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“1 Corinthians 14:33B-38, 1 Timothy 2:11-14, and the Ordination of Women” by Peter Kriewaldt and Geelong North, Part 1, in “Women Pastors?” edited by Matthew C. Harrison and John T. Pless

I grew up as a member of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, a church body which rejects the ordination of women to the role of pastor. The publishing branch of that denomination, Concordia Publishing House, put out a book entitled Women Pastors? The Ordination of Women in Biblical Lutheran Perspective edited by Matthew C. Harrison (who is the current President of the LCMS) and John T. Pless. I have decided to take the book on, chapter-by-chapter, for two reasons. 1) I am frequently asked why I support women pastors by friends, family, and people online who do not share my position, and I hope to show that the best arguments my former denomination can bring forward against women pastors fail. 2) I believe the position of the LCMS and other groups like it is deeply mistaken on this, and so it warrants interaction to show that they are wrong. I will, as I said, be tackling this book chapter-by-chapter, sometimes dividing chapters into multiple posts. Finally, I should note I am reviewing the first edition published in 2008. I have been informed that at least some changes were made shortly thereafter, including in particular the section on the Trinity which is, in the edition I own, disturbingly mistaken. I will continue with the edition I have at hand because, frankly, I don’t have a lot of money to use to get another edition. Yes, I’m aware the picture I used is for the third edition.

“1 Corinthians 14:33B-38, 1 Timothy 2:11-14, and the Ordination of Women” by Peter Kriewaldt and Geelong North

Peter Kriewaldt and Geelong North seek to demonstrate that the titular verses show women may not be pastors. While Jesus “elevated the status of women,” they say, it is nevertheless the case that “Jesus entrusted the oversight of the Church to men only…” (45).

The first thing that strikes me in this chapter are the verses selected. Why begin at 14:33and extend only to 38? Why do the authors cut verse 15 of 1 Timothy 2 out of its immediate context with the verses preceding it? Of course, the authors must limit the scope at some point. That’s not a question. But when there is a question of whether verse 33 is a continuous clause and when verse 15 is highly relevant to the interpretation of the rest of the passage, one must wonder why those verses were excised in this exegetical chapter. Readers can’t know. But especially with 1 Timothy 2:15, it is quite clear that it is a continuation of the previous thoughts and should not be cut off. From the outset, Kriewaldt and North miss out on key aspects of interpreting these texts.

1 Corinthians 14:33B-38

Kriewaldt and North acknowledge that we know “that Corinth had a number of cults that included priestesses…” (45). Thus, they argue, Paul’s silencing of women “runs counter to the pagan culture in Corinth. He is not culturally conditioned” (ibid).

Surprisingly, Kriewaldt and North feel confident enough to say “The integrity of this passage is certain. There is no manuscript evidence for the omission of these verses from chapter 14, though some manuscripts place them after v. 40” (46). In this, the authors are simply mistaken. Not only are they wrong to say that the textual integrity is “certain,” but also to say that there is no manuscript evidence for their omission. Certainty, as the word is typically understood, implies the kind of 100% clear textual integrity that rarely exists. But 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 does not have that integrity. Not only do the verses exist in different places (after 1 Corinthians 14:40) in some manuscripts–thus demonstrating that the passage does not have a “certain” place in the text–but as Philip B. Payne and others have demonstrated, there are some serious questions about the textual transmission of this text. As he notes, the fact of the movement of the passage itself is rather alarming for those who wish to claim textual certainty: “Similarly, it is highly unlikely that if the text were originally in Paul’s letter after v. 40, that any later scribe would move that text to follow v. 33. We know it is highly unlikely since no scribe of any surviving manuscript (and there are thousands) of any of Paul’s letters ever did anything like this in any other passage of Paul’s letters.” But apart from the movement in the text, there is the issue of textual markings that indicate textual variants “Codex Vaticanus’s evidence that 1 Cor 14:34-35 is an interpolation is especially important for several reasons. Its distigme (mark of a textual variant) at the end of v. 33 with no corresponding distigme at the end of v. 40 is evidence of a textual variant that was not the Western displacement was written prior to Codex Vaticanus.” So how is it that Kriewaldt and North may claim that the passage is “certain” in its integrity? How may they say that there is “no manuscript evidence for the omission of these verses…”? Simply put, it must be due either to misleading the reader or ignorance of the fact that just such evidence does exist. And if these passages are an interpolation, there is no need to even continue to engage them. Those unconvinced by the textual evidence–which is, again, quite strong–will see below that even when we do take the passage as original to the letter, there is little reason to think it means women may not be pastors.

Kriewaldt and North claim that “Paul says that his commands are followed in all the churches” (46). Though it is true that the passage begins “As in all the congregations of the saints,” but this is not the same as saying his commands are followed in all churches. The language itself seems more passive than that, and some English translations do not have this clause as the beginning of a sentence but rather as the conclusion of 14:33 and the clause preceding it (see examples here). However, the authors of this essay do not make an argument for preferring to cut the verse in half where they do, even though it is clearly germane to their interpretation as follows.

One of the places Kriewaldt and North attempt to drive a point of division between women and authority in the text is by challenging what it means to prophesy. “Prophecy is not preaching; it is speech directly inspired by God… Although instruction and learning are connected with prophecy, it is not an institution that is constantly ready for action…. It is quite different from preaching and official teaching of the apostolic word. Prophecy, then, is open also for women. Scripture refers to a number of women prophets…” (46). It has already been noted, however, that this concession makes it very clear women hold positions of authority higher than those of male teachers (see the argument here, for example). It is interesting, though, that on Kreiwald and North’s own discussion, they admit that women may give “speech directly inspired by God.” What is odd, then, is that they then seem to think that prophecy is less authoritative than the act of teaching or preaching. As if somehow having direct revelation from God (as noted p. 46) is less authoritative than simply expounding upon that same revelation! This seems backwards. If God chooses to use women to directly reveal God’s own word, is it not a strange position that would then say “Ah, but God would not actually let women teach about that word they delivered”? Yet that is what readers are expected to believe, and indeed to affirm as if it were just obvious from the text, for Kreiwaldt and North immediately go on to say that women are to “be silent” when it comes to “prophecy… being weighted and evaluated” (47).

The meaning of lalein is much discussed on the literature related to this passage, and Kriewaldt and North argue that it means “speak” but specifically “authoritative teaching,” for they insist that it is a “a synonym for authoritative teaching” (47). Indeed, they go so far as to say that lalein “certainly doesn’t mean chattering or strident speaking,” despite the fact that some studies have shown exactly that, and (as noted in the previous link), ancient evidence in a dictionary and elsewhere suggests that is exactly what it means.[1] Such studies would greatly undermine the interpretation the authors give here, but as we have seen throughout the book so far, serious studies by those who disagree are largely ignored or dismissed.

Kriewaldt and North give four reasons that “women are to be silent and are not to speak” (47). First, they claim it is “the ecumenical practice of all the churches” (ibid). As we’ve mentioned, this begs the question regarding where they put the clause about the commands from Paul. The authors don’t actually establish that it was this ecumenical practice; nor do they address serious NT counter-examples (eg. Phoebe, Junia), nor do they do anything to demonstrate that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is actually next to the clause about “all the congregations of the saints” despite their own admission that some manuscripts place it after verse 40! Each of these would be highly relevant to their claim here, but none of these points is addressed beyond the mere dismissal of opposing viewpoints. Second, they claim that the submission of women is due to the “Law” (capital “L,” of course, though no argument is made). This Law, they claim “probably has to do with the whole Pentateuch.” Yet as many interpreters have noted (see discussion of this part of the passage here), there is serious difficulty discerning exactly where this is supposed to be found in the Law. Some have suggested it is actually related to the culture surrounding Corinth, rabbinic teaching, or other extrabiblical sources. Our authors, however, say it is related to Genesis 2:18-25 (ibid). But nothing in Genesis 2 says anything specifically about woman submitting to man. There is nothing there. So how can it be that this is what Paul is referring to? It seems like the reason to suggest this is because it best fits Kreiwaldt and North’s preconceptions of what the text ought to say and refer to, rather than any relevant evidence from the texts themselves. They do go on to say that it is due to “order of creation” (47-48), which is certainly a weak argument. Too often, as here, a bare appeal is made to “order of creation” without any reference for what that is supposed to mean. Indeed, it seems the reader is just supposed to assume that that order of creation is submission of women, but that begs the question. Moreover, if we are serious about the mere order of creation–that is, what comes first in creation–as a grounding for submission, then men everywhere ought to be submitting to all other animals, the heavenly bodies, dirt, the seas, etc.–for according to the order of creation, all of these things were created first. Of course, I don’t actually believe that; but the point is it is incredibly easy to make the malleable term “order of creation” mean whatever one wishes, and much more difficult to ground it in the texts.

The third reason given, after a brief aside in which the authors dismiss “mutual submission” in Ephesians 5, is that “It is disgraceful” for women to speak (49). They argue that the shame is “theological rather than… social” (ibid) such that it is “shameful to God for a woman to assume a teaching role in the church…” (49). But again, given that women are already allowed to present direct revelation from God, it is hard to see why a much less authoritative form of speech would somehow be shameful. The authors once again ignore this intriguing dilemma. They then address briefly 1 Cor. 14:36, which seems a bit of a strange question given Kriewaldt and North’s view. Indeed, it seems more likely that Paul is here showing that he is answering a false teaching that originated in Corinth as he does elsewhere, but the authors of this essay take it to mean that the church must submit to Christ’s word, which is of course what they already told us it is.

The fourth and final reason for women to be silent is “because anyone filled with the Spirit would have to admit that what Paul is saying is really a command of the Lord!” (49). This is a blatant kind of poisoning the well. What Kriewaldt and North say here, seriously, is that anyone who disagrees with their interpretation is not filled with the Spirit! After all, if they were, then they would just accept this interpretation of the text and force women into silence. This kind of questioning the salvation of those with whom one disagrees is unbecoming and nothing more than an attack on fellow believers with whom the authors disagree. It is unfit for a scholarly work.

Thus far, we have seen that Kriewaldt and North essentially assume their position is correct and then turn to question the salvation of those with whom they disagree on whether women ought to be silenced. They fail to deal with the serious textual critical issues related to the placement of the passage at question; they appeal baldly to “order of creation” as if that term is a settled issue, and they fail to account for the cultural context of the Corinthian church.

[1] ‘Phrynichus, the ancient dictionarian, defined the term as “to talk nonsense.” The word is used of gossip, prattling, babbling, animal sounds, and musical instruments. During the classical period, it usually was employed in a contemptuous sense. Debrunner, writing in the Kittel-Friedrich Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, states “Lalein can also be used quite objectively of speech when there is reference to sound rather than meaning.”‘ See “Pandemonium and Silence at Corinth” by Catherine Clark Kroeger.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

Interpretations and Applications of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35– Those wondering about egalitarian interpretations of this same passage can check out this post for brief looks at some of the major interpretations of the passage from an Egalitarian viewpoint.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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Book Review: “Reformation Commentary on Scripture: New Testament XIII- Hebrews, James” edited by Ronald K. Rittgers

The Reformation Commentary on Scripture series focuses on sharing insights from Reformation theologians on the Bible. Here, we’ll take a look at the Hebrews, James volume of this extensive series.

I was particularly excited to read and review this volume of the series, because Hebrews and James were especially controversial in the Reformation period. The editor of this volume, Ronald K. Rittgers, does an excellent job of both showing that controversy over these books while also bringing forward some unified themes of the Reformers in regards to them. As a Lutheran, I found the various quotes and notes from Luther and other early Lutherans (particularly Veit Dietrich) to be of great interest. Luther infamously called James an epistle of straw, and here we have his quote in its context. It seems clear that the notions of inerrancy of modern evangelicalism cannot easily be read back onto many of these Reformers. When you have one explicitly stating that James is “worthy of censure in some places” (Veit Dietrich), it is hard to say that the Reformers unanimously would have affirmed modern notions of biblical inerrancy. Reading what these reformers actually said about specific Christian doctrines may serve as a corrective to some clearly false statements.

Of course, reading these Reformers also means we get insight into the controversies of their time, and we see, for example, John Calvin hitting back at those “who do not think [James is] entitled to authority” because he sees “no just cause for rejecting it” (quoted p. 202). Other major controversies dealt with Christology, human and divine responsibility for evil, and works righteousness. These issues are presented with multiple Reformation perspectives given, making the volume an essential resource for those wishing to look more deeply into some major modern controversies as well. Other areas are less controversial, such as the teaching of the eternally begotten Son–an orthodox position unfortunately rejected by some today.

Both the general introduction and the Editor’s introduction to this volume were informative and well worth reading on their own. They each provided much-needed background for understanding some of the controversies, as well as the names, involved in the text.

Volume XIII of the New Testament series of Reformation Commentary on Scripture is a simply excellent resources for those interested in reading and understanding Scripture. Reformation thinkers share much wisdom and insight. The conflicts that happened then, in some ways, still impact us today. By reading these voices from the past we can begin to understand our present more fully. I highly recommend this volume.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Ethical Self: Christology, Ethics, and Formation” by Clark J. Elliston

Clark J. Elliston’s Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Ethical Self is a fascinating look at Dietrich Bonhoeffer in conversation regarding the concept of oneself in relation to the other, as well as one’s commitments to oneself. It is also an exposure to some writings and engagement with them that I suspect most readers of Bonhoeffer have yet to engage. As complex as Bonhoeffer’s philosophical writings were, Elliston manages to connect them to the reader in ways that make sense and holistically bring together Bonhoeffer’s thoughts on the self.

Before diving into this deep work, it is worth asking the question of why it is important. Most simply put, it is nearly impossible to accurately interpret Dietrich Bonhoeffer without coming to some understanding of his concept of the self and how one relates to the “other.” To do so, however, requires engagement with the deepest and most difficult of Bonhoeffer’s writings. Elliston’s book is just such an endeavor.

Clark J. Elliston engages the topic of the “ethical self” in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s body of work through the lens of Emmanuel Levinas and Simone Weil. Who? Yeah, that’s what I thought, too. But Elliston introduces these thinkers and summarizes their thoughts to the extent that it not only makes sense for them to be the dialogue partners with Bonhoeffer but that I as a reader enjoyed the engagement. With Levinas and Weil, Elliston is able to approach Bonhoeffer’s thought from a two-pronged approach.

Levinas’s approach to the self is largely focused on the self in relation to the other. Elliston notes that this may present a “challenge for both theology and philosophy” by noting the interplay between self-other and the way responsibility forms. Bonhoeffer, however, Elliston argues, is able to meet the challenge and provide a holistic self in ethical relations to the other, allowing for theology to remain coherent as well. While Levinas believes that theology neutralizes the “other,” Bonhoeffer provides a corrective that preserves “otherness” without reducing it to the self.

Weil’s perspective is interesting becuase it is so other-oriented. The self exists “for” the other (Kindle location 2568). Weil’s thought included the concept of “decreation” which sees people as obstacles to God’s becoming. Creation is a kind of “renunciation” for God to provide other “selves” outside of himself. Decreation, though, is the act of total orientation of the self towards God. Attention is another central theme for Weil, and the attention towards the other is a way to engage with decreation and God. While Levinas and Bonhoeffer would surely be at odds regarding theology, he and Weil would be much closer. Many points of intersection exist between the two on the self. They share the notion that the self must limit its ego in order to better engage with the other.

I was particularly surprised when I saw that Elliston had utilized Adolf Eichmann as an example in the last chapter. Yes, that Eichmann. But it made sense in that Eichmann was a contemporary of Bonhoeffer’s and Elliston makes it quite clear that Eichmann is not being used positively. Instead, Eichmann is, Elliston argues, a good example of irresponsibility regarding the personal self. Eichmann demonstrated a defective view of the self and this undercut greatly his capacity to engage in proper ethics.

From all of this, it should be clear Elliston’s work is deeply philosophical. Much like reading Bonhoeffer’s Act and Being, reading Elliston here is a deep engagement on tough issues which demand much reflection.

On a side note, it would be remiss to not mention how excellent Elliston’s notes are throughout the book. Often paragraph-length themselves, these notes direct the reader to many different and intriguing topics, as well as providing insight into the details of Elliston’s theses.

Elliston’s Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Ethical Self is a deep, thoughtful, and sometimes surprising book. It takes a careful reading to fully engage with the topics here, and it warrants re-reading several sections. I recommend the book for those who are looking to go more deeply into their study of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “Scars Across Humanity: Understanding and Overcoming Violence Against Women” by Elaine Storkey

Warning: Some statistics related to domestic violence and sexual violence are discussed in this post.

[T]he… acts of violence to women aged between 15 and 44 across the globe produce more death, disability and mutilation than cancer, malaria, and traffic accidents combined (2).

Every three seconds a girl under the age of 18 is married somewhere across the world-usually without her consent and sometimes to a much older man (49).

Nearly 200 million women and girls worldwide are living with the traumatic consequences of female genital mutilation (30).

It is an alarming picture of mass termination: prenatal offspring, aborted for no other reason than they happen to be female (19).

 

There are some nonfiction books that have made me sit back upon finishing reading them, wondering about the world we live in, because the book has given me new eyes to see. Scars Across Humanity has become one of those books. Though I was aware of, broadly, some of the statistics of violence against women, I had no idea how completely pervasive it is at all stages of life. Nor did I fully comprehend or appreciate how totally violence against women has penetrated every level of nearly every society on Earth. Though the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements have highlighted some of these issues, Storkey gets to the meat of the issue, giving enormous amounts of statistics and serious analysis of the totality of this horrific situation.

The bulk of Scars Across Humanity focuses on statistics and specifics. First, Storkey shows that violence against women is a “global pandemic.” There is no part of the world that is untouched by this blight upon humanity. Then, several chapters go over specific instances of violence against women. Abortion is the first level of violence against women. Sex-selective abortions are almost entirely chosen to kill unborn girls. This, in turn, fuels human trafficking as women are moved into those parts of the world where a serious imbalance of adult men and women exists, largely due to sex-selective abortions. Female genital mutilation is opposed by leaders of all major faiths, yet it continues across the world and cases of it in places like England and the United States are on the rise. Early and forced marriage is another global problem. Indeed, in the United States, very few restrictions exist on girls being married off to men–indeed, 20 states have no minimum age of marriage.

The misnomer of “honor” killings continue in some parts of the world and, where it is outlawed, enforcement is incredibly lax. Women are murdered or disfigured for the sake of male notions of “honor.” Domestic violence exists in the home and a stigma surrounds it such that it is underreported. Women are at the highest risk when they attempt to leave an abuser, and as many, many instances have shown, they are often not believed when accusations of abuse are made. To help stop the wave of violence in the home, we must work to end stigmas surrounding those who have been harmed by domestic partners, work with law enforcement agencies, and change laws as needed to provide for the greatest possible protection of those towards whom violence is directed. Human trafficking and prostitution are closely tied together and even in those areas where prostitution is made into “just another job,” evidence suggests that massive increases in trafficking occur. Rape is a worldwide epidemic and Storkey shows clear instances of how “rape culture” is a real thing that women must deal with when they report this sexual violence. A huge part of ending rape is to educate men and punish them where they perpetrate these vicious acts. War almost inevitably leads to sexual violence, as can be seen in the historical record as well as into today. Rape is sometimes even used as a weapon of genocide in cultural warfare. Women, time and again, are seen as pawns in conflicts and power dynamics of men.

By the end of Storkey’s analysis, I was left wondering whether there was any room for hope. Storkey does offer a few points, sometimes highlighting how laws have changed to help fight violence against women (though often noting alongside this the serious lack of enforcement of those same laws). However, it is in the last few chapters that Storkey offers her broader vision of overcoming violence against women. Largely, this includes working both internationally and locally (with specific guidelines and stories of how this has worked) to create and enforce laws and to spread and teach the Christian theology of the equality of all humanity.

From before women are born to their all-too-often violent deaths, women across the planet are attacked in often brutal ways. Scars Across Humanity shines a light upon this darkness and issues a serious, empowering call to end this horror of violence against women. If we are truly serious about men and women being made in the image of God, we must fight this gender-based violence on a global level. Storkey’s book is highly recommended.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “The Doubled Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Women, Sexuality, and Nazi Germany” by Diane Reynolds

…Bonhoeffer reflects a prewar–what we might call a pre-postmodern–consciousness, a consciousness that no longer fully exists. We view him anachronistically, through our different set of lenses, and thus he shatters or refracts, like an abstract painting, into a dozen disparate images because he doesn’t fit conventional postwar paradigms. He remains, in some sense, untranslatable. (3)

Diane Reynolds’ The Doubled Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer offers a unique take on the life of that great German WW2 theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Her biography focuses largely on two topics: the women in Bonhoeffer’s life and questions of sexuality in both his theology and life. The book is a biography, then, that fills in a number of holes that are left by other biographies. It doesn’t provide an exhaustive look at where Bonhoeffer was at any given time in his life like Bethge’s biography, nor does it provide a broad overview while filling in theological details like the excellent work by Ferdinand Schlingensiepen. Its focus is even narrower than the interesting Strange Glory by Charles Marsh. Yet it is that narrowness of focus that allows Reynolds’ biography to stand out from among these other excellent works and show he areas that they missed.

Reynolds’ controversial theories about Bonhoeffer’s sexuality (see below) would likely be the biggest takeaway many have from the book, which is unfortunate because it is quite excellent in several other regards as well, no matter what one thinks of her arguments over his sexuality. Specifically, her emphasis on bringing women’s voices in Bonhoeffer’s life to the forefront offsets a rather lengthy time in which women have largely been ignored or set to the side when considering his theology and life. Reynolds aptly demonstrates women were absolutely central to his way of thinking and clearly shaped his thought and direction of his theology in a number of ways. Indeed, his inner circle towards the time of his death was made up of women (Sabine, his twin sister; Ruth von Kleist-Retzlow; and his fiancée, Maria von Wedemeyer) and Bethge. Though Bonhoeffer was raised with somewhat traditional German values, he rebelled against the Nazi insistence on ideals of women and men in utterly separate spheres of thought and took advice from several women regarding his theology. It would be impossible to paint Bonhoeffer as entirely egalitarian, but not outside of reality to see the way that he lived in an effectively egalitarian understanding while remaining in his traditions.

The most controversial aspect of Reynolds’ biography is that she takes Marsh’s hints about Bonhoeffer’s sexuality and states “I will openly argue… that Bonhoeffer went beyond emotional friendship with Bethge and was in love with him–and that Bonhoeffer’s fiancee knew it” (7). Indeed, Reynolds even goes so far as to argue that there are “seeds of a nascent queer theology in Bonhoeffer’s writing” (7). Regarding Bonhoeffer’s being in love with Bethge, it is true that Bethge himself left open the question of Bonhoeffer’s sexuality. Reynolds’ evidence for her strong claim starts with that, but continues by noting the specific language Bonhoeffer used of and to Bethge, which parallels some of that used by homosexuals in Germany at the time. Moreover, a mutual acquaintance of Bethge and Bonhoeffer (Gerhard Vibrans) used words for their special relationship that were “codes used for gay relationships in Weimar Germany” (141). Maria von Wedemeyer, Dietrich’s fiancée, seemed to question his feelings for her at multiple points in their letters back and forth, forcing the latter to reassure her that his feelings were genuine on multiple occasions. A final piece of evidence Reynolds notes is absences or excisions from letters to and from Bonhoeffer that seem to cluster around questions of sexuality. As she puts it, “We also have unexplained ellipses in at least one [of] the letters to Eberhard [Bethge], a censoring of texts deemed too ‘intimate’ to share” (429). Bonhoeffer’s engagement to von Wedemeyer is explained, in Reynolds view, by both an attempt to thwart Nazi suspicion (Bonhoeffer would have been seen as more “normal” if he were married) and as a kind of cover for Bonhoeffer’s sexuality.

If all of this seems a bit circumstantial, that would be because at least some of it is. Certainly, when taken altogether,  the evidence rings of the possibility of Bonhoeffer having an attraction that goes beyond friendship for Bethge. The intimacy of his letters and exhortations to his friend to spend more time with him, the latter’s apparent moves to thwart the same intimacy, the excision of letters, the language used by mutual acquaintances, and the tepid relationship between Bonhoeffer and his fiancée may all be taken as evidence for Reynolds’ thesis. But her claim is quite strong, not just that there may have been something going on, but that their relationship went beyond friendship and that Bonhoeffer was explicitly in love with Bethge, with von Wedemeyer’s knowledge (7). Alternative explanations could be given for each of these lines of evidence Reynolds’ presents. Bonhoeffer’s apparently cold feelings towards von Wedemeyer could be explained simply by his seeing their relationship as a way to thwart the Nazi investigation; excisions in the letters could simply be quite personal rather than anything related to sexuality; a friend’s knowing taunts could be reduced to jealous teasing at being excluded from the same fraternal intimacy; and the like. The question, of course, is whether such explanations are better than those offered by Reynolds. As it stands, readers must judge for themselves. I do not think Reynolds’ strong thesis can be carried by the weight of her evidence. Insinuations are there, but nothing strong enough to conclude as she does with such certainty.

Regarding Reynolds’ claims for a “nascent queer theology,” I do not find the evidence convincing. Essentially, she turns his writings on friendship into thoughts on how homosexual relationships could be viewed with the same legitimacy as those of male-female ones. For example, she writes, “Both Bonhoeffer and Bethge acknowledged struggles due to the lack of formal recognition of their close companionship… Both men felt the frustration of the military’s indifference to their friendship. These sorts of assertions against invisibility have become the mainstay of the gay marriage movement… insisting on the beauty, necessity, and value of same-sex friendship existing as a cornflower between the rigid rows of more formal social organization offered a beginning vision” 419-420. But there seems to me a vast difference between two friends frustrated over not being able to communicate as they wished to and insisting that that is the formation of a theology of same-sex relationships that affirms marriage. We must be careful not to subsume same-sex friendship into same-sex attraction, and close friendships ought not to lead necessarily to speculations about sexuality. It seems to me that Reynolds’ thesis is once again stronger than the evidence supports.

None of these comments should be taken to suggest Reynolds is not careful in her survey of the evidence. Indeed, she provides correctives to some aspects of Bonhoeffer’s life as well, including on some things that could be seen to support her thesis had she let them stand. For example, she offers a brief comment in which she criticizes Charles Marsh for his “effete” Bonhoeffer, arguing that his style of dress was “from pride in his appearance rather than a ‘flamboyant abbot’ quality” (17). By contrast, Reynolds notes that Bonhoeffer would have been considered “masculine” in his own time. Reynolds here demonstrates that she is not grasping at straws to try to push a pet theory. Rather, her analysis of Bonhoeffer’s life is balanced and challenging.

Another aspect of this biography worth noting is its own. Reynolds’ writing style captures the reader and draws one into the narrative of Bonhoeffer’s life in a way that few biographies are able to grasp. The biography, again, necessarily misses large portions of Bonhoeffer’s life because of its different focus. But in having its focus upon aspects of his life that have been overlooked, Reynolds manages to make a compelling narrative that challenges readers to interact with it, possibly re-evaluating assumptions about Bonhoeffer’s life and theology in the process.

The Doubled Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer is a fascinating work. It explores aspects of Bonhoeffer’s life that have largely received little treatment in the works on his life. Though I believe some of Reynolds’ theses are stronger than she was able to support with the evidence, it certainly got me thinking about the life of Bonhoeffer more deeply than I had before. Her demonstration of the impact of women on his life is a refreshing breath of air, showing the influence women had on his life and theology. Those interested in a deep exploration of Bonhoeffer’s life would do well to read this book, whether they agree or disagree with Reynolds’ ultimate conclusions. I recommend it.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

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SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “Come, Let Us Eat Together: Sacraments and Christian Unity” edited by George Kalantzis and Marc Cortez

Come, Let Us Eat Together: Sacraments and Christian Unity provides something not often seen in the polemics of our day: a call for Christian unity even over those things which are of most import. Here, the issue of the sacraments is evaluated regarding what they may have to do with Christian unity. A number of from scholars in various denominations (from what I can tell, included are Roman Catholic, Baptist, Reformed, Methodist, Eastern Orthodox, and Lutheran writers, though there may have been more represented) present essays reflecting on ecumenism and the sacraments.

Topics in these various essays go across a wide range. Whether it is ecumenism presented through the arts or the notion of closed communion in some Baptist churches (something I didn’t realize existed anywhere in the Baptist tradition), any reader will find something of interest to them related to the Sacraments.

I found a few essays of particular interest. First, “A Way Forward: A Catholic-Anabaptist Ecclesiology” by D. Stephen Long caught my eye simply for the title. Few theological systems could be more at odds than that of the Roman Catholic and that of the Anabaptist. In the essay, we find a few broad steps that can be taken to see some areas of agreement between these divergent strands of theology. Second, “Visual Ecumenism: The Coy Communion of Art” by Matthew J. Milliner invites readers to see the Lutheran view of Law-Gospel distinction in other denominational perspectives as well. Multiple essays that focused more exclusively on ecumenism as a possibility were quite interesting. I already mentioned in passing Marc Cortez’s “Who Invited the Baptist?” for its introducing me to the idea that some Baptists practice closed communion. I’m still trying to figure out exactly why a Baptist would do so, but had I not read this book I’m not sure when I would have been exposed to this differing and unexpected practice in the Baptist community.

As a Lutheran in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, a body that practices open communion while also affirming baptismal regeneration and Christ’s “real presence” in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper, I found a number of points of agreement and disagreement here. That is, of course, exactly what this collection of essays (originally lectures) is all about: finding those points of division and seeking to heal–or at least address–them. It’s a fascinating work.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

 

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