Complementarian Gaslighting

“Gaslighting is a form of persistent manipulation…that causes the victim to doubt her or himself, and ultimately lose her or his own sense of perception… The term is derived from the 1944 film Gaslight, in which a husband tries to convince his wife that she’s insane by causing her to question herself and her reality…. Gaslighting can occur in personal relationships, at the workplace, or over an entire society.”  (Preston Ni, MSBA, Psychology Today, April 30, 2017)

In essence, gaslighting says to people, “What you think you see isn’t real.” Evidence that supports someone’s perception of reality is systematically distorted or denied.  Gaslighters seek to define reality for others, usually in a way that is self-serving.

How does it appear that gaslighting is used by some complementarian leaders?

In a bid to undermine the credibility of egalitarian scholars Richard and Catherine Clark Kroeger, Wayne Grudem seems to systematically distort or deny evidence that challenges a patriarchal interpretation of 1st Timothy 2:12.  Grudem insists that this verse prohibits women from “exercising authority” in the church (Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth, pp. 65-66).  The Kroegers, on the other hand, suggest that the apostle Paul may have been prohibiting a form of false teaching rooted in Ephesian goddess mythology (I Suffer Not a Woman, chapter 14).

Referring to a complementarian article facetiously entitled, “Apostle to the Amazons,” by S.M. Baugh, Grudem says,

As Baugh’s title indicates, the Kroegers rely heavily on nonfactual myths (such as Amazon “women warriors”) to paint a picture of ancient Ephesus where women had usurped the religious authority over men: a “feminist Ephesus” in the religious realm. But their historical reconstruction is just not true. Baugh says, “the Kroegers…have painted a picture of Ephesus which wanders widely from the facts” (p. 155). With his expertise in the history of Ephesus, Baugh affirms, “No one has established historically that there was, in fact, a feminist culture in first-century Ephesus. It has merely been assumed.” (p. 154) [Grudem, Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth, p. 285]

Grudem also quotes another complementarian scholar, Albert Wolters, who claimed that the “linguistic blunders” of the Kroegers, have “given Evangelical Scholarship a bad name.” [Grudem, Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth, p. 285-286]

Why might these statements be considered examples of gaslighting?

Gaslight #1) Denying the reality of “Amazon women warriors” in connection with Ephesus.

Florence Mary Bennet presents the evidence that complementarians deny in her book entitled, “Religious Cults Associated with the Amazons”:

Evidently the invasion of Attica, an event probably first described in the [Trojan] Cycle, is the historic fact, as the Greek historians regarded it, on which all doubts about the reality of the Amazons might be broken, for as a memorial there were to be seen many tombs of these women in Greek lands…

Herodotus, it will be observed, keeps to the geographical theory of the Cycle, placing the home of these warriors on the banks of the Thermodon. Strabo clearly follows Herodotus and his successors, for he calls the plain about Themiscyra τὸ τῶν Ἀμαζόνων πεδίον, but Diodorus, giving the account of Dionysius of Mitylene, who, on his part, drew on Thymoetas, states that a great horde of Amazons under Queen Myrina started from Libya, passed through Egypt and Syria, and stopped at the Caïcus in Aeolis, near which they founded several cities. Later, he says, they established Mitylene a little way beyond the Caïcus.

In addition to Myrina in Aeolis and Mitylene on Lesbos, several cities of Asia Minor boasted that they were founded by the Amazons. [These cities were Ephesus, Smyrna, Cyme, Paphos, and Sinope.] Consistent with these claims is the fact that in this neighbourhood the figure or head of an Amazon was in vogue as a coin-type, and it is to be noted that such devices are very rarely found on coins elsewhere. [Florence Mary Bennett, Religious Cults Associated with the Amazons, http://www.sacred-texts.com/wmn/rca/rca02.htm]

Recent archaeological discoveries confirm Bennett’s findings:

Recent archaeological discoveries have unearthed evidence of women warriors. Their skeletons were buried with swords and daggers. The leader of the excavation, Dr. Jeannine Davis-Kimball reported, ‘These women were warriors of some sort.’ The site that was excavated is 1000 miles east of Greece where stories of ancient women warriors abound. In the fifth century B.C., the Greek historian Herodotus wrote of Amazon women fighting Greek warriors. Greek artists produced paintings and sculpture pieces that portray women warriors riding horses. These art works were not simply fanciful imagination. The skeletal remains of women at the site showed that they were bow legged from riding horses from childhood. They were taller than most people at that period in history… Something else unusual was discovered. The excavation showed that the women had more wealth, power, and status than was customary at the time. The discovery provides additional support for the notion that women warriors may have been more common than uncommon. This archaeological evidence also supports the notion that women were aggressive. Perhaps the stories of Amazon warriors were not mere myths. The cliché ‘Truth is stranger than fiction’ developed for a reason.” [Acquaviva, G.J. (2000). Values, Violence and our Future, p. 94]

Gaslight #2) Denying evidence of matriarchy connected with the Amazons of Ephesus.

Evidence for the matriarchal culture of the Amazons of Ephesus abounds in ancient historical literature:

Beside the river of Thermadon, therefore, a nation ruled by females held sway, in which women pursued the arts of war just like men…. To the men she [the nation’s Queen] relegated the spinning of wool and other household tasks of women. She promulgated laws whereby she led forth the women to martial strife, while on the men she fastened humiliation and servitude. She would maim the arms and legs of male children, making them useless for service in war. [Diodorus Siculus, as cited in Murphy, E. (1989). The Antiquities of Asia, p. 58]

[The women]…dismissed all thought of intermarriage with their neighbors, calling it slavery rather than marriage. They embarked instead upon an enterprise unparalleled in the whole of history, that of building up a state without men and then actually defending it themselves, out of contempt for the male sex…. Then, with peace assured by their military success, they entered into sexual relationships with surrounding peoples so that their line would not die out. Males born of such unions they put to death, but girls they brought up in a way that adapted them to their own way of life…. After conquering most of Europe, they also seized a number of city-states in Asia. Here they founded Ephesus. [Yardly, J. (1994). Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus, p. 29]

Contrary to what complementarians Wayne Grudem and S.M. Baugh claim, there is indeed a historical basis for connecting the matriarchal culture of Amazon warrior women to Ephesus.

Even if all references to Amazons were pure mythology, however, it is related “mythology” that the Kroegers talk about in their book, “I Suffer not a Woman:” In particular, they discuss “the myth” of the Goddess Cybele, and the cult that worshiped her: “Cybele’s cult became widespread, not only in Asia Minor but also throughout the Greek and Roman World.” The Kroegers specifically make reference to her “legend” and her “myths” (p. 155). We read in 1st Timothy that Paul was concerned about a false teaching shared by those who were “devoted to myths” (1 Timothy 1:4).

Gaslight #3) Claiming there is no evidence of matriarchal spirituality in 1st century Ephesus.

The evidence that complementarians deny is available for anyone to review in numerous historical and archaeological sources:

The mythological goddess of the Amazons was known as Cybele. Florence Mary Bennett describes “the worship of Cybele under the form of the Black Stone of Pessinus in Phrygia. By order of the Sibylline books the cult was transplanted to Rome, in 204 B.C., as a means of driving Hannibal out of Italy. Apollonius represents the Amazons engaged in ritual exactly similar to that of Pessinus–venerating a black stone placed on an altar in an open temple situated on an island off the coast of Colchis. The character of the worship which he depicts makes it probable that he drew his information on this point from an early source, especially since we learn from Diodorus that the Amazons paid marked honour to the Mother of the Gods.” [Florence, Mary Bennett, Religious Cults Associated with the Amazons, http://www.sacred-texts.com/wmn/rca/rca02.htm]

We know the Cybele cult was present in Ephesus in the 1st century thanks to archaeological archives at Harvard University, which confirm the presence of the cult “through classical and Roman times.” (Cybele Sanctuary, Ephesus Turkey, Harvard University Library, Visual Information Access, Research Team for New Testament Archaeology, 1970-). Also, historical author Lynn Roller points out that even when the Temple of Artemis gained prominence in Ephesus, the cult of Cybele (also known as the Mother of the gods) “continued to be an important part of Ephesian life” (In Search of God the Mother: The Cult of Anatolian Cybele, 1999, p. 200). Furthermore, the Emperor Julian was initiated into the Mysteries in Ephesus, as late as the 4th century AD [Select Works of the Emperor Julian, Volume 1], and he composed a Hymn to the “Mother of the Gods” [http://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/toj/toj04.htm]. Julian celebrated the castration of her priesthood, referring to it as a “holy and inexpressible harvest” [Elizabeth Abbot, (2000) A History of Celibacy, p. 320].

Internationally renowned Professor of History and Religion Philippe Borgeaud indicates that Cybele’s myth and cult were profoundly matriarchal:

Arnobius underscores that there is a story line “in this myth totally hostile to the male sex,” which is to say above and beyond the image of castration: hostile to male roles altogether (Borgeaud, Mother of the Gods, p. 108).

Borgeaud explains, with abundant historical citations, that Cybele’s priesthood consisted of men who were required to publicly castrate themselves in bloody rituals.

Did this matriarchal spiritual culture exist in 1st century Ephesus? Yes, indeed it did. Complementarian claims to the contrary are simply a denial of available historical evidence.

Gaslight #4) The accusation of “linguistic blunders.”

The Kroegers indicate that “authentein andros” could refer to “the murder of a man,” and further point out that this could be a reference to symbolic ritual, connected either to the goddess cult, or to a form of false teaching that was influenced by the goddess cult.

We have already observed that the male priests of the Cybele cult practiced ritual castration. They did this to symbolically re-enact the murder of Cybele’s mythological consort, a deity named Attis. According to the myth, Cybele drove him mad when she caught him in an act of infidelity.  He castrated himself and bled to death under a pine tree [John Ferguson, Religions of the Roman Empire, “The Great Mother,” pp. 13-31]. It is also known that one of the earliest Gnostic cults on record, in Asia Minor, based their theology on the mythology of Cybele. This is reported in Hippolytus’ “Refutation of All Heresies,” which is referenced in Philippe Borgeaud’s book. In this Gnostic theology, the lower nature was equated with masculinity, and the castration practiced by Cybele’s priesthood was viewed as a metaphor for “putting to death” the body and its passions, the very kind of false teaching Paul was warning against in 1st Timothy (see chapter 4:1-5).

Albert Wolters views the Kroeger’s work here as a “linguistic blunder” because he claims that associating the meaning of murder with “authentes” (a noun form of “authentein”) was “obsolete” by the 1st century AD. [Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, 44, A Semantic Study of Authentes and its Derivatives, Albert Wolters]
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Wolters’ claim is not a true statement.

1st century AD writer Philo Judaeus used “authentes” to refer to men who “put to death” a part of themselves. He refers to such a man as a “self-murderer.” [The Worse Attacks the Better” XXI 78, http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/yonge/book7.html.]

1st century AD writer Flavius Josephus used “authenten” to refer to the person who allegedly murdered Herod’s brother Pheroras by poison. [Falvius Josephus, Jewish Wars 1.582.1. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0147%3Abook%3D1%3Asection%3D582]

Josephus also used the plural form of this same word, “authentas,” to refer to men who should have been prosecuted for perpetrating a murder. [http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0148%3Abook%3D2%3Asection%3D236]

2nd century AD writer, Appian of Alexandria, used various forms of the same word–authentai, authenten, authentai, authentai—to refer to “murderers, a murderer, slayers, and slayers of themselves”:

Magistrates hesitate to be the “murderers” of a former Roman General named Marius. [http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=App.+BC+1.7.61&fromdoc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0232]

Roman General Marcus Perpenna is arrested for the murder of Quintus Sertorius.[http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0232%3Abook%3D1%3Achapter%3D13%3Asection%3D115]

Those responsible for the assassination of Julius Caesar are referred to as his “slayers.”[http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=App.+BC+3.2.16&fromdoc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0232.]

Cassius and Brutus brought about their own deaths by participating in the murder of Julius Caesar. [Appian, The Civil Wars, 4.17.134 [http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=App.+BC+4.17.134&fromdoc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0232.]

Despite Albert Wolters’ claim that the meaning of “murder” in relation to “authentes” was “obsolete” “after the classical period” [V-IV BC], we see that this meaning continued to be valid at the same time Paul wrote his letter [I AD] and even afterwards.  [For a summary of linguistic evidence that directly contradicts Albert Wolters claim, see Leland Wilshire’s “Insight Into Two Biblical Passages: The Anatomy of a Prohibition, 1 Timothy 2:12, the TLG Computer, and the Christian Church.”]

The very false teaching that Paul warns against, and one that “a woman” may have been teaching in 1 Timothy 2:12, encouraged men to “put to death” the body and its passions.  In early Gnostic theology this form of asceticism metaphorically imitated the ritual castration of Cybele’s priests.

Even beyond the confines of early Gnosticism, Philippe Borgeaud points out that some Christians in 1st century Ephesus imitated Cybele’s priesthood literally. Again, we find this information in his book “Mother of the Gods: From Cybele to the Virgin Mary.” He cites the Acts of John, in which John (the Lord’s disciple) confronts a young man for blaming his sin on his bodily parts, and then castrating himself:

Young man, the one who gave you the idea to kill your father and become the lover of another man’s wife is the same one who portrayed your cutting off your member as a just act. Alas, you should have eliminated, not your bodily pars, but rather the thought that through their intermediary showed itself to be harmful. For the organs are not what does harm to man, but rather the invisible sources according in which all shameful impulses get started and manifest themselves. [p. 96]

It may also be important to note that men who practiced self-castration were prosecuted as “murderers,” under a Roman law passed in the 1st century B.C. by Cornelius Sulla. Castration was viewed as a form of murder committed against oneself [Schafer, P., ed. The Bar Kokhba War Reconsidered, p. 76; see also “Circumcision and Castration Under Roman Law in the Early Empire,” by Ra’anan Abusch, in Elizabeth Wyner Mark’s, “The Covenant of Circumcision: New Perspectives on an Ancient Jewish Rite”]. On one hand, this practice deprived a man of future offspring; and on the other, it risked killing the man. Religious acts that might cause death became a special focus of this Roman law [Becoming Male in the Middle Ages, Cohen and Wheeler, p. 22; Magic Religion and Law, the Case of the Lex Cornelia de secariis et veneficiis, J.B. Rives, York University Toronto]. Could Paul have been prohibiting a false teaching that encouraged men to “put to death” a part of themselves, or even be “murderers of themselves” under Roman law? Yes, indeed this may have been the case.

Similarly, in the Greek Septuagint (a source frequently quoted by the apostle Paul in his letters), those who sacrificed their offspring to false gods and goddesses in murderous rituals were referred to as “authentas.”

Gaslight #5) The Kroegers give Evangelical Scholarship “a bad name” by sharing this historical information in their book, “I Suffer Not a Woman.”

No Mr. Wolters, what gives complementarian scholarship a bad name is denying history for the purpose of subjugating women under the erroneous theological tradition of “male authority.”

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Is Christianity a Male Supremacy Cult?

Simply put, the answer is “no.”

In the New Testament time period, Roman law and Jewish oral tradition did not view the testimony of women as reliable.  In spite of these cultural norms, women were the first to be chosen to bear witness to Jesus’ resurrection—the sign of his triumph over sin and death (Luke 24:1-10).

The apostle Paul tells us there is “neither…male nor female,” for we are all “one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).  In the body of Christ, men and women are called to serve according to their gifts, not according to their sex at birth (Romans 12:6-8).

In the book of Acts, we see women prophesying (Acts 21:9), and a woman named Priscilla teaching a man “the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:26).

Phoebe was a deacon who made leadership decisions about supporting the ministry of the apostle Paul and others (Romans 16:1-2).

Junia, a woman, was “outstanding among the apostles” (Romans 16:7).

If the New Testament tells us that women and men are equally redeemed, equally sanctified, and equally called to serve God in accordance with their gifts, why do we even wonder if Christianity teaches that women should be subordinate to men?

Because a male supremacy cult does operate within the church, and it does masquerade as Christianity.

One of this cult’s present-day leaders recently equated the doctrine of male authority–which he calls complementarianism–with Christianity: “So, the reason among all the other reasons that I mentioned and could mention that I believe complementarianism will endure is not a passing fancy–is not going to go away–is that no matter how great opposition to Christianity becomes, there will always be a remnant of complementarians willing to die for the truth” (John Piper, desiringGod, April 19, 2017).

John Piper may or may not realize it, but his belief in male authority and female subordination cannot be found anywhere in the teachings of Christ.  In other words, it is not Christian.

John Piper refers to himself as a 7 point Calvinist (traditionally Calvinism is viewed as having only 5 main tenets).  In other words, he derives his understanding of the Bible from the 16th century commentary work of John Calvin (desiringGod, January 23, 2006).

This is what Calvin had to say about women: “Let the woman be satisfied with her state of subjection and not take it ill that she is made inferior to the more distinguished sex” (Calvin’s Commentaries: Vol. 39).

John Calvin did not take his view of women from the teachings of Jesus Christ; rather, he was strongly influenced by the 4th century commentary work of a man named Augustine (Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book III).

This is what Augustine had to say about women:

It is the natural order among people that women serve their husbands and children their parents, because the justice of this lies in (the principle that) the lesser serves the greater . . . This is the natural justice that the weaker brain serve the stronger.  This therefore is the evident justice in the relationships between slaves and their masters, that they who excel in reason, excel in power. (Questions on the Heptateuch, Book I, § 153)

Augustine did not derive his view of women from the teachings of Jesus Christ: rather, he was influenced by what he referred to as “the books of the Platonists” (Augustine’s Confessions, Book VII).

This is what Plato had to say about women:

Let me further note that the manifold and complex pleasures and desires and pains are generally found in children and women and slaves….  Whereas the simple and moderate desires which follow reason, and are under the guidance of the mind and true opinion, are to be found only in a few, and those the best born and best educated…

Very true.  These two, as you may perceive, have a place in our State; and the meaner desires of the [many] are held down by the virtuous desires and wisdom of the few [the best born and best educated men]…

You are quite right, he replied, in maintaining the general inferiority of the female sex….” (Plato’s Republic)

Is Christianity a male supremacy cult?  No, but there is a male supremacy cult within the church that claims to represent Christianity.

When human philosophy attempted to infiltrate the early church, the apostle Paul wrote, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ” (Colossians 2:8).

I believe he would say the same today, regarding the deceptive philosophy and human tradition of male authority.