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Icons of Christ: A Review for Protestants

In Icons of Christ, William Witt, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology and Ethics at Trinity School for Ministry, offers a comprehensive summary of the various historical views against women’s ordination and addresses the radical shift the argument has seen in the last fifty years. Although Witt does not cover the social consequences of denying ordination to women, students and readers of theology will appreciate his thorough biblical, historical, theological, and philosophical analysis of the problem. This first post will introduce the book and cover its Protestant arguments. A later post will address the book’s Catholic arguments and provide some closing thoughts.

Witt begins by addressing the problems in the “traditional” argument (more on that later) before addressing Protestant arguments against women’s ordination. He provides a thorough, well-thought-out exegesis of scripture. Perhaps his most striking thoughts reflect the use of the word “man” in Genesis. He explains that the Hebrew word used to reference Adam, ha’adam, does not refer to men, but humanity (53-54). Only after God created Eve were the two sexes differentiated and had different terminology applied to them (55-56). Witt also emphasizes the fundamental equality of man and woman in the Garden: Eve was created to be a companion for (i.e., not subordinate to) Adam (56). Genesis teaches an essential unity and harmony between the sexes and does not mention hierarchy until after the fall (60). But this does not mean women’s subordination is a consequence of the fall. God did not curse Eve like he did the serpent and ground; he passed judgement upon her (59). Witt argues that these judgements should not be understood as God’s will for the world and correcting them to be sinful (59). After all, we use aids such as medicine, painkillers, and weed killers to lessen the consequences of the fall, and we do not consider such things sinful.

For my Protestant friends, I would encourage you to let the scriptures challenge you. So far in my studies (as a Catholic studying at a Protestant seminary), I have had several great discussions with my classmates on this. On the second day of orientation, I walked out of the classroom to a classmate (that I had known for two days) enthusiastically asking me, “Hey Kaitlyn! When will there be a female pope?” I deflected: "When are Protestants going to accept feminine images of God?" I addressed passages such as “the breasted one” in Genesis 17:1, God as “mother eagle” in Exodus 19:4, God as “comforting Mother” in Isaiah 66:13, God as “Mother Hen” in Matthew 23:27 and Luke 13:34, the lexically feminine “born of God” in 1 John 4:7, and the “spiritual milk” of God in 1 Peter 2:2–3. We often do not stop to think about passages such as these, and what they mean for women. If a passage challenges us, we are often quick to skip over it and continue with our reading. However, I would encourage you to engage with these passages. Protestants pride themselves on understanding the Bible, so why not take some time to sit with these challenging passages and think about what they mean to you?

For me, these passages show the utter transcendence of God. In Abounding in Kindness: Writing for the People of God, Elizabeth Johnson says, “God is not a being among other beings, but the infinite Whither that makes possible the very functioning of our human spirit.” God is not a created being like us and thus, does not have a gender. However, God recognized that we need to relate to them, and has therefore given us human, gendered language to describe him/her. Neglecting to address these feminine biblical passages and images presents an incomplete, biblically inaccurate, almost idolatrous view of a God who “is not a being among other beings.” Thus, I leave you to ponder this question: if we fail to address the feminine biblical passages and images, are we really “all about the Bible”—as Protestants like to claim they are?

Kaitlyn Lightfoot is a Master of Arts in theology student at Acadia Divinity College. She is also a musician and an avid reader.

1 Comment

Thank you for introducing us to this book, Kaitlyn, and for your well-written and thoughtful review. I'll be adding it to my collection of works on theology, the feminine, and ministry (and icons). I'm looking forward to your next submission. [Carol Anne Janzen, retired faculty, ADC)

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