Lynn Cohick Responds to Stetzer’s Piece on Masculinity

Lynn Cohick Responds to Stetzer’s Piece on Masculinity August 11, 2014

Lynn Cohick, NT professor at Wheaton and author of Philippians in the Story of God Bible Commentary (and also co-editor of the series).

I appreciate the desire to bring the gospel to those in our society who have written it off as not for them. Ed Stetzer focuses on one such group, adult (presumably white) males in the US. He shows that the vision of discipleship laid out in the gospel is compatible with being a man or being masculine, while also nudging our culture’s vision of masculinity in a gospel direction. I have no quarrel with his piece overall, indeed it helped me think more deeply about our culture’s engagement with the gospel.

But I also found a certain irony in the essay. Stetzer makes the statement – radical in our culture – that there “no dichotomy between being loving and being men.” To support that claim he draws on 1 Cor 16:13, where Paul asks believers to “act like a man.” The verb is andrizomai (one can see the root “man,” anēr).

The irony is, I think, that in the ancient world, the radicalness of Paul’s statement would be that women could “act like a man.” Note first that in 1 Cor 16, Paul is writing to all the believers in Corinth. That is, he asks men and women to “act like a man.”

This leads to my second point. The verb highlights the reality in Paul’s wider world that “acting like a man” was synonymous with the virtue of courage. In Paul’s day, courage was considered a male virtue, and the Greek language reflects that. The argument goes back to Socrates, who believed women shared the virtue of courage with men in equal measure, and Aristotle, who held that men had a far greater measure of the virtue (see Aristotle, Pol. 1.1260, 3.1277b).

Not everyone agreed with Aristotle. Musonius Rufus, a first century Stoic, believed that women and men could equally demonstrate “manly courage” (see Diatribe 4). Musonius’ argument is part of his wider conviction that women should receive an education even as men do, so that they can develop virtues.

In a similar way, Paul in 1 Cor 16:13 asks both women and men to be brave and courageous, to know their faith and stand fast in it. This verb “be courageous/act like a man” in Paul’s day would not be particularly radical in relation to its call to men, but would be going against cultural expectations concerning women’s pursuit of virtue.

Said another way, this verse is not making a particular point about masculinity; rather, it reveals the limitations of the Greek language, and the reality that Paul’s culture assigned the virtue of courage to the realm of the man. The Gospel, however, promotes a different vision: it calls women and men to stand fast and be courageous.

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