Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Titus 2 Woman Loves Her Husband

“The Oldest Love Poem” (8th Cent. BC)
(İstanbul Archaeological Museums)
How does a “Titus 2 Woman,” as a teacher of good, carry out that mission? First, she can train younger women to love their husbands:

[Π]ρεσβύτιδας ὡσαύτως ἐν καταστήματι ἱεροπρεπεῖς, μὴ διαβόλους μὴ οἴνῳ πολλῷ δεδουλωμένας, καλοδιδασκάλους, ἵνα σωφρονίζωσιν τὰς νέας φιλάνδρους εἶναι, φιλοτέκνους σώφρονας ἁγνὰς οἰκουργοὺς ἀγαθάς, ὑποτασσομένας τοῖς ἰδίοις ἀνδράσιν, ἵνα μὴ ὁ λόγος τοῦ θεοῦ βλασφημῆται. – Titus 2:3-5 (NA28)

Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. – Titus 2:3-5 (ESV)

The key word here in the Greek is φίλανδρος (“man-loving”), derived from φιλεω (“to love”/“to kiss”) and ἀνήρ (“man”/“husband”). It should be familiar. That’s where we get our modern word “philanderer.” In ancient times, φίλανδρος was used in a number of different ways. It signified the love of men in general, such as for the citizens of one’s country, or friendliness towards the male sex. This is consistent with how we understand and use the words “philanthropy” (“love of people”) and “misogyny” (“hatred of women”) today. Still, the word was also used to indicate the general direction of a person’s sexual attraction or romantic affection. That is, φίλανδρος was used for homosexual men and heterosexual women, in contrast to φιλογύνης (“woman-loving”) for heterosexual men and homosexual women. And specifically, when used for women, φίλανδρος could indicate either fondness for their husbands or lewd behavior.

It is in the sense of loving one’s husband that we normally understand this biblical passage. While it appears to make the most sense considering the immediate context, I wouldn’t necessarily rule out all other definitions, because those could be applied more generally to all women, regardless of marital status. (I would, of course, exclude lewdness regardless, not only because the Bible explicitly condemns it, but also because it is inconsistent with the concern for the reputation of God’s people we’ve seen throughout the Book of Titus.)

Many Christians argue that “love their husbands” is the best interpretation, on the grounds that marriage was the social norm at the time and, therefore, practically every woman had a husband. That argument never made sense to me, even as a child. We know quite well that there were many unmarried Christian women in Early Church, as well as in Jewish and Roman societies in general. Expecting that every woman under Titus’ pastoral oversight would eventually find herself with her own man to love is rather naïve, especially if we consider that they were in a religious subculture that was known at the time for life-long virgins, devoted widows, and divorced women resolved to never remarry. So again, while I would say that “husband-loving” is probably the best choice, I’m not sure that “man-loving” in general can completely be ruled out.

Now, assuming we have the correct interpretation, we can ask, why would the author be concerned about women expressing love towards their husbands? Loving is something that many Christians assume should come easy to women. In fact, noting that two other Pauline letters charge husbands – and not wives – to αγαπατε their spouses (Ephesians 5:22-33, Colossians 3:18-19), many Christians argue that loving comes naturally to women, hence they don’t have to be told to do it. For the record, ἀγαπάω (“to love”) is more commonly used than φιλεω in the Septuagint and Greek New Testament. While not strict synonyms, they both can refer to having feelings or sexual desire for someone. (See my post about Amnon raping Tamar.)

Now, I don’t mean to suggest the command given to women in Titus 2:3-5 is equivalent to the command given to men elsewhere. What concerns me is the false assumption that it’s easy to follow. Despite the loving reputation, it can be difficult for a woman to always be affectionate towards her husband. At times he might be difficult. Disagreeable. Annoying. He might embarrass her. Ignore her. Even hurt her, emotionally or physically. And in ancient times, there was the added problem that she might’ve found herself unwillingly betrothed to someone distasteful, who could often legally cheat on her, but not her on him. Doesn’t sound like she’d always be in the mood to kiss him!

This is the context in which I believe we should interpret the instruction for the older Cretan women. I doubt the author was concerned about women passing down the secrets of an exciting sexual life or hints on how to be a perfect 1950’s “Good Wife,” with homemade dinners, a spotless house, and perfect hair. Instead, I think he was hoping that experienced women could help new brides smoothly navigate through the rockiest parts of marital life. The Christian community’s reputation would’ve improved, as couples would’ve shown each other more affection and learned to be patient and understanding with each other.

Certainly, a little love can go a long way in the home. However, we should acknowledge that women can go overboard with this, with or without urging from the pulpit. Wisdom on that point is found in one of the letters of Basil “the Great,” bishop of Cæsarea (b.329/30-d.379). He uses φιλάνδρους when writing a consolatory letter to the widow of the General Arinthæus, urging her to moderate her feelings for her deceased husband lest she become ruled by them (Epistulae 269: Perseus; CCEL). Those of us who’ve witnessed the blind and unrestrained devotion some women can have towards the men in their lives can appreciate the bishop’s concern.

In addition, we need to beware of turning our husbands into idols. Many Christians like to overstate a woman’s duty to love her husband such that their definition comes into conflict with her duty to God. As the Emperor Julian of Rome (b.331/2-d.363) wrote the priestess Callixeine, “Now who would rank a woman's piety [φιλόθεον] second to her love for her husband [φίλανδρον] without appearing to have drunk a very deep draught of mandragora?” (Epistulae 42: Perseus; Wikisource). That is, literally, who but a drunk would prioritize φίλανδρος (“men-loving”) over φιλόθεος (“god-loving”)? Pagan words, yes, but they echo an overarching theme found in the Bible: God is more important than man, and our relationship with Him is more important than our human relationships. A woman’s devotion to her husband certainly has no business surpassing her devotion to God. Rather, as Titus 2:3-5 implies, it is to reflect this devotion to God.

Translation of “The Oldest Love Poem”
[This poem dates from the Ancient Babylonian Era (8th Cent. BC), reflecting Sumerian beliefs and customs. Especially note the last stanza.]

Bridegroom, dear to my heart,
Goodly is your beauty, honeysweet,
Lion, dear to my heart,
Goodly is your beauty, honeysweet.

Bridegroom, let me caress you,
My precious caress is more savory than honey,
In the bedchamber, honey-filled,
Let me enjoy your goodly beauty,
Lion, let me caress you,
My precious caress is more savory than honey.
Bridegroom, you have taken your pleasure of me,
Tell my mother, she will give you delicacies,
My father, he will give you gifts.

You, because you love me,
Give me pray of your caresses,
My lord god, my lord protector,
My SHU-SIN, who gladdens ENLIL's heart,
Give my pray of your caresses

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

‘Made in the USA: The Sex Trafficking of America’s Children’ (Book Review)

A social justice issue that for many years has been close to my heart is human trafficking. So I was grateful for the opportunity to review one of the most recent books on the subject, Made in the USA: The Sex Trafficking of America’s Children by Alisa Jordheim (HigherLife, 2014). The author is Founder and Executive Director of the Justice Society. No, not DC Comics’ team of superheroes, but a nonprofit that has taken up the cause against modern day sexual slavery.

While most media tend to focus on these crimes committed outside our country, Made in the USA brings the topic uncomfortably close to home, featuring the dramatized stories of five trafficking survivors. Each serves as an example of how American minors get forced into the pornography and prostitution: the emotionally-controlling boyfriend, the abusive family member, homelessness, recruitment, and kidnapping. Some of the content was expected, such as the common themes of broken homes, drug abuse, physical abuse, and emotional manipulation. Other parts opened my eyes, such as the rape culture of rodeos that apparently doesn’t get publicized often. It’s hard to come away from this book still thinking of prostitution as solely an urban problem.

Because of my concern for this social problem, it’s tempting to just offer praise for Made in the USA, but I need to be honest: I was really disappointed by it’s disorganization. The pages were cluttered with stock photos and the text padded with lengthy quotes, distracting me from the book’s central message. While tear-inducing at times, the testimonials didn’t always read smoothly; often it seemed as though important parts of the stories had gone missing. In addition, it would’ve been nice to begin each chapter with more background information about the featured victim, and to save the commentary about the key themes for afterward. By discussing the themes first, I felt like the stories – the main attraction of the book – were relegated to supporting evidence. I closed the book wondering if it had been a rushed job. Yes, it’s difficult to critique a book like this, when you know the contributors must have relived a lot of pain to share their experiences, experiences that haunt their dreams and continue to cause them to feel shame. I’m extremely grateful that they went for it anyway, taking the chance to help others entrapped and spread the word about these terrible crimes. But because I believe their stories are important, I wish more effort had been put into their presentation.




Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

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Saturday, November 1, 2014

‘Heaven Bound’ (Book Review)

It’s probably the wish of every Christian parent and grandparent to leave their descendants a spiritual legacy as well as any material one. I’ve heard of transcribed diaries, handwritten copies of the New Testament, and numerous letters composed in effort to pass on one generation’s wisdom to the next, and I admire the efforts made to do so. However, while these works might be a meaningful blessing for the original intended audience, they don’t necessarily have the same effect on the rest of us. This is what crossed my mind as I was reading Heaven Bound: An Incredible Journey to the Perfect Destination (WestBow Press, 2012) by S. Tucker Yates.

As its name implies, Yates’s book is about our eternal reward. In twelve uneven chapters, he maps out this “journey” Christians make from trusting in the Bible as God’s Word to having faith in Christ to spreading the Good News to others. He emphasizes the need for repentance and the forgiveness of others, while downplaying “water baptism.” Towards the end, he discusses some of the questions that can often haunt Christians, such as whether or not we’re supposed to “feel” something different and what can we do about doubt in our lives.

Despite the best of intentions, the theological content of Heaven Bound is decidedly shallow. Rather than making concise arguments that might actually impact an unbeliever and strengthen the faith of a Christian, the author resorts to statements like “brilliant people in history [have] believed the Bible” (p.12), thinking that should convince us to do so too. And when it comes to controversial topics, such as dead children going to heaven (p.71), it’s as if it never occurs to him to substantiate his claims in any way. Yates is essentially writing for an audience that already agrees with him, even if he’s suggested otherwise by inserting mid-chapter appeals to unbelieving readers.

This goes in hand with his tendency to place a lot of confidence in the testimony and teachings of people he admires or has personally known over the years. He shares what he remembers from this-or-that devotional book or sermon illustration, and pads his work with pithy sayings and random quotes without taking the time to thoughtfully incorporate them into his message. And readers are supposed to blindly accept the wisdom of people like his mother and small group buddies without knowing who these people are. Proof that he made a mistake himself in trusting too readily is his decision to repeat some inane idea that Jesus invented the Greek word “agape” for love. (When I asked my husband how Yates could’ve missed all of the earlier occurrences of the word in Greek and Hellenic Jewish literature, he quipped that the author must have been trying to make a new argument for the pre-existence of Christ!)

The author began writing to his grandchildren, to whom the book is dedicated, expounding on the people whose messages and stories that have inspired him over the years. The end result was a subpar manual about “how to get to heaven.” Sure, Yates might have studied the Bible for sixty-plus years and led a few people to Christ, but that doesn’t mean he’s qualified to write a comprehensive plan of salvation. He needs to get his thoughts better organized and tap into his own reservoir of experiences and unique insights that he can share with others. I still give him points for composing for his kiddies, but if he was honest with himself, I hope he’d agree that they deserved better.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

#SpeakeasyHeavenBound