The Dangerous Book for Men

Written by Father Bill 13 Comments

Author, subject, and interpreter

– – –

In an earlier blog, I mentioned wrote the following:

There are two books in the Bible which are written by men and for men.  …   The woman’s perspective is entirely missing in these books.  Though women are mentioned in these books, it is always from the perspective of men.  In these books you find information and opinion about women (though women are far from being the central subject of either tome) conveyed to men by other men.  

Do you know the name of these books of the Bible?  I’ll blog about them later.

Leigh Ann, among the commenters on that blog, caught the core of my question and came up with three suggestions, all of the fitting the bill nicely:  1 and 2 Timothy, and Proverbs.  It’s interesting that a woman is the one whose radar seems tuned accurately to the wave-lengths I was talking about.

1 and 2 Timothy and Titus are epistles written by a man (Paul) to other individual men (Timothy and Titus).  So, they qualify in the narrowest sense. But, in these more general terms – men writing to and for other men, as men to men – the Pastoral Epistles of Paul weren’t what I had in mind.  Leigh Ann was correct to name the Proverbs.  It is the one book where one can make a solid case for the feature I was thinking of.  The other book like it is the Book of Psalms. 

In one respect, the Psalms may comply with the criteria I mentioned more strictly than the Proverbs.  The Proverbs contain teaching which the male collector of that bit of wisdom credits to his mother – “The words of King Lemuel, the utterance which his mother taught him …” (Prov. 31:1).  There is nothing like this in the Psalms. 

LOOKING CLOSER AT PROVERBS

Proverbs is the Book most easily recognizable as written by men for men.  Its introductory chapters continually address “my son,” while the speaker consistently casts himself as one who gives “the instruction of a father” who passes on what his father taught him “when I was my father’s son,  …” (Prov 4:1-3).  To be sure, the teaching of the son’s mother is endorsed and affirmed, but the son encounters his mother’s wisdom directly via his father’s exhortation to it in the pages of this collection, as we’ve already seen in Proverbs 31:1ff.  In other words, the book of Proverbs presents itself as a man’s, a father’s, teaching directed toward his sons. 

The most dramatic way this feature of Proverbs shows itself is by the perspective it takes.  It is always the perspective of the male, not the female.  There are, for example, frequent statements about how wonder it is to have a good wife or how terrible to have a bad wife.  But, where are the observations about how wonderful it is for the woman to have a good husband, or how wretched it is for the women to have a foolish husband?  Women are spoken about frequently in the Proverbs, but women are never directly addressed in the Proverbs. 

Finally, Proverbs belongs to a genre of literature from the ancient Near East, all of its exemplars showing this same feature – they were teaching from older men directed toward younger men, to prepare them to enter the ranks of mature men who could rule their families, communities, and nations with all the success that wisdom brings. 

Comparing the book of Proverbs with other ancient Near Eastern literature sheds light on how the collection arose in the first place.  In order to instruct their sons, court officials in many lands pulled together the wisdom they had acquired in a lifetime of diplomatic service.  From Egypt we have at least ten such collections, from The Instruction of Onchsheshonquy in the fourth or fifth century BC.  An Akkadian translation of a Sumerian original titled The Instructions of Shurruppak dates from approximately 1300 B.C.  Ahiquar, who served as vizier to the Assyrian kings Sennacherib and Esarhaddon in the seventh century B.C. left The Words of Ahiqar

Prophetic authorities in later years added Solomon’s proverbs to the canon of Scripture.  The Proverbs of Solomon, Son of David, King of Israel  – the actual title of our canonical book – takes its place alongside these and other collections.  Prophets after Solomon continued to add to the collection until it reached the form we have it.  A manual of instruction for the king’s sons became available to all of God’s children.

MANLY WORSHIP OF THE MASCULINE GOD

The Psalms are identical to the Proverbs in these respects.  Unlike today, when “worship teams” routinely feature women as leaders – sometimes as the only leaders – the Temple worship teams were composed of men (e.g. the Sons of Korah), all-male choirs led by male choir leaders (see 1 Chron. 15 for details). God required that the men of Israel appear three times Jerusalem for the feasts of the LORD, making clear whose responsibility He made it for His worship.  The NT mandate that males shoulder the responsibility for leading the church in worship, doctrine, and defense of the faith is nothing new – it was all there when God first specified how His people were to worship him.

Women were always permitted to attend the feasts of the LORD (1 Sam. 1:1-7), and they did so in accordance with their individual feminine responsibilities (management of the home, rearing children, good works in the community).  And, we have at least two examples of hymns of praise in the OT written by women (Hannah’s hymn in 1 Sam. 2 and Deborah’s in Judges 5) that preceded Mary’s Magnificat.  But no psalm is ever ascribed to female authorship, and – like the Proverbs – the subjects mentioned in the Psalms are invariably presented from the masculine point of view. 

A MANLY BIBLE? A MANLY GOD? OH, NO!!

No doubt in the current climate this feature of the Psalms and Proverbs – namely, that they are by men and for men – insultS the feminist heart.  Baptized feminists (i.e. those who style themselves egalitarians) discount or ignore this feature of the Psalms and Proverbs.  And, reluctant complementarians blush and apologize when confronted by the androcentric flavor of these books.  Behind all these reactions is the 8-ton gorilla whose paws are on every page of the Bible:  patriarchy.  Feminists hate it, egalitarians condescend to it wherever they’re unable to erase it, and obsequious complementarians make endless excuses for it. 

But, the chief flaw in The Dangerous Book for Boys is stated clearly on its back cover:  ” … for boys of all ages, from eight to eighty …” .  And, this is just as much a flaw in the Bible, at least in the current sexual climate, for the Bible is “flawed” in exactly the same way as The Dangerous Book for Boys.  In a genuine sense, the entire Bible is by men and spoken to men.  It is, pre-eminently, The Dangerous Book for Men

And, women?  What do they do with such a book?  They either love it, or hate it, depending on their attitude toward the ultimately masculine God who stands behind the Bible as its Author, its Subject, and its Interpreter.


13 Comments

  1. Michael McMillan   |  Thursday, 20 September 2007 at 11:01 am

    > Baptized feminists (i.e. those who style themselves egalitarians) discount or ignore this feature of the Psalms and Proverbs.

    Amen, Fr. Bill!

    They think they can neuter and tame an 8-ton gorilla, as you called it.

    > What do they do with such a book? They either love it, or hate it, depending on their attitude toward the ultimately masculine God who stands behind the Bible as its Author, its Subject, and its Interpreter.

    If they were honest, they’d have to call the Bible and its source (whether that is considered human or divine) oppressive and misogynistic, because they call those who believe the Bible such things, and worse.

    Instead, they say “nice gorilla.” Very bizzare. They want us to believe it is a poodle, instead.

    –Michael

  2. Leigh Ann   |  Thursday, 20 September 2007 at 12:32 pm

    I am so glad you wrote this. I had been wondering about the answer to your question. I have never thought of the Psalms in that way before, but you are absolutely right. Thanks for the post.

  3. Leigh Ann   |  Thursday, 20 September 2007 at 2:26 pm

    P.S. My “in tuned radar” is mainly the work of my husband. Which, interestingly enough, is what this post was getting at in a way–the Bible teaching men how to teach their families.

  4. Bethany   |  Friday, 21 September 2007 at 1:37 pm

    Honest Questions:

    1.) I’m sure you would say that I (I am a woman, by the way) would have something to gain from reading both Psalms and Proverbs. But would you say that it is unnecessary for me to do so? Since it was not written for “me” or, I suppose, my gender I can read it to gain insight into males perhaps but not really to profit myself in any way.

    2.) If the adjective for a good God is “manly” and the adjective for a good man is “godly” does that make them the same thing?

    3.) And what does that make me? If I seek to be godly should I therefore also seek to be manly?

  5. Fr. Bill   |  Sunday, 23 September 2007 at 8:12 am

    These are good questions, Bethany. I am on the road until October 4. After that, I will log on to this blog, remove this comment, and replace it with answers to the questions you’ve asked.

    I do believe you, that they’re honest questions. And, there are honest answers. I want, however, to get back home, with a constantly available and reliable internet connection, before I undertake to post answers.

  6. Leigh Ann   |  Monday, 24 September 2007 at 7:56 pm

    Hey Bethany, I’ve been to your blog and have enjoyed your writings especially your experiences with autism as I have a son with autism.

    I just wanted to say one thing. Since 1 Tim. says that all Scripture is profitable it would even entail that stuff not written specifically for us. For example, this is something my husband has been teaching about, the book of Genesis was written by Moses specifically for the children of Israel as they were wandering in the wilderness, yet I can still learn and receive profit from it. Even more so as I realize who it was written for and what experiences they were going through at the time. Moses wrote to the children of Israel about “faithful Abraham” at a time when the Israelites where not exercising faith and wanting to return to Egypt and forget about the whole promise land thing.

    So even though the original audience for the Psalms and Proverbs might have been men, there are truths there that apply to anyone in the life of faith and to those outside of it as much of Proverbs is just plain common sense (or common grace).

  7. Bethany   |  Tuesday, 25 September 2007 at 12:20 pm

    Honestly, that’s ultimately what I was getting at. None of the Bible was written directly to anyone who is alive today. Just as Leigh Ann pointed out, much of the Pentateuch was written for the Israelites. Paul’s letters were written to specific churches or individuals within them. Proverbs, as Fr. Bill stated, was written by a father for his son. In that case, it seems that it is no more “for men” than a letter I write to my sister being for women. Now, Proverbs was divinely inspired and my letters to my sister are certainly not but that doesn’t make a book automatically for an entire gender. What I don’t understand is why it is important to say that these books are just for men. I don’t see the validity or purpose in such statements. Anyway, I have more comments and questions but since I haven’t even let Fr. Bill get home to answer the first ones yet I’ll wait.

    Thanks, I’m looking forward to more discussions in our pursuit of Truth.

  8. Leigh Ann   |  Tuesday, 25 September 2007 at 8:10 pm

    I see what you are saying, but I think that if the book was written for men in general, as Father Bill was saying, then there certainly are men around today. If the purpose of the book was to collect wisdom for the following generations of men. I think their view was two fold, for the next generation, yes, but also for following generations to come–world without end. There is an eternal view as well as the here and now.
    Using the example you set forth, depending on the type of letter you wrote to your sister, generations to come might receive instruction from it even though it was not written specifically to them especially if you were writing about “women things”. Now a man might read it and find it interesting and instructive on what women go through and experience, but it would provide him no real knowledge that he would put into practice on himself. It would provide intellectual knowledge but not personal knowledge.

    I’m sorry if none of that makes sense. I am trying to go off caffine and have the worst headache in the world. Cheers!

  9. Fr. Bill   |  Wednesday, 26 September 2007 at 12:40 pm

    Dear Leigh Ann and Bethany,

    Thank you for your patience. Internet access has been far spottier than I had hoped. I’ve had none for the past 36 hours and feel like I did when I quit smoking 30 years ago. Blech!

    These are all excellent questions and issues. I beg your further patience until I can get home next week, unpack, stretch, reconnect with my parish, and then undertake Bethany’s questions and comments with the confidence that a conversation won’t be derailed by an undependable internet connection.

  10. Leigh Ann   |  Thursday, 27 September 2007 at 8:29 pm

    Internet withdrawals are probably worse than caffeine withdrawals:-). Looking forward to your thoughts.

  11. Michael McMillan   |  Friday, 28 September 2007 at 1:33 pm

    I think what is often lost today is the realization that the Bible was written by men because they were the leaders, teachers, etc. Secondly, the letters were written to men for the same reason. They were supposed to take the info and pass it down. The info was good for everybody, but there was a hierarchy in how it was disseminated.

    Paul wrote to Timothy and Titus. Luke wrote to Theophilus in his Gospel and in Acts. John wrote to the messengers of the seven churches in Revelation. They were supposed to share the letters with the churches.

    –Michael

  12. sue   |  Saturday, 13 October 2007 at 3:33 am

    And who wrote to the elect lady?

  13. Godly Men and the Manly God « Faith and Gender   |  Tuesday, 23 October 2007 at 1:54 pm

    […] Men and the Manly God Jump to Comments The blog entitled Dangerous Book for Men has gotten some attention from some of my readers out there in internet-land.  In one case, […]

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