Following my previous article on John Knox’s pamphlet The First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women, to say nothing of the firestorm surrounding the new Monstrous Regiment podcast, some have asked for various clarifications and responses on a number of different issues.
My intention here is not to deal with those questions systematically. For one thing, many of those asking for responses have already admitted that they accept and uphold Knox’s view of women being inherently inferior to men. It would evidently then be foolish for me, a woman, to try to change their minds. Their problem is not with my argumentation, my sources, or my interpretation of Scripture. It is with the fact that I am female, and there’s nothing I can do to fix that.
However, there have been a few sincere questions, and I would like to address those here.
Capability, complementarity and apologies
Some have contacted me to ask for clarification as to whether I think women should rule in the church. Answer: no. I said that they were capable of doing so, just as you are presumably capable of stealing a car and driving it across the country without incident. My focus was on capability, whether a thing could be done, not on whether it should.
Some have contacted me to ask whether I am losing sight of the complementarity of the sexes. Do I think that everything men can do, women can do better? No. There are evident differences between men and women, and those differences are, as Peter himself points out, primarily physical (1 Peter 3:7, women are the weaker vessel, a term calling attention to the body rather than the spirit which inhabits it). Men are physically stronger and tougher while women are physically far more vulnerable. Women get sick and stressed out more easily in general, and even though I’ve never had a baby, I know that baby brain is real. Men are tougher. They don’t get sick and tired as quickly. They don’t have to take time off to build new humans. As a result, they have a greater capacity to serve in the family, the church, and the state—and I believe that in a healthy society, they will be notable for service in the family, the church, and the state.
Unfortunately, we don’t exactly live in a healthy society.
Some have asked if I have read Knox’s apology to Elizabeth I. The truth is that Knox’s attempt to soothe Elizabeth’s anger was really not much of an apology. “Why that either your grace, either yet any such as unfeignedly favour the liberty of England should be offended at the author of such a work I can perceive no just reason,” he said. He then very briefly assures the queen that his First Blast was levelled against rulers who are susceptible to foreign intervention, not the ability of women to rule in the first place:
And as for any offence which I have committed against England either in writing that or of any other work I will not refuse that moderate and indifferent men judge and discern betwixt me and those that accuse me. To wit: Which of the parties do most hurt the liberty of England? I that affirm that no woman may be exalted above any realm to make the liberty of the same thrall to a strange, proud, and evil nation, or they that approve whatsoever pleases princes for the time?
Elizabeth I was a remarkably shrewd woman, but it would have taken a truly “sick and impotent” mind to be taken in by this backtracking. Knox had devoted dense pages of argument against the idea that any woman could bear rule outside of a direct miracle by God. But don’t take my word for it: read the First Blast and judge for yourself.
The Image of God in Women
Some have asked if I am conflating two separate issues. Sure, Knox quotes Augustine as saying that women have less of the image of God than men do. But, he also goes to Scripture to build a case that women ought not to bear rule in the church or state. These are the big questions: Are Knox’s defenders really arguing for all his claims? Do teachers today really state that women have less of the image of God than men?
The answer to these questions—much as it shocks and horrifies me—is yes. People today really do think that women have less of the image of God than men do. Just in the last few days I was having to confront someone I know personally about this on Facebook. Like Augustine, he cited 1 Corinthians 11:7 (“For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man”) in support of the idea that women have less of the image and glory of God than women do.
This idea is still being publicly promoted. In a sermon posted on SermonAudio.com and titled, “A Refutation of the Debased Theology of a Monstrous Regiment of Christian Feminists,” Pastor Matt Trewhella holds up John Knox as an example, saying:
He says “This is now bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman because she was taken out of man.” Woman is a secondary derivation of the image of God. . . . And this is why the scriptures declare, “For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man is not from woman, but woman from man.” . . .
Where does God say that they, male and female, were made equally in his image? Nowhere does it say that! The Christian feminists are imposing that upon the text. . . .
The truth is both are created in the image of God, but the woman is a secondary derivation of God’s image. . . .
Now I ask you, was the point being made in scripture when it says “a helper suitable or comparable to Adam” that a woman was equal to man in creation? Or was it that all the other animals God had created were not suitable, but woman was?
Again, Trewhella is relying upon 1 Corinthians 11:7 to support his exegesis. But the passage doesn’t say that women have less of the image and glory of God. It says that woman is the glory of the man, a phrase that does not interpret itself, but must rather be interpreted in the light of other Scripture. In her book Eve in Exile, Rebekah Merkle—no friend to feminism or egalitarianism—interprets it this way:
A quintessentially biblical and very Hebraic way of expressing a superlative is to use the form the Song of Songs or the Holy of Holies. We tend to read this Corinthians passage as if the glory is getting more and more diluted the further it gets away from the center. But stop and think in more biblical categories for a second. If Adam is the crown of creation, then Eve is the crown of the crown. Women are the glory of the glory. When you read of the Holy of Holies in Scripture, are you on the furthest fringe of the holiness, or are you closer to the center? Obviously the holiness isn’t getting weaker as you go into the Holy of Holies, it’s getting stronger, more distilled. Man was created as the image and glory of God, but then along came the woman – second – in an even more concentrated form. The glory of the glory of God. If men are the beer, women are the whiskey.1
So here we have two radically opposed interpretations of 1 Corinthians 11:7. In Knox and Trewhella’s, it is assumed that women are an inferior, “secondary derivation” of God’s image—a photocopy of a photocopy, a more blurred and imperfect image. In Merkle’s, it is assumed that women are an intensified, glorified version of the image of God. Neither interpretation is native to the passage, but brought to it from elsewhere. So how do we decide which is better?
One difference is that while Trewhella’s interpretation derives from Knox, from Augustine, and so on in an unbroken line back to the pagan misogyny of Plato and Aristotle, Merkle’s interpretation goes directly to Scripture. Moreover, Scripture itself forces us to conclude that hers must be the correct interpretation. In Genesis 1:27, we are told that God created male and female in his own image: “male and female he created them.” Paul simply cannot be denigrating the image of God in women here because God has already revealed that men and women are both made in God’s image without a hint of ontological inequality. This was confirmed by Paul himself in Galatians 3:28: in Christ there is no difference between male and female. Given these abundantly clear passages, the Trewhella/Augustine/Knox interpretation simply cannot be true. It is directly at odds with Scripture.
The Image of God in Weakness
Let’s take a second look at Augustine’s words as quoted by John Knox and affirmed by Trewhella:
“Woman,” says he, “compared to other creatures, is the image of God, for she bears dominion over them. But compared unto man, she may not be called the image of God, for she bears not rule and lordship over man, but ought to obey him.”
For Augustine, for Knox, and for their modern-day defenders, there is a sense in which the image of God is contingent upon function. And what function is in view here? Rule and lordship. The image of God is contingent, in other words, upon power.
Augustine says that men have more power, so they have more of the image of God. Women have less power, so they have less of it.
But apply this reasoning anywhere else, and it breaks down. If the superior power, or the God-given authority of men, gives them more of the image of God than those over whom they rule, then where else can we apply this principle? Adults have more power than infants; I suppose that means that unborn babies have less of the image of God. Masters have more power than slaves; so slaves have less of the image of God.
The image of God is what gives us worth as humans. Throughout history, those who deny the full image of God in the weaker vessels—whether in black people, in Jewish people, in unborn children, or in women—have ended up perpetrating some of the most horrifying atrocities in history. If you make the image of God contingent on power, then you make human worth contingent on power.
Needless to say, this is totally opposed to everything for which Jesus Christ stood. From the start of the Old Testament all the way to the end of the New, God’s special concern for the weak, the vulnerable, and the victimized is evident. In Matthew 25:34-40, Jesus says:
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
In this passage, Jesus claims to be present in a special, judicial sense within the weak, the needy, the sick, and the outcast. In this passage, we see that indeed there is a sense in which the image of God is contingent upon a person’s station in life. But, the truth is the complete opposite of what Augustine, Knox, and their modern counterparts claim. It is not superior power and authority that gives you more of the image of God than others. If anything, it is weakness. And this, of course, is why Merkle’s interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11:7 must be the correct one. As the weaker vessels, women are indeed the intensified glory of God.
It’s time to examine what we believe to ensure that it really does line up with Scripture. It’s time to eradicate pagan thinking from the church. “To the law and to the testimony! If they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isaiah 8:20).
- Rebekah Merkle, Eve in Exile (Canon Press, 2016, Moscow, ID), pp 119-120. [↩]