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.