Schreiner, gender, and the clarity of Scripture (Galatians commentary)

I am currently reading/reviewing Thomas Schreiner’s new Galatians commentary for the Zondervan Exegetical series. I knew, going into it, that there would be some things I disagree with. Overall, I have been surprised at how much I DO agree with him on and that, overall, he is not as hostile to the New Perspective as I had expected.

More than anything else, I was upset by his treatment of Galatians 3:28 and the issue of the “oneness” of the church and “male and female.” He writes

…the equality of men and women in Christ does not cancel out, in Paul’s mind, the distinct roles of men and women in marriage [he cites household codes] or in ministry contexts (1  Cor 11:2-16; 14:33-36; 1 Tim 2:9-15). [259]

OK, fair enough – nothing I haven’t heard before, although simply “citing” verses seems a bit superficial in an “exegetical” commentary series that exists almost solely on the basis of the idea that Scripture needs to be interpreted.

I have more concern with some of his hermeneutical concepts:

I just witnessed to some Mormons two days ago who found the doctrine of the Trinity to be philosophical nonsense. Some think the doctrine of the two natures of Christ is irrational as well. How can one person be fully God and fully man? I am not suggesting that anything in our faith is contradictory or irrational, but I am suggesting that even if some truths are beyond our finding out, we must submit ultimately to Scripture instead of limiting ourselves to what seems reasonable to us. [261].

I am quite shocked by this. Certainly he is right to say that the actual way the Trinity works is mysterious – no qualms there. But, when it comes to Christian ethics, I think we are in different territory. Consider the issue of slavery in America and the UK. Keep in mind, it was the pro-slavery group that had the stronger Scriptural arguments. To some degree the same would go for Apartheid. The impetus for the abolition of slavery, which did come from Christian circles, was exactly THAT IT WAS UNREASONABLE. The Scriptural arguments against slavery, and there were plenty in due time, only really came as a result of the uneasiness of slavery ethically.

He does backtrack a bit later: “Incidentally, I think a robust philosophical defense can be made of the notion that women and men are equal in essence and different in role.” (261). I am not sure, if he does believe this, why he makes the statement about “just believing it” even if you can’t understand why. I really think he would have been better of sticking to his guns and just making the best case for it.

The early church, even with the doctrine of the Trinity, was never content to say, “Ah well. My brain gets muddled when I think about the Trinity. Let’s just say we believe it and move on.” No, they knew that, even if it seemed like an impossible task, they had to keep struggling with it to make it intelligible philosophically (thank you Augustine, you tried very hard). The Church is not NIKE – we don’t “Just do it.” Paul’s letters could have been much, much shorter if he subscribed to this philosophy.

I was also disappointed by the judgmental tone of Schreiner’s final statement on the issue: “we must also avoid wrenching texts out of context and reading a program out of them that was never intended by the author” (261).

As an egalitarian myself (I prefer this label over Schreiner’s ostensibly derogatory label “evangelical feminist”), I hardly think he has to make such a bald warning. As an example of one who espouses the egalitarian position that Schreiner refutes, he cites F.F. Bruce. After citing Bruce, you caution “evangelical feminists” to be more exegetically carefully? Didn’t Bruce teach our generation of EVANGELICAL NT scholars how to be exegetically careful?

I have to apologize to Schreiner, that I judged him and his commentary before I had a chance to read it. Again, there is much I appreciate, especially his pastoral sensitivity and ability to write concisely. On the other hand, I think the messy hermeneutics of the handful of pages on 3:28 is disconcerting and fits only awkwardly in an exegetical commentary.


3 thoughts on “Schreiner, gender, and the clarity of Scripture (Galatians commentary)

  1. Interesting. I haven’t yet looked through the volume, but I do think it’s unfortunate when an ostensibly exegetical commentary uses space to score polemical points on issues that to some degree lie outside the scope of the relevant passage.

  2. I feel Schreiner mis-characterises Gordon Fee in the begining of the introduction, p21. Fee’s clear point is that we do not have to be bound by the Reformation’s understanding of the text. Those on the scholarly side of life will know this; but the intended audience, the Church at large, will just think Fee is a dummy based upon Schreiner ‘dirty trick’. Sad that this what passes as scholarship these days.

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