not think that women being saved through childbearing means that they are saved by having kids. Bartlett refers to two alternative possibilities: (1.) that the childbearing refers to the birth of Christ, who saves women from the stigma and guilt of the Fall, and (2.) that the verse is saying that God, not Artemis, protects Christian women when they are bearing children.

B. Bartlett leans towards egalitarianism, but he still believes that men and women are different and contribute their distinct talents and dispositions. Women in church leadership can bring positive feminine qualities (i.e., nurturing, compassion) to their positions. Bartlett points out that this view is not unusual among evangelical egalitarians. Similarly, complementarianism is rather complex, for, while it rejects official female leadership in church, many modern complementarians are open to female leadership in politics and business.

C. Bartlett provides relevant historical details. Against the complementarian argument that married women in antiquity wore veils as a public demonstration of their husband’s authority, Bartlett points out that ancient depictions of Greco-Roman women often do not show them wearing veils. This is relevant to debates about I Corinthians 11. Against the argument that I Timothy 2:11-15 forbids women to teach because women in that time were uneducated, Bartlett cites examples of Greco-Roman women who were well-educated. Bartlett also refers to ancient Jewish and Greco-Roman conceptions of male authority over women in marriage, using them as a foil for what he believes is the New Testament teaching.

D. Bartlett mentions intriguing, sometimes disturbing, interpretations within the history of biblical interpretation. Calvin thought that it would be illogical for women to lead men, so he stumbled over God’s choice of the judge Deborah to lead Israel. Augustine thought that women were helpers of men specifically because they bore children, not due to companionship, for, if men wanted social company, could they not get that from fellow men?

E. Bartlett made some effective arguments. Against the argument that Adam naming Eve demonstrates his authority over her, Bartlett refers to Hagar’s naming of God in Genesis 16:13. Obviously, Hagar did not possess authority over God. Bartlett also refutes the complementarian argument that Paul’s permission of women to prophesy (I Corinthians 11) refers to private prophesying rather than prophesying in the church assembly. As Bartlett points out, Paul’s focus in I Corinthians 11 is on what goes on in the church assembly.

F. I Peter 3:6 states that Sarah called Abraham “lord.” Sarah does so in Genesis 18:12, where she expresses skepticism that she will bear children in her old age. According to Bartlett, Sarah submits to Abraham as “lord,” not by seeing him as her boss, but rather by submitting to God’s plan that she have offspring, as incredible as that may seem.

G. Bartlett seems to downplay the patriarchy that pervades the Bible. In a footnote, he wrestles with Numbers 30’s statement that a man can nullify his wife’s oath, speculating that this is a concession to human fallenness. That may be how he accounts for all of the patriarchy that is sanctioned in the Bible: that men, not women, can inherit property in the Torah, etc. Bartlett does well to point out that women are not passive doormats in the Bible: they have their own voice, and the ideal woman in Proverbs 31 takes economic initiative in her own right. Still, the patriarchy that pervades the Bible cannot be dodged, for women in the Old and New Testaments were not the social equals of men.

H. Bartlett’s approach to Scripture is rather harmonizing. For Bartlett, Paul in I Timothy 2:11-15 cannot mean that women are forbidden to teach in church, for Paul in I Corinthians 11 accepts women prophesying. Paul in I Timothy 2:15 does not mean that women are saved by having children, for Paul affirms in other epistles that salvation is by grace through faith alone. Many scholars, by contrast, hold that the pastoral epistles and the Pauline epistles have different authors; Paul may have been more egalitarian than the patriarchal author of the pastorals, according to this view. That said, “Paul” in I Timothy 2:15 probably does not mean that women earn their salvation by bearing children and thus do not need Christ as their Savior. Still, could he have believed that childbearing and childrearing were part of the spiritual fruit that Christian women bore in the salvation process? As even Bartlett notes, Paul praises childrearing elsewhere in the pastorals.

This book is clear and informative. Some of Bartlett’s arguments are effective, and some may seem like a stretch. Still, Bartlett engages issues that are relevant to the debate.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My review is honest.

 

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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