The Blindness of “Masculine” Biblical Interpretation and the Cure of a “Feminine” Orientation

My theological journey is not very flattering in that I am not a quick study.  I have come to insights such as nonviolence through a long process which, from my present perspective, look obvious and essential.  I have to wonder why it took so long. If I were naturally a sweet-natured, kind, gentle, soul, learning of the biblical mandate for peace would, perhaps, not have been such a theoretical hurdle and a prolonged personal struggle.  The same is true of my understanding of the role of women.  If I were naturally chivalrous and loving, I suppose I would have paid more attention to a reading of Scripture that promotes these qualities.

What we cannot see about ourselves but which is so obvious when we see it in others, is that we focus on and develop that toward which we are naturally inclined and we remain ignorant of that which would prove challenging to our identity.  When I teach on nonviolence the range of reactions is incomprehension, anger, or surprise and acceptance.  The first category is the most disturbing to witness, as it is as if the hearing is impaired.  Well into a semester concentrating on the Gospel of Peace it has happened that students suddenly look shocked: “Are you advocating passivism,” they ask, after months of having done so. The worst case of misogyny I have witnessed, an academic administrator whom I had to ask to never again be alone with my wife, had never heard the word “misogyny.”  His academic achievements had not led to an encounter with the most fitting descriptor of himself.  Our willful ignorance protects us from what is most decidedly bent in our own identity.

The same principle and hermeneutic is at work in both violence and misogyny: take a few key passages and isolate them from the most basic and compelling part of the Christian faith, and Christianity becomes the means of supporting our natural inclination toward evil.  Jesus makes a straw whip (it was either straw or rope to have been in the Temple) to move the animals out of the Temple.  Since the time of Augustine this serves as the basis of just war theory and various forms of violence –  from the crusaders (the Knights Templar) to Calvin (who uses it to defend burning Michael Servetus at the stake along with the execution of some 57 others). Jesus action in the Temple has become the justification for firing machine guns, missiles and nuclear weapons.  As Roland Bainton has argued, “Here was undeniably an instance of fiery indignation against the profanation of the sacred, but the whip of cords, if genuine, was no hand grenade and the success of Jesus in routing the hucksters was scarcely due to physical prowess.” From this text, we could, perhaps, justify civil disobedience, property tampering, and even acts to restrain evil, but not killing, and certainly not warfare.  More pertinently, in the distraction to justify violence, the point that Jesus is making in regard to himself as the true Temple is often lost.

In the same book in which Paul gives instruction on how women are to adorn themselves when they speak or prophecy he commands silence; the conclusion is women are to always be silent in Church.  Though Paul commends a woman apostle, women evangelists, deaconesses etc. he also recommends male elders; the conclusion is women are excluded from Church leadership.  In the most perverse of examples, where Christ is portrayed as “head” who sustains and serves all, it has been presumed that a husband as head is the one who dominates and is the authority figure.   In turn, the biblical notion of “headship,” Christ as the sustainer and source of life, is lost.  As Gilbert Bilezikian has argued, the function of Christ’s headship and the model he provides to be imitated is not one of authority but of servant provider.  “Headship is not an authority role but a developmental servant function.”  He concludes that, “head, biblically defined, means exactly the opposite of what it means in the English language.”  The Head is not the boss or leader but provider of life, growth and development. “This function is not one of top-down oversight but of bottom-up support and nurture.”[1]  Headship is simply not Lordship, though both might be applied to Christ, but only a radically subordinated headship devoid of secular or modern notions of authority is assigned to the role of husband.

Inasmuch as the role of Christ as head is misconstrued, agape love – the point of the Gospel is misunderstood. The tragedy of what is overtly advocated – the mistreatment and abuse of women as second-class citizens – is compounded by the tragedy of missing out on the essence of the Gospel.  The teaching that is refused – the agape culture of mutual subordination (equated with the body of Christ) –  without gendered, racist hierarchy or power – is the Christian message.  Unfortunately, violence and chauvinism are rescued through Scripture at the price of a Christianity which would expose our worst tendencies in the most intimate of relationships.  The Gospel’s revolutionary subordination, especially pertinent in marriage, is traded out for blindness.

Willful blindness, as it is presented in Scripture, is so well recognized and so connected to misogyny that Lacanian psychoanalysis has dubbed it the “masculine orientation.” The masculine orientation is described by Paul, according to Slavoj Žižek, as alienation from the body and the splitting of the self.  The coordinated self-relationship is displaced by the antagonistic relation between the law of the mind and the flesh and this directly impacts the marriage relationship. In Paul’s illustration (Ro. 7:1-6), the law dictates and determines every aspect of this relationship in the masculine orientation.[2]  Both partners might align themselves within a masculine orientation through a transgressive (aggressive) or submissive (passive) relationship to the law, as Paul works it out in Ro. 7 (which might describe the typical unhealthy marriage relationship).  What both are blinded to is the oppressive axis of the law (authority, the father, the punishing superego) which coordinates the relationship. The masculine position is constituted as a disempowerment (it is the loss of power and the striving to attain power in relation to the law through the marriage relationship).  Domineering authoritarianism and passive self-effacement both describe servitude to the law, which Paul equates with sin.

In contrast, the feminine orientation (Lacan’s and Žižek’s second option), the goal of the bride of Christ, suspends the force of the law by being found in the body of Christ: “you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another” (7:4, NASB). This enables a true recognition and joining to another in a fruitful relationship (“in order that we might bear fruit for God” vs. 4). The attempt to “gain control” as an orientation to the law – the typical authoritarian role – is suspended.  The marriage relationship is most revealing in this regard.

Christ, as husband, represents a suspension of the force of the law. As A. T. Robertson describes Paul’s illustration, Christ as husband stands for a void created by and in the law.[3] Christ suspends the law as he is author and source of a law which he encompasses and controls.  Being found in Christ as bride brings an end to the agonistic struggle Paul describes in Ro. 7.

Where in Lacanian theory, “there is no sexual relationship,” as it is impossible to overcome self-alienation and alienation with another, Paul uses the marriage relationship to illustrate the relationship to Christ. “’Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:31-32, ESV).  Here there is no room (the space of alienation) for the sin of authoritarian rule. Blindness due to the law and the deception of sin (Ro. 7:11) is overcome in knowing Christ.  Where Adam’s knowing of Eve (the Hebraic metaphor of sex as knowledge) and knowing good and evil speak of two realms of knowledge that have come into conflict (which stands behind Paul’s illustration), knowing Christ speaks of a restoration and fulfillment of the original knowledge.

When Adam fell from knowing God and knowing woman as bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh, he came to be ruler over the woman (Gen. 3:16).  This discord is the first sign of the fall and its cure is the chief sign of redemption.



[2] The woman in the illustration represents the masculine orientation – indicating this has nothing to do with physical organs.

[3] A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Oak Harbo: Logos Research Systems, 1997) on Romans 7.2.

Discover more from Forging Ploughshares

Subscribe to get the latest posts sent to your email.

Author: Paul Axton

Paul V. Axton spent 30 years in higher education teaching theology, philosophy, and Bible. Paul’s Ph.D. work and book bring together biblical and psychoanalytic understandings of peace and the blog, podcast, and PBI are shaped by this emphasis.

Leave a Reply