Longtime Southern Baptist leader Paige Patterson has apologized for once describing a teenage girl as “fine” and “built,” explaining it as a sermon illustration gone wrong.
Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, has been under fire since comments he made in 2000 saying he was “happy” about a woman with two black eyes because her husband came to church and accepted Christ resurfaced in late April.
This week more than 3,000 people signed an online letter by concerned Southern Baptist women also objecting to comments Patterson made at a Bible conference for young adults in 2014 translating the Hebrew word used in the Bible describing the creation of Eve “to beautifully and artistically construct.”
“I didn’t need to learn Hebrew to figure that out, either,” Patterson quipped.
He went on to tell a story about an angry woman who had just heard him speak who was “giving me what for” while her teenage son and a friend stood nearby.
“About that time, a very attractive young co-ed walked by,” Patterson said. “She wasn’t more than about 16, but let me just say that she was nice.”
Thinking nobody was paying attention, Patterson said, the son commented to his friend, “Man, is she built.”
“In the middle of the sentence she stopped, wheeled around, slapped a hand over his mouth, loosened his teeth and said ‘Young man, don’t you ever say anything like that again,’” Patterson said. “If you do, I’ll mop up the face of the earth with you.”
Patterson took it as an opportunity. “I said, ‘Ma’am, leave him alone,’” he said. “He is just being biblical. That’s exactly what the Bible says.”
The line got laughs at the time, but the May 6 open letter denounced the anecdote as inappropriate and unbiblical.
“These comments are damaging, sinful, and necessitate a decisive response,” the Southern Baptist women said. “It seems inevitable, for instance, that a youth pastor in any of our churches would be removed from his position if he made the comments that Dr. Patterson made at the Awaken Conference in 2014.”
Patterson apologized May 10 for words that “have obviously been hurtful to women in several possible ways.”
“I wish to apologize to every woman who has been wounded by anything I have said that was inappropriate or that lacked clarity,” Patterson said in a statement on the seminary website. “We live in a world of hurt and sorrow, and the last thing that I need to do is add to anyone’s heartache. Please forgive the failure to be as thoughtful and careful in my extemporaneous expression as I should have been.”
Patterson’s 2014 sermon addressed a biblical oddity in the Hebrew language telling the story of the creation of Adam and Eve in Genesis Chapter 2.
Verse 7 says God “formed” man out of the dust. Transliterated yatser, the word elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible describes the making of pottery.
Genesis 2:22 uses another word, banah, to describe the fashioning of woman out of the man’s rib.
Appearing 375 times in the Bible, the word most often refers to building build a physical structure like an altar, city, house or siege works, including both the Tower of Babel and Jerusalem Temple.
In Jewish tradition, it means that women are endowed with a greater degree of intuition, understanding or intelligence than men. Psychologist John Gray made a similar observation in his 2012 bestseller Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, advancing the idea that women are more “relationship-based” than men.
For theologians like Patterson, it affirms that males and females function in different but complementary roles. Men are to be leaders in the church and home, while women are helpers characterized by physical and spiritual beauty.
Other evangelicals hold an “egalitarian” view of Christian marriage, saying that give-and-take between husband and wife depends on gifts and attributes of each partner rather than gender role.
In addition to its literal meaning, banah is used figuratively in Proverbs 9:1, “wisdom has built her house.”
“Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain,” says a metaphor in Psalm 127.
Psalm 118:22, “the stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” is echoed in Ephesians, where Jesus Christ is “the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.”
While in Ecclesiastes 3:3, “a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build” is famous outside of Sunday school through Pete Seeger’s “Turn! Turn! Turn!” adapted in 1965 as an international hit by the American folk rock group The Byrds.