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Well, I’ve got a sinus headache and want to rip my head off. I can’t read anymore today. So I’ll wrap up my summary of Women in the Church edited by Kostenberger and Schreiner.

The 5th chapter is Progressive and Historic: The Hermeneutics of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 by Robert Yarbrough. Yarbrough is a NT prof at TEDS. He examines the trends in methods of interpreting this passage.

“In Paul’s understanding men and women, while equal in value and importance before the Lord, were not regarded as unisex components with swappable functions in home and church.”

Yarbrough begins by responding to William Webb’s criticism of the first edition of this chapter. He makes 3 points. First, Webb “mistakes the intent and outcome of my chapter.” His intention was not to develop a hermeneutic as Webb seems to allege. He did describe features of an approach that has been around for a long time, and criticize some aspects of newer hermeneutical approaches coming into vogue which lie behind the newer interpretations. Second, he admits that something like Webb’s “redemptive-movement hermeneutic” as been around for a long time. The particular form that Webb uses is much newer. A hermeneutic used to seemingly contradict the biblical teaching fails to be a “historic” method. Third, a “static” method, while sounding old-fashioned, may be great for a faith that prizes being steadfast and immovable. Doctrinal innovation is not something that excited Paul, Peter and John in a positive way. They were quite critical of novelties.

1 Timothy 2 is not an exception in Scripture, but we see parallels in 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Peter 3. He fails to include 1 Corinthians 11, however. We can’t just dismiss this passage as the result of patriarchy. Yarbrough rightly notes that the issue is not simply about exegesis but hermeneutics, the method used to interpret the text you have exegeted. You can’t rely on just grammar and vocabulary, but how you interpret that grammar and vocabulary to apply it matters. This is the bulk of the chapter.

He focuses on arguments tied to our culture’s progressive views of women, the meaning of Galatians 3:28 and the connection made between slavery and the role of women.

In terms of the first, our culture “stresses individual rights rather than social or institutionally mandated responsibilities in both civil and moral matters.” The stress on self-fulfillment is not limited to this particular question. The church has also taken up this ethos and makes similar arguments in discussing the role of women in the church. In larger society, the growth of women’s rights and empowerment has had some unexpected consequences. The tie between men and women has weakened and our children have suffered in a variety of ways. Freedom at the expense of the most vulnerable in our society is not a biblical value. Many studies indicate how poor off are kids are due to divorce, single parent households, missing fathers etc.

“From a Christian perspective both sexes have sinned grievously against each other in rampant divorce, the sexual infidelity that often attends it, the killing (abortion) and other victimization of children, and the ripple effects of drastic lifestyle changes.”

The conclusions that have been put forth on this text and topic since the late 1960’s are significantly different from those of the previous 1900 years. Yarbrough analyzes academic dissertations and papers so you don’t have to. These new views are a result of new hermeneutical principles. Stendahl tries to preserve biblical authority while simultaneously saying that when speaking of humans, its teaching isn’t authoritative for future times. Often the Bible is now called “culturally bound” when speaking about human relationships. In the NT, equality before God and relative inequality in society were held in tension. Today, this is unthinkable and modern man seemingly can’t make distinctions. Religion is part of what is culturally imbedded or relative, and therefore changes as culture changes.

He moves to slavery and the question of interpretation since some try to connect the two with regard to how Scripture handles the subjects. Scripture did not call for the end of slavery as practiced in the surrounding cultures (very different from race-based slavery and the man-stealing that were foundational to the African slave trade). Lacking political power in a culture in which nearly half of the people were slaves, it taught people how to live as Christians within slavery. We now know that slavery is wrong, the argument goes. In a similar fashion, they see Christianity as teaching people to live within the patriarchy of the surrounding culture but today would should espouse the egalitarianism of modern culture. Just as we (rightly) reject the Southern Reformed (and other) interpretations that tried to justify the African slave trade, we should reject interpretations that justify the submission of women. (And I’d say it depends on what you mean by that.)

Yarbrough notes that God did not institute slavery, but we see that God did institute marriage. In regulating slavery in Israel, there was a 6-year limit. Marriage was generally until death do us part. In the NT, Paul permits slaves who can gain their freedom (buying it) to do so. No such permission is given regarding marriage or church leadership.

Marriage is called to reflect the created order. This includes the sacrificial love a husband should express toward his wife (not every woman) and the submission a wife expresses to her husband (not every man). Adam and Eve were king and queen. She was not his slave or property. Redemption does not obliterate our creational and therefore gender distinctions.

“The Lord reigns; we gain nothing by mistrusting his counsel and taking matters into our own hands. But men must be careful not to hide their sinfulness behind the presumed privilege that pet verses seem to afford.”

Yarbrough notes that there are a wide range of options between patriarchy and feminism. We should be talking to one another peaceably to work these things out. This also calls for some self-examination by communities. “Is how we are practicing our beliefs providing legitimate ammunition for our detractors?” For instance, are we tolerating domestic violence in our families or do we discipline members for abusing their spouse? How we apply our doctrine matters. It either makes it attractive or downright ugly. How we apply our doctrine should be marked primarily by love, seeking the best for those under authority.

After a good night’s sleep, I feel better but want to wrap this up so we move on to What Should a Woman Do in the Church?: One Woman’s Personal Reflections by Dorothy Kelley Patterson. She is the professor of theology in women’s studies at Southwestern Theological Seminary.

Let’s analyze that for a moment. This is ONE woman’s reflections. We shouldn’t think this is the only way to apply the text. It isn’t “gospel”. She is a seminary professor, though she teaches (mostly) women (she notes she doesn’t throw out men as if she has authority over them). She has an academic background. This is an academic as well as personal issue for her (as it was for Kathy Keller).

“Nevertheless, that desire for knowledge is set within boundaries that will make a woman’s learning, and the outworking of that learning, most meaningful to her, most edifying to the kingdom, and above all most God-glorifying in the overall schema of the Father’s plan.”

She mentions that Scripture doesn’t give us a gender-based list, which my own denomination’s study committee should probably keep in mind. Or more likely those of us who vote on that report- we want lists. We want certainty. We want our list affirmed by golly. The Scripture is focused more on functions, she says, not the position you hold. The general guidelines of Scripture are applicable to every generation of women. But women live in a variety of contexts that may place other boundaries on them either legitimately or illegitimately.

Women may be gifted teachers and communicators. They should use those gifts. They are to exercise those gifts publicly (and privately) in ministry to children and less mature women. That is clear from Proverbs and Titus 2. What is clear, to me, is that they should not hold the office of elder. What is not as clear is the question of a Christian conference or mixed SS class or small group. Joni, Elizabeth Elliot and other conservative women have spoken to mixed audiences at conferences. There will be some differences of opinion on that question. Many of these options didn’t exist in the early church (no SS, no conferences).

“A wise woman would rather give up an opportunity to show and use her giftedness if by using that giftedness she would risk bringing dishonor to God’s Word and thus to him.”

She starts with first principles: creation. She affirms male headship of home and church. 1 Timothy 2 is, she admits, a hard word for women. Scripture does present us with a number of women who were gifted and used by God in various ways. They walked in obedience to Him. We don’t see them walking in disobedience and expecting God to use them greatly. We see this among many women in church history. Each woman, I agree, is responsible to use her gifts within biblical boundaries. But she is not alone to figure that out, but there is ecclesiastical authority (which may err in either direction) to help her. We need wisdom from the Spirit, as Paul prayed for in Colossians.

“The Bible gives basic principles, but it does not speak in specific detail to thousands of real-life situations and choices that come before a woman.”

We must all recognize our personal defaults in distorting the Scriptures. Some of us tend to be more restrictive, and others of us more prone to push the boundaries out. We are wise to recognize the role of our own prejudices and presuppositions in interpreting and applying the Scriptures.

There is a confusing paragraph in the middle of page 157. She’s wanting, rightfully, to encourage obedience. But ….

“Therefore, I am capable of understanding God’s revelation and of choosing how I will respond to him. I am dependent on God, but I have a choice as to how I will relate to him- whether in obedience or disobedience. If I choose obedience, I am forgiven and become his by adoption. “

Not the clearest gathering of sentences, and the order lends us to confusion.

1 Timothy 2 is not about a woman’s relative intelligence or giftedness. It is not about her cultural circumstances. It is about how God designed men and women to function in society. Men and women are equal in dignity and value. They are different and complementary to one another for the purpose of God’s mission. Access to God through Christ and our spiritual privileges are the same (Gal. 3:28). This does not eliminate additional biblical instruction on church officers. Women do share their faith with both sexes (the Samaritan woman for instance), and could prophesy (Philip the Evangelist’s daughters). So they can do more than some churches permit, but less than others permit.

Where she lands is applying the prohibitions to “the teaching of men by a woman and to a woman’s exercising authority over men.” The important thing is “in the church”. This doesn’t mean that a woman can’t teach men math, science, history, or even theology. The context is church order, not social order. This seems to be the point she keeps returning to, and the point with which I leave you.

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In moving thru 1 Corinthians we’ve affirmed the reality of covenant relationships, and therefore covenant heads. This reality needs to be reflected in our worship. Paul addresses this when women pray and prophesy.

We went back to this in terms of prayer and prophecy. Does this refer to women covering their heads when the pastor prays, or the congregation recites a prayer; or is the issue (as most Knight and others thought) a wife or woman praying extemporaneously? The question of ancient liturgies like St. James’ and St. Mark’s emerged. They had many prayers recited. While closer in time to the worship of the early church than ours, it might look more like their worship. Maybe.

Since it is connected to prophesying, the issue seems to be when a woman stands out among the congregation and therefore wearing a symbol of their submission to their covenant head or the created order. Those ancient liturgies didn’t offer room for these practices. The worship in Corinth seems to be different than that reflected in ancient liturgies, and our own worship today.

The question arose about prayer meetings. When women pray (pray aloud, differentiated from everyone else) she should continue to honor the created order and her covenant head.

Here in the U.S. the wearing of head coverings was throughout the whole service. That might be easier than putting it on and taking it off, but doesn’t seem to be required by the text. This practice seems to have declined with the rise of evangelical feminism and liberal theology.

Personally, I still lean toward these coverings being applications of the principle of honoring your covenant head. I struggle with trying to merely mimic what we think the practice was. This could be a remnant of my own cultural captivity. I don’t know. But I don’t want to major on a minor (this is only found once and seems far less significant as a result).

Now we move along in 1 Corinthians.

ESV NASB NIV
For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10 That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. 11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; 12 for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God. For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; for indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake. 10 Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. 11 However, in the Lord, neither is woman independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12 For as the woman originates from the man, so also the man has his birth through the woman; and all things originate from God. A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10 It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels. 11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12 For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.

Barnett believes Paul brings them back to the marriage of Adam and Eve here to establish the created order. At the very least vv. 12 is about Adam and Eve based on context.  It is odd that Paul doesn’t use their names which would have made this easier for them and use to understand exactly what is going in here.

Some questions quickly come to mind.

  1. Why does the ESV use “wife” instead of “woman” in verse 10? Why no consistency in usage based on the context?
  2. Why do most translations add phrases (see the words in italics in the NASB)? Clarity matters, yes.  Adding “a symbol of” can change the meaning as we’ll see below.
  3. How do the angels fit in?

vv. 7

For a man/husband ought not to cover (infinitive) the head, for he is the image and glory of God but the woman/wife is the glory of man

This includes some incomplete parallelism. She’s also in the image of God (Gen. 1). But Paul wouldn’t deny this. What is he getting at? This is still in the context of honoring and dishonoring your covenant head. Or better, the created order. Earlier Paul said Christ was the head of man. But in the created order we see Adam was created for God’s glory. We also see that Eve was created for Adam’s glory. The concept of “helpmate corresponding to him” matters. Men bring glory or dishonor to God by their actions. Women not only bring glory or dishonor to God but also their husbands by their actions. We see a glimpse of this in Proverbs 31 where her husband and children rise up and call the valiant woman blessed in the city gate.

“… for it is a great honor that God has appointed her to the man as the partner of his life, and a helper to him, and has made her subject to him as the body is to the head.” John Calvin

“She is related to man as his glory, a relationship that somehow appears to be jeopardized by her present actions.” Gordon Fee

“She is his ‘glory’ since she fulfills him at his deepest wellsprings of companionship, sexual fellowship and shared procreation.” Paul Barnett

vv. 8-9

For a man/husband is not out of a woman, but woman out of man, and man was not created through the woman, but woman through the man

Paul is obviously addressing creation here! The submission of a wife to a husband is rooted in creation, not the fall. The fall makes it a contentious and often abusive matter so headship is marked by sin and misery. The problem is the people involved, not the fact of headship. Eve was created ‘out of’ Adam, from his rib (Gen. 2). She was created for Adam, so he could fulfill God’s mandate. He could not fulfill God’s mandate alone.

“Man by himself is not complete; he is alone, without a companion or helper suitable to him.” Gordon Fee

vv. 10

Therefore the woman/wife ought to have authority upon/on/over her head on account of the angels/messengers.

This is one of the more difficult sentences that we come across. As we noted above, “symbol” is typically added.

“It is possible, however, that the major translations have erred by inserting the words ‘a sign/symbol of.’ It is more in keeping with the Greek original to translate the verse ‘the woman ought to have authority over her head,’ meaning that women ought to exercise authority over their physical heads. This understanding indicates that Paul wanted women to act responsibly and on their own in the matter of head coverings. This more literal reading is confirmed by the next statement, ‘However, woman is not independent of man’. This clause appears to qualify an assertion of the women’s authority encouraged in 11:10.” Richard Pratt

As a result, it can be taken more literally as taking authority over her physical head, or being responsible. The idea is she should take responsibility for her actions, not that the husband should “make” her do this. This would be similar to Ephesians 5. The husband is not told to make his wife submit. He is told to love her like Christ loves the Church.

“But finally we must beg ignorance. Paul seems to be affirming the ‘freedom’ of women over their own heads; but what that means in this context remains a mystery.” Gordon Fee

Calvin seems to affirm that the token of her submission is at best unclear. He may also seem to be noting some level of contextualization for that token. This makes me feel better about not being certain what exactly the wives of Corinth were expected to do, and therefore what my wife might be expected to do.

“… for he means a token by which she declares herself to be under the power of her husband; and it is a covering, whether it be a robe, or a veil, or any other kind of covering.” John Calvin

Unfortunately Calvin does affirm a form of partriarchy in his comments on this passage. Sometimes I disagree with Calvin, and this is one of them. I reject that notion that women are subject to men. In the Bible I see the command to be in submission direct to wives toward their husbands, not men. That is a very important distinction. For instance, as an American I submit to the government of the United States including our President. I don’t care what Castro and Cuba say. I obey their laws while I may travel there since I don’t want to dishonor God and end up on a Cuban prison. But I don’t submit to all governments at all times.

“It is however a mistake (to limit this to wives), for Paul looks beyond this- to God’s eternal law, which has made the female sex subject to the authority of men. On this account all women are born, that they may acknowledge themselves inferior in consequences of the superiority of the male sex.” John Calvin

Angels can refer to supernatural beings or human messengers. In 1 Peter 2:9, for instance, the word commonly translated “proclaim” is a verbal form of angel.  Pratt for instance thinks this might refer to earthly visitors from other churches. These messengers, like those who bore this letter, could be scandalized by the women’s behavior. This could break the peace of the churches. Our they could wrong import the wrong practice of Corinth back to their home church or other churches and corrupt them.

Calvin notes that priests are called “angels” in Mal. 2:7. He thinks pastors were not referred to in this way, but this may be what is happening in Revelation 2-3. The angels of the churches could refer to their pastors, not angelic beings.

Another option  is presented by Fee: that this reflects the argument of the “liberated” women in Corinth who think they are now like the angels and need no such sign. This brings us back to the over-realized eschatology but doesn’t quite fit the grammar. He also notes it may also include the idea that they already speak in the tongues of angels. That reference in 1 Cor. 13 is probably rhetorical. The tongues in Corinth would be the same as the tongues in Acts 2- known languages understood by others.

“The apostles do not argue just for some authority in marriage, but explicitly and particularly for man’s authority and headship over woman and woman’s submission to man.” George Knight

vv. 11-12

however neither is (the) woman/wife apart/separate from (the) man/husband, nor is (the) man/husband apart/separate from (the) woman/wife in the Lord. For as the woman/wife (is) out of/from the man/husband, so also the man/husband through the woman/wife and all things out of/from God.

In union with Christ, spouses are not independent or separated from one another. Independent is probably not the best sense of the word. In the marriage union we are ‘one flesh’. We can wrongly act independently of our spouse, as if we aren’t married but this seems to go deeper.

Redemption does not undo creation. Redemption does not undo the marriage union until glorification. Yet men cannot preserve themselves (as a race) apart from women. We should not throw off the various yokes God has placed on us. We should also affirm our interdependence in the state of marriage. We may have different roles, but we very much need the role fulfilled by the spouse. This is not suspended while you are in public worship. You remain married, and need to continue honoring that marriage, your spouse and God’s order while in worship.

independent (cwris) adv. Separate, apart, without any, besides

 

“To be sure, a woman is that glory of a man, being created from him and for him, and therefore bearing the make of his authority on her.” Paul Barnett

“Husbands must not think that their headship implies independence from or superiority over their wives. Their dependence on their wives qualified their roles as heads. … To be sure, husbands have a headship role, but this role does not eliminate the need for wives to cultivate their own relationships with Christ.” Richard Pratt

Take Aways:

  • We can’t reject the possibility that feminism has infected/influenced many conservative churches in this matter. Perhaps the lack of coverings in our churches comes from this.
  • There may be worship practices that make a woman stand out. If she does, her goal should be to honor God and her head rather than herself.
  • Married women who serve in the church are not independent of their husbands but should continue to honor them in how they serve. This means involving him in decisions rather than willfully making decisions since they may affect family life in unintended or unanticipated ways.

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In a recent Session meeting, one of the elders asked a particular question that related to the issue of men and women in the church. It was a question about which people have differing opinions, even if they are in general agreement regarding the larger issue.

I sent him some exegetical and historical work I’d done on the pertinent texts in years past. I also sent him links to a few books on the topic. One was a book I had not seen before, and decided to read for myself. That was Kevin DeYoung’s Freedom and Boundaries: A Pastoral Primer on the Role of Women in the Church.  I was particularly interested because DeYoung serves in the RCA, a denomination in which many egalitarians have found a home. He is a complementarian, so I wondered how he handled this particular issue.

He wrote the book (published in 2006) for congregations similar to his own which did not have “official” positions on the subject. He wanted the book to be understandable for lay people. He wanted to display an irenic spirit. The goal was not to bash those who disagree with him. He did not want to descend into vitriol or presenting strawman arguments (how a view is presented would not be recognizable to those who hold the view).

I believe he succeeded in both cases.

Much of the book is taken up with looking at the passages at the heart of this discussion (Genesis 1-3; 1 Corinthians 11; 1 Corinthians 14; 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Timothy 3. He also handles some common objections as well as briefly outlining the many things he believes women can do in the church. In the appendices he includes his sermon on Ephesians 5 and the similarity in arguments for those espousing egalitarianism and the acceptance of homosexual behavior in the church.

“Controversy, because it makes us think more carefully and support our ideas more substantially, can actually strengthen the church.”

He begins with a series of questions to “set the stage” for the larger discussion. He affirms that this is not a “salvation” issue (I disagreed with one of my favorite professors in this issue, and have friends with whom I disagree). It is a question for the well-being of the church. As such, we should investigate it.

(more…)

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