The Meaning of Words

by H. Edgar Hix | June 16, 2011
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There are some philosophical words which can appear scary until we understand them - here's a few.....

ONTOLOGY: The study of the fundamental nature of being, what makes something what it is. (Ontology is also a word used in Information Science in another way not related to our issues, in case any of you are in I.S.)

ESSENCE and ACCIDENT: Similar to Ontology, Essence means that some quality or attribute is necessary for something to be what it is. Accident does not mean “accidental” in this case, it means something that a thing is that is not necessary to the essence of what it is.

NECESSARY and SUFFICIENT: These terms mean pretty much what you’d expect. Is this attribute of something necessary to it being what it is?   Is it sufficient to make something what it is?

In my reading, I usually hear ontology used for all of the functions of the words above. There are two areas in the egalitarian/complementarian debate where these come up: The gender of God and how humans are made in the image of God.

Complementarians often argue that God is ontologically male. That is, maleness is an essence of God’s being. Maleness is necessary for God to be God. Christians believe humans are made in the image of God. If God’s essence is male, then only men are complete images of God. Complementarians use this to establish a hierarchy of men over women in the church and in marriage.

Egalitarians refute this, saying that the Genesis account clearly treats the creation of humanity in God’s image, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” Gen. 1:27 and “Male and female created he them; and blessed them, and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created.” Gen. 5:2  (KJV) So, while Jesus was born a human male, God is not in His essence, male In fact, it is only the body of Jesus that is male. The God side of the Son’s dual nature is not male at all. God is supra-gender. So, any human hierarchy based on God’s maleness has a fatal flaw in its logic. Both male and female words used to describe God in the Bible are images, not ontological statements.

God’s “maleness” being essential, according to complementarians, for God to be God, means that it becomes  necessary for God to be male. So, the question becomes whether a person’s gender makes them essentially different from humans who are of the other gender. Neither side argues that a person’s gender does not impact them. The question is how necessary that impact is to his/her being in the image of God. Complementarians argue it is necessary for an image of God to be male. This convinces them as to why God has only men in leadership positions: males have leadership built into them by reason of their being God’s exact, necessary image, and women do not. Complementarians apply this both in marriage and in the church. Egalitarians argue that God is God, and God is supragender, so it is neither necessary or sufficient to be male to be in the image of God. So, all of us being in essence human and humans are made in the image of God, we are all necessarily in the image of God and we can act and interact as equals.

Let me toss in one more term, this one a logic term: STRAWMAN. A strawman is an argument written in such a way that the writer can tear it down. I have tried to avoid building strawmen in my discussion above, but I want to encourage you to seek out original sources for both complementarian and egalitarian reasoning in these matters.

Any questions? Any comments?

P.S.: I’d like to make a note of thanks to my nephew, Harvey, who’s a Ph.D. in philosophy, for helping me with this blog.