In This Article Men and Masculinity in the New Testament

  • Introduction
  • Reference Works
  • Bibliographies
  • Early Christianity Outside the New Testament
  • Masculinity and the History of Interpretation

Biblical Studies Men and Masculinity in the New Testament
by
Eric C. Stewart
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 February 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0256

Introduction

The treatment of men as gendered beings is still relatively new despite the fact that most of the preserved historical record comes from men (see “Invisible Masculinity,” Society 30.6 [1993]: 28–35). Approaches to biblical texts which employ masculinity studies are an even more recent phenomenon, first dating from the final decades of the 20th century. The critical study of masculinity, a development of gender studies, focuses specifically on how men (and women) perform gender in ways considered stereotypical for men. Much recent research on masculinity stresses the relational nature of masculinities. Dominant forms of masculinity are hegemonic, while other masculinities are complicit, subordinate, or marginalized (see Masculinities. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005) What theories of masculinity have in common is the notion that masculinity is something that is performed, and men (and sometimes women who perform masculinity) are at constant risk of being evaluated in terms of hegemonic masculine ideals (see “Doing Gender,” Gender and Society 1.2 [1987]: 125–151). Masculinity, as such, is not a stable marker of identity. Masculinity also intersects with other markers of identity in ways that privilege some men over others. To be masculine in the Greco-Roman world was basically to penetrate rather than to be penetrated, avoiding whatever was locally and temporally considered unmanly; to be a man is to be not effeminate, to be educated, to have dominance over one’s subordinates, including members of one’s family, and to exercise control over one’s self and demonstrate the cardinal virtues. Many New Testament scholars focusing on masculinity studies focus on Jesus, Paul, or the Gospels and Acts, though scholars have also shown interest in the Pastoral Epistles as a group. Scholars of Christianity in Late Antiquity have been somewhat more prolific than their counterparts who write primarily about the New Testament texts. The New Testament authors adopted and adapted, mimicked, transvalued, and rejected Greek and Roman masculine values. Many scholars who bring the lens of masculinity to the New Testament texts have shown that these authors are concerned to present Jesus, the disciples, and other men in terms of the cardinal virtues and self-mastery. Violence is almost never attributed to the followers of Jesus in these texts since they lacked standing to perform violence in most cases (though see Gendering Violence: Patterns of Power and Constructs of Masculinity in the Acts of the Apostles. London: T & T Clark, 2004). The question of how the narratives and letters of the early Jesus movement relate to the lived experience of actual men is difficult to express with certainty.

General Overviews

There are relatively few overviews to this point of masculinity studies in the New Testament. This lack is due, in large part, to the fact that scholars only began to apply critical approaches to masculinity as a gender in the very recent past. Prior to that, though there were numerous studies on Jesus, Paul, Peter, and other men in the New Testament, these studies did not critically interrogate masculinity as a gender. As with masculinity studies generally, the use of such lenses for viewing biblical texts, people, and contexts springs from feminist scholarship. Since the turn of the 21st century, many studies of men’s gendered lives in the New Testament and early Christianity have appeared. Moore 2003, Stewart 2016, and Smit 2017 detail many of these studies. Vander Stichele and Penner 2009, rather than rehearsing the history of approaches to masculinity and the New Testament, introduces a gender-critical approach.

  • Moore, Stephen D. “‘O Man Who Art Thou’?. . . Masculinity Studies and New Testament Studies.” In New Testament Masculinities. Edited by Stephen D. Moore and Janice Capel Anderson, 1–22. Semeia 45. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2003.

    E-mail Citation »

    This article describes how masculinity studies arose from feminist biblical scholarship and its interrogation of gender. In addition to summarizing the articles which appear in this volume on New Testament masculinities, Moore surveys early work on the topic by Jennifer Glancy, David Clines, Graham Ward, and Mikeal Parsons.

  • Smit, Peter-Ben. Masculinity and the Bible: Surveys, Models, and Perspectives. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2017.

    DOI: 10.1163/9789004345584E-mail Citation »

    This book, divided into three sections, provides an introduction to masculinity theory, a description and assessment of masculinity studies of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, and an exegesis of Mark 6 in light of masculinity studies and ritual studies. Additionally, there is a thorough bibliography containing most of the items by biblical scholars employing masculinity studies approaches.

  • Stewart, Eric C. “BTB Reader’s Guide: Masculinity in the New Testament.” Biblical Theology Bulletin 46.2 (2016): 91–102.

    DOI: 10.1177/0146107916639211E-mail Citation »

    This Reader’s Guide provides an introduction to gender theory, masculinity in the Greek, Roman, Judean, and early Christian contexts, and surveys many of the major works on masculinity in early Christianity. This summary of the major themes and ideas of works on masculinity in New Testament and early Christianity research updates and supplements the work of Moore 2003, covering over sixty such studies.

  • Vander Stichele, Caroline, and Todd Penner. Contextualizing Gender in Early Christian Discourse: Thinking Beyond Thecla. London: T & T Clark, 2009.

    E-mail Citation »

    Vander Stichele and Penner introduce a way of thinking about gender-critical approaches to early Christian texts in which they introduce a gender-critical approach, raise crucial issues for thinking about gender in the ancient world, and focus upon the approach of the interpreter of ancient texts. This volume is designed to be an introduction, accessible for students, on how to read ancient texts through the lens of gender criticism.

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