Toby Sumpter's Bull, Pt. 3--Scripture
In the third and final part of my response to Toby
Sumpter's article regarding the Beth Moore/John
MacArthur controversy I want to look at his use of
I believe that any so-called Reformed pastor who applauds Toby’s article is applauding the perversion of God’s Word. This is no small matter. Toby attempts to use a number of loose Scripture references to support the general claim that women are weak, and men are strong.
Toward the end of his citations, he refers to Peter’s admonitions to women in 1 Peter 2 that they be subject to their husbands, even if their husbands do not obey the word. What he doesn’t mention is that this admonition begins with the word, “Likewise,” which connects it to his instructions to servants in the previous passage (1 Peter 2:21-23). There, he tells servants they are to be subject to their masters regardless of their master’s character or behavior because they are called to endure suffering in the same manner as Christ.
In the passage cited by Toby, Peter applies this same paradigm to wives, who like servants, had little to no choice when it came to marriage in the ancient world. To be clear, the link between servants and wives is not that wives are to be like servants, but that in the ancient world women had little choice over whom they would marry, just as servants had little choice over who their master would be. Peter's admonishment to them is that just as servants are to submit themselves even to bad masters in order that they might bring honor and glory to Christ by following His example, so wives are to do the same.
In complete contradiction to Toby’s whole point, Peter is here encouraging women to endure hardship and suffering in order to win their husbands to Christ by their conduct. These don’t sound like weak women incapable of giving their lives as a bloody sacrifice for the sake of Christ and the gospel. It sounds like godly women courageously facing one of the harshest forms of persecution possible in the world—the persecution meted out by unbelieving husbands at home in a patriarchal society—the kind of persecution a female convert in a Muslim country might face today.
On July 10 of this year, a Christian woman named Saima Sardar was shot and killed in Pakistan by a Muslim man who wanted her to convert and marry him. On June 27, a Coptic Christian in Egypt just finishing up her final year in college named Sarah Atef was kidnapped by a Muslim man and has since disappeared. She is one of many Christian women kidnapped by Muslim men and forced into marriage in Egypt. Is this what Toby thinks is so cute about Peter’s advice to women?
The women Peter is addressing faced very real persecution and hardship by obeying Christ and making their faith known to their husbands. They faced divorce, which would have financially ruined them, beatings, and in times of persecution, being reported by their husbands or other angry family members. In light of the realities we see even today, Peter’s admonitions for women to suffer like Christ are not to be taken lightly, and they certainly are not to be perverted into some form of macho, man-exalting propaganda.
As a quick aside, it should be emphasized that the patriarchal world of Peter's time dictated his admonishment to women, not theological views of womanhood. Women had little to no choice back in Peter's day when it came to marriage, and so their only recourse as believers was to seek to endure hardship and suffering in difficult, even abusive marriages, out of the strength only God could provide through the example of Jesus' own hardship and suffering. How encouraging would it be for a woman in such a situation, perhaps feeling at times such darkness, such hurt, such anger, such longing for God to do something to aid her, to remember that her own Savior bore such a burden on her behalf?
All this to say, we can and should apply Peter's advice today with discernment. By God's grace, our society in this particular area relative to the Roman world is in greater conformity to God's will, and gives women more protections against spousal abuse and mistreatment. Christians should rejoice that even non-believing women benefit from the influence Christianity has had on our larger culture that has produced legal protections for women that were unimaginable in Peter's day. This means that a church leadership's admonishment to women in similar situations to these women Peter is addressing would involve other considerations not available to women then, and this is a GOOD THING!
How about Titus 2, also referenced by Toby? In this passage, Paul provides brief guidance to Titus on how he should instruct older and younger men and women. In the verses concerning women, Paul says, “Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.”
Again, the reader should note that just like in Peter’s letter, Paul’s concern is primarily how their conduct will serve as a witness to the gospel in their community—“that the word of God may not be reviled.” His concern here is not that men exert their authority as “manly” men, and that women, “know their place,” but that by their conduct, the women distinguish themselves from non-believers so as to bear witness to the transforming power of the Gospel. In expressing his concern, Paul does not provide a list of commands for women to obey, but a series of descriptors characterizing a godly woman in this cultural context. All of these characteristics have applicability today and women should reflect on them, but again Toby grossly mischaracterizes this passage in his article.
For starters, all Christians are called to submit to those in authority over them. Christians are called to submit to governing authorities (Romans 13:1, 1 Pet. 2:13), church leaders (1 Cor. 16:16, Hebrews 13:17), young to old (1 Pet. 5:5), and earthly masters (Eph. 6:5-8, Col. 3:22, 1 Peter 2:18-25). In one place Paul exhorts husbands and wives to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Eph. 5:21). Beyond actual commands to submit, men along with women are called to a life of humility and service to others (Phil. 2:1-11, Romans 12, Romans 15:1-7, 1 Pet. 5:5, 1 John 3:16). To use passages like Titus 2 in support of a view that women bear a singular responsibility to submit that is in accord with their nature flies in the face of all the ways in which men are commanded to submit.
His other Scripture references so violate the basic principles of interpretation that dealing with each one at length is unnecessary.
Regarding the woman at the well, Jesus instructs her to go get her husband because he wants to expose her sin. This has nothing to do with questions about men and women in the Bible, and certainly nothing to do with whether or not a woman should preach! In fact, what does the woman do after their interaction? Against Toby's grand claims, she becomes a herald of the gospel!
So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” They went out of the town and were coming to him. . .
Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman's testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”
In fact, we see John’s intent is a direct rebuke of Toby’s whole article. The narrative in John 4 is intentionally juxtaposed with John 3 and John 5. In John 3, a (male) religious leader named Nicodemus comes sneaking in the night to Jesus’ room, asks him some questions, and Jesus rebukes him for his lack of understanding. In John 5, a paralytic man is healed miraculously by Jesus, but unlike the Samaritans, the Jews do not believe.
To be sure, we would misread John if we characterize the responses of the people in gendered ways. John’s point is not to juxtapose men and women, but to juxtapose the faith of the Samaritans, who are epitomized for living lawlessly by the detailed story of the woman at the well, with the faithlessness of the supposedly religious law-keepers, the Jews. Yet in John’s narrative, it is a woman who serves as the preacher of the Gospel and the instrument of bringing others to faith by shamelessly declaring all her sin to an open world. Would that more men & women like her would be raised up today.
The mention of Jeremiah’s use of a metaphor to describe soldiers fleeing like women has absolutely no bearing on the discussion at all. In the ancient world, women facing a horde of soldiers would certainly be fleeing for their lives. The point of the metaphor is not to denigrate women, but to show that soldiers who are trained and armed to fight in battle are fleeing in the same manner as defenseless women. His reference to Jezebel in Revelation is so vague that responding to it is impossible, except to say that Revelation is apocalyptic literature and the last thing it is concerned with is establishing norms for men and women in the Church or home.
It was Toby's deplorable use of Scripture that provoked my desire to respond to his article. Well-meaning Christians are being easily led astray by a man who shows a careless and casual manner in the way he handles Scripture. I hope this article stirs others up to consider his words more carefully and with greater discernment. It is no small thing to play fast and loose with Scripture. To do so is to invoke the name and reputation of God to excuse, justify, and condone sin.