I clip Nijay’s article here (at the link above) to give it a wider hearing. Strachan’s comment was careless and deserved a solid pushback. His comment operates with a macho-theory of “softness” and a macho-theory of “manliness.” What Paul meant by his use of the term is brought out well by Nijay.
Now to Nijay’s post:
A few days ago, Owen Strachan made this statement on Twitter
“The gospel of grace takes men who have been softened by the devil and makes them hard, strong, lean, loving, and ferocious in pursuit of God and his glory. See νδρζεσθε in 1 Cor. 16:13, best translated “act like men.” Men aren’t soft. Men must be tough in Christ.”
There are quite a number of things that are unclear and unbiblical about this statement. Strachan seems to have a developed a theology of “softness” that he doesn’t bother to define or explain here. His theology has more in common with a Hans and Franz SNL sketch (watch one HERE) than the Bible. I think his statement is easy to refute. (And I am sad that it needs refuting at all.)
I. The Devil does not seem to have a man-softening agenda
A study of satanology in the Bible will quickly reveal the Devil’s main objective is to convince people to sin. In fact, we find that his agenda tends to involve getting people to acquire power rather than relinquish it (see Matt 4:9). He is associated with murder (John 8:44), acts of power. Man-softening is not his MO.
II. Strachan does not (and probably could not) define “softness” as a vice relevant only to men
Strachan fails to define softness in a clear or convincing way. Does it mean gentle? All Christians are called to be gentle (Gal 5:23). Does it mean warm and intimate? The model for this is Jesus who lovingly leans on the Father’s chest (John 1:18). Or perhaps it means cowardly? But in that case no believer should be cowardly, man or woman. All are called to be brave, resilient, strong. Who would favor “softness” if it meant cowardice? And perhaps again he means “weak in faith”—again, not a sin only relevant to men.
III. The verb νδρζεσθε is not best defined as “act like a man”
It is true this literally means “act like men,” but that does not assume that is the best way to translate it or understand it in 1 Cor. This verb comes from a cultural image of the courageous and fearless man, a nod to the great warriors of the day. But we must not assume all men were always courageous. And, likewise, we must neither assume all women were always cowardly. Hebrews extolls the brave faith of Rahab (11:31). Note too the intrepid and clever mother of the Messiah (Revelation 12). And what shall we say about the early martyrs Perpetua and Felicitas? The verb νδρζεσθεwould naturally apply to all of these because they were brave.
IV. Reinforcing modern manliness stereotypes leads to confused and convoluted male identity
To tell men, “Man up!,” or “just be a man!”: that has historically meant to bury one’s feelings or react in an angry or “tough guy” way. Can we point to any context where that has proven effective or especially useful?
Am I not included in Strachan’s “manly men” club because I cry sometimes? Or I like to sing? Or I wear an apron when I cook? Am I less of a manly man because I am not great at throwing a football?
What if I hold hands with my wife in public? Is that “manly” (because I am caring for my wife) or “unmanly” (because it include “soft” emotions on display)?
What if I do the laundry? Is that manly? Or unmanly?
What if I brush my daughter’s hair (which I do a lot, because I do morning care for my kids, and my wife tends to do afterschool care)?
It is impossible to correlate the virtues of these kinds of behaviors or activities with only one gender based on the Bible.
V. All Believers are called to be soft and strong
Strachan simply cannot reinforce the manliness myth because Scripture calls all believers to imitate the Jesus who was gentle and strong.
Let me finish with Paul:
Paul could play the “tough guy” if he wanted to, but he wanted to approach fellow believers as intimate friends instead (1 Cor 4:21). He saw human vulnerability (what one might call “softness”) as an asset, not a liability, and a model for apostles: “we were like young children [or “babies”] among you” (1 Thess 2:7a). He transitions to another “soft” image: “Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you” (2:7b-8a).
A healthy, Satan-repelling faith is soft and strong. We need to teach our boys and men, girls and women, mature emotional health and faith. Genderizing power and strength is not a biblical value.