Gender and Justice in the New Testament -- By: Alan F. Johnson

Journal: Priscilla Papers
Volume: PP 23:1 (Winter 2009)
Article: Gender and Justice in the New Testament
Author: Alan F. Johnson

Gender and Justice in the New Testament

Alan F. Johnson

ALAN F. JOHNSON (Th.D., Dallas Theological Seminary) is Emeritus Professor of New Testament and Christian Ethics at Wheaton College and Graduate School. He is the author of several commentaries, including
1 Corinthians (The IVP New Testament Commentary Series), Revelation (Expositor’s Bible Commentary), and Romans (Everyman’s Bible Commentary).


The topic of gender and justice in the New Testament raises two preliminary questions: First, what modern sense of “justice” and of “gender” is closest to the intent of New Testament writers, and, second, how was gender related to justice in Greco-Roman society? How we answer these two questions should reveal the relative role of cultural expectations in relation to transcultural ideals the New Testament envisages.

‘Gender’ and ‘justice’

One of the most interesting current debates in justice studies is between those who hold modernist enlightenment conceptions of rights and justice as universal, uniform, formal, and ahistorical, and the critics of these modernist conceptions, who either reject universal, uniform, formal, ahistorical conceptions of rights or who reject the idea of rights and justice altogether.

The former position is sometimes referred to as Liberalism with a capital “L,” and it includes both right-wing liberalism (libertarianism) and left-wing Liberalism (welfare liberalism or welfarism). ‘Libertarians’ want liberty defined as an absence of coercion or interference, the rule of law protecting the equal rights of individuals, and the abolition of public welfare programs. ‘Welfare liberalism,’ on the other hand, wants some balance between liberty and equality that usually involves requiring some significant redistribution. These modernist enlightenment views of justice are challenged by several alternative views, especially the communitarian and the radical feminist critiques.

Communitarians believe that modern Liberals, whether on the right or the left, are excessively individualistic, rationalistic, and without a real place for interpersonal values or societal teleology in their systems. Such Liberals, it is alleged, want to put individual rights and liberties on the same level with the ‘common good.’ Communitarians want instead to allow communities to set their own standards, to distribute harms and benefits to individuals in ways that strengthen their membership in the community.

Radical feminist critiques argue that liberal forms of justice fail to take women into serious consideration in their theories of justice that are framed with the ‘public’ male in mind and assume that the ‘domestic’ or p...

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