In the Swedish National Gallery in Stockholm there are two monumental paintings which meet the eye of the visitor. They are painted by the same artist, Carl Larsson 1, and they both portray a king in the centre of the picture. Triumphal lordship is the theme of the first. The victorious king Gustav Vasa, riding a magnificent white stallion over a drawbridge adorned with flowers, is about to enter his capital through its gates at the cheers of his subjects.
The other painting shows a man standing naked on a sledge. The sledge is being pulled to the entrance of a wooden Nordic temple. Two priests are waiting for the naked man. The first one, dressed in a white robe, holds the god Thor’s hammer in his uplifted hands. The other one, clad in i a crimson garb, keeps a dagger hidden behind his back. The theme of this picture is sacrifice. The king of the Swedes is about to be sacrificed at the temple of Old Uppsala in order to secure the survival of his people, stricken by famine. 2
In a brilliant, but far from uncontroversial way, the artist has portrayed two aspects of power and indeed male power: lordship and sacrifice. Most people would acknowledge the triumphant power. Far less would recognize sacrifice as an integral part of power and male power. Not surprisingly, some Swedish politicians and intellectuals did not want this painting to be at public display in the Main Hall of the National Gallery 3. It is easy to understand why. Its message is far to threatening for those engaged in the machinery of power.
THE BASIC TRUST
A striking feature in the world of today is the lack of trust. With violence and evil present everywhere this may be a sound strategy for survival, but this lack of trust goes deeper and affects the roots of contemporary life. Modern man does not trust traditional religious beliefs any longer. In Sweden only six percent of the population still identify with traditional Christian belief and attend services regularly. 4 Nor does modern man trust traditional social patterns. Marriage has become optional, and person of the same sex can have their partnership registered officially. Modern man does not even trust obvious orders of nature. Male and female are “social constructions”, which may be deconstructed. 5
Many Christian churches also reflect this lack of trust. Instead of trust in God, distrust has become the hermeneutical principle by which the churches approach God’s revelation both in the orders of creation (Schöpfungsordnungen) and in the Bible.
Trust lies at the heart of life. In order to live I must trust that the ground will carry me and not devour me. Each time I set my foot down on the ground is not the result of a deliberation of distrust. Every step I take is instead an affirmative act of a basic trust. The ground carries me. There is an abiding stability. There is a basic trustiness of reality which inspires trust. Why should not the Church embrace the basic code and the basic design with the same confidence and trust?
THE BASIC CODE
In a recently published article 6 a former New Testament professor at Uppsala University, Harald Riesenfeld, argues that there is a characteristic Christological structure to be found more or less explicitly developed not only on the Pauline letters but also in the majority of writings in the New Testament. Therefore, in his view it is appropriate to speak of a basic code.
According to Riesenfeld the Christological belief in Jesus being the Christ in the early church contains five characteristic features:
the pre-existence as a divine being in close relation to God;
a human life in obedience and yet with authority;
an atoning death;
a resurrection which opens the way to a life beyond death;
a return from heaven of the exalted Christ, a general judgment and an unrestricted dominion of God.
The author dismisses the widespread scholarly opinion of today that this Christological picture emerged in congregations belonging to the first and second generation of the Christian movement as a result of a complicated process of interpretation and speculation. There is in his opinion far too many difficulties involved in this hypothesis. These difficulties can, however, be resolved, if the exegetes using Ockham’s razor were prepared to ask the basic question again “whether a bulk of these sayings–all of them attributed exclusively to Jesus in the gospel tradition–have in fact been pronounced, as it is described in our sources, by Jesus himself”. 7
Jesus himself and not some unknown creative theologians in anonymous congregations in the early church is the originator of this basic code. A characteristic feature of this Christological structure is also that it is firmly grounded and rooted in the Old Testament. This is and has always been the belief of the one, holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.
In stark contrast to this understanding of a basic code stands the opinions of the American Jesus Seminar, which contends that most Christians' picture of Jesus Christ is, in fact, radically mistaken, because it “is an imaginative theological construct, into which have been woven traces of that enigmatic sage from Nazareth–traces that cry out for recognition and liberation from the firm grip of those whose faith overpowered their memories”. 8 If one believes, as the members of the Jesus Seminar do, that only 18 percent of the words ascribed to Jesus in the Gospels may have actually been spoken by him, the picture of Jesus in the end dissolves in the acid of distrust.
If the Church looses her trust in the basic code she will eventually loose her identity by being wide open to all the projects and agendas of the secularized world and society.
Trusting the basic code is another way of saying that the Church should have a fundamental and permanent trust in that which make her understand reality. God’s revelation in his Word, which at the profoundest level is the Incarnation, is the basic code for an adequate understanding of of the world as God’s creation. The world is not simply there. It is created.
The Incarnation represents as a pars pro toto the whole of God’s action in Christ, which is the revelatory code to an adequate understanding of all reality. The Incarnation, God becoming man, means a final divine yes and amen to the whole created order (Schöpfung). As Christians we have to take “all things visible” seriously.
If we have in mind the double aspect of the Word of God, signifying both the revelation given in God’s word in the Bible and the Word, the second Person in the Holy Trinity, the Logos by whom all things were made, the Word made flesh, we shall be able to approach the protohistory contained in the first three chapters of Genesis in a theologically appropriate way.
As Christians we have a basic trust in the Word who became flesh. As Christians we also have a basic trust in the word of Scripture which resounds and echoes the Logos. The three first chapters of the Bible is a part of the divine revelation. The creation is not something you can understand apart from God’s revelation. In these chapters man by God’s teaching learns something that he would not have known otherwise. The word of God is focusing our attention on the creation of mankind, what it means to be human–man and woman–and what it means to be human–man and woman–in relationship to the divine. Here we encounter the basic design.
With a basic attitude of trust towards Scripture we do not play off different stories against one another. What the Bible tells in different stories form a wholeness to be embraced and welcomed rather than being cast suspicion upon and rejected.
THE BASIC DESIGN
In the first chapter of Genesis it is said that man after a Trinitarian counsel (v. 26) is created in the image and likeness of God, and that God created mankind male and female. There is in this statement an obvious equality between male and female as God’s image. Gender and sex are there from the very beginning. They are a part of the goodness of creation. They also stand under God’s original blessing. They belong to the essential createdness of man: the basic design.
In the second chapter another story is told which in a wonderful way completes the other. Man, adam, (der Mensch) is created from the dust of the earth, adama, and becomes a living creature when the Creator breathes his spirit into him. But man is alone. As God’s representative he has the God-given power to name things, categorize, grasp reality, assume authority over it, but something is missing. The revelatory story goes on to tell how God causes a deep sleep fall over Adam. It is a mysterious, ecstatic sleep. And out of Adam’s, the earth-ling’s side, God makes him someone to meet him, to help him. It is deeply significant that this wonderful new creature is taken from his side, not from his head, his hips or from his feet, but from the side where his heart is. She is in the deepest sense of the word his part-ner. And as Adam has assumed authority over God’s creatures by calling them by name he now gives his helper the name woman, because she is taken from man. This is both an act of taking authority over and an expression of the most intimate relatedness. In this story there is an equality between man and woman as they have the same nature and belong to the same kind. Yet, there is also an apparent “hierarchy” between man and woman: a headship and a submission.
The story about the creation man and woman is not something which remains in the past. The relationship between the sexes in creation is actualized and manifested in every marriage. The union between a man and a woman in marriage belongs to the original and basic design.
Some people find this story of the creation of woman from man highly discriminating and want to ban it from the Bible. The fact is, however, that this story has God’s own sanction and attestation. Together with the text in Genesis chapter 1 it gives some of the basic features of God’s revelation on the nature of man, male and female, and their relationship to one another and to God.
In the first story the likeness with God and their mutual eqality in relation to God are emphasized. In the other story the differentiation between male and female is accentuated. Woman is defined i her relation to man and there is a hierarchy in the relationship between man and woman. It is important to keep both aspects in mind when trying to understand the biblical anthropology.
Without taking the third chapter of Genesis into account any presentation of the biblical understanding of man would be incomplete. The Fall changes the conditions for the whole creation. Becoming like God without God, was the goal of man’s sinful action. Man was destined to become like God. That was according to God’s will and not sinful per se. But as in so many cases, sin sets off with the best of motives. The sin is that man tried to snatch this godlikeness for himself on his own terms without God, violating God’s will as expressed in his command. Some theologians have also suggested that the Fall means an upsetting of the God-given hierarchy of creation. Original sin is understood as “the woman taking over authority from the man, and the man saying and doing nothing to stop it”9. This may well be so. Knowing good and evil in the Old Testament sense means setting ones own standards like God. Upsetting the God-given order in creation may well be a part of this. However, Original Sin has a wider scope and this violation of a divine order is rather a symptom than the whole cause.
When God declares his judgement upon sinful man it is highly significant that the consequences of sin affect man in his manhood and woman in her womanhood and also the relationship between man and woman. Man’s God-given creativity, which is a part of his being created in the image of God, is affected both in its aspect of work and in the aspect of procreation. Work becomes a toil and moil. Procreation in the sense of giving birth becomes painful. The harmonious hierarchical order, the original partnership, between man and women already given in creation, will now lapse into man’s domineering over women.
Jesus Christ, the incarnated Word of God, does not in any way abrogate the orders of creation. He rather strengthens them as with marriage. In his teachings he also sets new standards and deepens significant Old Testament themes 10 which is clearly reflected in the teachings of the apostles. Especially St Paul binds together orders of creation with orders of salvation and places Christ as the intermediary and the one who keeps them together. This is particularly evident in his understanding of the church and the relationship between man and wife in marriage.
In dealing with decorum i public worship in the church in Corinth, St Paul make reference the order of creation. He wants the Corinthian Christians to understand that “Christ is the head of every man, man is the head of woman and God is the head of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1), and he is establishing his argument by referring to the story about the creation of woman. For Paul there is a given hierarchy: God, Christ, man, woman. But this hierarchy of headship and submission must not be understood in any repressive sense. The tenderness in the relationship between man and woman and the fundamental interdependence, “she is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh”, are clearly reflected in this passage: “Woman cannot do without man, neither can man do without woman, woman may come from man, but man is born of woman–both come from God”11.
Life in Christ does not mean that the God-given hierarchy between man and women, established in the story about the creation of woman from man, is abrogated. This hierarchy remains and is even tied to the relationship between the Father and the Son. Thus, the relationship between man and women is patterned after Christ and his example. This is particularly obvious in the passage in Ephesians, chapter 5, in which the author decisively makes a connexion between the relationship between man and wife and the relation between Christ and the Church, Christ being the Bridegroom and the Church being his Bride.
“Submit yourselves one to another in the fear of [belief in] Christ (v.21) 12. Man and wife are admonished “to go under the order [_taxis_] which exists in the belief in Christ”. There is an order to submit to which has been there since creation and which still remains in Christ. The wives are exhorted to submit themselves to their husbands as their heads as they, and the Church, submit to Christ, the Head. This is traditional language. But when it comes to the husband’s relation to his wife the language of mutual submission is no longer used. Now, there is a very specific language of sacrificial love and self giving. Man in marriage in relation to his wife has Christ in his sacrifice on the cross as pattern and prototype.
Here we can clearly see the pictures in the hall of the National Gallery Stockholm portraying male power understood in a Christian way. In one picture man is greeted in his triumphal power and lordship, in the other man is about to give his life literally in a sacrifice. Both are true, but together they represent the Truth.
The hierarchical order given in creation, restated in Christ in salvation is in the Christian understanding totally determined by a self sacrificing love. In Philippians, chapter 2, we can clearly discern this pattern. Christ is depicted as the one who does not try to grasp the godlikeness and equality to God as Eve and Adam, representing fallen humanity, once tried to do. They tried to ascend to heaven and become gods. Christ is the one who reverses this movement of human hybris by relinquishing his godlikeness. He descends, he empties himself, he is obedient even unto the death on the cross. Here we encounter the kenotic pattern, which is fundamental and essential to all Christian life and discipleship.
Headship and submission between man and wife and the kenotic pattern open up vast theological horizons. Together they have something important to tell about the relationship between man and God.
It is not possible to understand the Christian view of man’s grandeur and misery if one does not focus one’s attention on Mary, the Mother of God, as contrasted with Eve. Mary is the representative of mankind, as is also Eve, and in a sense Mary reverses the course of the Fall. She is like Christ and unlike Eve when she does not try grasp equality with God on her own terms. Mary does not set her own life projects and personal plans for self fulfilment before the will of God. She listens to the word and promise of God, she is willing to become God’s servant, she believes. Eve said in action no to God’s, she did not accept her position in the God-given hierarchy, she fulfils her role of being a helper in a twisted way by luring her husband to transgress God’s command and thereby bringing ruin over herself and mankind.
Mary is in sense God’s partner and helper as she declares herself to be the Servant of the Lord. She accepts her role as helper according to the order of creation, and in this submission she brings the greatest blessing ever into the world by being the Mother of God, Jesus Christ. Christ is born as any other man, but he is conceived in Mary’s womb by an immediate creative act of God through the Holy Spirit. No human being has ever before met God in such a wondrous way as Mary. And yet, this conception is in a way what happens every time faith is kindled in a human heart. Through the word and promise of God the Son of God, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, is conceived in her. God is growing as a foetus and a child in her womb. Mary said yes to God and believed. She could have used her human freedom by saying no. But she being “highly favoured” enters into the realm of total freedom by saying yes to being God’s servant. She is without any reservation open to God’s action in and through her13.
Through this “active passivity”, this openness to God, Mary becomes the icon of justificatio sola gratia, sola fide, sine operibus propter Christum. Therefore, she also shall be called blessed by all generations. Mary serves as an example for both men and women encouraging them to take their right positions in God’s order of creation and salvation. By her own life she serves as a model inspiring men and women to open up their lives in trust and belief in God’s action, offering themselves as Servants of the Lord for the blessing of mankind.
Headship and submission between man and wife and the kenotic pattern of selfgiving and service belong into a an even greater theological complex as they also touch our very understanding of the Holy Trinity.
In the first story about the creation of mankind God is portrayed as taking counsel before he creates man: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness”. The Church knows what some exegetes do not seem to know. This is not a counsel at some heavenly court. It is a counsel within the Holy Trinity, present already in the first verses of the Book of Genesis: “In the beginning God created heaven and earth. And the earth was without form and void and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the spirit moved upon the face of the waters. And God said: Let there be light: and there was light”.
The Greek Orthodox Bishop Kallistos Ware writes:14
“men an women, so the Bible teaches, are made in the image of God, and to Christians, God means the Trinity; it is only in the light of the dogma of the Trinity that humans can understand who they are and what God intends them to be. Our private lives, our personal relations, and all our plans of forming a Christian society depend upon a right theology of the Trinity”.
In the Orthodox understanding of God there is a strong emphasis on the unknowability of God in se. God dwells in a light unapproachable to man. Any attempt at defining God in God’s essence is futile. Yet, there is also a strong emphasis on God’s self disclosure. Man can only hope to attain to an understanding of God from what God has pleased to reveal about himself in his economy of salvation. And God has made himself known from what he has done.
According to the Orthodox, and indeed all traditional Christian understanding of the Trinity, the Son is born of the Father before all times; he has also been born into the world by the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God. The Spirit proceeds from all eternity from the Father and is sent into the world by the Father through the Son. The Father is neither born nor proceeding. Although the Father and the Son are of the same substance (_homoousios_) and the Spirit is worshipped and glorified together with the Father and the Son, which is another way of saying that the Spirit is also of the same substance, yet the Father is the source and head of the Holy Trinity. Thus, there is in the Orthodox understanding of the Trinity a unity and an equality of Persons within the Godhead, Father, Son and Spirit, as well as a diversity and submission of functions or roles between the divine Persons15.
If manhood and womenhood are to be apprehended in the light of our understanding of the Trinity, it should not, then, be surprising if we shall find that there exists an essential equality between man and woman, grounded in the economy of the Trinity, as well as “a functional inequality”, a differentiation of roles, also grounded in this economy. God is one and God’s action is one, but within this one action there is the economy of the Son and that of the Holy Spirit. Man and women are one in equality, but there is “an economy of the man” and “an economy of the woman” which have to be lived out in the family and in the Church. Manhood and womanhood are not simply identical and interchangable, but together under the conditions of the created order man and woman reflect and represent the mystery of the Holy Trinity.
It would be quite off the mark to suggest that this “hierarchy” which the Christian belief recognizes in the Trinity between the Father and the Son and the Spirit, would be oppressive or degrading. Self giving love lies at the heart of the Trinity, and this pattern of unity and yet diversity, equality and yet submission, permeated by an outgoing and self giving love–the basic code–, which we have seen in the Trinity, can readily be understood as the basic design of the relation between man and woman in the Church and in marriage16.
There is an important theological task of ecumenical dimensions lying before us. Together we need to rediscover and vindicate the biblical understanding of manhood and womanhood. Christians who have lived in countries dominated by a Socialist ideology with its conscious and programmatic endeavour of equality and interchangeability between men and women replacing family, marriage, upbringing of children within a family with new institutions, values and ideal, may have a special competence and a prophetic calling to contribute to this theological work involving doctrinal aspects of women’s status in the Church, historical aspects of women’s ministry and principles to be used in establishing women in the ministry. If this work is carried out with a trust in the basic code and the basic design, it will no doubt guide and strengthen local churches and individual Christians as well as people of good will around the world in their encounter with and witness to a secularized and egalitarian society.
A well-known Swedish national romantic painter (1853-1919). ↩︎
This story is told by the Icelandic poet and writer Snorri Sturluson (1179-1241) in his historical work Heimskringla. ↩︎
The National Gallery originally rejected the painting. In 1993 after a heated public debate it was finally hung on the wall of the Main Hall as a deposition made by a Japanese art collector who had previously bought the painting. ↩︎
According to “Tro och värderingar i 90-talets Sverige” (Faiths and values in Sweden of the 1990’s), 1996, ed. by Bråkenhielm, Kallenberg, Larsson, 33% of the Swedes are “private religious”, 28% are agnostics, 20% are atheists, 10% “private Christians”, i.e. they believe in a personal God, but they seldom attend church services, 6% are “Church Christians”, 2% go to church more or less regularly but do not identify with traditional Christian belief. ↩︎
The favourite idea of many feminist that gender is a “cultural construction” is described in an newspaper article by a Swedish writer as an American academic boosting of a French marxist philosophical fashion “la grande théorie”, which emanates from the years around 1968. (Erik Hedling, “Fransk filosofi förlamar anglosaxisk filmforskning”, Svenska Dagbladet 1996-04-19). ↩︎
Harald Riesenfeld, “A Basic Code in the New Testament” from Texts and contexts. Biblical Texts in their Textual ans Situational Contexts. Essays in honour of Lars Hartman, Editeds by Tord Fornberg and David Hellholm, Scandinavian University Press, 1995, pp. 911 ff. ↩︎
Op.cit., p. 913. ↩︎
“The Gospel truth”, TIME, April 8, 1996. ↩︎
Michael Harper, Equal and different. Male and female in the Church and Family, London 1994, p 24. ↩︎
E.g. the use of wedding imagery in his teaching. ↩︎
See also Eph 5:28-29. ↩︎
For a detailed exegesis of this passage see Bertil Gärtner: Das Amt, der Mann und die Frau im Neuen Testament, 1963, p. 21 ff. Also in English (private print without date) Didaskolos. The office, man and women in the New Testament, translated by John E. Halborg. ↩︎
The Roman Catholic dogma about the immaculate conception (i.e. Mary being “in the first moment of her conception, by a unique gift of grace and privilege of Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of Mankind, preserved from all stain of original sin”) is in Augustinian terms one (but certainly not the only) way of expressing the truth about Mary’s fundamental openness to God and her willingness to do God’s will without any reservations. Mary does not have any autonomous freedom of her own. The freedom she has is given her in her relationship to God as her life and existence in every instant of time is given her by God. It is important for a Christian understanding of man to notice that mankind does not only stand at the cross of Christ as crucifiers. There is in humankind also one who said yes to God, the Mother of God, standing by the cross, suffering seeing her son die. By the cross Mary also represents humanity. Man is both crucifying God and longing for God. ↩︎
id., The Orthodox Church, Penguin, 1963, p. 216 ↩︎
In his book Equal and different. Male and female in the Church and Family, 1994, Michael Harper, following Kallistos Ware, op.cit., points out very strongly and convincingly that the Orthodox understanding of the Trinity will help to clarify the relationship between man and wife and their roles in the Church and in the family. ↩︎
Nothing so far has been said about the ordination of women to the priesthood or to the episcopacy. Would such ordination be in accord with the biblical testimony? Is there, at all, a biblical testimony pertaining to this much disputed question? If one reads the biblical texts about the relationship between man and women (and does not shun “hierachical” statements about headship and submission e.g.), it should be obvious to the unbiased reader that the plain sense of the texts and the overall picture which emerges from these texts speak against the ordination of women (1 Cor 14:34-38, 1 Tim 2:11-15, Gen 3:16, 1 Cor 11:3, Eph 5:22 ff., Col 3:18, 1 Peter 3:1; The way Jesus acted in choosing his apostles among men only tallies entirely with these texts). Thus, exegetically the case is clear. The first issue is whether the texts will be allowed to speak for themselves as they are. Related to this issue is, of course, the question how we put these texts into practice in the Church and in the family. The next issue is whether these texts are at all relevant, applicable and binding for the Church today. This is another way of asking questions about the authority of Scripture and the nature of God’s revelation. If one decides that the texts about the relationship between man and woman in the family and in the Church are irrelevant and obsolete, one has the obligation to present the principles and the criteria for one’s interpretation of Scripture and demonstrate that they are legitimate and justifiable. That is a not an exegetical but a hermeneutical issue, and it involves the fundamental questions about the identity of the Christian belief. In many respects it seems as if the contemporary Church is confronted with the same question that Jesus once asked his disciples: Who do you say I am? (Mk 8:29). Is the New Testament a result of a complicated process in which the majority of the words and action ascribed to Jesus in reality are the products of anonymous, creative theologians, and, thus, can be moulded anew in a new contexts. Or does the New Testament resound of the words of him who is the incarnate Word of God? That is not a hermeneutical but an existential religious issue, which calls for decision. In the end the issue about the ordination of women to the priesthood and the episcopacy seems to be whether one has a trust in the basic code and design or not. ↩︎