Biblical Egalitarianism (Part 04) - Old Covenant Elements

08/03/2009 08:52

Our discussion so far has taken us through the creation accounts where we found, rather than a hierarchical authority, a unity or oneness between husband and wife in both their image-bearing and relationship. We have discussed the entrance of sin into the world and its devastating effects on the relationship ideals set forth in creation (i.e., perfection of humanity’s dominion over the rest of creation, perfection of husband/wife relationship, and perfection of humanity’s relationship with God). The curses resulting from the sin brought specific discord to those areas of idyllic relationship, creating conflict, pain, hardship, and separation (death). And the effects of the curses did not end with Adam and Eve. The purpose of Genesis chapters 4 through 11 was to show the continuation of the curse effects, the infusive and extensive aspects of evil, and the inevitable judgment by God of that evil.

In the last summary we began discussing the patriarchal system, one of three organizational systems of relationship developed in the Old Testament period between the flood and Christ’s first advent. Unlike the creation ideal, the patriarchal system by definition involves male domination of the family and, seemingly by extension, of kingdoms and nations of that time. But rather than simply rely on the OT’s patriarchal system as representative of God’s intent for New Covenant living, a contrast between it and the creation ideal has to be reviewed. This analysis reveals four distinctions in which the patriarchal system falls short of the creation ideal: (1) in the patriarchal system, the woman leaves her home whereas according to Genesis 2:24, the man should leave his; (2) the woman’s dependency on the man is emphasized unlike the creation ideal’s emphasis of the man’s cleaving to the woman; (3) the woman becomes a part of the man’s extended family, subordinating herself not only to her husband but to her husband’s father and grandfather, if they are living, which is unlike the Genesis 2 ideal of both husband and wife leaving parents in emphasis of their separate union; and (4) the ideal as shown in Genesis 2 has no authoritative distinction in the union of husband and wife, whereas the patriarchal system calls for a hierarchical structure subordinating the wife.

But does the patriarchal system’s divergence from the creation ideal show it to be sin? I don’t think so. The patriarchal system established itself (with God’s direction) as a regulating factor because of the backdrop of evil pervasive throughout the world and especially in regard to the curse-induced conflict between the husband and his wife. (This regulatory system was especially needed in a culture lacking organized government without the further revelatory work of God that would eventually continue to bring greater understanding in righteous living.) Although not ideal, patriarchy brought a certain amount of protection to the woman whose gender distinctions put her at risk within a sin-cursed world. But while we may see God’s hand in the establishment of patriarchy for regulatory purposes, we can’t by this logically conclude patriarchy as God’s intent for all time, especially under New Covenant living.

The second major organizational and relational element we find in the OT is the Law. The Law was not established as the ideal for righteous living (even though in it we see a contrast of righteousness and evil). Paul speaks clearly of this in Galatians 3:23-26: “Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” The Law was not the ideal, but rather a regulatory control in place until Christ’s righteousness was revealed and imputed.

Note the contrasts that Christ establishes between the Law and righteous living in Matthew 5. The Law told us not to murder, but Christ says that even angry judgment over another is not righteous (vv21-22). Adultery is not only the Law-defined act of sexual unfaithfulness, but righteousness is violated even by lustful intent (vv27-28). Divorce is allowed by the Law in regulated fashion, but Christ informs that without the violation of relationship trust, divorce is unrighteous (vv31-32). Christ speaks again of divorce in Matthew 19 where He specifically states that divorce was granted to regulate the sinful nature of the heart even though God hates divorce. Christ continues in Matthew 5 drawing contrasts between the Law and righteous living in regard to oaths (33-37), retaliation (38-42), and love (43-45). The point of this all is to show that the Law, a pillar element of defined life for God’s people in the old covenant, was not a representative standard to which New Covenant children of God should look for imitation toward righteous living. Paul told us in Galatians and throughout Romans that this Law was a regulator and guardian only until true righteousness came to be written on our hearts through the work of Christ.

The third great organizational, relational element of old covenant life was the priesthood. The priests, we find in Exodus 28:1, are those Levites who descended from Aaron, the first high priest and Moses’ brother. These Aaronic priests were all male. Should we, perhaps, assume an injunction against women pastors from this example? We need to explore the priesthood a bit more to give an answer.

The function of the priest was to represent the people to God. This was often done in the offering of sacrifices for the sins of the people. And in this way, the priesthood (like patriarchy and the Law) was a regulatory activity within the sin-cursed society and not a representational activity of righteous living. Furthermore, although the priests brought sacrifices for sin, the Bible tells us these priests themselves were not representative of Christ and His offering for sin. To understand that point we have to go back to Genesis 14. In this passage, Abraham has just rescued Lot and the goods of Sodom from the five kings who attacked the city. As Abraham returns from the battle, verses 18 and 19 tell us that Melchizedek, the king of Salem and priest of God, brought wine and bread (representative of sacrifice) and blessed Abraham. Abraham gives Melchizedek, for his role as royal priest, a tenth of everything gained in battle.

We don’t hear of Melchizedek again until David writes of him in Psalm 110. In that Messianic Psalm, David refers to Christ as “a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek” (v4). What is the “order” of Melchizedek? How does Melchizedek differ from the Aaronic priesthood? The writer of Hebrews explains in chapter 7 of that book. We learn that Melchizedek was king of Salem, king of righteousness, and king of peace. The emphasis here is in the royal priesthood of Melchizedek as opposed to the functional priesthood of the Levites. A continued ontological differentiation is made between Melchizedek’s order and that of Aaron’s. In verses 3 and 16 of Hebrews 7 we see that Melchizedek is king, not by inherited role or genealogy, but rather by God’s choice. Verses 16-17 also speak to the eternal nature of this priesthood as opposed to the temporary nature of the functional duties of the Aaronic priests. And, of course, Melchizedek is shown to be greater than the Levitical priests who gave tithes through Abraham to him (vv9-10).

Through Christ, in the order of Melchizedek, we find the elements, therefore, of priest, kingship, and prophet. (The prophet presented God to the people as opposed to the priestly function of presenting the people to God). This, then, provides the difference between Melchizedek and the Aaronic priests. This also shows why the Aaronic priesthood is not representative of Christ. As Prophet, Priest, and King, Christ was represented by Melchizedek. Now, the Bible speaks of believers in all three of those contexts—prophets, priests, and kings. We receive those titles/roles through Christ, and we, therefore, are also after the order of Melchizedek. The conclusion is that there is nothing about the Aaronic priests to which we should be appealing for representative righteous living under the New Covenant.

Notice then that sin-cursed corruption of the three relational elements of the creation ideal are regulated by these three relational, organizational elements of old covenant living. Patriarchy regulated the conflict in the relationship of husband and wife. The Law regulated the relationship among all humanity and between humanity and the rest of creation. The Aaronic priesthood regulated the relationship between humanity and God.

But all the Aaronic priests were men. Why? Probably for the very same reasons we discussed under patriarchy. Male dominion in the fallen world was the cultural norm. God used the cultural norm to provide regulatory control through the patriarchal system, the Law, and the priesthood to guide His people through the sin-cursed relationships evident in the old covenant until His revealed New Covenant righteousness came through Christ.

As to our question concerning gender injunction for the New Covenant pastor, we cannot appeal to the Aaronic priesthood for New Covenant righteous living. Furthermore, a pastor is not a priest. The roles of prophet, priest, king from the order of Melchizedek have been passed through Christ to all His children. A pastor is not an intermediary or intercessor. He is not a priest, representing the people to God. The closest correlation of function could possibly be to that of prophet, but the NT makes clear that the gifting of prophecy certainly is neither only for the pastor nor only for a male.

The OT is replete with examples of women prophets, prophesying in conjunction with their male counterparts. Miriam was a prophet not because of a lack of male leadership, but worked alongside Moses. Huldah was a prophet not because of a lack of men from whom God could choose. Both Jeremiah and Zephaniah were contemporaries of Huldah. Deborah was a prophet, judge, and political leader, commanding Barak into battle. These and the many others were exceptional women, but exceptional because of their rise above cultural restraints not because they acted in opposition to God’s moral law. God chose these women to represent Him to His people.

Our review of creation and old covenant regulation demonstrates fully that God’s ideal is in equality of value and role among women and men. Complementary by design through gender distinctions, men and women were created as a unified whole for relationship with each other in performing the role of dominion over the earth. Sin with its resulting curses corrupted the relationship. But it is not the corrupted relationship which we should hold as representative of God’s intent.

The following chart illustrates the movement from created ideal to regulation of sin-cursed society back to the ideal goals through the New Covenant.