by Kristen Rosser cross posted from her blog Wordgazer’s Words
A fellow member of Equality Central Forum (a forum for Christians who believe in full male-female equality in society, church and home) recently shared the answer she (her first name is Helen) received from a well-known ministry in response to a letter she wrote them. Helen has given me permission to reprint and comment here on part of the letter she received.
This ministry (I’ll give it a generic name: “Bible Preaching”) promotes, among other things, the authority and leadership of males in all aspects of Christian life. I quote here a few paragraphs of their response to Helen’s letter:
God’s Word and His law is the reason why women should not be in positions of authority over the man. You do not have a complaint against [Bible Preaching] as to this point, you have a complaint against God. For the Bible clearly states that wives are to be subject unto their own husbands, Colossians 3:18, (as opposed to any other man). If she is to be subject under his authority, how than can she rule over others? In Exodus 18:21 we see that it is MEN who fear God, that should be set over the people to rule. . .
You claim that you are a Christian and that you believe in the Bible as much as we do, and yet you have asked us to “focus on John 3:16 and not 1 Timothy 2:12.” Do you despise the command of 1 Timothy 2:12? It is a verse in the Bible which you claim to believe in, and yet you encourage us to disregard a part of it. This is wrong of you to do. You cannot choose which principles and commands that you are going to follow. . . Please, I ask you, to repent of this mindset, to subject yourself unto God, and to desist from disregarding the verses in Scripture which do not correlate with your chosen lifestyle. Ultimately, as I have said, you are not angry with us for our beliefs and practices, you are angry at God. And from this, you must repent. (Emphasis in original.)
Notice what is being said here. Helen is accused of “disregarding” 1 Timothy 2:12 simply because she says it should not be focused on in the same way John 3:16 is. John 3:16 is one of the key verses in which Christ describes the nature of salvation: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believed in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” 1 Timothy 2:12, on the other hand, is not about salvation, but is where Paul talks about his own policy with regards to a certain aspect of male-female relations, stating (in the ESV version that Bible Preaching prefers) “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.”
According to Bible Preaching, simply by stating that 1 Timothy 2:12 should not be as much of a focus as John 3:16, Helen is going so far as to “despise” 1 Timothy 2:12. Are these really the same? I hardly think so. What I think is that the “privileging one’s position” silencing technique is being used here: in essence, “you-can’t-disagree-because-GOD!”
In other words, the Bible Preaching writer equates Bible Preaching’s position with God’s own position, using God’s authority to render that position unassailable. “You’re not angry with us, but with God.” But what assumptions are implicit in such a statement? Three at least:
1. “We are not interpreting the Bible, but just telling you exactly what it means.”
The problem with this is that the nature of reading anything not written by ourselves is interpretation. Anyone who conveys a message to anyone else must encode the message in language and then speak or write it to the listener or reader, who, finally, decodes the message in his or her own mind. Since pure-thought communication is impossible, the encoding/decoding process of language is the best way we have to convey thoughts to one another, but it is not perfect. “I didn’t mean that the way you took it!’ can happen even between two close friends chatting over coffee. How much more can it happen when the original message must be translated out of its original ancient language and conveyed into an entirely different modern language?
David A. deSilva, in his book Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity, puts it this way:
The readers of the New Testament shared certain values. . . and ways of ordering the world. . . Modern readers, too, are fully enculturated into a set of values, ways of relating and so forth. Without taking some care to recover the culture of the first-century Greco-Roman writers and addressees, we will simply read the texts from the perspective of our cultural norms and codes. . . This task is essential as a check against our imposition of our own cultural, theological and social contexts onto the text. (p. 18, emphasis added.)
It’s a mistake to think that we ourselves have no social/cultural perspective through which we decode the messages of the New Testament. As theologian and minister N. T. Wright says in his essay How Can the Bible Be Authoritative?” :
“There is, indeed, an evangelical assumption, common in some circles, that evangelicals do not have any tradition. We simply open the scripture, read what it says, and take it as applying to ourselves: there the matter ends, and we do not have any ‘tradition’. This is rather like the frequent Anglican assumption (being an Anglican myself I rather cherish this) that Anglicans have no doctrine peculiar to themselves: it is merely that if something is true the Church of England believes it. This, though not itself a refutation of the claim not to have any ‘tradition’, is for the moment sufficient indication of the inherent unlikeliness of the claim’s truth, and I am confident that most people, facing the question explicitly, will not wish that the claim be pressed. But I still find two things to be the case, both of which give me some cause for concern. First, there is an implied, and quite unwarranted, positivism: we imagine that we are ‘reading the text, straight’, and that if somebody disagrees with us it must be because they, unlike we ourselves, are secretly using ‘presuppositions’ of this or that sort. This is simply naïve, and actually astonishingly arrogant and dangerous. It fuels the second point, which is that evangelicals often use the phrase ‘authority of scripture’ when they mean the authority of evangelical, or Protestant, theology, since the assumption is made that we (evangelicals, or Protestants) are the ones who know and believe what the Bible is saying. And, though there is more than a grain of truth in such claims, they are by no means the whole truth, and to imagine that they are is to move from theology to ideology. If we are not careful, the phrase ‘authority of scripture’ can, by such routes, come to mean simply ‘the authority of evangelical tradition, as opposed to Catholic or rationalist ones.’” (Emphasis added.)
To decide that we are not interpreting the Bible, but just “reading it straight,” as Wright puts it, is to close our eyes to the nature of our own humanity. It is to assume for ourselves an objectivity that we are actually incapable of holding or sustaining. In fact, it is a kind of blindness, a “log” in our own eye that we have no way of seeing past in order to remove the “speck” from the eye of another (Matthew 7:5).
Bible Preaching’s letter writer thinks he (or she) sees a speck in Helen’s eye. But in asserting that he or she is not interpreting the text being used to find the speck, the letter writer is unaware of the log that must be removed from his own eye before the presence of any actual speck in Helen’s eye can be verified.
2. “Disagreeing with us is sin against God.”
Notice how much shaming is going on in Bible Preaching’s statements above. Helen is accused of not subjecting herself to God, of disregarding God’s commands, and of being angry with God. And she is told– twice! — that she needs to repent.
The writer of the Bible Preaching letter has taken it upon him- or herself to determine Helen’s spiritual state, and then has set himself up as her spiritual authority by telling her she “must” repent. This, in fact, is spiritually abusive behavior:
When religion, God or the Bible are used to uphold a person or movement’s real or perceived authority in ways that control or coerce, bringing shame, harm or misery to those perceived to be under that authority, this is spiritual abuse.
The Bible Preaching writer answering Helen’s letter actually has no authority over Helen of any kind. But the letter assumes authority* and then uses it in an attempt to shame and silence. And this leads us to the third and most damaging assumption of all:
3. “We are God’s spokesman; we know God’s mind and speak with God’s voice.”
Perhaps Bible Preaching’s writer didn’t intend this implication. But to say “You are not arguing with us but with God, and you need to repent,” does in fact imply that Bible Preaching is God’s spokesman on earth. It implies, “We could not possibly be wrong about what we believe God is saying in this text. We know what God meant, and we have the right to take it upon ourselves to enforce that meaning.” The Old Testament prophets spoke for God, but Hebrews 1:1-2 says:
In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.
There are no Old-Testament-style prophets in the New-Covenant kingdom which Jesus came to bring. Instead, Jesus said, “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” (John 16:13, emphasis added.) All believers have the Holy Spirit. Bible Preaching is notthe final arbiter of God’s truth or God’s message in the Scriptures. Jesus’s life, words and actions are God’s ultimate message to us– and the Holy Spirit is our ultimate Teacher of that message.This is why Helen said that John 3:16 should be given greater focus than 1 Timothy 2:12. She was doing nothing more than placing the emphasis of Scripture where Scripture itself places it. This is not disregarding 1 Timothy 2:12, but seeking to put it in its proper place within the overarching message. And that overarching message really doesn’t have much to do with women being silent or not having authority. Instead, it’s about what Christ has done in and for His people, setting them all — men and women alike– free from bondage to become a “royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9).
God did not, to put it in schoolyard vernacular, “die and leave Bible Preaching in charge.” God sent His Son with this message:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”
If Christ did not come to condemn, who are we to communicate shame and condemnation to our brothers or sisters in Christ? We Christians should bow in humility before the Son and His message, not turn ourselves into policemen to enforce what we think the message is about, on everyone else.
Particularly when the message is coming across as more about restricting women than about setting human beings free.
*Assuming and then abusing authority is probably actually much closer to what Paul meant in 1 Timothy 2:12 when he used the Greek word “authentein” to describe what he didn’t want a woman to do to a man. When Paul said it shouldn’t be done to a man, did he mean it was ok to do it to a woman? Is Bible Preaching’s insistence on the letter of 1 Timothy 2:12 actually a violation of its spirit?
[Editorial Note: This article is intended for those readers who have chosen to accept the Bible as authoritative for faith and practice. If you are not one of those readers, please be understanding of the intended audience and refrain from commenting on the assumptions on which it is based. Please refrain from this pertains to all Christians everywhere and show some respect for the writer please. For more info on the site please visit - Is NLQ an Atheist Website?]
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