Kevin Giles, in his What the Bible Actually Teaches on Women (Cascade Books, 2018) selects one major ‘conversation partner’ from the complementarian side as a foil to his egalitarian interpretation of Scripture.
That ‘conversation partner’ is God’s Design for Man and Woman: A Biblical-Theological Survey, by Andreas and Margaret Kostenberger (Crossway, 2014).
I have discussed elsewhere some of the substance of this debate.
In this post , I would like to consider how Giles treats the Kostenbergers and their work.
The first thing to notice is the fulsome way in which Giles introduces the Kostenbergers:
‘I selected their book because they give the most informed and best-argued presentation of the complementarian case as it stood in 2014 when they wrote. Andreas Köstenberger is a professional New Testament scholar, a first class linguist, and a much published author. He is the most competent and able of the complementarian theologians. Margaret, his gifted wife, who co-authors the book, is a specialist on contemporary feminism.’ (pp2-3)
But, almost immediately, the tone changes:
‘I have set myself as an old retired pastor a challenging task in debating with the “brilliant” and well-informed Köstenbergers. Andreas knows my work well. I have taken him to task in print before, and we have corresponded many times, but he never mentions me or my writings in God’s Design. He ignores my work and our previous debates.’ (p3)
So the caustic and resentful tone is set. In fact, the attentive reader will have noticed that Giles has already dismissed one of the Kostenbergers’ arguments as ‘too silly for words’ (preface, footnote 9).
What I take from these opening comments, taken together with everything else that Giles writes in his book, is that he wants his readers to think that he has taken on the most competent, able and gifted of the complementarian scholars, and found their case be entirely without merit. If this (according to Giles) is the verdict to be pronounced on the best of the complementarians, then all the others can be safely dismissed too.
Now to some of the detail.
1. Giles accuses the Kostenbergers of dishonesty, obfuscation, and general lack of academic integrity
(a) He accuses them of dishonesty
Under the heading of ‘Honest Debating’, Giles writes:
‘I believe the first rule for honestly debating someone is to articulate accurately their views. The Köstenbergers do not do this…Almost invariably what they say evangelical egalitarians believe is not true.’ (p12)
(b) He accuses them of deliberate obfuscation
[‘Obfuscate: 1. make unclear or unintelligible. 2. bewilder.’ Concise Oxford Dictionary]
According to Giles,
‘The Köstenbergers and other complementarians…deliberately obfuscate what they are actually arguing…We must ask why the Köstenbergers are not open and honest with their debating opponents’ (pp13f).
(c) He accuses them of ignoring counter evidence and opinion
‘In my view what is most objectionable about God’s Design is that it purports to be a scholarly work, yet counter-evidence and opinion are ignored. If you were not informed, you would know that what is said so emphatically is a minority or discredited opinion.’ (p14)
(d) He accuses them of gross misrepresentation, and of committing the same hermeneutical ‘sins’ that they ascribe to others
According to Giles, Andreas Kostenberger does not practice what he preaches with regard to the principles of biblical itnerpretation:
‘I agree with virtually everything he says in his appendix on [the art and science of hermeneutics] and specifically on interpreting gender passages, except for his nasty comments about, and gross misrepresentation of, the views of evangelical egalitarians. No informed evangelical egalitarian is guilty of the hermeneutical sins of which he accuses them. One of their sins, he says, is to give unlikely meanings to Greek words. This is exactly what Andreas does with the key words kephalē and authentein….All too often the Köstenbergers read their gender agenda into the text. What they tell us is what they believe and teach, not what the Bible teaches'(p18).
2. Giles makes exaggerated claims for his own case
He claims, for example, that complementarians
‘have lost almost every exegetical battle they have fought in recent years’ (p26)
For example, he asserts that
1 Cor 14:33b–36, one of the key complementarian “proof texts,” has been shown to be almost certainly not from the pen of Paul.’ (p26f, my emphasis).
But Giles’ confidence is misplaced. Among those (both complementarians and egalitarians) who accept the textual authenticity of this passage are: Bruce Winter (NBC), Morris, Schreiner (‘almost certainly original’), Ellis (who thinks that it is a [rather long!] marginal note written by Paul), Rosner and Ciampa, Soards (apparently), Dunn, Thiselton, Carson, Witherington, Keener, Johnson (IVPNTC), Tom Wright (‘on balance’), Blomberg, and Verbrugge (EBC). As Giles himself likes to point out (when it suits him), such a weight of scholarship cannot be so easily brushed aside.
3. Giles commits the same ‘sins’ of which he accuses the Kostenbergers
He complains about Andreas Kostenberger’s
‘nasty comments about, and gross misrepresentation of, the views of evangelical egalitarians. No informed evangelical egalitarian is guilty of the hermeneutical sins of which he accuses them. One of their sins, he says, is to give unlikely meanings to Greek words. This is exactly what Andreas does with the key words kephalē and authentein.’ (p18)
True, Kostenberger does indicate that one fallacy in the interpretation of gender passages concerns ‘unlikely word meanings’. He cites as an ‘obvious example’ the meaning given by Richard and Catherine Kroeger to the Greek word kephale, which they claimed means ‘to proclaim oneself the author of’.
But note the language with which Giles himself describes the Kostenbergers’ work:
‘This is not serious scholarship. It is special pleading.’ (p56)
‘This argument is not serious scholarship.’ (p160)
On the question of ‘serious scholarship’ I ran into considerable difficult when I tried to chase up a strong of Gles’ references. Writing about the traditional interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:13-14, Giles writes:
‘This is accurately given and endorsed by the Australian evangelical scholar Leon Morris, in his 1957 Tyndale commentary. Women are not to speak in public, especially in church, and not to exercise authority in the state, the church, or the home, because verse 13 reveals “the true order of the sexes.” “Man’s priority in creation places him in a position of superiority over women.” [Reference to Marshall, Pastoral Epistles, p77]. In other words, chronological order in creation indicates that man is “first” in rank, woman second.’ (Page 125)
First, Leon Morris did not write the 1957 Tyndale commentary on the Pastoral Epistles; Donald Guthrie wrote it. A second edition was published in 1990, and I should have thought that a scholar’s mature thoughts would be cited, rather than material written a third of a century previously.
Second, the words ascribed to Marshall (nor some others, cited immediately afterwards by Giles) do not occur anywhere in his commentary. I can only suppose that they are found in the earlier edition of Guthrie’s commentary, which was wrongly ascribed to Morris!
No less than twelve times Giles accuses complementarians generally, and the Kostenbergers in particular, of ‘deliberate obfuscation’.
Without giving specific examples, he accuses complementarians of making comments that are ‘very uncharitable, unfair, and nasty’ (p221). I simply point out that, throughout his book, the language that Giles uses about those with whom he disagrees is by a clear order of magnitude more colourful than that used by the Kostenbergers.
On the question of Andreas Kostenberger giving ‘unlikely meanings’ to kephalē and authentein, I only need to point out that their interpretations of these words, although contested, are not implausible. In fact, according to Thiselton’s careful discussion in his commentary of 1 Corinthians, their interpretation of kephalē is scarcely less plausible than that of Giles (who favours ‘source’).
There are other instances of the pot calling the kettle ‘black’:
‘At the end of their book, God’s Design, Andreas and Margaret Kostenberger give an annotated list of twenty-one “helpful” books or articles. All but one were written by a complementarian, and fourteen of them I have on my shelves. They provide no works setting out the evangelical egalitarian position and in their book they virtually ignore counter exegetical opinion or ridicule it by misrepresenting the views of their opponents. Complementarians need to read and engage what evangelical egalitarians actually say, never accepting what critics claim egalitarians say or teach.’ (p231)
This is odd, because at this very point in his book, Kevin Giles gives an annotated list of seventeen items of ‘recommended reading’. All were written by egalitarians. Of course, he has subjected the Kostenbergers’ book to sustained criticism, and shown (to his own satisfaction) that it utterly fails in what it sets out to do. Egalitarians need to read and engage what complementarians actually say, never accepting what Kevin Giles claims complementarians say or teach.
3. Why don’t Andreas and Margaret Kostenbergers’ take more notice of Kevin Giles and his arguments?
I have already quoted the following complaint:
Andreas knows my work well. I have taken him to task in print before, and we have corresponded many times, but he never mentions me or my writings in God’s Design. He ignores my work and our previous debates.’ (p3)
So, why does Andreas Kostenberger ‘ignore’ Giles’ work and their previous debates? I have no way of being sure.
But I do have a theory.
A pair of verses from Proverbs 26 are relevant:
4 Do not answer a fool according to his folly,
lest you yourself also be like him.
5 Answer a fool according to his folly,
lest he be wise in his own estimation.
Now, in quoting these verses I do not accuse anyone in this debate of being a ‘fool’.
But I do think that they teach that there are times when it is wise to reply to those who oppose what you say or do, and other times when it will be the part of wisdom to keep one’s counsel.
As far as I can tell, Kevin Giles thinks that he won this debate years ago. He can detect no weakness in his own arguments, and find no strengths in the Kostenbergers’. For the Kostenbergers, then, to mount any further direct reply to Giles would be unlikely to move the discussion forward even by an inch. It would simply call forth increasingly bitter ‘rejoinders’ and ‘surrejoinders’.
My conclusion: if theological discussion cannot be better than this, then don’t have it at all.