Tuesday, September 28, 2010

"Biblical Gynaecology"

I have been doing some more reading recently on Romans 16.7, the verse in which Paul greets Andronicus and Junia, "prominent among the apostles" (NRSV).  (Cf NT Pod 12: Junia: the First Woman Apostle?Programme Notes and Andronicus and Junia prominent among "the apostles"). In revisiting the article by Burer and Wallace (Daniel Wallace and Michael Burer, "Was Junia Really an Apostle?: A Re-examination of Romans 16.7", New Testament Studies 47 (2001): 76-91), I was struck by their use of the phrase "biblical gynaecology" (76 and 78).  The term seems quite inappropriate to me.

Gynaecology is the branch of medicine that deals with functions and diseases peculiar to women (OED).  In so far as there is "biblical gynaecology", I suppose that the material that would come closest would be the mention of the womb and breasts in Luke's Gospel (Luke 1.41,44, John the Baptist jumping in Elizabeth's womb; Luke 11.27-28, "Blessed is the womb that bore you . . ." and Luke 23.29, ". . . Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore").  But this is not what Wallace and Burer are discussing in their article.  Rather, they are discussing the gender of the name Junia, and asking also whether she was indeed an apostle.  This is not gynaecology, Biblical or otherwise.

My surprise at seeing the expression in New Testament Studies sent me to the net to see if it is used elsewhere and it seems that one of the authors of the paper in question, Dan Wallace, has a piece called Biblical Gynaecology in which he comments:
The issue of the role of women in the church has become so central to how many Christians think that it even deserves its own theological label. Frankly, the best expression to use is “theological gynecology,” or “the doctrine of gynecology.” Too many associations with the medical profession will prevent some from seeing how appropriate this is at first. But ‘gynecology’ simply means ‘the study of women.’ And ‘theological gynecology’ means ‘the theological study of women,’ or ‘what the Bible says about the role of women.’ So I’ll use it sporadically throughout this paper.
But gynaecology does not "simply mean 'the study of women'", even if that is the etymology of the word.  It has a specific reference to the medical profession and to issues connected with female reproductive organs.  Rather than seeing "how appropriate this is", a moment's reflection confirms how problematic it is, especially if one is aiming at a discussion that does not unduly prejudice the interpreter before one has examined the texts. It is difficult to see how it can be helpful to use terminology that risks reverting to androcentric stereotypes in which a woman's identity and function is viewed solely in terms of reproduction.

I must admit that I don't even feel comfortable with this discussion being cast in terms of "the study of women" in Paul.  Rather, it's about the study of men and women in Paul.  That might sound like a fine distinction, but I think it is important.  Casting the debate in terms that focus specially on the status of "women" in Paul's letters tacitly assumes that maleness is the norm, the expected standard for authority and status that is challenged by apparent exceptions like Junia.  The same scholars do not speak with surprise about "andrology" every time a male authority figure appears in the text.  The very problematizing of the female figure of authority as if it is in some way abnormal or surprising already casts the debate in terms that prejudice the outcome.

13 comments:

Gail Dawson said...

Thank you for finding this and for calling the authors on it; particularly since in NT studies, the literal meaning of a word can't be separated from its context and connotation.

Nazaroo said...

Astute analysis of a ridiculous misuse of a word.

If this is the kind of etymology that Dr. Wallace uses in the NETBible and elsewhere, he may have to retrain himself.

peace
Nazaroo

Stephen C. Carlson said...

It's a term based on analogy with anthropology, theology, Christology, soteriology, bibliology, pneumatology, etc. Unfortunately, this term has considerable interference from the medical term.

Perhaps one could coin a word from the Greek word for "female", θῆλυς (e.g. Gal 3:28). Then, an analogous term would be "thelulogy" or "thelology," which unfortunately looks like a typo for theology.

capotheologist said...

Good call, Mark. I mean unless we want to grant some agency to Paul, then why would we assume that maleness is the norm in his writings?

Similarly, thank you for noting the hubris of scholars of using provocative terms to get people to think about the scholarship they are producing.

Dan Wallace said...

Mark, thank you for your comments on my use of ‘gynecology’ as a description of a biblical view of women. In response, I would like to note four things.

First, I think it’s awfully restrictive and unnecessarily biased to speak of gynecology as only dealing with ‘functions and diseases of women.’ A good friend of mine, a female theologian, said, “I would prefer *he* chose one of the many more positively nuanced definitions that emphasized a woman’s reproductive *health* (not disease).” I agree.

Second, although you quoted most of the relevant section on my rationale for using this term, you didn’t quote all of it. The term was coined on the basis of Greek usage of the word γυνη in combination with λογος/λογια, as are many other terms that are used technically as a theological terminus technicus. And, as I mentioned in the article, I did this because it would avoid cumbersome circumlocutions.

Third, you are critical of not only the terminology but even the idea of discussing the role of women in the church as a discrete subject. You say, “The very problematizing of the female figure of authority as if it is in some way abnormal or surprising already casts the debate in terms that prejudice the outcome.” I simply can’t agree. The reality is that the role of men in church leadership has not been debated, but the role of women in leadership has been. Is it really prejudicial simply to address the issue of the role of women in the church, regardless of what one’s view is? Countless journal articles, books, Festschriften and other multi-author works, and the like discuss the role of women in scripture as a discrete topic. And these are written on both sides of the debate. Bruce Barron’s provocatively titled, “Putting Women in their Place,” published in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, was written by an egalitarian!

In your own academic career, you have written much about Q. Some might say that to speak of Q is to prejudice the discussion at the outset. Yet your publications on Q leave little doubt as to where you are going. One might even say, “The very dismissal of Q as if it is in some way non-existent already casts the debate in terms that prejudice the outcome.” Yet, in my “Biblical Gynecology, Part 1,” where am I framing the debate in terms that prejudice the outcome?

Fourth, nevertheless, I want to build bridges rather than walls. And for this reason, I have asked the keepers of bible.org to change both the title of “Biblical Gynecology” (both parts) to “Women in Leadership.” If some of your readers can attack me personally without knowing anything about me, my guess is that they almost certainly did not read these two essays before they wrote their remarks. I don’t want to close doors, but open dialogue about this and other important issues facing the church in the twenty-first century.

Dan Wallace said...

Mark, thank you for your comments on my use of ‘gynecology’ as a description of a biblical view of women. In response, I would like to note four things.

First, I think it’s awfully restrictive and unnecessarily biased to speak of gynecology as only dealing with ‘functions and diseases of women.’ A good friend of mine, a female theologian, said, “I would prefer *he* chose one of the many more positively nuanced definitions that emphasized a woman’s reproductive *health* (not disease).” I agree.

Second, although you quoted most of the relevant section on my rationale for using this term, you didn’t quote all of it. The term was coined on the basis of Greek usage of the word γυνη in combination with λογος/λογια, as are many other terms that are used technically as a theological terminus technicus. And, as I mentioned in the article, I did this because it would avoid cumbersome circumlocutions.

Dan Wallace said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mark Goodacre said...

Dan: many thanks for your thoughtful and helpful response. I hope you won't mind my having promoted it to the main blog so that I can comment in due course. Best wishes, Mark.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

I expressed my disgust with this title (and the entire article) in the past to Dr. Wallace. I have always thought of the stirrups and table in connection with this word. But this article is not half as disturbing as the article on Junia.

Many years ago, my ex husband and I were given a Strongs Concordance by a pastor who attended Dallas. Some years later, I gingerly picked the concordance up and without too much contact, dumped it in the garbage. The visceral dirtiness of this kind of Christianity is not often appreciated by men, but I think you get it, Mark.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

Of course, chucking the concordance was symbolic since I use Strong's online occasionally. But the physical revulsion is not a pretense. I have flushed other items down the toilet for no physical reason but for what they represented.

And I am sure that my Greek is quite well established in my mind, since I was a young teenager, but I have been capable of thinking and writing of women in the church without the use of "gynecology."

It is actually astounding that Dr. Wallace has asked to have the title changed when you asked it, but ignored my opinion. Obviously as a woman, I was biased.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

and now that I have gone and seen the change - which still googles well under biblical gynecology - I have seen what a misnomer that new title is. In the list of things a woman can do in the moderate complementarian position, leadership does not feature. A woman is a responder only, and cannot initiate. I think the original title, which displayed the objectification of woman, as a responder only, was much better!

MK said...

Great post! Thank you for bringing attention to this issue.

I read your NTBlog and listen to NTPod episodes with great interest. My academic interests centre around gender in the Early Church, and I truly appreciate your insights into the portrayal of men and women in NT literature.

micky mayor said...

Gynecological instruments are the term given to those instruments which are specifically used in the field of gynecology.