Please permit me a few remarks concerning Cornelis P. Venema’s critique of Clarence Boomsma’s Male and Female, One in Christ. I want to make one point about each of his three “pillars.”
1. Venema speaks scornfully of Boomsma’s “theology of equality” based on Galatians 3:28 which says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Indeed Boomsma uses the word “equality” frequently. But “theology of equality” is Venema’s name-calling. Venema’s reproachful use of the term sounds like a bad ideology sold by secular humanists.
Venema says the text speaks only of our relationship to God through Jesus Christ. It means that the ground at the cross is level. Differences of race, social status and gender are totally irrelevant. All of us come to God through Jesus. Nobody has another credit card. Amen to that.
But Venema is probably the only one who has ever denied. that this saying has social implications. (Boomsma quotes William Hendriksen and Herman Ridderbos against him). If all of us are “sons of God” (verse 26: and I suppose that includes the daughters in biblical speech)—if we have one Father, we are all family, Arab and Jew, banker and beggar, male and female. And a family, one would say, makes for a close-knit social relationship.
However, Venema wants to keep room so that at some point he can say (in Christ and in the Church!), “Wait a minute; we may be one in Christ but now your place is in the court of the women, while I move on to the privileges of a ‘male in Christ.” After all, we are one but we are not equal.
At one time Simon Peter had a similar idea. He was not acting in line with the truth of the gospeL Mind you, he accepted Cornelius and all other Gentiles as “one in Christ,” vertically speaking. But that did not mean that he had to eat with them! Jews had avoided social intercourse with Gentiles for two thousand years (Gal. 2:11–16).
Some people try to get too much out of Galatians 3:28. Venema does no justice to its scope.
2. Venema cannot believe that Galatians 3:28 implies equality. If that were so, he writes, “this text would squarely contradict the teaching of any biblical text which bases its directives on differences of gender or of social position!” I think he was already thinking of 1 Timothy 2:11–15. For just as those who favor women-in-office tend to take their starting point in the Galatians passage (“in Christ no male or female,” so the opponents prefer to start with 1 Timothy 2 and from there talk about “creation ordinances.” Thus, all of us are in danger of failing to hear all of the music.
It is more likely that Venema was thinking of “Adam was not the one deceived, it was the woman who was deceived” than of the other text in 1 Timothy, the one that “bases its directives on differences of…social position” : “All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect.” And the inviolable grounds for this directive are: the honor of God’s name and the veracity of the apostolic teaching (1 Tim. 6:1). It does not matter, says Paul; if your master is a member of the church and both of you are “in Christ.” You are a slave and you have to be a good slave (6:2).
But Venema finds no difficulty in disagreeing with this apostolic directive. He probably believes, as I do, that owning another person is a sin. And he probably agrees with Boomsma that the apostle catered to the cultural pattern in the interest of the progress of the gospel. Yet he takes the “parallel of slavery” far too lightly. In his review of Boomsma’s book he fairly jumps over this “pillar.”
It is a hermeneutical parallel. You must imagine for a moment that we live in a society in which slavery is a universally accepted institution. Now we have heard of abolitionists. They say the masters must repent and the slaves must be freed. What biblical directive are you going to quote and which one are you going to ignore? That is a very important, gut-wrenching question. Read Charles Hodge. He said that God legislated slavery and Jesus did not abolish it. And neither should we. This great man was wrong.
Venema has a few trite sayings to deny the parallel of slavery. He does not have to take it seriously because history decided. We are past that hurdle.
3. I am not sure how to understand Paul in 1 Timothy 2 and I don’t think Boomsma did badly at all. Boomsma did not say, “I know it better than Pau!,” as Venema claimed. But with the help of Calvin (pages 77–79), he reasons that Paul used arguments that had force for Timothy’s congregation in Ephesus, though these rabbinical lines don’t work for us. And he concludes (what Venema has concluded concerning 1 Timothy 6:1,2) that these directives have no lasting and universal application.
Venema may disagree with Boomsma. Maybe Venema understands all of the reasoning in I Timothy chapter 2, even how “women will be saved through childbearing.” But I think it is unfair that, for the readership of The Outlook, he accuses Boomsma of rejecting the authority of Scripture. That must be very painful for Clarence Boomsma who has been a leader and servant in the world-wide Reformed community for many years.
And it is dishonest to say to the readers: I bow before the authority of Scripture but Clarence Boomsma doesn’t.