It’s not often that reading a book makes me think of Marmite–but this one certainly did. Readers will probably either love it or loathe it. In the third edition of his book (originally published in 1985) Gilbert Bilezikian tackles the whole question of the place of women in the church and the family. His starting point is a creation-fall-redemption model for understanding scripture, not in itself controversial and a helpful one in this instance, I think. Despite coming from the Academic side of Baker’s publishing the book is aimed at a general audience with many of the exegetical and other issues discussed in lengthy endnotes. Bilezikian’s basic premise is that the Bible teaches equality between the sexes as the situation pertaining to pre-Fall creation and to the new creation as manifested in the church. Much of his argument is aimed at disproving any notion of ‘hierarchy’ in male-female relationships and he does this (especially in the notes) by engaging at some length with a book written from a very different viewpoint, Man and Woman in Biblical Perspective by James Hurley (1981, Leicester: IVP, reprinted by Wipf & Stock, 2002). If you have read the Hurley book, the notes will make more sense; but reading it is not necessary to understand and follow Bilezikian’s thoughts.
Much of Bilezikian’s argument is persuasive, especially his exegesis of Genesis 1-3 and comments on the pre-Fall relationship between man and woman and how the post-Fall situation was different. His exegesis of the ‘problem’ passages in Paul, especially 1 Corinthians, is very helpful; though some of his comments around the situation in Ephesus at the time of Paul’s writing to Timothy are less than totally convincing.
Part of the issue I have with the book is the polemic nature of his argument. Bilezikian’s tone suggests that anyone who disagrees with him must be, not only wrong, but probably deliberately and bloody-mindedly so. Some of his exegetical statements appear sweeping, such as his contention that ‘kephale’ (head) never has the meaning of authority in the NT. It seems unnecessary to make such a statement; in order to prove his contention in 1 Corinthians that it means ‘source’ he surely only has to do it in that context without the generalisation which may or may not be true. His criticism of Hurley for glossing over statements or passages which do not fit with his thesis rings a little hollow when in his discussion of Priscilla as author of Hebrews he omits to mention the use of diegomenon (masculine singular) to refer to the writer in Hebrews 11:32.
Having said all of that, the book raises a number of issues and gives some interesting answers and is deserving of careful attention.
Bilezikian G, 2006, Beyond Sex Roles, Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, ISBN: 9780801031533