A critical review by Christian McShaffrey
Aimee Byrd seems to have a lot of questions on her mind about anthropology, hermeneutics, ecclesiology, apologetics, and ethics.
You can listen to her raise some of these questions in a recently released advertisement for a video curriculum she produced through Zondervan Academic: “Recovering from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood Video Study How the Church Needs to Rediscover Her Purpose”.
The purpose of this article is to remind the church that not all questions are edifying (1 Timothy 1:4, 6:4; 2 Timothy 2:23; Titus 3:9) by showing that most of Aimee’s questions can be easily and unambiguously answered from scripture and do not, therefore, need to be reconsidered or “rediscovered” by the church.
“What is it that’s actually distinct about being created as a man or distinct about being created as a woman?”
Men and women were made to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. The scriptures show us how to fulfill this chief end by teaching what should be believed about God and what duty God requires from man. The first three Q&As of the Westminster Shorter Catechism explain this and Aimee, as an Orthodox Presbyterian, is undoubtedly aware of our general anthropologic purpose.
Her question about what is actually distinct about man and woman is also answered explicitly in 1 Corinthians 11:7-9, “he [i.e., man] is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. For the man is not of the woman: but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.”
Woman was made for man as his help meet (Genesis 2:18), to be his glory (1 Cor. 11:7), and to honor him through a careful observance of proper hierarchical order in the church (1 Cor. 11:3, 5-7).
A woman’s modest apparel and attentive silence in church assemblies are ways she can fulfill this distinct created purpose. 1 Timothy 2:11-14, “Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.”
Note that the aforementioned instructions are rooted in prelapsarian creation ordinance; so, any effort to undermine them with “historical cultural considerations” must be immediately dismissed.
Woman was made for man, as his glory, and to bring him honor. She will find true purpose and personal fulfillment in nothing else.
Aimee is well aware of the verses previously cited as well as the prima facie interpretation and applications of them. In fact, she hints with a sassy eye-roll that some of these traditional interpretations are, in fact, “dangerous”. Having alerted us to such danger, she then raises a question that might alleviate it:
“How do specific verses [about manhood and womanhood] fit in to the rest of scripture?”
This is a question of hermeneutics (i.e., the science of Bible interpretation). Traditionally, interpreters of scripture would speak of the importance of a verse’s immediate context, but Aimee would have us consider something broader: “The whole biblical metanarrative around our ideas of manhood and womanhood”.
By “metanarrative” she is probably referring to the over-all story line of scripture from Genesis to Revelation and, traditionally speaking, this “metanarrative” has been summarized in reformed circles as Creation, Redemption, Consummation.
When seeking to interpret verses, we agree that a careful consideration of both the immediate and broader context are important because it sheds light upon particular verses. How much light a “metanarrative” can shed depends on which metanarrative is adopted by the interpreter and applied to the text.
Here is an (hopefully) unrelated example: Liberation Theology posits that the metanarrative of scripture consists in an over-arching story of the oppression of underclasses by powerful men and eventual liberation through a reversal of existing power structures. Those who adopt this metanarrative interpret the verses cited in our first section as clear examples of patriarchal structures of oppression in the first century.
Aimee does not tell us what metanarrative she will be endorsing in her curriculum, but I am mildly curious. Perhaps someone who purchases it, can let me know.
Aimee’s purpose in raising these initial questions about anthropology and hermeneutics is not at all theoretical; as is made obvious in this question concerning non-ordained members of the church:
“What teaching roles do we have in the church?”
Aimee assumes that this is an important question for 98% of church members, but I honestly do not see why it should be. James 3:1 clearly states that “not many” in the church should even seek to become teachers in light of the “greater condemnation” that will come upon those who teach false doctrine.
Perhaps Aimee is here confusing the universal responsibility of Christians to be witnesses with the narrower responsibilities committed to those who are gifted and called to teach. I personally doubt it, but I will grant the possibility.
Coming back to her question about general anthropology, Aimee also wonders whether the fulfillment of these supposed non-ordained teaching roles is “different for laymen than it is for lay women?”
This cannot be an honest question because the scriptures are very clear about the limited scope of a lay woman’s “teaching role” in the church:
“That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children,to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.” (Titus 2:4-5)
Conspicuously absent from that inspired list of legitimate teaching topics are the ones Aimee is purposing to teach through her video curriculum: Anthropology, Hermeneutics, and Ecclesiology, etc.
Aimee gives the impression that the women of the church have so mastered the art of domestic economics that they are now bored and ready to learn something else. She asks with such seeming innocence:
“What does a disciple do?”
This question is extremely easy to answer: A disciple is supposed to learn (not teach). This answer is actually built into the word itself.
Disciples learn, teachers teach, and again, there are not many who are supposed to be in the latter category (James 3:1). Further, the latter category only allows for older women to be teaching the younger women on specifically domestic issues (Titus 2:4-5).
Lest anyone be tempted to dismiss discipleship in domestic duties as a minor concern, do mark well how the Apostle elevates the practice of domestic piety to such a level as it prevents the word of God from being blasphemed. This leads us to her next question.
Besides raising doubtful questions in the minds of Christians, Aimee also expresses a desire to answer the questions of unbelievers. This theological discipline is called apologetics and Aimee cites a specific example:
“Is there a female voice in scripture or is it just a male-centered document; put together by the most powerful men?”
“How do we answer those radical feminists who accuse scripture of being a patriarchal document?
Scripture is an inescapably patriarchal document. God is revealed as a King and Father. Members of secular society are divided into three distinct classes: Superiors, equals, and inferiors (c.f., Westminster Larger Catechism, Q&A 122-133). Families are hierarchically ordered: Husband, wife, children. The redeemed are described as priests and kings. The Bible’s patriarchal nature cannot be denied.
When a radical feminist sees this and starts to scream, it should be of little concern to Christians. Furthermore, when they “accuse” scripture of being a patriarchal document, we should not insult their intelligence by suggesting that it is not.
We should also not satisfy their post-modern epistemology by pointing to some “metanarrative” that obscures the prima facie reading of scripture. “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him.” (Proverbs 26:4)
Toward the end of the promotional video, Aimee moves from apologetics to the realm of Christian piety and ethics, asking:
“How do we view each another as men and women in the church?”
She claims to use the same framework that Paul uses, “Brothers and sisters”, but this seems to be an overstatement. Paul does not use the phrase “brothers and sisters” once in his writings. His “framework” appears to be far more patriarchal; as he uses the word “brethren” at least one-hundred times, the word “sister” only six times, and “sisters” but once.
This overstatement might be excused due to modern Bible translations that add “sisters” after every occurrence of “brothers”, but the most popular modern translation in Aimee’s denomination is the English Standard Version which allows inspired references to “brothers” to stand. It only includes this explanatory footnote:
“Or brothers and sisters. In New Testament usage, depending on the context, the plural Greek word adelphoi (translated “brothers”) may refer either to brothers or to brothers and sisters.”
I wonder what the footnote will read in future editions of the ESV after Aimee’s metanarrative has been adopted by the church. Theory always affects practice. That is something Aimee acknowledges by moving to the next question:
“What can a brother do and what can a sister do?”
Aimee’s mistake here is this: How we view each other has absolutely no impact on what men and women may do in the church. Yes, we can see each other as brother and sister without violating the clear NT restrictions on who may and may not assume a public teaching role. Insofar as Aimee has assumed such a role, she is out-of-order in God’s ecclesiological economy.
There will be some who take offense at this review of Aimee’s promotional video. They will probably ask, “Why did you not follow the Matthew 18 process and contact her directly?” My defense is as follows:
First of all, she did not sin against me. This is not a private inter-personal offense (which seems to be the scope of our Saviour’s teaching in Matthew 18). Her video is public, so it is perfectly appropriate to subject it to public evaluation.
Secondly, and returning to the main theme of this critical review, I believe that it is extremely important to acknowledge and operate within the hierarchal structures of authority that God has been pleased to appoint in his world.
I did call her Pastor a couple years ago to ask about her “necessary ally” doctrine. I also contacted the editor of our denominational magazine after a glowing review of one of her books was published to alert him to potential problems in her writings.
By God’s sovereign and scriptural appointment, Aimee is under the authority of her husband, her Pastor, and her elders. I will, therefore, honor that hierarchical structure by allowing those men to shepherd her soul.
While I do not believe that a seven-minute video has the power to bring down an entire denomination, I have studied enough ecclesiastical history to know this: When women seek to begin a “discussion” in the church, bad things tend to happen. Consider Aimee’s conclusion:
“My biggest hope for anyone watching this video series… is for church officers to be leading discussions about these questions brought up in the videos and about what I teach on communicating God’s word and sharing communion in God’s word.”
Some readers are probably old enough to remember the “discussions” that began in the Christian Reformed Church in 1970. These discussions led to study committees “to help the churches make all possible use of women’s gifts” and moved the CRC slowly-but-steadily toward women’s ordination and even a version of gender-based affirmative action in 2015.
It would be well worth your time to read the full chronology that is posted on the CRC’s website. You might also want to take mental note of some of the key words and phrases that were used during the CRC’s 45-year-long “discussion”; as they are the same words and phrases being used today in the PCA and, it would seem, soon enough in the OPC.
Aimee is probably not seeking to be ordained as the OPC’s first woman minister, but that is where these “discussions” tend to lead and my prediction is that the OPC will probably follow the well-worn path of progressivism to final perdition. That is, unless the teachers of the church are men enough to say, “No thank you” to Aimee’s invitation to come into their churches and begin this discussion.
I sincerely hope that I am wrong about this prediction, but history suggests otherwise. There are several historical charts available which demonstrate the Presbyterian propensity (necessity?) to divide every 50 years or so.